Sunday, April 27, 2014

new words, and hitting pause

Married life is just the same lovely life as it was before the wedding, but with a new ring and new words like husband, and wife. Our wedding was sweet, simple, and quick— were it not for the photos I could swear it was all just a dream. I don't know how I got so lucky.

I left you in Urfa last, where I still have a lot of photos to share and dare I say, some sketches as well. I also have a few photos from Portugal, and these I took in Istanbul yesterday. When you put a pause on certain things like blogging, life speeds away and it gets hard to keep a sense of coherence. I still have not shared much of last summer in Nepal (which was full of amazing things), but alas, time has slipped right by me. This I should do soon, as I will be back beneath the Stupa's gaze before I know it.

So let's get back to Urfa after this post.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

sacred fish

Empires, religion, and massacres seem to go hand-in-hand. Şanlıurfa (often referred to as Urfa) has a long and complex history; it is the alleged birthplace of the Armenian language and the biblically tormented Job, the site where King Nimrod threw the prophet Abraham into a pit of fire, the city where Zengi slaughtered nearly every Syriac Christian inhabitant during his takeover in 1145— and so much more. As Urfa is tied to many Christian and Muslim prophets, it is considered a major holy site in Turkey.

According to legend, as Abraham was burning, the flames were turned into water and the coals into fish. The fish that you see today in Balıklıgöl are believed to be those coals, and it is forbidden to catch or eat these fish. By the side of the pool, you can buy little dishes of fish food from vendors, and incite a feeding frenzy in the green water.

Deep purple and lilac headscarves, embroidered with dainty white flowers and patterns, are wrapped around the heads of many of the women and men who promenade the park around Balıklıgöl. I've asked several people in Urfa about the meaning behind this unusual style of scarf, but I've never been given a clear answer other than "tradition". The checked keffiyeh however, was often explained as belonging to Kurds if they are black and white, and Arabs if they are red and white— though I met a Kurdish man who wore the red and white keffiyeh, and a Kurdish woman who wore a lilac scarf.

Balıklıgöl's park is a wonderfully peaceful place, the shade of its trees offering much-needed sanctuary from the sharpness of an intense sun. Thoughts bubble up and drift away in its quiet.

forced migration

The elections came and went with some isolated violence and as expected, allegations of fraud and corruption. The Twitter ban has been lifted, and there are rumours that YouTube will be accessible soon. White and Black Storks, as well as thousands of raptors (and one Egyptian Vulture I was lucky to spy yesterday at Keskin Viraj!) continue to cross the Bosphorus into Europe, as the third bridge construction drones on.

I returned from a three-day trip to southeastern Turkey yesterday morning, which was a strange mix of excitement and sadness. It was wonderful to be back in Urfa, but the reality of the war in Syria was much more apparent than it was last May. The one millionth refugee registered in Lebanon the other day (though there are many more who remain unregistered), and there are hundreds of thousands who have crossed into Turkey. I came across many Syrians in Urfa, as well as prejudice against them— for instance, a polite gentleman I had met warned me to stay away from the Syrians, as "they" were not to be trusted and hinted that "they" were dangerous.

I refuse to believe that the opinions of one man reflect the overall attitude of people in Urfa, or other cities inundated with refugees— and I met so many kind people during both trips, that there must be plenty of compassion.

His comments left me both sad and frustrated.