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We will send regular newsletters to our members who have signed up for receiving it during the registration. In 'mymerhaba' newsletter, our editorial staff provides updates, with regard to any information related to places worth visiting, viewing, or otherwise worth knowing, for those who care to know more....

Letter from Istanbul

 Untitled Document

by Dace Jurjane

"Allahu ekber…" - I open my eyes and the bright sun of the South is shining straight into my face. Or could it be - I woke because of the ezzan, early morning prayer, which reaches my ears five times every day? No, I don't think that could be the reason, because one gets used to it in a way you get used to the sound of railway, if you happen to live close near by. You hear the sounds everyday, so they become a kind of lullaby for you - without hearing them you even cannot fall asleep easily…

For my breakfast I find feta cheese, olives, some vegetables - I could find yesterday's bread as well but no - buying a fresh bread or crunchy simit is a part of my morning rituals. Bakery is just around the corner. Though I know, this shopping will not be done in a minute - some morning laziness and sohbet is a part of Turkish morning rituals.

Next to the news stand I see Mehmet sitting on the low bench, stretching out his long legs, smoking a cigarette and slowly sipping his morning tee from a little glass. You can notice at once that Mehmet is expecting impatiently someone whom Allah will send to his direction; this morning he didn't yet have much of a chat with locals. Selamim Aleykum and a friendly greeting with his hand is a good proof to what I just supposed. Aleykum Selam I say and take a quick glance through the pile of newspapers. I have to apologize to Turkish press magnates but to me the local press is more or less "yellow" colored. Even the cover page among the politically correct news and articles hides some lines about sosyete person, who has been caught in a five star hotel together with his/her lover; there is a picture of some half-naked TV show star, also the bloody scenes of terrorism and other catastrophes are the usual "everyday" happenings. I never see people reading the news too carefully though; they usually browse through the paper quickly while drinking their tee and then still freshly printed pages turns into trash.

Mehmet doesn't care too much about the problems mentioned in the newspapers. After muttering his usual Nasilsin? Sağ ol. Ben de iyiyim! follows the talk about the hot weather, about the news he heard yesterday about my country Litvaniya, to which I try to explain hopelessly, that Latvia and Lithuania are only the neighboring countries, not the united kingdom. There are some kids running toward me - they are the little ones of our kapıcı; I hear bright and lively chorus: "Dace abla, selam!".

Finally I arrive at my destination - bakery around the corner. It is quite crowded - all the fresh bread hunters are already there. Ayşe, kapıcı's wife, wearing a big scarf around her shoulders and a long fluffy skirt. From bakers hands she receives a big plastic bag full of bread; at her table there are many mouths to feed and her family table could not be too rich… They usually get the monthly payment from the residents of the house (about the amount of minimum salary) for taking care of apartment as well as surroundings of the house. Some richer families also help them giving some food, used cloths or some household staff. For someone, who doesn't know too much of the local traditions it may come as a surprise, that she is wearing a bunch of thin golden bracelets around her wrist. It is not a sign of considerable wealth though but rather a kind of "private bank account" for women, which is usually attained at the wedding from their friends and relatives. According to ancient tradition the unsatisfied husband in presence of others could announce three times "boş ol!" and a wife should leave the house only with her belongings, that she is wearing at that moment.

Next to Ayşe there is İpek - a good looking young woman, who has attained her PhD in Literature from some popular university in America last year. She went to the States together with her fiancé, who was at that moment a student of other university there. It is not a rear case, when children of wealthier Turkish families go to study abroad. The brightest brains usually prefers foreign education and better prospects for their carriers to somewhat unknown situation and the famous formula of the ancestors İnşallah in their own country. İpek and Ali (that's the name of her fiancé) didn't rush with the wedding, even though both of them are in their early thirties. In contrast with less wealthy families, where the family father tries to "marry away" his daughter to a good party as soon as she reaches maturity, the families of local "inteligencia" don't give this too much of importance. They trust more the young ones and believe, they will choose the best for their own lives. The young generation likes to set their own rules - İnşallah is still a traditional formula but not much of a part of "modern life style".


Turks love to think of themselves as a modern nation - the "road to Europe" is still a popular subject in the minds of locals, some newspaper now and then mentions the chance for Turkey to become a member state. Business people and politicians go to Europe to get the "Euro-experience", that will surely be appreciated in the homeland. Relation with the past is somewhat ambivalent; on one hand there are the splendid castles of Ottomans with the mysterious corridors of now silent hamams, which are surely presented to foreign tourists as "straight Turkish inheritance" from their ancestors and thus owned by the whole Turkish nation (the same attitude can be seen concerning the ancient Ephesus, Troy or more than two thousand years old Early Christian sites in Cappadocia, where the only strict relation is actually their geopolitical position of the modern times but not so much of the cultural heritage). On the other hand - as said in the book "The Fez of the Heart" by Jeremy Seal, if one tries to remind and dig into the Turkish past too much, all your effort is dismayed by proudly said - "we are a modern nation".

There is also some contradiction what concerns religious matters; according to Atatürk's statement "the mosque was separated from the state and vice versa".

A few years ago though there was news in every Turkish newspaper about Merve Kavakçı, one of Turkish Parliament members, who wanted enter the premises of government with the traditional Turkish head scarf. All that ended by Merve leaving the country for the States, and all the conflict was gradually forgotten.

Quran though is obviously a part of every Turkish person's life - parts of it are often mentioned in various every day life happenings and traditions, it's a natural part of the language every Turk speaks on every day basis. Especially at Friday noon time in some more traditional Turkish districts (like at one of the most famous mosques - Sultanahmet) all the narrow streets are covered with colorful praying rugs, so that it is quite hard to pass. Those, who couldn't find their places inside the mosque, do their prayers and listen to imam from outside. All the prayer rugs are neatly put in the straight lines, and everybody hopes to find the place closer to the heavy dark green curtain, which secures the preying people's privacy and prevents them from the curious glances of by-passers.

It could also be that to some extent the spiritual and religious life of a Turkish person is formed by the simply fact: sometimes there is literary nothing more than İnşallah to hold on; like back in 1999, when 15 000 believers and non-believers alike were swept away in one night during the most disastrous earthquake of the last decades. The same one can experience, when there are some explosions organized by terrorists or other bloody clashes going on in different parts of the country, in which locals as well as foreigners and others suffer alike. So - nothing else to hope for except for Inşhallah and Allah Korusun!

"Buyurun abla, ne arzunuz var?"- the question is probably asked repeatedly, because many eyes with the questioning expression in them are looking at me right now… Sorry - I didn't mean to - I was just thinking something else….Finally, me too - I have a plastic bag full of crunchy bread and I can start my way home.

There I start to hear some chorus of different voices, becoming more and more persistent… "Buyurunuz, buyurunuz - come here, please, we sell the cheapest…" Today is Wednesday, the bazaar day in our street. It may mean that I will reach my home a couple of minutes later than usual - the streets are overcrowded. There is some strange attraction to the Turkish bazaar - that attracts, even if you know for sure, there is no real need for you to be there, and you could pass it this time. The welcoming voices are doing their job, and your feet bring you there before you can even notice. Those who are still indecisive hear the convincing lines: "Abla, just check this - we don't ask to buy, if you wouldn't like it…Its fresh and there is a nice aroma - look yourself!". They somehow always find the right lines, which work, they look at you ready to serve but also to just involve in the friendly chit-chat, if you wouldn't buy anything this time. Before you notice, your bag is full of things you would never think you needed… Among quickly said: "this is a very good price - only … million" - pazarcı are experts of mastering the friendly small talk, which just puts you in the nice mood.

It's been just half an hour and I am finally through the crowd, and my hands are full of bags where you could find some fresh olives, feta cheese, some other staff I didn't plan to buy and my mood got surely better while engaging in the light chat with the friendly people in the bazaar. My hands start to feel tired carrying all the bags for so long. It is still quite early morning, and the sun is not yet burning you like a little piggy on the stick. I find the bench in front of the house and decide to grant myself some minutes of peaceful reading. I look through the cover pages fast, check the "hottest news" with the eye-catching pictures and then come to cultural life page. Ah - here it is: the article about St. Sophia Museum in Istanbul.

It seems that mostly Turks prefer simple things to contradicting ones. Too much contradiction, complex symbols and deep going subjects can only bring you to some unexpected trouble…St.Sophia is definitely not very easy and one-sided thing. I find there some similarities with Istanbul or old times Konstantinapol itself. I see the picture, in which sharp photographer's eye has captured the God Mother fresco above the former altar section as well as the calligraphic Ottoman window stone work in the background. 70 years ago with a great diplomacy Atatürk announced this building "a Museum" but the centuries old polemics about it's true legacy are still going on.

St. Sophia was built to symbolize the power of Byzantium - East Roman Empire as well as Konstantinapol itself. It survived the Crusaders, when according to old legend, there were some prostitutes singing dirty songs from the pulpit to give strength to the worn-out solders. In 1453 St.Sophia came to the "second golden period" and so became a part of other Empire - Ottomans. All the Christian art work was covered with plaster but not damaged (thanks God) - there were some Islamic symbols - like huge round plates with calligraphic inscriptions of Muhhamad, Ali and other saints in all four corners - added to the interior of St.Sophia.

A few years ago some enthusiasts organized an ecumenical happening in the Museum - Gregorian songs were chanted, Mevlevi turned in their silent meditation, the God was praised without distinguishing different confessions and religious believes. The short happening didn't yet reached its end, when the angry crowds gathered outside the Museum and posters were raised: "Give St. Sophia back to Allah"…

Meanwhile foreign tourists' crowds don't stop flooding St.Sophia; they curiously see every corner of a little dim but sometimes surprisingly sunlit interior, ask for Sophia's grave, believing that it is hidden in the outside garden (in fact St. Sophia reflects one of many Biblical names given to Jesus Christ, meaning - the Divine Wisdom), not thinking about the reality of this complex symbolism.

The Sun is in it's zenith now and I start to consider ignoring the late breakfast and going directly for early lunch…So - I have learned some Turkish ways: if something doesn't work exactly as it should, you can always say - kısmet olmadı…And forget it - next time it will probably work better.

What else have I learn? The difference of notion of "private" or "private life", which differs from the one, known in my culture. Even if something is called "private" everyone can still discuss it quite openly among friends or family. The thin line between "my private business" and "everyone's business" is sometimes unbelievably thin or almost non-existing…You can take it or leave it - accept it or not; better accept, otherwise you could be misunderstood. It should also be remembered, that it is considered somewhat rude to disagree or contradict with elderly - be it your own mother, your mother-in-law, older colleague or some elderly lady next door… Even, if you consider it completely wrong, what someone says, it's always better to keep your comments to yourself and reveal them in the loneliness, sharing it with the four walls of your room.

Finally I have arrived at the doorstep of my home and I start to dream about sitting down on the chair in the balcony, where all the city noise is blocked by bright green hands of the tree. I try to guess, if this is a Latvian feature in me - I need my own corner, my own space at times - some doors, that can be closed, if necessary, and the window, that will be left open for the fresh ear to come in. The window is on the edge of that thin line, which you in a harmony between disapearing and dissolving in the "common life", where the notion of "private" is sometimes so subtle, and too much introversion, that can be misinterpreted by others.

I take a good bite of crunchy and fresh smelling simit and say Allah'a Şükür - thanking for the good end of my morning odyssey and begging the protection against all possible trouble hiding under the wing of all-mighty and all-loving God.




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Remmick's Watch Repairer
Smiley's Blacksea
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Latest comments about this article

 By doculife  3.8.2006

Dace, I´d like to publish your Whirling Dervish story in an upcoming issue of EscapeArtist Travel Magazine. May I have your permission? Are there photos to go with the story? Please reply to [email protected] Thanks! Robin Sparks, Editor EscapeArtist Travel Magazine www.escapeartist.com

 By yoyo  5.5.2005

I wanted to ask Dace whether I could get a Latvian version of her article on ”To be a threshold: The dances of the Sufi whirling dervishes in Turkey. Talking to the leader of the followers of Mevlana, Hassan Dede”, since we had only a Lithuanian reprint in our newspaper. Thank you! ([email protected])

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A Weekend Escape to Edirne
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Pastoral Life in Yaniklar Village
Reiki
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