There are 2 advices from my parents that I grew up with: “You can be whatever you want to be as long as it’s not a politician,” and “Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.” The first one is easy to follow. The latter… well, let’s just say that however wise the advice is, it’s been proven to be really hard to follow in my life.
The last time this happened was when 2 strangers, a man and a woman, approached me in their car in Cappadocia, Turkey. In broken English, the man said “We’re going to visit (I didn’t catch the words), would you like to come with us?”
It sounds like it could be a beginning of a bad thriller movie, right?
I was standing on the side of the road after my disastrous attempt at hiking in Cappadocia. My Japanese surgeon hiking companion has left me and I was trying to decide if I should walk to my hostel in Goreme, a 3 mile hike in a hot sun, or wait for a dolmus to come. This was when I noticed the car carrying the couple pull up.
I hesitated for half of a second while I thought of Ted Bundy and Edmund Kemper while my parents’ voice echoed in my head, “Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.”
Well, it could be the heat although I’d like to think it’s my gut instinct that made me say ‘Why not?’
I jumped in the car and introduced myself to the couple, Sezgin and Nadeem.
Between Sezgin’s broken English and Google Translate, I learned that Nadeem was 3 months pregnant and Sezgin worked for the military. Later on I would’ve guessed his military background from how he ordered me around, “Jill, drink this!” “Jill, take a picture of these stairs!” “Jill, eat more!”
Sezgin and Nadeem lived in the Black Sea region and were in Cappadocia on a vacation. Before they met me, they’ve heard about two Japanese girls who were attacked just a few days ago while hiking in Cappadocia, a fact I was unaware of. I guess seeing me alone by the road got them worried.
They displayed a kind of hospitality I’d never experienced from a stranger before.
They took me along to visit Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, 2 underground cities in Cappadocia. They bought me food. When they heard that I’d never had Aryan before they stopped at a store to get me some (if there’s one thing I can find fault with Turkish people is that they love this salty yoghurt drink).
We stopped by a view point and picked up some wild grapes – they grow in abundance all throughout Cappadocia.
The language barrier between us didn’t stop us from having a pleasant afternoon together. I never really learned more about the couple but I could tell from their body language that they were obviously into each other. It made me miss Jack quite a bit.
It astonished me that they easily welcomed me as the third wheel in their vacation, driving me around and feeding me. They didn’t let me pay for anything. Not even my own entrance fee.
During dinner I pleaded to let me pay. They again repeated, “No, you’re our guest.”
Who does this?
After dinner, they dropped me off in front of my hostel leaving me dumbfounded and wondering WHAT JUST HAPPENED? You’re not supposed to pick up a stranger off a street and proceed to take them along on your vacation – who does that?
I wish I could say that I’d do the same thing in their place. Jack and I often host strangers in our home through Couchsurfing and AirBnb, but one can argue that these are not complete strangers. No, it takes a much better person than I am to do what they have done.
You don’t walk away from this kind of experience the same person. Nadeem and Sezgin have motivated me to do more acts of kindness towards others, especially travelers.
With embarrassment I recall the times that I’d ignored tourists poring over maps, obviously lost, on the streets of San Francisco. Next time I’ll do more to help.
I try my best to watch how I behave when I travel because I believe that in a small way I represent my country. This is how stereotypes are born, you see? But I realised that the reverse is also true. As locals (and everybody is a local somewhere) how we treat visitors can impact how our countries and cities are perceived.
Thanks to this random encounter with 2 strangers, I’ll always have a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I talk about Turkey.
Sometimes getting in a car with strangers could be the best thing to do.