A desert Rose blooms outside of Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in Cappadocia.
For more delicate pictures of Turkey, click here.
“So you’re fasting?”
“Yes,” she replies.
“Do you do anything special to break the fast?” I ask. Sure, it’s a little bit of a set up, but I’m also curious. All my Muslim friends over the years have been liberal enough not to tweak my curiosity. Besides, I’m a Jew who’s not Judaic, which puts me in much the same boat. I may know a lot more than your average Joe about Judaism, but I pale in comparison to your average Shlomo.
“No, nothing special. I just eat.”
“What about at the end of Ramadan?” I say, ignoring my plan for the moment to delve a little deeper.
“There’s a big celebration. It lasts for three days. There are feasts and dancing. People see relatives and visit family.”
“You’ll visit your family?” Gonça smiles. I really enjoy it when she smiles.
When she first introduced herself as the guide for our tour group, that smile was all that kept me from commenting on how close to ganja her name sounded. “It means little rose or rosebud. You can call me either and I will know,” she told us. It’s an apt name, as I find her delicate and lovely.
“Yes. I am very excited to go back.” Her home town isn’t in Kapadokya. She comes from Anatakya, near the Syrian border. “It has been nearly… four months since I’ve been home.”
“Wow,” I say. The little voice in my head screams four months is nothing. It’s been 18 months since I’ve been home. Of course, I know it’s different for her. She’s never even been out of Turkey. “That’s a long time.”
“Yes. My mother and I will travel and see my family.”
“Your mother is here with you?”
“Yes. She came when I went to university.”
“Why?” I ask, already knowing her mother is a gardener of the most dedicated sort.
“I think to make sure I am ok here.”
“You have siblings? Brothers? Sisters?” I ask, changing the subject slightly.
“I have a brother.”
“You remembered.” She looks me in the eye with a smile. All morning I’ve been watching her, both as a member of the group and during the bus rides. A few times, our eyes have met, her gaze penetrating with the same sly look she’s giving me now.
“So what does your mother do here?”
“She makes me good lunches, I guess,” Gonça laughs. “She has friends here. She is happy.”
“When you are done with the tour, you will go home and break the fast with your mother?” There are plenty of interesting lines of thought I could run with here, but I need to stick to the plan. I’ve always preferred the overly elaborate plans favored by supervillains to simplicity. It’s an irony in my personality. On the one hand, I prefer straightforward honesty. On the other, I’m a hopeless romantic who tends toward the hokey side of things.
“Yes,” she replies.
“Do you have days off?”
“No. I work every day.”
“Seven days a week?” I reply in disbelief.
“Yes. But in ten days I get to go home.”
“Well, you’ve certainly got that.” In my head I’m kicking myself. That wasn’t a good response. I was doing so well. Buck up. Move on. Keep going… Or wait. There’s always later. The internal pep talk isn’t going so well. I decide to jump straight into phase two. “Could you teach me some Turkish?”
“Yes, I would like that,” she says.
Score, cries my internal monologue. “How do you say ‘fun’?”
“And how do you say ‘this is fun’?”
“And how do you say ‘that was fun’?” This is Denise’s favorite tactic: ask the same phrase over and over with little variations and learn how they differentiate. It’s the easiest way to learn the way a language functions. It teaches conjugations and declensions and eventually the variant endings that will keep cropping up. It’s all about patterns. But I don’t really care about the answer. This is merely the next step.
“It is also Alay bu.”
“And how do you say ‘would you like to have dinner with me’?”
She opens her mouth and begins to answer, but stops before uttering a syllable. She looks at me, tilting her head slightly, like a confused puppy. Her eyes say she understands perfectly well. I’m watching, waiting for a response. The little voice in my head is telling me not to look so proud of my set up, but it’s saying it tepidly, as if it’s not quite sure that’s how I’m coming off.
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone. She flips it open and I laugh a little to myself. I can’t give her my number. I don’t have one here. She doesn’t ask for it. She flips it shut, smiles at me and then hollers, “Ok group. It’s time to keep going.”
The rest of the group begins to mobilize. Matt is perched on a rock in the river. “Well?” I say to her, amused and confused.
“I will think,” she tells me quietly. She’s back in tour guide mode instantly as she yells, “Let’s keep walking. We have about 20 minutes more before lunch.”
I shrug and begin to head towards Matt. He’s starting to rise, but I think it’s a good photo op so I wave him back to his perch for a picture. As we return to our march, we don’t talk.
I order fish for lunch. It’s an actual fish, glowering up from the plate, teeth sharp and shining up at me. Gonça doesn’t join us. After all, she’s fasting. It begins to rain just as the watermelon is arriving. By the time we’re done, it’s coming down reasonably fast and people are rushing around covering tables and heading for shelter. I hit the bathroom and wash my hands, hiding my camera beneath my sweatshirt to keep it dry.
While we wait for our van to take us to the next location, I converse with Gonça briefly about the evil eye, a local superstitious symbol that’s said to ward off curses and troubles. There’s no mention of our previous conversation though she smiles throughout and seems to have more difficulty with her English than before.
We arrive at Selime monastery and have a few minutes of running around, checking out the sites and enjoying the hiking, before the rain starts pouring down. The porous rock surface never quite gets slick, but where there’s sand, mud begins to form. The thin wells turn into midget slip and slides and the entire group books it back to the van as fast as our legs can carry us.
Due to the rain, we skip the Pigeon Valley, another of Kapadokya’s amazing cave cities. Throughout the ride, Gonça and I are trading looks, though I’m as ignorant as ever to the meaning. Our final stop is the onyx factory, something I’m not especially excited for. I plan to stay behind and chat with Gonça, but before I get the chance, I’m swept up with the factory’s guide/salesman. A half hour later, the tour’s over. I still haven’t gotten an answer.
The Shoestring Cave Hotel/Hostel where we’re staying is the third stop on our exit tour. Everyone shuffles out of the van and says their goodbyes. I catch Gonça before she gets back into the van.
“Can I have a picture?” I ask, figuring this is the last chance.
“Oh, I do not look good right now,” she says, blushing slightly and straightening herself up. “I’m all wet and messy.” I’m already leveling the camera at her.
“You’re as beautiful wet as you are dry, if not moreso.” It’s my last play; the last card in my hand. She smiles. The camera clicks. I still really enjoy it when she smiles. “Thank you,” I say extending my hand. We shake and I turn to my hotel.
I hear the door of the van close and the engine roar. By the time I turn around and look, she’s gone. Matt’s already at the entrance of the Shoestring. I’m not even sure he caught any of that.
We head to our room for a nap, but I don’t want to sleep. I resist the urge to employ some braggadocio and tell Matt of my attempt. Soon I can hear his heavy breathing.
Ah well, I think, he’ll hear about it eventually, I’m sure. He is right, though: a little alpha dog goes a long way.