My perfect travel treasure was a backgammon set. For days I scoured the markets, bazaars, and shopping promenades, turning my nose up at the typical cheap and cheesy souvenirs, in search of the perfect set. I knew exactly what I wanted: large, wooden, elaborately engraved, and shiny with fresh varnish. I had to have one.
Backgammon is a game that is near and dear to my heart. My best friend taught me how to play a few years ago and my love for the game was instantaneous. Many a night we would sit in his apartment, drink tea and talk and play. Those are some of my most cherished moments.
In Istanbul, nights are similarly spent with groups of friends sitting in sidewalk and waterfront cafes, drinking tea and smoking hookah to the repeated rolling of backgammon dice. Laughter and friendly heckling intertwine seamlessly with the tapping of game pieces and the clinking of tea glasses. Needless to say, I felt at home immediately.
What I didn’t expect was for backgammon to function as a catalyst, integrating me into the Turkish way of life. Nightly games in these sidewalk cafes became a tool, which helped me to bond with the city, its people and their culture – one of many unexpected gifts I received during my trip.
Istanbul taught me much about myself, about what is really important to me, and about the person I want to be. Being immersed in a culture that I knew very little about was an opportunity for me leave my judgments and perceptions at the door and allow the city and its people to show me what their lives and their beliefs were really about – another unexpected gift.
At the end of my trip, Istanbul had given me not only a shiny new backgammon set, but a group of friends whom I had grown to love, a drastic shift in perceptions and beliefs, memories that will always remain close to my heart, and, most importantly, a better idea of who I am and what really matters to me. I was simply in the market for a backgammon set, but what I found in Istanbul was so much more than I could ever have thought possible.