So, I finally did it.
I quit my job as a nuclear instrumentation and controls engineer and went abroad, to Istanbul, to Turkey, where, for some strange reason and for many years since becoming Muslim, my heart had been calling me. The decision, though sudden and seemingly impetuous, was not a difficult one to make given my circumstances: I was severely miserable, confined, and bored out of my mind. Though I was paid an engineer’s wage (which, al-hamdu’ilah, is pretty good), I felt no intrinsic satisfaction in my work whatsoever: everyday was as a soul-wrenching chore: it was an existential nightmare and I just simply hated it; so, I bode my time and exercised my familial frugality (not parsimony, mind you) until such an opportune time arose.
I had been contemplating this very course of action for months, even years. I figured, “why not?” I’m not married, and don’t plan to be anytime soon; I don’t have any kids, any pressing financial obligations, any enormous time constraints; and now that I’m here, the moment possesses a certain surreality, a lucid dream-like quality, which renders me in a perpetual state of awe, like a young, innocent child enamored with the world. Prior to this sojourn, I was never given an opportunity to leave my home land, America: I couldn’t afford it, either in terms of money (cause I was poor) or time (cause I was working). But now, al-hamdu’ilah, I’m in someone’s home as a guest, a stranger, a foreigner, and though I’ve only been here for less than two days, I’ve already seen and learned so much. The experience has been a most humbling and enlightening one.
The last time I ventured out into the world, my journey was more intellectual and existential, and the result of the trek was that I became a Muslim. Let’s see what will become of this journey.
I’ve been told the hallmark, the common denominator, found in every wise person is that they’ve traveled to some degree. Maybe there’s some truth to this.
I took the liberty of taking a billion photos. For my next couple of blog entries, I’m going to be posting some of my photos and my impressions of Istanbul and Turkey, insha’Allah.
Call it a bit of photo journalism – from a Black guy in Turkey.
Turkey has the essence of Mediterranean ambiance, especially at this time of year: temperate, sunny with a clear sky, not too humid, not too hot; and it’s a seemingly paradoxical mixture of two opposing qualities: verdant yet urban. As for another false contradiction, Istanbul is simultaneously very Muslim and very European. The city-scape is marvelous – I have seen nothing like it (which saying much because I haven’t traveled).
Minarets and masjids are everywhere. The athan rings our five times a day from loud speakers strategical placed so as to reverberate the pray summons throughout the alley ways of the city. Most of the young people I’ve seen or encountered are fairly liberal and aren’t particularly religious, but I’m told they nonetheless appreciate and show deference to Islam since it has penetrated their culture: even the most secular will use phrases like insha’Allah or subhan’Allah. You see lots of young couples walking around, hand-in-hand, almost like you would in America, save the men tend to be more affectionate towards their women.
A friend of mine in the US told me to keep a low profile while abroad; this, however, is impossible because it’s obvious I’m a foreigner: you hardly see any Blackamericans here at all. Istanbul does have some East Africans, but it’s quite apparent that I’m not East African, especially when I start speaking English. People, particularly the older people, look at me funny: the stares aren’t rude, by any means; it’s just that they don’t see to many Blackamericans here. People lionize Blacks because of American sports – (American) football and basketball – and American music hip-hop and R&B: we’re all walking celebrities, more or less.
Apparently though, the Turkish have this term they use to describe Black people. The word is “zenci” (“zanji“) and it’s apparently not politically correct to use it. The masjids in Istanbul employ security guards and while visiting one, a ran into this security guard who was nice enough to offer me and friend some tea when he heard us speaking English. When I told him I was a zenci from America, he freaked out and was like, “NO! NO! NO! I have no problem with you!”
Another friend of mine from the US who’s studying in Turkey asked a friend of his and he had this to say about it. “He said it’s weird in general to mention any concept of race in conversation with people of other races. He said he would be uncomfortable if an Asian person made direct reference to themselves racially as well…though talking about heritage (framed in terms of culture rather than race) is normal. I guess it has to do with in group/out group dynamics…they are fine using racial terms in conversation amongst themselves, but not with people of minority races that those terms describe, as if calling attention to someone’s race is a bad thing when in conversation with them, but is ok amongst themselves…I’m not sure exactly what that means cognitively speaking…”
On my first full day in Istanbul, my friend and I went took a ferry out to Burgaz, a mountainous isle of the coast.
When we got there, we rented some bikes, and rode around. The people there seemed to have a relatively simply lifestyle, despite the tourism. As you ascend to the more elevated portions of the island, it became less touristic and more rural and residential. Horse and chickens roamed the streets, as with many stray dogs and cats.
Most of the people were very friendly, courteous, and taken aback by my presence: I can’t stress this enough: they don’t see very many Black people, especially big Black guys.
I also had a chance to visit the legendary Blue Mosque, and it was every bit as beautiful as I imagined it would be. I’ve always wanted to make salah here, and I was finally given the chance to do so.
The pictures don’t do the masjid justice, but here they are nonetheless.