Before I went to Urfa, I imagined the city – the center of religious pilgrimage in Turkey – to have a very quiet and conservative nightlife. Indeed, a good amount of the population is conservative, I’m sure. Except for the three or four women I saw in full black chadors, though, I saw no outwards sign of religion. Well, except for all the mosques. This didn’t put a damper of the city’s nightlife in the least bit, however.
After a long day seeing sights Friday, I went to a guest house – Türkü Konağı – for an early dinner; I was lured in by their sign claiming to have live music every night. I must have arrived way earlier than any expected customers, though, as all the workers of the hotel were sitting together about to have their own dinner. When I ordered food, they brought me a luke-warm chicken kebab wrap. Not wanting to raise a fuss, but also not wanting to risk eating this – I was warned about food-poisoning in Urfa – I made up an excuse to the waiter and was heading towards to the door when one of the eating workers gestured to an open seat next to me and told me to sit.
Feeling pretty comfortable with my new friends, I decided to stay and ended up talking Ibrahim – the guitarist and singer of the nightly band. Soon, we were joined by his friends and band mates Sinan and Ismail. They were overjoyed I was there, and happily showed off their instruments to me, as well as inviting me to play on their piano/synthesizer and guitar – something I failed miserably at doing on both.
That night ended peacefully, as I sat next to the stage listening to amazing renditions of classic Turkish songs drinking – amazingly – a cold imported beer. The next night I went back to Türkü Konağı and the attitude had completely shifted, as Saturday is routinely their busiest night. While it was sparsely populated and calm on Friday, Saturday had almost every table full and the music had to be stopped multiple times throughout the night as police came in to do security checks on the lookout for suspected terrorists, I guess.
As the alcohol flowed, the conversation turned to sex with each of the men joking and bragging about how many women they’d been with. Then, as whenever happens when it’s solely a table of drunk guys, they started to complain about the lack of women in the guesthouse. When I pointed out the women dancing, they blew me off saying “Yeah, they’re dancing, but so what? What’re you supposed to do with that?” All the men at the table were dressed conservatively – if I had passed them during the day I would never have imagined drinking and talking about sex with them. Appearances are obviously deceiving.
In the end, I think the image that will always most signify Urfa for me isn’t the cities mosques or narrow streets or even Balıklıgöl. No, instead it will be the memory I have of my first night at Türkü Konağı. As I sat by the stage, drinking my beer, I was accompanied by a conservatively dressed Turkish man at the table next to me. In his left hand he was furiously playing with his prayer beads, while in his right hand he finished a bottle of rakı literally single-handed. The entire time, his iPhone was proudly on display in front of him.
If you’re ever in Urfa, stop by the Türkü Konağı and tell Mustafa, Sinan, Ismail and Ibrahim that I say hi.