Turkey diary: Starbucks, spice vendors and ancient mosques
By Jasmeet Sidhu
It's been about two weeks since I left Toronto for my month-long Turkey adventure, and believe it or not, I've only now been able to sit myself down at an internet cafe.
I've spent the first two weeks here in Turkey with my classmates and professor from the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of Toronto, traveling to Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir in the east, meeting with members of NGOs, the Turkish government and other interesting personalities and figures that make up the very complex and intriguing landscape of this fascinating country. (See previous post here)Before coming to Turkey, I didn't know what to expect. I had heard the cliches of the country, of it being both "modern" and "oriental", of the East blending with the West, but I had no idea how this would actually come to play in the day-to-day lives of the Turkish and in major metropolitan cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. And indeed, Turkey is a country nothing quite like I've ever experienced before.
Jam-packed streetcars hurry past thousand-year-old mosques, fruit and spice vendors sell their products along side a Starbucks, and the call to prayer blasts frequently from the many mosques in the city while residents enjoy a beer, Turkish tea or cigarettes in its wake after a hard day's work. Indeed, as one representative from a gay and lesbian rights activist group whom we met with commented, it's even hard for him to characterize what exactly Turkey is, even after living in the country for 20 years.
But perhaps, that is the beauty of the country itself. Having existed geographically on the traditional divide between the so-called Eastern and Western worlds, the country seems to be navigating itself to move beyond such dichotomous characterizations of its culture, its people, its way of life. Perhaps one can be "modern" and "traditional". Perhaps such labels are archaic and ethnocentric, and Turkey is leading a new path that transcends any one or thing that tries to label it.
One thing is for sure. This country has drawn me in, as I'm sure it has done before with the millions who have trekked through this land before. And I can't wait to find out more.
Jasmeet Sidhu is a graduate of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. She previously worked for the Star in the radio room last summer, and writes a blog for the Star on climate change, where she covered the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. In mid-June she will join the Star's summer intern program. Follow Jasmeet on Twitter.
Photo: Jasmeet Sidhu in front of the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.