We must accommodate what being “home for the holidays” looks like when living overseas in order to feel that longed for sense of connection.
With grateful spirit, did I find such a place during an excursion to Turkey over the Turkey Day Holiday.
Many loved ones expressed trepidation as I planned the trip to Istanbul, fearing that as a single woman in “Muslim” country, I may put myself in a precarious position. I assured them that such “precarious positions” occur all over the world, and particularly in the States.
Heck, taszer and pepper spray might be called for these days lining up outside a Walmart on Black Friday.
I had planned to sign up for some tours that would not only teach me about the meeting place of eastern and western civilization but also expose me to a culture that appeared very foreign from my “home”.
The word means fearlessly courageous.
And Intrepid Tours offers not just details about cities, or the things IN them, but experiences of them, and their inhabitants. Think of it as being both part observer, and part participant.
And the tour, Home Cooked Istanbul may now occupy my vote for the best “tour” I’ve signed up for…(a close second being the day bike tour in Munich with my little brother after he graduated high school).
The tour involves a historical lesson on the foundations of the city, conducted by a man who studies not only history, but it a learner of people.
By the end of my three days with him, he shared more about his life than my cousin would over dry turkey, feeding me honey syrup lokums, rushing me into a Turkish Coffee Roaster line, and showing me how to tell if a Mosque is stable enough to enter after a earthquake.
And how did I come to know all these details of local life, and share many of my own?………..
by sharing a meal cooked by a family he knows well. There is no other way to understand yourself, and where you are at, than by breaking bread together. In Turkey, bread is considered holy, and thus for me, eating a meal on my first night there felt very much like Thanksgiving back home in the States…..his friend greeted me and with genuine thanks, said
I am so thankful that you are here, or else my wife would have been bored and depressed all day
I chuckled because I feel the same way. You know that I love to share food, and for me, it is a part of me being a full woman to prepare nourishment for others. There are three brothers and each of their wives sharing the flat, but his two sister in laws, both recently having a child in the past 60 days, had been called back to their family homes. His wife, about due to give birth to their first born in 10 days, prepared the meal for 6 on her own with pleasure.
She doled out a lovely soup, laced with lentils and tomato paste and ground spices,
followed by a casserole of eggplant, peppers, chickpeas, meat, and a whole lot of ingredients beyond my memory…
because in reality…..
It tasted like Thanksgiving Turkey.
Not the taste itself, but once the edibles hit the tongue, that sense of connection to a tradition to which I belonged, emerged.
In the company of these familiar strangers, I spent the majority of my time feeling special, selected and prized. And when I figured out that their care and inclusion of me was the modus operandi, it did not deter from a sense of being allowed into a circle.
Sure, Salih provided other touristy services, like arranging for a tour of Tokapli Palace and reliable transportation to the airport. But beyond that, he answered my incessant questions about life in Turkey, by showing me it. Salih took me to the spice market to buy Salep for a special hot drink called Sahlep (see recipe below) and walked me back into an alley where we gazed a bit at retired men passionately beating each other to a pulp at Backgammon. Over tea (the first of three occasions) he told me that to “have tea means to be friends for 40 years. We shared thoughts about gender equality and polygamy, superstition and faith, a child’s need to honor her parents and culture and yet also find a place of his own, being Muslim, being Christian.
And truly, I parted, feeling that I had gained a friend.
In Turkey where you are isn’t as important as who you are, and this year, I am thankful for that home cooked meal.
Too often, travel is about achievement rather than connection. Not so with this tour, with this guide, with this traveler, seeking a sense of home, and finding it….
At the dinner table.
SAHLEP for one
1 tbsp Salep, dried powdered roots of a mountain orchid (see below for more info)
1 Cup of milk, cold
Sugar to tastte
Place Salep in a small saucepan. Slowly add the cold milk, stirring constantly over low heat. When it reaches a smooth consistency, add in sugar, remove from the stove . Pour into a teacup and sprinkle some cinnamon on top. Serve while still hot.
What is Salep?
Turkey is the major Salep producing country. Salep is made from the dried powdered roots of a mountain orchid in the Eastern Mediterranean woods and is naturally starchy and will thicken liquids. Salep is a traditional Turkish hot drink that was served during the reign of the Ottoman empire. It is said to have healing properties for common winter flu symptoms