Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travels to Mesopotamia

As we last left off, we explored the fine city of Diyarbakir. Now, the capital of Kurdistan, or the base of the Kurdish people, Diyarbakir is a truly unique city. I was surprised, as the eastern parts of Turkey seem to have many more churches preserved than western Turkey does. We visited the church of Mar Peytun, built in the 4th or 5th century. With stone floors and a simple square design, this Chaldean Church still functions today. Red clothes with gold crosses decorated the church. Byzantine portraits of the Christ child and the Virgin are hung beside the altar. A miniature sized temple sits atop the red velvety altar, protecting an ancient relic of a saint from long ago. The church, to me seemed like a compilation of numerous styles and ages- like each person from a different century wanted to add a special touch. Blue and yellow checkered drapes next to red and gold drapes, hanging brass lanterns swaying in the breeze, wooden benches and colored fabrics concealing hidden corners of the church. (Pictures to come!)

After viewing this church, we wandered around to several other churches and mosques, taking refuge from the sun throughout the day. One mosque we visited had a beautiful women's section outside with a staircase leading up to the top for a stunning view. The women were praying, some napping, celebrating, and enjoying life. It was beautiful to see a religious place fully utilized not only as a place of prayer, but as a place of community. But my favorite place of all was the old asylum & jail. The remaining buildings of the old jail and asylum still stand, and you can see where the old rooms were- walking through the complex was a bit eerie. It is odd to imagine that a place so beautiful could hold so much pain within its walls. It was a sad realization for me. Directly next to the asylum was an old Zoroastrian temple. The Zoroastrians celebrate the lightness and darkness, and especially fire. It is an ancient religion- and the temple was exquisite. There was an altar in the center for sacrifices and an open roof, exposed to the elements, but also the light and dark of the sky. I am completely intrigued by this religion! Check it out

We headed to the bus station on Sunday night, ready to leave for Hasankeyf, but were distracted along the way. We passed a check point of sorts- but unlike any I'd seen before. Men and women were led through propped up wooden booths. The women's booths covered in black sheets so as to honor privacy and as they excited, they were thoroughly patted down by security guards. Only then were they allowed to cross a bridge, to a destination we couldn't figure out. I couldn't help but wonder what was on the other side, or what necessitated the check point. Earlier in Diyarbakir, near the walls of the old city, around sunset as we were descending the stairs at Keceborcu, a group of what looked like police officers all filed out of cars quickly, each carrying large machine guns, looking like they had a purpose. That was all I needed to scadaddle, quickly. It was the first time in Turkey that I didn't feel safe.

Before I conclude about Diyarbakir, I had to share some culinary higlights with you:

  • Fistikli Kaymak Baklava (a syrupy sweet dessert of baklava filled with pistachio creme) 

  • Fistlki ve Cevizli Kadayif (a thicker, crunchier dessert- tasted like breakfast cereal to me)

  • Menengic coffee (Kurdish coffee, made of wild pistachios and boiled with cardamom and milk 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diyarbakir, Kurdish Turkey

Day 1 in Diyarbakir: After eating a meal of Kurdish traditional dishes and a semolina helva dessert, we marched through the Diyarbakir streets towards to the far gate of the city to watch the sunset. The huge city wall of Diyarbakir is supposedly the second largest continuous, and ancient wall in the world, second after the Great Wall of China.
the walls of Diyarbakir 
The wall, called Keciborcu (ke-chee-bore-ju), was a nice walk through the center of town towards the outskirts. We watched the pumpkin orange sky fade into shades of purple, the Tigris River to our backs and the call of the muezzin ringing harmoniously throughout the skies. The fortresses surrounding the city still stand proudly, whispering the tales of greatness from centuries past. Amidst the wind and chatter rise voices of Turkish and Kurdish, highlighting the tense politics that seems to simmer quietly in this city of the east. Seeing the bounty of the Tigris in person is like learning world history all over. This is the place where civilization began; the roots of the human race. The same place where another nationality fights for their recognition. A quite contentious issue, it is only in Diyarbakir that I've been able to hear the other side.

Omer, a tour guide at the hostel we stayed at, when we mentioned we were from Duzce said "** etc...fascists!" Clearly taken aback, I simply chose not to respond, honestly knowing quite little about the subject, but simply said, the people in Duzce are very kind and welcoming, which is one-hundred percent true. But even with open hostility, the Kurds prsent a beautiful city aglow with the green lights of the assans, the pounding of drums in the distance and the gentle sounds of wind across the vast plains of Mesopotamia. I feel at home here, it reminds me of a quieter Egypt- a bit grittier, a bit more "eastern," and more flavor. The city is quietly alive with a buzzing passion. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

En Route to Mesopotamia

After a month (and counting) with no computer, I've been itching to return to my blog. Sadly, I have left my devoted readers in the dark lately, with both work and travel piling up exponentially before my eyes. Well, I have much to update. So I promise several gripping tales to come. These past ten days me, my roommate Tas, my site mate Nick and another Fulbrighter, Jenna traveled through ancient Mesopotamia. Basically, this is the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates that stretches from modern day Turkey at its North, down to Israel and Iraq. (See below) So We went from Northern Mesopotamia all the way down to about 2km from the Syrian border, which unfortunately, cannot be crossed at the moment.

For a map of Imperial History of the modern Middle Eastern, this is a great link!

Ancient Mesopotamia

Modern Middle East: Apply to Ancient Mesopotamia 

So, the three Duzce Fulbrighters begin our 10 day adventure, determined to see more of this amazing lush country full of hidden history. The anticipation of travelling is always an integral part of the actual trip. As we bus from Duzce to Ankara to finally fly to Diyarbakir, I feel like this trip is symbolic for me-- like a return to the Middle East- the Arab Middle Easter before I back into my masters to study this wonderful region. An ancient understanding of my roots, the place where human civilization truly began- this trip will be epic. 

But before the excitement of what is to come, I turn to the present- which is me, on a bus. I always love early morning bus rides through the mountains. The wet morning mist creeps down the mountain sides, slipping in and out of the nooks and crannies the pine trees conceal.  The fog sits heavily in a white mist highlighting the beauty of the forest colors: deep greens, the springy light green of the foliage and the bright blue shades of the morning sky. The mountains slowly recede into the plains and hills of central Turkey, Anatolia. Electric yellow flowers bloom amongst the dark green grasses still glistening with the morning dew, before the sun can steal it away into its grasp. This simple beauty is what reminds me both of the fragility and the beauty of life. I am cherishing these moments, holding them close, fear the eventuality of these small moments slowly fading away with time. 

Tomorrow, my trip to Diyarbakir. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Teaching Children

Things have been pretty normal this week. Though it defiintely leaned towards the "what an awful week" side. This week in class, I had one kid raise his hand and ask if he could sleep during my class. As in, in the front row, sleeping. Asking permission. I had my other class reveal to me today that they followed me home from the bus and found out where I lived. They claimed they were joking, but oddly enough, they all now know the name of my landlord. I gave my class a lecture today- because after three hours of them looking at me like I was speaking in an ancient dialect of some far-flung country, I told them sit for an hour and study their words. After nearly nine months of English classes (only English classes for their whole first year!) they still do not study nor do they even bring paper to class. I walked back into class after a short break and found my kids making paper airplanes and saying "look teacher!" like they were so proud to see them zooming around the classroom. My students are in university. They are 18-25 years old. But really, they are like children. Culturally speaking, I understand the diference. Turkish kids, especially women, aren't raised in the same way that American kids are. In America, we are basically taught that by 18 we should be independent and ready to take on the world by ourselves. We are sent off to college to live on our own and "discover ourselves." In Turkey, this is just not so. The kids here are extremely dependent on their families, and lack a strong sense of independence. When they arrive to university, they don't know what to do with themselves. They were never taught sound studying practices and most return home every weekend to be with their families.

In other news, my MACbook Pro died two days ago so I am using the internet on my iPhone.  And I got sick. Wah wah. Okay, enough venting. I am heading out of Duzce as quickly as possible, after this lousy week and going to the South, to Antalya, the land of endless beaches. I will come back sun-kissed and worry free. This is, at least, my goal.

where I go to escape, Antalya 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Akyaka, Best Beach in Turkey

Akyaka is not widely known. In fact, many of my Turkish friends were unfamiliar with this little beach side village on the Aegean Sea. It took me a 14 hour bus ride to make it there, but it was worth it. My weekend in Akyaka was like a hidden fairytale. Nick and I took a 30minute mini-bus ride from Mugla's otogar (bus station) to Akyaka, where we wound down the twisty rocky streets of the mountains until the town of Akyaka came into sight- beautiful, whitewashed and stunning in contrast to the rock-faced mountains and the jewel-toned sparkling Aegean Sea. Akyaka is full of Turks, students from Mugla Universitisi and a large population of British ex-pats.

Full of summer houses, the houses are either bright white or made of wood, all cutely embellished with vines spiraling upward, twisting around the verandas and porches, painting a picture perfect villa complete with freshly blooming flowers, adding to the Eden-like feel of this tiny sea-side hideaway. Our friend Jena who lives there (yes, we hate her for her luck :) !) escorted us back to their bungalow where we dropped our bags off and drank some coffee before heading off to eat some traditional Akyaka breakfast and relaxing. We (EB, Clayton, Jena, Whitney, Nick and I) walked for about 30 minutes to reach this place along a road that hugged the shoreline. Little harbors, Lycian tombs and rocky cliffs dotted the shoreline, turning our walked for food into an unexpected nature adventure. We marveled at the beauty, mostly at the water, but also at the rolling tree covered hills opposite the shore, creating the nestled little cove where Akyaka sits. The hills seem to roll on top of each other, folding and rising and dipping in a perfectly harmonious fashion. The birds sang a secret tune, saved just for spring time, welcoming all to its hidden hills.

When we finally reached our little breakfast sport, we were greeted with a pecked, umbrella-lined shore, a little lake of crystal clear waters, a flowing brook, a footbridge and a luminous teal Aegean Sea that would  put any postcard to shame. We had a local breakfast spread with special honey and cheese from the village. The rest of the day was spent earning back our summer tans, lazy naps sounds of rolling waves and swims in the chilly water. It was worth the 14 hours bus ride.

If you happen to be near Mugla, head down to Akyaka, it was by far my favorite beach I've been to yet, a quiet little paradise tucked between the mountains and the Aegean.

Beach of Akyaka 

the Aegean Sea, Turkey 

Me, EB and Jena 

Nick and I 

our little breakfast nook 

craggy mountains and sand lined beaches 

little boats in the harbor 

deserted beach, my favorite time to walk along the shore

mountain/beach contrast 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Duzce, my home away from home

Throughout this year, we did a lot of traveling. Turkey is gigantic. The places to see are countless and the days are few. But in this beautiful season of spring, Duzce has re-captured my heart. I go for long bike rides out in the villages, inhaling the sweet perfumed air of lilac bushes. I watch children play and flowers bloom and animals romp. I watch women turn their crops in the fields and the bakers pull freshly fragrant loaves out of the oven. I watch the butterflies flutter from flower to flower. It as if the world has turned perfect, if only for a few weeks. The weather is 70 and sunny. The breeze is constant. The smiles continue and the days are long full of tea, games, and laughter of days passing. Sunsets glow a blazing red color, fading into pumpkin orange before disappearing over the mountain tops. The only sadness is that my time is coming to an end so quickly. Only two months until I am back in America. I am determined to cherish every moment that passes.

Our city center, abloom in tulips 

children in the market on Children's Day 

the villages on the outskirts, random garage

the tree fields on the outskirts of Duzce

my road.

the long and winding road...

the flowers that perfume that city of Duzce 

the front of our school 
where I eat my lunch- with the frogs 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Turkish Nationalism

America's perspective of nationalism is one of inclusivity, relatively speaking. We welcome new citizens with open arms, effectively extending all services and freedoms to these new comers. They are immediately "American." Though most strongly hold onto their roots as well, the idea of becoming an American citizen is like getting the golden ticket. Though in truth, this is far from reality. Perception and idealism propels dreams, not reality.

During a game of "OK"- a Turkish version of gin rummy, some friends and I discussed the differences in American and Turkish perceptions of nationalism. 

In Turkey, nationalism is approached quite differently. With the creation of modern day Turkey and the end of the Ottoman empire, the difficulty in creating a nation was evident. The Ottoman empire was vast and diverse. With nationalist movements cropping up all over the world, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk hopped on the bandwagon to create what we know as modern Turkey. This did not come without a price. The Turkish government and the Greek government exchanged populations- it was mandatory. This was a religious exchange, with all the Christians forced to move to Greece and the Muslim Greeks forced to move to Turkey. After the population exchange, the Turkish government, with its newly created borders basically encircled all within- declaring "you are Turkish." There is a famous quote from Ataturk, the nationalist leader which hangs in most schools and public buildings- "How happy is the one who says I am a Turk."  This poses a problem for the Kurdish population in Turkey. They were swept into the Turkish state, willingly or unwillingly- this is highly disputed. The issue of Kurdish rights and sovereignty stems from this issue of originally including them into the Turkish state. In the case of Turkey, nationalism was a thing you got- not something you can get, or choose for that matter. 

Our perceptions of nationalism are in fact, quite different. Or at least the roots of nationalism were planted and have produced different uses of that nationalism. Do you ever wonder how different our perceptions of things like nationalism, freedom, sovereignty and independence are? This is exactly the kind of thing that fascinates me- the reason why I want to speak other languages- to begin to truly understand the perceptions language and culture can engrain in a person. 

Ataturk, the national leader being celebrated at a ceremony

Monday, April 23, 2012

Turkish Independence Day

Today, Monday, April 23 commemorates both the Turkish independence day and also the day where Turkey's children are celebrated. It has provided us with not only a beautiful understanding of this holiday and its traditions but also an extra day off! No complains here!

It started this morning when I woke up to a very strange sound. I woke up feeling like one of the little pigs in that childhood story- where the wind was huffing and puffing and about to blow my little house down. Thankfully, it was not the wind- but I was baffled as to what this distant but consistent sound was and where it was coming from. I opened my window to greet the cloudless piercing blue sky and about fifty little children marching through the streets in little blue and white uniforms and banging on drums of various sizes. Funnily enough, cars don't stop for the little tykes but rather honk to celebrate and then maneuver around them! Driving here is a bit crazy. But regardless, there were parades of little kids all day, dressed in white, the traditional color for children to wear today. The weather was pristine, warm and full of sunshine. All of Duzce was outside enjoying it. It was one of the first times I felt like part of the community, strolling along the paths blooming with purple and white blossoms, kids eating ice cream cones and people laying under the trees on the perfect grass relishing the shade. I simply walked around today- and finally ate at Duzce's famous burger joint, Cihat Burger! While nothing spectacular happened, it was a day sending gentle reminders of gratitude and purpose. This year has been wonderful and Duzce, small though it may be, has been integral in my experience. - this beautiful tree is what is blooming all over Duzce now. Fountains and blossoms are springing up everywhere. Happy springtime!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Qur'an Lessons

As Ahmet led me from our meeting place in front of the mosque to a gun store across the street, I was both anxious and excited to begin my first lessons of learning Qur'anic recitation. Admittedly flustered when brought into a gun store to have my lessons, I remained calm (never having touched a gun in my life!) where I was led into the back office with yet, more rifles, on display. This cozy little room surrounded by guns mounted in glass cases and plush black leather couches is where I am delving deeper into both the meaning of the Qur'an and the stereotypes associated both perceptions of Islam by foreigners and perceptions of foreigners by Muslims.

I am fortunate to have an extremely intelligent, open-minded teacher. He is a very devout, respectful and intellectually curious man- and was kind enough to give me, his little blond foreign co-worker, a little more insight into the meanings of the religion that is so frequently splayed across our headlines. He even checked with the higher-ups (religiously speaking) to make sure it was alright to give a non-Muslim lessons in the Qur'an. There are certain rules we must follow, but all in all, they gave us the go ahead.

I have lived in Egypt, Israel and traveled in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. I speak Arabic. I have read the Qur'an- chunks at least in both English and Arabic, and yet, my knowledge is slim. I have always wanted to change this, as I feel that, like any other language, the religion is such an integral part of both the culture and the language. I've always had a passion for cultural understanding and religion is one of the biggest factors. Religion is one of the most powerful forces in the world, whether you actually believe in it or not. When I was living in Egypt, I learned the basics. I learned expectations, extreme and moderate view points, and the differences in how a Muslim society functions on a day to day basis. In Israel and Palestine I researched a lot on my own about religious issues. The thing is, Islam doesn't have a "lite" version. There is no orthodox, Protestant, conservative, differentiations. There is no "liberal" version for me to quietly attend services and pick up some information. There is no anonymity and I had to show that I was genuinely interested in order for people to take me seriously. Coming from America, I don't come with the best background to request knowledge and genuine understanding for a religion smattered by US papers and foreign policy. It took time to prove my dedication and seriousness to delve into deep meaning and discussion.

But back to today. Today, my first day of class, we started with the basics. Some letters/pronunciations differ slightly in Qur'anic Arabic as opposed to Modern Standard Arabic or colloquial dialects. We practiced inflections and reading for about an hour, and then sat and drank tea together, engaging in a stimulating conversation pertaining to religious and moral standards- the differences between our countries on these topics. Dating, sex before marriage, religious reasoning for the hijab, heaven and hell, and Islam's perspective of Christ were some of the issues we touched upon. Most interestingly to me, Muslim's believe (if I was told incorrectly someone out there correct me please!) that Jesus did not actually die on a cross, but rather God created a dopple-ganger of sorts to switch places. They tricked the Romans long enough for God to then call Jesus up in his own way, choosing not to subject God to such human practices. I find it highly interesting that such different perceptions of the Christian messiah are portrayed. Always, one of my biggest problems with the roots of Christianity has been its history. Its hidden secrets and power plays.People playing god never comes out quite right.  It is unfortunately true of all religions, of all people. Power never does any good, especially coming from those who want it. But back to the story, two hours and two cups of tea later, I concluded my first lesson, full of ideas and reflection. One of my favorite things in life is being proven wrong. I love a challenge- I love people who challenge me to analyze my own perceptions and provide a new lens from which I can look at life through, even if only to understand. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Global Consciousness

While musing over the latest effects of the Gulf oil spill, I began musing over this idea of global consciousness. This year alone we've gone through the Gulf oil spill, hurricanes, several earthquakes (here in Turkey!) and global food shortages. The media highlights these events to spread consciousness. But what happens to these communities when the media attention fizzles out? What happens to the communities affected by these disasters? How do we help? Should we help? Who am I to ignore their need?

In a world where cell phones, twitter and wifi have become expectations, we are truly globally connected now more than ever. I am indignent when there is no wifi and frustrated when I can't get a good signal. I didn't even get my first cell phone until the 10th grade of high school. I grew up in an era where we called each others phone homes and asked our friend's mom politely if we could please speak to Suzy. Now, I avoid hotels without wifi. It seems like the dark ages. With the rise of technologies, the rise of global consciousness of these issues has also substantially increased. Even fifteen years ago, the problems of poverty, disease and war were things we read in the daily newspaper, or in books. The rise of the internet changed everything. We receive live updates of event all around the world via Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and all forms of social media. Rockets blasting in Syria tweet faster than we can keep track. Pictures and videos of the uprisings throughout the Arab world were pouring onto the internet. The earthquakes in Turkey, the earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake in Japan- these events were headlines for weeks, and of course, rightfully so. How often do we hear of them now? What does the media do in order to maintain interest in a cause?

As citizens of the world, with a new understanding of the events happening in every corner, is it our place to stand to fight these inequities? Do we raise millions of dollars for a community half-way around the world? Would we even do it for our neighboring communities? Borders have become both fluid and stagnant. While seemingly opposing ideas, the borders set after World War II have changed far less than any time previous to it. On the same token, the internet is slashing downing the cultural and social borders imposed by authoritarian regimes of old. So what do borders have to do with recent global events and our place in them? Borders represent the divide. We are us and they are them. There is a clear delineation of territory and of nationalism associated with these boundaries. Yet, morally speaking, with the rise of technology and our knowledge of global plights, people reject the "us vs. them" mentality and embraced charitable giving. Unfortunately, this only lasts while the sensationalism does. There are the rare few who push for recognition and sympathy for their cause far after the news reporters have left.

I believe the internet is slowly morphing the social sphere, forcing people to take a look at communities outside themselves. There are causes encouraging empathy (and financial donations) for victims of disease, poverty and war. These foundations, NGO's and grassroots groups are the social glue that will hold this world together as it moves forward into the digital unknown. No matter how digitized the world may become, people are at its source. People, at the community level, must care. Without the sincere passion for justice, equality and love, the world appears bleak. It is the protestors, the college kids arguing in coffee shops, the grandparents demanding the newspaper has it all wrong, and the little kid who refuses to desist in his inquisitiveness- these are the people I admire. These are the people who will change our world one issue at a time. So find a cause you are passionate about and really try to make the world a little bit better for the others sharing it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rockets Over My Head

The official name is “Rouketopolemos” literally meaning rocket-war. The celebration dates back to Ottoman times, when the Turks ruled the Greek Island of Chios. The people of the island used to use cannons for their celebrations but the Ottoman rulers forbade them from doing so. The Greeks, to spite the Turks, decided to use hand made rockets, and delightfully began using them, much to the dismay of the Ottoman rulers. It has continued as a tradition ever since. We watched the rockets through the air from afar, but then.

we got brave. Yes, brave. During one of the ceasefires, we ran down the curvy Greek vine-filled streets of Chios into one of the churches that was being fired upon. It is tradition for the Greeks to hold a service at 11:15pm until much later in the early morning, to celebrate the coming of Easter. We sat in on the service, while rockets fired at the church. Constantly. A grandma we met who lived in Maryland turned to us and said before the service, "Windows break every year! Be careful where you sit!" Accordingly, we chose our seats with care, in the back, observing the beautiful traditions taking place.

Every time I would drift into a place of peaceful calm, another rocket would hit the mark. At one point, a rocket burst through the chicken wire and hit one of the stained-glass windows. Green glass rained down upon peoples heads, and luckily no one was hurt. Grandma was in the center of it all! At one point during the service, a bit before midnight, the whole church walked outside (meanwhile rockets are STILL being fired) and stood inside the chicken wire and held the service outside. The priest muttered prayers of blessings and conducting the service while the congregants raised their voices in song. When we re-entered the church, we thought rockets had literally burst through all the windows! The emanating sounds were booming. Turns out, it is tradition for the people to bang the seats of the wooden chairs up and down to celebrate Jesus rising out of Hades and ascending into heaven. (This was new information for me, even growing up as a pastor's kid,  I didn't know of the belief that between Jesus' death and resurrection it is believed he went down to Hades before rising to heaven.)

At around midnight, the fighting intensified. Thousands of rockets (between 70,000-80,000 annually) are lit and directed the opposite churches bell tower. Our church was by far the winner, striking the opposing church's bell tower twice! You could hear the gong from a mile away. Fighting erupted in droves, with one church launching until the rocket lighters could light no more. The other church would take aim and reign rockets down upon the other church. It was around 12:15 that we decided to make a mad dash out of the church before the next rocket fire descended. I don't think I've even ran that quickly or with that much fear. We hauled up the curvy streets back into the safe zones where we met Nick and watched the ending of the rocket display.

the inside of the church of Virgin Mary Erethianis

blessings on Easter 

the service about to begin 

the Catholic Church, always partially concealed

the cage surrounding us as we held service outside, rockets blaring over our heads

my lovely ladies who endured the terrifying experience together! 

the priest outside, rockets overhead.

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