A lesson in abundance from Turkey

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I am contemplating a move back to my hometown in Australia, but – to be honest – I’m nervous. You see the longer I live in Turkey, the more I resent the lifestyle I led in Australia and I fear going back to it.  I wish to share a story – a defining moment for me in how I choose to live my life now and in the future.

Before I moved to Turkey, my friends and I used to gather once a month in my hometown to break bread together and to reflect on our busy lives whilst intending for better days. We called ourselves the intenders circle – a group of like-minded spiritual people who over an hour or so, would eat together, and later, we’d form a circle by sitting on plush cushions. We’d  close our eyes and meditate – visioning for a better world. Then we would we would share the things we were grateful for and intend for things we wanted like ‘abundance’.

Usually we wanted abundance in love, in money, in success, in health – abundance in anything we thought we were lacking. We thought, if we were lucky to attain this abundance – we’d be happy. But since moving to Turkey my thoughts on abundance have shifted thanks to grounding experiences like the one I had in 2012.

Autumn of that year, I was walking through one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Istanbul –Zeyrek in Fatih. Zeyrek is one of those areas modern Istanbul seems to look down on because it’s like a village in the middle of the city on the edge of the Golden Horn – slightly conservative and somewhat gritty. Ultimately. it’s like time has stood still. But it’s full of decaying wooden Ottoman houses and old Byzantine churches that were turned into mosques by the Ottomans. It’s an area of the city I’ve grown to like because of its old world charms.

On this particularly evening, the sun was just setting and I could hear some soulful Middle Eastern singing in the distance and so, me being a big fan of Middle Eastern music, I walked towards the sound. I was curious to see who could be making such a beautiful noise in the quiet streets at dusk.

I came across a tiny playground on the corner of a paved street near a mosque. The playground was barricaded by a high iron fence encasing two swing sets, monkey bars and other equipment that on this evening created a performance platformsfor about 10 children under the aged of 12. They were singing and tapping wooden sticks from the nearby tree against the steal playground equipment – creating a rhythmical sound.

One of the boys in particular had a vibrato so clean, so mature it was utterly captivating. I felt both joy and sadness tuning into his voice. His mates seemed to be his band and he was the ‘rockstar’.

Completely mesmerized, I listened to them outside the gates of the playground. Soon others joined me for the impromptu performance. The children were unaware they were now entertaining a small gathering of the neighbourhood outside the gates.

The children were in singing in Arabic and they didn’t respond to comments made in Turkish or Kurdish from the passersby – so I suspected they were Syrian.

As I watched them, it dawned on me. It was a cold night and there I was dressed in a warm winter jacket, boots, scarf, new jeans and I had my Iphone and camera with me. All these things I thought gave me abundance and happiness in my ‘western world’, yet, despite my belongings I was feeling a little low. I can’t remember why…whatever it was I was feeling sorry for myself.

Meanwhile, these children singing were dressed in one layer of dirty clothes, they had no shoes and it looked like they hadn’t washed in days – but there they were smiling, laughing and creating such joy for those now listening.

I was standing by myself – a little separate from the small gathering. The boy with the vibrato spotted me and ran from the playground equipment, stepped up on a ledge and lent over the fence towards me. He sang to me. Soon all of the kids followed. There was now a choir of children hanging over the fence, singing to me. All of them tapping their sticks on the steal gates. They were intrigued by me as much as I was intrigued by them. Now I – the blonde yabanci (foreigner) in a conservative neighbourhood – was part of the entertainment for the crowd and passersby.

When it was time to leave, I waved goodbye to them and with huge smiles they all waved back. We had connected over their beautiful organic music and they so innocently taught me a lesson in abundance.

What is abundance if I can be dressed the way I was – abundant in warmth and comfort –and yet feeling sad about life. And they can have so little – a layer of dirty clothing, no shoes – and be so happy. If they were from Syria, what had they experienced before this impromptu playground performance? But yet, there they were delivering joy to others with few possessions and making the most of what was around them.

Should asking for abundance be about wanting to be richer in love, money and success? The experience led me to conclude that abundance should perhaps be measured by what we need to survive. Do you have food in your fridge? Do you have clothes on your back? Are you warm? And most importantly do you have friendships with like-hearted people that support you to sing loud and proud? If you say, “yes” to all of these, then you have abundance already. Anything beyond this is perhaps a luxury – a want. Not a necessity for happiness.

I have reduced my list of wants since living in Turkey because I realize I have abundance  – I’ve had it all along. I don’t want for as many luxuries here that my friends in the West want and that’s why I’m nervous to return to the ‘abundance’ as defined by the West. I have less here in Turkey then in my hometown but yet I feel richer…because I have the bear essentials for survival and I’m surrounded by like-minded people who sing to the beat of my drum, and I hopefully they know I sing to theirs. I’ll have to say, “no” a lot to the luxuries on offer if I do return to my hometown –- to keep Istanbul’s lesson in abundance with me. Because: When our want becomes less we do become richer.

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13 thoughts on “A lesson in abundance from Turkey

  1. Pingback: Entry in the Diary | Istanbul'da

  2. One of the things that is so prevalent here that isn’t prevalent in the West is community. Communal living isn’t a necessity as such, (holla 17th century Canadian fur trappers/shepherds from all times!) but having a community of family/close knit friends who all get you and are willing to sing with you in public is, I’m pretty sure, the second definition of happiness. Right under “a runny egg.”

  3. Just found your blog – thank you for it!
    I learned Turkish by listening it – and yes, doing loads and loads mistakes. 11 years ago my husband took me to meet his mom for the first time. It was a cold day at their summerhouse and I made tea. So my husband asked me to bring some tea to his mom and he reminded me to be polite and use my poor Turkish – so I did. When mom said “tesekürler – thank you”, I said loud and clear ” Isedim – i peed” instead of saying “bisey degil – you are wellcome”. My bastard husband was dying of laughter in the kitchen. And every single summer they still tell this story to everyone 😉

  4. Very interesting to read your posts about my own city, I have a couple of expat teacher friends here. The city which I’ve been living in almost 15 years seems me very different with them. I feel I’ve moved in another place, thanks for giving us that chance. I became a fan of your blog, I wish you success for everything in your İstanbul life.

  5. This was so hilarious 😀 Being as natural Turkish speaker, we don’t even notice such difficulties about Turkish language. But you’re right, almost everytime I tried to teach this badass language to a foreigner friend, I saw how they found it ridiculous and hard to learn. Nevertheless, -I’m sure you won’t, but- you shouldn’t ever step back and try harder to learn. People usually say, there is a threshold point in learning Turkish and when you reach there, your grammar will be perfect 🙂
    And also, it reminded me when I tried to speak English for the first time in a foreign country. There’s a huge phonetic difference between European languages and Turkish. Perhaps I still make that mistakes, I’m not really sure.

    • I often think learning English would be much harder than learning Turkish. I admire anyone who can learn another language. It’s still on my wish list to become fluent in Turkish until then I’ll keep making these mistakes! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Today my blog is suddenly getting many hits – I’m not sure why??

  6. I share your admiration. I still cannot belive these people speaking 5, 6 or even more different languages. (It’s called “polyglotism” I once heard) What the hard about English is variety of pronunciations of letters. Letter “A” is always same here, simply “A”. But in English, it usually changes by words. When you say “early”, “ea-” is like “ö” in Turkish. But when you say “easy”, it suddenly becomes “i-“. Most of Turkish people find it senseless.
    The boom in your boom might be caused of a Facebook page, ‘The New Young Turk’, with eight thousand followers. One of your articles was shared there a few hours ago. So, I think it could be a reason to more popular. And also, your blog really has nice contents and sincerity. 🙂

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