I order the “Lemon Pleasure” (a sickly pink smoothy the color of spam that doesn’t taste much like lemon but is nevertheless delicious) and Sarah, my new Australian travel partner, gets the usual yummy Turkish coffee.
We are at breakfast with three young Kurdish locals from the Southeastern town of Urfa who we met the night before at Nargile Bar next to our awesome hotel, The Aslan Guesthouse. They have invited us to spend the day with them at the resort of Halfeti, an eco-tourism model town created on the flooded banks of the Euphrates as a result of the controversial GAP Project (will talk about this in a later post).
Didem (the gorgeous 26 year old Avon saleswoman that invited us on the trip ) eats “tost” and shows me her tattoo.
Should I tell her the English is wrong? My long-time friend Billy and I have an ongoing fight about this while traveling together. He thinks it’s rude to tell people when they have some fucked-up linguistic thing permanently inked into their body. So I keep quiet.
“Cool”, I say.
“Do you have any tattoos?”, Yusef, the bespectacled banker, asks me.
“Ohhhh realllly……”, he says….stretching the words out forever.
I point to my right hip, make a little circle.
“Oh my God”, he whispers, and for the rest of the day he periodically looks at me there and when I catch him he says: “I am worried about your tattoo.”
Didem drives fast and Yusef DJs, doing strange dances with his pinkies. We all add each other on Facebook and they begin scanning through our profiles even though we are sitting right next to them.
“Are you lesbian?”, Osman asks Sarah.
“It says you are “In relationship…with woman?”
Sarah explains that it’s a joke, they are actually best friends. I ask Osman if he’s gay and he doesn’t find that very amusing. “No”, he says, “but Yusef is. Look at his profile. Totally gay.”
After we establish that none of us are gay, Didem screams “SELFIE” while rounding a precarious curve. I’ve never had a driver take a selfie while exiting the freeway at top speed before and I think for a moment how sad it would be if the word “selfie” was the last thing I heard.
We stop for gas, I pee in a hole and Yusef buys everyone except Didem (she doesn’t drink) enormous orb shaped Efes (the local Turkish brand) beers for the road.
We stop on a cliff for this view.
Yusef opens the car door for me. I thank him and he says:
“Of course. I am a Gentle Boy!”
When we arrive at the lake we take a walk past the mostly submerged mosque (the water goes almost as high as the top of the minaret) and a crowded waterside cafe. Leonard Cohen is blasting from the speakers.
We each take turns riding a decrepit old horse. I somehow manage in my dress. It seems like I am always riding horses and camels in dresses. I’m never in the right attire for these things.
We hop on a few river cruiser boats until finally one actually takes off down the Euphrates.
On the way home they invite us to a traditional barbecue in Yusef’s garden which turns out to be attached to his country house in a Kurdish village surrounded by pistachio groves (this is the largest pistachio growing region in Turkey) way out in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Since I’ve had the shits for the last few days, I rush to the bathroom on arrival to take what I’m praying is a relatively solid crap. Oh God. It’s a squatter. I arm myself with copious amounts of TP and Wet Wipes (so happy I remembered these) and ask Sarah if it’s even possible to shit in one of these toilets. She reckons it is but doesn’t envy my position. I’m in there for about twenty minutes trying to figure out how to get the crap down the hole. I pour water over it but it just sits there, immovable…defiant.
I stare at it, my crap and I in a battle of wills. “Just go DOWN”, I yell at it. “What the FUCK?”
“Is all okay, Jennifer?”, Osman asks through the door.
“Everything’s great”, I say, while simultaneously pushing a heap of crap down the hole using wet wipes as gloves. “Totally fine.”
I wash the basin with the half bucket of water I manage to eek from the spicket and hope that I never have to do this again.
Meanwhile, Yusef sings and waters the garden and Osman starts prepping the Kebaps.
They are a combination of eggplant and lamb seasoned with hot red pepper, a speciality of this area called Urfa Kebap.
Dinner is incredible. Best food I’ve had in Turkey by far. Kebaps, Kefte, salad with (unripe) green grapes, cumcumber, tomato and parsley, fresh pita bread and Ayran, a runny yogurt beverage.
After dinner there’s Raki (Anis seed liquor) and fresh local apricots and watermelon.
We toast each other: “SHERIFEH”
Hakan, Didem’s handsome new boyfriend, prepares a cappuchino nargile using milk instead of water. He finishes off the carton.
“ MILK GOOOD!”, he says.
Osman plays the tune from the Godfather on his phone then turns to everyone, twitching his mustache and says: “I am Don Corleone!” We discuss which characters we all represent in the cast of the Godfather.
At one point in the evening they ALL check in with their mothers and we have to keep deathly quiet while they are talking so mom doesn’t get worried. Kinda hard to imagine a 28 year old in the States doing this nightly, or more likely, several times a day.
Yusef and Osman begin to sing Kurdish songs back and forth in an a cappella style known as NASHEED. It’s beautiful.
We empty the RAKI.
The guys turn on their car and blast loud techno music from it. We dance on the patio.
Then things get WEIRD.
Didem leaves with Hakan because her mother has threatened to kill her if she doesn’t return asap and Sarah and I are left with the two guys. When we ask where we should sleep the answer becomes clear.
With THEM, of course!
Except that we don’t want to. At ALL. Sarah and I separately and very patiently try to explain to them that this isn’t gonna happen but they have a retort for everything.
ME: I have a boyfriend.
YUSEF: It’s only one night.
YUSEF: But I LOVE you.
ME: Don’t be ridiculous.
YUSEF: (trying to be sexy) But I am worried about your tattoo.
And on and on until they both give up and Sarah and I end up sleeping in the communal bed that they had prearranged for us which takes up an entire room and is composed of every single pillow, mattress and blanket in the house. As an extra bonus, it has leopard skin sheets! We barricade the door with a plastic chair and an enormous metal container used for collecting grapes and pistachios in the fields. This is only to alert us that someone is trying to enter the room in the middle of the night because neither of us feel threatened by these guys. They don’t seem dangerous, only horny. And we realize that we may, in fact, be the only Australian and American girls these guys have ever spent the day with or even met. Since the good Turkish girl went home to mama, it’s only fair to assume that they believe that the girls whose mother’s don’t even know where they ARE might be down for some action. Perhaps on a rare occasion, this would be true. But it’s not true tonight.
The boys sleep downstairs on the too short couches with frilly pink pillows and sponge bob square pants sheets.
In the morning, after we help them clean up the house, they take us quietly home, even buying us some SIMIT (round bread with sesame seeds) on the way for breakfast.
It’s all very civilized and we say “TESHEKUR EDDERIM” (thanks very much) to the Gentle Boys for a truly unforgettable evening in KURDISTAN.