It was a fine afternoon for exploring, so we headed south to the town of Harran, famous for its beehive-shaped adobe houses. There is evidence that the area has been continuously inhabited since the Early Bronze Age, and the earliest records of an actual town named Harran date back to around 2300 BCE. The beehive shape, which is said to have remained unchanged for 3000 years, serves to cool the interior of the house during the relentlessly hot summer months. Over time, people abandoned the beehive houses for more modern abodes in the village, leaving the old adobe structures for the tourists.
Upon entering Harran, it was clear that the village was not doing so well. Gangly kids with smeared faces played in the dust, while adults eyed us intensely from dilapidated homes. Within minutes, we were approached by a young man on a motorbike who insisted that we follow him. He offered us protection from harassment, and presenting a weathered university ID card, claiming he was also a guide. We explained through the half-rolled car window that we didn't need a guide, and even if we did, we didn't have any money left to pay for one. He frowned in offense at the mention of money, and assured us he didn't want anything in return— he simply wanted to show us the beehive houses and treat us like guests. Having heard the very same lines before in other parts of the world, I was suspicious, and doubted his sincerity.
"No money, you promise? We do not want a guide."
"No, no! I don't want anything! I promise."
We were led to a courtyard edged with a row of conical mud houses converted into one long gift shop packed full of gaudy trinkets— some of which had me searching for the 'Made in China' sticker. A lady in a glittering magenta robe with a hard look in her kohl-rimmed eyes followed us, half-heartedly insisting that I buy a new scarf from her. She rolled the edge of my cobalt cotton scarf in between her fingers, then dismissively tossed it back to the place it was previously resting, against my chest. My raised brow incited a peal of laughter from her, and I shook my head with a smile, leaving the shop for the courtyard, which had gathered a small group of people.
At this point the man who had brought us there had become edgy, and urged us to leave— we shouldn't stay with "these people" any longer, we should rather go with him to see a tower somewhere outside of the village. There was no way I was going with this guy anywhere, and told him that we would stay with "these people" for a tea, and do some sketching of the beehive houses. As soon as Pedro and I pulled out our sketchbooks, there was a flurry of excitement expressed in a mixture of Arabic and Turkish. The lady in pink introduced herself as Jamila. She led me to a little stool with all the excitement of a child, and asked me to draw her.
"You make my face, then you give me!" She grinned.
"Tamam, Jamila, ok."
She sat up straight, lengthened her neck and tried not to smile, but she was beaming from ear to ear. I felt strangely relaxed— I'm usually too timid to draw a portrait on demand, preferring to capture my subject unawares.
It was a quick sketch. I would have liked to have coloured her vivid scarf and dress, the lovely tone of her skin, and those blackened lids, but we needed to move on. Our 'non-guide' was pestering us to leave with him, and I suspected that he was going to ask us for money soon. I carefully tore the sketch out of my book and placed it in Jamila's eager hands. She showed if off to the other ladies with pride, who muttered maşallahs at me in appreciation. Jamila and I exchanged a series of thank yous, in both English and Turkish, and I headed back to the car with Pedro.
"Where are you going?" The young man asked. "Don't you want to see the tower?"
"No, I'm sorry, but we need to leave."
"But, you need to see the tower! Just come with me, I will show it to you."
"No, thank you." I firmly replied, climbing into the car.
"Well, I took you here. You should pay me for that!" He suddenly became the harasser, who he assured us he would protect us from.
"Remember, you promised me." I reminded him with a wag of my finger. He then spun around, jumped on his motorbike, and angrily sped away. I looked back at Jamila and the others, who were happily chatting away, inspecting the sketch. It made me feel better.