Besides seeing the sights of Urfa, I spent a surprising amount of my time in the city also conversing with the locals. Usually, it was just polite pleasantries, although I did have three long drawn out conversations with locals who I believe – for the most part – meant well deep down.
My first such encounter was during lunch on Friday. I was having a small lunch in a cafe at the Balıklıgöl complex when a man came over and sat at my table. At first we were just making chit-chat about what I thought of Urfa and what I was doing in Turkey. Then, very quickly, the man steered the conversation towards how he would love to take me around the province in his car and show me the sights.
It was all okay, he reassured me. He had done the same thing with a couple from the Netherlands that morning, and they loved it! When he still sensed I was hesitant, he pointed towards two men sitting down in the distance. “They’re police officers,” he said. “They’re my friends and we will ask them what they think of me. They will say I’m trustworthy, I know it.”
After we finished lunch and walked over to the men sitting down, they did indeed seem to be off-duty police officers and they did vouch for Yilmaz’s supposed trustworthy credentials. So, I followed Yilmaz to the El-Ruha hotel which was directly outside of the complex; he wanted to show me the hotel since it was built on some ancient caverns that the hotel had turned into dining rooms – it was really cool, and surprisingly swanky.
After the caves Yilmaz continued to insist I go in his car – his insistence was what put me off. He wanted to show me around too much, if you can understand that. So, thanking Yilmaz for his time, I walked away from his car into the side-streets of Urfa to continue my exploration.
Within ten minutes of wandering in the backstreets two little girls – probably around nine years of age – saw me and shouted “hello!” As soon as I responded they almost exploded with excitement and ran over to me and used the three phrases of English they knew, before we started speaking in Turkish. Soon enough we were joined by the littlest girls older sister, Merve, who was around twelve. We spent around a good thirty minutes talking – all the while neighborhood women walked past laughing and smiling, seeing the girls every now and then say something in English as I stumbled in my Turkish.
Eventually Merve left, and the other two girls dragged me to their local school. They just loved it so much, they told me, that they really wanted to show it off. The only problem they had, they said, was that the school had no English teacher and they were very sad because of it. Apparently all the English they had learnt was from their own initiative and from pestering the school’s computer teacher, who knew a few phrases. At the school Merve rejoined us and – I have absolutely no idea where she managed to find it – she gave me an extremely worn, old looking copy of an English-Turkish phrase book as a gift.
Her kindness was shocking, especially since she wanted nothing in return. After the gift she left again, while the two other girls – and now a neighborhood boy – joined me. After about ten more minutes of talking, they began to insist that I buy them all dinner which unfortunately I did not have enough cash for. “Just give us money!” they cried. In the random loose change I had, I attempted to give them each a lira; however, apparently I miscounted and one girl received more than the others. This led to a fight breaking out amongst the children, which, interestingly, managed to correspond exactly with when I no longer wanted to be with them.
At this point some other neighborhood kids came to watch the hubbub and the boy shooed me away warning me that if I stayed all the neighborhood children would start asking me for money.
Later Friday night, I went to the guest house close to my hotel which advertised having live music every night. It was in this guest house that I experienced the most unadulterated kindness in Urfa… but that story will have to wait for tomorrow.