June 30 – July 10, 2011

Carla Mae Streeter, O.P., shares highlights from her recent trip to Turkey

June 30: Three of us, Harvey Schneider, David Oughton, and Carla Mae Streeter, flew
American Airlines to JFK where we met Michael Schneider, Harvey’s son, who joined us for the trip. Harvey is Jewish, a lawyer in St. Louis and form president of Interfaith Partnership, and Michael is a reporter in Orlando. David is a professor of World Religions at St. Louis University. Together we searched out Turkish Air, for the next leg of the journey to Istanbul. We will meet the other six members of our party in Istanbul.

The service aboard Turkish Air was remarkable. Gifts of slippers, a travel kit with socks and eye shields, and those hot towels before a meal! And such meals: real silverware and more than one can eat. The plane is large, seven across, with very advanced technology: a full entertainment center for each passenger that folds out before the passenger like a tray table! By some chance we were upgraded and assigned to the business section where the leg room was better. This was much appreciated by all of us for the ten hour journey ahead.

It is 12:30 a.m. as I write and we are passing directly over Munich, Germany. Breakfast is being prepared. Rest, with ears plugged and eyes covered, brought no real sleep. Hot towels are being passed…such a nice touch!

Our group met the mayor of Istanbul (mayor of both the European and the Asiatic sides of the city) in a park, where he was kind enough to pose with us for this picture - He is the man in the gray suit, second row.

July 1: We landed in Istanbul at 10:45 a.m. Turkey time. (The middle of the night in St. Louis!)
Aydin Danaci, our tour director, and his wife Handan were on hand to meet us, along with Henry (Hank) Rowold, a Lutheran professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and Natalie and Eve, two black blood sisters who enriched our group of ten immensely. (Their mother, who worked with county executive, Charlie Dooley, had made the trip earlier.)

We traveled by van from the airport to Tahir Mutlu College Guest Building, our lodging place while in Istanbul, where we settled in and had a lovely lunch. We then took a walk to a nearby mall where we watched Turkish young people ice skating and visited while Aydin returned to the airport. Our group of ten was complete when we were joined by Jim, formerly a New Testament professor at St. Louis University, who is now teaching in Sweden and Rabbi Ari Henden from St. Louis and her friend Lynnsie Kantor, a Real Estate Sales Associate. Supper at the Pirpirim Restaurant was enjoyed by all. We returned to the Guest House and turned in for the night.

July 2: After a hearty breakfast (eggs, cheese, bread, honey, tea, juice, instant coffee) we
Traveled by van to Topkapi Palace, the residence of the former sultan of Turkey. The spacious quarters of the sultan and his government is now a museum and tourist attraction since the 1934 birth of the Turkish Republic. The palace includes government rooms used by the sultan, specifically a private room with a flowing fountain and deaf and dumb guards standing at the entrances, where confidential matters were discussed and decided. The kitchen area included food tasters to thwart any poisoning attempts! When the sultan left with his family, he took none of his wealth with him. Among the items left behind was the famous 86 karat diamond that is still on display among the palace jewels. A harum section of the palace, overseen by the Queen Mother, was off limits even for the sultan, where young women were educated, groomed, and dressed.

Next came a visit to the famous Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom to Christians. The icons of this famous Church have recently been recovered by the removal of the plaster that once covered them. Used as a mosque when the Ottoman Turks took the city, it was later replaced by the Blue Mosque and became a museum which it is today.

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul

What Aydin calls “a light lunch” followed at Sultanahmet koftecisi. We all wondered what a full meal would be! Lunch was followed by a visit to the Basilica Cistern, an underground water supply (with fish!) built by Justinian to serve both as water storage and a place of worship for Christians underground. It is famous for its beautiful columns, resembling a basilica. Then on we walked to the Blue Mosque, so named because of the blue tiles of its interior. Larger than Hagia Sophia, it has four turrits, and its huge bulk dwarfs the nearby ancient Christian church now museum. Nearby was the Roman Hipodrome, the ruins of the location for the once famous chariot races. A drive through the textile center of the city brought us to a quiet restaurant and the generous evening meal. By 9:00 we were more than ready for the beddy!

July 3: Breakfast began the day at the Guest House, followed by a visit to St. Anthony’s
Roman Catholic Church for Sunday Mass. The priest and Mass servers were black, the assistant priest and preacher was from Brazil, and the choir was Filipino, and the liturgy was in English! The experience was indeed a cameo of the universal catholic community in Turkey.

A walk down Taksim-Istiklal Street was next, full of people walking both ways, a trolley clanging its way down the middle when it wanted to get through. Lunch was at Taksim Bereket, providing a variety of foods many of us had never tasted. A ride down the hill by way of “The Tunnel” brought us to a Jewish Museum and former synagogue for the Sephardic Jews of Spain who received a warm welcome from the Turkish sultan when they were expelled from Spain in 1492. Returning by way of “The Tunnel” to Taksim-Istiklal Street, we were given time to explore its many shops. Jim and I wandered the side streets looking for towels and scarves for loved ones at home. Some of the group gathered around and played games…vying with one another for wins. A bag of Turkish bagels, and we were off to the airport for the flight to Izmir and nearby Ephesus.

July 4: All of us were aware that this was Independence Day back home. The day began with
Another fine guide, along with Aydin, filled us in on the land and its history. First we visited the House of Mary Shrine. Under the care of the Italian, this location was pointed out by the stigmatist and mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich (whose writings guided Mel Gibson in the production of The Passion) as the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus lived with St. John after the ascension of Jesus. The foundation of a house was found where she indicated it would be, and the present shrine was reconstructed upon that foundation.

Next, a visit to a pottery artist studio revealed the most beautiful pottery, hand crafted with unique designs.

Just a short distance away were the archeological ruins of the city of Ephesus, the largest excavation in the world today. We walked it with our guide, learning what had once gone on in this city, once a busy harbor on Turkey’s west coast before the land shifted, leaving it inland with a rich valley for the raising of olives, apricots, pomegranates, and corn. The city eventually died as its commerce dried up. From the patrician section of the city to the section of the commoners, we walked, noting an excavated tavern with its attached “love house,” the latrines of the men’s bath, and it once beautiful library of scrolls. Last was its stadium and gladiatorial quarters and nearby cemetery. The trumpets sounded, and we caught a reenactment of a gladiatorial contest just as we were leaving. We breathed a sigh of relief at the “thumbs up” at the exit of the group!

We then moved on to visit the ruins of the Basilica of St. John the Apostle, destroyed by earthquake, and the nearby Jesus Boy mosque.

A stop at our hotel and we were off to have supper with a family in Izmir. The delightful evening included a meal prepared with great generosity and the warmest hospitality. First, the lentil soup, then the varieties of salads. Then came the rice and lamb. We shared information through Aydin who translated for us, and learned of each others’ work, hobbies, families, and sports. Then came a magnificent surprise concert by two fine musicians. Using a guitar-like instrument called the tamber and a bamboo flute, the musicians shared both religious and secular music with us. Then came Turkish coffee, ice cream, and our own little production of the United States national anthem sung with gusto to mark the day. Then came the baklavah and watermelon! We ended the evening with the traditional exchange of gifts, each guest presenting the host family with something from the United States. We returned to the hotel and got a bit of sleep before our 5:30 a.m. trip to the airport for the flight to Kayseri, the trade center of Turkey in the Cappadocian region.

July 5: Somewhat bleary-eyed with the early hour, we made the one-hour and 15 minute flight
to Kayseri, stopped for a lovely lunch, and checked in at the hotel. We rested, caught a nap, and some of us took a swim until 2:00 when we met our guide and headed for Goreme-Organ and “the stones with lids on.” We learned with amazement from out guide the way this valley had been home to Christian hermits in the second and third centuries, holy men (and women!) who had made this valley and its caves their homes, carving out space for prayer prior to the monastic movement. We saw the chapels with their icons that fed the faith of these early ascetics until the Christians left as a result of religious conflict. We had supper at the hotel and then an evening to catch up a bit on sleep!

July 6: A breakfast fit for kings and queens opened the day. We left at 8 for a hike in the Inhara
Valley, descending about 500 steps to follow the river for a little over a mile. The weather was beautiful. As we walked Queen Anne’s Lace and poppies lined the path. The cliffs were on our left peppered with the cave entrances now abandoned.

We then traveled to the site of the “underground cities.” Carved out of the soft volcanic rock, these five story underground dwellings are difficult to date. Recently discovered, it is clear that the early Christians used these hidden hideouts because of the orthodox art found in the rooms used as chapels. Wine cellars, kitchen spaces, and even stables for animals were part of these underground tunnels and rooms.

Lunch was at a unique restaurant recently carved into the rock to honor the underground city site nearby. The serving was elegant, and included local fare prepared especially for us.

Next was a visit to the Turkish Rug Cooperative. We heard the explanation of how these magnificent rugs are made. Persian in design, these rugs are Turkish in the unique double knot technique that identifies an authentic Turkish rug anywhere in the world. The rugs are made of wool, cotton and silk. We handled the cocoons from which the silk is taken and learned how the cocoons are “unwound” to provide the silk strands for the weaving and then dyed beautiful colors. The rugs were then displayed with great pride and opportunity given for those who wanted to purchase them.

A trip back to the Hotel Conference Center gave us time for supper and visiting, even getting in on a Turkish wedding! The wedding party welcomed these visitors from America.

July 7: We left at about 8:30 the next morning for the trip by van to Konya, the center of the
great Sufi poet, Rumi. The trip was about 3 hours through the flat agricultural section of west central Turkey. The soil appeared grayish white, and wheat fields spread far and wide. Konya is an ancient city and gives the appearance of renewal everywhere.

We visited the beautiful college (primary and middle school) and the Mevlana University that is part of the movement that has sponsored our trip through the generosity of its members. This movement is working through education, hospitality, and dialogue, both within and outside of Turkey, to restore Turkey to its original cultural and religious values. With the Republic came the secular viewpoint that religion of any kind, including Islam, is not compatible with scientific and technological progress. Consequently religion is merely tolerated. The salary of imams, for example, is paid by the government, and the government supervises what they say. They are regarded as simply performing a civil service. Religious marriages are not recognized in Turkey as legal. The movement of which the Niagra Foundation is a part in the United States is funded by Turkish citizens that believe this must change. The European Union agrees, and with recent elections in Turkey there is hope that the writing of a new constitution for Turkey will now proceed and become a reality that will include human rights. Presently the military has too much power, creating more of a military dictatorship than a democracy. The genuine Turkish spirit warmly welcomed the Jews expelled from Spain back in 1492. Turkish economic, scientific, architectural and technological innovation can be seen everywhere, advanced by devout Muslims, presenting a counter vision to the dualistic viewpoint of the present secular government.

The Rumi Museum in Konya is a former mosque. Rumi and some of his family are buried here. Whirling dervishes are trained here in an 18 step disciplinary program that admits both young boys and married men. We attended a program of whirling dervishes in the evening after supper with a delightful family. Once again we were warmly welcomed by the host husband, his wife and three children. A second family came over to help (we were 12 guests!). By adding needed places around 2 tables we finally all fit, and after introductions in Turkish by Aydin, we did quite well as Aydin and his wife, Handan interpreted for us. The food was wonderful Turkish fare, including yogurt soup, tomato and cucumber salad, rice and stew, fruit, and a honeyed dessert. In the midst of our meal the landlord of the building appeared with gifts for us all. To add to the excitement a fuse blew, leaving us to the natural evening light. We shared the gifts we too had brought to share with the family, and then we were off to see the whirling dervishes at the Rumi shrine. The evening ended with welcomed sleep at our Konya Hotel in anticipation of our 6:00 breakfast and departure to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul in the morning.

Whirling Dervishes - Konya

July 8: We arrived at Pegasus Airlines by 7:00 a.m. and ran the gauntlet of security checks. The
unique experience of this airline was its on board pre-flight routine: the video presentation was done completely by children from how to put the seat belts on to life-vest use! I was delightful, and needless to say every passenger was paying attention!

We landed on the Asian side of Istanbul, the city twice the size of New York, and our 8th day began. Our first stop was Neve Shalom Synagogue, twice attacked by terrorists: once by Hamas who were attacking several other Turkish sites as well, the second by Al Queda. About 30 Jews died, and the security for the synagogue was extremely tight. One reason Aydin chose this synagogue for our visit was the fact that the Jewish community in Baltimore helped the synagogue rebuild as they mourned their dead.

After a delicious lunch we visited The Journalist and Writers’ Foundation, and learned more about the quiet movement for a truly free Turkey inspired by Dr. Gülen, who is now in the United States for health reasons. The movement has no formal membership, yet inspires various organizations within and beyond Turkey, including the Niagra Foundation in the mid-west United States, China, and elsewhere. Two young women, both wearing the Turkish scarves so common here, explained the movement and showed us a video. At our request, some of us were able to obtain a copy of the DVD to take with us. The movement is financed by businessmen and volunteers. We understood from this that it was these unnamed persons who had helped finance our trip.

We then toured the Sakirin Mosque, also called the woman’s mosque because it was designed by a Turkish woman architect. The structure and interior were modern, emphasizing a water theme. There was a fountain at the entrance and a tear drop motif in the interior. The curved lines and soft beauty of the structure were a clear signature of the woman whose creative imagination created the building.

Supper was enjoyed at Izhar, where we had enjoyed a meal once before. We settled in once again for the night at the beautiful and simple Guest House where we had stayed our first two days.

July 9: Our final day permitted a bit of sleep catch up, as we gathered for breakfast at 8:15. We
then left for the unforgettable experience of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. A maze of covered shops provided us with a final chance to pick up items for loved ones at home and final remembrances to take home from so rich a Turkish experience.

We then gathered fish and beef sandwiches for our boat trip on the Bosphorus and headed for the dock. A turn of events resulted in our boarding a private boat, captained, we learned later, by the owner of several of the cruise boats at the dock. We had a wonderful trip up one side of the Bosphorus and down the other, at times narrowly missing an encounter with much larger ships. The breeze was delightful, the sun was just right, and we were content to return to the hotel after the trip for a nap before joining our final family for supper. We bid farewell to Ari and Lynsee, two of our Jewish companions, who extended their visit a few days to the south of Istanbul.

Our hosts

Our third family welcomed us along with two other couples and a spunky little six year old who added much to the visit. Grandma and Grandpa were there, the host parents of the six year old, and the sister of our hostess, married just 8 months. The meal was lavish, consisting of several courses. First there was the yogurt soup, then a tomato and beef stew, then the main dish of rice, chicken and potato accompanied by stuffed eggplant and a variety of salads. When we returned to the living room area it was announced that we would be marking several celebrations: our host husband[s birthday, the birthday of Hank, our companion from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, the coming birthday of Natali, another of our companions, on July 21st, and finally, the new emerita status of Carla Mae. I big two layered chocolate cake with candles appeared as the lights were dimmed, and with gusto we sand “Happy Birthday” in both Turkish and English at the same time! Cake, fruit, and ice cream followed, the ice cream made from goat’s milk to be eaten with a fork it is so firm! The family presented each of us with a gift, and we shared with the families the little gifts we had brought with us for them. Then we headed home for the final packing.

July 10: Aydin arranged breakfast for us at Guest House even though it was Sunday, a
thoughtfulness only matched by his and Handan’s care in staying with us at the airport throughout the entire check-in process. We all boarded safely, and began the journey home after a remarkable week of generosity, education, and dialogue!

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