It’s very early and the call to prayer is my alarm clock. Hauntingly melodic, I wish I understood it’s lyric.
I find myself alone in a hotel room in Istanbul with a hot cup of tea before dawn. It feels exotic and exciting. I have a plane to catch in a few hours and will travel a long way west, but want to take in as much as I can.
The Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia are steps away. Last night I watched the full moon rise over them. It’s utterly enchanting here.
I wonder what it would be to wander the world with no agenda. How long would it take for travel fatigue to set in?
I learned nothing about history in school. I sat through history course after history course and memorized dates of treaties I didn’t have the faintest understanding of. I had no idea who was fighting who in all those wars that all seemed the same to me. I was bored out of my mind. My most poignant memory of history class is the black and white depiction of Clara Barton caring for wounded soldiers. It occupied the upper right hand corner of the page of our fifth grade social studies book, and I think she got a paragraph along with it. I stared at that photograph the rest of the lesson. I memorized every detail: her dress, the water basin, the bandages, the dirty sheets, ragged shoes, hanging lanterns. I wanted to be a nurse even then and wanted to jump in that photo to help. I learned nothing of the war that wounded those soldiers.
On each trip I take I learn more and more of how much war has been part of our civilization. Conquest after conquest described with artifacts buried in the sand. Archeological digs uncover a story of enslavement and excess, of suffering and mundane daily life. And I think hard about what kind of species we are.
On Christmas Eve, Jordan and I walked the empty streets of Turin toward the cathedral for midnight mass. The narrow cobblestone streets, which, hours before had been jammed with traffic, now silently held worshipers walking toward the church in the moonlight. The familiar ritual, shared in this foreign city, was welcoming and loving. The sign of peace was prolonged and sincere. People are good and kind.
I said goodbye to Jordan yesterday and flew back to Istanbul. My hotel was not the same as when I came through before. This one is in the old city on a tiny narrow street. I couldn’t find it for the life of me. I had the map, I had landmarks, I had walking instructions and still couldn’t find it. I was obviously a traveler with a backpack on, map in my hand, and confused look on my face. A persona I usually try to hide, especially in the dark in a strange city. There was no hiding it this time. At least twenty men stopped to help. Kind, non-threatening men stopped to ask if they could help. One came out of his store because he had seen me walk by before and could tell I was lost. I felt safe. I felt reassured that this crazy beautiful world is filled with good, truly good people.
I want to give them more than one paragraph and a small black and white.