Turkish Delights

4 Jul

It’s amazing what a difference a good night’s sleep makes. I woke up on our second day in Istanbul energized and bouncy. When I went downstairs one of the women in our group commented on how young and fresh I looked. I felt so good and because of the e-mail updates my mom was sending, I knew that the kids were happy and doing just fine.

We started the day by going to the small but nice Jewish Museum. It was clearly a token interfaith experience but was still impressive to learn about how hospitable Turkey was to Jews throughout history while other countries were expelling and persecuting them. Outside of the museum though, was the highlight of the morning, hung outside a frame shop.

A work of art

We went from here to the offices of Zaman, a Turkish newspaper that publishes in both English and Turkish. The paper was founded by the Gulen movement and is one of the major papers in Turkey. We were taken to the café where we were plied with sodas and Turkish teas and coffee. Then Bilal started telling us about the Gulen movement. The cynic in me thought “here it goes, yesterday we saw the sights and now it’s time to be sat down and given the propaganda.” It was actually very interesting though and Bilal was very careful not to push the information down our throats. It was clear that he’s very passionate about it and believes very deeply in its message. But he was also careful not to dwell on it too much and make us uncomfortable.

We met with one of the newspaper’s top guys, a political journalist who is also editor-in-chief of the publisher’s soon to debut political newsmagazine. He spoke to us for a while about the state of journalism, the principles of the paper, and Turkish media and politics. He had a minion who kept rushing around, giving him his notes or coffee. Barb leaned over to me at one point and whispered “The devil wears Prada.” We spent some time asking questions and learned a lot about Turkish politics. I asked him about his reaction to the recent Thomas Friedman columns in the New York Times regarding the state of Turkey and had an interesting conversation with him.

From here we headed to Fatih University, where we met with the University president. Walking into his office, we were greeted by a scruffy guy in a ratty polo and thought “who’s this guy?” Turns out he was the president. He was considerably more casual than our academics who were wearing ties and jackets to the meeting. We talked a while about Turkish education and then he gave us gifts- a common practice that we’ve experienced with everyone we’ve met here. To some he gave mugs and keyrings. I got a beautiful necklace. I’m liking this country.

We went to dinner at a great restaurant. I’m going to do a whole blog post about Turkish food because it’s been so amazing. At this place they kept bringing more and more food out to us until we finally had to be rolled out of the restaurant, satiated with konafa and ice cream from southern Turkey that was so rich and thick it had to be sliced rather than scooped. Yum.

A juice vendor selling fresh orange juice

Enjoying fresh juice

We headed back to the hotel and repacked our bags for our morning flight to Izmir. We skyped home and got to see Finn and the twins. It made me ache for them. Finn, of course, was a menace, pressing buttons and hanging up on us. I like to think that seeing us was more exciting than getting to use the computer, but I know that’s not true.

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