Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

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In the Hilton in Izmir right now and it’s SUPER fancy. Like….unbelievably fancy. Allyson and I unlocked our door, stepped in, and stared first at the room and then at each other in amazement. I felt like a sad, American hobo. Rivaling even our fancy, luxurious room, though, is the view we have of the Aegean Sea from our window. It’s breathtaking.

We went to Fatih University this morning, ranked the 5th best university in Turkey. Salih (who I think pretty much adores me now) told the head of the department that I was a great person and student and asked if he could get me a job teaching English there. The man exclaimed, “Oh! I’ll ask!” and started to run out of the room while Salih called after him, “I’m kidding, I’m kidding! She hasn’t even done grad school yet!” He replied, “Well, you recommended her, so we want her! Come back when you finish your master’s.” It was slightly embarrassing but mostly wonderful. Fatih already has amazing medical and engineering programs, even though it was only founded in 1995 or 1996 (I can’t remember which.) Salih keeps telling everyone I’m going to be a teacher, which leads to questions of, “Do you want to work here?! We’ll hire you!” I stammer, “Uh, but I haven’t even finished school-” to which Salih interjects, “But she graduates in April!” I say, “And I don’t speak Turkish–” and Salih boasts, “Do you know how fast she’s learned since she’s been here, though?!” I DID have a brief conversation with our host family this morning in pure Turkish, and it was pretty sweet. It seriously makes me so happy that they keep offering me teaching jobs, and not just because there are practically none back in America. I found myself thinking, “Maybe things aren’t going to work out between us, Michigan….”

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I found myself becoming more thankful for my home country after touring Zaman Newspaper. My former journalist’s heart skipped a beat as we walked through the building, examined the newspaper, and talked with a reporter who discussed Turkey’s free press…which actually isn’t that free. She explained to us that there has recently been a lot of scandal surrounding Prime Minister Bilal Erdogan. Since Turkey’s democratic state is fairly new and still developing, newspapers are not guaranteed protection, especially if they choose to publish truth that slanders authority. Several non-Turkish reporters were deported, we were told, after publishing articles against the Prime Minister, and one reporter was even imprisoned. Zaman is privately owned, so they can continue functioning, but face the danger of being sued by the Prime Minister. With an election coming up, we asked if it was possible for someone else to be elected. The reporter shrugged and told us that, while there are many different political groups here, none are really substantial enough to stand a chance against current leadership, so it’s unlikely that things will change. It was sobering to listen to the reporter tell us about all of these troubles, and I found myself thankful for America; though our political system is decidedly corrupt and has troubles of its own, I don’t think I’ll ever take freedom of speech for granted again.

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After Zaman, we had free time for two hours so we went to a park right on the Bosphorus strait and explored. Dram, of course, had more exclamations of, “Obama!” We played around on the different exercise machines that Turkey has sprinkled all over the country, free for public use, before heading to the airport.

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We flew to Izmir, where we had dinner in a very fancy restaurant, and then drove back to the hotel. We had a good talk with Dr. B about perspective while we were waiting to board to fly out of Istanbul. He stressed the importance of understanding that nothing is or can be purely wonderful, and that it’s good to remember that Salih is organizing all of this for us, and we wouldn’t be getting the treatment we are if it wasn’t for generosity of the Gulen movement, Niagara Foundation, and Salih’s leadership. It was sobering enough to listen to the reporter at Zaman and realize that Turkey, while beautiful and inspiring, is far from perfect. Our rose-colored glasses were chipped away a little bit more as he, Marv, Caleb, and I discussed a situation that happened yesterday at Süleymaniye Mosque.

As we were walking up to the mosque’s entrance, there was a group of gypsy kids running around barefoot and with big, dark, sad eyes, asking for money. Someone had whispered to me, “Do NOT give the kids any money,” and I instantly flashed back to my translator in the Dominican Republic telling me that the majority of kids begging are trafficking victims, and that any money I gave them would just go back into the hands of the traffickers and feed the system. We bypassed them and made our way into the mosque, where we spent an hour or two before heading back out to browse through the street vendors selling jewelry, scarves, and other souvenirs. This same group of kids appeared again, with their small, dirty hands outstretched, eyes on the ground, and asking softly, “Lira? Lira?” I remembered stories of pickpockets and children being used to distract tourists while others steal from them, and I kept my wallet securely in my bag as I shook my head, smiled politely, and said, “No, sorry.” As everyone else did the same, I told myself that, while we weren’t giving money to help these kids, in the long run, we were doing more good than harm. (Ugh. My arrogance.) Marv, however, instantly reached into his pockets and gave them all of the spare change he had, to a chorus of, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” as they ran off, bare feet pounding on cobblestones. Those children’s faces (and my lack of giving to them) tormented me on the long bus ride from the mosque to Hakan and Ezra’s. (Notice I didn’t even mention the story yesterday. Ugh. My pride.)

While we were sitting at the gate waiting to board, I heard Marv and Dr. B talking about those kids, so I joined them. Marv was talking about how he simply gave because a hungry little kid had asked him for money, while Caleb was with me in that he wasn’t sure what to do, so he just played it safe and didn’t take out his wallet. Dr. B explained to us that the gypsy culture is especially prevalent in Denizli, which we would soon see, but that they could also frequently be seen outside of mosques asking for money. Then he got very serious and said, “I’m a man of principles. I like to have them and I like to stick by them. And yesterday, I was thinking about how any money I gave those little kids would just feed the system, and they wouldn’t get a job, and their children wouldn’t get a job, and their children’s children wouldn’t get a job, and there would be more generations of hungry little children begging on the streets. So I didn’t give them anything.” Then he was quiet for a long moment and he said, “But the danger in that comes when I stop seeing that little boy as a human being and only as an object to psychoanalyze. Sometimes, you have to throw your principles to the wind and just give. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have the time–or the desire–to psychoanalyze people who came to Him for help.”

The four of us sat there quietly for a moment, considering this, and I felt tears sting my eyes as I thought about how I had spent over $1,000 for this trip (and had over $200 more in both American and Turkish money in my wallet) but I couldn’t give a little boy in need a lira. A lira is about $0.50 in American money. Half a dollar.

I can only pray that that group of kids ran across other people that day who had a better heart and attitude than I.

If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 3: Some Heartfelt but Definite Jet-Lagged Rambling

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

Adventures in Turkey pt. 3: Some Heartfelt but Definite Jet-Lagged Rambling

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After our usual breakfast fare (minus the French fries but still with the weenie sausages and cocoa puffs for our “American food”), we made Dr. B try that horrendous carrot juice, and he was not pleased, even though he was a good sport about it. The only person in our group who wouldn’t try it was Mr. N, but we’re going to eventually break him down because we’ve decided it’s our initiation into the group for this trip.

Dolmabache Palace: We started the day by visiting a palace built in 1856 which stayed in commission until the revolution in 1923. We weren’t allowed to take a ton of pictures inside (although Dramell, of course, did) but Ohhh my wordddd was it gorgeous. Gold plated ceilings and chandeliers weighing 4 & 1/2 tons and marble pillars….Stunning. While we were there, I lost one of the slip on shoes they gave us to protect the carpets and didn’t notice until someone pointed it out so we decided that meant that I’m basically Cinderella. Natalie and I frolicked in the gardens and people laughed but we didn’t care because we decided that we were princesses and were going to live in that palace, and Fred (our tour name from yesterday) also became an acronym for the first law we’re going to pass: Frolic Regally Every Day.

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Next, we went on a boat ride on the Bosphorus. I was a little nervous as Dr. B talked about how it was once the most dangerous strait in the world and how in some parts, sailors had to sail at a 60 degree angle because of the winds and the current. Thankfully, we had no such experience; once we got there, it was AMAZING. The weather was windy, but almost all of us stayed above deck, anyway, to enjoy the breeze and view. 

View from the boat ride

View from the boat ride

 

As I peeked over the railing into the water, I noticed the abundance of jellyfish.

As I peeked over the railing into the water, I noticed the abundance of jellyfish.

While Natalie and I were sitting there silent and contemplative, a group of people came over to us gesturing with their cameras. Natalie stood up to take their picture, but she shook her head; through several hand gestures, smiles, and nodding of heads, we finally realized that they wanted to take pictures with us. As Natalie and I awkwardly slid closer to the men and girl already posed and waiting on the bench, we sat through several snapshots as all five of them each had to get it on each of their phones. Every time they took it, one of the men would say, “Good one! Good one!” even if he didn’t see it and we think it’s the only thing he knew how to say in English so were just laughing and they were laughing and it was so weird and hilarious and wonderful. We don’t know if they wanted the pic because they knew we were American, but you’d think then they’d go for blond, blue-eyed Beth, not super dark haired Natalie and I. (She has a darker skin tone and brown eyes and Dramell told me he thinks I could pass as Turkish.) Even though Natalie and I had just been sitting on the bench enjoying the wonderful breeze and sunshine, I wondered if maybe we had done something to warrant attention. When we asked Salih about it, he told us that we looked very natural and like we belonged there, so he wasn’t exactly sure why they had wanted pictures with us. Natalie’s theory is that princesses have to get used to paparazzi, especially gorgeous princesses like us. I approved of that idea.

Beth snapped the event from the other side of the boat

Beth snapped the event from the other side of the boat while she, Caleb, and Allyson laughed at our predicament

After the boat ride, we got to explore Midtown Istanbul, which was incredible. I felt a little less friendly toward the Turkish felines that roam the streets as commonly as squirrels do in America as a cat actually tried to sabotage Natalie for her wrap with spinach and cheese. We walked up and down the winding streets as merchants sold everything from bracelets to scarves to watches to art. Keeping in mind that Dr. B had advised us to wait for the Grand Bazaar to buy most of our souvenirs, I couldn’t resist buying bracelets for my cousins, one red, one blue, with tiny imitation Turkish coins jingling from them.

I also used a squat toilet for the first time today. It was actually kinda gross and definitely not my favorite, but I feel the need to document it here.

Moving on.

After exploring for a while, we went to Süleymaniye Mosque, which is another very important mosque and we stayed there for a while, watching the men pray. I’m always very impressed by mosques. There are definite boundaries that can’t be crossed because I’m not Muslim (and because I’m a woman) but I really appreciate that as long as I’m shoeless and have my head covered, I’m welcome inside there. I also really appreciate the sense of unity and devotion that they share. Salih prays five times a day and it’s just very admirable to me to see how faithful he is. My prayer life is sadly lacking.

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After the mosque, we went to our first host family, newlyweds Hakan and Ezra (John and Esther). They were so wonderful. Salih had talked about Turkish hospitality, but we definitely experienced it first hand as they gave all of us stunning notebooks from the newspaper company where she works (which we will be visiting tomorrow). Since there were so many of us, Beth, Brynn, Bayleigh and I ate at a table on their screened in porch just off of the dining room, where they provided us with slippers to keep our feet warm. They’ve been married for eight months, and I whispered to the girls if it would be rude to ask if we could see pictures from their wedding. Since we weren’t sure (but really wanted to see it!) we asked Salih when he came in to check on us. He considered it for a moment and replied, “Some couples would not be comfortable with that, but I think they might. I’ll ask them for you.” Next thing we knew, a beaming Ezra was bringing the wedding album into the room for all of us to admire. Hakan winced and said he felt like an actor, fake and posed, in those pictures, but we all agreed that they both looked absolutely stunning.

As we were drinking Turkish coffee (which was definitely not my favorite but there was no way I was NOT going to not finish it), Beth commented on how much she loved their cups and next thing we know Ezra had gone back in the kitchen, washed them, and packed them up for her to take them home. They’re both heavily involved in the Gulen movement (which influenced the Niagra foundation) and Hakan kept saying how he loved that we we were willing to come and be a part of this and wanted to make a difference. They kept thanking US, to the point where we finally said, “YOU invited us into YOUR apartment and made all of this food and gave US gifts; we should be thanking YOU!” We gave them our Kibo mugs, Ugandan coffee and RC pens, and Hakan got choked up when Mr. N was explaining what he does and why he founded Kibo and he said, “I can’t believe you’re not only involved here, but also helping Africa. You are wonderful people” and so we all got choked up and it was such a wonderful, wonderful night.

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I also added a LOT more Turkish words to my vocabulary and as Allyson and I were reading the bag our journals came in (obviously in Turkish) and pointing out the words we knew (library, book) and trying to pronounce them, Salih said, “I didn’t know you studied Turkish before you came here!” I began, “I didn’t-” and he exclaimed, “You’ve picked all of that up since Friday?!” And I said, “Salih, I really hate the idea that Americans have of how everyone should speak English and I try to break that stereotype. Plus I love learning new languages!” And he said, “But you’ve even got the pronunciation down perfect with the different s’s and g’s. I’m amazed.” Before I could explain that I only knew that because of Allyson, who had been here before, he turned to Dr. B and said, “She’s better than you are, John, and she’s never been here before!” I felt a definite stamp of approval being given, and I loved it. I did learn that my C’s are incorrect though; C’s are pronounced as J’s, so mosque is “jah-mee” even though it’s spelled “camii.”

Jet lag is definitely taking its toll. I fell asleep at midnight but woke up at 3am and my body was like “That was such a nice nap!” I tried to tell myself, “Noooo, body, it wasn’t a nap; it’s sleeping time,” but I was up from then until after the call to prayer at like 5:30ish but I must have fallen asleep again because Allyson’s alarm woke me at 7:30. We slept on the bus on the way to Hakan and Ezra’s house, too.

When we got back to the dorms, we all expressed how thankful we are to Salih for all of this and he teared up, said, “It’s not me,” and pointed upwards. I was struck again by how even though Christianity and Islam are two obviously very different religions, our principles are the same and I respect him all the more for it. Hakan and Ezra’s character were so godly and to be honest, I’ve seen believers that don’t have as healthy, loving, and supportive a marriage as they do. I’m sure part of that’s because they haven’t even been married a year yet, but I appreciated SO much the mutual love and respect between the two of them. I guess in my biased ignorance, I was expecting the silent little homemaker wife with the controlling husband, but she told us that he had helped her with both the cleaning and cooking (since there was so much of it!) and she works as a computer engineer. He mentioned several times how proud of her he is for that and her college education. They were so wonderful.

So now we’re just hanging out, journaling, and catching up on emails. Tomorrow we’re going to visit Fatih University and Zaman newspaper where Ezra works, and then we fly out to Izmir tomorrow night, where we’re staying at a Hilton for a few days. We stay in Izmir for part of Monday and all day Tuesday, then drive to Denizli and stay there till Thursday, then drive back to Izmir to fly back to Istanbul for a few days before we have to prepare for the dreaded H word: Home.

If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

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Today was seriously PACKED. It’s a huge blur as I look back on the day. We had breakfast of different types of cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, Turkish bagels and hard boiled eggs in the morning. Salih suddenly announced, “If you all don’t like this, we also have some American food for you,” and gestured to cocoa puffs, weenie sausages, and French fries. Lol! I made sure to eat stuff from the first list because even though it was nice of them to consider us, that was one American stereotype I was NOT going to fulfill. We had coffee and tea to drink, of course, and then we were off to Topkapi Palace, where sultans lived for nearly 400 years. It’s more of a museum now but there are certain rooms and areas they’ve left untouched and it was AMAZING. It was surreal especially to walk through the parts of the palace that only the sultans were allowed in.

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The palace was inside of the old city, with Constantine’s wall surrounding it. I ran my hand along the stones of the wall and tried to fathom how old it is. After we went through the grounds and looked at old swords and other relics (where we weren’t allowed to take pictures but Dramell was sneaking some, anyway) we got lunch at Ottoman Restaurant, where we were served an ENORMOUS amount of food: salad, of course, and lentil soup and bread, and then we got to pick our entree from what felt like 30 different options. For dessert, they served us baklava which was AMAZING and I don’t even like baklava. We felt bad because we just couldn’t finish all of it; we did what we could but it was just SO much.

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After lunch, we started walking again when suddenly someone pointed at Dramell and yelled, “Obama!” And then all of these other people started chanting, “Obama! Obama!” which was hilarious because yes, Drammel is African-American, but unless our President has suddenly changed to a darker skinned, 6’4 college student with both ears pierced, they don’t look a thing alike. But now we call him either Odrama or Drambama, depending on our mood.

He's been stopped so many times for pictures.

He’s been stopped so many times for pictures.

Next was Hagia Sophia: oh my word. The stunning beauty of it. I could have stayed there for hours. It’s doubly amazing because it was a church before it was a mosque (and a mosque before it was a museum) so it’s the only place in the world to have Christian and Muslim art in one place. It’s enormous and gorgeous and stunning…oh my word. So old and wonderful. After various earthquakes, it had to be rebuilt three times, and parts are still under construction.

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When the Ottomans took over, the Hagia Sophia was converted from a church to a mosque. Because Islam respects Jesus, Mary, and other religious figures, they did not destroy the paintings already there. In order to be respectful, they simply covered up the Christian art with plaster and added the Islamic art. (Muslims do not have paintings or portrayals of people while they pray, as they believe it distracts them from their prayers.) The paintings, preserved from being weathered, were discovered (some almost completely in tact) when the plaster was chipped away as it was being converted to a museum in the 1930s.

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Then we went to the Bascilla Cisterns which was a little freaky but way cool; we were informed multiple times that the cistern was used during the filming of From Russia With Love. In addition to admiring yet another centuries old structure, we laughed at the giant ugly carp swimming in the water and I looked Medusa in the eyes even though our tour guide told me I would turn to stone if I did. I forget what his name was; we all called him Fred because he asked in the beginning, “What’s this group’s name?” meaning Rochester College or Niagra Foundation or something he could shout so we’d all hear him and know where to go, but Natalie said “Fred,” and he thought that was hilarious so we stuck with it. And every time he’d say, “Over here, Fred!”, a whole group of people (mostly girls too) would troop over to him and he’d just laugh and laugh.

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After picking our way through the slippery, underground cavern, we emerged to walk along the Hippodrome, an oval shaped area where horse races were held because gladiator type games were deemed barbaric. The Hippodrome was not immune to bloodshed, however; in the wake of the Nika riots (during which the Hagia Sophia was partially burned), Justinian had 30,000 of his enemies brought in, closed off all exits, and had them all slaughtered. I felt a chill run down my spine as I looked at the cobblestones covered in rain water, knowing that blood once filled the cracks.

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Next was my favorite! Blue Mosque: It’s the third holiest site for Muslims (falling behind the Dome of the Rock and Mecca) and it’s enormous and beautiful. It was such a cool and unique experience that I’ve never had before. In between the calls to prayer (during which visitors are not allowed in) we removed our shoes, covered our hair, and stepped inside. Despite religious, cultural, and ethnic differences, there was a mutual respect for everyone within the building that I so appreciated. In a religious building with people from all over the world and from a variety of different religions (if they held a religion at all), there was peace. It was comforting to my eternally optimistic heart to think that, perhaps, someday, such peace and understanding between humanity is a possibility. Regardless of personal beliefs, we all stood together with nothing but respect and admiration in our hearts for those around us. There was almost a tangible sense of unity that could be felt. A woman actually stopped me and started speaking Arabic before she realized that I’m an American. There were several other times, however, when people would walk by our group and say, “Ahh, Americans,” so I guess we’re pretty noticeable. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing!

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It’s nearly impossible to have your hair covered and still have peripheral vision.

We grabbed dinner which was Turkish pizza an the restaurant owner was the cutest EVER. I said “Merhaba” and attempted, “Teh suchre etarim” (hello and thank you). It was hard to learn how to say thank you! Salih just told us “Sal” but that’s the informal way and we wanted the authentic way to say it. Brynn finally got us all to remember it by saying, “Tea, sugar, and a rum,” but then we all got scared we would accidentally say that.

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I know I keep saying everything is delicious but it seriously is….excluding Salgam.

After we made it back to the dorms, I showered and headed to the hang out room by the lobby to journal for a few minutes before we all played cards. As soon as I walked in, everyone bombarded me with, “KATIE, KATIE, TRY THIS JUICE” which should have been my first tip that something was off. I examined the bottle closely; it was purple, but whatever was in the basket was definitely not a bunch of grapes. I didn’t see any English words on it, so I asked, “Is it date juice?” There was the briefest pause before they all exclaimed, “….Yeah!….DATE juice!” which should have been my second tip off, but I gave in and tried it and it was VILE. I was choking as Katy took pity on me and gave me some water. Dram had no sympathy for me because he said I didn’t get a sip that was big enough; apparently, he thought it was grape juice and downed back a nice, big glass when he got back to his room. Determined to discover when I had just consumed, I searched the bottle and found tiny, English words proclaiming FERMENTED BLACK CARROT JUICE. My horrified announcement created such an uproar that Salih poked his head in to see what we were doing, so we asked him, “Salih, do you drink this?!?” He replied, “Eh, yeah, sometimes, it’s good with really salty fish dinners and stuff–” but then he noticed our traumatized faces and said, “Um, I would never, ever, drink it by itself, though. Did you guys–?” and then he just started laughing. Our mantra for Salgam has become, “Never by itself,” and several of us agreed that we’d much rather drink Ayran again than Salgam.

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Poor Natalie entered after I did and had to have her Salgam experience documented.

After dinner, Salih asked, “Are you guys tired?” And we were EXHAUSTED because of the long day and I think jet lag caught up finally so we said, “YES,” and he shrugged and said, “Oh, never mind, John, they’re too tired for my great and wonderful idea,” so of course we said, “No! No, tell us!” And he replied, “Oh, I was just gonna suggest a night walk along the Bosphorus to see Rumeli Fortress, but if you’re all too tired….” There was no question in any of our minds; we wiped the jet-lag from our eyes and trooped out into the slightly chilly (but still much warmer than February in Michigan!) night to explore. Mehmet the Conquerer built the fortress right before he overtook Istanbul.

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After our walk, we came back and hung out because we weren’t tired by then, so we played cards and talked for a couple hours. I’m still not tired, but I should go to bed because it’s midnight here even though it’s 5pm at home. We’re going for our boat ride on the Bosphorus and having dinner with a host family tomorrow so I do know I need sleep, but it’s difficult to because I’m still so amazed to be here. It’s a life changing, amazing experience and I’m so thankful I can take part in it.

1899921_449429731856985_1777918228_nIf you missed last week’s post: Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

 

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

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I’ve really been having to fight the travel bug lately. Someone asked me the other day why I can’t just be content to stay here in the United States, and I burst out, “But how can I be when there are so many interesting countries I haven’t even seen yet?!” They didn’t understand and were slightly unsympathetic.

In order to pacify myself, I’ve been reading through my travel journals again. My stories from Turkey, especially, make me laugh, partly because the memories are so wonderful and partly because I was always in such a hurry to write everything down, my entries are jumbled with excited ranting that jumps from subject to subject. I thought about cleaning them up to be more edited and polished for these posts, but that would take away from the charm and excitement so clearly found in all of the random pages. Enjoy! (More entries detailing my Turkish adventures will be posted, so make sure you press that “follow” button!)

Despite the fact that I spent the night before I left home on the floor in front of a nearly empty suitcase fighting back tears, I’ve made it to Turkey!

On the bus leaving for Chicago; you can tell I'm still nervous here. My lips say, "Yay!" but my eyes say, "Maybe I just want to stay in the States..."

On the bus leaving for Chicago; you can tell I’m still nervous here. My lips say, “Yay!” but my eyes say, “Maybe I do just want to stay in the States…”

 

It’s seriously amazing here. Traffic is INSANE and there are cats running everywhere and literally everyone smokes cigarettes, but I love it. It’s 8am here now so we have half an hour before we have to be down for breakfast and then we take off for the old city to see the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, and an ancient palace. Jet lag hasn’t been too bad. I woke up at 3am Turkey time because it was 8pm back in the States, but I was able to get back to sleep. I’m a little tired now but that’s because it’s 1am in MI. We’re staying at an all girls boarding school and it’s the cutest place ever. We have a mineret right across the street so I woke up this morning at 5 am from the call to prayer which scared me awake (I almost fell out of bed!) but after a while of laying there listening to the chanting, I decided it was beautiful, in a haunting kind of way.

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We had a great flight (I slept almost the whole 10 or 12 or however long it was hours) and made it through security and customs with absolutely no problem. Salih (our translator) is super nice and keeps begging us to “have ourselves at home” (meaning make ourselves at home). We ate at the most amazing Turkish restaurant when we got here for dinner last night and there was SO MUCH FOOD. We literally only ate one bite of everything because it just kept coming! Dr. B convinced everyone to order Ayran, a yogurt drink that he raved on and on about….but no one else liked it. There’s just something about drinking slightly warm, salty yogurt that didn’t really appeal to us, excluding Dr. B, who drank three glasses.

I’ve already picked up a little bit of Turkish! I really wanted to so I’ve been paying a lot of attention to various signs and words and asking Allyson (who’s been here before) about it. I pronounce things wrong a lot because sometimes Gs are pronounced as Ws and Cs as Hs and Ss as Hs and Is can be a long E or a U sound depending on accents which are super confusing but I can say hello, peach, thank you, and emergency exit. I like to think these words will provide me with enough help in a situation.
Nutella is Sorelle here and very popular because Turkey is known for both Hazelnuts and pistachios (my dad would have loved the dessert we had yesterday) so both are everywhere in meals, super fresh and cheap. We drink tea all the time and it’s so good! We’re not visiting a family until Sunday because Salih wants us to be totally over jet lag for visiting.
Everyone hosting us has been amazing, despite the incident last night when I was convinced I was going to be shipped back to the States. We went up the elevator to our floor in shifts, with Salih staying behind to corral everyone up. Those of us standing in the lobby decided to go exploring in the rooms, but we hadn’t made it very far before Salih called us back, asked us all to wait in the lobby, and then he and the man in charge went in a back room and yelled at each other in Turkish for 20 minutes. Of course my anxiety kicked in, and I started telling myself that the problem was somehow with me because I’d joined the trip so last minute. Someone suggested that maybe we’d done something wrong by having single guys and girls exploring in the same bedrooms, and those of us who had done so exchanged nervous, guilty looks. After several minutes, Salih came out and asked to talk to Dr. B privately, and then we got REALLY nervous. Dr. B came out laughing a few minutes later while Salih stood behind him giving disapproving looks to the man in charge who was wringing his hands. Dr. B said they were arguing because they were worried about the room arrangements. The director had thought that we were all a huge family and had pushed all the beds together in the rooms; they were terrified that, as Americans, we would find that offensive.
Two twin beds pushed together. Allyson and I are roomies

Two twin beds pushed together.

We were just so relieved that we hadn’t offended anyone and weren’t in trouble, and I secretly vowed to not go looking around again without permission, even just inside the school. The boundaries are very clear: the boys aren’t even allowed in the back of the school (where our rooms are) unless they’re headed to the dining room for meals. We girls took the rooms with the beds pushed together and the boys got the two separate beds because Dr. B said he didn’t care if he was being sexist; he thought it’d be better for the girls to be close together because he personally did not want to cuddle with Mr. N. Allyson and I are rooming together!
It felt SO good to get here yesterday and take a shower. We’d been on a plane or bus for 18 of the last 19 hours. I don’t remember our exact itinerary but I think we’re here for three more days and then we fly out of Istanbul into Izmir, where we spend a few days and then drive to…a city that starts with a D that I forget. (Maybe jet lag is affecting me more than I realize.)