>Turkey: Taking a Cup of Kindness


Via ferries through the Greek Isles, I crossed into Turkey.  After arriving in late afternoon my plan was simply to have dinner and then catch an overnight bus on to Cappadochia (Kap-uh-doe-key-ah)  The buses in Turkey are fabulous, by the way.  They are frequently made by Mercedes-Benz and usually include airplane seating and a steward who comes around with free coffee, water, tea and snacks.  But none of that matters, if you do not actually get on the bus.  I should mention that I didn’t know when the last bus left and I don’t wear a watch.
Dinner was a leisurely affair, chatting with the friendly waitstaff between mouthfuls of Mousaka, a delicious eggplant dish.  Finally though, I figured I should head to the bus station.  Upon paying the bill though, one of the waiters asked if I would like a cup of tea, on the house.
I began to refuse.
Then I remembered a time in Egypt when a man in a mud hut outside of some ruins offered tea to me and a friend.  We declined, I suppose because we had better things to do.  But really, what harm could have come from a cup of tea?  A few days later, I regreted it.

So to my waiter, I paused and then said, “Sure!”  and when he insisted on a  second cup, I accepted that too.  A cup of tea is such a small thing, but my waiter seemed happy to be able to do this for me.
Eventually I made it to the bus station only to find that I had in fact, missed the last bus to Cappadochia.  The ticketing agent upon seeing my face at the prospect of paying for an expensive hotel in this posh resort town on the sea, offered to let me sleep on the couch in the backroom of the ticketing office for a few hours until the first bus of the morning left.  My sleeping quarters were secure, private and even had free internet and water, which is better than some hostels I have stayed in.  I also got to hang out with the ticketing agent, exchanging English and Turkish lessons. So in total, I lost a few hours in Cappadochia but gained a safe place to sleep, a Turkish lesson, and two cups of tea.
Cappadochia was amazing and something that everyone who visits Turkey should make the trek to see.  Part of its alien landscape was even used in the filming of star wars.

From Cappadochia, I traveled on to Istanbul.  So often in international affairs do we speak of dichotomies that to discuss Turkey in terms of East meeting West seems almost trite.  But it can not really go unsaid either.  Arriving in Istanbul by bus, I glanced out the window crossing a bridge over the Bosphorus to see a small yellow sign that read, “Welcome to Europe.”  It is a strange thought when looking at a skyline marked not by skyscrapers but instead with the minarets of mosques poking into the slight haze that covers the city.
The food as well seems to be a fusion of flavors pulled from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, that have combined to form a cuisine that is uniquely Turkish.  Try a bite of mousaka, cheese borek or Iskander kebab to understand what I mean.

This is cheese borek:

A friend also remarked that Turkish people seem to make more time for their families, that doing things together is more of a priority.  I noticed that this was indeed true, but not just limited to families.  They seem to make time for everyone, families, friends and strangers alike.  I had more than one shopkeeper or cafe worker continue to talk to me after the sale was made, simply because they were genuinely interested in who I was, what I was going to see in the city, or just wanted to chat about the weather.
Besides missing my bus to Cappadochia, I endured another other travel mishap in Turkey.  Upon leaving Turkey, I missed my flight, for no other reason than my own folly.  Now a few times during my travels so far, people have asked me if I find it difficult traveling alone.  When I missed my flight and was stressed, exhausted and travel worn, at this instance, my mind briefly drifted to the thought that, ” No! I can’t do this by myself!”
. . . but only for a moment.
As it happened, at the airport I ran into a friend that I had made the day before, a British pilot.  We had toured the Blue Mosque,

the Basilica Cistern,

and the Hagia Sophia.

My pilot friend was able to put me up for a few days until I was able to get my travel plans back on track.
In the United States, we tend to glorify this idea of independence, the lone soul on the frontier, busy people rushing about intent on their personal agendas.  Indeed, I have found that travelers are a breed with a particularly independent disposition.  When you are traveling you get so used to saying “No” to people; people offering taxis, souvenirs, hotels, restaurants, anything–even help with directions.  We become so used to thinking “No, I can do it on my own,” that sometimes we forget to say “Yes.”
As I reflected upon my adventures in Turkey, on July 4th (Independence Day, no less) I began to think that perhaps there is a middle ground in this dichotomy, that one need neither to be entirely independent or entirely dependent, but to be able to recognize when to say “yes.”  In the instances I mentioned, missing my bus to Cappadochia and my flight, the moment I accepted help and accepted kindness from others, my mood changed from sour and irritable back into the happy, lighthearted traveler I really am.
My best advice to travellers in the Middle East or anywhere in the world really, is this:  If someone has the kindness to offer you a cup of tea . . . take it.
-Marie DeAeth, World Affairs Council, Intern Abroad