One of the best things about traveling for me is connecting with the local people. Sometimes it’s your hostess at the guesthouse where you are staying. Sometimes it’s a waiter at a restaurant. Sometimes it’s an owner of a shop. Often, these are brief moments in time that may only last a few minutes. Some moments are longer. But, regardless, I always feel these connections are truly those authentic moments that we long to have as travelers. That feeling that we are understanding a culture and a people and thus, a country, better than when we first arrived.
When I think about these moments, I am taken back to my time in Turkey, and in particular to my time in Bozburun, a small, seaside village in the southwestern part of the country. I stayed at Karia Bel’ Hotel 3 times and, despite my very limited Turkish, got to know some of the staff there. They were some of the nicest people I met.
On my third stay there in late July (it was very hot), I had walked into town and returned late in the afternoon. Some of the staff were gathered in the open air room where the laundry was cleaned. They were sharing bread and other food, talking and laughing. I passed by and said hello in Turkish. One of them asked me a question in a mix of Turkish and English, inviting me into their conversation and into their world. Someone offered me bread which I declined having just eaten 2 ice cream bars. I tried my best to talk to them in broken Turkish and hand gestures. We all laughed at our efforts to communicate. But, we did understand each other for the most part.
Then, the one young gal, Merve, who I adored as she is very expressive, grabbed a round melon that looked like a small watermelon. She held it in front of me, and demanded, “English!”, as her eyes grew wide in excitement. I began to laugh as she was so eager to learn even a few words of English. And she is such an animated person. I looked at it, not sure if should answer “melon” or “watermelon”. So I gave her both answers. I was laughing though, as Merve’s eyes were as big as saucers and she was so serious. We all laughed at our struggles to learn each other’s language. And we laughed as we were having a wonderful time, in this cultural exchange. It was real. It was authentic. It was making a connection, even for a brief moment in time.
Reluctantly I left to go back to my room to do some work and then get ready for dinner. But, I’ve never forgotten this moment. It’s what I call a “travel moment” – a moment that you feel you’ve connected to the place you are visiting, that you’ve connected to the people who live there. That you walk away from feeling like you better understand this country, its people, its culture. That you walk away from realizing the humanness of every single person on this Earth. That travel moment is the one you talk about when you return home. It’s the moment you remember years from now when you look back on that specific trip. That’s a travel moment. That’s a moment you cherish for the rest of your life. That’s what travel is all about.