31 March 2011

Istanbul: Wrap-up

We are back now in Milton Keynes: I have prepared for my classes tomorrow and haven't received my essays to mark for Birmingham just yet, so I have a bit of a reprieve.

The trip was largely a success. We were all, I think, happy that we made it, despite the difficulties. Travelling is hard, travelling with kids is hard, and travelling when one is six and half months pregnant is even harder. But we all did our best and having built on our experiences in France and Spain, we did a bit better. This is, of course, thanks mostly to Yoko, who made the trip despite being with child and bearing the brunt of the childcare duties, and also my bad attitude when frustrated. With a little bit of handicapping of expectations, however, things when well. And even if the girls don't remember the trip, they will have the pictures and the stories we can tell about it to them.

What is there to say about Istanbul. I woke up this morning before six with the call to prayer. Mei and Yoko woke up too, and I, in an effort to get coffee, real coffee, left the hotel by myself to walk up the tramway and see if Starbucks was open. Everything was waking up, grey and slow like the morning anywhere else in the world.

My simple impression of Istanbul was that the people (more than anywhere else I have been) are incredibly kind. I mentioned this in relation to the kids, and I was mostly sceptical of it at first, but it soon became obvious that everyone was being kind to the kids, not just people who were trying to sell us things. The man sweeping the street stopped to kiss Mei. At the cafe last night, Mei was fussing again and the old man behind us was doing everything in his power to get Mei to settle down and come sit at his table. And really, seriously, I swear, there was nothing weird about it. Someone at the spice market (a Turkish man who spoke excellent Japanese and was married to a Japanese woman) explained it to us: Children, he said, are like candy in Turkey.

Yesterday afternoon, we were headed back to the hotel and after coming out of an underground walkway into the square in front of Galata Bridge, there was a call to prayer again, and in the midst of the all bustle and movement of people around me, I stopped and listened as carefully as one can to a language you don't understand. Standing there in the sun, I was glad that god is great for whomever he is great for.

Similarly: standing in front of the Blue Mosque waiting for prayers to end and watching people rush in and then all pour out, pulling on their shoes and getting back to their lives. How nice it must be to come together, almost everyone in your community bowed in the same direction, for the same purpose. Nothing about it made me uneasy. It was a Walt Whitman, Song of Myself moment. I am everyone and everyone is me.

All that said, most of this works on the premise that you don't take things out of the box. When you take things out of the box, you can't put them back. Take out the bit on women's rights, for example, and then what happens? What if it turns out that god is not great. Then what happens. What falls apart then.

Nothing is ever as it seems, I'm sure, but Istanbul and the Turkish national character are lodged in my heart now and my little family's heart. It made moving around much, much easier--buoyed by positive energy coming up from all sides.

On the top of a ferry riding towards Kabatas yesterday, it was just Mei and I in the sun, the ferry bobbing up and down as it made its way across the strait. Mei is too young to remember, I'm sure, but I will always remember it. I saw a reflection of myself in the window, the two of us sat against the backdrop of this incredible place I had never once thought of as a place to go and I felt as though I gotten a little closer to who I want to be.