Season’s Greetings

Posted on November 7, 2011


From a country moving inexplicably toward a dictatorship like a slug, leaving behind a slimy trail of shattered lives unhidden from the rising sun on this lovely Sunday morning. İyi bayramlar! (Happy Holidays!)

Recent events have made me feel like I need to step back and take stock of all the most important people and experiences I’ve had here. Like a Christmas morning after you’ve opened every gift, I want to gather them all on one table and just watch them from afar. I need a happy ballast for my ship slowly filling up with sad stories.

I synch my tie completing my Sunday best outfit. I take my wife’s arm as we walk the empty streets. The familiar feeling is comforting. We are going to church and not a Greek or Armenian one mind you. We are headed to a proper non-denominational white protestant type joint. Despite being a half a world away and filled with an international congregation, this church is about as foreign as a Starbucks in Cairo.

I have to remind myself that we didn’t start going here for anything exotic. Familiarity is what we want. That’s why we gussy up in our Sunday best even though most folks are wearing jeans. It’s our southern tradition and it warms the Baptist blood in me.

We usually get lost on our way to church. It’s pretty hard to find because, unlike Starbucks, this American export doesn’t exactly advertise. Generally, we wander until we see a huddle of people ‘fellowshipping’ outside of a nameless storefront. Lingering outside for a few moments, we look across the street to the small empty car park. Two coal-black beasts with coats shining like newly leaked fuel oil in the sun. As this striking couple contemplate their brief existence, men, fathers and grandfathers, sons and brothers-in-law, chat and smoke cigarettes in black and brown leather jackets. One is cleaning the concrete sectioned off by hanging tarps while another is bent over busily sharpening the necessary and solemn tools.

In the stuffy sanctuary, I meditate on the banners hung over the stark white walls. Shimmering gold pours through the fingers of Jesus’ outstretched hands like hourglass sand into a pile over the words Grace and Lütüf. Sincere arms are outstretched during anemic praise and worship songs. A bespectacled and bearded Texan takes the podium almost enveloping it with his large frame. He delivers a nice but overlong and meandering sermon as if he was strolling the family ranch he left behind to come here.

Five people will be baptised today. One is a Turk and the others are Iranians. It is requested that no one take pictures of the Iranians except their pastor. They offered to sprinkle the 86-year-old Iranian grandmother, but she replied, “Twenty five years ago, my daughter went under the water, last month two of my grandbabies went under the water, I’m going UNDER the water.” It’s amazing how long a service cal feel when it is translated into English, Turkish, and Farsi. We lay hands on an elderly Turkish man who is sick, we take an offering for the families in struggling in post-earthquake Van, then we stack up the plastic white lawn chairs and head back out.

It is surreal to see how beautiful and colorful wet organs can be in the mid-day sun on cold asphalt. I wonder if you realize just how big a cow’s stomach is. You could seriously crawl up inside and sleep in it. Someone hacks at a bone on a tree stump with an axe.

And now for lunch. Unfortunately, there is no Chinese buffet or IHOP. We must settle for traditional Turkish fare.

When we get home, we’ll walk the dogs.

It’s so peaceful in Istanbul on Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice Festival). Today people celebrate the holy day when Abraham almost slit his son’s throat. Today is a day for family. Everyone leaves behind empty apartments and quiet streets here.

I think about my Istanbul family. The collection of kind people I’m so lucky to have in my life.

Right now my best friend’s father-in-law is being introduced to his new cellmates in one of the most notorious prisons in this country. He could be there for up to a year before having a trial. He is a teacher.

If you want to know why he and so many others are being arrested, follow this link and then write your congressman:

Posted in: Istanbul, Me