Turkey’s geography and history are as complex and captivating as its capitol city, Istanbul. Once called Byzantium, then Constantinople, the ancient city was colonized by Greeks, conquered by Romans, and invaded by Ottomans. Straddling the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul lies on two continents: Asia and Europe.
A Voice From Istanbul
About two months ago, I was fortunate enough to connect with a woman who calls Istanbul home. She is the relative of a neighbor. I am so very grateful to you, Meltem, for sharing your life and thoughts with me.
A Rough Start
Shortly after we started our correspondence, Meltem told me she needed more time:
“Last Saturday night, there was a bomb explosion in Istanbul. Forty-four people died, more than one hundred were injured. I felt really bad because it happened on a very busy road which I use all the time. I live in such a nice country and I wanted to reflect it in my answers but unfortunately my mood is not that well nowadays.”
And so I waited until Meltem felt ready to talk again. By that time, I was facing a similar mood about my country. About the Muslim ban that had recently been put into effect. I wondered if Meltem, a Muslim, would even want to talk to me.
She did. And she offered these thoughts in light of the situation:
“I will not make any comments regarding the Muslim ban because I do not think I am the right person to speak. I am Muslim but I do not pray 5 times a day, I do not pray in Arabic. I only read some parts of the Quran. I do not fast. I am against covering my head with a turban in the name of God.
In my opinion all religions are good and precious. We need to believe in something spiritually. I need to believe. I believe religion is something between me and God. I have to be a good respectful person. I am grateful for everything that I have and I believe everything happens for a reason.
I hate people who label others based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, etc. I hate the idea that one can kill others in the name of God and religion. I cannot accept that.”
My Interview with Meltem:
Please look out a window in your home and tell me what you see?
I see our garden and other buildings around.
If I were to come to your house for dinner, what would you cook for me?
I would begin with serving lentil soup. Then beef saute with rice and hunkarbegendi, which is a special dish with mashed eggplants, butter, milk and flour. Traditionally, most of the families eat salad with their meal. So there would be a green salad with tomato and cucumber seasoned with olive oil and pomegranate sauce.
If I have guests from other countries I always serve traditional deserts such as baklava and kadayıf with clotted cream.
What myth or stereotype about your country/culture would you like to set straight?
There are a few actually. But I would like to set straight that we do not use the Arabic alphabet and not all the women wear turbans.
We are a secular country.
What brings you joy?
Spending time with my family and friends, traveling, learning, feeling and seeing the joy of children.
What are your greatest fears?
War, losing my family and friends.
What gives you hope?
Children and young people trying to accept each other without labelling.
What do you do in your free time?
I love reading and I have some small hobbies like knitting, crochet, ceramics, etc.
What is the most unusual thing about where you live?
I have been living here since I was born. Everything seems normal.
For some of my friends, it is unusual to have so much traffic in Istanbul. For others, it is unusual to find something to eat 7/24 either as street food or at 24 hour open restaurants.
Is there a song or book that best captures the essence of your culture?
As for the reading, I would recommend reading the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and then Memed, My Hawk by Yasar Kemal.
What is your favorite time of year in Turkey?
Turkey is a great country where you can enjoy four seasons. So I can go skiing during winter, spend great time in South during summer.
İstanbul is great both in spring and autumn.
What does your country do well? What do you wish your country did better?
Our Republic has been established in 1923. Thanks to Ataturk, we really did well while building a new country from the ashes.
Nowadays, I think we should do better with our education system.
What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?
I have been to San Francisco many times, once to Orlando and once to Chicago. I love the diversity in the U.S. As opposed to Europe, I never feel like a stranger in the US.
Chicago is a great place to visit and to live.
What do you want the world to know about your country?
We speak Turkish, not Arabic.
In one word, what best describes your country and its culture?
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