Istanbul has mesmerized me. Both visually and culturally, this place is nothing like what I saw before. It is truly a refreshing experience. Almost nobody speaks English and it is uncommon to see an “Indian” face in this land of the Turks. As I write this, I realize that I may actually have Turkish Roots ( because my surname, Khan, was originally a hereditary title born by early Mongol leaders).
This is what my day was like in Istanbul, Turkey, today.
Cloudy Day. Prayed Fajr early morning. My hotel room has wooden furniture and with the thermostat set at 25 degrees Celsius, the smell of the wood really makes itself apparent–and I love it. I shower, get dressed and walk out to work.
On my way to work, I picked up this delicious rounded Turkish bread (known as Simit) with cream-cheese, tomato and parsley. I ate it in the balcony of the office, where the cool breeze gently blew over my head.
Traffic rules in Turkey, like in most Asian countries, are overlooked. While I am heading towards my office, I notice a guy behind me, running in the same direction as me. As I walked forward, I noticed he was walking in the same direction. He looked lost, like he was looking for something. He kept glancing at his phone. “Whatever”, I thought. As I entered my office building, which is a 4-5 minute walk from my hotel, someone gently patted me from the back and handed over a piece of paper. I looked up and saw that it was the same guy who was apparently following me, and on this piece of paper was his name and phone number.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I request you all to give this guy a call and let him know “who” he actually tried to approach.
Because it was Friday, I decided to go for Juma Prayers. On my way, I heard “Assalato Wassalamo Alaika Ya Rasool Allah” and mistakenly took it for the “Call to Prayer” and showed up extra early for prayers. At the mosque, the ladies appeared to be pleasantly surprised to see me–maybe because I am such a foreign face, or because I am the youngest person in the congregation. They try to talk to me and start by asking if I am Arab. I say no, ‘English”. “Ahhh, Americano”, they say to each other. I want to correct them to say that I am actually Canadian, not American or that I am an Indian. But I don’t bother explaining the details. Trying to communicate myself in English is next to impossible and my failed attempts make me burst out laughing every single time. After the Qutba (Friday Sermon), one of the older ladies walks over to me, asks me to put forward my hands and presses hers against mine and gives me a hug. I just say thank you and smile and everybody else in the mosque smiles at me-maybe because I didn’t’ do it correctly, or maybe because they continue to be amused by my foreign-ness. They seem like very nice ladies–not the type who would be judging me. I also notice that the Turks are not too concerned about segregating men and women. They walk in from the same entrance in the mosque. Turkish women in general appear very confident and well educated. Outside of the mosque is a massive hang-out area where men are sitting down, having Turkish tea, getting their shoes polished and chit-chatting. Its an incredibly beautiful atmosphere.
I walk out to grab lunch, and on my way notice a guy stopping in front me to let me walk ahead. I realize that this is going to be another case of ‘stalking’. I continue walking, acting oblivious, but fully conscious of what’s going on around me. After 5-10 minutes of walking behind me, he catches up and says something in Turkish. I laugh and clearly say that ” I have no idea what you just said, I don’t speak Turkish”. My idea is to always convey maximum confidence in whatever I say or do. I live with this understanding that nobody can mess with me as long as I convey confidence in who I am and what I think of myself. I don’t care who on this planet frowns upon me or my nationality or who praises me. At the end of the day, it is for me to decide my self worth and no matter how much someone praises me or insults me, they don’t make me. Anyways, this guy eventually asked me for my phone number and eventually gave up. Nobody messes with Miss Khan.
I take on an adventurous mode, and decide to hop on the metro. The metro seemed to be buried really deep in the ground: I had to go down four incredibly long and steep escalators (positioned at 45 degree angles).
I used the underground metro, a subway and then a tram to get to the “Grand Bazaar”. I walked through an onslaught of Turkish Shops. I met with a calligraphy teacher who wrote down my name in various forms of calligraphy. I thought it was brilliant how he could write my name in so many different ways.
I met with many store keepers. They call me “Lady” and their first question always is “Where you from”. Today the guesses were: Oman, Afghanistan, Tunisian, South Africa, Turkish, America, London, Pakistan, and India. When I ask a price, they say “For you, because you’re so beautiful, it is “##””. You know folks, I have a very good understanding of beauties in this world and I consider myself very average. If anything, it is my personality and character that adds charm to face. So when someone calls me beautiful at first sight, I will not believe it 80% of the time.
I shop around till right before sunset when it starts pouring. To take advantage of the opportunity, you see people selling transparent umbrellas at every step. I head back to the tram to catch my train, which is actually very frequent (every 5 minutes), but fairly expensive. Once I reach my destination, I stop by to pick up dinner and while I wait for my dinner to be prepared, the gentleman at the restaurant serves me Turkish Tea, again.
I reach the hotel safely, alhumdulAllah. At the Hotel Reception, I meet my favorite Turk–he just happens to have a very chilled out personality–there is something so honest about him that it immediately puts you at ease. I feel surprisingly secure here in Istanbul. Looking forward to some more experiences and deeper reflections. Thank you Istanbul for shaking me enough to get me to blog again.
- An Evening in Istanbul – Istanbul, Turkey (travelpod.com)
- A week of Turkish delight – Istanbul, Turkey (travelpod.com)
- 24 hours in Istanbul – A 24 hour travel guide to Istanbul (essentialtravel.co.uk)