My friend Mustafa Onay died today in Izmir, Turkey. I met Mustafa in 2006 during a 10-day whirlwind tour through the country sponsored by the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue. At an evening meal and tour of a local hospital, Mustafa, his wife, and two daughters were a part of the local community who met with our small group of travelers from the Jackson, Mississippi area. At the dinner Mustafa and I hit it off very well – we were the same age, born just a couple of months apart. His daughters Hale and Hatice spoke enough English that we were able to make sense of our conversations. At the end of the evening, we said our good-byes and I assumed that like much of the fast-paced trip, future interactions with the Onays would be restricted to future emails. That evening I commented to my wife Emma how meeting with the Onays had truly been a highlight of the trip thus far.
The next morning we were off for the site of Ephesus. As we headed out of Izmir the bus stopped in a residential neighborhood and the Onay family boarded the bus. I was ecstatic to be able to spend the day with them. Hale brought a Turkish-English dictionary to help with the communication. The trip was most memorable. Besides just visiting Ephesus, two highlights stand out. First, we again shared a meal that allowed for extensive and the conversation. Second, I bought a Qu’ran in the vendor’s market just outside of Ephesus. I had a couple of other copies of the Qu’ran at home, but this one was a more contemporary translation like the difference between the King James and the NRSV editions of the Christian canonical texts. After purchasing the book, Hatice, kissed the cover, very reverently held the Qu’ran to her forehead and then handed me the book.
Since that 24 hours of interaction in 2006, I have not seen the Onays in person. However, we have kept in touch through emails, Facebook, and the occasional package sent back and forth. My Turkish still does not go beyond a few words. Google translate does a poor job with the Turkish language. But the photos of Hale’s wedding, the birth of her child, the Onay’s wedding anniversary, and other life events are easy to understand in pictures and translated phrases – as this morning finding out about Mustafa’s death.
I have reflected often about that 2006 trip to Turkey and what I learned. I wrote some of this up several years ago. Perhaps most important was the sharing of meals and how that experience provided the opportunity for Mustafa and I to form a relationship that continued for nearly a decade. When coming back to the States sharing a meal was something that my wife Emma and I began to see more as an opportunity to bring strangers together. Based on that Turkish experience we invited our Turkish and Mississippi friends in Jackson to our home for dinner. That logic carried through with me my trip to Peru this summer when I invited the local “help” at the archaeological field school to begin sharing the evening meal with the North American field crew.
How does all of this come back to Archaeology, Museums and Outreach? A couple of years ago a professor from my dissertation committee commented to someone that I actually believed that anthropology could be used to better society. That was an interesting comment. I am not quite certain if the comment was meant as “that naïve fool” or of course that is what anthropology is all about. But I have learned from reading things like Mauss’ The Gift, the Spindler Anthropology series, Edward Sapir and Dell Hymes on linguistics, Kent Flannery’s fabulous Oaxaca studies, that we as humans basically do things the same way, have the same needs and wants. I am interested in aggressively breaking down the silos we put ourselves in to keep us apart and from seeing that reality.
Outreach and interdisciplinarity is where the action is at. I thank my friend Mustafa Onay for being a part of that lesson for me.