Istanbul and The Women Of Turkey

Istanbul and The Women Of Turkey


Leonard Zwelling

This is a city of 20 million people that spans two continents with the Bosporus and three new suspension bridges running between the two sides of the city. There is a tunnel under the water as well. Despite all these routes from Europe to Asia, the trip is always a long one. Traffic!

I am sure that there are more crowded cities in India and China, but this one compares with the worst crowding I have seen in the United States and that includes Los Angeles and New York, let alone Houston. The streets wind like those in Boston without any logic and are both narrow and filled with parked cars. I would not like to have to negotiate Istanbul driving a car.

For the first two days here we did the obligatory sightseeing from mosque to market to museum. Yes, we even bought a Turkish woven rug (all the knots are doubled). This is a 98% Muslim nation and the variation of how the population outwardly expresses its religious proclivities is made manifest by the various headwear of the women on the street. Many go without head covering, many wear a simple scarf and many more elaborate covering. There are some full Burkas on display as well. The city is eclectic, modern and historical all at once.

And at the Topkapi Museum, the former palace to the sultans, the relics of Moses’ staff, Joseph’s turban, the forearm of John the Baptist and Muhammed’s footprint are displayed alongside the more modern swords of the sultans. This is a strange museum where all of the items on display do not have equally reliable provenance.

Everyone that we have met in Turkey has been friendly and out-going. Many will speak in hushed tones of the lingering effects of the failed military coup of three years ago which unfortunately hurt the economy. The cruise ships which spurred a great deal of tourist spending have still not returned here although there is hope that they will soon. Our guide has noted the drop in the number of the large group tours that used to descend on the city from the big ships on a daily basis.

The food in Turkey has been great. We were taken to a very fancy restaurant called the Sunset Grill last night and the food was A plus.

There is one take away from the pediatric conference and the interaction I had with the leader of pediatric oncology in Turkey, Dr. Emal Unal. She is a formidable woman of immense political skills and clinical knowledge who leads the society that invited the BW to speak in Turkey. The meeting was dominated by the women who seem to be running pediatric oncology in this country. Many have led the society and continue to make contributions to pediatric oncology and walked away with the majority of the prizes handed out at the meeting’s celebratory banquet. In a Muslim country, where one might be concerned that the women might not have full access to power and prestige, nothing seemed further from the truth in this meeting and in this city.

While the influence of Islam is obvious in the crowds that surge along the narrow streets and the call to prayer from the minarets by the muezzin five times a day, this is a place of great contrast undergoing a transition after a tumultuously disruptive attempted coup that led to an ever more powerful president, to a country that may be better off outside the European Union, but in NATO.

Turkey is a study in contrasts. I am sure that I have barely scratched the surface.

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