Sunday, October 2, 2011

Small Child and the Remnants of the Lost Ark- Istanbul, Turkey

Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul
The door opens and I’m greeted by bubbles of warmth, wide eyes, and an excited hug from Birgu, who is no doubt wondering who this strange foreigner her daughter has brought home is. I am welcomed so graciously, and with such excitement, it almost catches me off-guard.
I’m continually amazed by the hospitality and kindness Middle Easterners extend towards their guests. I used to think I was meeting the exception, but I'm starting to believe it’s the rule.

Birgu joyfully helps me with my luggage, her only seeming desire to make me comfortable. As we open my suitcase, which was hurriedly packed and stuffed to the brim, clothes and objects fly in every direction. I'd tell you that it was as if we had released a couple jack in the boxes, but the truth is it was more like "Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark" when the Germans finally opened their "treasure," and the evil spirits locked inside flew around and turned everyone to dust.

Birgu can't help herself, she starts laughing and pointing at the remnants of the Lost Ark, in utter disbelief that someone could live in such a manner.
Having finished laughing. (an hour later) she gathers all my laundry, and sets about to wash it. That evening my clothes are neatly stacked, ironed, and folded. I'm amazed, I didn't know such things were possible.

Praise be to Allah! Clean clothes!!

The atmosphere in the house is very warm. It is clear how much Mother and daughter love each other. They tease, cajole, and just plain have fun. Laughter is the house's primary sound, and being in the midst of it warms the heart.
As I have my messy tendencies, I am referred to as "The Small Child."
"You pack like Small Child," or "You eat like Small Child," are perhaps the only phrases Birgu knows in English. But we have fun with it.
A morsel of food from my fork drops onto the table, leaving a reddish stain on the cloth right in front of me. Birgu looks at me, trying to contain a laugh while pretending to look angry.
I point at the girl to my left,“It was Gamze,” I state, one hand over the Bible the other raised, “She eats like Small Child.”
And Birgu whacks Gamze with her cloth napkin, and we erupt with laughter. I blamed Gamze for everything, and seemingly got away with it every time. The only downside of this was the one time it actually was Gamze’s fault, she successfully convinced Birgu I was the culpable party. 
Me, Gamze, Birgu

Asian Istanbul
Though Istanbul is far cleaner than other Middle Eastern cities, it still lags far behind the West. The air is often dense with pollution, and trash and plastics lie strewn about. The cars and trucks here are generally old, and  spew particles visible to the naked eye. I cough a little walking around.
Little girls playing near Gamze's house

The Asian side of Istanbul is less wealthy than the European, and the poorer the family, the more likely they are to be religious. On this hot Ramadan afternoon, in the lower class neighborhood at the base of the hill, you'll find ten times the number of women wearing full burkahs than you will open restaurants. We walk twenty minutes down the road before we find a place to eat, with only 25% of the menu available.

A view downhill of the Istanbul neighborhood
Gamze is a secularist, and not a fan of the new Turkish President who is moving her country more towards Islam on a daily basis. He receives much of his support from the neighborhood we walk through.

There are no tourists here, only me walking with Gamze, drawing the usual odd look or stare. However, I never feel threatened.
Every few hours, the loud calls for prayer ring from the mosques, including 5 AM, which is far too early for my taste. At night, the minatrets are lit with pale green light to celebrate Ramadan.
Mosque lit in green for Ramadan
I spend a few days with them. Gamze and Birgu are sad to see me go, but it's time. While Istanbul is not my favorite city, the people are great. They'll treat you well no matter who you are, whether senior citizen, or just Small Child.
Gamze, The Small Child, and her cousin with his new girlfriend

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