I’m not the type to look for signs, but I don’t ignore them either. The recent coup attempt in Turkey may or may not have been a sign, but it certainly caught our attention. As a lone incident, it was an unfortunate shock, but as a climax following series of attacks and incidents in Istanbul and Ankara, it was our cue to exit stage right. Coming here was written for us without a doubt, but staying here doesn’t seem to be. In spite of the hiccups and challenges, our year in Turkey has been an enriching experience. We’ve befriended wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and experienced a refined culture of genuine hospitality. We are a bit disappointed about our early departure but definitely not sad. We’ve been traveling long enough to know that some souls never really part and reunions happen in the most unforeseen ways. As nomads, you never know where we’ll turn up or return to, so this is definitely not a goodbye but moreso a “see you later”. While prepping to depart, we’ve been reflecting on the sum total of our stay and came up with the following.
WHAT WE WILL MISS:
The people: Generally speaking, Turkish people have been refreshingly hospitable to us. Their interest and curiosity about us has always seemed sincere and polite. They are endearing to children, respectful to elders, and welcoming to strangers. Other than being incredible hosts, our Turkish friends have taken cleanliness to a whole other level. At times we felt like they caught crumbs and dust before they even touched the floor and maintained impeccable homes in spite of having young children. This standard might be unattainable for us but it was pretty impressive to witness.
The country: Turkey is a really beautiful country with a variety of landscapes and geographic features. Endless mountain ranges, dense green forests, and the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea are all etched in our minds vividly. Sights of interest are abundant and have been well-maintained and accessible to us. Our only regret is that we didn’t have a chance to see more and that some very religiously significant regions are challenged by instability.
The food: Oh, the food. The simplicity of fresh herbs, cold-pressed olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt have forever changed our approach to salads. Though we generally don’t love cold foods, we’ve become smitten with a genre of dishes that are slow cooked in olive oil and served cold. Eating seasonally has introduced us to new foods like fresh figs, quinces, celery root, and a variety of vegetables grown locally. Some of our favorite food finds here were black rice, pomegranate syrup, fresh dill, dried organic apricots, and leblebi (dry roasted chickpeas).
The mosques: I’ve yet to see an unkempt mosque or a substandard women’s prayer hall in Ankara. From large congregational mosques to the tiny prayer rooms in shopping centers, I’ve consistently seen efforts to maintain the beauty, cleanliness, and awe that a place of worship merits.
The fashion: While I can’t describe a traditional, Turkish style of dress, the sisters here definitely have their own flavor and unique expression of modesty. A few years ago, I made a decision to no longer buy clothes that were not designed with my customer profile in mind. So, online shopping in Turkey has been a wonderland for me. I can easily find a wide variety of suitable clothing articles that are fashionable, modest, and affordable.
Domestic production: When shopping, I prefer to buy items from as close to my locality as possible. From toothpaste to clothing to sugar-free jams, I love the plentiful opportunities to support the local economy and region.
Village Pride: Almost everyone I’ve met in Ankara mentions a “back home” where grandparents live, where parents grew up, and where they visit elders for Eid holidays. Even in the supermarkets, there’s an emphasis on foods sourced from a köy, or village, and I’ve grown to equate them with traditional, homemade goodness.
WHAT WE WON’T MISS:
The politics: We’re totally over the politics, the tension, and the drama. It was frustrating at times to be misunderstood when our everyday choices about diet, faith practice, and dress were seen as political statements or stances. We are on the side of piety, integrity, and humanity, wherever it is represented.
Learning Turkish: Learning the language hasn’t been easy but was essential for our day-to-day survival in Ankara. Yes, there are many words from Arabic, even French and English, but Turkish grammar was burying us alive. We absolutely loved our Turkish teacher, but we’re glad to not go any deeper down that rabbit hole for now.
The social culture: Being a fairly liberal capital, smoking and drinking are quite common in Ankara. We especially hated seeing people smoke so liberally around children or drunk in public. Similarly, the very secularized expression of Islam that we regularly encountered here lacked the soul of the faith that captured our hearts over a decade ago. The religious community here seemingly functions here as a minority, though being in a Muslim-majority country. Again, Twilight Zone experiences were common for us.