Last night thirty-five women packed into my living room to talk, eat, sing, dance, and dye our palms orange. It was definitely another Middle Eastern moment to remind me that I actually do live here. We celebrated the upcoming marriage of a friend with a traditional henna night. The evening started out as a bridal shower, but at 9:00 the bride-to-be donned a red gown and veil. Friends danced around her with a candle lit henna platter before dying her palms.
I can hardly believe that I’ve lived in the Middle East for 14 years. Things that once seemed strange and exotic, like a henna night, now seem common place. Living here has changed my family. We’ve adopted new customs, like taking our shoes off to come into the house. (I now wonder how people can survive all day wearing shoes!) We’ve also learned many positive lessons from Turkish Culture.
Life-changing lessons Turks have taught me:
Make Relationships a Priority
Turks live in community. Friends and family talk to each other almost daily and see each other often. (Sometimes I laugh to think that we Westerners would probably call this co-dependency!) Over time, simple phone calls and visits do wonders to build relationships.
Make Room for Spontaneity
Many Turks will drop almost anything if a friend calls to ask, “May I come over right now?” As a Westerner I tend to schedule my life down to the last hour, and I have a hard time putting aside my plans, but I’m changing.
Recently friends called on a Sunday evening to invite us to go see their new house at 9:00 p.m. Normally, I avoid doing ANYTHING that late on a Sunday, but we knew it was a chance to share their excitement over the house, so we made the effort. We enjoyed the short visit, and our kids were happy to be out so late on a Sunday night.
Turks model the gracious art of hospitality, whether it’s offering a cup of coffee with a piece of chocolate or a five course meal. I try to have guests for a meal once on most weeks. This is do-able only because I’m learning to relax and let go of perfection. Opening our hearts and homes to friends is more important than serving a perfect meal.
Make Time for Slow Food and Slow Life
My favorite slow food is sarma. It takes three hours to make the filling and stuff the grape leaves. I tell myself, “I don’t have to hurry through life. I have three hours to enjoy cooking.” (Okay, so I only do this twice a year.) Last summer I enjoyed making peach jelly and canning tomatoes.
Respect Your Elders
When was the last time you kissed an older person’s hand? Turks do it all the time. They also visit their eldest family members first on all holidays.
These are some things that make me love Turks. Have you learned anything from living or traveling overseas?