Thursday, April 3, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 1)

Have you ever been in a situation that was just so surreal you almost felt uncomfortable and a bit out of your league, yet incredibly fulfilled? Well, that is how my trip to Istanbul played out.

Pam and I went to Istanbul to see the city but also to stay with friends, Ahmet and Necla. Pam was in a French class with Necla a couple of years back and got to know her pretty well. I met them for the first time when Pam and Necla picked me up from the airport Friday night.

Ahmet and Necla were the best hosts. They live in an incredible (and I mean incredible) home that sits on a cliff side and overlooks the Bosphorus Sea. Pam and I stayed in their guest quarters on the top level with our very own living room (with a view), patio, kitchen, and bathroom. My bedroom had a view of the Bosphorus, as well.

Here are some pics I took of their home:

Our kitchen
Living room with a view
On the patio
The pool
Tippa, Necla, Ahmet, and Pam

The more I got to know Ahmet and Necla, the more I realized what incredible lives they have lived. Ahmet has worked all over the world and is now a writer and has been published in every major newspaper and journal around the world. They have dined and entertained with the elite of the elite in European society, including the late Princess Diana.

It was not their lives that I was most impressed with or even their accomplishments, it was just how unbelievably down-to-earth, nice, kind and hospitable they were. Not to mention how incredibly intelligent. I have learned a lot about international affairs while living abroad and even impressed myself at how I was able to participate in such intellectual conversations we had. Not only did I participate, but I listened and learned about so much history...more than I ever did in school.

Ahmet and Necla were raised Muslim, but had not practiced in years. They converted to Greek Orthodox about 4 years ago and even took us to their Greek Orthodox church on Sunday. What an amazing experience and one that I never would had if it were not for them. I am very strong in my faith; but not too familiar with the details of other religions and beliefs. The service was conducted in Greek with verses from the Bible read in Turkish. It is sort of like the type of ceremony you would see at a Catholic church. I did not understand a single word throughout the service, but what I did understand was their worship and strong belief in God. It is amazing how that translates no matter what language you speak.

We attended a special service held only during the month of Easter. In the Greek Orthodox church, they celebrate Easter at a different time than when we do. Their Easter is celebrated on April 27th of this year. Ahmet explained to me that we (Western Christianity) celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. They (Eastern Christianity), in keeping with the rule established by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, adhere to the tradition that Easter must always fall after the Jewish Passover, since the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ happened after the celebration of Passover. Eventually the Orthodox Church came up with an alternative to calculating Easter based on Passover, and developed a 19-year cycle, as opposed to the Western Church 84-year cycle.

Totally confused? Well, do some research and you may understand more. I found it all very fascinating!

We also had dinner one night with a friend of Ahmet and Necla's who wrote a very controversial book a few years ago. He is originally from Iran and was forced to flee his country in 1999 due to political uprising. He fled to the US and lived in Oklahoma and Texas for a while. He later moved to New York City, got his PhD, and taught at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities around the world. Just having the opportunity to sit and talk with someone with an unbelievable background was so inspiring to me. I do not have to have the same beliefs as someone else to admire the tribulations he has gone through in his life. Can you imagine not being able to go back to the country where your family lives and possibly never seeing them again? I felt like my life is so small and unimportant in comparison to how these people have lived. It really opens your eyes to the different ways people live their lives. We get so set in our ways and think the problem of the day is so insurmountable. There are a lot worse problems out there that we could deal with in our safe little worlds.

Behzad, Necla, and Ahmet
I left Istanbul with a greater understanding and a more open mind to international views of America, religions, and different cultures. It was an amazing history lesson and one that could never be taught in a classroom!

More to come on the sites in Istanbul.

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