A Europhile Comes Home
Europe. Ahhhhhhh. The moment I set foot in Istanbul I suddenly felt like I knew this place. Istanbul has been fun and beautiful, and has set both of us more at ease than we have felt in awhile. It has also allowed us to return to some of the things we know and enjoy as part of our routines: a good cup of coffee, a glass of wine with dinner, and even the unexpected pleasure of returning to the flavors of western herbs and olive oil!
Despite being a Muslim country, there is no overriding religious tones. The buildings are mosques rather than cathedrals, but you could leave it at that if you want. We, of course, are exploring more, but it is not like India and Bali.
In both of those countries, religion is daily life. Every morning in Bali, we watched the entrepreneurs place out the day's offerings: one on an altar for the good spirits, and one on the ground for evil spirits. When we remarked how friendly everyone was, we were told they have to be...poor manners would bring bad karma, so a smile and warm greeting was nearly a religious necessity. All of this piety did have its price, however; the Balinese spend every spare dollar glamourizing thier temples, to the detriment of maintaining thier homes and public infrastructure. The current generation has begun to question these practices, wanting to spend thier hard-earned money elsewhere.
In India, the differences went even deeper. Indian ideas of family are very strong, and despite seeming to want a western life, eveything about us is anathema to them. Arranged marriage is the norm, and despite a brief shift in that ideal, arranged marriage is returning to the fore. Family arrangements extend over generations: much of the family's earning are tucked away, and only parted with in the most dire of circumsatnces. Conspicuous consumtion is not typical. Moreover, if a family wants to sell something, the child must give his permission for his parents to sell the grandparent's possessions. And, of course, child rearing is the end-all, be-all of family life. As one man put it, a child is the principle, a grandchild is the interest, in the investment of marriage. When people asked if we had children, we learned to say "not yet," rather than "never." The idea of marriage without children only earned us looks of incomprehension, or even pity. And don't even mention the idea that we lived together before marriage!
We are on our last continent; it's hard to believe the trip is beginning to wind down. I'm looking forward to several weeks of "easy" travel, enjoying southern Europe. We have already decided that Turkey deserves a more comprehensive trip, but we need to keep pushing west. Bulgaria, here we come!