A Little Language Goes a Long Way

On our “Grand Tour” of Turkey, a 45-day journey by car to its eastern borders when we launched Bluestone Imports in 2010, we stopped in an amazing little town built into caves along the Tigris River called Hasankeyif.  In this ancient settlement, which will soon be flooded by a new dam, we had the most wonderful experience made possible by John’s knowing some Arabic.  Turkish is spoken throughout Turkey, but in some areas in the southeastern part of the country, Arabic is also spoken, especially by older people.  

We arrive in Hasankeyif and start exploring the town where people have lived for thousands of years.  Walking along its ancient streets, after having enjoyed some fresh Ayran (salted yogurt drink) and Gozleme* (a turkish crepe) in a little cave restaurant, we come upon an older man in a small cave room with a hand loom weaving wool into blankets.  John speaks to him in Arabic and another man standing nearby hears the Arabic and engages us in conversation.


 Surprisingly, he turns out to be the imam from the local mosque, whose towering minarets we had admired earlier for their interesting stonework.  The mosque was built in 1406 and has some old writing on its walls that the imam can’t quite fully understand and he asks John if he can read the writing.   Well, John can read a little Arabic, so off we go to the mosque with the imam.  Turns out, the imam and John can’t decifer this old form of Arabic, so we are of no help there.  The iman, however, then askes if we’d like to climb the ancient minaret and have a look out over the Tigris River. He doesn’t have to invite us twice!

We enter the small mosque and he leads us to a hobbit-sized arched door in the corner. We open the door and bending low, step through the “looking glass” into an alcove at the base of two winding hewn stone  staircases.  The staircase to the left is impassable, broken and worn smooth by the passage of time, but the other one, though also worn smooth in places and full of pigeon poop and spider webs, is passable, so off we climb, sometimes on hands and knees, going round and round and round as we ascend this 600- year-old stone tower of prayer.

We scoot up the last few steps and arrive into the full light inside the crown of the minaret, from which we have a stunning panoramic view over the Tigris River and the unique village of Hasankeyif.  It is one of those moments when we simply say, “Look where we are; look where we are!”        

Eventually we make our way down the slick, twisting stairs when suddenly the imam starts the “call to prayer.”  The sound reverberates in the stone, we stop and let it wash over us.  

Both tired from and refreshed by the climb, we reach the bottom and Julie pops out through the little door into the mosque.  A few old men are in the mosque praying and are more than a little surprised by our unexpected appearance, but say nothing.  We hurry to leave and pad silently across the rugs, then nod our goodbyes to the imam.  He looks at us, smiles, and winks.

We step back out into the sunlight of a hot summer day, and wonder aloud if all that had really just happened.  Luckily it had, made possible by knowing a bit of the language of the land where we travel.  As we are leaving town and crossing over the river, we see the imam enthusiastically waving goodbye by the side of the road.  We return his joyful waves with some of our own as we continue north along the Tigris River, feeling blessed.               

Julie Roller

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