Middle East Trip: Kind-Hearted Souls in Istanbul

This article is part 14 of 17 in the series Middle East Trip

1-7 January 2012

New Year’s Eve in Istanbul seems kinda cool. I can picture myself sitting by the side of Bosphorus shores, drinking Turkish tea, and enjoying fireworks which beautifully illuminate the entire city. These are my ideal New Year’s Eve that I have in mind. I feel sad that I don’t get to be in Egypt with my travel mates and not to mention that my backpack was lost somewhere in Sharjah airport. But I gotta savour this moment as this would probably be my only chance to be in Istanbul during the New Year. Instead of watching fireworks though, I opt to stay indoor with my host Halime, her two sisters and her friend, Sule.

New Year in Istanbul

We have our own little celebration: playing puzzles and drinking Turkish tea while listening to classic Turkish songs and singing our hearts out. I can hear the sound of fireworks over the city by midnight, but I am just too busy with my new friends that I can’t be bothered to see what’s going on outside. By 4 AM, we complete half of the puzzles and finish at least 4 big jugs of tea. My New Year’s Eve is more unusual and fun than what I previously thought 🙂CIMG4875

The post-New Year’s Eve is not as fun, though. Laziness strikes five of us, as we sleep throughout the Sunday morning and afternoon. Once everyone gets up, we turn our eyes into the unfinished puzzles. Well, except for Halime. She prepares and serves a simple yet delicious lunch-slash-breakfast consisting of Turkish bread, homemade jams, homemade cheese, and olives. I’m quite amazed — these are all homemade stuff! It’s too luxurious for my own liking. Apparently, Halime’s mom made those and she put them in a huge container stored in the fridge so that she and her siblings can eat them for breakfast. Who gets to eat homemade cheese every day? I definitely don’t have such luxury!

Dinner with Aslı and Her Family

By evening, I am already on the other side of Istanbul: the Asian side. All this while I thought that I was on the Asian side, but turned out I was still in Europe! I didn’t miss anything fancy, though. Most of the historical (thus touristy) sites are located in the European part of Istanbul, so there is no reason for me to go to Asia… unless… I’m invited for dinner 🙂 . Yes, that’s right! A CouchSurfer, Aslı (pronounced as as-le. The letter e is pronounced like in the) invited me for dinner at her house, as she is not able to host me this week. She is a young medical student who happens to love playing puzzles too! Her mom cooks different types of Turkish dishes for dinner. Out of all the dishes, I am familiar with one of them: waraq inab or known as grape leaf dolma. It is one of my favourite Middle Eastern dishes that I can make. Aslı’s mom’s dolmas stand out the most though! They are just so delicious!

Making puzzles with AslıAslı's mom and IDinner for today

After dinner, I sit down with Aslı and her two parents. They are very interested in Malaysian and Indonesian cultures and they hope that they can visit these countries one day. They are so friendly! I tell them about my lost baggage ordeal and that I currently survive with only a pair of shirt and jeans and a jacket that I am currently wearing (plus a trouser which I bought yesterday).

Immediately after telling my boring story, Aslı’s mom, who suddenly disappears in the middle of our conversation without me realising, emerges from another room with some clothes in her hands. She hands them to me and asks me if it would be rude for her to give these used clothes to me. Those are Aslı’s clothes that are no longer worn and they still look very good. Without hesitation, I take two of the shirts, which will be enough for the remaining 1 week of my Middle East trip. As if used clothes are not adequate enough to give to someone, Aslı’s mom gives me two pieces of brand new undergarments as well (they are still in their packaging!). What a generous and kind offer!!! Alhamdulillah! God listens to my prayers.

I am so pleased to meet Aslı and her family! I’ve only met them for less than two hours and they are already giving me all these items that are so precious to me. How can it be not precious? I won’t have to spend a dime to buy a pair of clothes anymore! The only thing I need to buy is a small and cheap backpack to carry my items. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel 😉

No Money No Cry

To me, it seems that the light continuously shines after my meeting with Aslı and her family. The road ahead becomes clearer and clearer. I no longer worry about my lost backpack anymore. When it comes to money, I feel a sense of security for the first time since I left Iran, as I have more than enough cash to support my travel for the next one week — thanks to new friends I met along the way. On different occasions, they have been paying for my meals and drinks, allowing me to save quite a bit.

For this reason, I get the chance to go to the top of Galata Tower on Tuesday night to see the beautiful city of Istanbul and then explore Topkapı Palace on Thursday. I decided to skip Hagia Sophia, since I went there when I visited Istanbul years ago with my family.

with Elena and OmerDrinking Turkish tea

They Found My Backpack

By Friday, I receive the happiest call from Air Arabia that my blue 55L North Face backpack has been found. I am told that it will take few weeks for the bag to arrive, which means that I won’t see the backpack anymore until the end of my Middle East trip. It’s not a big deal for me, though. Sending my backpack all the way to Jeddah seems like the best choice. Because of this call, all my worries for the past one week have disappeared now. All my prayers have been answered. I can’t be thankful enough for this.

Living without my 55L backpack that contains 5 different tops, a few pants, a sleeping bag, and all the essentials seem to be much better. It’s obviously much lighter and I can go around for hours carrying it. I wonder why did I bring so many things in the first place? I did not even have the chance to wear all of the clothes that I brought. I begin to realise that I can live without all those things. Quantity does not matter anymore. The important thing is that I have enough — two pairs of clothes, headscarves and some essentials are just what I need in order to survive. I will never bring so much stuff again for my future travels!

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