June 24, 2015

Iftar Dinner Kayseri Style

Earlier this month, my boss selected Alan and me to teach two groups of female high school students. We earned a little extra cash, and I had an awesome time with 12 of the brightest, sweetest young ladies I've ever met. They destroyed (in a good way) the games and activities that I planned, and we even had deep discussions about current events and their dreams for the future. Easiest teaching ever.

On the last day, we had a pizza party where they got certificates and they gave me and Alan gifts. It was incredibly sweet, and the goodbyes were painful. One of the students even invited me to her home to break the fast during Ramadan, the Islamic Holy month.

Yesterday, Alan and I went to her home in downtown Kayseri. She and her mother sweetly greeted us, and we chatted in their beautiful dining room while he mother finished cooking. The conversation was in English, and included some translations for the mother who was really curious and interested in the guests. My student's 27-year-old quantum-mathematics-studying-motorcycle-riding-all-around-awesome sister woke up from her resting and joined us just before the call to prayer (or in this case, call to eating). 

Her mother had prepared a meal fit for royalty. We started with a rich and creamy soup made mostly with butter and yogurt. It was incredible. For the next course, I had requested mantı, the Kayserian version of dumplings, which were prepared to perfection, and topped with homemade tomato sauce and homemade yogurt. Delicious. Then, we had sarma (grape leaf-wrapped rice) and börek (pasteries), and bread, and salad. Just when I thought I'd explode, the next course came out: delicious baked chicken and potatoes, smothered in a tomato and pepper sauce.

It was a lot of food. We were gracious guests, and complimenting all of the foods, in Turkish, as best we could.

We moved to the couches for a post-meal Turkish coffee and delicious deserts (including the brownies I made with the mix my mom sent from the US), and we talked about everything. I was particularly interested in the mom's recent trip to Mecca and Medina on Hajj. We heard about the food, the traditional aspects of the pilgrimage, and even her opinions about Arabic coffee. My student's sister had a lot to say about her country and her plans for a PhD either in Holland or Canada. Alan and I tried to give her our best advice, even though we don't know much about either country. It was refreshing to experience a real Ramazan iftar in the company of women. I had only experienced a non-traditional iftar with my male Saudi friends back in Arizona. Normally, men and women wouldn't eat together.

The older sister stepped out for a few minutes to go to the mosque. Normally uncovered, she came back in a long black coat and headscarf. I'm still not fully aware of all the Islamic customs, so she explained to me that even if you don't usually wear a scarf over your hair, when you go to pray, you need to wear a scarf. I also learned that women pray on the second floor of the mosque (men on the first).

Later came the tea service and fruit plates. My stomach was incredibly full, but I never turn down a Turkish tea (or three). 

The night ended with promises to travel together, to have more meals together, and maybe even explore another country together. It was a great night of human connection. It's another memory of Turkey that I will cherish. 

We have about 6 weeks left in Turkey. Sometimes that seems too few, and sometimes it still feels like a long time to survive. I hope to squeeze all I can out of the next few weeks before coming back to the US for a brief visit.

Happy Ramadan!