I have been abroad for the last week and it has been an absolutely amazing experience. 2018 was a grueling year for many reasons, and it has been so great to pull away from the grind of daily life if even for a couple of days.
I am currently in Selcuk, Turkey which is just a few miles away from the ancient city of Ephesus. Earlier this week, we were in Istanbul and it was absolutely awesome. I have eaten my fill of lamb and lentil soup and I’m pretty sure I have gained some ridiculous amount of weight. Whether it be food, culture, climate, or architecture, Turkey has surprised me at every turn.
Before leaving for Turkey, I associated the country with a few key negative buzzwords as well as this statement by the U.S. Department of State:
Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Some areas have increased risk.
They go into more detail on their site, but hopefully, this helps to set the tone of trepidation that set the stage for my visit to Turkey.
Don’t get me wrong, I was plenty excited to visit and to finally travel, but the fear of the unknown and the uneasiness was very apparent.
After nearly a full day of traveling, we landed in Istanbul and took a taxi ride to our Airbnb where we were warmly greeted by the most gracious and hospitable Airbnb host I’ve ever interacted with. He took our things and stowed them in the waiting area, made us Turkish coffee, offered us light refreshments, and then proceeded to offer us recommendations on where to exchange currency, where to eat, what to see, and how to plan out later parts of our trip.
Just as I was beginning to get concerned about not being shown the room yet, he mentioned that there had been some construction issues with our room and I sighed inwardly as I braced myself for some bad news.
He told us that they were still finishing up our room, but that they had booked us a room in the four-star hotel next door free of charge to accommodate us. Wow. Okay, this is randomly generous.
As we walked next door to the hotel, I asked him about what parts of town to avoid, just because I’m a paranoid person and he responded with “Istanbul is very safe. Safer than Los Angeles” to which I got a very good laugh.
My companions and I had no Turkish language skills coming to this country and yet at every turn, we were greeted and served so warmly. Tour guides that were willing to hang out after giving their tours. AirBnb hosts that would go out of their way to serve us and aid us in travel plans. Random people on the street saying hello and starting conversations.
I even ran in Istanbul and Ephesus in order to stay in some sort of shape to prepare for the March marathon in the early mornings and I felt amazingly safe.
Ironically, this country and the cities in it have a bad reputation even though when I went to Barcelona and Rome I would on every street corner see policemen with submachine guns and assault rifles.
The title of this blog is a direct quote from our food tour guide, Ibrahim.
He took us on an epic tour of different foods in Istanbul. We had the most bomb lentil soup I’ve ever had ( sidenote I hate lentil soup). We tried Turkish dumplings, chicken breast pudding (soooo weird… Chick-fil-A Istanbul?), basically a Turkish enchilada, arguably the best beef I’ve ever had cooked carnitas style, mussels, and some of the littest kebabs I’ve ever had.
In between our food stops, Ibrahim kept the mood light and fun with his jokes, culture lessons, and his comparisons to American culture. At the end of the tour, the other members of the tour left to go continue their evenings, but Ibrahim offered to show Crystal, Brian, and I around. He showed us where to find some nightlife, and he gave us some absolutely rad food recommendations for the rest of our stay.
As our evening was coming to a close, he thanked us for taking his tour and then he proceeded to thank us for coming to his country. He said something like:
“Thank you for coming to my country. Thank you for not listening to your friends and family who said it was dangerous. Thanks for believing that we aren’t a bunch of savages and for coming to experience the country for yourself. Hopefully you tell your friends about it.”
The joking and playful mood ceased as he gave us his thanks. He looked at us with a genuineness that I can’t recall seeing that often from anyone.
I’ve been thinking about those words for the last four days.
Crystal and I had a heart to heart about what we enjoyed about traveling.
One of the common themes was how we love to see how cultures can be so different and yet fundamentally the same. Intersectionality of religions. Similar social problems. The magical properties of music.
We then reflected on how sad it was that the post by the Department of State would dissuade so many people from visiting this beautiful country and its beautiful people and experiencing the rich culture that exists here.
The United States has been a melting pot since the very beginning of its existence and yet for all of its diversity it has always operated on fear. Any culture that is foreign or unknown is to be feared and avoided. Hiding under the guise of prosperity, we fear sharing resources and sanctuary because we believe that if we do share that we will not have enough for ourselves. A scarcity mentality in such a blessed country.
What a shame.
As if our lack of hospitality has helped us. We haven’t had a foreign attack on our country in quite some time and yet our society has created an environment where destruction and death have been born, grown, and festered within. We grasp for straws and blame suspects that fit the fears of the time. The media twists our perceptions of the foreigner and convinces us that our real enemies lie across the sea, when in fact we are our own affliction as Switchfoot once so aptly put it.
I know for a fact that I hope to travel even more after this trip. I don’t know how long some places will be around, but there are so many rich cultures, beautiful countries, and amazing people to visit and experience.
I hope that you don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s for that matter. Don’t be satisfied with staying in your not so safe “comfort zone” that has been taught to you by the media and the influence of politicians.
Go out and explore. Go learn about some other culture that you have never experienced and go see for yourself what it’s all about. Don’t believe everything you hear and do your best to see the world through your own eyes without the filters of politics and the fear of the unknown.