A jug of fresh mountain water from the mosque bathroom

Some days can only be explained by the text messages you send your wife. Today was one of those days.

First, a little context. I got a call this morning from an imam friend one town over. We had met a few weeks ago while our kids were playing at a park and exchanged phone numbers so we could get together again. He asked if I was available to come have tea and visit. Though I had plans, my schedule is flexible enough, so I said yes. I told him I could be there in a half hour. “Will it take that long?” he replied. Probably not, I can be there in 15-20 minutes, I said. That was better for him.

While on the road, he called to see where I was. I thought he might say something came up and not to come, but rather just told me the same directions again. I thought it odd, but just kept on going. I called him when I arrived and he told me the tea house to go to and that he was going to “look at” the mosque and would be right there. This is when I started texting my lovely wife.

“Well this is awkward. Went to [tea] house. He’s not here yet. Full of old amcas. And me.”

“Amca” (pronounced ahm-ja) is the Turkish word for uncle, but is used to refer to any senior adult man. So I, a 32-year old American guy, walk into this tea house full of Chatty Cathy old men who give me a look of  both confusion and pity. I inquire of my friend and make it known that I am meeting someone there that they know and then proceed to take a seat at a table. One amca is kind enough to order me a tea; the rest ignore me. I pass half an hour looking at local newspapers, magazines, and Facebook.

“I think he may have gone to [another city] and is coming back. Sitting with some of his friends. Awkward.”

Eventually, my friend called and told me to find his friend there who would take care of me until he got there. So that guy came over, ordered me another couple of teas and we chatted a bit with his friends. Mostly they talked among themselves, but occasionally they’d condescend to my Turkish level. I felt like the pet dog who got a pat on the head every now and again before his master went back to his human conversation.

In amongst their conversation I understood them to say that my friend had, indeed, gone to another city. I had heard this earlier, but didn’t realize they were talking about my friend. I thought they were referring to someone else. It never crossed my mind that he had skipped town and didn’t tell me. I just let this new information sink in—that he had left to go over 100 km away and still let me come—and just chuckled a familiar refrain to myself: This is Turkey.

“Yeah still not here.”

It had been two and a half hours since I had arrived. I thought it appropriate to update Shannon on the progress, or lack thereof.

Wife: “Why would he go to [another city]? 

Me: “Something about a mosque. He called me right after I left. I think to tell me not to come if I hadn’t left yet. But since I had, he didn’t tell me. H told me that was going to do something at a [mosque] after I got here but I assumed that was here. I thought it was around prayer time or something. Guess not. It’s been fine. But I wish he’d just have told me.”

I just want to be clear. When he called me right after I had left, he was leaving the place where we were going to meet in order to drive 100 km away—passing me along the way—to take care of some work there and then drive 100 km back. I’ll never fully understand why he wouldn’t just tell me that on the phone. I was less than two kilometers from my house at that point. My guess is that there was an honor/shame element. He didn’t want me to lose face by being told not to come or him to lose face by canceling. But all my Western pragmatism and time-oriented nature were flummoxed.

“He did send friends to babysit me:)”

First, you’ll notice that I used an old-school emoticon rather than an emoji. That’s because I think emojis belong on the same bus as selfies and that that bus should be careening over a cliff somewhere, preferably hitting lots of jagged rocks on the way down to its inevitable crash into deep, undiscoverable waters. But I digress.

Two friends of my friend tag-teamed babysitting me. The first guy had some errands to do, so another guy sat down with me. Amca 1 assured Amca 2 that he’d be back soon. He gave him a look that said, “don’t worry, it will be mostly painless; and quick.” Amca 2 turned out to be a much better conversationalist. We had a most pleasant talk about our countries and our personal faith beliefs. I thoroughly enjoyed his company. My friend eventually showed up and we immediately left for lunch. Bye-bye babysitters.

“We are [eating lunch]. Rice and beans. And they had beans! And [the] rice wasn’t running thin!”

To understand this text you need to know three things. First, you need to know this song from The Welcome Wagon. Second, you need to know that this is currently one of our three-year-old son’s favorite songs. Every morning he asks, “Can we have rice and beans and you got no beans, can we have that, Daddy?” And then he sings along excitedly. Third, you need to know that we were eating lunch in the town most famous for its bean dish, kuru fasulye. In fact, this town does beans so well that there are two different restaurants with the world’s most famous beans. (I will admit: they are really, really good).

“I’m now an amca taxi service.”

After lunch, we went to pick up two amcas to take up to their village neighborhood. Granted, it was the same neighborhood that my friend lived in and wanted to show me. It was a nice exchange. They all got a ride up the mountain and I got to go up in the mountains. I removed our two carseats to make room and hoped the amcas would just ignore the crumbs that had amassed under Hudson’s seat.

“Well we got up to his [neighborhood] just in time for him to do the [call to prayer]. I’m waiting in his office. Strangest day in a while.”

It made me wonder. Did we arrive just in time for the call to prayer? Or were we late and nobody noticed? Or is there an Islamic equivalent of the “church lady” who was scrupulously checking her watch and then gossiping to others “church ladies” about that imam who thinks he can just read the ezan any ol’ time he wants? Just curious.

“Another guy is lighting the [wood stove] with a propane (welding?) torch.”

No lie, this guy comes into the office, puts some wood in the stove, and then proceeds to get out a blowtorch to light it. I found it hilarious and quite clever.

“Now at his house. Connected to the [mosque]. Like a parsonage.”

He has a nice setup. Work is right next door; it’s not a long walk for those early morning prayer times in the summer when the sun rises at 3:45 am. We had some snacks and I helped his young kids with their English homework. Then, we took a walk around the neighborhood. I may have gotten bit by a dog, though not hard and it didn’t break the skin. It was a rather enjoyable time and we made plans to get our families together for a cookout up there once the weather turns nice.

“About to leave in a few. But first have to get a jug of fresh mountain water to take home…From the [mosque] bathroom.”

One thing I’ve learned in Turkey is that all water is not created equal. A fine difference is noticed even amongst safe, clean, drinkable water. This particular water, so I’m told, comes from high in the snow-capped mountains above them. Clean. Full of oxygen. Güzel, they say. They told me they’d fill me up a big jug of it to take home. So my friend turns on the sink in the bathroom underneath the mosque to let the clean water come, while he goes and gets the jug. Though the pipes are the same, it made something of a psychological difference that he ended up taking the water from the spigot just outside the bathroom. I had a glass of it when I got home. It did taste good.

But not as good as those beans.


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