Mevlevi Sema in Saruhan, a 1249 caravanserai on the old silk road

“Hi, captain, let’s go.” Samet says picking me up from my hotel.

Although I remember resorting not to trust him, his company is somehow predictable, his English is good, so I feel comfortable and think I can handle him. When my red tour of North Cappadocia finishes (long story, so I will probably break it up and post it later from my laptop), the minibus drops me in front of Angelos Travel and, as I sit down and have the cappuccino  Samet gladly makes for me, I ask him to check if they have the sema tonight and where. As he’s taking his seat and starting making calls for me, I simply tell him:

“Make me happy.” 

We negotiate the price and when I finish my cup he accompanies me to the cash machine and promises to pick me up from my hotel  twenty minutes later. 

On the way, as I am admiring the beautiful view, taking photos and notes in my notebook, he is happy to give information and tells me about the caravanserai where the sema will be performed tonight. He tells me it is one of the oldest in Anatolya and that on the silk road there is a caravanserai every six kilometres. That is the limit for camels, he explains. In the old times, he tells me, traders would get shelter, food and women for free for two days in the caravanserai. “Everyone is happy in the caravanserai. Because they are safe.”

I get such a strong feeling of freedom as we arrive at the caravanserai. The gate, “we call it a portal”, Samet insists, is amazing and I can’t help thinking how many people have walked through it, from so many places, shrouded in so many stories, so many connected lives like the colorful threads in a carpet being woven by so many hands all at once.

We visit the rooms that used to welcome traders, now waiting rooms for tourists and guides and I am taking pictures as my private driver and guide walks around feeling important. When I get into the large hall at the end of the yard, where the sema will be performed, I feel I should whisper or be silent. 

I sit down on the left of the ‘stage’, in the middle of the second row. My guide informs me he will wait for me outside, since he has seen the sema too many times and doesn’t want to get bored. I am grateful for the space and take out a tissue, since I already know I will cry and want to avoid making noise during the ceremony. The other people in the audience all come in and sit on the right side if the stage, opposite me, leaving me the only one on my side. 

The dervishes come. Three sit at one end if the stage and sing and play musical instruments and I let the Sufi music fill me as my legs can finally let go and abandon their weight on the bench. We are an audience of 10: 9 on the right side and 1 on the left – me.

Three dervishes whirl and the oldest one keeps his black ‘cloak’ on and remains a witness, walking among the others or just standing. The whirling is prepared and waited for. They begin by paying respect. They all lign up facing me and bow several times. My body remains still, but the rest of me bows, touching the ground a few times, my forehead kissing the floor where so many steps have carried their weight. 

Never in my life have I seen men doing anything more beautiful. My right hand finds its way to my heart, hides it fingers in the damp warmth of my armpit and rests there like a blessing, soothing a very old pain. I have been carrying it for too many lifetimes. On my silk road I make a stop.

Right before the ceremony ends, I am shaken by an earthquake and I get dizzy and a bit nauseous. So I close my eyes. I can feel the movement with my whole body. And, suddenly, I remember. I don’t know whose memories these are. But I remember. 

At the same time, my right eye starts crying. The purple eye. The bruised eye. The swollen eye. The left one, like the old dervish in black, remains a silent witness, open and still, holding it together so that the other one can feel free to lose itself in the experience. 

A guy comes and announces ‘Now you can take picture’ and, for a moment there, I do not understand what is going on, I do not understand the language. And then the meaning of the words lights up in my mind , but I do not understand what he means by the announcement. The audience raising their phones all at once, in a synchronised dance in the side opposite mine help me remember. 

When they all bow in the end, my right hand still over my heart, I bow too. My brothers, I missed you. My brothers… And I remain silent, still shaking and crying as they are leaving. My cinnamon sorbet is getting cold next to me, as I am lost in the empty space in front, around and inside me. I cannot move just yet. As everyone leaves and lights are going off, I convince my body it is safe to move even with an earthquake inside and so my feet push against the hard floor, helping my back lean forward, my legs stretch and knees straighten and then the weight if my head leans backward and my whole body comes upright again. 

“How was it, lady captain?” Samet greets me outside as I am the last one leaving the place before the lights go completely off and the door is locked. I am still carrying my earthquake, so my voice is a bit shaky as I am staggering for an answer he would not ask me to explain. 

Outside the caravanserai the night is cold, the sky is sharp and clear like the blade of a scalpel, shining in the amber light of the moon, which is resting between two major surgeries. 

More about the way back and my last day in Cappadocia in future posts.