The sky turned that pale, washed-out colour that it gets just before sunset, and the metallic rattle of storefront shutters closing signaled that it would soon be time for iftar. People rushed home for the much anticipated meal that would break their daily fast. During the month of Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkish, many Muslims rise early to eat a meal before the sun rises, then fast, often without a drop of water, until the first call to prayer after sunset. In Konya, we watched restaurants fill up with hungry patrons who sat patiently at their tables, refusing a nibble of table bread until the azan was sounded.
While wandering through the empty alleyways of Şanlıurfa's bazaar, we came across a few remaining shopkeepers and tailors, who took a moment to entertain themselves by engaging in a friendly conversation with us. They were kind to compliment my terribly broken Turkish, and regretted that they could not offer us a çay until iftar— but what were our dinner plans? As we did not want to impose, and had had a craving for a certain ciğer dürüm the moment we knew we were going to revisit Urfa, we declined their generous invitations to join them for iftar.
Then we met Muhamet.
I've been slightly obsessed with obtaining a set of mırra cups since the last time I was in Urfa in April. Mırra is a thick, bitter coffee drunk in the Şanlıurfa/Mardin region, and is served in tiny handleless cups. Not of the elegant Turkish coffee variety, the mırra cups I sought are thick and tough, with a crude red and cobalt design on them. They are very cute.
It was not an easy task to find these cups in an abandoned bazaar, but when we came across a little makeshift café, I thought I'd ask for advice from the çaycı, who was busy hosing down the pavement in front of his shop. He was Muhamet, slender and stubborn, absolutely refusing to accept a no to his warm invitation to the iftar he had planned for that night. He told me not to worry about the mırra cups, he could sell me some of his, then he unfurled a large pink carpet onto the wet stone with great ceremony.
"Otur!" He commanded with a grin, and we kicked off our shoes and took a seat on the carpet. Within moments, a motley group began to trickle in, men in their twenties, men with silver in their beards, and a young orphan who lived on the street. We were introduced to them with excitement by Muhamet, and received words of welcome and warm smiles in return. What never fails to amaze me is how conversations can happen without a common tongue (or without fluency in each other's language)— having the little bit of Turkish that I do does help a lot, but when people want to connect with each other, they will.
Muhamet carefully laid down newspaper for our table, while lahmacun from a nearby bakery was distributed amongst us. I was given a handful of nuts, and Pedro was offered a tin bowl of dark, cola-like liquid, which was explained to be a sweet beverage made from a root— a Ramadan specialty. At the first note of the azan, there was a sigh of relief, and the feast began with an air of gratitude.
I have enjoyed many a lahmacun in my life, but this was the best I have ever had.
When the time came for us to head back to our home for the night, Muhamet leapt up from a card game and motioned for us to follow him. From a shelf in his shop, he pulled out two mırra cups, and wrapped them in newspaper. When I offered to pay him, he put his hand on his heart, and gently bowed his head with a smile.
From time to time throughout the trip, I would carefully unwrap the cups and hold them in my hands, studying every detail of their surfaces. Now, back at home, I take them out of the cupboard periodically to remember that even though at times it seems that the world has gone mad, there are kind and generous hearts out there.