It all started to come together when I got off the plane at O’Hare airport in Chicago. As I walked through the airport to get to my terminal, I began to see the Muslim veils and began hearing the distinct tones of the Turkish language. In all reality, the reality hadn’t set in yet. Twenty-five hours, two layovers, and three different planes later I am here in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
It is around eight in the morning here, I am sitting in the living room looking at the snow fall outside and listening to the morning prayers being recited from the local minaret. For those of you who do not know what a minaret is, please let me tell you about these structures: At dawn, noon, mid afternoon, sunset, and night, Muslim suras (similar to any Christian passage, i.e., Mark 3:16) are sung from every Minaret in town. One can find a minaret at nearly every mosque in the world; they tower over every city as a staple of the religion and culture. Imagine the tower at the Arlington Theatre on State Street, what we see as good old Spanish architecture looks strikingly similar to every minaret I have seen while here in Ankara. One can attribute this style of architecture to its Muslim roots and the structures that defined Andalusia under Muslim rule in the south of Spain. These towers watch over the town and the devout Muslims stop whatever they are doing, bring their mats out, and pray toward Mecca.
The importance of this practice is central to the Islamic faith; this cannot be understated. For Muslims, it is a sacred practice. They believe that when they are reciting the Qu’ran they are speaking the word of Allah, given to Mohammad and his people. Islam by no means is a homogenous religion. Like most other faiths in this world it is practiced differently by everyone. My first impressions of Muslims in Ankara were surprising. I arrived in the evening, got picked up by my couchsurfing host (by the way, if you really want to travel and learn about other cultures try couchsurfing.com, you’ll have a bed in every country in this world) and promptly dropped my bags off and went out for some drinks. The veils at O’Hare transformed into hundreds of young people dressed in predominantly western attire, drinking, smoking, and dancing the night away. Downtown Ankara = good times.
Besides the western garb the most surprising aspect of Ankara is its cleanliness. Every city street is immaculately clean or it has someone with a broom and dustpan cleaning it up. The cleanliness may be attributed to the steady downpour of snow outside that washes away everything once it melts, but I like to believe that it is the self-respect that Turks have for representing their city to an ever growing amount of tourists and immigrants. Walking the streets yesterday I saw people from every single corner of the world. What else would you expect from a country that bridges together three continents? I heard words in Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, French, Chinese, and other languages I couldn’t make out. Ankara is truly a global city.
This experience is something quite unique and I am truly lucky to be here on the other side of the world. Coming to a new country without speaking the language is extremely difficult. The dreams of my father seem to resonate even louder here than when I was back in the states. There is a song called “War” by one of my favorite artists Nas off his album “Streets Disciple” where he says quite tellingly, “I caught a glimpse of myself in the barber shop window, kinda see my father’s features creeping in a little.” I can only think of my father at this point, a 20-year-old immigrant, coming to a country where the language is alien and survival seems to be the only option, where ordering a simple cup of coffee and a cigarette are is as difficult as a 16-year-old’s first day in advanced calculus.
But this is the life that we have chosen, to make a better life for the seeds that we hope to plant. You see my father gave me my roots, my mother watered them, my sister and brothers nurtured, and my friends cultivated; my only responsibility thus far has been to reach toward the sky, grab the Crescent and the Star and let them take me beyond the limits I once thought held me so firmly to this earth. So with all that said, I’ll get back to you next week. Mom, Dad, Jorge, Jen, Anthony, Ethan, and everyone else I love you and I will see you in my dreams. Peace.