Turkish Ladies – the friends I made on my most recent trip to the Middle East

I haven’t written a blog post in a while mostly because I have been too busy with work, though I have also been quite angry and discouraged with the new President and Administration. I have actually written a few posts that turned into political rants that became more of a way for me to express my feelings than a public blog post about the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met working in the Middle East. It’s funny, I don’t ever think of my Middle Eastern friends as being Middle Eastern. I just think of them as friends or colleagues. I have to take a minute to remember that a lot of them were born in Turkey, or Syria, or Egypt. And not all of them live in the Middle East now, though that’s where I met them. With this week’s refugee ban and all of the other regulations against immigrants, I feel helpless. What can I do? How can I help? How do I fight and stand up for others? I participated last weekend in the Women’s Marches and will continue trying to make my voice heard. Over the past few years, I have often felt helpless in regards to Syria and refugees. I want to do more but I often don’t feel like I have the personal resources for it. So, I became stagnant. But now I need to fight again and fight more. So what can I do? On a small scale, a blip in what is the giant unending internet, I can continue my positive blog talking about my personal experiences in the Middle East and showing how amazing and good the people I’ve met there are. Even if only 1 person reads my stories and opens their heart to someone from outside of North America, it is something. So far, in my blog posts, I’ve mainly focused on the local villagers we hire and Syria, but some of my favorite people in the world are my colleagues, my fellow archaeologists, and from all over. I could write an entire post on each of them, and might someday, but for today, I shall summarize. I want to smile. To forget the political troubles in my world. I want to re-live my joyous memories and think of my Turkish friends that I can only hope I get to see again one day. So for this blog’s focus, I am thinking back to my most recent visit to Turkey. I give you brief memories of my Turkish buddies.

My friend Zerrin looked out for me every day in the field. I was dealing with my damaged hip, see previous post, and she made sure I didn’t push myself and often checked in on me. It meant a lot. Probably a lot more than I ever told her. I tried to hide my injury and not talk about it much. People don’t believe you’re hurt if you aren’t splurting blood in their face so I preferred not to talk about it and pretend I was fine. But with Zerrin, it was different. In turn, I taught her archaeology, and how to analyze potteries, which she picked up really quickly. Zerrin also really liked working in pits. I think it was a small safe space she could learn to dig in. Some days I’d lose her – I’d look up from my own area and she’d be so deep down in a hole, I wouldn’t be able to see her. We often laughed our way through the day, and all of the data collection. It was fantastic to have a partner to share all of the work with. And to help translate back and forth with our workers. We had a really fun time working together and hopefully we’ll always be friends.

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Fevziye was our excellent cook. Every time I went to the kitchen, she greeted me with a big bright smile. On the hottest days on the dig, there was nothing I looked forward to more than coming home to Fevziye’s çacik. One day, I was walking outside to the pottery area when suddenly Fevziye grabbed my arm and led me over to the yard next door where the neighbors had captured and killed a GIANT black snake. Seriously. as fat as my fist over 5 feet long. It had been trying to eat the chickens. We both looked at each other in fear, made ‘Ack!!!’ faces, and ran back to the house linked arm in arm. The night before we left she told me, and the others, she liked me so much she wanted to adopt me and take me home and cook for me. I would have loved that.

Whenever I think of Özge, I think of her big smile. And random dancing. And amazing photography. And ice cream. She often skipped the group lunch for ice cream. Özge and I did a lot of laughing together. I don’t even remember what was so funny all of the time, but we would often make fun of things and joke and laugh. And Özge was my savior anytime I needed anything and had either no idea where to find it, or what it was called in Turkish. WhenI needed help, or advice, or information, she was there for me. Even stupid little things like, “Özge, um, I don’t have a towel. Can ‘we’ buy me one? What do I do until then? Should I dry myself with a t-shirt” She went inside her room for a second, then came back and handed me a towel. Çok sıcak Özge, çok sıcak.

Ebru. Wonderful Ebru. I mispronounced her name for an entire 2 months and she was too nice to correct me. Ha! I still feel bad about that. Ebru takes the best selfies. Well, at least I look great in the ones she takes. Anywhere we went, she made sure to take photos of everyone and today I get to look back at those photos and remember our fun trips to the waterfall restaurants in Harbiye. It was such a pleasure to work with and get to know her, standing outside in the pottery yard afternoon after afternoon sorting and counting and drawing potsherds. We would also go on occasional trips to the shops and restaurants around the local University for snacks. And having a friend around who lived in the area was phenomenal for touring the city.

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Ganime has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever met. She is so caring and friendly, always eager to help or listen or anything else needed. Her heart is so big in fact that she adopted our little dig puppy, Mizmiz (aka Whiny). On the day Ganime left, and was taking Mizmiz home with her for good, we couldn’t find the little pup anywhere. It turned out her dad, a giant Turkish kangal dog, had come and led her away back to the wild pack. We wondered around the apartment building and fields looking for the little dog for some time, but Ganime wouldn’t give up on finding her – she was determined to give Mizmiz a happy, healthy, non-stray life. Once we found the pack, Ganime confidently went right up to them and picked up her little pup and carried her home. The Kangal dad followed us and Mizmiz was awkwardly heavy, though a big baby so happy being held. We switched off carrying her back to the car and had to trick the Kangal into not jumping in too. Then we waved good-bye to Ganime, and Mizmiz wishing her a happy new doggy life.

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Elif. Another awesome photographer often seen walking around the site taking snapshots capturing casual life. On the dig, Elif was always a calming factor for me in times of stress. She has a way of talking things down and making it all okay. There were a few bizarre incidents, which I guess is part of what makes life interesting. I am really not good at hiding my feelings and often when something weird happens, I can’t hide my wtf face and don’t realize how expressive I am. For instance, there was a political feud over ice cream treats and an interesting passive aggressive battle for washing machine use. Explaining either of those situations is a post in itself and in hindsight, those of us that were there have to laugh and make jokes. Elif was great in these instances to explain how to properly deal and in calming emotional states. And in reminding me to either not get involved, or let it go because it’s not worth it. I bet she never thought she, and Ozge, would have to mediate washing clothes. I got to see Elif a few weeks ago here in North America and it was nice to catch up outside of the dig when we’re not as sleep deprived or covered in dirt and sweat.

I met Naz on my first trip to Turkey back in 2012. I didn’t see her again the last time I went, but she will always be in my memories, especially because I met her my first time there – during the best summer of my life. Naz was one of my roommates and when she first got there, she was apprehensive about archaeology and dig life. She hadn’t worked on an excavation before and was there in relation to her college coursework. But that didn’t last long! Within a short time, we had become friends. So much so that Naz called me and another friend her big sisters, and she was our little sister. We even had a bonding adventure attempting to walk home from a bar late at night in the dark down a dirt road. In hindsight, we probably should have brought a flashlight. At least we didn’t fall in a ditch like one of our peers. Anyway, we were all teary eyed saying goodbye, though later that trip a few weeks after the dig, a friend and I went to Istanbul and met up with Naz who toured us around the city and through the çarşi. And we even found a goofy costume photo booth in an open air market that resulted in a goofy photo.

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So I called this post My Turkish Ladies but I can’t talk about traveling to Turkey without mentioning Edip. My buddy Edip. Neither of us speak the other’s language well, but we always got along and had fun. Sometimes we’d speak back and forth using the Google Translate Apps on our phones making jokes and snide comments. And he was the wonderful provider of second breakfast banana cookies. Most people on the dig hated them, but I loved them! On one of the last nights, we had a farewell party in the coutyard and drank a bunch of Raki. Around midnight when we got hungry and were debating ordering pizza, out of nowhere, Edip with a hookah in one hand, reaches into his pocket with the other and hands me a pack of banana cookies. He’d gone to the corner store earlier that night and bought them for me. He also took really bad photos of everyone when we passed out in the van on the way home from a long dig day. He’d post them on Facebook and laugh at how ridiculous we all looked. Çok güzel, Edip.

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You know, when I think of each of these people, in my mind I always see big smiles. It reminds me of how great my trips have been and what incredible people I’ve met. Yes, there are times of turmoil on a dig and it can be stressful and a lot of work. There are tired days, days of tears and sweat, exhaustion, but it’s all worth it. Especially because of the bonding. When you go through these types of trips together, you build different kinds of friendships. It’s also nice to go home again and remember everyone fondly. Because we don’t see each other often, the friendships become more special and you tend to forget that day when you got in a stupid argument over which ancient time period a pot sherd dates to and you stomped off to your corner of the trench to have a hissy fit. In such small groups secluded for weeks on end, there is always some tension and it’s easy to get annoyed and set off by stupid things. But on evenings off, and in the days and years afterwards, the happy memories remain, and with social media, many of the friendships can continue on regardless of physical distance.

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