In 2009, I was at a place called Tarbouch in Arlington, VA and an Iraqi guy and a Syrian woman told me, as we smoked apple-flavored tobacco in a hookah, about the ancient Middle Eastern art of coffee cup reading. The Iraqi said he had the ability to read cups. He told me to drink all my coffee, turn my cup over on the saucer and let it dry. I did as he instructed, and he proceeded to read my cup. What surprised me is that when I looked at the cup with him, I could see very clearly two people walking forward. A larger person with an Arab headdress was in the front. Behind this person was a smaller, slighter, more delicate person. The Iraqi expressed surprise, as did I, at the clearness of the picture. He said it was an Arab man and a woman of unidentified nationality; his belief was that it was me following behind an Arab nomad, walking in his footsteps. It was very odd; that image stayed with me until I was in South Korea in 2010.
Maybe it was the photos of the lovely Hagia Sophia, its shimmering mosaics and smooth marble, in a long-ago art history class. Maybe it was the descriptions of Turkey in a novel called The Black Book by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk: vials the color of pomegranates; the sea swirling around … delicate ankles; the seaweed and seven-colored oil spills; Alaaddin’s bustling shop. Maybe it was the Turkish Groove Putumayo CD with the song “Kirmizi Biber” by Bendeniz. Or singer Tarkan’s “Kuzu Kuzu” on YouTube. Maybe it was the pictures of the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, with its fairy chimneys and otherworldly landscapes. Maybe it was falling in love with the call to prayer in Egypt, and then being beckoned to Turkey for that same call to prayer with a European twist.
What are the reasons we are pulled to any destination? I could twirl a globe and wherever my finger lands, I could go. However, I can’t ignore certain places that speak to my heart, places that promise mystery and romance and adventure. Places that are exotic and far-removed from my daily existence. Most of these places for me are in the Middle East. After having been to Egypt, and falling headlong in love with its dusty, teeming streets, its people, the pyramids, the Nile, I know I am drawn to these places. High on my list are Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt (again), Turkey. Other places have beckoned as well: Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, China, Cambodia, Vietnam. Africa beckons, Peru, Brazil…. the list goes on.
I didn’t know a thing about Islam or Middle Eastern culture until I started reading voraciously about the Arab world following the September 11 terrorist attacks. A domino effect followed. I started writing a novel and felt compelled to make one of the characters an Egyptian man. I had never in my life met a single Egyptian, so I decided to study Arabic in the hope of learning more about the culture, mainly to make my character more realistic. Then I took some international relations classes at community college and I loved them so much I applied for a Master’s program at George Mason University in International Commerce & Policy. In the summer between the two-year program, a Muslim friend of mine gave me information about a program to study Arabic in Egypt for one month. I went there and studied Arabic at Al Azhar University in Cairo in July 2007. I fell in love with Egypt, though it made me incredibly sad to see all the poverty there.
I was teaching English in Korea and one of the things I wanted to do was to take advantage of the proximity to Asia to travel. However, when my two-week summer vacation beckoned, I couldn’t get excited about China or Japan, try as I might. I originally wanted to go back to Egypt, but several things turned me off to it. The idea of Istanbul kept pulling at my heart. Various things happened which only reinforced that calling to a place with such rich history, a place that is Muslim yet European, a place that straddles Asia and Europe. When it came time to buy my plane ticket, I was still debating, but the price was right for Turkey. So, off I went, to the former Constantinople.
I would depart from Korea on July 21st. Oh, sweet anticipation. 🙂
“THE CALL TO PLACE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a 500-700 word (or less) post on your own blog about what enticed you to choose a particular destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments. If your destination is a place you love and keep returning to, feel free to write about that. If you want to see the original post about the subject, you can check it out here: imaginings: the call to place.
Please include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, June 27 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, June 28, I’ll include your links in that post. If you’d like, you can use the hashtag #wanderessence.
My next post will be about my upcoming road trip to Buffalo, New York and Niagara Falls.
This will be an ongoing invitation, monthly (on the fourth Thursday of each month) after that. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired!
- Indra, or TravTrails, wrote about her call to Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year in 2019, with evocative memories of the festivities she enjoyed in previous years, in The Inner Connect — Hong Kong
- Sue, of WordsVisual, wrote about how she heeded a call to the Ystwyth Valley ( in Welsh, actually Cwmystwyth) from an article in Country Life magazine showing an image of an abandoned mine building, in Y is for Ystwyth Valley
- Anabel, of Glasgow Gallivanter, wrote of her call to Hampshire – to accompany her husband and meet up with a blogging friend, in A Call to Place: Hampshire
- Eunice, of Life In The Mouse House, wrote beautifully about her call to camping and Anglesey in A Call to a Place (1).
Thanks to all of you who wrote posts about “the call to place.” 🙂