The last few days I've been incredibly lazy as I'm just catching up on sleep (from a crazy, though very rewarding and packed week in Egypt). I've walked into my first mosque (the famous Blue Mosque of Istanbul), which is a lot like a Buddhist temple in that your knees and shoulders need to be covered, and you are not allowed to wear shoes. Like some temples, women and men have separate areas for prayer or meditation. Women must also cover their hair, whether it's a hoodie or a hijab. There's a giant carpet on the floor covering the mosque. I was very impressed with the beautiful domed ceilings and ornate mosaics. I really love the art of Islam, including the calligraphy of Arabic. Naively, I assumed not many Turkish people were muslims and that if they were, they would definitely speak Arabic so they could read the Quran. Apparently the majority of Turks in Turkey are Islamic but they don't necessarily read Arabic, just as not all jews read Hebrew.
For someone who is very western, I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole Muslim concept. I'm so surprised at how incredibly broad the religion is. It's like the practice of Christianity, which has a zillion different sects, spectrums, and schools of thought. Muslims in Turkey wear the hijab and the burka a lot less than in Egypt, though in Egypt I felt like I saw fewer mosques. While Egypt is not secular like Turkey, it didn't come as such a surprise to me at how religious they were like Turkey has! There are so many mosques here and I have only seen two churches (zero synagogues). It's strange, considering how many Turks I meet abroad that don't practice Islam yet all Egyptians I've ever met are active Muslims (i.e. They told me or I asked them about their faith) or Coptic Christian.
Speaking of religion and vices, I have had only one drink the last week and a half!!!! Considering how much I enjoyed in Italy, it's humorous! I feel fine but alcohol is so expensive here and it's not very good. I can't wait to drink Cava in Spain.😈
Today I booked my two week Swedish course intensive in Stockholm and I AM SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!! I really loved and treasured my experience learning Italian in Bologna and am looking forward to better understanding the culture in Sweden's capital city. I am planning on going to Uppsala (a university town) for the weekend but we'll see if I go anywhere else. Scandinavia is one of the last places I haven't seen much of in Europe, and I see very few of their people abroad.
After leaving Egypt and getting quite used to how aggressive and annoying the catcalling can be, I braced myself for Istanbul. Luckily, it really hasn't been bad. I haven't gone out at night yet, but at least people haven't (jokingly) offered to marry me for 3 camels. Speaking of marriage, I brought a fake wedding ring with me that I bought at a market in Chiang Mai just in case someone was thinking about harassing me. Unfortunately, I am the world's worst liar and I'd feel like Kristin Wiig pretending to be Khaleesi on Jimmy Kimmel if someone asked me about my fiancé or husband, so I quickly ditched that plan.😂 Luckily, I've been okay as I am pretty damn good at being assertive and having a poker face when I need to. In all seriousness, if someone ever gave me the creeps and was asking where my boyfriend was (something that I was asked a million times to my annoyance in Egypt), I would lie and say back at my hostel. It's better to be safe than sorry. To be fair, I met my fair share of creepy men ALL OVER the world, from Korea to Singapore to the US.
On a semi-related note, it's funny how inherently sexist Islamic culture is. I will preface this paragraph by saying I do not care what other people want to wear, what to believe, and what philosophy they practice so long as it doesn't hurt other people. If you want to wear a burka and only allow your husband to see you, that's your choice. If you want to refuse getting an abortion even though you were raped, that's your choice. However, I am so impatient with anti feminism. One of my guides kindly offered to take me to a shisha bar in Egypt. In Egyptian culture, the man pays for everything. He invited me to shisha and tea, so I obliged and was very grateful for his guidance in showing me how to smoke and eat some of the deserts from Egypt. We were having an interesting discussion on the family structure of Egyptians and he brought up strong women. He said that strong women are "equal to ten men." I bit my tongue and internally giggled at his comment, and he continued to explain that I couldn't bend the spoon on the table as fast as he could. While I know for certain he wasn't trying to be patronizing nor rude, it made me realize that although his mindset is incredibly backwards, American (or rather, Western) ideology is also very backwards and pretends to be feminist. While some may think equality is as simple as realizing that self-worth isn't as benign as being able to deftly bend an eating utensil, it's much bigger than that. It's looking at a woman doctor and realizing she is as capable of doing her job as a man. A male nurse isn't gay or incompetent or a man who couldn't get into medical school. The west still fails to see how equality works, and instead lazily point their finger to Saudi Arabia and patronizingly tell feminists "oh boohoo, you could be there and you think you don't have equality." This cavemen mentality is how progress is prevented.
Speaking of differences in cultural philosophies, I was shocked at the behavior I witnessed as a Westerner getting a free walking tour. The concept of free walking tours is simple: if you like the tour you go on (the several hour long tour that takes up the guide's time and energy), you can tip as much or as little as you like. A tip is expected and it is INCREDIBLY rude to not tip. I went on a guided tour with some people from Western Asia and Northeastern Europe and I was so shocked to see they didn't even leave this 45-year old man a few lira. I ended up tipping $8 (he said it was very generous) but when I asked if they were going to leave anything, one lady said "Oh we don't tip." She said it with a flirtatious smile on her face that made it seem like it should be funny, but there's nothing funny about being a freeloading cheapskate that thinks they're entitled to another person's kindness. Moral of the story: culture is CRAZY and something that you think is obvious may not be so obvious. I'm sure there have been times on my trip that I've unintentionally been rude, so I hope the more I travel the better I am able to communicate respectfully with people. There's nothing more irritating to me personally than someone who is deliberately rude or ignorant. Respecting a culture while you're traveling is SO IMPORTANT. That's why it's paramount to understand just because you're following the rules doesn't mean you uphold these ideals to yourself. To clarify, just because I'm wearing a hijab in a mosque or allowing a man to pay for me does not mean I don't believe in free expression of clothing or providing equal compensation for other people. However, it would be incredibly rude to walk into a place of religious worship without respecting their customs or to disrespect my host by not accepting his payment for our tea and shisha. It's all about cultural perspective, not ethnocentrism.
Left: ignorantly didn't know about the etiquette of walking into a mosque so luckily pulled out this scarf (made me feel like my grandma when she dressed up for the winter)
Right: I absolutely adore Islamic art! I'm so excited to go to Morocco!!!
Left: Grand Bazaar. Bought some Lavender soap there and was hassled by a million vendors to buy tea (they made me some and kindly shoved bits of chocolate Turkish Delight in my face)
Right: Nothing funnier than watching an ice cream vendor mess with you (it took him a minute to finally give me the cone)
Left: Breakfast platter with cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, fried egg, fry bread, olives, and apple and strawberry jams (not picture is Lebanese bread)
Right: Walked into this hilarious traditional Turkish dancing circle...reminds me of the traditional dances of Bulgaria I learned!