Tea with foreigners

Recently, C. and I drove out to the flat green fields on the Kars outskirts for an evening walk. It’s a late but accelerated spring, here, and every walk reveals new wildflowers that have sprung up overnight. I couldn’t name any of them, except the pearlescent yellow ones that remind me of my childhood in Moldova, but I couldn’t help picking a bouquet.

A sampling of wildflowers

A sampling of wildflowers

We followed the field boundaries up to a low rocky ridge, views of the valley opening up just as the sun was setting. Despite warnings from the occupants of the nearby house about it being “dangerous” for us young women to be walking about near dark, we felt safe and content up there on the rocks. Two dirty-tan Kangal dogs sat at the base of the ridge, their backs to us, keeping an eye out for intruders. When the sun set and we finally came down, the dogs walked with us to the whitewashed house. We had meant only to wave goodbye to the concerned residents, then walk to the road and be on our way, but the friendly women at the door pressed us to come in for tea.

Tea and sunset

Tea and sunset views

It was hospitality mixed with a curiosity about these foreign women suddenly on their doorstep. Although we were on the road to Ani, a relatively popular tourist site, we were decidedly untouristlike in our destination – a walk in the fields off a dirt track. In a single room heated by a metal stove, we sat on cushions and drank tea with rough sugar lumps as our hosts peppered us with questions. These are the situations that always make me acutely sad not to know Turkish – my few words make it possible to follow only the general gist of the conversation, and to say hardly anything at all. Still, our hosts insisted that C. translate the questions to me, instead of simply answering for me. And did I learn a new word, an answer to a common question: “Bekarim (I’m single),” I offered, in my accented Turkish, a designation for anyone who isn’t married or at the very least engaged.

One of the bearlike dogs lay protectively by the doorway. Geese and goslings waddled by. Our host refilled our glasses surreptitiously. The women joked about the two light haired, round cheeked little boys playing in and out of the house – “don’t they look like tourists?” They offered that we spend the night – “We don’t get many foreigners here, maybe once a year!”

“Oh, so you’ve met other foreigners before?” C. asked.

“No, never!” they laughed.

The man of the house quizzed us about really being American: “What is Obama’s wife’s name? How many children does he have?” C. had the right answers as proof.

We declined offers of dinner, more tea, a place to sleep, and headed out after handshakes with the men and embraces and two-cheek kisses from the women. It was peaceful to walk back in the warm dusk, feet sinking in the soft plowed earth, bellies full of tea.


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