To celebrate Thanksgiving, a good majority of the fifty Fulbrighters in Turkey are gathering in a couple of cities and having dinner. They even have actual turkey birds, which took quite an effort to track down. I was excited about attending one of these dinners until I learned that Van is at the end of the universe and in order to get from the end of the universe to the Black Sea or western Anatolia you must pay hundreds of lira. That’s why there are so many people in Van. They can’t afford to leave.
However, one of my students, Ahmed, invited me over for dinner. He had no idea it was Thanksgiving, and I had no idea what his name was (I actually don’t know many of my students names, but people here always call me Mark, after the other American in Van. Some people call me Cats).
Ahmed is in his late sixties, and so is his wife. The first thirty minutes of my visit were set aside for photo albums. Ahmed showed me his three daughters, as well as his three grandchildren (triplets of his eldest daughter and her Spanish husband). It was odd to see him in that context. In class, I only knew him as the older opinionated guy who would not shut up, who when I tried to cut him off would speak louder to finish a point. But I found out that he was not only a grandfather, but a cuddly old man. From pictures. I found that out through pictures.
Ahmed is Kurdish, like 90% of the people in Van, and his wife served us a traditional Kurdish meal until the third time I said I was full. She didn’t eat – she hovered, until one of the two plates were empty, and then laid down more meat.
You can’t just have dinner here. They won’t let you leave before you have tea, and tea usually takes an hour or two. Two, with Ahmed. He did most of the talking, and it was actually quite fascinating – he talked about his family, which has 1000 people in it. No lie, unless that’s a translation error on his part, and I don’t think it is. I wrote out the number ‘1000’ and he said, “Yes, one thousand.” He talked about Turkey’s problems. At one point his neighbor Hamdi, an Iranian, came over, and we talked together. Hamdi had the cutest little girl with him, who everyone kept referring to as a boy. Turkish people have a lot of trouble with third person singular pronouns – in English we have he/she/it, but in Turkish there is only one article for all three – so I didn’t think anything of it. I told Hamdi how cute his little girl was. It turned out it actually was a boy.
After two hours of tea, I was ready to go. Actually, after one hour; it’s a pleasant strain to communicate with someone with the level of English Ahmed has. However, as I got my coat on, he went into his room and came back with a traditional Kurdish scarf, which he gave to me, and he said, “If you ever need anything, call me, and I’ll be there in two months.”
It was quite sweet, if confusing.
Then, as I was finally leaving, Ahmed opened the door and there was Hamdi, with a plate of anchovies for me. Ahmed clapped his hands and helped me take off my jacket. He told me I couldn’t possibly leave now.