Plomin Family Bragablog

May 10, 2009

Dispatch from Istanbul

Filed under: Uncategorized — mplomin @ 8:59 am
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Hi all – Matt here.

Part of my classwork here in Istanbul is a trip journal of sorts. I brought the 1080P HD video camera, others brought podcasting equipment, a few people have video blogging cameras, and everyone has digital cameras. Also, a few key people are participating in this trip – the GW MBA Association’s VP and the MBA Follies writers are here. Plus, we’re connected with a LARGE network of alumni in Turkey. (The Dean is Turkish too, so it helps.) The GW MBA Office recognized these capabilities and is making the Turkey trip the featured International Residency for PR purposes. So, each of our reflections are going to provide rich materials for their communications department. I figured all of you should be the first to read my reflections, so here they go up on wordpress!

The flights here were grueling. Luckily, I was on the same flight as a few other students. We managed to get the people on the plane to re-arrange seating so we were all close by. I had a window seat, Brendan (one of my classmates) had the aisle seat, and the 500-pound guy who would normally sit next to me never showed up, so the middle-seat was open (what luck!). Everything was fine until, during take-off, a light stream of water started pouring on me from the overhead compartment. We were already all strapped in, so there was no moving to the middle seat, and I had to just endure the light drizzle until we leveled off. The flight attendants were pretty understanding, and they helped me towel off and get more comfortable. When we came into Paris, I tried to see the Eiffel Tower or some other Parisian sights, but I couldn’t see anything. From the air at night, Paris looks exactly like every other city I’ve ever flown to.

Brendan and I bought some duty-free rum with the intention of having a few drinks and getting to sleep early. But we never got around to it; we watched movies (Frost/Nixon and James Bond – Quantum of Solace, both excellent movies) and talked until we landed in Paris at 5am (11pm Eastern). We managed to get some sleep at the airport. Brendan, being a former Americorps worker and accustomed to uncomfortable accommodations, was fine just sleeping on the airport floor. The Parisians who passed by thought he was a little odd. I explained “He was fine a couple of days ago when we left Mexico, I don’t know what’s wrong with him now . . .” and people gave us quite a bit of space.

A few other students met up with us in Paris, so nine of us flew together to Istanbul. That flight was a little more subdued, and we were able to catch up on some sleep during the second leg. Again, the middle seat was open so I had a little more space.

Flying into Istanbul, the first thing I saw was a mess of container ships in the sea. I didn’t notice at the time, but later I noticed that they were nearly all empty and anchored, nothing to ship and nowhere to go – a sign of the tough economic times worldwide. Istanbul is a very low city. I was expecting to see a city-center with skyscrapers or at least a few tall hotels and office buildings. There are maybe three or four buildings that are taller than six stories. The entire city is made of stucco buildings, six stories tall, with tile roofs. As far as you can see, it’s just these low mixed-use buildings – apartments and offices on top, retail at the street level. No single-family houses either.

And sticking out from this low, six-story city are tall Minarets, four per Mosque. These spires are like Rapunzel’s tower, tall spikes with balconies on the top floor, are where Imams sing the call to prayer from. The humans, standing and screaming from the Minarets, were long ago replaced by loudspeakers. Mosques in Istanbul are as dense as Starbucks in Chicago, and I wondered if the call to prayer would be centralized and uniform across the city. It’s not. From our hotel balcony, we can hear the call to prayer five times a day from the nearby Mosques. Each Mosque issues the call a few seconds apart from the others, and it’s a duel of sorts – a Muslim “dueling banjos” – back and forth, one trying to out-do the other. It’s quite eerie and beautiful at the same time.

We’ve been told that Turkey is a modern, moderate Muslim nation, and we’re experiencing a bit of that modernity.  Ordinarily, in a Muslim nation, when the call to prayer is issued, everything stops and people in the street pull out their prayer mats and drop to their knees in prayer.  Last night when we were out, we heard the call and nothing really stopped. It was a little odd; I could hear some people whistling (a sign of derision) and others hollering to get people to stop and pray.  But generally, people didn’t stop and pray.

It seems that modern decadence has taken its toll on religion worldwide, not just in Christian Europe.  Perhaps the fact that people didn’t stop and pray is just a result of their commitment to living a secular lifestyle, but I was a little disappointed to see that people here aren’t so rigorous in their observation.  I’m probably wrong to assume that, since people don’t observe the five daily prayers, they also aren’t devoted to God in their own way.  And who am I to equate the seeming non-observation of the call to prayer is indicative of a lack of religious fervor.  Like public prayer in the US, maybe overt public prayer here is stigmatized.  Perhaps Turkey is a Muslim nation in the same way the US is a Christian nation – founded on religious principles, very protective of the right to observe, and individualistic in religious observation.

I’ll be back with more observations from Turkey as the trip progresses.  Comment with questions, and I’ll try to get to as many as I can.

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