Friday, May 25, 2012

Turkey: Head Scarves


This might be weird, but I actually really like wearing head scarves at the mosques. This kind of surprised me because I think I’ve always seen women covering their head as a symbol of oppression. It seemed like a code of modesty for women that didn’t match up with the standard for men.  But I think I’ve come to realize that it’s only oppressive if the women feel that it’s oppressive. There are a lot of people who aren’t LDS who believe that women in our church are oppressed because they are not able to hold the priesthood. But I don’t feel like I have a subordinate role in the church because I can’t hold the priesthood. So it doesn’t really matter what outside people have to say if I feel like I’m not living under any restraint. I’m trying to be careful to not make fast judgments on traditions (like head scarves) that I don’t really know anything about. 

But having the experience of wearing the headscarves has changed my perspective in other ways too. It’s weird how when I’ve gone into a mosque with the other girls in my group and all our heads are covered, everyone suddenly looks very different. They look different from the BYU girls I see at the Jerusalem center in their t-shirts and sandals. It’s harder to tell who is who and it’s this weird moment where we suddenly aren’t in our culture, we aren’t wearing the normal clothes we usually wear, we aren’t BYU students, we belong to another tradition even if it disappears outside of the mosque. It’s a weird feeling that’s hard to describe. There was this moment when I looked out at all the girls in my group, all 60 of us in head scarves and realized that putting a piece of cloth over our hair didn’t change us at all. I know every single one of them and their personalities were still there under the head scarf. Rachelle with her great laugh, Camila with her Columbian accent, Melinda with her questions, Megan with her smile. I felt this connection, wearing my head scarf, with women who are part of the Islamic tradition and have this tradition as part of their everyday lives. They didn’t seem as foreign or different or incomprehensible as they sometimes have seemed  to me seeing them on the street. They are just women underneath the scarf. They laugh, smile, ask questions too. They don’t wear t-shirts and sandals but  they wear the clothes that are part of their tradition instead.
(Sarah (who was in my freshman ward—small world!), Alicia, and Emily)

This is Megan, my roommate. Megan has the best smile. She is so sweet and listens to all my long opinions for hours :)

Abdin Mosque

Turkey: Istanbul

This is Rachelle, my roommate. Rachelle has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard, it’s one of those laughs that make something that seemed like a big deal a few minutes before not seem like a big anymore. She’s so great.

We took this picture right on the edge of the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar took me back to my days of street market shopping in China. The foods and the people looked a little different though…

Dates and dried fruit

I love the Blue Mosque too. It is called the Blue Mosque because it has over 20,000 blue tiles on the inside of it. It is also really beautiful but very crowded with people.
The ceiling domes
Muslims praying toward the mihrab which shows the direction of Mecca.

Turkey: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

I took this picture on a bridge in Istanbul as we took a walk through the city to a baklava shop. It was weird for me at first how different Istanbul felt from Jerusalem. It felt more fast paced and modern but yet there were all these buildings and walls from hundreds of years ago. There are 2,000 mosques in Istanbul and 98% of the population is Muslim! I always thought Utah was kind of a unique place having such a huge congregation of one religion but not even Utah is 98% LDS.  Someone told me that only 40% of the population in Salt Lake city is LDS now, which is kind of surprising if that statistic is right.
I love mosques. I wish I could have seen all 2,000 of them.
This is the Hagia Sophia, probably the most famous mosque in Istanbul. It is incredibly beautiful.
Hagia Sophia is HUGE. It’s hard to tell from the pictures but it literally swallows thousands of people. We had 90 people in our group and once we divided into two groups I didn’t even see the rest of the group once we were inside. Here’s a little glimpse. It’s stunning isn’t it?

This mosque is so interesting because it used to be the largest Christian Church in the world for almost a thousand years. But when the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul (Constantinople) then it was converted into a mosque by the Muslims. There was beautiful mosaics all over the walls that the Muslims plastered over for their own images. This was actually a good thing, because now that the mosque is a museum, they were able to remove the plaster and find that the plaster preserved the Christian images underneath so now the Hagia Sophia is a collection of half Christian images and half Muslim and it’s beautiful. Our tour guide told us that the reason the Muslims didn’t destroy the images was because it was a gesture of respect. Many of the people depicted in the Christian art are figures that are respected in Islam as well. Muslims, however, don’t have any figures of people in their mosques. My favorite Mosaic was this one of Christ:

Here’s what it originally looked like:
How do you create anguish like that by putting tiles side by side?
The posed pictures are getting a little boring…here’s the true experience of the Hagia Sophia haha

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Going to Turkey.....Today!

I'm going to Turkey for the whole week! Which means I get another stamp in my passport, can't wait! We'll be in "traveling classroom" this no homework! Tonight I'll be in Instanbul. Maybe I'll eat turkey in turkey....
I think I might this place though.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

First Falafel

Eat Falafel, it is fantastic.
And Magnum Bars. This one tasted like there was toffee inside the chocolate. Wow.

Jewish Celebrations

There were bonfires all over Jerusalem the other night because of this Jewish Festival that celebrates the writer of the Kabalah.  From what I could see the tradition is make huge bonfires and then the men dance and sing around it while the women watch from the sidelines. The first bonfire we went to was pretty hopping. It was so strange to me to see these grown men in formal suits and beards dancing around the bonfire. The women stood on the edges watching with the little girls. It was completely fascinating for me.

 I had one of those moments when I was walking the streets where I felt every penny I paid for this study abroad was worth it to just to have an experience like this. There are always the big monumental sites that I’ve looked forward to going to like the Garden of Gethsemane or walking the Great Wall or going to Jane Austen’s house or seeing the Amazon but sometimes the small moments on the street where I feel like I am a part of the life going around me are the moments that make me feel alive and bring the thrill back into traveling. I had one of those moments in Suzhou, China watching a group of street performers. I loved being a part of that big crowd of Chinese people clapping along to the music, singing and swaying. I remember going to the grocery store in London and loving the British flags that lined the baskets of fruit. We got on the bus with all our sacks of groceries and I was so excited that we looked like we lived in London with all our groceries even with our American accents. It was one of those moments walking through Me’a She’arim this week moving from bonfire to bonfire that made me feel that I hadn’t just visited Jerusalem but that I been there long enough to love it.

Sorry this picture is really blurry. They wanted the two boys in our group to join in the dancing so they joined the circle even though they had no idea what to do. It was hilarious. I was really wishing I was a boy because I wanted to go dance with all the men too. My Just Dance moves were just itching to come out :)

This Jewish man started talking to the two guys in our group. It was interesting that when any of the girls tried to talk to him or ask him a question he wouldn't really respond or interact with us. He only spoke with the guys.

The Dome of the Rock

I have been so excited about going to see the Dome of the Rock. I look at it every day because we have an awesome view of it from the Jerusalem Center.  But the line gets really long and they close at weird times but finally we had a free day and so we ran to get in line right after breakfast.
Here’s us at the beginning of the line ready to go.
We waited for about an hour and half in the midst of people from all over the world. The group in front of us was speaking Italian and the people behind us were reading French guidebooks. But I love to people watch. There was a group of cute little Jewish class going on a field trip.
Jewish men ready to punch me when I took their picture….just kidding....don't worry I wasn't in danger Mom. Even though they totally saw me take their picture I think this guy just raised his arm up when I took the picture….or that’s what I’m hoping.
I see the Dome of the Rock outside of my window everyday but it was breathtakingly beautiful when I was finally able to stand right next to it. The roof glitters and there are all kinds of people around.  The colors in the mosaics are bright turquoises which are really stunning.

We gave this woman a couple shekels so we could take a picture of her and her son. It doesn't matter what country you go to, the kids are so cute. I love the the cute little Hasidic Jewish boys with their wispy side curls. And I love the deep dark eyes of the Arab kids who are all as cute as this little boy.
I could look at the Dome of the Rock all day. They had to usher us out because they were closing, but they probably do that on purpose or else people like us would never leave :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Kotel or The Western Wall

I have been so excited for the last four months to go to the Western Wall. This is where the Jews come to lament the fall of the Temple and look toward where the Holy of Holies was. They place written prayers in the cracks of the wall and face the wall without ever turning their backs to it. It was incredibly quiet there when I went. The women and the men are divided and the men (even the non-Jewish men) where kippas (Hebrew) or yarmulkes (Yiddish) on their head.
The Women’s Side

I had the chance to go to the Western Wall last Friday night at sunset when the celebrations of Shabbat  began. I was excited all day Friday waiting for sundown to come. It was incredible seeing the people there and a really beautiful experience. Some men wore wide fur Russian hats, black brimmed hats, kippas, tallit (prayer shawls). 

The women were very modest. One Jewish woman told us that the Jewish people have a tradition of covering up the things that are most precious to them. There are many layers in the synagogue to get to the Torah scrolls and so the women are covered.  We wore skirts and long sleeves and tried to blend in with the women in the black dresses and their head coverings. 
The men sing, dance, and chant but for the most part the women only pray in their section of the wall. The Jewish woman we were talking to explained that they believed that public was not the place for the women to do these things and that their celebrations were done in the home.
I love the Kotel. I love that people come there to be close to the presence of God. It is tradition to never turn away from the wall as they walk away from the wall because they don't want to turn their back to God, so they walk backwards through the crowd, with their heart always facing toward God. Most of the women had their Siddur (prayer book) and were beginning the evening prayers. The tradition is to pray three times a day: morning, afternoon, and night by reciting a certain prayer. But they can also pray their own personal prayers anytime and anywhere. But going to the Western Wall to pray was a shortcut to heaven according to our Jewish friend. Prayers come to the Temple Mount first and then go straight up to heaven from there so that's why so there is a tradition of placing written prayer in the cracks of the walls.