Final Presentation

Take a look at one of the final presentations for the Duke in Turkey program (PowerPoint).

Final Class Presentation August, Llamas, Valbuena

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A weekend away from Istanbul:  The journey of Emily and Olga to an unseen Turkey

August 4, 2011    To Konya?

Saddled with a bookbag myself and Olga with a stuffed duffle of her own, we catch the 43R bus for Kabataş.  It is rush hour, and despite allotting over two hours to catch our train at 19:40 (7:40), we immediately fear we might miss it.  The bus ride took over one hour and ten minutes thanks to the impenetrable mid-afternoon traffic.  We still had a ferry to catch and a ten-minute walk to Hyderpaşa.  We were hoping to grab a quick, cheap dinner also, but it seemed we would be lucky to even catch our train to Konya.

Ferry Departure at 19:00, and at 19:23 we roll into Kadıköy, 17 minutes before our train leaves the station. Olga and I had not eaten since noon so we stopped to grab two 2L Tavuk Döner (like a chicken sub) from a stand along the Bosphorus.  The man at the stand saw we were anxious and quickly asked, “Packet?”, which in Turkey means, “To go?”.  We nodded, thanking his acknowledgement of our state.  On the train later Olga would remark, “Every time I pay more than 2L for a meal it makes me want to cry,” a testament to the deliciousness of the döner despite being inexpensive street food.  It saddens me that the U.S. has not managed to adopt this expectation of delicious, healthy, yet inexpensive cuisine.  We demand greasy, processed and over-salted plastic to nutritious freshness.  How odd.  At least Olga and I will enjoy it here in Turkey while it lasts.

We happily snagged our dinner and dashed through the crowds along the waters’ edge, turning a ten-minute walk into five.  At 19:32 we flopped into our designated seats on Pulman Car 2, sweaty, taxed and relieved.  I reached out with a smile to give her a high-five and we began our “gourmet” dinner.  Then she screamed.

The Devils

Ten seats in front of us on the train sat two families, friends we assumed by their interaction with each other.  Each family contained at least three young girls, and two young boys were among them also.  From the moment we sat down they never cease to run around the car like heathens, speaking and shouting, despite the car being filled with others, including ourselves.  The parents said nothing; Other Turkish riders said nothing; but allowed them to disturb the peace of the otherwise silent car until almost 4 in the morning!  And so…my first significant cultural interaction.

Had either Olga or myself spoken Turkish, this would have ceased hours before it did.  But as much that we did not, we had to wait until directly provoked.  Because the train emptied over time, with passengers departing at their various stops along the route to Konya, I gave Olga our pair of seats to lie down in, and I took the pair preceding ours.  Around 3:30 AM I was awakened out of a barely managed sleep by a giggling and pounding on the rear of my seat.  Immediately I stood and surrounded the seat entry to block them in.  All I had to do was look down sternly, pointing to their feet and say “No” in a tone my father often used with me in my mischievous childhood.  No Turkish, they understood immediately, I was pissed.  It stopped.  Effective cross-cultural communication, I think.

August 5, 2011    To eat or not to eat

In the morning at 9:00 AM we departed the train a bit unrested but glad to be in Konya.  We grabbed a cab to the Mevlana Museum, where we had visited Rumi’s tomb only two weeks before, and from there navigated to Muammer’s rug shop nearby.  Between Olga and I, we make one very adept traveler—she is people-smart from a history of living in the Ukraine and former USSR and traveling, and I cover navigation and special orientation. We arrived at Silk Road Rugs and Kilims, and we were escorted through back streets to a small café where we met Muammer, a large welcoming smile on his face, for a breakfast of tea, toast, and pleasant conversation. 

Within the hour, he walked us across town to his guest house, which was really the bottom floor of his brother Mehmet’s house.  It was an ancient house that Muammer and Mehmet refurbished to reflect the old Ottoman style.  It was just quaint and adorable.  As it was in the time that the house was built, the bathroom and shower were two feet off the ground in a closet.  Interesting, because bathrooms are referred to as WC, or water closets, in Turkey, and until the moment Muammer explained this to us, we were unsure as to why.  Each time we climbed into our real water closet, we felt as if we were little children playing hide and seek.  Muammer mentioned that because during Ottoman times people only used to shower once a week, the closet was also used to store their sleeping linens (rugs) during the day, for they slept on the floor at night.  We felt so comfortable and welcome there.

After a shower, Olga and I headed out to town to explore.  We had been here once with our larger class group, but an experience on your feet and with two people is quite different from one in a group of twenty-four on a bus. 

We stopped in a clothing store advertising a 50% off indirim (sale) and then decided to grab our usual lunch of fresh bread and fruit from the local grocery store.  Upon exiting though, we realized that we were the only people around eating at this time of day, for it is Ramazan, or Ramadan, and Konya is a very conservative city.  It seemed that everywhere we went people we on benches in prayer or lying in the grass resting in the shade with their rosaries, exiting mosques, entering mosques, and all the while staring at us as we carried baguettes and water bottles searching for the least visible spot to eat our modest meal that because of the circumstances had become so scandalous.  A women around our age saw our confusion and ushered us toward her.  She knew what we were doing and despite being a covered, fasting Muslim herself, sympathized with us for wanting to eat but wanting to offend those around us.  She directed us to the Aladdin Park Hill.

On our way to the park for our shameful meal, we stepped into a pharmacy to purchase some medication for my sun-poisoned face from the weekend before in Selçuk and Pamukkale.  I was flooded with the Turkish sympathy of four women and one man staring piteously at my face.  “No Turkish,” we said and pointed at the sun.  They nodded in understanding and began to call friends of theirs on their cell phones to translate.  I don’t know if I had ever been made this much a fuss of before, and it rather made Olga and I chuckle.  The first prescription I was given was an antibiotic and a 69TL bottle of sunscreen, for a total of 93TL!  I corrected them, saying I needed a topical steroid and declined the sunscreen.  I wonder if anyone ever buys that stuff?   They were sweet though, and about thirty minutes later I walk out with what I needed, giggling with Olga:  My meds were all in Turkish.  Ha.

At the park we found a shaded place, semi-enclosed by bushes and the restaurant down the slope in front of us—or so we thought.  Just as we sat down and broke bread, the minaret behind us sounded and a flood of men exited the mosque.  They all stared at us as the passed by.  We tried to be discreet, but there was no way to hide.  Oh well.

We meandered through the Bazaar a bit, but the city was rather lethargic as all were meditating and fasting.  We decided to catch the 64 Bus to a village called Sille that Muammer had recommended.

At Sille

Not a soul was in the streets, not even a cat.  It was as if we had come to a ghost town.  Approaching the town park, we rested on a picnic bench to place the ancient church Muammer mentioned sat in this village.  A pack of elementary-aged boys approached us like dogs, and tried to play a trick on us, but we were not fooled and made it out safely.  We left them to the vacant village and climbed up a steep slope to the chapel on its summit.  It was not much to behold, but it looked as ruins should—crumbling and dilapidated.  All the other ruins we have seen thus far, we were charged to see and they were all restored.  Is that not somewhat against the point of ruins?

We soon hopped onto the 64 Bus and headed back to town.  Mehmet was working with his construction crew on their hotel in front of his house/the guest house we resided in.  They invited us to sit for tea with them, and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation about politics, travel, and Esenler—Mehmet’s village that we were to visit the next day.  How nice that some cultures take the time to sit over tea and converse.

August 6

The adventure began on Saturday morning.  Olga and I showered and left our cozy little downstairs guesthouse in search of some breakfast, which we were prepared to return with in order to avoid the situation we encountered the day before.  Outside, Mehmet and his crew were still working on the patio of his hotel, but they had taken a break for a breakfast.  We exchanged “Gunaydens” and they kindly invited us to sit and share a meal with them—a simple, delicious Turkish breakfast atop cinderblocks—cheese, yogurt, cay, bread, tomatoes, and hand-churned butter from Esenler.  The conversation was light, for only Muammer and Mehmet spoke English and we no Turkish.  But we knew we were surrounded by friends, and we felt welcomed.

Afterward, Olga and I as advised by Muammer, set out to the market to purchase cay and Turkish coffee for our hosts and chewing gum and balloons for the children in our family.  It took us almost an hour to find a toy store amid the labyrinth of the bazaar, but we came away with 2L in and 10 multi-colored punching balloons richer.

Back at Muammer’s shop, we gathered our bags and tossed them and ourselves into the back of their tiny, old pickup for a ride to the otogar where our van to Esenler awaited.  10TL was the charge for the ride, and the young man leaning on me and the elderly fellow breathing on Olga’s back were, apparently, complimentary.  It was apparent that we were immediately an anomaly to this van full of men our age and older, so we did as little as we could to draw more attention to ourselves.

Around three and a half to four hours later, we arrived in Esenler, and our family was there with smiles to greet us.  A little boy, who we would later know as Seyit and an much smaller girl (Ayşe), looking back periodically, curious about their two new companions,  led us on a rocky path between stone houses and wandering chickens.  Up the path and into a doorway covered with a white, checkered sheet—shoes off at the door—and into a carpeted room—no furniture except for rugs and tuffit-like cushions for comfortable seating.  The whole family gathered in for introductions—the two kids, mom (Guleser), dad (Mehmet), Grandpa (Ekrem), Grandma (Emine), and a few elderly neighbors.  Names first, then we looked through photographs of the family, both recent and distant.  “Are you hungry?” they asked us in Turkish.  Unsure about eating around them, who we knew were fasting, we first looked at each other.  Was this okay?  Would it bother them?  Within two minutes a sheet was spread on the floor in front of us, and Olga, Seyit, Ayşe, and I shared a light meal of ekmek (bread)—a tortilla –like flat bread—which we used as a plate and a wrap for the olives, bal (honey), cheese, and cucumbers.  It was a simple, delicious meal all others would resemble.  To drink we were always served cay and sugar, but for this first meal we were given fresh cows milk.  I had never tasted it in my life, but it was delicious, warm and creamy, for all the fat was still intact.  We sat and talked for a little while in this room.  Neighbors stopped in periodically to greet us and chat for a little while.  We gave Ayşe and Seyit the balloons and they entertained us for the next few hours, bouncing them around the house.

We moved into another room where the television was tuned to a station broadcasting musical performances of traditional Turkish music in honor of Ramadan.  Seyit, who was a talented little performer, danced and played spoons for us.  We both got up to dance—I with my limited tap experience and Olga a belly-dancer.  Elements of both are visible in Turkish dance.

We went with Grandpa, Ayşe, and Seyit to a public spring.   The water we cupped in our hands and drank.  It was crisp, cool and so refreshing.  We filled four jugs wrapped in cloth to insulate the cool mountain water and brought them back to the house with us to be used for dinner and the following day.  While we assembled at the well, a few elderly men joined us and Grandpa Ekrem, in what appeared to be a daily ritual, sat and conversed with them as Ayşe and Seyit led us around the garden, educating us on the Turkish names of the fruits and vegetables they grew.

We returned home, jugs full in our old white van.  Seyit, Ayşe, Olga, Myself and one of the village boys, Seyit’s friend, remained outside to play for an hour or so.  We ran up and down a hill, a long trek for Ayşe’s little legs, and threw rocks into an old, dry cistern.

Back at the house, Grandma was preparing for the Iftar meal, and barreled through the front door with a circular pan stacked high with ekmek and almost too wide to fit.  She laid it out on the floor of the foyer.  Grabbing a huge circle of bread probably two feet in diameter and crunchy like acorn chip, she sprinkled it with water, flipped it, sprinkled again, and tossed it in the stack.  Until every piece was moistened, we helped her with this task.  This then became the tortilla-like bread we ate with every meal.

“Emine.  Emine,” she said and pointed to the now empty pan. I understood to grab it and follow her.  She led me down the path on the side of the house and down a level due to the slope of the hill, and through a tiny doorway she beckoned me.  A large stone bread oven, much like one would see in a pioneer American village sat against the right wall in order to utilize the same ventilation system of the oven on the floor above it. In the back, covered in scraps of old fabric and plastic bags were probably fifteen stacks as high as my waist of this bread (pre-moisture).   “Ekmek. Ekmek! Ekmek!” she said as she lifted each covering to show me her collection.

Back inside we all gathered in the T.V./family room for an hour or so peeling potatoes with Guleser, or rather trying to help her peel them.  Whether or not we really helped or only slowed and lowered the quality of the peeling is probably a valid question.  Nonetheless she was patient with us as we were entertained by the lovely little Ayşe until the time came for Iftar.  For dinner, there were all the same elements as the meals that we were served for breakfast and lunch, but with the addition of one special dish in the center.  The first night, it was potatoes, cut like French fries, and the second night it was pasta, literally translated as macaroni.

After dinner more music and dancing.







This time we are joined by a few new neighbors.  As we sat there and clapped, we noticed the hands of another grandmother – bright orange, splotched with black and dark brown. Curious, we pointed, and she struggles to explain that it is traditional Turkish henna.  Pointing to our hands, she asked if we would like some? Why not!

And so as the neighbors left and we else remained watching television, Guleser brought a bowl of powder into our room, indicating that we should get ready for bed before applying the henna.  We would have no idea how important that advice was until fifteen minutes later.  Olga was the guinea pig, and I captured it all on tape. Both of her hands covered—a layer of green paste on my palms and between her fingers.  We weren’t sure how we were going to keep it from getting on the rugs as we slept. Plastic bags. Once coated with henna, each hand was wrapped with a plastic bag, which Seyit then tied tightly around our wrists. We felt like small children, gloved to keep from scratching chickenpox.  Upon completion of my left hand, Guleser left, and it was time for bed. Our laughter only intensified once we realized that we were incapable of doing anything – we could move our pillows, unfold our blankets, Olga could not even remove her glasses.  After a bit of struggle, we finally laid down. Crunch, swish. There was a fly inside the room.  Rustle, rustle. We toss and turn from side to side.  Laughing, we finally fell asleep on our thin mattresses on the floor, hands above the head, resigned.

August 7  Day 2 In Esenler—The waterfall

2:00 AM we awoke with the pounding of a drum and sounding of a man’s voice.  It was the call for the Fatur breakfast, the last meal of the night before the fast resumed for all the practicing Muslims.  Back to sleep, to awake again at 8:00 AM, no one is up. Hmm.  Back to sleep, to awake at 11:00 AM.  This time we stretch and begin unwrapping our plastic covered hands to see the stains from the henna on our palms.  Rustling in the other rooms, as we scrub the green smudge from our skin.   “Chok Guzel,”  everyone says as they peer at our hands for the first time.  Though, to us, it is quite an odd sensation.  We catch ourselves throughout the day double-taking our palms for we assume they are dirty, when we just have not gotten used to their new brown hue.

Breakfast again like the first day, and everyone is rusty because they have been up for most of the night.  Again, the adults sit around us and watch as we and our two younger siblings munch on bread, honey, cheese and fresh fruit.  Olga and I help with the dishes and cleaning up from the day before and return to the main living room to a little more dancing to the television and entertainment from our little scoundrel, Ayşe.  She was always trying to be the center of attention.

Not an hour or so later, the whole family, neglecting Emine, the grandmother, packed up in the old white van and headed to “the waterfall”.  The road was rocky and thin, barely wide enough for one car, let alone two, and Olga and I prayed that no other travelers came barreling up the other side.  The hairpin curves caused us often to close our eyes and hold our breath, but Grandpa was a pro, and Ayşe smacked her hands on the dash and sang the whole way down .  Plus the view from the top of that mountain over the valley was enough to distract anyone.  It was simply breathtaking, as was the waterfall at the bottom.

The brother of our Grandpa lived in this valley, so we stopped to see him and his wife Emine, go figure.  They we just as kind and welcoming as our family.  They offered us fresh fruit—grapes and peaches—warm from the sun—from their orchards surrounding the house.  They grew everything—pistachios, pomegranates, apples, peaches, grapes, walnuts, strawberries, and more—some fruits we had never heard of.  Most interestingly, they were beekeepers.  We snapped many photos of them as they smoked the bees from their combs to collect the honey for sale.  How neat it was.  Throughout the day our “Uncle” took us through an entire horticulture book, him having no English and us no Turkish.  Each time we lacked a picture and we could not understand through his gesticulation the fruit he was depicting, he would send us off into the orchards with Seyit to find it.

Upon the begging of Seyit, we also took a trip to the stream that fed the waterfall we had visited earlier.  All the men swam freely in trunks, while Guleser, Olga, and I we permitted only refreshment up to our knees.  Sad, Olga and I thought, and rather unfair.  Little Ayşe was tossed in naked, kicking and screaming, by her father and grandfather.  We all giggled, recalling when our own parents had done the same.

With wet jeans and skirts, we slugged back up the sandy path back to the house.  We napped for a few relaxing hours in their living room, and then were on our way back up the winding dirt road home to Esenler.

Back at the house, Emine was busy preparing for dinner when she greeted us with a grin.  It was just beginning to cool down as the sun hung low in the sky.  Time to go to the well for water.  Emine came with us this time and managed her garden plots while we filled the jugs at the spring.  The irrigation system they used was so interesting.  It was managed by a series of channels meticulously dug around the edges of the crops, and blocked at each corner with large rocks, sludge and old pieces of fabric.  The spring we drew water from flowed into a cistern from which they controlled the flow with a stick.  Opened, gravity emptied the cistern into their channels.  Plugged, it filled for the next use.  Muammer later said that this method of irrigation was ancient, and still effective to this day.

We arrived back in time to help prepare for dinner.  Sheet on the living room floor and a tray full of the goodies.  Family gathered around, and, almost immediately at the call, Emine ripped apart her ekmek and scooped some pasta from the center bowl; then we all dug in.  Following dinner, the men headed to the mosque, Emine went off to other duties, and we stayed in the family room with Mom, Seyit, and Ayşe.  During this “alone time”, we danced traditional Turkish dances, belly dances, tap dances, and improv.  We made musical rhythms with our hands, fingers snapping, feet, spoons, drums and tambourines, and anything else we could grab.  We tried our hands at some yoga and a bit of gymnastics that the kids loved.  The men returned to share our last meal of fresh cherries, peaches and plums before we were off to bed around 23:00, fairly early because of our departure at 5:00 the next morning.

August 8, 2011

Back at the otogar station, our sense of orientation was entirely gone. At 7:00 AM, there were few people around the bus depot, and once again, we were the center of attention for the six or seven men also gathered around the same area.  Thankfully, Muammer came to the rescue. Within 10 minutes of our phone call for help, he was there with his truck to take us back to the guesthouse.  Grateful and exhausted, we slept.

After a five hour nap, when we finally manage to get ourselves together, hunger hit, and we set out to the supermarket once more.  By then we were comfortable in Konya.  We knew our way around (at least around the couple of main streets), and the trip was uneventful.  For the next one and a half days, our diet consisted of instant soup, bread, and chocolate cream. Back home at the guesthouse, over a small propane tank with a burner, we made our soup, and within ten minutes, we had a complete dinner for two for less than 1TL. Proud and satisfied, we dove into our books, hoping to finish the class reading and get a start on our presentations.

August 9, 2011   Eeny Meeny Miney Moe

The next day was spent in much the same way. On a shady bench near a mosque, we planned our presentation. As we got up, a pair of  young girls recognized us! They were the same children that we had met on our first trip to Konya.  Members of the class, whose Qur’an lesson Emily interrupted in exchange for a lesson in Eeny Meeny Miney Moe.  Somehow, we had made it to the same madrasa.

Out of nostalgia, we returned to Aladdin Hill for some more of the delicious dondurma (ice cream) we had discovered on our original Konya adventure.  After a final stroll through the streets, we were ready to return to Istanbul.

We headed back to pack our things and shower before our overnight train, and then make our way to Silk Road Rugs and Kilims, where it all began.  Inside we found Muammer, Mehmet and a few other men stretched out on the rugs, relaxing after a days work.  We dropped our bags for one last trip down the main street at Olga’s request for 1.50TL Tavuk Doner for dinner, appropriate as a last meal considering it was also our first on this adventure.  The men at the doner stand noticed our hena, and complimented it.  The two ayrans we were given as part of the meal, we traded with Muammer for two fresh tomatoes—though I think we got the better part of the bargain.  With hugs and thank you’s we were reminded “Not to forget our Turkish Uncle,” Mehmet.  “You are good girls,” he said, a compliment that meant more coming from him than I could describe—a man who welcomed us into his house, invited us to share a meal with his family, respected us enough to share in discussion, and invited us to come back.  This significance of this to me was greater than most things we have experienced on this semester in Turkey.  I would trade that experience with these families, both in Esenler and Konya for seeing the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque any day.  So with that, Muammer hugged us and sent us on a minibus to the train station.  Within the hour we were on our way back home to Istanbul.  What a great trip.

-Emily Mendenhall

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And So We Dance

“Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” – Kurt Vonnegut

A Brief Travel Account of a Journey from Istanbul to Eşenler of Emily Mendenhall and Olga Tkachenko

On the train, with two minutes to spare, catching our breath, we are ready to go. The overnight train pulls into Konya early Friday morning, and after orienting ourselves around the Mevlana museum, we make it to the Silk Road rug shop. Muammer, who works at the shop and arranged our village homestay, welcomes us to Konya, treating us to a breakfast of tea and toast, as he is among the few who do not observe the fast for Ramadan. A short walk through town brings us to a quaint guesthouse, built by his brother Mehmet, where we stay for our time in Konya. The house is covered with intricate woodwork, and many carpets that have probably come from their shop.

After a little bit of exploring, we realize that one of the wooden closets in our room had a second set of doors, glass sliding doors, on the inside. Once we open the doors, it quickly becomes obvious where the term “water closet” gets its origin. It is our bathroom and shower. In our closet. Apparently, back in the Ottoman times, people used showers only once a week, so the rest of the time, they would use the space for storage of their bedding. And so for the three days we are in Konya, we sporadically play a game of hide and seek, going in and out of our closet.

Once we settle in, we decide to walk around a bit and see the center of town and maybe do some light shopping. Getting hungry for lunch, we stop at a supermarket, and as it is Ramadan we buy only a loaf of bread and some water so that we might be able to eat without attracting too much attention. Leaving the store, it seems that every public space is filled with men and veiled women, holding prayer beads and reciting Qur’anic verses. It is a Friday afternoon, and we are surrounded on all sides by several mosques, all of which have the call to prayer coming from the loudspeakers. We wander around looking for a secluded spot so as not to offend anyone, and we must have looked quite desperate, as out of nowhere, a veiled girl about our age approaches us. She begins to gesture, asking if we want to eat and drink, at which point she points away from the mosques, saying that a public park would be a better option. Grateful for the advice, we head to a nearby park but are still hesitant to sit down and eat as there are still many people there as well. Noticing our discomfort, a man comes up to us and motions towards Alaaddin Hill Park, indicating that it would be a more appropriate location for our modest picnic. I am comforted by how compassionate these two individuals ar,e to help us out even though they themselves could not eat. And so with many thanks, we set off for Alaaddin Hill.

On our way to the park, we happen to pass by an open pharmacy, and as Emily has concerns over the sunburn on her face, we decide to stop in and see if they have anything similar to Neosporin, that might help the burns heal faster. Why we assumed that the pharmacists who do not speak English would know what Neosporin was, I don’t know. For the next twenty minutes, we have all of the six employed individuals in the store attempting to select for Emily a medication which they think she might need, going to such lengths as to put an English speaking person on the phone with her for the duration of the ordeal. After a while, our mix of Turkish and English produces the desired results and we leave the store with medication in hand, waving good bye to the entire staff of the pharmacy.

Finally at the hill, we settle at a quiet spot just behind the café on top of the hill, and as it turns out, also just in front of the entrance to the Alaaddin Mosque. Because as we break into our bread and water, the front doors open up and the dozens of men who had attended the afternoon prayer service filed out of the mosque and past the two of us eating on the grass. Needless to say, our sneaky meal was not so sneaky, as we quietly munched to disapproving glances.


After our quick lunch, we decide to visit a small village not too far from Konya, recommended by Muammer, called Sille, and so we hop on the #64 bus and make the twenty minute trip up to the town. It is if the village has ceased to exist. When we get there, all of the houses are quiet, the shops are closed, the chairs in the restaurants turned over, and not a soul to be found on the streets. We never thought Ramadan would stop life so completely. Confused, we sit down on a bench in the shade in an attempt to decide what to do next. Immediately, we are swarmed on all sides by six boys, between 8 and 12 years old, who are attempting to speak English to us, asking where are we from, etc. Slightly amused, we chatt for a while, and one of the boys offers that Emily take a ride on his bicycle. Being friendly, she accepts, but after a few laps around the area, the pedal on the bike falls right off. We soon realize it is a hoax, because immediately, that same boy runs up to her and, pointing to the bike, yells, ―Money, money, money!‖ Not falling for his trick, we refuse, laughing at the absurdity of the situation. It gets progressively more interesting, as he attempts to convince us in broken English that he is calling the police and that we will go to jail. Deciding to take our chances with any possible police intervention, we say good bye and head back to the bus stop. But the kids are relentless – they follow us for 10 minutes as we walk around contemplating what to do next. Finally, still haven’t received money, they walk off in a different direction, while we, hoping to avoid them for the rest of our time there, head back to the bus stop.


As we are sitting there, waiting for the bus, high up on a hill in front of us, we notice some crumbling remains of a domed building and realize that it must be the ancient church of which Muammer spoke when he recommended we visit this town. As we still have time before the next bus, we quickly scramble up the hill to what we later discovered was Küçük Kilese, not the St. Helen’s Church (apparently just down the road) as we had thought, but rather a small ruined chapel. Nonetheless, it is still a great find, as from beside the ruins, we can see the entirety of the little town, as well as the cemetery down the slope of the hill nearby. After taking some great pictures of the landscape, we scramble through the weeds and thorns back down to the bus stop and, luckily with no further hassle, return back to Konya.


Back at the guesthouse, we find Mehmet and a small construction crew taking a break from working on his new hotel right next to his house. Inviting us to sit down on the cinderblocks, he brews tea for everyone and we spend the next half hour in a political discussion (focusing on the disappointment of the Bush presidency). Still tired from our trip, we decide to take a nap before attempting any further adventures, and it is not until 9pm that we finally get back to our senses. At this point, we are desperate for food, but as we make our way out of the house, Mehmet sees us and invites us upstairs to his house, where he and his wife have already had iftar but have lots of leftovers of all of the food she has made during the day. A dinner of fresh salad, stuffed green peppers, and homemade lentil soup – we could not have hoped to find anything better! Tea and fresh fruit are quick to follow as we join Mehmet and his wife on the pillows on their floor, watching television and discussing the recent return of an exiled Kurdish leader back to Turkey and his take on the Kurdish situation in general. He states that Kurdish people claim to want independence but are unwilling to leave Istanbul or Turkey. “It is like people in Arizona saying we want to be independent, but still live in New York City”. And with these bits of wisdom, off to bed we go in preparation for our trip to Eşenler the next day.


Our bags loaded with tea and coffee for the family, balloons and bubble gum for the kids, we are off to Eşenler on the noon shuttle. Taking stock of the car, we decide it would be for the best to put our bags on our laps rather than have them tied to the roof, and so we crowd inside, the only two females in a bus full of older men and adolescent boys. For the next three hours, we are obviously the object of everyone’s attention, complete with hidden giggling, stealthy glances, and plenty of cuddling on Emily’s side. We are a novelty for these folks, and boy do we know it. Confused, with no idea of where we are going exactly, we sit back and wait to see what happens, hoping that once we get there, someone will know that it is time for us to get off.

Lucky for us, someone did. As the shuttle finally weaves its way to the top of a smaller mountain, the village comes into sight, and at the second stop an older man with two children leans into the car and waves for us to get off. His name is Ekrem Dogdu and he becomes our grandfather for the next two days. With him greet us his two grandchildren – Seyit, 12, and Aişe, 5, – who lead the way up a rocky slope towards their house. We barely step inside when hugs and kisses flow from every direction, as the mother, grandmother, and a couple of neighbors come to greet us and welcome us to the village. Immediately, everyone sits down and the photo albums come out. We flip through the past decade of the family history as they bring fresh cherries and plums for us and the children. None of the adults partake, as they are fasting, but we will soon discover that despite Ramadan, they will, over the course of two days, offer us food at a rate and quantity that we cannot manage.

As the pictures come to an end, the balloons come out. The kids are excited to see them, and we are glad for a way to connect with them that would not require Turkish. The next hour is spent with balloon soccer, balloon volleyball, and other games invented on the spot to keep the kids laughing. As the games wind down, the mother, Guleser, brings in a bag of potatoes for peeling in preparation for dinner, to be done in front of the television. Naturally, we offered to help. But to be honest, I’m not sure about how helpful we actually were. Our potato peeling skills pale greatly in comparison to hers, which meant that not only the two of us took twice as long as she would have managed by herself, but that we also wasted more potato from our rough, chopping motions, that she could have salvaged with her adept hands. Nonetheless, the potatoes are peeled, dinner is being started, and so our grandfather motions for us to come, follow him
out of the house and back down the street. We are going to his garage, his truck, which will carry us, with Sayit in the back and Aişe in our laps in the front, to a natural spring not 10 minutes away to fill up their water supply. We will learn that this is a regular job – once the sun starts making its descent, we make our way to the cold, fresh water, to fill up plastic canisters, wrapped in red woven fabric to insulate the cold as they did back in the old days, and bring them back for dinner.

When we return, the grandmother, Emine, enters the house and with her brings a stack of bread – thin as crepes, crisp, at least two feet in diameter. It was baked in a room off to the side of the house, and now she lays it out on the floor, and sprays each piece with water, one by one, restacking the pile so that the layers absorb the water, flatten out, and become more malleable to prevent it from shattering when she later folds it. As we figure out the process, our hands jump in, each of us doing a fold in one direction before putting these pockets of bread into a plastic bag for later consumption. Meanwhile, Aişe off to the side, sits munching on the pieces that inevitably break off from lack of moisture, covering the blanket underneath, her shirt, her pants, and my pants, with crumbs.


When we finish, it is not quite time to eat, and so we follow the kids back out of the house and, with a neighborhood friend of Seyit, we walk towards the mountains. Of course with two young boys, this slow walk soon becomes a race, and at the count of three, the two of them and myself take off sprinting up the slope as Emily and Aişe follow, hand in hand. They try to race be running forwards, running backwards, going up and down the mountain, but to no avail. I’m sure that in a few years time, I would not stand a chance against them, but for the moment I enjoyed having an advantage of longer legs and greater speed, a rarity for someone my size. If they had kept pressing me to race, they would have won without question. Ten minutes into this game I am out of breath, wondering to myself what had compelled me to run up this mountain. The boys, on the other hand, were going strong, and had they known this they surely would have come out successful. So as I slowly make my way back down, back towards the village, victorious but shamed by a lack of endurance, I stop and capture a few pictures as the sun leaves its last rays on the landscape. Everything turns gold, and as the light begins to fade, a mother’s voice calls from a distance – it is time for dinner.


The Ramadan meal is nothing fancy – pita, fresh vegetables, fried potatoes, yogurt, tea, and honey – but it is the atmosphere that makes it unforgettable. All of us, the grandparents and parents, children and a few neighbors, gather around a large platter in the middle of the carpet on a blanket that serves as a table and a napkin. No plates. Each of us has a small stack of pita on which to pile, with which to roll, our food, taken from the communal bowls in the center. And as we hungrily dig in, I notice that the adults, all of whom had not eaten for the entire day, eat much slower and much less than do we and the children. As everyone gets their fill, chatter increases, laughter fills the room, sneaking in between the Turkish and the English, each battling for some understanding. Tea is refilled, the television is turned on, and everyone leans back against the pillows which line the walls.

After dinner is cleaned up and the platter taken away, we discover that Seyit is a dancer. When music comes on the television, he begins a traditional Turkish dance, to which he then adds two wooden spoons in each hand, clacking out his own beat with the added percussion of the tiny symbols on the ends of the spoons. As we sit there and clap, we notice the hands of another grandmother – bright orange, splotched with black and dark brown. Curious, we point, and she goes on to explain that it is traditional Turkish henna, and then points to our hands, nodding her head. We will be getting henna.

And so as the neighbors leave and everyone else remains watching television, Guleser brings a bowl of powder and water into our room, indicating that we should get ready for bed before applying the henna. We have no idea how important that advice was until fifteen minutes later. I go first, with Emily capturing it all on tape. Both my hands, covered. A layer of green paste on my palms, between my fingers. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep it from getting on the bed as I slept. Plastic bags. That’s right. Once coated with henna, each hand is wrapped inside a plastic bag, which is then tied tightly around the wrist. I laugh, Emily is next. We feel like small children, gloved to keep from scratching chickenpox. Guleser leaves, and it is time for bed. Our laughter only intensifies once we realize that we are incapable of doing anything – we cannot move our pillows, unfold our blankets, I can’t take off my glasses. After a bit of struggle, we finally lay down. Crunch, swish. There is a fly inside the room. Rustle, rustle. One of us turns to her other side. Laughing, we finally fall asleep on our thin mattresses on the floor, hands above the head, resigned.

5am. There are people banging on the front door to the house, drums are shaking the windows. Barely coming out of sleep, we realize that this is the infamous mesaharati from the second part of Al Kitaab, our second year of Arabic study. He is going up and down the streets, waking the villagers before dawn, before the beginning of the daily fast, so they can have a final meal for that night. Delighted to actually experience this for ourselves, we drift back to sleep as he continues on, sounding his drum for the other houses.

Awake at 8:00 AM, no one is up. Back to sleep, to awake at 11:00 AM. This time we stretch and begin unwrapping our plastic covered hands to see the stains from the henna on our palms, rustling in the other rooms, as we scrub the green smudge from our skin. ―”Chok Guzel!” everyone says, as they peer at our hands for the first time. This will become a minor distraction over the next few days, as out of unfamiliarity, each time we catch a glimpse of our hands out of the corners of our eyes, we panic, thinking that they are dirty rather than decorated.

Breakfast again like the first day, and everyone is rusty because they have been up for most of the night. Again, the adults sit around us and watch as we and our two younger siblings munch on bread, honey, cheese and fresh fruit. Emily and I help with the dishes and cleaning up from the day before, and return to the main living room to a little more dancing to the television and entertainment from our little scoundrel, Ayşe. She was always trying to be the center of attention, even when she herself held the camera (taken from myself or Emily, usually to capture herself in my scarf and sunglasses).

Today would be the day of the waterfall. So not an hour or so later, the whole family is packed up in the old white van, heading to the “şelale”. The road is rocky and thin, barely wide enough for one car, let alone two, and we pray that no other travelers come barreling up the other side, as any compromise would be impossible. The hairpin curves cause us often to close our eyes and hold our breath, but Grandpa is a pro, and Ayşe smacks her hands on the dash and sings the whole way down . Plus the view from the top of that mountain over the valley is enough to keep our eyes open; it is simply breathtaking, as is the waterfall at the bottom. After seeing the falls, we make our way further downstream, where there is a small lagoon, which the men and kids take full advantage of. For us, in our jeans and multiple layers, swimming is out of the question. We have to make do with rolling up our pants and wading in the water for a little while. But we still get the enjoyment of seeing Aişe playfully dunked into the water by her father, despite her yelling and numerous attempts at escape.


The brother of our Grandpa lives in this same valley, so as we are leaving, we stop to see him and his wife – another Emine. They are just as kind and welcoming as our family. They offer us fresh fruit—grapes and peaches—warm from the sun—from their orchards surrounding their house. They grow everything—pistachios, pomegranates, apples, peaches, grapes, walnuts, strawberries, and more—some fruits we had never even heard of. Most interestingly, they are beekeepers. We snap many photos of them as they smoke the bees from their combs to collect the honey for sale. We even get to sample some of the honey during lunch, when large chunks of honeycomb are laid out for us and the kids. Throughout the day, our “Uncle” takes us through an entire horticulture book, him having no English and us no Turkish. Each time we face a picture and we cannot understand through his gesticulation the fruit he is depicting, he sends us off into the orchards with Seyit to find it. So now although our Turkish vocabulary may still be lagging, Emily and I feel right at home in the produce section in any shop or market.

As the afternoon wears on, the adults are tired and the children restless, so off we go inside, to nap on the rugs and pillows covering their floors. And after an hour or two, it is up the winding dirt road, back home to Eşenler. Back at the house, Emine is busy preparing for dinner when she greets us with a grin. It is just beginning to cool down as the sun hangs low in the sky. Time to go to the spring for water. This time, Emine comes with us and manages her garden plots while we fill the jugs at the spring. The irrigation system they use is fascinating. It is managed by a series of channels meticulously dug around the edges of the crops, and blocked at each corner with large rocks, sludge and old pieces of fabric. The spring we draw water from flows into a cistern, from which they control further flow with a stick. Opened, gravity empties the cistern into their channels, which they can redirect to which crops or plots of land need the water. Once plugged, it fills for the next use. Muammer later said that this is an ancient method of irrigation and still effective to this day. That must be the secret behind the tremendous success of their fields, as all of the plants are picture perfect, suffering none of the diseases that so commonly plague our plants in the West.
We arrive back at the home in time to help prepare for dinner. Sheet on the living room floor and a trey full of goodies. Family gathers around, almost immediately at the call to prayer, Emine ripps apart her ekmek and scoops some pasta from the center bowl; then we all dig in. Following dinner, the men head to the mosque, Emine goes off to other duties, and we remain in the family room with Mom, Seyit, and Ayşe. Once again, music plays on the television and the kids are ready to dance. This time, we try some cross-cultural experimentation. As Seyit shows us the steps to the Turkish dance, I show him some bellydance moves, which seemed to be something new for them. Even the mom got to her feet to try it out for herself. Seeing their excitement, we decide to make things a bit more interesting and introduce them to yoga, including the Warrior and Eagle poses. Then we move on to some tumbling, with handstands, rolls, and cartwheels in the hallway. Catching our breath, we settle back down in the living room, but once again Seyit picks up his wooden spoons and begins a beat which we cannot help but join. Beating our thighs, snapping our fingers, tapping the walls, beating a drum, jingling bells – anything we could get our hands on became music.

The men return from their prayers to share our last meal of fresh cherries, peaches and plums before we are off to bed around 11pm, because, as it turns out, our bus back to Konya is not the noon shuttle, as we had imagined, but comes rather at the convenient hour of 5am. Luckily for us, we don’t even need to set an alarm clock – we can count on the mesaharati to come around once again, right outside our window, banging his drum for the pre-dawn meal.

After what feels like minutes of sleep, up and away we go, once again in the company of amused adolescents, but this time I am too tired to care. I stay up long enough to see the sun rise in between the mountains and make its way over the peak before I am asleep on the seat of the bus, counting on Emily to keep watch for the both of us.

Back at the train station, our sense of orientation is entirely gone. At 7am, there are few people around the bus depot, and once again, we are the center of attention for the six or seven men also gathered around the same area. Once again, Muammer comes to the rescue – within 10 minutes of our phone call for help, he is there with his truck to take us back to the guesthouse. Grateful and exhausted, we sleep.

After lunch, when we finally manage to get ourselves together, we realize our hunger and once again make a trip down to the supermarket. But by now we are comfortable, we know our way around (at least around the couple of main streets) and the trip is uneventful. For the next two days, our diet will consist of instant soup, bread, and chocolate cream. Back home, over a small propane tank with a burner, we make our soup, and within ten minutes, we have a complete dinner for two for less than 1TL. Proud and satisfied, we dive into our books, hoping to finish the class reading and get a start on our presentations.
The next day was spent in much the same way. On a shady bench near a mosque, we plan our presentation. As we get up, a pair of young girls recognize us! These are the same children that we had met on our first trip to Konya with the class, whose Qur’an lesson Emily had interrupted in exchange for a lesson in Eeny Meeny Miney Moe. Somehow, we had made it to the same madrasa. Out of nostalgia, we return to Alaaddin Hill for some more of the delicious dondurma we had gotten on our original Konya trip. After a final stroll through the streets, we are ready to return to Istanbul. After some heartfelt goodbyes, we return to the train station, to Istanbul.

-Olga Tkachenko

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Antakya Travel Blog


By Caitlin Tutterow.

On Friday, August 5th we travelled to Antakya, Turkey.  Antakya, also known as the ancient city of Antioch, is well known for its history of religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity.  Both of our classes for the Duke in Turkey program have focused on these three topics and we felt that Antakya was an apt location to study these issues further.

We began our first day at the Hatay Archeological Museum (Hatay is the province in which Antakya is located).  The Hatay Archeological Museum has artifacts from the Chalcolithic, Old Bronze Era, the Middle and Late Bronze Era, the Hittites, and the Roman Era.  Across the whole museum there are beautiful mosaics not only Antakya but from surrounding towns such as Daphne (modern day Harbiye) and Samandag.  I was very surprised by the size of some of the mosaics; they were gigantic and the walls were full of pictures of animals, portraits of people, and geometric designs.   Most of the mosaics were from the Roman period and there were some Roman statues as well.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the town and trying to get a feel for Antakya.  Luckily our hostel was right in the middle of the city and to get anywhere to eat or explore was literally a hop and a skip away.  Antakya is almost right on the Syrian border and I expected that the city would be more provincial and conservative than Istanbul.  However, I was surprised by how modern and cosmopolitan the city was.  I felt completely comfortable walking around in shorts and more women than I expected (especially women around my age) wore shorts or less conservative clothes.  I also expected all the women to wear headscarves but again I was surprised to find that there was almost equal percentage of women who wore headscarves as those who did not.  On the streets of Antakya you could find many of the same stores you would find in malls in Istanbul and we met people every day who spoke at least some English.

The second day we woke up early in the morning to beat the heat and walked about 20 minutes up a mountain to the Grotto of Saint Peter, which is said to be the first Church established by Peter, a disciple of Jesus.  We were the only ones there that morning and the Church was beautifully situated in the side of the mountain.  The Church used to be an open religious space but in the last couple of years has been turned into a museum by the government.  Isa (an Eastern Orthodox Christian who I will talk more about later), told us the next day that he used to go up to the Church all the time to pray but that after it was turned into a museum by the government the guards  told him he had to pay in order to enter.  Isa refused to pay to enter a place that was sacred to him and he told us that they eventually let him in without paying.

Antakya is rich not only in Christian history but also Jewish and Islamic history and we were lucky enough to meet an Isa on our third day in Antakya.  Isa spoke English and walked us around all the religious sites in Antakya including the Eastern Orthodox Church, a Protestant Church (the minister was South Korean and many of the signs in the Church were both in Korean, Turkish, and English), the Roman Catholic Church, a Jewish Synagogue, and the Habibi Neccar Mosque (which used to be a church).  We were so fortunate to meet Isa randomly, that the only way I can describe it is as serendipitous.  Isa was a wonderful contact and friend; he even helped us set up a beautiful full day boat trip in the Mediterranean the next day.

Antakya was full of unexpected but wonderful people, culture, and traditions.  There is nothing better than the discovery that a place and the people who live there are more than you could have ever expected or hoped for.  Antakya served many roles for me but it will remain a place in my heart of serendipitous meetings, friendly locals, gorgeous scenery, rich history, and an inspiring example for everyone of religious, ethnic, and cultural tolerance.


A Tour of Antakya

By Weston Fleming

Stepping off of the plane onto the tarmac of the tiny Antakyan airport, I was only certain of two things: we had come to Antakya to observe and record a supposed convergence of religions, and we were awfully close to the Syrian border. After being nearly concussed by an overhead television while boarding our bus into the city, I sat anxiously, not sure that “the city” was more than an assemblage of rustic buildings and fields of some sort (it was only later I learned the population is a bit over two hundred thousand people).

Once we’d finally arrived in the city square, we were met with the first of many paradoxes: for such an eastern Turkish city, for the apparent near absence of other tourists, and for being easily the least modern city we’d visited thus far, Antakya was not nearly as conservative as I anticipated.

This was first apparent when we noticed many restaurants were well occupied in the daytime. We also received no abuse—visual, verbal, or otherwise—as we chugged from our water bottles while walking the streets.. Later in the trip, our late night trips to the park confirmed the relative liberality: plenty of women strolled about, some seemingly unaccompanied. I was quite surprised when, well after midnight, I noticed several girls wearing hijabs and playing on the park equipment with no male chaperone in sight.

I also noticed a considerable difference in what we were able to observe as a group of five, rather than our usual group of more than twenty: instead of becoming an instant stop-what-you’re-doing spectacle when we entered the Habibi-Neccar mosque, we were able to catch some folks off guard, so to speak. Especially while waiting to meet with the president of the Intercultural Dialogue Association of Antioch, it was interesting to see daily life in and around the mosque without too significantly affecting it. Older men sat quietly together under the shade of a tree; two boys playfully and draggingly hosed down the tile outside of the mosque; veiled women sat tucked away inside a sectioned-off portion of the mosque; one man laid on his back in a laughable spread eagle position.

Of course, while we spent much of our trip soaking in the religious pluralism that makes Antakya so unique—or as the AKADIM president described it, “a model for the world”—we also paid visits to the cave Church of St. Peter and Harbiye, the supposed home to the myth of Daphne. At Harbiye, we all enjoyed a very memorable lunch with our feet submerged on the edge of a waterfall. Though, I also thought it interesting to witness a restaurant host, having correctly guessed we were Americans, give an impromptu English lesson to a small boy who I imagined would be a host at the same restaurant twenty years from now.

Finally, we spent our last full day on a rocking (no, literally) cruise that took us to some incredibly scenic beaches. But here, another paradox: with all of the beautiful scenery, the shipmen threw their trash overboard without conscious.

On the bus ride back from the beach trip, I was given more fruit than I could hold by a woman who spoke no English. It was more than I could have asked for, such generosity spawned from communication that was little more than a series of hand gestures, cognates, and nods. Though, this instance might serve as a microcosm of the intellectual and cultural fruits we reaped during our stay. We knew we were thrusting ourselves into an active religious stew; we never guessed we would be so thoughtfully and enlighteningly guided as we were, or that we would acquire such a wealth of information and observations. The perfect blend of work and play, Antakya proved a great choice for our upcoming final project.


Isa, Our Savior

By Pia Trikha

On August 5, 2011 a group of five of us traveled to Antakya, Turkey for five days and four nights.  We were drawn to this specific location because of its convergence of three main religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

On our second day of arriving in Antakya we decided to try to attend a service at the Eastern Orthodox Church that was right next to our hostel.  As we made our way to the service at 11 am, we walked in to find that the church itself was completely empty.  Unsure of whether or not we had come at the right time or if we were allowed to go in, we lingered around the courtyard until someone beckoned us to enter.  Upon entering, we were once again amazed by the level of detail and complexity in the designs on the ceiling and wall of the church.  The smell of incense pervaded the room and wooden pews lined the middle while a few people wandered around the perimeter.  We had just started taking pictures when I heard a sharp voice to my left say, “No flash please!”  I nodded quickly and apologized before realizing that this was the first English speaker we had encountered in the city.  This was the start of our adventures with Isa, our project “savior,” who generously toured us around Antakya’s major religious sites for the remainder of the day.  After approaching Isa he graciously invited us to ask questions over Turkish coffee in the courtyard.  Being the first Christian we had interviewed, he gave us a very unique perspective on how he perceived the status of Christians in Antakya and the relations between Christians and Muslims.  He prefaced everything by first informing us that there were only about 1,100 Christians living in Antakya out of a total of 200,000 people.  Immediately, he adopted a slightly defensive tone when describing his faith’s minority status and I got the sense that there was a strong “us” versus “them” mentality present.  Isa didn’t bother to hide his emotions and therefore we were able to see an inside point of view of a Christian minority in Antakya.  When we asked him how Muslims and Christians interact in Antakya, he was quick to scoff and remark that the position of Christians was very poor in Turkey.  However, compared to other parts of the country, Antakya was less repressive of Christians.  He said that compared to other countries that he had been to such as Indonesia, the treatment of Christians by Muslims was much lower in Turkey.  Thinking back on his time there he recalled that he had been able to practice his religion without pressure from Muslims.  At this point he called the Muslims in Turkey Muslims with “bad hearts” whereas the ones in other parts of the world were not as bad.  He never actually stated that there were Muslims with good hearts but rather that there were “less bad” ones.  Isa also told us about his time in the army where he served for 18 months.  When trying to openly practice Christianity, he felt great pressure to convert and was unable to feel comfortable with his own faith.  Another interesting point that he made was that interfaith marriage was not allowed.  He gave an example of how when a Jewish woman married a Muslim man, the woman was kicked out of the Jewish community.  When talking about the belief in a single God in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, Isa strongly objected and insisted that he believed there were different gods for different religions.  He claimed that he couldn’t understand how Muslims can kill in the name of God and that this God is the same one that he prays to.  Isa’s strong opinions and willingness to share them with our group allowed us to see a rare insider’s viewpoint regarding the convergence of three major religions in Turkey.


The “M” Word

By Mihret Woldsemaet

On Sunday August 7th in Antakya we coincidently met Isa in an orthodox church. Isa is a Turkish man who is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Antakya. He went to Australia illegally and stayed there for eight years; because of this he spoke English really well. When we told Isa our desire to visit different religious houses, he took it upon himself to take us to all the different religious sights. One of the churches he took us to first was the protestant church. This church was a Methodist affiliated church started by a South Korean minister. The first time we went to this church we could not go in because services were still going on, so an hour later we returned. When we walked in we were given a table and tea, while we waited for the minister. I had originally thought that we would be meeting with the Korean minister who had founded the church. However, after a brief introduction, he told us that the American minister would be down to talk to us in a moment and left our table. This American minister’s name was Bob, he was an ordained minister but he introduces himself as an English teacher. He had been in Turkey for about 20 years and seemed to speak fluent Turkish. We first just started talking about the people he serves. He told us that he holds services in English for refugees from Sudan, Liberia, and Iraq. At first the interview was going fine. He told us that in Antakya there was a lot of diversity, although most of Turkey was Sunni Muslim, in Antakya there were Alevi Muslims, who he described as more liberal and universalist. Then he went on to talk about the presence of Jews, Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. When asked why there was tolerance in Antakya, he said that other cities were more oppressive of minorities because they did not know them. In Antakya he said that there is less fear because they know people of the different faiths. This may be one of the only things that I agreed with him about. In Antakya it seemed that there was knowledge of the other, a person either knew a person of a different faith or knew someone else who did. Thus one does not have to create a characteristic for the unknown other that might be criminalizing. It was about at this point that the interview took a bad turn. It all started when he said that although things are better in Antakya some of the problems are with the new protestant Christians. He then went to say that people in Turkey and some of the people even at the church there had a problem with the “m” word, missionary.  He says that the reason for this is that during the Armenian massacre many missionaries worked with the minorities and saw the massacre. These missionaries then reported what they saw and the government of Turkey and people “falsely” believe that they reported it to foreign governments. Thus because of this imagined tie with outside governments there is suspicion of missionaries. We then asked him how many missionaries are in Turkey and he says that there are several hundred missionaries at work in Turkey. He then said that the reason for him coming to Turkey as a missionary was because he saw a “spiritual need” in Turkey and because there was a lot of “ignorance in Turkey about Christianity.” However, the way he made it sound it was not just to correct myths about Christianity but through this correction convert people. He then said that he doesn’t understand the resistance to missionary work in Turkey and why there was a lot of propaganda by the government against missionaries. The only “logical” explanation he has for this illogical paranoia of missionaries is that “ it’s the devil that wants to keep the people from learning about the gospel truth.” This combined with other things that he said in this interview reminded me of the civilizing missionary trips of 19th and 20th century. It also reminded me of the Venetian Italian scholar in The White Castle who was so ignorant of “the other” and yet considered Hoja, as the inferior one. The arrogance that surrounded him was also something similar between the minister and the Venetian scholar. At the end of it the minister presented a really interesting perspective on diversity in Antakya and missionary work in today’s world.


The Second Isa: A Muslim Perspective

By Fernando Revelo

On the last day of our in Antakya, we decided to venture into the oldest mosque in Antakya, Habibi Neccar, for the third and last time. After hearing from the different religious minorities (Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews) in Antakya, we wanted to hear a Muslim perspective on the issue of multiculturalism and religious interactions in Antakya. We walked into the mosque, scouting for an English speaker. We asked a man that was in the kitchen of the mosque, right next to the Imam’s office for an English speaker. He proceeded to tells us that he did not speak English and gave us an English brochure with information regarded the mosque.

However, we were not satisfied. We insisted on talking to someone in English, and after two awkward phone conversations with friends of the man who gave us the brochure, and after waiting for about an hour for one of them to come to the mosque, we met Isa Aydin, a caring and optimistic Sunni Muslim. He introduced himself as the President of the Antakya Kültürlerarası Diyalog Derneği (Antakya’s Intercultural Dialogue Association or AKADIM).

AKADIM, an organization that is influenced by the Gullen movement and has a strong focus on religious tolerance, is described by Isa as the “bridge between all the different groups.” The association works as a space were different religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and different ethnic groups (Arabs, Armenians, Roma and Turks) interact and share ideas. AKADIM is responsible for hosting large Iftars, where 10,000 people are invited from all of the different groups. The association also provides services and goods to the people need such as giving away sacrificed meat to people in need. During our talk with Isa, he received a call from the “chief of the Roma,” to discuss one of the many projects that AKADIM is leading to help communities in need such as the Roma or Gypsy community. These projects include, but are not limited to providing education for different trades with the goal of increasing the economic status of the different communities. Most of these projects are government funded, and run by AKADIM.

To begin his talk regarding multiculturalism and religious interactions in Antakya, he gave us a brief history of the many civilizations that impacted Antakya. In the beginning, Antakya was a pagan town that was taken over by the Jews. After the arrival of the Apostles of Jesus, who are now allegedly buried under the Habibi Neccar Camii, to Antakya, the town  then became a Christian town, and the place where Christians were first called Christians. It was later on taken over by Muslims, but it still serves as the hometown for many Jews and Christians and as a Christian pilgrimage site. .

Isa then described Antakya as a very peaceful place to live. He argued that people have learned, primordially to respect themselves, and therefore respect other. In Antakya, people visit each other and befriend each other regardless of religion or ethnicity for they “know how to live together.” For example, Isa told stories of how during weddings, funerals and other social events, people from all different religions and ethnicities interacted with one another. He then concluded by stating that “Antakya should be an example for the rest of the world.”

Even though Antakya might be an example of religious tolerance, there is not much convergence of religions. They tend to each keep to themselves. For example when prompted regarding inter-marriage between the religions, Isa quickly answered that there were some, but not many. And then I asked him, if these marriages were accepted, his answer was “They are accepted, well… maybe not, but mainly because of tradition.”

We then asked Isa if he perceived any similarities between the three Abrahamic religions. Unlike, the other people we interviewed, he provided us with a positive response and listed for us the main similarities between all three religious such as belief in one God, respect for the prophets and respect of prayers.

Even though some of his answers were predictable and sounded as off a brochure, Isa provided us with an interesting perspective on the issues of multiculturalism and religious interactions in Antakya. His perspective was informed by his Sunni Muslim background and his affiliation with AKADIM. His opinions and point of view regarding religious interactions contrasted that of the opinions that we heard from the members of the religious minorities.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Weekend Ever?


After taking a 10 hour-long excruciating overnight bus ride to Seljuk from Istanbul, we were dropped off on a random country road in the middle of the city. We were exhausted, confused, and lost. A rooster ran past us and I was almost certain that the bus driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, we found someone who directed us to where the bus station was just up the road. We made it to the station and were picked up by one of the hostel workers. Once we got to the hostel we settled in and washed up in preparation for our trip to Ephesus and got ready to go. Once we arrived to Ephesus, we were ambushed with shop owners selling hats, GENUINE fake watches, and handbags outside the entrance. We made it past the mayhem and entered the gates. Once we started walking along a path we came across a huge theater that I like to imagine gladiators used to fight in. I immediately felt as if I were being transported back in time to Ancient Greece. The architecture surrounding us in the entire region of Ephesus is very foreign to what we have seen to be traditionally Turkish. My favorite structure was the library, which is the image you typically see when you see photos of Ephesus. The fact that the structure was still strong and together amazed me. It was beautifully designed and I couldn’t help but take tons of pictures of it. It was amazing to see the remnants of Alexander the Great and his successors and the structures that they built in the region. After touring around Ephesus, we went back to hostel, which was amazing on its own. We all were hot from walking around in the sun and jumped in the pool enjoying the rest of our day while meeting new people.


Today we woke up early to catch a ferry over to Samos, Greece. Our hostel owner, Atilla, decided on coming with us because he was in desperate need of a vacation. The ferry ride from Kusadasi to Samos was about 2 hours long, but I just listened to music the entire ride and took a short nap. Once we arrived to Samos, the beauty of the island blew me away. For some reason, I find beauty in the way Greek buildings are structured on top of hills and over the water. We made plans to take a bus over to a beach that was supposed to have sand, but we missed the bus and Atilla took us to a near by pebble beach instead. The beach was gorgeous!!! The Aegean Sea was crystal clear and beautiful! We spent the rest of our day just relaxing at the beach in Samos and swimming in the water.


I woke up this morning with so much excitement because this was the day that we were going to Pamukkale. We got a packaged deal of transportation to Pamukkale, free lunch, and a tour guide for only 80 TL. On the 3 hour long bus ride to Pamukkale and informed our tour guide. He set us up with a really nice deal of a paragliding experience for 100 TL. In my opinion 100 TL was worth the experience because it was something that I would probably never experience again. Those of us who were going paragliding were dropped off in a random park that was actually really beautiful. We waited for about 40 minutes for some guy to pick us up and take us to the top of a very very VERY high mountain. We were up about 200 meters but it looked much higher in my opinion. As we were getting strapped up, I had to keep reminding myself that this would be one of the best experiences of my life and that I would regret it if I let fear take over and backed out. My guide instructed to get ready to start running to get the parachute going. Three steps into my run we were swept up into the air by the wind. I couldn’t believe I was floating in mid air! It was an out of body experience seeing how high we were. As we flew over the landscape, I realized that I was getting one of the best views of Pamukkale that anyone could ask for. It was an out of body experience and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. After we landed, our paragliding guide took us into Pamukkale and gave us a tour of the ruins of Hierapolis. He also showed us a lot of the changes to the landscape and architecture that were due to the earthquakes because Pamukkale was on a major fault line. After giving us a tour around the ruins, he gave us free time in which we decided on going over to the hot springs and getting in the water. The structure and landscape of Pamukkale was something I have never seen before and was amazing. All of the whiteness of the stones and land surrounding us made it seem like we were in a snowy mountain. We then headed back to the hostel to make back in time for iftar. It was our last night at the hostel with the amazing staff and we all joined together for dinner and great conversation with some of the wonderful people that we met there.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cameras, Tourism, and Authenticity: A Weekend in Seljuk

If I take a step back at most of the famous sites that we visit and actually take note of how the other tourists and I interact with the area, I tend to notice how many cameras there are, and how many pictures are being taken. After having spent some time exploring Turkey with our group, I notice how much I—and, I think, others too—rely on their cameras when visiting other places. I find that if I don’t go somewhere with my camera, or miss out on taking a picture of some fantastic site, then I feel like I didn’t fully see it or experience it. It is as if I need the picture of the place to prove that I have, in fact, been there. I’ve been struggling with the purpose of having a camera here—why I feel like it’s necessary to take pictures in the first place, and whether the camera acts as a barrier between myself and what I’m seeing. Going to Ephesus, Samos, Pamukkale, and Sirince reminded me again of this problem.

Ephesus is the kind of site that—despite being a history major—I have difficulty connecting with. Even if I know some of the history behind the place, it was hard to put it in context while walking around the ruins. It’s especially hard for me to register in my mind that this place was real and was home to more than 250,000 people in its heyday more than 2,000 years ago. Afterwards, however, we went to Mary’s House, which is above Ephesus, where Mary lived in her later years and where John the Baptist took care of her. I was really glad I went to see this—what was most striking to me was the long wall of white pieces of paper representing prayers to Mary (see picture below). Muslims and Christians alike visited the site, and attached prayers and messages to the wall. It was the perfect barzakh of religious minorities and majorities, of tourism and pilgrimage. To me, this wall was pure, emotional, interactive art without the trappings of a museum. I loved it.

Later on in our trip, we went to see Pamukkale, or the “cotton castles”, which is basically this giant white steps containing pools of “healing” water. It is the only site in the world like it, so I was very glad that I got to see it and feel it, although it was quite touristy. We were able to wade into some of the pools for free and the water felt wonderful, especially with the heat. The next day, we visited Sirince, a well-known wine village only a ways from Seljuc. We strolled around the market area and tasted some of the wine. There were two interesting moments here that I tried to capture on camera. One was when a woman in a headscarf was riding past on a motorbike. (It always fascinates me to see women in headscarves interacting with technology—I love the contrast between the new and the old tradition of the hijab.) The other moment was riding in the shuttle back to Seljuk and our hostel. The small van was cramped with local commuters and as we rode through the mountains at sunset. I tried to capture this simultaneously communal and beautiful moment, but found it difficult.

Despite trying to capture these moments with my camera—the wall at Mary’s house, the woman on the motorbike, the shuttle—I do feel like regardless of any connection I had with them, taking a picture of the scene at hand sets me up as a spectator just as much as it does at the touristic sites like Pamukkale and Ephesus. It palpitates the distance between the subject and the observer and decreases any chance of active participation. As a result, I’ve been trying to justify my use of my camera at the sites we go to. Because I know that using my camera will only make me feel further from the place itself, and accentuate the gulf of my ignorance even more.

This our trip-within-a-trip to Ephesus etc.—and this study abroad in general—has really got me puzzling over tourism in Turkey and my role in this scheme as a student tourist. Without realizing it, I chose to take a trip this past weekend to a pretty touristy place; not to mention, Istanbul and other sites (Cappadocia comes to mind) as we have experienced it has been full of tourism. And yet, though this issue of tourism has really colored our entire experience here more than anything else, I feel like there has not been a forum for much discussion about it. I’ll state some festering and fledgling thoughts here.

I think that first of all, as student tourists, it’s important to note that we become part of the east-west identity and power crisis ourselves. This is unavoidable. The mere act of coming here to Istanbul, to Turkey, includes automatically placing ourselves in the role of the spectator as the tourist, and, in a way, orientalizing the place. We see—as Pamuk referenced—the power dynamic of the Westerner expecting to be pleased, and the Turk struggling to please. I see this every day here. The dynamic was especially highlighted by a sign I saw in the Australian-Turkish hostel we stayed at in Seljuk in the bathroom: “Feel free to flush your loo paper down our Aussie plumbing!”.

Another interesting tidbit is the interaction specifically among Western women and Turkish vendors. These vendors were especially aggressive directly outside of the Ephesus site. Many of them invited some of us inside their shops to give us “gifts”; Maggie ended up with nearly 10 evil eye pins on her shirt. Many called out asking us to come inside and take a look at their various goods. What strikes me when I see this interaction is the way that the men and women respond to one another. I wonder at the way that the Turkish men vendors treat me, and whether the same men would treat covered women the same way. The way that the vendors can be conniving and tricky reminds me of the master-slave dynamic—the western woman, who has the power and money in the interaction, is undermined by the lesser, but more savvy, Turkish man. I’d like to observe more what exactly the interaction is between the vendors and covered women.

Finally I want to say a bit about the idea of authenticity. We referenced this in our discussion and comparison of the various semas that we went to see. My opinion of this issue has been evolving during our time here, and, after a discussion today with a couple other students, have decided that this quest for authenticity is somewhat misguided. When we are automatically placed in the observer’s position, I wonder if any interaction can be seen as truly “authentic”, if we are taking authentic to mean an experience that evokes Turkish culture. As the unavoidably clueless observer, we can’t know what the benchmark for “authentic” is—so I think we should really just let go of this notion of authenticity and treat every interaction as a valuable reflection of this culture. Even tourism, as I have demonstrated, can be a valuable reflection.

So, while we should not necessarily question the reality of our interactions here, and while as students in this program we have had access to a much wider berth of experience and people than without it, I think we should keep in mind the dynamic of being here for six weeks as student tourists. We are temporary guests here, and are educationally oriented observers. This changes the way that we see the sites that we choose to visit, although it doesn’t make any of our experiences any less “authentic”.

I would love to hear other people’s opinions in the class if they have any thoughts on these topics.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Time for Adventure!

Thursday August 4, 2011

After a full day of class and packing, many of us were gearing up for the adventures the weekend was sure to bring. After stuffing my duffel bag to the brim (I’m really working on it, but I have issues traveling light), nine of us made our way around 9:30pm to the Pamukkale office in Etiler. While waiting for the shuttle that would take us to the main otogar, the two young men in the office diligently went through our names, tried their best to pronounce them, and asked where we were all from. Luckily, around the time when our Turkish and their English was exhausted, the shuttle arrived. Once on board, Naomi and I made two more friends, Uğur and ORHAN! You just can’t make this stuff up. Uğur, more proficient in English, told us he was studying to be an architect in Istanbul, and that they were both going on a small vacation to Izmir for the weekend. At the otogar about 30 minutes later, they kindly helped us find the correct bus. The “technobuswas full of surprises including seats that reclined A LOT, wifi internet, ice cream, snacks, and personal TVs. Unfortunately sleep was still hard to come by that night and we had to be ready for a full day the next morning!

Friday August 5, 2011

At approximately 7:30am (much earlier than scheduled), I was awoken by the bus attendant who told me that we had arrived in Selçuk. After being shooed off the bus, rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we were surprised to find that we were not at a bus station at all, but on the side of what looked like a small town road, featuring nothing but one small kiosk and a rooster to remind us how early it was. After some miming attempts and inquiries about the location of the otogar, we started off in one direction down the road, towards what we assumed this passersby had been pointing at. When we didn’t see any of the landmarks the hostel had enumerated on its website, we knew we were in the wrong place, but after phoning Atilla’s Getaway for help with the only one of our phones that still had battery, we managed to find the main bus station. After a mere few minutes, a Turkish man by the unexpected name of Carlos (we later find out that this is not his real name, but a nickname bestowed by a Spaniard who had once stayed at the hostel) picked us up in his van and took us to our destination.

You know when places look superb in pictures, and then before you get there you get nervous that it’s probably too good to be true? This was not at all the case with our hostel. When I walked in and saw the pool, I was suddenly overcome with the desire I had had for a month now to just jump into a body of water and escape the heat. There with many interesting lounging options surrounding the water and a Venus de Milo statue/fountain combination adorning the side (photo #1).

As our rooms were not ready for us yet, we put our bags in the office and slept for a bit in the nomadic-themed rest areas that were lined with Turkish carpets and comfy pillows (photo #2).

While waiting we were served breakfast (included!) with the option of French toast, omelettes, menemen, fruit, and more. Once given the OK, six of us moved our things into the “dormitory style” room and three of us went to a room in the bungalow. We could already tell that we would enjoy the staff’s warm Turkish-Australian hospitality. Once settled, we took the hostel’s free shuttle back to the otogar to catch a minibus to Ephesus! After making our way through the touristy shops to the ticket counter and were dismayed to learn that the student discount of 10TL only applied to Turkish students, and our Boğaziçi IDs carried no weight here. I couldn’t help but think that we were, at that moment, simply being written off because we spoke American English, and that perhaps if we had made a greater effort to do the transaction entirely in Turkish, things would have gone differently.

Putting it behind us, we made our way to the heart of the great archeological site that is Ephesus. One could tell immediately by the architecture and columns that we were in the remnants of a great Greek city. In fact, when it later became a Roman city, it was for a time the second largest of the Roman Empire behind Rome (also one of the seven wonders of the ancient world)! Considering it dates back to about 550 BC, I was amazed at how well restoration efforts had gone and how much of it was still intact, though only an estimated 15% has been excavated. We took several touristy gladiator pictures, considering Epheus is home to a large gladiator’s graveyard, and posed like statues on pedestals that were once great columns. Walking around, I was amazed by the fact that the Gospel of John may have been written there, that he may have walked on the very stones I found myself stumbling over. We were experiencing ancient Christian history firsthand. After reading and learning so much about Islam in Turkey, it was almost startling to be in a place with so much Christian significance. From here we visited the iconic and breathtakingly beautiful library of Celsus, an atlal of the city’s former splendor (photo #3).

After a quick lunch and some light shopping, Maggie, Catherine, Ellie, and I decided we wanted to go to the House of the Virgin Mary, a fair distance away by taxi. The drive up the mountain was a beautiful way to see Selçuk and the surrounding area. Our driver told us that this was the busiest season for tourists, but he preferred it infinitely to the hustle and bustle and above all, traffic, of Istanbul. My favorite part was when he said that the place he was driving us to (even if he was not a Christian) “had lots of power.” He said that a few years ago the mountain had been engulfed in a fire, but the inferno had stopped in a 5 meter perimeter around Mary’s house. He went on to explain that Turkish women (even those who are Muslim) who are having difficulty getting pregnant have gone to Mary’s house to get holy water and have thereafter been able to bear children. It seems ironic in many ways, but what a great story!

The peaceful feeling at the site was infectious. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take pictures inside the house, but I loved seeing the altar with the Mary statue and the one spot of preserved fresco where one could see her face! There were little scarves at the entrance meant to be used to cover up cleavage, and I was reminded of the coverings distributed at the Blue Mosque and many of the others we’ve been to. I bought a candle, said a prayer and lit it (photo #4), and then made my way down to the fountains to fill up a bottle of holy water for my family. There was also an incredibly beautiful wall set up where visitors could write prayers on little slips of paper and tie them together. This visit was incredibly special for me personally; it was so special to have been able to visit the site where Mary is said to have lived out her final days.

Saturday August 6, 2011

Unfortunately, since the one ferry to Samos left so early in the morning, we were unable to enjoy another lovely breakfast at the hostel, but the thought of being on a Greek island in the next couple of hours pretty much overshadowed that. At the Kuşadası port, we got some peynirli tost for breakfast and waters, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for them in Euros later on. Surprisingly, the regulations on security are much different from those in the US and we were allowed through the metal detectors with both our huge waters (definitely over 3oz!) and our sandwiches. On the ferry, determined to be able to see the island as it approached, some of us found room on the top deck sitting on the compartment where they store life jackets. I can’t help but laugh because we would have been shooed away for safety reasons in the States, for sure.

Once officially in Greece, the increased prevalence of English speakers in relation to Turkey , even on a small island, was shocking. We didn’t speak a word of Greek, but somehow got along fine all day, even at the restaurant later on! Seeing as the shuttle to the nice sand beach had just left and there wouldn’t be another for quite some time, we decided to trek to the nearest pebble beach. From a distance the rounded stones looked like sand, but once on the beach it becomes apparent how different it is because you wobble everywhere just trying to walk down and into the water. In an incredible stroke of luck, we were able to be there all day, with umbrellas, chairs, and free beverages for only 3€!

The water was incredible—so blue and clear (Photo #5). It was unreal to be floating in the Aegean for the day! Samos was, in ancient times, a rich and powerful city state, and the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras, which I thought was neat. From 1533 to 1821, it was a part of the Ottoman Empire, and while most Samians abandoned the island, others hid in the mountains from the pirates that moved through the Mediterranean during those times.

At one point we saw some school-aged children put their backpacks down and run in for a swim (not a bad option for an after class activity!). We saw that they had swum out to the rocks and were jumping off, so we followed and boldly did the same! It was all quite the experience.

At lunch we had some delicious gyros, Greek salads, and calamari, and Atilla (who had accompanied us for the day), told us about his tattoo and the meaning of religion for him. His tattoo is the signature of Suleiman the magnificent, along with the Arabic bismillah, meaning “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful.” He said that in Australia (where he was born), being raised a Muslim and being a Turk was cool and different, so he went through the motions and practices, but now he feels that he has learned how to live his life and be a good person, so he doesn’t so much need those tools anymore, but rather practices a more informal, personal form of Islam.

The staff dynamics at the hostel were really very interesting to watch. Atilla’s family had emigrated to Australia when he was young, but they all eventually moved back and he opened this hostel with his brother and his “cousin” on the Turkish side of the family in 2001. The hostel itself was a cool mix of Oriental (Turkey) and more Western (Australian influence) with both flags pinned up side by side around the pool area, and people speaking in both languages all day long.

After the full day, we ended up exhausted as usual, and as I was journaling in my bed I realized that the Kilim in our room featured 4 of the hidden female figures of “the goddess” that the rug shop owner in Konya had pointed out to us a few weekends before!

Sunday August 7, 2011

On our 3 hour bus ride to Pamukkale, our tour guide told us a little bit of information about Turkey in general, and the area we were driving through, in particular. He said that it is hard to get women in rural areas to attend school, even though the government had opened a school every couple villages and transportation to them is free. Perhaps this is due to the continued prevalence of the idea Turam refers to as the “sacred duty of womanhood and motherhood” in her book Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Turam 118).

Once there we immediately stopped for a buffet lunch that was included in our price for the day and Ayan, Caitlin, Gina and I made arrangements to go paragliding! While the rest of the group went straight to their tour of the main portion of Pamukkale, we made our way up a mountain and strapped into parachutes! It ended up being such a great decision and an incredible, unforgettable experience. What a superb way to see all the ruins of Hierapolis and the many travertines (Photo #6)!

I expected to be more frightened, but was honestly more concerned about taking pictures and documenting the experience than I was about the fact that after jogging forward a bit my feet were no longer touching the ground! My guide was great and took me over all the historical and natural wonders of Pamukkale and we made a perfect landing about 10-15 minutes later in a field where Gina had just landed a few moments earlier. We made it (Photo #7)!

Following this adventure, we met up with the other girls in Pamukkale and went to explore the pools ourselves. It was extremely crowded with tourists, but I was just baffled as to how such an alien landscape was possible on earth! The squishy calcium carbonate and these milky pools have been bathed in for thousands of years due to its supposed healing powers.

The bus ride back was extremely draining because we had been so hot all day, but we remedied the situation by jumping into the pool when we arrived back at Atilla’s. We freshened up, had dinner, and spent a great night playing cards, pool, and meeting other hostel guests who had come from all over the world!

Monday August 8, 2011

On Monday we had to pack up and vacate the room by 10:30am, though our bus wasn’t leaving Selçuk until 11:30 that night. They graciously let us stick around for a couple of hours, lounge by the pool, have lunch, and read. We met an interesting woman, American I believe, who had worked as a journalist all over northern Africa. She asked us about our studies here and told us a bit about the adventures she had had in her lifetime so far as well. She asked us what we thought about the headscarf ban in Turkey and entreated us to somehow fight for its abolishment because these girls were being “stripped of their dignity” and the act of removing the headscarf made them “ineligible for marriage.” I am unsure whether this is true in all cases, and though I am in favor of the secular nature of the Turkish state in principle, I do see how the ban forces some girls to choose between peace with their families and education. It certainly seems that dialogue about this debate goes on all over Turkey as well as all over the world

We soon grew restless and decided to head to Şirince, a local wine village, while we still had time. The minibus from Selçuk dropped us off in what seemed like a very sleepy part of town. Vendors in shops here were MUCH less pushy than those in Istanbul. Trying to sell things to us seemed like an afterthought, as everyone was engaged in their own daily lives and interactions. It was refreshing to not be made to feel so out of place, even though we were surprisingly some of the very few tourists in the area that afternoon. We ended up tasting different types of local fruit wine; I had never tasted anything like it before! Photo #8 was taken from a bridge over a vineyard that with the best view in town, but nothing to gain, commercially, from the prime real estate save an olive oil factory.

At dinner we were given a piece of ephemera (a menu with a history of Şirince on a back page). Apparently the town was settled when Ephesus was abandoned, sometime in the 15th century. The story told in the menu said that the village was settled by freed Greek slaves who named the village Çirkince (or “ugly” in Turkish) to discourage others from following them. Şirince (meaning, more aptly,  “Pleasant”) later replaced the name.

This amusing story ameliorated an otherwise disastrous dinner. We were each served about 20 minutes apart, the vegetarian dish had meat in it, and the miming some of us had used to order yielded unexpected results. In the end, we were all too tired and hungry to care too much, and made our way back to the minibus just as the sun was setting over the hills. I confess I expected to see many more covered women on this trip than I did, at least in Şirince, but there were very few as a rule, pretty much everywhere we took day trips to.

Back at the hostel we said our final goodbyes, signed the hotel guestbook (of sorts), drew in our hometowns on the world map, and left for the otogar one last time. Overnight bus rides are not fun, but our trip definitely was!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weekend Blog

Day 1: Ephesus, Turkey

We left Istanbul on an overnight bus that took us to Atilla’s Getaway in Selçuk, Turkey. We arrived in Selçuk and were extremely concerned initially because the bus had stopped on the side of the road and the attendant had motioned to us that we had arrived to our destination and the nine of us should get off. However, leaving us on the side of the road wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. When he sensed our confusion, he pointed which direction we should begin walking and there was a bus station that happened to be up the road. Our hostel, Atilla’s Getaway sent a car and we were able to drop off our stuff in our bungalow before we headed to see the ruins and the Virgin Mary’s house at Ephesus.

The path to the entrance of Ephesus was lined with souvenir shops similar to those that you would see in the grand bazaar in Istanbul. At the gate we noticed that there was a discount for students that made the entrance fee half as expensive. When we inquired about it, the women in the booth said to us that it was only for students enrolled in a Turkish University. When we showed them our Bogazici student ID’s they changed their story and further qualified it was for Turkish students enrolled in Turkish Universities. Although it made me angry that they were not going to honor the posted sign and it was up to the discretion of the cashier to grant the discount, my conversation later with a Kurdish Turk from an Eastern region of Turkey said that oftentimes they even deny that discount to anyone of Kurdish descent.

My anger over feeling “turked”, or taken advantage of faded when we were looking

Library of Celsus at Ephesus

at the ruins of the Library of Celsus and amphitheater that have survived since the second century AD. The word ruin really misrepresents how much of the library’s façade and amphitheater still stands. The detailing and grandeur is still admired by modern tourists. And even a remnant of the Temple of

Library of Celsus at Ephesus

Artemis, built in 550 BC and considered one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, is survived by a single column. Ephesus is the site believed to be where the Apostle John brought “The Mama of the Jesus” and where she resided until she was assumed into heaven. Some scholars even believe that John’s gospel was written in Efes in the end of the first century.

Amphitheater at Ephesus


The city has historically had a large cultural impact. Under the Greco-Roman Empire the Temple of Artemis and the gladiator fights in the amphitheater were the main attractions. During the Byzantine Empire, the Basilica of St. John was built and the city drew lots of followers because it’s proximity to the port and the significance to Christians. Benedict XVI and John Paul II visited the House of the Virgin Mary; the former being the current Pope and the latter being his predecessor. Both preformed mass outside of the shrine and coincidentally, both visits occurred within one day of each other, which happens to be my birthday!

The predominantly Christian community differs from the overwhelming Muslim communities in Istanbul, Bursa, Cappadocia, Konya in that it is very common to see Muslim women covered, yet it was rare in Ephesus.

Day 2: Samos, Greece

What is considered modest on the beaches of Greece was even more revealing than in any part of Turkey we have traveled—and even most parts of the United States.


We spent the day sampling Greek cuisine/wine, cliff jumping and swimming in the Aegean. The blending of nationalities on the beach was a reminder of how bodies of water facilitate the spread of people, ideas, and goods. As we read in our Mediterranean passages and defined in the Qur’an, this space called a barzakh is never an extreme separation, between two things, where two things meet. For instance, the mixture of sweet and salty water, or the present life and that which is to come.

In the port town of Samos it is clear that most of the local’s income is made off of the summer tourists. Their menus are transcribed into many languages in order to better accommodate their foreign costumers. When we got back to Atilla’s we were able to speak to a guest and had an interesting discussion about her past. While she was dating a member of the Morrocan royal family she had to be covered when they were in public together. Before that, she had been a photojournalist who had worked all over the world. Currently she lives a nomadic life with her two children who were named after her favorite Turkish environmental lawyer and a Persian Queen. We discussed Turkey’s ban on religious articles such as the Hijab on professors and government workers. She told us that it was difficult for women who were from the most conservative families because if they went uncovered publicly, it made you ineligible for marriage. Although the Turkish Republic has been secular since Ataturk was in power, restrictions like these have been seen as anti-religion rather than pro-equality. We also spent time with Atilla who is of Turkish decent but spent much of his childhood in Australia. He had a tattoo that was a symbol of the Ottoman Empire mixed with an Arabic scripture verse from the Qur’an. Although culturally a Turkish Muslim, he is not a practicing Muslim. Rather, he contradicts his devout tattoo and describes himself as humanistic—someone who understands and believes in the good of humanity. He says that all people of all religions can be classified as a follower of humanism there are no divisive elements to his spirituality.

Day 3: Pamukkale, Turkey
At this point in our travels we’re beginning to feel the effects of the traveling and the prolonged sun exposure. In other words, we were dehydrated, slightly burnt, and sleep deprived. Therefore, when the travel guide mentioned that our commute would be 6+ hours for only 4 hours of excursion time in Pamukkale; I was a little hesitant. However, my desire to see the “cotton castles” or walls of huge calcium deposits in the end won over my exhaustion. The word Pamuk, meaning cotton, was not entirely unfamiliar, as we’ve seen it as the last name of the author of The White Castle and Istanbul.

We learned from our walk through the ruins that this had been the ancient city of Hierapolis. The name Hierapolis name has a Greek origin and the control over the area was sought throughout different dynasties because it’s strategic military position and natural hot springs. The area is directly above a fault line, and on average ten to fifteen mild earthquakes occur everyday. The major earthquakes that occur approximately every twenty years have destroyed many of the buildings.


However, the most unique aspect of Pamukkale is the white calcium deposit cliffs. There is a segment that you are able to walk on so long as you didn’t wear you shoes. Taking off our shoes is not done out of respect, as it is at mosques, but because the cliffs are very fragile and shoes wear down the calcium. They told us that you couldn’t walk on all parts of the cliffs because the top layer would crunch like potato chips. In the part you could walk on there were little hot mineral pools that flowed from the hot spring source. Over the source of the spring was a pool that legend says was initially designed during the Greco-Roman period by Marc Antony as a wedding gift for Cleopatra.

Pool of Cleopatra

The water is said to have a therapeutic powers and all are welcome to walk through the small pools. In ancient times, the sick would travel and try to heal their ailments. Because it attracted the sick there are an inordinate amount of graves outside the city walls of those who traveled to the pools but died before they could return to their place of origin.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Weekend Travels

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Our journey began tonight as we headed to the Pamukkale bus stop to catch a shuttle to our overnight bus to Seljuk. Packing, getting ready to leave, and getting to the bus stop, however, was the easy part of preparing for our weekend trip. Getting the bus tickets themselves earlier this week proved much more difficult with the language barrier and computer system limitations at the bus’ office. I would say, and I think most would agree with me, that the language barrier has been the biggest struggle and what most problems we face are caused by. This barrier also brings many funny stories and laughter though, like in our interactions with two employees at the bus station as we waited for the shuttle and they tried to pronounce our names and recognize where we’re from. One thing we have continuously noticed and that I saw here as well is Turkish hospitality. The people are all so kind and always trying to help: when 9 of us arrived at the bus station and there weren’t enough seats for everyone, one of the employees went outside to pick up and carry in a bench so that all of us could sit inside.

Friday, August 5th, 2011

After being dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere at about 7:00 am this morning, we luckily found our way to the main bus stop where someone from our hostel came to pick us up and take us to our home base for the next 3 days. The hostel, Atilla’s Getaway, is nicer than I could have ever imagined with a staff that is like family to each other and befriends everyone who stays here. The man who founded it in 2001, Atilla, is an Australian Turk. His parents are Turkish and from Turkey but he was born in Australia and lived there until he was 9 (I think, I’m not sure I remember exactly) when they moved back to Turkey. He runs the hostel with his brother Alex, their Turkish friend Carlos (who picked us up at the bus stop) who is a brother to them as well, a couple Turkish women from the village, a friend visiting from Australia for the summer, and some others behind the scenes that we didn’t have much interaction with.

I visited Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary just a month ago when I arrived to Turkey early to travel with my mom and her cousin, so when the group went Naomi and I stayed behind at the hostel. There are people staying here from all over: England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, France… all who have come to vacation in this small town in Turkey to see one of the wonders of the ancient world: the Roman ruins in Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary, and the calcium deposits in Pamukkale. It amazes me how these sites, near such a small town, can bring together so many different people and nationalities from all over the world.

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Today we took about a 2-hour ferry ride to the Greek Island Samos. Going through security and passport control at the ports showed how much more lax it is here than in the states. While our bags went through the x-ray machine, we walked through the metal detectors holding large bottles of water and eating sandwiches. Samos was beautiful and on the way there it became clear how easy it was for different cultures in the Mediterranean to meet and for the area to develop its own character of “The Mediterranean” because the countries and islands are so close to one another. It was awesome how after just a 2-hour boat trip where we never lost sight of land we were in a different country altogether.

Atilla accompanied us on this day trip to help us get around and the most interesting part of the day for me was our conversation with him at lunch. He has a tattoo on his chest that we learned was the signature of Suleyman the Magnificent, and how each sultan had their own different signature style unique to them. On religion, Atilla spoke to us about how he is Muslim and would fast and pray etc when he was younger, but now thinks that as long as your beliefs and intentions are true, that’s all that matters. Ataturk was also mentioned—Atilla told us he thinks he was great and made Turkey what it is today, and had he lived another ten years Turkey would be in a completely different place and be one of the European super powers.

Also, a huge difference noted between being on this small Greek island and back in Turkey is that many more people spoke English in Samos. We didn’t come into contact with anyone who didn’t and not having a language barrier certainly made things run much more smoothly than they would have.

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

A 3-hour bus ride to Pamukkale started our day full of adventure. Though the drive was long, it was worth it as soon as we reached our destination and first saw that small part of the countryside covered in what looked like pure white snow.  The calcium deposits and the “terraces” where the shallow pools of water are were incredible to witness. The calcium combined with the constantly flowing water made the rock surface we walked on when visiting the pools slippery and more than once I was lucky to not have fallen. Prior to our visiting the pools, however, Maria, Gina, Ayan, and I parted from the group to go paragliding. It was an amazing experience and only when I saw Pamukkale and the calcium deposits from way up in the air looking down was it clear that the white was not snow; from the aerial view I could see the pools of water amidst the white surface. The only downside to our big adventure up in the sky was that we were separated from the rest of the group and didn’t get the full-guided tour through Pamukkale afterwards because we were in a hurry.  The man who took us paragliding, however, did lead us back down to meet up with everyone again and gave us a short tour himself (he is also a geologist). He pointed out parts of the land where earthquakes had occurred and where there was a fault line. At one of these parts, there was a clear split in the rock caused by the earthquake and it was really cool being able to physically see a mark an earthquake that happened a very long time ago (he failed to mention when) left on the land.

Once we had reunited with the group and visited the terrace pools on our own, we all got back on the bus for the long journey home. Tired, hot, dusty, and sticky, it was not a pleasant drive but we happily made it back in time for dinner together at the hostel. After dinner and showers we socialized outside with Atilla and other hostel guests. It was great and a lot of fun making new friends from other parts of the world. We exchanged thoughts and perspectives about our different countries and experiences. At the same time as we were talking about all these differences and comparisons, we were linked and connected by the fact that we were all in Turkey at the same place and time, wanting to see all the same things.

The academic highlight of the night was, again, in conversation with Atilla. I was standing nearby but having another conversation when Naomi, who had been speaking with him, pulled me up to them and asked Atilla to repeat what he had just said. I was excited and surprised when he said the words “when the salt water mixes with the sweet” in reference to something in the Quran. Not understanding our reaction to his words, we then explained to him how we had been talking about the barzakh in one of our classes and couldn’t believe he had said those exact words referring to it.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Our last day of the weekend was a much calmer one. After packing up and moving out of the room we hung out around the hostel for a while before taking a local bus to the wine village Sirince in the evening. I thought this would be a touristy area but was surprised when the small bus we took was full of locals, who seemed to communicate with the driver as if they knew him, and when, after climbing to the top of a small mountain, we got out and the streets were nearly empty. Perhaps it just wasn’t the big “touristy” time of day… Either way, the mountainous landscape and quiet streets were a nice change of scenery. For dinner we ate at a restaurant where we could look out on the countryside and read a pamphlet someone had handed us that included some history on the town, starting with explaining how the oldest building there had been used as a warning tower for surrounding villages during the same time Ephesus was occupied. After dinner we made our way back to the hostel to gather our things and head to the bus stop where we boarded our second overnight bus back to Istanbul.

Overall, the trip was packed full of activities and interactions. I found it interesting that in this small town setting, where I thought one would see much more Islamic influence than in the big city, I saw less. The hostel was right next to a mosque and we heard the call to prayer each night and one of the women working there wore a scarf to cover her hair, but that was it. Atilla, though he wore the stamp of Suleyman the Magnificent on his chest clearly indicating that the Ottoman Empire had great significance to him, did not practice Islam in his adulthood, something I thought to be an interesting combination. Another observation I made that re-enforced the same one I’ve made in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey is the large number of Turkish flags I see everywhere. I feel like there is literally not a street I pass that doesn’t have one somewhere, whether hanging on a pole or inside a window. This portrays a great sense of nationalism and pride the Turkish people have in their country, and that I find endearing.

Caitlin Porter

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Today, Ashley and I went to the Rumeli Fort and to the Atatürk Museum.  The ventures we took to get to these places especially stuck out.  It often involved walking aimlessly, taking extra long routes, and taking chances and hoping for the best.  Throughout all of these journeys, Atatürk’s face and the Turkish flag appeared countless times.  I was challenged to rethink these images during dinner, when through a window and on the wall of another restaurant I saw a red snapshot of Che Guevara: I know this was not my first time seeing Che in this country.  When I see Che, I am always reminded of my best friend’s Cuban father who rebuke’s the fame and attention given to Che because he believes Che accomplished nothing (especially nothing good).  I happened to respect Che because he fought for what he believed in, though I hold my opinion shyly considering he is a controversial figure and my friend’s father would avidly disapprove.  Nonetheless, I think Turks appreciate leaders such as Atatürk because they enjoy the camaraderie and patriotism that erupts with a great leader.  They also came out of a crisis (World War I) where they could still firmly and proudly grasp their identity.  Atatürk’s ability to define Turkey during a time of crisis, fight for it, and develop it is one of the reasons I believe he stays so important to his nation.

Today’s outings made me question the state of patriotism in America after one hundred years of being founded.  Today we went to Sultanahment to visit the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi to visit the 1453 panorama, and to the bagcilar region to get acquainted with a middle-class “Black Muslim” neighborhood.  The Turkish patriotism everywhere made me wonder if such patriotism was unique to the country, since it was only recently founded.  I think Lincoln is as important to the states as Atatürk is to Turkey because Lincoln re-founded American.  In this way, Atatürk re-found and unified the Turkic people.  Of course America was in a much different place than Turkey is now after one hundred years of its establishment.  While we know an event like the civil war in America was groundbreaking for making America what it is today, it is hard to feel an attachment to that event as if it were responsible for current conditions.  In Turkey, however, it feels as though events that took place centuries ago are still a part of the identity of the people.  And after one hundred years of being founded as a nation, instead of fighting a civil war, Turkish people are unified in their love for Atatürk.

Turkey’s pro-Islamic identity sets an example for tolerance to the EU at a time when anti-Islamist sentiments are threatening the safety of people all over the world.  Today was a reading day, and I found that, as was a theme expressed in an NY Times article sent out before the program started, Turkey plays a progressive and essential role in the conversation about Islam and the state.  While different parts of the world are rioting and bombing over fear of Islam, Turkey has been able to successfully and peacefully balance the two.  As the world continues to fear Islam, Turkey will continually play a key role in the dialogue and motion on the topic.  In an article on the killings of “Islamist threats” by Syrian troops, Erdogan was quoted as saying that Turkey would not stand to watch the violence much longer.  Someone from the Syrian government than slyly commented on the kind of violence Turkic troops have been a part of in the past.  Turkey is so experienced in this dialogue and in these situations that it was almost inevitable for Erdogan to be quoted.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment