I wake up in Diyarbakir. Monday morning. I have a message request on Facebook from Halit Halit: “Привет” – the Russian/Bulgarian (probably Slavic in general) for “Hello“. Who is this guy and how did he find me? Doesn’t matter right now, “Good Morning” I answer. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. Thanks. Where are you today?“, he responds. What’s the harm in answering? People in this part of Turkey are pretty friendly, so I tell him I am in Diyarbakir, but going to Mardin in an hour or so.
“Do you visit me?”
“Do you live in Mardin?”
I’ll spare you the details, but we agreed to meet in Mardin in the early afternoon. His profile is almost empty, bar a few profile picture changes and a message under one of the pictures in Russian. If you’re thinking something bad will happen in this story – I apologize for leading you on. All will be good.
Mardin is a city protected by UNESCO. No new buildings are allowed in its old parts and the façade has remained the same for hundreds of years. On a steep slope near the Tigris River, its stone houses are a magnificent view to behold.
I arrive in Mardin in the heat of the day at around 12:30 and head to an Airbnb. I have decided to spend the night in a traditional stone house, at least 1000 years old.
The stone used and the building technology allows the dwellings to be warm in winter and cool in summer. And that’s not a lie, because the moment I walk in I feel some relief from the scorch outside.
I’m starving and the old lady, whose house it is, offers lunch. It’s very delicious and waaay too much even for a hungry traveler.
It’s almost time, so I head out to meet Halit. Walking the main street is pleasant in the shade and unbearable in the open. It’s about 2 miles long from side to side. Near the main square, I meet Halit.
“Hey, it’s so nice to meet you!”
“Nice to meet you too!”
This was the extent of his English. He immediately asked me where I was from followed by what languages I speak as a Bulgarian. I shyly say Bulgarian and English. 200 words of Turkish count for nothing.
“I don’t speak Russian, I am afraid.”
His heart sank. We didn’t speak for 3 minutes. Then he said something in Russian, I don’t remember what, but I understood it and responded with “Харашо“, “Good“.
It is then, that he lit up, emphatically started speaking in Russian, waving his hands around.
“Ти гавариш Руский?”, “You speak Russian?”
I don’t. But it’s similar to Bulgarian, so I explained to him that I understand this and that.
Turns out Halit is a Kurd. He went to Moldova, Ukraine, and Romania in 2018 and loved the trip. He couldn’t visit Russia due to visa requirements, but he picked some Russian in these three countries.
Apparently, not many foreigners visit Mardin. It’s more of a destination for internal tourism, although I would recommend it as a day trip along with Midyat if you’re in the area – Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbekir, or Mount Nemrut.
It’s easy to get to – it’s a regional city and buses between it and the adjacent regions take between one and two hours.
Halit frequently checks Couchsurfing for travelers who’ve created public trips to his region. That’s me, I did that.
He messaged me because he thought I could speak Russian and he would be able to practice.
But you know what really gives his hospitality away? He took the day off from work, just so he could come to Mardin (he’s from Kızıltepe, half an hour away) and meet with me.
We went around Old Mardin together and had coffee and ice cream. Very nice guy, let me tell you that! Next time you’re in Mardin or the surrounding area – watch out! Hospitable people everywhere!