Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

Standard

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….”

10003501_449425401857418_1952713102_n

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.

1904258_449431905190101_565260287_n

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.

1544420_449432805190011_1919741614_n

 

1604551_449432101856748_458298141_n

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

Advertisements

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

Standard

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.

1604433_449431858523439_1699774224_n

1926745_449425425190749_879697338_n

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.

1912124_449431691856789_1812349633_n1527062_449431618523463_657516494_n10003530_10152222420258070_1996433492_n

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.

1625584_449425311857427_112673686_n

 

unnamed

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