This past summer, I stayed at several Airbnb homes around Turkey with a clear purpose in mind: to write the stories of my hosts. As with many works of art, my initial purpose has gone though metamorphosis, several times throughout the process. The deeper I dived into this project, the better convinced I became that travel is about transformation and what transforms people are other people.
In order to open ourselves up to adventure and new experiences, we need to understand, trust and love one another; not read another city guide. With that in mind, I am now trying to create a "people guide" for Turkey, through which I attempt to tell the stories of my hosts to summarize and explain the crazy, complex culture in this eccentric country, where all three mainstream religions live together under the light of thousands of years of history, speaking several languages to express Eastern roots in Western ways and of course drinking Turkish coffee, lots of it. Below are some of the characters that fill the pages of this book:
Born and raised in New Zealand, Ruth moved to Turkey 28 years ago and has called Cappadocia her home ever since. After all, home is where the heart is or in Ruth's case, where she married a man, became a mother, brought a beautiful daughter up watching her turn into a strong, competent, intelligent woman (much like herself) and operated several businesses. Now, that's home, for sure. Currently she runs an award-winning carpet store called Tribal Collections Nomadic Rugs & Textiles. Her story is about women.
Hasan Usta is a clay artist and has lived in Cappadocia his entire life. He wasn't originally included in the project but the second you meet him, the energy that pours out of him like the Fountain of Youth in real life makes you feel alive and inevitably curious, envious even and you give in to your curiosity. You simply want to know more about his life and possibly tell everyone about it! His story is about passion.
Kabadayi Besir or Besir the Bully, has lived in Izmir and Istanbul for 20 years before making one final move to his hometown, Mardin to be with his elderly mother. Though he might sound like a family man at first, his past is complicated, at best. He currently owns and operates a restaurant in Mardin, where food will make your tastebuds valse and his larger than life personality will make you return again and again. His story is about change.
Gönül lives her life very much in line with her name, which translates into English as heart. She is a woman, who speaks from the heart, lives and loves from the heart. People she befriends, homes she builds, even the projects she takes on all feel more sincere and real because of her presence in them. She is one of those people, who acts on what she sees unfair rather than talk though we did much talking together and it was one of the best moments of the #AirbnbBookProject. Her story is about heartfelt family ties.
Gabi cannot be described in one sentence. His ideas about life and the self seem to flow through in time without a full stop, maybe with an occasional comma. His whole persona gleams with rays of understanding, compassion and forgiveness. During the day I spent with him, I couldn't help but think how much he reminded me of Jesus and his story. Not only because he somewhat looks alike but also because he too had to endure hardship as an Assyrian in a country with a crushing majority of Muslim population. His story is about friendship.
Lina originally comes from Sicily but having lived in Istanbul for 8 years, she has somehow found herself weaved into the crazy, complex and multi-layered texture of this city that lies across two continents. In a place, where fourteen million people call home, life can get complicated for a woman so in awe of traditions and routines, but not for Lina! She has created an oasis of antiques, memories and souvenirs in the middle of a dense, robotic jungle and seems to be living happily ever after; though where her prince has gone remains to be a mystery for us to solve. Her story is about love.
Haluk is a husband, a father, a friend but probably above all, a businessman with street smarts. He is also very democratic; an unlikely characteristic for a man of his ambitious plans, which allows him to listen to others' opinions that contradict with his, even within his own family. His daughters feel very welcome and free to publicly disagree with him on many issues from politics to career. And yet they are one big, happy family. His story is about adaptability.
Utku and Ayse are husband and wife but there are so many better ways to explain who they are as individuals and what they do to help make this world a better place. Utku, a passionate entrepreneur and Ayse, a dedicated educator, represent the modern and new face of Turkish youth that is not afraid to speak up and lead the change when change becomes inevitable. Their story is about commitment, in all means possible.