We spent last week in Istanbul, Turkey.
The main reason I went originally was to better understand Islam, and what it’s like to be in a dominantly Muslim nation. Now my main reason for having gone was to make many new Turkish friends. :)
The people are wonderful - so open and friendly, the food is incredible (I have a whole different understanding of iskender, and a new favourite drink - ayran), the historical architecture is amazing, and the weather was gorgeous. We didn’t go to sight-see, but even the sights we did see were incredible.
We stayed in Asia, but each day we went across to Europe on a ferry, to the more touristy areas where there were more English (and Portuguese) speakers.
Some students we met invited to join in İftar (the evening meal breaking the ramadan fast). They were all lovely, open, friendly fun, people. We had great cross-cultural conversations. We learned about their lives, about our differences, about how Turks think of Americans, and how Turks think Americans think of Turks/Muslims, and how no-one thinks of New Zealanders. We also established that you can go absolutely anywhere in the world and people have opinions about Justin Beiber and One Direction - they have a level of infamy that mad scientists can only dream of.
By talking with this group we were able to learn about Islam and Christianity from their perspective and to share ours. My question about how ramadan works in the arctic circle was finally explained - you only have to fast 21 hours at most - reasonable. One of the girls without a head-scarf explained how she reads the Qur’an and is comfortable with not needing to cover her hair while still being a devout Muslim - another (man) interjected to say that she was wrong - a familiar kind of unexplained disagreement ;).
We traded books - I was given an English translation of the Qur’an, we gave Turkish New Testaments, we traded Facebooks, it was a great time of cross-cultural/cross-religion sharing.
I will be back.