Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tabula Rasa...

One week ago I stated to be lost and enraptured in a sense of Wonder. I'm not sure I was aware of how I would be completely unable to be in any other way! 

 The past week has been spent prepping for the students to come for their semester. After all, this is THEIR semester, not mine. You see, I thought that I knew Istanbul kinda-well. Like I had some bearing on what it was like. Perhaps I was 50% integrated into what this city was like. 

Try 10%. Maybe. 

 My first encounter was to wander - just a bit - to try to get my bearings a little on my first morning. Not only was I completely wrong on where I thought I was, I had no clue at all as to where I was or where I would be going. Combine that with the fact that I had 0 internet access in my flat, and I was very thankful that the other leaders were coming to find ME, and not the other way around.
 After breakfast and some walking, something hit me. I had seen absolutely nothing of what we were experiencing on that walk. When I was here last, I had spent the entire week on the other side of the Golden Horn (in Sultanahmet for you Istanbullions). I was in completely uncharted territory. Sweet :) So, being three steps behind where I thought I was; it became clear that it was time to follow, and not try to lead at'all. This was wise. For some reason, I can get around European/Middle Eastern cities with no problem once I can map them out a bit - completely contrary to American urban centers. 

After about three days of relying totally on a map and others to guide me through the 20 minute walk from my flat to the rest of the group, I think that I've got it down. I think. 

 This week was filled with meetings. The language institute we're using. The university where we will be staying. The many wonderful people already here supporting our crazy little idea. Basically days were: 
 -Walk the city. Get bearings. Revel at street art. 
-Meeting for breakfast - dicuss plans, current state of our idea, current state of Turkey - drink Turkish tea.
-Walk. Get bearings. Ride form of public transport. Marvel at the how gorgeous and new every bus/tram/metro is. 
-Meeting for lunch - dicuss ideas, talk about current state of things - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk. Remember that this city is actually built on hills and makes SFO look flat. 
-Afternoon break - spent recapping at a café - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk. See the lights turn on. Try to figure out how to get places in the dark. 
-Meet for dinner - discuss at length where we are in plans, recap ideas - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk home. Pace self to not look like a tourist. Think about maybe brewing a cup of tea. 

 Last night was nearly inexplicable. I thought I was over the butterflies after I got here. The whole ride to the airport to pick up the students I was giddy.

'Seriously. This is it. It all starts now. You've prepped for a whole year for this.'

How incredible it was to see them all come through the arrivals door - with every one of the bags to boot. Now THAT'S a miracle. Bringing students to their flats was just as incredible. I was filled with joy when they opened the door and were dumbfounded at how sweet these apartments are. There was nothing like standing on the roof and looking out at the Bosphorus with the 7 names you've read too many times, prayed for over and over, and graded the papers of. That is something special. 

 Finally - and more philosophically - something truly divine happened today. Dana and I have been preparing a scavenger hunt for the students to do for today (they are all currently out in Istanbul. Wide-eyed, I'm sure). We had a time for breakfast and were all talking about the night. We were keen to see how many of them would be wrecked by jetlag. Thankfully, they all said the same thing:

"I slept great! Didn't wake up till my alarm at 9! In fact, did anyone hear the call to prayer this morning? No? Huh, I wonder what it sounds like..."

 As we were commissioning them and getting into our introduction for the semester, we took some time to pray. Out loud, the group spent about twenty minutes. It was beautiful - students and leaders alike, lifting little thoughts, concerns, and mostly praises up to the keeper of these good words. Then, suddenly, through our relative quiet, came the echoing sound of the Adhan. This gorgeous reminder that we were not alone in our prayers electrified the room. The feeling of awe from the students was palpable - even when the room had its collective head bowed. 
 It was, in a word: Mükemmel.

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