Along with our eager minds and adventurous spirits, we brought ten beautiful women to Turkey, a fact that hasn’t escaped the local men. The girls were warned that they might get catcalled or draw unwanted attention in the Middle East, but in Turkey they’ve been mostly flattered. The men here haven’t been very pushy, and especially in Istanbul, the Ole girls dress conservatively compared to many of the young Istanbulites. Leaving Istanbul and travelling through more rural locations, some of the girls were pleasantly surprised when they got their first whistles from local men — living out of suitcases, wearing dirty clothes and feeling perpetually coated in sweat has made most of us (even the guys) feel like we’re far from our best. In an unexpected turn of events, our last day of excursion saw us pairing up with some young urks to do some beach clean-up, and many of the girls came back to Istanbul with butterflies in their stomachs that definitely didn’t come from picking up garbage.
Our last stop on excursion was the village (köy) of Sapanca, about two hours outside of Istanbul. Our tour guide from Istanbul, Serap, invited us to visit her village home, so on the way back from a week filled with beaches and ruins we had the opportunity to see a less turistic, more rural side of Turkey.
The visit started in what can best be called “downtown” Sapanca. Two buildings on the side of a narrow road, one a modest café and the other a humble office, were separated by a shaded garden where we were offered tea and welcomed by the village mayor. She told us that her biggest focus as mayor was opposing a rock quarry the government wants to open at the top of a nearby mountain. The agriculture, habitat, and sense of home that the village’s inhabitants had grown up with would be ruined if they tore open the mountaintop and carted rocks down to a nearby development project. As many of us are passionate about local environmental issues back at home, it was useful for us to hear about their struggle to protect this area.
Next, we went to Serap’s house, where we were treated to a fantastic lunch of eggs, bread, corn, cheese, tomato, and the plentiful fruit from the trees in her garden. I even learned a bit of Turkish folklore when a couple of the Turkish students who had been invited to dine with us helped me open a pomegranate. As the seeds spilled onto a plate, one of them turned to me: “If you get all of the seeds out without dropping any, then you will go to Paradise.”
I smiled. “And if you don’t?” We all laughed as I cautiously cleaned the husk of the fruit, being especially careful that none of the seeds fell.
In the afternoon, we took a tractor to do some beach cleanup at a local lake (göl). We were packed like sardines in the tractor bed as the machine growled over dirt roads and through puddles of mud. Whenever we encountered a car coming the other way, we had to drive almost completely off the road and into the thick vegetation that lined it, forcing us to duck down beneath tree branches.
We all paired up with Turkish students and wandered the skinny shore, picking up plastic bottles, old containers, and ratty bits of cloth. It was disgusting, but we had a great time laughing with our Turkish counterparts whose mastery of the English language was similar to our grasp of their native tongue. After half an hour of cleaning up the beach, we got a chance for a little R&R, and that’s when the romance really picked up.
Lizzie was the first to be wooed by the Turkish men. Her cleanup partner came over and playfully dunked her into the water, which a number of us were already enjoying. She was a great sport about it, and we all laughed together about his harmless advances. After cooling off a bit longer in the lake, we took the tractor back, and you could still feel the romantic atmosphere.
“Did you see my guy’s eyes? They are soooo beautiful,” commented Lauren. We all laughed, and our tour guide told her how to tell him in Turkish. She blushed as she reached over and tapped him on the shoulder. “Gözlerin chok güzel,” she offered, to which he replied “yours too.” All of us, a motley group of Turkish and American students, laughed heartily. When we were almost back to the bus, the tractor stopped under a fig tree and a few of the Turkish men perched on the edge of the tractor bed to reach the fruit for the TIME girls.
I guess you’ll have to ask the girls to find out how the felt about being fed figs by young Turkish men, but based on my observations, I’d say they felt pretty special. No one left wearing a new ring, but the American men back home might have to step up their game if they want to get our girls’ attention — and after being pampered and complimented by these Turkish men, that might not be a trivial task.