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Fear of differences cured with Turkish tea

I can close my eyes and remember molding my fingers around an almost unbearably hot cup of Turkish tea—two sugars. I was sitting in a scarf
merchant’s shop in Istanbul, next to the Blue Mosque, pushing through introductions with a handsome stranger who convinced me to share a cup of tea with him. All my Western instincts told me that was I was about to do would result in trouble.

While flying high above the Atlantic Ocean en route to Istanbul International Airport, I swore over a bag of stale peanuts that I would commit myself to meeting new people.So I waived all preconceived fears and asked this friendly Turkish stranger, who I just met not 10 minutes ago, to smoke hookah with me later that evening.After fighting our way through Taksim foot traffic and climbing eight flights of stairs I found myself on the terrace of a quaint café overlooking the Bosporus River. Over a pot of apple tea, my newfound friend, Askim, and I enjoyed each other’s company despite barriers of culture, religion, and language. There we were, with a world of difference between us, laughing through broken English about Pokémon and American cinema.From there we spent every possible minute we could together walking through palace gardens, hopping on ferries, strolling through every park and street possible, and sharing a myriad of local
Turkish food. Every day ended with a hot pot of tea, and warm conversation.After spending an abundance of time together I noticed the differences between Askim and I were just as egregious as the first time we met, if not more so, but what had dissolved was fear.The same fear that caused a neighborhood watchman to shoot and kill an innocent African American boy wearing a hoodie. The same fear that tells the American majority any time they see my Muslim friends to think ‘terrorists’.The same fear of African Americans which resulted in segregation and dehumanization from white Americans, pre-1960s. The same fear that resulted in policemen shooting an innocent Latino man waiting for his friends on a street corner.Our differences do not divide us; it is that our fear captivates us.

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A good portion of my summer was spent drinking tea with people altogether unfamiliar to me as an American—a veiled Libyan woman who could only speak Arabic with me on a plane to Frankfurt, a Swiss engineer traveling via Eurorail to Zurich, an exchange student from Bosnia at a café in Florence and a touring German couple at a cave hotel in southern Turkey.

Of course, there were moments of confusion and awkwardness upon meeting all these people, but certainly fear had no place in our tea time.

When mixed, I believe hot water, tea leaves and sugar, shared between any two people, can be powerful enough to break chaliced stereotypes, and eradicate the fear that starts wars and ruins lives. Sharing a cup of tea allows for laughing, loving, rejoicing, mourning, ruminating and simply being.

Upon my departure from Frankfurt International Airport, I concluded my summer thrills in my journal with this declaration.

I pray for opportunities to share a pot of tea with people I most fear and do not understand. Surely such antiquated fellowship can bring a people so divided together on the most basic understanding of the human condition.

This I believe to be true—you are my brother/sister, regardless of race or religion, status or gender, and I am to love you as such.

I want to challenge my community and whoever reads this to bury your anxiety, and share a cup of tea with someone unfamiliar to you. You never know what the result might be…

Brooke Lake is a senior international studies major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

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