The warmth of the afternoon has chilled with the rapidly advancing evening. The pink lady in the horizon waves her diaphanous scarf with all the hues of the sunset and wants to give the Lale’s (tulips) of Istanbul some rest. Avid flower lovers and avid selfie lovers including me have invaded the several hectare long Park along the Bosphorus packed with thousands of tulips. It is the annual tulip festival of Istanbul.
My Diyanet prayer time watcher tells me I have thirty minutes to find a mosque to pray Maghreb. I look around and see families, children, young couples, middle-aged couples with mother in laws milling around oblivious to the rapidly dipping sun. I ask a young couple for the Cammii. The young man with the beard looks at me and apologetically shrugs his shoulders and moves on with his sweetheart. I look at the beautiful winding lanes, the downward slope filled with tulips going almost down to the Bosphorus or the Sahil (shore) as the locals call it.
I spot an official looking worker in a golf cart and ask him how to get out of the park to get a taxi, I ask in English he replies in Turkish and indicates for me to hop into the golf cart. He drives me through winding lanes for almost ten minutes to the gates and respectfully bids goodbye. With a “see you” or guroshuruz” and I thank him with the words of “tesekerrederim” which he acknowledges, but I have not perfected the sweet intonation of the turks that goes with it as for me it still comes out clipped like a british thank you.
I am walking fast to the sahil, which is gorgeous, and has a broad walk along it slightly larger, more beautiful and cleaner than the lakeshore in Chicago.
I receive a text from a friend in the US who asks me “ how is it in the streets of Istanbul after the recent events” I presume she means the bombing of the chemical weapons plants in Damascus” I pause and view my surroundings, the sky blue of the Bosphorus has turned to deep sapphire, a tour boat passes by and its music wafts to me on the crisp evening air, I see them dancing on the boat in a group, I look at the students, families and tourists waiting for the bus to Besiktas on the other side of the road. Life is thankfully serene here.
The second bridge light up indicating that sunset is very close or upon us. I look at my Google map to locate the nearest mosque and as I look around to gauge the distance to the mosque and my surroundings, a lighted spire of a minaret rises into the sky beckoning me and I start my power walk towards it.
My mind is filled with the beauty of the tulips, the gardeners who have tended them lovingly and then given them up to the callous but madly appreciative public.
My imagination flies to Damascus as I last saw it and I shy away from its possible transformation into another Aleppo,
The street crowd has thinned out as I have left the Park area and the shops outside it. A single lone fisherman is winding his reel and putting away his tackle. This day is coming to a close. The usual worries of being in an unfamiliar place and the exact mumber of the bus I have to catch to get back to the ferry boat plague me and just as I wish I had someone with me, my phone blinks and there is a loving message from my family…………..and then the air is filled with the invitation………..
From the spire The Call for Prayer, the Adhan is flowing into the surroundings like a melodious invitation to peace and comfort. As I pick up my steps towards it suddenly all worries fall off my shoulders as I happily approach a mansion with a chandelier. Two women are standing in its verandah. This is an original Ottoman mosque from the 1700 that someone has lovingly renovated and put back in use in the memory of a loved one. I wonder if it has been renovated in the memory of a dearly departed son.
I follow the two women and as the large mansion door closes behind me I see a “Scarlett O Hara staircase” on the right, carpeted in green leading to the upper floor, which opens into a the large generous ladies prayer room the size of a mansion drawing room.
Suddenly I find myself with sisters they accept me at face value and invite me to join the line, smile in my face, a complete stranger, filling me with gratitude and peace. I feel loved, secure and comforted.
Today in class I learned an analysis of my feelings from yesterday……………..and it was an epiphany of joy.
(More on that in the next post inshallah)