Even though Kayseri Turkey is landlocked, there are thousands of fish for sale on the street. Some of the fish are alive, and the vendors will fry them for you on the spot, make you a plate or a sandwich.
Venturing Out Into A City Where I Don't Speak the Language
Kayseri Competes for World's Largest Sausage
Do I Look Like Frankenstein or Tom Cruise?
Is Kayseri Culturally and Politically Conservative?
Turkey's Equivalent of Mississippi or Utah?
The Kindness of Strangers
What to do on Friday nights?
Like Living in a Time Warp: America in the 1950s
Underside to 1950s Cultural Innocence
Of Safety and Nearly Non-Existent Street Crime
Late Winter, Early Spring: Too Delightful Experiences
First, Second and Third Worlds Right Beside Each Other
Discovering a Small Cadre of Americans in Kayseri
How 21st Century Kayseri Is In Some Ways
Venturing Out Into Muslim City Where We Don't Speak the Language
On my seventh day in Turkey, I contracted a bad case of Sultan's Revenge, or the Turkey trots. The next day, my son and wife contracted it. This was the third attack my wife experienced in five weeks, so we had to venture downtown in search of Cipro.
Weather was a perfect 70 degrees as Lucia, Alex and I waited for the bus near our apartment to venture to the thriving shopping district of downtown Kayseri, which has been a continuous settlement since 3000 B.C. That's kind of awesome in and of itself, especially to an American where few places are even 200 years old. We knew to get off the bus at the big Roman wall and 1500-year-old castle in the central square of the city.
Everyone seems to come downtown for shopping on Saturdays in this city of nearly one million in the center of Turkey. The streets and shops were crowded. And there were all sorts of interesting sites to see. Though Kayseri is land-locked, there were live and recently caught fish for sale in big displays. The vendors would even fry them up for you while you wait.
We decided against unfilleted fish, and instead stopped for three tavuk doners -- lettuce, tomato, grilled chicken, on something like pita bread -- plus two soft drinks for a total of eight lira or $5. Not to mention the free hot tea for everyone, which is simply a sign of hospitality and a given at every meal.
The cooks and servers were very friendly, so we tried to explain, in charades-like acting out, that we were looking for a bedding store called Elfin. We Americans and Turks were all laughing together at our inability to communicate with each other. With the help of the phrasebook, we were finally able to say what we needed. "Yatak takima, carsaf dukkan (bed linen, bedding store or shop)," and the cook pointed us where to go.
"Tesekkur ederim, Tessekkur ederim (Thank you, thank you)," we said as we left the cafe.
"Auf Wiedersehen, Auf Wiedersehen," the chef said, laughing at his inability to speak English.
At Elfin, we spent $50 for four twin quilts, four pillows, three twin-fitted sheets. Then we bought Alex four pairs of pants, four long-sleeved matching cotton shirts, and one matching sweatshirt, good quality, casual clothing -- all for $108. (The clothes fit his slender European frame far better than bulky American clothes, which seem to cater to obese children.) Next we found a berber(barber) who washed, cut and styled Alex's hair meticulously for 45 minutes and charged 10 lira ($7). We gave him a $3 tip. "Now you really look like a Young Turk," we said. He was happy with the cut.
At the "Ezcane" (Turkish pharmacy), thankfully the pharmacist spoke good English and I was able to get cipro easily. She welcomed us to the city and offered to get us almost any drugs we needed, prescriptions not generally required in this country.
Because of all the stuff we were carrying, we had to take a cab back to the apartment. We were able to communicate to the cabbie that we lived in the Talas or more specifically Anayurt section of Kayseri, and to direct him to our apartment complex without getting lost. (The first cab we hailed on the night Alex and I arrived in the city late at night had no idea where we lived, despite the detailed address we gave him. He wandered around for an hour before finding our apartment complex, and after getting hopelessly lost, charged us $50.)
So, just venturing downtown and back successfully and communicating our desires in Turkish seemed like a big accomplishment. And the cab fare on this day was only $21 ($25 including tip).
All in all, it was a productive little shopping adventure, both in terms of bargains found, language barriers overcome, and confidence built from not losing our bearings. We were growing comfortable in our adopted city.
Slideshow: First Impressions of Our New Hometown (posted on Facebook)
Kayseri Competes for World's Largest Sausage
Some new friends from the university invited us join them at the PASUMA festival -- bacon, sausage, pastrami and ravioli -- held in a park named for internationally known architect Mimar Sinan, who was born here in Kayseri. We watched as Korkmaz, a Kayseri-based company, unveiled what it hoped will be declared the world's largest sausage by the Guinness Book of World's Records. Weighing 740,000 pounds and 550 meters long, the sausage was grilled on a barbecue more than a city block long, and then fed to the spectators, including us. "Spicy" was how Alex, 12, described it. Korkmaz in a press release said it started with two tons of sausage bone and prepared it for six days, involving more than 30 employees. The cost of preparation and distributing the sausage free to the crowd, along with bread, was 40,000 Turkish Lira or $26,400 U.S. dollars. Turkey did face stiff competition for the sausage crown from Germany, which previously held the world's record for longest sausage.
As part of the festival, the world-famous wire walker Laszlo Simet raced his motorcycle across a wire above the crowd. Here's my photo album of the sausage unveiling and eating, and my photo album of the PASUMA festival in general.
Do I Look Like Frankenstein or Tom Cruise?
Since Alex had such success with his first Turkish haircut, near Ipeksarai Mall in Kayseri a few days later, I impulsively decided to get my haircut. This wasn't like the 15-minute haircuts in the states. The barber meticulously and carefully took 45 minutes. Then, after half an hour, he grabbed a lighter, put it next to my cheeks and lit a flame. My eyes bulging out of my face, I reared back and asked what he was doing. He smiled. His apprentice, who spoke a little English, explained that the purpose was to burn the hair off my ears. OK, I said, but please be careful and gentle. "Go easy," I said.
On my next visit, with a different barber who spoke even less English, and without an apprentice to translate, I pantomined that I just wanted a trim and to wash away the gray. I couldn't tell whether he understood or not, but he started to about his business as if he did. He pointed to some photos on the wall of specific cuts, and I nodded. Apparently he assumed that as an American now living in Turkey, trying to blend in and look like one of the natives, I would want a complete makeover in Turkish style, complete with stylish pompadour.
I was ok with the trim -- it didn't look like too radical a change. But then he concocted a hair-coloring mixture that looked ominous. The dye was jet-black. He poured it on my head, spread it all around, and left the room for a half-hour smoke. I sat there stewing, helpless, watching my head slowly transform into Frankenstein.
When the barber returned and washed out the dye, he gave me a thumbs up and told me I looked just like Tom Cruise. "Super!" he exclaimed. Never mind that I don't look anything like Tom Cruise. I smiled wanly and nodded politely.
Then he lit a match next to my ears to s-l-o-w-l-y burn the facial and ear hair away. It's a wonder I came away from that experience with nerves intact. I guess I should be thankful the barber used matches and not a blowtorch.
When I returned to school the next day, the students did double-takes when they saw me. "Teacher, did you paint your hair?" several of them asked. I could tell by the way their eyes popped out of their heads that I had startled them.
My wife also experienced a shock at the beauty parlor. When she returned, her new "flip curl" hairstyle looked right out of the 1960s. I could have easily mistaken her for Mary Tyler Moore from the Dick Van Dyke Show or First Lady Jackie Kennedy. All she lacked was the pillbox hat.
It took me about nine months to find a barber who advertised "Eurostyle haircuts," which I guess is closer to American style than Turkish style. After I visited him, my family complimented me on the good cut, and how I looked younger than my age -- the ultimate compliment to middle-aged Americans.
As an American man I want to look as young as possible, fearing age discrimination back home or being perceived as over the hill, with one foot in the grave. Obviously I have internalized America's worship of the appearance of youthfulness because I don't like the gray hairs appearing on my head.
In contrast, middle-aged Turkish men seem to like to look older, maybe as a sign that they are wise and authoritative. They tend to wear gray hair proudly.
Is Kayseri Culturally and Politically Conservative?
One night on the bus, the fellow next to me struggled to speak English, and said, "America...beautiful!" Then, "Obama....beautiful." He reached in his bag and gave me an apple. "This is for Obama winning the peace prize!" he exclaimed.
"No more English," he said. Then, another phrase popped into his mind. "I love you," he said, waved, and stepped off the bus.
The fellow next to him was also struggling to speak English. "Obama very good," he said. I nodded. "Better than Bush," I said, and turned my thumbs down. "Bush never listened," he said. "He an autocrat!"
Before Lucia and I moved to Kayseri, Turkey, we were warned by a number of Americans familiar with the city that "it's so conservative." We'd find few people speaking English, we were told, and most women would be dressed in head scarves, unwilling to speak to or sit near American men. In my mind's eye, I imagined Kayseri citizens dressed in black-and-white, walking with their head downs, in a city reminiscent of America in the 1930s. I imagined I'd see men in long beards and black gowns, wearing fezes and eating yogurt. I suspected the citizens of Kayseri would be fearful of foreigners, especially Americans, and that I might be fearful of them. How many Muslim extremists who would bomb our apartment might be in their midst? If all I knew about the Muslim world was shaped by Fox News, my gut reaction to living among them would certainly be fear. We as a family could be quite isolated, except within the university community we were affiliated with.
My imaginings were way off the mark. It has been a delight to discover such a modern, bustling, friendly boom town as Kayseri, the metro area of which has grown to more than one million people. The shopping districts appear to be thriving, with three big malls as modern as anything you'd find in America. Two of them show first-run Western movies (sometimes in English, sometimes dubbed, sometimes with subtitles.) The public transportation system -- buses and above-ground metro trains -- is cheap, efficient, modern and even high-tech.
We've run into such friendly people so generous and eager to help, and to speak English. Yes, their English is limited, and our Turkish is far more limited. I seriously doubt Americans in general extend themselves to foreigners who don't speak English the way the Turks in this so-called "conservative" city have extended themselves to us.
Turks seem to have less need for physical distance from each other compared to Americans. Men will often stand very close to other men when they are eager to know more about you. Men routinely touch Alex, 12, on the head, pat him on the back and tussle his hair.
On first meeting, Turks will ask us for our email address or phone number, with a desire to keep in touch, learn or practice English from us, and even invite us over for dinner. A Turkish professor declared, "My son will become your son's best friend." On second meeting, a 30-year-old and his girl friend in our apartment complex invited Alex to go out to dinner with them because they wanted to practice English with him and they love kids. After Alex left with them, we had second thoughts. Our American imaginations ran wild. "What the heck have we done? We really don't know them." But it turned out fine. Turkish culture, on the surface at least, is far more trusting.
At a restaurant near our home, the nephew of the owner, who spent three weeks in Los Angeles and is studying for the TOEFL exam, immediately took us under his wing. We told him we were looking for a dry cleaner, so he offered to drive us to his dry cleaner in his car. He also offered to take Alex to play soccer. "If you teach me English, I will teach you Turkish," he said.
I don't call that reserved or "conservative."
I guess "conservative" means that most people are religious, observant Muslims, a bit conformist, and maybe the nightlife is limited. I had heard that men aren't supposed to share seats with women on the bus (men give up their seats to women, and are supposed to stand up rather than sit next to women.) However, friendly, smiling women dressed to the nines and not wearing head scarves did sit next to me, and I met women in head scarfs who were very friendly with us as a family, laughing with us about our struggles to communicate. Women at the university did not generally wear head scarfs. Only a few did.
Turks were fascinated by Americans -- not suspicious or afraid of us at all. Yes, they did stare at us, out of curiosity because they see so few Americans. And if you say you're a teacher, that is a passport to instant respect.
Turkey's Equivalent of Utah or Mississsipi?
Matt Porter, a Fulbright teaching assistant at Erciyes University here in Kayseri and budding broadcast journalist, manages an excellent website, Turkfilmproject.com. He has a post from the perspective of an American in Kayseri that well reflected our experiences.
“Why Kayseri?” is one of the most common questions asked to me by neighbors, students, and other Turkish friends, including residents of Kayseri. With ocean front and cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya, and even a bustling capital in Ankara, my students are always curious how I ended up in what many people view as a kind of no-man’s land. The simplest and easiest answer to this question is, “It wasn’t my choice..."
However, this comes off a little harsher than it should. Although it’s true that I had no control over where I would be placed, I’ve enjoyed my year in one of Turkey’s fastest growing cities....There is no question that Kayseri is conservative, at the outset...Imagine a foreigner coming to live in the US, and their destination is Utah or Mississippi. In the eyes of many, that’s the equivalent of my move to Kayseri...But, living in the city, particularly at the university, has led me to see Kayseri in a different light. Yes, religion is practiced more in Kayseri than in Istanbul. However, this isn’t special to Kayseri, and in fact, most Turks I’ve met in Anatolia (Turkey’s Asian plain) have been more religious. But, they’ve also been respectful and tolerant of differences....
The Kindness of Strangers
I tweet: Machine-gun clad guards at police headquarters in Kayseri intimidate. Clerks still using typewriters make me redo form three times.
Turkish taxi driver volunteers to accompany me to police headquarters, acts as translator, and saves me from police bureaucracy.
Why were you going to police headquarters, a friend asks??
Residency permits. The police bureaucrat kept rejecting our applications for God knows what reasons -- first because they weren't typed, then because they weren't on the correct form, etc., etc. Four times the permits were rejected.
The taxi driver recognized my frustration, led me to a Kinkos-type place across the street from police headquarters, told the clerk there to retype the applications correctly, and even though there were mistakes, identifying Lucia as my "mother." The police bureaucrat didn't notice that and finally accepted them. Now the taxi driver is a true "arkadas" (friend), and tells me to call him whenever I need a lift. He wouldn't accept much extra money for all the time he spent with me.
I shared his number with Lucia. She mixed it up with the phone number for pizza delivery, and mistakenly called the taxi driver for pizza delivery. Eager to please, he went to the grocery store, bought all the ingredients for pizza and delivered them to us.
His generosity, we discovered, was not unusual for the Turks.
What to Do on Friday Night?
When my Listening/Speaking textbook queried students about nightlife in their hometown, one girl piped up, “Sleeping!” Students frequently complained that there was nothing to do in Kayseri on nights or weekends.
So, what could we do on a TAIF -- "Thank Allah It's Friday Night"? We strolled up to the Ottoman Café. There, on a large terrace beneath a roof, customers sat at game tables or (as we did) lounge on pillowy sofas at low tables inside. The restaurant provides cards, Monopoly and Taboo games, as well as tiles for the Turkish game “Okey.”
People sat for hours, playing, smoking, eating almonds. We had a good time – playing the predictably endless game of Monopoly and drinking cay (tea) for hours. Whenever one of us landed on Community Chest, and could not understand what the card written in Turkish said, Alex would take it to the owner’s nephew, Safuk, for translation. Safuk would come sit and chat with us during the course of the evening. Very sweet.
The Ottoman Cafe has large screen TVs. On Friday night, they were playing something that looked like a Turkish equivalent of “Mad Men” or its predecessors – “Dallas” and “Dynasty.” I would watch it occasionally, trying to puzzle out the story line, while keeping one eye on the Monopoly game.
As we walked back home, I asked why don't we have these kinds of social cafés in the States. There was something refreshing and very wholesome about parents and children going for an evening and playing games together, not over-indulging in food and alcohol.
Like Living in a Time Warp: America in the 1950s
Lucia and I have both observed independently that we feel that in Kayseri, we have traveled back in time, to a simpler place of our childhood memories -- in her case, Indianapolis; in my case, the tiny town of Wagram, North Carolina, population 500. Here, we find a strong sense of a tight-knit community, everybody seems to knows everybody's business, nearly everyone goes to worship, and nearly everyone is religious, a believer or pretends to be religious. Except the religion, of course, is Islam, not Christianity.
The traditional family seems to be the dominant cultural aspiration for everyone, and almost no cultural awareness of diversity in that realm -- no multiple marriages, no blended families, no homosexuality, on the surface at least. Most women and men expect to marry in their early to mid-20s. There are very low rates of divorce. Women function primarily as housewives, mothers, volunteers in the schools, and caregivers to elderly parents (who live with them). Some housewives even become obsessed with afternoon soap operas, just like the stereotypical American housewife of the 1950s.
Turks have a strong sense of patriotism, nationalism and militarism -- every Turkish male must serve in the military, even if only for six months. I've heard a number of students, teachers and young professionals question this requirement -- they say it's disruptive to their family and professional lives, and their military commitment is often make-work, of highly questionable value to their country. Yet most accept their obligations to serve as their patriotic duty. It is a bond that all men share, and encourages men to maintain macho identities, unlike America, where traditionalists assert that men who don't serve in the military have been "feminized." Compulsory military service ended for Americans in the early 1970s.
Families, mosques, private charities and the wealthy feel some religious obligation to take care of the poor, given that the social safety net of government benefits barely allows for anything better than subsistence survival, if that. As far as I know, you don't hear many complaints among Turks about "welfare chiselors" or drug addicts on welfare.
To tradition-minded Turks, television, movies (particularly American movies), and the Internet should be used only in moderation. American mass media, they fear, is too frequently an assault on traditional values, exposing children to nihilistic humor, narcissism, impulsivity, irresponsibility and unrestrained anger, too much sex, drugs, heavy metal music, rap, and rock and roll.
In Kayseri, there isn't much cultural, religious or ethnic diversity. It is like America before the civil rights movement, before the women's movement, before women rose up en masse to express their desire to become serious professionals in the workplace, before the sexual revolution, before the rise of religious skepticism if not agnosticism and atheism, definitely before the rise of multiculturalism or thousands of advocacy groups and cause-related marketing in America.
Turkey is also like America before the rise of an environmental ethic. I can remember as a six-year-old thinking nothing of tossing trash out the car window. I didn't become environmentally conscious until later, after the first Earth Day in 1970. Likewise, I was shocked to see Turkish students and TEACHERS toss trash out a car window, throw wrappers or bottles on the street, and to see fields littered with trash. One of my students tossed a wrinkled paper airplane out the classroom window. I told him that in America, he'd get a $50 fine for doing that. His Turkish teacher made him go fetch it and put it in the trash. Turkey, I hope is beginning to develop an environmental ethic.
For America, there is no going back to the lifestyles and innocence of the 1950s. The genie is out of the bottle. It will be interesting to see whether Turkey becomes more like America. When I read about the protests and unrest in Gezi Park, Istanbul, and other cities in 2013, my immediate thought was that Turkey is now undergoing what America went through in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A clash of cultures. "Question authority."
Certainly, Turkey seemed in 2009-10-11 to aspire to more democracy, more respect for cultural differences and more individual freedoms, and that could unleash the kind of cultural revolution that America went through in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet Turks seem to value their collective consciousness more than Americans do, so I doubt we'll see the kind of fast-paced cultural change and rise of individualism that America experienced.Underside to 1950s Cultural Innocence
Americans have come to value transparency and openness more than other cultures, of "letting it all hang out, telling it like it is, no matter how bad or sordid," and don't put as high a value on "saving face" as do peoples in the East. I'm sure that in Turkey, underneath the surface, as in all societies there are the things that America media obsess about: infidelity, child abuse, spouse abuse, betrayals of friends and colleagues, police brutality and loss of religious faith, even if it is not talked about as incessantly as it is broadcast and written about in American media.
For some Turks, the pressure to conform, to stay in loveless marriages or unchallenging jobs is what freedom-obsessed Americans would call a cultural straight-jacket, leading to depression and occasionally even suicide. For others who adapt well to an assigned role, the pressure to conform gives them a purpose and direction in life. There isn't the American excess of too much freedom, of too many young people feeling lost and aimless, spiritually bereft, stuck in prolonged adolescence, constantly going through "identity crises" and "it's complicated" not-fully-committed relationships that many Americans complain about.
I'm sure some women and minorities experience discrimination in the workplace; I'm sure there are bored and frustrated housewives in Turkey who feel their talents aren't put to good use, nor are they adequately compensated. I'm sure some religious and ethnic minorities feel oppressed in Turkey. Like in all societies, I'm sure there are bitter rivalries, grudges, prejudices, and injustices in the legal system. Like in America, there is abject poverty here, misery and political corruption, though America in my observation has less poverty and more transparent government. No society that I'm aware of has eliminated human shortcomings.
With Turkey's economy growing rapidly, especially compared to other countries in the region, the pressue for women to enter the workforce may grow. This could unleash changes in the roles of men and women both at home and at work, and lead to a growing growing women's movement in Turkey. Rates of divorce would then rise, since not all families will be able to adjust to these changing roles, This could cause more Muslims to question religious strictures. Women and men are already starting to marry later, or not at all, meaning that sex outside of marriage may become a less taboo topic of conversation. Other minorities, too, may seek more legal redress and cultural respect for individual differences.
When I published these observations on my blog, I received a couple of insights from Turks. One woman named Aksen, describing herself as an Australian Turk visiting her parents in Kayseri, wrote that she shared most of my insights, but she doubted that Turkey would be "reformed from its religious identity" the way America has since the 1960s. "The very thing that makes Turkey what it is today is simply its faith: Islam," she wrote.
Another reader named Al agreed with my analogies between parts of Turkey today, particularly Anatolia, and America in the 1950s and 1960s. However, in Western Turkey, "numerous women nowadays do wear quite daring outfits with low decoltage and are dating freely. They change their male counterparts at will, if they're not pleased with them." Women in Western Turkey "are way more active in job sectors, as skilled, educated white and blue collar workers.... Last but not least, important parts of the youth in big cities are not into structured religions any more. Many believe in higher power, some are agnostic or even atheistic."
Of Safety and Nearly Non-Existent Street Crime
So many Americans keep repeating to me, "stay safe OVER THERE" (implied, perhaps even subconsciously, among all those violent Muslims). In reality, Kayseri, the city of nearly one million I live in I daresay feels far safer than American cities, including Greensboro, Raleigh, and DC. Crime seems to be virtually non-existent, in part I must say because there are so many devout Muslims and such a strong sense of community among them.
Also maybe because the police aren't noted for respecting Miranda rights.
The only serious crime I heard about in my two years in Kayseri was the mysterious disappearance of three children from the Kayseri suburb of Talas. When no solid leads emerged, people started to speculate that the children were kidnapped by the "organ mafia," who killed them and sold their body parts. This struck me as a ridiculous and irrational "urban legend." Todd Leventhal of the US Information Agency long ago dispensed with the irrationality of longstanding "organ mafia" rumor.
Sadly, the crime was eventually solved. A man in a neighboring high-rise kidnapped the children, raped and killed them. It was a horrific crime, but statistically, Kayseri was probably safer than most of the cities and suburbs in the US of similar size.
Late Winter, Early Spring: Two Delightful Experiences
It was still in the 70's in early December of our first winter in Kayseri. In January, we did make it up to Mt. Erciyes, a 13,000 ft dormant volcano that looms over Kayseri. The volcano last erupted in 253 BC and is heavily eroded. A ski resort to rival the Alps is being built on Erciyes. Lucia and I had a chance to sample the amenities at one of the resort hotels.
Spring arrived in March. On the National Teenager's holiday (how about that?), we discovered a delightful horse-riding and petting farm with a restaurant.
Turkey is in many ways a libertarian's paradise, with few of the regulations we have in the states. That meant animals could run all through the terraced restaurant. Little girls fearsomely squeezed the baby bunnies and left them on chairs where you might sit. Whoops, I almost squished a baby bunny.
"There were two adorable caged monkeys," Lucia wrote her family. "The male was very sweet. Kissing my face, he tried to pull my shirt down. Then he quickly and deftly removed both my earrings! Given his brilliant blue nerf balls and extended red pencil eraser, the thought crossed my mind that he might try to do something disgusting with them, but he didn't. I asked the guard on duty to get someone to retrieve them. Later the owner inquired if I'd gotten my earrings back (they're a classic Hittite design) and then asked us to name the monkeys. Jim, Alex, me, and our friends' little girls settled on Curious George for the boy and Daisy for the girl.
"What a delightful outing on an unexpected holiday!"
First, Second and Third Worlds Right Beside Each Other
The fascinating thing about Turkey is that it's so hard to label, peg, or characterize: Western? Eastern? European? Asian? Middle Eastern? First World? Second World? Third World? Secular or Islamic Republic?
It doesn't fit into the comfortable categories or paradigms we like to place countries in. The truth is that Turkey is all of these, and yet it holds together to create a uniquely Turkish identity.
Most of what I see in Turkey on a daily basis -- modern buildings, cars and superhighways -- is first world, not all that much different from what I'd see in America. And yet if I turn my head into a different direction, I'm likely to see something of what I'd expect in the second world, or developing nation. And then, occasionally, I am surprised to see things I'd expect to see in an impoverished third world nation. On the one hand, Turkey's economy is growing -- has been growing since 2002 -- and survived the financial troubles that devastated other countries between 2008 and 2012. On the other hand, unemployment is higher than in the U.S., 13%, and one out of four Turkish households are said to live in poverty.
One Sunday we encountered what we in the United States would call a flea market -- citizens selling second or third hand goods. We weren't prepared to see pigeons and chickens and turkeys for sale on the street, or to see hundreds of people gravitating to these bargains.
Discovering A Small Cadre of Americans in Kayseri
It was dark and stormy Saturday afternoon in Kayseri. But Americans are rare here, so two American families (five American teachers), and three Turkish high school students, eager to get to know each other better, were not daunted in their quest to go on a picnic. Just being together with other Americans and friendly Turks in this environment is an exuberant discovery that can't be thwarted by rain, thunder and lightning.
Learning that there are actually American(s) in Kayseri, not just a few oddballs like us, was a delight. Turks like to have fun in groups, and their collectivist spirit has rubbed off on us Americans. As we waited to meet each other at Meydani, near Hunat in Kayseri, the heavens opened up and it started "raining cats and dogs."
(The teachers saw this as an opportunity to introduce a new idiom, even if it was an inexplicable one, to the Turkish students.)
Undeterred by the downpour, our group of 13 piled into a van, squeezing doubling up on the seats, and headed to Gesi, a suburb of Kayseri with a big park overlooking the city. Our determination was rewarded. Suddenly the rain cleared up and it turned into a nice, sunny day for a picnic, for games in the park, and for group bonding (Turks and Americans). We taught a few of the children in the park some of the elements of American baseball, to their delight. They had their very first experience wearing baseball mitts.
We also explored the relics of Gesi. In America, old 19th century pigeon houses and long abandoned churches would have been cleared from the land to make way for new development. But in Turkey, the very old and the new stand side by side.
Huseyin, Lucia, Jim, and Fettah chowing down...
After a late lunch/early supper of grilled chicken and peppers, and other delicacies, Steve and Katherine Jones produced a rope, and we played games we hadn't played in a very very long time:Tug of war, jump rope, limbo, "stare scream"
As dusk fell, Abdulfettah, Haseyin, and Essen led us to an old Armenian part of Gesi. It reminded Lucia of the scene in The English Patient where the Sikh takes Juliette Binoche to an abandoned church at night.