Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Malatya Day 1

Because the price of bus tickets were the same price as plane tickets, my labmates decided to fly to the chemical engineering conference here in Malatya. Not wanting to go through another 10 hour bus ride if I could fly for 30 YTL more than a bus ticket, I decided to join them. We flew aboard an Anadolu Jet Boeing 373, which is the value branch of Turkish Airlines. The flight took about 55 minutes, and we flew into Malatya's only airport. On approach, I looked out the window and noticed that I couldn't see the ground because there seemed to be something that resembled fog like smog. Well, Damla told me later that a dust storm had blown in from Egypt. In some parts of the region, the dust storm caused rain to turn into mud. Yes, it actually was raining mud. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any of it. Because the region is rather rural, a Turkish air force base allows commercial jets to fly in and out of a small airport. There is only one flight per day from Ankara, so the plane ended up being filled with chemical engineers. I ended up sitting next to one of the conference organizers, and he informed me that the conference had arranged for a professor from a university in Edinburgh to speak. As this was going to be the only talk in English, he strongly recommended that I attend.

Upon landing, we boarded a Havas bus to take us into town. Havas runs a fleet of buses with the specific purpose of shuttling people to and from Turkish airports. I took one of the their buses from the airport to a station in Ankara the day I arrived. The bus dropped us off a few blocks from out guesthouse. The guesthouse is run by the government specifically for teachers who are new to the area and need a place to stay while looking for more permanent lodging. We are able to stay because open rooms are available for professors, graduate students, and other government servants. The number of beds per room differs, but we were able to get one with three beds, one for me, Sertan, and Mert. The rooms aren't great but they all have TVs. I would have gladly traded the TV in for internet or air conditioning, but I'm not really going to complain for 25 YTL a night. We settled in and rejoined the Canans for dinner. Damla stayed with her mother on campus, since she didn't have to pay for her room.

We walked down main street trying to find a restaurant. There weren't any restarunts near the guesthouse so we walked about 10 blocks to find one. It was a very small place located in the basement of one of the shops along the main street. Because I had started eating chicken again, I thought that Tavuk Şiş (chicken on a stick) wouldn't be a problem. Everyone else got regional dishes like Iskender or dishes made in ceramic pots and placed in a wood oven. When the food arrived, I realized that my chicken was coated in chilies. Because my stomach had been uneasy, I decided that I needed to eat something, so I decided to wipe off the chicken with a napkin. Was that a bad idea! For the next two days, my stomach hurt pretty bad. I ended up sticking to bread after that.

After dinner, we walked along the main street for about 45 minutes looking for a place to drink beer. Mert was pretty determined to find a place, so we searched for 10 blocks until we finally found one. Like I said earlier, Malatya is afar more conservative city than Ankara, so it makes sense that drinking places would be few and far between. In fact, the bars are actually hidden and segregated. Most of the bars are for men only, but a few have a second room where families are allowed to drink together. We ended up finding one of these by asking around. There are not any signs for these places, so locations are shared by word of mouth. They ordered beer, and I ordered a bottle of water. Along with our drinks, they brought us two plates. The first was covered in parsely and cilantro, and it was rimmed with slices of cucumber. The second plate contained cherries, grapes, and slices of water melon and honeydew melon. I sneaked a few tastes because I figured that if my stomach was already uneasy from the chicken it couldn't hurt too much to eat some fruit. It has always striked me as interesting that the level of hospitality in this country is so high. I have always heard that Turks were very warm and giving, but it is just such a change from American restaurants that even after two months here, I am still slightly surprised every time something like this happens.

Around 11, we started to walk back. We stopped along the way to get me a loaf of bread. We finally trudged our way back to the guesthouse and called it a night.

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