Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A medley of sorts....

This is an assortment of excerpts from my journal of Turkey. It's very lengthy... but covers an assortment of experiences from the trip.. for those thinking "enough already", sorry.. for those who find it interesting, thanks..

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Turkish Cats and Dogs are so…. Chill. They wander E-v-e-r-y W-h-e-r-e. As a person terrified of dogs.... Dogs- they aren’t scary at all. When I first arrived I felt so terrified to see dogs everywhere. In America stray dogs look as though they could go either way- bite you or lick you. Turkish dogs are interested in neither. They lay around and relax. Play with their children in the park. There is almost a mutual respect. People and animals. Same with cats. They abound everywhere. They seem content. I would have felt sorry for them with my american notions that they belong in homes. Who’s to say? They are not people, why is it an open and shut case they belong in homes? They too had families and friends so surprisingly easy to distinguish. There is one cat. A beautiful gray and white cat with long lashy green eyes. She sits right by the door of the blue mosque. I never saw her go in . Curled up right by the entrance. I’ve never seen her elsewhere. Subhanallah. I think these animals look happy.

Musjid Boy:

We ran into a boy. Continuously. Pale in complexion and small in height. He stalks the blue musjid. Each day he is there. Armed with postcards and Istanbul books. He appears the head of a “sales gang” of even younger boys who spend their lives here. Since we have come he approaches us daily, begging us to purchase just one book. Finally Kashif, as a joke, gave him a penny, he grew more eager, “no… no penny… book…buy my book…” Message not taken. Plan misfired. Guilt acquired. Next day, same thing. Blank- did not remember us.... We talked to him.

Ismael. 15. Parents in Anatolia. We watched him as he tried to find sales. I feel so sad looking at him. I feel sad when I see the lady in hijab, age clearly upon her face, dragging heavy bags with her wares she sat selling since dawn on the street. Every so often she rests her load. Then picks them off and struggles onward. He will be like her one day…. Where are their retirement plans? Work will never end.

We didn’t want to buy a book…. aware they are selling for higher authorities. How much do they keep? We gave him a dollar. Buy some icecream we told him… He seemed to not know what to do with himself. By a tiny, minute act of kindness. He was so visibly touched that it left us both feeling desolate. These kids job is to harass us, tourists….. and usually they are ignored or cursed. A smile and a simple gesture to buy an ice cream cone brought him to tears..

How does it feel to be cast aside every day? And return because you have no choice? Day after Day.

Little One

At McDonald’s one evening a boy. No more than 8 or 9 years old saunters in. Maroon sweater with holes. Blue pants and black shoes. “Dressed for Success” if he was a student at my school. He is small, but has the gait of one trying to be older. He leans on the counter, one hand holding red roses, the other some liras. He slides them across the table. He collects his fries. Walks to a side table. Puts a napkin, spreads it on the table, places another on his lap. Gingerly he spreads his fries on the table, smoothing the napkin out.

The staff cares for him. I see them glance at him. Slip him food. He sits by himself.

What is wrong in this world that you, young child must eat fries by yourself at 10:30pm. Where are your parents? Where do you go? Why aren’t you in school? Its all relative isn’t it? Where ever you go there is someone worse off than you. A need to pause and be grateful... Appreciate your life.

That same evening I saw another boy, about 17. Ran straight up to me. As though he expressly wished to share his joy with me. He held a kitten the size of a cotton ball in his arms. Exuding joy as he showed her to me. Through the roof- he must have just found her. He will probably raise her and it will bring him joy. He chooses to be happy.

CARPET MAN

Ahhhh carpet sellers! Carpets and Kilims. Where to begin on a profession that requires volumes to do it justice. They abound- e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e- literally. You think I jest. The salesmen.. they are big, small, tall, short, light, dark, happy, grim, carefree, desperate… but I don’t know if I trust a single one of them.

The most interesting part is the characters, and their different approaches. There was Irfan and Fahad the two brothers on the corner by the Blue Mosque. Each wore pinstriped suits and accessorizing smiles. There was Zia on the other corner, who at the end told Kashif understandingly “I understand why you didn’t buy a rug- your wife didn’t let you”…. And then there was White Store man with the big belly and the good prices. And of course Creepy Guy who paced the darkened store for three hours waiting for us to return.

The initial approach is always the same. They invite you in with a big smile. They are “your friend” and you drink Turkish tea. Then they vary. But you know, every single one of them gave us their BEST price! So low they barely make a profit actually. “For you my friend- I make a good price.” “I could make double on it, but it is a gift for you.”

You are never in control. The Sales Man is always right.... The best… is when they quote you a price. Minutes later, realizing you like it, they hike it up and act like you’re the one whose crazy.... They turn their stores over for you. Each one bringing out twenty to thirty rugs AT MINIMUM, their henchman huffing and puffing as they lay them out, and continue the stream.

Space goes upwards in Turkey so most stores are two to four stories high but very small on each floor. This really bothered me at carpet stores, and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do it again. They lead you upstairs through narrow winding stairs to show you more and more rug. Each floor you ascend they begin to pressure you more. On one occasion we both became anxious at the demeanor of our salesmen who looked a bit maniacal in their desire to sell us something…anything…

Safety

I didn’t want to go. The media and news had scared me half to death about going abroad. Maybe there is validity in it. But I never felt safer in my life. In America I’m always scared. In the back of my mind I am thinking of the millions of things that can happen. But Istanbul, at least Old Istanbul… was peaceful. Even its ghettos did not inspire fear. No one hated Americans. They all said the same thing “We dislike the American government’s policies, not its people.”

Shopping

If ever an emotional roller coaster existed, it was on my experiences shopping in Turkey. I started off completely psyched to do the bargain hunting in Istanbul but got frightened by the carpet sellers. But by the end I rebounded and loved every minute of my shoppers high at the grand bazaar.

Oh the bazaars. The Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth of 1,000’s of stores, stands and cafes. The first mall in the world. They try to lure you in their stores. If you so much as accidentally glance at one of them, its over. Even if you don’t…its over.

And they love Pakistan. We thought it was a gimmick but they really do. They have bumper stickers on their doors saying I love Pakistan. Pakistan Zindabad. Once you tell them you are from Pakistan…. They smile warmly, “you are our brother country, you know our ways.” Some even know Urdu. One eagerly pulled out his birth certificate, indicating he was born in Pakistan.

Best response when asked if a rug seller was lying to us: “I cannot swear that I am being honest…. It’s not my business practice.

In short...
Its indescribable to not feel different. To not feel so much like a minority. No one can know the burden a minority carries unless they've experienced it. I can't describe what it feels like to not feel so "different". You feel just like any other in this stream of people who may not look like you, but are a part of you somehow. No worries of inadvertent stereotypes, no burden to represent everyone of your faith.... it was a release... I don’t know if I can put this feeling into words to belong somewhere that Muslim is not a dirty word, but a source of pride. It's feeling understood.

25 comments:

mystic-soul said...

Sahi kehto ho aaisha

Barson pardes ki matti ko apna khun do per apni matti ka rang nahi charhta !!

Per Nasir Kazmi:

Hum to hain perdes main
Des main nikla hoga chand

(Loved your turkey diary..BTW how long ago was that?)

Aisha said...

thanks mystic, we went to turkey a little over a year ago. I dont know why I'm suddenly thinking of it. I guess the missing mittens gave me a flash back moment as I try to trace how Turkey helped change me....

I've only been to been to pakistan when I was a young child. I wonder it would be like to go there now that I'm older. I'm sure if I felt as i did in Turkey, Id surely feel more so in Pakistan.

Um Mahtab said...

Salam Aisha
I noticed that you visited and left me a comment a few entries ago on my blog! Thank you :) I'm really, really enjoying reading about your Turkish experiences.

Raheel said...

hey, that was a long long post but worth reading.

btw I love turkish carpets =)

~ruthie said...

I felt as if I was in Turkey while reading this. I could see what you had, could feel the same emotions. I even felt clausterphobic while you were shopping for rugs.

Aisha said...

Um Mahtab thanks for dropping by :)

Raheel and Ruthie, thanks for reading all of it!! I know its very lengrthy, probably something to be read a little bit at a time. Thanks!

Maleeha said...

that was an amazing post. although i've never been to turkey, you've described the emotions i feel every time i go to pakistan - its very similar. you should really make a trip to pakistan, it'll blow your mind.

Anisa said...

what a great post. i would love to be able to visit a country where i wasn't in the minority. i'm sure it was an incredible experience.

Tee said...

I came back in here to read yesterday's posting again because I enjoyed it so much. And surprise, a new posting that is equally moving... I feel like I've been all the places you've been and met all the people you met. That is quite a gift for storytelling, Aisha.

I saw a documentry once about the carpet sellers. How they invite you in for free tea first... I would probably come home with so many unwanted carpets. I do so poorly with salespeople and these carpet sellers must be the best in the world.

When I went to Mexico I saw the same kind of people in the market, the little children used to sell gum, the old women sitting on blankets selling dolls... I didn't see this so much in El Salvador though. I think my husband didn't take me to the poorest areas.

Amazing stories. Thanks for sharing with us.

Aisha said...

Thanks for dropping by Maleeha, yes i should visit Pakistan.... most of my family is here now, so the incentive is not as strong, but i should.

Anisa, it was a great experience, you should definetly visit.

Tee- wow, thank you so much for your nice words. that means a lot to me because I really find your writing superb.. if you find something good in mine, it can't be half bad then:) Thanks!!!

Mia said...

I am so loving these posts they are fantastic!

Abu Muhammad said...

This reminds me of Old glory of Ottoman empire - The last in Kilaphath!!! Nice travel post!!

Dem Soldier said...

I Love turkey, for it's greatness and it's islamic past, that was our last great Caliphate...Thanks for sharing this trip with us, I will probably visit there, before they join Euro........as U already know, the euro change rate wouldn't be that friendly to the dollar. :)

Shabina said...

Wow. It's so neat how similar traveling abroad experiences can be. I'm glad you felt not so "different," that's a tough place to get to indeed, and I haven't really ever felt that, not in Syria, not in Saudi, not in India...hmm..but maybe in Dearborn, a little bit :)

Looking forward to reading more iA!

Obese Girl said...

I had to re-read yer 2nd last two lines. and I read it again. and again. and again.

At first I was just trying to fully comprehend but after a few repeats, some key words stood out.

"...belong...source of pride...understood."

hey - Did you know you had unconsciouly written a feel-good mantra?

uber cool!

:-)

Aisha said...

Mia, thanks!!! :)

Abu, thank you for dropping by.

Dem Soldier, thanks for dropping by and yes def visit before Euro's come into effect. It's very inexpensive to visit right now!

Shabina you said our experiences were similar but you still felt different. How so?

OG: I'm reading the last two lines again and again. How is it a feel good mantra? Tell me tell me! I swear you're making me wonder if I should go into marketing! :)

Anonymous said...

nice story

Baji said...

Thanks for sharing. You have a great gift of storytelling. I felt as I were in the carpet store feeling the pressure and nuiances along wih you. I admire your ability to "see" humanity as you do.

ASH said...

Aisha: Great post, Africa did the same for me as far as finally understanding what it means to feel out of place or a minority.

Tee: Having been to El Salvador during the civil war, I can say easily that the poor children begging, the child prostitution was rampant and it was hard to see. You are fortunate you missed it.

Knightmare said...

At the risk of diminishing my Machoness, that peice about the street boy vendor touched me on a certain level. *sniff*

idiot said...

hey. nice, interesting post.
thanks for visiting my blog and for your concern. it really makes a lot of difference knowing someone feels for your pain. words are not important, it really is the thought that counts. didn't know if i should reply to your comment on my blog or here so i'm replying on both.
thanks again.

Hasan the Not-So-Great said...

I remember seeing this one kid in Pakistan who was selling these little panj-surahs. My dad offered him money but he didn't want the product. The child turned and left. He was determined to make a living, not out of pity, but of honesty. It touched me in the same way as this story did.

Aisha said...

anon- thanks:)

baji- i am touched by your kind words. Thank you so much.

aww Knightmare, its okay, it takes a real man to feel emotional! :)

Idiot, (oh i hate calling you that but its your name on here!) thanks for visiting, and i checked your site. I'm thinking of you.

Hasan, i think that its the most striking when you see the pride they have. They dont want your pity. they want their honest living. It's hard to watch it. I'm glad my memories were something you could relate to.

Ash, as always tahnks for commenting! :)

Jane said...

Vivid pictures go through my mind as I read your stories...thank you for sharing them.

Ktara said...

I love your stories.. I can relate to finding that comfort... that heart.. where everything is right...

I am buddhist


Sydney, Australia

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