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Ten Days In Turkey

Lessons on the Road

By Geoffrey Philp Published 4 months ago Updated 3 months ago 7 min read
The Sultan Ahmet

Istanbul is a city bristling with life. The past and present, the sacred and the profane rub shoulders in seemingly easy commerce under the shadow of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which overlooks the Golden Horn inlet and traces its origins back to the early 17th-century days of the Ottoman Empire.

With Maya

What makes the visit even more interesting is that I’m seeing this historic city through the eyes of my nine-year-old niece, Maya. Even though she was born in this city that straddles Europe and Asia, she is curious about Istanbul's rich history and diversity, similar to mine. As we explore its winding streets and marvel at the architectural gems, Maya and I exchange notes on our adventures across this vibrant crossroads of cultures.

I think I’ve finally understood why Baldwin said this city “revived” him

Near The Sunset Hotel

The Sunset Hotel

Under the shade of privets

Jazz from down the street.


In a barbershop

Drinking a cup of black tea

A cat has claimed me.

On The Bosphorus

On the Bosphorus

Under Sophia’s shadow—

Dolphins behind us.

A sweltering day

Listening to street performers—

Under the grapevines.

Outside Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Near Sultan Ahmet

We hear the call to worship

Like Baldwin heard it.

At Nekkar

From silk worm cocoons

she'll weave her people's story

into a pattern.

In the Sultan Ahmet

In Sultan Ahmet

Where the Light of Allah shines

We enter barefoot.

Facing Mecca

Across a border

Where the faithful face Mecca

Prayers like incense.

Outside Sultan Ahmet

Outside the Blue Mosque

Where we walk into sunlight

Cats doze in the shade.

Ctas at the Blue Mosque

Beside the maples

A pregnant cat rubs my ankle

Lies between my feet.

In the August heat

Near Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Cool spray from fountains.

Hagia Sophia

Inside Wisdom’s House

A church in the Roman times

Changed into a mosque.

Alif Waw

An Instanbul store

I buy a worthless signet

That means everything!

Tokapi Palace

Tokapi Palace

Waiting in the entry line

Greeted by a leaf

Hodjapasha 2

I had planned to visit Konya, where Rumi, the mystical Sufi teacher and poet of divine love, is buried, but things didn’t work out. Rather than staying upset – something I’ve had to unlearn on this trip – I went to see the Whirling Dervishes at Hodjapasha.

No photography or video was allowed, but it was a joy to see my niece's eyes light up as the dancers entered the stage in long white robes and tall conical hats and spun rhythmically in a circle to music. The spinning is meant to induce a trance-like state that symbolizes the dervish's desire to shed his ego and worldly concerns, submitting himself entirely to God.

As they spun and I looked at my niece, I remembered lines from Rumi:

Don't weep, anything you lose comes round again in another form.

The child weaned from mother's milk now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,

from cell to cell, as rainwater down into a flowerbed.


With one hand held towards heaven to receive God's blessings and one hand down to the earth, the dervish channels those blessings to humanity:

Whoever you may be, come.

Even though you may be an infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come.

Our brotherhood is not one of despair.

Even though you have broken your vows of repentance a hundred times, come.


For a moment, we entered that circle of grace.

After the Dervish

At Hodjapasha,

Witnessing the dervish where

The Master vanished.

Firuz Aga Mosque

Firuz Aga Mosque

The bell of a passing train

A wall clock ticking.

Inshallah has been creeping into my vocabulary. I guess it fits with the idea that "nothing happens before its time" or the Jamaican saying (translated) " What's meant for you cannot pass you by."

Still, I have doubts. Do I push forward or do I wait patiently? Can anything unfold without my effort? For I am still a tangle of desires.

But sitting here in the cool of our kitchen overlooking the red-tiled houses, the shades of green in the valley, the blue hills in the background interrupted by scars of yellow against clouds that resemble shredded papier-mâché, I can only say: Inshallah, my children will find the "grace to transform their pain." Inshallah, my work will find a home. Inshallah, we will all find peace.

The Call to Prayer

Resounds across the mountains

O, holy moment!

Bornova, Izmir, Turkey

On a gravel road

Down a path lined with thistles—

Water from a spring!

Under Olive trees

The music from grazing sheep

Shepherds at sunset.

Cat in Bornova

Near the store’s entrance

Cats, beloved by the Prophet,

Wander in and out.

Izmir, Turkey

Along the highway

Windmills whirl in a dervish

In the late evening


Lines from Basho's haiku ran through my head as we walked through the ruins of Ephesus, the former Roman capital of the province of Asia on the western coast of Anatolia.

The summer grass

is all that's left

of an ancient warrior's dream.

Earthquakes and raids by Goths, among others, decimated Ephesus. What remains is only a shadow of the city’s former glory.

Standing in front of the Great Theater that had hosted religious ceremonies, theatrical performances, and gladiatorial combats, I couldn’t help but think about the sweat that went into constructing this cathedral of stone meant to shock and awe visitors. As I ran my hand along a fragmented column, I could almost hear the clash of swords and the crowd's roar calling for blood.

Notice from the Emperors

Then there was the inscription from the emperors, Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, complaining about insufficient taxes, grudging state officers, and a request to investigate all estates in Asia to determine sizes, owners, income, and potential taxes, including rented and poor quality land. We no longer have emperors, but some things never change.

Walking through the ruins

Questioning the stones, “When

Am I in history?”

Curetes Street

Down Curetes Street

Past porticos, ants busy

With their colony.

Swallows in Ephesus

The swallows circling

Library of Celsus feast

On moths in mid-flight.

Mary's House

When we reached the entrance to Mary’s house, the police told my sister-in-law that she could’ve driven her car into the protected area because she had the elderly with her. At first, I was angry because although I am now regarded as a senior citizen, “elderly” was just too much.

But the more I thought about the word, as I walked through the plain, stone house, divided into a kitchen, living area, and sleeping quarters where pilgrims throughout the centuries decorated the walls with religious icons, the more I appreciated being in the place where Mary, the mother of Yeshua, spent her final days on earth.

Under the windmills

The House of Mary welcomes

The weary pilgrims.


In a plain stone house

Where the Virgin took refuge

Crowns of verbena.

House of Mary 2

Under the maples

We pin dreams to the Virgin,

On a slender thread.

Beach in Turkey

Forget Ephesus! Forget the House of Mary! The beach at Pamucak was what my niece, Maya, had been looking forward to for the whole week.

I couldn’t understand it. The water looked murky and was unlike anything I'd seen in the Caribbean or the USA. Still, she was excited and dashed headlong into the water.

I followed her, of course. During this trip, she has brought out my most protective instincts; like her father, she is a fearless soul.

Beside the shoreline

A half-buried undershirt—

Grief I left behind.


Mountains before me

I wade into the water for

Yemaya’s blessing.

Airport in Izmir

I hadn’t slept for 24 hours, and I was bone tired.

The cheapest return flights I could get would take us from Izmir to Istanbul, Istanbul to Paris, Paris to Toronto, and Toronto to Fort Lauderdale.

What made it worse was Istanbul Airport, with its glitzy stores and symbols of wealth, didn’t have any comfortable spots to rest or sleep, and I am still unable to sleep in public areas.

I was grouchy, and my morning breath was kicking in. It didn’t help that there was nonstop music from a nearby technology store.

An alarm went off. A young man woke from his slumber, turned his back to us for a few minutes, rolled out a prayer mat, and began the day's first prayer.

And this is what I’ve learned to admire about Islam. He was probably as tired as I was, yet he took the time to spread his rug facing east to perform the Fajr prayer.

Whether it was perfunctory or not, whether he was doing it for show, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I will give him the benefit of the doubt even as I perform my own morning act of praise.

A fellow pilgrim

Though he can’t see through the walls

Bows before sunrise.

excerptsnature poetry

About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey Philp is the author of "Archipelagos," a book of poems about #climatechange. He is working on a graphic novel, "My Name is Marcus."

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  • Judith P3 months ago

    Through your eyes, your journey, brought your word pictures to life, like I have never seen before. Thanks for taking me on this journey 🙃

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