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

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