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The Freedom of Şalwar: A Story

Letting go when you've already lost control...

sunny 94 °F

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My day begins in a quiet courtyard…

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My travel attitude is flying high this morning. When I hear the knock at the door of the courtyard, I am finishing a pleasant breakfast in a pretty tree-shaded brick courtyard with a small water fountain all surrounded by a garden of colorful flowers. I would like to stay here and relax in this quiet setting, but I am ready. I am excited even though I hate leaving this comfortable setting for the outside heat.

Without many clothes to choose from, I am wearing my quick-dry clothing which respectfully covers my arms and legs in this Muslim country. The pants and shirt are light and do dry quickly, but the synthetic material does not breath and I have heard how harsh the sun is at Ephesus, the famous classical Roman ruins in southern Turkey.

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The iconic Library represents the excavated site of Ephesus in Turkey

My tour to Ephesus…

Scrambling into the mini-van parked in front of my hotel, I am pleased to see the group is small. I am not a fan of tours, but while I was in Istanbul, I arranged for two tours to make the best of my short time in Selçuk. When I realized how big Turkey was, I had to adjust my travel attitude to see as much as possible during my 3 week vacation. Today’s travel plan is a tour is a full-day at Ephesus. The next day I would take a similar tour for just a half day to Pamukkale to see the travertine formations and without returning to Selçuk, catch a bus directly to Fethiye for four days of sailing on a gület along the Aegean coastline.

I look forward to the half-day tour to Pamukkale where the major attraction for me is a chance to go swimming. Today, however, would be walking in the heat among dusty ruins. I nod at some of the other travelers and grab a single seat by the window.

It is early and there is not much conversation. I pull out a book to review some facts about Ephesus. After a few quick stops at various hotels to pick up the remaining people, we are on our way. For awhile, we ride in silence, but once we are well down the road and out of the town, our tour guide starts his introductory talk with “Good morning, so everyone is going to Pamukkale, right?" Without pausing, he says into the microphone, "First we will be stopping for lunch and swimming at a spa."

”How could this have happened…?

What? NO! I raise my hand to get his attention and let him know I am on the wrong bus. Everyone is stretching to look at me as I blurt out that I am supposed to go to Ephesus. The guide just nods and says, “I will talk to you in a few minutes.” then continues summarizing the tour itinerary for the group.

My heart is beating fast as I watch us get further and further down the road. How will this affect my plans tomorrow? I have pre-arranged transport from Pamukkale to Fethiye the next day. How will I get there now? I arranged these tours only because I needed to break up the trip to Fethiye. Selçuk was on the way and everyone said I must see Ephesus. My carefully arranged plans are in a shamble.

On top of it all, I am furious that I am going to Pamukkale without a bathing suit. I love water and have been looking forward to that swim. I barely listen as he continues with the details about our long stop for lunch and a swim that I will not be able to take. And instead of the anticipated half-day tour, it is all day with a late return. My travel attitude has taken a plunge!

Are my plans ruined…?

My frustration and silent anger permeate the small van. I don’t want to affect everyone else’s travel attitude, but does this mean I will have to skip the pre-paid tour to Ephesus? I have to be in Fethiye by tomorrow evening. Already furious that my plans have been ruined, I realize that I cannot even get my money back.

When the tour guide finally comes down the aisle to approach me, he ignores my concerns. I try to tell him how this will affect my travel plans for tomorrow and that I will not even be able to enjoy a large part of the tour since I have no bathing suit in which to swim. Obviously, he is not going to do anything. We are miles out of town and there is nothing I can do either.

I am not happy…

I sit in my seat fuming: angry with the agency that has obviously mixed up my carefully planned itinerary; angry that the longer tour to Ephesus is contrary to the half day plan that would allow me to take a bus to Fethiye in time to board the gület that sets sail in the early morning; and angry that the tour guide does not even seem to care.

As the van continues to hurtle down the road, I barely notice the scenery. My thoughts are a continuousc angry loop. Angrily staring out the window with my arms folded tightly against my chest, the others happily chat around me. I know I need to let it go and improve my traveler’s attitude or the whole day will be ruined, but I cannot. I am further disheartened as we veer away from a village with a small street market onto a private road leading to the spa where we will have lunch and a “refreshing swim”. Yeah, right.
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A quick glimpse of a market from the bus where I am trapped.

When the van stops, we are told we will be here for two hours. We are in front of an overpriced, modern resort that could be anywhere in the world. Based on experience, I can guess that lunch will mostly likely be an attractively displayed buffet of mediocre quality served up to multiple busloads of tourists. My anger flares up again.

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This souvenir stand at Ephesus humorously advertises their genuine fake watches.

I make a decision…

Suddenly, I make a decision. Without hesitating, I swing my bag over my shoulder as the others walk up the steps to the spa entrance and I head back down the dirt road to the village. If I cannot swim, I will at least have a good lunch and see the village. Maybe I can find a place to have spicy köfte (meatballs), an ayran (yogurt drink), juicy ripe tomatoes, oily black olives and good crusty bread instead of bland “continental dishes” with dried edges in warming pans.

Walking helps me release my anger. I am alone on a dirt road walking toward a Turkish village in the hot blinding sun. I start to feel the sense of adventure return. To hell with the tour! I will wander the village and see what I can discover. My steps quicken and my mood is already improving. My traveler’s attitude is back!

Walking along the dusty road in the ruthless sun, it seems like a long way to the village but it only takes about ten minutes to arrive at the outskirts where a small market is set up inside a large tent. I walk through the entrance and I am disappointed to see that it is primarily piles of jeans, plastic containers, children’s toys and miscellaneous household goods.

While traveling in Central America, I often bought small items in the market just so that I could interact with the women and practice my Spanish. Obviously, there is nothing that I would want here and–as just as I have seen in the markets of Instanbul and Şanliurfa—the vendors are all men.

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The small Turkish village mosque near Pammukale

The beautiful ezan calms me…

As I walk out the other end of the tent, I am suddenly distracted. A mid-day call to prayer begins. It seems to float on the air around me. I pause for a moment and close my eyes to let it flow through me. The ezan is not pre-recorded and the local muezzin has a beautiful voice full of poignant passion. As if compelled, I am drawn to join the villagers who are responding to the ezan and cross a dirt plaza to where there is a small, modest mosque.

Just before I get to the mosque, I step aside and I tuck myself against a wall out of the way so that I can watch the men and women walk by. I pull out my camera which is smaller than the palm of my hand. I switch it to video so that I can record the voice floating over the village praising Allah and inviting us to do the same. As the last chanted word drifts over me, I slip my camera back into my pocket.

Women wearing şalwar…

While I am deciding what to do next, on the other side of the plaza I see three women happily walking side by side with their arms companionbly linked. They are laughing and enjoying themselves. As they get closer, I realize that what I thought were long flowered skirts are actually voluminous şalwar (pronounced SHAHL-vahr) the baggy Turkish pants with a loose crotch almost down to the knees. I had planned to buy some in Istanbul, but my days were so packed with activities that I had never found time. Today, I unexpectedly have several hours free. Without a second thought, I approach the women.

I greet them politely in my limited Turkish. They hesitantly greet me back and discreetly look me over while exchanging curious glances with each other. I point at their flowered pants and say, “Şalwar?”. They smile and nod in agreement, repeating şalwar, şalwar. “Şalwar nerede?”, I ask as I point toward their legs and then mine.

They understood immediately that I am asking where I can buy some şalwar. With approving nods and smiles, they turn and point down the road to the other side of the market tent I had walked through earlier. Just beyond the tent, I can see a scattering of vendor stalls shaded by squares of brightly fabric. I thank them and head in that direction.

I go shopping…!

The first group of tables has fabric and clothing, but no şalwar. I look around until I spot a woman whose husband has a table. I approach her with a greeting followed by ‘Şalwar?’ She directs me to the next row. At first it just seems more of the same—stacks of white underwear, knock-off jeans, t-shirts and bundled athletic socks.

Then I spot a rack of flowered clothing. Yes! It is a rack of şalwar, but my excitement falters as I suddenly wonder whether or not I can find a pair to fit me. As an American, I am much larger than the village women. They tend to be shorter and though they appear stout, it is mainly due to the many capacious layers they wear. Even in this heat they wear more than one pair of şalwar and a sweater or two over the other layers.

The saleman isn’t very helpful…

When he sees my hesitation, the male vendor comes over and pulls a few off the rack to offer me. The first pair has huge purple flowers with white centers. Just the right kind to make my butt look huge and shout “look at me!”. I shake my head.

Next, he holds up a garishly pink pair. Their special feature is a tiny patch pocket sewn on one side. He indicates the pocket and says something that I take to be a recommendation of the pocket’s usefulness though its size suggests otherwise. I shake my head again. Sensing I am not going to be an easy sale, he shrugs and returns to folding men’s pants on the nearby table.

I start to look through the other options hanging on the rack. I want the cool comfort of these pants, but the big flowers and clashing color combinations just are not appealing. Then I see a pair I can live with. A tiny flowered print in shades of brown, yellow, gold, with a touch of green on a black background. Dark enough not to draw the wrong kind of attention (to the size of my butt!) and practical for traveling (no visible stains if I sit on a dirty bench). I pull at the elastic waistband. Will they fit me?

I need some girlfriends to give me advice…

Glancing around, I notice a small cluster of women looking me over as they walk by. I hold the chosen şalwar up to my waist. “Evet?”, I ask. They break out into smiles and eagerly walk over to me. I cannot follow what they are saying in words, but it is clear they are eager to help. One is looking at the rack for other possibilities— she waves the pink ones with the pocket at me. She thinks the pocket will be handy for a cell phone.

At the same time, another lady steps out of sight and then quickly returns with a piece of wrinkled newspaper. After placing the paper in the dirt by my feet, she motions for me to stand on the newspaper and try on the şalwar over my own pants. Her thoughfulness touches me.

They all surround me for the sake of modesty as I hop on one foot and then the other to pull the şalwar on over my own pants. Like any woman without a mirror, I look to my girlfriends to advise me. I turn around as they consult with each other and pull at the pants to check the fit. They all agree these will do. I take them off and when I have them in hand, the vendor heads toward me and the women start to move away to continue their own shopping.

I make my purchases…

As they walk away, I quickly ask them how much the şalwar should cost. In low tones, they tell me the anticipated price and the absolute maximum I should pay and then cheerily call hoşçakal (goodbye from those leaving). I respond with güle güle (goodbye when staying) and thank them. Then I quickly bargain with the vendor for the recommended price. Score!

After my purchase is finished, it is time to rejoin the tour group. I cut back through the market tent to avoid walking in the searing sun. While passing a table, a display of scarves catches my eye. Not long gauzy fashion scarves, but the practical square scarves the village women who helped me had been wearing to cover their hair. I stop to look and quickly find one that compliments my şalwar —a large square of pale brown bordered with yellow, orange, and white flowers with green leaves. There is also a pretty crocheted edging of yellow, brown, green, and white. No bargaining necessary, it is mine for a few cents.

Rejoining the tour…

I arrive back at the spa just in time to catch the bus. The chatter has a grumbling tone to it. Apparently, almost half the tour group did not even go swimming because the water was very muddy and unattractive. Those that did swim say it was too warm to be enjoyable. And as expected, there was an abundance of food, but it was disappointing. No one is very happy…except me.

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The terraces of Pammukale in Turkey

Experiencing freedom at Pamukkale…

Later at Pamukkale, I find a restroom and change into my new baggy pants. They are much cooler than my quick-dry pants that are light, but synthetic and hot. I remove the long-sleeved quick-dry shirt I am wearing which is already soaked from sweat. I fold the big square scarf to use as a shawl over my sleeveless top for modesty.

As I step back outside, the breeze that did not penetrate my traveler’s clothes cools me. My rayon challis şalwar softly move with the breeze, the low crotch an effective airway. I love them instantly. I feel free and relaxed like the paragliders flying overhead. My worries about schedules and plans evaporate just like the layer of sweat on my skin thanks to my new şalwar… and my temporary village girlfriends who took me shopping.
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Posted by jaytravels 20:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey

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