Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Crossing Cultures - Madrid to Istanbul to Kathmandu

Just as I was getting used to the Spanish timetable, I leave. I was getting more comfortable with my Spanish... even to the point that I was thinking in Spanish. I was starting to develop favorite foods. Well...every morning started with cafe con leche and a chocolate croissant. If I could have eaten those all day, everyday, Spanish cuisine would have become my favorite.  All good things must come to an end. But not before purchasing one last stash of the best candy in the world. 

This is the last piece. I promised I would share it with Annette tomorrow. We've been rationing. 

Then again, good things don't have to end.  The fun just keeps coming. Our next stop was Istanbul. 

I will not pretend to be an expert on this city that is a feast for the senses. We only had 14 hours there. But here are some of my observations:

Istanbul is an Middle Eastern city with many western influences. In some ways, it felt easier to navigate than many parts of Spain. This came as a great surprise to me. 

The male to female ratio was incredible. Annette and I walked through the Grand Bazaar at about 9am... Just when shops are beginning to open. I'm quite confident in saying that in the hundreds of shops we passed, every single shop keeper was a man. I really can't recall seeing a single woman except for maybe a few female tourists, when we were leaving. We thought maybe it was just the Grand Bazaar. But the trend continued. The same was the case on the metro, in the restaurants, on the ferry, in the Spice Market and in general on the streets. It wasn't until our walk back to our metro stop on the way to the airport that a few local women seemed to appear. Where are they?  I'm assuming the obvious answer is at home.  Crazy to consider an America like that. 

To say that Istanbul stimulates the senses would be an understatement. Food has amazing flavor (which maybe was heightened since I was coming from considerably bland Spanish food). We started the morning with Turkish coffee and a complimentary Turkish Delight (which might be complimentary everywhere...upon boarding Turkish Airways and in the duty free shop in Istanbul) . We had a fantastic lunch of eggplant something and some chicken dish during lunch at the Blue Hotel, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque. 

During lunch we also heard the noon call to prayer. That might be the first time I've experienced that. We kept commenting: imagine if praise and worship music were blared over PA systems in the United States five times a day. And then Pastor Tommy got to bring the Word to the entire city everyday. Whoa!  The smell of spices in the Spice Market was fascinating as was the sight of their bold colors neatly organized in rows.  And the smell of the street food requires no further marketing campaign.  I confess I did walk back a block, after contemplating the tantalizing smell coming from a restaurant window, to buy some amazing meat wrapped in pastry, only after convincing the shop keeper to sell it to me for a Euro. I ran out if Liras. And then there is incense burning all over in random places. The sight of the ancient Hagia Sophia and my first time in a mosque were astounding as well.  And the streets and subways were packed with people in the afternoon, so personal space did not exist.  

It was also fascinating to observe how The East meets The West here and has for centuries. The Hagia Sophia was a perfect example of that... a cathedral turned mosque. Mosaics of Christ and giant discs with the names of Mohammed and other prominent Islamic patriarchs were captured under one dome. Does that exist in any other place on Earth?  Maybe. I don't know. 

So it may sound like I was a rockstar running through the streets of Istanbul after a 4 hour red-eye from Madrid. But that would be misleading. Annette let me take a nap... Or maybe two.  Ok.  It was 3. The first was outside baggage claim of the Istanbul airport at 6:30 am. My thought... What could we possibly be missing in Istanbul at 7am?  Nothing, I'm sure. And then, after the Hagia Sophia, the Turkish coffee wore off. Nap time on the park bench outside the Blue Mosque.  Hoping I didn't violate any major cultural norms there. A few hours later we missed the entrance to the mosque by literally 2 minutes as the mosque closes to visitors during prayer time. We wanted to keep our place in line. It turns out that purses on our laps made very nice pillows. I don't think we offended anyone too severely as the mosque information guy told us we looked tired, very least twice. He seemed very sympathetic.    Turns out the naps did just the trick. When we were getting off the plane that morning, I wasn't sure I'd make it back to the airport for our 10pm departure to Kathmandu. But I did. 

If I felt like I was transported to another world by walking the Camino, I'm pretty sure I've been vaulted to another universe upon my arrival in Kathmandu.

I'm not sure what I expected.  But here is what I did not expect: 

I did not expect cars to drive on the left side of the road.  

I did not expect to see mostly dirt roads, with a sometimes single lane of pavement, throughout a capital city. 

I did not expect to have such gracious hosts as Shanti and her Uncle Ram who waited for us for 2 hours to clear passport control. 

I did not expect to be going to church one hour after leaving the airport. It was Saturday after all. Turns out Nepal only has one day on the weekend and it is Saturday. 

I did not expect to sit in the front row at church. I don't even do that at home. 

I did not expect to be expected to introduce myself at church. The whole service was in Nepali. I had a crash course in introducing myself 30 minutes earlier. "Miro nam Ashley ho". But those words were escaping me as Shanti told me now was the time for Annette and I to stand up. She denied my request to join us... so there was a long awkward silence as everyone waited for the obvious visitors to stand. The silence was broken by applause.  The Nepali people are VERY kind!

I did my expect to meet such a kind soul as 10-year-old Unkit who so obviously wanted to be noticed and practice his English. His big brown eyes melted my heart. How long had I been in this country?  I think we were at 4 hours. 

I did not expect to take such a long nap upon our return to our home for the next 2 nights.  But I'm not surprised. Sleep deprivation for the last 3 weeks would have been an understatement. The 3 hour nap was glorious. 

I did not expect to like Nepali food as much as I did (Thank you, Jesus!). And so far, the digestive system seems to be working quite well. I'm sure you wanted to know.  

I did not expect to discover that Shanti (whom we were connected with from literally a friend of a friend of a friend) turned out to be connected with an orphanage we had originally pursued in Kenya which brought us to Nepal. We ended up pursing a different contact but we were happy to make this connection as well. 

I did not expect to see such beautiful countryside after the city we had driven through on the walk that Shanti took us on that evening. 

I did not expect to see such beautiful faces as the 8 precious kids who live with Shanti. They also had beautiful voices as they sang during family devotions that evening. And they were eager to share their Bible and hymnal with me... And point out where we were reading from. It was all written in Nepali. Bless their hearts. 

I did not expect to meet such an incredible woman as Shanti. She is 32 and has been raising a house full of 8 to 10 kids for the last 10 years. She has help from her mom and a cook, but her heart for these kids is truly phenomenal and inspiring.  

I know what my mom is thinking: 
Ash... What kind of ideas are thinking?
My response... Crazy ideas, Mom.  As I was sitting in church that morning my thought was, why not?  Why not take orphans into my home?  There are kids out there who need loved and I have love to give. Would it complicate my relatively simple life? Yes. Would my life be full because of it?  Absolutely. As Christians, are we called to look after orphans and widows?  That's what James 1:27 says... pretty clearly. Time will tell. A lot can happen over the next 8 months.  Reminder: Goal Number #2: An Open Heart and Teachable Spirit. 

And so...In 3 days, I've crossed cultures from Camino living, to a taste of the Middle East, and now I'm at the crossroads between Hinduism and Buddhism living amongst a serious minority and often persecuted Christians in Nepal. I'm having another one of those "I know where I am but how did I get here" moments. It might be another universe, but it's still planet Earth.  The people here still eat 3 meals a day and sleep and dream like the rest of the world.  I'm excited to learn about this foreign land.  And I'm excited to share it with you.  Thanks for joining me in the adventures that lies ahead!


  1. Hi Ashley, I work with your dad and he turned me onto your wonderful adventure. WOW is what I usually say after reading your post. God Bless You and Keep You Safe! Mari O.

  2. I did not expect to be so captivated! Thank you for sharing your heart and your world. Praying for you as God continues to expand your horizons and take you deeper into His heart. It truly is an amazing journey. Stef

  3. Love it, Ashley! And I agree...I like Nepali food. Momos are my favorite!! Fun to say and yummy to eat :) Laura