Out here in northeastern Turkey, life has a different pace. On the high plains surrounding remote Lake Çıldır on the border wıth Georgia near the city of Kars, June days cater to the cycle of the livestock’s needs, wıth time for a few çay in between.
Adam is patiently teaching me to drive our manual rental car, but I’m still learning the art of idling in first without stalling – a feat which almost failed me while working our way around the lake and stopping for the many herds of cattle that crossed our path. While spluttering through the hamlet of Çanaksu in the early evening, we stopped to observe almost the entire village out in the road herding and slapping the cows in every which way between the drying piles of peat and earthen-roofed homes. Definitely a team sport – even the toddlers were involved.
While we were stopped, one of the locals came up to our window, gesturing that he wanted to invite us into his earthen home for çay, or tea – the Turkish equivalent of the omnipresent Albanian coffee. We pulled over and sat for a while in his sittıng room as his wife prepared tea and even a fried egg or two. Knowing about ten words of Turkish combined, Adam and I weren’t able to communicate much, but enjoyed the conversation nonetheless and, in a moment highly reminiscent of Albania, were shown all the family wedding photos by beaming hosts.
After a while (and when the cows were finally under control, I’m sure), a few curious neighbors came over to try their hand at communicating with us….and, before long we looked up and two French long-distance bikers en route from France to Nepal had also been invited in to tea. With their skills at both English and Turkish, we were finally able to talk a bit with our hosts in a roundabout way….but still managed to miscommunicate the fact that no, we did not need two liters of milk freshly milked for us, but yes, we’d love to watch you milk the cows. We came away from the experience a bit more caffienated from all the tea, with way more fresh milk than we knew what to do with, and with wonderful memories of a boundless hospitality and the unique mix of cultures that can come if you take the time to stall out behind a herd of cattle.