I gotta few holidays to catch you up on, so much happened in the month of December and all I did was blink my eyes!
So we’ll get you finished off with the Kurban Bayram (a sacrificial holiday), which had started when I last wrote:
This holiday can be very controversial and most students don’t even like talking about it. I think of it as a horrible yet good holiday. They sacrifice animals and give the most of the meat to the poor, or mainly, those that have less than them. They buy an animal, whether a cow or a goat or lamb, slit it’s throat, let it slowly die, skin it, chop it up, plastic bag it, and give it away…but out in the open for anybody to see -done by the masses (masses of animal load, not masses of people hacking). I believe there’s supposed to be this ceremony for it done with your family, but now they pretty much just hire a guy to do it for them. A few of us were going to go to our friend’s to watch the sacrifice, but fortunately enough, their grandpa had decided not to do it this year. I say fortunately enough, because I saw WAY, WAY, WAY to many slaughterings on the actual day they sacrifice. Michael, Podre and I went to the Greek quarter, Fener, on that Monday to walk around, check it out, and hit up some historical sites. Welp! That’s not so innocent as it sounds! This area of Fener is super poor. People seriously hold their houses up with anything they could find:
Since they don’t really have a home, they don’t really have a yard to sacrifice.
Firstly, we stumbled on a big group of guys literally hacking away at cows, axe and all, in a yard next to Constantine Lips Mosque. Mike and I were super excited, as we thought the slaughter day had already passed and we didn’t see any (I initially just wanted to see one, I have a strong stomach and have seen some nasty and inhumane things before, so one shouldn’t be a problem…plus it’s for the poor). So at first, it was really interesting to see what they do. Which again, the sanitary laws are extremely lacking in this country. So after sneaking several pics in (if you dare to see any of these pics from my day’s event, please email me, otherwise I don’t want to make you a vegetarian with out you being ready for it!). We didn’t see any sort of ceremony, just large sheets of plastic covering the pavement and one area where they seriously axe the cow to pieces, and another area where they lay the meat in piles. Then an area where the hide is laying before they roll it up, bag it, and toss it –no Indian about them, they throw out whatever’s not edible. So after being stunned and awed and felt we were watching –hiding in bushes, we take off to our next destination. As we are touring about, catching some great churches turned mosques with Christian mosaics fighting to stay on walls, we get deeper and deeper into poverty. Kids rule this area and all somehow seem to know a fair bit of English. They light up and yell hello! at us. The whole day tiny kids were staring in awe and talking to us! They were so cute, except for when they whipped out their fake guns and started shooting at each other! Seriously, all of these boys had a fake gun! One of them was dressed like the Godfather (he was walking with his family and they were all dressed up for something). As we are about to pass him, he reaches into his chest pocket, whips out a real-looking gun, and pretends to shoot someone across the street. I still can’t believe myself. This kid did it like he was from the movies or something –he even had that slow stroll of a walk with all this confidence, all was needed was that background music! Watch out Brad Pitt! I can’t understand why they’re allowed to do this!!!! Anyways, so we had decided to get lost on our way to each place. Instead of taking the main road, we would just stumble our way there through the crazy streets. As we are walking along, saying hello to all of little Istanbul, we would randomly catch a glimpse of more slaughterings. They had to take over car repair garages and what not, as they were the only ones with a big open area. This pretty much means it was street side due to the lack of walls. There were many instances where blood had filled the streets just like a slow moving river reaching towards the drain. Sirin, a Turkish-English teacher, told Mike that just a few years ago the streets were filled with blood, slaughterings everywhere, and the smell was unbearable. We thought this was just an over exaggeration, but after what we saw, we learned very quickly that she was only telling the truth -not even giving full detail! There was a point where Mike tried to walk around a puddle of blood on the sidewalk and didn’t even notice he was only walking in it! Another time I halted in my steps and Mike bumped into me as I jammed on the brakes before I splashed into a big stream of blood. No exaggeration!
We stopped for lunch at this dirt-cheap place, and these kids came in to eat. One of them even came up to us like he was 50 years old to shake each of our hands (I think all of the kids in Fener are in some sort of mafia). So cute though –not the mafia part but how old this young kid acted! Anyways, after we ate our thin-crusted lamb pizza-like-food, Lamacun, and saw a goat shoved into a closed restaurant across the street, we took off to our next destination. Only 2 doors down, I saw the worst thing in my life. It was enough to make the strongest of stomachs puke and was the prime reason I became a vegetarian for over a week. So if you have a weak stomach, which I don’t, don’t read this next part:
There were several cows being cut by a big group of men. One of them had its neck cut open; we must have missed the slit of the throat by 2 minutes. The worst part was this young cow was facing us, so we had a clear shot of its blood gushing out of its neck. Pieces of it coming were out as we had a good look into its neck. Only now, and I strongly urge you not to read this part, it wasn’t dead. It laid there still, but every few seconds, it would try to move, struggling to stay alive. It proceeded to do this, for what seemed like a lifetime. What made it super eerie was these animals don’t make any noise, they just seem sad, knowing they are about to die. So this cow struggling for its life didn’t even make the slightest peep of pain. There was this other cow, dead, right behind it and these guys were kinda struggling, trying to cut its leg off. These people just seemed like it was a natural, every day thing to do. -That was another amazing thing. They didn’t even really change their clothes! There was this one guy nicely dressed whom we talked to for directions. As he was directing us, actually he ended up walking us half way there (I tell you these streets are crazy!), I noticed that he had drops of blood on his shirt! Actually, that was a warm up! We saw these two little girls at one point, probably aged 5 and 7, they were so excited to see us and they started staring and talking to us. One of girl’s finger tops were all stained red and she was sucking on them. No joke! For the rest of the day, we were trying to figure out if it was really blood or not…
On our way back to the ferry, we walked by this dumpster, piled high to the brim of bloody bags with, no not a cherry on top, but 2 cow hooves attached to its ankles. In an open bag next to it were cow guts. The gut looked like it was ready to explode the gasiousest of farts. So needless to say, Mike and I, and Podre for that matter, got our sacrifice-seeing share. Just the very first one would have sufficed for a lifetime!
*OK TO READ NOW:
The rest of the night I was really disturbed and trying to figure out if I could put a piece of meat in my mouth again. Now you might be thinking this happens all of the time in actual slaughtering houses to the very meat we buy and eat everyday. But after witnessing such an inhumane way to sacrifice these poor animals, with the eerie silence and the sheer amount of massacres I saw that day, I think my questioning is allowed! Even just questioning it is being nice! I think the only reason I can, which I have to keep reminding myself, is we saw a family of gypsies all carrying sacks of meat over their shoulders they received as donation from some passer-by. That was really nice to see the end result in that way. I only wish I saw more that one family being donated to to help ease the disgust…
On a lighter note, we did get taken in by this mosque’s caretaker and shown one of the rooms he has locked off. Apparently 2 big emporers were buried there which they have marked off with caution tape, no engravings or headstones. We were also shown tiny remains of a mosaic that was done in the Byzantine times. Apparently there are a lot of secret things buried through out various mosques and you either have to ask the caretaker, hoping he’ll take you in, or be at the right place at the right time to get grabbed in to be shown! Pretty crazy!
All killings a side, my holiday was pretty relaxing. It’s nice just being a tourist here! We even got to go out on the weekend, which are our busiest days, so we’ve never got to experience this wild nightlife we always hear people raging about! We hit up Taksim, the big clubbing area, both Friday and Saturday night! A bigger group of us went out on Friday and we went pretty much all night! It was loads of fun! We wound up at this café turned club and danced the night away! Actually, I should say laser sworded the night away! They had glow sticks all over the ground and I immediately pick it up and started laser swording people! Others followed suit, even the 2 Turkish people I befriend (one of them jumped into our group picture and when I looked at it I thought it was hilarious! So I ran and hugged her laughing as I would have done the samething!)!
For the whole night I made sure my friends kept sword fighting, poking at them if they stopped to real dance! Unfortunately, on the way back to catch a dolmus (or mini bus that’s really just a giant van), Katie and Grant decided that they needed another beer and disappeared before we knew they were gone. Somewhere along the way, the 2 of them were pick-pocketed. Losing both their money, credit cards and ID. Katie also got her residency permit stolen. Luckily they weren’t hurt, they just somehow didn’t feel or were aware that anything of the sort was being done to them. The biggest blow was Budapest being a little over a week away and me being the only one with money. Luckily Katie was able to get her residency permit expedited, so she had no problems leaving or entering the country. A part from that, we all had a great night and Katie and Grant even came out the next night! No one got their things stolen, but Katie did manage to lose her phone at the beginning of the night! Can you say bad weekend for Katie?! Though the phone thing was inevitable for her: something always happens to her phone right around New Years!
The rest of the week was pretty quiet as it got super cold and was pretty rainy. We spent most days in and recovering from the night before. I did manage to hang out with Chloe one day and we grabbed some “Mexican” food (boy is that hard to find) and went to a really weird art museum –which has become our tradition. We always wind up at really strange museums and walking out not to long after going what the heck did we just see?! Always good fun! I also got some more sightseeing in, most importantly, the Blue Mosque!!
I’ve been meaning to get there for quite some time, but I wanted to wait for the tourist season to die down and go on a day I had loads of time to really appreciate it. That day I also went to the Mosaic Museum and some arts and crafts building thing, both were a major let down. Yet I did see the Basilica Cistern, which is by far one of the best pieces of history I’ve seen out of all of my worldly travels! Something about just felt so real.
Oh! And another day Katie and I walked around a whole different area of Sultanhamet, which was super gorgeous and it felt way European! That was great! We kept trying to look for cafes at the top of hotels for good views and we almost got sucked into getting a Turkish bath! We somehow slipped out and wound up at some other place with this super gorgeous view of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. Saweet!
The whole week off came and went way too fast as most holidays do. Within a few days I got a call from one of my favorite people in the world’s friend saying he was in town. Lauren goes to Yale and has a friend that decided to up and travel over this way. She gave him my contact info and sure enough, he did! He was staying on the Euro side, but after talking with him and finding out how he was already annoyed of being haggled after 2 just days here and how he just loved to hear English, we thought we better bring back to our side where he can have beers with our English speaking friends! He got wasted that night and crashed on our couch –thanks to Raki! Though most people got wasted that night….Jeff (also known as Suzy) taped any and everything to Mike’s bedroom walls and ceiling when we got back from the bar! Lol! We’ve been slowly taking things down as we need it: say a shoe for example, the toilet bowl scrubber, ladle…! Lol! Zahir stayed a few more nights at our place and then went off to Cappadoccia –which I almost went with on my days off, but since I had to supply the money for the upcoming and Budapest trip, I decided it was best for my bank account not to go. All in all, it was really neat to meet one of Lauren’s good friends from Yale (can’t wait for you to visit Laur!)!
Anyways, that Wednesday me, Jeff, Mike, Ginger (also known as Grant, er Greg) and the other Katie went to see the Whirling Dirvishes. That was super disappointing and I struggled to stay awake, and Greg won’t admit it, but he fell asleep. Now don’t get me wrong, I love their way of worshipping God, but for someone watching: snooze fest! They make it appear on pictures that they whirl super fast, but they do it pretty slowly and the songs last a lifetime! Ouch! I think we were overcharged but I must say it was pretty cool to at least witness it. Plus I learned a little bit about it before going, and it’s quite interesting.
That weekend one of my classes going to end and my students wanted to have a party. They came in with this giant gourmet cake, with lit candles that they made me blow out; some chips, and soda! Now most students just want to leave after the exam but they wanted to stay and say bye to me! They were really upset when they found out I couldn’t be their level 3 teacher! Though it might be a good thing, because on this cake they stuck a card in it that reads, “We love you Katie! Don’t forget we!” lol! CRINGE!! Haha! They also kept telling me not to forget them and wouldn’t believe me when I told them that I wouldn’t!
That Sunday, my friends Jim and Owen invited us over for an “Egg Nog Soiree”. Another thing I miss about Christmas here is no Egg Nog. So the boys conjured some up alcohol and all! Mike and I rushed over after class with Jim –whereby Owen greeted us with a giant bowl of it! We also convinced our Turkish-English teacher friends, Sirin and Yelize to come and try some! The next day Yelize wanted more! Jim’s gf, Basak, was also there. We were supposed to have Timtams (amazing Aussie cookies. Jim is an Aussie and this boy doesn’t shut up about them. His parents only send him one package at a time and he has to continually hide them from Basak cuz she’ll eat them all on him!). Basak remembered that we still didn’t have our Timtam day so she busted them out! I don’t think one can say enough about them! Soo soo sooo tasty!! Must have more!!