As the golden rays of dusk cascaded across the horizon, I received a tantalising text from my friend, Ibrahim. My Turkish teacher back in Brazil had recently returned home, and to my surprise, he invited me to join him in his hometown of Kahramanmaraş. I drummed up the courage to ask my companion Fırat if we could change our plans and seek this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He peered at me with a knowing smile before confidently uttering, “Do you want to go there?” he asked. “Oh yeah,” was my answer. “Then we will go.”
We set off from Gaziantep at 8:30 am and followed the meandering path that snaked through the towering mountains and winding valleys.
Fırat eagerly told me stories of Kahramanmaras, a city he had never visited. I could get lost in his words: the city was known as Maraş until the heroic victory in the War of Independence against the French, and the name changed in 1918 to celebrate the success.
As his tales spun on, I peered out the window and noticed something odd. It loomed as if a rocket had blasted off. I squinted my eyes to get a better look, and what did I see? Not a rocket launch base. But a towering grain silo. A wave of relief swept over me as I let out a hearty laugh. It was good that Fırat hadn’t seen; he would have teased for days.
Our journey to Kahramanmaras was almost complete. As we strode down Trabzon Avenue, searching for Ibrahim, excitement buzzed. Suddenly, there he was – the same Ibrahim I knew from our Sao Paulo conversations, only more relaxed and filled with joy this time. After exchanging a few words in Portuguese, he asked me why I still couldn’t speak Turkish, and I had no explanation.
He invited us to have some refreshments in a Kahve (Coffee) close by. With each sip of çay, my curiosity heightened for what this city had to offer. After a pleasant conversation, Ibrahim and Fırat began conversing in Turkish, and I was eager to explore this new place. Compliantly, we joined his niece as she led us on foot to the most memorable places in the city.
We walked together to The Covered Bazaar, an ancient marketplace full of wonders. Locals revered me for its centuries-old handicrafts, artisans crafting all sorts of delights, and nut vendors selling pistachios and dried fruits. There were stunning wooden boxes everywhere I looked, although Ibrahim warned me to return them when I returned to purchase something.
Ibrahim then pointed to a row of stores selling gold – a precious obsession among the Turkish people. Women boasted their wealth by the amount of gold jewellery they wore, while men used gold for savings. Everywhere I looked, windows and more gold pieces glinted in the sun. Ibrahim then revealed that he had once worked in one of those stores.
I jumped at the chance to explore the city with Ibrahim, a kindred spirit. His passion for literature had been my passport into his inner world, and his shyness had become an asset-it kept the city undiscovered and ripe for exploration.
Ibrahim had missed Türkiye more than I had realised, and his longing for home was palpable as soon as we met. Our excitement built as we made our way up to the top of the castle, anticipating the treasures within. When we arrived, we were met with a sight like no other. Statues, signs, and the Turkish flag all pay homage to the Maraş Battle.
The call to prayer filled the air and gave me an indescribable feeling. I looked over at Ibrahim, taking in the moment we both longed for. At that moment, my friendship with Ibrahim was sealed forever as I recorded our adventure in sound.
We trudged ahead, the heat sapping our energy and drying our throats. We desperately searched for some respite and stumbled upon a shaded grove. As we enjoyed the relieving ayran, Ibrahim reminded us of his time, giving us a much-needed break before continuing to the Ulu Camii, or Ulu Mosque. Ibrahim generously procured a hijab for me so that I could enter and bask in the profound serenity of the mosque. Fırat, less religious than Ibrahim, had asked why I would need a hijab to enter; I explained that this was my friend’s way of showing respect.
After exiting the beautiful mosque, we crossed the bustling Covered Bazaar, at which point my friends presented me with two thoughtful gifts – a sugar bowl with a tray from Ibrahim and a jewellery box made of wood from Fırat. The delight of receiving these presents was overwhelming!
We continued our journey to Ibrahim’s elder sister’s home, welcomed with great hospitality and served a hearty, homemade lunch that was both nourishing and delicious. We lingered in her home, engaged in animated conversations and laughter.
After a delicious lunch, we had pastries and fruits as desserts. We left Ibrahim’s sister’s home. And followed to an ice cream parlour. We were sopping at the shop selling the famous Kahramanmaras ice cream, which I’d heard a lot about its quality and taste. As we savoured each bite of this renowned treat, Ibrahim’s stories of the city came alive.
Ibrahim bought me creamy ice cream with crunchy pistachios on top. As I savoured the first spoonful, I marvelled at the unique flavour and unique elastic texture. What was it about this city that made it so different? Then, I discovered what made Kahramanmaras ice cream unique: sale!
Saleph is a unique powder or flour obtained from the bulb of an orchid. I had previously only known it as a hot drink in Türkiye during the winter, but now it was in ice cream form!
We eventually returned to the city centre, and Ibrahim recommended a hotel. I then realised that we would be spending the night in town. Little did I know that booking a room for two single people travelling together would be such an ordeal! After much convincing, they allowed us to rent two separate rooms – one on each floor – with a promise that we would stay in our rooms. Even now, I can still laugh at this memory.