I began by saying that Israel clearly isn't in Europe. It also isn't in Africa (although that's as close as Egypt). I explained that we were in the Middle East, a region that is part of the Eurasian continent but not considered part of Europe or Asia. Confused yet? Imagine how George felt!
This week we're in Istanbul, a city famed for straddling the continents and civilizations of Europe and Asia. We're staying in the centre of this huge megalopolis (20 million people) on the European side of the Bosphorus Straight (the body of water running north/south through the city). As such, we look out the dining room windows in our little hotel and we see Asia in the distance.
For centuries, this city has stood at the crossroads of east and west. It has been a melting pot of cultures, languages, cuisines, architecture and religions. I guess that's the reason it's such a fascinating place to visit. For children developing an understanding of the world, that means it raises more questions than answers, and it stretches my ability to answer questions to the limit.
Earlier this week, a Turkish pilot shot down a Russian bomber that had apparently strayed over the border from Syria into Turkish airspace. As you can imagine, this has placed a huge strain on relations between these two neighbours. (Imagine what would happen if Mexico shot down an American plane that strayed over the Rio Grande.) Left unresolved, it will have massive economic consequences for Turkey, especially their tourism and agriculture sectors.
Last night we wanted a break from "foreign" food, and we went to a pizza place. We were the only guests in the small restaurant, so we had a long chat with the owner who spoke almost flawless English. He told us that political instability had already caused his business to plummet 50% this year. There are Russian tourists everywhere in Turkey (like Americans in Mexico). Now, this guy is worried things are going to get even worse. It was a great reminder of how geopolitical events have an impact on ordinary people just trying to make a living.
In several ways, Istanbul has helped me to put some things in context. If you're a regular reader, you'll know that a week ago I lamented that our homeschooling wasn't going as well as I had expected. In reply, my friend Peter Taylor (who has 3 exceptionally well-turned-out adult children homeschooled by Peter and his wife Linda) reassured me that we are doing the right thing, and that their family also had challenges with homeschooling over the years.
Yesterday, as we toured the palace of the Ottoman sultans, we saw many priceless artifacts collected over the centuries, including personal possessions and locks of hair and beard from the prophet Mohammed himself. We discussed how the Ottoman Empire controlled this vast region for more than 500 years, and that Turks are Muslims, but not Arabs. We also talked about why we are able to go into mosques here, something we couldn't do in Morocco or Israel. Finally, after hearing five daily 'Calls to Prayer' blared over loudspeakers for 3 weeks in Morocco, Israel and Turkey, we saw an Imam on the small minaret in the palace sing out the Call to Prayer the old-fashioned way, unamplified. It was truly a priceless moment.
The kids miss home so much. Molly misses her best friend Kalyn and synchronized swimming. George misses being silly with his buddies and playing video games together. Ursula misses her friends and family and the normalcy of our life in Ottawa. Some days I feel like I've ripped the three of them out by their roots. As such, I need to remind myself that meaningful things are often not easy, so we must persevere. At other times, as I watch our kids digest all the sensory input they're receiving day after day, I can see they're learning, and I think maybe it's all worthwhile.
On a sunnier note, I'm also aware we're approaching the end of the time in our trip when our primary focus is cultural/historical. In many ways, I feel like Molly, George and I are supersaturated with visiting "important" sites. Ursula seems to be the only one still wanting to see more of these darned places!
You see, when we're in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I want to see the overwhelming decadence of unlimited wealth - not because it's to be admired, but because it's there. (I've never been to the UAE, but I'm expecting the Middle East version of Las Vegas.) I want to see the fancy hotels and shopping centres. Yes, hard as it is to believe, I want to go shopping! Of course I don't want to buy anything, but I want to see it for myself. Besides, from a cultural/historical perspective, I don't think there's anything in the old parts of these cities that could ever top the experience of wandering the markets of Fes.
When we get to South Africa, I realize that we will inevitably encounter culture and history, but we're going there to see nature and the animals. Molly is also looking forward to the hot weather of summer in the southern hemisphere, and a few days in big swimming pools and on their famous sandy beaches.
By the time we get to Vietnam on December 22, we will be looking forward to Christmas and spending 10 days with the Brandon family. Afterwards, we want to relax and enjoy the month of January in southern Vietnam doing very little - probably on a beach. February will take us to Singapore and Malaysia for a couple of weeks, then we fly north to our new life in Korea. (George and Molly are already talking about what furniture they want in their new bedrooms.)
So, overall things are still good. Glad we're here. The adventure continues...