A Peaceful Lake Town
Egirdir, Turkey - (map)
Egirdir, a small picturesque town, sits on a peninsula jutting into Turkey's fourth largest lake. We had heard it was a quiet peaceful place with a hometown feel and decided to visit for a day or two. When the bus dropped us off in the center of town, we were greeted by Ibrahim, owner of Lale Pension. His broad smile and warm personality immediately made us feel welcome.
We walked through town towards the pension with Ibrahim leading the way. Thursday is market day in Egirdir but by our evening arrival the merchants were packing up their goods. We did stop at one of the few remaining stalls to buy fresh corn. Ibrahim kindly offered us the use of his stove and my mouth watered at the thought of eating some of my favorite food sopped in butter and sprinkled with salt. What a treat!
We passed under the gate of a castle, entering the old part of town. Ibrahim led us up a steep hill lined with old wooden houses warped with age. Arriving to the pension we were introduced to Ibrahim's pregnant wife and his father, welcomed with hot tea and a fantastic view of the lake, and were immediately made to feel at home.
After a wonderful feast of corn, we headed out to explore the town with contented stomachs.
A Nomadic Village
Egirdir, Turkey - (map)
We hiked the steep 7 km switchback road to the nomadic village of Alepinar in the late morning heat, arriving hot and thankful for the shade provided by a row of tall poplar trees. The old stonewall we sat on enclosed a field of wildflowers and provided a nice vantage point to survey the village - old homes, a mosque in the center of town, and a farmer driving his tractor around.
A group of women in flowery dresses and headscarves busied themselves around washtubs full of water and what looked like wheat. Our curiosity attracted theirs until one of them broke the silence, pointing to one of the large washtubs and exclaiming, "baklava." I wasn't sure how a large tub of vegetable matter could be a philo dough pastry, so I thumbed though a worn vocabulary book and jokingly shouted out food items made with wheat. She nodded and laughed with each one, finally confirming what was in the tubs when I found the Turkish word for wheat. Michelle offered them oatmeal cookies and they responded with homemade stuffed grape leaves.
Further down the road, two older women sat on a wall with a ten-year-old girl. Like with many children in modern Turkey, the girl's modern T-shirt-shirt and jeans posed a striking contrast between her two traditionally dressed elders. She welcomed us with a handful of freshly picked cherries and we pantomimed a conversation with the trio for a half an hour.
The overlook at the end of the road offered an exceptional view of Egirdir from above. A sweet old couple beckoned for us to sit around a few plastic tables and eat from their restaurant, which turned out to be a funky little shack nearby. Michelle entered the shack to watch the woman cook, while I sat outside enjoying the view and freezing my head with the coldest, most satisfying bottle of water that I've ever been served.
Call to Prayer
Egirdir, Turkey - (map)
Nothing reminds visitors they are in a 99 percent Muslim country more than the call to prayer. Forget the fact that Turkey has a secular government and relaxed atmosphere. When the call is broadcast simultaneously from every mosque in a city at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, or after dark, the haunting sounds echo from every direction and make the otherwise secular streets feel holy.
The family who runs the Lale Hostel here in Egirdir is a friendly bunch. The owner Ibrahim is a helpful guy and as Ibrahim proudly told us, his father is a muezzin with an excellent voice. When I asked Ibrahim about hearing his father sing, he didn't hesitate in sending me down to the mosque to watch the call to prayer. I jumped at the opportunity just a few minutes before his father was due in the service and found myself bounding through the darkened nighttime streets behind him, wondering what I was in store for. We arrived to a locked mosque at around 10 PM and waited for the Imam to arrive with the keys.
Our awkward conversation crawled along with language problems, as Ibrahim's father spoke to me in broken English and I spoke to him in the few Turkish words I knew. But I didn't need spoken language to realize he wore a genuine smile with his gentle personality.
The Imam arrived with a trickle of other followers who chatted amicably amongst each other. Once they established that I spoke no Turkish, I dissolved into the background and spent the time watching people ritually cleanse themselves in the ablution fountain nearby.
With the Imam's signal, Ibrahim's father enclosed himself into a phone booth sized recording booth below the minaret and sang the call to prayer. I heard his voice as an even mix, half muffled through the wooden door and half broadcast from the loudspeakers high above my head. But still, Ibrahim was right to be proud. His father's voice was enchanting.
The prayer ended three minutes later and as I readied to leave, Ibrahim's father surprised me with an invitation to watch the actual prayers inside the mosque. I wasn't sure what to expect, but removed my shoes and followed him in.
The Quran forbids displaying images of Muhammad and other religious leaders, so unlike Christians who decorate their churches with images of Christ, Muslims decorate their mosques with prayers rendered into flowing calligraphic paintings. These paintings hung on the walls alongside two loud clocks that broke the room's silence with steady ticking.
I knew virtually nothing about the ritualized Islamic prayer and felt naturally out of place. But I'd been invited in and none of the 9 people in the room seemed bothered by my presence. So I stood in the back and observed silently.
Ibrahim's father started the 20 minutes of prayers with his smooth voice. Participants then followed the Imam in prayers, standing, kneeling, and pressing their foreheads down to the red carpeted floor. The Imam's transformation amazed me. Ten minutes ago he looked like a normal everyday guy and now, he was a black robed holy man with a cylindrical turban. The Imam's deeper voice chanted in turns with the Muezzin in a mesmerizing duet that made me soon forget my doubts about coming.
The participants practiced other parts of the ritual, mouthing silent prayers, placing their hands up to the heavens, and fingering rosary beads. The Imam ended the session with a prayer and the participants exited silently.
I tried to express my sincere gratitude to Ibrahim's father when I walked back to the hostel with him. He offered me a real glimpse of Turkey that I will not soon forget.
Listen to the Turkish Call To Prayer and the Turkish Mosque recordings in the Sounds section.