Saturday, June 25, 2005

Captivating Cappadocia

June 24.05 (Goreme, Turkey)

3:15 pm

I wasn’t supposed to still be here. But I am.

So I sit in the shade of grapevines as the quiet is illuminated by the chirp of a swallow, the muted beats of Turkish music wafting up from the valley and the occasional moo of the local cow. I have time to listen because I am sick (food poisoning or the like). We had not planned to bed down in this charming town for so long. But thanks to a little bacteria that first hit Krista then myself, we are getting to savor our setting.

Now for another day I am surrounded by volcanic rock formations more bizarre than lunar landscape. Some rocks host pigeon houses, others are tributes to ancient churches and others are now cave hotels, like ours.

Cappadocia’s curious contours were formed by the eruption of three volcanoes, which are said to date back 15 million years ago. Its first inhabitants pre-date the Hittites who built up the region in 1200 BC, creating elaborate underground cities and rock homes. It later became a center for Christian thought when the Cappadocia siblings (Basil, Gregory and Theadora, who trained her brothers) and Gregory of Nyssa came on the scene in the 5th century. These early Christian scholars were able to integrate the classical system of learning with church theology. They shaped the way the Byzantine Eastern church taught and discussed doctrine. Their influence on the Church of the East parallels that of Augustine’s effect on the West.

In the 5th century churches were built, schools were formed and monasteries became replete. Apparently Cappadocia had a thriving Christian community for almost 1,500 years. I ponder the mysterious disappearance of the Christians in this area. Yesterday Eric and I went on an elaborate search for a church that was still active. Goreme, the winsome town where we have stayed, had a plethora of cave churches. But our quest to find one still in use ended with a declaration that there were no more Christians living here. Where did they go?

My question was interrupted by friends and easier thoughts.

7:45pm

The sun is sliding down the sky and my sickness is slipping away. So, we climb up to the peak to see the fireball’s final descent. Turkish music is still stirring in the air and the beat is too compelling not to dance. The breeze lures me and my scarf around in circles as light flutters down the volcanoe rock formations. I hold the moment close, asking it not to leave me.

11: 20pm

The sky is a black box displaying Venus and Mercury. I am feeling a little weak, but I couldn’t resist letting the night take me where it would. This meant dining on “Mama’s” cooking (we became friends with the owners) and then going with “Papa” to a wedding party. Krista and I were greeted by the groom and then a host who offered us hand sanitizer, cigarettes and candy. We ventured into a back-garden filled with over fifty men, where we would told we could have a pick of any. We chose to simply enjoy the passionate songs of the traditional Turkish singer as we drank tea and chatted with two kind older men. I did discover when the Christians left Cappadocia. Apparently Christians and Muslims lived sided by side up through the Ottoman times, but when Ataturk came to power the Christians disappeared. While the Armenians were being killed in the country (1914-1917), likely these Christians were a part of the half-million person population swap with Greece. A bit of sadness invaded the glory of the night as I was caught between the realities of the generous Turkish hospitality and the realization that a city of churches no longer has Christians living in it. Papa kindly took us back to our cave hotel, but the sounds of our singer followed us. I could still hear his voice and the drums as I fell asleep. The music from the valley mingled with my thoughts. My mind did not wander to the sites we had seen, but the new friends we had made.

In our four days in Goreme we had met stellar people from Brazil to Korea. Among our new friends were Rosie and Bedo, our Turkish tour guides, who exuded a contagious pride in their country and a deep appreciation for Islam. I gained a quick affinity for Bassa, a 26-year-old doctor from South Africa, who had a poetic soul, inquisitive spirit and a passion for truth. Bassa described Allah as greater than any perception – more distant than we can imagine and closer than our jugular vein. His longing to know and live truth was inspiring. We also toured with Victoria and Kate, two Kiwi women who had a gracious persona and an impressive strategy to travel months on end, and dined with Joey and Melinda, Aussies whose love of music and each other was magnetic.

We suspected that we might leave this former Christian center without meeting one follower of Christ, but Jerome’s acquaintance shot down our suspicions. Jerome is a 23-year-old from Singapore with an easy laughter and a near constant smile. He converted from Buddhism to Christianity just four months ago. However, his love of Christ and understanding of struggles and riches of faith was vast. I was wonderfully challenged by his unabashed adoration of my Lord.

As I fell asleep with music and thoughts swirling in my mind and medicine in my body, my heart wasn’t awake enough to muse about what God might be doing in the lives of these new friends and my own. All I knew was that I missed them already and couldn’t help but be grateful for our extended stay in Cappadocia.