Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pray dance

It was 9:00 on Friday morning when we headed for the bus.

Our plan was to journey to the European side of the city to Eyup, a conservative district of the city, to try and get an interview with an Imam (the priest figure for Muslims), followed by an interview with a representative from the AK party, followed by a trip to the Ayosophia and Blue Moqsue for some more filming. These Turkey days were definitely working ones, and luckily, today we had a guide. Faruk, a first year Law student at Yeditepe has agreed to accompany us on our quest. Which was a good thing. After the bus, the boat, and another bus we took, Hugo, Marieke and I would surely have been lost in Istanbul without him.

In Islam, the holy day is Friday, so when we got to the Eyup Sultan mosque, there were so many people inside the courtyard of the mosque.

We headed for the entrance and I got out the camera.

I don't know whether I was truly allowed to or not, but I took off my shoes and walked onto the middle of the floor and started filming.

I was witnessing my surroundings through a camera lens, so it didn't feel as real as it actually was at first.

It was a few minutes later when I put down the camera and just looked around with my own eyes that I realized the magnitude of where I was. Just like our encounter with the Turks on Monday, this was an experience that I had never been in before. I had taken world religions in grade 11, but now, I was really IN it. I was IN a mosque IN Turkey, seeing the islamic culture with my own eyes.

We went upstairs to shoot from another angle.

It was on this level that we found our Imam.

His name was Yunus, and to our surprise, he not only spoke English, but was also very willing to give us an interview.

We asked him questions specifically about the headscarf, but he spoke about many more things without our prompting. He went off on tangents about pollution and bees and how they make honey, and something about what life is like in Australia.

When the "interview" was over, he suddenly proposed out of no where,

"Would you like to have lunch?"

We kind of looked at each other in disbelief. Um, lunch? With an Imam? Whom we've known for 5 minutes?


We told him we were free on Sunday at noon.

"Don't forget!" he said as he walked away, dressed in his white flowing suit-like outfit.

That morning, on our way to Eyup, we weren't sure if we would get an Imam to speak to us on camera. Now, we had a lunch date.


Sunday came.

This was the day we were leaving Yeditepe to head to a hostel on the European side of the city for the last 3 days of our trip. Our plan was to get there by boat, drop all our luggage at the hostel, then find the bus to Eyup to meet Yunus for some chai and a good life chat at noon.

When we got to the hostel, Hugo decided to stay back and explore the area of Sultanahmet, so Marieke and I headed off together.

Thanks to Faruk's guidance the day before, we found Bus 99A from the Emininou boat port and made it back to Eyup.

We went straight to the Mosque and waited by the entrance for Yunus.

12:15 came.

Then 12:30.

We tried asking various security guards where he was, but none of them spoke English.

We decided to wait a little longer. Yunus has seemed so adament about meeting us for lunch on Friday...surely he would be here soon!

I thought - of course - that it might be a good idea to film some more in the meantime.

While Marieke waited outside, I went back inside the mosque to get some more pictures for our story. This time, one of the security guards waved to me when he saw me inside. But he didn't say I couldn't film. He just told me I had to cover my head.

I quickly went back outside to borrow Marieke's scarf. I wrapped it over my head before going back in with the camera.

I filmed close-ups and long shots and cool artsy side shots before I was told to go upstairs to where all the women were sitting. It was around 1:00, meaning that the prayers were starting, meaning that I was no longer allowed to be on the ground floor with the men.

But I realized this AFTER I went upstairs. At this point, I guess you could say I was "trapped" on the upper floor until the prayers were over.

As always, I was filming what I was seeing.

But when the prayers started, I stopped.

Despite the journalist yelling in my head, I had to put my camera down.

All around me, in clean rows, the women starting bowing up and down in time with what the Imam was saying. Below me, the men were doing the same. All around me, hundreds of people were in motion, speaking under their breath at the same time and moving their hands and heads the same way as the Imam spoke into the microphone, his voice echoing through the open atmosphere of the mosque.

I felt so wierd just standing there and watching.

So then.

I joined in.

I followed the movements of the elderly woman beside me. I didn't know if I was doing it right, but I was doing it. I was praying with everyone else in there.

Thee most amazing experience.

When the prayers finished, the woman I was standing beside fixed my scarf slung carelessly over my head. She kept exclaiming in Turkish as she kissed my face and rubbed my arms. Other women around her were smiling at me as well.

Before I headed back downstairs, she handed me some a necklace of blue prayer beads and one of the books that were resting on a table beside us.

"Teshekular! Teshekular!" I said to her. (Thank you, in Turkish) "Can I keep these?!"

She just kept talking in Turkish, smiling the whole time, but I knew she meant yes.

I didn't end up keeping the book. I felt it was actual property of the mosque and I felt wierd walking away with it.

But I kept the beads.

And with them, the memory of the most radical real life moment of the whole trip.

During the time I was upstairs, Marieke was still outside the entrance. But the spectacle wasn't just inside. More men were outside the mosque in rows, moving and praying in unison together.

We never did see Yunus again, but we were both so happy that we came back to Eyup that day. I had prayed with Muslims, Marieke stood surrounded by bowing men, and I was given prayer beads that could probably tell me a hundred stories if they could talk.

I'm not Muslim, but I think I could be one.

It is so lovely, afterall, to dance a prayer.

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