Turkish Hospitality

imageIt goes like this: Chris and I are walking down the main street of a town, Espiye, with our phones out looking for a cafe with a wifi signal. A man comes up and asks Chris (always Chris) where we are from. ‘England’ replies Chris. The man takes out his phone and makes a call, says a few words including England, and hands his phone to Chris. The man’s daughter is on the other end who asks Chris in limited English what we’re doing. ‘Looking for wifi’ replies Chris. He’s told to hand the phone back. The man finishes the call and taps the shoulder of the closest man sitting outside his shop drinking cay with friends and has a brief conversation including the words England and wiffee. The new man jumps up, runs to the other side of the narrow street, picks up a pebble and throws it at the window above his shop. A man sticks his head out and a shouted conversation including England and wiffee ensues after which the man comes promptly down from his office with his wifi code on a piece of paper. We connect to his signal and stools are drawn up for us on the pavement to join the three men already sitting there. The first man carries on his way job done, the other returns to his office, cay is served to Chris and I and a lively conversation is started in Turkish/English with our three new companions. We learn who they are, get tips for Trabzon sightseeing, are served Turkish coffee (which knocks your socks off if you’re not careful). We completely fail in our quest to find accommodation for Trabzon in two nights time because it’s impossible to search and continue the conversation, but we do learn a couple of new Turkish words to add to our growing vocab and generally have a pleasant time. And this is not a one off experience, but can happen several times a day, though not usually in the busy towns or cities.

imageWe met Songul and her family in Cide.  Our bikes were being obnoxious about being taken onto the beach to camp and Songul ran down to offer help when she saw us struggling to push them onto the sand from her home across the road. She later came back with her sister Fatma and a huge bowl of watermelon for us. We spent a lovely evening on her beachfront balcony with her family. Her mum who was up early to pray the next morning even helped us load up and saw us off at dawn, giving me a good approving nod when I hitched my special long skirt up into shorts.

imageWe met Isham in a tiny hill top village where he was waiting for his niece to arrive back from holiday by coach. He took us back to his farm where he made us a beautiful dinner of home grown, organic food, then invited some of his extended family around and we spent the evening sat on a rug on his front porch surrounded by drying corn cobs for the chooks, eating watermelon, figs and hazelnuts and drinking cay. We washed in his bathroom (with an amazing view through the open window) and slept in his living room.

Outside of Bafra, once again looking for a campsite, a gimageroup of kids wanted to  what we were doing. They showed us to the mosque where we could wash in a purpose built bathroom beside it but outside the mosque grounds and then showed us to their father’s field where we set up the tent, again with an awesome view. They even called their English teacher who came out to meet us on a Saturday evening and helped out with translating as Chris ran an impromptu bike coaching session for the kids.

imageThe next day in Samsun, we needed our final (prophylactic) rabies vaccinations and found the right hospital after quite a lot of trouble. The hospital staff didn’t want to do the vaccination because they didn’t know if their vaccine was compatible with ours, but still they were friendly and as helpful as they could be, even getting an officer from the World Health Organisation on the phone to translate for us. As we went back to out bikes which we had left outside the staff canteen, the chef called us in and insisted on giving us lunch. A good hearty three course meal! Coincidentally our nurse, Sanma, came in for her lunch at the same time and sat down with us. She was such a nice lady. At the end of lunch she took us back to her office and set up Google Translate on her desktop. Then after being given the vaccine name, a call to our insurance company and another to Chris’ aunt Edmee, a retired GP, we deduced that the vaccine was fine and Sanma gave it to us for free, saving us £125 each.

That night we came across a likely camp site on the edge of a tiny rural village away imagefrom the main road. There was a man there watching his cows graze and after the usual sign language/Turkish conversation he told us it was fine to set up camp. His wife Sefika, a very happy lady, came out to see who we were. Sefika was brilliant! She loved our bikes, wanted to see inside our tent, had me chasing a cow around the field trying to milk it (turned out she didn’t even know how to but thought it would be funny!) and then had us into their place for dinner. They are hazelnut growers and it is picking season so they are working long, hard days. Poor Kamal, her husband was propped up at the table trying not to fall asleep. Kamal’s brother Mustafa lived on the same property but in a bigger house and seemed to run a bigger operation, employing his own pickers and sorters. He had come over to our tent separately on his way to the mosque with a torch and candle as he had seen us and was worried we didn’t have enough light. (We just weren’t using ours because of the mozzies). He also joined us for dinner after his mosque visit and although they spoke no english we managed to communicate well, had a really good, fun evening and went to bed so full I didn’t think I’d be able to keep my food down.

imageBut then later this morning after writing this blog I think we gained a little more insight into Turkish hospitality. We stopped in the small seaside town of Eynesil for a snack and tea and met the resident Mullah. We had seen him walking down the Main Street greeting everyone and noticed that a lot of the people were gravitating towards him but didn’t know who he was until I later asked him whether he was a politician – oops. He came up to Chris and shook his hand and asked us to sit down to tea in the closest cay shop. Chris asked where the Ekmek (bakery) was and the man sent a kid off to buy bread for us. Not understanding we followed the boy but he bought the bread and wouldn’t let us pay. We returned to the cay shop across the street and great fuss was made of putting stools and a bigger table out for us and a few more people joined. They insisted we needed peynir (cheese) to go with the bread and a new tub of it appeared along with dishes of honey and olives and two big cups of tea for us and the standard size for everyone else. The boy who had bought our bread reappeared too with five more kids who transpired to be the Mullah’s grandsons. We chatted and took photos, wrote down Facebook and Twitter names etc. The boy wanted to know whether Chris had a housewife and I honestly couldn’t read his expression when Chris said it was me… Anyhow, once we had eaten as much as we could, the Mullah wrapped up the remaining cheese and bread for us, refused our offer of money and signalled that we had finished. It was another wonderful, if slightly surreal experience of Turkish hospitality and we gratefully accepted the generosity and kindness extended to us. I sensed though that the Mullah was also using the landing of strange looking aliens in his town as an opportunity to put into practice, for the benefit of his people, a teaching from the Koran.

Whatever the case, the Turks have proven to be phenomenally hospitable, interested and welcoming people and if this is what cycle touring in Turkey is all about then it is absolutely the way to go.