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Turkey, land of angels

Last September I found myself staying at Basileus Hotel, a gem of a find in the old city section of Istanbul, Turkey. Muharrem Cayiroglu, the hotel owner, welcomed me as if I were a long-lost cousin. He and his assistants drew maps, recommended restaurants, and gave tips for visiting Istanbul. As Muharrem ended his welcome to me, I thanked him and complimented him on his courtesy. In return, he simply looked at me and shared his philosophy, “I pray with dedication in the morning, and I am kissed by angels the rest of my day.”

I wondered if Muharrem, indeed, would represent Turks I would meet while I visited the country for the next 24 days. I planned to put his motto to the test. And so with the typical 5 a.m. prayer call, I envisioned a mass of people starting their day giving thanks to Allah. My Western ways did not prompt me often to bounce from bed at sunrise, but the chanting prompted me to look for angels the rest of my day. And, I found Turkish angels at every turn.

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to its Grand Bazaar, supposedly the world’s first mall and a collection of approximately 4100 shops. Angel of the morning was Kadir Simsek. He smiled and welcomed me into his carpet shop, telling me that he realized that no one comes to Turkey to buy carpets. He just wanted to show me some of his collection. He then began to unroll ten, twenty, thirty … probably one hundred carpets, telling me about their designs and craftsmanship. He shared apple tea with me, realizing his kind hospitality would entice me to lengthen my stay. Soon we were into bartering and sharing stories of where the carpets would rest in my home. An hour later and two carpets in tow, I left his shop. Now back home, I gaze lovingly at the carpets’ woven silk threads. The blue changes its shade from turquoise to royal and the red deepens as the daylight increases. I tiptoe on them and smile, as memories of Angel Kadir rest beneath my feet.

A few days later I joined an Insight Vacations Wonders of Turkey tour. We would depart Istanbul and travel via bus more than 3000 kilometers to highlights of Turkey. Senol, our tour guide, was a former Ancient History university professor. Not only did he prove to be a wealth of information, but his mannerism epitomized kindness. “Do you have any questions? Can I assist you? Is there anything you want? What else can I do for you?” flowed daily from Senol’s lips. He proved to be a most approachable guardian angel.

The Turks didn’t seem to be the only angels on this trip. Many Aussies and New Zealanders were on the Insight Vacations trip. Their reverence at Gallipoli was prayer-like. It was as if they were on a pilgrimage. They bowed in respect to the thousands of Anzacs (ANZAC: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who landed in Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 on this desolate beach in this distant peninsula to give their lives at their countries’ call. Many years later Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey, praised these valiant soldiers: “After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” Gallipoli proved to be a theatre for healing wounds and uniting former enemies, visited by angels from half the world away to show respect for their angelic dead.

A few days later we toured Ephesus, known as the best preserved classical city on the eastern Mediterranean. Definitely, some of history’s greatest angels rest here. St. Paul wrote epistles here, John The Beloved protected Christ’s mother and wrote his gospel here, and many believe The Virgin Mary spent her last years here. Here, lions devoured Christians; slaves warmed the marble seats of the public latrines for their masters; residents handled 12,000 scrolls in its library, and non-readers hung out at the brothel. What would it have been like to live in Roman times? Perhaps the answer shines in some of the notes inscribed to The Virgin Mary and posted on a wall at her home. One I read from a young girl seemed to bridge the gap of the centuries: “I pray you’ll help me live as I should. I pray for peace. I bet you did too.” Angels of centuries ago and angels of today share a meeting ground called Ephesus.

While in Cappadocia, we saw a ceremony of Whirling Dervishes. The 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi founded this order. The poet Rumi believed that music and dance provided the means to enter a religious state of ecstasy, thereby discovering divine love. He formed a philosophy based on tolerance, asking all to “Come, come, whoever you are, come!” The whirling dance is central to the religion, as rotation is fundamental to life’s energy. The men wear conical hats (or sikke), which represent the tombstone of the ego. Their white robes (or tenure) represent shrouds. The dervish whirls with his right hand pointed upwards towards God while his left hand points down to the earth, as if extending the holiness of God to all. Easily, I marveled at the dancers’ agility and focus. Blending heaven and earth and God and His children is a ceremony of angels.

The Insight Vacations tour wound to a close back in Istanbul. I bid farewell to angelic traveling companions and ventured off to other parts of Turkey. I would meet more angels at every turn. In Dalyan, conservationists established a hospital and protected nesting grounds for the Carretta caretta (a species of sea turtles estimated to be 95 million years old). A yoga group visiting from Brighton, UK, emanated peace with chants of opening lotus blossoms and spreading of their fragrance to all. Families with babies would take an hour to stroll a few blocks, stopped every few seconds by friends and strangers alike who cooed over their young. In both Dalyan and Bodrum, I treated myself to Turkish baths. In the bathhouse (also called a hamam), I filled my bowl with hot and cold water, dousing it over me. Then I lied down on the central marble slab (called a gobek tasi) where an attendant (a natir) lathered me with 6” deep foam and exfoliated my skin from head to toe. Absolutely, a touch of heaven!

Back in Istanbul as I began my journey, Muharrem of the Basileus Hotel set the stage as he grinned and told me that he was daily kissed by angels. I smiled at him and wondered why and how. It didn’t take long to know the answer: he lives in Turkey, a land of angels.

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