We left Istanbul the day prior and motored all night and into the first half of the following day. We pulled into the port of Kusadasi, Turkey around noon on Wednesday. Kusadasi is less than 900 kilometers (not even 600 miles) from Benghazi, Libya, the site of the attack on an American diplomatic mission exactly one year prior. It is also just about 1,500 kilometers (approximately 900 miles) from Damascus, the capital city of Syria, where civil war brings daily images of death and destruction that most Americans can’t even begin to imagine.
I was worried.
I was on high alert.
I was situationally aware.
We were American tourists in Turkey on September 11th.
I had promised Sheepdog that I would always stay close to Kid A during our travels, but most especially on this day. Most Americans over the age of twenty-five are able to tell you in detail where they were and what they were doing that clear, fall morning when the planes deliberately crashed on our American soil. Even twelve years later, I can still remember those feelings of anxiety and fear and grief and uncertainty.
As a group, we decided to disembark the ship, go into the port, but not travel too far into town. I was adamant that we have some sort of escape plan (as lame as it was to “escape” onto a cruise ship… it was the best I could do under the circumstances). That meant no tour of Ephesus, the ancient Greek, and later Roman, city famed for the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which was destroyed by Goths in the 3rd Century AD), as well as the still-standing Odeum, the Celsus Library, the Temple of Hadran, and the Great Theater. It also meant no visit to the House of the Virgin Mary, which is widely recognized as the final resting place of St. Mary, Mother of God. So what was left for us to see and do in Kusadasi, you ask? Take a wild guess.
My dad and I carefully watched my daughter, mom, and sisters as they moved from shop to shop throughout the winding district. Shopping, as per usual, was on the docket today, especially once someone heard a rumor that shopping in this port rivaled and even surpassed that in the Grand Bazaar. At least here I didn’t totally hate it, but only because the sales people in Kusadasi were less intimidating and pushy. They were even kind of funny.
We made it through the shopping district in under two hours. And a wonderful thing began to happen during that time… I was actually able to relax a little and enjoy the people of Turkey.
Don’t get me wrong. I was still very situationally aware and always had eyes on the Energizer Bunny Shopping Team as well as others around us, but I also interacted with many of the vendors while my dad and I waited outside of the stores. Most, if not all, of them were kind and interesting and really enjoyed practicing their English (which can be a fantastic source of entertainment). We asked questions of each other and I learned many things that I did not already know. It was a wonderfully surprising experience for me.
When there was a lull in the procurement of souvenirs, we decided to sit down at a cafe for a bit to enjoy some wi-fi and Turkish beer. It was a gorgeous day… sunny and in the high 70’s/ low 80’s. We were checking in with family and friends at home, talking to one another and other people around us, and generally having a very nice afternoon. We enjoyed it so much that we ordered another round.
It was getting later in the afternoon. Soon it was time for the Muslims’ salat, specifically the Ahr (afternoon prayers). We had learned a little bit about the five daily Islamic prayer times from our tour guide on Tuesday in Istanbul. There was a mosque beyond the area where we were sitting that broadcast what I presume was the salat into the marketplace.
Imagine being an American tourist sitting at an outdoor cafe with your family on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, drinking an Efes Pilsener, and enjoying the company of those around you, all while listening to Islamic prayers playing live over a loudspeaker. I have never had a more surreal experience in my life.
I understand that we were in a very insulated town that makes its income mostly from tourist revenue, so we were as safe as we were going to be in that part of the world. Nevertheless, what a pleasant surprise on this day in Kusadasi, Turkey.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…