I should've written these when I was already in there, or at least right when I was back. But, as all of you learnt by now, I'm lazy as a sloth. The truth is, writing my experiences is something takes a lot of courage and reflecting on the things I've been through. So, I needed that time gap to be able to distance myself from the actual trip, and see the essence, high and low points of it.
I need to tell you about the visa process of course. It was smooth, the personnel in the consolate was very nice. They did a security search and of course they wanted to look under my hijab. Because I face the same inquiry in every Central Examination in Turkey, I'm used to it. But, I want to make something clear, to be able to keep that hijab properly pinned as it is a very hard job. Some women I know couldn't get used to it at least for couple of years. What makes you think that we can pack a gun or poison needle or cheating material for an exam "in the hijab" easily like it was nothing and go around with it! It falls apart dude! It falls apart!! So, the hijab exam is very stupid, but anyway we're used to it. And the old Jewish lady who took my papers for the visa, I applaud her for her very harsh treatment about where the visa will be stamped. I tried my best to not cry and succeeded until I made it to the elevator. (They stamped it in my passport, now I have to change it.) The only strange and funny part of the visa application was when I went to recieve it. It was ready as promised, I took my passport, went out, haven't had breakfast, saw a cafe just beside the building and went there, ordered breakfast. Ten minutes later, security guy was asking why I was sitting there after I recieved my visa. This is the level of their chickening, even from a woman who merely eats her breakfast and it reminds me of a Person of Interest quote "You've been watched!"
To be honest, I was excited and scared at the same time before the trip. My husband vetoed the whole thing because it was "Israel", even though the reason was an academic conference. Maybe he had a point, maybe he didn't. The important thing is, I knew I was alone in this and it didn't feel good.
The reason of my trip to Jerusalem was a conference on "Sacred Places and Cultural Heritage Protection" and I was the research assistant of the conference, which was a huge privilege and opened a whole new horizon for me in every way. Being surrounded by intellectuals from all over the world, and having conversations on equal basis is not something we experience in academic spheres of Turkey. The level difference between students and professors in Turkey is so obvious and rigid, we can't even have a casual conversation with our teachers let alone calling them with their first names, other than some exceptions. So, imagine my shock when authors of some very serious books and journals, insist that I address them with their first name.
The conference took place in 16-17 March of 2016 in Van Leer Institute but I arrived a bit earlier. Because, if I was going to have an Israel visa on my passport, it should worth it! On the 14th of March I arrived in Jerusalem and the advanture began. There were already plenty of academics arrived in the hotel and we had dinner in the former Notre Dame Church, current terrace restaurant (with a splendid view of Jerusalem) with Anthony O'Mahony, Dobromir Dimitrov, Peter Petkoff and Sotiris Roussos. We talked about several topics from Armenian Genocide to environmental theology, from current political climate of Turkey to Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Paşa, which was an enlightenment for me by the way. I never figured it out that the Egypt governor Mehmet Ali Paşa was called Kavalalı because he was from Kavala in Greece. So far for the history teaching in high schools, or maybe I'm slow on the uptake, which is more likely! Father Dobromir is a priest who is working on his studies in Oxford currently and he's such a lovely person, and a tremendous photographer. I can't thank enough for the photos of myself he took. He's also a painter, which he thinks why he's a good photographer. Anthony O'Mahony is one of the editors of "A Catholic-Shia Dialogue: Ethics in Today's Society", which is a book I've read some parts of, for my ecotheology study, but I regretted not reading the whole book more carefully. It would definetely give me a better chance to exchange ideas, obviously not in a bilateral way, I need to eat 40 "fırın" bread to be able to make this conversation bilateral. ("Kırk fırın ekmek yemek", is a saying in Turkish that indicates; it's hard work, and the person has so much way to go.) I feel like I blew my chances to really have productive conversations with Anthony, which is a mistake that shall never happen again. Sotiris Roussos is the "komşu". He's an academic from Athens and he runs the Centre for Middle East, Mediterranean and Islamic Studies. I knew we had our similarities but hearing him speak in Greek felt like an evening with my grandparents, watching them having an argument in Pontic Greek, which is the Blacksea dialect of Greek, very close to Ancient Greek. And finally Peter Petkoff, my dear friend, who supports me for my academic endavours, no matter what. I can't start with the work he's doing because he joggles a lot at the same time and I can't keep up with his speed but let's say no more; he's the director of Religion, Law and IR Programme of Regent's Park College in Oxford.
So, imagine the intensity of the conversations on that table, and me, in between all these great intellectuals, a complete oblivious, and this is only the first half of the first night.