The Beauty of Couchsurfing

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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
October 10th 2011
Published: October 14th 2011
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As far as I’m concerned, couchsurfing is the only way to travel. It connects travelers new to an area with those who call it home. It’s a source of instant companionship and useful information. In my experience as both a host and a surfer, I’ve met nothing but good people, with amazing hearts and amazing stories. My hosts in Turkey have been no exception. In fact, I find them some of the most hospitable people I’ve met.

My first host, Murat, had no problem getting out of bed at midnight to pick me up from the airport, even though he wakes up at six in the morning to begin his busy day as an electronics engineer. Exhausted from traveling all day, he showed me right to my room and let me sleep. At 5am, I woke up to the sound of the day’s first salah, the Islamic prayers that are blasted over the loudspeakers from every mosque. I smiled, happy to be in a new place, and quickly dropped back to sleep.

When I awoke again, Murat took me downtown to teach me how to use the public transportation system. For all the benefits of couchsurfing, the trade-off is often an inconvenient location. Murat lives way out in the western district of Barkıköy, which gave me ample opportunity to get up close and personal to Turks at their best – while crammed nose-to armpit on public transportation.

Istanbul is a huge city spread out over three distinct landmasses. To service its large area and some 20 million denizens, it offers a cheap and efficient network of buses, trams, and ferries. I’ve had plenty of experience traveling in cultures that don’t value the use of underarm protection, but Turkey has a unique brand. It’s a combination of sweaty underwear and sour yogurt (which would make sense considering yogurts makes up a good portion of the Turkish diet). I couldn’t have been happier to step out into the fresh air of Sultanahmet and come face to face with the Aya Sofia.

Over the next three days, I toured Istanbul’s sites, in a state of constant awe. By encroaching upon various guided tours, I’ve gleaned several very informative tidbits about Istanbul’s most famous landmarks but, as I’ve said before, all of this information is available to you through a number of resources, both digital and print, so I’ll exclude it here.

For the weekend, another couchsurfer, Pınar, invited me to her home in Kanlıca (pronounced Kahn-luh-jah) on the Asian side of Istanbul. A little tricky to find, she agreed to meet me in front of the ferry in Üsküdar to show me the way. Once there, I saw a mass of curly black hair and a huge smile bouncing towards me. We fell into easy conversation, made a bit tricky by her shaky grasp of the English language, and I liked her immediately.

The next day, concerned about my ability to find my way back to the flat on my own, I asked for a reminder. “Ah! It’s easy. Like this,” she replied, a mash of incoherent sounds jumbling from her mouth, “You see? Easy. Now you understand!” Obviously I didn’t, but since then I’ve mastered how to tell a bus driver where I want to get off and ask if he’ll let me know when we arrive, “Kanlıca ‘da inağem. Söyler misiniz bana?”

At the same time that Pınar is building my Turkish vocabulary, she is destroying my English grammar. I pare everything down to basics (You want I put here?), or make everything a gerund (I’m not having so much hunger now.). I am hoping you are forgiving me if this corruption invades my writing.

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2nd January 2013

So do you prefer your Turkish or your Indian English? ;)

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