I am not afraid. Maybe nervous, unprepared, uncomfortable, but I am NOT afraid. I take a deep breath as I walk out of the apartment door. The moment I set foot on the pavement, the late afternoon call to prayer bellows from the giant mosque next door. As a crowd of men gather outside the mosque doors, I cross the street, lift my chest and walk tall in an attempt to look as if I know exactly where I am going. I think I know the way and I have been to Turkish markets before but I have left the tourist section of town and I now share the dusty streets with women covered by their head scarfs, hand in hand with their small children. We are all headed in the same direction, to the Saturday food and clothing market.
After a short stroll on the shady side of the street, I find the parking lot filled with canvas-covered stalls and enter bravely. My light hair and skin give me away. The sunglasses to hide my blues eyes help to soften my blatant foreignness only slightly. I have left my jean shorts and tank top at home, trading them in for a long flowing skirt and loose T-shirt in an attempt to blend in as best I can. My clothing ripples in the breeze as I browse the stalls. A rainbow of giant pumpkins and melons, bright red beautiful tomatoes, long green beans, enormous heads of broccoli and cauliflower, fresh parsley and basil, walnuts and almonds still in their shells, and many varieties of olives paint the edges of the dry and stony walkway. Shopkeepers stare and momentarily watch me with their fleeting curiosity. I pass by them, scanning the local village produce. I wonder what it would feel like to have the generations of knowledge that the women around me have. What would it be like to know how to prepare every single vegetable in this place? I have lived on farms around the world, I have cooked the meals of many foreign cuisines, and yet my knowledge feels pathetic as I watch customers fill their bags with vegetables that I cannot even find a name for.
I buy some fresh strawberries and figs, using my limited Turkish, hand signals and a smile to communicate my wishes. The woman behind the produce smiles, mostly with her eyes, and bids me farewell with a slight head nod. She speaks softly, “Teşekular! Güle, güle!” Thanks and goodbye to you, too. That is what I wanted to say, but my nerves get a hold of me and I walk away too fast to return her words of gratitude and farewell.
I make a stop at the market’s small outdoor cafe, shaded from the afternoon sun by a makeshift yellow tent. I order a fresh glass of frothy yogurt ayran and settle into the next half hour of observing and devouring my surroundings. I watch and listen and allow myself to remember all of the reasons why places like small seaside towns in southern Turkey appeal to me. An afternoon at the market is transformed from a ritual, arduous task, into an opportunity for infinite learning — new words and vegetables, sidewalk strolls surrounded by the spiritual callings from thin and pointed minarets, and the chance to communicate with hands and eyes and smiles. I sip the cool and salty drink, filling my belly with the freshness while my heart fills with the colors and sounds of this small world around me.
Fear disappates as gratitude steps in. It is not so often that we are broken open and so raw to the world, just as we were when learning things for the first time as a small child. How beautiful it is to face my own vulnerability and emerge victorious, with a full belly and heart and a bag of fresh fruit as a reminder for when fear gently knocks on my door once again.