I’m in Göreme, Kapadokya, the “Land of Beautiful Horses” (in Farsi), and I’m about to leave towards Antalya for a self-guided tour along the Western coast of Türkiye. Insha’Allah, I’ll stop in Antalya first. Then, God-willing, I’ll visit Olimpos (Olympos), Bodrum, Ephesus, and Izmir. From Izmir, I’ll fly to Van, a town near the eastern border close to Iran, where I’ll bus to Trabzon, which is near Georgia. A train ride along Black Sea coast back to Istanbul is how I’ll conclude my journey in Türkiye, bi’ithni-llah.
This is my plan, but Allah سبحانه وتعالى is the best Planner.
I arrived in Göreme late Monday night and checked into Yasin’s Place Backpackers Cave Hostel, a cave hostel run, surprisingly enough, by a blonde, White American woman named Laura and Yasin, her soon-to-be Turkish husband. A close friend mine recommended her place to me for my stay in Göreme, and, not knowing any other place to stay (though, because Göreme is so touristic, hotels and hostels litter the streets), I decided to take her recommendation to heart.
I was sitting in the hostel lobby talking with my friend on Skype when Laura walked in. I struck up a conversation with her because I found her situation to be interesting. She’s from Washington D.C. area and a graduate of Georgetown Law School, a prestigious institution, one that ain’t cheap; yet somehow, she’s here in the middle of Anatolia, in Göreme, managing a hostel. Subhan’Allah, life can throw you curve balls, take you places you never figured you’d go, make you do things you never figured you’d do.
I said to her, “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s a White girl from D.C. doing in the middle of Anatolia?”
She laughed and responded, “Well, I came here sometime ago and met Yasin and started traveling back forth between the US and Turkey. I was working as a lawyer in Brazil, but then I just got tired of working the standard nine to five. Here I can set my own hours and I don’t have to do the standard nine to five. I don’t make as much money here, but then living here isn’t that expensive.”
She added, “But everyone thinks I’m hooker because they think I’m Russian, you know having blonde hair and all. In Nevşehir (which is a town close to Göreme), I was at stop with Yasin, and someone actually tried to get in the car with me! I’ve even had people ask me how much my services are!”
I took her story and compared it to my own narrative, sans the part about being confused for a Russian prostitute of course. (I couldn’t pull that off even if I wanted to). I didn’t quite dig the cookie cutter nine to five setup in the corporate realm either; in fact, I hated it, every minute of it. I guess that’s why I’m out here, seeing the world and all the other available opportunities while trying to think of alternatives. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a relief to know other people have traversed the same path I’m on. Sometimes, I think I’m the only one, a loser who hasn’t got his act together. I often fall into the trap of comparing myself to others, not realizing the favors Allah سبحانه وتعال has granted me and not remembering that everyone is struggling with something or other, despite the veneers they might put forth.
Existential and spiritual crises are the worst by far, but braving them yields such tremendous results, lead to such great strides in personal growth. So long as I don’t lose perspective, I have no doubt that I’ll climb out of this nadir.
Garden of Rocks, Red Rose Vally, and the Hidden Churches
The days in Göreme were those of exploration.
I set out on foot into Kapadokya, which I have christened the Garden of Rocks and Hidden Churches. If you look at my pictures below, you’ll found out why I’ve name it so. Apparently, there are two dormant volcanoes in the region, and the rock formations are the result of volcanic activity. The ancient inhabitants carved their homes, churches, and even graves into the rock formations, perhaps with the intent of hiding them from the Romans, who at the time were persecuting Christian minorities within the Roman empire. Monasteries and nunneries, chapels and studies, are hewed into the mountains, a most impressive feat of engineering and fortitude. Some of the climbs to reach these places are perilous, and I wondered how the Hell these people managed to chisel their livelihoods and the faith into the mountains. The power of faith, so I’m recalling from my days as a Catholic, is such that it can move mountains (from one of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 17:20), else it will at least give you strength and courage to scale them and curve a giant, intricate holes into them.
As a side note: honestly, as a Muslim, I’m both glad and proud these ancient structures still stand. I’m sure the relationship between the Muslim Turks and the ancient Byzantine Christians wasn’t perfect, but, at the very least, the churches and monasteries of the Christians weren’t destroyed and were in fact preserved. There’s much history in this place, and I’ve seen many Christian tourists from all other the world (mostly from Europe it seems), here, in a country predominantly occupied by Muslims, coming to visit Christian artifacts. Think about that for a minute: the oldest churches, monasteries, nunneries, synagogues in the entire world are in Muslim lands. I’ll say it again, the oldest churches, monasteries, nunneries, synagogues in the entire world are in Muslim lands. Think about what this implies. Let it marinate in your soul for bit.
Also, another note: it’s time for a quick lesson about Black people from America, courtesy of Anthony: Black people don’t climb mountains and we don’t go spelunking in caves. We just don’t do that type of stuff: that’s stuff reserved for White people. If you tell a Black person, “Hey! Let’s climb that mountain!” they might respond in the following manner: “B*tch! Have you lost your motherf*cking mind!” or “You must be outta your goddamn mind!” or even “This motherf*cker must be tripping on weed laced with PCP (Angel Dust) or some sh*t ’cause this nigga just asked me to climb a motherf*cking mountain!” And yet, I found myself climbing mountains and spelunking in caves. The whole time I was scaling some of these mountain crevices, I said to myself, “Nigga, what the f*ck are you doing climbing this sh*t?! How did you get yourself into this sh*t! Niggas don’t climb sh*t, not like this anyway!”
I’m told traveling is all about leaving your comfort zone. Well, I left it this day.
Anyway, during my hike to the Red Rose Valley Church, I came across a group of travelers, two men and two women, all in the mid-to-late twenties. The two guys, Andrew and Nick, were from America. One of the girls, Noemei, was from France and the other, Ilyse, was from Aussie Land (what I call Australia). They invited me to travel in their pack, and I accepted, under the premise that more is always merrier.
Andrew told me his story while we walked. He too went through the dreaded Quarter-Life Crisis as well, of having a plush corporate job and hating it to the core, of not having enough time to really do anything, of wanting to see the world but being held at abeyance because of self-doubt, confusion, and lack of time. To allay his existential problems, he quit his job, much like I did, and started his own business constructing websites for small business, a job which allows him to work while he’s traveling.
“I didn’t want to fall into the trap of becoming stationary, you know?” he said to me. “Why do that when I can make money and see the world at the same time? I graduated with a degree in Political Science. I never thought I’d be doing this, but life’s funny like that.”
Hearing his story was inspirational. To be sure, I lack the entrepreneurial spirit and ambition needed to pursue a business venture. Still, it’s nice to know people manage to climb out of the Quarter-Life slump. I have an idea in mind for myself. I’ve been thinking it about for the last two weeks. I intend to pursue it when I return to the States, insha’Allah.
The highlight of my trip was the lunch we shared with an elder couple in the mountains of Kapadokya. They were nice enough to share their food with us after we bought some wate, tea, and fresh squeezed orange juice from them. (In all seriousness, fresh squeezed orange juice from Turkey is the best damn orange juice ever. F*ck Tropicana and to Hell with even Florida orange juice).
Eggs, bread, cheese, this amazing homemade grape sauce (I don’t know the name of it), all under a makeshift tent in the wilderness of Kapadokya. Doesn’t get any better of that.
…Thanks be to God…
I used to hold malice for those Muslims with anti-Black sentiments. After coming to Göreme, I no longer do. Why? Check this out. I think you’ll laugh because I know I did.
On my last night in Göreme, I came across a woman in the Peace Corps, an English teacher in Azerbaijan whose name I can’t recall at this moment. We began chatting and she mentioned, upon my prodding, that Azeri people don’t like Black people, at all, even though most of them, if not all of them, have never even seen one. She told me, rather candidly, to not go to Azerbaijan, or really any “Muslim” country once occupied by the Soviets.
I thought the situation was hopeless after hearing her admonishment: I figured us people blessed with abundant melanin and coarse hair are forever destined to be hated throughout the Muslim world.
Well, get a load of this.
I asked her, “So wait minute. If most Azeri people have never seen a Black person, why do they hate Black people?”
She responded, laughing, “They don’t like Black people because they think Black people can’t be seen at night.”
I retort, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, “Huh?! Are you serious? That’s why!? Tell that to the cops who are always beating our asses in the hood. They seem to be able to find us pretty well.”
I then added, “You can see us at night if we smile,” which is a popular joke about Black folks.
“Yeah,” she said, laughing, “it’s like y’all are ninjas or something like that.”
Hysterical laughter effused from both of us. It was then that I truly realized people harbor prejudices for asinine reasons, almost to the point where you feel sorry for them for being so ignorant. To me, it’s so silly and ridiculous that I don’t think I can even hold them accountable for their own stupidity. So it goes for Muslims as a whole: I don’t think people realize how their own biases affect not themselves, but others as well. It’s quite comical. Destructive, but comical all the same.
In the spirit of Göreme, in the vein of Christianity, I have aught but this to say regarding racism and my Blackness, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34]