the Long's Strange Trip

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~  Home on the Range ~
July 16 through July 21, 2000
$1 U.S. = 630,000 Turkish Lire
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Gaziantep, Turkey
July 16 through July 21, 2000

(ccl)  We left Cappodocia on schedule at 8:00 Sunday morning.  The drive ahead was supposed to be about seven hours, plus Filiz had a couple of stops she wanted to make along the way.  The first was in a small village where an ancient caravanserai  was located.  Caravanserais are found throughout this part of the world.  In the times when camel caravans were used to move goods from one place to another, they served as overnight stops for these caravans, providing a place to house the beasts of burden and for the men to get meals and rest.  This particular one was very well-preserved, and the group enjoyed taking a quick look around the place.  Just as we were leaving, a local woman showed up and demanded money -  about 12 million lire, to be exact.  When Filiz refused to pay her, she proceeded to produce a padlock and lock the door of the place, so that no one could leave.  A rather heated discussion then ensued in Turkish, and finally, when the woman was given 500,000 lire, she released her prisoners.  I guess you can't blame her for trying her hand at the extortion game...

The other stop we made was in the city of Maras for ice cream, for which the town is famous.  Apparently they beat this stuff by hand, and it becomes so stiff and thick that they can hang it from a hook.  It's so hard it has to be eaten with a knife and fork.  The place we stopped has been making and selling one flavor of ice cream - vanilla - for 150 years.  From the way the place was packed with people, I'd say that Baskins Robbins might want to re-think their business plan.  It was certainly an interesting experience, but I didn't really care too much for the strong taste of sheep's milk which permeated the ice cream.

When we finally rolled into Gaziantep around 3:30 that afternoon, we were all pretty exhausted from the heat.  Gaziantep isn't far from the Syrian border, and it's the hottest area of Turkey.  Leyla's father was a doctor here when she was born, so she has a lot of contacts in the city, and that's why our homestay portion of the trip was taking place here.  We proceeded to the office of a local woman who arranges exchanges in America  between Turkish students and American families.  She had solicited families in the Gaziantep area who might be willing to house American travelers in their homes for six days, and had matched us up with the families.  Our family was the first to arrive to collect us, and we departed with them after learning that we would reconvene in two days for a meeting with the group.

Our Turkish family  Kemal and Dilek Karagulle are a young couple with two boys, Berkay, age 9, and Kutay, age 3.  Kemal runs his family's tire business, and Dilek just finished her certification for teaching primary and secondary school, and will teach starting in September this year at a local private school. Dilek spoke English very well, and Kemal understood much of what was being said, but couldn't speak English.  Berkay had studied a little English at school, and of course, Kutay wasn't old enough to know any.  The only word Kutay said all week that we understood was when he would fly his Batman action figure by our heads and exclaim in those reverent, hushed tones reserved only for a super-hero, "Batman!".

Wiley and I were really looking forward to some time spent in a real home, and Dilek and Kemal made us feel that we were truly "at home" from the beginning.  We stayed at Dilek's parent's apartment, which was very lovely and bigger than Dilek and Kemal's place.  Dilek's mother insisted that we use her house, since Dilek has no guest room in her house.  Because of us, Dilek's parents moved out of their house for a week.  This is the Turkish way, as I have mentioned before.  Anything that can be done to make a guest feel more at home, is done.  If we wanted anything to eat, anything in the refrigerator was ours for the taking.  When our clothes needed washing, Dilek did them.  When we needed to go shopping or run errands, Dilek and Kemal took us.  Our hosts could not have been more helpful or gracious.  But at the same time, they also somehow made us feel like we weren't imposing on them.  I felt completely comfortable with them from the start - almost like one of the family.  

In the birthplace of Abraham  On Tuesday we met back with the group, and found out that activities had been scheduled for us for the next three days.  I wasn't too happy about this, since I found it really nice and relaxing, spending time in a comfortable home for the first time in a long time.  However, things weren't going as smoothly for some members of the group, and they where happy to have outside activities.  The worst case in the group was Vickey's.  No one in her house spoke any English, and you can imagine how tough it was for her because of this.  So she was glad to have something else to do, but I don't think any of us was prepared for the excursion we took on Wednesday.  We left for the nearby town of Sanliurfa at 7:00 A.M.  We wanted to get an early start to try and avoid some of the heat, which turned out to be pretty much impossible.  I've told you that this region was the hottest in Turkey, hence the name of this page "Home on the Range", because the heat resembled the intensity of the big burner on an Amana Radar-Range.  At one point the thermometer on Wiley's shoe told us that it was 110 degrees, and that was inside the van.  The two big attractions in Sanliurfa both have to do with the prophet Abraham.  Muslims believe that the three great religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, all originated with Abraham, so he is quite special to them ("Ibrahim" in Arabic).  There is a cave in Sanliurfa that is renowned as the place where Abraham was born.  Pilgrims come from all over to drink the water from the spring in the cave, as they feel that it has special healing properties.  As Islamic standards dictated extremely modest standards of dress when entering the shrine, most of us had to don the "rental robes" provided.  The men and women went in separate parts of the cave, and let me tell you that the summer heat did not enhance the odors inside the cave in any way.  However, it was quite peaceful inside the cave, as women prayed out loud and drank from the spring, many of them looking for relief from some affliction.  I thought about and prayed for my college roommate, M.L., who had just had surgery for a brain tumor.  

Sacred fish feeding frenzy  The other attraction is the Balikli Gol, which are pools of sacred carp that supposedly rest on the site where King Nimrod attempted to immolate Abraham on a burning pyre, because Abraham had been destroying Nimrod's favorite pagan gods.  God saved Abraham by turning the fire into water and the burning coals into carp, and the fish that live in the lake today are considered sacred by the Muslims.  If you go there, don't try to feed them pretzels, as I did.  You will get yelled at if you feed them anything other than the officially sanctioned fish food, available from several conveniently located vendors.

Newest PLO member - please note the sweaty nature of my hair  After lunch in the park, we again boarded the Inferno Express for a trip to Belkisi.  You may have recently read about this archeological site in USA Today, as it is slowly being flooded by the recently dammed waters of the Euphrates River.  Archeologists have been working frantically to remove several beautifully preserved mosaics from Roman times, and many have already been successfully relocated to the Gaziantep museum (we had seen them on Tuesday).  The others are apparently matters of national security, because the armed men that loitered around the sight we very clear about the fact that we were not to go into those areas.  I guess they are trying to avert any kind of protests from any international groups looking to help preserve the antiquities.  I think that as a country, Turkey tries to preserve its ancient history, but it takes a lot of money, and when it's a question of producing more food to feed an ever-growing population, or saving some old mosaics, the needs of today's people win out.

When we got back to Gaziantep at 7:00, we found out that Dilek had been waiting for us at the office for over an hour.  We were exhausted, and it was nice to go back "home", take a cool shower, and enjoy another delicious meal with friends.  The next day the rest of the group was going to visit a nearby village, but we had already told them we would be skipping that activity.

Crazy boys!  During the week, Wiley really got close to the boys.  He had a great time playing with them, and I think they liked him as well, despite the language barrier.  I guess there's really no need for a common language in play.  They had intense smash-em-up sessions with some little plastic McDonald's cars we had brought.  One of them had Fred Flintstone driving with Dino in the back, and Kutay called it his "yabba-dabba-do" car.  Berkay liked playing chess on his computer at home, and he good-naturedly played Wiley ten or so games, losing every time.  

Kutay - a BIG help in the kitchen  As for me, I really enjoyed helping Dilek with the cooking, and getting to know her better.  She showed me how to make a couple of traditional Turkish dishes, and my favorite was Eggplant Kebab.  She opened up about the challenges she had faced, going to school while raising Berkay, and being pregnant with Kutay.  We talked about the Muslim concept of "in sha'Allah", which loosely translates to "God willing".  Muslims believe that everything comes from God, and if you get something you want, it was because of God.  Dilek believes that you get what you want only by working for it.  She aspires to go further in school, to get her masters degree and one day teach in college.  She also feels that it's important to spend your life doing something that you love; something that you are passionate about.  These are, of course, all concepts that Wiley and I spend a good deal of time talking about, as we consider the next course in our lives.

But I think what was really special about the week was that we both felt like we made a connection with these people.  They were not afraid to open up to us, to talk about their dreams and desires, the problems and challenges of raising a family, and the issues that face them living in their country.  Dilek's brother and sister-in-law, Yalcyn and Nilufer, joined us for dinner one night, and then invited us over to their apartment for tea another night.  We found that Wiley and Yalcyn had a lot in common, including interests in Zen Buddhism and spirituality.  Both Yalcyn and Nilufer speak great English, and I felt sorry that Kemal was left out of the conversation so often.  

A family affair  On our last night with the family, Wiley and I cooked dinner for Kemal, Dilek, Berkay and Kutay.  Dilek's parents, Ilhan and Huseyin, and her brother, Ugur, also joined us.  I made Fettuccine Alfredo, and everyone wolfed it down, which is really no indication that the food is good in Turkey, because it's considered bad manners not to eat all the food that's put in front of you.  After dinner, Wiley presented Kemal with a stuffed Pikachu doll that talks and lights up, and Dilek with a remote controlled race car.  This was, of course, a joke, as Berkay was crazy for Pokemon, and Kutay loved crashing cars.  The kids quickly grabbed the toys from their parents, and we never saw them without them for the remainder of our visit.  The boys said "thank you" in their best English to us, and I wished I could have done something more to show my thanks to these people who so willingly opened their hearts and their homes to us.  I hope they have some idea of what that week meant to both of us.  We will certainly never forget any of them.

On Friday afternoon Dilek and Kemal drove us to meet the rest of the group for the all night bus trip to Alanya.  It was sad saying goodbye, as I felt I had really gotten close to them in the few days we had been together.  I can only hope that one day they will visit us in America, and we can repay their hospitality and enjoy their friendship again.

Alanya, Turkey
July 21 through July 23, 2000

Brushing your teeth at a truck stop - par for the course on an over night bus ride  Back with the rest of the group, we shared stories about our experiences during the week.  Almost everyone had had a remarkable time, and felt like they had made connections with the people they stayed with.  Alanya was the final stop for the group, and Wiley and I made the decision to move on to Greece early.  We both felt that it was time for us to move on, and that we needed to get back out on our own.  For both of us, the most positive thing about the LISLE experience was the homestay.  We both felt like maybe a three week guided tour is, for us, too long.  But we met some great people on the trip and hope to cross paths with them again someday.

We took another over night bus, this time to Bodrum, and when the bus arrived the next morning, we headed straight for the port and bought our ferry tickets for the short ride to the island of Kos, in Greece.  We were both exhausted, but looking forward to a change of scene in a new country.  

Click here to continue in Greece with "Islands of Pleasure"

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