Wintertime in Sultanahmet, the hawkers have to be creative. “Hey, since you looked at his menu now you must look at mine!” “Where are you from? I’ll bet it is a cold country. So is mine!”

Usually they throw out a bit of German, French or English and tourist ears prick up. Just for fun I reply in the all the French that I know, “Bonsoir…. Ça va bien” and it’s entertaining to have one believe I’m French for about 30 seconds. He’s not the only one who’s bored of this routine.

The Aussie tourists are the politest. “Thanks mate, we’re just going to have a walk around, maybe we’ll be back.” Turks simply don’t respond. That’s the way: If you’re not interested? Don’t show interest. My North American politeness was a hazard when I first got here. A negative response to the carpet seller, the shoe shiner, the restaurant hawker, or the random man on the street only generates more interest. Don’t say “No, thank you.” Just don’t say anything at all.

It is Ramazan (Ramadan) about 6:30 at night in August at the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet. Hundreds of wooden picnic tables have been set up. The sun is setting and every wooden table is occupied by at least one old lady with a colorful headscarf . All her hair and neck are wrapped inside. She wears a baggy sweater over her egg-shaped frame and a long skirt down to her ankles. Younger women wear a slim, long khaki button-down trench coat for the summer, in the winter a long coat made of leather or wool. On her feet are stockings and black sandals. The only skin showing is her face and hands. She has claimed her spot and waits.

I find an empty table and sit for a while doing Sudoku but soon get drowned out by the noise of kids and loud conversation of the family members arrived she’s been patiently waiting for. Its 7:30 pm now. Only ½ an hour more for sunset and I’m getting hungry. I, like everyone else, am waiting for the official beginning of Iftar, or evening meal during Ramazan, as it’s called in Turkey.

I stand in line for about ½ an hour with my male friend. All around us are smoking men. Since I’m a woman, I can go to the front of the line; but I don’t want any extra eyes on me. I’ve worked hard trying to fade into the background here. My friend and I enter the big blue plastic tent. We take a plastic tray. Tonight’s meal is my favorite: Aubergine (eggplant), rice pilaf, traditional sweets (Tatlı) and exactly one olive and one date.  The strict signs indicating “men’s eating area” and “women’s eating area” are thankfully ignored, with everyone sitting where they want. We take a seat.

There are all kinds of people here, including a table full of Japanese tourists. Everyone eats in relative silence, except for the man across from me that says “Abe, more pilav?” (Abe is an affectionate term meaning ‘uncle’). He scowls at me and says something when I get up without finishing all of mine.  We eat, unceremoniously dispose of our trays in a big metal bin and walk away.

Not everyone fasts during Ramazan. Those who do rise before the sun often hire groups of drumming boys to wake them up at 4am. Then take a morning meal, fast all day (including no water and no smoking) until Iftar at sunset.  Many of my Turkish friends aren’t fasting, but the ones who are don’t seem to mind if I guiltily eat around them.

I’m told that the sponsored festivals and free meals at night during Ramadan in Istanbul are  relatively new; it has turned the atmosphere into a month-long festival at night, with music performances, games and carnival rides for children, and food vendors of every kind.

The summer night is cooling, there is live Turkish music playing. Hundreds of people have now accumulated, sitting on blankets in the grass, in outdoor cafes, walking around and purchasing food from the Kumpir (baked potato) and corn-on-the-cob and Döner (sandwich) vendors.

"Drink tea!"

I walk around the shops and have a brief conversation with a carpet seller. I smile at the inevitable, “Come visit my shop! Drink tea!” and decline his offer, but then he informs me about all the interesting places in the area. Another short conversation with a shop owner: “I am from Van. This is my store…where are you from?”  With small mouthfuls of English, my sporadic Turkish or Kurdish, and lots of gestures and smiles, I feel relieved getting past being a tourist. It seems that I’m finally blending in. I sit in the front seat with my grandfatherly Taxi driver and share my dried apricots as I try to direct him to my destination. Again, a silly, broken conversation, a mixture of  Turkish and English. Of course we are both trying to say the same things – “Where do you come from? Where are you going?”