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Polly’s Globalwalk reaches Turkey

Polly Letofsky

I would dawdle and take photos of the ancient buildings painted yellow and orange, the small villages covered in cobblestone streets and their people with warm faces and curious eyes.

I might stop under an apple tree and lean against its trunk and fill my belly. I would stop at cafes and practice the native language with the locals; the farmers would invite me in for “Aay” and choppy conversation. The big farm families would then walk me up to the road to wave goodbye, then race back to the phone to call the neighbors and forewarn them that I was on the way so by all means start brewing a pot of Aay, invite her in for Aay, she loves the Aay.

In Turkey you can hardly take but three steps down any street without another offer of a Aay. It is pronounced “chai” and is by no means just a drink, it is a national treasure. With little exception it is always served in a tulip glass. I half expect Turks to drop the crescent and star from their national flag and replace it with a tulip glass filled with Aay.



You could almost view the call to Aay as a call of friendship between the Turkish people and their guests, but you could never possibly accept all the offers.

One day recently, just for kicks I counted how many times I was offered a Aay. More than a dozen. Ten or so were from complete strangers, two were from the military police who are keeping a protective eye on me, only one was in a venue in which one would normally envision sitting with a cup of tea, i.e., a cafe.



The others were a petrol station, a carpet cleaning warehouse, a strawberry farm, a cherry stand and a family driving to Ayvalik with a portable stove for emergency Aay encounters.

The most mysterious offer was while I was resting in a local park in the odd position of a hamstring stretch when I suddenly opened my eyes to a man standing over me with a tray full of tulip glasses: “Aay?”

A couple days ago I admit to stopping at McDonalds for a McFlurry ice cream treat: “Would you like a Aay with that?”



* * *

This constant warmth I’m experiencing in Turkey is a far cry from the report that I had gotten about Americans traveling here during this sensitive time in the world. After all, Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East and I am an American woman with a Jewish last name traveling during a war on terrorism, right?

While still in India I received e-mails from concerned friends and family regarding my next stop in Turkey.

“They don’t like Americans over there, you better be careful.” Or “If you feel too much hostility, maybe you could go straight to Greece.”

But I know by now that there is always a lot more to the story than what is portrayed on the 6 o’clock news. The most hostility I ever feel is their disappointment when I have to say “no” to Aay.

“She’s from America!”

And the people of the village swarm. Children are shy but curious so hug Mama’s leg closely while sorting out the strange girl in the big hat that talks funny. The men call a time-out from their backgammon game, grab their Aay and make their way over. The old Muslim women in their headscarves run off the farm carrying arms full of fresh carrots and cucumbers to give the stranger.

I’m a novelty, a new toy, a windup doll that speaks on command.

“She can speak Turkish too!”

The ringleader then tells me to say hello in Turkish so I turn to the crowd and say, “Mehrhaba.” The entire village erupts into cheers and I feel like a sports hero.

They yell, “More! More! Tell her to say something else!”

So I loosen up and give them my best “Nasilsiniz.” (How are you?) They erupt into cheers again with arms waving and Aay flowing. Mothers push their children towards the house instructing them to go get Uncle Isa and Auntie G, tell them to hurry,hurry, they can’t miss the American who can say “hello, how are you/” in Turkish!

“And start boiling a pot of Aay!”

* * *

After 20 kilometers of walking one day, a nice old man waved me in for a Aay and a rest. I took a seat at one of the nice colorful tables with the matching napkins, pulled out the latest People magazine that Dad had mailed me and enjoyed my break sipping a tasty Aay.

The nice old man asked in Turkish if I would like anything else. I looked up in my phrase book.

“Do you have some soup? How about some soup? And a salad? A salad would be nice.”

The man smiled and brought me a fabulous chicken soup and green salad with cucumbers, carrots and onion. And a Aay, of course.

After an hour I packed up my People magazine and thanked him very much. It was delicious.

“How much do I owe you?”

“No, no, Madam, I no restaurant. I am furniture store.”

Editor’s note: Vail resident Polly Letofsky has been on the road since she left town Aug. 1, 1999, on her mission to become the first woman to walk around the world and promote awareness of breast cancer. From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. This is latest installment from her journal.


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