It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog, and it’s mainly because I haven’t lived in Turkey since June 2010. I’ve been back in the United States working on a Master’s degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. However, being back at the university has allowed me to make some new Turkish friends who are studying at SU. Along with Backgammon, tea, and really great conversation, several of them are teaching me how to “cook” my favorite Turkish foods.
I’ve decided to post the experiences and recipes here in a new segment I’m calling “Turkish Delights.” I hope you enjoy, and maybe even cook some of these great meals yourself.
Menemen (a classic Turkish breakfast dish)
INGREDIENTS (this recipe serves 2-4):
- 1 onion (soğan)
- 2-3 peppers (biber), we used Hungarian peppers. I’ve also tried Italian peppers.
- 2 tomatoes (domates)
- 2-4 eggs (yumurta)
- Vegetable or Olive oil
- 1 small-medium frying pan
1) Dice the peppers, onions, and peppers and put them on the side.
2) Heat up about 1/8 cup of oil in the pan at medium high
3) Stir in diced peppers and sauté for about 1-2 minutes
4) Add diced onion, continue to sauté for another 5-6 minutes until well cooked, add oil as needed
5) Add diced tomatoes, cook until like a sauce.
6) Add a dash of salt
6) Drop in eggs directly over the pan, stir them in if you prefer them scrambled. We scrambled them.
7) Once well cooked or blended, remove from heat and let cool.
8) Serve directly from pan with plenty of fresh bread!
Afiyet Olsun! (Turkish phrase for “Enjoy your meal.”)
(This article was first published on December 25, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
DEMRE, Turkey — When journalist Francis Church replied to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” he could have added: “in Turkey.”
Hundreds of Orthodox Christians and other pilgrims descended on the village of Demre, Turkey, to the St. Nicholas Church where St. Nicholas served as the Bishop of Myra from 325-350 A.D.
The church still stands today, but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. St. Nicholas was martyred here and buried under the church until his bones were stolen by Italians in 1087 and taken to Bari, Italy, where they remain.
“We’re lucky to still have this church intact,” said priest Vissarion Komezias, who was one of the celebrants at the 2009 celebration of St. Nicholas’ feast day, which is marked by Christians around the world on Dec. 6.
“At best, they become museums [like this], at worst they are abandoned or destroyed,” said Komezias.
For the last three years, the Turkish government has allowed the Eastern Orthodox Church to once again celebrate a mass in Nicholas’ church. From 2002 to 2006, the Turkish government had organized its own “prayer for peace” instead.
During the 2009 liturgy given in both Greek and Turkish, celebrant Hrisostomos Kalaycı from the Istanbul Patriarchate thanked the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
“The people of Anatolia have been famous since ancient times for their diligence, their faith in God’s orders, their honesty and modesty,” Kalayci said. “I pray to God for love and peace in our country. May St. Nicholas help us all.”
Kalayci, Komezias, and other priests from the Orthodox Church served the wall-to-wall
crowd. Candles flickered against the crumbling walls of the more than 1,500-year-old church while pictures of John the Baptist, Jesus, Mary and child, and Saint Nicholas himself adorned the altar. The saint’s image was brought to the center where a candle and the bishop’s mitre (traditional headdress) rested beside it.
The crumbling pillars next to the altar symbolized the church’s tumultuous history that includes earthquakes and war. The church underwent several restorations including by the Romans in 1043, the Russians in the 19th century, and more recently with the assistance of the small Greek island of Megisti.
“Our people rebuilt this church,” said Megisti resident Evangelia Mavrothalassitis.
Turkish officials gave the 73-year-old Mavrothalassitis and her son free admission to the church for the labor her island contributed during the last restoration. Megisti, or Kastellorizo, sits just a few miles off the coast of Demre. In 2006, the Turkish Ministry of Culture made a $40,000 investment to restore the church’s roof.
Saint Nicholas, known commonly for his generosity to children, is actually patron saint to the most causes and people — among them: sailors, bakers, thieves, Greece, Apulia and Sicily. Nicholas was first named a patron to sailors after a legend emerged that he appeared to seamen caught in a tempest and guided them home.
“We grew up in Germany knowing the legend of St. Nicholas,” said 58-year-old Erica Venna. “We wanted to see the origins for ourselves.”
Germans, Greeks, Russians and Italians were among the countries represented at the service. A group of German university students came with their Turkish-born professor as their guide.
“Our aim [today] is to present Santa Claus as a real man who helped poor people,” said Ismet Yenmez. “We also want to introduce Turkish culture to the students.”
One story tells of a man in Myra who had no dowry to offer any of his three daughters. Without a dowry, historians say “women were sold into slavery or worse.” According to the legend, St. Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the man’s window on three different nights. Some say the bags landed in a stocking or shoe, which is where the European tradition originated. Three separate historical accounts tell this story differing only on the number of women or amount of gold, according to the Saint Nicholas Center.
Thirty-two countries from around the world have distinct traditions devoted to Nicholas, including Muslim Turkey.
“All of us love Noel Baba [Father Noel],” said 44-year-old Demre resident Nurhan Kale. “He is from here. He has his own culture here.”
When asked why Turks love St. Nicholas, Kale said that St. Nicholas was “good to
children.” In Turkey, some parents give their children presents on New Year’s Day in honor of the mythical gift-giving Noel Baba. The holiday is celebrated without any religious references.
“We tell the children he was an important man and this is why you are receiving the gift,” Kale added.
Whether you know him as Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Noel Baba, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Kris Kringle or Belsnickle, the legend will always have its origins along Turkey’s Mediterranean seaside.
(This article was first published on September 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
KAYSERI, Turkey — Before dawn, dozens of dusty trucks roll into a vacant lot and bring it to life. It’s Saturday, the day when village merchants come to Kayseri’s Talas district to sell fresh fruit and whatever else they have.
“One Lira, one Lira! Over here, one kilogram, one Lira!” shouted 13-year-old Hasan Erol from behind his father’s fruit stand.
At the market, shoppers find an array of fresh fruit for sale laid out neatly in colorful rows on tables under patchy burlap tents or sometimes just exploding from trucks. Gargantuan cabbages and melons roll on the dusty ground while a cornucopia of seasonal fruit and veggies including fresh tomatoes, eggplants, carrots and bananas wait to be sold.
Turkey’s 13 percent unemployment rate coupled with its rural poor makes markets like this crucial to most merchants’ livelihood.
“The supermarkets are hurting us badly,” said Aydin Topbas as he shared a cup of Turkish tea. Major European chains including Migros, Kipa and Carrefour have moved into most large Turkish cities.
Topbas left high school 12 months ago to start work in the market. Topbas and his father work together selling spices in empty parking lots like this across the region. Topbas is pessimistic about his chances of continuing the family business, and he’s not alone.
“Some days are good, but others are really bad,” said Baki Kara, a 27-year-old merchant who started working with his father at the age of 16.
Kara works one of the many fruit stands in the market. He lives on a farm just outside
Kayseri with his family, including his 10-year-old son, Yunus, who now helps his father at the market. Yunus serves him tea while Dad grabs one of the blackened kilogram blocks to balance fruit on a scale.
Kara’s 62-year-old father, Omer, still visits the market although he’s technically retired. Turks used to retire and collect social security very early, some even retired as early as the age of 40 just 10 years ago.
Today, however, younger Turks have to wait until they’re at least 62 to retire, while some older Turks can still collect in their early 50s.
Omer and his wife watch their son and grandson carry on the family business while strolling around the crowded bazaar. Although development has drawn people away, the market continues to fill up every Saturday morning with older, more traditional-looking women from all over the city. At a market where two pounds of carrots can cost you less than 75 cents, the price is right for many Turkish families and penny-pinching students.
Towards the far end of the market, shoppers can find a treasure trove of random goodies. Factory rejects, knockoff shirts and sweatpants, cheap Chinese-made toys and household supplies, and even a vendor selling scarves and sewing supplies for the massive “Teyze” demographic. (“Teyze” is a word meaning maternal aunt, but is also traditionally used as a term of endearment for elder women.)
Whether or not this village tradition will survive the rapid pace of development that some economic experts foresee, for now these markets remain the only sources of income for hundreds of families. Moreover, Turkey needs all the jobs it can generate for such a young population eager to work.
At the end of my “bazaar day,” I left with a broom, a pound of carrots, a plastic dish-drying rack and a spatula. All bought for less than five Lira, or $3.50.
Oh, and, of course, two cups of tea. No charge.
(This article was first published on August 3, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
KAYSERI, Turkey — Rows of homes that used to be part of Kayseri’s Armenian quarter and housed up to 400 families are now dilapidated and lay empty or are filled with squatters. The district is a symbol of the tragic history between Armenians and Turks during the last century, a history plagued by animosity and violence.
But in the center of that district stands a 900-year-old Armenian church, defiantly active and restored as a reminder of the better days of Armenian history in Turkey.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement in remembrance of the Armenian “Great Catastrophe,” calling it “one of the worst atrocities in the 20th century.” According to various estimates, 300,000 to 1.5 million Armenians died during World War I after being forced from their homes by the Ottoman Empire, now modern Turkey. The Armenian National Committee of America said the president made the “wrong choice” in not using the word “genocide.” Armenians have strongly pushed the United States to officially recognize the events in Ottoman Turkey as a genocide.
However, one group of Anatolian Armenians (from Turkey’s Asian side) prefers to look beyond the polarizing rhetoric in an attempt to preserve what remains of their history in Kayseri: their 900-year-old church.
“We try to remember the importance of religion. It’s our most important cause. Our foundation doesn’t think about politics,” said Garbis Bagdat, director of the St. Gregory Church Foundation.
Hidden behind a ten-foot stone barricade, the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church is one of only seven Armenian churches still functioning in Anatolia.
“When we visit, our old Kayseri neighbors are always asking us why we left and why we don’t come back,” Bagdat says. “Most of them say they would like us to come back.”
Bagdat prefers to remain with the majority of his community now in Istanbul, but his foundation is determined to preserve the pieces of history remaining in his former home.
The Kayseri Church has added importance because the community believes St. Gregory passed through the city and established an earlier church constructed of wood in the same location. St. Gregory was the first leader of the Armenian Church and is credited for converting the pagan Armenians to Christianity during the fourth century. Kayseri served as a major Armenian center for centuries before losing prominence in the late Ottoman period.
Bagdat’s group recently completed interior restorations. They revitalized old frescoes, furnishings, and statues. The community capped off the efforts with an inaugural service last November with the Armenian Patriarchate presiding. Since then, the church has seen regular Armenian visitors from Istanbul, Armenia, Europe, and the United States, including a group of Istanbul Armenians now living in Los Angeles.
“Having this church here, the only church, is very symbolic for us,” said Sylvia Minassian whose grandfather came from Kayseri, “We would like to preserve it as much as we can, as long as we can because it shows there was a Christian life here.”
Minassian grew up in Istanbul. For her, Turkey is home. She watches Turkish television, speaks to her mother in Turkish, and feels less animosity towards Turkish people.
“Our feelings are not as strong as some of the other Armenians whose families went through certain disasters and tragedies and they ended up in other countries,” Minassian said, “We never knew about [the other] history because our parents never taught us those things.”
Bagdat believes the Kayseri Church can serve as a reminder the city’s Armenian past for future generations. Bagdat says the Turkish government has been extremely helpful and has never stood in the way of his group’s mission to restore the church to its former glory.
“We are on a good path,” says Bagdat, “Twenty years ago, the situation was much worse. Nobody would speak about Armenians, and we wouldn’t speak because of Armenian terrorism outside of Turkey. We were afraid.”
But now, he says discussion are more open and he has had visitors from the Turkish government who want to learn more about the church.
For the last few years, Turkey has worked to normalize relations with its Armenian neighbors. Some feel that one of the key provisions for normalization would be an independent examination of the historic tragedy.
Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke to reporters with hope about the future.
“As Turkey, we are ready to share the pain of our Armenian neighbors,” said Davutoglu.
However, he preferred to use the word pain versus genocide in his remarks.
Turkey continues to see the deportations, what some Armenians view as death marches, as tragedies during wartime. Turkish historians often refer to Turkish losses in Gallipoli and in its eastern provinces as equivalents.
It’s an issue that continues to agitate, and even Minassian believes this remains the biggest obstacle to more normal relations between non-Turkish Armenians and Turkey.
“What hurts them [Turkey] the most is the non-accepting of what happened,” said the visiting Minassian. “I think that if they accepted it a long time ago, nobody would have blamed the new generation because it happened in the old empire.”
Bagdat says he prefers to “close his ears” to the issue because he lives in Turkey.
For him, Turkey is his home. He chooses to stay, and lives among many Turkish friends. Politics isn’t his issue. He chooses to keep his heritage by protecting the Kayseri church.
“The church is the life of the Armenians,” Bagdat says. “Every Armenian is attached to their church.”
With one year left as foundation director, Bagdat will continue his restoration campaign. The next step is to revitalize the church’s large courtyard.
The church will continue to hold four services each year when approximately three to four hundred Armenians are anticipated to worship behind those cobblestone walls like their ancestors did for over a thousand years.
For the Kayseri foundation, the church remains a chance to keep history alive.
(This article was first published on July 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
PAMUKKALE, Turkey — At the edge the Pamukkale village, visitors encounter a mesa covered in a white rock that I still can’t convince my parents is not ice.
For 400,000 years, the edges of these naturally made white “pools” of rock appear to spill over like beer foam on the brim of a glass, one after another cascading down the steep hills overlooking the houses below.
These white rock formations, known as travertines, are unique in the entire world. Steamy hot water spews forth from a spring and other fissures at the top and flow downhill. Emerging from the earth at temperatures between 95 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the waters cool on their way down leaving hardened white calcium deposits in their wake. The Turks gave the formation the name Pamukkale, or cotton castle.
We made our off-season hike up the travertines on one of Turkey’s cooler days. We began our shoeless ascent up the ivory cliffs feeling a chill in our bones. Turkey banned shoes to protect further degradation of the deposits. However, that chill didn’t last as we crossed two warm sapphire pools. Staring into these placid mirrors, you could see the village and mountains behind you.
It’s no surprise why the Greeks and Romans believed that Pamukkale imparted supernatural healing forces. During our climb, we spent nearly half an hour letting our feet dangle in a rushing current of thermal water that felt better than any Jacuzzi.
The Pamukkale’s rock is not smooth, but layered over and over similar to the thin pieces of bread Turks pile on top of each other to make a dish called Borek. But it’s also hardly rocky or sharp, and the ridges of the deposits make climbing the cliff easier.
During peak season, the travertines are filled with tourists in bathing suits (sometimes revealing more than the eye would wish to see). During a later visit, my fellow climbers included U.S. exchange students visiting Turkey on a Rotary Club tour.
At the top of the cliff, you can see all of Mother Nature’s patient creation. The white rock stretches out for nearly a mile, and the village below seems helpless in the fact of the tide of white approaching it.
And the top of the plateau is no less disappointing. The 2,200-year-old city of Hierapolis provided a stunning finish to the 600-foot climb.
Archeologists say the city became a healing center due to the thermal waters pouring from its natural fissures. The massive cemetery in Hierapolis suggests that many terminally ill people came to the city in hopes of a miracle, according to researchers. An antique pool is located in the center of the city where steamy waters continue to pour in. It is still in use today by tourists and locals.
“When you bathe in the waters of Pamukkale, your body is healed,” said village resident Mehmet Guleç, “Our waters are special.”
Pamukkale’s waters continue to flow, with the deposits inching further downhill every year. In 1988, the site became a UNESCO World Heritage site in order to protect the travertines from excessive damage by tourism and development.
Today, people still come from all reaches of the world to see and experience the waters of Turkey’s Cotton Castle.
With any luck, the tradition will continue for another 2,200 years.
(This article was first published on June 25, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here. The video was taken on June 4, 2010 during the funeral of Furkan Dogan in Kayseri.)
Furkan Dogan had just scored so high on Turkey’s rigorous college entrance exams that he could have attended any college of his choosing. But before he started school, he did what a lot of high school graduates do: He joined a humanitarian mission to help people less fortunate than him.
His choice of charities was fatal.
“He was not a political activist,” said his father Ahmet Dogan. “He was just a volunteer, a humanitarian who wanted to help people. He wanted to study to be a doctor, an eye doctor.”
Furkan was killed during the Memorial Day raid by Israeli armed forces on the Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and, according to flotilla organizers, deliver humanitarian supplies to the embattled region. When the Israelis boarded the boat from the air and by motor boat, fighting broke out, and Dogan was shot multiple times in the head and chest, according to an Anatolian news agency.
Israeli government officials claim that their soldiers were ambushed not by peace activists, but by people ready for a fight “This was not a love boat, but a hate boat,” said . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In June 9 interview on the Colbert Report, Israel Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said, “The people on this particular boat were 70 hired thugs from a radical Islamic organization.”
But, for the Dogan family and their friends, these characterizations don’t match the man they knew. Furkan was not a paid member of the The Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, the aid group which helped organize the flotilla.
Dogan was chosen by IHH after entering an online lottery to serve as a volunteer on the Mavi Marmara. Nine other residents of his hometown in Turkey, Kayseri, joined him.
Dogan attended one of Turkey’s competitive “science high schools” where students prepare for careers in medicine, engineering, and other sciences. Furkan was an honor student and recently completed college entrance exams where he placed high enough to enter any school of his choosing. Furkan took the exam as a foreigner because he was born in Troy, NY in 1991 while his father studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Furkan is a citizen of both the U.S. and Turkey.
“He was thinking he’d like to go to America for university, and was looking forward to going back to Troy to see his homeland and improve his language skills,” said his father Ahmet.
In 1993, Dogan’s father brought his family back to Kayseri, where he teaches economics as an associate professor.
Seniye Vural, an English literature professor and family friend said that Furkan’s father was often helping students, particularly a theater group in the economics faculty. Vural dismissed the idea that Furkan could have learned any radical theologies at home.
“I’ve never seen him [Ahmet Dogan] as an activist,” said Vural.
In fact, Dogan, like his son, looked positively on his time in the US.
“I had a great impression of America,” he said, “I was especially impressed with how Americans were so sensitive to issues of human rights and individual freedom.”
The family said their son went with those issues in mind, and wanted to take the opportunity to help people he saw as suffering. He joined the 600 people on the Mavi Marmara with his American passport in hand believing that it would be the best protection.
“Furkan thought that his American citizenship, his American passport, would protect him,” said his
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffery reportedly spoke to Ahmet by phone in early June, promising Furkan’s father he would find out what went on in the Mavi Marmara. The U.S. State Department has not asked for an independent investigation.
On June 1, U.S. President Barack Obama said he supports “a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts.”
Meanwhile, the Dogan family continues to mourn the loss of their youngest son. Ahmet says his son died a martyr doing God’s work, and at the funeral on June 4, thousands of residents in Kayseri came out waving signs supporting that idea.
“We want to show the world that he was innocent, that he lived a life of dignity,” repeated his father, “We also want his life to be dedicated to humanity’s
The city plans to name a street after him, and his high school is dedicating a gymnasium to him. A creative writing professor plans to write a book, play, or movie about Furkan, while another group hopes to establish a cultural center named after him.
Jim Buie,a freelance journalist living in Kayseri, contributed to this report. View his blog and coverage of the story.
Suds, bubbles, and Bobby Darin’s “Splish, splash” are typically what come to mind when I think about taking a bath. Turkey has turned that upside down.
Turks continue a long standing tradition of bath houses that first came to prominence in the Roman Empire. Today, these bath houses feature hot rooms of marble where men and women wash themselves and are washed by attendants. Today’s baths mostly come from Turkey’s Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires where an emphasis on purity and cleanliness made hamams extremely attractive.
Last week, three friends and I visited one of Turkey’s traditional hamams (bath houses). The nearly eight-hundred year-old Seljuk hamam in Kayseri’s city center was simple, but it certainly didn’t miss any services of a traditional Turkish Hamam. Most of its visitors are not tourists but instead the working men of one of Turkey’s most traditional cities. There is a woman’s side of the hamam as well, but I can’t say much about that. Our hamam was separated into three different areas: a drying and dressing room, a wash room, and a sauna.
Stone steps descending from the sidewalk led us to the entrance and into the drying and dressing area. Furnished in wood, it reminded me of a cedar closet. Each of us were given a key to one of the 20 or so dressing booths lining the room. Meanwhile, men just out of the bathing area sat in plush chairs reading the news or watching Turkish TV while drying off, some of whom who were also enjoying a full rub down at the chair. After dropping everything but a thin plaid towel provided to us by the hamam, I was ready for the cleaning of my life.
After entering the main bath room, the first thing I noticed was the room’s humidity. It wasn’t necessarily hot, but sweat immediately starting building on contact with the air. Orhan, my friend and “hamam guide” laughed at my reaction to it and said, “Today, for the first time, you will be really clean!”
The room we were in was furnished with marble floors and benches along the wall, and a mini-waterway system guided runoff splash water down the bath’s drains. The room had four smaller rooms in each corner (one being a sauna) and in between the corner rooms were spigots and sinks running along the wall with metal pans for individual bathing. On a busy day, the benches would be full of men sitting, chatting, and then pouring warm to hot water over themselves. The four of us (one Turk, two English teachers, and one Chinese teacher) sat in the center slab of the room admiring the historical nature of the building, while also frankly, sweating like pigs.
After about 15 minutes, Orhan suggested it was time “to get very hot” in the sauna. The sauna was the hottest room I’ve been in even for a sauna. Thankfully it was extremely dry. Inside, we met Ali, a tall Turkish man who was a bit off according to Orhan. While sitting down, Ali got up and started haphazardly flicking the sprinkling hose left and right. I jumped when the “cold” water hit us sitting on the bench and said, “Hey, stop.” Ali responded, “I’m making steam. I’m making steam.” We had no problem with the steam, but asked if he could make it where no one was sitting. The sauna was too much for me, so I left. From the outside looking in, I watched Ali playing with the hose from the door window. When my friends came out before Ali, Jim the American teacher said that Ali mentioned,Turkey and America are friends, “but Turkey is stronger.”
After the sauna, we were finally ready to be cleaned according to Orhan. Two men standing by the entrance were rubbing and soaping men lying down
on marble benches on the side of the walls. The first step was the kese. The kese is basically a large, rough edged glove, reminiscent of the gloves I’ve used to groom my dog. The burly and bald bath attendent (also known as a tellak) rubbed it all over my skin. The glove pulled away at all the dust and dead skin on my body and the remnants of which were left looking like wet rolled up pieces of paper. After the process, he poured water over me using a small silver bowl filled with lukewarm water. My skin felt raw, but also extremely clean. But the experience wasn’t over as the attendant asked me, “Do you want soap massage?”
Saying yes, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had such a thorough wash down since I was an infant. The “massage” got a bit brutal especially towards the end when he worked on my back. The attendant was excited to talk to an American in Turkish, and kept asking how the country was. I responded that Turkey is wonderful, the peopler are great, and the food is tip top. I would often find myself saying, Turkey is çok guzel (very beautiful). He would laugh and as he pressed his hands hard into my back, he shouted, “Çok guzel!” After a final rinse, I was able to head over to another side of the hamam where I could gently rinse with my own little bowl of warm water.
After we all finished with the attendants, we headed out of the hamam and took a seat in the chairs. We were given lemonade and soda while we rested and just let our bodies rest after the thorough cleaning and pounding.
For those few hours, it was interesting to have such a personal and thorough cleaning. Spas are not usually my thing, and I can’t say I’d go back to hamam on a regular basis. But, when you’ve been travelling and you just want to get completely clean and relaxed, it’s a great start. Some people say you can feel like the Sultan, and I can see why. From the minute you enter until the minute you leave, the hamam is all about your needs, nothing else.
As for the price of this full service, the bath will run you about 35 Turkish Lira or $23.00 US Dollars.
The sun has set on my last day in Kayseri. It’s 12:30AM in Turkey (5:30 PM the day before in Boston). In three hours, I’ll take my final Turkish Taxi and have my last wild ride during this journey in the place where East meets West. I’ve shared a number of good memories, some of which I’ve reflected on or wrote about already, and many more I still have to put to paper. I’ve lived a double-life while here. During the week, I’m a teacher of English for about 150 students, and on the weekends, an explorer of history, culture, and life.
I’ve found myself exploring cities thousands of years old. Crawling through caves, exploring entire cities underground. I’ve walked, or sometimes stumbled where Alexander the Great and St. Paul passed by, along with numerous other greats, Caesar, Cicero, Mehmet the Conqueror, and Ataturk among others. I’ve seen dervishes whirl, skied down one of Turkey’s tallest peaks, and spent a few days in a village amidst the lush trees of Turkey’s Black Sea region.
But it’s the people I’ve met, and am unfortunately saying good-bye to that is in my mind the most tonight. I’ve shared at least 1,000 cups of tea while here. I’ve shared stories, and hours of my life with people from all over the world including (but not limited to) Turkey, China, Korea, England, Pakistan, Gaza, Greece, Germany, Israel, Australia, Italy, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Scotland, Egypt, Syria, Bosnia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, France, Canada, and the United States. As I get ready to leave for the final time this trip, I can think of a lot of great adventures that would make a good post. But for my final post from Turkey I’ll take this opportunity to share photos of just some of the people who made those adventures great.
My journey may be ending, but this blog is not finished. There are still stories and videos to share. Even though the pace of posts will slow over time, I still envision this as a living resource, and hope that some students will pick up where I leave off. I also don’t plan to make this my only trip to Turkey. As my neighbor David says, “Turkey is a virus. Once you’ve got the bug, you’ll come back.” I don’t think I’ll ever make a permanent home in Turkey, in fact, I don’t know if I want to make any home permanent at this stage. Something I learned over here. But certainly I want, and hope, to be back.
Thanks for the memories.
NOTE: This article was first published for “Today’s Zaman,” an English daily newspaper in Turkey. View the article as it originally appeared here.
During my year in Turkey, I’ve tried to turn my Turkish from a “caveman dialect” where requests for bus tickets sound like, “Konya ticket need. Tomorrow, early day,” to something friendlier, like: “I’d like to go to Konya tomorrow, please. Is there a bus in the morning?” Working my way through that process has taught me a lot about the differences between English and Turkish etiquette.
My linguistic adventure began with the words “please” and “thank you” (in Turkish, “lütfen” and “teşekkür ederim”). In the US, they are my bread and butter words when it comes to politeness. At the dinner table, at work, at school — almost every request I make in English includes the word “please” and is usually followed up by “thank you.” So naturally, I made sure to memorize their Turkish counterparts and use them equally as often.
After hundreds of “lütfens” and “teşekkür ederims” to my host family and other Turkish friends, I got the sense I was not sounding natural. I asked my Turkish teacher and she explained that rather than using individual words, Turkish infers its politeness by formalizing its suffixes. Unlike English, Turkish words have multiple added-on endings (suffixes) that can tell the reader who is speaking, whether the word is a subject or an object, who is being addressed and formality, among other usages.
For example, “How are you?” in Turkish has a polite and less polite form. “Nasılsın?” is seen as the more informal version because it takes the “singular you” suffix while “Nasılsınız?” takes the “plural you” suffix, which is seen as the more formal and polite usage. Also, rather than using the word “please” for requests, Turks use the “Can I…” phrase (in Turkish, “… -bilir miyim?”).
As an English speaker, it took me a long time to think about it in this way. The other strange thing which I refuse to give in to is using “thank you” less. I’ve always been taught to say “thank you” even for services I’ve paid for, like a minibus trip downtown, a cashier at the market or for change at the bank.
A faculty colleague told me, “We don’t say ‘thank you’ for something that is someone’s duty.” For me, more is always better than less.
But for what Turkey lacks in “thank yous,” it has a wonderful tradition of polite phrases that my language lacks. Three of my favorites are “kolay gelsin,” “afiyet olsun” and “eline sağlık.” The first means “may your work come easy” and can be said to someone working. It can be used as a salutation or, as I love, when you’re just walking by. I once said it to a man painting the third story of a building on scaffolding; he nearly fell off shouting back, “thank you!” The other two are used during meals, with the first meaning “enjoy your meal” and the second “health to your hands,” usually said to the cook. At noon, my department’s hallways echo with a flutter of “afiyet olsuns” as everyone leaves for lunch, and we often exchange the phrase with each other right before eating, and sometimes even after. It’s a language trait I’ve really come to enjoy and will not be surprised if I say unconsciously at lunch with my American friends and colleagues.
Looking at the two languages, I don’t think English is “too polite.” But I don’t think Turkish is less polite either. Instead, my thought is that Turkish relies less on words for manners and more on actions and body language. Because once you’ve been invited in for tea and given a big two-cheek embrace, a thank you really is just words, isn’t it?
Over the last week, there has been a lot of news about the Israel blockade and storming of an international aid flotilla. 16 of the passengers were killed in the incident, nine of which were Turks. Since then, demonstrators have been out in force. The Turkish government condemned the raid and has demanded not only an apology from Israel, but also an independent investigation over the incident. Turkey has been the longest Muslim ally to Israel, and the incident has added more tension to an already strained relationship.
Interestingly enough, the situation developed last Friday to where Kayseri was the center of focus. Furkan Dogan, a 19 year-old high school student, was flown in to be buried. Dogan was not only the youngest passenger to be killed, but he was also an American citizen (as well as Turkish). Below is a video clip I took from the funeral day as well as my commentary published today on NPR’s Here and Now. A more detailed report with interviews is also coming soon.
Kayseri is a fairly quiet, middle-sized city in Turkey. Last Friday however, the place where I’ve served as a Fulbright teaching fellow was turned upside down when the body of Furkan Dogan, a 19 year-old high school student, was buried after being reportedly shot multiple times at close range during the Flotilla raid last Monday. Dogan was also an American citizen, who moved back to Turkey when he was 2 after being born in Troy, N.Y.
A sea of hands carried the casket out of Dogan’s apartment building at 11 a.m., while mourners chanted prayers and looked on in shock. After a short procession to the city’s main mosque in the center square, the casket was prayed over for another two hours during the weekly Friday services. Furkan’s father, Ahmet Dogan, stayed very quiet as he stood by his son’s casket and made his way through the grim process of burying his youngest son.
After the Imam concluded the prayers, the crowd of more than 2,000 people became enlivened. The casket was again carried by hand out into Kayseri’s main street, as the flood of residents followed chanting slogans from, “God is Great,” to “Israel: Terrorist.” In the march to the cemetery, the anger and grief over the loss of an honor student who had plans to attend medical school in the fall was aimed straight at the actions of the Israeli government.
At the end of the march, city buses waited to take anyone who wished up to the burial site on the top of one of the mountains overlooking the city. At the burial, family members including Ahmet Dogan picked up a shovel to bury their fallen son while the rest crowded together in the dusty cemetery and prayed.
The news of Dogan’s death last week rocked the city of Kayseri where I live. Although Kayseri is a city known to have a religiously conservative bent, I would hesitate to say it is a hub for any sort of extremism or fundamentalism. Many women not only abstain from veiling themselves, but also wear stylish, designer threads. The students I teach are hungry to learn and find a successful career in Turkey as engineers, doctors, or in business. For most residents, the situation is far from desperate. Many have large families whose members live close together, sometimes even in the same apartment buildings, while taking jobs at local factories, hospitals, or schools.
Ahmet Dogan and his family were just one of those families. He is an associate professor in Erciyes University’s economics department, where I also teach English. Although I don’t know him personally, he seemed to me like any faculty at my university, someone working hard in their career in order to provide a better education for their children.