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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: