All I do in Turkey is eat. It’s so easy. The food is great. It’s cheap, at least compared to coming out of Barcelona, and it creates little pockets of diversion for the kids. We walk, I take pictures, we explore, then right as Stella is about to stage a sit-in at the foot of some merchant’s stall, I scoop her up and duck into a restaurant with her and Cole.
On this day, it was doubly lucky because Stella needed a change of atmosphere to keep going and just as we got seated it started to rain. An hour later it stopped and we headed back out again, our bellies full and the mood light.
“What a beautiful girl,” a gentleman said to me.
“Oh thank you.”
It’s hard to describe just how often this happens in Turkey. That’s not bragging, it’s not us, it’s just a combination of naturally affable people, who like kids and are really charmed by blonde-haired or blue-eyed kids. Oh, and okay fine, my kids are totally adorable.
So when this man starts walking with us and asking questions, my guard is not only down, I’m laughing and enjoying myself. He has a daughter in her early twenties. He shows me her picture. She’s a knock-out. Here’s her mother. Here’s our cat. It’s white. All white. Would you like to come to my shop?
It was the most unexpected thing because the “would you like to come to my shop” line is usually delivered in this cloying sweetness, the underlying desire and slight desperation thick in the air. Not this time. His eyes were soft and kind. So I tried lying.
“Maybe. We’re going to the mosque first.”
“Oh, okay. Do you know where to go?”
We floated through the sea of tourists, most of them French today, some Japanese, and he took me around to the side entrance.
“Here, go through there. You will come to my shop? It’s just over there…”
“Uh, okay. Over there? Okay.”
“Well, come with me, here you need a head covering. I will hold the baby, okay?”
I get my blue scarf and try to fashion something that looks remotely like the stylish hijabs I’ve seen all over town. I flash back to grammar school: the pale blue fabric is drapped over my head like the Virgin Mary in all those school plays where she’s looking adoringly at a baby doll in a baby crib, kneeling on hay that has been scattered on the auditorium stage.
“Wow, you have a hard job. I will come in with you. To help.”
I just left it happen. We took off our shoes, he carried my daughter.
Inside he told me that Muslims were good, that the terrorists were not Muslims. He described the mosque as I took photos.
It’s a working mosque so we were there between prayers.
The women went to one side, the men to the other.
He took photos of the kids. Everyone takes photos of the kids. People of the world, explain to me what do you do with pictures of my children?
I let Cole have the camera and he took a picture of our friend. Mustafa.
He told me I had very beautiful children, Ma sha’Allah. God has willed it.
We turned and left. Outside we slipped back into our shoes and I followed him over to his shop. My heart raced a little at the prospect of being sold-to, of having to be impolite. Then I just stopped myself. You know what? It’s low season. We are the only non-tour group tourists out here. He might wait all day and not get another family to walk over to his shop. Sure, we were wasting his time, but he was such pleasant company.
I decided this: no one gets into his line of business without liking people. He probably would just enjoy playing with my kids.
Really it was fine.
So I floated some more. The shop was close and inside was a woman weaving on a large loom. Beyond her was a brightly lit showroom with chest-high piles of Turkish rugs. I went to take a photo but my battery was dead.
I wish I could have shown you.
His brothers were there and we spent the most lovely two hours just talking, drinking tea and looking at rugs. They gave the kids magic carpet rides. They pulled out different colored silk rugs, my favorite, for me to ooh and aah over. My kids took off their shoes and were laying on the rugs they had spread around the floor. We picked designs for each room in our Barcelona apartment. I spoke of my husband, letting all the assumptions fall into place… he’s working… I’m with the kids…
One of the brothers overheard me speak to Stella in Spanish, and revealed that he had lived in Chile for three years. The other brother had lived in Boston. They traveled but the family business always brought them back.
By now, the kids are nearly napping, laying on Turkish rugs, heads resting on rolled up Turkish rugs and yup, more Turkish rugs as blankets. This was getting ridiculous. My children were about to fall asleep on their showroom floor.
I started putting their shoes back on and packing up to leave.
“I have to get these kids to bed! The baby needs a nap.”
I picked up Stella and started heading towards the door. They followed me.
“Do you want to know the price?”
“No, no, that’s okay.”
“For that one, the one you like, it’s very high quality. $4200.”
I blacked out a little at that number. I don’t know if he meant Turkish Lira or USD but either way it was thousands.
“Oh, it’s so beautiful. Thank you for everything, this has been lovely. I will definitely have to tell my husband about this place.” It had been lovely. I would tell my husband about their store. The rug was absolutely stunning.
However, you can not tempt me, no matter how charming, into buying a two or four thousand dollar rug. It’s just not possible.
“Come on kids!”
The kids didn’t want to leave. I got the brothers card. I thanked them. They told me to come back and they’d make me lunch. I smiled and nodded.
On the way out, Stella tried to wiggle out of my arms so she could run back. When she couldn’t prevail she started to scream. I marched around the corner and then crouched down on the ground to talk to her.
“They were really nice. Did you like them?”
She was still crying. It was nap time.
“Did you want to go to the park? To go on the swings?”
Yes. No more tears.
“Come on, Cole.”
“Who were those guys, mama,” Cole asked.
I have no idea.