What is black without white? What is life without death? What is Turkish without Americans? The past few weeks we have had the family of the other exchange student in Çanakkale here. The contrast, the ones we may have felt when we first got here, were again quite obvious. I suppose we have adpated more than we have realized. Cultural norms that used to bother us, again began to bother us as we toured sights that have become the background of our lives. I have to admit, I felt much more Turkish than I did American. (This is actually something I worried about as I tried to depchir their actions). For example, when I was lucky enough to have them over to dinner at my house, we took a photo with a pattern of Turk- American- Turk. It was my host dad, then me, then my host brother. I, in seriousness, thought we had done the pattern wrong- there needed to be an American in my place.
The dinner experience was really interesting. Two groups of people, who dont share the same ideas, the same nationality, or even a few words in eachothers language gathered on the floor ( we dont have a table at my house) to share a meal. A surprising thing happened and an important lesson was learned. People despite all border lines and skin colors are still, well, people.They expressed their apprecation for the food with mmmms and smiles and each group told jokes, which were still funny even after translation. The two cultures happily SHARİNG an evening was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Sometimes the culture differences feel impossible and the world is a big place, but everyone can laugh, love, and learn a little from eachother.
My host dad tried to teach them one of his fundemental lessons- the brotherhood of Islam, and the importance of hospitality in Turkish culture.
My first time hearing this lesson he told me people were forgeting brotherhood, and I tried to convince him no- My peers a school love to look after me and eachother, buying food and wishing illness to pass. There is brotherhood I exclaimed! His correction was that that is the remains of brotherhood. (What would he think of America then?) A true Islamic man would happily give his house away to someone in need. This is according to him, one of the most important things in Islam- helping others. And this man exhibts it- when the night ended he begged to be able to give up his bed so they wouldnt have to pay for a night at the hotel. The fact that our countries are arguing over hot issues such as genocide, did not appear to have matter.Babies are born. People get married. People die. We love, hate, laugh, cry, and feel pride.People are, well, people. xoxo
Thursday, January 21, 2010
On December 17th, all of the AFS scholarship students and I met in Konya Turkey for a celebration of Rumi or Mevlana in Türkish. Rumi is a well known poet around the world, as well as a major figure in Islam. He died on December 17, 1273 and was the father of mysticism. The main event of us coming to Konya, home of Rumi on his death day, was to watch a special performance of the religious ritual Sema- or the swirling dervishes.
The first Dervish came out and placed a red sheep skin over the prayer rug, then the music began the additional 25 Dervishes filed in. They wore a high brown hat representing Rumi's Tomb and a black robe representing flesh and worldly comforts. Underneath the robe they wore white skirts\shirts symbolizing the spirit. The prayer started with four selams (greetings) between each Dervish, performed while still coated in the "worldly comforts", the black robes. In these greetings they bow to each other, which is said to be bowing to the pure sprit within all of us.
After the four selams, the Dervishes removed their robes and formed a line. The line of 24 Dervishes began to move forward and receive their blessings form a higher Dervish and then began to whirl. While beautiful reed pipe music played, whirling, the Dervishes held their heads slightly tilted to the right (at the angle of the earth so they can actually manage to spin for that long period of time), their right hand extended out and bent upwards (receiving God's blessing) while their left hand held extended outward and bent downwards (delivering the blessings to the Earth). It is said that while spinning you go on a spiritual journey- starting as your human flawed self, spinning towards righteousness and truth, until reaching a point of perfection with Allah. You come back from spinning as a more whole and better person. Afterwards a part of the Qu’ran was recited and they then returned back to their caves for meditation. The same Dervish that place the sheep skin prior to the performance, received it once all the Dervishes exited.
Later, we went to the Tomb\ Mosque of Rumi-Mevlana. Usually mosques seem to be done with tiles in intricate patterns, but this one was different. Prayers from the Qu'ran looked to be carved out of wood, then hand painted to create incredible beauty. It was worn, the history and stories that passed that place obvious, but still glorious, covering the ceiling and walls around us. It was the most beautiful mosque I have seen yet on my exchange. On display in glass cases, were his instruments, The Original Versions of the Qu’ran, his rugs and clothes from his home as well as Muhammad The Prophet’s beard. The feeling in that place was so intense. I have never been in a place is with such a forceful spirituality prior to this. Women cried and wailed as they raised their hands up to Allah in dua, fell to their knees as they pressed their noses to the box with Muhammad's beard to catch a whiff, people sat all over on the floors deeply engrossed in the Qu'rans words, others sat in circles professing their love for Rumi and their religious beliefs. Absolutely unforgettable.
The next major happening was Christmas. This was something I dreaded since the day I left America, but I knew if I could make it that far, I could do anything. It ended up not being so bad, but more special in a untraditional way. On Christmas eve, I opened up packages with my host sister and drew a picture of Santa together. Later we made My grandmas special sugar cookies that we have for christmas every year back home. But at school was what really made it special for me. My friends remembered and told me 'Bayram kutlu olsun' (Happy holiday), one girl even brought brownies, and I taught them the true meaning of Christmas. Much to their surprise, It is actually a religious holiday. :) I got to make a big deal about a special thing to me (including wearing Candy Cane earrings pinned to my school tie) , and share something totally new with people eager to learn. The teachers must have known it was a holiday and didn't come to class, so I went to a pasta shop on the sea side with friends. It really was a merry Christmas, even all the way over here in Islamic Turkey.
The funny thing though is that I actually kind of got two Christmases. What is Christmas in America is New years in Turkey. Which explains why there is signs in some parts of town saying 'Noel'e Hayır' (No to New Years) because it is so similar to a Christian holiday. My host family and I went to Istanbul for the holiday, which was nice. We celebrated with a bunch of aunts and uncles, played silly present drawing games, and when we hit 2010 (and did not watch the ball drop P.S.) we all exchanged gifts.Now I am back home in Çanakkale, and couldn't be happier. I really do love this city so much. In the past weeks I have had lots of changes and lots of bumps on the road, but all for the better, and my life is going really, extremely well. Right now we are getting ready for our semester holiday, so everything is really relaxed aka teachers dont come and we have parties in class or sneak off to cafes. Funny things happen like my friends advice when seeing I needed new shoes, that I could always steal new ones from the mosque. Last weekend I went to a Hamam or Turkish bath, last night to a cafe to listen to live turkish music, tonight had yummyyyyy ciğ köfte on the seaside, and learned to play a popular cafe game tabvo (the guys version!). The memories and experiences I am creating here test me and try me constantly, but continue to be-