Friday, May 16, 2008

Lessons in kindness.

A
s we travelled throughout Turkey, Lei and I found ourselves the beneficiaries of countless acts of kindess - from offers of cups of tea....

....to Şahin Mizrak in Cappadocia who arranged for a neighboring shopkeeper to look after his store so he could walk Lei and I to a vista point high above the village of Göreme to watch the sun set over the Rose Valley.

....to people actually walking us to a destination instead of just giving us directions.

....to Ali Bayar who owns a rug shop in Selçuk. He took time out to enjoy a cup of Turkish tea with us - telling us the romantic story of how he met his wife who is from the UK. When Lei asked if he knew anyone who could read fortunes from the grounds of Turkish coffee, Ali had cups delivered which we all enoyed. Ali then proceeded to tell each of our fortunes with the caveat that we should forget everything we told him after he was done. He was not too confident in his fortune telling abilities!

All the while I was in Ali's shop, I had my eye on a beautiful sumak rug. After Ali explained the meanings behind each of the patterns on the rug, I gave into my desires and bought it. It now sits under the coffee table in my living room - a wonderful reminder of our time spent with this very kind and generous Turk.

Turkish people will tell you that kindness and hospitality is just part of their culture - nothing special. But for Lei and I, this one small aspect of their culture has truly left an indelible mark on both of us. Turkish kindness and hospitality is above and beyond anything that I have ever experienced before.

Our trip from Fethiye to Selçuk was nothing eventful except that it exemplifies the kindess of the Turkish people. From Fethiye, we had to take a bus to the town of Aydin ("i-din") and from there, take a dolmuş ("dol-moosh") aka "mini-van" to Selçuk.

When we arrived at the otogar in Aydin, we found ourselves standing on the platform, luggage at our feet, with no idea where to go to catch the dolmuş to Selçuk. A man walked up and simply asked where we were going. We answered. He then called over a young boy who leaned down and picked up our bags. The man told us to follow the boy. We thanked him and followed the boy. A short walk and we were at the dolmuş. The boy deposited our bags on the ground and left before we could give him a tip. Lei tried to find him but no luck. How nice were these two guys? In the US, you would feel guilty if you didn't tip the bellhop to take your luggage from the hotel lobby to your room and he works for the hotel. These two guys were doing a favor for two complete strangers and did not expect anything in return.

We boarded the dolmuş, found ourselves a couple of seats and before we could even pull out the cash to pay the driver, the driver started up the dolmuş and we took off down the road. Somewhere along the way, we finally paid our fare. Seemed to be the practice - no need to pay for your ride up front. Take your seat and take your time. Try that on a public bus in the US!

An hour or so later, we arrived at the otogar in Selçuk. We got off the dolmuş and again someone asked us where we were going. We told him Homeros Pension and he replied back, "Oh, Derviş's house." Derviş ("dervish") Köse is the owner of Homeros Pension. The man pulled out his cellphone and proceeded to make a phone call - we presume to Derviş. He then told us to wait. So we waited as instructed and a few minutes later, a jovial man walked up to us, kissed both of us on our cheeks, introduced himself as Derviş, picked up our bags, instructed us to follow him and then walked at a very brisk pace. We did as told and 5 minutes later, arrived at the doorstep of Homeros Pension. Having the pension owner pick me up at the bus station has never happened to me before. At most, you get instructions to give to the taxi driver.

Three acts of kindess in one day and all before lunch. It was a very good day!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy." Emerson may have come up with quote but the Turks live by this creed everyday and I admire them for it. I will try to do the same from now on.