Monday, December 5, 2011

"I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger than reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls."

- Anais Nin

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ive got a one-way ticket to London booked for Jan 15th.

This means I have about 2 months to save up $3000 (the magic travel amount the lets you wander on-the-cheap for a few months until you *cross fingers*, find a job teaching somewhere...). This stresses me out, saving up this kind of cash so quickly, but is also entirely motivating. Im working 2 jobs and living in my friends spare room, so it should work out.

Then, onward to Morocco where I will be working as an Au Pair for a few months in Rabat, then eventually, to Istanbul to work for the rest of the year, hopefully.

In between i plan to backpack throughout Morocco and see the country i was almost born in. Id like to see Iran in there as well, depending on what flights are available. Maybe even mosy on down to Uzbekistan. Samarkand!! And Maybe back to Syria too...who knows.

No plans, no dramas. ;) Let the road carry me where it wants to.

I'm stoked!

Monday, September 12, 2011

just another replicant



"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain."







The saddest part about returning home from traveling abroad, isn't just the return to routine and familiarity (though that is certainly mildly depressing)....its the slow fading of your intense travel memories.

waking up on a rock in the Wadi Rum desert, next to a rather cuddly Bedouin man


Staring out over the Nile at sunset, feeling like you have walked into a postcard and pinching yourself that you are actually in the Valley of the Kings.

the blinding glare of the Pyramids at Giza in the morning, as you balanced yourself on a Camels back and thought with such certainty, in shock and awe, that theres no WAY humans could have made such a thing

the rusty, crowded Damascene minibus, sputtering away as you sat in the backseat with a squished bag of falafels, en route to the Train Station to depart for Aleppo.

the desperate looks on the faces of the Somalian prostitutes in Iraq, squinting in the unbearable heat of the noon-day mesopotamian sun

Taksim Square in the evening, waiting outside the burger king for a friend, smells of Sheesha and dry kebabs perfuming the air as you watched Istanbul girls in hijabs and high heels teeter away into the night...

All these memories start to grow a little more dim as the days pass by. I sit in the downtown Calgary library and read travel memoirs and guidebooks and giant picture books about the Middle East, just to try to keep the flame in my brain alive.

It helps a little bit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Amman to Damascus * Or, "How i learned to stop stressing and borrow available wings"


Like many a wayward Middle East backpacker before me, I came to Syria overland by way of Amman, Jordan. Unlike most other flip-flop-footed travelers in the region however, this journey was made at a rather precarious time, smack in the middle of the so-called “arab spring” this past June. Mere weeks after my own home nest of Canada issued a warning against all travel to the country, I decided to take the plunge and make good use of my $78 tourist visa obtained one snowy, spring morning months earlier via Canada post -after having mailed my passport all the way from Calgary to the Syrian embassy in Ottawa. It was a far cry from the hot morning months later, where I sat in the Abbasi Palace hotel in downtown Amman, a friendly budget establishment who -despite their protests that Syria was unsafe for me to visit at the time- had arranged for me a ride to Damascus in a shared taxi across the border.

Breakfast having just past, I paced about the common room, my backpack propped against the wall, shoes on and Lonely Planet in hand, having those ackward prolonged goodbyes with people whom you have spent only a few days with, but through the intense chaos of travel feel like you’ve somehow known your whole life. The phone rang at the front desk and I was told my taxi had just arrived downstairs. Maria, my Aussie friend and travel companion who had spent the last few weeks traipsing with me through the dust and sand and chaos of Jordan, helped to carry my clumsy bag into the little elevator and we made our farewells outside. She kissed me on both cheeks , said “stay in touch” and surely echoing my own appearance, looked somewhat like she was going to cry (or perhaps it was the unforgiving glare of the Jordanian sun).

In a sudden solar flash the scene changed quickly however, and there was little time for sentiment or sadness. My taxi driver beckoned; a large, loud, grumpy, chain-smoking man who spoke very little English and looked considerably stressed out about the drive (the Jabir-Nassib border crossing having been completely closed only days before, and the recent shelling of the nearby Syrian town of Daraa might have had something to do with this). None-the-less, I quickly piled in the backseat next to a rather miserable looking Jordanian man, until there was some intense shouting in Arabic amongst the parked car and I was shuffled into the front seat (as it is customary to not seat women next to men in most Mid-East countries). We drove a few blocks to a busy intersection where many other cabs were congregated, proceeded to continue the shouting with further confusion and drama and switching of passengers and seats -I got the impression that some other man had been promised my place in the taxi, but as I was certainly the only foreigner (not to mention the only female) around, somehow I thankfully took priority.

After all this kerfuffle and switching of places (and me silently repeating “oh GOD what am I getting myself into??”, in the back of my head), we were off, me riding shotgun with two very curious and perplexed looking Syrian men squished in the backseat behind me. One of them, a burly blue-eyed man with a kefiyyeh scarf on his head -who looked unlike any Arab man I had met thus far in the region (and admittedly got me rather excited about the attractive and exotic eye candy yet to come, lets be honest here), kept handing me cigarettes and drinks of his water and cookies and obscenely strong Arabic coffee. I was quite taken aback by this extreme hospitality, but then I remembered everything i'd read in my the guidebook about Syrians being some of the nicest friendliest people ever, and I smiled to myself at how this man was so perfectly living up to his reputation. I obliged him in all his offerings much to the chagrin of my bursting bladder. As well, the lack of available ashtray resulted in me hanging my arm out the window as we sped down the highway, to which the testy driver shrilly scolded me for in abrupt Arabic, forcing me to roll up the windows and creating a lovely hotbox of a ride- all smoke and coffee fumes and illegal speeds. I'll never forget that man in the backseat though, his genuine kindness and protectiveness; even though he spoke next to no English I could tell he was trying to ease my nerves- that I was a girl, alone, going into Syria in the middle of a revolution.

The Drive continued Northward and every time we passed a roadsign showing distances to the border (80 km…50 km…20km) I remember getting this huge shot of adrenaline, one that almost made me literally bounce with glee, spilling my little paper cup of coffee over my shaky mosquito-bitten knees. Here I was, going to a country that my own government had issued an “avoid all travel” warning to, that every other person I met in Egypt and Jordan who had planned to visit Syria had aborted their plans for. Me and me ALONE -a punky looking , rather scruffy, sunbaked and dirty Canadian female, in a worn out green hemp miniskirt, ripped t-shirt, black bandanna and maryjane ballet flats- going where I had been pleaded with by nearly an army of naysayers (God bless my friends and family) NOT to go to. I haven’t felt that sort of excitement and thrill, since.

When we came to the border, my excitement turned to actual nervousness as the guards searched the trunk of the taxi, gave me quizzical looks and all the while talked briskly in an Arabic that I couldn’t even pretend to understand. All three of us passengers handed our passports to the driver with him subtly placing mine on the bottom -as though he hoped he could somehow hide the glaringly obvious “CANADA” written in fancy gold-stamped text and just float on through. Ill never forget the way the guards looked at me through the dusty cab window, cocking their heads, with their crisp military gear and AK47’s casually dangling over their shoulders, as though I was some strange lost bird that had accidentally flown into an area outside its normal migratory route. I smiled demurely, a polite parrot if there ever was one, while the whole time the little invisible djinn of adventure travel on my shoulder giggled and shrieked and prodded me, “holy shit JULIA, YOU ARE IN SYRIA!”. We were waved through and then had to get out of the car to hand our customs forms to the officers and be officially let in the country. I don’t remember too much about this part, as I think the adrenaline rush had shattered the few cells in my brain responsible for memory retention. I do know that on the area of the form that asks “Occupation” I had written “Artist” forgetting that in Syria, “Artist” is a polite term for the desperate Russian girls who work as escorts throughout the region), to which the men at the booth had a good laugh at and winked and smiled. Welcome to Syria.

My taxi journey ended about an hour later, as abruptly as it had started, by being dumped on the side of the road in an outskirt of Damascus. A variety of motley looking local taxi drivers all squawked and cawed “Welcome, Welcome!” in varying degrees of English, and tried to throw my bags into their trunks as I stood somewhat shellshocked and confused. I eventually settled on one who seemed to rudimentarily understand my requests of “May I borrow your mobile phone”, and he drove me a few blocks to where my Syrian Couchsurfer friend was waiting.

It is at this point that my perilous journey into Syria ended, and my willing free-fall tumble down the rabbit hole of travel true love (infatuation? love?) began, with my 2 week stay. Love for a country unlike any other; a country with people so spirited and resilient that words cannot describe without resorting to tired cliches. A country that continues to both horrify me with its sickeningly brutal internal political policy, and astound me with its inherent natural and man-made beauty. A country of a thousand-and-one stories and myths, both good and bad, true and false. A country where even an exotic western bird such as myself can feel as at home and welcomed as though she were in her local habitat, an excitable red cardinal in a flock of nargileh-tobacco-scented carefree Syrian pigeons.

But that complicated love story, is another story for another time.
'Till next time.
(With feathers ruffled),
-Julia

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Breakfast Club



I am writing this while thousands of miles in the air, sitting on the rather worn out airbus jet operated by British Airways, enroute to London where insha allah I will catch my connecting flight to Calgary. There are no TV sets or anything on this rather barebones plane, so its giving me a good excuse to write.

I just finished eating my breakfast here, soggy toast and salty scrambled eggs served on a plastic tray, with packaged plastic cutlery, some decent yogurt with fresh orange segments, and a proper cuppa of English breakfast tea, with milk. This was the first cup of tea in over 3 months that I have had containing milk. How quickly things can change, just step on an airplane!!

It got me to thinking about these amazing last 107 days, and all the many breakfasts I consumed, and how I could honestly tell you the details about each one- I don’t know why but maybe because a weary backpacker often judges a hostel on its free breakfast, they stick out in my overloaded memory. Here then is a list of all the breakfast's I consumed on this 3-and-a-half month journey, staring in Cairo, where it all began:

Dinas Hostel , Cairo, Egypt – I remember most the chinzy foil wrapped triangles of processed cheese served with cucumbers and tomatoes that I was scared to consume (my sensitive Canadian stomach not yet being acclimatized to any minute amounts of bacteria on the vegetables), some dry french bread and packets of apricot jam. Me and the few other travelers to Egypt at that time would sit around in the common room and check out facebook and start the day, with instant coffees served by a charming Egyptian man named Ramadan, who spoke no English but had a twinkle in his eye that surpassed all language barriers.

Bob Marley house, Luxor , Egypt– For the 3 days that I stayed here my mornings started with a giant rooftop breakfast of fruit and yogurt and really bad tasting greasy eggs (butter is not always like normal butter in the middle east), maybe some toast, jam and various other things, while overlooking the Nile and the temples of Karnak proudly standing in the distance. the Man who ran this place was a cool (and also very attractive) Egyptian stoner dude who burned incense and had a giant tattoo of a scorpion on his arm. I also remember they served cereal here with that weird 3 month long shelflife, pasteurized-to-death milk that I refuse to drink. I haven’t had cereal in months because of it.

Penguin village, Dahab, Egypt – No free breakfast here that I recall. I know I ate a lot of delicious fuul and tahini and hummus with falafel patties (see the photo above) at a little cafĂ© crawling with cats by the red sea one morning, and was so happy to be eating decent food in Egypt!

Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan – Staying with the Bedouin here, breakfast was varied. The first morning, upon hearing of our love of falafel, Tyseer made the drive into town before we awoke and presented me and my Aussie pal Maria, with some wonderful falafel wraps which we ate sitting in the sand. It was great. Other days we ate yogurt and dry pita bread out on a rock and it was pretty sparse. I remember eating dinner on the ground at the camp one night, sheep liver and something else that terrified me, with my bare hands that hadnt been washed in hours, just because I was so hungry and was worried if I didn’t eat then, I might be literally starving the next day.

Valentine inn, Wadi Musa, Jordan – Breakfast here was pretty standard and cost 3 dinar extra , so I think me and Maria ate cheap falafel down the street more than the offered bread and jam affair. I remember the amazing 20 item homemade vegetarian buffet dinners here most of all though, which at 4 dinar were great value and more than made up for the lacklustre breakfast.

Abbasi Palace hotel, Amman, Jordan – I remember the punchy and hilarious divorced female owner (not so many independant divorced punchy women in Jordan, let me tell you) smiling and getting her Indonesian workers to bring us coffee and toast and those little ubiquitous cheese triangles on trays divided with partitions. Hardboiled eggs. Jordanian fatayer pastries with spinach inside, mmm...while we watched BBC news (mostly of the carnage in Syria, where I was headed next) and me and Maria planned our mall days.

Damascus, Syria – Couchsurfing here with my friend Shadi meant the breakfast usually consisted of strong Arabic coffee (nothing like Turkish coffee, no murky grounds to thicken it, just distilled caffeine in a bottle spiced with cardamom and strong as HELL), numerous cigarettes and hunks of pita bread dipped in sticky date treacle syrup or hummus. One time we had boiled potatoes and eggs with salt and pepper, eaten silently with his very hungover friend Hashem who looked very unimpressed with Shadis cooking -but it tasted great to me.

Gawalhaer hotel , Aleppo, Syria – No free breakfast here, but I know I ate a mighty good schawarma after wandering around the souk one time , and also had some really good juice/smoothie thing made fresh down the street, that the hotel owner brought to me after a night of drinking Gin together on the roof.

Antakya, Turkey – Couchsurfed for a night here with my pal Celil and his friend, and was treated to a lovely homemade Kurdish breakfast of fresh pide bread, scrambled eggs, cherry syrup jam (very common in turkey), and the classic feta-like peyniri cheese. We ate on the floor of the kitchen with our hands. I loved it so much.

Urfa, Turkey – I stayed a few nights at some weird little hotel here where no one spoke any English and there was certainly no breakfast, maybe a cup of tea offered, but I ate some apricots off the street and a giant doner sandwich that was actually decent for once, so it was okay I guess.

Dohuk, Iraq - Spent one night here at the only hotel recommended in the lonely planet guide, no other guests except the Iraqi man, Hassam, who picked me up (in a platonic way of course) and took care of me at the border. No complimentary breakfast here, but Hassam treated me to fresh fruit smoothies and tiramisu-like cake the next morning at a little sunny yellow cafe down the street, before we headed off in the shared taxi bound for Erbil.

Erbil. Iraq – Staying with my friend Emily here was great. Breakfast was shared downstairs in the company of her roomates in the kitchen of their giant metal-doored and concrete floored apartment (typical middle-east housing) – surly Joe from B.C and another chatty American from San Francisco, Carter. I remember we ate a delicious pepper spiced Kurdish cheese that I haven’t found since, bread, eggs, jam, olives, Halva and plenty of instant coffee

One miscellaneous morning at a bus station in Diyarbakir on the way back to Turkey I found myself, (after 20 hours on a bus coming from Iraq), eating French fries with a lot of ketchup at 8 am. That was a long 30 hour journey to make it to Mersin and I was hungry! I also ate a lot of Turkish prepackacged roadside cakes.

Mersin, Turkey – For 6 weeks here, (mon – fri) I was treated to complimentary breakfast at the summer camp I was teaching at. It made the getting up and stumbling downstairs to the service bus at 730 am a bit easier knowing that food was waiting for me there. It varied a bit day to day, but always consisted of giant platters of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh white cheese, French bread, eggs of various kinds (mushroom omelettes or sometimes this tomatoes and onion based stewed eggs that I loved), sometimes fried cheese rolls or borek, olives, and plenty of little tulip shaped cups of tea

Konya, Turkey – when I couchsurfed here with my Sufi friend Huseyin, his father made the most wonderful Turkish breakfast for me and the 3 other French girls staying with them. Hardboiled eggs, bread, tomatoes, cukes, lettuce and mint, olives,cheese, treacle syrup, pomegrante syrup and endless cups of tea and Turkish coffee. I helped slice the cheese into cubes and wash the lettuce and made his dad laugh very hard with my rudimentary Turkish (“gunaydin, nasil siniz?” = good morning! How are you”). It was one of the nicest mornings of my life.

Stray Cat hostel, Istanbul, Turkey – Upon my first arrival here, breakfast had just passed and I accidentally knocked the still-half-full bowl of scrambled eggs all over the floor with my clumsy giant backpack. Chris just laughed and told me to go put my things away…setting the easy going mood I had the pleasure of enduring for the entire 11 days I worked here. Breakfast here was lazy and simple, --french bread, sometimes eggs, nutella, yogurt and tomatoes. However there were 2 days where in a hungover unshowered haze , after arriving back in Taksim having spent the night at my friends house on the Asian side, I ate junior whoppers and orange juice from Burger King  instead. Ughhh

And now….I head back to Canada. My last free breakfast courtesy of British airways. My head is so full of so many memories, its like a swimming pool full to the brim whose excess water flows into the edge when someone enters the pool. and gets sucked down and recycled back into the system. I can visualize all these breakfasts and where I was when I ate them…and now I have to come back to the familiar, the mundane, the same. The hurried Calgary breakfast of Starbucks lattes and bagels. I'm so nervous.

I am going to vow to eat more interesting foods in the mornings.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A tale of two coffeeshops: Part 2


The Sark Kahvesi

Now I am sitting in my other favourite -this time above ground-coffeeshop in Istanbul. The Sark Kahvesi cafe in the middle of the loud and clamourous Grand Bazaar is in a sense similar to the Cistern cafe in that hundreds of tourists are buzzing about the general area (the Grand Bazaar being one of the most frenetic, chaotic markets on earth), but this little nook is itself fairly quiet. Just the quiet hum of (mostly Turkish) conversations over tiny cups of tea, and the click-clack of backgammon boards.

Pictures of Sufi dervishes are painted on the ancient, vaulted, yellowed and peeling ceiling, and framed photos of Ataturk as well as black and white photos of the Bazaar a hundred years ago, line the walls. It reminds me a bit of the Al-Nawfara coffeeshop in old Damascus with its faded wooden trimmed walls and various hues of yellow and brown, although sadly there are no waterpipes to be found here, nor ashtrays on the tables.

Nonetheless, it is a pleasant oasis of calm in the middle of a very busy place and I am enjoying my sugary tea here immesely as i write in this notebook and read my "Introduction to Sufism" book that is far more in depth with theory and difficult to read that I anticipated!

My lazy afternoon consuming caffeine in these 2 wonderful cafes has left me feeling apprehensive about my return to Calgary. The reverse culture shock that is bound to set in having to sip lattes at sterile hipster hangouts like Phil and Sebastien, or expensive frappucinos at mall Starbucks. These Anatolian embroidered tableclothes will be replaced by wiped down plastic counters, these shaky wooden stools with sleek Ikea furniture.

I am missing Turkey before I have even left...

A tale of two coffeeshops: Part 1



The Basilica Cistern

I have officially found my favourite place in Istanbul to sit and linger over a syrupy strong cup of Turkish Coffee: The Cistern cafe hidden deep inside the dank underground caverns of the Basilica Cistern.

Built in the 6th century AD by late Roman emperor Justinian as a giant underground water depository, the Basilica Cistern is a gigantic 105,000 sq foot space dimly lit with orange lights and the occasional candle. Hungry carp swim freely under the recently constructed walkways and the 336 stately Roman columns scattered throughout create a magical labyrinth feel only added to by the 2 mysterious giant carved heads of Medusa that sit in the NE corner of the Cistern. It has been suggested that with all the heavy traffic above (the Basilica sits under the most heavily visted area of the city, in old Sultanhamet), that the structure is in dangerous risk of collapse, but this danger element only adds to the appeal.

There is a great echo effect created by the din of tourists circling the place, snapping photos and aimlessly walking, but very few people seem to take a seat at the little red-neon-signed cafe hidden in the south corner (perhaps preferring to socialize and get their caffeine fix above ground? what nonsense!). This leaves introverts such as myself with the perfect place to sit and soak up the spooky atmosphere of the place while having a brew of Istanbul's finest drink: the Turkish coffee. Wonderful.

The problem is of course, admission to the Basilica is 10 lira, which coupled with the 5 for the coffee would make this a rather expensive habit to uphold (about 9 bucks total). Nevermind the fact that huddled in the corner writing this hunched over a candle makes me appear a bit of a freakish quasimodo-like character... then again, at this point, I am rather used to appearing this way. Maybe I should bring some Tarot Cards here and do readings for the tourists.

I love it here. I never want to ascend above ground. I imagine living in this city and how wonderful it would be to come here on my days off and treat myself to this expensive coffee in this special subterranean place, how maybe after awhile the officials would recognize me and stop charging me the entrance fee and I could pen poetry and short stories written by candlelight whilst inhaling the spirits of Byzantine ghosts and soaking up the Holy Roman history that I dont know well enough to accurately reference here, but that nonetheless is appealing enough to make me see the faces of saints in my coffeecup grounds.

Istanbul, you never cease to amaze me.

xo




Tuesday, August 9, 2011

last days


This is what I do while I am broke in Istanbul.

Sit in Mosques and write humorous cynical quips on the backs of postcards bought at Topkapi Palace.


Monday, August 8, 2011


The really great thing about Istanbul (aside from the obvious - endless Bazaars, cats everywhere and the ever-omnipresent smell of apple sheesha)??

Tonight as I wandered the narrow hilly streets of Cihangir (the "bohemian" neighbourhood my hostel is located in), I felt like I was in Rome, San Francisco, New York City, Paris and Damascus all in one. It is truly such a diverse cosmopolitan city.

(Until you try and find a decent on-the-go bite to eat that is, and the ubiquitous kebab shop remains the only choice. BAM!! You are reminded that you are in fact, in Turkey)

Having said that, I found a great sweet shop nearby that sells little bags of fresh pistachio Turkish delight for about a dollar. Oh my god.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Today my 6 weeks of living in Mersin comes to an end.

Tonight I board an overnight bus bound for Istanbul.

There is an expression I once heard that goes something like “with time, everything becomes softened by the joy of nostalgia, even the guillotine”, that is to say, even memories that are unpleasant will become easier to handle, with time. And in some way, now just knowing that I am leaving this humid city , and exhausting summer camp job, makes me think about what I will miss.

Last night was a perfect example of what I both simultaneously love and hate (hate might be a strong word, lets just say what can be frustrating if you just want some space or time to yourself) about Turkish culture: after going for iced coffees with a dozen or so of the other teachers and oldest kids from the summer camp, and having quite the lovely evening sitting around the Marina, in bearable evening tempuratures for once, it came time to catch the last dolmus (minibus) back to the suburb ive been living in. The last one leaves at approximatley 1130 in the evening so we had to hurry. Affectionate goodbyes were exchanged amongst everyone, (even between those kids who live in Mersin and will likely see each other next week). Warm hugs, kisses on the cheek, squeezes of hands, pats on the back, more kisses on the cheek and “ill miss yous!”. We then walked a ways to drop of a few of the students to their parents awaiting sport utility vehicles. This instigated another round of goodbyes, between everyone. Then we walked another block up to the main road where a few other teachers bid another adieu to their not-so-humble abode. Again, another round of kisses and hugs. By the time me and the 4 other teachers I share the apartment complex in Tece with had caught our Dolmus I must have been kissed at least 4 times by each person, totally about 40 times. Then again this morning as I was about to enter the shower, one of my housemates was leaving to go to her cousins, and knocked loudly until I opened, as I ackwardly stood in a towel to give me yet another final goodbye.

Its absolutely kind and wonderful and so representative of Turkish people…but at the same time, if you have to actually be somewhere at a particular time or hurry, or just want to get going…then god help you! Hahaha. Ive also been told that its sort of a symptom of a culture that is incapable of being solitary, that no one has any real independance or will to do anything alone.

Anyways...bye Mersin, hello Istanbul!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Only seekers find it...



This weekend I made the quick 6 hour jaunt to visit the famous Turkish city of Konya -former capital of the Seljuk empire, site of the mausoleum of a certain legendary Sufi poet and original site where the Mevlana whirling dervishes first…whirled .After experiencing smoky overnight train rides from hell in Egypt, slow old ferries sputtering their last breathes across the Red Sea and 28 hour bus journeys from Iraq that involved border waits of 6 hours in and of themselves, I am really loving these short efficient bus rides to different cities within Turkey, I gotta say!
My “efficient” journey began with a woman sitting next to me on the bus who, having not bought actual seats for her identical twin preschool aged daughters, had to share her cute brood of children with me and my seat, in a not-so-efficient way. In and of itself this wouldn’t have been an issue really (the concept of personal space doesn’t seem to exist in Turkey -or elsewhere in the mid east- but i've just surrendered to this and accepted it as much as part of the life as tiny glasses of tea or blue evil-eye keychains), however, to climb the 1000 feet from sea level in Mersin to the high hazy plains of Anatolia requires considerable twisty roads on the edges of cliffs and mountains. Suffice to say, the complimentary ice cream treats courtesy of Konyator buslines were rather ill-timed, as one of the girls proceeded to throw up all over herself and her sister , who at that point was laying on the floor under my legs. I was boxed in to the whole situation (having the good fortune of landing a window seat for once in my life), desperately trying to get the attention of the assistant bus driver, frantically handing tissues to the mother and trying to keep myself clear of it all because I really hadn’t brought much more than a change of underwear and toothpaste on this trip, and really would rather not smell of puke for my life-changing spiritual awakening at the shrine of Rumi’s grave, thankyouverymuch.
Vomit aside, I made it safe and sound to Konya to stay with a couchsurfing friend I had messaged sometime ago, Huseyin (and his charming 60 year old dad who lives with him). It turned out to be such a great choice to couchsurf here, as Huseyin is one of the smartest most inspiring people I have met in ages and staying with him was like staying with an old friend. I have never felt so comfortable around someone in such a short span of time, really. On the second night’ (when 3 other travelers from France showed up a day earlier than he thought and the spare room was too crowded), he even gave me his very bed to use and he slept on the couch, without hesitation. Unbelievable.
Anyways, I spent most of Saturday wandering the center of the city, and sitting on the floor of the Shams Tabrizi mausoleum and mosque (such a wonderful little place, I actually came back later in the day to just…sit some more). It felt really surreal to be there, kind of overwhelming and perfect and I cant really articulate exactly how or why in a way that will make sense and not sound too flaky, but it felt so… meant to be, I guess you could say. The Shams mausoleum in particular felt this way, although of course the Mevlana museum and Rumis mausoleum were stunning and overwhelming as well, nevermind the sight of some 30-odd whirling dervishes performing the Sema dance, outside later that evening, on a gorgeous July night.
Konya is known to be the most conservative city in Turkey but the great thing about Turkey is that what equals "conservative" here wouldn’t even register on the scale of conservatism in other places ive recently traveled. I can wear whatever I want, not be harassed one bit, go into the mosques only removing my shoes and not having to don some ridiculous wizard-like cloak (which really ruined my experience of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus I must say– a windy day and this stupid garb blowing about and I couldn’t exactly have anything even resembling a “spiritual experience”, especially while all my male friends stood there smugly in their t-shirts and jeans and I wanted to scream). It was also such a breath of fresh air to meet my Sufi friend Huseyin, the best example of what it should really mean to be Muslim, such a good person I cant almost believe it, To hear him, this Sartre and Camus obsessed, socialist, actor/filmmaker, talk about his dislike of conservatism and tell stories of how fundamentalists give him looks while he prays at the mosques, because hes wearing shorts or whatever, and how absurd it all is, was so refreshing. I wish every hypocrite muslim I met on this trip, (the men in Egypt yelling sexual provocations as me, the married Bedouin men in Jordan who tried to get me to sleep with them, the various ignoramuses who questioned me in Syria as to why I wasn’t married yet and “didn’t like” my answer of “because I haven’t met anyone ive wanted to marry and anyways if I WAS married I probably woulnt be here, travelliing independently through your country so whatever, the grass is always greener, im just enjoying being single, for now”), I wish they could have just one day with Huseyin and see things differently. If the whole world thought in such an enlightened way maybe the world wouldn’t be in such chaos, seriously. On a personal level, I really needed to meet him at this time, as my opinion on religion had been soured quite a bit by my various recent experiences, and hes really the first person to make me see differently and see the beauty behind Islam, the essence beneath the dogma, free from hypocrisy or judgement. So Thank you Huseyin!
Konya was absolutely fantastic and it has left me feeling really happy . Huseyin told me that it is said if you are feeling incomplete when you walk into visit Rumi’s grave, by the time you walk out, if you are sincere in your seeking, you will have found what was missing and will leave a whole person. Something like that anyways. And, right now, not too sound too new age or mushy, I can honestly say I really do feel very… whole.
:)