In 2013 I travelled around Turkey with my friend Zoé. Everyone told us we were insane to travel alone in such a dangerous country, so when we arrived in Istanbul we erred on the side of caution. On our first day in Istanbul Turkish locals greeted us on the streets and invited us into their shops for chai (tea). We thought they were trying to poison or kidnap us so we didn’t accept their invitations or drinks, which just seemed like common sense being from North America.
Our cautious attitudes didn’t last very long though as we quickly learned how warm and friendly the Turkish culture really was. Other travellers we met encouraged us to accept the chai and interact with the friendly Turkish locals, and so we did, and I became addicted to Turkish apple tea. Accepting chai invitations as we travelled around Turkey led us to some of our best adventures. We met all sorts of different and interesting people including shop owners, carpet makers, a fortune teller and a man who proposed to me and asked me to meet his family and his father’s many wives (I politely declined). Sometimes the invitations came with a sales pitch, but we didn’t mind and the shop owners were always understanding when we said that we couldn’t buy a carpet.
My favourite people that we met through chai were Ali and Semsettin while we were in Göreme, Cappadocia, a small town made up of “fairy chimney” rock formations. We had just finished exploring Göreme National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, when Ali and Semsettin noticed us and asked us if we would like some chai. We became quick friends and spent a lot of our time together drinking chai in front of their shop, Sultan Carpets. They invited us to their place to watch the soccer game and introduced us to their friends. Ali asked us if we had ever seen a flying magic carpet and Zoé and I were obviously intrigued. I can’t tell you the secret to how it worked but it really did fly!
Coming from a western culture where strangers almost never talk and most people don’t even know their neighbours, visiting Turkey and meeting people over a cup of chai was refreshing. Although I would still never accept a drink from a stranger in North America, in Turkey I didn’t hesitate and here’s why- locals saw two girls traveling alone and their first instinct was always to go above and beyond to help us (even when we insisted that we didn’t need help). The kindness that I saw from the people of Turkey is a kindness that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. I encourage everyone to visit Turkey at least once in their life, and if you can, visit Sultan Carpets in Cappadocia to have a cup of chai and take a ride on a flying magic carpet!