Friday, April 9, 2010


Growing up as a Catholic who went to parochial school, studying about Mesopotamia and the Tigris River evoked a sense of wonder and mystery within me. They were far away places that I never dreamed I would lay my eyes on. Upon seeing the two for the first time recently, I have to say that they were as magical as I always wondered them to be.

This spring break we hopped on a plane, rented a car and traveled to a small town, perched atop a hillside in southeastern Turkey. We were closer to Syria and Iraq then we were to home, and it was fabulous. It was like being in another country at times, for one, when strolling through the narrow streets and markets, which are different than anything I had ever seen before, you do not hear Turkish as Kurdish and Syriani are the lingua franca there, though everybody speaks Turkish as a third language. The monasteries, churches and countryside in and around Mardin are spectacular. Looking at the city from the yeni yol (the new road below, Mardin is built on a hillside) is like looking at a Turkish carpet; your eyes are continually drawn to the many textures of the city, each time seeing a new building or detail on a window that you hadn't seen before. There we saw churches, monasteries, mosques, ancient buildings, vibrant life, poverty, wealth, serenity, life.

Another highlight was the kebap joint we frequented three nights out of five. Koray's keen "where the locals eat" radar quickly picked up on this unassuming hot spot, named Rido, and we quickly became friendly with the waiters and cooks and enjoyed the tastiest kebaps this side of the Tigris. Served with a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, sumac, a drizzle of olive oil and a heaping amount of flat bread, we were in lamb fat heaven. The other tasty spot was the Cercis Murat Konagi a restaurant run by a woman from Mardin, and the only licensed restaurant in town. Here they serve up a more fancy fare that we didn't find anywhere else in Mardin or the surrounding cities. I am not sure what the mezzes and main courses were called, but they combine common items like eggplant, chickpeas, bulgar, pomegranate molasses, yougurt and garlic into some of the most delectable dishes of yumminess that I have ever tasted on this side of the world.

Yet another highlight was our last day. We drove around the Tur Abdin plateau in search of ancient monasteries tucked away in tiny villages. The last stop was the most amazing, the Meryem Ana, Mother Mary church, built at the beginning of the calendar. The "dirt rain" was looming in the distance, carrying sands from the deserts, giving a apocalyptic glow to the seemingly deserted space. Ali and Omer were fast asleep in the car, so I ran into the church through a side door, and was instantly transported 2000 years back in time. For a glorious three minutes, I stood in the courtyard in awe, without a soul around until the local "guide" came to open the church sanctuary for me to see.

Even though the town itself was wonderful and bustling, our hotel beautiful and tranquil, the food tasty and abundant, the ancient sites truly other worldly, my favorite moments were the evenings we drove up a rocky dirt road to a seemingly far away space to watch the sunset over Mesopotamia. We propped the car doors open, turned up the iPod, cracked open a couple of beers, set the boys loose and lounged around on a carpet we had bought near the Tigris. The boys frolicked like the goats and sheep in the distant hillsides, and we just were.

Maybe it is because the spring wheat was vivid and abundant, and almost everywhere we went we saw lamb in some form, be it the real thing grazing in the lushness of spring, kebaps or lamb pelts, my mind kept wandering back to my dad. As my eyes searched the vast fields we drove by on the way to another far away site, I knew my dad would be able to recognize what was growing there and I wished I could have taken pictures to show him. And I knew he would enjoy seeing the exuberant little fat tailed lambs and goat kids that dotted the hillsides and fields. This trip gave me extended moments to do a lot of thinking about this fall and winter, the time surrounding his sickness and death. It was therapeutic to let my mind wonder and meditate on these events. Our lives are so busy and full that I haven't had the chance to really think about it now that a few months have passed and life has moved on.

Our trip to Mardin was a journey on many levels, and I will carry those precious moments with me always. Mardin and the Tur Abdin plateau is an amazing area that is not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite words: "we just were." We are looking forward to doing the same this summer.