Contrast and Collision
The first thing I notice flying into Istanbul is the incredible number of mosques, distinctly recognizable by their minarets which pierce the sky. Turkey is my first Muslim country, and now seeing these sacred spaces from my window, I feel foolish about my ignorance of Islam beliefs and Muslim culture.
Despite having been reassured by friends & guidebooks that Istanbul is very progressive and Westernized, I decide to play it safe and wrap a pashmina around my neck so as not to show any bare skin. I say “arrivederci” to the Italian flight attendants and step off the plane into the Muslim world…
Let me start by saying that Istanbul is, by far, the most culturally fascinating place I’ve ever been. It is known as the city where “East meets West.” The Islamic capital of the West, and also the capital of the Roman Empire in the East. Geographically, the city straddles two continents: Europe and Asia. The historic old town, Sultanahmet, exists on the European side; the modern metropolitan area, Taksim Square, exists on the opposite side. The contrast between Islam and Christianity exists even inside the city’s most famous site: the Hagia Sophia.
Islam Mihrab pointıng to Mecca & 9th Century Virgin & Child mosaic above
Istanbul is a city of cultural collision, and the effect can truly be seen in the streets. A group of Muslim women traditionally dressed in black robes and burkas – many adjectives come to mind when I see them, most reflect some form of sympathy for what appears to be the repression of any identity or self-expression. Yet upon further investigation, I see that one of the women holds a chic Louis Vuitton purse.
Behind them, another Turkish woman is walking alone wearing a headscarf, but is also sporting a brown leather jacket and slim jeans tucked into her fabulous light brown boots.
Inside Topkapi Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived for centuries, I pass a group of Turkish school children. All attention turns from their teacher to me:
“Hello! What is your name?” they each ask, beaming with pride in their ability to speak English.
“Katie,” I respond.
The children giggle, not sure how to respond to my foreign name.
Rather than resort to “Katherine” as a more familiar name, I try this explanation: “Do you know the singer, Katie Perry?”
And instantly they light up at the mention of the international phenomenon that is Katie Perry.
“My name is Katie, like Katie Perry.”
Luckily their teacher interrupted our conversation before I broke out into “California Girls.”
And so it goes. Interactions and observations like these are around every corner, and I haven’t even made it to the Grand Bazaar or a Hamam (Turkish Bath) yet! I am so intrigued by these people, by this culture. I have a feeling I’ll need more than a week.
The manager of the hostel (Volcan) has already offered me a job. It’s not glamorous, but if it enables me to stay and investigate this city for a month, then it is exactly what I want.
After all, this is an opportunity that only a one-way ticket can provide and it is precisely why I choose to wander.
I am so excited for you! This is an incredible journey you have embarked on and I am so thankful that you are taking us with you with your words on this blog. I am fascinated by what you are going to experience, and I cannot wait to read every word you are going to write.
With that said, Istanbul sounds amazing! In the states, the Muslim culture has been so vilified by the actions of a small minority and our country’s need for repetitive propaganda. So they are a wonderful mystery to me, and since I cannot be there with you, I am thrilled to follow along! Stay safe, have a blast, and many blessings your way!
April 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm
Thanks so much, Sean. Your support means more than I can say.
I’ll try to de-mystify the Muslim culture as best I can over the time that I’m here. The biggest eye opener thus far has been the simple fact that there is a broad spectrum to Islam. Not all Muslims are devout. Just as some Catholics only go to Mass on Christmas and Easter, some Muslims don’t pray 5 times/day. It’s an “oh duh” realization that I suppose I never sat down to think about…but it makes total sense.
April 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm
Thank you so much for allowing me to share some of your stay in Istanbul. In spite of the short time, I left carrying with me several valuable insights on myself – on the person I am and the one I could become – most of them thanks to you. I wish you all the best for your continued journey and if you ever come to Stockholm, contact me and I’ll show you all the places that few tourists ever get to see.
April 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Evelina – what beautiful words, thank you so much. I too enjoyed our conversations and was very inspired by the work you’re doing. I will definitely get in touch if I find myself in Sweden, and stay tuned in case our paths cross again! Much love!!!
April 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm
Hello, I somehow stumbled upon your blog and reading about Istanbul through your words made me reminisce about my very short time in Istanbul when I backpacked through Turkey on August 2010. Your blog seems really inspiring and I think I will be following your journey. Keep up on doing what you love!
April 13, 2011 at 4:06 pm
Merhaba Rocio – thanks for the note and I hope I can continue to inspire! Where else did you go when you were in Turkey?
April 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm
turkey was the most amiable and beautiful culture I’ve seen. Any part of that country was amazing. miss it so much.
April 13, 2011 at 4:10 pm