This post is part of a series about Kyndall’s travels with study abroad program Semester at Sea.
Turkey, Turkey, Turkey… “Don’t wear short skirts or shorts, and no tanks ladies! As for you boys, if you wear shorts and tank tops they will think you’re walking around in your underwear.” This is what the deans told us during our logistical and cultural pre-port for Istanbul. Well, they were definitely wrong. The locals were wearing less clothes than us, not that everyone from SAS was dressed skimpy, but still! Even the mosques were lax about their dress code, which surprised me. So right off the bat, Istanbul was not what I was expecting.
Anyway! I was excited for Istanbul because Nick had been there before and kind of knew his way around. The first day we just decided to walk around and take it easy because everyone had big plans for the evening because it was one of the few Saturday nights we had while in a port. We aimlessly walked around, got a little lost, then we just happened upon Nick’s friend’s house, Cemo, who he met last year in Turkey. The guards let us in to wait for Cemo to come up, but wow! What an amazing view that boy had of the city; it was beautiful! Their terrace looked over Istanbul and the Bosphorus strait. You could see for miles; it was crazy!
After seeing Cemo’s house we took a cab to Taksim, the main shopping/tourist street in Istanbul. We walked around and got some chewy ice cream, which I wasn’t really a fan of. But the ice cream man fooled me and kept stealing the ice cream from my hand! It’s like a game that all of the ice cream men on the whole street play on anyone who wants ice cream. But after that, we got some Turkish food at a cute little café down some side street. We met the owner of the café; he was old and adorable and so happy to talk to us. When we left he wished us luck with the rest of our travels and hoped we enjoyed Turkey. We walked back to the ship after that to get ready for our night out.
At 9:30 in Tyamitz Square, the meeting place for everyone going out on the ship, always, we met up with a good 20 people who were planning on following Nick anywhere he went. And they did. It was so hard to go anywhere with that many people, but after about an hour, half of the group went their own ways and our time was much more manageable. We went to a local bar Nick knew from last summer and the owner remembered him, and we got some good deals on our drinks. Then we went to a night club just down the street. So many SAS kids were there, and the place was packed! Apparently, this place was a hot spot in Turkey on Saturdays. The club was right on the water under the bridge that had light shows every 15 minutes, it was so pretty! As we were walking around inside, we bumped into Cemo and his little brother Orfio! They had a bought a table at the club and treated us for the night. It was so nice, and made the experience even better.
Day two, Nick and I had another trip with Semester at Sea that took us to see the Byzantine architecture in the city. Our first stop was the ever famous Hagia Sophia! I got a little tear in my eye when I walked in. It was breathtaking. The gold inlay on the walls and ceilings sparkled with the light from all of the windows. The Nave was huge, everything was huge! Everything was so ornate, and well made. It was so great to finally be able to see the Hagia Sophia not in a book or on a slide show. After that we went to the Basilica Cistern, an underground place to hold water. That was crazy! There were 323 columns, all with different capitals. The fish were giant, and the lights at the bottom of the capitals gave the place an eerie glow, but it was beautiful.
We woke up early the next day and spent hours at the grand bazaar. There were over 1500 stores! The best part was the bargaining; we got so much stuff for so cheap. The key to bargaining was walking away; once we started to leave they followed us and gave us what we wanted for way cheaper. We went to the spice bazaar the next day. It was really similar in the bargaining aspect, but it was much smaller and smelled delightful from all the spices and tea.
Our last day in Turkey was our field trip for my African Diaspora class. We hiked through some pretty sketchy parts of Istanbul to get to the Theater of the Oppressed. This was so interesting. We were taken into a dark underground room, with two lights and all black walls. Jale, the lady in charge, had us do ice breaker games that she has used in places like Brazil and Panama to help the people deal with the oppression they face as immigrants or colonized peoples. One activity in particular stood out: the name game. When you shook someone’s hand, you introduced yourself with your own name, but once you shook hands, you took the other person’s name. So if I shook Nick’s hand, I would become Nick and he would become Kyndall. After about five minutes, we stopped and people introduced themselves to the group with whatever name they had acquired. Except, only four of the original names remained, the other eight all disappeared and got lost somewhere in the exercise. This relates to how people’s cultures can be lost over time by the introduction and assimilation of new traditions and ideas. We continued the day with more exercises that were equally as powerful. After a delicious traditional Kurdish meal, the most oppressed culture in Turkey, we went to the Office of Intergovernmental Organization for Migrants. Here we learned more about oppression, migrants in the Mediterranean and how Turkey viewed them and dealt with them.
We finished our field trip about an hour before we were supposed to be back on the ship. Nick and I ran back so that we would have enough time to have the famous Turkish pizza: lahmacun. It was delightful, and a great way to close out our awesome time in Istanbul.