A rejuvenation of historical ties;A TRIP TO TURKEY by the Sana’a Turkish School [Archives:2003/660/Reportage]

August 18 2003
Photo from archived article: photos/660/report2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/660/report2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/660/report2_2
Photo from archived article: photos/660/report2_2
By Owais A. Asim
Sana'a Turkish School

At last the 6th of July finally arrived. Four students and six teachers from the Sana'a Turkish School were gathered at the Sana'a International Airport en route to Turkey in order to rejuvenate the historical ties between their two brotherly Islamic countries. Fortunately I was one of them. For many of us Turkey was the land of distant dreams. The next fifteen days, saw our dreams being transformed into a reality.
We entered Turkey on the 8th of July via Syria. It was six in the morning; the sun was just ascending the horizon. Once we crossed the border the landscape changed dramatically. The rugged mountainous terrain abruptly transformed into a splashy kaleidoscope of green shades. Lush green crops stretched themselves in front of us as far as the eye could see. Already the farm hands were busy in their daily chores. Half an hours journey through the windswept plains and the winding road brought us to the commercial city of Antakya where our Arabic speaking Turkish driver, Ramazan, awaited us with a Mercedes bus, this was to be our mobile home for the next two weeks as much of our time was spent on road discovering the mystical land.
Surprisingly we never felt like strangers in a land which we had entered for the very first time, so open hearted were the people. After enjoying our first Turkish breakfast of mouth watering cheeses, soft n' crispy bread and fresh fruits, we found ourselves on the road again on the way to Aksaray via Osmania. Aksaray proved to be a sight seers paradise. Cappadocia famous for its bizarre rocky landscape and fairy chimneys left us wonder struck. The next stop was Derinkuyu, the underground city, our descent into the seven floor underground building dug out of solid rock was truly enthralling. Before we called it a day, we visited the primeval Ihlara valley, which gathers the elements of nature, human, history and art in its folds. The scenery, the landscape and the ancient churches of this valley left longer lasting impressions on our minds. Both Derinkuyu and Ihlara once served as a safe haven for the early Christians escaping the wrath of the antagonistic Roman partisans and are believed to have housed a whole city in their dugout cave houses. While in Aksaray we also visited the famous volcanic mountain resort of Mount Hasan covered with oak forests and cascading mountain streams. Playing night football in floodlit mini stadium was also an exhilarating experience that went a long way in strengthening friendly ties.
If hospitality is an art the Turkish people have mastered it to perfection. A guest is almost something divine to them, this spirit of hospitality prevailed everywhere we went, we were greeted with radiant faces, open hearts and outstretched arms. Yet the people of Aksaray had an edge over others in this regard. We left this city with tearful eyes and heavy hearts but not before entertaining our hosts with a Yemeni song of friendship, written and composed by our teachers.
Thereafter we arrived in the modern Turkish metropolis and political hub, Ankara, where everyone always seems to be in a hurry. On our entry into the city we were greeted by lofty skyscrapers, crisscrossing roads and humming shopping malls. Our guide was Mr. Zekeria, a dear friend and a former maths teacher of our school. A visit to the Middle East Technical University was the highlight of our stay in Ankara. The students in particular were greatly fascinated by the beauty and facilities offered by this University and resolved to continue their higher studies at this great citadel of knowledge. The day was complete with a visit to the Kocatepe Mosque and splendid fun at a private swimming pool.
Bursa, the city cradled in the heart of lush green pine covered mountains came next in our travel plans. Our activities here included a cable car excursion to a mountain top resort, a visit to a four hundred year old Turkish Hammam with natural hot springs, and a barbecue at a summer house nestled in the centre of a green forest. In the evening we bid farewell to this Hellenic resort for Istanbul via Yalova on a ferry.
It was past midnight when we entered the colossal megalopolis, yet the streets were bustling with activity. Early next morning we found ourselves at the threshold of the internationally acclaimed Blue Mosque also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It was a moment filled with ecstasy, our hearts were overcome by awe and amazement. A masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, which had withstood the onslaught of time, weather and stupendous political upheavals and continued to inspire the imagination of people the world over stood in front of us, we could hardly believe our eyes. Offering our Zohar prayers at this great mosque was a rare privilege.
A visit to Aya Sofia and Top Kapi Palace Museum, housing the remains of the Ottoman Empire and religious relics dating back to the times of prophets Moses and Joseph, was equally enthralling. The sight of the Holy Prophet's (PBUH) sacred hair and personal belongings filled our hearts with love and an inexplicable sorrow. Lunch at the ancient Shehzade Mehmed Restaurant was simply an exquisite experience, followed by a visit to the Fatih Mosque hosting the tomb of the great Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the conqueror of Istanbul. As the day slowly merged into night we found ourselves atop a ferry under the Bosphorus Bridge. The memories of this cruise shall remain embedded in our minds forever. Other adventures in Istanbul included visits to various historical mosques, the tomb of Hazrat Ayub Al-Ansari (M.G.B.P.W.H) and Bosphorus University.
Turkey is a shopper's paradise and Istanbul its pivot. The Grand Bazaar founded by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 has a floor space of 30 square kilometres thronging with frenzied shoppers of all backgrounds. Here you can hunt for anything ranging from sumptuous carpets shimmering with garish Ottoman motifs, exquisite textiles, laboriously designed gold and silver jewellery embedded with precious stones to ancient antiques. Here we exhausted all our financial resources, which we had been saving throughout the trip in just under two hours, wishing only in the end that we had brought a few more dollars with us.
It would be unfair not to mention Turkish cuisine which added to the magic of our stay in Turkey. Whether it was Adana Kebabs, Iskender, Shawarma (Doner) or Turkish Delights, we were always compelled to lick our fingers in the end. Each area had its own culinary delicacies and our Turkish colleagues made it a point that we missed nothing.
Turkey is a place where civilisations met, evolved into a super civilisation and spread to the four corners of the Islamic world. The art of construction in Turkey, Syria and Yemen has striking similarities. The Yemeni and Turkish people are bound together by historical ties and a special love unscathed by the cruel clutches of time. We were stunned by the curiosity of the Turkish people, their love for and interest in Yemen. Often we found ourselves chatting into the small hours of the nights regarding the culture, the people and landscape of Yemen. Yet the interest of the Turkish people in Yemen remained insatiable and we were compelled to extend invitations for a visit to Yemen, which were cordially accepted.
Did Turkey fit the definition of an Ideal? It certainly did for us. Lying in the heart of the world, at the crossroads of East and West, Turkey caters for the touristic tastes of a wide variety of people, there is something for everyone; sun drenched plains covered with golden wheat, lovely lakes, lush green forests, meandering rivers, ancient treasures and golden sandy beaches. You name it and it is all there. So pack your bags and see it all yourself.