A few months ago, my father-in-law and two of my brothers-in-law visited Turkey for a week and had a great time. They brought us home an enormous box of Turkish baklava as an edible souvenir, and I spent a lot of September nibbling away at that. It was delicious, and I was really grateful for the gift.
At some point near the end of the box, all of that baklava brought back a memory that I hadn’t thought about for quite some time. Between 2007 and 2009, I served as a Latter-day Saint missionary in eastern France and French-speaking Switzerland. Even though I’m no longer a practicing Latter-day Saint, I have a lot of fond memories of those two years, and this one involves baklava!
Every six weeks, the president of a Latter-day Saint mission makes changes to missionaries’ assignments, and those missionaries’ lives are divided up into six-week chunks called transfers, since at the end of any given chunk, there’s the possibility of being transferred to another area to work in (or having someone else transferred to your area to start working with them. For the final six weeks of my missionary service, I worked in Colmar, in Alsace, and during those six weeks, I packed in a lot of visits to a particular döner kebab place. I’ve just spent several minutes on Google Maps trying to remember where the place was and what it was called, but none of the kebab places Google is turning up seem like the right one! All I remember is that it was on a street corner, it was close to our local church building, and during the six weeks that I was there, they had a picture up of Angela Merkel enjoying a döner kebab.
I ate a lot of kebab during my two years in Europe, but I don’t know if it was because Colmar was my last hurrah or for some other reason, but we went there a lot. I first met the owners during my first week there: We got caught in a sudden summer rainstorm on our way home from somewhere—probably the local church building—and were doing our best to get back home without getting too wet. One of the owners was observing the rain from under an overhang in front of the restaurant and invited us to come in and get out of the rain for a bit. I didn’t recognize the guy and didn’t take him up on the offer, but it’s one of those things that, in hindsight, I wish I had done. Someone was being genuinely nice to me, but my anxious missionary brain thought that we had to get home and be wary of strangers, and I turned them down.
It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that this guy was a friend and that his kebab place was friendly territory. Our weekly meetings with missionaries from Strasbourg and Mulhouse would often be at Colmar (a nice central location), and we’d all get kebabs after the meeting, racking up point after point on our loyalty cards. After something like ten kebabs, you got something for free. My memory tells me that it was a piece of baklava, but the more I dig, the more I think that it was actually a free kebab. At any rate, because there were six of us between these three cities, we could fill out a loyalty card pretty quickly—not even counting the time that we Colmar locals would go on our own. We brought this place so much business that they had stopped charging us for drinks. We’d pay for a kebab-frites, we’d pay for some baklava if we felt like something sweet, and then we’d just grab an Orangina out of the fridge for free. We loved their food, they loved our business, and it was a good relationship.
Pretty near the end of my time in Colmar, we had filled up two loyalty cards. Feeling triumphant, we walked into the kebab place, ordered two kebab-frites and two pieces of baklava, and put both loyalty cards down on the counter. The man who had offered us shelter from the rain nearly six weeks earlier smiled back at us, a mix of impressed and annoyed with how we’d pulled that off, and then got to work on the order. Because I can’t remember what the “free stuff” from the loyalty card was, I can’t quite remember the details of our triumph. At first, I thought that it was that we’d scored two pieces of baklava for free—that’s what my pistachio-filled brain was telling me back in September. Now, though, I’m not sure that we would have felt so triumphant over two free pieces—I think we were proud of ourselves for getting two kebab-frites for free and decided to pay for the baklava since we hadn’t paid for the meal (or the drinks).
I have complicated feelings about my time as a Latter-day Saint missionary, and I’m sure that the stuff that my father-in-law brought home from Turkey was higher-quality baklava than anything I ate in a kebab shop. Despite all that, even though I can’t remember all the details, I cherish this fuzzy memory more than any of the fancy baklava that we had in our kitchen until I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more and tossed the rest out. I wish I’d spent more time getting to know the owner. I wish I remembered the name and the street corner. I wish that I were on a plane right now to go and visit Alsace again.
You can use click on the
< button in the top-right of your browser window to read and write comments on this post with Hypothesis. You can read more about how I use this software here.