Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcoming a Stranger

It was 5:00 pm (17:00) and I was waiting in front of the PTT (post office) where I met Levent  and his smiling wife Ayşe, 19 and 14 year old daughters Nida and Bonu. They greeted me like a long lost friend with a warm hand shake and kisses on both cheeks. I had met Levent the day before on the sidewalk in front of a travel agency where I had been jotting down notes about a direct flight to Frankfurt. (I think I was still contemplating an escape route) Anyway, Levent had offered to help me in his broken English and the next thing I knew we were sipping tea and he was inviting me to dinner with his family. Fast forward twenty-four hours and I found myself squeezed inside a taxi headed towards Levent's home. Immediately I noticed 2 big differences between Levent's home and mine, a clean, well-lit mosaic tiled entry way and an elevator, compared to my dingy, dusty concrete entry elevator.
At the apartment door, we all carefully removed our shoes before crossing the threshold, and I stepped gingerly into the entry way. Ayşe and Levent ushered me into the living room, offered me chocolates, reminded me to sit back, relax, make myself comfortable, etc. So, I did. Conversation was warm and friendly but often stopped by lack of understanding until Nida produced a small computer and set the page to Google translate. Using the computer coupled with Bonu's affable personality and willingness to speak for the rest of the family we were able to have a decent conversation. I learned that Nida graduated from high school and starts university soon. Bonu loves English, Turkish and music (guitar) at wonder I like her so much!..and thinks math is just so so. Both she and her mother think it's great that Ellen plays soccer (football) in college.
Dinner included two traditional dishes, Turkish meat balls and yogurt soup, plus the ever dangerous warm pide bread.
After dinner the cousins and sister-in-law came over...kissing on both cheeks, hugging, saying hello, etc. took up the first five minutes of the conversation and then more chit chat with Google translator followed. Just when I think it's time to go home, nine of us pile into a car the size of a Honda CRV and head to the mall. Ayşe loops her arm in mine and we ride the escalator and parade around the shops together just like all the other couples and friends in the mall.
After more Turkish coffee and tea (I say more because this is tea #7 and coffee #4 for the day for me) at the mall's outdoor cafe, we kiss Nida and her cousin goodbye and we walk home. Levent made me promise to come upstairs after the mall and awaiting me were neighbors with more food, more introductions, and more conversation. By now, I was getting a little tired and full, but luckily Zumi, the neighbor, speaks excellent English and the conversation got much easier. Two meatballs, one baklava, and one more tea later, I thanked my gracious hosts and tried to head home. After much polite refusal I was able to convince my hosts that I had an appointment the next day and would be unable to spend the night. Levent reminded me that I can call him 24 hours a day if I need "anything...anything. anything." I promised I would. He walked me to the bus and made me promise to call him when I got home, which I did.
Now that's what I call welcoming a stranger to dinner

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