Position: 36°12’29″N 36°10’06″E

Tourism in eastern Turkey dropped off sharply 10 years ago. The conflict in Syria, the rise and fall of ISIS, and long-standing internal struggles between the Kurds and the Turkish government meant Southeastern Anatolia was broadly off limits. Our presence was as much a surprise as it was a hopeful sign that dollars might be coming back. Given the United States’ ham-fisted Middle East policies we could have expected more wariness, but instead found nothing but warmth.

A gang of young men called to us in the street, Hello! How are you? We called back, Merhaba! (Hello!) Where are you from? California!, we say. It’s easier than explaining where Oregon is, and everyone wants to go to California. Having broken the ice, they courageously stepped forward for a group picture. Turks look very serious in their photos. They look serious most of the time, but you can often eke a smile in response to yours – if you time it right. The very old and the very young are easily amused by bright blondes and their gangly sidekicks.

Teachers

And it’s not only men who stop us. Several times we’ve been stopped by young women full of curiosity. In Sanliurfa three college-aged kids approached us and a young woman in a blue puffer jacket asked where we were from. We said America, and England. “We are English teachers about to graduate,” she said, a little breathless with excitement. Her companions smiled sheepishly. “I’ve been practicing my American accent recently. How is it?” Very good, we told her honestly.

In Hatay’s crowded workshop district, I fist bumped an unusually tall gentleman who had called out, Wilkommen! Sind Sie Deutsch? Nein, American, I replied.

A few steps further on a teenaged girl in a headscarf, long coat and surgical mask overcame her momentary internal struggle, turned, blurting to Carol, where are you from? Oh, California, she echoed, a wistful look crossed her eyes as she phrased her next question. Standing behind her, her companion affected insouciance, but probably wondered inwardly if her BFF had lost her mind. How did you end up in Hatay? We sailed here on our boat. Her eyes grew wide, and she excitedly passed this information to her friend. We chatted for a few more minutes and were sure, as we always do, to compliment her English – and by extension her courage.

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve been catching up with your posts this morning, while occasionally checking the snow fall here on Cape Cod. I’m so impressed by your adventures and continued spunk! Your stories and photos are fascinating. Thanks for reminding me of what a welcoming and ancient nation Turkey is. Stay safe!

    Kathleen Murphy

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