GROUP JOURNAL FOR
MELITOUR EASTERN TURKEY TOUR
JULY 29,2001 TO AUG 12 , 2001
Day 2 Tuesday, July 31
by Charlie Dell dellb@grandforks.AF.mil
FLY TO TRABZON
MEET THE BUS
THE FIRST VILLAGE EXPERIENCE
What a terribly short night! We were on a Turkish Airlines flight to Trabzon at 7:00 AM. In Trabzon, we were met by Metin, our driver, Asli, Meli’s 24-year old daughter, and Zilli, the 3-year old Maltese terrier.
Trabzon is the oldest and largest city on the Black Sea. It is steeped in both history and lore as it is strategically located on the widest part of the road that has been used for eons in trade, military and religion. The Byzantine capital city was moved here from Istanbul during the Crusades for protection. The region was predominantly Greek Orthodox at one time.
The "population exchange" of 1922 traded Muslims from the Balkans who were primarily Turkish for the Orthodox who were relocated to Greece. For that reason, many Greeks tend to visit this area in search of their ancestry.
Our journey began as we drove through the green hills that have cultivated crops and family garden spots spilling down their sides. Houses were not grouped into villages, but were sprinkled about, often with large distances between one another. Occasional minarets reached through the fog. This year’s hay was stacked into cones supported by poles and covered with plastic sheets.We traveled to the town of Maçka where the bus was exchanged for two vans that developed lives of their own as we lurched toward the mountain village we were scheduled to visit. The young man obviously was certain of his driving skills, but the sheer drop-offs and the speed of the vehicles had my companions a bit flustered.
Add to that the loud popular music blaring from his cassette player and one had to wonder if we would all arrive safely.Meli had arranged this visit through an acquaintance of hers that she knew from visits to a museum in Istanbul. As we arrived at our destination, the mountain village of Orneklan, the residents began to turn out. The rapid fire of a pistol greeted us, something done during exciting times (weddings, circumcisions, and the arrival of out-of-town guests). We were invited into the village’s coffeehouse/ guestroom and made comfortable.Only a few of our hosts were full-time residents because the economy is poor and they can make a much better living by going to work in Istanbul or Germany. .
Old women with her grand children heading up to Sumela Monastary
. Several of the villagers, in fact, are employed in Istanbul and are at home for several weeks to enjoy time with their families and to help with harvesting hazelnuts. The employers usually allow this permissive leave because it is an important concept to the Turkish familyOrnekalan has a population of 150 in the winter and 1000 in the summer. Goods produced in the region are from the hazelnut – Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world. (We had seen many such orchards on our drive up the mountain.) We learned that harvesting off the steep hillsides is very dangerous – they must tie themselves to trees for safety . Members of the village that we met included a philosophy teacher, an imam, a medical doctor, several of the wives and a number of the children. The family is so important to the Turkish that they have different names for each family member – not just "aunt," but "father’s sister" or "mother’s sister." A young wife and mother who visited with her baby had several gold bangle bracelets on her arm. Meli explained that it is an old custom of giving the wife these bracelets and/or coins for a necklace so that she will have some security should something happen to the husband. One of the women had several gold teeth and Meli told us it is a statement of style – in fact, her husband had treated her to them and they were both pleased that we had asked about them. Other information we obtained was that 98% of the children of this village graduate from high school and 50% go to university. Before we could leave, we were served an enormous breakfast – our third for the day (one in Istanbul at the hotel, one on the plane, and then this)! I had always wondered about how Meli was able to get us into home visits such as these. She was as much a new acquaintance to them as we were. The Turkish people are a big part of the reason why we are on this journey – they are some of the kindest, most accepting people I have ever met. For our breakfast, we were served bread, cheese, pickled green beans, ayran (yogurt drink), hazelnuts and, of course, all the çay you could drink. A special treat was a dish cooked especially for us that is their everyday lunchtime fare, kuyma, which seemed to be a polenta with cheese melted into it. Also, of special note, while we snapped photos of them and their surroundings, one man videotaped us! Here we were in a remote village on a mountaintop in Turkey with cell phones and video cameras!
Back on the bus, we picked up three student hitchhikers who paid dearly for the ride to the Monastery of the of the Black Virgin in Sumela by answering to Meli’s interrogations. All were students taking advantage of a special government program of cheap travel.
The Monastery is Greek Orthodox and was founded in Byzantine times (900 – 1100 AD), then abandoned in 1923 after the creation of the Turkish Republic. It is dedicated to the value of the Virgin Mary. High above evergreen forests and a rushing mountain stream, the monastery clings to a sheer rock wall. With scaffolding and numerous pieces of machinery everywhere, we note it is in the process of restoration, not the first, as much work was done in the 19th century when frescoes were painted over and some stone was replaced.
We returned to Trabzon where our rooms and dinner awaited at the Hotel Horon.If you are interested in sending copies of photos you took, an address for the village we visited is: