Istanbul 2K15: Eid in Istanbul…and more!

Merhaba!

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer; I sure am experiencing the summer of my dreams. Every day, I discover something new. Every day, I become more and more grateful for the opportunity that I have received. To start off, a belated Eid Mubarak to my friends and family who were celebrating this past weekend.

Spent Eid by the water with these lovely girls.
Spent Eid by the water with these lovely girls.
This was the first time in my life that I spent Eid away from my family and friends in Canada. Seeing how people in a different part of the world celebrate Eid was a unique experience. There are both similarities and differences in the way both Canadians and Turks celebrate Eid. Here in Turkey, Eid-Ul-Fitr is called Ramadan Bayram or Seker Bayram. Bayram was a three-day holiday where the flow of life in Istanbul changed drastically. While many historical museums, monuments and archaeological sites were closed for the first day of Bayram, the streets were filled with both local and tourist families enjoying large feasts and street music. But as families were reuniting and travelling for the weekend, those of who aren’t from the city faced significantly more traffic and crowded areas than normal.

For Eid, my friends and I went to a peaceful park by the water. We enjoyed each other’s company throughout the day. I was mostly looking forward to being able to have more than one Turkish meal throughout the day. For dinner, we had a classic Turkish dish called Iskender. It is a combination of beef, and bread with a special sauce drizzled over it, eaten with plain yogurt. And for dessert, we had Turkish dondurma, icecream. Restaurants were filled with families all throughout the night. I really enjoyed spending the evening with my friends, it wouldn’t have been the same without their company. But I must add, there is something different about spending Eid at home with your family and friends, taking part in your yearly Eid traditions like gift exchanges, putting on Henna and enjoying multiple meals throughout the day. While I missed being at home, I’m grateful to have experienced Eid in a new place, with amazing new people.

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Aside from that, the past week has been really great. I’m slowly starting to fall in love with this city and its culture more and more. On Wednesday, I went out with my Turkish interpreter, who I can call my friend, Elif. We visited a neighbourhood called Yusuf Pasa to kickstart some interviews for the story I will be working on here in Istanbul. The story is about a Syrian man who escaped the war in Syria and successfully opened a restaurant called Tarbus. Wednesday was the second-last day of Ramadan, and the restaurant was jam-packed with people enjoying their final Ramadan iftars with their friends and family. We were there to conduct some interviews and take videos of some the food, the atmosphere and the workers. I can say without a doubt, when you have a camera in your hand, you will get stared at from every corner of the street. But hey, we’re journalists, we should be used to that.

Anyways, when we were done shooting videos, we were very hungry so Elif suggested eating dinner at the Syrian restaurant. We ordered a beef and rice dish, some chicken strips and fries and the best hummus I have ever had. It was a unique experience for both of us, as both of us were trying a new dish for the very first time. We ate it very quickly considering how hungry we were, but every bite was tasty.

Our Syrian meal from Tarbus.
Our Syrian meal from Tarbus Restaurant.

Meet Elif, she's awesome.
Meet Elif, she’s awesome.
What I loved most about this experience was getting to learn about and enjoy the people I was surrounded by. The workers and families eating at the restaurant greeted us with a smile, gave us a chance to use our camera in the crowded space, and thought of us at the time of breaking fast as well. I was also able to spend a day with a local Turkish citizen, Elif and I enjoyed every moment with She shared with me her experiences in Turkey and what she loves and detests about the city of Istanbul. I told her about my life in Canada, what we do for fun and so on. We taught each other phrases in our languages and were able to learn about each other’s values and perspectives. Walking down the streets in Yusufpasa, we noticed the same strange occurrences and laughed about the same silly things. It’s amazing how you and someone from the other side of the world can have so much in common. That’s really the beauty of it, we tend to care about the same issues, we enjoy similar types of foods, and we love to learn from one another.

I can go on about my days here, but I will stop there for now, as I have to get back to writing my story. Let’s just say, each day, I’m starting to love this city more and more. The different sites, the culture and the people and our daily interactions spark all kinds of emotions within me. When you are travelling through a new city, there is something great to take away from every experience you have.

ISTANBUL 2K15: Iftar in Turkey!

Now that I have successfully made it to Istanbul, Turkey, and have had a chance to settle in and familiarize myself with the city, I can finally start blogging.

Yesterday was my fourth day in Istanbul and I had the opportunity to take part in a public iftar (breaking of the fast) with local Turkish families. My 5 other trip-mates and our interpreter, intended to visit a public iftar on the Asian side of Istanbul to take some photos and videos for our multimedia class. When we arrived, we noticed there weren’t many people and it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. In a few minutes, what started off as a small number of people, turned into a large crowd of families that were waiting patiently to break their fasts.

A kind family invited my friends and I to have a seat on the ground and take part in their public iftar. Before we could ask for anything, they started passing us all kinds of unique Turkish dishes to pour into our plates. They gave us water, soup, pastries, and lots of other delicious food. The few minutes before the Adhan, the call to prayer went off, families of adults, elderly and children were waiting together to eat. Some were talking, others were passing food to each other, and some were raising their hands in prayer.

The lady we sat with, Ayfer, spoke a little bit of English, so we were able to ask her where the food had come from, and what the Iftar was for. She was very kind and was interested in knowing where we were travelling from and our backgrounds. At the moment of break fast, everyone excitedly began eating their meals and their faces lit up with joy as they appreciated every bite.

The experience of having iftar with Turkish families was one of my favourite moments so far. There’s something different about immersing yourself in a new city and getting to know the people and their practices. Despite there being a slight language barrier, I felt welcomed in the crowd and was able to have small conversations with the families as well. What I found amazing was that despite having some differences, I was able to connect and relate to the Turkish families as a result of Ramadan, a blessed month that touches on the importance of building unity with our families and local and global communities. We shared one thing in common and that was more than enough for us to enjoy each other’s company and feel unified.

So…travel tip: Do whatever you can to immerse yourself in a new culture. Whether it’s taking part in a community gathering or spending the day with a local citizen, take the time to be a part of the society you are living in. It’s the best way to learn about the people, their values, their language and more!

That’s all for now, stay tuned for more!

Amira

Istanbul 2K15: But First, Italy

All packed and ready to go!
All packed and ready to go!

It’s already here? It seems like it was just yesterday when I found out that I would be spending my summer doing what I love. Time has flown by, and a long-awaited experience has finally arrived.

For someone who will be travelling by herself for a month for the very first time, I seem to be surprisingly calm, probably because it doesn’t feel real, but it is. My large suitcase, carry-on bag and backpack are all set and ready to go. My parents are kind of freaking out, but also very excited about sending their baby girl off by herself for such a long time, but I think this will be a learning experience for both me and them. I think we’ve prepared each other pretty well.

So what will I be doing in this summer? I am taking part in the IeiMedia Multimedia Exchange Abroad, a program that invites students from across the world to learn what it takes to be an international journalist from faculty members who are working journalists. The multimedia programs takes place in various countries including France and Spain. The one I am going on begins with four days in Venice, Italy, where we will be seeing the historical sites in Venice, and learning about its relations with Turkey. My final stop will is Istanbul, Turkey, where I will be spending the remainder of my time.

I can’t even take in how amazing this experience will be (in’sha’Allah). Seeing how another country embraces Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, seeing how East meets West in a country that shares both European and Asian culture, trying all kinds of delicious Italian and Turkish dishes; it’s going to be great.

My first stop is Venice, Italy. While I am a little nervous about travelling by myself for the very first time, I think it’s going to be a learning experience that I will cherish forever. As someone who loves to explore, meet new people, and try new things, I certainly am and will be grateful for every moment that is to come.

Eeek, my flight’s at 5 p.m. Excited? Heck yeah!

I will be updating my blog regularly, so stay tuned for more!