In my first 10 minutes there was a huge language barrier. I was trying to explain to a taxi driver where I was going by pointing to my cellphone screen at the name of the area and showing him the map. We finally figured it out, even though the taxi driver did not speak a word of Arabic or English; we both understood the language of the smart phone. When we finally started moving in the right direction, the driver blasted his radio on some English pop music station to welcome me.
For the next few days, my mornings were going to Istanbul by train or by boat and exploring the city from one end to the other. I met people along the way and made several breaks for tea. This amounted to at least 10 cups a day for me.
I had two principal fascinations while exploring Istanbul. Firstly, people drink a minimum of 10-15 cups of tea per day. The café or “Kahwa” culture and the outside seating is the primary daily activity of men in Turkey. Secondly, literature is an essential par to life. There are many bookstores all over the city. As someone who grew up in the Levant, where the culture of rich poetry and literature is largely dead, this was a surprise. Turkey is so close to the Levant and has a similar secular Islamic culture, but is quite different in this key aspect.
For my last few days I’ve spent my time in this small town called Osmaneli. It is two and a half hours from Istanbul by train. The people in this town were very hospitable. Wherever my friend and I walked, we ended up getting invited to eat or drink tea by complete strangers.
At one point, we ended up being invited for tea by a 24 years old soon to be an imam who worked at a “Kahwa” in the middle of Osmaneli market. He walked us around the town and introduced us to a lot of people from all around the whole village.
I grew up in the Middle East and relocated to the United States at age 19. It is rare to find a place that offers a mix of Eastern and Western culture. However, Turkey has a balanced mixture of east and west.