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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Tea Time Is Not Just at Four O'Clock Anymore!
February 26, 2000

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Remains of a Seljuk Sultan's house
One thing about Turkey that sticks out in my mind is this: people are friendly. No matter where in the country we Trekkers go, we're welcomed into people's homes to drink tea out of tulip-shaped glasses, to sit and talk, and even to stay for the night (which beats staying in a hotel or hostel)! During my trip to Konya, I was again shown amazing Turkish hospitality by my hosts, Kim and Nizam.

I arrived in Konya by bus late at night, and checked into Hotel Petek. Walking around the next day, I felt a deep sense of respect for the history here. Konya is full of old bones, relics and buildings: some from as far back as the Bronze Age (roughly 2800-1050 BCE) and the Seljuk Empire (roughly 1037-1243 AD).

The Muslim Seljuks originally set up camp in the area that is now Iran and Iraq, but under strong sultans like Alp Arslan (1029-72) and Malik Shah (1055-92), the tribe expanded its empire into Syria, Palestine and Anatolia. (See the Timeline for more of a background on Turkish history.) It's said that the First Crusade (1095 AD) was begun in part to try to stop Seljuk aggression!

On my walk, I came to a huge mound in the middle of the city called Alaettin Tepesi ("Aladdin's Hill"), where the human bones from 4,000 years ago aren't visible but the 800-year-old Seljuk ruins are. I saw what's left of Sultan Kilic Arslan's house, a ruin from their 200-year Anatolian rule which started in 1037 AD. Mosques, shrines and the great Mevlana Museum are also scattered throughout the city.

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All dressed up and ready to go!
At the tourist information bureau, Attila (yes, that's his real name!) offered me two cups of tea and gave me the names of Nizam and Kim, who live in Konya. Kim, Nizam's American-born wife, enjoys speaking English with visitors, so we all agreed to visit Çatalhöyük together the next day. On my way back to the hotel, I hit the Internet cafe and noticed a difference between more traditional women, who walked in pairs and dressed in headscarves and skirts, and younger university women who were getting online.

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With new friends outside of Konya
I asked Kim about the women next day over etli ekmek (known elsewhere as "pide"), which is like pizza-bread topped with melted cheese. Our Lonely Planet guidebooks say that Konya is one of the more conservative cities in Turkey, with the motto "All of Turkey to be just like Konya" gliding by on local buses. Kim said that walking off the main road just isn't done if you're a single woman, especially if you're not dressed appropriately.

We laughed as we munched on our etli ekmek because both of us talk and linger over our food, whereas most Turks do their entertaining not in restaurants but in the home. We were the first ones to arrive for lunch and the last to leave!

Later on, Nizam and his rug business colleagues showed me the Turkish welcoming attitude and politeness at his little shop across from the Mevlana. They sat me down and offered me endless cups of tea -- black tea, apple tea, fruit tea -- and kept me entertained with stories of life in Turkey.

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Example of a carpet sold in Konya
While we waited for Attila, I snapped some photos of their carpets because I remembered reading about Seljuk carpets. Some believe that the Seljuks introduced hand-woven carpet designs to Anatolia in the 12th century: even Marco Polo (1254-1324) knew about the quality and design of silk and wool rugs woven in Konya! These days Turkish carpets sell for big bucks: an Italian design house recently bought one oversized carpet for $40,000!


Crusades - European Christians' military expeditions to recover Jerusalem and other Palestinian places from Muslim control, 1095-1270

When I think back about souvenirs from my trip to Konya, I don't think of material things like beautiful rugs or mementos from a museum, but of the easy-going and friendly time spent in a hospitable and gracious environment. With thousands of years of tradition and history embedded in the Konyan mindset, I feel quite grateful to have experienced just a few hours of hospitality. Nizam took his leave of me by saying, "You have a brother in Konya." What a wonderful lesson of hospitality to be taught around the world!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Andrew - Innocents Abroad: Following Mark Twain's Footsteps Through Istanbul
Brian - Check it Out!
Jasmine - Kutahya: A City that has Triumphed Through it All
Jasmine - Dare to Dream!

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