Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the Land of Hookah and Belly Dancers

The past two days have been a whirlwind of sights. After visiting the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar, I went out to a bar to smoke some hookah with Marjan. There is an entirely separate hookah culture here in Turkey. We had a variety of flavors to choose from, but decided on mint. I think that most flavors have kind of a similar taste, but the mint left our mouths feeling somewhat clean. I enjoy hookah, but only in small doses. It makes me feel light-headed, which I think is more because of lack of oxygen than the nicotine. It creates an interesting atmosphere, however, when everyone is outside smoking a different hookah. We met some Australians at the table right next to us, and they invited us over. We all shared our hookahs and I was able to taste some more flavors.
All this walking had made me very tired, and I went to bed very early on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we woke up early to head to the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. The Blue Mosque was fascinating, and calming. The outside is fantastic, and the inside is quite humbling. Marjan had to wear a long skirt and a shawl, I had to wear pants, in the horrible heat, and we had to take off our shoes, but these conditions added to the atmosphere. The interior is decorated with various patterns, and there are not any icons. It is an interesting difference between Christianity and Islam and it creates a different effect in the mosque. I wish that people were not talking, and I would like to return when there is a prayer and silence in the mosque.
After the quick visit, we went to the Topkapi Palace. The entire palace is gigantic, and we were able to see various jewels, armories, chambers, etc from the time of the Ottoman Empire. The amount of wealth was shocking. The jewels and gifts that the empire had received were gorgeous and one can imagine the empire in its glory. The visit lasted for about three hours and I was just one of thousands of tourists. This city in August is definitely a city of tourists. I walk around and see more tourists than Turks. It is fascinating to try to guess where people are from by observing the way they behave and the way the dress, and then try to place their language. The number of Australians in Turkey really shocked me; it seems that every other tourist comes from down under.
All this walking made us hungry, and we went for a quick lunch. A common meal here is the chicken doner, which is similar to Greek gyros, but with a different type of bread, and different spices and vegetables. Of course, this city has many different cuisines, but I have been trying to try Turkish food, but it is hard to do when I am watching my wallet.
After a good four hour siesta, I went for a walk with Marjan next to the sea. Once again, most men would stare at Marjan because of the way she dresses. However, we have become more used to it, and we normally can stare down rude glances. The sea is gorgeous, and I wish I had enough time to go to the sea and go swimming, which would give me the possibility of escaping from the oppressive heat. However, it was getting dark quickly, and we wanted to return to our hostel.
Last night, our hostel had arranged a night of Turkish belly dancing. I thought there was going to be an entire show, but it ended up being one woman. It was interesting to see this part of the entertainment culture, but we were disappointed. The woman wasn’t the greatest dancer, and instead of creating her own show, she asked members of the audience to come up and join her in the dancing. It turned out I was the first member she asked, and I went up and shook my booty and I felt like I did a decent job.

It was much more interesting to watch people to try to copy her moves than watch her dance.
It seems like a contradiction within the culture that they have this form of entertainment. The woman tend to wear a lot of garments on the street because of their religion, some even wear full burqas, but they have these very sexualized dances with very exposed bodies. These contradictions seem to riddle the culture here in Turkey. For example, our hostel owners are Muslims, but they are often drinking alcoholic beverages which is forbidden in Islam. Of course, it is easy to see these contradictions from outside the religion, but I am sure that I contradict my Christian beliefs often with my everyday actions.

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