Day 19: Atabey
I asked, “Is what I’m wearing OK?” I had on a pair of green capris, a sleeveless blouse and sandals.
“Yes.” said the librarian.
Her sister added, “You look beautiful.”
They were speaking English, but I didn’t understand. I said, “But we are going to a wedding, so I should wear better clothes.”
“No.” the sisters said.
The librarian said, “It's only a wedding lunch.”
I was in a small town in Turkey. There were no condos here or even apartment complexes. Most people had lived here in the same small house their whole lives; everyone knew everybody else. The friends I was staying with for a few days grew up here, then each sister made her life in a different part of the country and was now in town to spend time with their elderly father.
I said, “In my country if you go to a wedding, you wear fancy clothes.”
“Not here.” the sister said.
Both sisters were high school English teachers, so we didn’t need to use a translation program to communicate.
I said, “It’s not a problem if I wear a black shirt?”
The librarian said, “No problem. We go now.”
We drove for a few minutes then stopped to offer a ride to their mother’s elderly cousin who was walking. The cousin was wearing long sleeves and long pants and had her head covered. Though it was nearly 90 degrees, she wore a light sweater over her clothes. I felt like I might faint from heat exhaustion from just looking at her.
We arrived at the luncheon. I was worried that the bride and groom would think I was an interloper who had come for a free meal.
The librarian said, again, “You sure you don’t mind sharing one dish? We will all eat from one dish.”
There was an area with large, round wooden tables and plastic chairs and there was a covering overhead to keep the tables in the shade. Many people were already eating. At first I worried that we were late, then I noticed that it was more of an “Open House” style, people were coming and going.
We sat and helped ourselves to a cold water cup (a plastic cup with a peel-off lid.) Someone brought us each a large spoon and then placed one bowl of rice soup on our table. We each picked up our own spoon and began eating from the same dish like you might do at home if you were eating from a fondue pot. We each spooned soup from our side of the bowl into our mouths, then reached in for more. I tried to get extra tomato sauce onto my spoon; the spice made the soup even better.
What a relief to be around the sisters who had checked the menu and could tell me what was gluten-free, a necessityin my diet.
I’d had several spoonfuls when the librarian asked me if I liked it.
I smiled a bigger smile, nodded and ate more.
When we finished our soup, the young man serving our table brought the meat and rice dish, a bean dish and pickled vegetables. We ate and talked and I met a number of other relatives who were also at the luncheon.
As I greeted one relative, the sisters laughed and told me that the woman said I was skinny. This had happened a number of times since I’d been in Turkey. I smiled and thanked her, not sure how to respond to someone discussing my weight. Someone else greeted me the same way, I smiled and thanked her. The sisters laughed and translated, “She thought all Americans were fat.”
I laughed. “Many are.”
Wedding Luncheon in Atabey:
Course 1: Rice Soup (Pirinc Corba)
Course 2: Rice with Lamb (Kabune)
Pickled Vegetables (Tursu)
Course 3: Dessert (Helva)
A young woman with brown hair, the bride’s sister, welcomed me through her husband who spoke great English and asked us to come to the ceremony tonight. We said we would be there. I hoped that they weren’t just being polite by extending the invitation to me since I’ve never met the bride or the groom. In the states a bride would not be happy to have last minute additions to her carefully planned party.
After lunch we went to a cousin’s house for tea which might be the national pastime in Turkey. Earlier in the day when we stopped for tea, again, I joked that we hadn’t had tea for a whole hour, so I could see that it was time for more.
At home I drink zero caffeine in a day or risk not being able to sleep at night. Here I was up to two glasses a day of their Turkish Tea, which I thought was a giant leap, although tea is served in those tulip shaped cups that only hold a quarter cup of liquid at a time. So I was priding myself on being able to drink literally a half cup of tea each day.
I loved the way people here drink tea or Turkish coffee. They sit down, no matter how rushed they are to get somewhere. They sit and sip, never carrying around a drink on the go.
A woman at a luncheon I went to a few days ago said she knew a Turkish man who was moving to the states and in order for him to prepare himself, he got a medal drink container and carried his coffee around with him, like an American would.
We returned to their father’s house for a rest. I slept for hours, it’s so peaceful out here in the country where I can hear the birds singing.
Some family came to visit, an aunt and uncle, and a brother and sister-in-law. I helped the sister prepare Turkish coffee.The coffee powder is ground as fine as cocoa powder, which made a thick cup of coffee. The sister spooned some coffee into an open kettle and waited for it to reach a hard boil. She placed small cups with handles that held maybe ⅛ of a measured cup on a tray and poured a little coffee into each cup, then added a little more to each cup.
I asked her why she didn’t just fill each cup before filling the next cup. She said that by adding the coffee in small bits, there were more bubbles. People here like bubbles. I never saw anyone add any milk to their coffee or tea but a lot of people add sugar to their tea.
The aunt and uncle shared dried mulberries with us and after I’d eaten a few they asked, through the sisters, if I liked them.
“Very much.” I smiled, and ate another.
With that everyone stood up. “We go now.” the librarian said. “We will get mulberries.” It seemed like an abrupt ending to our visit.
I’ve noticed that I have to be careful saying that I like anything in this country, because people are so kind and so generous that if I show favor to anything, they will gift me with more. I worried the aunt and uncle were going to gift me with a gallon of dried mulberries, since I liked them so much.
I grabbed my day bag and we drove to a house about five minutes away.
It was like something out of a Disney movie. You like mulberries? Then, snap of fingers, here you go: two giant mulberry trees at the peak of ripeness.
You have to admit, I say that I like mulberries, and then it just happens to be mulberry season in this very neighborhood where I am staying. Fantastical, amiright?
We climbed to the upper terrace at a different aunt's house and I was encouraged to eat as many berries as I wanted from the tree. White mulberries. Large. Juicy. Sweet. Addictive. I plucked and ate happily and the uncle filled his hands with the best possible berries, then poured them into my hands. I ate and ate. He gifted me with another handful and another and another. I was so full I couldn’t eat more. Another handful. More. More.
Next we drove to this same aunt and uncle’s house and the uncle encouraged me to pick a mini-cucumber from his garden.
The sisters laughed. “How do you say it in Turkish?”
It was one of my words. “Salatalik.”
The sisters corrected my pronunctionation.
Inside the house the aunt had prepared some more fruit for us to eat. There was a large, round tray that was placed on a little table. We sat on short stools with our knees practically touching the tray and ate off it. Any seeds or pits or cores from the fruit was left on the tray. Under the tray was a giant sheet, so if we were to drop something, it would not ruin the carpet.
I sighed slowly, completely full. The aunt was worried that I wasn’t eating enough, so she sliced a small pear hand handed me a half.
I know. I know. I said thankyou and ate more.
The librarian showed me the handmade carpets in the house. The uncle designs them and the aunt makes them. Sometimes the uncle helps and they knot the carpets together.
I asked the sister. “Are all Turkish men so helpful? I noticed the archeologist I stayed with helped a lot around the house, too.”
She shrugged. “Some are. Some aren’t.”
We went home with the brother and his wife because, sigh, it was dinner time. I was sure I couldn’t eat another bite, but these were the eggplants we had bought at the market this afternoon.
I was raised in a family where if someone cooked for two hours and made a spectacular dinner while you took a nap, you must eat two servings. I couldn't meet that standard, but I could eat a small helping. Delicious. Delicious. What was that spice?
We got ready to go to the wedding. I asked the sisters if I should change my clothes.
“Why would you do that?” the librarian asked.
I said, “Because we are going to the wedding ceremony.”
I know, we had this same exchange earlier. But was there ever a time to spiffy up for a wedding?
We walked down the road towards the loud music. We arrived during the ceremony and found chairs along the outer ring of seated people. The bride and groom said their I do’s, or yeses and went right from the ceremony to the first dance.
Her dress was a perfect bell shape with a hint of sparkle. She and the groom smiled big smiles as they danced. Women danced around the bride and men danced around the groom. The bride’s sister invited me to join the dance around the bride.The sister joined me and I followed in her footsteps.
Arms out, step, small step. Step. small step. My smile might have been bigger than the bride’s because I couldn’t believe I was here, in a remote town in Turkey, dancing at a wedding. We circled the bride and danced some more.
One of the groom's men found me later when it was time to pin fake money to a sash on the bride and the groom. He handed me a pin and motioned for me to help him. “It’s ok,” the librarian said. “He is the best friend of the groom.”
We waited on line. I pinned the money pendant to the groom’s sash. The groomsman motioned for me to repeat a phrase. I said it and the bride and groom laughed. The groomsman looked his good friend in the eye and said the phrase again to the groom. He spoke it twice, once to the right and once to the left. The friends looked at each other for a long moment while the groom accepted the words, then the groom nodded.
I said to the new husband and wife, using the simplest words I could think of, “You look beautiful. Have a beautiful life. Many, many blessings.”
They smiled at each other, then back at me. The bride, another English teacher, said “Thank you.”
I danced some more in the Turkish style to the Turkish music and the sister always tagged along, dancing next to me, so she could translate and answer questions at this community celebration where everyone is encouraged to come as you are.