From January until August 2010, I lived in Turkey. I had made the decision to relocate there from China based on a job opportunity that came up. I had loved my four years in China, so it was a heart-wrenching decision for me to leave. Unfortunately, things did not work out so well for me in Istanbul on both a personal and professional level. The company I joined failed to live up to the promises they had made when hiring me and, on a personal level, I never really managed to find my niche in Istanbul. Therefore, when another job-opening arose, I was on the first plane out of Ataturk airport.
My sojourn in Turkey was a disappointment in many ways. First of all, it set my career back a good six months and ended up costing me money. Despite getting relocation expenses, it is not cheap to get rid of an apartment with four years accumulated possessions and move across the globe only to do it all again six months later! On a more cultural level though, the rather cynical attitude I developed while I was in Istanbul probably prevented me from enjoying the country and its culture to the fullest. However, when I began to date a girl with Turkish heritage, it gave me an unexpected second chance.
Even when I was in Istanbul, my Turkish language skills were somewhat meagre (in truth, this may have hampered my enjoyment of the country to a degree). However, one word I did know was 'Bayram'. In 2010, this simply meant 'holiday' or a day off work. Whenever I saw it on a calendar, I knew I could relax. This was, though, something of an under-appreciation of the days in question. Bayrams are more than simply a holiday. Rather, they hold cultural and religious significance (That is if you are religious as much of Turkey is secular yet still celebrates the holidays in a vein similar to the way in which many westerners do not really believe in God yet celebrate Christmas).
I got my chance to truly experience a Bayram when I visited my girlfriend's family, who live in Bulgaria. It was a wonderful experience. I was there during Ramazan Bayram, which is celebrated at the end of the Islamic holiday or Ramadan. The majority of my girlfriend's family – the older generations being the exceptions – had not celebrated Ramadan. However, they were all keen to enjoy the holiday. The first thing I noticed about it was the food. It is served in truly immense quantities. For breakfast we had borek a type of pastry with white cheese accompanied by kofte, a type of seasoned meatball. This left me stuffed, but the same dishes continued to be served all day. It reminded me a lot of Turkey at home during Christmas, where for much of the holiday period we eat Turkey for every meal in order to finish the giant bird we purchased for Christmas dinner.
The other main factor to the holiday was people. At home in England I am used to seeing my relatives at Christmas time, but the Turkish seemed to take this to a whole other level. I would imagine that by the end of the first day of the holiday I had met my girlfriend's entire extended family. It was astonishing people just kept arriving to say hello and to wish a happy bayram. It never seemed to stop. The same was true of the food. Each time someone arrived, the kofte was wheeled out and the eating began again.
The bayram I experienced in Bulgaria was fascinating. It gave me a great insight into part of the Turkish experience I had missed in Istanbul. It also gave me an extra two kilos around my waist thanks to the food!