In case I gave the wrong impression in this post where I talked about how Turkey has lots of cats on their streets, let it be known that they do have lots of strays, but they also love cats here. And so do I.
Want to know your future? Reading Turkish coffee can be good fun.
Turkish coffee is made with fine, powdery coffee grains that sink to the the bottom of the cup. You don’t want to drink these grains– trust me, it’s not pleasant. Rather, you want to leave the coffee sludge in the bottom of your cup, along with a bit of liquid. That way, you can use the coffee to tell your fortune. Don’t worry- reading Turkish coffee isn’t that difficult!
How do you do it?
After drinking your coffee, turn your cup upside down on its plate. Again, it’s quite important to leave all the coffee grains and a bit of liquid coffee (but not too much) in your cup so that the sludge will slide down making shapes and patterns.
Next, you have to wait until the cup is completely cold. This allows time for the sludge to drip and take shape.
At this point you can put a metal possession on the back of the cup to help it cool down faster. Or not.
Once it’s cool, you can read your fortune.
This week a Turkish friend of mine who used to read fal explained to me some of the basics.
While looking at the rim of the cup, hold the cup with the handle facing down.
Patterns and shapes you see in the coffee on this siderefer to the future
On this side they refer to the past
After reading the cup, move on to the plate. Pour any liquid on the plate back into the cup and then read it.
The small circle on the plate (the size of the coffee cup) shows information about your family and very close friends
Anything beyond that circle refers to other acquaintances, friends and greater society
While you can feel free to make up fortunes based on what you see in the coffee grains and what you think they may represent (ex. a bird in the future could mean that a person will travel soon), there are also standardized interpretations that you can memorize.
My first experience with kahve falı (coffee fortune telling) was during my first visit to Turkey. Armed with a bilingual Turkish-English friend of a friend, I listened intently as an old man turned my cup around and spoke for nearly an hour about my future and the friend translated. According to him, I should be going to Egypt someday.
I still haven’t been, but I think it’s a great fortune!
When you move to a different country you become immune to many “normal things” that at first you thought were weird. Here are some *prizes* for my favorite normal things from life abroad:
1. Dirty streets, dirty feet [Bolivia]
Yes, you can get used to your feet being constantly caked in dust. In fact, in some places you really don’t have a choice.
In Senegal my host mother always insisted I wash my feet to avoid microbes “getting me,” but after spending 8 hours a day like this, I bet the microbes still “got me.” Bolivia wins the prize on this though, because nobody there ever suggested I wash my feet.
2. Street animals [Turkey]
In some places it’s goats and sheep, in others its dogs.
Some have homes, others are wild.
At first you take pictures and ask what’s being done for them, but eventually you get used to their presence.
Turkey takes the prize because of its cats… they are literally everywhere.
3. One potato. Two carrots. [Spain]
I remember being very taken aback the first time I realized that I could buy only the singular fruits and veggies that I needed.
When I lived in Spain I had a fruit store on the corner, a bakery down the street and a small grocery store that saved all the weird-shaped tomatoes, like this one, just for me.
4. No silverware. Just your hand. [Senegal]
I cannot stress how much I LOVE eating with my hand.
It gives you intimacy and connection with your food.
Senegal wins the prize for teaching me to do it right. Even though I only lived in Senegal for 5 months, I still use my hand for rice dishes when I’m home alone.
5. Poor translations. [Czech Republic]
Every non-English speaking country gets credit for this one, but the Czech Republicwins this prize. I’ve seen many botched restaurant menus, but the Czech apparently dared to translate poetry at Gregor Mendel’s garden in Brno.
That said, the “30 Second Dispel Horniness” L’Oréal cream is my all-time favorite find. I found it in Turkey but since there was no Turkish on the packaging, it can’t qualify the country for a win.
6. Explaining Arkansas. [Wikipedia]
No matter where I go I always have to explain something about my state. That’s especially true when I gawk at funny-shaped tomatoes or my roommate comes home and I’m eating dinner with my hand.
What is life like in Arkansas? Thankfully, Wikipedia has always been there to help me find the words:
SCENE 1 I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to drink. But I’m 25 years old, so it only takes about 5 minutes for this German guy in the hostel to convince me otherwise. “Alright,” I say, “one drink.”
6 pints and 4 shots of jäger meister later, I take the following masterpiece of a photograph:
SCENE 2 I wake up at 8am to a screeching fire alarm. I roll over in bed, annoyed. The four other people sleeping in the room roll over too. Somebody grunts. The alarm continues.
I sigh loudly and pull myself out of bed. As I peek out the door to see what’s going on, smoke billows in.
Closing the door, I walk back to my bed and lazily pull on my shoes and coat. I’m still not awake and my body moves as though in a dream. As I turn to leave, I think to grab my phone.
Suddenly, a man with a fire extinguisher rushes into the room. He looks around wildly at its sleepy occupants. Most people have pulled pillows over their heads to block out the noise.
Catching on to his sense of urgency, I blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind: “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”
He cocks his head to the side. He doesn’t speak French.
“Fire?” he responds, unsure if he’s answering my question. He looks around confused and then repeats himself, this time more sure: “Fire,” he says. Then he leaves.
SCENE 3 I’m hungry. I tell the guys on the couch next to me that I’m gonna go get some food soon. I then spend:
15 minutes – talking about food in Istanbul 2 minutes – putting away my laptop and grabbing my coat 45 minutes – walking around the neighborhood looking for food 10 minutes – looking at different restaurant menus 20 minutes – walking back, still looking 30 seconds – deciding to walk into a shady place with no menu 2 minutes – explaining that I’m not lost and I want a sandwich 5 minutes – walking back TOTAL: 1 hour 39 minutes 30 seconds + 1 dürüm chicken wrap
SCENE 4 The firefighters are taking a long time. My money is in the building and I’m hungry.
I tell someone that I’m hungry and he offers me a banana. Another guy, listening in, insists that I take his apple. He tells me it’s an Istanbul apple.
I eat the banana. When the firefighters leave, I’m able to get back in my room, grab my stuff and head to a boat so I can make my way to the European side of the city and use a friend’s shower. On the boat, I order a cup of tea.
SCENE 5 I’m walking around with this girl who went to the same university as I did, back in Texas. We have nothing to talk about.
“Let’s go to that mosque,” I tell her, pointing up ahead.
We walk up to the mosque. She puts on a hat and I put a scarf over my head. We take off our shoes and we go inside. I can’t see any women anywhere and in front of us are a bunch of men praying. We stand around awkwardly.
I see a small side door with a sign in Turkish on it. I stare at it for a minute or two, translating. It literally says:
“Women have a space that is available.”
“Come over here!” I tell the girl, “this is the women’s area.”
She comes over to me and I try to open the door, but it’s locked.
SCENE 6 I get off the boat and start walking back to my hostel. Shoe shiners are lined up beside the sea. As I look at them they call out to me “buyurun, buyurun!”
At first I ignore them, but then I look down at my dirty leather boots. I decide that I’ll stop the next time I see a guy.
Yesterday I arrived in Istanbul for a 3-week vacation… by myself.
Yikes? Nearly everyone I told assumed that I must be coming with a friend. When I said I was traveling alone, they asked if I’d be meeting up with friends.
I worked in Istanbul for 8 months, so yes, I’ll meet up with some people I know. But actually, I didn’t come here for others; I came here for me. I came here to spend some time with myself. I’ll:
Choose what to do by myself
Choose where to go by myself
Shop by myself
Get lost (and found) by myself
Get mad by myself
Feel great by myself
and it also means that I’ll:
Eat by myself
Eating by yourself, I’ve been told, is scary. Unless, of course, it’s fast food. But why?
We may tell ourselves that it’s too expensive to buy a fancy meal if it’s not going to be shared. We may also think that it’s just a waste of time. But if you’ve ever actually done it then you know the real reason why most people don’t– there’s a stigma.
In fact, as a woman, if you eat dinner alone in a fancy restaurant it generally looks like you just got dumped. If not that, either you don’t have friends or you’re on a business trip and your flight got delayed. Whatever the case may be, you’re a sorry soul.
I’ll never forget the day I ate alone in Houston, TX, after a last minute visa appointment. A couple who came in before me paid for my bill on their way out. It was a beautiful, touching gesture that brightened my day, but I also had to wonder– do I look that lonely?
So to fight off that stigma, tonight I went for a nice looking, fairly crowded fish restaurant. Because, after all, who doesn’t like fish? After explaining to the server that I was just one person and, no, no friends were coming to join me, I had an excellent meal.
After finishing, a Turkish couple next to me spied an English book on my table. I immediately heard them whispering: “Yes, it’s English. Go for it. Hello. Just hello.”
They’d seen my book and they knew they could practice their English with me. I looked up, smiled and said hello first.
Where are you from? What are you doing here? How long are you staying? Why do you speak Turkish? Do you like drinking raki?
The restaurant brought us Turkish tea and and we chatted for over an hour. The boyfriend loved my choppy Turkish and I was delighted to have my first decent Turkish conversation since arriving. The one person who was not delighted, however, was the girlfriend.
Turkish women are stereotypically extremely jealous. Her one question to me was whether I had a boyfriend or not. ‘Yes,’ was not a satisfactory response. The next question was if she could see a photo of him. And then a photo of him and me together. And then: why has your hair changed? Is that really you? Are you sure you’re not lying about having a boyfriend in order to get close to mine?
To be fair, the couple explained to me that they were not together anymore and they were dining to decide if that would change. As the unofficial referee, I’d probably give it a no. Jealously, I was told, was tearing them apart.
I made them both smile and laugh and we ended the conversation by exchanging information and loose promises to meet up sometime in the days to come.
That’s the thing about traveling alone: you rarely end up alone.