11:54 AM in Istanbul
April 5th, 2015
I feel badly for what happened this morning. I didn't mean to hurt him. I would never want anyone to do anything like what I've done to him to me....
Let me start from the beginning. So last week, I was itching to get out of Baltimore. I knew my Spring break was coming up but I wasn't sure of where to go. New York was out of the question, couldn't go down south with Ce for her road trip, and even if I wanted to go somewhere far, there was no one to go with. I laid under my periwinkle sheets and tried to picture myself content with staying in Baltimore for my Spring break. It wasn't happening. I just couldn't see it. So I opened my MacBook and began searching for something that I could afford. After my first search, I found an affordable flight to Europe and without even blinking, I booked it.
Friday, April 3rd, 2015
11:39 PM (New York Time)
I'm sitting on this flight, heading to Istanbul. I have no idea what to expect. All I know about Istanbul is that there is a heavy Islamic culture, the Ottoman Empire reigned succeeding the Byzantine Empire, and they have lots of houses that sit on hills. I have a few mosques on my list of things to see but I didn't bother making a real agenda. It's just me, I'm going with my own flow. That's the best part of being alone on this adventure, I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.
Saturday, April 4th, 2015
4:00 PM (Turkish Time)
We've been on this flight forever but finally, we are about to land. I always leave something on the plain because of my anxiety to get off so I told the man that I was sitting next to, to pardon me in advance because I will need to take my time as we departed the plain.
"I get anxiety too. Totally understandable. This flight was ridiculously long, I'm glad it's over." His voice was extremely preppy, like Carlton's friends on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
"Me too, although I missed the whole thing. You didn't sleep?"
"Not really. This pillow didn't really work." He was silly to believe that the pillow was what hindered his comfortability. I looked at his attire. He was wearing a tight black suit and tie. I could be wrong but it appeared that he never removed his dress shoes during the flight.
"Hey, where are you from?" I asked. I'm always curious.
"I live in Baltimore."
"I hate that place." The word hate was filled with such disdain as it echoed from his tongue. "Baltimore is such a dirty city. Pointless place."
I didn't say a thing. I let the awkward silence between us grow louder than any words ever could. I could tell it made him feel even more uncomfortable than he was in that suit.
"I'm sorry. I just don't like it there."
He was white, clean shaven, and coveting a pair of deep obsidian blue eyes.
"It's okay. Not to worry, I'm from New York, originally."
"I hate that place too." Clearly, he had no filter. "See.. It's not just Baltimore. I hate lots of places."
I grew silent at his bland attempt to play off his striking candidness because I wasn't buying it. I let him live though. I was just ready to get off of the plain.
"What are you reading?"
"The Road Less Traveled..." I showed him the cover of the book that I bought just for this trip. My therapist had it on her desk during our session this week. She said she was rereading it for a second time - which meant that it had to be some kind of good.
"This is Michio Kaku! I met him you know!? He's really on a different level than the rest of us. I can hear his voice with every word I read."
His enthusiasm could've shot him straight through the roof of the plane. The book was called, "The Physics of the Impossible".
"He says we can teleport and time travel. It's wild!"
My new white friend looked at me in disbelief. His frown made way for every wrinkle in his young face to make a debut.
"We just time traveled. We went from Friday to Saturday, skipping time - by flying from country to country. We're 7 hours ahead of everyone else now."
"That's true but I'm talking about going back in time."
"We do that too, when we dwell on the past - we may as well be reliving those moments as if they are happening over and over again."
"Are you a philosopher? What do you do?"
"I'm an educator by profession but I am not a philosopher. I just think about things and sometimes I write them."
"That's the same thing as a philosopher."
"How long is the walk to the Blue Mosque?" I asked the friendly desk attendant as she handed me a map of the city.
"It's about a 20 minute walk but you don't want to go there now. It's closed and it's Friday night. Go to Istiklal, you'll be able to see some shops and go down the side streets for local shops. It's going to be nice." Her smile made me feel safe. It was my first time staying in a hostel alone but I felt a strong sense of security because of the warmth in her brown eyes.
I didn't follow her directions though. I went the opposite way. I wanted to plan my route to the Blue Mosque so that I wouldn't get lost in the morning. Because this was only a layover stay, I would have to be back in the airport by noon, I wouldn't have any time to get lost before then.
I walked past the ancient Galata Tower. I wanted to go to the top of it so that I would be able to see the entire city but the line was about 5 days long. I didn't have time for that. These 3 teenaged Turkish boys ran up to me while I was snapping shots of the tower. One of them shoved this thick, red book into my hands... I tried to give it back but they started saying something I could not understand and then, the three of them just ran off. Quite perplexing to say the least.. Anyways, I said thank you (even though they were gone and couldn't hear me) and I looked around to see if anyone else had been given the red book ..it seemed to just be me.. I put it in my backpack because I love books, so I figured I would add it to my personal library - even though I would never be able to read it.....
I kept walking further down the hill toward the bridge, passing many different shops. I wasn't planning on buying anything but I couldn't resist picking up a few hand made rings for Meekz and Shells... And a pair of purple round shades - they were super cute.
If people couldn't tell I was tourist because of my funky oversized sweater jacket, they would surely be able to identify me because of the way I kept stopping to take pictures. There was graffiti everywhere. Tags and pictures that made me feel like I was right back home in NYC.
As I walked closer to the water I noticed a woman sitting with her husband and daughter. Our eyes connected before she quickly looked away. I kept looking. There was something about her that made me want to get closer. I wanted to talk to her and ask her about life for women in Istanbul. I wanted to know about her daughters teachers and their school system. I wanted to find out who this woman was ...but when I got close enough to ask her anything, I froze. All I could think to ask was for a picture. At first she told me no...but her husband smiled when I pulled out 10TL and offered it to them. Again, she still said no.
"Güzelsin" ... I said, in an attempt to explain my reasoning for wanting to capture her. I don't know if I pronounced it correctly but I was sure she knew I was calling her beautiful when she began to try to hide her smile... I captured her picture and in that moment, I wished I knew how to say, "Its okay to smile" in Turkish ...
I headed back up the hill to get back to my hostel. The sun was going down and I didn’t want to be alone in the dark, in a strange land. But I was far from alone. The streets were filled with so many people and all of the stores and restaurants seemed to be filled to capacity. I continued walking and trying to find my way back home when I passed a window that had leather journals. I walked inside and began looking at all of the different variations. They were just like the ones I saw in Australia last month, except these costed more.
“The journals are nice but check out this bag. it will look really nice on you.”
He was about 6’3”. Wearing a ripped denim Levis and leather, open toe sandals.
“This is pretty…” I unraveled the strap of the colorful leather messenger bag and put it around my torso. “How much is it?”
“Okay…” I wanted it but not that bad. After all, my spending budget for this trip was only $400 and I couldn’t spend it all on my first night, in the same place. I looked around his shop a little more and noticed a pair of leather sandals that I had to try on. The straps were leather feathers. I had to have them. Only problem was, when I tried them on, the heel of my foot was hanging off.
“I really like these… Do you have a bigger size?”
“No.. I’m sorry. Those are the last ones.”
I can’t say that I was too bummed… It was better that I saved my money anyways.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
“What about something to drink?”
“No, I have a water…” I pulled out my bottle of water to show him that I didn’t need anything else. I felt bad taking anything from him since I had spent so much time in his store and hadn’t purchased anything.
“What about some tea? Would you like some tea?”
“No… thank you…” I began to head out of the door, as a young laughing couple walked in.
“Well… I’m here if you need me… I’m here.”
I made a few turns and took some pictures of the compelling street art when I finally realized that the leather man was flirting with me. How silly was I to not pick up on that? I should’ve stayed and had tea with him so that he could show me around town when he got off. After all, the store was going to close soon. It was almost eight o’clock. I had to go back to his shop. I had to take him up on his tea offer. I turned around and made a right and then a left but everything looked the exact same, I couldn’t seem to find his shop… I was so regretful. I vowed that the next guy to offer me tea on this trip would not get no for an answer.
I was lost, until I realized what I found, or where I found myself rather… I was in Istiklal! This was where I was told to go in the first place. I had accidentally made my way to the tower that was surrounded by the prettiest ally cats. White, black, and a striped one… It was just like the cover of the journal that I saw in the leather shop.
It was just like the receptionist at Rapunzel described. There were lots of people, lots of bars, and lots of places to shop. I passed the stores that I could go to in the States like Zara and H&M and decided to head into a book store. At first I was going to ask for Turkish poetry or novels but then I remembered, I can’t read Turkish. So, I headed to the American section and found a really good book about Poe.
After I left the book shop, I kept walking down the strip. It seemed endless and even more crowded than before.
“Beautiful lady, beautiful lady! I made this for you!”
A little boy with holes in his dirty Chuck Taylor’s handed me a crown that was made of white imitation daisies, much like the ones I used to make a few summers ago. As much I wanted to keep it, I knew what that I couldn’t. He didn’t make it for me, he made it for money… a scam. I remembered what I was taught about children and gifts before I went to Egypt a few years back - never take anything that they offer you, its a ploy run by scammers. I had even heard that the children will swipe something from you while you are trying to be nice to them.
“No, thank you.”
“But I made it for you.”
It felt like a sign. I mean, what are the odds that I would be met with a white floral crown all the way in Istanbul? It was a sign.. for sure, it had to be… but still, I couldn’t take it.
I put my sternest teacher voice on and sped up to get away from the little boy.
I walked by a flower shop and then found myself in seafood alley. I am pretty sure thats not its official name but it was nothing but fresh mussels and scallops and fish being cooked, right there in the alley. People were lined up to get their share. I walked to the end of seafood alley and noticed a tea shop.
“Hi, can I help you find anything?”
“Yes… I am from the States - I want anything that I can’t get back home please.” I said with a smile.
“I think I have just thing for you. What’s your name?”
“Valencia” I followed him inside.
“Va len ci a… What a beautiful name but not as beautiful as your eyes.”
Uh oh, I thought. I’m in trouble now… He’s flirty. I don’t want flirty… I just want some tea.
“Is this potpourri?”
“No Valencia, this is tea.” He didn’t even laugh at my ignorance.
“Wow. I’ve seen this on instagram but never in real life. How does it work?”
“You just boil the flowers in water and then strain them and you have tea. Let’s look at the different ones. But first, I want to offer you a cup. What kind would you like?”
“What kind is really good to you?”
He smiled and didn’t even answer me. He just walked away and left me wondering what he was about to do next.
“Can I help you?” A different man came from the back room to help me because he noticed that I was alone.
“No, I am helping her.” Ishmael came back out with one of the most beautiful tea cups I had ever seen. It was gold and black, with small elephants and tigers. “I made you some love tea Valencia. I hope you like it.”
I blew the tea first so that I would not burn my tongue. After the first sip, I was in love.
“I have to have this. Its amazing Ishmael. I love it.”
“Well, let me show you what else I have.”
He began showing me every type of flower they had, from jasmine flowers that bloom once they are boiling in the water to mystical tea that smelled like heaven. After bagging the ones I wanted and weighing them, he invited me upstairs.
“Valencia, can I show you what else we have here?”
I followed him up the narrow staircase and found myself in pure infatuation with the lanterns that hung throughout the showroom.
“Oh my gosh! I want them all! They’re beautiful Ishmael.”
“Not as beautiful as you. Can I show you the what else we have?”
We walked to the next floor of the building that I didnt even realize was so big from the outside.
“They were handed painted. All of them.”
I was speechless. Each plate and tea cup and bowl and vase and everything was just lovely. This was where he got the elephant and tiger teacup from. If only I had a home to put them in right now, I may have bought them all.
“I want to take you to one more place Valencia. Will you please follow me?”
“Okay…” That seemed to be the only word I knew that night. I followed him once more but this time, when reached the top, there was nothing for sale. It was a rooftop, lit with candles and only one table and pillows for chairs.
“The new moon. Look!” I couldn’t believe it. I walked into a scene out of a romantic indie movie or something.
“Will you have another cup of tea with me Valencia? Or would you like a glass of Coke or wine?”
What was happening? How did I end up on a date? How come he was able to just leave the store and entertain me like this? I had so many questions but I couldn’t ask any of them, I had to live in the moment.
“I would love another cup of tea. Thank you.”
We sat together on the pillows. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new moon.
“Valencia, may I tell you about myself and you tell me about yourself?” He was so kind and proper.
“Sure. You go first.”
“Well, I wasn’t born in Istanbul. I am from Syria. My mother told me to come here because its not safe at home. I left everything behind.”
“Are you Muslim?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Because of your name…”
“But I am a believer in God’s Light, not so much in religion.”
“I am the same way. Do you miss Syria?”
“Yes but I hate the way that things have become.”
I could tell that he was getting emotional and I didn’t want to ruin the moment. I decided to change the subject.
“What do people do for fun here?” I asked, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Well, there are a lot of bars and clubs but I don’t go. I like to read. I read a lot. I am a teacher.”
“Wow. You sound exactly like me, I am a teacher too. And I hate clubs, all I do is read as well… and write. I love writing.”
“What do you read? My favorite authors are Barakat and Marrash… Rumi …. Socrates.”
“I haven’t read anything from the first two people you named but I love Rumi as well. You must love Hafiz too, no?”
"An awake heart is like a sky that pours light.”
“Thats one of my favorite quotes. Hey, these boys gave me this book earlier…” I began to pull it out of my bag. “Do you know what its about?”
“Its a bible.” He said, after just one glance.
“Wow… What an omen!"
“What do you teach?” He continued starring into my eyes, with no smile or readable expression. His seriousness to get to know me was something that I had never seen in a man before.
“I teach literature. Middle school. You?”
“I used to teach music back in Syria. I love to sing. But now, I teach math here in Istanbul. I like teaching my students but I don’t enjoy teaching math. I miss music. You can get so much deeper with music.”
“I hope you can find a way to teach music again.”
“Can I sing for you Valencia?”
He placed his head in his hands and began humming. It was a hum that I would only hear if entering a Halal restaurant. Before I knew it, the melody that flowed from his mouth captured my heart. Each cadence struck a different cord within me.
“What were you saying?”
“Its a song about love. I love you Valencia.”
Woah…. Love? What is happening?
He came close to me and kissed me. It all happened so fast and I didn’t know how to make it stop.
“Im sorry Valencia. Im so sorry.”
I didn’t know what to say. This kiss was awful. I liked our conversation but I didnt like him enough to let him kiss me again. I had to get out of there.
“I have to go now.”
“Can I see you again? Can I take you to breakfast tomorrow before you leave?”
“I don’t know if I will have time for breakfast. I need to get up early to see the Blue Mosque.”
“I can meet you there. What time will you be there?”
“7:30 in the morning.. I need to get there early, I heard the line is always long.”
“Okay, 7:30. I will see you at 7:30.”
I put my journal and my Turkish Bible back into my book bag.
“These are yours.”
Ishmael put the tea in my book bag as well.
“I didn’t pay for them yet."
“It’s my gift to you.”
Sunday, April 5th, 2015
I stayed up late last night, on the rooftop of the hostel, just writing. It felt good. Just me and the moon. I’ve just been awakened by the sound of praying over a loud speaker. I am sure the entire city is up praying now as well. I am not Muslim, I have no idea what they are saying but I defiantly have my fair share of things to be grateful for. As I lay here, I have to take the time to just meditate on all of the blessings that I have been receiving. Happy Easter, a happy Easter it is.
Clearly, I know I am not going to make to the Blue Mosque by 7:30 AM to meet Ishmael. I emailed him and told him to meet me at 9 instead. I took my time getting up, got dressed, and headed down stairs to check out. I checked my email one last time before leaving the hostel and didnt have any response from Ishmael. So instead of going to the tram, I headed straight to the Blue Mosque. The receptionist told me that it would only take me twenty minutes to walk to it but he was wrong. By the time I got the end of the Galata bridge, it had already been 15 minutes. I could see two different gigantic mosques in front of me but according to my map, neither of them was the Blue Mosque.
“Which way is the Blue Mosque?” I asked one of the fishermen who was with his sons, bating his rod.
“That way…” He pointed across the bridge, meaning, I was far off. I hailed a taxi and hopped right in. The taxi ride was really long. The whole time, I couldn’t help but question why the receptionist said that I could walk to this place within twenty minutes. Lucky for me, the taxi was only 7TL. Not bad.
“Where are you headed?” A young looking guy was standing in front of a silk shop, smiling and willing to help me find my way.
“To the Blue Mosque…”
“I can show you how to get there but I am not a tour guide, I am the owner of this shop.”
“Ok… Thank you..” I thought about my friend Bonabe back home. I asked him to teach me a bit of French before I left for my trip and he said V, you won’t need to know French, you’ll meet a man who will take you everywhere you need to go and do all of the translating for you. Although I wasn’t in Paris yet, I was on my 3rd man of the trip - ready and willing to help me out.
We walked up a high hill until we got to the mosque.
“Here we are, this is Hagia Sophia.”
I walked inside of the court yard and it reminded me so much of Egypt, especially the fountains where the girls and I washed our hands before entering the mosque there. He took a few pictures of me and then took me to the entrance. It was only 9:15 in the morning and the line was 2 hours long.
“Lets go to the Blue Mosque now. Maybe you will be able to get inside of there.”
I followed him, sad about not having enough time to go inside of Hagia Sophia. As we walked together, he began to tell me that he was born in Istanbul and his father owns another silk shop in town. I was excited at the chance of getting few silk garments from him but when I turned around to ask him about it he was being swooped away by a group of Turkish police. It was like they came out of no where. One second he was right behind me and the next, he was in cuffs - looking totally confused and explaining that he is innocent. I looked right at one of the officers, praying that they weren’t going to get me next. Was I guilty by association? The male officer looked at the female officer and then they both looked at me. I froze. I couldn’t even feel my legs. The group of officers walked closer and closer towards me until finally, they all passed me by. My new friend, the silk shop owner, looked back at me one last time and said, “Valencia, you have to go by yourself.” I just looked at him like DUHHHHH !!! I was relieved. Guess that will teach my ass not to go with strangers anymore. I still have no idea what he was arrested for.
When I got to the Blue Mosque the line was really long there too but I was confused because it wasn’t blue. The map showed that I was in the right place but it didnt make sense.
“Excuse me…” I asked a newspaper salesmen. “How do I get to the Blue Mosque?”
He laughed at me. “That is the Blue Mosque and that is Hagia Sophia.” He pointed at them both. Come to find out, silk boy really wasn’t a tour guide, he had both of the places mixed up. I am so glad I asked the newspaper man or else I would still have them mixed up to this day.
I decided to head back over the Blue Mosque and I am glad I did. I found out there were two entrances: one for prayer and one for visitors. I slipped into the prayer line, took my boots off, and went right in. It was breathtaking. The high ceilings were hand painted with hundreds of different tulip patterns. I took out my nikon to capture them all. Then, I went to the window alter to pray. I took off my hat and glove and bowed down to the Lord. I couldn’t believe that I was spending my Easter morning in one of Islams most revered mosque in the world. When I finished praying, I got up and began taking more pictures - before getting kicked off of the alter for taking pictures. I felt bad after that and was about to leave until I realized, I left my hat and gloves on the alter. I went back to get them, only to find that my gloves were gone and the gold studs had been snatched off my hat. Who steals in a mosque? And why take the studs but leave the hat? It was the weirdest thing ever but it could’ve been worse - I have had things of a much greater value stolen from me before on trips, so although I will miss my gloves and studs, I was thankful that that was all that I had left behind.
I hailed a taxi to get back to my hostel and head to the airport. This taxi ended up being 40TL !!! How !?!?! I said to the driver, “Why is it 40? It was only 7 to get there.” He didn’t even answer me. He just put his hand out for my money. I was so mad because I knew he was only over charging me because I was a tourist.
When I got back to the hostel, I had just enough time to get on wifi and check my email, before my airport taxi came to pick me up. As soon as I opened my email, there was a message from Ishmael……
I just tried my best and walked all through restaurants and the mosq's spuares...etc .. unfortunately i couldn't find you... I will lie if i said i am not deeply sad at the moment... But while i was trying to find you, those moments were full of more than special ecstacy of strange happiness on the hope that i would find you on the station or at some other point .. I am more than so sorry really because i was so early 7.30 at the tramway station waiting but checked my email so late when i was at other stations ckecking if you were mistakenly waiting me at any other station ... I will go to work now but i can tell that i can have two hours as break to spend them with you if you wanted to go to Taksim and meet me there .. ... it will be my great happiness if that came true ... but i can't push you to come as i know how short of time you are ...but i pray you come and tell me you are at taksim square waiting for me .. at that time i will run to you... Don't be sad dear .. i know it was one of the most special moments i ever had when i saw you ... and i hope to keep in touch and develop this relationship .. Valencia, you have more than so deep bright seas inside you that no one can see their beauty except for so rare people ..... If you ran out of time, please don't push yourself and stay fine and tell me you are safe in Paris .. but remember they were few moments we met but meant alotttt more than that .. and i can never deny you left something sooo special and deep inside me ...