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Vail Daily travel: An evening of Turkish hospitality

Dennis Jones
Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Dennis Jones
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Editor’s note: Dennis Jones and Yolanda Marshall are currently on a cultural exchange in Turkey. This is the fifth story in a series of articles that will be published in upcoming Sunday High Life sections. See more photos on Dennis’ blog at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com/blog.

Another evening and a visit to another school, little do we know what we are in for. Nothing yet prepares us for the amazing hospitality our little group is about to experience.

We arrive at the large, new school in the small town of Nigde in central Anatolia. Once again it’s after dark. Here, for the first time, we are to be divided up to spend the night in the homes of the host families.



Our hosts greet us warmly, taking our bags to their respective cars. Climbing the steps to the school we are ushered into a large, comfortable office for the obligatory welcomings and to again, one by one, share a little of who we are, what we do and where are from. After this Turkish tradition, the founder of the school, Mr. Celal, a spitting image of Sigmund Freund, leads us into a spacious assembly hall where the surprises begin.

Ten, beautiful, young girls ages, perhaps ages 8-11, in traditional, folk dress, bouquets in hand, flank the entry. Smiling and laughing, they hand each of us a bouquet while welcoming us in English. A mouth-watering aroma wafts through the room as we are shown to our tables surrounding the central floor space.



Suddenly, the girls line up beneath a tapestry of the omnipresent and imposing image of Atatürk, the founding father of modern Turkey. Music begins and the young girls perform a charming, well-rehearsed, folk dance. We’re delighted!

More introductions follow along with an invitation to line up and be served. Following the dinner of again, too much delicious, regional food, a tray is wheeled out to the floor and the local master painter treats us to a demonstration of traditional, Turkish water painting.

In a tray of water, special oil paints are dripped onto the surface. The artist uses unusual implements to shape the drops, adding more, shaping those, until, within five minutes, a lovely image of carnations floats upon the water. Placing a piece of watercolor paper on the surface, the artist smoothly draws the paper from the tray, transferring the painting to the paper and revealing a lovely painting of life-like carnations.



We are asked to take seats in a row at the front of the room and are called upon in turn to receive a framed water painting done by the students and to say a few words. With the last gift given, music swells, fireworks in front of us gush twin fountains of sparks while cannons on either side engulf us in confetti. I am beyond words.

A late night ensues as we each go to our respective host’s home. Yolanda and I, our guide Serkan, along with another Turkish couple now living in London, go to the home of a young doctor, his wife and infant daughter. We talk about everything, learning about each other’s cultures and religions. No question is off limits. For the first time this entire trip, Serkan is fading.

Breakfast is late for a change. We gather, along with our hosts, at the home of a family with a large, abundantly productive garden. Long tables are arranged beneath the grape arbor planted by the host’s grandfather’s grandfather. Copious clusters of ripe fruit dangle temptingly from above.

Once again, we are treated to incredibly warm hospitality as we partake of the bounty of the garden. Conversation ranges over a myriad of topics, always penetrating and pertinent to today’s world. It is difficult to express how fortunate I feel to be able to meet people of the Muslim faith on this level. We experience nothing but respect, warm hospitality, dialog, interest and polite acceptance of our differences.

As we reluctantly take our leave, handshakes, hugs and traditional kisses on both cheeks abound. I feel a glimmer of understanding, not through words but through direct experience, of the philosophy and Islamic teachings of Fetullah Gülen, the inspiration behind the Gülen Movement that brought us to Turkey: that through education, building bridges between countries and by holding open conversations between peoples, we can overcome our differences and gain an appreciation and understanding of each other’s cultures. If our experience reflects some basic principles of Islam, then the world is a less dangerous place and the future brighter still.


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