Saturday, August 10, 2013

If You Fall Behind, You Stay Behind

This wonderful lesson emphasized by our own Ian Grace finally got to me on my last day here in Istanbul. I am one of those unfortunate souls who stayed an extra day. Essentially, I fell and stayed behind. And even while I wither away during this abandonment, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time than to muse on all the wonderful things we did here in Istanbul. Because this is the final post on this blog (tear), I feel the need to do a summary, to share with everyone the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

Shaheen’s Lessons Learned in Turkey (on behalf of all Global Scholars):

7. Chai is the bridge between worlds (besides the actual bridge between the East & West here)
The Turks love giving out tea. For breakfast, after lunch, inside of their shop in the Grand Bazaar, it’s everywhere. Even today, I got free chai while waiting for my to-go order. I personally don’t like tea that much, but I’ve adapted pretty well. All it takes is adding about four sugar cubes.

6. Keep a serious look on your face when passing by tourist places
            Turkish vendors love to entice you into their store by any means. For example, I have been called “chocolate,” “ India,” “Chinese,” and “Japanese” in order to get my attention. The last two make me wonder how sane those Turkish men were (I’m half Polish, half Indian, and no-Pacific East Asian). I learned that by looking very serious with a slight grimace prevents them from really harassing you. In fact, I think they got a little intimidated.

5. Bus Tours are extremely tiring
Gah. Adorableness.
            I’m sure you’ve heard the adventures we had on our bus tour. I love the fact that we saw a lot of sites, but getting up that morning at 4:30 tends to add a layer of sleepiness throughout the entire thing. It’s even worse when your tour guide makes jokes about how tired we all are.

4.5. CATS ARE EVERYWHERE. And they are so cute.

4. Baklava is heaven enclosed in fila dough and drenched in divine syrup
            This one probably only applies to me, but Baklava is the world’s best creation. I can eat it for breakfast, as a snack between breakfast and lunch, for lunch, as a mid-afternoon snack, and for dessert (I did do that… almost everyday). Just to put my love for baklava into something more relatable, I spent about 150 liras on it. About a third of that is a present going home, but the rest I ate lovingly.

3. Get on top of a hill or a building and just look around
          Every single time I had to climb up a hill or go up a bunch of steps, I knew it would be worth it. The views are spectacular (could even be better than baklava). One of my favorite places was on top of the Galata Tower. I had to elbow and push my way around it, but it was truly incredible. Istanbul’s buildings and mosques are picturesque, especially when there is water running right through the city casting gorgeous reflections. Can you tell how amazing I think it is? That’s because it is. No question.

A truly great picture taken in Pamukkale (credit to Tristan)

2. Turkey feels just like home
            I mean that more in the weather sense. Our bus tour led us to the Middle of Nowhere, Turkey (actually called Ephesus and Pamukkale), which had the most beautiful weather I could’ve imagined. Hot. Arid. Sweltering. Made me feel right at home (home being Arizona). I actually enjoyed seeing other people experience my kind of weather. I finally found a place where my ability to conserve water was appreciated, so that the rest of them could finish off my water bottle. I was quite happy.

1. If you fall behind, you stay behind.
            This encompasses all the woes of large group transportation. Our Vatican experience in Rome was one of the worst, but our airplane fiasco definitely wins. Side note: Local Turkish airlines are rather incompetent in so far that they had to individually write out each of our tickets, causing us to board our plane at the final call. Talk about a high stress adventure. We never actually left anyone behind (that would be just awful), but this was a common phrase to be repeated yet never implemented.

We had our bumps, our mountains, and our valleys on this trip. As much as we stressed or fell asleep in class, we all loved every second of this trip. I even feel lucky that I got to snatch a couple of extra seconds here on my last day in an empty dorm hall. I hope to see you again soon, baklava. I mean Istanbul. 

Friday, August 9, 2013


Bayramınız Kutlu!! Happy Holidays!
Today is the second day of Şeker Bayramı. Şeker Bayramı, otherwise known as “Sugar Feast,” “Feast of the Breaking of the Fast,” or by its Arabic name Eid- ul Fitr, is the celebration of the end of Ramadan and the thirty days of fasting. It is a three-day holiday that –this year- started yesterday, Thursday, August 8th.
Symbol of Virgin Mary found at The
House of Virgen Mary near Ephesus, Turkey. 
Growing up Catholic and in Latin American where Roman Catholics are a clear majority, I was not widely exposed to other religions nor was it easy for me to meet people from different religious backgrounds, especially one as unique and geographically orientated as Islam. Hence, throughout my time in Turkey I have been intrigued by the Islamic faith, its beliefs and traditions. Fortunately for me, I spent the beginning of this holiday with a Turkish young woman who, besides being our tour guide and educating the GloSchos about the wonders of Ephesus, was nice enough to talk to me about how Şeker Bayramı is celebrated in Turkey.
As I mentioned previously, Şeker Bayramı is a three-day holiday celebrating the end of fasting. For these three days, schools, government offices, banks and private businesses are closed (the reason why the GloSchos got to go to Pamukkale and Ephesus). During the festivities, sweets and desserts are prepared and cherished, and in order to make these mouth-watering, lovely pieces of sugary heaven there is a day called Arife where women go to the market and go shopping in order to buy everything needed for the feast. Once the official holiday begins, Turkish people attend prayer services, clean their houses, dress up and meet with their families in order to feast and pray with gratitude.
Pretty flowers!
Another important tradition of Şeker Bayramı is visiting relatives and friends. Many people travel from the big cities to the countryside to visit their family. This means that there is more traffic and airports are more crowded on the days leading up to the first day of the holiday, which is considered to be the most important day out of the three. The Global Scholars experienced how crowded airports get before the Sugar Feast when we were at the airport on our way to Izmir. Security lines were very long and people were hurried trying to get to their destination before the first day of the holiday. In addition to traveling long distances to meet up with their relatives, Turks also go to the graveyard and pay their respects to the loves one who passed away. They take flowers and other ornaments, sometimes even food. Driving on the highway from Ephesus to the airport, I could see the graveyards along the highway and how decorated they were thanks to the flowers that relatives took for the Şeker Bayramı. The tour guide also taught me how important it is to honor the elderly during these days. It is common for younger generations to visit the older ones and greet them in a special way. Young people have to kiss their elders on the right hand and then place it on their forehead as a sign of respect.
One of the most peculiar things I learned from my conversation with the tour guide was how in some very traditional Turkish neighborhoods, children go from house to house wishing everyone a “happy bayram.” In return, children get candy. After hearing this, I was instantly reminded of Halloween.
Being in Turkey for three weeks has definitely helped me open my mind to new religions and cultures. I am able to see things under a different light, or at least think outside my Catholic box. I look forward to go out into the city today and witness the second day of celebration in Istanbul.   
Sunset at Kusadasi

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Touristy" isn't always a bad thing

With the end of Ramazan approaching, the Global Scholars packed up and headed to Izmir/Ephesus for the holiday.  Along the way there, we made a pit stop to the ancient ruins of Hierapolis to take in the sights, take a dip in the calcium-fortified pools, and otherwise explore the destination popular with locals and foreigners alike.  

After an informative tour on the part of our guide, giving us a glimpse into the greatness of what Hierapolis once was, we all spilt up to undertake our own adventures. Many headed for a dip in the water or to relax in the café, but 5 others and myself decided spontaneously to go paragliding. After our tour guide placed a few calls, an adventure guide quickly pulled up, ready to take us on our journey. As we barreled up the mountain in a creaky van, we nervously giggled to one another, and our paraguides eagerly asked us, “ready to fly?!”
Everyone geared up for their chance to glide, donning knee pads, helmets, and jumpsuits. One by one I watched my friends take to the skies, gliding over the Pamukkine and the ruins. Since there were only 5 guides, I was left behind, waiting until my friends had completed their flight. While I waited, I ended up striking conversation with the owner of the paragliding company, who not only owned a paragliding business, but was a rafting and hiking guide, geologist, and self-proclaimed “accommodation expert.” He was also fluent in English, Japanese, and Turkish and spent his days guiding tourists on various nature adventures.

Through this interaction, and the touristy nature of Hierapolis itself, the globalization that Turkey is experiencing was particularly evident. The paragliding owner went out of his way to learn two languages that were not his mother tongue in order to capitalize on the droves of tourists that come to Hierapolis and the surrounding area. Also the pools, cafes, and gift shops added to the historical city exemplify how the local Turks cater to foreigners in order to garner a profit. While all these add-ons provided conveniences for myself and other tourists, it did take away from the integrity of the ancient sights. However in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Hierapolis, even with the touristy nature of it all. If such businesses weren’t added to the area, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to paraglide after all.

Ephesus, the House of Mary, and the Temple of Artemis!

Our second day on our Izmir trip brought the GloSchos to an amazing set of historic sites: the ancient city of Ephesus, home to the ancient Greeks and then the ancient Romans, the alleged House of Mary, which has been accepted as truth by the Catholic Church, and the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Nike, goddess of victory
In visiting Ephesus and its traditional Roman architecture and design, I am reminded once again of the vastness of the ancient Roman Empire in its heyday. In Rome, the ancient ruins that we visited were old and beautiful but also had a fairly Christian feel to it; many temples became churches and a lot of the old architecture like the Colosseum and the ruins of Ostia Antica were more social/political centered than pagan religion centered (at least to me; considering that Rome is a very Christian city as opposed to the towns around Ephesus, I may have been influenced!). In Ephesus, however, I saw a greater prevalence of paganism, with sculptures of Nike, the goddess of victory (did you see the check?), the face of Medusa on top of the Library of Celsus, and the Heracles gate separating the outside animal area from the city center. Even better, Ephesus was a city dedicated to Artemis, goddess of fertility and hunting, whose temple was a few kilometres away from the center of Ephesus.

View of the city center through the Heracles Gate
At the temple of Artemis, our tour guide mentioned that this may be the only place in the world where one can see a pagan temple, a church, and a mosque with the naked eye. Having just come from visiting the House of Mary and seeing the reverence that many people, Christian or not, gave to the place, and the wall of prayers that I contributed to despite being a Hindu, I felt a bit of hope stir in me. I had said in a journal how strange it had felt to hear the mosque's call to prayer during a Greek Orthodox service, because I wouldn't want to hear another faith's service during my own prayer. While seeing the three religions together in one area did not completely erase my doubt on the troubles of being in close quarters with people of different beliefs (I mean, the temple of Artemis burned down because some dude named Herostratus thought immortality was more important...), I do believe in the gradually increasing acceptance of peoples from different walks of life in our generation today.

View from our hotel room in Kusadasi of the sunset
As our study abroad in Turkey winds down, I have seen a mixture of faiths, classes, and ethnicities walking around this country. I find their relatively peaceful coexistence (government/police notwithstanding) to be a nod towards what we can hope the world will be in the future.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Calcium, Doctor Fish, and Hierapolis

Ancient ruins at Pamukkale

Since arriving in Turkey 2 ½ weeks ago, my view of Turkey has been limited to the busy, hustle-and-bustle metropolis life of Istanbul. Today, my view has been expanded as the global scholars have departed Istanbul for an overnight getaway to the province of Izmir.
We began our day before the sun rose at 4:30 am.  Despite some hiccups, we all managed to make our 6:45 flight time from Ataturk to Izmir safely.  Once we touched down in Izmir, we were quickly ushered into a coach bus for a three-hour ride to our next destination: Pamukkale Hierapolis.
As we rode along the southwestern region of Turkey, the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. Mountains and fields lined the roads around us on either side, and I was finally feeling that Mediterranean vibe and weather typically associated with Turkey. 
Our tour guide enlightened us on the basic history and demographics of modern-day Turkey as we rode.  One thing she pointed out that was very eye-opening is the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity throughout Turkey.  She told us that the Eastern half of Turkey suffered from mostly infertile land making unemployment very high in this area.  Those who are able will often leave these regions in the hopes they will have better job-opportunity in cities like Istanbul.  This information coincides with Turkey’s status as a “developing” nation more so than what I’ve seen of Istanbul thus far.
Calcified pools in Pamukkale
When we finally arrived at the ancient city of Pamukkale Hierapolis, we were greeted with a white mountain covered with mineral deposits.  Our tour guide led us through the ancient city before allowing us to explore the city on our own for a couple hours. Members of the group took advantage of the opportunity to hike the mountain in search of an old monastery; some considered getting the Doctor Fish massages, while others decided to have the experience of hang-gliding over the mountains.  I decided to visit the calcified pools on the mountain – a decision I do not regret.  On top of the mountain, visitors take their shoes off and are then allowed to explore the pools at their leisure.  The built up calcium deposits make magnificent walls on the mountain, with the water trickling down into the pools. The water was cool and refreshing as we wade in knee deep. 

After being allowed to explore on our own, we met back up at the bus for a three-hour ride to where we’d be spending the night – Kusadasi, a city near Ephesus.  Our hotel had a waterfront view of the Aegean Sea which some of us took immediate advantage of.  Watching the sun set while wading in the temperate water was the perfect way to end this busy day. Seeing Turkey outside of Istanbul has broaden all of our perspectives of Turkey and has better equipped us to understand what development means in relation to Turkey.  
Hotel view of sunset over the Aegean Sea in Kusadasi