"Would you like to come to the Turkish-Syrian border with me?" I asked my friend Sophie T. a few weeks ago. "It's very hot and there's not much to see."
"Sounds great!" she replied, and a few days later she had booked her flight. That's a proper hack for you.
It was only when we arrived here that I realised I had completely undersold the trip. There is lots to see - ancient monasteries, cave cities, carved stone mansions - not surprising given that we're in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation (Dan has started making a cradling movement whenever I say this). But when I planned my journey, I was so focused on the things I needed to find out for my novel that I somehow forgot about the sight-seeing aspect. One of the main items on my list was the practice of "kitlama", or drinking tea through a special rock-hard sugarlump (there shouldn't be a dot on the i but I couldn't find the right letter on my keyboard).
By the end of the trip, Sophie T. knew more about kitlama than she ever wanted to find out.
Amazingly, she never once complained that we were spending our time traipsing through tiny, crammed dried-goods shops, miming "tea-drinking" and "sugarlump" to shop owners, being met each and every time with puzzled looks at first, then contemplative head-scratching, then bing!, an expression of "Ha, I know what you mean!" The shop owner would reach up, rummage through tins and boxes, turn to us with a proud smile and hold out a cardboard box of...ordinary sugar cubes.
And we would shake our heads and mime biting on a hard sugarlump.
"Hmmm," the shop owner would finally sigh in a moment of sad understanding. "They only have those in Van."
That didn't stop us from trying again in the next town, hoping that at some point we might run into a shopkeeper from Van.
We also staged a few experiments to test different types of sugar. Here is Sophie T. trying to use a normal sugar cube for kitlama, with mixed results.