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Middle East Brian Dispatch

Would You Like Some More Cookies? Brian Gets Stuffed in Yalova
March 11, 2000

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Konstantin, the principal, the mayor, and the trekkers
Caption
During our stay in Turkey, Istanbul has been a home away from home. But if Istanbul has been my home away from home, the city of Yalova is my home away from home away from home. Yalova was damaged heavily in the earthquake, and we have visited several times to speak with our friends Berrin and Konstantin who volunteer their time at COREM, a children's rehabilitation center. They are truly amazing and inspiring people, and each time I visit, it becomes harder to leave. Several days ago, Abeja and I traveled to Yalova to conduct a live chat between students in Yalova and students like you all over the world. I imagined that we would do the chat, sleep over in Yalova and then head out in the morning to take care of business in Istanbul. But this is Turkey, and hospitality is an art form. They had no intention of letting us off so easily.

Map
Yalova is south of Istanbul, just across the Sea of Marmara and accessible by a one-hour ferry. Konstantin and Selcen, one of the students participating in the chat, greeted us soon as Abeja and I stepped off the ferry. We immediately headed to the computer lab where the chat was to be held. As we walked, Konstantin mentioned that we would be meeting the mayor the following morning and visiting a few schools. This casual remark was the first hint that they had more in store for us. I mentioned our intention of returning to Istanbul by early afternoon, and he assured me that it would not be a problem. We soon arrived at the computer lab and prepared for the chat. A gentleman brought us tea and cookies that I munched on as we introduced ourselves to Selcen and Yasemin, the two students from Yalova that were there to participate. They were soon answering questions from all over the world, and the chat was a success. Afterwards we all went to dinner together to celebrate. In true Turkish fashion, Berrin and Konstantin paid for the entire meal, refusing our attempts to pay.

Vocabulary

hospitality - friendly and generous reception of or disposition toward guests
nomadic - describing a member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move according to the seasons from place to place
mantra - a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer or meditation
gauntlet - an onslaught or attack from all sides

In the morning we were treated to a fabulous breakfast. Berrin filled our bellies with fresh bread, jellies and steaming cups of tea, and then we headed out to begin our school visits. What followed was a continuous procession of Turkish hospitality that almost knocked me out. The previous night had not prepared me for what was to come. In Turkey it is customary to offer tea or coffee to guests. This practice originated in the days when the Turkish people were nomadic tribesmen and the kindness of strangers was often necessary for survival in rough conditions. Travel in Turkey is very enjoyable often for this very reason; steaming cups of tea are often offered by complete strangers eager to welcome you in their country.

I thought of this tradition fondly as I sipped a steaming cup of tea in the principal's office at a high school in Yalova. "How nice," I thought, "Going to the principal's office isn't so bad after all. They even give you hot tea."

After spending some time there and speaking with the principal we moved along to another school, where the mayor was waiting to meet us. In a matter of moments we arrived at Yalova Lisesi, and five minutes later I was staring at a steaming cup of Turkish coffee. The mayor, Mr. Numan Ozkan, was a very kind man with an elfish grin. We spoke to him as we downed our cups. We thanked him for his hospitality and kind gestures on behalf of the Odyssey. He accepted gracefully, saying, "We must feel before we think."

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Our friend Erdem helped explain the Odyssey to many of his schoolmates
Caption
After visiting with students at Yalova Lisesi, we set off to the next school with the mayor in tow. I am not used to consuming caffeine, so by this time my heart was jumping inside my chest. The words of the mayor echoed in my mind, but somehow they rearranged themselves into a new phrase, "We must think before we drink." But this new mantra did not work in the grips of Turkish custom. We arrived at the next school at lunchtime, and before you know it I was in line with a tray in hand. During the meal I looked over to find Abeja dozing on her seat. "Ha," I thought, "the food already got to her."

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I make new friends and wonder if I can possibly eat more food
Caption
The joke was on me when we arrived at yet another school and were promptly served yogurt drinks and special Turkish pastries. My eyes began to bulge out of my head in disbelief, and my stomach tried to beat a hasty retreat. It strained against my belt, trying to run for the door. Could I survive this gauntlet of hospitality? Or would I drown in a wave of Turkish tea? I looked over at Konstantin and Berrin; they munched happily as if this was their first meal of the day. The mayor must have hidden the pastry in his pocket; not a trace of it was left on the table. Abeja pushed her food around on the plate, looking busy but not fooling me. At least I wasn't alone. I lowered my head and kept chewing. How do they do it?

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Abeja with many new friends!
Caption
And it wasn't over yet. We did manage to survive the day without bursting, but my memories are like a strange dream. Smiling students peer over the side of tea cups as we glide along rivers of Turkish coffee. The students at all of the schools were wonderful; eager to meet us and excited to join us all on the Internet. Even classes that were shy would erupt in laughter and conversation after just a few minutes.

The odyssey did not end there, of course. As a matter of fact, Abeja and I did not leave until the following evening. The next day was just as busy, and we were treated like royalty the whole time. It seemed that we were on a goodwill tour of Yalova. The students were so friendly at every school, and we were even accompanied by the mayor himself. Berrin treated us to a special belly dancing exhibition; giving Abeja and Selcen some free lessons along the way. We even had front row seats at the city wide dance competition!

It was so hard to leave that we missed our ferry and had to wait for the next one. Why did we miss it? You guessed it -- we were eating! Berrin's sister served us a feast that seemed to flow from the kitchen in an endless stream of dishes, and her potato salad is a well kept secret. Konstantin and I tried to guard her secret recipe by consuming every last bite. One day had already stretched into two, and I was in danger of staying there forever. Great food, great people... mmmm. We finally dragged ourselves away and rejoined the other trekkers in Istanbul. Abeja and I had to make our own tea for a change, and we raised our glasses in honor of fine Turkish hospitality everywhere; especially in Yalova. We decided that hospitality is definitely an art form in Turkey, where every town is a home away from home!

Related Links

http://www.cs.unb.ca/~alopez-o/Coffee/coffaq.html#Turkish - for a recipe of Turkish coffee
http://www.cs.umd.edu/users/kandogan/FTA/TurkishCuisine/cuisine.html -You too can stuff yourself! A traditional Turkish menu and Turkish recipes


Brian

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...briwingate@bigfoot.com
 

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