Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Loneliness, prayer, and being called an American bitch.

Due to the fact that I had about ten days in Istanbul with the best host family in the world prior to joining Omid's group, I had the good fortune to have already seen most of the optional sites. So whilst my friends were all headed for Topkapi Palace, I decided to visit St. Chora Church.

Another adventure all alone! One day I'll learn how to really share these experiences with another person, but at least for now, I far prefer to go it alone. And I needed the alone time on this day in particular. I had made a total fool of myself the night before trying to communicate with a waiter, didn't feel like I was upholding the expectations of the ART\Islam team, and was feeling generally lonely. I was about fifteen days into my travels, and was finally coming to terms with the fact that it would be a very long time without Ian's insane laughter, without my mother's hugs, without antics in the kitchen with my dad, without Emily's tender and unwavering support, without Merle's expertise, without James' often hilarious commentary and encouragement. It made me very sad. Travelling is my very favorite thing. I like who I am when I'm abroad. But jumping between casts of characters, to have people in your life for just a few days at a time, can be hard. As much of a loner as I am, I really love my friends and family.

So, some alone time to calm myself was much needed. I headed for a cab, requested a ride to Kariye Muzesi, and headed on my way. As we began the drive, I looked at the meter, which was set at 15 TL.

"Are you going to set the meter back?"

My driver dismissed me with a wave of his hand.

"Please set the meter back."

"It's broken. Where you from?"

And we proceeded to have a lovely conversation in English about the charms of Istanbul and my reason for being there. By the time we arrive at the church, the meter is at 25 TL.

"25 lira please."

"No. You didn't set the meter back. Here's ten." Furthermore, I had taken a taxi to Taksim the night before, which is about the same distance if not further, and it was only ten. So I knew I wasn't nuts.

He pushes my hand back and starts rambling loudly and angrily in Turkish.

"You didn't set the meter back! I'm not paying 25 lira!"

This only leads him to raise his voice and gesture angrily. I shove the 10 lira in his hand and begin to get out of the cab.

"American bitch! American bitch! Get out!"

I slam the door and he speeds away. Residents of the street are watching me with a sort of disgusted interest, and I nearly burst into tears on the spot, ready to allow myself to melt into nothingness and flow between cobblestones into the Bosphorous. I walked toward the church, trying really hard to hold my shit together, when tears start rapidly leaking out of my eyes. I sit on a little ledge outside the church and pull it together pretty quickly, before calling my mother (costing me a lot of money and cementing me in her mind as an eight year old), who quickly makes me feel at least a little better.

I pay, and enter the museum/church. They have a lovely grassy area with flowers and benches, and I look forward to hanging out that after going inside. I have the pretty awesome idea to get Mimi (my mother's mother) a rosary while I'm there. I decide that this will be a good trip. Whilst inside, I listen to some Eric Whitacre on my iPod, and survey the frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary's life. Once again, I feel deeply touched and feel another ginormous wave of emotion coming on. Looking at the depictions of the annunciation of her birth to her parents hits me hard for some reason, and I stare at it for a long time. I decide to take some pictures, and before I can even get to the part depicting the life of Mary, my camera dies. In the moment, this is a profound blow to my fragile composure. I move into the gift shop, ready to purchase the rosary for my grandmother and pray it out in the garden.

Not a rosary in sight.

And that's the end of it. My lips start trembling and my temples do that weird tightening thing when you're about to cry. I push my way outside and ungracefully make my way to a bench, where I plop down and sob for about ten minutes. There's an Italian family trying to take pictures a couple of feet away from me, and I feel bad for killing the mood, which only leads me to cry some more.

It was about 4:30, and the museum was closing. I headed for the café across the street, ordered some tea from a clearly concerned waiter, and let the sun dry my face. It was in this moment of post catharsis relaxation that I realized I had a video camera and an iPhone with me, and easily could have taken photos with them. Drat.

Instead of rushing back to the hotel, I sat at the café for about an hour. I wrote, I people watched, and drank as much tea as my little heart desired. I watched the church and tried to imagine it as it would have been a thousand years ago. Contented, and feeling quite a bit calmer, I caught a cab back to the hotel.

God granted me the grace of a kind cab driver. 

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