Monday, July 21, 2008

Tuesday, June 24

Tuesday, June 24

We woke up this morning to Yasimin coming in to our rooms and saying cheerily “Gun eydun!” which means “good morning!” We rolled out of our very comfortable pallets and out to the big main room for an absolutely delicious breakfast of fried fresh-caught fish, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese that they made themselves, walnuts from their orchard, and honey from their bees. And of course their staple, that flatbread and Turkish tea. An interesting thing about the flatbread – one day the women in the village all make huge amounts of the flatbread together that will last each family a very long time. At any rate, it was absolutely delicious with some of their walnuts and honey on it.

After breakfast, we headed to their orchard by the river to help them pick their peaches. Before puiling into the van, Yasimin noticed Amanda’s sunburned neck and tied one of her headscarves on Amanda to protect her neck from the sun. Yekta, Emily, and I followed suit in an attempt to protect our necks from getting sunburned in the first place.

On our van ride down the mountain, Hasan provided us with some entertainment with his enthusiastic singing. When we got there, Yasimin gave us a tour of the orchard which included peaches, cherries, walnuts, grapes, and probably a lot of other fruit that I’m forgetting. We also saw their bees, and some serious bee drama went on and Hasan let us watch – the queen bee from one hive tried to move to another, taking her faction of worker bees with her. It was very exciting, and Hasan shook them off the tree limb that they were on into his man-made honeycomb to transport them to one of his empty hives. I got a little nervous about a bee flying down my throat or nose, so I adjusted my headscarf.

the beehives

my headscarf keeping the bees out

Afterwards, Hasan and Emine left us with Yasimin to sort out and pack the peaches into crates instead of picking them, since we didn’t know how to pick correctly like they did.

Yekta, Amanda, and Emily at the orchard

carrying peaches

Emine and Yasmin

We sorted and packed for a few hours, with Yasimin being far quicker and better at it than we were, and then it was time for lunch. They set up a mini grill, and lit it with the wrappings of sugar cubes – ingenious kindling. We had yet another delicious feast of watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, grilled chicken, fried squash, and pasta in a yogurt sauce.

Then Muammer and the rest of the Burch gang (minus the profs, because Sarah was busy writing a children’s book about Turkey for National Geographic) came to pick us up and take us to the river to swim. After a quick-change in the van, we headed down to the river and after skeptically looking at the fast-moving water, Clayton and I ventured across together to the rock where several others were waiting. While we were sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, Muammer threw us peaches that Hasan and Emine had sent with us, and we had a little assembly line going throwing them to the others. From there we headed further down the river and after some minor scrapes and bruises that came from hitting against the rocks, we emerged on the other side.

Then the truly dangerous part of our adventure began – we attempted to climb up to the waterfall that was feeding the river. Hasan and Emine had warned us to “çok dikkat” (be very careful) because people had actually died trying to climb up into the waterfall. It was a very treacherous slope, and after we made it into the canyon where the waterfall was, Muammer (and most of the rest of us) decided it was too dangerous to go any further. Not to mention the water was freezing and we were in the shade, so we were almost hypothermic. After that little adventure, we sat and ate watermelon in a nearby park and then got back in the van and headed to the village, with a brief stop along the way as the bus driver stopped to pick some sort of bush that he used to make tea.

Hasan and Emine were in another town selling the peaches that we had helped them pack, so it was just Yasmin and us for dinner. I helped with dinner by cooking these little pancake things that were absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself (Yasmin made the batter, I just flipped them). After yet another delicious dinner, Yasmin showed us a bunch of pictures that she had received over the years from all the tourists that had come to stay with them. It was amazing to me that this is how she saw the world – through other people’s pictures of their travels. Without access to a library or the Internet (although she did have TV), these pictures were her only way to see things like London and the US. After that, she showed us her dowry, which she and her mom had been working on since she was about 12. It was two huge trunks full of handmade things like knit booties, sweaters, embroidered headscarves and towels, and beaded headscarves. She had even put the evil eye and backgammon set that we had given her in there. I found it fascinating that people still upheld the tradition of having dowries, especially to the extent of working on it since the age of 12!

When we were finally almost ready for bed, Hasan and Emine came home and insisted on having another feast of fruit with us (we had just brushed our teeth). Then it was time for bed in preparation for leaving the next day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Monday, June 23

This morning we left for the village, Eşenler, where we are doing our homestays with a Turkish family. Muammer and Mehmet, the carpet dealers from Konya, are from Eşenler, so Muammer came with us in our rented van to the village. We made it out of our hotel around 10 AM after a discussion with the Prof over breakfast and a trip to the evil eye store. The trip to the village took a few hours, and after dropping our luggage off at the place where Muammer and Mehmet sun-fade their kilims (woven, instead of knotted) carpets, we headed off to picnic with the supplies which our social chairs (Edward and Amanda) had bought for us in Konya.

We drove up the side of this rocky mountain, getting some good views of the village, and stopped at the edge of some sort of crop field, where we set up camp. We had a delicious lunch of bread, cheese, Tutkus (delicious Turkish cookies with a Nutella-like flilling), and SO much fruit. Turkey has this melon which tastes like a honeydew and looks like it on the inside, but the outside looks like this:

the weird melon

the beautiful views that we had at lunch

After lunch, we headed back to the village and Muammer gave us a tour of some orchards.

walking down to the orchard

Emily picking visne, or sour cherries

There, I was surprised to learn that there is more than one type of cherry – this orchard grew three. “Regular” cherries that we have in the States, visne, or sour cherries, and what Muammer described as “man cherries” which are used to aid in the pollination of the other cherry trees.

the "man-cherries"

We also tried some incredibly sour ­erik (sour green plums). These were far sourer than the erik we get in Istanbul, as is evident by the expression on my groupmates’ faces when trying this fruit.

David after trying the sour erik

We left the orchard and returned to the kilim-fading place, where there was some sort of mystic dwelling which I never quite figured out. Even more mystically, they somehow had enough tea and tea glasses for the twelve of us and the fifteen or so villagers who came to welcome us!

I should probably stop here to explain a little more about the village. Like I said, it’s the birthplace of Muammer and Mehmet, the two kilim dealers that are now located in Konya. As I also stated in one of my earlier blog posts, they teach local Konyan women to weave, provide them with the raw materials including loom, and then pay the women directly instead of their male superior. It is this same kilim business which has brought the village running water and electricity – Muammer and Mehmet teach the women of Esenler to weave, which brings the village extra revenue. About ten years ago, they also started the exchange program that we were a part of – for 20 lira a night, you can stay with a Turkish family in their home and receive the best hospitality you will ever encounter. This, of course, includes their delicious meals, with food that is pretty much all grown/made in the village.

After tea with the group of villagers, we all headed off to our respective homes. Edward and Clayton stayed with one family; Kelly, Zoe, and the Profs stayed with another; and Kevin and David each stayed with different families. David heading down the road with his "dad"

We (Yekta, Emily, Amanda, and I) stayed with Hasan (dad), Emine (mom), and Yasimin (daughter). I had spotted Yasimin when we were drinking tea with the villagers because of her beautiful headscarf and very warm and welcoming smile, and I was very excited to see her at the door of my future home for two days!

Yasmin pouring us tea at our home for the next two days

Emine and Hasan

We went inside and got a tour. Their house consisted of one large room that you walked into immediately after entering their house, which included a small sink and mirror and a linoleum place for shoes (in Turkish custom, you never wear shoes inside the house). There was a bathroom (non-Western, or squatty potty, very clean), a shower room, a room for Hasan and Emine, a room for Yasimin, another room, and a kitchen/dining area. After the tour, I turned to Amanda and said, “They have no furniture.” She hadn’t noticed, and in fact, I realized that it had taken me awhile to figure that out too – I can’t peg the reason exactly, but for some reason it did not strike me as I walked in. It’s not that the house was decorated – they barely had anything on the walls, but maybe it was because of the cushions all over the floor. Instead of tables and chairs, they had cushions.

Hasan led us into the room adjoining the entryway room (as you can tell, it is difficult to distinguish rooms from each other because of the lack of furniture – there was no office/study, living room, etc.) and had a feast of peaches, cherries, and apricots. All of the fruit came from their orchards, where we were going to the next day. We also enjoyed great conversation – we were very thankful to have Yekta there who translated for us. One of the most interesting topics of conversation was that Hasan asked about Yekta’s bloodline and ours. Unlike in the Southern tradition of asking who your parents are (obviously, Hasan would have no idea in this case), he asked about our ancestors. That obviously doesn’t mean a whole lot to Americans, who in many cases don’t know much about where exactly they came from – America pretty much cuts it for our country of origin, despite the fact that we (apart from Native American ancestors) all came from somewhere else. It is a pretty interesting comparison to draw, especially in light of Turkey’s very layered history.

After our feast of fruit, they showed us their terrace, where we got some great views of the village (including a little boy herding his cow) and met up with Zoe and Kelly, who were living next door.

Emily climbing up to the terrace with Emine looking on

cattle herding

Zoe helping pick vegetables for dinner

Then it was time for dinner – an absolute feast again! We had cucumbers, tomatoes, okra soup, green beans in tomato sauce, and chicken pilav. Dinner is served in the most traditional sense of a traditional Turkish dinner – we sat on cushions on the floor with the food on a tray in the middle of us. We each got a fork and a spoon for our utensils and a hunk of flatbread for our “plates” and started chowing down at the communal dishes. They also served us Ayran, which is that Turkish yogurt drink. It was homemade in the village along with everything else we ate, but unfortunately, it was absolutely disgusting. I choked it down for politeness’ sake, but it tasted like spoiled buttermilk.

But dessert made up for it – delicious watermelon and honey from Hasan’s bees that he keeps at the orchard.

Another feast later, we sat again and chatted with our family until more villagers showed up, including our boys. Interestingly, the women and men separated into different rooms – I’m not sure if that is just natural gravitation towards the same sex or if it has to do with tradition. After we chatted for a bit, it was time for bed. Hasan, Emine, and Yasimin all slept in the same room so as to give their four guests two separate rooms to sleep in – Turkish hospitality is truly mind-blowing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Saturday/Sunday, June 21/22


We left Egirdir this morning around 10ish after a slight miscommunication about the location of the Fez bus resulting in David having to claim 80% of the seats on the bus with various articles of his luggage which in turn led to several disgruntled Fez travelers. We met up with our Kiwi friends on the bus, but unfortunately our wonderful tour guide Amanda was touring in the southwest of Turkey. We arrived in Konya around 3:30 starving as is the norm of our group, and sat down to a lunch of etliekmek, a local specialty that is similar to thin crust pizza without the cheese. Afterwards, we met up with another rug-dealer friend of Prof. Shields in his shop and had another local specialty – alta cay, or mountain herbal tea.

Mehmet, the carpet dealer, has a unique mission with his rugs, which are mainly kilims, or woven instead of knotted rugs. He teaches local women in Konya (and the village where he’s from where we’re going after Konya) how to weave, provides them with raw materials including loom, and then pays them directly. The fact that he pays the women directly and not their male superior is quite remarkable and gives them an incredible amount of empowerment that we take for granted in the US. He also works with natural dyes, which is fairly uncommon in Turkey.

So Mehmet took us to see some of the local weavers at their homes. I’m sure we looked very odd – a huge van full of Americans pulling up into these very residential neighborhoods and then piling out of the van and into a random house.

a woman weaving a kilim

a little girl that lived at the house where we watched the woman weave

After seeing the weaving, we went to the place where he experiments with natural dyes. He had huge vats full of dye and enormous amounts of already dyed yarns hanging everywhere.
His dyeing place was also in a residential neighborhood where a huge group of kids were playing on the street. After a few rounds of the usual “Hello!”s that we hear all the time, we motioned for them to come over and took a lot of pictures of them, which they loved. There was also a cow roaming around that was in desperate need of a milking, and a kitten that Zoe instantly befriended. All very normal everyday things to see in Turkey.

the cow desperately in need of a milking

kids in the neighborhood

a group of gypsy women that we saw on the highway

After that it was a quick dinner – for us doner in a restaurant that boasted a frieze of a doner man, then on to seeing the whirling dervishes. As I have explained earlier, the whirling dervishes are part of a sect of Islam called Sufi. The practice of the whirling dervishes arose from the teachings of Mevlana, or Rumi, who is actually a bestselling poet in the US. Under the rule of Ataturk, whirling dervishes as part of a religious ritual were outlawed, but they were allowed to continue as long as it could be considered a folk dance – aka, open to the public to watch. So after our experience with sema (the name of the ritual in which the whirling takes place) in Istanbul, it was very interesting to see the dervishes from the viewpoint of a performance.

But it seemed it wasn’t just a performance – Muammer told us that 50% of the audience was Konyans who came to the performance as if it were an actual sema. The leader of the dervishes prayed at the end, and almost everyone in the audience also prayed. So I’m not sure how much of a “folkdance” it actually is.


We had a very interesting sleep which included most of us waking up to the sunrise (about 5 AM) call to prayer and Emily not waking up but sitting straight up in bed. Today we went to a record number of mosques and museums – I think it was somewhere around 4 mosques, 3 museums, and 2 tombs. In one of the mosques we went to was the tomb of Shems, Rumi’s friend and teacher, and there we had several interesting experiences. First, we experienced the perpetual Turkish hospitality by the proprietor of the mosque, who offered us lokum (Turkish delight), Mevlana sekeri (this candy that comes from Konya), and lemon cologne, and also told us to please go upstairs and check the mosque out from that vantage point.

What an interesting vantage point it was – there we saw a woman who apparently had a very emotional experience. She yelled “Allah!” and ran towards Shems’ tomb, where she kneeled and it looked as if she were seizing. It was interesting because the women that were with her were trying to get her to stop and were almost laughing about the whole thing. Muammer told us that Mevlana (Rumi) would not approve of such an act because according to his teachings, one’s emotions are not supposed to govern their actions.

My favorite mosque of the day was the Alaaddin Mosque, which was very different from any mosque we have seen yet. First of all, it had a large opening to the side of the mosque instead of in front of the mihrab (which points towards Mecca). Also, it was full of columns and arches, and the columns were from ruins so they were all different. The tiles on the ceiling were also absolutely gorgeous.

We also went to Rumi’s tomb which also had a museum attached to it. The most interesting thing about Rumi’s tomb was the music that was playing – most sacred places that we have visited so far do not have music playing in them at all, but music was very important to Rumi and to the Sufi sect. Unlike Shems’ far less impressive tomb, we did not witness any extreme emotional experiences at Rumi’s tomb.
Rumi's tomb at night

After a short sleep, we headed to a traditional Turkish dinner with Muammer. Well, it was kind of traditional in that we did sit on the ground on cushions and ate at a low table, but we each ordered separate meals instead of having group dishes. It was absolutely delicious, and we learned more about Muammer. He married a German girl after directing her to her hotel in Konya about ten years ago. The best part – their common language is English and neither of them are native speakers. It was amazing to me that they have been able to build such a relationship despite the language barrier.

I have to mention one of the most interesting things about Konya –the extreme amounts of circumcision celebrations and weddings that we saw. There were so many processions with little boys dressed in their king outfits and cars all decked out in wedding decorations. They especially liked to drive around the traffic circle right next to our hotel honking their horns and banging on pots and pans. It was almost as loud as the call to prayer that basically went on inside our room at 5 AM.

Friday June 20

Today was Nature Day. We went up from Egirdir to a national park where you can apparently see various woodland creatures and also leopards. We didn’t see much of either here, but did get some nice views of another lake.

After that, we headed up the mountain further to walk the King’s Highway. This road was an important trade route and way to transport soldiers during Roman times. After a hike up a very treacherous trail which I almost fell to my death twice, we walked over a very rickety iron bridge and onto the King’s Highway. The first thing we saw was some Roman graffiti on the side of the marble cliff and an altar-looking thing complete with what appeared to be a basin for water that trickled from the cliff. A much easier walk thanks to several millennia of use, I didn’t trip at all. All along the way, there was a beautiful river with the clearest water I have ever seen, and after a bit, we found our spot. David and I struck out to trailblaze the way to get to it (it was kind of difficult to get to from the road). We finally found a path amidst the rocks, pools, and cliffs which included a lot of climbing and a little falling, and the rest of the group followed.

This place was a secret grotto – it reminded me of the picture on the Fiji water bottles. A deep pool that we never touched the bottom of was surrounded by huge rocks, a 30-ft waterfall, and tons of oleanders. Our waterfall

And the water was the most beautiful turquoise blue – it looked like it could be in the Caribbean. Edward, true to form, found the highest things to jump off of, which included a 14-ft rock and a 30-ft one also. Most of our group jumped off of the 14-ft one (Amanda after some coaxing from David), but only Edward, me, Zoe, David, and Kevin jumped off of the 30-ft one. It was amazing, and although the water was absolutely frigid, we swam around, jumped, and lounged on sunbaked rocks jutting out from the pool for about 2 -1/2 hours.

Yekta and Edward jumping off the smaller rock - the bigger one is behind it.

all of us in our grotto

Then we headed up to where the profs were, bottled some natural spring water at the source, and had a discussion about Turkish tourism. Or the lack thereof in this area – like the lake, there was absolutely no one around. I literally did not see anyone else the entire day. Our group was torn between the revenue that a thriving tourism industry would bring Turkey and also the possibility of the sense of national identity that it could bring to Turkish tourists and the idea of thousands of people ruining this pristine place. We thought of Pamukkale, where the huge tourist industry had to be shut down and re-managed because of the damage that was done to the environment. Leaving the problem unsolved, we hiked back down the mountain and headed back to our pension.

an appropriate hiking outfit for Egirdir, complete with camera

We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the top floor of the pension overlooking the lake, and then we tried to find a place to watch Turkey play Croatia in the Euro Cup. Like Pamukkale, Egirdir is tiny – our waiter at lunch on Thursday told us that there was really no where to watch the game. Not believing him, we braved the weirdly strong winds all the way to the island, but alas, we did not find a suitable sports bar complete with a bunch of Turks. So we headed back to the pension to watch it at least with the three Turks that worked there. Like the match against the Czech Republic, the first half was very boring. Actually the first two halves were boring, with the game ending in a 0-0 tie. Then it was time for two 15-minute halves, which were also boring until the last minute of the extra time, when Croatia scored. We thought it was over, but the drama-loving Turks had other ideas. In the stoppage time of the extra time, Turkey scored, tying Croatia again and forcing the game into penalty kicks. Already pumped, we screamed for joy when Croatia missed their first PK, and then their third. Turkey then went on to score their first three, and when Turkey’s back-up goalie (their number one goalie was out due to a red card in the last match), blocked Croatia’s fourth PK, Turkey’s victory and our elation was secured. We pined for the craziness that we knew was going on in Taksim Square as we watched the pitiful rioting of about seven cars driving around the town and island, honking their horns. Go to and you’ll see that Turkey is the talk of the Euro Cup 2008 – it is extremely cool to be able to be in Turkey during their crazy run to the quarterfinals! They play Germany on Wednesday, and if its anything like the other games, it will be very interesting. Even if it is only the last few minutes that are exciting.