Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Turkish Way is a Turkish Delight

Some people thought when I was going to Turkey that it was a bit unfortunate going overseas and not going to some more popular places such as Italy, France, or the United Kingdom. I think it's been the best possible choice for me. I have found a world of wonders here, but the most amazing part of the entire place has been the people.

As in any place you travel in the US there are some people that are on the streets and beg, but that is such a small minority of what you will find. Here the people are all very helpful and kindhearted. One young man told me, "Turkish people have big hearts." I've found what he said to be very true.

My Turkish is non-existent. Honestly I thought that since I was here to visit my son I wouldn't need to speak it so much. After all, I was only going to be here for two weeks. Since I've arrived I've spent a lot of time trying to learn more words and communicate with them better. Not because I feel it is important for me to learn another language (I already speak semi-fluent French, some Italian, and a little Korean), but because I want to show some very deserved respect to some very wonderful people.

People here go out of their way to make you feel welcome and wanted. They put up with you mispronouncing their language and strive to help you be better understood. Not once have I had someone say, "You're in Turkey, speak Turkish!" as some rude Americans have done in our country. They understand that I am here for a short time and seem to be pleased that I have attempted to master some of their even smaller sayings.

Wednesday I experienced the Hamam, a traditional Turkish bath. It was unlike anything I have encountered in the states. This bath in Izmir is over 200 years old and still practices a unique cleansing tradition. It is almost entirely made of marble inside. You run hot water in small sink and dowse yourself to get your skin soft. Another woman comes and lays you down and scrubs you with a harsh mitt to remove all your old and dead skin. By the time you are finished you have nice pink rosy skin and you feel soft all over.

Here you have to let go of any inhibitions you might have. The room is steamy and water drips from the high marble ceiling with round glass windows to let in natural light. In the center of the room is a huge marble slab where the lay the bodies down as the women turn you from one side to another and scrub every inch of you. Not once did my washer become frustrated with my inability to comprehend what she was saying to me. She simply pushed, did sign language, and nodded.

I thought to myself, "In the US the woman would have thought I was an idiot and would have mumbled obscenities." Here she sang and smiled.

Before leaving the US many people told me that I would love the Turkish food. "Turkish food," they said, "is some of the very best." I have found that the thing better than the food are the people. They love their country, they love life, and they help one another. I think many lessons can be learned from their culture and it's an experience I will not soon forget.

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