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.