10 Days in Istanbul
Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.”
Following my junior year of college, I went on a 10-day study abroad trip to Istanbul, Turkey, mostly because an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain made me obsessed with the ancient city in high school. It was my first time over seas, and my first time in a Muslim country. Growing up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I had never been around anyone but Christians, so the whole trip was a culture shock.
On our last full day in Istanbul, wrapping up what was an amazing adventure, everyone was making a mad dash to find gifts and souvenirs for friends and family back home. Somewhere between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market was an area that sold bulk and wholesale goods, along with prayer beads and other touristy interests.
At the intersection of two small alleyways was a little shop that couldn’t have been bigger than ten feet long and five feet deep, I stood outside while the group went inside. I wanted to take in the sights and sounds of the busy streets while I could and couldn’t do that from inside.
While I stood outside the door, and old man, speaking no English pointed to a rack of beads for one lira, about .75 cents USD. He held one pair up adorned with the likeness of the Turkish flag and said “Turkey!”
Delighted by the man’s kindness I figures, why not. Then a pair with the evil eye, a sort of good luck charm, stuck out and I bought that as well. Soon, he sat me down in front of his shop on a makeshift bench and took a seat beside me. He pulled out a vial of cologne Muslims use to go into the mosque and started rubbing some on my shirt, smiling with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
I smiled, laughed, and thanked him for his kindness as best I could. I tried speaking German to him knowing that some Turks know a decent amount, but not this one. Then I tried what little French I knew, but he didn’t understand a word. He soon called over a fellow shop keeper from across the street who knew a little English and he acted as an intermediary.
When my friends came out of the shop, the owner sat them down on the bench as well. He soon got the translator to take drink orders, getting myself a Turkish coffee, like e very strong espresso with the grounds on the bottom, and my friends glasses of ayran, a bitter yogurt drink popular in Turkey and in the Middle East. He didn’t ask for money or for thanks, just for pictures with us.
He gave me his card, and signed for me to send him the pictures, or so I think he did, and we were on our way. There was no need for the man to sit me down or buy me a drink, nor all of my friends a drink; I bought his goods, he got what he wanted. But he wasn’t xenophobic and he embraced outsiders coming to his store and appreciated the business more than any American establishment I know of, and didn’t care if we could communicate to any degree. Just simple generosity.
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