Turning Turkish on my first night in Cappadocia, Goreme

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:

Getting to Konya

I board my Turkish airlines plane to Konya and I am so happy to find large, comfortable seats and cushions and pleasant music on board. The plane is so much more comfortable than the one I came on from Bucharest and I think Turkish people must really love their own people. I have noticed how their self confidence often borders  arrogance, but I guess it is a healthier form of self respect than the Romanian ever adopted ‘snowdrop position’ or self-sabotaging attitude.

I sit down and take out my tablet to work on my Istanbul blog post. Next to me comes a guy who strikingly resembles my father. Actually, he is an interesting combination between my father and a friend of my father’s.He offers a cushion and inquires about my trip. As we leave Istanbul behind, we are speaking French and I can finally practice smugness and royalty in my perfect French accent again. It has been a while and I giggle inside when words and expressions come to me in ‘la francais de l’ocean’, a language invented with some friends, on the free principle that it makes no difference what words you’re using as long as you are faking the accent with enough pathos.

When I see Konya from up in the air, I feel there is something unique about her. In the evening air, hundreds of amber lights carefully arranged in a closely connected spider web are making me feel I am truly descending into a fairy tale land, all magical and special in its smallest details. I feel so much love curling up like a cat inside my chest and purring silently with contentment. I smile like an idiot again. And everyone who sees me cannot stop smiling back.

 The guy next to me explains he has been living in Paris for the past 35 years and is now visiting his sick, old mother. “C’est la vie”, he adds as I express my compassion. He then offers me a ride, but I decline the proposal, telling him I hope someone is waiting for me.

I am so happy as I get my luggage. No passport control this time. I am home. I search for my ride and do not see the guy. I try calling him and he doesn’t answer and I start thinking he stood me up. A shadow of what could become panic makes itself felt, but it is nothing serious, nothing that can wipe the idiot smile on my face, for sure.

I go for a taxi and the driver, a very big man, quickly comes out and grabs all my luggage, carefully placing it in the car boot. I take out my phone to show him a picture of the address and he simply grabs the phone from my hand and keeps it. OK, I think to myself, Turkish people are not so possessive of their phones. It can’t be bad. He then makes a call from his own phone and I realise he has no idea where the address is. I still do not panic. He hands me his phone and a guy’s voice on the other side is speaking English to me: “Hello, how can I help you?” I laugh and find nothing smarter today than “Can you please tell the driver to take me to the address I gave him?” “Call your friend”, he advises. “The driver needs directions.”

 So I ask him for my phone back. He gets the message and his huge hand passes me my phone. The battery is dying. I try calling the girl I am supposed to be staying with, but the call doesn’t go through. He grabs my phone again, checks the number and says “Ioc”. I know that means no. It finally dawns on me I am completely reckless and start wondering how the heck I am still alive, being so utterly irresponsible and naive. It is not a Turkish number. I do not have her last name. Or her apartment number. And I have no idea where she is from or what she does for a living. 

The driver then stops at this apartment building , I pay for the ride, he grabs my luggage and carries it to the entrance, has a long conversation in Turkish with the doorman, both completely ignoring my presence, and we leave again. He carries my luggage back to the car, we get in and takes me to another building. 

I start giving up and thinking of an alternative. I show him I need my phone to try to make a call and he gives me both mine and his and insists I should use his. I try calling my backup and it doesn’t go thorough. For a moment I even consider calling the guy I initially wanted to stay with, but remember we were not very friendly in our latest communication, after I rejected him on account of (too much) creepy sexual content. It can’t be that bad, I try to convince myself, but my pride awakens and finally makes a positive contribution.

 So I manage to call the guy who said would pick me up from the airport and didn’t show up. I convince myself he doesn’t sound sneaky or creepy and I pass the phone to the driver and they have their conversation in Turkish and he takes me to his address. We stop, get out of the car the driver carries my luggage to the gate and refuses to take any more money from me. 

My new host, a middle aged university professor who travels the world, shakes hands with me, a cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth, grabs my luggage and takes me to his apartment. I notice the ‘precious’ Turkish interior design, but the strongest impact is not from the pink armchairs, but by the thick smoke everywhere, making me take short and calculated breaths and my eyes all burn and let out tears.

 Two other people are there, a woman and a man, in front of a laptop, talking and smoking and playing music. We shake hands and introduce each other and I notice how the man a avoids looking at me and looks down as I come close. I am trying my best to be as natural as I possibility can, as if arriving in a stranger’s house, in a foreign country, with a completely different culture, in a strict and religious city, in the middle of the night is the most natural thing in the world.

 I quickly start explaining my situation and also the bruises and my host translates that the woman tells me I am cute. I smile a lot and I laugh to make myself comfortable. He then takes me on a tour of his house and quickly realise he must be divorced. There are traces of a former family, but now he lives alone. I soon regret my choice of clothes. I think about how long it is before my period and I encourage myself that anything can be treated. Though, on top of everything else, as I was saying in my previous post, lack of personal space in interactions with Turkish people should not be a reason for concern. 

I eventually get the WiFi password, plug in my phone and reistablish a connection with my (previous?!) life. It is still my birthday, although it seems it’s been ages since this morning, when I left home, so I have literally hundreds of messages. Nari, the girl I was supposed to be staying with, calls on WhatsApp and speaks to my new host. He tells me he can drive me to her place because they are neighbours and she is waiting for me with a surprise birthday party, so we should go.”Only if you want to.”

 I secretly thank God and quickly  grab my backpack, as the guy takes my suitcase and we head for the door. “Don’t forget your purse”, he says. And the woman brings it to me from where I left it, next to the wall. ” Oh, it’s OK, tesekkur”, I tell her. “There is nothing much in it, really. Just my passport, cards, plane ticket and all my money”. 

The guy again translates that she says I am cute. I start thinking ‘cute’ means ‘idiot’ in Turkish culture. But I smile and thank them with a short bow, hands put together before my chest, as if expressing my gratitude to a spiritual master. 

When I get to Nari’s house, I finally start relaxing. I am so tired I realise I cannot think straight anymore. It has been twenty hours since I woke up in the morning and I have been through too much. I leave the single guy who travels the world and get to this beautiful girl’s apartment, where a couple is also waiting for me, with their adorable baby. It is so quiet and peaceful and I finally sit down and enjoy. They seem such good, luminous people. Nari cooked delicious food and we eat and she takes out wine glasses that she bought specially for the occasion and I take out the bottle of special Romanian red wine that I brought with me and we enjoy the evening together. They keep insisting I should tell them if they look Korean or Japanese, but I cannot think straight and don’t want my hesitant answers to seem offensive. The couple are from Kazakhstan. I just know they look so beautiful. 

Before they take their baby and leave, they make me birthday wishes:

“You seem like a warm and good person, so may you always meet people who are like you. Also, be healthy, have a good career, good luck, happinesses, take care of yourself, find a good husband and start a wonderful family.”