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A Pilgrimage Through Turkey's Heartland

By Geoffrey Philp Published 16 days ago Updated 16 days ago 5 min read
Top Story - May 2024
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Istanbul is a city bristling with life, a place where past and present, sacred and profane, intertwine under the watchful gaze of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. As I explore this crossroads of cultures with Maya, my nine-year-old niece and the daughter of my late brother-in-law Frank, and my wife Nadia, Frank's sister, I find myself on a journey not just through Istanbul's history, but also into the depths of my own beliefs. Staying with Maya and her mother Elvan, my sister-in-law, I begin to see the city anew through their eyes, and to understand why James Baldwin said it "revived" him.

Everywhere, the streets pulse with life - the bright colors of headscarves, the clatter of backgammon dice, the sizzle of kebabs on open grills, and the warm, nutty scent of chestnuts roasting on charcoal, their shells cracking open to reveal the tender, sweet meat within.

Maya and me in Istanbul

The Sunset Hotel

under the shade of privets

jazz from down the street.

One of the cat's that claimed me

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.

(L-R( Geoffrey and Elvan; Maya and Nadia

Our path leads us to the Whirling Dervishes at Hodjapasha, their spinning a mesmerizing symbol of shedding ego and submitting to the divine. As they whirl, Rumi's words echo in my mind: "Don't weep, anything you lose comes round again in another form..."

Watching Maya's rapt face, I feel something stir within me - a longing to find that same surrender, that same joy that "moves from cell to cell, as rainwater down into a flowerbed." In this moment, I feel a deep connection to Frank, knowing he would have cherished this experience with his daughter. I catch Nadia's eye, brimming with tears.

Near Sultan Ahmet

we hear the call to worship

like Baldwin heard it.

From silk worm cocoons

she'll weave her people's story

into a pattern.

Inside the Sultan Ahmet Mosque

In Sultan Ahmet

where the Light of Allah shines--

we enter barefoot.

Across a border

where the faithful face Mecca--

prayers like incense.

The phrase "Inshallah" - "as God wills" - begins to slip into my vocabulary, a counterpoint to my lifelong notions of striving and self-determination. It’s be hard for me to settle down—to keep still. Just be.

The Call to Prayer

resounds across the mountains

O, holy moment!

Sitting in Elvan's home, gazing out over the landscape, the late afternoon sun slants through the windows, painting the room in a warm, golden light. The gentle breeze carries the scent of jasmine from the garden, a sweet, delicate fragrance. In the distance, the tinkling of a çay spoon against a glass echoes like a tiny bell, a sound that speaks of comfort, family, and the unhurried pace of life.

Outside the Blue Mosque

where we walk into sunlight

cats doze in the shade.

Beside the maples

a pregnant cat rubs my ankle,

lies between my feet.

Hagia Sophia

Inside Wisdom's House

a church in the Roman times--

changed into a mosque.

At Ephesus, walking amidst the ruins of a once-great city, I'm struck by the ephemeral nature of human glory. Basho's haiku comes to mind: "The summer grass / is all that's left / of an ancient warrior's dream."


Standing before the Great Theater where crowds once roared for blood, the stone beneath our feet is warm from the sun, the rough edges softened by centuries of wind and rain. The air is heavy with the scent of wild thyme and oregano, the herbs releasing their fragrance as we brush past. And again, I'm confronted with the question: What endures? What of our own lives will remain when we are gone? I think of Frank, of the legacy he left in Maya and the love that endures in Elvan and Nadia's hearts.

Walking through the ruins

questioning the stones, "When

am I in history?"

Notice of the Roman Emperors

Down Curetes Street

past porticos--ants busy

with their colony.

Curetes Street

The swallows circling

Library of Celsus, feast

on moths in mid-flight.

At Mary's House, I cringe at being called "elderly," my pride pricked. But as I move through the simple stone rooms where the Mother of Jesus spent her last days, a sense of humility steals over me.

The air inside the house is cool and still, carrying the faint scent of beeswax candles and the soft, earthy smell of stone. Through the small windows, the sun's rays paint patterns of light on the floor, a gentle reminder of the divine presence that seems to infuse every corner.

Mary's House

To walk where generations of pilgrims have walked, to join my prayers with theirs, I begin to see the grace in growing old, the gift of letting go. I think of Elvan's strength in the face of loss, her faith a guiding light for her daughter. Nadia's presence beside me is a reminder of the bonds that sustain us through life's trials.

Under the windmills

the House of Mary welcomes

the weary pilgrims.

In a plain stone house

where the Virgin took refuge--

crowns of verbena.

Prayers to the Virgin Mary

Under the maples

we pin dreams to the Virgin,

on a slender thread.

Maya and me at the beach

Watching Maya dash with abandon into the sea at Pamucak beach, the sun's warmth embraces us like a benediction, the salt breeze playfully tousling Maya's hair. As I wade in after her, my protectiveness surging, I wonder if I can learn to trust myself be carried into grace. I see in Maya's joy the echo of Frank's spirit, a light undimmed by death.

Beside the shoreline

a half-buried undershirt—

grief I left behind.

At the airport, exhausted and grumpy, I witness a young man roll out his prayer mat amidst the bustle and begin his devotions. In his tired yet faithful gesture, I see a mirror of my own soul. Letting judgement fall away, I'm moved to my own "morning act of praise," my own whispered "Inshallah." I think of Elvan and Maya, of the faith that sustains them through sorrow and joy. Nadia's hand slips into mine.

At the 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.

A fellow pilgrim

though he can't see through the walls--

bows before sunrise.

From the grandeur of the Blue Mosque to the crumbled stones of Ephesus, the intersections of history and belief; from the whirl of the dervishes to the lapping of the waves, the dance of the divine; in my niece's bright eyes and the prayerful hands of a stranger, the touch of grace.

Across the miles, through the circling hours, a pilgrim heart beats its answer: Inshallah, Inshallah, Inshallah. And in the love that binds us - Elvan, Maya, Nadia, myself, and the spirit of the one we've lost - I find the truest compass for the journey ahead.

activitiesfamily travel

About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing through personal reflection & societal engagement.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  1. Compelling and original writing

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Comments (11)

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  • Esala Gunathilake13 days ago

    Congrats on your top story.

  • Anna 14 days ago

    Congrats on your Top Story!

  • great story, glad you enjoyed you trip, selam from Istanbul :)

  • Andrea Corwin 14 days ago

    Congrats on TS🥳🥳Glad I saw This as I will be heading that way soon to see some of the sights. Great job.

  • Randy Baker15 days ago

    Congrats on the Top Story nod, Geoffrey! This was a good read.

  • Carol Townend15 days ago

    That made for a beautiful read.

  • Hannah Moore15 days ago

    I love that phrase, and a love the way you opened yourself to these experiences.

  • Belle15 days ago

    This is so beautiful!! I love the descriptions and the mix of prose and poetry... astounding. You really set the imagery and the mood perfectly. I want to travel to Istanbul and Turkey, so badly, and I love how you captured all of the religious significances, and the beauty of Islam... Amazing. Congratulations on top story!!! Well deserved.

  • Babs Iverson15 days ago

    Fantastic family story!!! Loved it and lived traveling along to Istanbul!!!💕❤️❤️ Congratulations on Top Story too!!!

  • Talia Devora15 days ago

    I absolutely loved reading this! Very informative and engaging!

  • Absolutely enjoyed reading this 💕

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