Mixed Feelings in Istanbul

When you travel the world, you’re bound to run into a few small hiccups.

I was all prepared to share about the Istanbul Whirling Dervishes, who are Sufi Muslims who believe in religious tolerance, love, and abandoning the Ego. But instead, my attention for the past 24 hours has been diverted to a suicide bomber. It’s a very, very mad world. I’m feeling sad and scared.

Yesterday morning, I walked from the apartment I was renting in Galata to the hotel Laura and Jan were at to tell them bye before they left for the airport. Right after, I went back to my apartment and was waiting a few minutes before I had to leave and head over to my new apartment rental in Taksim. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to walk or take a taxi because the place I was going was only a mile away. Just before I was set to leave, Laura texted me and told me that her taxi driver told them that there was an explosion in Taksim.

I had to decide what to do. I started watching the news updates online. I could either still walk to the new apartment, which would take me straight through where the bomb detonated, or I could wait and try and stay at the place I needed to check out of (and get charged more). Then I got a message from Matt, who is an ex-pat here (from Texas), who we had met a few nights before through a friend of Laura’s. He lives in a more residential, non-touristy neighborhood in the city, and he offered for me to stay at his place instead of going to Taksim. Around that same time, the US Embassy sent out a message advising people to stay out of the whole Taksim area.

So, I decided to go and stay with Matt and his girlfriend, Alif, at his place. What a great dude😊 I was so thankful at how open and empathetic he and Alif were. Being able to spend the day with familiar people who also knew more about updates on what was going on in the city was really comforting to me. SO GRATEFUL❤️. And he cooked chili! A home-cooked American meal😍!

I really don’t like being scared and feeling like I have to be on high alert constantly, but I guess, from Iraq, I am used to it. Might just mean I know more of what to look for or something, but it definitely doesn’t mean that I am comfortable with it. Not cool. In addition to that, I can’t go and do what I want to do here! I need to experience more Istanbul, and these jerks are crampin my style. Interestingly, Facebook has been blocked for 24 hours, and I’m unable to use it. This is a common thing the government does when there are attacks.

So, first thing this morning, I took a taxi over to my Taksim apartment, where I am now. The streets are relatively empty. There are still some people walking and driving around, but not as near as many as usual. Most locals thought there would be multiple attacks, so I’m still laying low and hoping that doesn’t happen. From the attack yesterday, the tally is now said to be at 5 dead (including the suicide bomber – and including 2 Americans), 7 in critical condition, and 36 injured. Some think this has to do with the Newroz holiday, which is the Kurdish New Year and is celebrated on 21 March (today is the 20th).

There is fear here that this could quickly progress for Istanbul and it could start looking like another Aleppo. The complexity of the situation is staggering – turkey, syria, kurds, muslims, EU and US involvement… We don’t know what is in the cards, and the scary part is how totally unpredictable these things are. People here are getting used to attacks and also worn down by what seems like impending doom. Istanbul is such an amazing, wonderful, vibrant, special city (and people). I really hope they are able to live in peace like they deserve.

Speaking of peace – The Whirling Dervishes😄… and Rumi:

Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened because of some disagreement about names. It is such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing there is a long table of companionship set and waiting for us to sit down. What is praised is one, so the praise is one too, many jugs being poured into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different on this other one, but it is still one light. We have borrowed these clothes, these time-and-space personalities, from a light, and when we praise, we are pouring them back in.



It was Jan’s idea to see a Whirling Dervish show (thanks😍), and I’m so glad we went because it was really cool to see in person. The place we went to see them in is called Hodjapasha Culture Center, and the building is an old 15th Century hamam. Photos aren’t allowed, and they were really strict about it, but I managed to sneak just a few with my phone from a few rows back…

IMG_8131 IMG_8130 IMG_8129 IMG_8128 IMG_8127

They’re standing on a glass floor, in the shape of a circle, and they wear only socks on their feet to make it easier for them to spin on one foot. They’re not going that fast when they twirl, but it’s very fluid, and (most of the time) they’re in sync with each other, and they basically twirl for 45 minutes, with a few short ‘breaks’ in between where they stop twirling for a few seconds. It’s really amazing – the persistence and discipline to be able to keep their arms in the air and to spin for that long. And they don’t get dizzy.

whirling dervish statue

whirling dervish wax(?) statue

The practice is about abandoning the Ego and focusing on God while performing a ‘physically active meditation’. I wasn’t aware prior to this, but there is a link between the Sufi whirling and Rumi (whose poems are the most inspiring, loving beauty😍). He believed in the use of poetry, music and dance in worship, and from his ideas, the whirling practice was initiated.

Some of my favorite Rumi quotes (lifted from my shares on my Facebook page)…

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love, that somehow contains the entire universe.

You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

I have been a seeker and still am,
but I stopped asking books and the stars.
I started listening to the teaching of my soul.

And his “The Guest House” poem:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Now feeling inspired again. 

Next up: Bizzaro Bazaar

3 Comments on “Mixed Feelings in Istanbul

  1. Thank you, Matt & Alif, for taking Steph into your home. I rested easier last night knowing she was with you ! These past 2 days have been eye-opening…….

    Liked by 1 person

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