Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Life of Çay in Turkey


People sitting around a wood stove drinking tea
It took a brief introduction to the pleasant truth of "çay" (or "chai" or tea). As in other countries, tea drinking is not only customary, but fuel for life.

I have not been much of a tea drinker, although I do enjoy a cup from time to time, especially in the company of my mother. She even offers to provide coffee at her house, but I enjoy exploring her collection of various teas.

Volunteering in Turkey, and you may say the same about Nepal or elsewhere, drinking tea is as normal as a coffee break in the United States. However, it is less an opportunity to escape one's duties and more a communal ritual part of life. It would be quite common to be offered tea several times a day - by fellow workers, neighbors, partnering organizations, and even the displaced people living in tents whom we were there ostensibly to serve. If I didn't know better, I would have been a bit embarrassed by taking so many breaks to receive charity while we were meant to be working... and offering our own charity.

But international disaster response - as in life, you see - is a two-way street. We can also experience a unique cultural exchange. Part of the humanity of coming to help is also in receiving acts of kindness and showing gratitude. One of my first days volunteering in Turkey was bitterly cold, and we labored much of the morning outside. Within about a half hour on the job, Burhan, my Turkish workmate stopped, looked at me after only a brief hesitation and said,"çay?"

"Sure, why not?"

We sauntered over to the unofficial break area that had the wood-fired tea stove by the lockers. Burhan's several compatriots were there breaking as well, and they offered me bread, Nutella, olives, and cheese! Not a bad little tea break! They were simple things - items I would normally scan past on any given day at the grocery store - but it was an exquisite little treat, and I was promptly hooked on the favorite Turkish beverage... and all that came along with it.

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