Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Holiday in England (Part 1 of 4): Waking up in London

We just returned from "going on holiday" to England!  We hopped on an evening flight from Turkey on Wednesday, took a London black cab to our hotel, and woke up in London on Thanksgiving Day.  We started our tour of London bright and early; we had lots to see and only one day to see it!  We were blessed with perfect weather: brisk, but sunny and bright clear skies.  A perfect day for a tour of London by foot! 

Our trip to England was rejuvenating from the moment our plane landed and we heard English being spoken by the customs officer.  Though we do have the comforts of America on our little base in Turkey, outside of that one mile radius encircled by a barbed wire fence is a culture starkly different from our own.  To be able to speak English and blend in while traveling was a breath of fresh air.  We haven't been back to America in almost 1 1/2 years, so going to England gave us the little taste of home we needed.

Of course, even England is not completely  like "home" for us.  As we arrived in London, Peter asked Dan to play football with him.  Dan held him by the shoulders, looked into his eyes and told him "Peter...there's no football in England!"  Peter's eyes got big and he said in a deep, worried voice "OH NO!!!"  : )

We walked several blocks to the Westminster Catholic Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey).  It was beautiful!  Westminster Cathedral is the largest Catholic Church in England and Wales.  It stands on land originally owned by Benedictine monks who established the nearby Westminster Abbey.  The church is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

The inside of the Cathedral was spectacular.  There were several Cardinals buried in the little ornate side-chapels of the huge Cathedral.  Each side-chapel was so very unique and detailed.

The massive Crucifix hanging in the Cathedral Church of the Most Precious Blood in London.

Next we strolled several more blocks to Buckingham Palace!  The palace's flag was waving, which meant the Queen was home!  It was easy to get swept up in the magestic ambiance of the massive palace and wonder what "royal happenings" were taking place inside. 

I told Peter that this was the very big house of the Queen.  He nodded and responded "Crown." 
Peter's background knowledge of royalty consists of:
1.  Seeing pictures in books of Jesus and Mary wearing crowns as King and Queen of Heaven
2.  The cardboard crown he wears proudly during our rare trips to Burger King on base
So, I'm not sure who exactly he was picturing as we gazed at the palace, but I could tell the wheels were turning.

Peter paused and then wondered aloud, "Where is she?"  (Sounds more like one word "Where-Izzy?")
I responded, "In her house...maybe she's....having a snack?"  (That was the first "queenly" activity I could think of...)
It worked for Peter.  He confidently repeated "Keen, sack" (Translation: "Queen, snack")

As we explored, I noticed a beautiful street lined with British and Turkish flags leading up to the palace.  Pretty crazy, huh?  There must've been an important political figure visiting from Turkey!

The ornate sculptures, beautiful fountain, and horse drawn carriages surrounding Buckingham palace made it feel even more like we had stepped into the setting of a fairy tale. 

We walked along the pretty autumn tree-lined roads, soaking in the sunshine and the atmosphere.  Peter jumped in the crunchy, colorful leaf piles and grabbed big handfuls of the autumn leaves that covered the ground.  Coming from a land of palm trees, this was a big deal. 

As we turned the corner and entered a charming city park, we saw a little squirrel scamper along the path.  Again, this was a big deal.  We don't have squirrels in Turkey, so this was Peter's first interaction with this kind of little critter.  We took pictures, pointed, and made such a commotion that I noticed a man peer toward us trying to see what treasure we had discovered.  When you're far from home, any little taste of home is so very exciting.  Peter loved the little squirrel and thought it was a hilarious little creature.  He laughed and toddled through the park, searching for more. 

Our morning adventures led us to one of my favorite landmarks in London:  Big Ben.  We approached the big "tick tock, Ben" (as Peter calls it) just as it struck 12:00 noon.  We listenened to the deep ringing of the bell as we walked through the crowds of people bustling through the streets on their lunch breaks.  Our stomachs were growling too.  We grabbed some sandwiches from a little street cafe and ate a picnic lunch by the entrance of Westminster Abbey.  Our morning in London had been full of wonderful sights...and we were only halfway through our day! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Islam 101

Living in the Middle East has been an eye-opening experience to say the least.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to temporarily live in a county that is 99 percent Muslim.  Does it have its challenges some days?  You bet.  I definitely miss Christian culture and feel that living in Turkey has helped me to appreciate my Catholic faith more than ever.  But I am also so very grateful for the blessing of our Turkish Muslim friends.  I wish everyone could have a chat with our charming, hard-working gardener, Ilhan; discuss family values and faith over a kabob with our dear friend, Sefer; or encounter some of the hundreds of kind-souled, humble Turks that we have met during our time here. 

Several of my American friends on base have blogs as well.  My dear friend, Sarah, recently wrote a beautiful reflection on her experiences as a Christian in a Muslim country.  I am re-posting her blog to share with you.  I couldn't have said it better myself! 

Islam 101
(from my buddy, Sarah at:
Before moving to Turkey, my only real contact with the Islamic religion was through my TV. Like most other Americans, I watched the planes hit the Trade Centers and burned with anger. Osama Bin Laden became the poster child for Muslims-all of which, I thought, were evil terrorists who hated America.

Then I moved to Turkey, a nation that is 99% Muslim. I became the minority, religiously speaking.

I have been given the opportunity to learn about the Muslim faith from a new perspective, and to erase some erroneous ideas and prejudices I never knew I had. Before I share, let me be clear. I am a Christian. That will never change. In fact, my own faith has deepened during my time here. Learning about another faith shouldn't threaten your own.

I have learned that Turkey is pretty progressive in the Islamic world. It seems to me that the faith is more of a cultural thing and not so much of a personal belief thing. The same, I think, can be said about America. Many people calling themselves "Christians" don't practice the faith necessarily. But they grew up going to church and hunting Easter eggs and celebrating Christmas. So culturally, they are Christians. Get my drift?

When the Call to Prayer sounds 5 times daily, no one stops what they are doing. Things continue as normal. Most women here do not wear a burka or even a head covering. When I have had conversations with some Turks about their faith, they all take a very universalist approach to it. They believe what they believe, but don't make any effort to evangelize anyone. They think that many roads lead to God, and think that what works for them doesn't necessarily work for you. Again, Turkey is progressive, this is not always the case in the Middle East.

I have also learned that the events of 9/11 sicken most Muslims. Some of my friends here on base have actually been given apologies by Turks for what happened. I think I know how these Turks feel. Exactly how I would feel if people viewed me in the same light as radical so-called Christians who bomb abortion clinics or picket military funerals.

So when I return home and see a news story about Muslims, I won't think of Osama Bin Laden anymore. I will think of Seyhun, Hatice, Cigdem, and the many more friends I have made here. I will also think about how learning about anothers faith has the curious effect of strengthening your own. And for that I am really grateful.