This description of what really marks a border between one country or region and another delighted me. It boils down to the habitual brew offered to a guest. Rory Stewart crosses from coffee country to tea terrain, which itself graduates from black to green to the addition of milk and sugar.
He used this example to try to persuade an academic that borders do exist and are not just a map-makers’ illusion. She in turn was convinced that his belief in borders was nothing more than proof of his being a political animal.
Imagine a world map where the borders are marked by transitions based on the habitual drink offered to guests.
Tea? Or would you prefer coffee? Milk and sugar, or just neat?
‘When I was walking from Turkey into Iran, I explained, I had been moving through a single ethnic and linguistic zone. On both sides of the border were related Kurdish and Azeri peoples and I had been drinking Turkish coffee for a thousand miles since Izmir. Then I walked through the border fence. A hundred metres into Iran, the border guard asked me what I wanted to drink. ‘Coffee,’ I said. He laughed. ‘We only drink tea,’ he said and gave me a cup of black tea. And it was only tea for the next 800 miles, until, precisely at the Iranian-Afghan border – a zone of a single Farsi ‘Khorasani’ culture – they began to drink green tea. Then at the Khyber Pass – a line which Afghanistan does not even recognise, an absurd line, scratched by Sir Mortimer Durand to mark the edge of British India, running straight through the middle of a single Pushtu tribal group, who continued to trade and intermarry – they suddenly put milk and sugar in their tea.’
Source: Rory Stewart, The Marches: Border Walks with my Father (London: Vintage, 2017), p. 193
Photo credit: tpsdave at pixabay