Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reviving a Dead Blog... in Istanbul

Well, I'll revive this dead blog, even if it's only for a little while... so many people are wondering what is going on with us here in Istanbul that I thought I should type out more details than can be included in the little snippets here and there on Facebook.  Soooooo.......
From the beginning...  Mehmed and I arrived here on May 14th, that's a Monday.  We waited several hours in the airport while more people from our group arrived. Then we all went as a group to a nice restaurant, called Pirpirim Gaziantep Mutfagi....   Mehmed was super hyper because he was not medicated due to the difference of time that happens when travelling.   He lost the ipod there in the Mesjid (the little prayer room - something VERY refreshing to see, that even in restaurants you can always find a place to pray!).
Then we went back to the residence and settled in.  The residence was quite nice actually - all female, and there were two other families with small kids...  quite a bit younger than Mehmed unfortunately.  He enjoys them but its not the same as having a kid his own age around.  We had the Tuesday off to try to have time to get accustomed to the time difference.  Also on Tuesday we were introduced to the complete schedule of the program we are participating in.  To break it down, it goes like this:
May 16-June 30th is the Learn and Travel program.  It consists of 3 classes - two morning  classes with different teachers, and then the 3rd class is supposed to be reviewing as a group what we learned for the day.  I'll save some details about that program for another blog I think.
Since there are two sessions of Teach and Travel, the first (APPROX. June 15-July 15) is overlapping with our Learning session, and so we are not able to complete it - so instead we will be doing just tutoring during that time.   The second session is July 18-Aug 17th, and I will be teaching a class (English) at that time.  As of right now, I have no idea what city I will be assigned to for the teaching sessions, but I am hoping for Ankara so that we can stay with my sister in law and \Mehmed can play with his cousin Efe and see Sevgi's baby all the time.  
Wednesday May 16th we started our classes which actually take place within the residence - convenient for "commuting" obviously.  But the problem was that there was no actual babysitting or programs planned for the kids...   When we were told that there would be, it was more a matter of "we'll figure it out as it comes up"...  so Mehmed was bored, having no ipod, and no internet...  he waited patiently for me in the residence room, sometimes he played with the two boys.  So that went on for two days - Wednesday and Thursday...   but by Thursday night they had found a solution for us...   Thursday night we went to Camlica - which is a high hill on the Asian side of Istanbul, and we got to enjoy the view and go for coffee after sunset... that's where we met our new hosts...  Nihan Hanim (Hanim means like Mrs. in Turkish, except that they use it with peoples first names) and her daughter Idil.   They brought Mehmed and I to their home, where we felt very welcome!
The next day, Friday May 18th, I skipped my classes to go to the "school" with Mehmed....   Nihan is an English teacher at a private school...  Mehmed got to see the English department.  He also got to attend some classes with a younger boy named Yusuf who speaks English.  All Turkish kids are very friendly and they all want to know Mehmed.  He's finding it to be a very positive environment, since everyone is so friendly - even though that confused him on the first day... because he thought that they were "whispering" about him (and he says that in Canada most people are negative, so he just assumed that they were not saying nice things about him).
So I returned to my normal classes on Saturday (until 1:30 pm) and then came back to the new "home".   The next day Mehmed and I took a taxi to join the group on the European side at Miniaturk Park.  It's a park which has all kinds of miniature copies of true life buildings.  It was very nice and Mehmed enjoyed it.    We went to Eyup Sultan Mosque after that for lunch/dinner and then prayer before returning home.
The next week was back to classes for me...   sometimes I get home at 6pm, sometimes at 2pm, it depends if I stick around for the "group discussion class" - actually I prefer not too, I feel like I get more work done if I just come home and complete it on my own.   During the week, the first two days with Mehmed at the school were a bit difficult since he couldn't quite get settled into a routine and some little discrepancies bothered him.  By the third day, Nihan Hoca (hoca means teacher) had helped him to get settled into a routine and he follows her around to her classes and sometimes he attends other classes.  The kids are so friendly that he really seems to be enjoying it now... although I wouldn't say that he's learning any Turkish yet.   I guess it's still better for him to be there rather than bored in the residence.
Another activity that our organizers have planned for us are evening trips to various places:
1.  Wednesday May 16th - we went to Kaynak Holding company - they are a holding company of several publishing companies and possibly other types of companies as well.  We met the CEO, who was able to tell us some of the history of the Hizmet of Fethullah Gulen Cemaat - how they have seen a complete Islamic Revival in Turkey, from a time in 1960s when the police could and would arrest you just for coming together in a house to "discuss" Islam - to what it is today, where so many people are able to live their religion more openly and in fact it is still growing in such an obvious and wonderful way.  He told the story of the first "Camps" that were formed for the purpose of renewing faith and studying the risale-i-nur, and the first student dormitories, where students who couldn't afford it were given free accomodation.  Education and sharing faith are the two most fundamental goals at the core of the Hizmet...  His story was really touching and amazing to see the transformation in Turkey and around the world (he also talked about opening schools in poorer countries all around the world.
2.  Thursday May 17th - we went to Camlica hill, took photos and Mehmed and I left the group to stay with our host.
3.  Friday May 18th - the girls from our group were invited to sleep over at another student dormitory, where the students prepared for them a meal and they recited Quran and thikr together and got to know each other.  I didn't attend that because it was better for me to be with Mehmed.
4.  Sunday May 20th - the girls from the group got to go to Eyup Sultan Mosque for fajr prayer, which is apparently VERY crowed - subhanaAllah...  I missed that because we obviously couldnt join them at 3 a.m. and instead Mehmed and I took the taxi and joined them later at Miniaturk park which I already wrote about.
5.  Monday May 21st - the girls from the dorm also went to another female student residence for dinner and reading quran and making thikr (praising God)... again I missed this to be home with Mehmed.
6.  Thursday May 24th - Mehmed stayed home with Idil (the 9 year old daughter of our host) while I went with the group to Sema hospital.  We got to hear the story of an Islamic private hospital and some of the inspiration that goes on within its walls.   The chief and only cardiologist told stories about various patients who have stayed there and some of their remarks on how wonderful it is...   like the fact that they do not make any surgery without first taking ablution, and reciting the name of Allah/God before beginning - how female nurses and doctors are not prevented from wearing their hijab, even in the surgery room - how the surgery room is graced with a supplication and a praise using the name of Allah which means "The One who gives Intercession/Healing".  How one man had a heart attack in a nearby building, and a team of doctors went onsite and revived him, and they brought him back to the hospital and cared for him... and he revealed that he was actually the FIRST person to start a petition against the opening of an "Islamic private hospital" in the area - and how he said that he would now become their biggest advocate and bring all the sick people one by one to them so that they could see what great care they receive....   about the story of the woman who had had cancer for 2 years and finally passed away in their hospital (after visiting many hospitals during that time) - and her husband who came back with tears a week later to thank them for such amazing care... there was a nurse who had been trying to inject her vein and on the first try didn't succeed, so she began stroking the ladies hand gently, and supplicating to God "Oh Lord please let me find her vein easily so that she does not suffer any pain" and kissing the woman's hand - and this is apparently the loving and caring standard of all those who work there.
One of the philosophies of this hospital too is that all are cared for equally - which you would think goes without saying, but in Turkey that is not always the case - so many people are treated as second class citizens, but the philosophy here and in so many other hizmet places is that the more you reach out to those who hate Islam, the more people you can truly touch and soften their hearts towards the Muslims.
7.  Friday May 25th - Mehmed and I both went to "Kimse Yok Mu" - the organization which is a non-profit, humanitarian organization something like the red cross.  Except that this is a young organization, only 8 years old - actually our host there pointed at Mehmed and asked how old he was so we told him 8 and he said, we are a young child, just like this boy....   but it was amazing the projects that they have accomplished.   One story that touched me was the fact that their standard when they deliver meat to needy families in other countries is 5 kg packages - but in one country, I don't remember for sure, but it might have been Uganda - where the butchers prepared only 1.5 kg. packages for the needy families - and the man was asking them to change it, because this was a sub-standard gift for the families - but he was told that in fact most of the families in the villages they were going either didn't have electricity or, if they did, they didn't have refrigerators to keep meat.  He told us so many more things than this - it's an amazing organization to say the least...  I'm just going to link to their website and hopefully if anybody has read this much into my blog you may click on it out of interest:

Today, I went to class again while Mehmed went to the mall with Nihan Hanim and Idil.  They went to a movie and when my class was over I met them at starbucks where i found mehmed eating cheesecake... his new favorite thing, ordered everywhere we go....   so that's it... tomorrow we have a busy day planned going to eyup sultan, topkapi palace, aya sofia, sultan ahmet AND Today's Zaman newspaper.  From now on I will try to write something every day for anyone who's just dying to know what's going on!