This morning we said goodbye to the caves and the fairy chimneys and the hot air balloons and hit the road for another long day of travel. We first headed for the village of Güzelyurt. It was Easter Sunday and we were going to visit the Imam. Certainly one of the most interesting ways I’ve spent this Christian day.
The village was small and our bus parked right on the outskirts at the bottom of a hill. It was one of the poorer areas, less traveled, and definitely less accustomed to seeing a rambling tour bus zip down their dusty roads. We came upon a young boy who had just bought his family’s bread. Our guide jokingly tried to buy it off of him. He was not amused.
We reached the top of the hill and us women readied ourselves by covering our heads with our scarves or hats. The Mosque was small and simple, a far cry from the towering and glittering spectacle of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It was surrounded by a stone fence, crumbling, with a courtyard of patchy grass and a few trees in the front. I suspected the gentleman who greeted us, a young man in very Western style clothing, would lead us to the Imam.
In my mind I had envisioned a dark, smoky room filled with red cushions and in the corner, a large old man dressed in white with a great beard hanging down over his belly. I think a hookah was on the table beside him, sitting next to the Koran. Where this picture came from, I’m not sure.
As you may have guessed, the young gentleman who greeted us was indeed the Imam. He was a pleasant fellow, from what we could tell. He didn’t understand English so our guide translated, but he smiled a lot and spoke very enthusiastically. We were all given the opportunity to ask him any question we wanted and he patiently answered each and every one. Some were a bit politically charged, “What’s your definition of jihad?” and “Do you view all non-Muslims as infidels?” Others, a bit lighter in tone, inquiring where he went to school and if he had visited the United States.
After all our questions had been answered we made our way back down the hill and into the center of the village where we stopped to have tea with the locals. I was amazed by the number of men just kicked back in the middle of the day with seemingly nowhere to go. Where were all the women? I do love that tea and have been slowly, slowly rationing the bag of tea leaves I brought back. I think half the novelty is drinking out of those tiny, vase-like glasses with the saucers and the tiny spoons.
Our next stop was to admire the intricate carvings of a medieval caravanserai, i.e. Camel Parking. I will admit, it sounded fairly unexciting on the itinerary and was even less exciting in person. I think it was just a convenient place to stop and use the restroom. Why they needed such a high building for camel parking is beyond me. Maybe the camels were taller back then?
Our final destination was Konya, a conservative, dry city famous as the 13th-century home of Mevlâna Rumi. I had never heard of the guy, but he’s quite a big deal in Turkey and as I soon found out, he’s quite a big deal in many other areas of the world. He was a poet, theologian, mystic, and pacifist. Our guide read several of his poems – beautiful and poignant passages, right up there with Dante and Shakespeare. I remember one sticking out to me in particular but couldn’t recall exactly how it went. Well, just Saturday I finally picked up Khaled Hosseini’s newest book, And the Mountains Echoed, and part of the passage was in the first few pages:
Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
In Konya there is an entire museum/mausoleum dedicated to Rumi. It was quite an ordeal. Pictures were forbidden inside.. not that I could have taken any. We first had to slip on plastic, slipper-type booties over our shoes. And you had to stay on the carpet. Menacing looking guards hoovered in every corner, watching and waiting.. undoubtedly for the silly American tourists to slip up. Never before have I seen such a crowd. Groups and groups of people poured through the entrance, mostly women, pushing their way with a lot of force, all to catch a glimpse of his tomb. Their hands were cupped, palms up, and they muttered or sang prayers or blessings or laments, I’m not entirely sure.
Finally we made it to our hotel. It reminded me a lot of our stay in Ankara, pretty plain, a little smoky. But it boasted the best breakfast of our entire tour – or so the Guide claimed. For dinner we walked to a restaurant – Turkey’s answer to McDonald’s maybe? It was loud, and packed, and fairly modern looking with cheap menu items plastered in bright colors on the wall above the counter. At the center, however, was a HUGE open stove with flames nearly pouring out into the rest of the kitchen area. The cooks would take long, metal skewers of meat and just stick them right in. (At least we knew the food was fresh. And unlike McDonald’s, it probably would not NOT decompose over a ten month period.) When they were finished cooking they were brought (still sizzling) to our tables and we had a sort of “make your own wrap” party.
On our way through town we came across a young boy with a small bebe gun and a peg board filled with balloons
tacked to it. He was charging a few coins for a chance to shoot and hit a balloon. No prizes- only the satisfaction of popping a balloon, I suppose. A few of us gave it a whirl, myself included. (And yes, I DID hit the target… much to everyone’s surprise, I’m not sure why.) Can you imagine seeing something like this on the sidewalk of a city in America? But nobody seemed to take notice of an eleven year old boy with a gun. All I could think of was “No, you’ll shoot your eye out”, a la A Christmas Story.
Tomorrow is another long travel day- though we’ve been assured the scenery is fantastic. By this point I’ve seen just about as much of the bus as I need to, but thankfully as the trip begins to wind down we’ll be on it less and less. Much like Ankara, I will not be sad to leave this city behind.