July 4, 2014

Welcome to Kayseri, Burritos.

If I summed up our first day in Kayseri in one word, it would be hospitality.

When we arrived in Kayseri, we were greeted by Mesut, one of the directors where we will be working. He was incredibly warm and welcoming to us weary travelers as he drove us through town and helped us get checked into the hotel. He gave us an excellent impression of our future coworkers. After a few emails home, a bottle of chilled water from the minibar (google search of "can I drink the water in Turkey" had mixed reviews), and cool showers, we were ready to pass out. Despite the very warm temperature in our room (we didn't realize that the window opened?), we slept deeply. Finally.

Turkish Breakfast is one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Even at our hotel, the breakfast was outstanding. There was a buffet of meats, cheeses, olives, marinated peppers, bread, savory pastries, eggs, potatoes, and salad. There was coffee and tea, juice, and water. The room itself was also beautiful: a glass ceiling to let in sunlight, lots of green plants, clean and fresh table linens, real silverware; this isn't exactly the complementary breakfast at Super 8. Turkish pop music filtered in from the lobby, providing a perfect backdrop for our first meal in Kayseri.

I struggled a little to get what I wanted to drink at breakfast. I wanted some of the famous Turkish tea. It's served in unique glasses that are shaped like small vases. I saw a small metal barrel, clearly full of hot liquid, so I assumed it was tea. Only hot water came out. I wasn't sure what to do, so I instead took a small mug and poured instant coffee and more hot water in. While eating, I watched another guest remove the pot from on top of the barrel and pour a glass of tea. What I didn't see, but would learn later in the day, was that the tea in the pot is atomic strength, and one must cut it about half and half with the hot water. That was one strong glass I poured myself.

Following the absolutely delicious breakfast, Alan and I were picked up by our boss, Doğan. He is one of the most personable people I've ever met. He took us on a short drive up to a hill above Kayseri so that we could see the city--it's beautiful, more to come on that--and then took us to Melikşah University to get a feel for our new workplace (we don't actually start until September). Melikşah is a small, profit school founded in 2008, so everything looks new. We toured the School of Foreign Languages, met briefly with our future colleagues, and then toured the campus. A highlight of the morning was meeting up with our former NAU colleges who now work at Melikşah. It was comforting to see familiar, English-speaking faces. They made us feel right at home and helped us feel uninhibited about asking questions.

My favorite moment of the morning was when we were touring the small campus. We were ascending an outdoor set of stairs on a hill overlooking the city. The Muslim call to prayer  resounded over a loud speaker as a hot breeze whipped around us. The sound echoed and resonated through my whole body, a thrilling audio experience for a foreign traveler. Doğan says we'll get used to it, and stop noticing, but I hope that I keep a reverence for this beautiful custom. If you've never heard a call to prayer (listen here), it's a single male voice tracing notes in what I think is called maqam (type of music scale used for Quran recitation, based on wikipedia research).  The same imam singer's voice is projected from every mosque in Kayseri (I didn't know that), and we will be hearing the call five times every day while we live in a Muslim country. Right now, Muslims are observing Ramadan, which in my understanding is a period of spiritual focus in which Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset to help themselves understand how it feels to have nothing, to be among the poorest in society.

After our visit to the school, Doğan dropped us off at our hotel to rest. We decided to ask the front desk for a little help with arranging our bus tickets to Izmir. If this weren't a packed and rambling blog entry already, I'd probably go into a lot more detail. I'll stick to the highlights. After a brief broken Enligh-Turkish encounter, we set off on foot with one of the hotel workers for the ticketing office to book our trip. Between his limited English and our barely existent Turkish, we managed to ask his name and occupation. I asked whether he was married, and his response "enshallah"(God willing) was familiar to Alan and me from our work with Arabic-speakers. It also made everyone laugh, which crosses all language barriers. The small ticketing station was manned by a 13-year-old boy who did a great job of interpreting our wants and booking our trip. We used our fancy "chip" credit card for the first time in Turkey without a hitch. Satisfied with the outcome of our multi- (or maybe anti-) lingual service encounter, the three of us came back to the hotel. We gave in to jet lag for the rest of the afternoon and napped in our hot hotel room for about 3 hours. My motto for jetlag is do your best to forget about what time it is at home and just be present in the new place, but also get rest if you are tired. They aren't as mutually exclusive as some travelers think.

At the end of each day during Ramadan, Muslims break the fast with Iftar, a special style of dinner. Doğan invited Alan, me, and our friends from NAU to dinner tonight. We ate at a restaurant serving a special Iftar meal. During Ramadan, if you want to go out to eat, you need a reservation, as everyone shows up just before sundown. Many people have Ramadan apps on their phones with a countdown to sunset, and we saw a second-by-second countdown on Doğan's phone, followed by a city-wide call over the loudspeakers, announcing that it was time to break the fast.

Our table was set with lots of small plates containing olives, bread, various desserts, and dates. We each had an individual salad of lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and tomato, as well as our choice of lentil or okra soup. I enjoyed the okra soup, which I've never had or seen before. The main course was slow-cooked beef, rice, and tomatoes. We sipped Turkish tea during the meal, and ordered turkish coffee afterwards. Turkish coffee is served in small cups, with the very fine grounds sinking to the bottom of the cup. The coffee grounds are sweetened with sugar, and can be read like fortunes after drinking, if desired. My Turkish roommate back in Flagstaff introduced me to that fun custom.

Doğan took us back to our hotel for the night. We are feeling really lucky to have such gracious hosts in Turkey, as arriving in a foreign country is a daunting and overwhelming experience for even seasoned travelers. In my experience, Turks are warm, welcoming, and incredibly generous. I hope to take on more of those traits during our time here.

Here's to our first day in Turkey, to the wonderful people, and to our new city.