We spent the weekend in Istanbul. There was no climbing, just sight-seeing and chilling out. I usually don’t like cities and I despise tourist traps. I don’t like being out of my element and I get frustrated easily. I don’t like overly crowded places, I hate getting lost, and I always feel overwhelmed and threatened. I promised myself before I went to this city that I would try to enjoy it, absorb all that it has to offer, and appreciate it, even if I do feel a little uneasy the entire time.
We were hassled on numerous occasions by shopkeepers who wanted us to buy their trinkets. I don’t like being bombarded like this, but I am familiar with this selling tactic. When I visited China two years ago, little old women would chase me down the street waving pashminas yelling “Halo! Halo! Very beautiful! Halo!” However, my experiences in Istanbul felt more threatening considering the shopkeepers were mostly men and not women three times my age and nearly half my height.
The Turkish shopkeepers would shove items in my face saying “Lady, lady you like? You like? Maybe this? Maybe this? Or this?” At this point I would freeze up, opening my mouth and then closing it without making a noise. At one shop in the Grand Bazaar, Sam politely told the man that we would keep looking and come back and the man grabbed his arm “Essssscuze me. I fuck you and I fuck your country. Fuck off.” Sam just nodded and shrugged the man off. We quickly rushed away feeling rattled, confused, and disoriented. This was the only truly aggressive experience we had during our time in Istanbul. Most of the shopkeepers were pushy and obnoxious, but harmless. Nevertheless, we felt on edge and alert everytime we ventured out into the chaos of the city.
On our last morning, we decided to go out one more time to buy some gifts for some friends back home. We found a nice little shop on a side street with some beautiful wooden boxes and scarves. The shopkeeper was an old man who was slightly pushy but also relatively mellow compared to those at the Grand Bazaar. He was obviously interested in making a sale, but he also took the time to tell us about all the items in his shop. He was clearly very proud of everything he was selling and told us about the different materials used, how things were made, how long they took to make, why some were more expensive than others, etc. He even offered us some apple tea. We politely declined and he replied “Please, you can have some. You don’t have to buy anything!” I was surprised at this comment, considering my opinion that all any of these people wanted was our money.
We decided to buy quite a few items from this man, 130 Lira worth. The credit card machine wasn’t working so we asked where an ATM was and we told him that we would come back. “No it’s ok. This man will go with you to the ATM, then you won’t have to come back here. It’s ok” I wasn’t sure what to think of this, I think he thought we might change our minds and never come back, so he sent an employee to accompany us to the ATM and get the money from us. The three of us set off. As usual, I was a little nervous that I was going to get scammed.
The man was younger, well dressed, and spoke impeccable English. We exchanged small talk as we walked, where he was from, where we were from, etc. He told us that he lived in Istanbul, but about a 2 hours’ drive away. The shop belonged to his father, the shopkeeper making our sale was his father’s partner and his father was working down the street selling rugs. He had not learned his English in school. This was a surprise to me, and I was impressed because he spoke so clearly and correctly.
“Is this a busy time of year?” Sam asked.
“No no. It’s quiet. June through August is very very crowded.”
“Is it hot then?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Oh yes. Very hot. It is a hard time for me. We must fast during this time of year. For Ramadan. Do you know what this is?”
The conversation had taken an interesting turn. He spoke about Ramadan and the one month fast all Muslims are required to take part in during this time. We both just nodded as he spoke, listening intently.
“I am not a perfect Muslim. You know we are supposed to pray five times a day?” Yes, we knew this. We had been Turkey for a month and heard the Call to Prayer five times everyday. It seemed to me that there was a mosque of every street corner in Turkey, even in the smallest towns.
“I don’t pray five times a day,” he admitted, “but my mother does.” We nodded again and smiled at the man. I took 130 Lira out of the ATM and handed it to him.
“Thank you. I wish you safe travels.” He said. “Next time, come have apple tea.”
We walked back to the hotel with our purchases, packed, and left for the airport. I kept thinking about all the things I had seen in Istanbul, and our conversation with the Muslim man. Nothing and no one is perfect. Sometimes anger and violence rules, while other times there is compassion and kindness. We are all human, each of us trying to exist in an imperfect world, some are fighting while others are loving. There is good and bad and one cannot exist without the other. The key is to try to balance the two, accept the bad and embrace the good.