The very idea of international travel holds mixed emotions for many, but as a black woman, it’s layered with an additional complexity. Would I be met with warmth and genuine curiosity? Or would the shadow of prejudice darken my journey, casting an unwelcome pall? Trepidation mixed with the excitement of exploring the unfamiliar terrain beyond my home in the United States, and I was embarking on a voyage filled with the hope of beautiful interactions and the fear of unsettling ones.
From the bustling metropolis of Istanbul to the rocky wonders of Cappadocia, and finally the serene beauty of Kaş, my travels in Turkey were a rich tapestry of experiences, emotions, and revelations. Each city, every face, and every interaction adds a new shade, a new texture to my narrative of being a black woman in this mesmerizing land.
Being a Black Woman in Istanbul, Turkey
Stepping onto the bustling streets of Istanbul, the city welcomed me with an embrace that was both foreign and familiar. Blending the ancient with the modern, the East with the West, mirrored my own journey of melding my identity with the experiences I was about to have as a black woman in this historic city.
A unique aspect of this part of my trip was the realization that some locals had never encountered a black person in their lives. Yet, these interactions, although filled with genuine curiosity, remained respectful. Their eyes sometimes widened in wonder, but the exchanges were grounded in goodwill. The innocent requests to touch my hair or take a picture were not rooted in malice or ignorance, but simply a keen interest. The city itself had a welcoming vibe, but its inhabitants made the experience particularly heartwarming.
Food, as it often does, played an integral role in my journey. My gluten-free diet could have posed a significant challenge, but Istanbul’s welcoming bakeries had solutions. Especially endearing was the Urban Bread, managed by two caring sisters. Their dedication to making sure I didn’t feel left out was palpable. They’d often slip in an extra gluten-free treat with my orders, making me feel cherished in a city thousands of miles away from home.
My Black Experience in Cappadocia
As my travels took me from the bustling cityscapes of Istanbul to the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia, the narrative of my journey shifted from an exploration of urban wonders to a dive into natural marvels. Cappadocia, renowned for its unique rock formations and whimsical fairy chimneys, promised an adventure quite distinct from anything I had experienced before.
The sheer beauty of Cappadocia, from its ancient cave dwellings to the magic of floating hot air balloons against a sunrise, was nothing short of mesmerizing. But amid this awe-inspiring backdrop, it was an odd incident that left an indelible impression on me, raising questions about subtle racial distinctions.
As our group geared up for a thrilling four-wheeler adventure across the scenic terrains of Turkey, we were each handed helmets for safety — a standard procedure, one would assume. However, in my case, the routine took an unexpected turn. Along with a helmet, I was handed an additional hair net. The occurrence left me perplexed and swimming in a sea of mixed feelings.
The additional layer of ‘protection‘ for my hair raised questions. Was this extra precaution genuinely rooted in the desire to offer added safety? Or was it a misguided attempt to account for my black heritage in a manner that was subtly, yet distinctly, different from the others? This unexpected and isolating gesture turned into a point of contemplation, leaving me to ponder on the nuances of racial distinction that can permeate even the most idyllic experiences.
The question remained with me as I continued to explore the breathtaking realms of Cappadocia and later journeyed to Kas, another Turkish haven of natural beauty. It lingered even as I was swept away by the turquoise waters and underwater marvels of Kas, reminding me that the specter of racial distinction can follow one even into the most beautiful corners of the earth.
However, this small hiccup did not overshadow the other, more delightful experiences. I indulged in the creamy warmth of Salep, a traditional Turkish drink. It was a comforting embrace against the backdrop of Cappadocia’s chilly April winds. The blend of orchid root flour, milk, sugar, and cinnamon was a taste to remember, a comforting warmth in an unfamiliar place.
Here, just as in Istanbul, there were moments of intrigue, with locals occasionally doing double-takes upon seeing me. But these instances of surprise were momentary, easily replaced by smiles and waves as we shared the universal language of human connection.
My Black Experience in Southern Delight in Kaş, Turkey
The coastal beauty of Kaş was our next destination, and it quickly became the highlight of my Turkish sojourn. Set against the backdrop of the azure Mediterranean Sea and nestled amidst rolling hills, Kaş had an allure that was hard to resist.
It wasn’t just the breathtaking views or the sunsets that seemed to have been painted by the hands of master artists that captivated me. It was the warmth of the locals, who went to great lengths to make our stay comfortable, that truly touched my heart. The city offered us a resplendent blend of natural beauty and human connection.
Staying in a beautiful mansion was a treat in itself. But what truly elevated the experience was our interactions with a delightful Turkish woman named ‘Mama’. Despite not speaking a common language, we found ways to communicate. Often, it involved resorting to Google Translate, leading to heartwarming and sometimes hilarious conversations.
To Mama, I was perhaps the first black person she had ever met. Her initial reactions were filled with genuine wonder. She would gesture, asking if she could touch my hair, always with a smile, a chuckle, and a twinkle in her eye. This wasn’t invasive; it was innocent curiosity.
Mama’s kindness knew no bounds. Discovering my dietary needs, she ensured I was well-fed with gluten-free options. I remember the special gluten-free chocolate cake she baked just for me, a sweet gesture that epitomized her warm hospitality.
The people of Kaş, including Mama, have left an indelible mark on my heart, reminding me that no matter where you go, human connections are the most cherished experiences one can have.
The journey through Turkey, as a black woman, was nothing short of an awakening. Each city, each town, presented its own narrative, a beautiful tapestry of experiences that interwove the ancient with the modern, the familiar with the novel.
From the bustling streets of Istanbul to the enchanting landscapes of Cappadocia, and the coastal charm of Kaş, every step was a dance between apprehension and delight. Yes, there were moments that challenged my preconceptions, like the unusual offering of a hair net in Cappadocia. Yet, such instances taught me the importance of viewing the world through a lens of cultural understanding. Sometimes, what might seem different or unusual is merely a reflection of our unfamiliarity.
The people of Turkey, with their genuine warmth and curiosity, were the heart of my journey. Whether it was the bakers of Istanbul, who made an extra effort for a gluten-sensitive traveler, the kind-hearted driver who made me feel like a VIP, or the endearing Mama who went above and beyond in Kaş, each one added a beautiful chapter to my story.