On the Kindness of Strangers in the Back Streets of Bergama

Walking through the old part of town in Bergama is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. When heading back from the Acropolis we decided to take the scenic route and explore the little streets between the cable car to Pergamum and the hostel, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit.

Cats and dogs roam free, as does the occasional chicken. This rooster apparently did not really appreciate having his photo taken.

Tractors prove to be a viable alternative to cars and motorbikes – and wives ride on the back!

Narrow staircases lead to more laneways, and all the streets are cobblestoned. Rather than having gutters along the sides, they have a groove in the middle for water to run down. Men at work call out to you to take their photo, and then pose so you can get a decent shot. Strangers greet you with ‘merhaba’ [hello] and ‘hoş geldiniz’ [welcome] and a big smile, men and women both. Colourfully painted houses in various states of repair line the street, and old cast-iron doors may be painted a vivid blue or turquoise. Away from the noise of the street, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

As we were walking down one street, a group of children appeared and chased us, shouting out, at first, hello. When we stopped briefly to respond, they started calling out something in Turkish that I couldn’t understand, waving their arms for us to come with them. After a moment’s hesitation we followed them back to the house they’d appeared from, and an old woman bustled out with two big metal bowls filled with rice and vegetables, with some very spicy chillies on the top, pressing a bowl and spoon into each of our hands. We were given no chance to refuse! After repeating ‘teşekkür ederim’ [thank you] a number of times we tucked in – and it was delicious. We managed to somehow work out that they’d just finished lunch when the older woman had spied us through the window, and sent her grandchildren out to bring us back for food. While she’d masterminded the plan, and greeted us with a big grin, she didn’t speak any English and was a little shy of us at first.

Once we’d finished our meal, the kids wanted us to take pictures of them and we happily obliged. After we showed the kids the photos, their mothers appeared to look too, and the old woman and her friend. They were so excited it was unbelievable! Through a mixture of their ten English words and my very little Turkish we managed to work out that they had rarely if ever seen photographs of their children. The mothers promptly arranged the kids into their families and asked us to take photos of each family. Everytime we showed them the pictures on the back of the camera, the grins split their faces. They were so happy and it was catching – how could we not be having fun?

The older woman was very hesitant to have her photo taken. She loved looking at the ones of the kids, and her daughters were trying to persuade her, but it took Mum asking whether she could have a photo of her to get her to agree. I think she was excited at the thought of having her picture taken and was happy to be asked. She’d never had her picture taken before, and she was very tense – rolling down her sleeves, fixing her headscarf and standing straight-backed against the wall. Her face, when we showed her the photo, just lit up. If only I’d got a picture of her at that moment!

In a mixture of English, Turkish, and the ten-year-old girl’s translations, I managed to explain that we would like to send them copies of the photographs and ask for their address. We thought they’d been excited before! I explained that we wanted to post them the pictures from Australia, Mum offered them a pen and paper, and one of the women grabbed it very enthusiastically and started writing down their addresses. Now all I have to do is make sure that Mum prints off the photos and sends them – I think it will be far more exciting for them to receive a letter from Australia than for me to send it from Turkey. Plus, Mum has some friends who are Turkish and might be able to help her write them a letter to accompany the pictures.

Once we’d left, Mum asked me if this was the kind of experience I often have while traveling. And while things like this don’t happen every day, they do happen. Many times I’ve been surprised by the generosity [and curiosity!] of complete strangers, and this is one of the things I treasure most in my travels. It’s always unexpected, and always appreciated, and it gives you just a little insight into different people and different places. These are the kind of experiences that stick with you – the kind of memories that carve a special place in your heart, and give you a story to tell and a day you won’t forget.

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6 responses to “On the Kindness of Strangers in the Back Streets of Bergama

  1. Thank you very much for your positive comments about us.
    I am from Bergama.
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  2. Oh How lovely!!! They are so cute and that old lady, just precious!! It just reminds you of how much we take for granted in our modern world!!

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