Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trash Tree

Continuing from yesterday's adventures in Tblisi...As we approached the church, we were snapping pictures left and right. We were having a jolly old time on the cliff snapping pictures of the picturesque setting sun, illuminating the warm glow from the frosted windows around the city, until... someone came out onto the cliff where we were laughing over some witty joke and yelled at us to be quiet. We were confused. There was nothing around us. Is this a secretly quiet city at sunset? Are there laws against laughter? Quiet confused we made our way back up the stairs to the higher part of the rocky cliff. And, of course, to our right, hidden by a well-concealed door was the entrance to a church that was in the middle of a service. Double oops. Our care-free raucousness interrupted a church service. It was quite embarrassing really.

When we headed back over the huge bridge to the Old City after taking in the rustic beauty of the hidden stone church and our scolding, we took a terrifying taxi ride up the steepest slope I have ever driven up. This road led us to the base of the fortress located on the top of the hill overlooking the city of Tblisi. There, is a huge statue of Mother Georgia, much like in Lebanon (except that in Lebanon the statue is of Mother Mary) and in Brazil. (except that it is the Christ figure) She brought Christianity to Georgia thousands of years ago. We sauntered over to the far edge of the fortress but the majority was closed for renovations. On the far hill lies a monastery which we wanted to go to, but as we trudged through the construction zone, we got yelled at by some old men for entering it, so we quickly reversed back down the hill. It was a bummer. But a fun fact about Georgia; On the road of to almost all religious sites, there is a tree. I call it a trash wish tree. Tied to the tree are numerous pieces of cloth, plastic, ribbon, garbage, string and scrunchies, all wishes tied to the tree made by people going to the religious site. So before every important monastery, church and religious site, you're greeted with a colorful trash (and wish) filled tree!

Monday, January 30, 2012

To Do in Tblisi

Our first day in Georgia was marked by daring exploration. We walked around the old city, trotted into alleyways (most of them lit!) and went in every breathtaking church we saw along the way. We explored every nook and cranny of the best streets of the Old City, taking in the sights and sounds we encountered along the way; from the old Soviet architecture to the new bustling art galleries to the vendors selling fresh baked pastries.

We left our hostel, Star Hostel (recommended, but very small.) around noon on Friday after needing some serious sleep. As we put on about thirty layers, prepping for the chill of a post-Soviet winter, we left, led by hunger. Following our stomachs and our eyes as well, we stumbled upon a wine tasting bar and restaurant and decided we could venture no further without energy. We tried all the typical Georgian foods- roasted eggplant with walnut paste and a spicy sauce, bacon potato and cheese roasts, a variety of different salads, coffee and wine. We stuffed ourselves silly and then began our walking tour of the city. We ventured into the old churches and were lucky enough to walk into several services and witness the vastly different religious rituals. We meandered in and out of different art and tourist-selling-kind-of-shops, amazed by the sheer amount of religious souvenirs available. Stores a plenty lined the cobbled streets of Tblisi, offering every golden plated picture of the Christ child or Mother Mary you could ever want. Rosaries and crosses galore! It was interesting to note the rather large differences in the expressions of faith. The Georgian Orthodox Church  wasn't quite as ornately decorated as the other orthodox churches I've seen, but it still held its own in terms of gold shiny things. There were decorated frescoes and incense swinging back and forth from the hands of the priests. After we saw a good bit of the Old City, we decided to walk across the bridge extending over the calm, winding river, to the new city, and visit a beautiful church hanging over the side of the cliff overlooking the river that separates the city of Tblisi in two. As we were crossing the bridge, we saw the cutest couple snogging on the cliff of the church. And when I saw snogging, I mean snogging- arms wrapped around each other and all. It was lots of love. We smiled at them and blew them kisses after they noticed us shamelessly staring.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Raised in song

Inside the Georgian Orthodox Church, the spirit of worship is eerie. Tangible. Quiet. Deep. People stand silently, repeating the sign of the cross. Over the loud speaker, a woman recites the prayers in a quick clear voice. It reminds of the shabbat services I attended on my kibbutz in Israel. The prayers are shockingly similar to the sound of the Hebrew utterances of prayer. The walls of the church are plated in gold. Jesus, adorned with a hold halo, held by the virgin, also encrusted in gold. Thin flaming candles illuminate the dark spaces of the church while the head priest moves into the center of the altar to lead prayer. The women respond in raised voices, with melodious notes reaching our ears, filling the chamber of the church with hauntingly beautiful tones. Everyone stands, silently lighting candles or for some, responding in prayer. The songs remind me of the eerie melodies of "kyrie eleison," a song we sang in church years ago. Every inch of the walls are used for paintings, murals of the Christ child and angels, or the apostles. More people join the service through the thick oak door, letting themselves in with a thud of the brass handle. Adorned in thick winter coats, they silently file into the service and begin their signs of the cross.

The first church we entered since arriving in the Republic of Georgia, I was stunned to see such a familiar concept, Christianity, in such an unfamiliar way. And yet, the odd comfort of being in the presence of others with the same religious background brings a strange sense of camaraderie. The more I travel, the more I realize how engrained our perceptions are in our histories. My perception of the world is through American, Christian, Protestant, Floridian, middle child eyes. Our experiences define us. What I am interested in, academically speaking, is how those levels of perceptions develop our sense of self and sense of "other." I always wonder how I am perceived in different parts of the world. Is the same me seen as different in the Arab World, in Israel, in Europe? How do cultural perceptions mold our perspectives of each other. How do you perceive others? In this day and age, perception and your respond to said perception is everything. How our media warped the American perspective of Muslims is a perfect example. We must challenge our perspectives and discover our own views, relying not on other sources, but on ourselves, to create our perceptions of our world.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Please buckle your seat belts

Dearest blog readers,

Throughout my travels, I try not to be hooked to my blog. As such, I wrote all my stories into a beautiful leather bound notebook my mother bought me with the world imprinted into it. But now that I'm back, I've got stories galore; both for those interested in the culture/religion and the foodies among us. Posts will be coming out fast, so make sure you check back everyday to get your daily knowledge on these new explorations of the Republic of Georgia and Armenia.  

When I got back from the states, I literally took the metro from the airport (which is great because Istanbul Ataturk Airport feeds straight into the airport, making transportation a breeze!) to hop on a bus at the central bus station.(in Turkish, otogar) From there, I passed out on the three hour ride back home, intermittently waking up from sharp stops, people coughing on me, or banging my head against the freezing window after some rather large bumps in the road. Though during these pauses, I was lucky to wake up and see the winter wonderland before me. Bethinking was white and lush and exactly how I pictured my very first winter abroad would look. It was even snowing in Duzce, my home town! When I got back to my apartment, it was ice cold. I only had a good 24 hours in my apartment before I had to be back in Istanbul to fly to Tblisi, the capital of Georgia.  I wore at least 7 layers of clothing until my apartment heated up, but rested for a good bit before hopping back on the bus to Istanbul. When I finally got to Sabiha Gokcen Airport (there are 2 in Istanbul, this one is on the Asian side) the girls were there waiting for me. After slugging some beers- these girls are appartenly terrified of flying, and eating a surprisingly delicious Arby's salad. Yes, yes, I too was shocked to see an Arby's! We hopped on the plane and were so amused by their flight video.

We flew Pegasus airlines, the Turkish version of Ryan Air; basically really cheap flights, but they don't even provide you with water on the flight. There safety video however, is the cutest thing I have ever seen. There are the cutest children in the video making "poof" sounds when the wing-slides inflate in the possibility of an emergency. Watch below!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back and Away

Dearest Blogosphere,

I have been off the map for a while. Literally. Flying the oceans, for the last week, I have no concept of time zones, sleep patterns or normal food. I feel like I have lived in airports, and the mad craziness of traveling continues. But don't worry. Many more anecdotes to come.

As we speak, I am resting for a mere 18 hours in my apartment and then heading back to Istanbul to fly to Tblisi, Georgia. (the country) I flew in from Orlando today after spending a week with the people I love. Later on in the week I will make my way down to Armenia and explore there for a few days. I should make my way back along the coast for the last few days, stopping to see the Sumela Monastery and all the glory of the north coast. I will take a train from the capital, Tblisi down to the Turkish border, where I cross and hop on a bus, hitting Samsun, Rize, and Sinop at the very least, before making my way back to Duzce for the start of our second semester. 

While I know I haven't been this inactive in months, I assure you, dear followers, the best is yet to come. Wi-fi may be sparse in the mountainous ex-Soviet countries I am daring to venture to, but I go armed with my journal and a pen, ready to record the most exciting thoughts and stories to share with the blogosphere. It's been a while since I've been a real tourist. And when I say real tourist, I mean, I speak none of the language. That's right, none. I don't know what the conversion rate is (oops!), I know very little about the culture and history of those countries, except that they were recently at war. I suppose, I shall have much to report to you in a short time. For exciting post-Soviet stories, stay tuned.

Cold in my freezing apartment (after I blew up, yet again, another heating pad!)


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Easy Difficulty

As life grows progressively more real, certain realities about living abroad become shockingly apparent. Things that were once easy become difficult, and what, at first, seemed in possible, is simple.

What was once difficult, I now approach with ease...
  • Speaking Turkish is now possible. I speak, people understand. Though I constantly stumble over verb conjugation, I can say what I need to say. Thank god! It only took 5 months. 
  • Picking up on certain cultural cues- when to say what when, what topics to avoid
  • Finding certain ingredients to cook with
    • there is no vanilla, no basil, no peanut butter, no sushi, no pork (no bacon people!)
  • The lack of American style toilets was once a concern. Whereas I was once baffled by the hole in the ground, it now seems normal. I am always pleasantly shocked to see a western-style bathroom.
  • Figuring out the city wide bus systems- I can hop on and off the buses and finally have figured out where the imaginary bus stops are. (That was a tougher one!)
What was once easy, becomes very difficult....
  • At first, everyone helps you. You are a guest in your host country and everyone is kind and wants to help with the little things to help you settle in. But, now, you are a resident. You aren't a guest and you have to figure it out yourself. Difficult situations like calling the bus company and telling them to, for gods sakes, stop giving out your number are a bit more challenging
  • Teaching. The more you get to know your kids, the more you care, the more you want them to succeed. But you also realize how responsible you are for your children's mistakes and how much you want them to care about their future. 
  • Making friends. Breaking beyond the barrier of hospitality and cordiality into true, meaningful friendships with my Turkish friends is difficult. In every culture, I suppose, it is difficult to honestly integrate into the community and become a friend instead of 'the foreigner.'
In every culture, there are highs and lows. I absolutely love Turkish culture, and have a deep appreciation for the people who've come into my life this year. There are weeks where I cannot help but smile at the luck I have been blessed enough to receive. There are others where everything gets under your skin. You mutter sentences like.. "at home, I could do this so easily..." or "ughh...only in Turkey." Everything is more difficult and the world seems to be laughing at your endless series of mistakes. Thus is the life of a Fulbrighter, of a traveler, or an expat. But at the end of the day, I believe that I am here for a reason. Do I know what that is? No idea whatsoever. However, I know that meaningful cultural exchange is what I am here for. To give and receive. It is the most honest, real thing I can offer. It is the only way I think people change their perspectives. One smile at a time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bosphorus Cruise on New Years Eve

So I have this friend, an amazing friend who knows the right people in the huge city of Istanbul. She helped me out with some contacts so that I could rent a boat for some fellow Fulbrighters and myself to indulge in a New Years celebration! There ended up being 29 of us, and it was a night to remember. Sadly, it rained all day in Istanbul, and trying to coordinate all those people was a task in and of itself. Hence, getting 30 people to meet in Besiktas, in the rain, on a dock was quite the ordeal. Taking the metro from the bottom of Galata Tower to Kabatas, we walked for a good 20 minutes in the freezing rain. The walk was nice, but windy. Though I would highly recommend it for a stroll on a beautiful day- passing the palace and the waterfront, it is an excellent spot for pictures.

But, after losing a friend, finding a friend, forgetting a friend, and almost missing our boat, we finally got on the boat. It looked miniature next to the 300 person boats sailing around, but for the 30 of us, it was the perfect size. An indoor and an outdoor deck and a kitchen and bathroom underneath, it ended up being perfect for a drizzly New Years Eve night. The night began with toasts for the New Year, relishing the moments of old, and anticipating the memories to come. The night escalated into a haze of music, dancing, and pure enjoyment of the scenery surrounding us. Watching the glistening lights from both Asia and Europe, taking in the grandiose architecture that highlights the city, and relishing the perfect beauty of the moment was everything I could've asked for. We did a countdown from 20 sec and all hugged and kissed in celebration of the new year. A whole year older. Yeesh.  Fireworks, sparklers, dancing, champagne and Turkish music characterized our evening.

After de-boating, we got some good early morning/late evening grub at a local place. Breakfast is always the best at 4am, isn't it? After witnessing some rather intoxicated people get buckets of freezing cold water poured on their heads, we made our way to fight for the taxis home. Still raining, we pushed, shoved, and got drenched, waiting- with every other person in the city- to catch a cab home. An hour later, we made it, still reveling in the awesomeness of the night. 

With such a perfect New Years Eve, I felt this year would start off perfectly. Life has a funny way of doing that, doesn't it? I got the biggest shock of my life the next day, and have been reeling since. Hence, my blogging absence. It makes me appreciate the little moments more, revel in the present and find the beauty in those I love, always. All that being said, Happy (a little late) New Years to all my followers.  May this year bring a new peace and serenity to your life while challenging you to look outside yourself and discover something brilliantly new.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sexual Harrassment in Egypt

My friend Sara El-Behiri's father, Sami El-Behiri, a prominent Egyptian wrote an article about our meeting. He is the president of the Free Muslims Coalition,  an amazing organization. Their mission statement? "The Free Muslims was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts." Basically, her father represents what I want to grow into; an intelligent, analytical person, who not only stands up for what he believes in, but actively encourages others to do the same. Check out their website. Its good stuff ya'll.

The article he wrote deals with the problem of sexual harrassment in Egypt that we had discussed together, with his daughter, Sara over dinner. It was something I had to share! I know several of you are fluent Arabic speakers, but others can try google translate? I'm not sure how well it'll translate, but it never hurts to try. The article is poignant and insightful. Do enjoy.

 التحرش الجنسى فى مصر رغم الحجاب والنقاب
سامي البحيري

GMT 0:00:00 2011 الأحد 25 ديسمبر
قابلتها مع إبنتى الكبرى بمدينة إسطنبول فى  الشهر الماضى، شقراء جميلة دقيقة الملامح مبتسمة دائما وتبتسم معها عيناها الزرقاوان، تخرجت هى وإبنتى العام الماضى من نفس الجامعة فى أمريكا، وتحمل نفس إسم إبنتى (سارة)، وهى تهوى الدراسات الشرقية وتعشق الحياة فى الشرق الأوسط، وهى تقوم حاليا بتدريس اللغة الإنجليزية فى إحدى المدن التركية الصغيرة، وقد سبق لها أن أمضت فصلا دراسيا فى الجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة لدراسة اللغة العربية، وقالت لى أنها إستمتعت كثيرا بالحياة فى القاهرة، وسألتها ما هو أفضل شئ أعجبك فى القاهرة فقالت لى أن معظم الناس كانوا ودودين جدا معى وانها عشقت الأكلات الشعبية المصرية: الفول والطعمية والكشرى والبسبوسة وأم على.
وسألتها (كونها أمريكية) ما هو أكثر ما ضايقك فى القاهرة، فردت على الفور بدون تردد: "التحرش الجنسى" وقالت لى أنها أحيانا كانت تبكى من كثر ما تعرضت للتحرش الجنسى، بالرغم من أنها حاولت أن تخفف من هذا التحرش الجنسى بأن قررت أرتداء الحجاب ولبس ملابس لا تكشف أى شئ من جسمها بالرغم من حرارة الصيف إلا أن التحرش الجنسى لم يتوقف. وفوجئت بها تسألنى عن السبب فى أن التحرش الجنسى أصبح ظاهرة فى مصر؟
فقلت لها على الفور أيضا: السبب هو التزمت الدينى الظاهرى والشكلى.
وسألتها عما إذا كانت تعرضت للتحرش الجنسى فى أسطنبول، فقالت أبدا لم يحدث أبدا بالرغم من ندرة الحجاب فى إسطنبول وإنعدام النقاب!!
وخجلت من (سارة) الأمريكية عندما سألتنى عن حالة التحرش الجنسى الجماعى والتى إقتربت من الإغتصاب الجماعى فى ميدان التحرير فى عز أيام ثورة 25 يناير والتى حدثت لمذيعة التليفزيون الأمريكية الشهيرة والتى كانت فضيحة عالمية شوهت وأساءت لسمعة مصر وسمعة ثورتها ثم محاولة الإغتصاب والتحرش الجنسى للصحفية الأوربية مؤخرا فى شارع محمد محمود بالقاهرة.
الجنس والطعام هما أقوى الغرائز لدى الإنسان والحيوان وبدونهما تنعدم الحياة على الأرض، فلو على سبيل المثال قرر سكان الأرض التوقف عن الطعام لمدة شهر أو تزيد قليلا لأختفت الحياة على وجه الأرض، ولو قرر سكان الأرض التوقف عن ممارسة الجنس لإختفت الحياة على وجه الأرض أيضا. لذلك فإن أى محاولة لإنكار أو كبت الغريزة الجنسية فإن هذا يكون له آثار سلبية مميتة.

وأيام كنت فى جامعة القاهرة لم تكن هناك فتاة محجبة واحدة وكانت بعض الفتيات ترتدى فساتين فوق الركبة، ورغم ذلك كانت ظاهرة التحرش الجنسى وجرائم الإغتصاب نادرة الحدوث. وكنا نذهب إلى الشواطئ فى ميامى وسيدى بشر والمعمورة وستانلى وكانت الفتيات ترتدى المايوهات، وكان شاطئ المعمورة الوحيد الذى يسمح بإرتداء المايوه البكينى، ورغم ذلك لم يكن هناك تحرش جنسى جماعى بالشكل المرضى الموجود حاليا فى مصر.
ولماذا نذهب بعيدا، فى شرم الشيخ والغردقة ترتدى السائحات المايوهات البكينى الساخنة، ورغم ذلك لم نسمع عن ظاهرة تحرش جنسى أو إغتصاب جماعى للسائحات هناك.
فلماذا يحدث هذا؟ رغم أن الداعين لتعميم لبس الحجاب وحتى النقاب حجتهم فى هذا أن فى هذا حماية للفتاة وصون عفتها، وأن فى هذا يحجب عنها تحرش الأولاد الوحشين؟؟؟
وأنا أعرف كثيرا من الفتيات قد إرتدين الحجاب كخط دفاع ضد التحرش الجنسى ولكن هذا لم يمنع التحرش بل على العكس زادت حوادث التحرش والإغتصاب حتى يمكن أن نطلق على "القاهرة" أنها أصبحت عاصمة التحرش الجنسى فى العالم.
وأنا قرأت وسمعت عن حالات تحرش جنسى ليس فقط ضد الفتيات والنساء ولكن أيضا ضد الأطفال من الجنسين فى أكثر البلاد تزمتا وتشددا من الناحية الدينية فى الخليج، ناهيك عن زنا المحارم والأقارب والمثلية الجنسية والمنتشر أيضا فى أكثر المجتمعات تزمتا.
وكلما زاد كبت الجنس كلما زادت أعمال التحرش الجنسى، هذه معادلة صحيحة تماما فى كل زمان ومكان، وما قرأناه مؤخرا عن أن بعض رجال الكنيسة الكاثوليكية مارسوا التحرش الجنسى ضد الأطفال ما هو إلا تأكيد لتلك النظرية، لأن رجال الكنيسة هؤلاء حاولوا أن ينسوا أنهم بشر ولهم غريزة جنسية ويعيشوا حياة تبتل وزهد عن الجنس ولكن كان الجنس أقوى من إرادة وزهد بعض المرضى منهم.
والحقيقة أن الكبت الجنسى يبدأ منذ الطفولة عندما يبدأ فى فصل الأولاد عن البنات فى المدرسة وفي الشارع وفى كل نواحى الحياة، وكلما زاد هذا الفصل زادت بالتبعية ظواهر التحرش الجنسى والإغتصاب.

هل تذكرون إغنية محمد رشدى:
كعب الغزال يامتحنى بدم الغزال
ما تبطل تمشى بحنية ليقوم زلزال
رغم أنه لم يشاهد من الفتاة سوى كعب رجلها إلا أن ذلك لم يمنعه من أن يتغزل فيها

وقديما كانت النساء والفتيات يلبسن الخلخال فى أقدامهن للفت نظر الرجل، وتذكرون أيضا أحد أفلام الأبيض والأسود الشهيرة "رنة الخلخال" بطولة برلنتى عبد الحميد عندما كانت فى عزها، كانت توقف الشارع على رجل عندما كانت تسير ويسمع الجميع رنة خلخالها!!
إذا فما هو الحل؟ إذا كان لا الحجاب نافع ولا النقاب حتى نافع؟
الحل فى تقديرى يبدأ فى المنزل والمدرسة:
إذا إحترمنا الفتاة فى المنزل فسيتم إحترامها فى الشارع والمواصلات العامة، والأهم فى تقديرى هو السماح بالإختلاط بين البنات والأولاد فى المدارس فى سن مبكرة قبل الجامعة، ودائما أتساءل كيف نسمح بالإختلاط بين الأولاد والبنات فى الجامعة من سن 18 حتى سن 23 ولا نسمح بالإختلاط فى مراحل التعليم قبل هذا؟؟
وأود أن أقترح أيضا أن تخلع البنات الحجاب والنقاب ولو سنة على سبيل التجربة وأنا مقتنع تماما بأنه لو حدث هذا فسوف تخسر القاهرة مركزها الأول كعاصمة "التحرش الجنسى" فى العالم!!

 Here is the actual link:

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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