Howdy, my name is Reid.
This week, we went to a village four and a half hours away from Erzurum named Kemaliye. The bus ride there started out pretty smooth, but became windy when we hit the mountains. Kemaliye is a village along the Euphrates river in the Caucasus mountains. It’s a small village of 2,200 people, but it used to be much bigger in the past. From the early nineteen hundreds to the beginning of the 21st century, the population of Kemaliye dwindled from 60,000 to its current state. Surprisingly, there are many Armenians and Greeks in and around the village of Kemaliye. I stayed at a place in Kemaliye named Bozkurt Hotel. The hotel is family run and has been in service for 103 years now. I became quick friends with Tarik the hotel manager. He is a 3rd generation manager at the hotel, following his grandfather and father.
Our first day in Kemaliye was easily the most fun day of my life.
We started out the day in a boat on the Euphrates river. And it was at this time that I met a man named Şevki . He is easily the coolest old man you’ll ever meet. He’s native to Kemaliye and loves to show visitors around his town. He accompanied me and my group the entire day. Şevki led our boat tour along the Euphrates through a canyon. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon in the States, but this canyon might compete with it. One thing I like about Şevki is his mustache. I grew one out for the trip, assuming that Turkish men have excellent facial hair; and I was right. Our bus driver Emra also had a great mustache. So, the natural thing I had to do was get a picture with Şevki and Emra on the river.
After we got off the river, we decided to go over the river; on a zip line. As soon as we got off the zipline, we got into a Land Rover Defender and drove through the mountain tunnels and took great pictures. Turkish rock music was blasted my entire time in the Defender. It was awesome. After our expedition, Şevki took the group out to an old Armenian church that was built in the late eighteen hundreds. The doors to the church were very small, and Şevki explained that the smallness of the doors were for “humility”. I thought that tradition was pretty cool.
After we visited the church, Şevki took us on a tour around the village. We visited a couple of three hundred year old Armenian homes, I was surprised at how sturdy they still looked given how old they are. Some of the houses were refurbished, but the majority needed for the original structure was still a part of the refurbishment. One thing I noticed about the homes was that there were two door knocks. The larger, heavier one was for the men, while the smaller, lighter one was for the women. Şevki said that the two door knocks were used to notify people in the home if a man or woman was outside.
Shortly after we were taken to a flour shop where flour was sifted and put into sacks to sell. Afterwards, Şevki took us to a Women’s organization that he supports. The women use looms to make textiles and clothing to sell. The organization gives job opportunities and support to the women of Kemaliye. I got to buy a nice tie from the women for my dad. Şevki then took us to lunch at the hotel. The hotel chef is Tarik’s uncle. The food reminded me of homestyle cooking back home.
After lunch, Şevki took us to see the gravesite of our dear friend. Our friend was an American who lived out his life with his family in Kemaliye. One day, after feeling unwell for a while, he went to the doctor and found that he had stage four cancer. This shook the village. Rather than leaving for the United States to die there, he lived out the rest of his days and was buried in Kemaliye. He was dearly loved by the people of Kemaliye and will be missed.
We left the gravesite and walked to a coffee shop that honored our friend’s life. There were many poems on the wall about him and his family. It was great to see how the village honored and embraced his death. At the coffee shop, an old man taught me how to play the bağlama. The bağlama is similar to the guitar, but with a much skinnier neck. I had picked up playing the guitar right before leaving the States, so it was pretty easy to transition to the bağlama.
Once we left the coffee shop, I had some nice down time at the hotel. Sometimes, a good nap is needed. Then, out of nowhere Şevki invited us to a musical performance at the towns theatre before dinner. It was quite the show would be an understatement. There was a choir, bongos, a clarinet, and Şevki was beating on the biggest round drum I’ve ever seen while singing at the top of his lungs. He’s quite the character and enjoyed every minute of it. To end the tour, Şevki led us back to the hotel for a fantastic dinner.
Shortly after dinner, everyone else in my group began to wind down for dinner. But, the night had just begun for me. The sky was clear that night so I decided to go to the rooftop of the hotel and watch the stars. Laying there on the roof and looking up at the night sky was probably my favorite part of the day. I stayed up there for a couple of hours, and then headed back down to the lobby where I found Tarik. He asked me to join him for some tea. It was about 11 that night and I was worried that the caffeine would keep me up, but the friendship I made with Tarik was more valuable to me than sleep. We hung out at a tea house for a good while until we both got tired. We walked back to the hotel and I called it a night.
After thinking about it, that probably is the most fun I’ve ever had in a day. I’d do it again if I could. Kemaliye is a special place with great people.