Being a history buff — and lover of anything vintage-looking — a visit at historical places particularly the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople in Istanbul was something that kept me consoled from missing a lot of family gatherings and out of town trips (and snorkeling!) this month when cousins came home.
At Blue Mosque my colleagues went to the loo and asked me to just meet them near the gate so I was left to myself. Captivated by the maginificent beauty of the architecture — considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period — I lose touch of the present as I delve into the soul of the place. I was brought back to reality by a teenage girl. She doesn’t speak English but her hand gestures seem like she’s asking me to take a photo of them. I smiled and said sure. She looked very excited as she rummage inside her bag for her camera while asking me where I’m from. I said the Philippines, extended my hand to get hold of her camera only to realize that she wants to have a photo with me. I cannot grapple any sense out of the fuss but I gladly granted her request. (Pose, awkward smile, click)
I continued roaming around only to find another group of girls asking me the same thing! Okay, that was the second. I started to wonder why but still consented their whim.
There were too many people at the mosque and getting a good shot was pretty hard. I was occupied with finding the right angle when another group of girls approached me… again? Could it be that they have mistaken me for someone known in their place? But that doesn’t make sense, not with me. I felt it’s time to leave. I went to the meeting place but couldn’t find my colleagues. A group of teenage boys came and asked me for, well, a photo with them. I said no. I started to panic. Feeling pretty was never an option especially in a place stormed by foreigners. All I could think of where horrible possibilities.
What are they gonna do with those photos? There was an ongoing protest around the area. Could it be that I look like someone suspicious or an enemy with my costume all in black (remembering the time when wearing red in Thailand is…) except for my colored scarf? But why do they look beguiled? Will I die in this place? Scenes out of my paranoia caught me literally trembling with fear.
An old man was standing behind me. I took the risk and asked him why those people wanted to take a photo with me (rather know why before I die eh). Just when he was about to answer another group of men approached us, guess you can tell why. Sensing my discomfort, he shooed them away. Then he said, “maybe it is because you are pretty and your dress is more contemporary. If you are feeling suspicious, just tell them no.” It dawned on me that I might have looked too scared that he thought I was being suspicious of his compatriots. That was rather embarrassing.
My Turkish sim no longer has credit and I don’t know how to request for an emergency call. My Philippine roaming sim doesn’t have credit too (lesson learned, always have your roaming loaded when travelling abroad) and my Thai sim is just useless. I started searching for someone who could speak English and lend me a mobile so I could call my colleagues.
Three little girls — I’m guessing grade schoolers — came, said ‘Hi’ in a very sweet way and asked where I’m from. I said Thailand (change of address but not really, paranoia on). While the one who speaks little English tried to make a conversation, the other one took her camera and started snapping (should I just forget about the fear and started feeling like a celebrity then? Good try but not the kind of situation one can find humor with. Nice talking to myself). I asked them if I could use their phone to make a call. While trying to make them understand that I want to call someone, more teenage girls started to gather around us. Finally they understood and lend me the mobile. I turned my back on them as I made the call avoiding the… omg cameras! Very strange.
On the way back to the hotel I found an abandoned house filled with grasses and white flowers. I just loved the sight of it. I sat on the bench in front still bemused by the incident at the mosque. I calmed myself down by taking pictures. Then the words of the old man flashed back, “maybe it is because your dress is more contemporary”. I dress very simply and if they still see me that way, then I can’t help but feel deep sadness. Surely, that simple act stems from a more profound reasons. I silently wished that it’s not because they see things in me that were deprived of them. Many things crossed my mind, some of them the worst plight experienced by other women.
While relaying the story to my friends earlier, I remembered an article I read in the newspaper on the plane on our way to Istanbul. I know very little about the place and never had time to do some readings so I thought the newspaper will give me a glimpse. The news was about a 23-year old woman who killed her husband as a self-defense after he beat her just because she look at a naked man from a movie they’re both watching!
I was reminded of the book, A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini which is a story of two Afghan women. It is very sad that so many women do not enjoy the kind of freedom that we are having in different aspects particularly in making choices on how to run their own lives. The issues they face are too many to mention, some too complicated to digest.
I never thought I would ever encounter such a strange experience. But I’m thankful for it made me appreciate the kind of womanhood I’m blessed with. Many women don’t realize the kind of power they possess to influence the society and make a positive change. Hopefully women in a free society will be able to extend their hands to those women binded by men’s power and not just be too engulfed with fashion and make ups.