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Reflection…

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Tonight was our last night in Turkey, meaning that our highly anticipated, life-altering and eye-opening experience has come to a close. In honor of the last night I have decided to compile a brief list of my self-realizations and discoveries after completing my voyage.

Amman, Jordan

Istanbul, Turkey

Here it is:

1. Family

In Jordan, I had such a positive experience with my home-stay family. Our host-mother took us under her wing as if we were her own. From listening to others on the trip, it seems we had the best host family. I felt like I was a daughter in a warm and loving house. I loved how our host family would sit around and talk to us for hours without ever getting bored. Living in the home-stay made me realize the importance of family and making time for your family. I don’t often take the time to sit down and talk to my family for hours on end. I think this is a problem in most American families, we are so consumed by work, school and friends that we often don’t pause to make time for some of the most important people in our lives.

2. Strangers

In America children are taught the phrase “stranger danger” from a young age. I completely understand why children are taught this but I feel as though we grow up with this mentality that we should not talk to strangers which in turn cuts us off from meeting some amazing people in this world. In both Jordan and Turkey people–strangers–would reach out to us in a way that we weren’t used to. In Jordan, a taxi driver opened up to my roomate and me about when he lived in St. Martin. In Turkey, a kurdish man I was interviewing for my story offered me apple tea in the middle of the Grand Bazaar. People in the Middle East are so generous, they seem to enjoy helping and hosting. We made friends in Jordan who insisted on taking us around and showing us the youthful side of Jordan. Then our friend in Turkey took us all around Istanbul, never letting us take out our wallets and offering any help that he could give. I think in America we need to step out of our comfort zones and start reaching out and accepting strangers. Yes, there is a risk involved but what kind of life would you live if you never took a risk? Who knows, that risk could turn into something beautiful and you might meet somebody who truly surprises you and helps you in a way you never dreamed of.

3. Religion

I am not a religious person at all. I identify as jewish but I have not been to temple since my batmitzfah when I was 13. However, there is something about being in Jordan that shook something spiritual inside of me. It is probably because religion governs the lives of the people in Jordan. The call to prayer rings throughout the city 5 times a day as a constant reminder of one’s spirituality. Women cover their heads in order to keep life from being sexual and maintaining the sanctity of daily life. There is something so moving about watching these people pray, too. It’s not like many of my friends describe church in which people sit slouched in the benches, nodding off. People will stop in the middle of the street at the sound of prayer, fall to their knees and pray. I remember when I walked in on my host mother praying, it was so sacred that it felt just as humiliating and intrusive as walking in on somebody in the shower. There is something to be said about how the people wash themselves before they pray in order to ensure the sanctity of their prayer. In Jordan, religion is a part of every part of life and I think this is why people are so friendly and helpful. I am still not going to come back overzealously religious but  I definitely think I will tap into that spirituality that drives people in Jordan and allow myself to just have faith because it seems to make these jordanian people stronger and kinder.

4. Language

I am always amazed when I travel as to how many people speak English in addition to their own language. However, when I arrived in Turkey and realized that most people could only speak a few words of English I was even more shocked. This is a result of American ignorance and ethnocentrism but I can’t deny that it’s true. I found myself frustrated that people couldn’t understand basic sentences such as “Where is the ATM?” or “Do you know where this hotel is?” but I came to realize that there is really no reason that these people should have to learn my language. As one of our turkish friends joked–” You speak turkish and I’ll speak English.” We are not forced to learn any other languages and yet we expect the world to speak ours. Selfish? Yes. This trip has inspired me to learn a new language, and i mean really learn. Because I was so blown away by the beauty of Arabic while I was in Jordan, I think this is the language I would like to pick up. I think that everybody in the world should try to learn another language because to learn another’s language is to learn part of  their culture.

5. Self Discovery

After talking to other people on the trip it seems as though many of us have come to the same realization–sometimes it is better to be alone. At home an in Boston I find myself constantly looking for somebody to spend time with when I am alone and the times that I am alone I feel very lonely and almost sad. However, on this trip I learned to cherish alone time. Sometimes wandering around the city without the chatter of other people is both peaceful and rewarding. As one of my friends said, it is a powerful feeling to know that you can go anywhere and meet new people without the help of anyone but yourself. There were times when I was off reporting a story or simply wandering around the Grand Bazaar or the side streets of Istanbul when I felt a serene, content satisfaction. I love the company of others, but sometimes it’s nice to just explore with your own thoughts.

6. Friendships

Waving goodbye to my parents and entering a room of strange faces on the first day of our trip felt very similar to summer camp. My heart started to beat a little faster as I started to fear that I wouldn’t make any friends on this trip and would be forced to spend the duration of the dialogue alone (again, there is this fear of being alone that I am learning to shed). However, after four weeks I have made friendships with people that I may have never crossed paths with before. First, there is my roommate who was a complete stranger to me when we were assigned to each other. But now I feel as open and comfortable with her as I do with friends that I have spent years with. This goes for many other people on the trip.  I think the reason is because we have all shared a unique experience that nobody else has, which brings us together and helps to form a tight bond. Only the people on this trip understand the trials and tribulations of being a foreign journalist and adjusting to a completely different culture. I hope to keep in contact with each one of them and I will never forget the impact that these new friends, as well as the entire trip, have had on me. I am very sad to part ways with them and for this amazing experience to be over but the memories will stay with me forever.

Goodbye Jordan and Turkey, you will be missed!

Written by allylegend

June 13, 2011 at 2:46 am

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Final article posted…

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My final article of the trip was posted today. It feels so strange to be finished with all of my work. For the past week I have been stressed over my articles and it feels as though my stress has come to a screeching stop. As I looked at my last article on the website, it finally hit me that our time in Turkey was truly over.

Click below to read my article about the hip hop culture in Turkey:

Though techno still dominates the airwaves in Turkey, hip hop is slowly finding an audience”

DJ Jane Doe plays hip hop at club 360's first "Hip Hop Night."

(Photo by Ryan Payne)

Written by allylegend

June 13, 2011 at 1:49 am

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My Third Article is Posted…

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Today Turkey is holding its elections and the Kurds–a struggling minority in the country–are confident that no matter what the outcome is, their language and culture will persevere.

Click the title below to read my article about the political and cultural struggles of the Kurdish people, as well as their victories:

“Kurds, once forced to suppress their ethnicity, are finding renewed acceptance in Turkey”

Bomozan Gelik, a Kurdish man living in Turkey, said he is happy that he can now speak his language and express his culture freely.

 (Photo by Ryan Payne)

Written by allylegend

June 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm

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The Blue Mosque

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Yesterday, around dusk, I went with my friend Katie to take pictures of the Blue Mosque. It is one of the most famous mosques in Turkey and is called the “blue” mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate the inside. There have been many times on this trip in which I wished I had brought my nice, DSLR camera and this is one of them. I still did the best I could with my little point and shoot digital camera. The lighting was perfect and the mosque was beautiful, quiet and peaceful (especially without the normal bustle of tourists). I watched as people walked through the entrance way and immediately threw their hands up in prayer, as if the air held some sort of spiritual pull. Even I felt it a bit, there was something in the atmosphere that felt cleansing and invoked quiet thought.

Here are some of the pictures I took:

Written by allylegend

June 9, 2011 at 8:57 am

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Being a Journalist in Istanbul…

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The past few days I have been full-throttle reporting in order to complete my last two articles. Here is my short guide to reporting in a foreign country:

STEP 1: Google search your topic, try to find some English websites or use google-translate and sift through badly translated english until you find some useful email addresses.

STEP 2: Email everyone that may be the slightest bit helpful, keep in mind if you email 10 people, one MIGHT get back to you, if your lucky.

STEP 3: Call, call, call as many people as possible, most of them don’t speak english so speak very slowly and make sure to ask “English?” They will probably say yes even if they don’t speak English because they don’t understand you so just politely ask your questions until they either transfer you to someone helpful or hang up. (Side note: people agreeing with you when they don’t understand you becomes somewhat of an issue, especially when you schedule an interview and they agree to it but then don’t show up because they actually had no idea what “2:00 in front of the university” meant. Yes, this happened to me)

STEP 4: Go into the field. You come to a frustrating point where you just have to throw your hands up and pick a destination you think will be the most helpful for on-the-spot interviews (we picked Istanbul University). Once you arrive, swallow your pride and start walking up to people, invading their space and probably interrupting their conversations and start asking questions. It may help to say your American and only speak English because they seem to pity you and sometimes call their friends over to help. Just go with it. Ask as many questions to as many people in the group as possible before they start looking around, wondering when you will go away.

STEP 5: Experts. While in the field pinpoint some place full of great experts who will make quotes sound more important, official and useful to your article. (Such as a professor who preferably specializes in something related or closely related to your topic. I.e. If your writing about kurdish people living in Istanbul (like I am), an Asian American history teacher will not help you…but who knows, maybe you could make it work. If you did, I’d be pretty impressed. Anyway, we chose the political science department–GOLD MINE!

STEP 4: Reward time. After a long day of awkwardly invading people’s space, idiotically gesturing towards non-english speaking people and furiously writing down anything that may resemble a good quote, treat yourself to something special. It might be a syrup-soaked million calorie piece of baklava(yum!), or a fantastic one Lira (about 75 cents) soft-serve ice cream cone from the slightly sketchy machine on the street, or a nice pair of earrings from the grand bazaar (which i promptly bought yesterday).

STEP 5: Wander aimlessly as you wait for emails and callbacks which will probably never come. But at least you will find some cool things while you’re on your adventure. Here’s what I stumbled upon today:

STEP 6: Do it all over again tomorrow.

Written by allylegend

June 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

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The Grand Bazaar…

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Yesterday my friend Katie and I went to the Grand Bazaar. It is the oldest covered market place in the world, built in the 1450s. Since then people have been coming from all around the world to marvel at thel jewelry and carpet shops. Our friend, Gokhan, told us a story that apparently almost every local knows about how one of the designers for Louis Vuitton who quit was caught designing fake bags in the Grand Bazaar and was arrested. I kind of wish I had bought one first haha.

The Grand Bazaar is a magical place. You walk through aisles that are full of colorful lanterns, scarves and jewelry. The shop sellers gesturing emphatically while shouting out a cheesy pick up line like “I think you dropped something….your heart, come pick it up” (you always drop you heart or your smile next to his store). Each shop has its own treasures but you have to look closely otherwise you are just buying an overpriced tourist gift that is sold at every other shop in the city (i.e. evil eye bracelets–should be a dollar, unaware tourists will buy them for 15). You also get to haggle which is my favorite part. I love the satisfaction of walking away after they reject my lowest offer and hearing “okay, okay, you got it!”

As a girl who thoroughly enjoys shopping, I can honestly say this was better than shopping at any mall I’ve ever been to. Every item I bought was like a prize. Maybe I over paid for some of them, maybe I didn’t, who knows? Who cares? We had a blast and we loved everything we bought.

My camera died but here are some pics of the Grand Bazaar I found that I think represent it well:

The Grand Bazaar

Written by allylegend

June 7, 2011 at 7:51 am

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The Real Istanbul…

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Yesterday my roommate’s friend of a friend, Gokhan (an Istanbul native who goes to college in Florida), took us out on the town to see the side of Istanbul that you can’t see as a mere tourist.

The day started when he picked us up. I was relieved to see a car after days of traveling on the cramped subway (full of not so pleasant aromas). My roommate and I looked out our windows in excitement as Gokhan explained that it took him an hour to get to us from the other side of the city. The massive size of Istanbul still amazes me and his words were a reminder that we were going to go places that we could never reach in a reasonable amount of time on the subway.

Our first stop was a palace on the “Asia” side of Istanbul that  was once used by the leader appointed to Egypt by the Ottoman Empire. He would use the palace when he came to visit Turkey. The palace is now used for serene afternoon brunch buffets in the garden, weddings in the eloquent dining hall and picnics in the surrounding wooded area. We walked along the path through the trees and stopped at a beautiful view of the city . We then enjoyed a quaint and delicious brunch as we watched at least three brides pose for photographs in the grass.

The palace

My roommate and I in front of the palace

Us with Gokhan in front of the view

One thing we learned is that that the Asia side of Turkey is kept much more green with trees and plants than the Europe side. The government has sanctioned certain parts that can not be built over in order to preserve the nature. For this reason the Asia side feels more peaceful and is aesthetically more pleasing. I also enjoyed not seeing large herds of tourists which we are used to since we live in one of the most heavily packed tourist areas of Istanbul (right next to the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace).

After our excursion to the palace we went to meet some of Gokhan’s friends at a local shopping mall. He told us they were very excited to meet us. We were also thrilled to meet them because talking to people who are native to the country you are visiting is the essence of what a “dialogue of civilizations” trip should be. That was part of why I loved Jordan so much, because we were emerged in the culture and talked with the Jordanian people we lived with about life in Amman constantly. We had not been given the opportunities to have the same kind of experiences in Istanbul…until now. The mall we visited looked very similar to the Paramus mall in my home state of New Jersey. We arrived at the food court (with restaurants like McDonalds and Krispie Kream) to a table of smiling young turkish people. A few of them spoke small amounts of English from their short time spent visiting America but we didn’t mind (after all it had been a while since we ran into anyone, besides Gokhan, who spoke any english at all).

We then left to have Turkish coffee at a park with another amazing view of the Asia side of Turkey. We drank our coffee, laughed and talked with this great group of people.

Drinking turkish coffee

Then one of the girls told us she was going to read our fortunes in our coffee cups. Once we had finished drinking our coffee she told us to turn our cups over on our plates, shake it a little and then rest it on the table until the cups cooled. She picked up my cup and looked at the shapes the residue left behind. On my plate was one drop of dark brown residue–a tear drop she said. She said I was sad recently and that I would have a dilemma soon but that it would work out. We also looked in the bottom of the cup and saw a distinct “evil eye” (the symbol to ward of evil) which she said suggests that someone is angry or jealous of me. That part of the reading was a little scary but overall the fortune reading was a lot of fun!

Turkish Coffee

Cups turned over, waiting for our fortunes to be told

After our coffee we said goodbye to our new friends and went to see Bagdat street. Bagdat street is like the Newbury Street or 5th avenue of Turkey. It is the street where everybody shops with stores like Top Shop, Dolce & Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger. It was such a vibrant and bustling street which we probably would have never seen because it is so far from our hotel. As we walked down the street Gokhan kept noting how funny it was that there was a Starbucks on every corner, just like America. He showed us something that was unique to Turkey, a store called “Vakko”.  Gokhan described it as a “first class turkish designer like the Dolce & Gabbana of Turkey.” We went inside and admired the beautiful bags and clothes and I muttered to my roommate “one day when we are rich journalists (don’t laugh! haha) we will shop here.”

After Bagdat street, Gokhan took us to dinner with his friends at his favorite restaurant. I am so grateful to how amazing he has been to us, he really made an effort to make sure we had a great day in Istanbul! The restaurant we went to was right along the water. We sat outside as the the sun set, it was beautiful! For dinner we ate Iskendar, a traditional meal of sliced beef cooked over a fire with yogurt on top. It was so good, words can not describe! It was a perfect day in Istanbul–seeing a different side of the city, meeting wonderful people and eating great food. It has really made me fall in love with Istanbul in a way I never thought I would after my amazing experience in Amman. A special thank you to Gokhan, our personal tour guide, and my roommate for bringing me along for the ride!

View of the sunset from the restaurant

Written by allylegend

June 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

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