Monday, July 8, 2013

NEH Primary Source Ottoman Empire Summer Institute

This summer, I am one of 30 teachers selected from over 200 applicants nationwide to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on the Ottoman Empire. I've been reading and preparing, buying new travel gear and a million other little things for months now, but day before yesterday, I finally got on the plane and the reality of it started to sink in.

I've never been to Turkey before. I've never been in this part of the world at all. I don't even know much about it. As I started to look at the specifications for the course, I began to think how ridiculous it was that this major power that shaped the rest of the world if for no other reason than that it was reacting to the Ottomans had just sort of faded away. It was a gap in my knowledge that I needed to correct.

The flight getting here was brutal. My route took me through Atlanta (because I cannot fly unless ATL is involved), but from there it got sticky. I had to run through ATL because my flight out of Jackson ran a little late, and then came the long jump to Paris. That flight was okay because that miracle of air travel, the empty seat next to me, occurred. I could throw my junk in the seat, stretch out a little, and it was good.

When I got to Paris, all the good started evaporating. It was a tiny plane. I was jammed in behind some tiny child whose father told her to lean her seat all the way back so she could rest even though I actually cried out when she did so. The food was some sort of scary chicken lump. The flight went on and on to the point that I thought I was going to scream.

When I finally arrived, I was tired and jet lagged beyond comprehension. I staggered through the evening, met some of the other trip members, ate pancakes of spinach and mushroom in a restaurant in which we set on the floor on rugs. It was great, but I was so weary that all I could think of was a shower and a bed.

That's when I heard it for the first time. I had just dragged myself out of the shower when a noise I thought at first was some kind of concert outside caught my attention. I walked to the windows, looked, and listened. The sound filled the streets, echoing down the narrow spaces between the buildings. It was lovely.

Then it hit me. What I was hearing was the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. I've never before been anywhere to hear it. It starts at the mosque with the highest prestige, the Sultanahmet. Then the next highest ranking muezzin picks up and their words for a song that swoops and soars over the entire city. Even though it was totally beyond my background and my understanding, the beauty of it raised gooseflesh as I listened. 

I've heard it a couple of times since then, and each time, it lifts something in my heart. All most all the jet lag is gone now, and tomorrow, I'll be ready for an active day. There will be more to tell, but for now, it's time to rest a little more and ready myself for the next new unexpected wonder.

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