07 Jul, 2013

landing in istanbul…

Sehba Sarwar
07 Jul, 2013

photo from Kulindag website

Leaping at the opportunity to skip the Middle East altogether, I book Minal and myself on Turkish Airlines to Karachi since the airline has started non-stop service to Istanbul from Houston. We take a two-day stopover on our way to Karachi, since our friend Shaista, has introduced me to Tuna Dursan Marasco, who lives in Istanbul.

Though the flight itself is comfortable, Minal gets airsick and after the 12 hours on air, and when we arrive in Istanbul, I know she doesn’t have the strength to take public transport to Tuna’s house. So we jump on a taxi, and I give the taxi driver Tuna’s phone number so he can take directions to her place which is on the Asia (pronounced As-ya) side of Istanbul.

The driver doesn’t speak much English but he says, “It’s far, very far.”

Minal is weak but joins me in my curiosity of looking out of the window upon sights of a city where we’ve never been. The main road where the traffic moves fast is lined by manicured green grass and flowers sprouting in designed flower-beds. Every now and then, the driver picks up his phone, calls a number and then hangs up. He gets a return call. Based on his nods, I understand that Tuna is calling him back in response to his missed calls to guide him to her place.

We are now leaving the city and around us are mountains laced with trees. Minal is getting excited: “You love the city, Ammi, but I like the country… today I think we’ll be in the countryside!”

Finally, the driver turns left on an uphill gravel road and stops alongside a few more parked cars. A family stands at the bottom of a rustic wooden building to greet us.

Tuna greets us: “This isn’t our home – when the driver called me, I thought he could just bring you here. Otherwise, if you’d followed my directions, we would have left Kulindag and met you in the city.”

Only later, as we walk up the stairs I learn more about Kulindag, a yoga retreat center with cabins and a café that is run by Denise, Tuna’s sister, who is an architect. The space, located just 40 minutes outside the city, is in a lush green landscape and the center has four levels: the very bottom where people can camp, a parking lot, a deck with a kitchen and a closed room and then cabins further up.

After soup and lots of tea, I talk to different guests and learn that this is a weekend ritual for Tuna’s family to spend time helping Denise. By now, Minal has forgotten about her airsickness and is playing hide-and-seek with a group of children ranging in age from two to 17.

We sit on the benches in the open deck, but at one point, Tuna’s husband, a faculty member at LUMS, takes his laptop into the closed room where there’s a fireplace and watches live streaming of news. Today, there’s a new protest at Taksim Square, and the police are using water hose to separate the crowd that is chanting in Turkish, Every place is Tahrir Square, every place is revolution!

At one in the morning, we descend the wooden staircase and pack into Tuna’s family’s cars. As Denise winds her way back to As-ya – Kulindag is in Europe –I ponder on what a magical arrival to a city.

Sehba Sarwar