Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cultural Differences

My new friend M. is Kurdish.  He was born in a small village outside of Diyarbakir in the Southwest of Turkey.  An area of Turkey in constant turmoil.  Filled with Turkish army, police and security forces whose job it is to wipe out all Kurdish resistance.  Inhabited with people who are Kurdish.  Whose first language is Kurdish.  Whose dreams are for their own country: Kurdistan.

“I don’t understand Americans,” M. said as we sipped sweet bitter black tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses.

We were seated outside in an old Istanbul courtyard surrounded by crumbling buildings. Modern young Turks filled the area, perched on tiny woven-topped stools at low tables.  Tables and chairs that looked more appropriate for kindergarten children than adults.

“This one American woman who is a musicologist asked me to translate some things from Kurdish to English for her,” M said.  “Then she asked me if I had a little time to talk. ‘Of course,’ I said.  So she asked me if I knew about the Alevis in Kurdistan.  I told her I knew a little.  And she asked if I minded if she turned on her tape recorder.  I told her ‘No, it’s not a problem for me.’"

M. sipped tea from his tiny glass as waiters passed balancing silver trays filled with tiny glasses of the reddish-bronze national beverage.

“So I told her what I knew.  When I finished she turned off the recorder, looked at her watch, and said: ‘That was forty-eight minutes.’ Then she pulled ten Turkish Lira from her purse and handed it to me.”

M. looked at me with an expression of complete dismay.  “Can you believe it?” he asked me.  “She asked me if I wanted to talk.  I told her ‘yes,’ and then she tried to pay me.  What is this?” he asked me.

“I asked her, ‘What is this money for?’ And she said—it’s for your time.  In America—time is money.’  I told her this is not America.  It is insulting to try and give me money for something I offered in friendship.  Here people are what is important.  And relationships.

M. shook his head in disbelief.

Around us Turks smoked and sipped tea and chatted about the world.  Packs of cigarettes were placed on the brown wooden tables for friends to share.  People picked up the bill and payed for their friends’ tea.

Hospitality and generosity still fill the hearts and souls of my Kurdish and Turkish friends here.

When I stood to leave M. and I kissed on both cheeks, hugged, and he insisted that he pay for my tea.

“I don’t want to start our friendship with an argument,” he smiled.  “I pay.”

I looked into his smiling black eyes and smiled back.  “Next time benden (from me),” I said.

I picked my way gingerly over the uneven cobblestones as I continue to try and pick my way over the uneven path of different cultures, struggling, and hopefully learning to live as a better human being.