by Yaryna Kobryn
I always used to say that it is impossible to get the feeling of the country by its capital…and yet, it’s the third capital I settle in (after Colombo, Sri Lanka and Hanoi, Vietnam). So here I am again, at another world’s capital, Ankara.
“Do you like Ankara?” – the people I meet keep asking me the same question over and over again. “I don’t know” – I reply, laughing, and I am being completely honest. I don’t know what to make out of this city, irrational and contradicting in so many ways: the up-down roads, radically changing weather, uncontrollable traffic, the streets and simit cafes or local bars looking all the same, and the views which unexpectedly open up like a map of the entire city and then entirely disappear at the next turn. Do I like Ankara? I truly don’t know. Do I feel comfortable in the city? Absolutely, and that’s what, as I believe, matters.
I believe that we build relationship with the city as much as we do with people. We try to get the vibe of a specific place, understand what is special about it, feel the rhythm of the city, try to perceive how it lives, what aspires it, what it dreams of. We do it by having small glimpses into the local lives, sharing the moments with the city, getting attached to places, building up the memories like the houses of cards. Hereby are my first glimpses of Turkey, my getaways to its cultural authenticity.
Glimpse #1: Çai
I started to suspect that tea means something more for Turkish people than merely a drink after I was offered tea perhaps a dozen of times per day. People drink tea outside by the low-set tables, walking vendors carry tea glasses of a traditional concave shape on the metal trails across the streets, the waiters pour tea drink out from the kettles resembling samovars in the cafes and restaurants… The tea kettles are often exposed in front of the dining places as if an award or the chalice, inviting the passerby in for another cup. Not to mention that the tea offered after a meal at tiny dining place is commonly complimentary.
Tea culture is strong and authentic in Turkey. No, they don’t have vast tea plantations like India or Sri Lanka do, but their passion to tea can compete with literally any world’s nation. With several million squares of land on the Black Sea coastline devoted to tea growing, both tea production and tea consumption in Turkey takes a stunning scale, which can be seen everywhere in Ankara, from the multitude of tea shops and cafes all around the city to the constantly boiling kettle in the office, like the eternal flame keeping the office work and life going.
Making Turkish tea is a particular technology, as well. Tea-brewing in a Turkish way implies using two kettles, one of top on another. The one on top brews the tea, the lower one is where the water boils. As the tea gets ready, a little is poured from each of the kettles depending on how strong the taste of tea is preferred. The Turkish preference of tea – extra strong, just as Turkish tea culture itself.I
Glimpse #2: Locals Evenings
Turkish food, Turkish music, Turkish people – what is more of the insight into Turkish life than that? Experiencing these three things combined feels like a deep dive in the ocean of culture – while you, as if through the diving mask, observe it right in front of your eyes and feel embraced by it.
Such a dive was experienced by me while meeting the local youth – the participants of one of the Erasmus projects whom I met by either a great luck or a destiny:D. The last evening of the project before everyone had to go back to their cities felt festive and hilarious – with everyone laughing and hugging, singing Turkish songs out loud, playing the guitars and saz (traditional Turkish musical instrument), pounding the tambourine and beating the rhythm by clapping, snapping the fingers and footstomping. Some people, having to leave early, told their farewells, some people joined, as if appearing from nowhere, others abruptly disappeared and then came back again – until eventually, all this merry crowd rolled out of the centre for a dinner, common for them – and a degustation of Turkish cuisine, as it was for me.
Many of those from the group could speak a few words from English only, so the mixture of languages hovered in the air above us, combined with the hilarious attempts of gesturing the words. And somewhere in the middle of this pseudo-conversation I suddenly felt a great charm of this contradicting feeling of excitement and absolute comfort among the people I just met, the unfamiliar culture, and the place which is not discovered by me yet – as some kind of hopeful acceptance of what is yet to come.
Glimpse #3: National Pride and Omnipresent Atatürk
It is widely known that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is considered by the Turkish people a Father of the Nation who has done immense contribution to modernize and reshape Turkey into modern and strong country.
Still, to say that the Turkish love Ataturk is to say nothing: they not merely love him, they seem to worship him. The cups with thr photos of Ataturk, stickers of him and his signature, even the temporary tattoo sketches – all of these elements are not the souvenirs from the touristy shop, but the common goods sold to the locals.
Wherever you go – to the cafe, pub, business office or the hospital – Ataturk seems to be always watching you, presented in a multitude of different versions of himself – the young one, the middle-aged one, in profile and full face, in a full size or the head only, and the most often – with the flag of Turkey on the background.
Along with the Ataturk, the flag as a national symbol can be seen all around the city, serving as another proof of a great pride of the country and self-identity which the locals nurture – and, frankly speaking, it is somehow heartwarming to see it.