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Published: December 2nd 2013
In Ankara is the mausoleum of the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Our guide Ibo, brought to life this incredible man and his accomplishments through his thoughtful explanations which also touch on the humorous and human. Therefor, when we went through the mausoleum and museum, I was moved to tears. The Mausoleum is huge due to the awesome dimensions of the architecture, with simple clean marble lines and huge open spaces. The museum attached tries to teach of the difficult, painful sacrificial nature of the war that had to be fought to gain independence, democracy. It does not glorify. The museum also describes the hopes and dreams for the future of Turkey with explanations of the reforms that were made. Finally, the museum gave you glimpses of the man behind it all, through old photos, his clothes, his favourite objects. Atatürk took Turkey, from being run by the Ottoman Empire into a democratic country with woman's rights, and public not just religious schools. He made this happen at the end of the First World War, and insured his country would not be involved in the second. It was an impossible task. I now see Turkey through very different eyes.
We then left Ankara to stop on route to Göreme at an underground city. They have only discovered these underground cities, there are quite a few of them, in the 1980s. They were started in the 7th century as protection from the many tribal groups that warred back and forth trying to claim Turkish land. We went into the biggest one, where there were storage rooms and stables on the top level, and went down 80 meters with eight levels of eating, sleeping, and living rooms. This city could house 3000 people and they sometimes ended up hiding there for up to six months. There were foot thick disks of rock to roll in front of entrances to block enemies. There were tiny passageways and stairs opening into high ceilinged rooms. It was appealing to think of staying in this labyrinth with my students overnight, but then it hits. People stayed there, underground in the dark with no sky, and too many people for months. It was not a game.
We continued on to Göreme, where we would stay for three nights. We had an optional activity of going to the Turkish baths this first night. I decided to go. The baths are a part of ancient tradition stemming from the Romans who conquered this land before the Ottomans and kept by the Ottomans over centuries. We entered the woman's baths and were invited to undress and wrap a cotton cloth around us. Our faces were painted with clay and then we sat for some time in the sauna. We were ushered in and out by a smiling older woman who mimed all the things we were to do. Next step was to was the clay from our face and then move into the Hamam where we would be bathed. In this marble room, floors, walls and ceiling, there was a round centre area of heated marble big enough to have 5-6 woman stretched out on its circumference. We were ushered into the room and out to the table. The first woman in line had the cotton cloth unceremoniously whipped off and laid as a sheet on the stone to lay on. We all followed suit. We lay on the heated slab in this very humid room for many minutes, I was near sleep. Then a woman took a scrub glove and robbed every inch of my body free of old skin. Next, she laid a thick layer of bubble soap all over and gave me a full body massage, right down to tugging on my scalp with handfuls of hair. I was sluiced with warm water and led away to the showers before a slow cooling bath in a small pool with the others. When we had enough we came out to dress, but were stopped at lounge chairs with apple tea and the command to sit, chat and relax. We did. It was an experience that I would return to again and again if I could.
Good Night and Sweet Dreams
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