Hearty Vegan Finds in Istanbul

Istanbul

One of our family travel hacks is to manage our meal consumption. We pick a hotel that includes breakfast or has a kitchenette and eat out for a late lunch/early dinner. We usually carry a box of soy milk, peanuts, and dates to round out the rest. This plan worked exceptionally well for our recent trip to Istanbul where there were an abundance of vegan options to try out. I did my research beforehand because salads and hummus alone can’t sate our appetites and we were all satisfied with what we found.

Community Kitchen

Community Kitchen in Beyoğlu

Not far from the Şişhane Metro Station or the Tünel Trolley Stop, you’ll find this venue down a steep cobble-street road that feels more like home than a restaurant.  Oya is the humble owner who serves veganized traditional Turkish dishes like iskender, köfte, and lahmacun.  She also makes cold meze platters, pizzas with homemade cheese, and gluten-free desserts.  We were most impressed by the seitan she prepares from wheat and green lentils and can’t wait to order some for home delivery!

Minda

Minda Mantı & Ev Yemekleri near Taksim Square

Discovering this place was such a relief.  It was a cold, snowy night and our day’s meal was a little lighter than we anticipated.  For a night cap, we snuck into Minda after seeing fasulye or white beans on their open buffet.  We confirmed that their bulgur pilau, beans, and vegetable dishes were all etsiz or meat-free and dug in.  As the restaurant name indicates, their food is really good traditional homecooking and we couldn’t agree more.

Bi Nevi

Bi Nevi Deli (now in Etiler)

This Sunday brunch was an indulgence but so worth it.  Tempeh bacon, tofu scramble, mashed avocadoes, seitan salami, artisinal nut cheeses, seitan salami, and chia pudding.  Need we say more?  Other than delighting our taste buds thoroughly, the meal inspired me to research where they found these foods in Turkey and how to get them in my kitchen.

Parsifal

Parsifal near Taksim Square

Opened since 1996, Parsifal is staple in the veggie scene of Istanbul.  Their menu is tried and true with a variety of veggie burgers, stuffed chard leaves, and vegetable side dishes.  Save space for their vegan brownie, which is more like chocolate cake, but still a sweet end to a nice meal.

Vegan Dukkan

Vegan Dükkan near Taksim Square

Though not a restaurant, this vegan shop has been going strong for more than eight years and is well-stocked with treats, non-dairy milks, and whatever you might need to do your own cooking.  The owner, a die-hard vegan, is hospitable and warm.  We order from this shop for home delivery regularly.

If you know of any other vegan-friendly eateries, please add them to the comments.  Thanks!

 

Review: Vegisso in Ankara

Vegisso Living Room

After a particularly taxing workweek for Urbndervish, we went out on the town for a family date. Having already frequented one of Ankara’s two vegan restaurants, it was about time to visit the second. Little did we know that the term “restaurant” might have been a bit misleading. Tucked into one of downtown Ankara’s neighborhoods, we made our way to a modest basement apartment. No sign or awning indicated its location, so we relied on the address and phone number provided by Happy Cow. After walking up and down a common residential street, we finally found the home known as Vegisso.

Greeted warmly by a young brother and sister, our coats were taken and we were ushered to a long dining table where two diners were already seated. We sat beside them and perused the menu. Somewhat distracted by the artwork behind us and the cozy living room in front of us, we decided on veggie burgers, Izmir kofte meatball, and a seitan sandwich. Worried that our appetites overwhelmed the kitchen staff of one, we waited patiently for our dishes to arrive. We were encouraged when the other diners received their table settings, a bread basket, and appetizing plates of food. Careful not to stare, I couldn’t help but wonder what they ordered since their Turkish menu offered no translation. Nonetheless, the sister that welcomed us spoke enough English to make some recommendations and tell us which dishes were not available.

Vegisso Living Room

Apparently a hang-out spot for mostly college students, the business tide of Vegisso ebbs and flows with the semesters. A singular vegan saw a need and opened his home to become a haven for young vegan diners looking for a welcoming place to hang out and eat up. The décor of his space is artsy with a unique vintage style and in true college fashion, an acoustic guitar sitting in the corner. I became nostalgic for my own college days, spending late nights on secondhand furniture while my roommates strummed their guitars after cooking meals together. The same relaxed vibe is felt at Vegisso without being claustrophobic or intrusive.

Kofte Platter

The professional presentation of our food was a telltale sign that our chef wants to be taken seriously. Our fresh, crisp salads were dressed lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of black cumin and sesame seeds. The bulgur pilau was formed in a small mold and our sandwiches were wrapped partially in paper for easy handling.

Veggie Burger

The veggie burger had the reminiscent taste of falafel, one of the menu’s offerings, and paired well with crisp cucumbers, sour pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and a homemade creamy sauce.  The French fries that came with the sandwiches were hot and crisp. We enjoyed each dish so much that we ordered a second round half-way through finishing the first.

Seitan Sandwich

As is our usual dining habit, we just drank water before our meal and enjoyed both a lunch and dinner portion’s worth of a meal. I was anxious to try their chocolate brownie but none was available on the day of our visit.

Our host and chef, Yesin, chatted with us after our meal. As a green, three-year vegan he has a refreshing zeal about his diet. His business hours are long, but his customers seem more like friends than clients. They cozily filled the space around us and entertained Moulay while we ate. Yesin’s vision is to one day open a restaurant but in true DIY fashion, he’s starting with what he has, right where he is.

Moulay and Cat

Why We Live Abroad

Landscaping

It’s a sunny day in Ankara. After a week of peering through a cold cloud of fog from our apartment window, the frosted trees now glisten in the sunshine. Our home is abundantly warm and the neighborhood serene. With the exception of weekends and holidays, both national and Islamic, Urbndervish walks ten minutes to his office and prepares for class. His students, mostly Turkish, respect him and render him the regard due of an educator. His employer compensates him well based on his merit and experience, not race or gender. One income alone suffices our family here, so I’m available to stay home with Lil’ Z and Moulay.

Puzzled

When we do venture out to the store or around town, we usually see only a handful of other people of color, but it isn’t a big deal. We are not negatively harassed or profiled because of race or ethnicity. It is correctly assumed, however, that we are not Turkish, but we are still embraced warmly and helped hospitably. Our children are kissed, hugged, stroked, and given candies like all other children here. Younger children call my daughter abla, which means “big sister”, as they would call any other older girl. People find Moulay’s curly locks and Lil’ Z’s kinky hair curious, but the curiosity is sincere, not fetishism or disgust.

At the mall

I’m not an expert at cultural analysis or the politics of migration, but what I do know very well is the feeling of being welcomed and I experience it regularly outside of the borders of my homeland. Some people find this assertion absurd and implicitly or explicitly ask us the recurring question “Why?!?” We field those questions as they arise in personal conversations, but after reading this article about the higher quality of life that people of color experience in Norway, we thought it time to share our reasons for migrating too.

Mosque atop supermarket

Practice of Faith

So, if it’s not obvious by now, we’re a Muslim family—a brown one, at that. We’re not ethnically Muslim (well, if we knew our pre-slavery history, we very well could be) but rather people of African descent who embraced Islam as our way of life as adults. Our respective decisions were very personal and significant in our lives, hence practicing our faith—not just believing in it—is important to us. Having mosques and prayer spaces abundantly accessible, as well as restrictions on alcohol, drug consumption, and other social ills that we disapprove of makes our lives easier. We are not criminalized or victimized because of our faith, nor do we have to trip over ourselves to disarm the prejudice of others or absolve ourselves from atrocities that we neither committed nor condoned.

City Logo

Safety

In all of the countries we’ve lived in, the incidence of gun violence, mass shootings, and violent crimes in general is negligible. Similarly, crimes that target children, Muslims, or people of color are uncommon in these places too. Going out at night is not a cause of fear or anxiety.  However, during our last extended stay in the United States, the very real possibility of being harassed or harmed because of race and religion became a more vivid reality. If Urbndervish was late returning home from the mosque or the supermarket, the fear that he might have been stopped or harassed unjustly be a police officer was a legitimate possibility. Also, the incidence of hate crimes against Muslim women has become more prevalent as well. Wanton racial and religious profiling without abandon persists and keeps hitting uncomfortably closer to home.

Che

Higher Quality of Life

As an English instructor, Urbndervish has been able to provide a better life for us overseas than he would have in the United States. Most of his positions in the last five years have provided our housing, airfare, and health insurance. Additionally, his single income suffices to not only make ends meet but provide us with an enjoyable quality of life where we actually have time to spend together, a budget to travel together, and savings instead of debts to put aside for the future. Saving more than we spend on a monthly basis was impossible for us even when we were both working professionals in the United States. The documentary Professors in Poverty  addresses how American educators struggle to make fair wages in greater detail.

Juice Bars

Global citizenship

The added benefit to our life abroad is the enrichment that comes from seeing just how vast the world is and feeling empowered to know that we have a rightful place in it. Granted, we are very, very blessed and privileged to have degrees, diplomas, and passports that are respected in most parts of the world. We have an opportunity to leave a land that seems to have left us a long ago. Yes, there is work to do be done as agents of change and cultural transformers, but this is true anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. Where one finds their purpose and peace is a very personal matter. We know and have read of other families of color who found home in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ghana or the Netherlands. Whether permanently or temporarily, travel and migration teaches us and our children about other cultures, countries and ways of life firsthand. Similarly, it communicates that the planet is our home and we need not be held hostage to any one corner of it.

Park

More Quality Time with Family

A very lucrative trade-off for us is that even though we live further away from our extended family, we actually have more uninterrupted time to spend with them during our summer holidays. While living in the United States, we juggled two weeks of vacation and a handful of national and religious holidays to split between our scattered families. Since living abroad, we’ve had five to eight weeks of annual leave every summer, so we can enjoy uninterrupted days and weeks with our family. Yes, we miss some of the large family gatherings, but we do our best to compensate by making our time together rich in substance and not just cultural symbolism. We also have weekly video chats and phone calls with our folks.

Robot Girl

Conclusion

For the last seven years, our choice to live abroad has not been about fleeing or running based on fear, but rather doing what the human race has done for millennia—migrate. Whether it’s across town or across a continent, every individual has the God-given right to move freely to where they feel best supported in the pursuit of their ambitions and quality of life. Of course, there are legitimate financial and political challenges that hinder migration, so we don’t take this opportunity lightly. Nor are we so committed to any nation that we would stay in spite of it no longer serving our interests. We are global citizens, living our lives, seeing the world and exploring to find a place where our souls fit best.

Kocatepe Mosque

…they will be asked by the angels: “What (state) were you in?” They will answer: “We were oppressed in the land.” And the angels will say: “Was not God’s earth large enough for you to migrate?”  -Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 97

Tips for Your Family Residency Permit (Aile Ikamet)

Kocatepe Mosque

After three months in Ankara, we are officially residents. Urbndervish entered the country on a work visa which had to be converted to a work permit/residency permit by his employer upon arrival. The children and I entered on 90-day tourist visas which expired at the beginning of this month. In the past, employers would also process family residency permits but not anymore. New government regulations require individuals to apply on their own through their e-ikamet website. It was a bit daunting but here are a few points of advice if you need to do the same.

Make your appointment

To make an appointment, you have to start your application online. You will be asked for the following:

-passport information

-the passport information of your sponsor (the working family member)

-your blood type

-a photo to be uploaded

-your complete mailing address (including the city, region, municipality, district, etc.)

-your permanent address

-your parents’ names

-your sponsor’s parents’ names

-your health insurance type (private, government-required, etc.)

-sponsor’s income

-your income and how it is obtained

I had difficulty finding our mailing address on the website, but the goal is to complete the online application to the best of your ability. You must have a confirmed appointment AND a printed (or saved), completed application. At this time, there is no way to save and resume working on your application.

Note:  The permit processing cost indicated at the end of your application might be waived depending on your sponsor’s career or employer.

Gather your documents

More than likely, you have a few weeks until your nearest appointment date, so you have time to gather the necessary paperwork to take with you. You’ll likely need the following for each applicant:

-for the spouse’s application: marriage certificate translated to Turkish by a certified translator

-for a child’s application: birth certificate translated to Turkish by a certified translator

-four photographs

-health insurance policy information for each applicant which MUST include this specific line of text: İşbu Poliçe 06.06.2014 Tarih ve 9 Sayılı ikamet İzni Taleplerinde Yaptırılacak Özel Sağlık sigortalarına İlişkin Genelge’de Belirlenen Asgari Teminat Yapısını kapsamaktadır

-original passport with a copy (front page and entry stamp)

-copy of your sponsor’s passport (front page and entry stamp)

-copy of your sponsor’s work permit/residency permit (both sides)

-housing document showing proof of residency

-sponsor’s payroll or bank account information

-a pink file folder (pembe dosya) which can be bought at a stationary shop

Pay the 55 TL permit document fee and submit the receipt with your application

For Ankara residents:  If you have a foreign ID number, you can pay this fee (ikamet tezkeresi defter bedeli) at İş Bankası. If you don’t have a foreign ID number, you can go here. We had to show our passports to pay this fee.

Show up for your appointment with all of your documents

In spite of your scheduled appointment, you’ll still be given a number and will have to wait until your number is called.  Because I had to show up with the children, I picked an afternoon appointment and waited one hour for my first appointment and two hours to re-submit my health insurance policy.

Just wait

Once everything is submitted and accepted, you’ll be given a printed document as a record of your application and the residency documents will be mailed to your address. If your address is wrong, like mine was, then expect a call from the post office asking you to pick up your residency document from your local post office.  Moulay’s was the first to arrive, just one week after turning the applications.  Lil’ Z and I are patiently waiting for ours.

Note:  This information is from my recollection of our application process.  For more thorough information about obtaining a family residency permit, visit this official site.

First Snow

Türkiye’ye hoş geldiniz!

Welcome to Turkey!

Review: Spicy Curry House in Ankara

Spicy Curry House

On a cool fall evening last month, we ventured out to try something new. Our taxi wove us through and around downtown Ankara to reach Gaziosmanpaşa or GOP. From a main road lined with high-end restaurants and boutiques, we couldn’t see our destination but another taxi driver directed us to turn the corner where we found Spicy Curry House.

The vibrant Indian décor warmed us instantly, and we were seated behind a young couple awaiting their meal. The windowsills were lined with potted plants and paintings adorned the walls. We sank into our cushioned booth and quickly scanned the vegetarian section of the menu which included a handful of vegetable curries and stewed legumes.

Pappadum

Worried that the portions would be small, we ordered generous helpings of chickpea curry, moong dal curried lentils, baigan bharta eggplant stew, and plain biryani rice. A very light and crisp pappadum wafer paired with tamarind sauce whet our appetites for the meal to come.

The spread

All of our dishes arrived to the table and we began to salivate.  Piping hot and freshly prepared, we started heaping spoons of each dish onto our plates.  I overlooked the parsley sprigs garnishing our food instead of cilantro but had to reorient myself when I tasted brown lentils mixed in with the yellow dal curry.  Undeterred, I hoped to savor flavors beyond the repertoire of my own cooking but each dish, though tasty in its own right, lacked the authentic taste of Indian cuisine. I know that it is quite common for ethnic foods to be toned down in spice to suit the local palate, but this was a bit like a reinvention of the cuisine. The exact same meal would’ve impressed me if it was served in someone’s home but for restaurant dining, I expected more.  It didn’t feel worth the cross-city trek that it took to reach the restaurant.  Nonetheless, the meal was satisfying and we looked forward to reheating our leftovers the next day.

Indian

With the dearth of Indian restaurants in Ankara, I believe that Spicy Curry House has an opportunity to remain unchallenged in the Turkish dining scene.  We didn’t meet the Algerian owner but the local manager is personable with an excellent command of English, so communicating our dietary needs was easy.  Maybe meat-eaters will leave with a different impression but our vegan palates noticeably missed the unique nuance of authentic Indian cuisine that we hope will eventually reach Ankara during our stay.

Fall Reflection + Quince Recipe

Fall Foliage

If one were to casually peek into our window, either literally or virtually, it would appear as if we are oblivious to the pain and suffering happening around the world. We consume the news in small doses and discuss some of it in code or late night conversations, consciously careful to protect this nest and the pure hearts of the littlest birds in it.

Smile

Like a diet, we restrict our intake of the harsh ugliness in the world and binge on the joyful beauty; not to delude ourselves but to avoid being subsumed by the weight of sorrow and despair which would rob our hearts of hope and our nights of sleep. We have never used this tiny bit of bandwidth and memory for political commentary or news reporting. Instead our commitment is to share and document beauty, light, and love and be healed by it, as we pray that it offers healing to others.

For you

Even in Ankara, we saw a major tragedy last month. We digested it, reflected on it, and prayed for the whole world of “us” afflicted by various crimes, tragedies, and injustices. But, for the sake of our souls and children, we move on. We continue to savor peace where we find it and express gratitude for what is. As unfair as our world may seem, we believe in an Ultimate Judge and an Eternal Justice, without neglecting our responsibility to affect change on a spiritual, communal, and social level where we are. As it has been said, “the two wings of the believer are hope and fear”. We are trying to chart our path through this temporal world with balance and would like to share some of our joy as of late with no disrespect or disregard to those who are still mourning.

Wild Apples

It has been years since we’ve experienced the fall. I almost forgot how much I enjoy this season. The earthy, warm colors; the cool, crisp weather; the feel of fuzzy textures and layers are all very comforting. Most days here have been sunny, so I can take Lil’ Z and Moulay out for walks or to the park in our quiet suburb. Some days, we pick wild apples behind our apartment building or buy seasonal delights like figs, mandarins, walnuts, pomegranates, and quinces from a local produce seller. Because of our limited Turkish, I actually bought quinces by error but tasting the pear lookalikes foreshadowed the pounds of them we would soon receive from a friend’s yard.

Quinces

The coarse, gritty texture of a quince is not as smooth as a pear and the taste not as sweet. I tolerated the first few but found them difficult to eat because of their starchy density. To consume the pounds in our fridge, I searched for recipes but most of them were for super-sweet jam or jellies. Eventually, I found this recipe and tweaked it be a lot simpler and with a lot less sugar. If you find yourself in a Mediterranean fall, give quinces a chance. Enjoy!

 

Stewed Quince with Dried Cranberries

Ingredients

8-10 quinces

1 tbsp. coconut oil

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

3 tsp. of vanilla powder

A pinch of salt

1 handful of dried cranberries

Cut Quinces

Directions

  1. Wash, peel, seed, and chop the quinces into small pieces
  2. Add quinces to a pot with enough water to cover half the depth of quinces
  3. Cook the quinces covered on a high flame
  4. Add all ingredients except for the dried cranberries to the pot and simmer once the water starts to boil
  5. When the quinces are soft and easy to mash, stir in cranberries, and turn off the flame.

Stewed Quinces over Muesli

Turkey Adventures: Weekend in Kastamonu

Kastamonu

One of the advantages of living in a country versus visiting it for a holiday is that you can slowly explore and absorb the land that you’re in. You don’t have to plan to see everything all at once and can gradually discover the culture, language, and sights without haste. As visitors, we would’ve overlooked a long bus ride trip to see not-as-popular parts of Turkey, but as residents, we took advantage of a group tour organized by Urbndervish’s employer and discovered a pleasant province in the Black Sea region.

Kastamonu

Day 1

Slipping into the rear of the charter bus just a minute before departure time, we readied ourselves for the journey ahead. What was advertised as a three-hour trip was actually a five-hour trek. Thankfully, the bus was not packed, so we spread ourselves out and took comfort in knowing that we had enough snacks, activities, books, and diapers to reach our destination.

Soup

Venturing north of Ankara, we watched urban landscapes disappear and reappear and saw brown plains turn into densely green forests and mountains. Our first stop was the Münire Sultan Sofrası, a classy restaurant serving local dishes. Instead of the typical lentil soup easily found elsewhere, we ordered their tomato-based, brown lentil soup with vermicelli. Complimented by spinach- and potato-stuffed breads, we left satisfied and hopeful about our food prospects for the weekend.

Rug Weaving

In the streets surrounding the restaurant, we saw historical mosques, traditional guesthouses, and artisans of various handcrafts. Walking through town, we passed through a drumming procession to invite guests to an upcoming wedding, beautiful tree-lined streets, and a rug weaver’s workshop.

View from Clock Tower

We stopped at the Liva Paşa Konağı Etnografya Müzesi, where photographs, artifacts, and mannequins transported us to the region’s past. Thereafter, made our way up two sets of tall staircases to reach Kastamonu’s iconic clock tower.

Mahmut Bey Camii

Our last stop for the day was the Mahmut Bey Camii, a simple mosque made using an overlapping construction technique that requires no nails. Built more than 600 years ago, it was humbling to pray in a space that has witnessed centuries of worship in the humble village of Kasaba.

Iskir Resort Town

By sunset, we arrived at Iskir Resort Town in Daday and checked into our rooms. In spite of a cot for Lil’ Z and a playpen provided for Moulay, the room still felt comfortably spacious and peacefully serene. We swiftly slipped into the dining room for an amazing dinner spread that included an appetizing array of desserts, veggies, homemade bread, and fresh fruit, and then returned quickly to our room to settle the little ones down to rest.

Day 2

Parting Gift

With an unfortunately early departure, we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the resort grounds. We had to quickly grab a breakfast of freshly baked breads, fruit-based marmalades and molasses, sesame seed paste, and a small bowl of cereal paired with the non-dairy milk I carried along. As soon as Lil’ Z and I finished our last bite, we dashed to the bathroom and were the last to board the bus again. One of the resort managers came aboard to distribute complimentary bottles of red wine to all of the passengers. We politely declined, so the manager rushed off and returned with homemade rosehip marmalade and local garlic for our parting gift instead.

Farm

We appreciated their kind gesture, especially since Kastamonu is known for its garlic. Regretfully, we didn’t have more time to enjoy more of the resort’s kind yet professional hospitality, their varied and enticing meal spreads and some of the recreational offerings like horseback riding and mountain biking.

Horma Canyon

We were warned that the day’s itinerary would be intense, so we strapped on our sneakers and braced ourselves for a strenuous day. In the Pınarbaşı municipality, there are three main attractions and they were all on our agenda for the day. We met our local guide at a mosque in town and headed to the Horma Kanyonu where we walked over suspension bridges and anchored paths to penetrate the beautiful canyon.

Simple meal

We stopped for lunch at a small family run restaurant where they generally serve a fixed meal of fruit, salad, meat and rice. For us, they ordered a potato-stuffed bread instead.

Ilica Waterfall

For our last stop, we walked through another forest to reach Ilıca Şelalesi. After sleeping through the last two hikes, Moulay decided to sit this one out with Urbndervish. So, Lil’ Z and I had a lovely long walk and talk through the woods. When we finally reached the waterfall, Lil’ Z wasn’t content to view it from a distance. She saw the rest of our “team” climbing down over rocks to sit by the pond, and I didn’t want to dim her bravery. We persisted over the slippery rocks and leaves to sit on a large boulder and savor the beauty around us.

Moulay's Ride

Our weekend adventure was an opportunity to step beyond our usual urban boundaries. While we want nature appreciation to be a part of our family culture, actually immersing ourselves in the natural world is not always easy. We need a bit of hand-holding and guidance and this trip did both without totally sanitizing the experience for us. Even though our last nature walk resulted in checking for ticks and Lil’ Z bawling “I don’t like nature!”, this time around she had to admit, “Nature is kinda cool sometimes”.

My bravebird

Let’s win some cash for women who need it

Everyone knows how much we <3 Amal and the work they're doing, right?

Life in Marrakesh

Dear blog readers, it’s been an eon since I blogged, but the good news is, I’m still alive, I was only in cyber-hybernation.  It’s almost like there’s too much going on, I can either live, or blog, nawmean?  The Amal Center continues to blossom and grow in a beautiful way.  I was there yesterday for the tsunami wave of couscous customers. It was epic.  All 180 of them seemed to have agreed to arrive at exactly the same time, which was 12:47 (hashtag invade Amal?).   To make matters more…interesting, we were working with a newbie crew: our 5th class of 16 women just started a few days ago.  They are a very cool group of ladies, beautiful souls and smiles, lots of potential there just waiting for the right conduit.  And yes, the chef used his chef voice.  Yet, amazingly, things went smoothly, and there was much eating of…

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Our First Eid in Turkey

Ali Pasha CamiiAfter a few weeks of settling into our new home, our first Eid holiday weekend was upon us. We weren’t sure what to do or where to go but we wanted to take advantage of the four-day weekend, and that we did.

Empty Prayer Hall

The first day of Eid started quietly until Lil’ Z started writhing in her sleep. She woke enough to tell us she felt sick, and I knew that she needed to vomit. Her dad got her to the commode in time, and afterwards she felt much better. By the time we all got dressed and left the house it was about 6:50am. A taxi up the road saw us and swiftly transported us to the nearest mosque just in time for the 7:00am prayer. Everyone filed in casually without special attire or fanfare. The men’s prayer hall was full but not packed tightly and the women’s prayer hall was wide and spacious. From what I’m told, many Turkish women don’t attend the Eid prayers, so our children had plenty of room to stretch and wiggle without encroaching on anyone else’s space. After a lesson delivered in Turkish, followed by a reminder of how the bi-annual Eid prayer is performed and a sermon delivered in Arabic, we commenced the congregational prayer. We concluded with a collective supplication in Turkish and dispersed as peacefully as we entered.

Brunch

Returning home by bus, we were eager to prepare our special Eid brunch. We went on a special expedition to scout out tofu and thoroughly enjoyed it as a veggie scramble paired with chocolate pancakes. With only an hour to spare, we cleaned up the kitchen and packed our bags for Konya. Lil’ Z didn’t eat much before leaving, but I gave her a homeopathic remedy to calm her tummy. She slept on the bus ride and gave one healthy hurl on the subway floor before she was totally better and ready for the adventure ahead.

High-Speed Train

Traveling by high-speed train, the usually three-hour journey by road was shaved down to an hour and forty minutes. The check-in process was much like boarding a plane, complete with train stewardesses, in-train magazines, and on-screen entertainment. Upon disembarking, we took a taxi to our hotel and began exploring.

Sulemiye Camii

Being the day of Eid, most restaurants in Konya were closed and the few that were open didn’t have more than salad to offer vegetarians.  Near one restaurant, we saw a group of folks wearing thread-worn genie pants, gypsy skirts, and open sandals.  Some were speaking English, so we approached them about finding vegetarian food.  The prognosis looked dim, but they took us to a place around the corner where we could find other vegetarians and inquire.  Stepping into the dimly lit basement hall, we removed our shoes, passed a room full of backpacks, and found ourselves in the middle of a group dance lesson.  Giddy and noticeably hairy, the men and women whirled and spun ecstatically.  Fuzzy beards and matted locs swirled around us while we figured out that these young people were in town for a Mystic Music Festival taking place that week.  They offered to share some of their communal meal with us but it was not yet ready and we felt sorely out of place.  The loud sounds stirred Moulay from his sleep, so we took our cue to leave and try our chances elsewhere.

Roasted Vegetables and Rice, Salad, and Freshly Baked Bread

Our best attempt at a vegan meal was found at Mevlana Sofrasi.  The family-owned establishment welcomed our family, especially our children, with open arms and free treats and desserts. The meal itself was a modified traditional meal and was scarce in protein, though tasty. Overlooking the Mevlana Museum and surrounding garden, we had a spectacular view of the heart of the city.  We returned to our hotel to catch up on some rest before unfolding into the next day.Mevlana Museum

On our second day, we had breakfast at our hotel and headed straight for the Mevlana Museum where we saw artifacts from the early Ottoman period and relics from the famed mystic poet, Jalal ad-din Rumi, and the community that surrounded him. Making our way through the crowds we found ourselves with nothing left to do but drink fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden

The Konya Science Center was closed for the holiday, so we took a chance and headed to the Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden at the outskirts of the city. Totally deficient in any real amount of Turkish language skills, we braved two dolmuş minibus rides and a taxi to find Konya’s newest attraction similarly closed. Thankfully, the well-designed play areas were open, so the trip was still worthwhile. Thereafter, we made our way to a shopping plaza for dinner and took a bus and tram back to our hotel.

Play Area

For our third day of Eid, we took an early morning train back to Ankara. We wanted to stay in Konya longer, but the returning trains were scarce due to the holiday weekend. Instead of returning on Sunday, we returned on Saturday to meet with new friends of old friends. We were kindly invited to Gölbaşı where our new acquaintances have a lovely summer home nestled amongst a variety of resident fruit trees. With the perfect appetizer of freshly-picked, tree-ripened fruits, we had a lovely meal of bulgur pilau, roasted eggplant, and salad, alongside an assortment of baked goods and freshly brewed Turkish tea. We picked apples and grapes until the sun set, prayed our evening prayers, and returned home wholly satisfied by our first Eid in Turkey.

Welcome

Arriving in Ankara

Ankara

We had one singular reason for flying Azerbaijan Airlines. It wasn’t an interest in transiting through the capital city, Baku, or experiencing Azeri hospitality. AZAL had the cheapest flights to Ankara and we bought the tickets the very day we saw other airfares jump by almost $200 per ticket. Requesting vegan meals and a baby bassinet for our flight tediously involved several days of attempted phone calls to a U.S. phone number routed to Azerbaijan with repetitive caller menus, multiple extension transfers, and at least half of the calls ending in the silence of a dead line. When faced with unavoidable visa delays, it took several calls to change our flights, but our new tickets would only be issued after paying the relevant fees in cash at the airport prior to our flight. Clouds of regret started to loom when Urbndervish told me the ticket agent offered him a handwritten receipt on notebook paper, then left to board the day’s flight. Much like our last experience with a small national carrier, I pondered if the saved money was worth the hassle.

Traveler

Surprisingly, our check-in process was smooth. All six of our bags, containing four seasons’ worth of clothing for four people, remained under the dreaded 50-pound weight limit. All of our possessions for the next year of life– books, learning supplies, vitamins and supplements, clothing, coats, shoes, a few towels and a cast-iron skillet—were surrendered in about fifteen minutes. With our backpacks and laptops in tow, we proceeded to our gate. The call to board was made, so I quickly made my way to the restroom just before hearing my name over the announcement system. I was summoned for an important matter—another random U.S. customs and border security interview to verify that we weren’t carrying large amounts of cash out of the country and inquire about our interest in Turkey. The questions never change and neither do the answers, so I was cleared to board and so our journey began.

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Though Azerbaijan Airlines scored low for customer service in our book, our flight experience was redemptive. Flight attendants greeted us warmly in an inviting lounge area situated between the business and first class sections of the plane. We received the usual complimentary flight accessories—headsets, night masks, toothpaste, and toothbrushes—as well as pillows and blankets. Just before our refreshments were served, we were handed heated disposable washcloths, a bassinet for Moulay was installed and our vegan meals were delivered as requested. Lil’ Z enjoyed the inflight games and magazines about the competitive European Games held in Baku earlier this year.

Baku Airport

Our transit through Azerbaijan was efficient and brief. The small yet modern international airport was spotlessly clean, serene, and well-equipped with WiFi. We sent emails to our family and before we knew it, were embarking on the last leg of our trip. Lil’ Z finally rested after more than 13 hours of travel and we arrived in Ankara without incident or delay. For our very first experience in Turkey, we were quite impressed. Urbndervish’s employer welcomed us warmly, loaded our luggage, and swiftly delivered us to our new apartment. For now, in sha’ Allah, we will call Ankara home.

Our View

As we often tell people, we didn’t choose Turkey, Turkey chose us and we were glad to oblige. Much like our last post in Morocco, sometimes there’s only one train moving and it’s yours. However, unlike Morocco, we are prepared to stay for the next two years. We needed a nest to settle ourselves for a while, an opportunity for professional development, a new landscape to explore and this is where we found it. Our suitcases are unpacked and out of view, our shelves and closets are filled, and we are relieved and grateful to have our own space again. Slowly, we are meeting our neighbors, discovering the city, and finding our groove. All that’s left for us to do now is find some wholesome, good company for Lil’ Z and ourselves to make our hearts feel at home here too.