I originally wrote this story four years ago as a guest post for a fellow travel blogger to publish on her website. Recently, I noticed it had been taken down. For what reason I’m not sure, but I love this piece so much that I’m sharing it here so it has a home forever. Enjoy!
As I stare out my window from the top bunk of my 4-bed dorm, I am entranced by this young man getting his beard shaved at the barbershop across the street. He is slumped nonchalantly in his chair, smoking a cigarette, and looking at himself narcissistically in the mirror to ensure his beard is trimmed to his definition of perfection.
The barber is an artist using this young man as a canvas circling around the chair to trim from every angle making sure no detail goes untouched. I want to assume it is a family owned and run barbershop as there are kids washing the street in front and sweeping up after each customer. It’s strange, but just from this one encounter, I feel like I understand the pace and atmosphere of Istanbul.
With a medley of Middle Eastern conservatism and European architecture, there is an ambiance to the city that I don’t know can be found anywhere else in the world.
After my first day, I quickly came to understand why the city draws so many Westerners. English is prevalent, the food is cheap and delicious, the landscape is just beautiful, and the people are some of the kindest I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Not to mention that there are plenty of things to keep busy in Istanbul from mosques and palaces to day tours, cruises, and a thriving nightlife. Istanbul has a lot going for it, but the real charm of the city for me, however, is the people.
It is a city that has pulled me away from my computer and camera to engage with those around me. Typically, when I get homesick, I tend to feel like I’m missing out if I don’t stay connected to Twitter updates all day. But in Istanbul, I felt that way for every moment I didn’t spend getting know someone new. These people I had never met before had an unusual pull on me.
From conversations with the hostel staff to listening to various pleas from men on the street to come eat at their restaurants, I wanted to talk to everyone. It was like each individual had a story that begged to be shared. Despite not being able to understand a word they were saying, at times, their body language and actions spoke volumes.
The way that the men in the Grand Bazaar will literally try to pull tourists into their shops to buy something. The way young boy casanovas won’t hesitate to flirt with any woman who walks by them. The way women interact with one another and their children is so sweet and endearing. The way children follow their curiosity and aren’t afraid to approach you to start a conversation. All of these things feel like an invasion of personal space at first, but I’ve come to realize that that’s their culture, and most attitudes or advances are harmless.
I also had the privilege of doing a tour where I got to eat dinner with a local family and learned heaps about Turkey’s politics, religion, the call to prayer, football, famous musicians, daily life, and so much more. They taught me more about their country in 2 hours than I’ve learned about my own homeland in 23 years. The fact that they were willing to open their home to me, cook a delicious hot meal, and share their stories with me was an incredibly humbling experience.
I have never felt so welcome by a group of people, and I’ve developed such compassion for the Turks. Complete strangers felt like family after just a few sentences exchanged. As you might have guessed, it was difficult to say goodbye like saying farewell to old friends not knowing when I would see them again.
Back home, there usually isn’t much happening outside my window so whenever there is, I am grateful for the view.