Deep Hüzün

How can a blind man find his way through such a crowded street of Istanbul? Especially, when his female partner is also blind. The couple was walking confidently with canes at 11PM in the night. I was in awe and felt so happy for them. Little did I know that I am in fact the blind one. I fell face down. My water bottle rolled into the road of speeding cars. My packet of chocolate wafers flew near a surprised brown cat. The only thing I clutched tightly in my hand was the plastic bag (now torn into pieces) formerly carrying the two objects.

After a few seconds, I registered that I had tripped against the man’s walking cane.

My Turkish friend immediately asked the man if he was alright while my other friend helped stand on my feet again. I was embarrassed for making a fool of myself in the middle of a large crowd an for disconcerting the couple who was strolling happily. More importantly, I was shocked that I was the one who fell.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that I’d rather have had the man fall down. What I mean is that we don’t actually see as clearly as we think we do. And yes, here is where I go off to a tangent. Not really. It is quite relevant to the discussion of how my attitude has changed from my first post. I just realized that I was wearing the same outfit the day I arrived in Istanbul. In a week, my life has made a full circle. I thought I saw clearly that I had made a terrible decision to come here. In reality, my vision was simply muddled with anxiety. I had no idea that a week later, I would feel so much more comfortable in my new surroundings and with the beautiful people I had met.

Sight is not in the eyes, but in the soul. We need to let go of our fears and see farther than what our eyes, not the most loyal companions, can reveal to us. (All my advice is often first directed to me!)

Alright, back to the ground. This whole incident happened right before I went to watch my first World Cup game with two friends, one of who is really passionate about soccer. It was between Algeria and Germany. We watched it at a café called Simit Sarayı and we’ve been going back ever since. The games run from 11PM to 1:30AM or sometimes longer. It’s been quite a lot of fun! That’s where I had my first cup of tea in Turkey that I looked at and enjoyed. (Accompanied by a chocolate muffin.)

Soccer Game

Tea

The day after, we walked from the university down a steep hill. And when I say steep, I mean really, really, acutely steep. So steep that we couldn’t walk; instead, we were running and panting down to Bebek. We were laughing the whole way, even when a car was driving up the hill and we had to scoot over to the narrow sides of the street to save our lives. Bebek is in one word, magnificent. Serene, with men fishing, people strolling, cats watching, and us licking. Ice cream. After a long walk, we were looking forward to the famous Bebek ice cream. I had the pistachio and chocolate and it was delicious.

Bebek Fishing

Bebek Water Splash

Ice cream

From there, we courageously walked to Ortaköy. It was over an hour’s walk from the university and although my feet thought I was crazy, my heart wanted to continue on. I had heard about the Ortaköy Mosque, also known as the Büyük Mecidiye Camii (the Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid). Praying in it was my incentive. When we arrived, I fully understood that the energy spent was perfectly worthwhile. The mosque was lit up because it was evening time and the call of prayer began as soon as our eyes fell on the gorgeous architecture. The interior was equally striking with an unearthly view of the Bosphorous from the window.

Ortakoy Mosque

View from Mosque

After prayer, we went to the restaurants nearby feeling overwhelmed. Of course because of the beauty we had just witnessed, but also because of the headwaiters, all of whom seemed to know we were new to the area. The restaurant we ended up choosing was the one where the headwaiter was literally screaming, “Gyal, gyal, gyal,” come in, come in, come in.

Ortakoy

Two days later, we went to Ortaköy again. We hadn’t had enough of that vibrant area; heck, this was just the beginning. This time, we sat on a terrace on the fourth floor of a restaurant. The view of the Bosphorous, the bridge, and the mosque was amazing! I ordered a tuna sandwich and while it was being prepared, I went to pray at the same mosque especially because it was so nearby. When I was walking down the spiral staircase of the restaurant, my heart fluttered in excitement for these were the things I always missed back home.

Praying

Night view

Later that evening, we perused the area. One of the vendors who spoke Turkish asked if we spoke Arabic. Some of the girls in the group said yes, and then he asked me if I spoke Urdu in Urdu! He said he spoke ten languages and had lived in several countries. My first opportunity to bargain. It was fun although it was for a bracelet one of my friends had fallen in love with.

Ortakoy

We ended the night with a Turkish waffle and a fast and furious cab ride back to the university.

Smiling Waffle Maker!

Smiling Waffle Maker!

Do you remember I had mentioned the magical Boğaziçi Pastanesi in my first post? I had reported feeling that I was bound to come again. And I did. The next day at this café, I met up with a Turkish friend who was studying at my university back home and was visiting family for the summer. We couldn’t stop laughing thinking how great it was to meet up in a completely different continent.

On Friday, we went to the older part of Istanbul. I was speechless when I walked into the Sultanahmet Mosque. It is also known as the Blue Mosque because its interiors are decorated with blue tiles. It was built in the early 1600s and I could almost see and hear the all the people who were born, grew up visiting this mosque, and passed away. Generations after generations. I was particularly riveted for I had written a paper on this mosque for my Islamic Art and Architecture class. I couldn’t believe I was standing in a place about which I had only read in rusty textbooks from the library.

The Sultanahmet Mosque was built right near another building which was famous at the time (and still is) to show the power of Islam. This other monument is the Hagia Sophia, also called the Ayasofya in Turkish. It was originally established in the mid-500s as a Greek Church and then, it was converted to a mosque. It was interesting to see up close the images of Christian art partially erased to portray this change. Eventually, Hagia Sophia was treated as a museum, for wanderers like me to experience in awe decades of rich history.

Unique candy vendor with Hagia Sophia in the background

Unique candy vendor with Hagia Sophia in the background

Minbar: pulpit from where prayer leader can deliver sermons

Minbar: pulpit from where prayer leader can deliver sermons

Window in Hagia Sophia

Window in Hagia Sophia

View of Sultanahmet Mosque from the window in Hagia Sophia

View of Sultanahmet Mosque from the window in Hagia Sophia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After quite some sightseeing, we sat down at a restaurant nearby (on the terrace again and so, you witness my obsession with terraces). The food was delicious and when we were leaving, we saw a whirling dervish. I am not aware of their practices well enough to elaborate and it would be disrespectful to do so without a complete understanding. So, I will leave it at that for now.

AYASOFYA Restaurant

AYASOFYA Restaurant

Bon Appetit in different languages (seen at the restaurant)

Bon Appetit in different languages (seen at the restaurant)

A few snapshots on our way back from the restaurant:

The Sultanahmet Square was originally the Hippodrome, sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire

The Sultanahmet Square was originally the Hippodrome, sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire

I am dying to return to the older side of Istanbul, or “The Historical Peninsula,” as my roommate fancily calls it. I was very excited to spend the holy month of Ramadhan in a Muslim country. However, in the area where we live, it isn’t celebrated as much as I had expected. Sure, the people who are fasting do gather at restaurants waiting to hear the call of prayer on the TVs so that they can open their fast. But I feel that the other side of town would have more festivities. This could be an erroneous assumption. We shall see since we are planning to attend this Friday’s prayer (Salatul Jumah in Arabic) at Sultanahmet Mosque. We hope to spend the day in the area concluding with iftaar (meal when we complete the fast) outside the mosque, where we’ve heard Muslims come together to eat in a community of benches clustered together. I am quite excited!

Yesterday, we went to Indian Musafir Restaurant. I was craving my mother’s spicy food and this place looked like the closest to such cuisine in Istanbul. It was around the infamous Taksim Square. As soon as the call of prayer played on the TV, all the waiters sat down at a large table to have iftaar as well. It was great to see everyone eating together. I had chicken kadai, spicy chicken curry served in a special pot called kadai. I ate the curry with naan, a form of bread. To top off my special meal, I ordered a glass of sweet lassi made of yoghurt.

Allow me to now elaborate on the area near us. There is a café which we discovered has board games (apparently quite common here). I cannot wait to go there! There is a great place right by it with a fresh variety of Turkish delights. (Note: the picture of the store here actually belongs to a different sweets place we had walked past earlier that day but the closeup is of the box I purchased from the nearby place.) Today, we went to a restaurant right near South Campus and the its specialty was an assortment of burgers! I had a Chicken Kansas Burger (with spicy fries, a rare delicacy in Istanbul so far!) and one of the other girls had a New York Burger!

Turkish sweets!

Turkish sweets!

The farther you go from our area and the closer you are to the older side of town, the deeper you feel hüzün, a Turkish word with Arabic origins. It means “a melancholy resulting from inadequacy or failure and weighing so heavily that it becomes communal, resigned, and even curiously poetic.” So many children roam the streets of Istanbul trying to sell flower crowns or crouching on the sides of the road to create toys out of the soil. I spotted a young boy near a watermelon vendor once, biting down on the leftover of an almost eaten slice. There was a mother and her child knocking on the window of our cab when we stopped at a red light today. Near the port, when we went on the Bosphorous Cruise, there was a family (a couple and two children). They were sitting on the ground and the man was calling out trying to grab attention at the little items that he had gathered. Right past an expensive carpet shop, there was an old man pulling a cart full of heavy baggage. I wish I had a magical wand that could alleviate the plight of these people and those struggling all around the world.

Kadir Bey (I asked his name in Turkish - he replied Kadir - I called him Mr. Kadir)

Kadir Bey (I asked his name in Turkish – he replied Kadir – I called him Mr. Kadir)

I will end with the story of Mr. Shoe Polisher. He was walking near us and one of his brushes fell down. Unknowingly, he kept walking and one of the girls in our group who is Turkish said, Pardon, Excuse me! He turned around and she pointed to the brush. He walked back to us and because the brush was near my foot, I bent down, picked it up, and gave it to him. He said thank you and we continued walking. That’s when we heard someone call out, Pardon, pardon! We turned around to see it was Mr. Shoe Polisher. He immediately sat down on the floor and told me to come so he could polish my shoes at no cost. I couldn’t believe it. He appreciated my small action of courtesy so much that he responded with such a beautiful gesture. I was baffled, but came back to my senses in time to answer, “Çok, çok, çok teşekkürler!” meaning Thank you very, very, very much and “Kolay gelsin,” a phrase I learned in Turkish class which means May your work be easier. My friends were so proud and the Turkish girl patted me on my shoulder for having responded so well in Turkish. (I seriously wish I can learn the language.)

Seeing the humility, kindness, and hope in the eyes of the children and the hardworking men and women here reminds me that there is so much more than racing in the world for material assets. Yes, money is important, but we need to see beyond aiming for luxury. If we all try to sacrifice our luxury, we may actually provide for someone’s necessity (again all advice is first directed to me!). That of course seems like a dreamlike world, but doesn’t hüzün involve becoming poetic after all?

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Resfeber in Istanbul

Walking along a narrow, winding road lugging a red suitcase that was so heavy that it might be filled with rocks and stones, I stopped abruptly. It was a Saturday, 9:30AM in Etiler, and the neighborhood was still asleep. Just as a precaution, I stood behind a large, white truck to make sure no one witnessed my breakdown. I started crying silently, tears crawling down my cheeks as I watched a centipede near my shoe that was creeping slowly as if unsure of its destination. I asked myself, “How could I have so ignorantly believed that living in Istanbul would be the greatest experience ever?”

It was my first time in Turkey and after a ten hour direct flight from New York, a bumpy shuttle from Ataturk airport to Taksim, a taxi ride where the driver tried to charge me double the actual price (but failed to do so!), I was exhausted. All I wanted was to inform my parents I had arrived safely (albeit the craziness), but neither was my phone working nor was anyone at the university willing to provide internet for a quick Skype session. Hopelessly, I was looking for the coffee shops I was told to hunt for to get Wi-Fi. After meandering around several unfamiliar streets, taking four wrong turns, and having stopped twice for silent sobbing sessions, I finally encountered a café, magical for a few reasons.

It was called Boğaziçi Pastanesi. I walked in and after saying “Selam” (hello in Turkish), I asked the waiter if they have wifi. He didn’t understand until I made typing gestures on my laptop. He said, “Evet! Evet! Wi-Fi!” The way he pronounced Wi-Fi was “Why-Fee” and I smiled with relief. I wish I knew how to speak Turkish. I know a few phrases from the Turkish TV shows that I am obsessed with, but Turkish is such a beautiful language that I hope to master at least an elementary level during my Turkish 101 class here. I took a seat as far as possible from the two present customers (a lady smoking a cigarette while reading a newspaper and a young man engrossed in his iPad). I asked for çay, for I knew that Turks drink a lot of tea like we do and it probably was the only item I could have pronounced on the menu.

I didn’t even look at my first cup of Turkish tea in Turkey (I’ve had Turkish tea before at a Turkish friend’s place). I connected to Skype and as soon as I saw Mama (my mother), I started crying and this time not so silently. Never before had I done this: both crying in a public place and traveling to a country which wasn’t inhabited by either a family member or friend. After a long Skype session, I felt better, not too hopeful yet, but glad that I was in touch with the world “out there.” I returned to my dorm with the incentive to take a shower, a few hours of rest, and to return to this café.

It was at the end of the second Skype session at Boğaziçi Pastanesi that I heard four girls chatting in English at a nearby table. I asked if they too were students at Boğaziçi University for the summer. And voilà, I met a group of very sweet girls who were in the same boat as mine, but they were just invisible to me earlier. This is evidence for why I mentioned earlier the magic of Boğaziçi Pastanesi café. I haven’t returned there since, but I know I am bound to visit again soon.

Later that day, one of the Muslim girls I met asked if I wanted to go the mosque to pray the evening prayer (Maghrib in Arabic), and I said, of course! One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Turkey was to experience the culture and the Islamic atmosphere, especially because the holy month of Ramadhan (where we Muslims fast for several reasons which I will not elaborate right now) starts in a week. Both of us walked to a nearby mosque while hearing the beautiful call of prayer (Adhan in Arabic). The mosque wasn’t one of the many tourist attractions in Istanbul, but the peace we felt as we entered suffused into our hearts and minds.

The next day, we had orientation where we received our ID cards and participated in a campus tour.

Boğaziçi University

Boğaziçi University

The guide who was a senior at the university showed us several places, but the one that struck the most magnificent to me was what he called the manzara (manzar in Urdu and scenic area in English). It was a beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea, with boats sailing towards different directions, leaving behind fresh, white trails of waves, and houses as if placed on top of each other on a mountain-like area on the other side, merging into the sky. I had seen this before, in a Turkish TV show and of course, in a dream about Turkey.

Manzara: beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea from campus

Manzara: beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea from campus

After we had attempted to relax our legs that weren’t used to all this intense walking (the main campus is a 30-minute long steep walk down the hill from our dormitories), around 4 o’clock that afternoon, we took a bus to Kabataş, an area from where you can hop on a boat for the Bosphorous Cruise. Once we had purchased the tickets, we had 45 minutes to kill before the next boat ride. So, we sat down at a nearby street café, which was more like a collection of tables and small stools (ah, I should have taken a picture of that – fret not for there will be plenty of chances in the future!). My two friends ordered çay and since I was still experiencing dehydration, I ordered a cold drink.

As we sipped our beverages, we quietly observed our surroundings. There were thousands of cats everywhere (and we’ve seen dogs in other areas). At a neighboring table, some rowdy men were noisily chatting and smoking. It disturbed us, but not the black cat which was sleeping on its back since the time we sat down. If only our environments wouldn’t have that large of an effect on us, perhaps life would be easier leading. However, I should correct myself. If we don’t learn new ideas, avoid sharing our practices, and neglect the importance of cultural exchange, wouldn’t life be dull and boring?

(P. S. I have the tendency to connect mundane incidents to deeper philosophical thoughts. At times, they may seem long winding or outright illogical. Do excuse me, but transcribing my experiences would be incomplete if I omit my views on different situations. So, I hope doing this will enhance my written journey.)

Back to the street café, or whatever your tongue desires to address it. I was appreciating the opportunity to people-watch from the corner where we were seated at. The diversity in Istanbul is fascinating, particularly in terms of the dressing of women. There are some who wear the shortest shorts and others who cover their bodies, hands and faces. I valued that everyone could fit in or rather create a unique identity and be part of such a vibrant culture.

The 90-minute long Bosphorous cruise made me appreciate the opportunity of being in Istanbul even further. It was çok güzel, very nice and beautiful! There was a voice speaker in the background first in Turkish and then in English to elaborate on the sights we encountered. There are too many to mention here and I plan on doing justice to each when we visit them individually and write about them. I took loads of pictures while enjoying the serene view. Perhaps, we can call it manzara. (I’m not sure if that’s the right context.) Nevertheless, it was scenic indeed.

Zahid, a friendly boy sitting next to me, mesmerized by the Bosphorous

Zahid, a friendly boy sitting next to me, mesmerized by the Bosphorous

The cruise ended in Beşiktaş, where we got off into a busy area with buses honking and pedestrians hurriedly walking trying not to get killed. The excitement and our hunger comprised of what we smelled in the air. We stopped at a restaurant called Adana something (I apologize, but I am trying to learn Turkish letters and names). I had şiş tavuk, a popular Turkish dish (also present in Arab cuisines), comprising of grilled chicken, a special kind of bread, and lots of different sauces. The meal was a perfect way to end the day.

The following day (today), we had classes, both of which I am so excited about! We ate at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Büfe Bu. I had a chicken burger with fries and a cold drink. At most restaurants in New York, I don’t eat meat, chicken, and so forth because it is not halal (lawful according to Islam; animals are given water and a prayer is recited before they are slaughtered, and the cut to the neck should be at the exact vein which leads to a quick and the least painful death; I wish I knew more about the exact rulings, but this is my basic understanding.) In conclusion, I plan on feasting in Istanbul for almost everything is halal here!

I will end with an explanation of my title. I learned this word from the Facebook page of Word Porn which brings to light some “fancy” vocabulary. Resfeber (according to this FB page) is a Swedish word pronounced as race-fay-ber. It means “the restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a ‘travel fever’ that can manifest as an illness.” This word perfectly depicts my situation. For the two weeks before my arrival and my first two days here, I felt nauseous and nervous, along with the sporadic pangs of excitement. I forgot that a lot of fellow travelers experience the same phenomenon. Thankfully, I feel much more comfortable now and I cannot wait to explore the güzel city of Istanbul.