Remembering Glimpses of Turkey

My heart has felt heavy like a stack of books over the news of Istanbul this week. Another city. More people. So many precious lives. It’s never easy to take in news like this. It shouldn’t be. On the other hand, it’s easy to put it away or try not to think about it, especially the father away or more removed we are from it. However, the reality is that no matter how removed we feel or think we are, we are connected.  People “there” are people “here.” Those people are our people, because we are all His people, made in His image, no matter where we are from or what language we speak.

The first time I ever heard of Turkey was in an early elementary geography lesson. I giggled at the name as I pictured the spread of an American Thanksgiving meal, and asked my teacher at the time why a country had been given such a name. My worldview was frightfully narrow at that age, as most children’s are. 

A few years later, I unknowingly came across another glimpse of Turkey as I read through C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and tried with all of my might, to imagine the alluring food that had tempted and led Edmund Pevensie to the evil side of Narnia. Turkish Delight: an opportunity for my worldview of food to be stretched. Sadly instead, for the longest time, I imagined it to be some sort of fancy serving of sliced deli meat. 

It wasn’t until much later, after moving to Germany, that I was introduced to Turkey and Turkish people face to face. There are many Turkish living in Germany and a plethora of little kebab restaurants where one can eat a Turkish Döner kebab, which is a kebab that’s made with meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Almost all of these shops have lines out the door every day, surrounding lunch and dinner hours. My mouth is watering, just writing about it.

It was by meeting a Turkish friend in German language school that I began to see and know Turkish people as kind, friendly, encouraging and warm. This friend from language school introduced me and my American friends to his Turkish friends who were also living in Germany at the time, and it was through this introduction that I met Aysel (changed her name for privacy). She would end up being a friend who my friends and I met for coffee and meals quite frequently. Right before moving back to the States the following year, she would be at my goodbye party; she had become a friend whose deep conversation I would miss.

Aysel and I talked about everything that year, from childhood memories, to dreams for our futures, to who we understood God to be. I can remember one particular conversation over coffee and french fries in a café filled with art.  We both had tears in our eyes as we talked about who we believed God was. I shared with her that I believed God loved her and had a purpose for her life. Though faith looks very different in our cultures and some would even say too different to approach in conversation or any kind of understanding, we connected over that conversation and I could see that we weren’t that different after all. I will never forget her saying that if God loved her, she wanted to know it and that she wanted to know if he really had a plan for her life.

Another time, Aysel invited my friends and I to her apartment. We squeezed into her small student-sized studio and sat on a little couch lined up like birds on a wire, as she made all of us tea. She offered us what she had with a warmth and focused invitation that I hadn’t ever experienced before.  Turkish hospitality, as I began to understand, is a real thing.

That year, she also introduced me to a Turkish salon because she said they would understand my hair.  They did. Going to a salon in a foreign country can be one of the most terrifying things when your language skills are less than amazing. Not knowing hair vocabulary and trying to communicate to someone with scissors in hand and your hair at their fingertips…well, you can imagine. However, Aysel was right. My mixed Korean hair was more like Turkish hair and the girl who cut it at this salon, knew what to do with it. I realized in some measure then, that there are suprisingly more connections we have to the world far and wide, than any of us could ever imagine-even connections to places and people we would never ever expect.

In the spring of that same year, while on a trip to Greece, my co-workers and I spent an afternoon in Marmaris, Turkey. Marmaris is just a short boat ride away from Rhodes, the Greek island where we were staying. I will never forget what it felt like to approach Turkey on the water and see the coastline as my friends and I were about to embark on the land of a place I had never imagined seeing up close.  It was beautiful and every step there filled me with longing to someday see and experience more of the country. I haggled with a man in little watch shop like I had seen my mom do in Korea as a child. I bought lots of Turkish delight and understood the temptation of Edmund Pevensie in a fresh way that day. Pistachio Turkish Delight was my favorite. My friends and I were offered cold Turkish Apple tea in many shops we browsed through, and I drank my first Turkish coffee at a small side-street cafe.

A few years later, when Matt and I moved back to Germany for a year, my friend no longer lived there. She had moved back to her home city, Istanbul. But, we made another Turkish friend that year, who would introduce us to the Red Lentil Soup his mother taught him how to make, as her mother had taught her before that. Now we make this same soup for our family. Every time I sort the tiny, bright orange circles while letting the onions “sweat” in the pot, like our friend taught me to do, I think of his warmth and how willing he was to share his family meal of generations and family stories with us. I think of how his hospitality not only fed us, but changed our view of the world in a lasting way that day.

Turkey, I don’t know you well but what your people have offered me is irreplaceable. I have learned new flavors because of your people and your culture in the world. My view of hospitality has altered and deepened specifically because of them, no matter how briefly our lives have overlapped.

Today, my heart breaks for you and I am praying for your country and your people. There aren’t words for the kind of horror and loss that’s occurred in Istanbul and all over the world. However, today, I will use my words to share the good I know of your culture, country and people. I will use my words to tell my boys about the little I have learned. We will get out a map and I will tell them how the Turkish friends I had years ago have changed me for the better. You are not alone and there are many of us, no matter how different, whose hearts are breaking for your city, where the East meets the West.  The beauty and strength you offer the world will not be diminished or extinguished and your people there, are our people here.
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