Dreaming of Istanbul:
This summer was the first time I had been to Istanbul. For years I had been dreaming of this moment. The beautiful designs of the mosques, the rich history and the amazing spice markets. Now I was here with one of my best friends and ready to see and experience it all. Our hotel was in the perfect spot to fill between the Haga Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
The Booming Voice
What we didn’t know was that we would be hearing the call to pray (ezan) 5 times a day. The first time I heard the call to prayer I was startled. Through our hotel window was shockingly loud, booming voices over loud speakers of the mosques coming from two directions at just slightly different times. I looked outside my hotel window to see if anyone else noticed, but everyone seemed to carry on without missing a beat. The voices seems to answer one another. One voice from the Hagia Sophia and the other from the Blue Mosque. There was one at 5:42 am, 1:12 pm, 5:07 pm, 8:21 pm, and 10:08 pm. The first few nights we woke up to the 5am call. Since there was no a/c, we had no choice but to leave our windows open, which meant the voices seemed evermore present.
Fasting for a Month, Not Even Water
The day before we left Istanbul, Ramadan began, which is when the most devout fast from sunrise to sunset for one month. No eating and no drinking until the sun sets. This means on long hot and humid summer days you can’t even drink water. Although this is not followed by everyone in Istanbul, there were many people adhering to it. It was so hot in July it was hard for me to imagine not drinking water for an entire day would be like. For my friend and I it meant there was an extra wakeup call in the night for the call to prayer at 3:38 am and all the call to prayers during Ramadan are longer. By this time we were kind of getting used to it, we would only half wake up briefly and fall back asleep. In our short stay, it had become a pulse of our lives.
Vibrant Festivities – Men Spin Cotton While Eating Baklava
After sunset and before sunrise, the Ramadan festivities begin. In front of the elegant Blue Mosque rows of picnic benches are lined up. In the evening rows of beautifully designed stalls open up and I feel I am in a nostalgic Arabian book from my childhood. Each stall is well-designed with rich colors and golden accents. The lighting is soft and warm. Everywhere you look people are selling eye-dazzling wears, mouth-watering foods, and delicious-smelling desserts. There is baklava, Turkish coffee, non-alcoholic drinks, a man dressed up in costume selling fresh yogurt, canned foods in large glass jars, and men spinning cotton into thread right in front of you. The area is filled with local people shopping, eating and drinking. It is a joyous event. The news stations are here to cover the event and while we were there a famous Turkish person was being interviewed as many people crowded around to get a glimpse. This is clearly the event of the season and I was feeling lucky to steal a glimpse.
Picnicking Before Sunrise
The next morning we left. Our bus came to pick us up at 3:30am. As we passed by the Blue Mosque, we could see families with their picnic blankets laid out. With their huge baskets of food, eating as much as they could before the sun would rise. To watch as an outsider, it was fascinating and beautiful to see these 2500 year old traditions unfold before my eyes. To experience a small piece of another culture, to feel a surreal experience that to most that were there is their yearly traditions, was an exhilarating experience.