Friday, September 28, 2012

10. A Future Day Trip.

On our to-do list: The Princes' Islands.

They're only ~3 miles from Istanbul's southern shores, but we hear that they feel like a different world. As opposed to the city's chaos and traffic, these nine islands (only four of which you can visit) are filled with forests, secluded coves, and bicycle paths. And we like the idea that they're relatively off the tourist radar!

We can take a boat over and explore on foot, which is appealing. The islands are car free, and supposedly it's hard to get lost because you can always follow one of the phaetons.

     phaeton \ˈfā-ə-tən\
     A light, open, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage.

During the Byzantine era, princes, deposed monarchs, and other royals and public figures were exiled to the islands. However, in the second part of the 19th century--when regular steamboat service started from Istanbul--they became popular and wealthy Greeks, Armenians, and Jews started to build exquisite Victorian summer homes and settle on the islands.

Apparently, the islands still offer a glimpse of this ethnic cultural mix, although these days the Turkish character is prevailing. Luckily the majority of the fine, wooden Victorian cottages still exist, making a horse-drawn carriage or a bicycle or hiking tour sound like a nice idea.

First, a trip tomorrow back to the Grand Bazaar for our next rug. Then an upcoming trip to Ankara--the capital of Turkey (complete with an Oktoberfest party at the German embassy there). Stay tuned! xx

Thursday, September 27, 2012

09. Raincoats and Modesty.

It was still pretty hot, in the 90+ Fahrenheit range, when we arrived in Istanbul in early August. Even in the heat of summer, I was fully expecting the more devout Muslim women to be wearing headscarves of some sort. (Although, truth is that we see a higher percentage of women who don't cover their heads at all.) What was surprising, especially in the noted hot weather, was how many women were wearing what looked to me like very lightweight, full-length raincoats. This deserved some investigating.

They're called jilbāb or jilbaab. These long or loose-fitted coats / garments, which are fashionably styled more often than not by the way, are believed to fulfill the Quranic demand for a hijab. I discovered that jilbāb is also known as jubbah or manteauwhich is the French word for coat or mantle.

     hi·jab  [hih-jahb, -jab]
     1. a traditional scarf worn by Muslim women 

        to cover the hair and neck and sometimes
        the face.
     2. the traditional dress code of Muslim women, 
        calling for the covering of the entire body 
        except the face, hands, and feet: to observe 
        the hijab.

Okay. Mystery solved on the raincoats. Now, here are some basics I nicked straight from the BBC on headscarves -->

Potent Symbol
The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

Conservative Choice 
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf. 

The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. 

There have been attempts to ban both the niqab and burka in some European countries.

Popular Styles 
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.

The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders. 

Covering Up 
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.

The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

I read several articles and interviews about how the Quran teaches modesty through actions and dress code, and also how women who wear the hijab feel about the tradition. I especially liked the thoughts of a former Catholic woman who converted to Islam who said that since she used to wear a veil to go to church, her hijab made her feel as though she was in church every day—that the church was within her and around her. She went on to say that wearing her hijab makes her feel humbled, empowered, respected, loved, looked up tothat people concentrate on her and not on how she looks. Based on those sentiments, I would score Modesty 1 : Intolerance 0. xx

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

08. Who is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk?

The founder of the Turkish Republic and its first President stands as a towering figure of the 20th Century. Among the great leaders of history, few have achieved so much in so short a period, transformed the life of a nation as decisively, and given such profound inspiration to the world at large.

How can a girl not be curious about him? He's referenced everywhere here, the airport and other major facilities are named after him, and his photos hang in nearly every establishment.

Mustafa Kemal - Senior Captain circa 1907.
Plus, check out that cool mustache! He's not what you think of when you think Turkish, right? Exactly. The Turks are like that—much less swarthy than you'd imagine!

There is A LOT to know, so I'll do my best to just whet your appetite with a few facts and a couple of bad memes. For example, he's credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey. And his surname, Atatürk (meaning 'Father of the Turks'), was granted to him exclusively in 1934 by the Turkish Parliament.

Mustafa Kemal emerged as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915. He was a soldier first, not a statesman. Nevertheless, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919, and in 1923 he became 1st Leader of the Republican People's Party leading his nation to full independence. He put an end to the antiquated Ottoman dynasty whose era had lasted more than six centuries—and established a new government more truly aligned with his nation's will.

He began developing social reforms very early and kept notes in his personal journal where he wrote about issues like abolishing the veiling of women and the integration of women into the outside world. A clue on how he was planning to tackle the issue was written in his journal in November 1915, years before he came into power: 

    "The social change can come by (1) educating
     capable mothers who are knowledgeable about
     life; (2) giving freedom to women; (3) a man
     can change his morals, thoughts, and feelings
     by leading a common life with a woman; as
     there is an inborn tendency towards the
     attraction of mutual affection."

With the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the new government adapted what they observed in Western countries to the needs of the Turkish nation. Atatürk capitalized on his reputation as an efficient military leader and spent 15 years instituting political, economic, and social reforms. He took power back from the sheiks and dervishes and gave the people a democratic, secular government.

    "Religion is a matter of conscience. One is always
     free to act according to the will of one's
     conscience. We (as a nation) are respectful of 

     religion. It is not our intention to curtail
of worship, but rather to ensure that 
     matters of religion and those of the state do not 
     become intertwined."

His achievements in Turkey are extraordinary. Especially surprising to me for a man in that time and place in history. He's admired as a pioneer of national liberation, and the world considers him a foremost peacemaker who upheld the principles of humanism and the vision of a united humanity. A 1981 White House statement, issued on the occasion of The Atatürk Centennial, paid homage to him as "a great leader in times of war and peace." In 1933 when he said, "I look to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship," I think he really, really meant it! xx

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

07. Kitty Cats Everywhere.

All the creatures on the earth, and all the birds that fly with wings, are communities like you. Quran, 6:38

Muslims are taught through the Quran that all animals should be treated with respect and be well cared for. No animal fighting allowed. No ill treatment tolerated. The permitted guidelines (Halal) for slaughter is to do so in such a way that it limits the amount of pain the animal will endure. In other words, Islam teaches that all animals are sentient beings. This is why wandering cats are widely accepted as part of the culture here—although I find their homelessness to be sad and distracting.

I learned these things as I was researching the very large feral cat population in Istanbul. You'll see kitties lounging around every cobblestone corner, seemingly content (albeit a bit scruffy and sometimes thin) to scrounge among the throngs of merchants and tourists.

Cute examples:

Tabby napping on a hotel stoop.
Tuxedo watching over a carpet merchant's wares.

At the top of my to-do list is calling a veterinary clinic in a nearby province that will hopefully help me trap the young kitties outside our apartment so they can be vetted and sterilized and returned to our neighborhood. They are wild but sweet natured, and I'd like to keep their number at ~half a dozen versus the 20 or 30 we could otherwise be seeing by the spring!

Meet two of my favorites:

Apparently, thanks to Muhammad, it's permissible to keep cats but it is not permissible to buy or sell them; they may be given as gifts or given away. That's because of the hadith: "I asked Jaabir about the price of dogs and cats. He said, ‘The Prophet forbade that.’"

     ha·dith [hah-deeth]

     A traditional account of things said or done 
     by Muhammad or his companions.

One legend tells of a cat that saved the Prophet from almost certain death from a snake bite. Another tells of a cat, Muezza, that lived with Muhammad in Damascus. Muhammad was off to prayer and saw that Muezza had fallen asleep on the flowing sleeve of his garment. Out of respect for Muezza, Muhammad cut away the sleeve rather than disturb his sleeping companion.

Because of that story, cats are allowed to enter all mosques freely—or so I've read. I'm going to look into that. Stories such as this were brought from the Holy Land to Europe by crusaders from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Britain. The cat became associated with Islam, and this is one reason why the Catholic Church was so successful in its efforts to equate cat ownership with heresy, and later with evil. Ugh. Stupid religion villainizing kitties—how dare they!

Here's hoping I'm successful in my spay/neuter intervention with Callie and Cattail and the rest of the İstinye felines. If not me, then who?! xx

Monday, September 24, 2012

06. Crash Course in Carpets.

This weekend, we attended an invitation-only (see: small) carpet education event at Robert College. Robert College is actually a high-achieving American high school. 100 percent of students there go on to university. Last year, 180 students graduated—with 70% going to secondary schools here in Turkey, the other 30% going to schools abroad such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, MIT, McGill, Edinburgh, and Wellesley. It's an impressive, 65-acre, gated campus in the Arnavutköy neighborhood of Istanbul.

Buying Turkish carpets can be especially daunting—and potentially outrageous—considering the legitimate concerns of rug scamboogery! But the team from Adnan & Hasan gave us helpful hints and guidance, and the weather was picture perfect for an outdoor display.

Hasan and team, showing us examples of
an antique prayer rug (L) and a new prayer rug (R).
Both were outstanding.

We learned about the basic types. Kilim, Soumak, Jijim, Zili, and   pile/ knotted carpets. First, they are all undoubtedly beautiful works of art whether or not you prefer particular colors or patterns. Second, you find out pretty quickly what you're drawn toward.

For the record, we like Soumak. Unfortunately, they're not a reversible style like a standard flat-weave Kilim whose pattern is almost identical front to back. Soumak are not just woven, wool on wool in our case, but are also then hand embroidered on top. The embroidery stitching is tied off and left on the back. Not only is this technique gorgeous, it is supremely durable.

Out of hundreds of carpets brought to the event, Mike and I both fell in love with the following two right away. They were the only ones like them available at the show—so we bought them before the lecture even started. Yay!

We're told that Soumak weaving is the absolute highest quality, far superior to anything that is machine-made. This is because—like most other hand-woven rugs from Turkey and the surrounding area—Soumaks are woven with skills that have been passed down the family line, from generation to generation. It also means that every Soumak rug is unique. No two are alike.

Our first choice.
We immediately loved the detail and colors.

Upon first look, they seem the same.
But the dyes and patterns are definitely different.

We like the basic Kilim style because they're flat and easy to layer, and pack. And apparently we like the Soumak style for its sexy good looks. We have a third we're waiting to purchase upon its arrival from village unknown (we'll get that information when we go to the shop to pick it up). I can see how this rug habit could become addicting if one isn't careful. xx

Saturday, September 22, 2012

05. Shnacky Shnacks!

Arguably one of Turkey's most well-known street snacks is simit. Think crunchy sesame bagel. Meh. But I will choose it any day over the tavuk göğsüchicken and milk pudding! This pudding was apparently one of the most famous delicacies served to the sultans in the Topkapı Palace, and is considered a 'signature' dish of Turkey. Blech! And don't get me started about their drink of choice: Ayran. It's a mix of yogurt and water and salt. Similar to buttermilk, and downright awful IMHO.

Simit = fast food bread.
(And often eaten as a breakfast food with jam or yogurt.)

As Americans, we can purchase all sorts of food stuffs from shops and kiosks at our local malls. Pretzels, ice cream, candy. Here, you can get most of that as wellplus corn. Yep, cups of golden niblets to snack on while you're walking around shopping! Topping choices range from Mexican chili to curry, sour cream and onion to BBQ, lemon to tom yom. Weird, right?! 

Magic corn.
With your choice of random toppings.

On the streets, instead of NYC-style dirt water dogs, you can buy ears of roasted corn. Good ol' maize is definitely a popular snack food in Turkey. I will say it's unfortunate then that their love of corn doesn't translate into good movie-going buckets of popcorn. Instead, their cinema 'corns are dry-as-a-bone airpopped with no 'fake butter' dispenser in sight. Very disappointing.

Roasted corn on İstiklâl Caddesi.

They're also big on baked potato kiosks. And waffle kiosks. (Both with strange-to-us topping choices.) All of this food shock makes me long for a simple Auntie Anne's buttery pretzel and large lemonade! xx

p.s. It was pointed out that I didn't mention the apparently delicious roasted chestnuts. That's because I haven't eaten them. But I can report that chestnut ice cream doesn't come close to being as tasty as the pistachio!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

04. The Gypsies Who Stole My Heart.

Some of you will remember me previously posting on FB about the Gypsy children. That was a unique experience that affected me for several days. (And I have since learned that the Turkish word for Gypsy is çingene and has a negative connotation. UNICEF refers to them as Roma.) This past week, I ran across a photo on Pinterest that reminded me of those kids and made me want to learn more about their culture in general.

Similar looking kids.
Dark hair bleached by the sun, cocoa skin, and light eyes.
(I looked for the photog info on this pic and,
unfortunately, couldn't find it.)

We had spent the morning having breakfast along the Bosphorus with our friends Adrien and Barbora and some of their extended family visiting from their hometown in Washington State. Afterward, we all took the long, pretty stroll together near the water's edge back to where we parked. (I should mention that parking is as crazy as the driving here!)

I'd never personally had an experience with Roma. But on this particular day, as we were getting into our Land Cruiser, the most adorable children asking for money mobbed us. They were insistent that we please give them just one Turkish lira. They actually climbed all over the vehicleclinging like so many insects and still beggingas we were pulling out into the street. They were the cutest kids on the planet; I wanted to throw them all in the car and take them home with us. Where, undoubtedly, they would've tied us up and robbed the house blind!

They were feral, intriguing, and gorgeous. I've never been witness to anything quite so charming and heartbreaking. We didn't give them anything, but they stole my heart. They were like wild kittens; I wanted to scoop them up and love them.

Since then, Mike has seen the same pack begging on the highway far from our first encounter. And we've been told stories about folks giving them money only to watch them run off to a secluded spot where adults sit collecting their booty. Such a crazy way to grow up.

I've done a little research regarding the ~500k to 2.5M Roma population in Turkey. I learned that the 30s saw a huge arrival from Bulgaria here—and that many are sadly still living in 1930s conditions. They are marginalized, the victims of discrimination, and often keep their distance from government involvement which means healthcare and education are lacking.

The poverty of Roma children, like other poor children, is probably compounded by large family size, and they're usually expected to work—often on the street, like we saw—in order to earn income for their families.

From a UNICEF site:

A child’s early years are crucial in terms of physical and psychosocial development. Everything comes together in this short space of time–emotions are shaped, an understanding of the world is formed, the foundations of language are laid, and the most significant proportion of brain development takes place. Young children develop to the best of their potential when they have strong, caring relationships with adults right from the start and when they grow up in conditions that are safe, healthy, and offer them rich opportunities to learn. Sadly, too many Roma children miss out on such opportunities, and this puts them at a disadvantage from the beginning.

I told you they were little heartbreakers. xx

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

03. Ennui. And Exceptionalism.

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things—air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky—all things tending toward the eternal or what we imagine of it. ~Cesare Pavese

Six weeks felt like an eternity for an extrovert like me to take crawling out from under the fog of general apathy associated with relocating to a foreign country. But today, at the International Women of Istanbul event, I was introduced to the U.S. Consul General's wife. She pleasantly exclaimed that she couldn't believe my ennui had passed so quickly. Those were encouraging words!

     en·nui [ahn-wee, ahn-wee; Fr. ahN-nwee]
     a feeling of utter weariness and discontent

Yep, ennui. That sums it up. Mrs. Kilner went on to tell me that the State Department actually has a class about the topic. I think I'm going to recommend that the DOJ also provide such a class. I
t would be very practical, not to mention reassuring, to learn a few basic coping skills to use when settling into life in an unfamiliar culture.

In other important news, I noted that it's very European to wear short hair. I had been feeling like odd man out living among the Turkish women with their beautiful, long tresses. Today, I was able to feel stylish and like I fit in someplace. Yay!

I also snagged the latest issue of Time-Out Istanbul. In English! Turkey is known as one of the very few European countries that never adopted English as their second world language. Why is that?

Apparently, despite Turkey’s openness to the world and global commercial activities, English proficiency is lacking partially as a structural issue—the elimination of English in the compulsory school curriculum. Some suggest a lack of interest due to the effort required to learn a world language properly. (Oy, I can relate to that sentiment.) This lack of English speaking ability also has to do with nationalism and its attendant navel-gazing and exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism?! And here I thought that was a solely American trait. Well, every day's a school day: Other countries are as patriotic and self-absorbed as my own. People are people are people—and when I'm not finding that truth to be a scary prospect, I find it to be comforting. xx

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

02. Traffic. And a Call to Prayer.

Ha! Traffic and praying should probably go hand in hand in Istanbul. At least, if you know what's good for you.

The first thing you notice when you leave the airport upon arrival is the mass of humanity on the roadways. You aren't overwhelmed just by the volume, but the lack of rules and courtesy. Driving in Istanbul makes London, NYC, and D.C. look easy. Almost lazy! When I say they are maniacal drivers here, I am hardly exaggerating. This warm and friendly culture takes on a new persona once it gets behind the wheel! I think traffic cops only care about accidents—anything else goes. Shoulders are more than likely going to be used to create an extra lane; there are only inches between you and all sides, at all times; and there is no such thing as ‘right of way.’

Now, this isn't what you might think of as India crazy. These aren't dirt roads with bicycles, pedestrians, rickshaws, ox and carts, and elephants mixed in with the cars. This is seemingly civilized, paved highways, with every-person-for-themselves drivers and no law enforcement in sight!

Other traffic-related things to note: Lots of carpooling here. I rarely see a vehicle with less than four passengers, oftentimes more. This could be because gas is ~$9/gallon in Istanbul—but more likely it's a cultural, group-outing, family-oriented byproduct. Also, car seats are not required nor used. We see children of all ages happily bouncing around vehicles like we used to do back in the 60s and 70s. It’s not uncommon to see a papa driving with a baby or wee toddler on his lap even. Shocking. Refreshing maybe. But always frightening!

The second big thing you notice here is the call to prayer. No one can prepare a person for how unfamiliar and beautiful it is to be jolted from routine by the muezzin reciting the azan at five prescribed times of the day. The purpose of this call—from every mosque—is the intention to bring to the mind of every believer and non-believer the substance of Islamic belief.

I haven’t read up on this religion. I don’t have a burning desire. But I do find the custom to be gorgeous, soothing, ethereal. And I must also report that it’s unfortunate, human acclimation that I don’t notice it as much now that we’ve been here for several weeks.

I'm attaching a safe link with an example below. I chose this clip mostly for the old photography. Many of you are Muslim friends of mine and will be very familiar! But many more of you probably haven't heard this in person, and I'd ask that you imagine hearing it faintly across your neighborhood—reminding you to keep the faith. xx

Adhan / Azan / A Call to Prayer

Monday, September 17, 2012

01. The Lay of the Land.

So, here we are: Six weeks in Istanbul. And here is my first blog post. I've been torn about whether to blog or just post on Facebook. But it's hard to keep track of the story on FB—intermingled with all my social and political posts, photos of cute animals, and the random memes ...

A smattering of iPhone photos have been downloaded, but mostly they are uninspired because we've suffered from jet lag and a general malaise. Moving abroad is so exciting, but the practicality is that it takes awhile—a good long while apparently—to actually get settled in and own the new adventure!

First of all, it takes a few trips around the city/ neighborhood to even comprehend what you're looking at; are these houses the usual style? How is the architecture the same or different from what you're used to or even from other parts of the area? What is modest versus lower income or higher income? These insights take time! 

First snap, on the ride from the airport to our neighborhood.
Mosque minarets replace church steeples as points of beauty
and interest.
Second snap, noting the patriotic tendency here to fly
the crescent and star!
A welcomed sight in a foreign land.
Hills. Everywhere.
And we're fortunate to be in the part of the city
with many open, green spaces.

Part of our neighborhood. At twilight.
We will be happy here!

My goal is to post often. Happily noting things of interest as we make this country our home over the next three years. If you have questions, please ask. I'll do my best to let you know how things are going here in the land where East meets West! xx