This afternoon when I was snapping photographs of all the activity prior to VP Joe Biden’s arrival in Istanbul, I was approached by five adorable young students who had been sent on a school assignment. Their mission: to find a foreign visitor and ask them a series of questions about their impressions of Turkey, its people and its culture. What did I find interesting about it? What were my thoughts about the Turkish people? Did I find them helpful? Hospitable? What made me decide to come to Turkey? Were there similarities our cultures shared? And of course, what were my thoughts about the recent Istanbul bombing – would I come back to Turkey? And the last question and an interestingly worded one: how important did I think being reliable was? When pressed the kids had a difficult time articulating exactly what it was that they meant but I think they were asking if I found Turks to be dependable in both word and deed. And the answer would be yes. They go out of their way to do so.
It was a delightful experience and I am really glad that they approached me instead of one of the other obvious foreigners wandering around the square. It wasn’t hard to list all the things I love about this country. Being on the receiving end of the warmth and grace of Turkey’s people has been a profound experience. Their careful approach and attention to detail, and their desire to proudly show you their culture while being so mindful of your comfort level as a visitor seems to at times be carried out with painstaking levels of care and concern. I feel I’ve made real friends in each area I’ve traveled to, and when these individuals tell me that if I need any assistance, or if I have any trouble, or need anything at all to please just ask, I am certain that they really mean it! I’ve had phone numbers jotted down on business cards and backs of matchbooks and napkins. I’ve been served wonderful spur of the moment meals, had Turkish Delight stuffed (literally) into my mouth in rapid succession by enthusiastic sweet lovers, sipped endless cups of tea and coffee (and not only when I’m in a shop) and enjoyed countless conversations on street corners, in cafes, in taxis and on the metro and tram. Everybody wants to talk! Everyone is curious about where you’re from, why you’re here and if you are enjoying their country.
Turkey is a rich and colorful kaleidoscope of experiences, relationships and memories just waiting to unfold, and it reminds me once again that we human beings are so much more the same than we are different. Extend yourself to connect with others wherever your travels take you. You won’t be sorry – it’s what life’s all about!