A true story of international love: why travel breaks down worn-out paradigms

“Reality is up for grabs.”–Melissa Joy

As most of you know, I’m a travel writer. The past few months, I’ve been grounded. I had the new book to finish so, other than my talks in Hamburg and London, I’ve been sitting here in Lawrence, Kansas, wearing my PJ’s and finishing up the new book.

Well, it’s done, it’s at the publishers and, in less than 24 hours, I’m taking off on a whirlwind of travel. Tomorrow, I fly to Dominican Republic. I’m home a few days before a trip to northern California and then, a week later, I go to Kenya, a country that has been on my bucket list for years.

I wrote the following story this week. Even though it’s a travel story (it ran here on Huffington Post), I thought its message of international love sorta works here, too.

Enjoy!

Important advice that travel books never tell you

Travel guidebooks have it all wrong. They tell us about hotels and restaurants and sights we don’t want to miss.

What they SHOULD tell us has but five words:

“Get to know a local.”

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When that happens (and it’s a lot easier than you might think), real magic can begin. Locals, of course, know the best restaurants, have true insight about the must-see “sights” and will introduce you to things those writers of travel guidebooks couldn’t begin to know.

A recent example of this happened to me in Rize, Turkey. Rize is in the Black Sea region of Turkey and, as the guidebooks will tell you, it has stunning Alp-like vistas, ancient monasteries carved into cliffs and charming seaside villages, all of which you don’t want to miss.

But nowhere did any guidebook tell me about Cemal, Nazmiye and Fethi Yetkiner. This beautiful, open-hearted family invited me into their home one Sunday afternoon, fed me a meal that rivals the best of Istanbul’s many fabulous restaurants (and that’s saying a lot. Istanbul has really, really, really good restaurants) and made me feel like a treasured guest. Maybe I should rephrase that. They made me feel like an important part of their close-knit family.

Sure, I could have spent my day in Rize visiting the Rize Museum (according to the guidebook it’s an old Ottoman house complete with a weaving room and antiques) or the Genoese castle that, the guidebooks tell me, has its own tea garden.

But by instead hanging out with the Yetkiners, I learned a travel truth that is far more valuable. I learned about the connection that all of us humans have whether we speak the same language, whether we practice the same religion or whether we live thousands of miles away from each other. I also learned that the State Department doesn’t know everything.

The day before my trip to Turkey, the State Department issued a travel warning. It wasn’t a warning about the region where I was traveling, but nonetheless, it gave me pause. Plus, what news-savvy American hasn’t picked up the notion that we’re not likely to win any popularity contests with some Muslims? I don’t buy that kind of stereotyping, of course, but I’m a human with a reptile brain. I wondered, “Did I need to be on guard?”

Like most decisions made with my reptile brain, that question was so misguided, so off-base that I’m embarrassed to admit it here.

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And to pay penance, I want to tell you how beautiful and meaningful my day was with the Yetkiner family. By the time I met them, I’d already been in Turkey for a week and I was getting accustomed to the call for prayer. Even in remote mountain villages where maybe two or three families lived, the Adhaan was piped over a loud speaker system. I had grown to love it, to look forward to it and to utter my own “wassup” to the Divine each of the five times a day it rang out from mosques and loud speakers across the country.

I also learned quite quickly that hospitality is an art in the Muslim world, a cherished virtue that encourages practitioners to view every person who comes across their path as sent to them by Allah himself. In fact, it’s next-to-impossible in Turkey to be in the general vicinity of another human being without being handed a fig or a hazelnut or a bowl of fresh yogurt made that morning from the milk of their own cow.

Hospitality is so over-the-top (commerce, it seems, is beside the point) that any crusty idea I ever had that foreigners are different or that life sucks or that the world is a going to hell in a handbasket were properly dashed against the inhospitable shores of the Black Sea, a region in Turkey that looks more like the Colorado Rockies than Lawrence of Arabia.

Sure, Nazmiye and Fethi disappeared for a few minutes every time the call to prayer sounded (to a room where they kneeled on their prayer rug) and our language barriers prevented us from burrowing deeply into long conversations. But none of that mattered. When they were off praying, I sat on their gorgeous balcony gazing over the misty tea fields, reveling in the beautiful chanting that reminds all who hear it, “There is more. There is more.”

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When I faltered in trying to saying thank you (my “Tesekkur ederim” still sounds like something my 15-month-old granddaughter might say) for the five-course meal Nazmiye so generously prepared, she hugged me and let me know that she “got it” and that some things are bigger than words.

And after our feast (it’s really the only word that aptly applies), Cemal, who speaks perfect English, gave me a personal took of the tea factory (where he knew everyone and proudly provided anecdotes and perspective all guidebooks missed) and a craft factory (where prices were dirt-shockingly cheap), but he introduced me to most every one of his family and every one of his neighbors.
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It’s an experience I will treasure forever. And a vivid reminder always that “there is more. There is more.”

Pam Grout is the author of 17 books including E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and the soon-to-be-released sequel, E-Cubed, 9 More Experiments that Prove Mirth, Magic and Merriment is your Full-time Gig.

14 Comments on “A true story of international love: why travel breaks down worn-out paradigms

  1. Pam, I see you’re going to be in Northern California. When? We have to meet. I’ll come to you wherever you are. Just let me know when and where.

    How is Jim doing? His grandchildren? How are you?

    Congrats on delivering. How long do they take to send you your D and A? It’s royalty statement time in my neck of the woods. Been getting checks from the usual suspects.

    Loved the post and feel exactly the same way. I’ve always been a schmoozer and like to connect with people when I travel. Sadly, my ex-boyfriend was an introvert and uncomfortable with my need to meet new people while we traveled. Your post was a good reminder that I’m freer to have more satisfying experiences now.

    Thank you dear Pam, Carole

    Sent from my iPad Please forgive typos

    >

  2. Beautiful..That’s amazing…Thank you for sharing..I have 2 questions: 1. How did you get over your fear?2. You travel a lot, what do you take to prevent getting sick? and traveller’s diarrehea? and remedies? just curious,Maria

    Date: Fri, 4 Apr 2014 10:42:07 +0000 To: mariamark12@hotmail.com

  3. This post makes me feel that I know these people, that I love them, without ever having met them. Thank you for sharing this story here, Pam. I love your writing, the way you tell a story.

  4. What a lovely experience, and a great reminder that we are all ‘just people’ with the same heart.

  5. Oh Pam what a great post. I agree whole heartedly. Have a wonderful trip. I adore that you are going to Kenya finally. Eeeeeee…. to infinity. Can’t wait to hear about the trip.
    Shalom, Peace, Salaam alaikum and XOXO 😀

  6. I loved this and agree wholeheartedly. I didn’t miss that you dressed appropriately for the area. So many Americans don’t. I’ve had the same experience with the locals. Was even invited in for a meal while they hunted a room for us. Mom couldn’t climb the stairs to the hotel she had booked. It also helps a lot if you at least give their language even a mangled try. Then they are more willing to try yours not so perfectly. Happy travels.

  7. Dear Pam, Oh My Goodness!!! Since learning of you on Coast to Coast and reading E squared, I am so taken with your uplifting messages and moreover your gift of wit. I laughed out loud all through the book. What a boost. Since one of my dreams is to visit Istanbul and open to other scapes in Turkey, to find this particular post is more than a coincidence in light of your lessons vis a vis manifestations. I howled when you wrote in E about being baptized to Just AS I Am, as that is the same for me. I just get the biggest kick out of you and really appreciate your posts. I am refreshed. Elizabeth

    Sent from my iPad

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