Days 5 & 6- Istanbul: Reflections on food and faith

We docked in Istanbul this afternoon, sailing into the port which proudly sported the Turkish Star and Crescent. We had great views of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia from our starboard side verandah.  Amy had a friend who lived in Istanbul. We were not able to meet up with her, but she had made a dinner reservation for us and we were looking forward to a real Turkish meal. We had some time to spare before dinner though and most of us wished to wander around the city. Only Hillary and Kate stayed behind as they were a bit jet-lagged and wanted to save their energy for our big shore excursion tomorrow.

Everyone else headed over the bridge that crossed the Bosphorus. The walkways were loaded with fishermen trying to pull in something big enough for dinner. The women were dressed in a variety of styles- ranging from jeans and tank tops to full burkas. I guess I neededn’t have stuffed a scarf in my bag since we were not going to the mosque today.

We reached the Spice Market- a very traditional building with exquisite mosaic designs, and walked inside to see the most amazing arrangements of a different kind. There were fresh spices of every color, stacked in open bins, with their fragrant aromas spilling out into the air! It was hard to resist buying bags full of every imaginable flavor. My husband was smart not to give me any of the Turkish Lira he had exchanged. So all I could do was take it in with my camera and breathe the air.

We caught a glimpse of the neighborhood where our dinner reservation was- up the hill by the Galata Tower. When Amy and I realized how steep the walk would be, we became concerned that Hillary would have trouble because of her knee. We knew the kids could manage just fine and Susan, who had been a good walker all her life, was getting stronger every day. We decided Susan & I would walk up to the restaurant with Megan and David while Amy and Mike went back to the ship to collect Hillary and Kate and hail a cab to dinner. We were starting to realize how cumbersome a group we were and that it would be impossible to fit everyone in 1 car anyway. Fortunately, we had a van reserved for our tour tomorrow.

It took about 40 minutes to regroup outside of Kiva, but when we went in our table was ready. We had a prime spot for 8 by the open area looking out on the Galata square. It was the first night of Ramadan and the restaurant was empty at 7:00. The owner was so friendly and willing to talk to us about the choices. He decided to give us a special treat since we were so interested in the local delicacies. He had his staff prepare about a dozen dishes in smaller portions that we could all sample from. These included black-eyed pea and spinach salad, a seaweed salad, zucchini casserole, mushrooms in sauce, shrimp skewers, chicken curry and several flavors of rice. Needless to say, David was able to enjoy almost everything. He turned down the chicken, but loved the shrimp, and was excited about all the vegetables and rice dishes. Kate was very adventurous and even tried a taste of the seaweed!

It was not until after 8pm that the locals started coming in to break their fast. By the time we were finished, the place was packed. Again, it was a mix of secular and orthodox attire. It made me realize that Islam is similar to all other religions in that way. You have control over how strictly you follow the rules and traditions. I myself only attend church on Christmas Eve. My husband no longer fasts on Yom Kippur. And while our children benefit from the holiday traditions of both faiths they have never been forced to go to Sunday School. As our tour guide told us the next day, she was conducting her job-including a lunch break- just like 60% of the other Muslims in the city. She planned to eat a special dinner with her parents as part of their tradition, but other than that she didn’t practice regularly.

This all got me thinking about why the U.S. has such misperception about Muslims. Have we become so paranoid about terrorists that we have classified all Muslims as such? In reality, Islam is a very tolerant religion. It was founded on the practice of allowing other faiths to practice in exchange for a “jitzah”- a tax on non-Muslims which granted them religious freedom.  Our fear has blinded us as to how similar we really are. There are extreme groups within any religious or political organization whose voices somehow carry more weight than those of the more secular masses. I am just glad that our family got to see first hand how these Turkish people lived and how friendly and welcoming they were. It was a great opportunity for us all to form (or reform) our own perceptions.

As we walked back to our ship that night, we looked at the colorful lights illuminating the mosques and heard the final call to prayer. How fortunate we were to be able to observe such a wonderful blend of new and old religious celebration.  

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: