Linda Stewart When we decided to visit Turkey and spend a month exploring the west coast, we were apprehensive about how we would cope in a culture so different from our own; Anglophiles to the bone, albeit antipodean Anglophiles. We enjoy the interacting with people of other cultures but we do like to be able to communicate with them. Hand gestures and body language have their limitations and our language skills are (sadly) limited. Most Turks speak very good English and incredibly gracious when we visited more remote towns and villages where we relied on our few Turkish words and much gesturing and smiling.
On our return I put together a scrapbooks (digital and hard copy) and returning to those records reminds us we visited one small portion of the country. So many faces, so many places, so much to take in and so little time.
Modern Turkey stands on ground so rich in history from times before Christ and enriched by the diversity of cultures from east and west. The country has been conquered and raised up enough times to understand its countrymen’s feisty zest for life and acceptance of other’s idiosyncrasies. The land has survived three empires, many battles, and hosted three cultures since the Byzantine Empire (Greek) in 657BC.
When Emperor Constantine conquered the Greeks, he incorporated the land into the Roman Empire and it was renamed Constantinople. In 1453AD the Ottoman Turks took the empire from the Romans and continued the history under the Ottoman Empire. In 1923 the modern Turks renamed the city Istanbul. Although our travels were limited to a small portion of the country the meld of cultures that had nurtured modern Turkish were evident everywhere. Knowing a little of the history we could understand how the people carry personality traits and characteristics of Greek and Roman origin which added to the Turkish gene pool.
There is a Turkish saying blood pulls; meaning wherever they are, Turkey is there too, and it is easy to see why. The commitment to family and culture keeps the blood pull strong. It is here their ‘feist’ is manifest, maintaining strong ties with homeland, culture, spirituality and family. Connection is strong and the inclusiveness of their culture that we enjoyed during our month was unique in our travels.
Our experience of the people was generally positive (that’s another post) and when they discovered we were New Zealanders it was as if we became family. Despite fighting on opposing sides at Gallipoli the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand armed forces) and the Turks have become peacetime comrades who enjoy a mutual relationship of understanding and acceptance. The angst of war long forgotten; suffering and loss and bravery are acknowledged and honoured. ANZAC Day (25th April) in Turkey is a big deal and this year will be one of the biggest memorial services ever held, being the 100th anniversary since Gallipoli.
Modern city infrastructure takes shape around ancient structures like aqueducts, above ground tombs as well as Lycean rock tombs that keep watch over life today. The old keeping an eye on the new. Everywhere is a vivid mosaic of old meets new, east touches west, traditional embraces modern, and the exotic takes the contemporary in its stride. In a country of amazing diversity these people do it with such pizazz one cannot help be drawn into their web of inclusiveness and acceptance. We were in for a month of bracing revelation that dispelled all preconceptions we had about the eastern countries or its people.
The heaving masses of people in main centres, the noise, colours, traffic and pace were intimidating in the first week. While we travelled only the west coast I imagine the entire country is one large museum and archeological site that visitors are still permitted to enjoy first hand. Their country is for all who travel to its shores to enjoy. In the faces of all its people is the invitation to come play, stay and sit with us as you become part of us for a while. There is no preciousness about the Turks. Perhaps it is because of their long history of struggle they have learned that change can be a good thing. I do not think westerners are quite so open to change or accepting of diversity.
We took a week out of the month to spend time on a gulet cruising the Mediterranean coast in the south of Turkey. A gullet is an all wooden handcrafted motor sailing yacht with 1 or 2 masts, built for cruising although its original use was as a fishing vessel.