February 12, 2011

Turkish Hospitality: A Non-Muslim’s Discovery

Different language, different religion, different sights, smells and tastes! Nothing could be more opposite to my small hometown near Seattle. Turkey was nothing that I expected or I could have ever imagined; but as soon as I met the people of Istanbul I immediately felt at home.

I had an interesting entrance into Istanbul. It could have been the worst hitchhiking experience, but it turned out to be my best. I had caught a lift with a Turkish truck driver from the Romanian-Bulgarian border a day and a half earlier and while we didn’t share a common language, he showed me amazing hospitality and gave me instant respect, which I later found to be the case with every Turkish person I met in my six weeks as a guest in their country.

When my lift dropped me off in the middle of a residential area in the outskirts of Istanbul, some kind men took it upon themselves to help me get to the center. They took me to their English-speaking friend. He attentively listened to my story: how I came to be there with no Turkish Lira, no nearby ATM, no knowledge of the Turkish language, and no idea what part of Istanbul I was in- or if I even really was in Istanbul.

The kind man could have pointed in any direction and told me to get on a bus or ask someone else. Instead, he made me tea, then coffee, and a sandwich, and invited me to sit down, relax and be his guest for a while. After about an hour, he wrote direction for me, flagged down a minibus, told the driver my situation, paid him and gave me 10 Lira. He told me it would be plenty to get me where I needed to be and further, but he thought it was better to give me too much rather than too little, just in case something went wrong. He then hopped out and waved goodbye before I had time to properly thank him. I looked in the rear window as he ran back into his shop with a smile on his face.

I was stunned by the amazing compassion he had for me, a woman he had just met and would probably never see again. His utter selflessness and care for others brought me peace and happiness the rest of my time in Turkey. It was a wonderful introduction to Turkish hospitality and a great representation of my time there.

While staying with various friends in Istanbul, some Turkish, some not, I was able to see this hospitality in different forms. One morning, a Turkish friend’s mother was cooking a breakfast feast for me and even though she didn’t understand English and I didn’t speak Turkish, she was happy to understand I enjoyed the food.

One afternoon, I was helped by a Turkish man in a coffee shop to connect my computer to the internet which was followed by a long conversation about my travels and how I liked Turkey. Many times, I was offered tea by shop owners whether or not I was buying something from them.

I was lucky to meet people who cared about me and never expected anything back. Their warmth and compassion welcomed me, a total stranger. I was just one of thousands of tourists passing through, but they made me feel like it was their personal duty to take care of me.

Read more on OnIslam: Turkish Hospitality: A Non-Muslim’s Discovery

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