December 25, 2007


Women Pray in the Cave of Abraham

From father Abraham’s sons two nations were formed, their desert paths diverging.

Centuries later men die fueled by their self righteous anger toward the other.

Deep inside the earth, cradled within the stone walls of this cave where the Prophet Abraham was born I join with women who come to pray.

In this holy sanctuary mothers whisper to God their sufferings, crying for loss of the ones they loved.

With dignity and grace each woman’s private conversation resonates through their bodies; arched in agony, raised in reverence, kneeling with humility.

I am awed by their devotion and the need to reach out to God.

The closeness in this crowded womb defies the divisions of our politics.

Silently I pray that people put down their weapons and raise their conscience from hatred and separation to create a path that meets in Peace.

December 14, 2007


Courtyard of Ulu Mosque

Interior view of St. Pierre Church

I arrive in Hatay at dusk, surprisingly eager to explore, after riding on a bus that left Kushadasi seventeen hours earlier. I like long bus rides, the time passes quickly with the changing scenery, especially in Turkey where it’s similar to flying coach on an airplane; only better. A steward offers water, tea and coffee sometimes even snacks. With the frequent stops there is always more treats and good food, though it may be 1:00am in the morning. HAS bus lines provide headphones offering a variety of Turkish music and a comedy movie to watch from a small monitor. With the amount of cities I intend to visit on this journey I needed to pack light for the two months on the road. I carry two small suitcases; one stuffed with clothes for all occasions; from business attire when meeting the officials, sponsors and the press; to warm sweater and a thermal jacket for camping in the desert; a lite sleeping bag for low budget hotels and a bathing suit and wraps for the Dead Sea and Eilat. My second piece of luggage is a high quality rolling backpack that holds my laptop, external hard-drive, three camera bodies, various lens, and a tripod, along with all the necessary cables, chargers, batteries and memory cards. Because of the expensive camera gear I buy two seats and the bag stays with me at all times. The clothes bag is stowed down below with everyone’s luggage. People are often curious when they realize that I am traveling alone. The comment I hear most often is; “you are a brave girl” which leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable as if they put a hex thinking only of the worst possibilities. The truth is traveling alone comes second nature. I suppose being raised in Windsor, Canada, born in Detroit, Michigan I am use to traveling across national borders into then what was considered somewhat dangerous neighborhoods.
Immediately after checking into the Antakya Hotel I drop the bags in the room and head for the old city. The many bridges are full with people, their reflections grayed on the Asi River know in biblical times as the Oronoco when Hatay was called Antioch. Crossing into the old city I notice a scent of cinnamon in the air and discover that the delicious aroma wafting out of the incredible number of sweet shops is Künefe the local dessert of melted cheese sandwiched between shredded wheat drizzled with warm honey. It seemed everyone is addicted to it; hence my first impression of Arabic culture is sweetness in the air, the people, and the architecture. I’m in love with this peaceful place whose ancestors were a mixture of many cultures that arrived with the caravans on the western edge of the Silk Road.

It was in Hatay that I experienced the beauty and grace of traveling alone. I am somewhat intimidated to enter places of worship not wanting to disobey any observances or customs and the Ulu Mosque’s half lit entrance intrigued and frightened me at the same time. I must have photographed for 20 minutes before entering through the arches to the inner courtyard which magically opened to reveal 6 lemon trees laden with golden fruit shinning with the fading sunlight, I was immediately transformed by the sound of dozens of birds chirping causing me to let go from the hustles and bleepings outside this calm sanctuary. Men began drifting in from each gate to answer the call to evening prayers.
The Ulu is Hatay’s oldest mosque while nearby the Church of St. Pierre is where St.Peter preached and founded the Christian community, believed to be the first church in the world. Originally build in a cave, the Crusaders erected an elaborate façade with vaulted arches leading to the stone alter. Today Hatay’s tolerance is depicted in the city’s poster which commemorates Islam, Judaism and Christianity with symbols of the cross, crescent moon and the Star of David. Unfortunately the synagogue like the one in Istanbul was not open when I went to visit the first time. I was told to return the next day at 8:00am but after knocking for several minutes and wandering up several neighboring staircases it appeared locked tight.

Mt. Ararat

Marla Mossman

My photo
One woman traveling alone, in search of her religious and cultural heritage.