Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Turkey - Where East Meets West

Fairy Castles in Cappadocia
     I recently had the opportunity to go on a cultural immersion trip to Turkey.  It was an experience of a lifetime and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

     I went with a group of eleven other people from all over Florida including Orlando, Tallahassee and West Palm Beach. Many were college professors and a few of us business people.  

     Turkey is the second fastest growing economy behind China and there is construction everywhere.  Over 17 million people are in Istanbul alone and everyone lives in high-rise complexes.  Istanbul reminded many of us of New York City.  It was pretty neat to think that literally one side of the Bosphorus River was in the European Continent and the other the Asian.  You could definitely feel the Asian influence in subtle ways like the architecture.

    We visited seven cities in nine days from Istanbul to Konya and Kayseri in the central part of Anatolia to the west coast cities of Izmir and Ephesus.  The neatest place of all was Cappadocia, pictured above.  People actually lived in the cave structures.  They call them Fairy Castles because they look like they are from a storybook.

     We had the opportunity to dine in the homes of three host families.  To me, this was the best part of the trip - getting to spend quality time with people from another country.  Even though we did not speak the same language, we were able to communicate through translators.  There were children running around and the families had the same concerns we do here in the United States.  The host families were honored to have American business people and "intellectuals" as they call college professors, in their homes.  They must have been cooking for days because the amount of food was amazing.  They eat family style in Turkey and you can't be shy about digging right in to a central plate of rice, or salad or stuffed grape leaves. We even ate on the floor in Izmir.

     The most interesting part of the trip as a female was getting to experience the Muslim culture and its impact on women.  Women have the choice whether they will abide by the clothing requirements and many do.  They must have everything covered while in public except their face and hands.  The older women wore long black coats and were very much in the background.  The younger women that were college educated were more comfortable being around men and sat at the dinner table with us.  They wore pants, long sleeve shirts and sometimes a tunic or baggy blouse.  The dress requirements are all about modesty so you can't be seen in anything form fitting.  All were extremely friendly and when it came time to take photos wanted to stand next to the Americans.  It was still kind of weird to see that women have to sit in separate sections in a mosque so they can't distract a man while he prays.

     I was struck by how much the Turkish people admired America.  We tend to only hear about how other countries have a negative view of the United States, but in Turkey, we were treated with respect.  Having blonde hair and traveling in Turkey was quite an experience.  I got swarmed a few times by young girls wanting to take a picture with me.  They were extremely friendly and made me feel like a rock star.

     It was an exhausting nine days with three domestic flights, but well-worth it.  I think everyone should have the opportunity to really see how other cultures live.  We had many different religions represented on our trip including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim and all got along famously.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could say the same for the rest of the world!!!!


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