Global Village vs. Americana (Thank you, Ms. Johnson)



Following a guidebook which promised not to be touristy, my friend flipped some pages and declared:  “Fatih Mosque is this way.” So this way we went, three Americans in Istanbul knowing almost no Turkish.

Small fenced cemeteries squatted between houses like old secrets. Bearded men with hats pretended not to see us; modestly covered women cleaned the sidewalks with brooms and bleach-water. Most wore simple headwear, not bright scarves like the modern girls in Beyoglu. Our friendly smiles were rarely met in kind; any eye contact accompanied a quiet, skeptical greeting. Merhaba.

 Our male companion silently pointed to a house's entryway topped with barbed wire. I laughed at him.

 "It’s a neighborhood, not a theme park," I said. He shrugged. I felt so obviously American.
 Bright paper streamers and balloons tied to an iron gate caught my eye: we’d bumbled our way to Fatih’s Wednesday Bazaar. It wasn’t in the non-touristy guidebook; my friend tucked that into her backpack.

This was not frenetic like the Grand Bazaar. Open to the sky, more organic in fare: endless rows of pristine vegetables, cheese samples, fabric by the yard. Glass Çay cups were cached on the ground between tables, waiting to be collected on metal trays. I took pictures of guild crafted Ibrik, the long-handled coffee pots; fresh spices, fresh eggs, and fresh flowers.
We stopped in awe outside the honey vendors’ booth. One of them stepped out from under the canvas awning.

 Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” He enunciated carefully, looking at each of our faces. I do. Here we were in a bazaar in Turkey, and a man was greeting us in German. 

 “Ein bisschen,” I ventured – a little. “Ich lerne in der Schule.” My friends gaped. I grasped for high school vocabulary long-lost – forget about getting the tenses right.  The man nodded.

 “Ich lebte in Bayern,” he continued. Bayern is Bavaria …leben means to live, yes. Thank you, Fräulein Johnson.

Meine familie haben aus Bayern gekommen. Meine Grossmutter. Prussian,” I spoke slowly. He nodded again.

 “Ich war ein Gastarbeiter. Ich hab’ mit Auto gearbeitet.” Gastarbeiter- guest worker in a car factory.

Farhvergnugen!” I said. 

The man and I laughed; everyone else looked confused. I explained to my friends that Germany imported Turkish workers in the 50s. Some stayed; there remains a strong Turkish community. This guy had come home. Something seemed familiar about us, I guess.

We bought some honey, waved goodbye, saying teşekkür ederim – thank you - the best Turkish words we knew.

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