It started with my arrival in Sanliurfa, a city in south-eastern Anatolia, I had wandered into a shop in search of a travelling alarm clock and the owner of the shop was keen to speak in English. He bemoaned the fact that he rarely got to practice his English.
Not only did we practice his English, but he introduced me to his friends and invited me to meals. I was introduced to the “regulars” at the local tea garden and greeted like a local each day I went there. On hearing that I wanted to visit the ancient site of Harran near the Syrian border, he decided to play “tourist” and drove me to Harran and back.
In a small minibus on way to Kahta, another tiny village in the Adiyaman province, I fell into a halting conversation with a man in the seat in front of me. He is a teacher in the local school and we found plenty to talk about. His English consisted of some fifteen words and my Turkish was about forty at the time but we were both fluent in miming and we got along famously. As we approached Kahta, he asked if I would like to visit his house.
I accepted and trailed after him accompanied by the curious stares of the villagers. I met his wife who promptly decided that I should stay in their house and so I did. I met his children and even the one year old who is the first grandchild in the family. One of his daughters wants to be an English teacher and she was appointed the translator.
I was given a guided tour of Kahta and even driven to the touristic sites nearby. We laughed, talked, and ate feasts fit for kings. They saw me onto a bus when I left, even refused to let me pay for my own ticket! Such is the hospitality of the people here.
Karadut is a village from where tours go up to Mt. Nemrut. I happen to be allergic to guided tours so I ended up in this village via a string of various buses, minibuses and trucks and hitchhiking.Having arrived I realized that in order to get up to the top of the mountain I did need a car and the only ones coming this way were with tours.
Sitting over coffee in the morning, pondering my options, I did not have to think long. A man and his son from Mardin, a nearby town were on a day trip to the site and had stopped at my guesthouse for breakfast. We smiled our greetings and in a matter of moments it seemed, it was all decided. They would gladly give me a ride. Again, not only did they give me a ride, but they told me tales of this land over tea. Any effort on my part to pay was met with steady refusal.
From Mt. Nemrut I was headed east toward Siverek, another small town. I had been told that a bus would come by sometime in the morning and I was to wait at the crossroad.
I put down my pack and sat down to wait. Barely five minutes passed when a car headed that way stopped and the young man driving simply opened the door and gestured for me to climb in. “No problem” was clearly a phrase he knew and employed vociferously as he waved away my thanks. His driving skills may have been a tad rusty but the gracious kindness of his people have been honed to an art over the centuries.
Wandering into a caravanserai-turned-cafe at Diyarbakir, I was looking for an empty table when I was invited to join a young woman at her table. Introductions and small talk turned into an afternoon filled with laughter as I met her friends as well. An invitation to visit her family was inevitable as was a guided tour of their city.
There are many times on my travels that I have met local people and been be-friended by them so I am no stranger to it. But here among the largely Kurdish population, smiles that greet a welcome are the norm, rather than an exception. And the warmth that infuses their hospitality could hardly find a parallel elsewhere. To be a Musafir or guest, is to be treated as one would royalty. This is an ancient custom among Muslims, but I know of few places where this is alive and well as much as here. And to think I have only been travelling for two weeks! How many more stories will I have at the end of this trip? I have a feeling that it will be more difficult to leave here than many other places I have been.