We spent one of our evenings wandering up and down the well-trod main street of Mardin sampling coffee, browsing in the many silver shops, and examining the offerings of various wine stores. As we headed back toward our hostel, we realized that this was our 439th trip along the main street, so we boldly decided to see what adventures the upward-leading, poorly-lit side streets offered.
As we headed up and up, I noticed that our band of five had become six; there was a kindly looking old man trailing after us. It all seemed very coincidental; his presence, our presence. People pass each other in dark side streets all of the time. Precedents have been such for such occasions, so we politely nodded in his direction and proceeded to studiously ignore him despite the sneaking suspicion that he was kind-of following us. Then we stopped to admire the (lovely) view. He stopped with us. He smiled at us looking out over the city that fell away below us, and someone said the inevitable “cok guzel” (very beautiful– the part of the two Fundamental Turkish phrases –the other being afiyet olsen, which is essentially bon appetit and is said before, during, and/or after all meals, snacks, etc.). In response to the “cok guzel,” he sort of scoffed (in much the same way he was sort-of-following-us, which is it say that he really scoffed), and indicated that we should follow him. For some reason, we did.
Now I cannot speak for the thoughts and motivations of the others in the group, but I knew that this old man was not going to give five able-bodied 20-somethings any trouble. I could not, however, guarantee that the people at the place he was leading us to were going to be equally un-formidable. But this, like so many preventable tragedies, began with a “meh, why the hell not?” (Sorry, mom.)
As we followed him further up the side of the hill, he turned around and said something in Turkish. Our Gandalf (the fulbrighter with the best Turkish, V.S.) laughed awkwardly and explained that he had told us not to be scared. I did not find myself any more or less comforted by this statement; it seemed like just the thing to be said at a time like this whether he was a kindly old man who was taking us to a lovely secret tea shop or a kindly old man who was about to chop us into teeny tiny bits.
Despite this ambiguity, we continued to follow him up and up and up steeply inclined streets and four or five flights of stairs until we arrived at his house. He gestured to the view at the edge of his rooftop front yard. It was truly breathtaking. He then invited us inside his beautiful and crazy-old home. He told us the history of his house and his family. He told us (in Turkish) that his home had been in his family for a hundred(ish) years and that his daughters had just visited with his granddaughters from Bayram and how his oldest son died tragically in a car accident in Germany many years ago. He offered us his pride, his sorrow, and his leftover Bayram candy, all of which we gratefully and awkwardly accepted.
It was a truly memorable experience, which one of my companions astutely observed to one that reinforced bad behaviors (ie- following strange men with candy).