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Touched by a Small Kindness
Jan 1, 2013

When a professor of Turkish language and literature is met by Turkish hospitality during a short stopover, she realizes how much the world is in need of small

I was sitting at my desk, listening to professor Adalet’s lecture on Turkish morphology. It’s was my third year in the undergraduate program and I loved my major; Turkish language and literature. The university I attended, though a modest one, was the best of the state universities in my country, Albania.

Adalet Hodja—that’s how we, her students, addressed her in Turkish—was a lovely lady, passionate in teaching, and proud of her Turkish heritage. From the first day she came to our country, she traveled to all major cities photographing everything unusual that caught her eye. She was most fond of the Ottoman prints in architecture, cuisine, cultural customs and the Albanian language.

To make her lectures enjoyable, she used to season them with interesting anecdotes from daily life or with jokes from Nasreddin Hodja— a funny Turkish folkloric figure, also well known by Albanians. Even at times, she used to relate delicious recipes from south eastern Turkey where she came from.

That day, the long discourse on how the words in Turkish have changed forms from past to present was about to lull us into sleep when Professor Adalet, very wisely, dropped the topic and started relating to us something special that had happened to her.

“Years ago, we were traveling from Erzurum, an eastern city where my in-laws live, to Bolu, a cute city in the Black Sea region where my husband and I worked as instructors at Abant University. My husband was driving, and I was trying, as hard as I possibly could, to keep our three children entertained. It was a hot summer day, and traveling crammed inside a small car wasn’t the best way to spend it. The children were getting hungry, so I proposed a break. Judging by the road signs, the closest city where we could find a decent restaurant was two hours away, and since my children were growing impatient, we decided to stop at the first çeşme (a water fountain by the road).”

“In Turkey, such water fountains are built by philanthropists,” Adalet hodja explained.. This made sense, considering even a cup of coffee is cherished for 40 years in Turkey, so building a water fountain to satisfy the thirst of people was a greater, more cherishable deed.

“Not long after that, we saw a çeşme by the side of the road. A big oak tree nearby was shading the flow of water, a vast field was covered in clovers, three cows were grazing, and a white stucco house was gleaming under the sun at a distance… What could be more inviting?

We got out of our car and after washing our hands with cold water, we sat down on clovers under the tree, feeling refreshed.”

Adalet hodja took a deep breath with unmatched pleasure, as if she was extracting the air of that summer day from wherever it was stored in space and time.

“I was about to lay out the picnic table cloth and the food we had taken for the trip, when I noticed a woman hurrying toward us from the white house. Her dress, her headscarf tied from behind, her sunburned face, all spelled local.

“We felt a little uneasy sitting on a property without asking first, so I readied myself to apologize. When the woman got closer, we noticed that she was carrying a tray covered with a clean white cloth.

“‘Welcome!’ she said with sheer delight before I could mutter my apologies, and then handed the tray to me in slightly embarrassed manner.

‘We would like to invite you in,’ she said pointing to the white house, ‘but my husband and his brothers are painting the house today.’

“‘Please, forgive us;’ she said timidly. You are Tanri misafiri (a guest sent by God), and I wish we could have properly accommodated you. Please pardon us,’ she said apologetically and left the tray in my hands kindly wishing us to enjoy our meal.

“I thanked her in return in the way most pleasing way, saying ‘Allah razi olsun,’ may God be pleased with you.

“I opened the tray to discover fresh baked pita bread, still warm and plump, and juicy white grapes.”

Our teacher swallowed hard to keep the tears but I was pretty sure she must have wept then, holding that tray.

“I swear to God,” she concluded, “only food from paradise would have tasted that good.”

She looked at her watch and declared the class dismissed. I looked around and saw that my classmates were deeply impressed with her story as well.

Generosity and hospitality were prevalent, highly esteemed values among Albanians, too. We were happy to see that small acts of kindness were appreciated elsewhere. It is after listening to such stories that you say to yourself: “With good people around, the world is a nice place to be.”