I used to see myself as a pretty serious tea drinker. Admittedly it was white with an artificial sweetener which I’m sure will disgust purists but I experienced true joy at the offer of a cuppa.

As a brief aside, the waitress of the hotel’s bar just took a break for a coffee and what is essentially a Panini with yellow cheese (there are just two types of cheese in Turkey; the white is like feta* and the yellow like cheddar) chipotle sauce and a local meat with the texture of spam. I’ve so far avoided them as they look vile but she came to give me some (it gets sliced into little fingers). Aside from the loveliness of the gesture it tasted awesome.

Anyway, tea is a big deal in Turkey. When the guidebooks say everyone drinks it, they fail to capture the role it plays in society. You pop into a travel agency to buy a bus ticket but first you must sit, take some tea, be calm. Where are you from, where are you going, why not go to this place instead?

When I first arrived I hated it. I avoided going into shops because I felt obliged to make a purchase if I drank their tea. Furthermore I didn’t know what I might want to buy, couldn’t I just look around?

For several days I was a hot cross Westerner. I walked quickly with sunglasses on and head down to avoid the masses that seemed to desperate to separate me from my lira.

Things changed when I left Istanbul. I took a train and when I arrived at my destination and asked the ticket office for directions to the bus station (after going out, looking and giving up) the only guy there shut up the office and took me to the station. He asked which hotel I was going to and told it to the driver so that I could be dropped off outside. He shook my hand in both of his and wished me a wonderful holiday.

I checked into my hotel and after showering, headed to the bar where a tour seller introduced himself. I said I was interested and he took me over the road; to a restaurant. He bought me dinner as I looked tired and hungry and only then could we go to his office. I got to know the sales team and they looked after me well. When I agreed to buying tours for the next leg of my journey they spent some of their commission buying me drinks.

But always always, we would be drinking tea. When could I go for my mud bath? Sit, drink some tea, we’ll go soon. The many small delays included new busloads of tourists to sell to but many were simply about slowing down. We arrived at the hilltop spa with its mud baths but first I was bought a pomegranate juice. Relax after the journey (8km), why hurry to the mud?

It prepared me well for the last 36 hours.

My bus was to leave Pamukkale for Sepςuk at 5am. At 4.30 Oskar was knocking on my door saying the bus was leaving! A mix of fury at Süleyman for telling me the wrong time and stomach turning fear was forced to the background of my mind as I packed and was out my door in five minutes. Nevertheless the bus was gone and I was dispatched in a car to chase it. Upon that failing I was taken to the train station to catch the 5.45 which would get me there at 8.55, a full 35 minutes before my tour started. So why the bloody hell wasn’t I offered the train in the first place? Of course the tour company weren’t there (assuming I’d be on the bus) but another kindly train station ticket officer made a call and a rep came to get me.

Compared to when I was doing everything myself I felt helplessly out of control. But the tour was great for a trip that would be tricky to do any other way and I was this time safely deposited on my overnight bus. We set off ok but it broke down and we spent four hours on the side of the road while they fixed it. Annoying in itself but also meaning I’d miss my trip in Cappedocia. Again, a sense of helplessness but the Turks seemed nonplussed and I realised the stress was all my own making and I resolved that upon my arrival I would drink tea as a solution.

While I was stuck in rural Turkey a tour rep stopped at my hotel to discover me missing. He called Süleyman who confirmed my exit from Pamukkale and between them my journey was traced to a late bus. Shortly after checking in (after the bus company stopped for directions in order to deliver me to my door) I met the hotel owner who offered me tea. So we sat and drank tea. The Turks drink it strong, black and with lots of sugar (apple tea is just for tourists and is pretty vile). I was happy. I had calmed myself on the bus and was ready to discover solutions.

It didn’t really surprise me the owner knew half the story and I filled the gaps about the broken bus. He lent me his phone to call Süleyman who promptly offered a full refund of my missed tour. I said I had a spare day and could we reschedule? Absolutely, call the tour company and he’d call to confirm. I relayed this to the hotel owner who proffered more tea. You know, because phone calls like this are taxing.

Yes! Yes they are. I hate these kind of calls. So does just about everyone I know. So why do we endlessly force ourselves to always push on?

I called the tour company and everything was arranged. No problem and so so sorry for your terrible journey. Do you feel ok?

It’s not just pandering. People here really take their time. Life is full of inconveniences (in Turkey perhaps more than elsewhere) but they are acknowledged, just as feelings of frustration are acknowledged. Responsibility is taken by those responsible but you must also play your part. Stay calm, drink your tea and be thankful when things are solved. And ultimately everything is solved.

This is the art of drinking tea. My endless bubble of complaints don’t build up here as they do at home and furthermore I don’t feel like an impatient person. I’m endlessly told that this must be frustrating but thank you for your patience. Back home we have a stiff upper lip and because I carry my heart on my sleeve more than most (a nice way of playing I lack diplomacy), I often feel grumpy and difficult.

Tea is the answer. It doesn’t take long but it feeds the soul, recognises the petulant child within and placates it with sugar while pain killing caffeine in shot glass form makes the adult step back from the situation. My life in the UK was an endless stream of words. Turkey has given me back full stops. And lots of little stops make for a far easier to digest paragraph.

* Never call it feta. Feta is Greek. It staggers me how many tourists seem to think Greece and Turkey are interchangeable. Has Eurovision completely passed them by?

9/15/2011 06:13:39 pm

Great article Kathryn, I seriously think you should consider trying to get it published in a magazine. And when you do, I have a nice shot of a glass of tea in Istanbul! :-)


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