“Provoke Your Own Illumination…”

While walking towards Tunel Square on Istikal, Megan and I came across an art display in a building. There was no flashy sign outside, and the music wasn’t loud enough to forcefully pull us in. But whatever reason, we decided to go inside and take a look. Unknowingly (but not unwillingly), we stumbled upon “Revolution Revelation,” Mercan Dede and Carlito Delceggio’s (or the “Romantic Rebels”) art exhibit

The six floors (yes, six) capture the work Dede’s and Dalceggio’s have done over the past ten years. Among other things, were was a ten-foot Buddha, multiple “houses” that came alive when you put on 3-D glasses and photo gallery on the top floor that services as a chronicle of their process. Different inspirational messages are intwined with the artwork, such as “Provoke Your Own Illumination Set Yourself On Fire.”

What’s interesting to me is the strong tone the art carries. They aren’t criticizing one leader or government style in particular, but I guess you could classify the pieces as “anti-establishment.” But more accurately, as Megan put it later: “It was a message of religious unification and peace.” A message, I think, that every country needs.


Card games are a universal way to show off talent, learn a new skill or just blow off steam after a hard time at work. And the day we went to the Grand Bazaar, we saw just that: four men, however, instead of of poker or Go Fish, the game of choice for the men was ellibir, or “51.” Many also know it by the name “Okey,” or American Rummy.

Like everything, there are different ways to play the game; the Turkish version usually involves tiles, but that day, the men were doling out cards. Since there were four men, each started with seven cards, and drew more once the game was underway.

The general object of the game is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. You do that by getting rid of a card when you have a “meld.” Melds are created either by getting three or more cards of the same rank (a “set”), or getting three or more consecutive cards in the same suit (a “run”). Players can only form melds during their turn.

Okey players, when they play competitively, get penalty points for things such as 10 penalty points for a stalemate, or opponents receiving 40 penalty points when a player gets seven meld pairs.

Watching the men play definitely didn’t turn me into a ellibar star in 10 minutes. However, it did remind me that despite cultural differences, we’re not that different from one another. After all, we all need to find some way to pass the lunch hour somehow.

Antioch’s Religious Blend

Many people may know Antioch for having delicious desserts like Kunefe, or for being a city on the Syrian-Turkey border. However, Antioch may be best known as a “seat of Christianity.” Ten minutes away from the heart of the city is St. Peter  Grotto, where it’s reported the word “Christian” was first used.

One would assume that since Turkey is 99.8% Muslim, the history of Christianity isn’t honored in Turkey. But, in Antioch, there’s an Orthodox Church, a Protestant Church, a Catholic Church, various mosques and a synagogue… all within 15 minutes walking distance of each other.

Members of all of these places of worship work together on different projects for the community. “Christians, Armenians, Orthodox, Jews… it’s an example of collaboration, and we work together.” said Father Bertogli of the Antioch Catholic Church.

At the Orthodox Church there is even special seating to separate men and women, an accommodation for Muslims who may come to their church, according to Razik Effim, administrator for the church.

“All the religions are in a friendship”, Effim said.

A site that really captures the interfaith feeling of Antioch is Sister Barbara Kallasgh’s house. The Catholic nun says every Monday through Friday, at 6:30 p.m., people from all spiritual walks of life come together to sing songs from different religions and cultures.

LIving in a city near the Turkey-Syria border where they can mix with refugees escaping violence in their homeland “It becomes more important for this city to spread this message of peace,” said Kallasgh.

She believes that music is the best way to convey this message.

“Music is something coming from the heart,” said Kallasgh. “It’s more deep, more rooted than words. Music is something we really can feel together. We don’t struggle with music. There are no borders in music.”

Luis Moreno, a local painter, artist, and volunteer for the services, said that Sister Barbara’s is less of a church, and more of a meeting point. Pilgrims, or those visiting holy sites in the city, can “come and go” as they please, and the atmosphere is neutral.

“People can meet, said Moreno, “sing without problems, and pray together for peace.”

Moreno came to Sister Barbara’s from Syria, where, as a Syrian Christian, he did not converse with others of different faiths.

“I wanted to experience something I could not experience in Syria,” he said, “like the dialogue with Jews and Christians, for example.”

And that, according to Effim, is the whole purpose of the city.

“This is one of the best examples in the world of all the cultures,” said Effim,” and there is no place like the city.”

Tolu Taiwo: On Display

During this trip I’ve been so preoccupied with finding Africans– and so thrilled when I make a connection with them– that I haven’t really thought about how I come across to Turkish people. The African population, after all, while existent, isn’t that big. In Istanbul, there hasn’t been much of a problem. However, Antioch is a different story.

One woman pointed to me, then to her arms and face, and then at my skin in amazement, as if she couldn’t believe that one human could be so dark. One little boy on the street stopped to stare at me for literally two minutes. I tried to engage in a conversation about his bike with him, but he wasn’t having it.

Picture by Caroline Pahl

A local art store owner, though, reassured me that the people’s reaction was not out of spite. “They are not racist,” he said, “but many of them rarely see someone of your color.”

Strange. But fair. No one is disrespectful of me, and no one has denied me anything. Instead of just feeling uncomfortable myself, I need to put myself in their shoes: If I saw someone different from me for the first time, I’d give them a glance, too.

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.

Platform for Global Challenges

Besides hosting prominent journalist professor Ahmet Sik, Istanbul Bilgi Universitesi at Santral is home to “Platform for Global Challenges,” a think-tank that works to tackle global and regional problems. This non-governmental organization informs the public by posting reports and articles in publications and on their website. Platform for Global Challenges also brings a keynote speaker to the campus every year, such as Tony Blair or Bill Clinton.

Platform for Global Challenges, Santral office. Only six months old, it's stationed in the heart of the campus, sharing a bright, one-story building with other academic units.

Idris Kardas, the General Coordinator, notes the benefit of integrating the organization into a higher education climate.”When we work with the University,” said Kardas, “we can work with academics more easily. Because we’re a new platform, we can use the University name, since all people know the University name.”

One of Us

Since my topic deals with West Africans in Turkey, I’ve been activity seeking them out everywhere: looking for Africans in İstiklâl, stopping every dark-skinned male at the Grand Bazaar, chatting with random Kenyans and Libyans in Taksim. However, a couple of days I go, I realized they were also stopping me, and asking me if I was African.

This probably has to do with the fact that there aren’t too many Africans in Turkey. In fact, the only numbers indicating how many non-refugee, legal Africans reside here is the official Turkish census. The only two African countries listed are Libya at 1,239 people, and Egypt at 445. Even assuming that the “Other” 4823 migrants are all Africans, that still only leaves 6,507 census-documented African residents in Turkey– out of a population of 60,000,000 (as of the 2010 census).

Now, the numbers seem a bit low, and I’m still trying to investigate further. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, to learn that the count is less than 5%– after all, the rest of the people, after Turkish and Kurdish citizens, make up a little less than 10% of the population. Luckily, there is upside to the phenomenon: it’s wonderful to share a bond with people that have similar backgrounds as you.


Jobs Abroad: Guides

One necessity every journalist abroad– and every group abroad– should have is a knowledgeable tour guide. We are lucky to have Ibrahim, who has done everything from bringing us breakfast in the morning to providing names for contacts. The U of I Business Honors group that is also here have Okhan, a professional tour guide who has taken in high-class clients such as Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie.

I had a quick Q&A session with him over dinner, and we were able to have a quick chat about his job.

Q: Can you describe what your job entails?

A: I work for the Turkish ministry and as a private tour guide. Guide agencies have my record, and they call me when they have groups all over the world.

Q: How did you jump into this line of work?

A: I started 3 years ago, after I graduated from University. It actually wasn’t my subject of study– I studied International Relations. The economic situation made me go in this direction.

Q: You’ve been a guide for people like Hillary Clinton. Can you tell me about those experiences?

A: There was nothing special. I got my program from the ministry, and I did it. When Hillary Clinton came, I actually was a guide for six different countries– the United States, Germany, Japan, Rwanda, Poland, and South America. I do like private groups, though, like [the U of I Honors Business group], because they’re more relaxed.

Q: What do you love most about your job?

A: With all jobs, if you’re relaxed, and if you’re not panicked, you can do. For me, the city is very beautiful, and it is better than working in one place. It is an easy job.

Eastern Turkish Breakfast and Beyoglu Snacks

(A little late, but today was memorable in terms of cuisine.)

For our first breakfast, we ate van kahevlti — a type of Kurdish, or Eastern Turkey, culinary style. Among the more familiar olives and orange juices was cucumber yogurt, rose jam and apricot juice, along with various breads and Turkish cheeses.

Around 10 a.m., we went down Istiklal, a main street and the heart of Beyoglu, and saw multiple food vendors and restaurants. But food that was literally on every corner was the kestane kebap that street vendors sold in little red and white carts. The roasted Turkish chestnuts, which are harvested in the fall and are sold throughout the year, are a common snack around town. If you want to see the chestnuts (and learn the pronunciation), click below for more.

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Packing analysis

As I’m double- and triple-checking everything I’ve crammed into my suitcase and carry-on, I’ve noticed a couple of pieces that reflect the Turkish culture and weather. These items are not too noticeable, but they’ll keep me from looking like a disrespectful and soaping-wet fool.

Skirts: I’ve packed a couple, not only because I’m going through a skirt phase, but also to cover myself up when we visit places of worship, and just to stay conservative in certain areas of town.

Head scarves: To further respect the culture when we go to mosques, I’ve brought along head scarves. Luckily, these weren’t too hard to find: my mom and I use them all the time to wrap our hair up at night.

Umbrella: It’s going to be raining for a significant amount of the days we’ll be in Istanbul, so a good umbrella is a must. I’ve also wedged in some Nike sandals. When it’s pouring, I can slip those durable babies on; then, when I get where I need to go, I can put on nicer slippers. (Note: extra sandals are also great for when you visit houses and need to take your shoes off.)

Water bottle: Make no mistake– it’s may rain, but it’s also going to be in the 70s many of the days. Plus, our house is on a hill, and I’m all about staying hydrated.

Apart from that, there are the general key things that travelers must bring (adapters, soap, visa, etc). Also, see Megan’s blog post on the journalism equipment we’re bringing.