For me, the best part of traveling – and definitely staying in hostels – is listening to people’s stories. I’ve come to think of it as my greatest skill being a ‘story whisperer.’
On the one hand, there is the usual: where’ve you been, how long will you be here, and how drunk did you get last night? asked in a single breath. As you might know, my conversation wanes once that last question is uttered.
On the other hand, there are those who are looking for the more substantive either talking about the state of their mind and soul or the world they inhabit and ‘walk’ through.
And the best people to chat with are goofballs in one breath and deadly serious with another. At the ‘Black Sheep’ hostel (my namesake hostel) I noticed this about F., a just-past- young Turkish film and commercial editor from Istanbul. Traveling for seven months, with 97 more days to go (and counting), our conversation began when I shared I was fasting for Yom Kippur – and how that was (kinda) similar to fasting for Ramadan. On paper F. is Muslim though in the 3-D world he is nothing – if not (more than) a bit scared about the state and future of Turkey.
First he shared the facts or should I say the fate of Turkish Jews as told by the mother of a friend. In the 60’s, a ‘luxury’ tax was placed on Jews – so many left to Israel or the states. While there are still Jews there, after what F. told me, I wonder for how much longer. But his desperate (and that’s how it sounded at times) tale isn’t about the Jews, but the country as a whole.
Sure, Turkey is a democracy – of a sort. But he feels the country is being dumbed down as people slink into capitalism, watch TV and stop thinking about life around them. He blames this on the U.S. (The country of blame around the world – except when there is need for help) who exported the American dream which Turks were only too anxious to buy. Then there is the whole ‘allowing’ the country to ‘turn’ Islamic, meaning there is a control and acquiescence to life and therefore part and parcel of that dumbing down. While it seems strange to think of the U.S. wanting another Islamic state, his response was that ‘this’ wasn’t thought through very well.
Slowly, he feels Turkey is becoming an Islamic state – definitely in 20 years. Religious studies are now mandated regardless of religion. Even Jews have to study Islam (which promotes understanding and isn’t necessarily bad… – unless it’s mandated as a way to be). It’s more he feels the fundamental crush of what and how people should live including when people can drink, have sex, and overall freedoms of what can be shown in the media and in commercials. Commercials he says are fairly safe to make and show. As long as they don’t show any type of political opinion.
And how does this all happen without any kind of protest? F. says it’s because people are sedated by television into the belief that things aren’t that bad. After all, they don’t want to think. (Another Turkish woman agreed – without the urgency of needed action.)
So after telling me how it’s the fault of the U.S. – he pleaded with me to help: to tell the government they should step in and do something to stop the growth of a fundamental state. He wants people to know what is going on there. It was interesting he felt so powerless – or afraid – because if he made any real show of what is happening what would happen to him?
One thing he hopes will happen is that in these next 97 days he will find a place to stay. By the time he left, he seemed quite fixated on marriage (though not Colombian he stressed!) – maybe to a Canadian.
Me, I’ll be coming back stateside – happy to go and happy to return. But now all the wiser, I’ve shared with you. We all do what we can do and wisdom is power.
Fyi: And I should add this was all shared before Turkey shared in the news of ISIS battling in Syria and beyond.
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