Trabzon, Turkey, May 2012
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We have just cycled one single kilometer when we see the picnic place that we have discovered already the day before. We stop and unpack shampoo, soap and dirty dishes to clean ourselves and our dishes with the clean water that runs for everybody who needs it for free. I do not think that I could ever be too thirsty in this country because those tabs are very frequent. They run like fountains with free ground water and the person who builds one puts his or her name on it. It is believed that he who builds the fountain receives all the blessings from the people who drink it.
Just next to the tabs there are three picnic tables and a family is having breakfast on one of them. We just look into our nearly empty food basket when the father offers us a tea and a piece of cake. When they leave an old couple sits down on the next bench. They bring a checkered picnic basket and look very in love. They give Roberto some Börek (filled puff pastry) which he still holds in his hands when two truckers invite us to join them for their breakfast. They have brought everything to have a proper Turkish breakfast: newspaper to use as a tablecloth, cucumber, tomato, two kinds of cheeses and olives, marmalade, hazelnut cream, Turkish tea and bread. The only things we can offer are some honey and the Böreks, but we are very happy to share it. Ömer, one of the typical truckers with long hair and a big smile, comes from Rize, a town on the east Black Sea coast. When he leaves he writes us down his number so we can camp at his place once we make it to Rize. For nearly two weeks he keeps calling us every few days asking when we will arrive. He really means it.
This is when we find out that what our friend Levent said about the people from the Black Sea, especially about the Laz, is true. They just do not accept a “no”. When Ömer offers us the rest of cheese, olives and marmalade we deny his offer, because we will arrive to a town in the night where we can buy food, but he does not let us go without his food.
This would happen many times to us. In the rest of the country the people are very open and curious on foreigners. They keep inviting us to join them for some tea of food, but if we tell them that we are in a hurry, just came from eating or carry our own food, they let us. It is a whole different thing on the Black Sea. Where ever we stop our bikes, if it is a gas station, a grocery shop or a café there is always somebody to come and invite us. In a gas station we get some lemonade and an entire Turkish meal, in another one we get some tea and the offer to join breakfast, in the grocery shop we get some bread, cheese and tea. We never asked for any of them.
It takes us 350 kilometers until Cihad in Trabzon explains us that first of all, Turkish people enjoy to share everything they have. If they eat and they see somebody not eating, especially tired travelers, or if they sleep inside or drink tea, they want the others to take part.
For the Turks it is important to support the travelers. “You can always knock on any door and ask for anything you need and if they have it they will give it to you, whatever it is.”, Cihad explains. A good Muslim can proof his big heart to Allah, but truth is that people are hospitable if they believe strongly, weekly or not at all in Allah. In the eastern Black Sea coast “no” only means no when one can offer good reasons to deny. “If you only say no, but do not explain why, it is like you say maybe”, Cihad explains. “Still they will ask a second and third time.”
We have usually explained our reasons, but it did not help. Once we hold the glass in our hand or the plate in front of us, we will empty it anyway, it is just too delicious to leave it untouched.
Furthermore we do not want to be rude denying such a clear offer. Our new friends start to accept a “No, thank you” after the third glass of tea or the fifth piece of bread but still they keep offering.
Our bodies are the best proof on how well the Turkish food and hospitality are. So dear Turkish friends and strangers: please stop asking us why we still look “like this” (the polite word for “fat”) after 4800 cycled kilometers. It is you feeding us so well with all this delicious food!
Update: We have now visited Ömer and spent two incredible days with him, his family and his friends. We wonder if we are still able to cook our own tea one we left Turkey.