This blog won’t have any pictures taken by me. Not because I couldn’t take them. But because I didn’t want to take them. I wanted to witness what I was seeing through my own eyes, not through the lens of a camera. I also wanted to respect what was happening.
I was on an overnight bus ride from Cappadocia, Turkey to Istanbul. At a bus station, I do not know exactly where, I saw this from the window of the bus…
Friday, May 21, 2004
I boarded another one of those very fancy, luxury Mercedes buses in Cappadocia for my all-night journey to Istanbul. For the first hour of the ride, not many people were on the bus. But then we pulled into a bus station, where the bus was soon to become more crowded. It was here where I experienced something amazing, something I had never seen before, and that perhaps many tourists do not see.
When we pulled into the bus station I immediately noticed a huge crowd of people. They were everywhere in the parking lot of the station, completely surrounding all the other buses that were there at that moment. My first reaction to this gathering was that since it was Friday night, I figured that perhaps a lot of locals were just traveling for the weekend. I was wrong.
After further observation, I noticed that this huge crowd not just one large gathering of some sort, but it was actually separated into a collection of smaller groups.
After watching each group, I realized that everyone in each group was surrounding and hugging and kissing one particular person. I began to hear some drumming music, and even saw people dancing. And surprisingly, that one particular person in each group, who was being hugged and kissed, was also being tossed up in the air. I figured that something was being celebrated.
However, in addition to all these acts of merriment, tears were also being shed by many, men and women alike. A strong outpouring of emotion. It seemed as if there was happiness and sorrow at the same time.
I had found out what this was all about. It is a requirement that all men in Turkey from 20 to 41 years of age are to join the military. They are to serve for 6, 12, or 15 months, depending on their level of education. This is something that every Turkish man must do, with a few exceptions.
And once a month, communities send off these men to the military. So what I was seeing, this mix of joy and sadness, was this month’s send off of the nation’s sons, brothers, nephews, friends.
It was just amazing to see this that I got caught up in the emotion, and began to dance, cheer, and cry in my bus seat. All these feelings being expressed in a bus station of all places. I felt this sense of pride that these citizens must have for their country. And I felt how much love the people have for each other, for their sons, brothers, nephews, friends.
It was breathtaking to see such a gathering of people in their local style of dress as well, especially the women. Heads covered with a variety of colorful headscarves. Long vibrant dresses, blouses, and pantaloons adorned with beautiful patterns. Yes, I would have liked to take photos of this, but I chose not to.
Here is how I was personally affected by all this. The bus I was on was to be full with these men that were so emotionally being sent off to join the military. I knew that it is generally not the custom for a man and a woman, unless married, to sit next to each other on a bus in Turkey. Let alone a Turkish man and a non-Turkish woman, me.
There happened to be one other non-Turkish person on this bus, a gentleman from London. Out of respect of the Turkish, I asked the Londoner if he would sit by me, and explained why. He agreed.
The Londoner and I were the only foreigners on this bus during this occasion. I felt very honored and special to share in this, even just through observation, and even though I was not invited. Most people on the bus didn’t really know or care that I was there. I was just there, and to me, that was wonderful!
And just when I thought I witnessed the only special event of the evening, one final incredible thing happened. I looked further outside the window of the bus and saw in the sky beyond, the moon with a star. It amazingly looked like the Turkish flag. The moon was in a crescent shape, and even though the star I saw was on the outside of the crescent moon, rather than the inside, it was a great symbolic closure to this patriotic day at a bus station in Turkey.
Flag of Turkey and “Moonstar” photo from Wikipedia.