Four Turkish words

by Roberto Laghi (France)

Making a local connection Turkey

It was getting dark and our bikes were so covered in mud that the wheels could barely spin. We had to stop pedaling a few hundred meters before. On our left the Aegean Sea, the Greek island of Lesvos behind us. We were surrounded by centuries-old olive trees. I wrote to our host for the night: “we cannot make it for today, sorry”. We had entered Turkey less than a week before and we were cycling from Izmir to Istanbul, following the coastline. The November weather was still warm, but rain had already become more frequent than in the previous months across the Balkans and Greece. That morning we had started riding in Ayvalik on a secondary road, close to the seaside; it was quiet and scenic, no cars, just sleepy stray dogs. After a while, the tarmac gave way to a white road that soon became a clay path. The rain of the last days had transformed the soil in the mud our bikes got stuck in. Camping there could have been an option, but the morning after we would have had the same challenge to face, so no: “on we go!”, we told ourselves. Tired of pushing, we took off the panniers, carried them for a few hundred meters, came back, got the rest, came back again for the bikes. The map on my phone showed a block of buildings where the path ended, 200 meters ahead. We had needed more than three hours for the last five kilometers. Our head torches on, we kept going until we saw the first houses and when I put down the bags in front of the gate of what looked like an empty summer residence, a dog started barking. There were four or five rows of identical small houses, except for an even smaller one just right of the entrance, from where a man came out. He didn’t speak English and my Turkish was just two words: çay (tea) and bisiklet (bike). After him, two women came out and before we could explain what happened, they took our bags and let us in. A few minutes later, the man and I got out, he lighted a cigarette, gave one to me, we walked out in silence to get the bikes and I was struggling to keep up with his fast pace. Back in the house, Mery had already taken a shower and received new clean clothes. “I wanted to wait for the last panniers to get changed”, she told me, ”but I couldn’t say no to the elder woman. She didn’t speak a word of English but she was very clear!”. Our shoes had been cleaned and our clothes put in the washing machine. “Tonight you stay here, you eat and rest and tomorrow you go”, they told us with a few English and Turkish words, lots of gestures and the help of Google Translate. We sat down for tea, they served us food and when our glasses were empty, they refilled them with tea, again and again. They worked as guardians for the residence but the low season was really boring. “My husband goes fishing calamari”, Emine, the younger woman, told us, “and I am here with nothing to do”. The elder woman, Emine’s husband’s mother, was watching Muslim prayers on the small TV close to the entrance. “You are guests sent by God”, she told us with a big smile. During the night, one of their friends joined us, with her 11 years-old boy. Emine called her because she spoke some English. We answered many questions: about our bike trip, our jobs, if we were married and had kids... Chats and laughs went on and a bed was set up for us in the entrance room. The next morning, tea was first and breakfast followed. Then they helped us to remove the mud from the bikes with a rubber hose for gardening. When it was time to say goodbye, we took many pictures together and the two new Turkish words we had learned were not enough, but we repeated them again and again: teşekkür ederim. Thank you.