The morning dawned under hazy sun and high clouds; it was definitely going to be another hot one. We put on our shorts and T-shirts and headed upstairs to the rooftop terrace for our first Turkish breakfast buffet. We had no idea what would await us but the multi-tabled spread included the usual suspects: yogurts, fruits, cereals, boiled eggs, cheeses, breads, jams, butter and a few surprises like halva, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and the Turkish version of bagels with cream cheese schmears. Coffee and tea were in abundant supply and we filled our cups to their brims.
I also noticed a lovely wine cart on wheels with a nice variety of vintages tucked next to the coffee urns. The young man servicing the buffet told me that in the evening, the breakfast-room-with-a-view turns into a bar and that yes, wine and beer were indeed served. When I asked about the availability of spirits in Istanbul and Turkey overall, he assured me that while some establishments choose to abstain for religious reasons, many others are available for wine-lovers like me. Phew, I thought and breathed a sigh of relief – I was already starting to warm up to Turkey.
We grabbed our customary morning plates (yogurt and cereal for me, cheese and eggs for Joe) and claimed a perfect table by the window. I took a spoonful of yogurt and looking up, instantly lost my appetite. A sad and frankly upsetting family scene was in progress just two tables in front of us. A T-shirted, baseball-hatted man and an adorable little girl in a flowered sundress were enthusiastically enjoying their bacon and eggs. Across the table from them, a woman in a black, face-concealing burka was attempting to eat her own breakfast. I watched in astonishment as she quickly lifted the heavy fold of veil and surreptitiously slipped a forkful of scrambled eggs between her lips as if to be observed eating was a depravity. Just as swiftly, she dropped the black cloth so that her chewing mouth was once again hidden. Her husband and daughter continued to revel in their morning repast while she struggled with every agonizing bite. My stomach was in knots as I watched the woman attempt to get through a meal in public. How can this be? I wondered. Does this woman understand the shackles that bind her? Is this the future she wants for her daughter who is now so carefree and spontaneous?
Over the course of our first days in Turkey, we witnessed so many fathers doting on their daughters, adorable creamy-skinned cherubs with soft blond ringlets and olive-skinned beauties with silky dark manes. How can the power of this misguided theology compel them in a few short years to subjugate these beautiful young girls by hiding them under shrouds the minute they reach puberty? Is a future of anonymity, of being covered and smothered what they dream of for their daughters?
It’s going to take some time to reject the suppression of women in Islamic countries, and it will take years, perhaps decades (and I pray not centuries), but it’s eventually going to happen. It will be up to the younger generations of women who connect in person and via the Internet with others not bound by the strictures of their religion to envision possibilities for themselves and carve out independent lives separate from their fathers and husbands. And there will be young men who want their women independent and not just prizes or trophies to be hidden.
I have four sisters, all of us strong, self-reliant, fiercely independent women, thanks in large part to the way our parents raised and educated us, none of us willing to relinquish who we are or what we look like for husbands, fathers or religion. We’ll all go to great lengths to do what’s best for our children, but beyond that, don’t try to tell us what to do, where to go or what to wear. I envisioned my sisters all sitting beside me in the Lady Diana breakfast room, open-mouthed with horror just as I was, watching this poor woman battling to finish her meal.
Joe and I drained our coffee cups, packed up our things and headed for the stairs. As I glanced back for a final look at the draped woman, I saw that she had pulled a Blackberry from beneath the folds. Yes, I thought, bravo. It won’t be long before communication leads to a yearning for dignity and independence. I suddenly had hope for her daughter.
Pictures of our adventures: http://gapyeargirlgoestoeurope.shutterfly.com