Istanbul, Part One – Surfing Couches with a Cool Syrian

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho

I arrived back in Istanbul on a flight from Jordan.  And don’t worry, all of those stories are coming soon.

I took the train from the airport and after a couple of transfers I reached the neighborhood of Kabatas.  A short ferry ride later and I was across the sea on the Asian side of Istanbul in Uskudar. I contacted my couch surfing host.  He met me at the docks and took me to his place.

I settled in and took a little time to relax.  He asked me if I would like to go to a big meeting of other Couchsurfers.  I agreed and we headed back over the sea by ferry (a trip I would grow very accustomed to over the next three days).

We took the metro to an area called the Taksim, which is a long street full of stores and bars.  Thousands of people were milling about on a chilly Wednesday night.  As we made our way through the thick crowds, I found myself wondering what level of chaos it must be like on warm weekends.  I came to the conclusion that it must be somewhere between Black Friday shopping and Mardi Gras.

We arrived at the restaurant for a smaller meeting before the big group gathering.  I was really glad we did that because I had time to talk with people individually.  One of the people I met and hit it off with is Anastasia.  She was visiting Istanbul for a couple of more days and we decided to meet up the next day and take in a couple of art exhibitions.

I was tired because of the trip from Jordan (more details on that soon), so we headed back to my host’s apartment.  Let me take the chance to tell you about couch surfing and my amazing host, who for his sake I will refer to as G.

I found out about couch surfing while I was living in Memphis.  I had the opportunity to host a number of really amazing people from around the world as they traveled through Memphis.

Now it was my turn to surf someone else’s couch.  It was an absolute pleasure to stay with G. I learned a lot during our conversations.  He experienced the kinds of things that we as Americans can hardly wrap our mind around.  He came to Istanbul less than a year ago from Syria where he ran a school teaching Arabic to foreigners.

Before he escaped the country, he was imprisoned simply due to his opposition to the current regime.  And in Syria the prison for political prisoners there is something that we as Americans have a hard time imagining.  They can take you away and lock you up on whatever charges they come up with and keep you as long as they want without ever having to tell anyone they have you.  And you are not even entitled to a phone call.

I was really reminded how we have so many things in America that we simply take for granted on a daily basis.  We bitch and moan about all the little things while we neglect the amazing liberties that we are afforded in our country.

If you get nothing else from this post, I would encourage you to take a minute to stop and be grateful for the freedoms you have that maybe you haven’t stopped to think about lately.  Just sit and appreciate the things you have instead of the things you don’t.

And you can also enjoy a few photos.


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