29.04.2009 15 °C
We are back once again in our friendly Sultanahmet hostel in Istanbul where the narrow alleys share equal space with 5 star hotels, rug dealers and doner vendors. Tomorrow morning we head further West to Athens , spend two days there before taking a ferry to the island of Santorini for a much needed rest.
Last Saturday morning, after having arrived in the town of Pamukkale the day before, Tom woke up with excruciating pain in his left side and unable to keep any food or water down. I knew it was serious when at 6.00am he consented and let me call a doctor. Even at that time in the morning I found friendly hotel staff busy sweeping the courtyard and upon understanding my frantic…sick!…doctor!, a call was made to summon the local family doctor out of bed. Within the hour Doktor Sakir Bayur knocked on our door armed with the old physician’s bag which holds everything to check patient’s vital signs and administer basic lab tests. Enough anyway for Dr. Sakir to diagnose a kidney stone. Part of his diagnosis resulted from a test Tom may laugh about later but not yet today. During the exam the pretty good-sized and hefty doctor looked at Tom and while questioning‘“ Hurts” chopped him in the left kidney with enough force to leave Tom out of breath and stunned. My kidneys felt rattled just watching Tom’s pain. Dr. Sakir , wondering about Tom’s lack of response whacked him fitfully once more before Tom thankfully moaned out in pain. Armed with Tom’s passport he took off for the pharmacy and returned shortly with two shots and four other medications with instructions on how to take them and to return if pain stayed on for more than three days. His total bill for the house call, tests and all meds totaled to 210 lires, $ 140.00 Not bad and how great that in this ancient town the ancient art of healing still continues. The day before we had taken a tour of Pamukkale, a small town, nestled close by the ruins of Hierapolis and while in the far distance snow capped mountains can be seen, the purest whitest slope ever is at the end of the village street, at the bottom of the plateau where the ruins of Hierapolis can be wandered. Thermal spring waters have formed these fantastic formations of stalactites and the calcium deposits appear at times like frosted cakes with blue icing on top. The blueness is the mineral’s water absorption of the sky above. Our tour guide Ramadaz was very informative on the history of Hierapolis, first occupied by the Greeks, then the Romans before Byzantine’s and now Turkey’s influence. We have learned that when one does not speak the language and all explanatory signs are in the native tongue it pays to spend a little more, and join a tour to hear the history. More ancient ruins, cities, catacombs and history will certainly be displayed and divulged when we continue our travels in Greece and Italy but our tour of Hierapolis will always remain special through the sheer freedom of wandering it gave us and the color of the wildflowers dispersed throughout the hillside. It was the red of the poppies mixed with the purple, white and yellows of other flowers that more than the old stone spoke of: “ As it was in the beginning, is now”. At the top of Hierapolis the old theater can be found, extremely well preserved after all these centuries and earthquakes. The greatest gift any old theatre/arena can be given was granted here when a couple of months ago this Roman built Apollo Theater was the place for a rock concert. What a tribute and how right to not be afraid to use it properly.
Tom snoozed a couple of days in Pamukkale, sweating away his pain and discomfort and even the muezzins sky flooding invitations were not enough to waken his rest. During that time we were greatly taken care of by the Koray Otel family members. There could not have been a better place for Tom to have taken ill. The Otel is family run, with “Papa” the patriarch still close by the helm and throughout the day he would charmingly bring me flowers and fresh mint for my tea, always making sure that all our needs and wishes were met. His sons and daughters run the hotel while his many grandchildren play and learn. Whatever the family ate became our meal and without menus seen the fare was grand. In the morning endless baskets with crisp, fresh baked baguettes were served together with the standard Turkish/Mediterranean breakfast of sliced tomatoes, cucumber , boiled egg and various olives. On our tour of Pamukkale we met 5 South African women, a mother with her two daughters and their friends. It was while anxiously waiting for Tom’s recuperation that I learned that all four young women were medical doctors and sitting in our Otel’s courtyard they shared their insight and were able to explain more about the meds Tom was taking since through our inability of understanding Turkish not all was clear. While talking with them, the call of prayer was chimed through town and these young, very modernly dressed and Westerly educated female Muslim doctors pulled their scarves higher over their head and explained so much of their religion to me, It was to them I gave the book “Sweetness in the belly” and in gratitude they gave me the only book they had with them which was the Turkish to English 3500Word two-way dictionary. It has come in handy.
We decided to forego the scheduled trip to Ephesus after Pamukkale and instead after an extra day rest at the Koray Otel headed back to Istanbul. Tom bemoans the fact of missing The Artemis Temple and the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus because of his kidney stone and while I am sure they are a great site to see it would have meant missing getting to know the wonderful people of Pamukkale and their friendship. We took the overnight bus back to Istanbul on Monday evening. It is a shame to take those long rides during the night hours. They are very long, tedious and the dark shrouds the beautiful landscapes found throughout Turkey. Sleep is difficult to find anyway on the overnight bus rides with the interruptions for refreshments and bathroom use. There is no such thing as a free pee in Europe and we are close enough to Europe to have it already in practice here. Common fee for public bathroom use is 1 and means either 1 Lire, Euro or US dollar which is somewhat comical since their value is not at all alike. Throughout Turkey all three currencies are accepted and without following daily market fluctuations the prices are usually set like these; Ten postcards 1 Euro, $1.50 US or 2 Lira and that is quite close to what our exchange rate has been. When asking a vendor for a price and he holds up 5 fingers do not assume he means 5 lira because when money is handed over it suddenly becomes 10 lira since he was holding up Euro fingers!
We arrived back in Istanbul early Tuesday morning and Tom who had started to feel better had enough of a relapse in pain and discomfort that I took him to an Istanbul Hospital after another uncomfortable night. At the back of the Istanbul guide book all the hospitals are listed, all 16 of them and of course “ American Hospital “ jumped out. Even more so when the young Canadian man sitting next to me at the hostel downstairs while I am frantically trying to make contact with our insurance company, points out in the little book he carries “ Good hospitals worldwide“ that in Istanbul American Hospital tops the lists, the only one the list BTW. A taxi is called and Tom and I head to the American Hospital and upon arrival are a little mystified that all the signs are still in Turkish and every one keeps on speaking that language we do not understand and where are the Americans? We quickly are told that American is a name for the hospital ? So , what does that mean for all the other Istanbul hospitals by the other names: Armenian Hospital, Italian Hospital, International Hospital, German Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Florence Nightingale hospital and all the others. All kidding now aside, the Istanbul American Hospital is a hospital that any American city would proudly claim as its own. Tom’s treatment there these past two days has been admirable and the surgery to remove a lodged stone in his ureter could not have been performed better anywhere else. Nurse Fathima did her best to be understood and all failure was strictly our fault for our inability to not understand her language. As Tom’s
“ attendant” I received royal treatment including meals, showers and a good bed. Admissions/discharge worked with us and through any language barriers and we were so happy to learn that our primary American Blue Cross/Blue Shield was accepted and without delay paid with us only having to pay the much smaller co-payment due by our Travelers insurance which the Istanbul Hospital does not accept. Here all along we thought it would be our travelers insurance which would protect us but strangely that was the one not accepted.
It has been a week where al lot was learned. Walking through a sleeping village, waking up from its winter slumber while preparing for summer’s tourist onslaught is something I would not have wanted to trade. One learns a lot from a village and a country which sleepingly is arising to greatness. One truly learns a country and its people when misfortune happens and how it is dealt with. When we now hear the call to prayer we know why it is done five times. It is calculated according to the movement of the sun; the noon prayer time begins when the sun has just passed its zenith at one’s location and it therefore changes with seasons according to where one is in the world. Thus, there is not even a single moment without prayer being made throughout the world. Five stands for the pillars of profession, declaration of belief in God, obligatory prayer 5 times a day, the giving of charity, fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a life time for those who have the means. What I will remember most are 5 South African women who explained when I asked them whether they needed to go to Mosque to pray when the muezzin called laughed and said they had an hour to find the place to pray and God did not live in buildings . It will be the words from Rifat Durune , from our Pamukkale hotel who upon our leaving was thanked for treating us as family and his simple reply:
“ That is what we are all called to be for each other”.
Tonight Tom is still a little sore but we are both very grateful for Turkey’s care of us both and its natural beauty. Reading through our little Turkish book we are slowly becoming wise to the language. One of our favorites is the numbers.
1 is bir (pronounced beer)
2 is iki(pronounced ee-kee)
See the fun that can be had while isolated in a small hospital room overlooking the great, ancient Turkish peninsula and the Bosphorous?
What we also learned is that gula-gula is an appropriate goodbye saying for those who are staying.
Those who are leaving say allahaismarladik
Tom and Els