Note: This post was written on Saturday, May 28.
At 10am, Professor Itir Toksoz came to the Grand Yavuz Hotel where she lectured to the group; Turkey 101, she called it. Itir is an assistant professor of international relations at Doğuş üniversitesi (Dogus University) and received her Phd at Northeastern University under Denis Sullivan.
Over the course of four hours, and what felt like eternity, I sat at the corner of the table as we discussed everything from population statistics, unemployment, Turkish politics, both historically (briefly) and currently. I was surprised to learn that 27% of the population here is between the ages of one and 14, and that the unemployment rate is 14.5%. I already knew that Turkey was a secular state despite the fact that 99% of the people are Muslim, but during the discussion I began to think that perhaps the government merely appears to be secular. It seems to me that there are certainly Islamist ideals beneath the surface.
After the first few minutes in the conference room, I felt as though the hot, stale air was weighing down on my. A few of my peers were fanning themselves with notebooks or their palms, so it wasn’t just me. Just above my seat to the left, there was a dormant AC unit. I stepped out of to ask one of the men working in the hotel if he could please turn it on. Instead, he handed me the remote- even better. Throughout the lecture, I played the role of a thermostat, and gauged my decision to increase or decrease the temperature based on silent, facial communications from everyone else in the room.
I felt bad to step away from the lecture around noon, but my stomach was growling and I wouldn’t be surprised if Itir heard it at the front of the conference room. I ran across the street and was absent for about 13 minutes while I bought 8 slices of lamb, a roll of bread, half a lemon and a pint of cherry juice. When I returned to the conference room, it felt even hotter than it did outside, so I resumed my duty as climate controller. Itir was just wrapping up the main portion of the lecture upon my return, and as I took the first bite of my impromptu lamb-and-lemon sandwich, she began teaching basic Turkish phrases.
•iyi akşamlar—good evening
•nasilsin—how are you?
•ben iyiyim—I’m fine
•birşey değil—you’re welcome
•nerde—where is it?
•müze toilet—where is the toilet?
•yaklaşma—get away from me
After the lecture concluded, officially, we had a more candid conversation with Itir about where to go and places to see in Istanbul. Her biggest recommendation was to go to Taksim Square, which is across the Bosphorus. I added it to my inner to-do list. I approached her to ask if she knew of any Greek Orthodox churches where I could attend liturgy this Sunday, and she told me that there were a few in Taksim Sqaure.
Everyone dispersed from the conference room and I shut off the AC and returned the remote, I went upstairs to my room to drop off my laptop and notebook. The group was meeting in the lobby to go around Istanbul with Itir and become acqauinted with the public transportation system. So, I headed back down to the lobby and our group headed up the hill to the main street with Denis, Rob and Itir leading the way. First, we ate lunch; doners, kebabs, french fries. I sat with Joe and Rob, and we discussed traveling. I have wanted to travel around Europe and visit my family in Cyprus after the conclusion of this program, but none of those plans have panned out and I will unfortunately be returning to NY on June 13, much sooner than I had hoped. Oh well. Rob has traveled quite a bit, and I enjoyed hearing some of his tales about Prague, Egypt and Syria.
After lunch, the group was headed off four our transportation tour around Istanbul, but I opted out and returned to the hotel to rest and get some work done. I want to go to church tomorrow, so I should get stuff done today. I’ll figure out the tram when I need to…