29 June, 2010

Hopa: Chance company

There was really no need to worry. Crossing back to Turkiye was even easier than entering Georgia. Just walk, show your passport a couple of times. Done.

Standing in line at passport control, a motorcyclist with long, curly black locks tied into a ponytail started up a conversation. Where are you headed? How will you get there? His name was Yusuf, a street musician from Istanbul, and he offered me a ride as far as Hopa.

Just outside Hopa we pulled off the road. At a seaside shack people were milling about drinking and tending low fires. Yusuf said he was stopping to see his friends for a while, and invited me to join in. Next thing i knew someone handed me grilled chicken in bread. A glass of wine. "This," Yusuf said, motioning to seven or eight young men around two improvised grills, "is - everybody." One by one i learned their names and the reason for this gathering.


During the semester, my roommate Oğuz was taking a Turkish folkdance class. For a solid week i heard "Ella ella, metsz ella", a Karadeniz tune from folk-rocker Kazim Koyuncu. I even half-learned the dance steps. Now, i found myself surrounded by Kazim's family and friends. On the fifth anniversary of his death they gathered in memory. And it was a party fitting for his memory.

One by one i learned their names: Başar was a friend, a general surgeon working near Ararat. Niyazi was Kazim's younger brother. There was Evrim, Sinan, Kazim's elder brother Huseyin, and so many others. The names mingled in a swirl of campfire smoke and cigarettes. About the time i was sipping the raki someone forced into my hand Başar pulled out a bağlama and Niyazi and Yusuf traded the guitar around. Perhaps forty people gathered as the music began, folk tunes popular in socialist circles (here as in America). Someone brought out a tulum - the Black Sea goatskin bagpipe - and soon a circle of dancers formed. Then the rain hit, and thirty or so people crammed into a tiny shack, drunk, laughing, singing at the top of their lungs.