(This article was first published on December 11, 2009 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
On a corner across from the Turkish prime minister’s grand residence lays the humble shed of what drives Ankara’s society: its taksiciler, or taxi drivers.
Like many big cities, Turkey’s capital depends on a mammoth fleet of taxis. Cars and gas are too costly for most citizens, which increases the demand for taxis. Hundreds of small taxi companies, each with their own taxi sheds or shacks, compete. Some are large, like those at airports. Most are just big enough for a card table and a few drivers.
“It’s kind of like being in a frat house,” says Jeff Turner, an American who spent several years in Turkey as a child and returned this year as a student researcher.
Inside the taxi stand near Turner’s corner, four drivers slammed down cards on a table in a complex card game. Downing several cups of tea each and sharing a cigarette or two, they laughed and chatted with each other through the night shift.
Turner says the taxi stands are often a strategic place for neighborhood information.
“They just sit there all day long,” Turner says. “They see who comes and who goes.”
Turner likened the taxi stands to a neighborhood water cooler. After disposing of several wine bottles near the taxi stand after a party, Turner was surprised but not offended when the taxi drivers asked whether he was, indeed, a tea-totaler as he’d earlier claimed.
Taxi receipts are neither constant nor plentiful, and overnight shifts can come away with less than 10 Turkish lira, or about $7. Customers are not always sympathetic.
“They bust their ass for very little,” adds Turner.
Ibrahim Corekci, 23, has owned his own taxi for five years. Corekci’s father drove for 40 years before quitting in 2006.
“I wanted to work,” says Corekci, a high school graduate. “If I could have gone to an American university, that would be different.”
Corekci works nearly 12 hours a day, seven days a week, except for major religious holidays.
“The money gets worse the longer you do this job,” Corecki says.
Still, Corecki said that he loves his job. His dream job, he said, would be working in the U.S. or for the Turkish government, the most competitive job market in Turkey. With no advanced degrees, Corekci’s realization of either dream is unlikely.
With not nearly enough jobs to support Europe’s youngest population, Turkey’s unemployment rate has climbed to 10.9 percent. Many college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
Corekci grabs a wet rag and swipes his cab for 25 minutes at a time, several times a day.
“There are a lot of jobs here that wouldn’t be jobs in the U.S.,” Turner says. “And Turks take pride in the work.”
Although Corekci is unmarried, both his parents are alive, and he has three older sisters who have given him five nephews and four nieces. Corekci and the other drivers all say that their family is their top motivation.
“Family is more important than anything, it’s the world to me,” Corekci says. “I learned everything from my family.”
Corekci wanted to make sure Americans knew these feelings. After being asked what else he’d want to share, he said this:
“First, I say ‘Hello’ to them all,” Corekci says. “Then, come to Turkey, and call me for a taxi.”
Turner, our translator, shoots back, “But Ibrahim, there are 350 million people in the U.S.!”
“So what, let them come. I’ll take them all,” Corekci counters.
Cars and trucks blow up dust as they caravan their way into a barren valley on the city’s edge. A cow groans while chained to a post. Nearby is a field soaked in blood. Sheepskins and various organs lie in piles, a few heads that haven’t been tossed stare up into the sky.
It’s Kurban Bayram, the Sacrifice Holiday. Eid al-Adha in Arabic, it is the 4-day climax of the Islamic calendar. Muslims congregate in Mecca as part of the yearly pilgrimage (known as Hajj) during this time.
Observed on November 27 (the date moves back 10 days each year), the holiday celebrates the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael (Isaac in Christianity and Judaism). According to scripture, Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son for God. As Abraham was about to follow through, God ordered him, instead, to sacrifice a lamb.
On the first day, Muslim families with enough money remember Abraham’s obedience by slaughtering livestock.
“It’s going to be like a big pig roast,” joked American Hugh Turner to friends accompanying him to the kesim yerine, the cutting spot. Unlike the others, Turner spent some of his childhood in Turkey and knew what to expect.
At first glance, the holiday seems far from festive. Men walked with six-inch blades, their hands covered in blood. Pens of crowded sheep sat across from plastic tents, where some soon found themselves skinned. But Kurban is more than the first day’s gruesome sight.
“As a child, I always remember Bayram as a happy time,” said 45-year-old Ilhan Unlu.
Unlu’s memories included his parents giving him the traditional set of new clothes for Bayram while his family would come together.
Entire families like Unlu’s take part in the slaughter. Men cut the neck of the blindfolded offering while repeating the required prayer. Burly village women picked up axes to cut the meat on bloody stumps. Young boys and girls moved troughs of water and plastic bags to help their parents clear the waste and pack the meat.
The meat is traditionally divided into three parts: one for the poor, one for visiting friends and relatives, and one for the owner. The skins are donated, many to the Turkish Airforce to make leather jackets.
“Every part must be used for God,” said Sezari Ozgul who collected sheepskin scraps for the poor, “Nothing can be used for evil [to make a profit].”
On the way back into the city, our taxi driver stopped at a student cafeteria turned butchery. Inside, racks of meat hung from the ceiling as families carried their kill in oversized shopping bags to be chopped into cuts. Teenage boys wearing yellow slickers and boots pushed wheel barrels filled with guts and poured them into a garbage truck. Some of the meat was cooked on site and given out.
“The sharing of food levels the playing field,” said Ozden Alp, a female fitness instructor, “In the past, this was the only way. Today, you can give directly to charities.”
With the price of livestock on the rise, more are giving to charities that include care for veterans, cancer research, and refugee aid from Palestine to Turkmens in China. For many however, tradition still dominates.
“Normally, I give to charity,” said 35-year-old Mertan Korkmaz with a blood spotted chin, “But my mother is here, and she wants this.”
As Turkey becomes more urbanized, more debate how Turkey should regulate the practice. Some even ask if the practice should continue at all. In earlier years, sacrifices were made in backyards, roadsides, and in city center gatherings.
“Kurban Bayram is a rule in Islam, and it’s not going to disappear,” said the stylishly dressed Alp, “The problem is when people don’t have enough knowledge to do it safely.”
Today, most cities regulate sacrifices to approved areas for health and safety purposes.
“The city laws make it easier for us,” agreed Korkmaz, “It’s much safer now.”
At the end of the day, only a few hundred sheep remained alive in the field from what must have been nearly a thousand in the morning. People left dirty and tired, but ready for the next three days of feasting with family and friends.
Before leaving, I asked Korkmaz if he ever felt bad for the sheep.
“Yes. Always,” he replied.
(For complete pictures from the day, visit the “Kurban Bayrami” photoset in the Photo Gallery. WARNING: Graphic Content.)
Last week, I celebrated Thanksgiving not once, but twice. With Plymouth rock over 5,000 miles away, my expectations for Thanksgiving in Turkey were low. Not many Turks know much about the holiday, if they know of it at all.
“It’s the day when you sacrifice a Turkey, right?” said one of my conversation students.
Ironically enough, this year’s Thanksgiving happened the day before Kurban Bayrami, the Sacrifice Holiday. For Muslims, it’s a day when they sacrifice livestock, usually a goat, to remember the sacrifice of Abraham (More on this later).
Returning to Thanksgiving, the first dinner took place at the university in Kayseri. Maria Iskenderoglu, an American married to a Turk, invited myself and several other Americans and Turks to her house for a traditional thanksgiving. I contributed apples for two delicious apple pies (another food I didn’t expect to have much of while in Turkey).
It was indeed a very traditional Thanksgiving: at least 15 people trying to cramming themselves into a small dining area, Turkey and gravy being passed every which way, cranberry sauce and cornbread on the table, and there was even a “pin the hat on the Turkey” game which the adults found more amusing than the kids.
After the meal, my friend David passed around a story, “How the Turkey got it’s name.” It told the story of a professor who sought out name’s origins. According to the story, a smaller and more delicious bird lived in Turkey called the “chulluk.” The bird was popular in England well before the discovery of America. When the colonists arrived, they mistook America’s bird as a relative of the “chulluk.” Turkeys are known as “Hindi” here because, at the time, people believed Columbus had landed in India.
Five days later on November 26, I found myself at another American gathering in Ankara. Together, with other Fulbrighters and their Turkish friends, we celebrated another traditional thanksgiving. The living room was a bit bigger for this one though! At the table, we each went around and said three things that we were thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Although only celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving is a holiday that easily crosses over. In my conversation classes last week, I explained the traditions behind Thanksgiving: the ideal of coming together with family, sharing a huge meal, and being thankful that everyone is still around. Many asked me if the holiday had a religious connotation. I said the holiday is adopted by many of the religions in the U.S. as a day to celebrate, but the holiday is a national one. Whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, etc, Thanksgiving is a holiday you can celebrate. All that’s needed is food and good company.
Once introduced, Thanksgiving seems to be a holiday that everyone can appreciate, especially if you ask Orhan Iskenderoglu.
“I have an idiom for Thanksgiving,” said Orhan, “I wish it could be Thanksgiving everyday.”
One of the most common sounds heard throughout Turkey is the Islamic “Call to Prayer.” The video here is from an apartment window in Ankara. The sound is played along with the time relapsed video of the rising moon.
Although Turkey is a secular nation that separates religion and government, it’s population is still 95-98% Muslim according to recent statistics. For this reason, mosques are found everywhere in Turkey with at least one in every village, town, and city. The mosques are strictly regulated by the state in a number of ways including payment for the Imams.
(This article was first published on October 12, 2009 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
At 11 p.m. Saturday night, the bar is full of 20-somethings drinking, talking, flirting. One young couple steals a kiss at their table of 20 while an Amy Winehouse song booms through the air. Bartenders rush to keep up with the crowded house, sliding glasses topped with foam to their takers.
The decor is posh. From the stylish designer threads of the patrons to the sleek LCD TVs broadcasting videos of Aerosmith and Madonna, we could be in Greenwich Village. But this is Ankara, the capital city of Turkey.
When I told friends and family I would Study Abroad in Turkey, I heard the words “too dangerous” and was warned of Al Qaeda. I was often asked about running water or Internet access. Very few understood Turkey’s rank among the 20 largest economies in the world.
Turkey is a complex country — one that can’t be boxed into any particular image.
In downtown Ankara, women and men dress in tight-fitting Polo and Lacoste shirts, or trendy button-downs with their curve-hugging jeans, as they pass Levis, Starbucks or chic hair styling salons.
Mammoth malls are filled with American and European brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West and Sephora. In Ankara, a dry and mountainous city devoid of much natural beauty, these malls are major recreation centers. Some offer movie theaters, bowling, arcades and outdoor amusement parks. One mall offers ice-skating in the winter.
“People like to hang out in these malls, even though they may never buy anything,” said Ankara resident Caglar Yurtseven, watching dozens of Turks relax in big leather arm chairs at the mall.
Many of these behemoth shopping centers, spurred by major economic growth and the rise of a new Turkish middle class, rose up over the past 10 years since the completion of Ankara’s first Mall in 1999. Since then, 16 other malls have risen, turning city outskirts into prime real estate where projects as tall as 20 stories have been built or are under construction.
The city doesn’t slow down at night. On weekends, bars and cafes spill out on the sidewalk. Walking down the trendy Tunali Caddesi, or Tunali Avenue, Turks and foreign visitors relax in late night cafes and pastry shops, sports bars, disco bars, oldies bars and dance clubs for the young and old. The city has one gay bar, too, near Tunali.
You can’t stereotype Turkey as an Islamic country akin to neighbors Syria, Iraq or Iran. But it’s not identical to its European counterparts, either. As many cosmopolitan residents there are, others adopt a more traditional and religious approach. In Ankara, one-third of women wear hijab, or headscarves. Sometimes it’s religious, sometimes political, often traditional, and sometimes a little of all. Many Westerners don’t know that wearing a headscarf is banned by Turkish law in Turkish universities. Some Turkish women come to the United States to study in the freedom of wearing their headscarf to class.
Many Turks say they fear the growing presence of religion will undermine secular Turkey, while others describe it as a benign migration of a new middle class into the cities from more conservative villages.
Back in the bar appropriately named Random, Turkey’s political and cultural conflicts seem worlds away amid the laughter of the diverse students drinking together. Here, Turkey’s youth relish the cool breeze gently blowing through the beer garden covered in green ivy. In a country where the average age is 25, the youngest in Europe, Turkey seems poised for more growth.
(This article was first published on September 28, 2009 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
As twilight turned to night, roads that 20 minutes earlier were choked with impatient cars in twisted gridlock became calm. Congested sidewalks emptied, and a scattered few now meandered down the streets. The call to prayer echoed through the neighborhood. Allah-hu-akbar … It was time for iftar in Balgat, a neighborhood in Ankara, Turkey.
Muslims worldwide fasted 30 days for Ramadan, their holiest season. Devout Muslims will abstain not only from food and water during daylight hours, but other items like cigarettes will not touch their lips. Life for many Turkish residents, even if they aren’t practicing Muslims, revolves around the sundown dinners, called iftar, where observant Muslims break the daylong fast.
Imagine celebrating a mini-Thanksgiving dinner every night for 40 days, or so it seems to me. During Ramadan, observers rotate invitations to their families or friends. Even I, a stranger, attended at least 15 different iftars, some large, some small, some formal, some not.
“It’s the best time to invite people to your home,” said Mehmet Canpolat, “It’s a time for sharing dinner, sharing life.”
I had iftar several times with Mehmet, his wife Malek, their 4-year-old daughter and their spirited 10-year-old son, who always asked if I was fasting. After I said no, he replied proudly that I didn’t have the muscle because I wasn’t Muslim.
Iftars with the family were usually simple. Mehmet would watch TV, waiting for the signal broadcast on Turkish stations that it was time eat. Dates, the traditional fruit the prophet Muhammed used to break his fast, lay on the table with large bowls of soup, plenty of fresh bread, salad and a main course. After dinner, the family and I would settle in the parlor for dessert, tea and plenty of fruit.
Iftars at home include families or neighbors, but restaurants serve iftar, as well. Ranging from city-funded free dinners for the poor in tents to meals at Turkey’s high-end restaurants, groups flooded eateries that lay mostly empty during the day. In Balgat, it took three tries before finding a restaurant with one lonely table amid a feverishly hungry crowd that the wait staff scrambled to serve.
Like Christmas in the West, Turkey’s capitalistic markets have taken advantage of seasonal Ramadan. Cell phone companies, clothing retailers and others advertise special sales for Ramadan and Bayram, the holiday ending the month of fasting. Restaurants and supermarkets publicize special meal deals.
“The important thing is not iftars,” Zeynel Oz told me over Turkish tea at his home. “What’s important is fasting, not iftars.”
Practicing and more devout Muslims like Zeynel and Mehmet are not always happy with Turkey’s commercialization of the holiday. Zeynel scoffed when I referred to the Bayram holidays as Seker Bayram (Sugar Holidays). In Turkey, traditions have emerged where children go door to door looking for candy treats from neighbors and family. Just like the U.S. during Halloween, candy retailers push Seker Bayram festivities.
Discipline is the real lesson of Ramadan, according to Mehmet and Zeynel.
“All humans want everything,” said Zeynel. “But God says, ‘No, not everything.’ ”
Mehmet grew up in Istanbul and started fasting in university. Like Zeynel, he sees it as an opportunity to cleanse the spirit and discipline the body.
“The main point is a whole behavioral change,” Mehmet said. “You must be a good man, woman, kid — whatever you are.”
These ideals are the ones that Mehmet and his wife Malek admired the most. They agreed that during Ramadan, many try to live up to these ideals.
Some in Turkey worry about the growing popularity and religiosity during Ramadan as a harbinger of fundamentalist expansion. The secular government allows minority voices on both ends of its political spectrum, but continues to uphold its constitution.
Zeynel prays during Ramadan that conflicts can be reconciled and people will respect each other. When asked about an Islamist takeover, Zeynel said he doesn’t want to force his religious views on anyone.
“The fundamentalists are a problem, and they cause issues for more modern religious people,” said Zeynel. “The Koran tells me to be modern … I don’t see modernity and religion as opposing forces. They are in the same glass.”
Living in Turkey for the last two months, I’ve gotten used to seeing a lot of construction oddities. There is a lot less regulation, which sometimes also means a lot less planning when it comes to construction. For example, last month, thruway tunnels that were built under Ankara’s heavily used Ataturk Boulevard to reduce traffic were in danger of being closed. Why? Safety reasons, no. Paperwork, yes. It turned out the tunnels were built before all authorizations went through, and the mayor of Cankaya (a borough in Ankara), was threatening to close the tunnels in his district. It was all a political move, and public opinion for keeping the tunnels open has held out in the end. But still, because the construction happened without all the permits, the threat is there.
However, it’s not just the occasional road work obstacle that crops up. When I moved to my second apartment in Ankara, one of the first things I noticed was a shining, glistening, modern skyscraper at the end of Üğür Mumcu Cadessi, the trendy boulevard near my apartment. I said to myself, “Wow, this is a perfect example of Turkey’s rapid development. This skyscraper is the perfect image.” Little did I know how perfect it was as a few days later, I learned from my British expat friend that the building is a twenty year-old incomplete debacle.
The bottom of the building is still gutted, and the building appears hollow inside.
According to my friend, the group or groups overseeing the construction kept running out of money sporadically, so the construction has been in spurts. According to him, nothing has been going on for at least a few years. Meanwhile, a huge crane continues to sit precariously at the top. Thankfully, Ankara is not an earthquake zone!
So, yes it is true that Turkey has seen major development during the last ten years including immaculate new malls, tall high rises, and more, but at the same time a number of construction projects around lie stalled, or worse. This is just another one of Turkey’s forgotten buildings, and this week’s Friday find.
If you’ve been reading the blog or visiting the photo gallery during the past forty days, you’ve probably seen the words Iftar and Bayram come up more than a few times. I apologize in advance that I’ve only gotten to writing about Ramadan for the blog now, five days after the its end. Part of the reason is that I was kept very busy during Ramadan, and the other reason is I’m holding back on what I have written until next week when it might be published with Global Post, an online international news source. (A new job I haven’t talked about also, but I promise I will soon.)
However, there are a number of things about Ramadan in Turkey, that won’t be in next week’s article. So without further ado, here is a little Ramadan 101 for those who know little about the season or how its practiced in Turkey.
Ramadan is the forty day period in the lunar calendar when all Muslims engage in ritual fasting during the day from
food and drink. It’s one of the pillars of Islam, and therefore mandatory for all practicing Muslims. Early in the morning before sunrise, Muslims will wake up to eat a meal called Suhor, and at sundown, families get together to break their fast with another meal known as Iftar. All over the world, Muslims traditionally break their fast with a date or olive because according to their scripture, it was also the practice of their Prophet Mohammed. Why forty days? The number is chosen because Moses and Jesus also fasted for that amount before beginning their spiritual work. Turkey is reportedly 95-99 percent Muslim, so any visitor who knows nothing else about Turkey besides this statistic would probably expect to see a dramatic change in atmosphere.
WRONG! Turkey, unlike most of its homogeneous Muslim neighbors to the South and East, hardly shuts down for Ramadan. In large cities like Ankara, I only encountered two small food shanties that were closed during the day for Ramadan. Likely, the owners were from the outskirts of Ankara where Islamic conservatism is much more prevalent. Instead, cafes, restaurants, and bars remained open and popular, particularly at night when everyone could eat.
The difference between Ramadan in Turkey and most other countries in the Middle East is one that exemplifies one of Turkey’s most interesting traits: the diversity of its Muslim community. Turkey’s uniform identity is deceiving because its diversity of Muslims runs the gamut from fundamentalist to those who no longer practice their family religion. Just as in the US, the vocal minorities on both ends often garner most of the attention while many of the nation’s residents lie somewhere in the vast middle. Again, like the US, the different communities can be somewhat regionally separated with more conservative Muslims living in the South East while the most liberal convictions lie on the Western and European shores. Big cities like Ankara and Istanbul are incredibly modern and secular, but do have their fair share of conservative communities, particularly with the rise of a new, more religious middle class migrating there. (Something that I’ll continue to cover as I move to one of Turkey’s newly developed cities, Kayseri, a city with a reputation for Islamic conservatism.) Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the growing gap between the richest and poorest in Turkey continues to feed violent and fundamentalist groups in Turkey’s poorest villages. However, the same reports say that the situation has improved vastly in the last ten to fifteen years.
In any case, the fact that Turkey is filled with this diversity makes Ramadan an incredibly interesting affair. Life does change during the season with huge traffic delays on major city roads during the half hour leading up to Iftar when many are rushing home. Even those who are less devout, find Iftar dinners the thing to do during the month. Ofcourse, once the sun goes down and the call to prayer echoes across the city from Ankara’s many mosques, the streets usually become deserted. It’s a great time for a walk if you’re not starved for food.
“It’s the best opportunity to invite people to your home,” my host Mehmet said to me when I asked him what he thought of Iftar dinners. He was right, and in Turkey, you’ll see groups everywhere eating together. Families, friends, acquaintances, or total strangers like me are invited out to these sometimes elaborate, but always huge, dinners. During the last forty days, I shared dinner with many new friends. Mehmet reminded me that along with the discipline Ramadan teaches you, it’s also a time to remind each other about being hospitable to your community.
“By coming together, the children learn,” said Mehmet, “(It’s about) sharing time, sharing dinner, sharing life.”
However, communal rituals do not end with Iftars. In Turkey, Ramadan is capped off in a uniquely Turkish way. During three days after fasting (national holidays in Turkey), most Turks visit relatives’ homes, pay respects to their deceased family, and of course, indulge the children in a tradition known as Şeker Bayram (Sugar Holidays). Traditions of buying new outfits and handing out candy and pocket money reign during the holiday. Think of Christmas crossed with a costume-less Halloween and you have an idea of what the bayram looks like in Turkey. Everywhere I went, I saw people dressed to the nines in new suits and dresses going from house to house (reportedly, children often knock on neighbor’s doors for candy).
On the last day of Bayram, I was invited by my friend Özgür to a picnic with his and his fiancee’s families. First, we drove out to one edge of Ankara to pick up his fiancee and her family, and in two, small, packed, four cylinder cars, we drove to the opposite end of the city for a picnic, and then tea and dessert at Özgür’s family’s home. It was an excellent way to finish the Ramadan season in Turkey.
Of course, Ramadan is more than just big feasts. Some of the more religious people I spoke to felt that commercialism has invaded what is supposed to be a season of refraining from extravagances and indulgences, and emphasize self-restraint instead. “It’s about disciplining behavior,” said Mehmet, “The main point is a whole behavioral change.”
However, if you just looked in any mall or at any billboard, you’d think its a time to make money too. Merchants entice people into buying more with special Ramadan and Bayram specials. I found the entire relationship similar to our own culture’s relationship with Christmas where a sacred religious season is also a financial moneymaker that puts most department and toy stores in the black for the first time.
In all cases, Ramadan in Turkey has been a great experience, except for the occasional time I’ve felt guilty for eating on the street in front of people who might be fasting. During Ramadan, I met a number of new Turks, alongside sharing dinner with friends I already knew. Ramadan festivals organized by the city offered sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good concerts and dance shows throughout the forty days. I shared hours and hours with friends, new and old, and many times found myself welcomed into the houses of complete strangers, some who had much to give and others who did a lot with the little they had. Adapting a few words from Andy Williams, “It was the most wonderful time of the year.”
I’m kicking off what I hope will be a regular Friday post, “The Friday Find!” Since arriving in Turkey, I’ve stumbled upon a number of surprises, quirks, funny signs, and other interesting segments of Turkey that do not necessarily need a full blown article.
For example, I never expected to find a Popeye’s in Turkey, never mind the fact that you’ll find them in nearly every big city mall. A lot of these finds may have absolutely nothing to do with Turkish culture or have any significant value, but hey, it’s Friday. Let the miscellany begin!
When I switched locations for my Turkish classes, I began walking by a huge McDonald’s with advertisements in Turkish for the McDonald’s Breakfast all over its windows. I’m not a big fast food person, but I am a die hard Mickey D’s breakfast supporter. So after walking by images of Pancakes, “Donut”, and the Big Breakfast, I had to give it a go.
After ordering, I was asked by the cashier to go sit down. I thought, “Why…it should only take a few minutes for my hotcakes to come out?” But a few minutes later, I actually noticed them cracking an egg and whisking in the kitchen. Suddenly, I knew I was in for more than the average McDonald’s hotcake.
So, here I was waiting at in a Turkish McDonalds for my hotcakes, hash brown, and tea to be brought to my table by the staff. Only in Turkey! And that’s today’s delicious Friday Find.
As I mentioned when I first arrived, my friend Mehmet and his family have opened their home and their hearts to me for nearly two months now. Unfortunately, my time in their home is up. Today, I will be leaving to house-sit for a British diplomat living elsewhere in the city during the next month.
I’ve mentioned a few times already that being hospitable to guests is among the highest of virtues for many Turks. As a yabanci (yah-bahn-ji) or foreigner, many Turks have gone far out of their way to help me. I’ve had Turks take me to locations personally when I was lost, even if they were heading in the opposite direction. (See Map Quest post) In Antalya last week, a man and his wife asked me to sit down and have a drink with them after only a few minutes of conversation while standing on a ledge by the Mediterranean. Not only have my Turkish friends who studied in Boston brought me to dinner or invited me to see their homes or cities, but friends of those friends have called me, out of the blue, offering any help or assistance. In fact, I’ll be staying at one of those friends of friend’s apartments this weekend while in Istanbul.
However, none of the hospitality I’ve been given in the last two months can compare to the hospitality shown by Mehmet and his family. From the first day, Mehmet and Malek, along with their children Sezer and Zeynep, have done anything they could to help me adjust to living in Turkey. Mehmet has constantly looked out for me, and I really appreciated the numerous times he has gone out of his way to help me. For example, he went along with with me on the hour long dolmus ride on my first day and walked to my class building so I couldn’t get lost, even though this journey meant he would be late for work and have to come home later that day. Mehmet, the CFO for Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), already spends long hours at work, often leaving home at around 9:30am and not coming home until 7 or 8pm, and sometimes even later.
Moreover, I would not be so healthy and well off had it not been for Malek making sure my belly was always full. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the meals she prepared for me in the photo gallery under “Good Eats in Turkey.” Malek, an artist in the kitchen, went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that I was always fed. One night, I came home very late around 10 or 11pm. I had a small dinner earlier, but of course, Malek said I needed to eat something, and after what only seemed like seconds, she came out with a piping hot dolma stuffed with rice and vegetables.
As for Sezer and Zeynep, they have been incredibly understanding of my “intrusion” into their space. I haven’t mentioned this, but I’m currently staying in Sezer’s usual room. Don’t worry, Sezer isn’t sleeping on the couch. There is a third room, a bit smaller, but still a room with a bed and all the other basic necessities. As for my adjustment to them, I grew up an only child so living with an 8 and a 4 year-old has been distracting occasionally, sometimes overwhelming, and on some days, made me want to pull my hair out. But more often than not, they made me smile and gave me plenty of good reasons to procrastinate from this blog including letting Sezer show me his Grand Theft Auto car collection or giving Zeynep a free ride on my shoulders.
I’ve grown incredibly fond of Mehmet and his family. They’ve done more than I would ever ask, including laundry. They’ve trusted me with their home, I’ve house-sitted for almost a combined two weeks when Mehmet and his family have been out of town. We’ve shared a lot of time together, from grilling in the park, to playing basketball, to sitting down and watching American movies like “Office Space,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Sgt. Bilko,” and “Hitch.” The only thing I’ve been asked in return is to help Sezer with his English, which I’ve been more than happy to do.
I’ll never forget the time I’ve spent on the seventh floor of 15 Zuhtu Tigrel, behind door #20. It’s reminded me of the importance of one of our greatest virtues, giving. In a world moving so fast and where so many of us are caught up in our individual wants and needs, we sometimes forget about how good it feels to help out our fellow man.