A Question For You.....

Trip Start May 26, 2011
Trip End Jul 19, 2011

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

When is the LAST time you did something for the FIRST time?

In these days of uncertainty for so many, I think we easily get stuck in a comfort zone from which we rarely escape. I recently had read the question above somewhere and decided to make that part of my mantra for this trip; to push myself and do things I wouldn't normally take the time to do.  Going on this long of a trip by myself was certainly the first, then joining a tour group in Turkey was another - especially one that is focused on getting in touch with the locals as I tend to hide behind the camera in my comfort zone and not be part of the action.  This morning I think I took a further step toward that but taking the opportunity to get up at 3:30am to be part of a small group of us going up in a hot air balloon for 90 minutes over the Cappadocia Valley.  SO amazing! It had been raining for two days and a bit windy so they weren't sure we were going to be able to go up, but there was a break for a bit which allowed us to do it and I'm very grateful that we did. Our pilot was Turkish but had gone to Albuquerque, New Mexico for his training and did a great job of not only piloting but also was a great comedic talent putting us all at ease.  The views of the valley we had seen by bus were nothing compared to what they were from above.  He went as high as 5000 feet and just low enough we were inches from brushing the grape plants in the vineyards on the valley floor.  At one time we counted about 38 other balloons in the air which made it fun as we could gauge how far up we really were by the size of the other balloons.  It was definitely something I would have regretted skipping out on so was a good lesson for me.
We got back to the hotel around 8am, just in time for some breakfast of scrambled eggs, tomato slices, home made bread and an assortment of cheeses including a great Feta cheese.  We then packed up as it was time to leave Cappadocia to continue our journey south through central Turkey.
We were on the road about 90 minutes when we stopped in another small village.  The guide had coordinated a visit to a small mosque in the village that was once a Greek Orthodox church and monastery from the 6th century AD and is still a place where Greeks make pilgrimages.  As we exited the bus, a man of about 40 came out through the gates to meet us.  He was the Imam of the mosque, the guy in charge of maintaining the mosque and leading the big day of prayer each week done on Fridays.  They are not considered clergy, as they claim being no closer to God than anyone else.  They usually have a Masters degree in religion and are obviously very knowledgeable in the Islam faith to have this position.  
He escorted us to the inner courtyard of the mosque, directed us to take off our shoes and to join him inside.  We all sat on the prayer floor around him so we could ask him questions with our guide translating.  I knew next to nothing about Islam before this trip other than the angry rhetoric we always hear from the pundits on the "news" channels in the US so this was a great opportunity to talk to someone of the faith that had no agenda. 
He talked about the mosque building itself and also told us that since there was a larger, new mosque now in the village, and due to the place being so important to the Greek Orthodox people, the village had plans to convert it back to a church.  When it came time to ask our questions, the first person asked if he was upset about it being converted back to a church since it was his place of worship.  The guide translated for him and then he looked at us with this puzzled look and finally spoke.  He said for him, a place to worship God was no different than any other and was not sure why we thought he'd be upset.  As long as people were coming to worship and giving thanks to God, he was behind it.  He pointed out that the Christian God and the Muslim God were the same God – rituals were different but the basis of the religion were very similar and he had great respect for those of the Christian faith.
When it was my turn, I asked, from his perspective, what was the thing most misunderstood about Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  He said that Koran is very clear, as is the Bible, that the taking of another life is blasphemy.  Anyone that skews the meaning of either book to justify their hatred toward another religion or group of people or justifying murder is an unholy twist on its teachings.  He felt anyone abusing those teachings was only doing it for their own gains whether financial or for power of some kind.  He volunteered the fact he and his congregation were very happy Bin Laden was no more.
He was also asked what about Christianity and which of its practices confuse him.  He made sure he stated over and over that he has a great respect for the religion but was confused by the hierarchy in some of the Christian faiths.  He didn’t understand how a Catholic can go to a priest and be absolved of sin when, in his opinion, the priest was no closer to God then the parishioner and what gave him the right to “forgive” the sin of some and not of others.  He believes we all have a direct line to God and if it’s true in your heart, you don’t need an intermediary to get “connected.”

Another thing I learned from him that I misunderstood is although they have great respect and pride in their beautiful mosques, they don’t consider them holy places like Christians do with a church.  Mosques are not consecrated like a church.  The way he explained it, a mosque is a type of town hall building that allows people to come together to pray and weekly to be lead in that prayer by the Imam.  This is another reason he didn’t feel attached to the mosque and its eventual change back to a church. 
As in the various versions of Christianity, there have always been those that try to hijack the religion for their own personal gain and probably always will be.  The lesson here is to not run to our torches and pitchforks in protest until you sit calmly and with an open mind learn the facts for yourself.

After leaving the Imam, we were back in the bus for the drive to Konya.  Konya is home to what our guide said was the most religiously conservative city in all of Turkey.  Most women wear scarves on their heads and there are very few places you can buy alcohol.  Konya is also home to the shrine and mausoleum of Rumi, which is the third most important place to Muslims after Mecca and a holy site in Jerusalem.

We got to the hotel and dinner was on our own thankfully as I had eaten so much food during the day I had no interest in eating again.
Today, in Turkey, was Election Day.   They were voting on all the important positions in the government and the ruling conservative party was going head to head with the more left wing, liberal party (sound familiar?)  There are 28 political parties in Turkey, but you have to have more than 10% of the votes in previous elections to be considered for the ballot.  The guide said although the conservative party was very religious, they were also strongly capitalist.  Voting in Turkey is mandatory and there is a steep fine for not voting.  This creates a 98% return rate – maybe something we should think about! Our hotel was close to a main commercial area and a large park and up until about midnight there were lots of chants and folks driving through town honking their horns and flags of their party hanging out the window.  I was surprised at how young the people were, but the guide said they are required to be involved and are taught from an early age the process and it’s just something they know they have to do.

We’re only here one night.  Tomorrow, we’re off to Antalya which is on the coast of the Mediterranean – should be nice.

More pictures below!
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