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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

What's So Hot About Demre?
February 16, 2000

Upon arrival this small town doesn't give off much of an impression at all. But like the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. I'll be careful not to make that mistake again. Had we passed through Demre, like I'd initially suggested, there'd be an avalanche of cool things we would've missed. After our tour of the ancient kingdoms for the past week or so, I was ready for a change of scenery. If you've seen one fallen down acropolis, you've seen 'em all. OK, not really. Visiting the ancient ruins was fun and insightful. Every ancient kingdom left a unique imprint on time. But with this town what I really wanted to know was:"What's so hot about it?" I would soon find out.

After a bus ride along the coast, it was late and Abeja suggested we stick around for a day or two. That's just my luck for traveling with the busy bee of the group: she's always on the buzz and looking for action. She rattled off a list of facts supporting her call.

Expert Fact

Expert Photo Did you know that Santa Claus is from Turkey?

EXPERT: Rusty Rook, Assistant Director Center for Mid East Studies

"Saint Nicholas (better known as Santa Claus) lived and was buried here. We should visit his old church," she said. I wasn't convinced.

"There are some of the best and most well-preserved Lycian rock-cut tombs here," she added.

"Uhh hum, we've already seen those." I yawned.

"There's a sunken city," she smiled.
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And needless to say: Hook, line and sinker; I went for it. I'm a magnet to water and she knows it. How could I pass up this opportunity? Luckily, I'm a good sport and I can admit when I'm wrong. This time I was wrong. There was fun waiting to be had and we had it all! We played at the Lycian rock-cut tombs, we visited the bones of old Saint Nick, or should I say, what's left of the bones of ol' Saint Nick. Some of the bones were stolen by Italians and placed in a church they dedicated in his honor. (Churches stealing from other churches; I thought that was a curious notion.) Afterwards we even buzzed through the Kekova Islands in search of the sunken Lycian treasures with our sea captain, hotel owner, entrepreneur friend, Salih. He's a jack of all trades but not even his multifaceted skills could help us find any treasure. Instead, we floated above and through an entire city that has sunken below the waters due to earthquakes that shifted the rock. That was amazing.

I was convinced that underneath its commonplace-dull even-exterior Demre has a lot to offer. But I hadn't seen anything yet. This place was getting hotter by the second! Follow me and I'll tell you more.

We walked along the dark gravel road through the center of town. It was nightfall and there wasn't very much going on at all. It seemed uncomfortably still, as a matter of fact.

"What's going on here?" I wondered to myself. But I passed it off as a sleepy town.

"There isn't a soul out tonight, Bee. We should get home. It's past our bedtime,"I giggled to Abeja.

"It's after 7:00pm. Everyone else is tucked away in their beds fast asleep, surely there's no one awake now,"she teased.
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"All jokes aside, we should hurry. I'm a little chilly," I said. Just then, we turned onto the main street, only a few blocks from our warm beds.

"Fire!" Abeja exclaimed.

"Yep, a fire would be nice," I replied.

"No over there-there's a fire!"she yelled.

Now things were starting to warm up. We ran over to investigate and to see if we could help. What we found was our friend Salih and his cousins tending to their greenhouse (putting out the fire in their greenhouse is more like it). They were coming out of the small half-circle tent, dusting off from their near miss. Why would they set a fire near the greenhouse, I wondered. They were smiling so we laughed, glad to know everything was all right.

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I hadn't even paid much mind to the fact that Demre was covered with these small alien stations. Then it dawned on me that we passed rows and rows of small plastic covered greenhouses on our way into town.

"Wow," I smiled. "Is sabotaging people's greenhouses what you guys do for fun?"

"No, and if we did, this would be pay back. That was my greenhouse that almost caught fire."Salih laughed.

I thought we'd ruined their male-bonding time because, when the dust settled, his cousins all ran off in different directions. As it turned out, they went to get chairs, tea and eggplants to roast over the fire for us. How fun, I thought. We all sat out by the fire, roasted the unlucky chicken his cousin had just plucked from their coop, and enjoyed a tasty feast. Over Turkish tea, I inquired as to why they didn't have these little shin-digs in the house or somewhere where it was warm. I was freezing.

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Then it all came together. If I was chilly, the baby veggies trying to sprout and grow in the greenhouse might be a little frigid too. The fire in the greenhouse-I get it! Salih confirmed my theory. They had to sit out all night to keep a fire going in the greenhouses to keep the plants from dying in the cold Demre winter.

"That's why the town was so deserted tonight,"I exclaimed as I scanned the fields noticing a similar warm glow in each of the greenhouses. "Most everyone here moonlights as farmer."

"Ding, ding, ding! Jasmine, not only have you solved the puzzle, you win the Winnebago and a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat," Abeja teased.


moonlighting - working an additional job after one's regular full-time employment
acropolis - a fortified hilltop building-usually found in ancient Greek cities

OK, so I'm a little slow with things sometimes. It turns out that the widespread greenhouse development, the economic life of Demre in the winter when the tourism industry lies dormant, stems from the same historical event that brought the ancient kingdoms here to their fatal end. The harbors began to get silted, immobilizing their sea-going commerce, causing leaders to relocate their kingdoms in order to survive. The ancient Lycian kingdom, Myra, that once made its home on these shores, fell to this fate thousands of years ago. Today Demre has taken advantage of the rich alluvial soils that once clogged the harbors here to create a strong industry. I would soon find a cornucopia of food.

Needless to say, Abeja and I had no fear of going hungry this chilly Turkish winter. Freezing, on the other hand, was a small concern. It turns out that the crops freeze if the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius. Salih explained that if the temperature is just one degree Celsius, farmers will try to salvage the crops by keeping a fire going.
A greenhouse effects a sleepy town.

"There isn't a soul out tonight, Bee. We should begin to understand more about the greenhouse effect that scientists are so concerned about these days. Greenhouse gases keep the heat in our atmosphere the same way greenhouses keep the warmth of fires farmers set inside.

Students should be aware of the impact people have on the environment. You can help by not running your air conditioner; riding your bike or walking instead of taking public transportation. Search the Web to find other ways in which you can help."

The lucky ones get to warm up and take a nap. Salih was not one of them. He had Abeja and I at his pension and we aren't exactly the easiest guests to host. We quizzed him on the inner-workings of a greenhouse-how they work and how long he'd been working in it, what they grow, etc. He happily answered all our questions and then fell into a slumber. It turns out that Salih's family and many others in Demre have been utilizing the rich soils left by their ancestors. They grow tomatoes, aubergines (eggplants), green peppers, and beans. And though it's a difficult challenge in the winter, with no central heating in the greenhouses to keep the temperature up, it gets easier as you get older. Salih explained that the hard work of gathering wood, fetching chickens to roast, etc., are the responsibilities of the younger cousins. He had to do it, and it's only right that he pass down the tradition, he explained. I smiled, wondering if his younger cousins would agree.

At checkout time we crept out quietly, so as not to disturb our new friend. There are always new things to learn, waiting where you least expect them!

For great information describing the greenhouse effect and what you can do to help:


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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Team - Diggin in the dirtů

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