A Mersinian Merchant

It was a small store in the middle of an old souk in Mersin. We passed by, originally in search of an antique camera, when we came across this old store that appeared to be full of a wide variety of antiquities; of course we had to go inside to satisfy our curiosity. We walked in and inspected this marvelous collection and as we turned our attention to the rest of the store, we were welcomed by this merchant’s glorious collection of misbaha‘s (Arabic: مسبحة), or tespih’s, as the natives would call them.

“Marhaba!” said the merchant, welcoming us into what appeared to be his little treasure chest; we were caught by shock once we realized that he welcomed us in our native tongue rather than his own. It took him a mere glance to deduce that we were not of Turkish origin; which was not surprising, but amazingly enough, he was able to pinpoint our roots as Lebanese. It tends to come as a shock when a stranger manages to label you on the spot, before any interaction takes place.

“… us Turks, we don’t ask each other ‘What’s your religion?’; we are all Turkish, no matter if we believe in Christianity, Islam, Hindu or any other religion…” (Photograph by Loryne Atoui)

What was more intriguing at the time was the fact that he actually spoke to us in Arabic. The conversation took off and I was personally shocked at this merchant’s proficient use of the Arabic language, especially with such a strong Lebanese dialect. There had to be more to this man than meets the eye. Excited and intrigued, we began to question him on his travels and how he could speak with us so comfortably as though he was one of our own, as though in search of a treasure.

We were taken on a worldly journey; this man had seen quite a large portion of the Arab world, having traveled to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He also mentioned that he studied in Lebanon during the 1970’s. “That means you were there during the civil war?” I asked; first thought that came to mind. “Yes!” he replied (of course this was all spoken in Arabic) and continued with his story.

What started off as a search for antiques in an antique store, suddenly morphed into a journey through the ages of the Middle East, as well as a philosophical discussion on Turkish culture and life-outlook. If that’s not a culture enriching experience, then I don’t know what is; one of the main reasons behind why I enjoy traveling so much is to mingle with the locals, gain knowledge and insight from them, learn their ways… who knows, you might relate to them and their ways better than you do with your own, after all this world was made for us to explore it, so why not learn from each other how different cultures approach different aspects of life?


6 replies to “A Mersinian Merchant

  1. Great description of the moment and the conversation! He was a very interesting character. It’s amazing what you can come upon by chance :-)

    1. Exactly… one second you’re shopping and the next thing you find yourself diving into this portrait of history and the painter is a store owner in an old souk in the south of Turkey.

      It’s one of those interesting encounters that you usually only get when you’re in a foreign land… gotta love it! :-)

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