July 5, 2008 at 7:09 am Leave a comment

Mehmet had grown up in the Taurus mountain village of Esenler, and he offered a home-stay for the group. He had begun this project a few years ago, and the money it provided the villagers helped them upgrade their infrastructure. On the morning of 23 June, his brother Muammer and all the rest of us collected our things and drove in a minibus into the mountains. The village is beautiful, and very vertical, along the side of a steep mountain. We drove to the end of the road, and all of us got out. We piled our things along the side of a small building, and some of the local men covered the stack with some of the rugs lying in a nearby field. (Yes, they appeared to grow Turkish carpets in mountain villages, fields of them!)

Back into the van–they weren’t ready for us, and we had brought a lunch. Another terrific bread, cheese and fruit picnic, this time arranged by our self-appointed Social Chairs. After lunch, it was (of course) up the mountain to explore, then to a cherry orchard to pick some dessert.

For goal-directed people, a Taurus mountain village is even more frustrating than Istanbul. When we returned to the field of carpets (actually there so that the original bold colors can be faded in the sun, because Europeans seem to prefer pastels), we got to sit and drink tea and talk for what seemed like hours. There was some discussion between Muammer and the men about which students would be hosted by which families, something that had already been worked out (I thought) with Mehmet before we left Konya. At long last, they seemed to be organized and to organize us, and sent students off with families. William and I stayed with two students in a house that was in transition. Normally, a nuclear family of four lived here with their parents. But the younger family had moved out a few days earlier to live next to the field of carpets, and the older couple seemed mostly to be vacating so that the new kitchen cupboards could be installed. This meant that we got to hike up the hill for meals and conversation.

The students loved the experience, by all accounts. Their comments and excitement suggested that the village was not at all what they had expected. Most seemed to be very pleased to be living with their families, and some were quite hesitant to leave at the end of the two days. (Check out their blogs.)

It seems that it was not the specific activities that they enjoyed so much, but the extensive contact. None of the residents spoke English, which helped them use their Turkish. But the communication issues seemed to affect relationships only in a few cases. After their first few days in Istanbul, with the fast learning curve about food and manners and transportation, the village experience seems to have made the biggest impression. All of our understanding of Turks and Turkish life seemed to need revising.

Like dinner the previous evening, we ate breakfast sitting on the floor around a large cloth. The food was terrific, but significantly different from the city (especially breakfast). The students spent some hours the second morning helping pick cherries or pack peaches with their host families. After lunch, Muammer took them for a walk to a local waterfall. That evening they spent comparing notes.

I stayed behind. After more than a week together on the road, it was time for a day off. One of my projects this summer is a book on Turkey aimed at middle school children. This was the perfect opportunity. Needless to say, the text changed as a result of our village time. Like most Turks, I think, I had assumed that Istanbul/Ankara life was Turkey. Amazing how two days can change all that.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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