Adventures in Turkey pt. 9: Reflections on the Longest Flight Back Ever

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Well, I was right about there being tears today.

In addition to being tired and already emotional, we had quite the adventure going through customs this morning…or should I say, TRYING to go through customs this morning.

We entered the airport, ready to go through the usual process of removing our shoes and going through security. I was personally in a “Let’s go,” mode; if I HAD to leave, I wanted to just be back in the States already. We asked for where we were supposed to go, were escorted to our place, and waited patiently in the long line, only to be told when we reached the front of it that not only were we in the wrong line, we were in the wrong part of the airport. We were given directions and trooped over there to wait in yet another long line. We had snaked through half of that line when a worker came over and asked us where we were flying to. “Chicago?” he repeated incredulously. “Why are you here, then?”

“We were told–”

“No, no. You’re not even in the right part of the airport. Follow me.”

Trailing behind him like a pack of lost, sad, American puppies, we joined the end of yet another long line. My patience was thin at this point, and judging by the faces of my silent friends, they were feeling the same. We finally reached the front of that line, where a very disapproving worker informed us that we needed to trek to the other side of the airport.

Reaching that designated area, Dr. B asked a security guard before we even got in line if we were in the right place. He checked our passports and shook his head.

I reached a low point.

“Are you kidding me? Is this for real?” I demanded, turning to Natalie, in line behind me. Her lips had tightened into one thin line and frustrated tears ensued from some. If we had been in the wrong place because of our own ignorance, that would have been one thing, but we had been taken not once, not twice, but three times, to the wrong place.

Finally, we found the correct spot, and worries churned inside me as I looked at the clock while remembering the time we were supposed to fly out. Thankfully, flying out of Turkey was less of a hassle than flying out of America; we breezed through security and customs, waited at our gate for a few moments, and then boarded. Seated by Natalie, I settled into my seat and turned around to peek several rows back at Beth, Dram, and Bayleigh, who all gave me a thumbs up, seemingly just as relieved as I was to finally be on the plane. Allyson and Caleb were seated several rows ahead of us.

Once we were in the air, I was able to lean back in my seat and relax (I’m not afraid to fly anymore, but I still get nervous on take off) but I found myself becoming restless. Since we flew out of Chicago at 10pm to get here, I slept the whole flight; flying back in the middle of the afternoon was a different story. I scrolled through some pictures I had taken, tried to do some homework that’s due tomorrow when I get back, and played peek a boo with the adorable 10 month old in the seat in front of me, but time is crawling by as I sit here writing. It’s surreal to look back on the time I’ve spent here and all of the experiences I’ve been able to have. I admit that I’m still a little on edge (aka crabby) but I am excited to tell all of my stories when I get home.

(Later)

We landed in Chicago at 7pm, disoriented and COLD. (It was nice to escape the Michigan winter for Turkey’s warmer climate.) As the plane taxied onto the runway, Natalie turned wide-eyed to me and said, “Turn your phone on.” I did so, only to receive text multiple text messages saying something along the lines of, “I know you’re not flying Malaysian Airlines, but I’m still nervous…please text me when you’ve landed back in the States.” I turned back to her with eyes just as big and asked, “What happened?”

She shrugged. “My mom said that we don’t even know all of the details yet, but apparently there’s a plane that’s just disappeared. I’m thankful we flew Turkish Airlines and not Malaysia.”

(A note several months later: I still get chills sometimes when I think about what could have happened had it been our plane, or had we been flying to Malaysia.)

Happiness over being home warred with the sadness of being home as I loaded my bags onto the bus and climbed in the seat. We have a loooong drive back to school now.

(Later)

We got back to school around 2am. Mom and Dad picked me up (and went to bed shortly after we returned home) but I’m wide awake, unpacking, doing laundry, and reliving my experiences rereading through this journal. Words are insufficient to express the gratitude I possess over having this opportunity. I’m so blessed.

If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 8: Dealing with Prejudices, Mustaches, and Bargaining

Adventures in Turkey pt. 7: Eat, Pray, Love

Adventures in Turkey pt. 6: Exploring More Ancient Cities

Adventures in Turkey pt. 5: EPHESUS

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

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. 6: Exploring More Ancient Cities

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Every night, I climb into bed and think to myself, “Today was by far the best day of the trip,” only to say the same thing the next night, and the next night, and the next.

Muhammad had been disappointed last night when his pleas to skip school had been turned down, but we promised him that we would look for him in the morning, since we were staying in some of the dorm rooms connected to his school. As we were walking with our luggage to the bus, Dramell yelled, “Hey, Muhammed!” as he spotted him in the crowd, and the young boy came running over to give him a hug and then chatter excitedly in half-English, half Turkish as his friends gazed up in awe at Dramell. One of them punched Muhammed playfully on the arm, shaking his head in admiration, and Muhammed beamed at us and said, “He did not believe me when I told him that you all came to my house last night.”

We headed off to the other host family’s apartment for breakfast, where the host was extremely interested in all of us and asked each of us what we were studying. Of course, Salih told the Salgam story again, to gales of laughter. More extended family members and friends joined the apartment, as well.

As we were leaving to head to Laodicea, I took the grandmother’s hand in mine, thanked her in Turkish (no easy feat!) and handed her one of the mugs we had brought. Though I’m sure I butchered the pronunciation, she clasped her hands in delight and kissed both of my cheeks, warm words flowing from her mouth. She stood in the doorway and watched us leave, proudly waving.

Highschool student Aprul and her father joined us on the trip. We chatted with her on the bus, and Dramell was asking her what she knew about American culture. Yes, she had heard of Katy Perry and enjoyed her music; no, she did not like One Direction. This led to questions of other American music, after which someone facetiously started the “Fresh Prince of Bell Air” rap; of course, we all had to join in. This led to an announcement by Brynn that her father was quite the rapper himself; it took some convincing and he was reluctant at first, but eventually Dr. B, provost and professor of religion and philosophy at Rochester College, treated us to, “Roxanne, Roxanne.”

Once we arrived at Laodicea, we tumbled off of the bus, eager to explore. I was so thankful for the sunny, 70 degree weather we experienced in Ephesus, but it seemed only right that ominous storm clouds rolled in over the city that was strongly rebuked in Revelation. I was also thankful to be currently enrolled in Dr. Stevenson’s Revelation class and to apply the knowledge I learned from him firsthand. Laodicea, a city far away from both Pamukkale’s hot springs and other sources of cold water, had to have all of its water piped in to the city. By the time the hot water from the north reached the city, it was lukewarm; by the time cold water was brought in from the west, it was also lukewarm. Revelation 3:15-17 states of Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” All of these admonitions are significant; Laodicea with only access to lukewarm water, too cold to have healing properties but too warm to drink, was only used by doctors to induce vomiting in their patients–hence “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” It was not flirting dangerously with idolatry like some of the other churches written to in Revelation, but it was also not faithful: it was lukewarm, just like its water, and therefore useless.

Laodicea was also a proud city; after natural disasters such as earthquakes, the government would offer financial assistance to rebuild, of course on their terms and with heavy interest. Laodicea often boasted that they never needed to be reliant on the government, as they had stores of wealth in their banks and were able to be financially independent. They didn’t realize that they were poor spiritually, which John tries to tell them about.

It was significant in both the textile and medical fields; they were famous for their black garments and eye salve, which was used to help treat and cure various eye diseases. John takes all of these aspects that make up their very identity and uses it as a word picture to show them where they are lacking spiritually.

I knew it was going to be cool to visit some of the churches that I was studying in my Revelation class, but it especially hit home walking through this city.

Unlike Ephesus, ongoing work is being done to Laodicea, and Allyson said a significant portion of what we walked through had been buried when she had been here two years prior.

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More English major pics in the library

More English major pics in the library

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After Laodicea, we were off to Pamukkale “cotton castles” hot springs, where calcium deposits in the water form a hardened, slippery, calcified floor. We removed our shoes and socks and rolled up our jeans, excited for this new adventure. As Salih turned back to warn us to be careful, he slipped and fell, landing hard on his wrist. With words like “fracture,” flying around his pained face, the spirit of excitement and adventure fizzled out a bit, and I eyed the roads ahead of me with a bit of trepidation. Picking our way slowly, we gained our footing and became more confident as we splashed through the warm water. Although I was slightly relieved when we reached the end of the springs and I could put my shoes back on solid, non-treacherous ground, the view was well worth it and I loved living yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Creepy Sarcophagi

Creepy Sarcophagi walking on the path to the springs

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As Salih headed to the hospital for X-rays, we went for lunch and then took off for a visit to a high school, where we learned about academics and sat in a classroom (that looks nothing like high schools back in America) before heading to the airport and flying back to Istanbul. We have another full day tomorrow and I’m exhausted!

If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 5: EPHESUS

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

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. 5: EPHESUS

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My heart is just so full tonight.

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There are hardly words for the experiences I had today.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Ephesus. After being buried in an earthquake, the city was practically completely preserved when excavations began. We walked through the Celsus Library, Mary’s church, climbed up and down steps in the amphitheaters, tried to see Hadrian’s temple (under construction and covered with scaffolding) and stepped back centuries in history walking through the city. It’s overwhelming to try to sum it up.

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Excited, shameless English major selfies in the ancient library

Excited, shameless English major selfies in the ancient library

Cats. Cats everywhere. This guy did not appreciate Allyson interrupting his nap in the unseasonably warm weather.

Cats. Cats everywhere. This guy did not appreciate Allyson interrupting his nap in the unseasonably warm weather.

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Especially wonderful was to sit in the amphitheater mentioned in Acts and listen to Dr. B read that part of the story. The wind coming off the water whipped through my hair as I got chills listening to him read what had happened, as I was sitting in the very place that it happened.

After several hours had flown by and we had finished walking through the city, we headed off to see the Temple of Artemis. Once larger than the Parthenon and the largest marble structure of the world at the time, it was sadly destroyed by Christians and a few lonely pillars are all that remains. We explored the marshland and examined the few remains with some fish and turtles swimming nearby.

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After exploring there, we headed to a pottery place, where we learned about Ephesian pottery, watched them working on forming some, painting others, and preparing others to be fired.

The man molding the pottery into jars reminded me so much of the bad guy from the movie Ever After

The man molding the pottery into jars reminded me so much of the bad guy from the movie Ever After

Following a three hour drive to Denizli, we met another host family for dinner. There were considerably more people than Hakan and Ezra and they spoke less English, so there was a lot of smiling, nodding, and looks to Salih on both ends to translate. Even more people arrived as we were eating, and we quickly realized that there were both extended family members and friends who, hearing of our arrival, wanted to come and meet us. We gathered in the stunningly beautiful living room, where the host explained to us (through Salih) that, upon a couple’s engagement, the woman picks out whatever she wants to decorate the home, regardless of price, and the man is not allowed to say a word. Observing the sparkling glass tables, soft white carpets, and beautiful throw pillows and curtains, we all agreed that we loved the sense of style our hostess possessed. He also told us that, sadly, much of the beautiful wooden furniture made in Turkey gets slapped with a “Made in Italy” tag, since people are more likely to purchase it then.

We noticed a guitar in the corner of the room and asked whose it was; it belonged to the preteen girl who had been too shy even to join us for dinner, so our attempts to get her to play for us were futile. She quickly handed it to her brother, who played a few songs for us. Though we couldn’t understand a word, the music and his voice were beautiful. He played a few songs for us, and RC students and Turkish hosts alike relaxed, leaning back into a more natural stance opposed to the awkward, stick-straight poses we had been sitting in. The youngest girl immediately attached herself to Bayleigh, while Muhammad, a young boy in 2nd grade, practically worshipped Dramell. The shy preteen girl disappeared at one point only to return with some papers, which she shyly extended as she sat down next to me. I took them, slightly confused, and turned to Salih, who, with his eyes sparkling, informed me, “I told her that you’re going to be a teacher so she wants you to help her with her English homework.”

As the instructions were in Turkish, I had to rely on the lone example provided to help me, but I quickly realized that the assignment was about matching words with their synonyms. I tried to explain what a synonym is, only to receive the same nodding and shy smile, but after Salih spoke two Turkish words to her (I assume synonyms themselves) she was able to finish the assignment with few corrections needed. I tried to pantomime some of the adjectives (hot, cold) that she didn’t understand, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Another apparently universal tool that binds us all is Salgam. The host asked us if we enjoyed the meal (which, of course, we did) and then he and Salih began conversing in Turkish. Allyson and I caught the word “Salgam,” followed by uproarious laughter. We didn’t need a translator to figure out that he was telling the story of our experience with the foul juice. I pulled out my iPhone to show them the pictures documenting Natalie’s reaction, and more laughter ensued, followed what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!” One of the young men told us that he didn’t like it at all, either, salty fish dinner or no salty fish dinner.

As our time together began to wind down, we discovered that there was to be yet another memorable experience: the man hosting us wanted to arm wrestle Dramell. We all gathered around the table and took pictures to document, especially when the father helped his losing son win by pushing on Dramell’s arm while hiding his face in mock shame from the camera.

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Muhammad told us he was going to tell all of his friends at school the next day that he beat President Obama at arm wrestling

Muhammad told us he was going to tell all of his friends at school the next day that he beat President Obama at arm wrestling

 

The joy on this little girl's face after she "beat" ;) ;) Dramell was priceless

The joy on this little girl’s face after she “beat” 😉 😉 Dramell was priceless

One of the friends of this host family who had joined us when he heard that we were staying there invited all of us to come to his home for breakfast the next morning. We left this host family with a chorus of “goodbye, thank you,” and warm hearts. Truly, as Hakan told us the other night, “All people have the same heart.”

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If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

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. 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

Oh, the Places I’ve Been

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Let me be explicitly clear in saying that I believe that traveling is not only beneficial, but also necessary for people, especially writers. (I should also be clear in saying that the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. I have four stamps in my passport. It’s pretty underwhelming, but I like the sound of the title–thank you, Dr. Seuss–so indulge me, okay?)

There is no comparable experience for learning and being exposed to new material. I’m especially a proponent for visiting countries in which you don’t know how to speak a single word, and spend some of the time you’re there learning how to speak it. Words are beautiful in any language, particularly ones I don’t understand. I also recommend getting lost at least once. Wander around and take in the sights, smells, and sounds and marvel at being in a completely different country. Try a food you can’t identify. Sit in a park and observe people who belong there. There’s just something about sitting on a bench in a completely new country and writing in a notebook.

Recently, I had such an experience. I traveled through my school to Turkey for a whirlwind trip of sightseeing, learning, and visiting Turkish families. It was an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will never forget.

I don’t remember much of our first night there; we had been traveling for 18 of the last 19 hours and we were all exhausted and bleary from jet lag. I remember sitting in a very nice restaurant and being served an abundance of food, all of which was delicious (other than Ayran, a salty, yogurt drink.) I remember smiling and attempting to say, “Merhaba,” and feeling welcomed by everyone I saw…but that’s about it.

We hit the ground running the next day and didn’t really stop for the rest of the trip. In one afternoon, we toured Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cisterns, and the Blue Mosque. We were all ready for bed by the time dinner rolled around, but then our translator suggested a night walk along the Bosphorus Strait and Rumeli fortress so we instantly shook off our yawns and rubbed the sleepiness out of our eyes. It was a little chilly since we were right on the water, but the air was crisp and the spirit of adventure won out over our exhaustion.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hippodrome

Hippodrome

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Remember what I said about trying something you can’t identify?

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SALGAM. Aka, the most vile thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.

My friends tried to convince me that it was grape juice, and, while I knew those unidentifiable objects in the basket were most definitely not grapes, I had no idea what they were. “Is it date juice?” I questioned.

There was the briefest pause before they all exclaimed in unison, “Yeah!…..DATE juice!”

It is not date juice, my friends. It is fermented black carrot juice.

When I finally discovered those tiny English words on the bottle and announced in loud horror what it was, there was such an uproar that our translator came in to see what we were doing. We asked him if he drank Salgam, and he took one horrified look at our faces and said, “With fish, sometimes; never by itself!” Anytime we visited a host family and our translator would be chatting in Turkish, we’d suddenly catch the word “Salgam.” He would look mischievously  over at us and everyone would laugh and say what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!”

On the second day of our trip, we visited Dolmabacce Palace, enjoyed a boat ride on the Bosphorus, went inside Suleymaniye Mosque, and met our first family! I lost one of the slip on shoes they gave us to protect the Palace and didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to me, so one of my professors told me that basically made me Cinderella and I was totally fine with that.

Dolmabacce Palace

Dolmabacce Palace

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Remember what I said about new experiences?

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

I have been in everything from Catholic to Pentecostal churches, to Orthodox and Messianic synagogues. I had never once stepped foot in a mosque. It was an enlightening and incredible experience, although I did have issues with my head scarf; do you know how difficult it is to have all your hair covered and still be able to retain your peripheral vision?!

The next day, we toured Fatih University, Zaman Newspaper, and went exploring. We found the best public workout place, one of many that we’d seen around Turkey. Since we were walking and not just seeing them from our bus, of course we had to try them out before we caught our plane flying out to Izmir that evening!

Fatih University

Fatih University

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Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

In Izmir, we toured the ancient city of Ephesus, walked around the remains of the Temple of Artemis, toured a pottery place, and met with another family, where, as usual, we were welcomed with overwhelming hospitality, generosity, and food.

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Pottery place in Ephesus

Pottery place in Ephesus

The next morning, we had breakfast with another family and headed off to the ancient city of Laodicea, where we walked among the remains and watched some excavations being done before we headed off to Pamukkale hot springs and visited a high school before flying back over to Istanbul!

Laodicea

Laodicea

Pamukkale ("cotton castles") hot springs

Pamukkale (“cotton castles”) hot springs

Back in Istanbul, we toured a former synagogue turned museum, walked around Taxim Square, toured the military museum, visited St. Antoine’s Church, and met another family.

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Statue in Taxim Square

Statue in Taxim Square

Orchestra performing at the museum

Orchestra performing at the museum

Remember what I said about getting lost at least once?

St. Antoine's Church

St. Antoine’s Church

I guess technically, we weren’t lost; the church was.

Remember also what I said about just sitting on a bench in a park and just taking it all in?

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Oh, man. Incredible.

The next day, we visited the Journalists and Writers Foundation (HEAVEN) and toured Samanyolu TV station, after which we spent the whole afternoon in the Grand Bazaar, where I learned that I am really, really bad at bargaining. We had dinner one last night with everyone in the restaurant we visited our first night there, and then headed home to pack up. The only thing we had time for our last day was breakfast with everyone, and then it was off to the airport. The flight back to the States was definitely not as thrilling as the flight there.

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Exploring the park

Exploring the park

Grand Bazaar!

Grand Bazaar!

When I came home, people asked me the same question they asked me when I returned from the Dominican Republic last year: “Would you do it again?” I’m always amazed and slightly confused by this question. Why wouldn’t I? I guess because I love adventures so much, it’s a given that of course I’m going to travel again. Will my next trip be to Turkey? Probably not…the next places on my list are Italy, Israel, and Africa. Who knows where I’ll end up?

Oh, the places I’ll go!

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