Turkish Delight

Trip Start May 22, 2009
Trip End Feb 16, 2010

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Flag of Turkey  , Kilis Province,
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What a thrill it is to me to be out of the tourist route again.  Unfortunately most of our time in Turkey has been busing to major attractions and staying in the tourist towns.  Not the true cultural experience I wanted, but I think we did the best we could with the weather and terrain being what it was.  Instead, we had the experience of towns, shops and restaurants as well as meeting up with some other travelers and talking with them. 

Arriving in Killis is a different story though.  Right on the border it’s an easy cycle for us.  However, most tourists go to Antakya and cross the border there, so Killis doesn’t get a lot of tourism.  I can tell this because there’s not a postcard shop in site and prices are maybe a quarter of what they have been everywhere else (and they may still be bargaining high with me…). 

Also, the people are very different.  Foreigners are still quite a novelty.  Upon first arrival, Brian wanted to stop for a bit of a rest and I decided to scout out the Otel scene.  He was instantly mobbed by high school kids out of school for their lunch hour.  Group after group passed by trying to talk about the bikes and such all while attracting more people.  Eventually some old guys at the barber shop near by chased them all off so Brian could have a bit of a reprieve. 

I myself was mobbed a few times on the way to hotels.  Everyone seems to be very interested in meeting you and shaking your hand even if it’s just for a moment or two.  It’s amazing how even the English phrases of ‘welcome’, ‘where are you from’, and ‘what is your name’ seem to be known if nothing else.  I’ve decided that we have to kick the North American ‘rush’ out.  Nothing is going to happen quickly anymore.  You may be on a small mission, but numerous meetings and offers of cay will happen along the way.  Then it’s 3 hours later and you’re not even close to being ready. 

After being spoiled by westernized pensions offering French toast and muesli every morning, we were on a mission to find some food since our Otel doesn’t offer any.  The main street is lined with dozens of doner shops (only 1 TL each), baklava to die for, and old men pushing carts and selling various forms of produce.  Not exactly breakfast, but really nice to look at.  The drive for coffee was beginning to overwhelm Brian and we thought he was going to have to settle for cay.  There is an old boys tea house across from our Otel, but it’s not the kind of place that welcomes women so we had to keep looking. 

A few minutes down the street we saw a huge market of fruits and vegetables and we met up with a man who attempted conversation.  He invited us into an office with about half a dozen other men to ‘talk’ to.  Immediately cay was served.  A few minutes later one of the men ran out and returned with about 5kg of apples and oranges as a gift for us. 

Tea - check!
Breakfast - check!
New friends (bonus) - check!

Spent the next hour or so with our new friends having some great laughs and exchanging as much information as we can.  Before leaving Canada, I put together a few little photo albums of us, our home, our jobs, Canada, family, etc.  These have been invaluable!  Also, one of the best things I bought in Turkey was an Atlas.  I ripped out the Europe and Middle East as well as the World pages so we can talk to people about where we’re from, where we’ve been, where we’re going, and hear other travel stories.  I’m actually glad that I bought it in Turkey rather than bringing it from Canada, as many of the countries have different names and this way we can pronounce them in the local language. 

Went for a little walk through the market only after promising ‘the guys’ that we would return afterwards for some more ‘chatting’.  While walking through the tons and tons of fresh produce I tried to take some discreet pictures.  But as soon as anyone saw my camera they were actually calling to me asking me to take their photos. 

Went for a little walk around the Sehir Merkezi.  In this town there are all sorts of tiny little off-shoots which lead in and around back alleys filled with so many different things.  Brian actually found some pipe tobacco which he hasn’t managed to find for the last month or so.  Wherever we went there was pleasant conversation and offers of tea.  We felt badly, but we had to start refusing for our guts were full and we did have a couple of things that HAD to be done today. 

But even little errands are becoming an adventure.  I went in to mail a parcel home and came out to see Brian in the center of a rather large crowd.  When I joined, it grew again.  I had young children showing me their English homework, women offering us to come to their homes for the night, men promising to take us out for breakfast, guys trying out Brian‘s pipe…

News travels quickly in a little town.  Walking down streets we’ve never gone down before we could hear mutterings of ‘Canada’ and ‘bicyclette’ coming from various shop owners and patrons.  We seem to be the talk of the town today.

But the most special time came when we passed by a nut and spice shop.  I stopped for a moment to look at some new seeds I had not seem before.  In Cappadocia they make a lot of pumpkin seeds.  (Actually, the fields are piled with empty husks as they leave the fruit and only eat the seeds.  Even the animals won’t eat them.)  But these seeds were different. 

With a curious look, the shop owner immediately thrust handfuls into both of our hands to try.  I started looking around some more and we saw the un-roasted version of the seeds as well.  A strange little seed that looked like peppercorns - only green - was quite curious to me.  Finding a container inside I was able to read that it makes a thick molasses like substance that is made into coffee to cure coughs and phlegm.  Well that was just the beginning of a fun evening in the spice shop.  More and more items made their way into our hands and mouths as we looked at things we couldn’t identify. 

Then the owner started to show off a little bit and brought out some special local creations.  Like large raisins that are grown in the area, pistachios wrapped in a thick pastry, and walnuts dipped in a gooey raisin candy, and roasted hazelnuts in shells. 

Had some very nice conversation with Meslek Nedir, his son, and his grandson Zafer.  It’s amazing how much you can get across with hand gestures and a few pictures in a book.  One topic of conversation that keeps coming up as soon as they know we’re married is that of children.  Families are so important here it’s a very frequent topic of conversation.  But as for us…Inshallah.  Before saying goodbye, we were honored when Zafer bid us farewell with a kiss on the hand and a touch from his forehead. 

A little overwhelming for one day, but wonderful at the same time!  I’ve been wanting some good human interactions and it seems like we made up for lost time in Turkey.  Perhaps it’s better that we’ve been in touristy areas, I’m not sure we could take this day after day - nice as it is.  But if all I’ve heard is true, this is a mild introduction to what we could experience in Syria.  

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