Part of traveling slow is the opportunity to really know a people. To see how they live and to make friends. Turkey has been wonderful for this. Our preference usually has been to live where people live, not just where tourists visit. So our 1+ month stay in Turkey started with a few days in the Old Town – Sultanahmet. We hit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar, among others. But after a few days, we moved uptown to Eyüp. We are still within the Istanbul borders, and on a convenient bus line, but we are no where close to walking distance to the “sights.” Instead, we walk to the local bakery who sells amazing bread and slices it for us after the baker helps us struggle through making our requests in what little Turkish we have learned. We also walk down 131 steep steps to the main street that runs alongside the haliç, their word for estuary. Here we visit with the butcher, who teaches us to make köfte with the help of google translate and lots of pantomiming. And we visit the owner of the café who taught Syarra and I how to best enjoy our tomato, cucumber, and onion salad (with a bit of salt and a drizzle of olive oil).
And everywhere we go, people smile at us and speak kindly to us and go out of their way to help us. This week Carver took two AP exams. For much of the year, he worked very hard in both macroeconomics and statistics to learn college-level material. My job was to find a place for him to actually take the exam. Not many places offer both exams and fit our travel schedule but we found a school in Gökturk, Turkey that met all the requirements. Our new apartment was near a bus line that went directly there. Bonus was the AP coordinator at the school who took extra time out of her week to show us around and make us feel comfortable about how exam days would go. She also invited both kids to come spend a day at the school this coming week to see what a Turkish school is like and to play with other kids their own ages.
Yesterday, our airbnb host invited us to his niece’s birthday party, which was today – she is turning 9. They live about an hour’s drive away so he picked us up. As we drove, we listed to Kurdish music and spoke about Turkish politics, travel, and life. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and invited in. Soon, others arrived. Though English was only a second language to most of them, and unknown to some, everyone spoke to us and made sure to include us. They were fascinated by homeschooling, which is illegal and mostly unheard of in Turkey, and I enjoyed learning about their thoughts on education. They were intelligent and thoughtful and made sure we were enjoying ourselves. They also fed us amazing food and kept refilling our plates if we even began to slow down.
The children were just as welcoming. It is hard to communicate with people who speak a different language, but I was proud that all of the kids made the effort. Carver and Syarra joined in and learned a variety of simple games, some matching our games like tug-o-war which they call “the rope game,” and others that were brand new, like “crocodile” where they reuse the rope to make a crocodile mouth that gets wider each time each person in the group tries to jump from one side to the other until only one person is left. And then there were the games of volleyball played without a net that seemed to spring up over and over if more than two people were together. Play seems to be a universal language.
As the house was less than a mile from the black sea, our host detoured to the beach on the way home and let us walk along the shore. In all, a delightful day filled with new experiences and new friends. As we travel, kindness seems to be a common factor amongst all of the people we interact with, but the Turkish people have, on the whole, raised the bar.