Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teşekkür Ederiz (Teh-shek-urr Ed-eh-reem) Turkey!

Which means, thank you very much, (I tend to think of it as "with sugar on top" because I remember the phrase as two-sugar dream), and is pretty much the only Turkish I managed to learn. Sadly, it took me seeing it on a receipt in the airport on our way out of Istanbul for me to fully wrap my head around the pronunciation, so it was not used to impress the locals.

Actually, I did not feel that we did a particularly good job of impressing the locals while we were there except when we were able to assure countless people (taxi drivers, shop keepers, anyone else realizing that we were American) that yes, we did vote for Obama, and we were indeed very glad that he is President. Don't get me wrong, people were certainly welcoming of us, and very nice, but the complete lack of language skills left us feeling rather lost, pathetic, and as if we were unappreciative of their culture (far from the truth).

Both Nathan and I lapsed into a variety of unhelpful Romance languages as we attempted to communicate. Obviously, my pidgin French and his Spanish were of no help as Turkish is based on languages from Central Asia (Oghuz). Funnily enough we did get the occasional "auf wiedersein" from shop keepers. I could not decide if I was more flattered to be mistaken as a nationality other than American (sorry, but we just don't have good reputations abroad, guys) or offended that people thought I was German. Couldn't I be French or Italian? Looking in the mirror, of course, I realize that this is an absurd wish.

Yeni Rakü-
Never trust a drink that turns cloudy in water
A curious note about Turkish: if the "i" is dotted the "i" sound is a long e sound (see above in the "reem" part), if not, the i has a completely different pronunciation. Beats me what. (I was probably told this, but I'm sure it was during one of the countless times I was repeating "teşekkür ederiz" to myself in the hopes that I would manage not to mangle it my next attempt.) I also remember that there are eight vowels, based on four of the vowels we have, but with each of the four having two different pronunciations that actually make them separate vowels. This means that even now I butcher the pronunciation of Rakü (Ruck-uh), the Turkish alcohol that we had at dinner one night. Sadly, it's gross, unless you like anise.

It's interesting that I started my Turkey posts with the language. Obvious, I suppose, since that's the first thing you encounter in a foreign country that truly convinces you that you're "not in Kansas anymore," but in our case the language was the first of many Turkey experiences that humbled us. I'll definitely touch on some of the other experiences in subsequent posts, but I hadn't realized until now that humility played such a big part in our trip. Please don't mistake humility for humiliation because none of our experiences were bad, just humbling.

Being dependent on others for directions, patience, forgiveness, and even (in the case of our trip to the Hamam, the Turkish baths) their washing of you are complicated situations to face. It was hard. Frustrating to get lost and not understand ANY of the signs, difficult to be asked what you are sure is a basic question and be completely clueless, and uncomfortable to be (mostly) naked around strangers you can't understand. Nathan and I are pretty good travelers; we talk to strangers, we ask questions; we make connections, so it was certainly extra hard to swallow our pride in how self-sufficient and adventurous we are in our travel when suddenly we couldn't. But that's where the humbling came in. Humility makes us aware. Aware of the sights and sounds of the city, sure, but also of connections to strangers even without language and the effort that they take to make these connections.

Our lovely cab driver, Hamdi, who collected us from the airport and assured us that Sean had sent him though he knew a handful more English than we knew Turkish. Even without the ability to have a conversation, he still wanted to take us to lunch, talk to us about the city, and tried to turn down payment for the cab ride. We had encounters like this all through our trip: the cab drivers who were anxious to get our take on politics, Turkey, etc.; the stooped ladies at the Hamam who were especially kind when I was clueless on how to pay for my tea while wearing just a towel; the football fans who were thrilled to see we were supporting their team and many more.

I'm sure the discomforts of this trip will fade from my memory, but I'm particularly glad we had them because they made some of the trip highlights much more vivid (a row of seated quiet hajj-goers sitting in front of the airport window swathed all in white, a crowded smoke-filled patio filled with red and black beanbag chairs upon which lounging backgammon players all sat, enamored by a tiny feral kitten scampering about, exhaling hookah smoke in smoke rings above their heads, and standing on the steps of the Blue Mosque as the sun sets and the call to prayer crackles to life) and forced me to grow as a traveler. I'll certainly learn how to say "thank you" in Japanese and Korean before our next trip at least, that's for sure!

All photos by me, Hanna McArdle, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has never left the country and does not have a passport, I cannot imagine what that would be like. Humbling is a great way to describe it and I can't wait to hear more about your trip!