My mind is on Turkey due to today’s dinner being a soup dish I’ve been reworking for a cookery course I’ll be teaching on Turkish cuisine. Part way through eating I remembered the miniature bottle I’d brought back for the husband and had been saving for when I eventually started cooking Turkish recipes.
I had high hopes of Turkish food and it certainly delivered. There were elements of Greek tastes but for me it took me back to the Iranian restaurants in Kuala Lumpur where I would eat with my Persian friends. It used to surprise and amuse me that these intelligent and cultured men would only eat Iranian food* but it gave me the chance to become familiar with the complexity of Middle Eastern food. Sure there were a lot of kebabs but they were unlike I’d ever tasted and the salads blew my mind.
The surprise lay with Turkish wine. I’d had Raki before and was a fan and Efes the national lager was much as any other lager in a hot country, excellent in chilled glasses and nondescript merely cool. I’d never even heard of Turkish wine. This led me to think badly of it. After all, I’d never heard of Thai wine and that was not a pretty discovery. Turkish wine doesn’t have sophisticated origins and had I known them before hand I may have judged it harshly. For it was only after many nights drinking the stuff that I learned that the grapes grew on public land, were harvested by villagers and produced in factories. I asked somewhat hopefully whether they used casks and got a quizzical look.
Nevertheless it’s lovely stuff and the Shiraz-Merlot blend I brought back was smooth, complex and with perfectly balanced tannins. A look on Wikipedia (I’m terribly glad that SOPA looks to crumble to dust) and I see that Turkey is the world’s fourth largest producer of grapes. I think we’re missing out on something frankly and am surprised there isn’t more on the British market.
But this isn’t a blog about wine, although it is about two men I have drunk wine with. It’s about me finally feeling ready to write about something I have been battling with.
In 2008 I moved to Malaysia. Early on I was approached in the street by a man eager to talk to me. This wasn’t uncommon for me as being Caucasian I stood out somewhat and novelty seems to attract wherever you go. Usually I smiled a no but for some reason I stopped. The romantic in me likes to think I sensed a friendship destined to happen. His name was Hussein and he became my best friend for the few months he was in Kuala Lumpur. It took a while for his story to emerge. His reluctance became clear once I learned it all. Hussein was an Iraqi Kurd who had forged a passport and fled. He considered himself Iranian for that was where he was born and grew up but ones paperwork has the final say.
It all sounds rather dramatic but for the most part we were just two people. We went to the zoo, we drank white wine in touristy bars and we talked about philosophy. He had trained as a cardio researcher and when I told him the far less dramatic story of the breakdown of my marriage he took my hands in his and said that all of life’s answers lay in the heart; that the ups and downs of life were the ups and downs of our heart rate and when the turmoil of joy and anguish isn’t evident we’re dead already.
His plan had been to take advantage of Malaysia’s hospitality to refugees passing through and seek a visa for a new future in Australia. It was rejected and he was deported. I grew up the day we said goodbye. He thought he was going to Iraq to face death.
Imagine my joy then when several months later he got in touch via Facebook. He’d joined the Americans and was pictured in uniform carrying a gun. He’s since disappeared but I’m hopeful that he’s ok.
Between him and Ali and experiencing racism at the hands of Arabic men during my time in Kuala Lumpur I unexpectedly found myself taking sides politically. The Iranians I knew were so charming and educated, they were the good guys right? After all, Iranian Ali said that it was a mistake on the part of his government that the likes of Hussein got sent to Iraq and that Iranian Kurds were his fellow people.
Jump forward three years and I’m making another friend. Süleyman was a Canadian raised Turk who moved back to the country he’d left as a child. A few drinks down and we’re chatting about his early experiences of Turkey. He makes me laugh and as I’ve visited Canada a couple of times and have relatives there, we find a fair amount of common ground.
Except that my teenage years where I played with guns were very different. I shot at targets. Süleyman shot Kurds.
I grew up a whole lot more that night. I learned that I couldn’t travel the world making friends with interesting people without facing up to the complexity of reality.
Süleyman wondered why I was so quiet. I said I didn’t think the Kurds were so wrong and that they surely had the right to live if not inhabit the world in the way the Turkish government saw unfit. A stupid thing to say but then I’ve broken enough laws in Malaysia and I have the bad habit of being blasé. He studied my face and shrugged.
‘Did you know any...’
‘Yes.’ I cut him off.
We changed the subject. We drank into the night until he passed out on the mat we’d dragged to the rooftop.
Only then did I let myself cry and feel stupid for being so ignorant.
Less than a week later I was in the middle of nowhere, alone with a man with a handgun.
* And Nandos. But everyone eats Nandos.