Monday, July 6, 2009

Taking tea in Urfa

Up until now, probably the strangest place I have ever found myself sipping a cup of tea was a dingy Uzbek roadside chaihana in almost literally the middle of nowhere, a place that looked like it hadn't seen any other customers for a couple of decades but had not one, but three Britney Spears posters hanging on the wall. Well, the pigeon coop in Urfa completely blew that one out of the water.

(Come to think of, the local tire yard wasn't bad either. We had a few nice glasses of çay there while waiting for a fan to be installed in a car.)

Urfa, in southeastern Turkey, is, perhaps uniquely in the country, a city of equal-opportunity head covering, where men and women alike don silk lavender scarves called Yamşah; a city where people adorn themselves with facial tattoos, where a motorcycle is not road-ready without a carpet covering its seat, and where pigeons wear bracelets and earrings. Oh, yes, and it's also the reputed birthplace of the prophet Abraham. But we were mostly there to see the pigeons.

Inside Urfa's old bazaar, where men and boys pound designs into sheets of copper, making gorgeous platters and kitschy souvenirs alike, the courtyard of the Gümrük Han is an airy oasis. Built in 1562, this old Ottoman caravanasari (a place where travelers -- and their camels -- could stop and rest) is shaded by sand-colored tenting wafting in the light breeze and full of men sitting on low kürsü stools drinking tea and playing tavla, or backgammon.

Some, though, choose to spend their leisure time in a slightly less atmospheric location -- a dark, tucked-away room filled with the sound of flapping wings and tiny clinking jewelry and the blended perfume of dust, smoke, and pigeon shit.

Occasionally a man would pick up a bird and examine it, but if anyone was actually buying or selling the pigeons, they were sure taking their time doing so, puffing on cigarettes, sipping their tea, and watching the room's feathered occupants (likewise all male -- spare the strange blond foreigner) skitter and strut about, just as naturally as Americans -- and, OK, practically everyone in the world now -- hang out at Starbucks.

3 comments:

Dylan said...

Fascinating! I will have no shortage of awesome places to explore in Turkey I see :-)

Schaufensterbabe said...

Great post. I would so love to go and see those pigeons in their jewelry. :)

Jen said...

Thanks! Yep, much to see and do here, and I found my short trip to the east especially inspiring. More soon...