When Ahmed told me his story I was surprised. It’s weird, I knew he was Syrian, I knew he was in Istanbul because he was running away from the war in his country, but I guess I never realised how much different our lives were till he actually explained it to me. He was part of our international erasmus group, he was hanging out with us all the time, joining every party we organised, we were going to his favorite Syrian restaurant every week. It was easy to forget that he wasn’t an European student having fun in the city.
Since the food ritual -sharing, eating all together- was a huge part of our bonding process, he once invited us to his house for dinner. We were all excited to try real homemade Syrian dishes prepared by his mother and meet his family for the first time.
We were walking to his house and when we arrived in front of the building he stopped, looked at us and started to give us instructions: he told us to be careful with our behavior, to shake hands with his father but not his mother, and to not look at her too much to not make her uncomfortable. To be honest, after this speech we were worried, wondering how to behave according to their culture and traditions. We were scared to do something wrong without even realising it, a sentiment that we never felt in our friendship with Ahmed.
After bringing us the food, his mother disappeared in the kitchen, while his father was coming to eat some food from time to time and his little sisters entered the room to look at us and then run away immediately after. We shared stories while sitting on the carpet in the living room, eating from the common plate all together, laughing, joking. Ahmed told us about the war, about his house destroyed by the bombs, about his uncompleted studies in engineering and how his life had suddenly changed. But that’s another story.
I would like to finish this with some wide and insightful reflection about international meetings and how we experience different cultures, but I will leave this job to the each reader while I keep dreaming about the tastiest chicken with eggplant and rice I’ve ever eaten in my life. Thank you, Ahmed’s mother.