Turkey Trip Tales: Mary Ellen O’Hare-Lavin, Ph. D.

By: Mary Ellen O’Hare-Lavin, Ph. D.

In spring 2013, I joined a group of faculty, students and other interested persons on a trip to Turkey through the Political Science Department at Oakton Community College and sponsored by the Niagara Foundation of Chicago. The purpose was to broaden our understanding of political and commercial interests in Turkey, but it was so much more than that. We visited with political leaders, universities and a newspaper and learned about how information is disseminated. We took a boat ride on the Bosphorus. We watched Whirling Dervishes spin for what seemed an eternity. We enjoyed a home cooked meal in a private home and learned up front about the people of Turkey. Every day was a new adventure.   The students among us asked many questions and our hosts were most patient and generous with their information and time.

Turkey is beautiful and the people are very gracious. It is rich in history and archeological finds with a strong Muslim tradition. Did you know that over centuries Istanbul was the capital of three major empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire? Fortunately several people on our trip had ancestral roots in the Muslim tradition and they answered our many questions about their religion. I admit my ignorance and was grateful to have the opportunity to join in at several prayer times in Mosques all over Turkey. Hearing the call to prayer was very moving for me (even the 4:00 a.m. call!). I know that the terrorism we hear about every evening on the news has nothing to do with the Muslim faith. Travel does this for us. It turns us around and enlightens our limited understanding and perceptions.

We traveled on a small bus and stayed at lovely hotels, one of which was in the east because Turkey straddles both the western and eastern hemispheres of the world. I learned that the word Mediterranean is constructed of the Latin words Medi and terr, meaning “middle” and “land or earth.”  And Turkey is indeed the middle of the world! Our guide was a knowledgeable young woman who spoke perfect English. She had studied as an exchange student at the University of Illinois and was now back living in Turkey with her family. She was able to navigate restaurants and hotels and tour guides with impeccable ease. The food we ate, and we seemed to be eating all the time, was both delicious and healthy. I returned home resolved to incorporate a Mediterranean diet into my life style.

Because I am a Jungian psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, and a feminist, I am interested in symbol, myth, and religion and how that all plays into psychology. My favorite part of our trip was visiting the ruins at Ephesus. I have had the image of Artemis of Ephesus in my consultation room for years having taken a picture of the statue at the Vatican Museum in the early 1970s. Now I was able to see where this religious image was revered in antiquity. It was breathtaking. You may know Artemis of Ephesus as the multibreasted fertility goddess known for her generosity and loving care. In the Christian tradition, it is also said the youngest apostle John took the Blessed Virgin Mary to Ephesus so that she could live out her last days in peace and tranquility. These stories are handed down over the centuries and are often told in different ways.  As Joseph Campbell might explain, whether the story is true or not is not the point. It ‘s the archetypal core of the story that affects and changes us.

My visit to Turkey was life changing. I am enriched for the experience. I suggest everyone visit Turkey and learn more about its rich culture and beautiful terrain.

[Image via Flickr]

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