Dinner with the Yavuz family in Konya

One of my favorite experiences when visiting new places is dining with the locals at their homes. Thanks to The Atlantic Institute and Hizmat or the Gulan movement, the Yavuz family invite me and my fellow travelers from Atlanta for a traditional Turkish dinner. They lived in a modern flat in a posh residential area of Konya. Located in the central Anatolia region of Turkey, Konya attracts visitors to Dervish school and tomb of the famous poet, Rumi.

We were greeted by Ahmet (father), Munire (mother), Seyma (daughter) and Neskihan (daughter). Ahmet has a grain business and spends most of his time overseeing his farms outside the city. His wife, Munire is a homemaker and an amazing cook (as we were to find out that evening), and his daughters are educated and ambitious young women.

Turkish host family in Konya

As we walked into the small but comfortable living room, neatly decorated with crystals and leather furniture, we couldn’t help but notice a grand setup prepared for us. On the floor of the living area was a round table with cushions spread around. Carefully set china and silverware were laid out, suggesting a multiple-course feast about to unfold.

Traditional Turkish dinner

We went around the room introducing ourselves to our host, Mr Ahmet, who was a little conscious about his English, but always smiled in agreement. It was nice to have a few bilingual diners with us, including his daughters who spoke English fluently. When he found out that I was a food critic, he alerted his wife and told her to “up her game.” Then he started addressing me as “Miss gourmand.”

It wasn’t long before we were served a variety of freshly baked breads, stuffed with meat and cheese, and topped with black cumin seeds. Munire had painstakingly prepared, Gozleme, a speciality layered flatbread of this region. This giant pizza shaped platter was devoured within a matter of seconds.

Turkish stuffed bread

Next came Ezogelin Çorbası (aka bride’s soup), the famous red lentil soup served at every Turkish dinner. Light and flavorful, the staple soup has a delicate lemon and mint flavors.

red lentil soup

The family outdid themselves when they brought out a whole roasted lamb in our honor. It was served with bulgar rice pilaf, stuffed bell peppers, green beans, fruits and more.

Turkish lamb & rice

When there was no more room in our bellies, we had to get a bite of the honey dipped shredded wheat called Kunefe (Künefe) along with Turkish tea. And as if the lavish dinner prepared for complete strangers was not enough, the family gifted each of us a goody bag to take home. I received a wall hanging with Rumi’s sayings and a box of sweets. We also gave them some tokens of appreciation we had brought from the US.

I was extremely moved by the generosity of our Turkish host family and the amount of effort they put to give us a dinner experience. They did it solely out of their good heart, to be good citizen diplomats, and keep on living the mission of Hizmat.

host family5Click here to read more about my travels to Turkey.

Whirling Dervishes of Konya

On my recent visit to Turkey with The Atlantic Institute, I had the opportunity to learn about America’s favorite poet, Rumi. I visited Rumi’s tomb and museum in Konya, heard his philosophies at the Mevlana University, chatted with a real life dervish, and attended a whirling dervishes performance at the cultural center in Konya.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273) was born to Persian parents in a village which is now located in modern day Afghanistan. Rumi’s poetry spread across Persian countries and influenced literature and lanugages such as Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi.

Rumi’s father, Baha’ ud-Din, was a world renowned scholar who later became the head of a madrassa (religious school). After this death, 25 year old Rumi inherited his position as the Islamic molvi. Rumi practiced Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din, became an Islamic Jurist, issuing fatwas and giving sermons in the mosques of Konya. He also served as a Molvi (Islamic teacher) and taught his adherents in the madrassa.

Rumi was buried in Konya, Turkey, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultan Walad founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the Sama ceremony. Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form.

dervish1

The Mevlâna Museum in Konya, was once a dervish lodge where students and teachers lived and practiced the Mevlevi Order. New students had to sit in stillness for 3 days while they were tempted by the sounds and smells of the kitchen. Once they passed this test, there was another 1001 days of training, followed by 40 days of testing, before one qualified as a Dervish. At the museum, one can visit the Dervish quarters, see their costumes and other memorabilia, and get a sense of the life they led.

dervish training

The Dervishes wear a long white robe symbolizing shrouds of ego. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black cloak is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. The tall camel’s hair conical felt hat (called sikke) literally translates to “tying down an animal” or controlling animal instincts and letting go of feelings. They whirl from right to left because, they believe God lives in the heart (which is on the left side) and one should never loose the connectivity. There are no strict regulations or techniques in whirling, although you would typically see the right arm up reaching out to the sky ready to receive blessing, and the left hand directed toward earth, keeping him grounded. Once the Dervishes start, they just allow their bodies to let go and take whatever form it likes.

whirling dervishes

Just outside the premises are what appear to be souvenir shops, but many are craftsmen working with felt, silk, pottery and more. I walked to the second floor of Kece Sanat Evi felt art house, owned by a real life Dervish. Jalaluddin started his practice at the age of 6, as everyone in his family did. He went on to study Whirling in Istanbul and Bulgaria, mostly for himself. Now, he practices on certain religious days, at home when he feels like, or even sitting down.

Jalaluddin real life dervish

“The electrons, moon, galaxy, entire universe is whirling, and when we whirl, we become attuned to our surroundings”, says Jalaluddin. He described the experience mediation-like, where he looses track of time or control over his body. It is an expression of feeling thankfulness for everything around you and to God. The main belief of the Order is to not question creativity and your reason for existence, but appreciate what’s around you. This is sought Through abandoning one’s ego or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, the Dervish aims to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal.

With the foundation of the modern, secular Republic of TurkeyMustafa Kemal Atatürk removed religion from the sphere of public policy and restricted it exclusively to that of personal morals, behavior and faith. On 13 December 1925, a law was passed closing all the tekkes (or tekeyh) (dervish lodges) and zāwiyas (chief dervish lodges), but now Whirling Dervishes are seen as a cultural tradition and allowed to practice only for the sake of music and dance.

In Konya, there is a free performance every Saturday evening at the Konya Cultural Center, which is worth attending. Watch the video below…