Way Too Long!

It has been much too long since I’ve been able to focus on my blogs.  We currently reside in Istanbul and I have much desired to get back to updating our followers with our encounters with Turkish culture.  I have many stories to tell and will be telling them soon, stay tuned…



Selam from Turkey!!!


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We’ve returned!

My family and I returned to Istanbul on September 26 after two years in the United States. In many ways it felt like returning home, familiar faces, sights, sounds, smells and hospitality. This time we’re returning with our almost two year old son who has the Turkish name “Tolga”. In Turkey children are highly respected and valued. When we are out nearly everyone from Taxi drivers, passport control workers, bus drivers and passerbys stop to be sweet to our little boy. In a country situated on the Mediterranean and Black seas where people are what many would consider olive complexioned or in Turkish “esmer”, our white haired, blue eyed boy draws a crowd. 

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Türkmen Kızı Türkmen Kızı

Each region of Turkey has its own unique folk songs, dances and styles of dress.  What most regions share in common are music and song about daily life such as chores, work and harvesting crops.  In the Northeastern Black Sea Region where fishing is common there are songs about fish and dance movements mimicking fish on a trawl line.  The word “Türkmen” sounding very similar to Turk Man is actually the name of a people closely akin to the Turkish people of Anatolia.  The Türkmen people are apart of the wider “Turkic” classification of people spanning from Siberia, Central Asia, parts of Afghanistan, Iran and even Moldova.  The branch of Turkic peoples called the “Oghuz Turks” came to what is now Anatolia from Central Asian Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan during the turn of the first millenium in the 1000s AD.  Displacing the Byzantine Greeks they carved out an Empire for themselves known as the Great Seljuk Empire.  The Seljuks weren’t one homogenous ethnic group but rather a collection of tribes consisting of similar Turkic peoples of the Oghuz Tribe.  Today there are 4 remaining people groups from the Oghuz Turkish tribe such as the Turkish people of modern day Turkey, the Azeri Turks of Azerbaijan, the Turkmen Turks of Turkmenistan and Iran as well as the Gagauz Turks of Moldova.  The Gagauz were the only undisputed traditional Christian branch of the Oghuz tribe having accepted Eastern Orthodox Christianity upon their arrival to what is now modern day Moldova.

This video refers to a Turkmen tribe in modern day Turkey and in particular a Turkmen girl (Türkmen Kızı is “Turkmen Girl” in Turkish) going about her daily chores.  The region where this song comes from is the Mersin/Silifke region of Southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border.  All throughout Southeastern Turkey, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq are pockets of Turkmen peoples who have become embedded into the Turkish, Arab and Kurdish populations of these countries.

Why this song?  Well Annie and I upon watching one of our favorite Turkish TV shows “Güzel Köylü” saw the characters of the show dancing and singing to this song.  We being intrigued by all things Turkish had to learn the meaning and origins of this song.  In the video you can see the women acting out the daily chores like milking the cow, churning the butter, kneading the bread.

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Rice University Students Study Abroad

Rice U students travel to Turkey this summer to partner with ITU, Istanbul Technical University. Read here

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Kemaliye (Eğin) Traditional Dance

The little village of Kemaliye or “Eğin” (pronounced Ey-een) as most of the locals call it, where we visited back in November of 2013 has many interesting traditions. 

The video in this post was filmed by a Turkish TV series called “Gelenekten Geleceğe”, “From Tradition to the Future”. In the video the villagers are demonstrating a traditional groomsmen ceremony before a wedding. There is village folk music known in Turkish as “türkü”, there is a traditional dance and there is the traditional “grooming of the groom”. The barber is giving the groom a shave and a haircut while taking a short pause to dance in order to make the husband to be presentable for his wedding. 

All over Turkey people love to celebrate with music, dances and get togethers. If you’ve ever read the opening pages of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you’ll find that Turkish village life is very similar to the Shire Folk. 

Categories: Historical, Life in Turkey, Turkish Music and Dance | Leave a comment

Biblical Turkey Tours

I came across an interesting website here describing tours to biblical sites in Turkey. Turkey was once the Asia Minor province of the ancient Roman Empire both Latin and Byzantine. Many cities listed in the New Testament were in fact in modern day Turkey. Below is a map of most of the biblical sites excluding the Pontus region where Priscilla and Aquila, Paul’s tentmaking companions were from. 

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If You’re Gonna Play in Texas You Gotta Have a “Kemençe” in the band?

The “Horon” Dance, complete with firearms, two-steppin and a fast paced upright fiddle called the kemençe. 

When we moved to Turkey in September of 2012 one of my first and closest friends was a person whose family came from a small town on the Black Sea coast called “Of” which is in the Trabzon province. 

It’s widely claimed among many other Turkish citizens that the peoples of the coastal Northeast speak with a fast, strange (sometimes unintelligible) accent, are fiercely independent, and have unique dances set to a fast played upright fiddle type instrument. They also produce and carry their own firearms. From the glass merchant in town to the little “Nineh” or grandmother who lives high up in the hills many people are packin’. They live off of the land with a lucrative tea industry as well as livestock and hazelnuts. 

As a person raised in Texas which embodies independence, horses, cows, Texas country music, two-steppin, firearms and a twangy drawl form of English, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Northeastern region of Turkey on the Black Sea is the Turkish Texas.  

Some would say “well there are other peculiar parts of the U.S. that could lay claim to this description”. To that comment I would respond with this. If a Black Sea imam says their region is like Texas then it must be like Texas. 

Categories: Life in Turkey, Turkish Music and Dance | Leave a comment

Wingsuit Skydiving in Eastern Turkey

Above the heights of the Karanlık Kanyon, Taş Yolu and the Euphrates River these daredevils have chosen the tiny town of Kemaliye (or at least the air above) for their gravity defying feats.

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fener2Image courtesy of Greece Travel

(This post was written in June of 2014.  I am just now posting it)

Today as I am sitting in the Fener district of Istanbul I see a striking combination of new and old. My newly acquainted Greek/Rum friend Niko informed me that this area used to have a Greek speaking majority.   Yiannis the local cafe owner along with Niko sit outside and converse in Greek with one another and Turkish with me. Not 100 yards away I can see St. George’s Church which is the head of the Orthodox Christian world. The Patriarch Bartholomew is the first among equals of the whole Orthodox Christian world including Russia, Serbia, Romania, Georgia, and Greece.

The Greek speaking people of Istanbul or “Rum” as the are called in Turkey, are a small remnant of the Byzantine Romans from antiquity. After Constantinople was conquered by Mehmet I in 1453 many Greeks continued to populate the empire. One of the most influential districts of Constantinople was the Phanar or Fener district in which I am currently enjoying a frappe and listening to the local greek chauffeur’s rembetiko ringtone.

10302501_1451021938469290_6481012149540845211_nByzas Cafe courtesy of Yiannis Abi


Today there are roughly only 2000 Greek speakers left who live on this tiny district of a city of 17 million. While I sit at Yiannis’ cafe I see some of Istanbul’s most conservative Muslim people strolling down the street. Bearded men who have completed the Hajj, women in full black, and girls with the Turkish version of the hijab populate this once Greek majority neighborhood.

d614b7dd-e319-47ec-9702-7e55af41aa1bThe Iconostasis of the church of St. George courtesy of Ecumenical Patriarchate


Alongside some of Istanbul’s most conservatively clad populace sits St. George’s Church, and the headquarters of the Orthodox Christian world. Walking into the narthex one will pass by burning beeswax candles of pilgrims to enter into the nave and catch hints of myrrh from the incense used during liturgy. The atmosphere harkens a person back to the pre-Ottoman, Eastern Roman Empire when the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world and Constantinople was considered by many including the Islamic Prophet Muhammed as the center of Christendom. At the head of the church rises the golden iconostasis picturing Jesus the Messiah, Mary the Theotokos, John the Forerunner, Michael the Archangel and many other saints of the church.

If you’re in Istanbul I recommend stopping by this area to have a cup of coffee at Yiannis’ cafe and see the exquisite beauty that is St. George’s Church.  On Friday evening or Saturday evening vespers one may even see Patriarch Bartholomew officiating the divine liturgy.  He’s a kind man and would gladly shake your hand.

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East Anatolian Silk Road


Moonlight over the “Karasu” or Euphrates River, Erzincan, Turkey.



Silk Road bridge



Part of the Ancient Silk Road near the outskirts of the town of Eğin/Kemaliye (pictured above and below)




Danny and one of his small travel buddies from the village at Venk Monastery, near a small Silk Road outpost village.


Annie and I traveled out to Erzincan Province back in November 2013.  As I sat in the truck watching Turkey’s terrain transform from Istanbul, Safranbolu, Cappadocia and finally to the Euphrates River Canyon I imagined all of the civilizations which preceded the current Turkish Republic.  Hittite, Assyrian, Armenian, Classical Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman Empires have at one time or another in history left their footprint upon the landscape. We stayed in a little hotel in the village of Eğin as it has been known for centuries also having the modern official name of Kemaliye.  Eğin was a beautiful little village nestled in the “Karanlık” or Dark Canyon along the banks of the Euphrates River.  Most Americans at the sound of the word village tend to think of tribal people living in animal skin tents and taking orders from the elders or chieftain.  But Turkish villages are normally more modern than this sort of idea.  In fact the village of Eğin is more akin to a 1950s Texas town or the small town in the movie “American Graffiti”.  We pulled into the main drag with it’s hotel, tea house, gas station, city hall, butcher, baker, candlestick maker etc.  Since Eğin rests inside the Dark Canyon it is built alongside a steep hill and the houses surrounding the village rest on natural springs which flow into the Euphrates.  A series of three mosques are situated on one of the streams which provide water for the ablution practices necessary before entering the mosque.



One of the many streams routed to flow comfortably through the town

The November we spent in Eğin the temperatures stayed in the 40s F, for this reason many of the homes in the village had a constant plume of smoke rising from the wood or coal burning stove.  The sights and smells are some that couldn’t say that I have ever experienced.  So much history, such rich culture, the smell of coal burning lingering in the air made me think of eastern people groups, trade caravans, dances, hospitality and the entertaining of guests continuing late into the night.


Another tiny Turkish village along the Silk Road, the name of which I do not know.  The entire village is fit into the picture along with the single minaret of the mosque.

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