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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [537] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry


“What are these flags, Fahretin?”. The bus was making its way through the busy streets of Istanbul. Every suburb was festooned with different flags and political posters, slogans and music were blaring from sound systems mounted on trucks, we were on the eve of the last general election. “This one, with 3 crescents, that’s my party, we want the Great Turkey, from Bosphorus to China” said the man with an eagle nose. Seeing my surprised look, he quickly added “ Don’t be scared, we are not against foreigners like the National Front in France”.
This is Fahretin, we had met the day before on the steps of the Blue Mosque. He had spent 12 years working in car factories in France, and was a great guide in this venerable city. We quickly became friends and he invited us to his house for the feast of Ait-el-Kebir so that he could show us “the true meaning of Turkish hospitality”.

Istanbul disappeared in the rear window as we drove through the countryside. “This was supposed to be the new Istanbul, but the great earthquake stopped all development”, he said as we passed scattered half-built villages.

We arrived at night. No street lights, no tarmac, only the crisp Spring air and a beautiful Moon to greet us. A short stroll through narrow streets and we were at the door, about to meet a Turkish family for the first time.

His wife Fatima welcomed us with a large smile and all the honours due to guests. She introduced us to the family and told us that neighbours would be joining us soon to share the food. This is the tradition on such an important day for Muslims worldwide. We were a bit intimidated but the outpour of kindness, smiles and great food soon put us at ease.
Fahretin proudly showed us his French fishing license, the kids schoolbooks, his pictures. Fatima had tears in her eyes when she reminisced about their modest beginnings as migrants in a strange country. They had moved back to Turkey with a grant from the French government and bought a grocery store in what was going to become a new suburb in Istanbul. The 1999 earthquake stopped everything.
As the night went by, friends kept dropping by with presents and food. Fatima read us our future in the coffee. Fahretin, a glimmer in his eyes, told us how he ‘kidnapped’ his wife, as is the custom in Cappadoccia. He finally showed us his secret stash: he doubled his income by selling Roman antiques that he scavenged from secret sites in the mountains.
With a belly full of delights and a head filled with wonders, we finally had to say goodbye.
At midnight, Fahretin walked us to the bus stop, insisted on paying for the fare and instructed the driver to drop us next to our hotel. We had met a great family and a true Turkish gentleman.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011



What hospitality! I've heard that Turkish people are among the friendliest out there and your story is just more evidence. The bit about scavenging antiques is amazing. I hope the rest of your trip was just as good.

  aro-tron Mar 28, 2011 9:03 PM

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