an excerpt from my humorous travel
Sun, Strong Tea. (The
previous episode is Tears
It was early in the morning on September
27th , the first day
Bayrami, the Sacrifice Holiday.
We left the Kars-Erzurum highway
and the road soon deteriorated to stabilized
gravel, then to dirt. It was slow going,
and the scenery was bleak: dusty treeless
hills with no sign of civilization.
A yellow-and-black sign pointed off
the road into the hills: Kaya
resimleri, it read. Rock
What rock pictures? There was nothing
about rock pictures in the guidebooks
I had read for reference. It was my
job to find out if these rock pictures
were worth seeing so I could include
them in my new Lonely
We turned right and followed the sign
along a rough, badly rutted side road
and uphill to a small, poor village
called Çamuslu Köyü.
We reached the first houses of the
village but saw no signs pointing the
way to any rock pictures.
We stopped. A man emerged from a house
and approached us.
"Selamün aleykum!" (Peace
be with you), he said. "Hos
geldiniz, safa geldiniz!" (Welcome,
and well come).
"Hos bulduk!" (We
feel welcome) I answered. Were
looking for the rock pictures."
"Yes, of course, theyre
up above the village on the cliff.
Well show them to you, but first
come have some tea."
The man was Zeynel Demirci, the muhtar (village
headman). We got out of the car and
followed him into his house where his
wife and daughters awaited us. He showed
us to the seat of honor on the sedir in
the salon, brought the traditional
welcoming cologne, cigarettes and sweets,
and asked us about our travels.
"Have you had breakfast yet?" he
We had had a snack as we set out from Dogubeyazit,
but not a proper breakfast. We were
hungry, but we didnt want to
inconvenience him or his family, so
we said yes, we had had breakfast.
"But are you hungry now?" he
insisted. "Its bayram,
weve prepared the feast, and
God has sent you to dine with us. Come,
come! Please join us."
Well, actually, we would. It was getting
along toward noon, and there wouldn't
be any other place along this road
to get food.
We gave in. The wife served us roast
mutton and freshly-baked village bread.
It was delicious.
Word had obviously gone out on the
invisible but extraordinarily effective
and speedy village word-of-mouth
folk telegraph that something was
up, and it had to do with oddball beings
arriving in a white car with Ankara
license plates. We knew this because
with every forkful of mutton a new
villager arrived in Zeynel Bey's house
to gawk at us. Pretty soon the house
was packed, and the porch and the yard
out front as well, but everyone was
exceedingly polite and courteous. We
were a pair of fairly scruffy American gavur (infidel)
vagabonds, probably the first and
only non-Muslims, let alone Americans,
that anyone in Çamuslu Köyü had
ever seen, and we were being treated
Have you ever dined with 100 eyes
watching your every move? I mean,
you're not being watched by other
people at the dinner table. The other
people are not eating, they're just
watching you, as though you were
Madonna having sex, or Lady Di doing
nothing. Like you're on a stage,
at a dinner table, and there's an
auditorium full of curious, eager
people with laser-like gazes aimed
at your fork as you stab a glob of
mutton, raise it to face level, part
your lips, welcome the glob into
your oral cavity, molarize it
for a few seconds, then send it south.
God forbid you should fight with
a piece of gristle, or have a gob
of saliva go down your trachea and
cause a coughing fit (which was highly
likely, as the mutton was delicious,
literally mouth-watering). Think
what that'd do to your ratings! Lemme
tell you, it's not easy to eat
like a king. Next time you see
a celebrity in the midst of oral
gratification, think this over.
We cleaned our plates and were almost
surprised, but in fact relieved, when
the expected round of applause (hoots,
whistles, The Wave) didn't materialize. "Nefis!" (Delicious!)
I said, which comment was greeted by
wide smiles and an appreciative murmur
by the throng assembled.
Concerned about the long and perhaps
rough road ahead of us, we mentioned
the rock pictures again. Zeynel Bey
led us outside and back to our little
white underpowered Renault 12. He,
the village teacher and another man
of some mysterious significance piled
into the narrow, thinly padded back
seat of our little car which had been
designed only for spindly French
endomorphs. The small engine hauled
us uphill, wheezing the Marseillaise, over
the rutted road to a sheer rock cliff.
Carved into the smooth sedimentary
rock were Hittite-like pictographs,
obviously ancient. In fact, apparently
"Last summer an archeological
research team came here from
Ankara University" the teacher
said. "They made photographs
and drawings of the rock pictures,
and dug some trenches."
"We did the digging," said Zeynel. "It
was pretty interesting, and our men
could use the work. Our village isn't
rich. We learned something about where
It still amazes me that something
as important as prehistoric rock carvings
could go unnoticed for centuries, but
so it is everywhere. The great Mayan
cities of Central America just
sat there in the jungle until New York
lawyer and amateur archeologist John
Lloyd Stephens came along and asked
about them. "Oh, sure," the local villagers
said, "there're lots of old stone buildings
in the jungle. Our ancestors built
them. Want us to show you?"
Here in Çamuslu Köyü,
the rock carvings could be more significant
than those at Lascaux in France
for all anyone knew, but until the
highway department put up the sign,
and the team came from the university,
and the guidebook author stumbled in
by accident, they'd just sit there,
unknown to everyone but the villagers. Media
coverage is everything, at least if
you're an antiquity.
We returned to the village, and the
muhtar insisted that we come in for
a parting glass of tea. Jane had some
free cosmetic samples that she
had received in the mail and brought
along as travel equipmentthings
like rouge and eyeliner and eye shadow,
things you could find easily in New
Yorkor in Ankara, for that matterbut
were scarce as moon rocks in Çamuslu.
She gave them to the eldest daughter,
a hard-working farm girl with bright
eyes and rough hands.
The girl had no idea what to do with
them. It was the equivalent of the
girl giving Jane a tractor coupling.
The girl smiled shyly as Jane gave
her the short course in becoming Miss
Maybelline. When Çamuslu
Köyü gets its first disco
in 2050, she'll be ready, except by
then she'll be 83 years old and no
amount of makeup will, uh, make up
In Turkey if you give someone a gift,
she or he takes it as a challenge and
will not rest until she/he has given
you something of greater value. The
girl's mother loaded us down with the
wealth of the village: apples from
the village trees, freshly-gathered
walnuts, and handmade dried cheese
that looked just like rough twine--but
soak it in water and it plumps up to
tasty string cheese. Food for the road.
It was just what we needed.
"Please write to us," Zeynel
said. He jotted down his name and address
on a scrap of paper.
We were about to part, but I felt
that Zeynel had something on his mind.
He was too politethe courtliness
of the Turkish villagerto
bring it up during our visit, but now
the visit was over and we were leaving.
It was now or never. He threw politeness
to the wind and asked a favor.
"You saw the condition of our
village road. Its awful. Sometimes
in winter we cant even get up
to the village. We complain to the
highway department but they dont
listen to us. They say theyve
got more important roads to build. Youre
a tourism writer, an important man. If
you write to us and say its important
to improve our road so that tourists
can get to the rock pictures, we can
use it as evidence. We may be able
to convince them to improve the road.
Could you do that?"
I found it hilarious that he thought
me important. I warned him not to expect
"Oh, they'll listen to you," he said.
I didn't have the heart to argue.
We said goodbye and drove off.
It took until January for me to write
the letter to Zeynel Demirci, but when
I wrote it I made the petroglyphs
of Çamuslu Köyü sound
more important than the Elgin Marbles.
I sent off my letter to him and promptly
forgot about the whole matter.
Four months later, in April, 1983,
much to my surprise, I received a reply:
We received your letter of
January 4th, 1983,
which made us very, very happy.
What a pity that no writer
from a friendly foreign country
has ever come as far as our
village to have so much as
a glass of teauntil you
Your letter was a godsend
to us. We made photocopies
of it and sent them to the
ministries of villages and
cooperatives, the provincial
government, the provincial
tourism association and the
Thank you so much for including
our village in the book you
In the name of the people
of Çamuslu Köyü I
send you greetings.
Çamuslu Köyü Muhtar
PS: The road to the tourist
site has been completed.
Wow! Zeynel Bey was right after
all: the words of a foreign travel
writer really did have some clout
in eastern Turkey.
Amazing. Simply amazing.
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004 by
Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)
People Never Learn"]
Excerpts from Bright Sun,
Sun, Strong Tea Photo
Eastern Turkey Itinerary