Turkish delight is a soft, chewable sweet made famous in a land that offers some of the world’s best – think honey sweetened concoctions like baclava. It is the sweet of all sweets; I bought a kilogram to take home but they’ll never reach Canada. Looking through my photos as I fly home there are a few other Turkish delights that seem worthy of sharing.
Attaturk, the father of modern Turkey, the new Turkey that he created out of the decrepit Ottoman regime, tried to build a secular society, banning various conservative religious practises and groups. Attaturk is revered, think Nelson Mandela; his Mausoleum/Shrine in Ankara is a must see, we were there when the President of Kenya rolled by to pay his respects. Attaturk was relatively successful pulling Turkey into the 20th century but died too soon to ensure the more European looking secular society he envisaged take root deeply enough to be considered permanent.
Turkey is a Muslim country. We in the West are conditioned – badly – to expect the worst; wild eyed terrorists, frightening mullahs, jihaddists behind every potted palm. We saw none of that; yet to call Turkey Muslim-lite is also misleading, it is a deeply Muslim country outside of Istanbul. The first and most persistent difference we notice is the early morning call to prayer; it awakens us every morning at about 5 AM. Already up, I hear it clearly.
Most women wear headscarves, few wear the full black chador that I saw so often in Kuwait. Our guide suggests that beyond the very important Friday afternoon prayer, attendance at other times and other days is light. Normal life does not come to a screeching halt when prayers are called throughout the day. South of Konya, we stayed overnight with a family, one of the joys of traveling with G-Adventures.
On our walk through the village, we stopped at the mosque, almost next to our host’s home. The Imam came to greet us and spent some time talking to us about his life in this village. He was 29, married with two children who described himself as a spiritual resource, a guide, to the Muslins here. He was generous with his time, modest in his approach, open to sharing his beliefs with us and, when we saw him later with his son, an obvious loving father. We drank tea in the village square, surrounded by old men; I’m sure we gave them something new to discuss. In short, Turkey is worth visiting because it is Muslim, a whole new dimension of interest.
We returned to a sumptuous Turkish feast, on the floor (I do need to get to yoga more often) and enough tea to keep me up all night. Our three hostesses could not have been more gracious. We swept through the food like locusts through a field; I’m sure they wonder whether we are fed enough back home.
We also met a real life whirling dervish. They’re famous in Turkey, and can easily be marginalized as silly folks in long skirts and funny hats who spin round and round until they get dizzy. Looks are deceptive; the Muslim sect goes back to Melvana Rumi, a 13th century philosopher and poet who struggled to find a way to get closer to his god. After a highly ritualized and deeply considered ceremony that involved the requisite whirling, we met with one of the ‘dervishes’; an accountant (go figure) with a family. After a long discussion, we came away with a more considered and considerate understanding of the Mevlevi’s, the whirling dervishes.
The Grand Bazaar opened our eyes to a world of Turkish crafts and collectibles that are unsurpassed in quality; why am I not surprised, now that I have been there and understand a bit of the history of the region. Pottery is unsurpassed in beauty, coloration and design, It is especially enthralling when the demonstration is in a cave cut from a hillside a thousand years ago. I barely escaped with my bank account intact.
At the carpet weaving ‘demonstration’, I fell under the spell of an incredible variety of beautiful hand made rugs, I now have one that is all mine. It seems everyone in Turkey has taken on the challenge of ensuring each tourist is equally enriched; John almost fell under the spell of a very persuasive rug dealer, once in their shop it is hard to get away. The pashminas rank with the best I’ve seen; buying several reduces the price even more and they pack so easily!
The last, and, in some ways, most moving visit on our tour was the site of the ill-planned, ill-fated, and horribly-generaled assault by an Imperial British army at Gallipoli. April 25th is a day of mourning and commemoration in Australia and New Zealand and, for once, the movie of the same name accurately represents the awful reality of that battle. Estimates put the Allied casualties at over 250,000 before the final evacuation in February of 1916; Turkish casualties were estimated at 400,000. As in most countries, I am saddened at the losses, and always gratified to see the reverence, grace, generosity of spirit as the hosts, Turkey, maintain and sanctify the grave sites of the soldiers of Australia, New Zealand, France and England buried on their lands.
Lastly it is the people. This husband and wife team shared their home in Cappadocia with us one night, we ate a wonderful meal (again seated, again reminded that Yoga was a necessity not an option, again we ate everything served). Their daughter came back from the local college to help serve and interpret for us. Their warm generosity humbled us. A few days later, after a hike, we stopped at their cafe for drinks and ended up buying lunch. The pomegranate juice was incredible – hand squeezed.
This couple had raised four children with this cafe and with a lot of hard work. They were gracious, kind and generous. They worked hard and pushed their children through the education system and up the ladder. They are the Turkey I will remember, no third world country but a dignified, warm, hard working people who want nothing more than what we want; peace, economic progress, a job, a home and a decent opportunity for their children.