I am helping my friend carry grocery bags to her apartment, when Abdullah sees us from afar and comes over for a chat. The building of four small apartments smells of spice and incense. We stand in the doorway, while Abdullah talks, and we listen, and a warm spring evening approaches. He mentions the years he’s spent in Germany, and the roadtrips he’s taken across Turkey during those years. He is from Jordan, and has gone back and forth to Germany several times by driving through Anatolia. He begins a long story, and my unconscious prejudices lead me to fear for a moment that his story will involve bad experiences with the Turkish. But I am wrong – it turns out he loves Turkey and Turkish people. They are hospitable, he says, and helpful, and they have been great neighbors and friends to him all those years in Germany.
In the midst of the story of how Abdullah’s gas tank was leaking over Anatolian asphalt in 1979, as his wife held a two-month-old in her arms, and they were rumbling through the night, clueless of what was happening until two Turkish truck drivers helped them out, through the narrow doorway came Anwar, riding his bike. He is my friend’s loud next-door neighbor, and the reason for the noise, he will explain later, is that the lines aren’t that well when he is on the phone with India (it is the year 2010, and international phone lines still require hollering – or perhaps, it is the mindset of being far, far away). At this point though, he is not talkative at all. He says his courteous hellos, and rushes his bike up to his apartment, leaving his door open in a welcoming manner despite his seemingly uninterested attitude. As Abdullah continues his stories of the past, Anwar pokes his head out of his apartment door, and invites us to have tea. It must be around 8 pm. We had planned to make salmon that evening. But it is too rude to say no, so we accept the invitation and join Anwar and Abdullah for tea.
Anwar and Abdullah, despite the large generational difference, frequently have tea together. When it is at Abdullah’s place, the tea is Arab style, with Arabic cookies that are neither salty, nor quite sweet, as far as I have heard from others. This time, given that it is at Anwar’s apartment, the tea is Indian style. And the Indians have their tea with milk and ginger.
Abdullah has lived in this town since 1982. He has lived in graduate housing since 1998. I try to guess how old he is, I assume he must be in his sixties, and find out later on that I am flattering him. He has been a graduate student for twelve years. He currently lives with his second wife, who is a teacher at a daycare. Abdullah is an archeologist. He has worked in many countries around the world, but mostly mentions Germany and Egypt. His stories, always of the long gone past, carry an emphasis on neighborhood values, and how small a world we seem to live in. He is a promoter of peace and coexistence between Israelis and Arabs, so long as they are neighbors living outside the Middle East. His dream is to visit Catalhoyuk* one day, for the ruins there are dated back to the period he is most interested in studying.
Anwar is doing his graduate degree in engineering. He has about three more years until he finishes. While he was visiting India during last Christmas break, he got engaged. His fiancee is still in India, but they will get married this summer, and he will bring her with him to America*. He chuckles as he mentions that his fiancee will hate the clutter of this one-bedroom, bachelor apartment. He shrugs, oh well.
I observe Anwar as he prepares the tea. He is skillful in the kitchen, not at all like the prototypical male graduate student. We have our tea with a spicy snack, the snack that Nadeem* had brought to Istanbul, and we had put into our bland tuna fish pasta to add flavor. A snack that, frankly, doesn’t go very well with tuna fish pasta, but strangely tastes fine with sweetened milky black tea that has been boiled with ginger. I ask Anwar if he likes to cook. I am almost confident that his eyes brighten up. He leaves his chair to show us a picture of him in the graduate housing newsletter, as he is receiving his award for having won a cooking contest this past fall. I remember seeing the same newsletters in my mailbox, and ignoring them month after month.
The apartment door is wide open the whole time we are sitting at Anwar’s table, which is covered with a vinyl table cloth. There is noise coming from downstairs and across, right below where my friend lives. It is hard to tell what the sounds we hear are, for Anwar informs us that the Hindu occupant does not own any electronics. He leads a simple life, following his spiritual beliefs. He listens to chants and prayers, and he is the one who burns the incense that tickles your throat. He has bought his only electronic property, a laptop, about a month ago following a long period of resistance. He is a graduate student in computer science.
We leave Anwar’s apartment at around 9 pm. The after taste of ginger and spice linger for a while, accompanying the feeling of surreal pleasure I experienced that evening. A young Korean woman, an old Jordanian man, a young Indian man, and a young Turkish woman, have met randomly at a somewhat remote place quite far from their homes, and got together to have tea. And they had their tea with milk and ginger.