I am in Antalya, Turkey for an interfaith meeting with Palestinian Christians and Muslims, part of a five rabbi delegation from Rabbis for Human Rights. I’m looking forward to the dialog; in the meanwhile, I’ve already had my “welcome to Turkey” experience.
We came as part of a charter, which other than us, was a bunch of Israeli Arabs. We got on the bus, and the tour group leader started speaking to the group — in Hebrew! He’s a Muslim, he prays in Arabic, he can read Arabic, but he doesn’t understand it (sound like most American Jews???). They used to get a lot of Israeli tourists here (it’s down a bit now), so he speaks some Hebrew. Most of the Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew, but not much English. So the “lingua franca” so to speak was Hebrew. Go figure.
We almost had an international incident over kosher food. While I’m comfortable eating vegetarian meals when I travel (click here to read my rationale) some of my colleagues are stricter on this issue, and we brought four big boxes of kosher food. First we had trouble getting them out of the airport: someone wanted bakshish to get them through customs, and being part of an NGO we can’t pay expenses without a proper receipt. We got past that, and got to the hotel, and then the tour guide didn’t want to leave the food without getting his bakshish, and once that was dealt with the hotel didn’t want to put the food in their freezer. A representative of the German government organization sponsoring the program is with us, and she threatened to call the German Embassy in Istanbul and start an international incident if they didn’t take care of things properly. She got her way, with no bakshish…
Welcome to Turkey, eh?