Say hello to the team...
Landing in Ankara, we arrived late at night to a locked door. The host for our lodging was not home yet and so there was no key to get in. As a plan B, we ended up staying a night with our friend Nate who now lives and works in Turkey full time. He would be taking us around and so we knew we were in good hands.
Over breakfast and tea, we began connecting about what we would be seeing and doing over the next several days. Even though we had talked with each other over the course of a few months, it was great to connect even further and begin to feel like a unit. It was rather fitting that instead of sleeping in separate places, to be together for one night and share our first meal together.
First place we went was to see the Ataturk Mausoleum and learn some history about modern Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the founder of the Republic of Turkey back in the early 1920's, being also the first Turkish president. He is still a highly regarded figure in Turkish identity. For a Turkish citizen, I would liken this place to being like a US citizen visiting the National Mall in Washington D.C.
One thing is for sure and that I would like to make sure you know, we ate well. Interspersed with all of our goings on, food was not far away. Even while waiting for a meal to be served, others showed up with food.
While exploring Ankara, we made a short visit the Kocatepe Mosque. We said a brief goodbye to the ladies as they went to the women's section. I'm not sure how to describe in words, but it's always interesting to enter a Mosque. It's not so much intimidating to go in, but it's wonder what people, both inside and outside will think. I am not a Muslim, but there are certain aspects that I can appreciate. To me, it's just another place for an opportunity to pray and listen.
In Ankara, Nate took us to visit a place called the Coffee Haus. They're a local coffee roaster, offering all kinds of caffeinated goodies. It's a way to employ locals and give them job training, to build up the business but also learn valuable skills. The coffee is excellent.
Nate took us to their cafe as well, where we got to celebrate Annie's birthday. We all lined up to escape the heat outside and enjoy a cold brew inside.
While in Ankara, we had a few opportunities to meet and serve refugees. Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees are living in Turkey, to give you an idea about just the numbers situation. Many are living in sort of a limbo, waiting to move on to where they can start a new life. In the meantime, many try to find work so as to be able to eat.
One local outreach serves soup and meals during the week. We got to make the soup at our dorm, which was humbling. We got to deliver the soup as well. I took video of the serving, but in the midst of it I learned I shouldn't be filming, so I stoppedWith the serving of the soup we got to spend time visiting with several visiting refugees. It was pretty interesting to meet and hear them talk (through much appreciated translators). Something I enjoyed was not hearing so many war stories, but of their personal interests. From literature, philosophy, travel, and sports, there was much we could relate on as fellow humans. It's always nerve wracking to wonder if we'll connect or be awkward, but it was a great time.
Opportunity to Work
Another area of outreach for refugees, there is a setup for them to work by making various types of colorful handbags. The money they make goes directly to support refugees.
Our team joined with local workers to help with another outreach being setup, where boxes of goods and food are given out to refugees. The many hands made the tiring task easy.
"In Iraq I was a teacher, here I am nothing."
Continuing, we got to travel outside of Ankara to visit with refugee families. Along the way, we got to talk with one of our guides about the refugee situation. I learned how the word refugee is not a good word. The word carries a stigma that a person is sort of secondary and can do nothing.
Arriving to visit the families, it was humbling to experience their hospitality. From coke, water, to tea, we were made plenty comfortable. We got to hear many of their stories of hardship, where they used to live, what they did for work, and their struggle to be able to move on. Many told of being caught in political ping-pong and have been waiting a couple years to be able to move on to a place where they are allowed to work, go to school, and essentially resume the personal dignity we sort of take for granted. Yet, they prayerfully wait and hope for the green light.
After visiting with families, we regrouped (we broke up into smaller teams) for dinner. We shared some stories of what we had heard and I was left wondering how much we can help from back home. The refugee topic back home in the U.S. is a touchy subject. Seeing up close those affected, it cuts to my heart and saddens me that back home that we even debate helping or not. But, I'm thankful that as a group, we got to hear and become believers in person. In the meantime, I was glad we got to at least be there with them and let them be heard.
Arriving in Ephesus, or Izmir, it was a bittersweet feeling. The last few days in Ankara were busy with outreach with refugees and locals, and it felt like we were just getting started. But our time was short and much valued.
Before going to see the ruins at Ephesus, we went to get acclimated in our hotel and the town of Izmir around us. It was a much slower pace than we had in Ankara, and it became a bit of a welcomed time to relax.
Walking through Ephesus was rather surreal. I've been to ancient ruins before, but seeing a place of this size, it was pretty amazing. But first, we got help from a groundskeeper who helped Jamie fix a walking stick. This man was a gift!
We were a bit reluctant at first, but we got a tour guide to show us around. It turned out to be a good idea. Besides the theater, he showed us little details I wouldn't have noticed. We saw chariot track marks in marble, where horses were tied to rocks, and a foot measuring tool to see if people were old enough to enter the theater. There were even signatures of sculptors.
I'm always amazed at the level of complexity and detail the ancients built.
After visiting Ephesus, we split into two groups. Some went back to Izmir for some personal time, another group went to a coastal town called Kusadasi to spend the afternoon. There was a vote to go to a Turkish bath house, of which I opted out of. It's nothing personal...I promise. A few of us instead went for a walk to relax along a beach promenade. As luring as it sounds to have a man rub oil all over my body and give me a massage, I much prefer to go out and people-watch. Turkey is a haven for this, so my choice was made months before.
On the far horizon I could see a Greek island called Samos. My mother's family is from there, and we had just been there two months prior. It's always interesting to see from another perspective. Ethan and I explored a castle park, and I was ruminating a bit while looking out at Samos. It was hard to imagine that not even 100 years ago, there was war going on between Greece and Turkey, and I wondered what it was really like living this close to each other.
Ok, Now what?
Also on our minds was Ankara, and wondering sort of, "ok, now what?" We had gotten to participate in a great outreach, but now we were going back home to our lives. What changes would there be for us? Could we come back? Those questions weren't answered on this day, and it still lingers in my mind today. (it keeps me going back to the Master, I'd like to keep going, wherever)
Last stop on our tour of Turkey was the city of Istanbul. My mind was still ruminating on Ankara, but I was excited to be in Istanbul again. Last year I got to spend a long day there on a layover and fell in love with it. Now we would be getting to spend two days and have guides, so I was percolating with anticipation. But before exploring, it was lunch time.
Taking a ferry across the Bosphorus Straight, we literally crossed from Asia into Europe. Our first place to explore was the Hagia Sophia (pronounced a-yee-ah soh-fee-ah, or Holy Wisdom in Greek). For centuries it was central church of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, originally built by Constantine. Later it became a Mosque during the Ottoman Empire. It's now a museum that reflects both histories. I too got to visit this place last year and so I was excited to be back with friends.
To put it simply, the Hagia Sophia is massive. Being so far removed culturally, it's hard to imagine a central church building. I mean, across the way was also the Roman Emperor's palace, now covered by what is called the Blue Mosque. Talk about central....
From the Hagia Sophia, we split up in the Grand Bazaar area to explore shops. It seemed like another opportunity for some street photography for me. I did go with a couple of the guys shopping, something I don't usually enjoy. Finding a Jewish shop was a surprise. I found a cool mezuzah made out of silver and bought it (and like the knucklehead I am, accidentally threw it away).
After a short while, it was back over to our hotel.
The next day, we got to meet some locals in their home. Looking back, I remember ruminating on the "now what?" question from Ankara, to becoming present to those we were meeting in Istanbul. It was definitely a challenge for me, but that's the beauty of being in a group. Jamie has a gift for noticing people and taking the time to do so, so it rubs off on all of us. We got to take time to be with people, and each other.