Love in an Over-Sized Bird

This week I learned about love.

Eid Al-Adha was October 24-28th. It is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the day Abraham was to sacrifice Ishmael. I have never been more excited about a Muslim holiday. Not because the streets of the Arab world would be flowing with the blood of sheep, but because it meant school was cancelled. And what does a study abroad student do when school is cancelled? Go to Istanbul, Turkey, of course.

My mum has always told me she wants to visit Turkey. I never understood. How exciting could a country be that shares a name with an over-sized bird? But when I started looking for a safe place to go for break, suddenly Turkey began looking very attractive. Turns out Mum was right (as usual). Istanbul has stolen my heart.
Bosphorus Sea Breeze. Autumn leaves. Chattering of languages. Call to prayer. Fresh bread. Squawking of sea gulls. Cobblestone streets. Towering mosques. Palace ruins. Green grass. Glowing fountains. Turkish delights. Rooftop terraces. Friendly felines. Delicate houses. Colourful buildings. Tram bells ringing. Waves hitting the shore. Rocking of the ferry. Glimmering lights on the water. Flowers in hair. Children laughing. Carriage rides on an island. Biking in the shade of trees. Bargaining for Arabian trinkets. Sea food by the Black Sea. Moments, glimpses of another world. An escape. This is love.
Istanbul was just what I needed for break. It was an oasis from my desert. It is the perfect mix of history and modern. A mass transit system can take you almost directly to the very door of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It’s the crossroads of the world. The city itself is spread between Europe and Asia and reflects every aspect of the cultures. I couldn’t help but feel it is one of the world’s best kept secrets. All this time people dream of visiting Europe and Turkey gets forgotten, especially by Americans. I can’t encourage you enough to visit. I’m in love.
I found one particular aspect fascinating about the city. Istanbul appears to be the Arab World’s honeymoon destination of choice. At first I was very confused. I was frequently seeing Arab couples where the man would hold the hand of a woman in a burqa and walk with her through the crowd. My stomach churned at the sight. I was confused by my response and then it hit me. I turned to my friends and asked, “When you see these couples holding hands, do you think of it as she’s more on his leash or that they are romantically holding hands?” I had realized that, without even considering an alternative, I had assumed she was being forced around.
I am so disappointed in myself that I continue to make this mistake. My assumptions are exactly like my baggage I took to the airport. Heavy, excessive, and holding me back. Just because I can’t see that she’s smiling, doesn’t mean they aren’t the happiest they have ever been. Young couples holding hands by the waterfront are the very picture of freedom and love. And I was viewing it as a prison – the woman trapped by the man. I have so much to fix in my mind.
The last day I was in Istanbul, I saw this couple standing by the water. They were surrounded by beauty. Maiden’s tower a few yards away. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the distance. Boats dotting the Bosphorus. And yet, they only had eyes for each other. I found myself watching them and realizing that their love was one of the most beautiful things I had ever come across. Not only because they were clearly taken with each other, but because it cemented something in my mind. Even though we dress differently, speak differently, and eat differently, we still love the same – fully and completely.
Move aside, Paris. Istanbul is my city of love.
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