After Cappadocia, our weird group of solo travelers split up, some for home, some for the next country, and some for elsewhere in-country. R and I went first to Pamukkale, where we joined on with a young American, K, and then the three of us moved on to Selcuk for what would be my last 24 hours in Turkey. We got in too late on our first day to go to the ruins of Ephesus, so we ran a few errands, visited the Temple of Artemis, and then wandered into town to explore and find food.
In Selçuk’s city center, we spent around an hour in a corner shop talking with the owner. He’s from Mardin, a town I had originally hoped to include in my Turkey itinerary, plus he’s Kurdish, so he had a lot of fascinating things to say. He showed us a photo album of eastern Turkey, told us what it’s like to be in a controversial minority group these days as opposed to twenty years ago. We got on with him so well that we made plans to hang out later that night, as well as took him up on his offer to walk us to his friend’s restaurant for a cheap dinner (5.5 Turkish lira for lamb kebab and ayran.)
After kebabs, R and I still wanted to find lentil soup, so we walked a block or two and found a place with 5 lira bowls. We ordered, but asked the price first. Maybe that action made us look poor, or maybe K, baby-faced with no coat and ordering nothing (not because he didn’t have money, but in fact just because he had ordered two kebabs at the first restaurant) garnered some cosmic sympathy, I don’t know. But five minutes after we got our soups, a plate was brought to our table: “a gift from the chef.” It was STACKED–three different meats, chickpeas, stuffed pepper, grape leaves, all delicious. We got two plates of salad. Our bread basket was refilled before it was even empty, as were our water bottles (to my fellow Americans that may not sound spectacular, but anyone who’s traveled to a country where water is not free knows that having potable water provided for you at no cost can be better than food.) All while this was happening, we were ecstatic, but we did not understand.
As we were winding down, the man who had been sitting at the table behind us approached and said, “Tonight, you will not pay. It is my turn. Next time will be your turn.” And then he left. We were too stunned to ask “Why us?” and will never know.
This was not the first of these gifts, either. It may have been the most blatant, but all throughout this trip I have been provided for in small, unexpected ways; strangers extending an invitation to tea, a fruit stand vendor in the Valley of the Vines giving R and me a ride back into Goreme so that we could spend more time in the wilderness, offers of free places to stay for a night or two or seven, a visa costing a full $40 less than the internet said it would be. The world is good to travelers, and for that reason it is sometimes okay to minimize caution. I never want to assume that I’ll be covered for such-and-such meal, or that I’ll find a $5 a night hostel in every town. But the world has a way of balancing and caring for you that makes me comfortable enough to choose to bus around western Turkey for four days and fly back to Istanbul just in the nick of time despite the fact that all that transport cost more than staying in one place might have. At every point on this trip where I’ve gotten worried about money or about time, something has come through. Open yourself up more, and the world will give you more.
Four days after the Selçuk dinner, I was leaving Dubai for Rwanda and had a particularly honest cab driver take me to the airport. Despite having spent a bit more money in Dubai than I had planned on, I was not exactly feeling flush. But this driver and I got along well, bonding over a general discomfort with Dubai culture, and I remembered that I had recently been told that “next time would be [my] turn.” The cab ride came to just around 60 dirhams; I gave the driver 100 and walked into the airport. I’m also learning that if I expect the world to give to me, I need to take my turn and give it right back.