The Neufeld-Kaiser World Tour travel blog

Aunt Elayne and the grape farmer

Osman with his family and the remains of the fish head lunch

We have been struck over and over again by the warmth and generosity of the people of Turkey. Not only in every-day encounters such as asking directions, but cheerfully and without asking going above and beyond to help us and to welcome us. Here are some stories:

1. Arriving in Edirne

Jer and Aunt Elayne and I took a bus from Istanbul to Edirne, which is in the Thrace part of Turkey, about as far west as you can get, on the Greek and Bulgarian borders. During the two-hour ride we started talking about birds, the types of birds Jer and I had seen in Guatemala and Cuba, Pale Male the red-tailed hawk in NYC, etc. A Turkish man sat down behind us who turned out to have a master's degree in ornithology and a PhD in population genetics from Oxford. We talked with him for quite a while. There were two Turkish men in their upper 20s sitting in front of us, one of whom knew a few words of English. Across the aisle from them was a gentleman who looked like a grampa who also knew a few words of English. They asked us the obligatory "where are you from?" question and learned we were going to Edirne. They wanted to know where we were staying, which was the Tuna Hotel. As we approached the Edirne otogar (bus station) all these men conversed rapidly in Turkish. We were then informed that we were to follow them to the mini-bus that goes from the otogar into town. After getting our luggage, all of us piled onto the minibus. When we passed the university, the PhD got off the bus, saying to us, "Those two will make sure you get there. Don't worry, the people in Edirne are really friendly." Every time we glanced towards the back of the bus, the grampa and the young men signaled to us to stay on the bus, everything is OK. After a while the grampa got off the bus. As he left, he patted my arm, gestured to the two young men, and probably said something to the effect of "they will take care of you." A few stops later, the young men had a rapid conversation with another bus passenger, whom we had never seen before, then disembarked. As they left, they signaled to us that this new man had agreed to make sure we got off at the right stop. After a few more stops, our new friend signaled that we should all get off the bus. He walked over to a shop keeper and said "blah blah blah Tuna Hotel?" then gestured to us to follow him. After we walked for a few blocks, the man stopped, pointed down a side street and said "blah blah blah Tuna Hotel." And sure enough, there it was. We thanked him profusely and parted ways. And thus did five random Turkish men help three foreigners find their hotel.

2. Grapes in Iznik

Jer, Aunt Elayne, and I spent two and a half days in Iznik, center of fabulously beautiful tile production during the 15th and 16th centuries. There are some cool Roman ruins there, as well as ruins of the places where the first and seventh Ecumenical Councils were held. (Iznik used to be Nicea, from whence comes the Nicean Creed.) One afternoon as we were wandering around the back streets towards the outskirts of town, a man and his son passed us in their horse and cart. We watched as they stopped next to a small house and began to unload large bags of obviously freshly picked green grapes. All at once the man gestured to us to come over. He produced a plastic bag, filled it with about 5 pounds of fresh grapes, and presented it to us (see photo). They were delicious and we and the other folks staying at our pension enjoyed them for breakfast the next morning.

3. Where'd ya get that scarf?

Jer and Elayne and I went to behold a futbol game in Istanbul. Fenerbahçe (last year's champions) was playing Ankaragücü (Fenerbahçe won). On the ferry ride over to the stadium, we sat across from a young man whose support of Fenerbahçe was obvious from his blue-and-yellow striped shirt. His beautiful Fenerbahçe scarf, blue, soft and glossy, with the seal of the Fenerbahçe club on each yellow-fringed end, caught Elayne's eye. After we were seated in the stadium, Elayne noticed two men a couple of rows in front of us who both sported The Scarf. Jer went down and, Turkish-English dictionary in hand, asked the men where they had gotten their scarves. One of them stood up and took him half way up the stairs, until he could see the "Fenerarium" at the top of the stairs where all kinds of Fenerbahçe products were for sale. Elayne and I went up to investigate, and sure enough, there was The Scarf. Elayne bought one and wondered if Jer would want one, too. When we returned to our seats to ask him, he was already wearing one!!! One of the men a few rows in front of us had given his to Jer, and bought another for himself.

4. Fried fish in Silifke

Just south of Silifke, a city of 85,000 on the southern coast, a big river delta has formed from the Göksu river draining into the Mediterranean. Jer and I went to Silifke because most of this river delta has been set aside as a bird refuge. We were out on the refuge one day, seeing cranes and storks and herons, when bad weather rolled in. As the rain started, we ran for shelter under the eaves of a house at the edge of a tiny village. The family saw us there and first offered us chairs to sit in. This quickly changed to an offer for us to come into the house, then to join them for lunch. We sat with them on the floor in front of their kitchen fireplace and shared their lunch of pan-fried fish and homemade flat breads, garnished with chopped onion, parsley, and lemon. The man was a fisherman, and our guess was that the fish had been caught that morning. It was the best fish I have ever had, but we stopped short of eating the heads. Osman, the fisherman, ate them with a twinkle in his eye and a lick of his fingers. (see photo) Even having a Turkish-English dictionary will get you only so far, and conversation was cheerful but minimal. Futbol is universally understood, though, so Jer put on his Fenerbahçe cap. Osman waved it off in disgust, because he is a fan of Beşiktaş, another of the Istanbul teams. (Several more times during the afternoon and evening, Jer put on the Fenerbahçe cap just to goad Osman.) After a while, Osman communicated to us that he would take us back into town on his motorcycle. All three of us piled onto his motocycle and off we went. It had stopped raining, but it was still quite cold and damp, and Osman bore the brunt of it in front. As we set out, three people on an old motorcycle, driving on muddy dirt roads just after a rain, I wasn't so sure of the wisdom of Osman's idea. But we puttered along and made it safely back to Silifke. Osman drove past our hotel to the center of town and we stopped at a cycle shop. I tried to give him some money for gasoline, but he gestured to us to follow him to a nearby bar. We shared beers and boiled peanuts with him for a couple of hours while we all warmed up. Some Silifke locals joined us, and I have a feeling that Osman was getting quite a bit of mileage out of the Americans he had rescued. When it was time to leave, we had an extended good-bye, with warm hugs and multiple thank-yous all around. We watched Osman moto away in the smokey night, lit cigarette dangling from his lips, and marveled at how kindness and generosity don't require a shared language.

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