It was a frustrating day at work. I was having a hard time fasting. I was sick of the apathy of all the Muslims around me. I am in a Muslim country. I want to feel like I am in a Muslim country. Sorry, if that makes me suck. But most, most of all, I don’t want to feel like I am defending my choice to fast every day. So, as I make my way home, I feel exhausted on many levels. I am eager to get to my apartment, to lay down and find that peaceful place that will help re-center me.
I get to my door and start the five-minute treasure hunt in my purse to find my keys. Five minutes pass. No keys. I sit down on the stoop and take everything out one by one. No keys. I hear the azaan in the background and I am desperate to open my fast. I reach into my purse to find my wallet so I can go buy some food. No wallet. I call my roommate to see if she will be home any time soon. Of course not.
I dig in my purse and find a few liras at the bottom and go and buy a “Le Cola Light” and a pide (a round bread that is sold here in Ramadan). I eat this glamorous dinner on my stoop where several of my neighbors question what I am doing.
Realizing that I can’t sit on my stoop all night, I call my friend and ask if I can spend the night. As always, she saves me. I head out to catch the bus to her house. As I walk to the bus stop I start to notice the Besiktas jerseys everywhere. It is game day. Soon the streets are swarming with Besiktas fans.
Usually this is a sight that makes me happy. But today I only see their drunkenness and how stupid they all seem. The air smells of cigarettes, filth, alcohol and machismo.
It is Laylat al Qadr in Istanbul.
Ramadan is the holiest month for Mulsims and Laylat al Qadr is the most special and holy of nights for a Muslim. On this night all the angels come down to Earth. It is the night on which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhummad. It is a night that is considered to be better than a thousand months. Whoever prays with sincerity on this night will have all their past sins forgiven.
Around me all the drunk people stumbled around. Their cheers and chants were deafening. In front of me a huge fight broke out between the police and a bunch of belligerent drunks. I felt the chaos would swallow me before I could even reach my friend.
I longed for the homes of the Salmans, Jukakus and Fahmys; these families that I have always loved and admired and had always opened their homes on this special night. I longed for my own family and Feraz and for the peace and discovery that always comes on this night. I felt so helpless that I just sat down on a bench and cried.
Eventually, I made it to my friend’s house. She restored me with lentil soup, tea and Nutella. She made me lay down and take a nap to erase all the bad thoughts in my mind. Her other friend joined us and we made our way to a place where we could stay up all night and pray and worship.
In this random room in Fatih I found the peace that comes from sincerely seeking Allah. Among these complete strangers I felt my frustrations melt away. I realized that you don’t have to be in your town, in your musjid or your own home to experience the power of these last ten days. Allah’s love and mercy is so strong that it can find us across the world, through booze filled streets, and even past our own hardened hearts.
“Oh Allah who removes worry, the one who eliminates grief, the grantor of the prayers of the helpless, oh most merciful and compassionate of all in this world and in the hereafter, only You will show mercy on me; give such mercy to me that I do not need the mercy of anyone except you.”
The airlines lost my luggage. I have never had to deal with lost luggage before. After a long flight, there is no worse feeling than watching the conveyor belt turn and turn and turn with no sign of your things. Slowly you see all the people from your flight walk away with their treasures. You stare despondently at the empty luggage cart for which you just wasted 3 lira and have nothing to put on. Then you try with your crap Turkish to find the customer service people.
Perhaps it is a good thing I was alone because I would probably have found some way to blame Feraz for losing the luggage had we been together. I had to wait two hours in the customer service room before they even talked to me. When they refused to do anything to help find my suitcases, I pleaded "Please, you have to find them. My whole life is in there."
On the Saturday night before I came, I was talking to a friend who asked how I planned to pack for going away for over one year. I replied, I am about to find out. I am not a great packer in the best of times. I recall one trip to Switzerland where all my friends showed up with carry-ons and I came with a massive full size suitcase. I didn't hear the end of that for the rest of the trip. (But people did borrow the many warm clothes I brought along!!) Feraz always groans when we go somewhere because somehow I always manage to convince myself that there is a ton of crap that I have to have with me. Eighty percent of it usually goes untouched or unworn.
Before I left the US Feraz and I were driving and I said to him, “I can tell you the story about every piece of clothing and jewelery I am wearing. I can tell you who gave it to me or the thought process I had when I got it, who I was with and what price I got it for.”
I guess my point was that although I have more clothes than any human should, almost everything I own has sentimental value of some sort. I love shopping because I am materialistic but I also love shopping because I like hunting for a good deal, making plans with friends, walking around seeing all the colors and sparkles, finding a fabric that feels like magic against my skin, putting outfits together like an art project and then finally sitting down completely exhausted and spent from shopping and eating a big meal that almost always includes a chicken burger, fries and coke. It is an experience. In some ways it is even like a sport. In other ways, it is just really sad. :)
But how do I look at my masses of clothes and decide what I will take with me? At one point when I was deciding to pack a shirt I thought, this is too hippie-ish, you don't really dress like this anymore. Then I thought, but think of all the hippies you will meet this year. Who knows, you might need it come next year. Eventually, I sorted out all the best of the best. I picked my very favorite things and packed them up into two suitcases with a dismal 50 pound weight allowance for each.
Then the airlines lost it all. My life. Gone.
It seems appropriate that as I am back in Istanbul, my magical place of discovery and self-improvement that God sends this challenge to me. Lately, I have been spending a great deal of time reflecting about materialism. I am a materialistic person and I am a recovering shopaholic. (Feraz may disagree with the recovering bit.) I love things. I especially love nice things. I have no shame in saying that I hope to one day have a full Burberry wardrobe. It is classic and timeless. It is fashion perfection. Those silks and cashmeres, the perfect cuts, the fact that you can never put a price on a dress that makes you look ten pounds thinner.
But as I try to become more socially aware and more sensitive of my role in the world, I have to acknowledge the realities of consumerism, capitalism and superficiality.
Islamically I feel there are conflicting views sent about materialism or wanting the 'good life.' There are various accounts that stress that we should ask for the best of this world and the best of the hereafter. The Believer does not take an oath of poverty, and in fact one of the most famous and respected imams was said to wear a new garment each day. On the other hand our own Prophet lived by very humble means. Was he applauded because as a leader, it was more relevant for him to live humbly so as not to alienate himself from his followers? That he had to sacrifice first because he was asking others to sacrifice so much for this new religion? Or was the humility in his lifestyle the lesson itself?
Allah says in the Quran, “If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight - are dearer to you than Allah, or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious.”
It is the most holy of months, the most blessed of days. And so I lost my things. But I have my life. I have my lips with which to worship Allah, to ask for His mercy and for His help. Blessed are we who get to see another Ramadan. Who are given another chance at redemption. It is ok for us to want the best of this world, to want that which is material. But when things happen that take away some of our wealth or health or happiness we must strive to remember that nothing can be more dear to us than Allah, that we should cherish nothing more than guidance and truth and with that knowledge we must find peace.
Surely, we are only travelers in this world. We are bound to lose things along the way. I am grateful that it is only luggage that I have lost this Ramadan.
After being worried about getting to work on my first day, this morning I felt like something of a pro going to work. Having already done it yesterday, I already know exactly which dolmus (shared taxi) I have to get on and have the exact change for the driver. I feel kind of like a big deal. I also have the bright idea that I should read while commuting to work. It’s not a very long ride but I think it it is a good way to stay on track with my reading goals.
So, I delve into unnamed book and keep an eye out for my work. Soon, I notice the dolmus is completely empty. Strange. I look around and can't recognize the neighborhood I am in at all. This doesn’t seem like the route we went on yesterday. In fact, this is a part of Istanbul I have never seen. Suddenly we are careening in and out of random streets. I start to panic. Obviously I am being kidnapped.
I take out my cell phone and think of who I should call. I try to bluff the guy, pretending to call a friend at work and saying that I will be there soon. Realizing that this guy doesn't know English, I just sit and wait for my untimely demise.
After about ten minutes the dolmus pulls into a massive parking lot. This is it. I am going to die in some giant parking lot in working class Istanbul. I am at peace with this. Then I notice that lots of dolmus drivers bring their victims to this lot! In fact, there are rows and rows of dolmuses lined up everywhere. It is going to be a mass murder!
The driver parks and turns around throwing his hands up as if to ask why the hell I am still there. I feel like the little kid who fell asleep on the back of the bus and didn't wake up until the bus driver is all the way back at the bus lot. I say, Levant?? Lutfen? He rolls his eyes at me. Then he yells what could mean nothing other than, "Get Out!!" I try to sit there for a second thinking of what I should do. (There are no taxis anywhere.) He yells again, "Get Out!!" Alriiiiight I think. Out I go. I start walking up the dolmus lines to see if there is anyone else willing to reply to my more sophisticated "Levant istiyorum lutfen." I am thinking I am an idiot. I need to do my Turkish lessons. I need to look out the window while I am being driven to work. I need to not think I am being kidnapped every time I am an idiot.
The dolmus driver sees me and gestures for me to follow him. He takes me to the front dolmus and then as if dealing with a mildly retarded person, he tells me to sit down and stay there. So, I sit and wait and wait... Eventually another driver comes and off we go. We pick up passengers until there is no room to breath on the dolmus, let alone be able to look out the window to spot my work.
When I see a small sliver of the mall that I work by in the distance I jump up to get out. I can walk the rest of the way! I am just scared he is going to take a turn and take me somewhere else all together. I force my way through the wall of people and as the dolmus is still moving I jump out. As I stumble and almost fall, I try to act cool. No worries, I think. I am an expert at getting to work.