Sometimes when you travel abroad, the only native you talk to at length is your tour guide. To remedy this problem, I try to make a home visit. It’s an opportunity to ask questions of more people, to enter a home, and meet a family. Usually such visits are the highlight of my trip. They give another perspective on a culture besides the monuments and tourist sites.
I was therefore overjoyed to read about opportunities to visit a Turkish-Canadian family in their Toronto home. Such visits are organized by Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI), a Turkish organization active all over the world. It strives to “build bridges between communities and experience intercultural interactions.”
Our visit earlier this week turned out to be wonderful.
Our hosts, Talip and Vesile both spoke beautiful English. She was an accountant until her two young children kept her at home. He was a mechanical engineer who now has a cleaning business here. This was their first attempt at hosting a home visit and they did a magnificent job. If all the “Meet Your Neighbours” events are like this one, I highly recommend them.
Before we arrived, I asked IDI what we should take as a hostess gift since we did not have to pay for the visit. Muslims don’t drink alcohol so wine was not an option. Fatih Yegul, Executive Director, suggested something for the four-year old daughter. We brought a story book. Shoes were left by the door and Vesile provided slippers. We were a little late because of a problem finding parking. After admiring the view, we were invited to sit down and eat immediately.
Talip and Vesile live on the 25th floor of an apartment building in Etobicoke. The view of Toronto looking eastward at dusk was extraordinarily beautiful.
I came prepared to ask some questions but the children were adorable and we talked about bringing up bilingual children. I had been to a festival at the Nile Academy where one of the other guests was a teacher and she told us about it. We also talked about Muslim customs, the Turkish economy, and my husband’s volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. Time went quickly.
Naturally, we asked about the dishes served. It was an amazing banquet. The borek bread was made with cheese and potatoes and the heavenly baklava was not overly sweet. It was just right. Our hostess offered sarma (stuffed grape leaves) and manti (the tiny Turkish version of ravioli). Our hostess also made yesil fasulye (green beans with tomato paste, onions and tomatoes), and slad (egg plant, onions, dill, red pepper, and tomato pickle). It was all delicious. Home cooking like this is always better than restaurant food.
Fatih Yegul was there too. He told us about IDI. We talked about its recipe for Noah’s Pudding, a special Turkish dish made up of the likes of barley, dried fruit, nuts, lentils, and sugar. The Canadian version is made with maple syrup. Noah’s Pudding was originally made with the left-overs Noah had on hand, after the ark landed on Mount Ararat in Turkey. It celebrated the safe landing. The tradition is continued today among Christians and Muslims. Toronto policemen cook and feast on Noah’s Pudding too – a tasty symbol of multiculturalism.
The web-site for IDI’s Meet-Your-Neighbour program is: http://bit.ly/NcSfSy . To make arrangements, you can e-mail Fatih Yegul at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you have taken part or intend to take part in this program, please let us know your experience. If you know of other cultural groups that have a similar program, please, please, please let us know of those too.