Honey-Sweet, Hasankeyf

Honey with a view
Hasankeyf is the type of place, where you leave convinced that there must be something in the water to make its people so sweet. It is an ancient, walled city snuggled in the anaconda curves of the Tigris River, whose banks are riddled cliffside dwellings that cradled human civilization since prehistoric times. Now, it is a peaceful town that moves at an unhurried pace, where children play in the streets and build things, and where people go out of their way to help a stranger. The warmth and kindness we received everywhere we went in the short time we were there were unbelievable. It is also a town in limbo, with the looming threat of flooding from a hydroelectric dam, which, when completed, will submerge people's residences along with the town's historical structures.

Early Saturday morning, Özlem, Melody, and I flew into the city of Batman- whose shared name with a certain superhero, although it is a mere coincidence, inspired a lawsuit a few years back. The name for the town, it turns out, derives from an old Turkish unit of measure or possibly a nearby fountain. We unfortunately didn't visit Batman, however, and hopped from a taxi to a dolmuş headed to Hasankeyf.

On the dolmuş ride, we sparked a conversation with a saucy teyze, who mostly spoke Kurdish and good-naturedly needled Özlem about not speaking Kurdish. She wore a light, white head covering, and the deep creases on her time-worn face were as beautiful and honest as her banter. Her daughter sat on the other side of Özlem, who had gotten the last seat- a small plastic stool between the regular seats- and translated much of what her mother was saying to Turkish. She had a round face, a more modern head-covering, and sparkling eyes. After much back and forth, we arrived and were pointed in the direction of our pension- the Hasbahce- a tranquil place with chickens, geese, and goats wandering the garden. Despite the pending flooding of the town, the pension was undergoing renovations with the building of a large fountain on the premises. When asked about it later on, the owner confessed that he was tired of sitting on his hands in anticipation of the flood. It is hard to imagine what one would do in his predicament- having to choose between action and inaction, while knowing that his home, along with all of his hard work, would in time be engulfed by the river.

Menengiç kahvesi- a drink from the region made from wild pistachios.
We were eager to start exploring the town and after dropping off our things in the room, we headed out for the day. Our first stop- breakfast. We had gotten a few recommendations from an American who used to live in Hasankeyf. The Hasankeyf Cafe was on of the list and one of the first places we came across. We were warmly greeted and ushered to a table on a terrace overlooking the Tigris. There, we feasted on a breakfast that included the typical Turkish fare, along with the most exquisite honey I've ever tasted. It was Batman honey. It tasted like caramel and the comb was crunchy. Spread on top of fresh pide with a layer of butter, it was nothing short of heavenly, and we ate it to the very last drop. Although our tastebuds were already dancing with joy, we topped off the meal with a coffee-like drink from the area called menengiç, which is made with wild pistachios and has a light nutty flavor.

Newly energized from breakfast, we headed out for a walk through the town, stopping first at the El Rizk Mosque to admire its intact minaret, built in a very different style from others I've seen in Turkey. We continued upwards to the Koc Camii and Kizlar Camii, and onwards to the cliffs. We came across many children playing in the streets. It was heartwarming to see children outside, playing with each other and building things, instead of inside, locked to a screen. Up near the cliffs, we came across a group of local teenagers, who brought us freshly picked wildflowers and peppered us with questions. We were floored by the sweetness of these teens, whose kindness came with such grace and ease. Would this ever happen back in the US, I wondered?


Ancient cave home, Hasankeyf

View of the old bridge from the new bridge
We finished our walk by crossing the bridge and getting a view of the Tigris with the setting sun. The water held its silver mirror up to the sky, as we headed towards the Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey. The field leading to the mausoleum was teeming with sheep of all sizes and with coats of different patterns. Some sheep were newly born and still learning to coordinate their movements, jumping this way and that like loose bouncy balls. We again came across a group of chatty and friendly kids, who were curious about who we were. A group of swallows flew and swooped in unison over the cliffs along with the call to prayer and the bleating that filled the evening air. Since it was getting cold, we hastened towards the mausoleum and quickly scampered back towards town.

The next day we woke up early and headed to another cafe for breakfast since the one we'd been to the day before was closed. We were greeted by a gracious and charismatic kid, who upon seeing us said, "We heard you were coming, so we let the sun know to shine just for you."Our hearts melted instantly. Later, when we were ordering breakfast, Özlem inquired about the honey. "Is it nice?" she asked. Without skipping a beat, the child replied, "Even if it isn't nice, when it sees you, it will be nice." Needless to say that we were floored by the ease with which these sweet and poetic phrases flowed from his mouth, and we wondered if this child would give workshops. He even serenaded us with a Turkish pop love song towards the end of the meal.

That day, we headed to Mardin. It was a bit of a trek from where we were- we took a dolmuş to Midyat and then a cab to Mardin- but it was well-worth the trip. Mardin is also an ancient city with unique architecture. Walking up the main drag, blue colored almonds displayed in several stores caught our eye and we stopped in a few nut shops to sample their wares. One was the well-established Artukbey, where we also tried cardamom-laced coffee and cinnamon and cocoa coated almonds- yum! Mardin is also known for its filigree jewelry and so we stopped to check out the large variety of earrings, bracelets, and pendants in a few jewelry shops.

Slowly, we made our way up through back-alleys towards the city's castle. It was closed, but the view from just below it was astounding. We could see the town, with its ribbed, snow-capped domes jutting out below, and the plain beyond, spreading infinitely before us. Coming back down, we poked our noses here and there, and walked into a door that was standing ajar. We were surprised and embarrassed to find that it was a private residence. One of the inhabitants came down and greeted us with a warm smile and invited us in, speaking to us in English. He urged us to take in the view from his terrace and introduced us to his sister. He invited us in for coffee and tea several times, which we regretfully declined, since we were on our way to meet Özlem, who had stayed in the center of town. Once again, we were completely astounded by the immediate hospitality shown to us, even as we'd intruded into their home, and we thought that Turkey might be the only country in which you are invited in for tea like a well-loved friend after trespassing on someone's property. We met up with Özlem and sadly, it was already time to head back to catch the last dolmuş.

The next day, it was already time to head back to Istanbul. I could have spent several more days in this place, an ancient soul with gorgeous landscapes and people to match. I would have loved to sit and sketch here, but there was so much to see, and still time ran out. I feel lucky to have seen it before the river's flooding and to be able to take a slice of the wonderful interactions we had with people here in my heart. I hope, someday, to come again.
Üç arkadaşlar

El Rizk Mosque, Hasankeyf

Koc Mosque, Hasankeyf

Kids, creating

Street football. Cow is wide open. 

The deflated balloons of pomegranates past their prime

Cliffside caves, Hasankeyf

Not a baaaaaaaaad view

Brand new lamb and mamma sheep, in front of the Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey

Second breakfast in Hasankeyf. Could have stayed all day. 

Artukbey coffee and nut shop, Mardin

Fresh pide- Mardin

Zinciriye Medresi, Mardin

Melody, Zinciriye Medresi, Mardin

View from the top, Mardin

Zinciriye Medresi, Mardin

Snow-capped dome, Zinciriye Medresi, Mardin

Twin windows

Waiting, Mardin

Morning fog, Hasankeyf


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