Tokatsgiving

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To celebrate Thanksgiving 2014 I visited the central-eastern Turkish city of Tokat, joining a group of Fulbrighters for a potluck dinner. While in Tokat I was able to spend some time sightseeing in the city center while spending plenty of time in fellowship (pun intended) with my fellow grantees and our Turkish guests.

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Before I elaborate on some of the sights I was able to visit while in Tokat, I must address a very Fulbrihgt-esque pun, which is the title of this post and was the name of our celebration. As previous posts have suggested, we Turkey Fulbright ETA’s particularly enjoy combining the names of holidays and the cities in which we celebrate them. Tokatsgiving was no exception, but is in fact an exceptional instance of this type of word-play. Why?

Part of our dual role as English as a Foreign Language instructors and ‘cultural ambassadors’ includes sharing English-speaking countries holidays and cultural traditions with our students, Thanksgiving being a particularly easy and fun opportunity. Many of us have included the instant-classic ‘Slapsgiving’ episode of How I Met Your Mother (a series which for some reason is wildly popular among young Turks) in our lesson plans. Incidentally, in addition to being the name of a city, ‘tokat’ in Turkish is the word for slapping someone. A better holiday-locale combo has never been accomplished…..

In any event, I was blown away by the rich history still visible as we “gezmeked” (my Turklish version of ‘wandered’) the streets and sights of Tokat.

Our trip began as any good weekend rendezvous does, with a long and big Turkish breakfast (kahvalti) in a beautifully restored Ottoman era home.

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Doyduk… clean plates after a massive and delicious breakfast.

IMG_6253We toured an old Ottoman-era home turned museum (free of charge) which explained life for upper class central Anatolian families. The house itself was allegedly designed by a famous Armenian architect.

IMG_6277From the gardens of the restored Tokat Mevlevihane, you can see the city’s stone clock tower. As is generally the case, exploring the Mevlevihane turned museum was a major highlight of my trip.

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The complex has been stunningly restored and, much like the museums in Konya and the Galata district of Istanbul, contained a vast display of manuscripts, daily life objects, musical instruments, physical manifestations of ritual practice like tesbih or prayer beads, clothing, artwork, and especially here, a large collection of antique carpets.

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The former semahan, or room in which the ritual practice of sema (whirling) has beautiful woodwork which has been well maintained, but that isn’t what catches your eye when you enter the space. No, it’s the lit-up mannequin ‘whirling dervises which mechanically spin across the floor.

Tokat has numerous old stone mosques, many dating back to the Selcuk era.

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There are also a number of tombs either standing alone or on mosque complexes. I was more than a little surprised when visiting the tomb of Ali Tursi, which has beautiful turquoise Selcuk-era tilework, to see this posting by the Ministry of Religious Works ‘reminding’ visitors of ‘how to appropriately visit’ a tomb. I’ve never seen a posting like this at any other tomb in Turkey….

IMG_6401In addition we were able to pend time checking out the rich collection at the Tokat City Museum, which had no entrance fee. The museum is an a lovely old stone building, and has everything from archaeological finds from Tokat and the surrounding area to a wide assortment of religious artifacts (both Muslim Christian, iconographic paintings that echoed to a different time), folk costumes, handicrafts, and more. The collection includes pieces of the castle in the nearby town of Zile conquered by Julius Ceasar, who upon victory infamous declared “Vendi, Vidi, Vici!”

IMG_6418 IMG_6432In addition, we stopped into an old caravanseray that is now owned by the state university in Tokat, who uses it to house much of their music daprtment, and one of the historic bazaar areas, where I picked up some of the famed cloth wth painted designs in the forms of a dress and a dual function scarf/vest. The woman I bought them from had painted them herself!

Of course, I’d be remiss without mentioning the meal itself, which was an absolute feast. We enjoyed a fantastic array of ‘tradition Americana’ dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole (my contribution), REAL pumpkin pie from scratch (which was quite an effort), stuffing, etc. as well as some Turkish classics like mercimek koftesi (red lentil meatlessballs?) and stuffed grape leaves. There were many cries of affiyet olsun, and we all went around the table and shared the things for which we are thankful.

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Tokat was a fabulous city that I’m so glad I visited- truly a hidden gem in the hillsides of central Anatolia.

 

 

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I don’t always follow the Coptic Lenten fast, but when I do…

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What?

The Egyptian Lenten fast is 55 days long (out of about 210 days in the year… The Copts take their religious dietary restrictions seriously, it seems). The fast calls for an entirely vegan diet over those 55 days, excluding all dairy, meat and fish products.

I’m not a regular practitioner of Coptic dietary restrictions, but I had recently pre-boiled and frozen a massive amount of chickpeas and I found fresh-frozen okra at the MigrosJet near campus today, so I decided to give it a whirl, at least for my dinner tonight.

A quick Google search confirmed my guesstimation of how to combine these two gems, the okra and the chickpeas:

Sauté some garlic and onion in olive oil, add tomatoes and okra, some cumin and lemon juice (also parsley for garnish but i didn’t have any) and voila- serve with rice.

Of course, while the rice was simmering and I was doing some kitchen clean-up I grabbed the now empty bag of frozen okra, and lo and behold: an identical recipe to my “authentic Egyptian” spelled out in detail in Turkish and English on the back of the bag.20150323-192506.jpg

Nothing surprises me anymore.

Who needs Google, anyway?

I added some tomato juice for extra flavor, and if you aren’t the fasting or otherwise vegan type, my recommendation of a spoonful of plain yogurt on everything applies to this meal as well, of course. Additional spices could include mint or crushed red pepper.

A blessed Lent to my Coptic family, and alf sa7a (a thousand times to your health, y3ni ‘bon appetit’) to any who want to give this recipe a whirl.

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Istanbul Marathon 2014

A cohort of Fulbright ETAs, myself included, descended on Istanbul once again this fall to participate in the Istanbul Marathon. It was a great weekend of re-connection with Fulbrighters at the two-ish month mark (and a homegirl from last year flew in for it, lucky me!) as well as a time of reflection.

Last year’s marathon was my first ever trip to Istanbul, and it was a little mind-blowing to think back on all that has changed in this past year- my familiarity with and reservoir of life-long memories of Istanbul, the trips I’ve been on and the places and people they’ve led me to, the hours and occasional breakthroughs with students in class, increasing ease in speaking and understanding Turkish…

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My life and world(view) has changed for sure, but my love for this city and this event haven’t.

I was so disappointed last year to not have any of my own pictures to share of the event that I made a point of getting back to my airbnb early Saturday night to make sure my phone was fully charged up for the mornings festivities.

So obviously after about 15 minutes after we started walking, I totally forgot to take pictures.

Here are some of my shots from the start line:

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Heck, I ended up even running the last 3k or so. Not pictured (deliberately) are the Viber 5Finger shoes I donned to feign seriousness about the athletic nature of the event.

Was super proud, though, to congratulate two of my fellow ETAs on completing the full marathon… Some people got it all, ya know?

HallowIzmir and a Day-trip to Çeşme

Over Halloween 2014 weekend I traveled to the Aegean coast to celebrate the holiday and do some sightseeing.

I stayed with a friend in a unique area of Izmir called Bornova, which I had yet to visit. I had a great time spending a day wandering and site-seeking Bornova’s famous Levantine architecture. I’m always intrigued by that, but the Bornova one-two punch is that many of these structures are religious (churches, to be precise). Well riddle me nerdy.

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The focal point of the city square in Bornova is the still-active Catholic Church. Ironically, we couldn’t find the entrance, not sure if we could’ve gotten in.

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The side streets are full of hidden gems.

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We were happy to come across the haunting St. Mary’s Magdalene Anglican Church and accompanying cemetery. Some sources online say that this church is still active, but there’s no way… I believe their services are held across town in Alsancak, but this building, based on the state of disrepair we witnessed, isn’t being used.

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Some of the historic structures have been renovated into hotels or civic buildings, while others sit awaiting restoration.

My wanderings also led me to Çeşme, a tourist hub about an hour south of Izmir, along the Aegean coast. I had previously only been to the bus terminal /international port, for my trip to Chios, the Greek island, a few weeks prior. We rode the Izmir metro system to its last stop, and then boarded a bus bound for Çeşme.

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Late October is admittedly not the best time to visit the city, which is known for its beaches. Nonetheless, we wandered the boardwalk/port area, sat in a handful of cafes, ate kumru, a sandwich famous from the area which is mostly comprised of highly processed bright pink “sosis” (sausage).

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I was thrilled to stumble across the Orthodox Church of Ayios Haralambos, a 19th century church that Lonenly Planet calls “imposing but redundant.” I’m not sure what that means, but it certainly no longer operates as a church. The entire space was blanketed in the flags of the Kemalist CHP party, and there was a craft bazaar being held in the center of the space. Note the specific damage done to the iconography of the church… I still have a lot of lingering questions about this space.

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We then visited the city’s castle and accompanying museum, the major tourist attraction of the city.

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The museum had both battle and historical artifacts and displays as well as archaeological and ethnographic (coins, pottery, glass, etc). A security guard even specifically led us to a room full of antique glass to make sure we didn’t skip it. Our day finished at a famous ice cream place called Rumeli Pastanesi, where I dove into a coffee and chocolate cone. In addition to its ice cream (dondurma) this place also sells famed jams and preserves, both if which often contain mastic, the famous sticky stuff in these parts.

In all, Çeşme made for a good day trip with a bit of history sprinkled alongside relaxing with friends.

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For curious minds regarding the Halloween festivities, I was a blank attendance sheet one night, a poor attempt at Fulbright Turkey ETA humor, and Frida Kahlo the next, an easy costume for someone with a wardrobe and eyebrows like mine.

Yabancı Chicken Freekah Soup

Winter has truly arrived here in Kirikkale. Frigid temperatures and a blanket of snow have descended on the city, prompting my hibernation and hot plate to go into full gear– roads haven’t been plowed and a trip down the street to the grocery store seemed daunting and fraught with slip-potential.20150107-225946.jpg

I decided to make do with what little I had stocked up in the ol’ mutfak (kitchen) and devised a “chicken freekah soup,” blending the fabulous Palestinian standard shurba al-farik with hints of the chicken noodle soup of my childhood (basically just that there are carrots). A simple and delicious one pot dinner that’s a little funk, a little familiar, and a surprising amount of flavor.

For those who have yet to be acquainted with the Arab staple turned cult favorite gracing many “supergrain” lists, freekah refers to roasted cracked green wheat. The name comes from the Arabic root f-r-k, to rub, referring to the thrashing process it undergoes during production. It is a standard grain found most commonly in the cooking of the Levant and Egypt, though it has recently found new life in chef’s kitchens across the globe. High in fiber and low on the glycemic index, with a delightfully chewy texture similar to pilavlik bulgur, it also is a lovely addition to salads, or on its own as a side dish with poultry or lamb. In any event, it’s freek-in awesome. 20150107-225959.jpg

Ingredients:
One chicken breast
1 cup freekah, rinsed
Water
2 Carrots
1 onion
Garlic (to taste, I minced 4 small cloves)
Lemon juice
Mint
Thyme or Zaatar
Olive oil

Gently sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil, then add carrots. After a few minutes add the freekah and stir continuously for a few minutes, to toast it. Add water and bring to a boil. After boiling for 5-10 minutes, add the chicken to poach it. When cooked, remove and shred using two forks. Return to pot. Season with lemon juice and healthy scoops of dried mint and zaatar (or any selection of fresh herbs you may have on hand). If you like,(I love!) serve hot with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Snuggle up with the bowl and a book, and you’ll forget the snow outside.

Afiyet olsun! Sahtein! Enjoy!

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Easy Vegetarian dinner with tastes of the region

This meal combines tastes and adapted recipes from the Maghreb to the Levant to Anatolia.

20150106-200020.jpgNohutlu pilav, or rice with chickpeas, is a street and home cooked staple, often served with boiled shredded chicken. Because I used canned chickpeas, I began by preparing the rice and then added the chickpeas on top towards the end of the rice’s preparation. As with just about all of my recipes, serving size and ingredient quantities are highly adjustable according to taste.

Ingredients:
Rice (any form will do, while “baldo” is most common here for this dish)
Chickpeas (canned, about 1/3 less than amount of rice used)
Water
Butter (about a tablespoon)
Chicken bouillon cube, crushed (optional, commonly used to flavor the rice)
Salt and black pepper, to taste.

Plain Yogurt (optional)

Melt the butter in a pot, add rinsed rice and stir continuously for 1-3 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil and then simmer with closed lid until all water has been absorbed. Do not stir. Add chickpeas and incorporate them into rice by fluffing with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with a healthy dollop of plain yogurt.

Peasant Salad ; Modified Fatoosh/ Çoban Salatası

This salad is either a classic Lebanese fatoosh salad without the requisite toasted pita bread pieces, or a Turkish çoban salatası with the addition of spices to the dressing. Either way, the name and tradition of both is that of a peasant salad, a gloriously easy hodgepodge that can include whatever vegetables one may have on hand. I especially love adding purslane (bakhleeh in Arabic, semizotu in Turkish) when available. I try to use an even amount of each vegetable (i.e. one tomato, one cucumber….). Based on preference, vegetables can either be roughly chopped, as in the Arab style, or diced, a la turca.

Tomato, chopped
Cucumber, chopped
Green pepper, chopped and de-seeded
Onion, chopped
Fresh mint, chopped (Optional. I used about a tablespoon of dried mint instead)

Dressing:
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Pomegranate molasses
Sumac
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients. Boom.

“Moroccan carrots”

I have never been to Morocco nor had these carrots served to me by a Moroccan. The recipe is actually a modification of a dish made for me by a Lebanese roommate in Beirut. Numerous adaptations abound online under names like “Moroccan carrot salad.” This is a great, quick, easy way to add some veggies with a unique flavor spectrum to a meal. They can be served hot or at room temperature, and make an excellent meze, in my opinion.

Carrots,
washed, peeled, sliced, and boiled or steamed until tender but not squishy

Dressing:
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Lots of cumin
Turkish crushed red pepper flakes
(Or paprika)
Salt, to taste
Garlic (optional)

Drain the carrots and mix them with all the dressing ingredients over very low heat, stirring gently until cumin and the liquids form a light sauce. Amount of cumin is super adjustable, I like lots. When the dressing lightly coats all the carrots, take it off the heat immediately.

20150106-200131.jpgAfiyet olsun! Sahtein! Bon appetit!

Bayram II- Bergama (Pergamum)

Kurban Bayrami 2014 Part 2. You can read part one, about my trip to Chios, here. For more on Izmir, click here.

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Most people who spend a decent amount of time touring Turkey make a point of visiting Ephesus (Efes), the ancient Biblical city, as I have. Though they are almost equidistant, far fewer people make it to the city of Bergama, known in ancient times as Pergamum (or Pergamon… according to Wikipedia, both are correct).

This is unfortunate.

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Bergama is located 100 km north of Izmir, today a city of about 60,000 people. Its current name in Turkish reflects its ancient stature. We went for an afternoon from Izmir and just barely had time to see three of the main attractions there: the Acropolis, the Asclepion, and the Red Basilica.

Having been a big fan of the Disney rendering of the story of the Greek god Hercules, I was fired up to visit the Acropolis; to climb up the mountain to have a chat with old man Zeus myself. Things in life never go exactly the way they do in the squeaky-clean animations though, and the climbing was mostly done in an old cab with a disgruntled but courteous driver blasting Turkish dance-pop music. In addition, my chat with Zeus in his altar is pending, as I’ll need to arrange a trip to Berlin to see the remains, thanks to the persuasiveness of some opportunistic German archeologists in the late 1800’s. I’ll also have to wait about 5 years, as the exhibit in Berlin undergoes renovations. Always, the renovations.

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A consolation, though. The magnificent tree pictured above stands at the site of the foundations of the Altar of Zeus.

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Nevertheless, the site is stunning, and the vast majority of its structures remain, including an insane 10,000 seat theatre carved onto the side of a steep cliff. Significant portions of the Temple of Trajan also remain, pictured above. The view from the top of the site is breathtaking, a picturesque modern day Bergama with hillsides and red-tiled rooftops.

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A more orientalizing blogger may suggest it’s as if one goes back in time, gazing over the landscape. Besides being silly, that would also be patently untrue as the cable car which can take visitors up and down the steepest part of the ascent to the site (dropping off right at the ticket booth) obstructs the pastoral in many directions.

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You can make out a bit of history though, especially if it’s a clear day: a view of the pillars lining a walkway at the Asclepion, about 5 kilometers away as the crow flies.

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For those of you who didn’t know (I didn’t), the Asclepion at Pergamum was a renowned ancient center of medicine. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, “Treatments included mud baths, the use of herbs and ointments, enemas, and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often by dream analysis.” That can’t have been all they were up to, because this was also the site where the great Galen was born and worked; his studies had a major impact on ‘western’ medicine for a good century and a half. Nice.

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It was sunny and lovely, and my travel companions and I really enjoyed traipsing around the almost empty site. (Fellow visitors included two Turkish families, and two small tour groups, one geriatric group of Brits, and one with all members wearing matching “UPENN ALUMNI hats. That’s it!)

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We wandered through the aforementioned bazaar street lined with Roman columns, looked at but didn’t drink from a sacred well (which was the same color as the now infamous algae blooms of Lake Erie this past summer, yum), and scaled and (I) sang in the very well restored theatre, which continues to host theatrical and musical performances in the summer.

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I was also intrigued by signposts which advertised an app that allows users to visualize the way the site is presumed to have originally used, using 3D imaging technology. Sorry for the poor photo quality:

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I enjoyed one of my favorite Turkish indulgences, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, while perusing a gift shop chock full of replica parchment, echoing Pergamum’s fame as the site of the development of the stuff. My pride in the innovations of ancient Egypt instilled by my grandparents got the best of me, and a Google-search later permitted a not-fully-deserved “I told you so;” parchment for use in the famed library of Pergamum was developed beginning with a shortage of papyrus shipped from Alexandria.

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Our cab ride back into town took us through a neighborhood teeming with traditional old houses, some of which have been carefully restored as boutique hotels.

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It also led us to the Red Basilica; another reason for Pergamum’s fame.  It was originally a massive temple to some Egyptian Gods, and Christians who later acquired the building actually just built their basilica inside the structure. The Book of Revelations lists this site as one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, specifically as the throne of the devil. To be honest though, all I saw was a whole lot of renovation and not a lot of Basilica.

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Though the archaeological museum was closed, we were able to walk through the historic covered bazaar, and we also spotted an old hamam, which is still operational.

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Our day ended with some piyaz (white bean salad) and “Bergama koftesi,” the defining trait of which seemed to be copious amounts of cumin.

As my travel companions from last year would say, “On to the next adventure!”

Bayram I: Chios – the Mastic Island

Using Izmir as a ‘home base,’ I used the Bayram holiday to travel to two new places, Chios, and Bergama (coming soon!).

Chios is a (not that) small island 7 kilometers off the coast from Turkey, in the Aegean Sea. It is most famous for its production of mastic, a tree resin. The name of the island in Turkish reflects this: Sakız Adası, or Mastic Island. Mastic is synonymous with ‘gum’ in many languages, has health properties, and is used as a base or flavor for chewing gums and a wide range of desserts and fruit preservatives (including being the special ingredient in ‘Maras Dondurmasi,’ the chewy ice cream now ubiquitous across Turkey).

The mastic tree can only grow under very specific conditions; southern Chios produces something like 82% of all mastic globally. Dating back to Genoese presence on the island, production and price of mastic here are tightly controlled by a union which sets standardized prices to avoid exploitation.

IMG_5382Chios is also the alleged birthplace of Homer. He follows me!

We went to Chios via high speed ferry from the port at Cesme. Time and finances didn’t permit a longer stay on the island, so we tried to capitalize on our limited time (about 8 hours on the island) by taking a tour offered by the ferry company.

This was a mistake.

I’ll be honest. I’d never taken a ‘on-the-bus, off-the-bus, snap-and-go’ tour before. My fears about how frustrating an experience that might be were totally confirmed: Confusion and delay in starting the tour (wasting something like an hour standing by the port of Chios), strategic (and extended) stops at tourist trap souvenir vendors at every site, including an extremely expensive lunch (ouch, the Euro!) (albeit in a beautiful location, the Port of Mesta), and being herded through stunning, winding streets, filled with a mixture of awe and panic about losing the group if I stopped to admire anything, even for a moment. The tour guide did share useful and interesting information on the drives in between the sites, so thankfully I had a friend who happens to be a translator along, as everything was conducted in Turkish.

Perhaps my frustration with the experience is a testament to how spoiled I’ve been, gallivanting leisurely around Turkey, using my guidebook, recommendations and intuitions of friends, and my ever-increasing language skills to really explore places. Perhaps recent turmoil has heightened my sense of “what if I can’t go back?,” as I’ve wondered about many of my favorite trips from last year, which I’ll hopefully be documenting and posting here soon (as selfish as that is). This may have been exacerbated by the fact that the tour didn’t go to Nea Moni, an 11th century monastery and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inshallah, there will be a next time. Also, inshallah, because over Easter the residents of Chios fire off insane amounts of fireworks. Also, stunning beaches. If I could do it again (if I could drive!!) I think renting a car or motorbike, and staying at least one night, would be the best way to experience the island.

The tour took us to three locations: Armolia, Pyrgi, and Mesta.

Armolia is in the heart of the mastic tree groves that characterize southern Chios, though much of the area was devastated by a massive forest fire in 2012. We visited a small grove that was conveniently located right next to a number of pottery shops. Mastic trees are both beautoful and interesting; they have a tendency to grow sideways, apparently to allow the mastic to drip off the tree to the ground, where it is harvested. They are in the same family as pistachio trees, who knew? The harvest season had just ended, and we were able to see some small remnants of hardened mastic amidst the bark. There were also some olive trees in the area. I love olive trees. But that’s a different story….

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The next stop was Pyrgi, one of a handful of very famous villages. Pyrgi is famed for the grey and white geometrical designs that grace the façade of almost every building. There was a beautiful church in the center of the city that we unfortunately couldn’t enter.

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I may or may not have dressed to match.

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We had lunch at a seafood restaurant by the docks of the port of Mesta, another picturesque medieval village in the region. I was frankly more taken with the prospect of dairy than fish, and devoured a Greek salad with a massive slab of feta on top, along with some ouzo.

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Both Pyrgi and Mesta were walled cities, thanks to a long history of invasion and foreign influence. We were able to enter a beautiful old church, where I lit a candle for all of my loved ones. The church allegedly has relics from Hagia Sophia’s Byzantine days, but thanks to the upsetting antics of bumbling tourists just the day before, we weren’t allowed to access the main sanctuary of the church.

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A beautiful, if rushed, trip.

Final note that doesn’t fit the narrative:

I’d long been aware of the “food war” that mingles itself in the tangled nationalisms, cuisines, lands and and histories of Greek and Turkish peoples. I suppose I’d taken the labeling of various coffees, gummy dried ‘delights’ (lokum), grilled meats, liquors, cultural symbols like the evil eye etc. as ‘Turkish’ for granted in my time here. Seeing all of these products and more labeled explicitly as Greek was eye opening, though not surprising. Food for thought, if you’ll forgive the pun. I love food but I’m certainly not a historian of things like active milk cultures (yogurt) or nomadic usage of flaky layers of dough (baklava, borek, etc.)  so I’ll sigh and eat it all regardless. It’s all Greek to me anyway. 2-2 on the pun-o-meter, time to go.

Bayramınız mübarek olsun

Tomorrow marks the first day of the Festival of Sacrifice, the most important celebration in the Islamic calendar. Corresponding with hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiday is known as Eid al Adha in Arabic, and Kurban Bayramı here in Turkey. It is also known in Arabic speaking parts of the Muslim world as Eid al Kabir, (roughly, the great celebration, indicating its importance in the tradition).

Structurally, one could say that Kurban Bayramı is the Christmas of Turkey. Ziyaret etmek, visitation, is a key aspect of the holiday, with families traveling across the country to be together, visiting their families and paying respects to their elders, marked by “hand kissing” (a soft kiss to their hand, and then touching your forehead to their hand). Children often receive money, candy, and new clothes at these visits (following the compulsory hand kiss!).

Kurban Bayramı, is also, of course, notable for the ritual slaughter of an animal, the significance of which is denoted in the name of the holiday. Animals considered halal for slaughter include goats, sheep, cows or rams, and camels, and there are stringent guidelines on the books regarding the treatment, age, safety and well-being of the animal prior to slaughter. These days, many families in urban areas send money to an organization to have an animal slaughtered for their family (a practice that occurs in the US as well). However, in Kırıkkale is is apparent that DIY is still very much the norm… More on that in a bit.

The sacrifice ritual itself involves prayers said over the animal and a swift cut to the carotid artery, causing almost instantaneous death. There are many prescriptions for everything from how the limbs should be held, in which direction the animal should face, to the sharpness of the knife. The method is very similar to Kashrut (kosher) slaughter, and is regarded by Muslims to be the most humane way to kill an animal.

The ritual stems from the Islamic version of the story of Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) going to the mountain with his sons at the behest of God, being asked to sacrifice his son (in the Islamic version it’s Ishmael/Ismail) and then being told to slaughter an animal instead. The slaughter performed by Muslims around the world starting tomorrow is symbolic of their gratitude for their lives, livelihoods, families and blessings, which come from God. Some people in Turkey also slaughter an animal on an occasion which summons immense gratitude, the birth of a healthy child, for instance. Often, at Kurban Bayramı, or one of these voluntary (adak, in Turkish) slaughters, a drop of blood from the animal is smudged on the forehead of children, with the belief that it will bless and protect the child.

Directly related to the slaughter is the importance of charity to the holiday. The meat from the animal is divided after the slaughter; some is kept by the family, and some is sent or delivered to families who couldn’t afford an animal to sacrifice, who normally cannot afford to purchase meat. As at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, special alms are often collected.

Side note: there are few things i find more entertaining than asking my classes to explain the holiday to me. Kids say the darndest things.

As a student of Islam and a fiend for the culture, it’s wonderful to be in Turkey during the Bayram. I was here for it last year as well, but this year I’ve had a much better opportunity to observe preparations for the holiday in my town (language helps!!). What has struck me the most is how the holiday is commodified, in so many ways. (I did compare it to Christmas after all…)

What follows are photos from around Kırıkkale from the last couple weeks, with explanations and translations in the captions. These photos may seem rather mundane, but I think they reflect the observations I’ve had recently. It’s also been quite an adventure to try to discreetly document these signs and storefronts, often in the crowded city center, without drawing too much attention to myself.

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A large banner loosely translated as “buy your sacrificial animal from us!” offering discounts of 75 TL and different prices for “küçükbaş” (little heads, animals like goats and sheep) and büyükbaş (cows or rams)

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“Our sacrifices are for brotherhood”

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An advert for an organization that funds sacrificed meat being sent to places in Africa and Central and South Asia.

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Similar

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This one offers the services of a veterinarian to ensure the sacrifice is carried out correctly. Many people across Turkey carry out the sacrifice themselves, often in the cement courtyards of apartment buildings.

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In the lead up to Bayram just about every bakery storefront in town bears a sign that reads just like this: “We can do your special orders for Bayram desserts”

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A colorful bakery window

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Knives for sale at a big street festival in ktown on Thursday. Because people perform the sacrifice themselves and there are high standards for sharpness there’s a pop up industry for a week.

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This vendor offered mini do-it-yourself knife sharpeners

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Or one of these men could do it for you

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That kid can’t even believe how much candy he’s going to eat this weekend.

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Candies (“şeker”) for sale in downtown ktown on Thursday night.

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I love this one… Look at the little plastic sheep! The sign in the window says “kıyma çekilir” basically meaning, we can turn your meat into ground beef.

Other items included in the pop up industries of pre-Bayram week included ziploc freezer bags (for all the meat), large wok-like pans (sac) for making kavurma (meat), and napkins.

To all those celebrating, iyi Bayramlar, Eid Mubarak!

Urfa Part One: Göbekli Tepe

In early March 2014 I went with a group of fellow ETA’s on a whirlwind weekend tour of two of the most important and historic cities in southeastern Turkey: Şanliurfa (more commonly known by its former name, Urfa) and Diyarbakir, a journey I will be covering in a series of posts. This post is the first in the series, detailing the first half of my almost 24 hours in Urfa.

I flew from Ankara to Sanliurfa’s airport on a Friday evening, where we met up with our friends and had dinner at a kebap house. The cuisine in Urfa and the surrounding area is distinctly spicier than other regions in Turkey, and we sweat our way through an array of delicious meze (often called semsek) before feasting on lahmacun and the famous Urfa kebap. The whole meal was washing down with a copper mug-and-ladle over-frothing with yayik ayran a foamy, salty yogurt drink.

me savoring the ayran

me savoring the ayran

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urfa lahmacun

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the time/arrange to have the ultimate Urfa dining experience: sira gecesi, an evening of food (especially ciğkofte and kebap) and live music, held in a şark odasi, or Ottoman-style sitting room (seating on the floor with cushions) in a konuk evi (converted mansion). Inşallah, next time.

We woke early the next morning and arranged two taxis to drive us 11 km northeast of central Urfa, to a site that was as unassuming as it was mind-blowing:

Gӧbekli Tepe, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the world.

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As unassuming as it may appear, Gӧbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill, also known in Kurdish as Girê Navokê) is, for lack of a better term, a really, really, really big deal. I mean, Stonehenge is amazing, right? Such ancient history, such compelling questions about the origins of belief… Göbekli Tepe is estimated to be about 6,500 years older than that, dating back to somewhere around 9,500 BCE. Something like 11,000 years old. That brain buster is just step one, though. Claims about what this site indicates do no less than challenge just about every textbook claim made about the shift from nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies to agriculturalist societies. With this discovery, some argue that everything anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians have argued about the timeline of the Neolithic revolution, the domestication and production of crops and animals, and its causes are up for scrutiny. But there’s more, and for Tess the religious studies major, this one is the real kicker: the leading archaeologist of the site, and the man generally accredited for ‘discovering’ the site in 1994-5, Klaus Schmidt, argues that Gӧbekli Tepe also evinces what is probably the first known worship site of any kind.

The signage at the sight echoes Schmidt's theory about the implications of the site

The signage at the sight echoes Schmidt’s theory about the implications of the site

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The site first received widespread international attention after the publication of two pieces: “The Birth of Religion” by Charles C. Mann in National Geographic, and “The Sanctuary: The World’s Oldest Temple and the Dawn of Civilization” by Elif Batuman in the New Yorker. Both articles reflect on the lead researchers’ supposition that, to quote the lead in of the National Geographic piece, “We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.”

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This momentous claim is not without its skeptics, of course. In addition to the articles above, I’d encourage you to check out Cris Campbell’s six-part series examining Göbekli Tepe and critiquing this theory on his blog, Genealogy of Religion. (His blog also has much better pictures of the site, and the megaliths in particular, than I could manage to capture.)

views of the megaliths from the boardwalk overhead

views of the megaliths from the boardwalk overhead

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A relatively newly discovered and little known archaeological gem, mass tourism has not yet reached Göbekli Tepe. Reports from a few years describe a couple hundred daily visitors; more recent ones suggest that as many as a thousand come at the weekend during high-tourist season. This seems a little difficult for me to fathom… We saw a total of about 30 people, including at least one bus of schoolchildren and a large family in the two-ish hours we spent at the sight mid-morning, on a Saturday. It seems difficult to imagine that mass waves of tourism are likely to come soon, given Urfa’s location and the surrounding areas current geopolitical realities. However, I’ve recently read that tickets are now being sold and required for entrance to the site, but I do not remember this being the case as of early March.

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In addition, the idea of the site was far more astounding than the site itself, in my opinion. The site is prohibitively ancient- the engraved megaliths cannot stand alone, and their excavation puts them at risk to the elements. They are propped up by a network of wooden stilts, and a rickety boardwalk of sorts guides visitors over the site. The lack of visual splendor is a perfect testament to the tension between preservation and touristic exploitation faced by those who seek to learn and/or profit from locations like this. Signage in four languages (English, German, Arabic and Turkish, seen above) vaguely indicate the meaning of the arrangement of the stones and their engravings, mostly animals and humans. The hillsides around the site were blossoming with yellow flowers and flush with the green of the coming spring (perhaps a testament to the controversial and apparently successful Guney Anadolu Projesi, a water irrigation project, previously alluded to on the site here and here, with more to come).

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It is difficult to articulate what it feels like to visit something so truly ancient, to stand on earth that (regardless of the anthropological evidence conclusive from these stones in particular) is known to be among the first to be used for agriculture. How can one say what it “feels like” to stand on the ground where, millennium before, people may have gathered, conscious of some deity or higher power for the first time in human history? “Overwhelming,” “humbling,” “inspiring”… they don’t quite cut it. After months of traveling across an ancient land, after visiting countless sites whose dates of construction were jaw-dropping, how could I even begin to wrap my head around these hills, what they might signify?

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My mind was blown, but it was time to press onward for more, as I headed off, stuffed in a taxi with my friends, back through the pastoral hills back to Urfa, to the cave where it is said that Abraham (the one with many sons) was born. Coming soon!