21 June 2015 ~ 0 Comments

A whisk

I’ve heard the term to be “whisked off your feet” but I’ve never considered “a whisk” as a noun, apart from the mixing tool in the kitchen, of course. When my husband bought us surprise tickets to Istanbul for the weekend as a gift for my birthday, a friend referred to it as “a whisk,” and indeed, off my feet I am.

With less than 40 hours on the ground in Turkey, and the need to sleep for at least some of that in order to be awake for work tomorrow, our time was limited, yet it certainly did feel like a worthwhile adventure: the history and religious mix of the Hagia Sophia, the call to prayer and visits to a range of mosques culminating with the magnificent Süleymaniye Mosque looking over the port, a ferry over to the Asian side of the city for an exceptional meal with an old friend and her new baby, a look at the upside-down head of Medusa in the Basilica Cistern which used to be part of a working network of cisterns housing enough water to serve the city – of about a million people at the time – for a whole year if under siege, a look at the modern city of over 14 million from a rooftop bar with the lights of the mosques and their Ramadan signs lighting the sky, the spice bazaar and grand bazaar (No, we didn’t buy a rug, but we were certainly tempted! But we do now have a lot of yummy tea!), a taste of famous pudding (our chosen establishment boasted being open since 1867), a walk over the Bosphorus with dozens of fisherman lining the walk, and of course, as no visit to Istanbul is complete without it, a scrub down by a Turkish lady in a 16th-century Ottoman-style bath house. And that was all yesterday….. today, we slept in a bit, had a quick meal, and are now already on our flight home.

A whisk indeed.

I feel “whisked away”, but my heart and mind feel like they got whipped by this whisk as well. I feel so grateful and lucky to be able to spend a weekend traveling to such an exciting, vibrant, and far away place, and still be back in time to work in a job I enjoy in Oxford on Monday. I feel so lucky to have a husband who planned a series of thoughtful surprises and who goes out of his way to shower me with love while also still holding the bar high to help me be a better me. The confusing part of my feelings of gratitude and love are when they get mixed with feelings of guilt and responsibility – how was it that I got to be so lucky? Is it fair? What responsibilities, or better yet, opportunities, come with this privilege?

We found out while we were away that a dear friend of ours, who is 8 months pregnant and was recently diagnosed with cancer will be undergoing expensive and extensive treatments. This morning, as we discussed the news, we saw a couple begging in the street with a sign saying “We’re from Syria. Please help us.” My friend who lives in Istanbul had noted to us that there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have poured into the city, more than they can count, and that a homelessness and joblessness problem is bursting at the seams due to this influx of need. I felt torn: I was struck by the juxtaposition of my own feelings as I choose to walk by, head down, torn about giving money to a couple begging on the street, yet eager to give funds and support to a couple at home with a different set of needs. And my sense of joy, love, gratitude, adventure, and privileged sent that into even more of a kitchen whisk whirlwind of thoughts.

I’m reminded that my “privilege” is not measured by my bank account, but by the advantages and protection that come with being part of a global network of well-connected people: in fact this trip was an example of that. My husband told me on Thursday that we were flying to Istanbul on Friday, and with one Facebook post we had dozens of recommendations of places to stay, shops to visit, family members to send regards to, and tips to make our adventure more enjoyable. I know that when I hit rough times in my life, that same network will help me out, connecting me to whatever it is that I need next: be it recommendations for a job, a couch to sleep on, or a friendly ear. My reserves in a time of need are actually held within that vast wealth of good-will and love that comes with being connected to a network of support. The question then becomes, how do I use that network in support of those outside of our immediate web?

I write about these dichotomies often in my work on volunteer travel – in fact I was recently editing a part of our book on Learning Service that talks about these often unproductive feelings: the sense of burden that can weigh on those who want to “do good in the world” juxtaposed with an ineffective righteousness that is often unduly touted by those of us trying to “fix” other people’s problems. I know guilt is an unproductive driver, and, as the students in the leadership programme I run know, I’m acutely aware of the dangers of letting “shoulds, musts, and have-tos” run your life: I often remind the students I work with that those words are the barriers to choice and self-determination towards productive change. So as I share these thoughts in contemplation, I am doing my best to remove any “shoulds” or self-judgements, and instead just lay them naked in this blog to examine and consider in a hope that in writing them down, I can work through my own thoughts on what I “could” do next.

Today my choice was to share my “whisking” and so, there it is. A wonderful whirlwind journey reminding me of the whirlwind of feelings that living as a human in this time of growing disparity of wealth yet increasing interconnectivity can produce. And in my effort to write four blogs this month without self-judgement of how “good” they are, I’m sharing this straight from the plane, with the smell of the hammam’s olive oil soap still lingering and the taste of Turkish delights fresh in my memory. My wish for today is that both couples, the one living on the streets of Istanbul and our friends going into the hospital today, find joy, support from the compassion of strangers and friends, and that I find a way to channel the love and joy of being whisked away into joy for others, far beyond my personal network of Friends.