Most observant Muslims will fast every day during the month of Ramadan. Salih tells me if a person is not able to fast - for health reasons or otherwise, he/she is obligated to feed three meals to a poor person each day. He expands on this: it should be someone in his own family, and if not that, someone in the neighborhood. And there is no needy person close by, it can be someone in Konya or the rest of the country. And if not that, it can be a Christian or a Jew. I’m paraphrasing but that’s the idea. Salih believes that all relgions are the same. However....
In Konya most people fast during Ramadan. The Turkish workers digging ditches are fasting in the heat. As well as the women who work in the kitchens. The idea is that you don’t eat, drink, have sex, and I don’t know what else - during daylight hours. People rise at 3 am and have a large meal before sunrise. The next meal is at sunset.
I was tired and wasn’t inclined to go but wanted to meet Salih’s wife and children. The idea was that we would have a picnic in a park where the whole family would break their feast. His three boys, Ahmet 13 (barely looks 10), Furkan (8 think) and little Abdullah who’s five - are not obligated to fast but they all do to one degree or another. Little Abdullah boasts that he only ate two things all day. The other two boys are in full fast.
Anyway Salih showed up with his wife and three cherubs packed in the back seat of this taxi, and offered me the front seat. The boys are truly adorable. Very cute, smart, curious, wonderful kids. They are completely open. His wife Şefriye is covered. Her hair is covered and she wears long sleeves - almost a full coat - in the heat of August. She’s mostly quiet - even though I can sense that she and Salih have great respect and love for each other. I hesitate to address her by name since her name is very close to another word in Turkish - şehriye - which means macaroni. It’s just too easy.
We arrived at a large park - many other families had gathered there. Salih made a coal fire (there are pits everywhere) and produced large amounts of meat. Turkish meatballs (köfte) and kebabs on skewers. Şefriye laid newspaper down on the picnic table and set down condiments, salads and fruit. She poured coke and fanta for everyone. All the food was laid out, the drinks were poured, but no one touched anything. The kids, especially the little one, were slightly impatient but good humored. They ran to the fountain nearby - where Salih had told them to put the whole watermelon to cool - and they splashed and ran about. The middle child, Furkan, was more subdued. They all sort of regarded me in a kind of awe - this foreign creature that their father really talked up or whatever. Furkan stayed with me. He had his father’s fancy phone - maybe an iphone. He’s fascinated by technology and loves playing with that phone. He showed me photos and set a timer to count down to eating time. Today sundown was 8:10. Furkan gave us a minute by minute count-down and everything had to be timed exactly right. At 8:10 we heard the call to prayer, Şerife offered a few words of prayer herself, and all the families all around the park began to eat.
Salih says that western people - especially secularists - think his lot are monsters. He says, they think we’re monsters, but look at us. We’re just ordinary people. They’re the ones who are monsters. They’re brainwashed, they can’t seem to be able to think any other way.
It saddened me. I felt sort of like a spy. I felt sad that these beautiful boys were living in this indoctrination - yet it’s peaceful and loving and, in many ways, fulfilling. He has a happy family life. His kids are happy. His wife seems content and confident in her faith. After dinner she went off to pray. Salih and I drank tea. The three boys attend Koran school during the summer holiday. The older boy also takes English class. His father boasts: Ahmet is learning American English. I say really, as opposed to English English? They both say yes and then Ahmet adds: I learn American English in summer school but when I go back to regular school, I learn normal English.
The middle kid now plays music on the iphone; an islamic/pop mix with heavy religious lyrics - he sings with it off-key. I glance down at the newspaper covering the table and there is full page ad about the evils of Darwinism - that Darwinism is a sham. Someone just went and invented it.
Salih is very glad I came. He tells me several times how happy it made him that I accepted his invitation.
The thing is, I really like Salih. He and I are friends and I’ve developed true affection for him. And I fell in love with his boys. Furkan who, as the middle child, doesn’t get much attention but is thoughtful and attentive. He was my companion the whole evening. Ahmet, who, now a teenager and is trying to be more independent, is perhaps a bit rebellious (his parents worry about this.) When his father tells him to talk to me in English he smiles and blushes. I help him out: What is the color of my shirt. Hello how are you. He answers and is pleased with himself. He knows the days of the week. And the little one, five year old Abdullah, he’s the one who truly grabbed my heart. He’s afraid of dogs but there is a street dog lying on the grass not far from us. Abdullah wants to throw food at him, which his father allows. He and I approach the animal and toss the bone. It’s a largish but calm dog. He eats it and lies back down. Abdullah is shrieking with delight! Do you see that? Let’s do it again! Eventually we’re able to get near enough to the dog that Abdullah gets to touch him. I’m a bit uneasy because - of course - it’s not a good idea to approach strange dogs, especially street dogs. But Salih reassures me: he says the town gathers up all the street dogs and treats them and vaccinates them before releasing them. I say, when I was child, they used to poison street dogs - which was the fate of one of my family’s favorite pet, Tommy. Salih says that doesn’t happen anymore.