Adventures in Turkey pt. 8: Dealing with Prejudices, Mustaches, and Bargaining

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We started out the morning at the Journalist and Writers Foundation, and my heart (which dearly loves both of those things) felt as though it would burst. After a tour and a Q and A session during which they served us chai, of course, our host gestured to the books behind him and told us we could pick something out. I picked “Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance” by Fetullah Gulen himself, and as I flipped through the pages on the bus, I was particularly captured by his statement on 9/11, a mere 24 hours after the attack (that’s before our own President even released his statement, folks):

“I would like to make it very clear that any terrorist activity, no matter by whom it is carried out or for what purpose, is the greatest blow to peace, democracy, and humanity. For this reason, no one—and certainly no Muslim—can approve of any terrorist activity. Terror has no place in a quest to achieve independence or salvation. It takes the lives of innocent people.

Even though at first sight such acts seem to harm the target, all terrorist activities eventually do more harm to the terrorists and their supporters. This latest terrorist activity, which is a most bloody and condemnable one, is far more than an attack on the United States of America—it is an assault against world peace as well as against universal democratic and humanistic values. Those who perpetrated this atrocity can only be considered as being the most brutal people in the world.

Please let me reassure you that Islam does not approve of terrorism in any form. Terrorism cannot be used to achieve any Islamic goal. No terrorist can be a Muslim, and no true Muslim can be a terrorist. Islam demands peace, and the Qur’an demands that every true Muslim be a symbol of peace and work to support the maintenance of basic human rights. If a ship is carrying nine criminals and one innocent person, Islam does not allow for the ship to be sunk in order to punish the nine criminals; doing so would violate the rights of the one innocent person.

Islam respects all individual rights and states clearly that none of these can be violated, even if doing so would be in the interest of the community. The Qur’an declares that one who takes a life unjustly has, in effect, taken all the lives of humanity, and that one who saves a life has, in effect, saved all the lives of humanity. Moreover, Prophet Muhammad stated that a Muslim is a person who does no harm with either the hands or with the tongue.

I strongly condemn this latest terrorist attack on the United States. It only deserves condemnation and contempt, and it must be condemned by every person in the world. I appeal to everyone for calmness and restraint. Before America’s leaders and people respond to this heinous assault out of their justified anger and pain, please let me express that they must understand why such a terrible event occurred and let us look at how similar tragedies can be avoided in the future. They must also be aware of the fact that injuring innocent masses in order to punish a few guilty people is to no one’s benefit; rather such actions will only strengthen the terrorists by feeding any existing resentment and by giving birth to more terrorists and more violence. Please remember that terrorists represent an extremely small minority within any society or religion. Let us try to understand each other better, for only through mutual understanding and respect can such violence be prevented in the future.

I feel the pain of the American people from the bottom of my heart, and I assure them that I pray to God Almighty for the victims and I pray that He give their loved-ones and all other Americans the necessary patience to endure their pain.”

I blinked to clear my vision and thought about all of the prejudices and stereotypes I used to possess as a frightened, angry family member of someone who used to work at the World Trade Center. Although God began changing my heart years before this trip, the realization that I had been so utterly and completely wrong to hold such bitterness toward an entire culture because of the actions of extremists sank in completely. I don’t judge all Christians based on the actions of the Mormon church, which advocates child brides and multiple wives, nor the Catholic church, in which priests have molested young children. Friends of a friend were victims of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem a few years ago at the hands of an Orthodox Jew, but I didn’t write off Judaism after the event. Yes, there have been more events of terror done in the name of Islam than Christianity and Judaism, and I will not even try to defend them; but that means that there just needs to be a line drawn more firmly in the sand, separating the extremist Muslims from the loving, accepting, welcoming ones I have met on this trip. I realized with a start that there have been times in my life where I have been treated with disdain from Jewish friends for my faith in Jesus, or judged as legalistic from Christians who are horrified that I should “place myself back under the law”; I have received none of these attitudes from the people I’ve met here.

As we were preparing to leave, I noticed a Hebrew Bible, Quran, and Christian Bible all open and on display. Noting that the Hebrew Bible was open to the Psalms, I began reading and translating to myself, making a note to remember to tell Dr. Bowman, when our guide suddenly exclaimed, “You can read that?!” Salih piped up, “She knows Turkish, too!” and the guide began speaking rapidly in Turkish to me. Embarrassed and slightly exasperated, I pulled out my notebook and showed them the list of words Allyson and I had learned by either putting two and two together, or by English translations underneath them: a grand total of 55 words. “I am far from fluent,” I said as the guide laughed at the random list: for rent, strawberry, push, and snails.

As we were waiting for the bus, though, I realized that a word on the list did not have a matching English word; I had seen it on a billboard that had captured my attention due to an enormous picture of a man with quite an impressive mustache, but had no other reference for what it could mean. Not wanting to leave this country without my curiosity satisfied, I pointed the word out to Salih and asked, “What does this word mean in English?”

He looked at it and frowned. “Where did you see this word?”

I flushed, thinking of all of the questionable words on billboards in America and realizing that my method of writing down random words I saw on signs was maybe not the best. “On an advertisement in Downtown Istanbul…is it inappropriate–?”

“No, just so random.” He frowned again. “I can’t think of the word in English. What is…you know, the white in your hair–” he wiggled his fingers in his scalp.

“Dandruff?” Caleb offered.

“Dandruff! That’s the word,” he said. He laughed at my obvious relief that it wasn’t anything sketchy as I wrote down the English translation and closed my notebook. “Such a helpful word for you to know if you are going to teach here.”

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Afterwards, we headed to Somanyolu (Milky Way) TV station, where we learned about Turkish television and then got to tour some shows being taped, including Yesil Elma (Green Apple), a very famous cooking show here in Turkey. 1891073_449440291855929_228197443_n

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After Samanyolu, we headed to a beautiful park to enjoy our lunch on the gorgeous day. Still feeling questionable, I split a mini Turkish pizza with Natalie and Beth, and we mostly picked at it and gave bites to the cats roaming around our table.

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As we explored the park after lunch, the call to prayer sounded, and I had to get it on video, though I’ll always remember the sound. There’s something haunting and beautiful about it, almost reminiscent of the Torah being chanted in synagogue.

After lunch, it was finally time: the Grand Bazaar. Dr. B tried to explain bargaining to us, but Bayleigh and I just got more and more anxious the more he told us the do’s and don’ts. “Pick a price and try to have them reach it, but don’t insult them. Remember that everything’s priced up to 75% more than it should be so don’t get ripped off, but remember that they’re trying to support their families. Don’t waffle, but be willing to pay more than you had originally wanted if they won’t budge. Judge what you want before you walk up to the owner; if you linger too long and don’t buy anything, that’s insulting. Oh, and don’t get lost. It’s an enormous place. Remember this gate, because it’s where we’ll meet at the end of the day.”

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I decided right then and there to stick with Allyson, who has bargained everywhere from China to Japan to Turkey, and we trooped off of the bus and into the market. It was overwhelming at first. There are so many people selling everything from two lira trinkets to Turkish rugs worth tens of thousands of dollars. One man kept pestering Caleb to buy a large, elaborate one, but we didn’t think it would quite fit in his carry-on.

I noticed a t-shirt that said “Tin Tin in Istanbul,” and immediately thought of my little brother. As I watched Allyson haggle over a t-shirt for her Dad, I listened to the price of the shirt, how much she was actually willing to pay, and how much she fought for it. Preparing myself for the same experience, I held up the shirt and asked, “How much?”

“Five lira.”

“Oh!” $2.50 for a t-shirt? Allyson’s had been more, but it made sense that a child’s shirt was cheaper. “Okay, great!”

He raised an eyebrow slightly but whisked the shirt away to bag it up before I could change my mind, and it was then that I realized I hadn’t even attempted to bargain the price down. Slightly embarrassed, I accepted the bagged shirt and made a note to do better with my next purchase: a Turkish scarf for myself. I scoped out the place I wanted, where there were a variety of different colors and styles. Narrowing those choices down to three, a purple, red, and blue one, I finally decided to go with the blue one, and turned to the owner. “How much?”

“60 lira.”

I blinked, not expecting it to be that much. Remembering that Dr. B had said things were priced 75% more than they were worth but also remembering not to go so low as to insult him, I went a little higher than 50%. “35 lira?”

He took the scarf from me, folded it up, and placed it back on his pile. “You insult me.”

Things were not going much better than the Tin Tin t-shirt. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I said sincerely.

“I have family to feed–”

“I’m sorry. I meant no offense.” My heart was pounding and my face was hot, but I was not going to slink away. “I do love the scarf. It’s very beautiful, and I would like to reach a deal with you. Name a fair price?”

He scratched his chin, looking thoughtful. “38 lira.”

Relieved, I accepted, counting out the money and handing it to him, and he relinquished the scarf. It was only as I was walking away that I realized he had only bumped up my “insulting” bid $1.50 more (American). Allyson gently informed me later that he could tell I was new to all of this and wanted to have some fun intimidating me. Well, I don’t care. I have my scarf, and she did admit that 38 lira was a fair price for it.

As we walked on, shopkeepers began asking us where we were from, guessing England and Germany most often, interestingly enough. When we would say America, we would get a wide range of responses from everything to, “Ah! Of course,” to, “Oh! I know Bill Clinton!” to “Ohhhh, Spice Girls, yes?”

I bought presents for everyone back home, saving a beautiful pocket mirror and scarf for myself. As our time began winding down, I had one more person on my list, and noticed a bracelet that would be perfect. “How much?” I asked the owner.

“Normally, 20 lira, but for you, pretty lady….15.”

Knowing that he was only using shameless flattery to get my business, I have to admit that it worked anyway. Still, I shook my head and extended the seven lira I had left in my hand. “I’m sorry. I don’t have enough left. Thank you anyway. It’s very beautiful–”

“I will take seven, then, since you like it so much.”

“But that’s not even close to 20–”

“It is good. I will get to tell my family I gave a good deal to a beautiful American. Take it.” He began wrapping it up before I could protest further.

I handed him the last of my money, thanking him, but as I walked away, he called me back. “You’ve given me too much. This coin is not a lira.”

I resigned myself then to the fact that I would never be a professional–or even remotely successful–bargainer. “Isn’t it…the one worth a half a lira?” I asked, hating myself for forgetting the name and appearing so stupid.

“No, no! It’s worth several lira.”

Nice job, Kate. I shook my head and gave an embarrassed smile. “Well, keep it, anyway, since the bracelet was 20 originally–”

“We agreed seven, and I will only take seven. You can buy something else with this. Enjoy the rest of your time in Istanbul.” He wouldn’t take the coin back.

Reunited as a group once more, we all excitedly began comparing purchases and swapping bargaining stories as we headed back to the restaurant we had eaten on our first night here (which seems like an eternity ago) to meet up with Professor Saeed and his group. I have to admit I was slightly envious of them and the fact that their trip was just beginning and ours was rapidly coming to an end. On the bus, I rearranged my packages, pulling out the necklace I had bought for my sister to admire it once more.

“How did bargaining go for you?” Salih wanted to know.

Proud, I named the original price of the necklace and then the price I had bargained for, a fraction of what the owner had originally asked. I was surprised when Salih raised an eyebrow. “So much?”

I blinked. “I thought it was a good price. 75% off. I didn’t want to insult him–”

“Things are priced about 90% more than they’re worth in the Grand Bazaar. He saw you coming,” he said bluntly.

I wrapped the necklace back up and sighed. At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I love what I got for everyone, and I don’t feel like I paid more than I should have.

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After another amazing dinner (Mercimek Köftesi is my absolute favorite) we prepared to say goodbye. Words were insufficient to thank Salih and express our gratitude. Laughing over our pose with Salih and his broken arm, there was no time for tears (it’s a miracle that I didn’t cry, really) although I suspect there will be some tomorrow. I felt an aching emptiness as I packed up my things in the room that had become my home over the past week and a half. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave tomorrow.

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If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 7: Eat, Pray, Love

Adventures in Turkey pt. 6: Exploring More Ancient Cities

Adventures in Turkey pt. 5: EPHESUS

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

Adventures in Turkey pt. 3: Some Heartfelt but Definite Jet-Lagged Rambling

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

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