Today I’d like to tell you a story. This story came to me while riding the 10 hour bus between Goreme and Istanbul. It came to me because of something I had seen that afternoon. You see, earlier that day I had been taking my leave of the beautiful Cappadocia region, by sitting on a high 360 degree overlook in town. It was warm and sunny and I had laid out my jacket to sit cross-legged on. Lost in my own thoughts, I heard footsteps behind me. I was surprised to see a large black dog coming down the path. From past experience, I am somewhat wary of large dirty stray dogs; but this dog didn’t seem to want anything to do with me, and promptly flopped over in the dirt a few paces behind me. Clearly, just like me, he wanted to enjoy the sun and the view. I went back to my reflections.
Shortly before noon the call to prayer began to ring out across the town. By now I had grown accustomed to the call. But then the dog began to howl! He howled when the prayer rang out, stopped when it did, and began again when it did. This continued for the full five minutes of the call. I was astonished. A dog who prayed? What could his story be?
On the bus that evening, with plenty of time for reflection ahead of me, I again thought about the mutt. This is the story I’ve given him:
Once upon a time there was a little black puppy born in a small mountain town. There was nothing remarkable in this, stray dogs and cats are born in small mountain towns every day. The puppy, too, did not think anything of it. He was born in the spring time and for the first months of his life he enjoyed the warm weather, the generous tourists, and the comfort of sleeping curled up with his mother and brother. As time progressed the season turned from warm to cold. The tourists were fewer and less generous. Then one night he returned to the tree his family liked to sleep under and his mother was not there. The little black puppy was surprised and sad. His brother stayed at the tree to wait for his mother to come back, but the little black puppy went to look for her. That was the last time he saw his brother.
Now it was cold, and the little black puppy was all alone. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to sleep curled around the familiar tree, but in the winter, without the shared warmth of his family, it was cold and unpleasant. So the puppy tried to find a new home. He wandered up and up and up in the mountains. Eventually he found some caves. They were not warm, but they sheltered the puppy from the wind, so he crawled inside and went to sleep.
When he woke up in the morning the puppy realized that the cave walls were all painted with people stuff. People with gold rings around their heads, and people with hands out stretched. The puppy was confused, usually people shooed him away from their people stuff, but he didn’t see or smell any people in these caves. Maybe the people didn’t use these caves anymore, he decided, and anyway it was nice and warm and he would stay here. And this is how he passed the winter. During the day he would look for food, or his mother, or his brother; and at night he would sleep in the cave- which was actually an ancient church cave.
The puppy supposed things were OK, after he was warm and safe, but he was very sad and lonely. There were few animals in the hills, but no dogs, and no people. There was only the cave, and the wind, and the scrubby dry winter trees, oh and one other thing. Sometimes there was a people song. A chanting, calling, that would ring out from everywhere and nowhere. It would ring out across the mountains several times a day. No matter where the puppy was, even deep in his cave, he would hear the singing. Though the puppy didn’t know it, this was the people’s call to prayer, coming from the mosque in town.
Something made the puppy want to sing with the chanting, maybe it was a feeling that his ancestors used to sing. They used to sing together to celebrate their togetherness; and they used to sing alone to find others, or just to cry out at their loneliness. So every time the puppy heard the voices, he would sing with them. Long mournful howls that lamented his loneliness and tried to find connection with the mysterious aerial voices.
All through the winter the puppy grew and sang. Eventually spring came again and he was no longer such a small puppy. One day he crept out of his cave, and saw people on his hill. The farmers had returned to till the earth and care for their plants. He was surprised to see them, but they did not care about seeing him so he left them alone. They WERE surprised, though, when they heard the puppy praying with the call to prayer. Because of this they thought the puppy was cute and funny and left him their lunch scraps. When the people had left for the day, the puppy happily enjoyed the bits of bread they had left behind.
This continued as the days grew warmer and the plants grew. Then one night the puppy saw some strange little animals in the people’s fields. They were eating the plants in the field. That is not good, thought the puppy. He liked the people, and he liked seeing them each day. If the plants died the puppy worried that maybe the people would stop coming to his hill. So he ran into the fields and chased away all the critters.
In the morning, the people came to the fields and realized what the puppy had done. They cheered him happily. That day they decided it was time to leave a sentry in the field for the rest of the season. The sentry and the dog sat all night and watched the fields. The sentry was so happy to have company with the puppy that he shared his whole dinner with him, even some cheese and meat. The puppy was happy for the food, but he was even happier to sit with the man by his fire.
For the rest of the season the puppy would rest and watch the people work the fields during the day, and defend against critters with a sentry at night. Eventually though, the air started to get cold and the puppy watched the farmers take in the harvest. He knew that soon it would be very cold and he would be alone in is cave again. The puppy was very sad about this, and his daily howls became more mournful.
Then, one day the farmer’s work was done. There was nothing left to guard, and no sentry to leave. The puppy sat at the top of his hill and watched the farmers trudge down the road. He wished he could go with the people, but he didn’t know that people and dogs sometimes lived together. One young farmer, the first sentry the puppy sat with, stopped and turned around to look at the puppy. “Well, come on then.” he said and gestured with his hand that the puppy should follow. “You’ve earned it. Its too cold for you to stay up here alone.”
Could it be true? The person want the puppy to come with him! With a happy bark the fuzzy little puppy, now a big black dog, bounded after his people. And from that day forward he stayed with them in their homes in the winter, and guarded their fields in the summer. And every day, where ever he was, whatever he was doing, he could be heard to howl and sing along with the village call to prayers.