Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Bermuda, Argentina, Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, India, China, Japan, South Korea. I, India Lewis, am a traveler living within a very travel oriented family.
I always knew I had a love for traveling as I explored the world with my cousin, while our mothers worked together as flight attendants, and my father as a pilot. We rode in first class, we laughed together about our crazy travel stories, but we never focused on the power of language and culture within a country. Of course, the meaning of all this travel did not completely hit me until I turned sixteen and took a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, a place I will never forget. Riding in first class or hanging off of my older cousins shoulder as a routine in my travels, did not mean much of anything anymore. Thus being, I truly found my beauty and independence within the culture of the country.
As a young African American woman, living in America can be difficult at times due to the past history of this country and the negative views often portrayed in the media. I never really thought about the fact that there was a lack of racism, or lack of reason for racism in Europe or the rest of the world, until I visited Turkey for the first time in 2010.
Although sixteen is still a very young age, it is still an old enough age to realize the many important differences in the world like this one. I did some research on Turkey before I went, and it was almost as if the information had come to me that non-Americans had a different view of cultural differences, especially their views of the blacks, considering African American slavery only happened in America.
I had finally realized the reason why I had felt so relaxed as I traveled in the past, and did not think much of my destinations. I was not living under the daily burdens and stereotypes of my ethnicity and gender. This full recognition made me yearn even more for the mosques, kebabs, Turkish people, and freedom because this time I was fully going into a trip, knowing why I was going to like it so much and why I had liked my trips so much in the past.
When my cousin and I arrived at Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, it was midnight and the atmosphere was a little bit frightening. The reason being that it was our first time traveling alone, at least for 24 hours, because our parents were expected to arrive a day later. That thought left us with a sense of freedom to explore the country for a day, knowing what we know, but also with responsibility, because we were not only alone, but we were also clearly foreign.
Both of us stood at 5’11” and our skin was darker than the locals. It was not like Turkey was flooding with many different ethnic groups, so we were stared at with curiosity, because we stood out. We were greeted with kindness as we made our way through the airport, to get to the hotel. Before we got into the taxi, a group of young school children had just flown in from another part of Turkey and they were dying to get their picture taken with us. Some of the children ran up to us to touch our hair, while others caressed our skin in amazement. The surrounding adults were thrilled as well, and it was here that I realized that my research was definitely true.
Afterwards, we took the taxi back to the Golden Horn Hotel of Istanbul, where my cousin and I basically passed out on our beds until the morning.
The call to prayer had awakened my cousin and I on our first morning of being in Turkey, with its powerful yet serene sound. It was not so difficult waking up this morning, because the light that struck our eyes had forced us to be on this new schedule. The bright rainbow colors, the architecture, the physical beauty of the religious symbols, and the call to prayer brought us straight into our new Turkish World. My cousin and I had gone up to the rooftop of our hotel for breakfast, and without wasting anytime, a young Turkish guy had screamed out “Chocolate Honey!”, while another had yelled “Beyoncé!”.
I thought to myself that there was no way I was truly living in this moment. Not only was I being treated as a celebrity, but I found to be true that I did not face the relationship racism in Turkey, as I did in the United States. As I could recall, this open expression of attraction had been the same in many other European and Asian countries, even when I was a bit younger.
One does not need another to tell them that they are beautiful, but standing on the rooftop of a Turkish hotel being gawked at by some of the most beautiful men in the world, while being served fresh fruit, is never something to complain about.
This was such a drastic change for me, because I not only looked like a more mature person, but I acted like one. I was not the same little girl traveling as I was before, not having gotten this kind of extreme attention before while traveling, due to my child-like looks of the past. I always had people come up to me to take pictures before, but never fully asked myself why. Every event that occurred on this trip regarding “being special” made me realize more and more that I was maturing and that my research was real.
The day after my father, mother, and aunt had arrived. The same types of scenarios occurred with the locals, as my cousin and I wandered the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Taksim Square, and the ritzy side of town within the W hotel. This trip could not have been more special and therapeutic.
Although I had all of these wonderful and dreamy encounters, I wanted to make sure I left Turkey with some teens I could continue talking to after I left. That was not difficult to do considering all I had to do was ask some of my many “fans” at the Taksim Square if we could continue writing each other, so I could practice my Turkish, and they could practice their English. This square was the perfect environment to do all of my teen mingling, because there were many school kids out and about within the wide-open culturally rich area.
I had the experience of being around and interacting with Turkish youth, while eating kebabs in a trendy, yet cultural café. The sun was setting at this point, and Taksim square was our last stop on our last day. I knew this journey in Turkey, or anywhere in the world would not be over yet.
One would think that the kind of attention I received on this trip would lead to a form of conceitedness. I did not become conceited from my journey, but I became confident and approached these flirtatious and fascination scenarios with maturity and laughter.
Obviously there are bad people everywhere in the world, but these circumstances and situations clearly differ greatly from my life in the United States. I not only learned about myself while visiting Turkey, but also about the Muslim world. There are many stereotypes about the Muslim world, and I believe that Turkey is the best country to visit to disprove the negative stereotypes, because Turkey is a secular country with a strong Muslim influence.
Turkey is a place where East meets West, therefore Europe is combined with the Arab world. This makes a beautiful blend that not only allows someone to experience the beauty of Islam, but also the open-mindedness of the Islam and the country of Turkey. I would not change anything in the world for my “soul-searching climax point of the meaning of my travels” adventure to Istanbul, Turkey. Güle, Güle!
Here is the main website I used before I embarked on my trip. This website is good because it is user-friendly and many travelers give their input on their experiences in Istanbul and in other countries. Almost every topic is covered on this site, from topics like Entertainment to Worries to Locals living the exotic foreigners.
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