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Last days of Turkey (Part One)

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

My travels in Turkey will come to an end soon. At least, this chapter will come to an end. I think I will be back to Turkey.

The cold and rainy weather currently happening outside my newest digs is perfect down time for catching you up. While inside, I will try to encapsulate my last days in Cappadocia and the few days (that followed) in Istanbul.

I want to accomplish this quest fairly quickly. It is not that the outer landscapse of Cappadocia (and Istanbul) are not worthy of details. They are. It is not that my inner landscape turned simple. It did not. It is just that I want you here with me now, in the present moment, in Antalya.

First, let us catch up.

On Saturday, after the epic sunrise hot air balloon ride with Luis, back at the Monastery Cave Hotel and Cafe, I ate mother Mary's Indian-food-leftovers for breakfast in the cafe and took a wee nap in my cave bedroom. When I woke to a relatively warm day, I texted Ercan.

I wrote: "The balloon ride was amAzing. Thanks so much for helping make that happen." I followed that sentiment with two emojis: one White-girl Namaste hands, followed by one pink heart tied with a yellow ribbon and bow around its middle. Then, space... a new paragraph. I continued with: "It's a beautiful day. The sun is showing. May I ride with you on your bike?"

The "space" (in my text to Ercan, above) was purely hesitation. The hesitation was because a small, insecure part of me wonders if she should say what she really wants to say. She is afraid to ask for what she really wants. She does not want to be pushy and aggressive. She does not want to ask for more. It was my last weekend in Cappadocia (and hers too), though, and the sun was shining, and there was so much more of Cappadocia to see. My little part and I felt a bit like Anna in Frozen. "The sky is awake and so am I..."

The "bike" (in my text to Ercan) was referring, of course, to Ercan's motorcycle. In true Ercan style, he simply answered me with these two words: "Why not?"

If you ride, you know the buzz you get from straddling a bike seat, how moving fast through air feels freeing, and how riding in nature makes you feel like you are a part of it. This was that. And it was in Cappadocia. It was a freeing, gorgeous, a(f-ing)mazing ride.

All the sights popped my eyes and blew my mind. We stopped for coffee at a spot with this view (below) of Mars and a (currently) inactive volacano:

The coughing you will hear in the video (below) is Ercan. A large percentage of Turkish people smoke cigarettes. A large number of friends I met cough. I worry for them.

From my vantage point on the back of the bike, there were many times I wanted to capture the moment for you. For the first three-quarters of the ride, I did not dare take off my leather gloves, take out my phone, and manipulate the camera to take photos and videos. At one point I threw caution to the wind and pulled out my camera. I could no longer hold back my intense desire to bring you with me.

I'm happy to say that throwing caution to the the wind did not cause an accident, I did not fall off the bike, I did not lose either of my favorite black leather gloves with the pink leather lotus sewed onto each. I did not drop my phone onto the road beneath our wings.

With bare hands holding onto my phone camera, while riding on the back of Ercan's motorcycle, I captured for you a few more moments of the awesomeness that is Cappadocia...

Cappadocia has truly unique topography, and my experience of it felt truly magical. You feel the magic, too, yes?

I clearly remember jaw-dropping moments and heart-opening events over that last week in Cappadocia. I am unclear of the chronological time line or (sometimes) names of specific moments, events, and people. I am clear about some of it. I can share some of what I thought and felt, yet I thought and felt so much more than I'll write about (or remember). Those last days were a bit of a blur. Like riding on Ercan's bike, I witnessed a lot.

The Wednesday before the Monday when I left Cappadocia, I took a short bus ride to the next town, Ürgüp. I wanted to purchase a long lighter to burn the sage I had foraged and dried. I had tried using a short lighter to accomplish that task on Monday night, and burned my fingers.

When I first got on the bus, I noticed a woman sitting in a window seat, crying. It was standing room only on the bus, but, at that point, it was not so crowded I could not remain standing in the aisle by her row (of two seats). I reached past the passenger sitting in the aisle seat, and put my hand onto her shoulder. She looked up at me and I gave her that look that said, "I see you. I am here to hold space for you." She burst out crying. The two men sitting behind her watched and then reached out to touch her shoulders.

The bus stopped to pick up more passengers and got squishy standing room crowded. I had to move back. It was ok though. I knew she was in good hands for the rest of the trip.

I realized that, standing, I would see nothing on this trip. So I squatted down. I was holding onto the seat backs on either side of the aisle, pressed between other passengers in front of me, behind me, and sitting on either side of me. My legs shaking in squat position, I watched the topography of Mars go by.

I could tell that other passengers thought this posturing of mine amusing. I did not mind. They were used to living on Mars. I was not. We were traveling across Mars and I needed to see it.

Walking around Ürgüp, it struck me that there are caves all over Cappadocia. To me, these are magical caves. To the residents of Cappadocia, the caves are part of the landscape. Fairy chimneys and gnome-homes on Mars are part of their everyday life.

In this picture (above) these caves are just a backdrop for a parking area.

Walking through Ürgüp's downtown area, it struck me, again, that there are similar shops selling similar products, many situated side-by-side.

In these pictures (above and below), two shops, side-by-side, were selling roasted and salted peanuts, sunflower seeds, and almonds... baklava and Turkish Delight... and ground spices. There were bins of aromatic spices. The smells captured my senses and stopped me dead in my tracks. The vendors thought I was stopped to make a purchase, but I was full from my breakfast and only wanted to breathe in the aroma. I really wish I could type smells in here.

Here (below) is a picute of people sitting at tables and chairs enclosed in glass bubbles. In the distance, there is a Muslim-built tower with a loud speaker system attached to it. This is one of many towers all over Turkey (many next to a mosque) that, five times a day, every day of the year, broadcast the Call to Prayer.

It struck me that, just about everywhere I have been in Cappadocia, there has been construction. I am thinking that a lot of the construction is maintanance. I am also wondering if tourism is ever growing in Cappadocia. I am thinking that maybe some of the construction is hotels ever improving, expanding, or emerging. I do not really know.

And everywhere, there are huge dogs. This dog (in the picture below) was probably the largest dog I have seen on the streets of Turkey. This picture (below) does not capture how truly huge this dog was. I remember petting the top of his head with great ease, because the top of his head came up to my hip.

Back at the Cave Hotel-Cafe, there were more nights when a group (of people, dogs, cats) sat together, warming ourselves around the open fire. I do not speak Turkish, so I did a lot of listening and massaging people with bongers. There were also nights when we sat inside, eating, drinking, bonging, warmed by the fire in a little fireplace, men and women playing live music...

You may recall the young women I met early on during my stay at the Cave Hotel. These women were playing music in the indoor cafe-dining room. They had joined me in the Cave Room upstairs for an online, English-speaking, meditation group. There had been no lesson or introduction before the group. These young women had never meditated before and spoke only Turkish. I felt they were beautifully courageous and curious.

Over the course of my stay, these women came to the cafe multiple times for varying reasons. They came by day to study, to play music, to drink Turkish tea and coffee. They came at night to sit by the fire. Each time they saw me they would greet me warmly. "Hello Ami! How are you?" Sometimes we hugged. I had not remembered their names. My poor memory did not seem to bother them. They treated me respectfully and with affection.

Two of the women were twin sisters. This (below) is a picture of one of the twin sisters, Merve. The night this picture was taken, Merve made a point of walking directly toward me, beaming, and introducing me to her boyfriend.

Halit and Merve

Merve also sent me a picture of the four friends, along with their names, so I would remember them...

Sümeyye, Sude, Irem, and Merve

The week before I would leave Mustafapaşa, I posted flyers saying that I would give free meditation lessons, and that people were invited to join an online meditation group following our lesson. The details were that we would meet in the cave room at the Monastery Hotel-Cafe, at 19:00 (7 pm) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. "This week only."

I did not have high hopes. It was off season and there were few people in the town. Still, five University students showed up Monday night. Three were studying to be translators and so, they practiced translating for me. This was helpful since I speak English and no Turkish and the remaining two participants spoke Turkish and no English.

No one showed up Wednesday and Friday nights. I remained in the cave room, just in case.

One of those nights, Ercan walked upstairs to the (big) cave room to find me. It was after the online meditation group had ended. I was sitting and writing on my computer. He said: "Come. There's music."

I wrapped up what I was doing and walked downstairs to the small indoor cave room by the cafe kitchen. I had not seen this room used for anything but storage for food and toiletries. Now it was alive with a fire burning in the fireplace and live music.

I want to remember this man's name. His guitar playing was brilliant, his singing was passionate and his cooking was the best food I have eaten

I want to remember this man's name too. Dude, as you heard, he could play the bağlama

I have been told that Turkish music tends to be sad. One night, outside around the fire, a Turkish man who spoke English (I am forgetting who it was) translated the words being sung. I remember my head doing a lot of wobbling because the words were so sublime. He explained that Turkish lyrics are often poetic and have great depth. We talked about how the lyrics could mean different things to different people, and different things to the same person at different times in their lives.

I may not understand the words, yet Turkish ballads are, to me, both lively and melancholic. In this next video clip (below) you can listen and decide for yourself.

One night, Ercan asked me to use the massage bongers on one of his (two) daughters. I use the word "asked" loosely. He did not really ask. His message was more like: "Massage her. She needs you."

I think it was Saturday night. The night after a day up, up, and away in a hot air balloon, and then woosh, woosh on the back of a motorcycle. I had been awake since 04:00 (4 am) and, though I napped, I was tired. I could have said, "No."

I could not say no. This was Ercan's daughter. And he wanted my help. He did not usually ask me for anything. I asked him for a lot. I do not need to keep tabs and give of myself only quid pro quo. There is an ethical protocal around payback though. It was time.

I went to my room to retrieve the bongers. When I got back outside the cafe, I bonged Ercan's daughter. I bonged through her resistance. I bonged through her giggles. I bonged her until she softened. And then I handed her the bongers.

As the night air felt colder, we all went inside the cafe dining room. Ercan's daughter bonged herself as a small crowd hung out talking and drinking and smoking cigarettes. Ercan's daughter bonged her dad. Ercan took the bongers out of his daughter's hands and bonged her back.

Ercan and his daughter began to bong the crap out of each other. At one point, Ercan bonged his daughter so hard, one of the rubber balls detached, flew off the metal rod, bounced, and rolled its way across the floor of the cafe dining room. I remember them laughing, hard, while they were bonging each other. I remember thinking that, in the almost month that I had been living at the Cave Hotel and cafe, I had not seen Ercan this happy.

The next day, I walked across the street to the little store downstairs on the corner, and purchased the equivalent to Super Glue. That night, Ercan asked (not really asked) me to use the massage bongers on his other daughter, and then, finally, I used them on his wife.

There is a reason why Ercan's family has not showed up in my writing until now. The reason is, Ercan's family had not showed up at the hotel-cafe till now. This apathy from his wife and children about the Monastery Cave Hotel and Cafe was a point of contention for Ercan. He expressed feeling angry toward his family. He expressed wondering if he should walk away from them. He had expressed this multiple times over the course of my almost one-month stay.

I remember, those two nights, being aware of the discomfort in the family, like I was in the middle of a quiet, unspoken war. I remember that, after quite a while of me bonging them, and of family members bonging family members, the energy shifted. They laughed and talked together. I remember witnessing them happy, together - all of them, the whole family - and thinking and saying out loud: "this is good family therapy."

I remember, one night, maybe Saturday or Sunday, Ercan, Luis, and I talking and drinking into the wee hours of the next day. Well, they did most of the drinking. Mostly, I did not speak. I listened. Their conversation was a wild and wooly journey that included a burning dragon log in the fire, a past love affair, growing pot hidden in the mountains, police, rednecks, guns, hunting, and taxidermy. I have forgotten most of the details so I could not repeat their conversation if my life depended on it.

I remember that for days and nights and (especially) early mornings, I tried to capture on audio the chaos of the dogs barking in the neighborhoods, echoing from town to town. You could hear them barking in the distance, in rounds, over and over. I remember trying to capture the first Call to Prayer of the day (around 06:30), and how it reignited the echoing round of barking dogs. I failed to capture the true chaos. Still, the videos (below) may give you a taste of the sounds of Turkey that happen every day, throughout the day, and every night into the wee hours of the next day.

On Sunday or Monday, I took my last walks in the neighborhood.

I took a short walk to say goodbye to the squinty old man at his store. He told me he would cry.

I took a long walk uphill, in a different direction than I had usually steered myself (which was toward the fairy-gnome Monastery of St. Nicholas). I climbed to the top of the hill and then to the top of the highest rocks, and took a video of Mustafapaşa. Of course (by accident) it was during the Call to Prayer.

On the day I left Cappadocia, Luis drove me to NAV... the smallest, sweetest airport ever to exist anywhere.

The sights during the drive to the airport were no less amazing than the views from any other day from anywhere in Cappadocia. I did not take pictures. I am sorry. Luis and I were so busy talking. I lost myself in conversation.

When we arrived at NAV, Luis carried my bags, and came inside the little airport. We sat together, talking about our interests, commonalities and differences, backgrounds, experiences, families. We talked and laughed for almost an hour. I do not remember the details of what we said. Yet I am right now treasuring this memory of my friend, Luis. I am glad you are meeting Luis.

On the plane, I sat in the very back row with a couple from Spain. We talked about traveling. We talked about, which they use. I told them about, which I use. They have a cat and may travel during the end of February. They may need a cat sitter. I may hear from them. You may meet them later.

I arrived in Istanbul and to my new digs fairly late on Monday night. I barely met my housemates, missed my online meditation group, and did not see Michael and Kira that night.

What I did was video chat at length on WhatsApp with Liza, a "50+ Sister" living and teaching in Sophia, Bulgaria. We were getting to know each other in preparation for her visit to stay with me in Malta while I cat-sit. I think two hours flew by while we talked. When we hung up it was too late to go out for dinner, so I ate half the bag I had brought from Cappadocia of my coveted grilled green olives. It was not a bad night.

Shout Out: to Bianca for turning me onto the "Host a Sister - 50 plus" Facebook page. Bianca has been super supportive and helpful during my travels. I have made initial text-connections, through this Host-a-Sister FB group, with many women over the age of fifty who I hope to meet.

Michael and Kira had arrived in Istanbul on the Saturday before I arrived. They were the reason I arrived three days earlier than I had originally planned. This particular Monday was not only my day of arrival in Istanbul. It was also a significant night for my son.

My son Michael has been working for more than a year on creating a PC game. He has both developed and produced it. It has been a privilage to watch him work. It has looked and sounded like an intensive creative process. I'm impressed beyond my usual admiration for him. Monday was the "launch" of his game, Blood Dome 99 (on Steam). Check it out. Pass it on. Inshallah - may it be a great success. Thank you for helping in any way you can :-).

Kira has been a project manager in the art world in Uzbekistan. She is wrapping up a month-long project that happened in Tashkent (the capitol of Uzbekistan, where she was born and raised). Kira has been waiting for a Visa so the two (Michael and Kira) can travel to and live in the USA together. Kira's Visa was issued and received the week before this trip to Istanbul. From Istanbul, the two will fly to Boston. They plan to spend the holidays in western MA and the rest of the winter in Austin, Texas. They depart from Istanbul one week after their arrival - this Saturday. When in the states, Kira will be looking for work. If you have a lead for remote work for my talented (new) daughter, I will pass that on. Inshallah - may she find success.

My dear Kira

On Tuesday, Michael and Kira met me for breakfast-lunch. We ate, talked, walked, and ended up at thier apartment. They both needed to work, so I rested on their couch. We went out for dinner later.

Turkish meals are quite spacious on a couple of levels. The food is healthy and fairly light, so you can eat two large meals in one day. And, there are a variety of different dishes that take up the whole table. It is glorious. It was glorious.

Our conversation was quite spacious too. It included both sweetness and discomfort. It was both glorious and inglorious.

The inglorious part was... I overstepped boundaries. Michael asked me to stop talking about the subject of toileting in Turkey. I did not stop. He didn't want to, but he finally pointed out that the way I was talking about this subject came across as racist.

I do not need to fully understand how I crossed a line, or even agree with whether I did or not. I just have to accept that I did. I do not need to fully understand how my words or actions came across as racist. I do not need to agree with whether they are or not. I just have to accept that they are. I am grateful when someone points out unconscious bias, especially when it is one of my blind bias spots. I am grateful that my son told me why he was uncomfortable. I am grateful that he continues to stand up for the right to have boundaries.

I apologize to my son for not respecting his request to stop talking about a specific subject. His boundary was to let me be and not confront me. I forced his hand. I crossed his boundary.

Now that I know, though, I can also apologize for that.

On the whole, the people of Turkey are a proud people. I apologize for contributing in any way to biases that may exist about a whole nation of people. I am sorry for any disrespect felt by my words or actions. I respect this culture so very much. I am grateful for the privilage of traveling in this amazing country. I am grateful for making Turkish friends. I am grateful for the patience bestowed on me that anyone has had to dredge up as I journey and grow. I apologize to others who may have felt my growing pains.

Michael felt ill Wednesday and Thursday. His illness may have been due to the discomfort felt from our conversation. I am so sorry for this.

On Wednesday, while Mike and Kira had a down day, I hung out with one of my apartment-mates, Gamze. Gamze and I found a lot of common interest. We mostly talked about energy and healing. The Ho'oponopono Prayer (the short version, written above) is one tool for healing. I had not shared the Ho-oponopono Prayer with Gamze at the time. I had not, at that time, fully realized that I needed this prayer. I am feeling the need for it now.

Wednesday night, Kira joined me and Onur (who I met in Cappadocia) for dinner. Onur knew he would be in Istanbul for work while I was there, so we had planned to rendeavous. It was a delicious and sweet event.

On Thursday morning, before leaving to catch my flight, Kira, Gamze, and I met for cappacino and cheesecake. That was also a delicious and sweet event. Cappacino and cheesecake for breakfast, I think, is the hallmark of a vacation. I learned that from my mom.

I forgot to mention another sweet event that happened (on Tuesday). Sweet events are very important to remember, especially now. I need to balance my inner growing pains with external sweetness.

While out and about on my own, before meeting up with Michael and Kira for our first breakfast-lunch date day in Istanbul, I went to a coffee shop in my neighborhood that Luis had recommended. I ended up sharing my seat, (and a cappacino and straight up milk) with this furry feline friend (below)...

Kitty looks like Kenzie, right?

In the next post, please meet me in Antalya.

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