To be in a land where you do not look like the other people and in a place where there is enormous hostility to the U.S.A. was an eye-opening and humbling experience. Experiencing the Muslim culture was a first. Even reading the news from a different perspective was mind-boggling. The World Economic Forum was meeting in Istanbul while we were there, and one of the main reported topics was Turkey’s proposed membership in the European Union. I had long thought the only issue was if and when Turkey would get its act together and be deemed fit to join by the existing members. So, I was very surprised to learn from the Turk perspective one big issue is what does it stand to gain by joining and giving the EU a border with Iran, Iraq, and Syria, some of the most strategic and volatile countries in the world. While we assume we have a free press, the nuances of the debate are very much colored by who is doing the reporting.
For several years my daughter expressed how funny it would be to go to Turkey for Thanksgiving. It is the sort of oddball humor my mother would have loved. One of the things mom liked best about where she lived is that camels lived down the street. Henry Wallace also kept yak, bison, peacocks, goats and all sorts of birds at his menagerie, Henry’s Ark. To live down the lane from those camels was the icing on the cake. It didn’t seem fitting to run off to Turkey the first few years after she died, though. I had to write the family cookbook and entrust my grandmother’s stuffing recipe to my nephew. We had to give dad some time to survive a few holidays without mom, before we could take off like larks.
So, 2006 was to be the year. Getting sick right before the trip made it a close call. My good doctors loaded me up with every precaution and reminded me I would be just a phone call away! At the time I didn’t want that reminder of how small the world has become, but it is very true. Email even streamed to my PDA. We were able to resist reading the email, turned the phone off, and pretended we did not have access to internet. Thus, for a few glorious days we soaked up the culture, ate absolutely fabulous food (Turkish olive oil is sublime!) did our Christmas shopping, took in a hammam, saw the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia, Topapki Palace, the Covered Bazaar and Spice Market, and enjoyed the views of the Bosphorous.
As a tourist is was fairly easy to ignore the tension between our countries and our cultures. I hope it is not as easy to forget.