Written by Michael Benanav and Benjamin Raßbach

Photographs by Michael Benanav

Video by Cat Cannon

 

Introduction

 

Long ago, as legend has it, there lived a poor shepherd named Munzur who tended the flocks of a wealthy tribal chief, or agha. One day, Munzur went to the agha’s wife to tell her that her husband was hungry and wanted something sweet to eat. If she would be so kind as to make a batch of helva, Munzur said, he would carry it to his master.

 
 

The woman was puzzled. You see, she and the shepherd were in eastern Turkey, in the mountainous region of Dersim – where this story is told – and her husband happened to be on pilgrimage to Mecca. Since this was long before the invention of mobile phones – or even land lines – there was no way that Munzur could have known what the agha might have wanted, and delivering it would have been equally impossible. 

 
 

“Perhaps he wants the sweets for himself,” the agha’s wife thought, so she made the helva anyway and gave it to the shepherd. In an instant, Munzur was in Mecca, standing before his master. Stunned at the sight of his sheep herder, the agha asked, “What are you doing here? And how did you get here?” 

 
 

Munzur handed the platter he was holding to the agha and said, “You wanted helva, didn’t you? Here you go. Your wife just made it.” The agha was struck speechless. Before he regained mastery of his tongue, Munzur was gone. It was too preposterous to be true, but as soon as the agha took a bite of the helva, he knew he hadn’t been dreaming, for he instantly recognized the distinctive taste of his wife’s cooking.

 
 

When the agha returned home, many people came to greet him, hoping to kiss the hand of the man who had been to Mecca. Munzur went too, carrying a pail of milk he had just collected. Upon seeing Munzur approach, the agha pointed at him and declared, “This is the man whose hand must be kissed!” 

 
 

Munzur was shy by nature, and as the crowd of people, led by the agha, came toward him, he fled into the mountains. As he ran, milk sloshed out of his pail, and where it splattered to the ground, water began flowing out of the earth.