Day 18: Atabey
Last night I was scared. Close to my hotel room in Denizli, Turkey, crowds of people ran through the streets chanting, yelling, beeping car horns and shouting in unison. They sounded angry. I heard what sounded like gunshots and what sounded like little explosions. In my room I was removed from what was happening, but the only thing that kept me from the epicenter of the demonstrations was a mob of angry people. Would they come closer? Would they enter my hotel?
I didn’t know what the demonstrations were about. Were they protesting low wages as they did several months ago? Were they making a statement about Turkey’s political arena or the terrorism that plagues them? Were they upset with America; could I be targeted?
I wanted to know, straight up, how I fit into the rage. My friend Mark was once traveling in Egypt and followed a bunch of people who were walking in the street, almost like a parade without floats, and ended up at an Anti-American demonstration where they were burning the American flag, amongst other things. I remember we talked about if there is ever something going on outside, you stay inside.
I’d stayed inside most of the day, and here it was nighttime, and the crowds were growing larger, louder and more angry. I couldn’t see them out my window but they were close by; I could hear them so clearly. Were they drinking alcohol? Would this demonstration turn into a riot? I didn’t know how to be safe in a place where I couldn’t come up with an escape plan.
I packed my bags, rearranging things so if I had to leave quickly, my purse had my essential paperwork and cards. I slept in my clothes, because I didn’t like the idea of having to evacuate in my pajamas should there be a fire… or something. If I understood what they were shouting, it might have been an easier night. But something in the not understanding the context made the night almost unbearable.
By 1:00 AM the protesting got even louder; it sounded like more people had joined their movement. Yelling together the same phrases over and over. Horns beeping. Sounds of little explosions. I curled up in bed and tried to breathe easily. It’s no surprise that there’s unrest in other places in the world, but this was real and it was now and I no longer felt safe.
If there was a tunnel from that hotel room to NY, I would have crawled home. Given in. Finished with this experiment in discovering other parts of the world. I felt alone and wondered why I have repeatedly refused to live a normal life, a safe life of inviting neighbors over for a barbecue and traveling to Florida in the winter to thaw out. By traveling as far away as I possibly could, what was I running away from?
I fell asleep and woke for the first call to prayer of the day that was broadcast from a nearby mosque at 4:50 AM. It was quiet outside. The demonstration had stopped.
I wondered if anything had changed over night. Was there someone new in power? Had there been grand-scale arrests? Were those gunshots directed at people or up in the air?
I dressed, finished packing and then went down to breakfast. Two policemen lined up for the buffet behind me. Were they invited because there was extra security needed at breakfast? They sat on the other side of the room. Nobody stared at me. Nobody moved away from me. One woman who was wearing a headscarf smiled at me and bowed her head. I returned the gestures and ate my breakfast in peace.
At 8:30 I checked out of the hotel and reluctantly walked outside. What if it wasn’t over? What if a bunch of angry people were looking for … trouble?
The streets were quiet. People walked as if they were on their way somewhere.
I walked across the street to the bus station. It was easy to find the bus to Isparta. I guessed which seat was number 8 and prepared to move if anyone knew better. Whenever a driver came near me, I handed him my bus ticket. After a while the bus pulled out of the station to begin the two and a half hour journey.
I was not sorry to leave Denizli and the long night behind me.
My friend the librarian who hosted the breakfast a few days ago and her sister met my bus with open arms and big smiles. It was a great relief to know someone and once again be welcomed as a guest.
I met the librarian’s daughter, a beautiful 14-year-old girl and the sister’s son, a super cute 12-year-old boy. We piled into the car and started a day of touring around Isparta, a city known for its roses.
They took me to the carpet museum where everything inside had to do with the history of that industry in Turkey. Imagine carpets of every size and color hanging from the walls and piled on the floors. I learned that the thinner carpets are more valuable. The evil eye was woven into many designs, and more knots mean a more expensive carpet. It was interesting that on a day that I was a bit “knotted” up myself, I was learning about knots.
During lunch on a lake in Egirdir, the boy talked about his YouTube channel where he makes cooking videos. I subscribed immediately and he said he would try to put English subtitles on his tutorials, which I thought would be a good idea. (I told him maybe one or two of my friends would like to subscribe to his channel, too. In case you are one of the two who might be interested, his name is Sefin Tavsiyesi.) I love to support industrious kids.
This lake is the largest in this part of Turkey and the sisters and I sat by the water and breathed in the clean air. It was a beautiful day, sunny, windy, warm. We moved on to the other side of the lake and went to a little zoo. The first exhibit had stray cats enclosed in an exhibit. None of us understood the meaning, why were the stray cats inside?
The sisters and I walked around for a while, the kids were tired and decided to wait near the car. We sat on the benches that looked like poetry books and a friendly man insisted that we share his sunflower seed with him.
I never would have accepted food from a stranger, but the sisters did; I followed their lead. We put the shells into our mouths, one at a time, cracked them open and picked out the tiny morsel of a seed to eat. Delicious.
After a while he asked if we would prefer coffee or tea. We each placed our order and he left to buy us drinks. In the states I never would have let a stranger buy my drink and carry it to me. What if he put some drug inside? The women weren’t worried. We sipped our drinks and talked to the man and found out he was a primary school teacher in Antalya. The sisters were both high school English teachers. Here we were, four teachers sitting together drinking hot drinks on a hot summer day.
We stopped for ice-cream along the highway at a shop with long lines. Since we were in Isparta, where roses are plentiful, I decided to try the rose ice-cream. Sweet. Cold. Creamy. Rose. For the first time in years, Lemon took a back seat and Rose moved into the front of the line. I’m not sure if Rose ice-cream would be as good back home, but I’m going to eat as much of it as I can at Irfando’s place in these next few days.
I talked to the sisters about my long night and the sister looked online and said she couldn't find any mention of it. I asked them if they were afraid, because things between Iraq and Turkey were escalating. The librarian said that there were always things going on in their country and that they learned to let the government worry about the problems.
We drove to their father’s house in Atabey, which is about a fifteen minute drive from Isparta. He’s lived here for over forty years. It’s a bright house with enough beds and couches for us all to sleep. The librarian pointed to the carpet on the floor in my room and told me her grandmother made it over 80 years ago.
“But it looks new.” I said. “It looks like it was made this year.”
The librarian said, “We send it to a cleaner every few years.”
I asked if there were any more handmade rugs in the house and she pointed to an extra large red rug in the living room. She said her mother made it as her dowry when she was seventeen years old. It was a masterpiece.
A deep red color. Precise detailing. Zero wear. The colors strong. It’s a thin carpet.
I said, “This one needs to be hanging in that museum.”
How could a carpet that old look so new? To think it could last longer than her mother’s life and will last through many more generations is incredible.
The sisters were worried about inviting me to their father’s house, thinking it was too simple a place for me to feel at home, but I found his house to be more than comfortable. I had my own room with enough space to unpack a little. There were two bathrooms and only one of them had a squat toilet: I’m good. The kitchen lacked enough chairs for us all to sit at the same time; I'd happily stand to eat for the gift of being here with the family.
After dinner we walked to a nearby park and I let the sisters look through the photographs on my phone. My house. My classroom. My family. My dates. My creek. They asked about one photo on a beach and I told them I had taken a trip to California last spring.
The sister said, “There are many songs about California.”
I asked which ones she knew, and the three of us walked home singing along to “Hotel California” from a YouTube video on her phone.
I felt honored to be invited to this oasis of family. And in the quiet of this small and loving community, I slowly let go of where I was last night and settled in to this night. Be present. This is where I am now. I am safe.
We continued our walk back to their childhood home. The video changed and we sang a round of “California Dreaming” as we walked down the middle of the road to my home for the night.