My lungs fill to the brim with a sort of thick, spice-ridden air which is somehow a varied breed of oxygen than the States offer. My senses overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of busy city life, I feel as though the air has thickened with the ever-growing population; it’s dense as I breathe it in and out. Enamored by the splendor of a cinnamon-orange sunset cast over the soaring spires of turquoise and white marble adjacent to the Blue Mosque, I stand quietly wishing to seal to my memory every dimension of this place—Istanbul, Turkey.
All around me, people of Muslim faith tread their own way—some to pick up their weekly fruits and spices at the Grand Bazaar, others to make their way home from work, and others to walk swiftly to the Blue Mosque’s open doors to pray. Even more prominent than the people walking away from me, are the people walking in my shadow, leeching to my side, and predicting my next move before I make it. These are the street vendors selling their over-priced trinkets to duped travelers. With one quick transaction of cash for a mere toy top, I label myself another duped tourist enjoying the small memory. I look into the vendor’s eyes, the chocolate colored, almond shaped eyes on the brown freckled face of a young boy who just barely reaches my waistline, and I realize that my two American dollars have imprinted me into a portion of his life. Perhaps it fed him for the evening, or gave him the extra money for a special toy for himself, or perhaps he came from a wealthy family and only pretends to be poor so he can make fun of us tourists. Whatever the case, my two dollars now go with the boy; a piece of my life goes with him as well. We are connected.
After exchanging a mutual grin with the young street vendor, I pivot to face the Blue Mosque, an ancient place of worship for Muslims. Bellowing in muffled, grainy tones from the shining spires, an exotic melody of a magnified Muslim man sings out the call to prayer. I, of course, cannot make out the words as he is singing in Turkish, but I am both aggravated by the nuisance to my ears as well as inspired by the sometimes beautiful notes and other times not so pleasing notes the man roars out. That style of singing is not common or popular in America so my ears have not been trained to enjoy such sounds.
An influx of old men bearded in white and gray migrate my direction all with the intention of proceeding past me to the Mosque. I follow them into the Mosque and watch quietly and respectfully as they bow toward Mecca. Their prayer is like a choreographed dance—beginning in a face down kneeling position, moving into a rise to the knees, preceded by a fully standing position…or was it the other way around?
The Mosque hunches itself into a large dome reaching high into the sky set in between two rows of three tall spires stretching even further up into the sheets of white clouds. Most mosques have only one, two, or perhaps four spires, while the Blue Mosque exceeds them all with its six; only one other mosque in the world has more spires than the Blue Mosque—Haram Mosque in Mecca. 20,000 ceramic tiles of turquoise and white coat the inside walls and dome from head to toe of the dome. Some sparkle with designs of swirling wind and others painted with one solid color glistening from the flickering candle light of the thousands of candles held up by rustic wooden chandeliers. Some 260 stained glass windows adorn the inside domes and add light.
A small wooden table near the entrance of the mosque displays brightly colored pamphlets in various languages with information. The Mosque, a magnificent feat of religious fervor and aesthetics, made its birth from the mind of Sultan Ahmed I. He desired it to take attention away from the Christian place of worship in Istanbul called the Hagia Sophia. I read on while a strong murmur of humming and sunken cries in prayer fill my ears. The sounds of devote Muslims bounce off the ceiling of the high domes and resonate throughout.
The chipped ceramic tiles and the weathered carpets within whisper long groans of the many long days of use the mosque has seen. Several hundred tourists remove their shoes at the mouth of the mosque everyday to revel in its vast domes glimmering with the light from the heavens. I watch as their eyes widen from sheer shock of the blue light flowing like a waterfall over every slope of the walls. Two large doors open and a gust of wind and light rush in brushing up the loose hairs on my neck and tickling my nose with the scents of decadent pistachio Turkish delights and freshly ground cumin.
One third of the worship area holds the women while the larger portion holds the men. The female worshipers, fewer in number, all belong to the middle-aged group of mothers, while the men remain highly diverse in age and stature. The younger men seem to be more easily distracted by the incoming tourists gawking while one particular older man seems completely in another world. I watch his movements carefully as they become more and more fluid and precise; the muscles in his face constrict and relax and I imagine the trance he must be in to feel such emotion and passion from a set of movements. His skin reminds me of a brown alligator’s scales, rough and distinctly dehydrated. He is abnormally tall and lengthy compared to the other men around him and towers over the window directing them to Mecca even. When his facial muscles tense I think him a very rough and tumble man but for one split second he opens his eyes and the light from the blue stained glass windows flow down to meet him. His eyes are soft and kind; he has a young, humble spirit of love and peace. He never looks directly at me but it is as if he is smiling at me through his eyes. Despite the cool wind brushing my naked arms I feel a warmth from the beautiful cascading light brushing my hair and face with delight.
Outside I hear the raised voices of many dozens of street vendors trying to bring in the last few straggling tourists toward the Grand Bazaar. I eagerly glance at my watch and see that I only have one more hour before it closes and I must buy my evening tea and some Turkish delights to enjoy. I make my way out the crowded doors full of people and slip my tennis shoes on not bothering to untie them for sake of losing time. Turning back once more to say farewell to the beautiful mosque and its cascading lights bathing the old Turkish man, I feel it whisper to me softly through the wind, goodbye.