I arrive in Goreme just as the muezzin is performing the adhan. I look around, trying to guess the direction to my hotel from the description on booking.com, but I soon realise a better idea is to get help, so I head towards the most populated area. I soon find out Goreme is a village, so the populated region is a group of small shops.
In about two minutes I find myself in front of this travel agency, where a guy in his mid twenties is just finishing a conversation with an Asian tourist and I see in his eyes he’s getting ready to fish for me. I am too happy to hear he speaks English to care about anyting else.
“Hi there. I am looking for my hotel. Do you think you could help?”
“Of course I can. But come in, I can offer you something to drink and we can talk.” he says, pronouncing every word clearly and separately, carefully and as convincingly as he can.
“Thank you, that’s very kind. I’ll come back later, now I just need to find my hotel and check in first. It’s Mystic Cave House Hotel. Do you happen to know where it is?”
“Yes. It is very close actually. Just go round the mosque and to the right and you will find it.”
“Really? Are you sure? I mean I just came from there and didn’t see it.”
“That is because it looks like there is nothing there. But you will find it.”
“OK, thanks, see ya then.” I reply, feeling little bit discouraged by the involuntary unflattering description.
“Wait! What is your name? he says, coming down the steps into the sidewalk in front of me, his right hand reaching out.
” Daniela.” I smile and shake his hand.
“Samet”, he says, stressing the ‘a’ and making it stretch like chewing gum, one end between his teeth and the other one tightly squeezed between his fingers.
“Where are you from?”
“I traveled to Romania two months ago. I love it.” he says, all the time keeping eye contact, his eyebrows tensed in a little frown from the constant concentration.
“Oh, really? I’m happy to hear that. OK, see you later then.” I add, resolving not to trust him.
“OK. I am waiting. I can offer you some good deals on tours. Better than your hotel. ”
“Tesekkur, we’ll talk about that later then.”
“Oh, you can speak Turkish. You look Turkish, too.”
“Thank you. I can only speak a few words, I am not very Turkish.”
When we finally manage to say good bye, I go round the mosque, which is maybe 50 m away and past a public toilet and see my hotel on the right. I like the stone walls and think it looks good enough, but I am still expecting the worst, on account of the very good deal I got on it. (That’s another thing: I tend to expect things that seem good to go bad – just another virus I need to clean from my system.)
The reception, a small kiosk-like space next to the entrance, looks rather unwelcoming and the receptionist – an agitated guy, light brown hair, bruised face (!?) that seems never to have known laughter or even smiling, rough hands and dirty fingernails – is very unfriendly and gives me the impression of a newly escaped convict planning a revenge. He never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, but keeps ordering me around.
“Are you ok?” I ask, looking for his eyes.
“Yes.” he quickly replies and seems to stop there for a moment, surprised by the question.
“You seem very busy and tired.” I insist, looking for a small doorway to his heart. I don’t find it this time, but I am determined to try again on our next encounter.
He takes my backpack and leads me to my room. But for the small, covered, high window, everything looks good. The bathroom (which is not a separarate room, but a corner enclosed by glass walls only a few centimeters taller than me) is an interesting surprise and I can’t help thinking about how it would be to have to share the room.
I take off my coat and rest for a while, send a few messages, then take a long hot shower and when I get out again it’s dark. I wonder if I can still find the travel agency open. I go round the mosque and the call to prayer starts again, making me wonder if all my arrivals and departures are to be blessed like this on my entire trip.
Before I get to the travel agency, I get the feeling that being out after dark on my own around here is not the best idea, although I have never been afraid of that. I find the guy sitting outside and, when he sees me, he quickly invites me in. We take our seats and he offers coffee, but I politely decline on account of the late hour.
“I have hot chocolate. Do you want hot chocolate? he insists, so sure of himself.
“Thank you, I think I’ve had too much chocolate today, actually.”, I tell him, remembering my lunch on the go.
I look at him and I see he’s becoming offended by my refusals, so I decide to make him feel good.
“Do you also have water? I would really love some water. I feel so thirsty!”
“Yes, I do have water!” he quickly replies, clinging to the question as if to a lifebuoy.
“You look so Turkish, you know, really. Are you sure you’re not a little bit Turkish? ” he says as he’s bringing me my water.
“Oh. Thank you.” I laugh. “Who knows? Maybe I am.”
“What happened here?” he asks pointing to my right eye. And I realise he is actually the first person to ask openly about it since I left Bucharest.
“Fell off my bike.” I quickly reply and right after I close my mouth I bite my lips to stop myself from answering what he didn’t utter out loud.
“When was that?” he insists.
“Friday. So it was my birthday on Sunday and this trip is my gift.” I continue, changing the subject so that he doesn’t get kicked in the balls before I get a deal.
” Really?! Happy birthday! Great gift. Who is it from?”
“Thank you. Myself.” I reply and see clearly what he is thinking: I got beaten up by my jealous husband because I cheated on him, so in a fit of anger, I took off my wedding ring, flushed it down the toilet (or just threw it in a drawer, his mind is not decided about this detail), took all the cash in the house, packed the bare necessities and ran away from home.
I smile to the image and let him have it, petting my left knee as I convince my leg to stay put and leave my foot on the floor.
“I like your style of clothes. It is European. Don’t ever change that.” he continues checking me out and making remarks as if voicing lines from an inner dialogue while weighing an item in a shop right before purchasing it. Or stealing it.
“I like you. You are a nice person.” he continues, convincing himself the merchandise he’s got his eye on is a good choice.
“You’ve just met me, I just walked in here five minute ago. ” I reply somewhat indignantly, perfectly aware that it is all a strategy meant to open myself up, feel comfortable, be friendly and get ripped off. And it doesn’t bother me, I can tell it’s what usually works for him. I just realise one more time how much people really need to be seen, to be appreciated, noticed and valued. So much so that they are willing to pay through their teeth to get the illusion of it.
“Don’t get me wrong”, he continues, waving his thick ring in my face. ” I am engaged to be married. I am leaving to America in two months. My fiancé is there.”
“That is wonderful! Congratulations!”
“So if you come to the USA, I can be tour guide there if you wish to visit the Grand Canion. I will open a travel agency there.” he adds and I am not sure if I can believe him.
“Good luck! You are starting a new life. Great! All the best to you!” I sincerely wish him. “So, what have you got for me then? I am here until the day after tomorrow.”
And we start discussing options and prices and I know from Hamodi – my dear Syrian friend in Istanbul, whom I met when he was working in the Grand Bazaar – never to settle for the first price. So I negotiate and eventually we manage to shake hands on a tour for the next day.
I get out and check the name above the agency. It is Angelos Travel. I like that. The dark, empty street is no discouragement for my desire to explore the new place. Nor is the man kicking a stray dog in the middle of the street, out of the blue. So I walk to this shop opposite the agency and get bread and olives for dinner and then walk up this narrow street and get to a beautiful hotel on the left and then to this small, dusty shop and I go in.
“Merhaba.” I say to this old man as the door opens and I just love hearing my voice saying that. I feel like repeating it and, when I see this older lady wearing a hijab watching TV in the far end corner, I say it again: m e r h a b a (careful about every sound, laying the stress on the ‘e’, rolling the ‘r’, pushing the ‘h’ upwards toward the back of my throat and finally letting the end if the word be released from between my lips like a sigh.
The shop has all possible souvenirs, but I am drawn to this wall displaying handmade necklaces – silk and beads. The lady joins me and explains she has made them all and I can sense, as I’m touching them, that she’s being honest. She helps me try a few of them on before I decide which one is mine. I don’t really need one, I’m thinking as I’m running the tips of my fingers over them, but I look at the old couple and I know they need me to need one, so I decide I can afford it.
“Cok guzel”, the woman says, admiring her work against my skin and I know she is right. She offers a fair discount and we are both happy. The energy it carries, of the strong hands of a woman who has lived through the hardships of life and never gave up, is a priceless bonus she is not including in the final price.
“Tesekkur ederim. Gule gule!”
“Rica ederim! Gule gule!”
And, at the end of the day, I am a little bit more Turkish as I head back to my hotel, listening to the adhan again and passing through this empty carpet shop on the way.
And one more stop before my hotel: