On the Border

This past weekend our group visited a Southern province of Turkey called Hatay, staying in the historic town of Antakya (Antioch). While famous for it’s archeological excavations and fusion of religions- Christianity, Judaism and Islam- this region is becoming more well-known now for the Syrian refugee camps that it’s housing. During our stay, I was able to visit two of these camps. The first one I visited was a camp in Hatay called Yayladağı. Upon arriving we saw several members of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group fighting government troops, gathered outside packing their things up to head back to Syria to continue the fight against Assad’s regime.

The camp has 1,950 tents and 6,625 refugees staying there. Security at these camps is very tight and while I was unable to go inside this camp, we were able to speak with refugees brought outside the camp.

Children from the camp playing and chanting.

According to UNICEF over 5,000 of the 24, 564 refugees in Turkey are children, and more are being born everyday.

Because Turkish law dictates that Turkey does not have to accept refugees from the East, babies that are born in the camp are still not considered Turkish citizens. The camps each have a basic hospital for minor injuries and illnesses. Refugees are taken to hospitals outside the camp for serious operations, but it can sometimes take over an hour for them to reach a hospital.

Refugees staying at these camps are not legally authorized to work in Turkey, but many still try to find ways to support themselves and their families. Ayman Karnebo is an artist who sells portraits that he creates out of organic materials that he can scrape together at the camp.

The second camp that I visited was Kilis, which is the largest camp housing 10, 493 refugees.

Unlike the other three camps which are tent cities, Kilis has small houses that are 21 square meters for families to stay in.

This camp has a capacity of 12,000 and took just 3 months to construct, while the tent cities take merely 3 days.




It was incredibly humbling to visit and speak with these refugees, many of which have escaped or witnessed horrible atrocities in Syria, forcing them to leave their homeland. They were all very willing to speak with me because they want their stories to be heard. The refugees are living proof of bravery, courage and perseverance. When you have a comfortable lifestyle it’s very easy to take your freedoms for granted, but these people truly know that freedom isn’t free.


Artisan Antakya: The Art of Roasting

Walking around the market in Antayka this weekend, my nose stumbled upon a shop, selling an assortment of roasted nuts. After tasting a variety of samples, we settled on a bag of roasted cashews. Then the owner, Ismai, came out to greet us and invited us to a back corner for some tea. Bar none, Turkish hospitality is like no other I’ve experienced. Where ever you go, people will eagerly offer you a cup of tea, insisting on continuously refilling it. It takes about three cups to become best friends with someone here! Enjoying our tea and roasted nuts with Ismail, I learned that he has been in the nut industry for quite a while. He first started out by himself, pushing a little cart up and down the streets selling nuts. Now, fifteen years later, he owns his own nut roasting company, and ships to many different cities across Turkey.

His business is in Antayka, the Hatay region, which is close to the border with Syria. Currently there are four Syrian refugee camps located in the Southeast region of Turkey. While some of the shopkeepers have been hit hard during the turmoil in Syria, because it’s harder for people to cross back and forth over the border, Ismail said he hasn’t experienced the same loss of business as others.

Several shopkeepers report  their profits drastically declined because Syrian customers aren’t able to frequent them anymore. But, when talking with these various shop owners, there was one theme in common–empathy. They all expressed in some way that even if their businesses took a hit from the Syrian conflict, the most important issue for them was their Syrian brothers and sisters, as they affectionately referred to them. They displayed such humanity and concern for those across the border who are dealing with violence almost daily.


Walking along the bustling street of Istiklal-the main thoroughfare between Tunel and Taksim square, one can wander off on many side streets filled with vendors, bazaars and cafés. Many of these cafés have seating outside where one can enjoy tea or coffee, play backgammon and smoke nargile. Also known as hookah or shisha, this waterpipe is used for smoking flavored tobacco. It’s very popular in India, Pakistan and the Middle East, where it originated, though it’s also catching on in other countries as well. The Mayi Nargile Café broke down the process of packing a hookah for me.

On the Front Lines

With all the criticism that occurs around the media it’s easy for people to overlook the fact that many journalists are putting their lives on the line each and every day to report the news. Today our group met with Omer Berberoglu from Reuters News in Istanbul. Working as a producer and camera operator for several years, Berberoglu has experienced what it’s like reporting in a war zone. He showed and explained to us the various protective gear that journalists wear when working in these dangerous conditions.

This equipment is not worn all the time when working in war zones, but mainly when on the front lines under the most dangerous circumstances. It takes courage to be able to report in war zones, and Beberoglu said you have to do a cost-analysis on whether or not risking your life is worth spreading the information. While this equipment is somewhat reassuring, Berberoglu said it’s not a 100% guarantee. “Rarely you get killed by bullets, you actually get killed by bombs, and if you’re bombed then you’re done. These (items) are protector vitals, it saves you some time until you’re near a proper medical station.” Berberoglu also talked about how these experiences open your eyes to a whole new reality of what it means to feel secure.

Hardened hat: This is used mainly during riots and protests to protect the head from rocks and coins being thrown.

Gas mask: There are two types, the one displayed below is used against smoke grenades. The other kind is mainly used against chemicals.

Composite helmet and flak jacket: These are both used to protect the body from bullets. The helmet protects against rifles and pistols, and the flak jacket has a bullet proof plate that blocks against guns such as AK-47s and N-63s.

Stab vest: It’s good to protect from stabbing, riots and hand guns.

Pierre and Me

As the burial place of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, the village of Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world. The famous Pierre Loti café stands at the top of the hill in Eyüp cemetery. The path up to the café passes by a  picturesque array of tombstones, most of which date from the Ottoman Era. We chose to take a cable car up to the top, from where it commands sweeping views down over the Golden Horn. The café is named after the French novelist and Turkophile Pierre Loti, who frequented a café in Eyüp-claimed to be this one-during his stay In 1876. He was a French naval officer who fell in love with a married Turkish woman and wrote an autobiographical novel, Aziyadé, about their affair (though there is some speculation that this affair was in fact with another man). While enjoying the view and fresh air, I had a refreshing snack of Turkish ice cream (dondurma) and Turkish coffee- great combo!

In Turkish coffee, there is a layer of sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup. Superstition says that one can read a person’s fortune, not from their hand, but from this same sludge that lies on the bottom of their coffee cup; the thick, dark grounds can also be read to determine when and who a person is going to marry.

We decided to test this theory out.

The group gathered around as Susanne Fowler poured out the sludge from my cup onto the saucer. We then looked inside the cup at the remaining residue on the sides to see the shapes left behind that would tell of my fortuitous future. From the shapes of a tree, turkey and rabbit it was discovered that I was on a growing (tree) journey and in my future lay travel, marriage to a farmer (turkey) and strong fertility (rabbit). To determine the first name of my future farmer husband, the sludge was poured from the saucer back into the cup to see if any trace of a letter was left behind–the majority agreed it was a P. This could obviously mean only one thing–I was going to marry a French farmer, Pierre, live in the countryside of Provence and bear multiple children. Not too shabby, only time will tell!


Istanbul Fashion Week

In just 3 weeks the students at the Istanbul Moda Academy will be showcasing their hard work at the Istanbul Fashion Show. Dilek Ozturk, a student studying at the University explains how and she and her fellow students have been preparing their designs. One of the students is still completing the stitching on a black blazer that is part of her collection to be showcased. Gizem Kuguk said her inspiration for this collection was the theme of suffering. She researches images and channels the emotions she feels when viewing them into her clothing designs. She said she uses utilitarian shapes of the 40s to help express the idea of being in a cage. “With the idea of a cage, suffering is endless, you can’t escape it, there’s no cure,” said Kuguk. Located in the chic neighborhood of Nişantaşı, the Istanbul Moda Academy is housed in a 19th century mansion, that suffered a great fire in 1988, and has been housing the fashion academy since 2007.

Slam Poetry

Even if you travel halfway around the world, it seems you will always find a distant neighbor  just around the corner. While waiting in Taksim Square Wednesday night to meet a source,  we were approached by another American student from Detroit. His name is Kyle and he is a masters student at the Divinity School of Yale University. Studying religion and music, he also enjoys the spoken word, and gave us a preview of his slam poetry about male body image–a very marginalized subject in our society. It was powerful and refreshing to hear a male speak about this serious issue.



Turkish Delicacies

If you like a good strong cup of coffee in the morning for your daily caffeine dose, Turkish coffee doesn’t disappoint. Chock full of aromas and flavors, Turkish coffee is made from finely ground beans, that are boiled in an open pot known as a cezve, traditionally made out of copper. Sugar is added for desired sweetness, along with other optional spices such as cardamom. The mixture is brought to a boil, allowing for a thin layer of foam to develop. The coffee is sometimes put on reduced heat and brought to a boil two or three additional times to achieve a thick layer of foam–the success of a well-prepared cup of Turkish coffee. Finally the coffee is served steeping hot, poured into small, espresso like cups. There is a thin layer of sludgy grounds that remain at the bottom of the cup. If you’re superstitious you can pour your cup upside down over the saucer and read your fortune in the pattern of the grounds.

And there is no better way to enjoy Turkish coffee than with Turkish delight! This traditional sweet comes in a variety of flavors, typically made with chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts. The ingredients are bound together by a molasses gel, and then dusted with powdered sugar. While this is the traditional version, many variations of this delicious sweet exist featuring marshmallows, chocolate and coconut!