WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
Rumi and Coke
Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separation
Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This chapter is an excerpt from the travel memoir: Anatolian Days and Nights A Love Affair with Turkey.
On a frigid night in the central Anatolian city of Konya, our friend Bekir paces in the doorway of our hotel, his breath creating arabesques of steam that drift into darkness.
“Oh, my friends,” he says, when Angie and I alight from our taxi. “I was worried something terrible had happened and you wouldn’t make it time for the festival.”
Angie reaches up to embrace Bekir. He grabs her in a bear hug as I explain that a snow squall in Istanbul had threatened to ground all domestic flights. After coming this far for an eight-day festival celebrating mystic and poet, Mevlana Jellaludin Rumi a festival that draws more than a million visitors Angie and I weren’t about to miss opening night.
“You are here now, thanks be to Allah,” says Bekir, touching his fingertips to his forehead, lips, and heart.
In front of the hotel and throughout the city, neon signs on lampposts illuminate white-robed dervishes, hands in mid-twirl. Bekir instructs the taxi driver to take our luggage into the hotel and links his arms through ours. He pauses for a moment to let a group of women, covered head to toe in black chadors, pass by.
“I cannot believe I am seeing you with my own eyes,” he says, leading us into a somber maroon and gray lobby.
“And I am very sorry to rush you, but we must be at the stadium in fifteen minutes so you should change quickly. I will wait here.” He pulls two sheer, white muslin headscarves edged in tiny lavender shells from his jacket pocket. “They are gifts for you from my mother,” he explains. “Konya is a conservative city and you will be more comfortable wearing these, I think.”
Although Angie and I brought headscarves and have them in our suitcases, we didn’t think we’d need to wear them for what has been billed as a theatrical event, and officially we’re only required to wear headscarves in mosques. But Bekir says that although the secular government sanctions the dervish performance as a purely cultural event, it is in fact, a religious ceremony in celebration of Rumi’s ascension to heaven. “The headscarves show respect,” he says.
In our room with its institution-green walls and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, we change out of our jeans, don long skirts and sweaters, and put on the headscarves.
The headscarf gives more than protection from a cold Anatolian wind. It’s a strong, visible symbol in the debate between Turkey’s devout and secular citizens. Our Turkish friends, who follow founder Kemal Ataturk’s secular movement and align themselves with the West, consider the idea of covering their heads absurd, backward thinking, and downright subversive.
After all, it was Ataturk who forbade the wearing of headscarves and chadors for women, making it illegal for women who work or study in government institutions such as hospitals, universities, and courts to cover their heads. On the other side of the controversy, devout Muslims claim that if Turkey is a true democracy, then the government should allow women the right to wear their headscarves wherever they please.
Many women have told us that wearing headscarves frees them to move in public without attracting unwanted male attention, a concept we have difficulty grasping. We’re used to fussing with our hair and putting on lipstick so the opposite sex will notice us.
Now that we’ve put on the headscarves, we feel unattractive and even diminished.
We return to the lobby, looking as drab as the surroundings. Near the front desk, Bekir talks in an animated voice to a short man in a tan trench coat with light gray eyes set close together below a high forehead. He switches from Turkish to English and introduces us to Mahomut, his old army buddy, our host for the evening.
“I cannot tell you how honored I am that you have made the long journey to the festival of Mevlana,” says Mahomut, giving Rumi his Turkish name, Mevlana, the Master. “Mevlana is the greatest of lovers,” he adds, explaining that dervishes who devote their lives to God are called lovers, and that God represents the beloved, a force so strong that the pain of separation can only end through meditation and prayer hence the reason for the ecstatic, meditative turning.
Mahomut opens the door to the back seat of his car and we slide in, gripping the headrests when he swerves into an alley before joining a throng of cars filing into the parking lot of Sehir Stadium, the only venue big enough to hold the crowds of people who come from all over Turkey to attend the festival.
In the lobby, cigarette smoke stings our eyes and seeps into our lungs. Bundled in dark, heavy coats against the bitter night air, people press through the entrance and swarm the concession stalls where hawkers sell souvenirs: fake gold pendants, rings, and bracelets representing ecstatic dervishes in tall conical hats; drawings of Mevlana sitting in a meditative repose on a cushion; CDs and books of Rumi’s poems. At one table, would-be dervishes try on felt dervish hats and soft black leather boots.
Immediately, we notice that the only women who don’t wear headscarves are the well-dressed wives of visiting dignitaries. These women, with lustrous, well-groomed manes and colorful suits, look like rare enchanted birds lost in a sea of drab brown and black. With our scarves tied in knots beneath our chins, we’re relegated to the masses. And I can’t help thinking that with or without headscarves, the day will come soon enough when I’ll no longer attract the male attention I love. And frankly, I don’t want to rush it.
Bekir and Mahomut take no notice of this and lead us through the crowd of men, women, and children to our seats on the first level above the polished floor of the basketball arena. Instead of basketball enthusiasts in team jerseys waving pennants, families, old and young, fidget in their seats.
Behind us, a grandmother swaddled in a maroon coat tucks strands of white hair in place beneath her headscarf. She adjusts the fabric tight across her brow before unwrapping sesame pastries from a square of cheesecloth, doling out the sweets to three boisterous grandchildren.
Eager to educate us about the dervishes, Mahomut shares the story of Rumi, whom he and all Turks call Mevlana, the Master. One day while Mevlana was walking through the gold market in Konya, he stopped to watch a goldsmith create a bracelet. As the goldsmith’s hammer rang against metal, Mevlana heard a voice calling to him from the blue sky. He looked toward the heavens and felt divine light pour through him, seizing him with the urge to dance.
“There are women dervishes too,” says Mahomut, when we ask. ”But according to Islamic law, they whirl separately from the men and you would never see them whirling in public.”
The lights in the stadium flicker. Snacks are packed away, crumbs brushed from laps, and the audience grows silent. Camera lights pan to the stage where dignitaries, politicians, and generals from Istanbul and Ankara rise to give speeches and read passages from the Koran to open the ceremony. Angie and I look at the sea of faces in the stadium and determine that we’re in a minority of about five thousand Turks to two Americans. From the curious stares of people sitting near us, we’re sure they’re wondering how we even got here in the first place.
When the speeches end, lights dim, and orchestra members file out from the sideline carrying drums, lutes, and violins and take seats at the far end of the basketball court, followed by a choir. A tall, thin man dressed in a black suit steps into the spotlight and begins to chant the opening verse of the Koran in a deep baritone, singing, “La’ilallah il’lallahu.”
“He’s a very famous singer of dervish music,” whispers Bekir, but before he can tell us his name, the older woman behind us silences him with a stern click of her tongue.
From the darkness, the high-pitched, ethereal sound of the ney rises and moves in waves through the auditorium. The reed flute’s plaintive call conjures up the image of a bird calling its mate “the reed longing for the riverbed,” says Rumi, or the voice of the lover seeking God the Beloved.
A drum’s steady rhythm answers the ney, striking deep and low like a primal heartbeat. Lush chords of a lute meld with the higher notes of a three-string kemence in counterpoint to the drumbeat. The song of the ney, meant to silence the material world, seeps into our consciousness undulating through our bodies. Even the fidgety children seated behind us become still.
Through a purplish light, the dervishes glide onto the court like apparitions behind their teacher, the sheykh, who wears a green robe and turban, the color of Islam. Dressed in black robes meant to symbolize their spiritual tombs, and tall, camel hair felt hats representing the ego’s tombstone, the dervishes prepare to dance.
The sheykh stands on a red-dyed sheepskin, which represents the earth and all living creatures, and waits for the dervishes to remove their black robes to reveal pristine white jackets above full white skirts.
Music swirls through the arena; the drumbeat increases as the choir chants softly. With arms folded across chests, each dervish, in turn, bows to the sheykh, kisses his hand, and asks for permission to dance.
One by one, the dervishes close their eyes, tilt their heads toward their left shoulders, and unfold their arms like elegant flower petals. Their right palms reach toward heaven, their left palms toward the ground. In soft leather slippers, they begin a counterclockwise turn, their hearts becoming the center point of contemplation and their bodies becoming the connection between God and the earth.
Silently they chant, “We take from God and give to man, spreading grace to earth.”
The turning ritual unfolds in three stages of three full revolutions around the perimeter of the floor. In the first stage, the dervish seeks a connection with God. In the second, he moves deeper into meditation. By the third stage, he represents a part of the universe where the sheykh becomes the sun and he becomes a planet spinning around him.
The drum and ney sing to one another as twenty dervishes turn in opulent circles, their skirts billowing around them like clouds. Eyes closed, deep in meditation, they turn in unison like atoms creating fields of energy. Not a single unfurled skirt touches another. The chanting increases, but the dancers have retreated into the calm beauty of turning.
When the sheykh taps the dervishes one by one on their shoulders, they gradually slow their pace and move to the edge of the court, joining the rest of us still tethered to the earth. As they chant a final prayer from the Koran, ending in a collective exhalation of the syllable Hu, the breath of God, the arena becomes silent. They take up their robes, slip them over their white skirts, and follow the sheykh from the arena.
When the lights go up, no one in the audience moves. The dignitaries rise first, breaking the spell. Cell phones begin ringing, families chatter as they gather their belongings.
The grandmother seated behind us has already gathered her grandchildren and herded them out toward the lobby.
We wait with Bekir for Mahomut to get the car beneath a starlit December sky, feeling as if we, too, have entered the center of the universe.
“Mevlana says whatever you believe, whatever your religion, whether you are a man or a woman, you are welcome at his table,” says Mahomut between sips of tripe corba, or soup.
Sprinkling pepper flakes into his soup, Mahomut tells us how after Kemal Ataturk established the secular republic, he attempted to take away the power of religious mystics by ordering Sufi and dervish sects to disband or face jail sentences. The dervishes went underground, but in recent years, with the approval of the Ministry of Culture, the Dervish Festival has been sanctioned as a cultural rather than religious event.
“The tradition of mysticism in Islam goes back to the Prophet Mohammed,” says Mahomut. “Mevlana was a mystic, but he was also a teacher at his father’s medrese. Students traveled from as far away as India to speak with him and hear the wisdom in his poems and parables. He said that we must live in this world but look to the next as well. And when he died, people of every religion came to Konya to show their respect.”
“Are you a dervish?” I ask.
Mahomut smiles slyly. “No, I make baklava.”
“You must see his pastry shop,” says Bekir. “We will go there for dessert.”
Although it’s past ten, the streets are congested with festival traffic. Mahomut parks the car and we enter the shop, drawn toward a glass case filled with golden baklava, custard pastries, and cookies. In the back, a group of men and women sip tea and watch a game show on a television perched on a shelf high on the wall.
Mahomut unlocks a side door to show us his bakery, where a scarred marble table with a dough extruder bolted to one end fills half the space. The night baker glances up and then back to a thin, translucent sheet of dough that he rolls out with a wooden dowel across the marble. Flour drifts into the air, settling over large sacks of nuts and sugar.
“It takes twenty-five sheets of dough to make my baklava,” says Mahomut, explaining that his grandfather, a coffee trader who started the bakery business, chose his family’s surname, Senkhaveci, which means “he who happily sells coffee.”
“I learned to make baklava from my father twenty years ago, and he learned from his father. It was also my job in the army where I met Bekir. But I still am learning, ” says Mahomut humbly.
“I had the most stressful job in all the army,” adds Bekir, looking at his friend who nods in agreement.
“What did you do?” asks Angie. Bekir has never mentioned his two-year military service in the Turkish army. With his soft brown eyes and romantic nature, we can’t imagine that he could have held a dangerous military assignment.
“I cared for the pigeons,” he says, a look of frustration crossing his eyes.
Unsure as to whether or not he is making a joke, we prod him for details.
“The army used the pigeons to carry messages,” says Bekir. “But they were always getting sick; some died. And whenever I opened their cages, they tried to escape. Believe me, it was the most stressful job.”
“Bekir was very good with the birds,” Mahomut adds. “It was his nature. Always, they came back to him.”
Our image of a fierce Turkish army vanishes as we imagine men caring for birds and dusted up to their toques in flour.
After a dessert of warm, crisp, syrup-drenched squares of pistachio baklava served with thimbles of bitter coffee and glasses of water, Mahomut and Bekir drop us off at our hotel. Before Mahomut pulls away, he leans his head out the window and shouts, “Tomorrow you will come to my home for dinner.”
Wide-awake and buzzing from caffeine and sugar, we stop for a drink in the hotel lobby. Two men sitting at the opposite end of the room, flick ashes from their cigarettes into the air with each point in their conversation.
“We’ll have two rakis with water and ice,” I say, when a waiter with a black tray comes to take our order.
He looks stunned and nervously grips the edge of his tray. Unease shades his eyes. “One moment, please,” he says. “I will get Rahim.”
A minute later, a young man in an ill-fitting black suit and slicked-back hair walks over to us. The tag pinned to the lapel of his suit says MANAGER.
“I am Rahim,” he says “What would you like?” It dawns on us that this hotel, booked by Mahomet, is frequented by Muslim businessmen and families, and might not serve alcohol.
“Do you have raki?” I ask, already anticipating the answer.
He jerks his head upward and clicks his tongue no. Then his face softens, “We have Coke and, of course, tea,” Rahim offers.
Since the options are either caffeine hot or caffeine cold, we order it in the form of two Cokes.
“Tamam, okay,” he smiles, and hurries away.
Rahim returns with a silver dish filled with wedges of lemon and an ice bucket, while a waiter sets the drinks on the low table in front of us with a flourish.
“My shift has ended, May I sit down?” he says and sinks into one of the club chairs. “You are Americans, yes? I would like to practice my English.”
Without waiting for our response, he begins to speak in slow, classroom English. “I am recently out of the army,” he says. “Next year, I will enroll to study chemistry at the university in Ankara.” He asks about our families and seems surprised that we’ve come to Konya specifically for the Dervish Festival. “There are the only a few foreigners in the city,” he says.
Quickly finishing his Coke, he orders another from the waiter who hovers nearby, and then he turns to me. “Why does your husband let you travel alone?”
I want to laugh at the irony of Rahim’s question. Just the week before at a dinner party in New York City, I was standing with a group of my husband’s male colleagues, when one of them, a lawyer from South Carolina, asked me the same question. Then, as now, I felt my stomach tense in defensiveness and gave him the same answer I now give Rahim.
“Oh, but I let my husband travel alone, too,” I say, and add. “Only this time, I am not alone. I’m with Angie.”
“It is not good for women to be alone. And you have no husband,” he says to Angie with a look of sadness in his eyes.
“Mr. Right hasn’t come along yet,” Angie says, keeping a lighthearted note in her voice.
But Rahim’s gaze remains serious. Few Western tourists stay in the hotel so we must seem as exotic as Martians. He says he will soon be married and that his future wife wishes to be a lawyer, but he would prefer she stay at home.
“A woman should not be a lawyer,” he says, squeezing lemon juice into his third Coke. “When she has her monthly time, she cannot control her emotions, and she can ruin the case for her clients.”
Angie leans over and accepts the cigarette Rahim offers. When I remind her that she doesn’t smoke, she says, “I do tonight,” and waits for my response to Rahim.
“In the United States,” I say, “women hold seats on the Supreme Court.”
He considers my response, and then says, “They are very old, past their childbearing time, and now they have clear judgment.”
“But they’ve practiced law since they were young women,” I say, knowing that I’m making no headway in bringing Rahim into the twenty-first century.
We finish our Cokes, but Rahim, eager to continue our conversation, orders another round.
“Allah must have called you to the dervish festival,” he says and pauses. “Oh, but I have great respect for your Christian prophet Jesus. It is written in the Koran that our Prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him, recognized your Jesus too.”
We ask Rahim why men get to pray in the sanctuary of the mosque while women are secluded in an area behind them.
“The reason for this is simple,” he says. “We bow to God by touching our heads to the ground. Can you imagine what a man might see if a women was in front of him?”
He has a point, but the women we’ve seen are so well covered they would hardly incite lust at prayer time.
“It is also the reason why women should not go to funerals,” he says. “The women get so crazy with sadness, they fall over, and their skirts might come up and show their underpants. Mothers and sisters with their skirts over their heads...” His voice trails off and he shakes his head, the thought too awful to contemplate.
Just when we fear he’ll order more Cokes, he checks his watch, thanks us for the conversation, and bids us goodnight.
Back in our room with its twin beds and stiff, line-dried sheets, we stare at the pale, green wall where a lone velvet painting of a whirling dervish hangs. Fueled by caffeine, we give up trying to sleep and read Rumi’s poetry until a faint band of light appears on the horizon.
It’s near noon when the cleaning staff wakes us with a loud knock. Groggy, we get up, dress, and go to the dining room for coffee. While a young waiter pours weak Nescafe into white china cups, we think of the dervishes, intent on a life of meditation, manipulating their sleep patterns with a steady dose of caffeine.
Long before a clerk at Starbucks brewed the chain’s first espresso, a shepherd in Ethiopia watched his sheep grazing in a pasture and noticed his herd growing animated after they ate a certain kind of red berry. Intrigued, he tasted the fruit and discovered the energizing properties of coffee.
Considered rare and secret, coffee’s restorative properties were valued by the dervish community, especially the followers of Rumi who drank it in order to stay awake during long meditation and turning sessions.
When the Ottoman Turks took control of Constantinople, they opened the first kahva hane, or coffee house, establishing elaborate rituals for brewing and serving coffee. The methods are still practiced in coffee houses throughout Turkey where the raw beans are roasted to order, pulverized into a fine powder and boiled with water and sugar to taste in a cezve, a small hour-glass shaped copper pot with a long handle. A coffee maker’s skill lies in the ability to bring the mixture to a boil three times, producing a light froth to balance the thick coffee.
On the street, we brave a harsh wind blowing in from the Russian steppes to meet Bekir and Mahomut at the Iplikci Mosque and medrese.
“This is a famous mosque, the oldest in Konya,” says Mahomut. “The imam is my friend.”
I remove my shoes, rummage through my backpack and pull out the headscarf Bekir has given me.
“Guess what I forgot?” says Angie, unzipping her backpack compartments.
“Do you have anything?” Angie pleads. “I’ve got to go in. This was where Rumi actually taught, and I can’t go inside without my head covered.”
From the bottom of my pack, I retrieve an extra sweater, a wool orange cable knit. “You could wear this,” I say, half joking.
“Maybe,” says Angie. She takes the sweater and drapes it over her head, knotting the bulky sleeves under her chin. “Do I have another choice?” she says.
“Rumi would have approved,” I say, as she leads the way, looking like a misguided peasant. And I’m struck, yet again, by her determination.
Mahomut and Bekir politely ignore Angie’s makeshift head covering. We follow them into the mosque where men, in a mixture of dull gray, brown, and black suits, have already positioned themselves to face the mithrab, a scalloped, pyramid-shaped niche indicating the direction of Mecca. Bekir shows us to the women’s section at the back of the mosque and rejoins Mahomut for the afternoon prayer.
About thirty men kneel on soft carpets bowing their heads toward Mecca in the mosque’s main chamber, prostrating to the words the imam chants from the Koran. Meanwhile, we sit alone amidst the musty odor of stale socks on an old carpet behind a heavy, dirty brown curtain hanging from a sagging wire.
When the prayers finish, Mahomut introduces us to the imam, a man in his thirties, another army friend. The imam speaks to Mahomut in Turkish and then grins at us, showing even, perfectly white teeth. We ask why there are no other women praying.
“Women are not required to go to the mosque because they are naturally close to God,” the imam explains.
Maybe they’re too busy taking care of children and cooking dinner for husbands, I think, but hold my tongue.
“Your respect for our religion pleases the imam,” says Mahomut, pointing to our covered heads. “He wants to ask if you’ve thought of becoming Muslims?”
Bekir tilts his head, as surprised by the question as we are, and waits for our answer.
Angie shoots me a glance that says, perhaps I went overboard with this sweater.
“It is a big question and one you do not need to answer now,” says Mahomut, coming to our rescue. “But my friend thinks you two would make good Muslim women.”
The imam’s smile hints at infinite patience. “All roads lead to Allah,” he says.
In the middle of a treeless block of four-story apartment buildings, with balconies trailing strings of dried peppers and eggplants, Mahomut leads us up a dimly lit staircase. When we reach the third floor landing, he stops in front of a steel door fortified with three locks. Before he can insert a key into the third lock, the door swings open, and his wife Hulia, a petite woman dressed in a tight red sweater and black pants, waits on the other side.
“Hos geldiniz,” she says, ushering us over the threshold with a warm embrace.
In her early thirties, Hulia, who, Mahomut has informed us, never leaves home without a headscarf, apparently doesn’t wear one in her home. She has lovely almost-black hair cut in chin-length shag artfully framing wide cheekbones and marine-blue eyes. Her hands move to create word pictures as she kneels down to fit us with house slippers from a shoe rack near the door.
Too shy to come closer, her ten-year-old daughter Evren, in a pink T-shirt embroidered with a ballerina in a pink tutu, peers from behind a bedroom door. Evren’s eight-year-old brother Fatih waits at the end of the hall in the kitchen, his face contorted into an angry grimace as if to say, I want my dinner now and how dare you take my mother’s attention away from me.
He lets out a low guttural sound when we pass him to enter a living room with furniture pushed against the walls. A sofa covered in pale rose damask faces a television on a stand against the opposite wall.
Hulia motions us to sit down while she prepares the tea Mahomut has requested. Evren curls into a corner of the sofa with a coloring book and crayons, while Fatih stalks the room seeking his father’s attention. From the kitchen we hear cups clink into saucers and spoons clatter on a tray.
“Does Hulia need help?” I ask.
“Oh no,” says Bekir. “You are Hulia’s guests. You will insult her if you get up.”
Hulia brings in a samovar and tulip-shaped tea glasses, sets them on an end table, and pours tea. She gives us a wistful look, which we return before she goes back to the kitchen.
Fatih, unable to get his mother’s attention, stops in front of a birdcage suspended from the ceiling near a window. Inside, a white canary chirps noisily. He reaches up and opens the cage door. Evren shrieks as the bird swoops past her, flits over the television and lands on Bekir’s head. I instinctively swat it away with the back of my hand. The bird retreats to a curtain rod, scolding me in a high-pitched staccato.
“I didn’t realize I would hurt its feelings,” I say.
“Do not worry, this bird is my friend,” says Bekir. “He will come back. He always sits on my head.”
“It is true,” says Mahomut, pouring tea. “Bekir talks to him. He can talk to all birds.”
Bekir lets out a low, sharp whistle, and repeats the birdcall until the canary once again perches on his head. Apparently, his army training has paid off after all.
Hulia, intent on her duties, ignores Bekir and the bird. She spreads a finely embroidered white cloth on the floor, then rushes back to the kitchen for plates, soup bowls, forks, napkins, and bread, and motions us to sit down.
While we finish our tea, she gives the children their supper in the kitchen. Then she joins us, sitting cross-legged on the floor, serving the men, before serving us. She must have been in the kitchen all day preparing the feast: a traditional soup made with wheat berries and beef broth, topped with yogurt and hot red pepper flakes; sliced green beans sautéed with mint and tomato; and baby eggplants stuffed with minced lamb.
After dinner, we insist on helping Hulia clean up. Mahomut, clearly the head of the household, relents only after Bekir explains that in the West it is considered shameful not to help the hostess. We encourage Hulia to stay with the men and finish her tea while we gather plates and bowls in our arms.
Angie follows me down the hall to the kitchen and we almost collide when I abruptly stop.
Fatih stands in the kitchen doorway holding a ten-inch butcher knife, its sharp point facing us.
“He’s got a knife,” I say, my heartbeat kicking into high gear.
“And he looks serious,” says Angie, backing away.
“Fatih,” I say, trying to make my voice sound firm and calm. “Put down the knife.”
He stares at me and raises the weapon in defiance.
“Now,” I say sharply, backing into Angie.
“Fatih,” sings Hulia, meeting us in the hall.
As soon as Fatih sees his mother, he drops the knife and rushes toward her.
While we regain our breath, she lifts him up cuddling and caressing him. He burrows his head on her shoulder, squeezing out tears while she whispers endearments. When he quiets down, she sets him on the floor in front of us and says a word. He stands frozen. She says the word again, and again.
The word finally issues forth from his lips. “Uzgunum, I’m sorry,” he says, his voice unrepentant. He avoids our eyes and runs to the living room into his father’s open arms.
Hulia picks up the knife, a resigned look filling her eyes. She has done her best to honor us by making Fatih apologize, but for her the world revolves around the firstborn son. As if to make amends, she invites us into her kitchen to help prepare Turkish coffee. When the mahogany-brown mixture finishes brewing, she pours it into tiny gold-rimmed cups.
We wait in the kitchen while she serves Bekir and Mahomut their coffee before returning with a large photo album, which she spreads across her lap to show us pictures of her life. We see a photo of her in a Turkish schoolgirl’s uniform, a blue A-line dress with a Peter Pan collar; and another as a bride in an elaborate multi-layered white gown; and finally as a mother holding her newborn son, her husband Mahomut beaming proudly beside her.
Before we leave, she motions us into her bedroom and opens a wooden chest filled with linens from her dowry. Choosing two pieces of cloth embroidered in white silk thread, she reaches across the chasm of language and culture to offer her gifts.
At the door, as we put on our shoes and coats, Evren gives us a picture she has drawn of a bird flying out of his cage.
“Gule, gule,” says Mahomut, wishing us a safe journey home.
Fatih holds his mother’s hand, looking every inch the adored firstborn son. When we wave good-bye, he flashes his first smile of the evening. She’s mine again, his eyes say.
We’re halfway across the hotel lobby when a voice stops us.
“Ladies,” calls Rahim from behind the manager’s desk. “Wait.”
He joins us at the elevator and pushes the button to our floor, holding the elevator door open. “I liked so very much our conversation last night,” he says. “I won’t see you in the morning, but, inshallah, you will return to Konya.” He holds his right hand to his heart implying that all good rests in the hands of God.
“Inshallah,” we say, pressing our hands to our hearts as the elevator door closes.
No sooner do we put on our pajamas and climb into bed, than a heavy knock rattles the door. I get up, and crack open the door to find our waiter from the previous night holding a tray covered with a blue linen hotel napkin.
A passage from one of Rumi’s poems floats through my mind:
Look! This is love to fly toward the heavens, To tear a hundred veils in ev’ry wink, To tear a hundred veils at the beginning...
“Sherefe,” says Angie. She places three cubes of ice in each glass, opens the bottle, and pours.