Greetings from Sanliurfa, Turkey, in the southeastern Anatolia area. This is our new home until mid-December. It has been quite an adjustment after being in Spain all summer (where we can communicate well and have a good understanding of the culture) to this remote area of Turkey, where we know next to nothing of the language(s) and are just beginning to learn about the various cultures represented here (primarily Kurdish, with Turkish, Alawite, Arab and other groups). However, we are enjoying the perks of being mostly in one place, rather than a new hostel every night in Spain. 🙂
We are contracted by Abraham Path to do some writing projects and consulting about the path in Turkey. Dave has done three months of consulting in other regions, and this time I was able to be contracted half-time to do some of the writing projects. So far, seven days of trail have been identified and accepted by the Turkish government.
Locally, Nomad Tours Turkey has been leading the project and identifying the path and developing homestays. They are an amazing small tour company run by a British woman and her Kurdish husband who is from the small village of Yuvacali, about 60km from Sanliurfa. The village has had a homestay program for the past three years, and hosts over 2,000 visitors per year. The project is working to combat poverty and lack of education in the villages (where most people live on less than $1 per day and 50% are illiterate). They have several charitable projects, such as funding the local preschool, providing oral hygiene supplies, and planting fruit trees for local families.
We had the opportunity to experience Yuvacali hospitality earlier this week when we stayed with Halil and Pero Salva and their children. Their middle son, Fatih, has learned English amazingly well and is a great translator and window into local culture. At only 19 years old, he juggles attending high school in a nearby town while also working as the homestay coordinator for Abraham’s Path and escorting visitors on the path. He took us on an “archeological walk” to the towering tel behind his family home, which has yet to be excavated but is estimated to be 9,000 years old. Fatih has a fascinating collection of artifacts found near the tel.
The homestay experience is quite authentic, not a tourist version of village life. Guests sleep in the same room on the floor on mats made of wool from Pero’s sheep. The bathroom is an outhouse with a squat toilet out in the garden. The food is all prepared from the Salva’s garden and animals (they have chickens, turkey, sheep and cows) as well as a rich array of vegetables, fruit and herbs. Meals are served on a big tablecloth on the floor (pretty much everything is done on the floor without chairs). Most village residents grow their own food, and earn a little money from excess crops and animals. While hosting guests is a lot of work, the money they can earn makes a huge difference in their lives, in the Salva’s case much of the money has gone to further their children’s education.
I asked Fatih if his parents ever got tired of hosting foreigners, and his immediate response was that they loved every minute of it. They certainly seem happy and jovial and are so attentive in their hospitality. For example, we drink tea several times a day (as is typical in Turkey). Whenever I finished one glass of tea, I would set the empty glass down and start to count. Always within 3 seconds I was enthusiastically asked if I would like a refill.
Sadly, with the conflict in Syria intensifying and this area so close to the border, basically all of the homestay reservations for the coming months have been canceled. We are hoping things remain quiet so that the homestay and tour programs can continue to thrive.
When we are not out on Abraham’s Path or visiting the villages, we are living in Sanliurfa (Holy Urfa) a city of about a half million people. Urfa is a major pilgrimage site for Muslims, who come to visit the cave where they believe Abraham was born and numerous sites associated with Abraham. The historic area of the city is absolutely beautiful, with a peaceful park with fish ponds (full of holy carp!) The architecture is impressive and the covered bazaar offers a lot of ambiance (and shopping opportunities). We have seen a few Western tourists, but not very many. There is very little English spoken here.
We are living in an apartment a few kilometers from the city center, in one of the more affluent neighborhoods. At first, it seemed it might be impossible to find a short-term apartment (and we would have to stay in a hotel), but our local contact was able to find an apartment owned by a relative who was willing to let us rent it for our time here. It is a really nice, rather large apartment with a fully-equipped kitchen. The only problem has been the plumbing, which seems to have degenerated with lack of use. We rarely have hot water and apparently our water sometimes leaks into our neighbor’s storage. We have quickly learned the Turkish word for “plumber.”
The location is very handy. We are directly across from an Internet cafe, and local contacts were able to negotiate for us to use their wireless signal (as getting our own DSL line seemed impossible). The internet is pretty good, which was one of our concerns of working here for an extended period as we really need decent internet to get much of our work done. We are also about a 10 min. walk from a big grocery store. We can get a bus down to the historical center for 1 Turkish Lira (about $.55).
We are overwhelmed with the level of hospitality and friendliness here. Our neighbors bring us fresh bread or a dish of food almost every day. Everyone greets us with enthusiastic smiles. One of our neighbors saw us walking to the bus station and drove us there, offering to give us a ride any time we need one. The man next to us on a local bus gave us his Turkish-English dictionary as a gift. One of the host families took us out to their garden and filled our arms with fresh fruit and flowers. It is humbling and offers a challenge to incorporate more hospitality and generosity into our own lives.