Buy the Belly Dance Reader

The Gilded Serpent presents...
How I came to Turkey
by Kayla Summers

A funny thing happened on my way to India!

This adventure began in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). I had received a $750.00 voucher to go anywhere I wanted.

I had gotten one for my boyfriend too, but he decided on a solo trip to Amsterdam with his... I was broken hearted. Truly, I was a wreck, and I thought that perhaps a month in an Ashram, nursing my broken heart would be more beneficial than months of therapy-- and cheaper too.

So India became my destination. However, the voucher would not cover that journey by air. Friends suggested an overland trip just get into London and then I could take a bus or a train. It would take forever, but I had plenty of time!

My friends had traveled the route, many times over, some twenty-odd years ago. Without further investigation, I drove to LAX. As I was handing over the voucher, requesting a trip to London, I hesitated. Looking for a way to cut a week or so of bus /train travel from my trip, I asked, “Don’t you have any flight closer to India than London?”
“Well, we do have a special fare for Istanbul.”

“Istanbul it is”, I answered cavalierly, handing over the voucher. I would leave in a week.

I did no further research and did not know anything about Turkey. I knew nothing! After all, I reasoned, I was just landing there and taking a train to India; what’s to know? I was short on funds, my “accountant”allowed me $600.00, and I was off! I landed first in Amsterdam, and began doing the natural things anyone from Berkeley would do in the five-hour layover, and then I arrived in Istanbul, at midnight. I saw a poster on the wall listing various hotels, mostly Hilton and such, which would put me into financial crisis in moments! Listed in the middle of all these hotels there was, “‘Otel Flamingo”, which had a small room for a mere eight dollars per night. I called, reserved a room, and after a harrowing cab ride, arrived. The concierge, a kind man who spoke (perhaps?) six words in English, greeted me. He showed me a few rooms, and let me sleep for two days. When I got up, I tried to pay. The concierge suggested that I go for a walk, instead.

Stumbling onto the tourist trail, in Sultana I was shown the mosques, and their beauty stunned me. I sat inside one for a half hour, marveling at the complexities of the design, and the serenity of the building. I returned easily to the hotel, (a marvel in itself). The concierge acknowledged me, but before he accepted my money, he indicated that I had to see the owner. I was led into a room that was partitioned with panels of latticed dark wood. There, on a big red velvet chair, sat an older gentleman, wearing a pillbox shaped hat. He wore strange (to my eyes) clothing, and he was smoking a water pipe. After a few moments of silence, he asked if I was well rested and comfortable where I was. I answered, "Very. I love the mosques!" A few moments of silence passed, and after a couple of puffs on the hookah, he said “M-m-m-hum”, in the affirmative. The concierge then indicated that I go back out. I was allowed to pay and stay.

Well, one might say that that was that. But remember, I was still on my way to India! The next day, I went to the travel agency, requesting train and bus information, for the next leg of my journey.

She was silent for a moment, then quietly, as if reminding me, “But you’re American!”I didn’t understand the relevance of her comment until she showed me the map;

I’d have to go through Iran and Iraq, with which my country had been at sorts for some time. She suggested I go to the American Embassy, reasoning that perhaps they would grant me a pass, which, I was assured; they would not for my own good. I could take a flight to India, but I would land in Bombay (now Mumbai). The plan would wipe out my money, leave weeks of train travel, and I would have only about three days at the ashram.

Depression and anguish are the feelings that come to mind. Remember…my “broken heart”, lacking much will to live...

I asked her if there was, perhaps, an ashram or yoga center, located in Istanbul. She looked at me in a really funny way as we sipped “cay”(pronounced “chi”with a long ‘I’). Delivering to me my next realization, she said, “This is a Muslim country.”
I’m like, “So, what?”
“We don’t do…have that sort of thing here.”
Then I saw an Indian restaurant, (this part is truly my own arrogance). I said to myself, “Where there is an Indian restaurant, there is an Indian; where there is an Indian, there is an ashram”. So I strode across the street to the restaurant, and I told the bus boys to take me to “their Indian”. They escorted me to the back kitchen where, sure enough, there was a little guy, cranking out chapattis. I told him that I couldn’t make it to India, but that I definitely needed an ashram! I needed a refuge. Hesitantly he said, “I’m Pakistani (read Muslim). Anyway, I’ve only been here for four days. But there is no such thing here; this is a Muslim country. I apologized profusely, claiming that it was just a chance...

At that, he turned to the bus boys gathered around us, and said, “Give her the card.”

They jostled one another for a second or two, as young boys do, and finally produced a yellow business card with a tartaric design on it. He said, “Maybe he can help you. Anyway, he speaks better English than I do.”I’m giving you the shorter version…

In my dogged pursuit of the ashram, I had received yet another card, this time, with a phone number, and the word “Dada”. I can’t tell you how weird it is for me to call a complete stranger, asking for “Daddy”! I tried a few times, without success, finally having the concierge dial, which did the trick. A man answered, and I went through the recitation of my need for an ashram, and my inability to get to India, and the many cards leading me to him. There was a pause.
“How did you get my number?”he asked.
I repeated my story, now believing this was some joke. Feeling entirely humiliated, I said, “Look, you know why I’m here!”
He sighed, “Yes, I know; wait for me. I’ll call you back in a half hour.”I waited, and he did call back and said, “We have, someplace to put you, but I’m very busy.”
I said that I could wait, ‘til whenever he was through. But he said, “No, you must come now!”Then he gave me directions to the Asian side of Istanbul to a shop called “Liilas”that was located on Bagdat Caddessi, in Goeztepe. I arrived there, sweating and disheveled. The saleswoman looked at me as if I had fallen out of the sky. When I asked for “Dada”, she remained blank and undaunted. Exhausted, I repeated very firmly in English (none of which she understood) that I was waiting here for Dada, and I sat down. Five minutes later, an Indian man, arrived, who, as it turned out, is the co-owner of the shop.

He said, “Come with me.”
I reached for my bag, and he said, “Don’t take that; take only what you need for the night...”

I did bring my passport, and left the rest behind. As one must do to begin any spiritual trip, first, I had to drop the baggage. He lead me up the street and into an apartment stuffed with exports from India, huge carved wardrobes, silks, and saris spilling out of them, boxes and crates, crammed with baubles and silver... It was all dusty; clearly, no one lived there... He led me to the back of the apartment to a large room, which was completely devoid of furniture. It was clean, with white walls, a “Rashneesh orange”carpet, and an altar. That was all that was there. He said, “We will meditate.”We meditated for twenty minutes or so then he looked at my passport, and noted that, indeed, I had a visa to India, proving the intent of my journey. Then he asked me why I was here. I gave, him the quick and dirty story of the heartbreak, ending with: “…that I will take complete responsibility for what happened, but I don’t know how to go on. I just cannot remember how to live or why to live.”He brushed a tear from his face.

God forgive me! Here I was: alone, damned near broke, feeling devastated to the core, without a friend or home, and you know what I thought right then? I thought, “Sucker!”

I mean, I hadn’t told him anything that he hadn’t heard before: here is a too proud, older woman, getting duped and dumped. And here he is, wiping away a tear because of my pitiful story, and all I could think was, “What a Sucker!”

We sat, facing each other, for a few minutes, and then he took a deep breath. I stared at him. The wall behind him grew brighter and brighter. His head began growing large, like a pumpkin with its features, and it slowly began rising off of his neck. As if in response to my stupid thought!
“Sucker this, Kid!”

My great grandmother was a “medium”(complete with crystal ball). She did have a gift, and made a thriving business of it. (However, she also had children rattling the table during some of her “séances”; okay?) So, I was looking for the tricks, and there were none. I continued to stare, I looked away in shame, and when I looked back again, there he was, just a little man from Bengal (normal head on normal neck). He asked me, if I found this room suitable for my stay. I replied, “Yes.”I spent each night in that room. To be honest, on the first night I searched the room for a “trip switch”or “wire”just to be sure, but I found none.

There are few people more cynical than I, but I maintain that I saw what I saw. Dada will not confirm or deny the incident; he just laughs.

I spent the days, making new friends, learning more yoga, studying a tartaric method, replenishing my soul and heart, trying to speak Turkish, and ultimately, falling in love with the country and its remarkable people. In short, I learned how to live again.

As the month ended, I sat in that room with Dada’s business partner and devotee of the yogi philosophy, a Turkish woman named Kalianna, reviewing and marveling at the strange circumstances that had brought me here…We laughed. Then she commented, “You know, Kayla, this room was not always like this (pristine) it was like the rest of the house, [filled to the ceiling with imports]. One day, shortly before you came here, Dada and I were standing here, and he said, ‘Kalianna, this room, must change! …Now!’Well, that meant I had to do it, and within a week, I had it ‘cleared out’, painted, carpeted, etc. It was a lot of work!”

I don’t know why, but I asked Kalianna, “Do you remember what day it was?”
She answered, “Yes. I have it written on my calendar.”Interestingly, it was the same day that I had handed over the voucher, thereby changing my original plan, to request my alternate destination: Istanbul.

That is the story of how I chose Istanbul, …or how Istanbul chose me.


Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for More?
more by Kayla

12-20-02 “Kayla, the Beach Girl, Tree Dweller”, Kalbak Beach by Kayla Summers
...picture yourself on a guru orange air mattress, ever so gently floating atop a crystal clear turquoise ocean ...

10-14-02 Kayla's Travel Journal- "The Turkish Flim-Flam Man" by Kayla Summers
...foodstuffs still glued on, --no black marks from any recent explosion,--I believed it to be “working”...

10-3-02 Kayla;s Travel Journal- Turkish Bath/Hamam 2 by Kayla Summers
Some of the men joked: …if I really wanted to... but I opted out.

1-28-03 How I Accidentally Became a Successful Belly Dance Teacher by Michelle Joyce
Now mine is the most popular class, which led to a snowballing of other gyms adding belly dance aerobics classes.

1-17-03 Weight Loss The Bert Balladine Way by Gladys Harrison aka Al Qahira
That was not the first time I had nearly starved to death “on the road with Bert”.

Buy the Belly Dance Reader