Q: What do all these things have in common?

Lale means “tulip” in Turkish, nazar boncuğu is “evil eye” and belly dancing is belly dancing (hehe). So why am I bringing this up? Well, as pretty much none of you know, I’ve been invited to participate in a global leadership symposium in Turkey during my 2 week mid-semester break in April. This is an amazing opportunity to learn more about Turkish culture, meet experts in the fields of education, law, human rights, conservation and environment issues, politics and Turkish history and culture. It’s an opportunity I don’t think I’ll be passing up as programs like this don’t come around everyday and it is extremely exclusive. Only 10-14 people are invited to participate every semester.

There have been other opportunities to attend a global leadership symposium in different parts of Asia, however Turkey has always held a special place in my heart. I have always wanted to spend time traveling around Turkey and had plans to go there with someone else, but those fell through so I will be heading there for this GLS series.

So why mention lale, nazar boncuğu and belly dancing?

Lale, or tulips, are my absolute favourite flower and have always been my favourite flower. Any guy who buys me roses is out the door if tulips are available for purchase (which sadly, they aren’t during my birthday in Australia). April and May also happen to be host to the Istanbul Lale Festivali (Istanbul tulip festival) where the government plants over 3 million tulip bulbs which bloom throughout April and May. Needless to say I will probably come back with hundreds of picture of tulips. On that note, I think I need a better camera. Shame I’m selling my soul to come up with the money just to pay for the trip and won’t be able to get one.

Nazar boncuğu, or the evil eye, is a very important amulet in Turkey and throughout the Middle East*. It’s also about the only thing I am superstitious about. The idea behind the evil eye is that frequently attached to the idea of jealousy. For instance, it is inappropriate to tell someone “you have such a beautiful baby” in the Middle East as you are seen to be gazing upon the child jealously and bad things may happen to them as you are casting them the evil eye. Instead, they say “Mashallah” or “What God wills” when paying a compliment.

In Aegean region and Middle Eastern countries, where light coloured eyes are very rare it is said that those with green eyes (like myself) bestow the curse whether intentionally or unintentionally (Usually intentionally if we are talking about myself). Therefore, Greece and Turkey especially have blue eye’d amulets that are generally worn around the neck to ward of the evil eye and ‘turn away’ or reflect the curse back to he who bestowed it. Needless to say, I don’t go anywhere without my evil eye around my neck. I’ve been wearing one since 2007.

*The evil eye is an object based on superstition and is not mentioned in the Qu’ran at all. Many devout Muslims do not wear the evil eye and actually get the “heebie jeebies” from it (as explained by my Kenyan Muslim friend Yasmeen) because it is an object of superstition and not an object of Allah (God). While Turkey is 98% Muslim, it is a secular country, and possibly due to globalisation and being a meeting point of East and West, the larger cities are much more like European cities and many Muslims only go to prayer on Friday (their day of worship) and other holy days as per the Islamic calender.

The third thing on the list is belly dancing. The one thing I dislike about Turkish belly dancing is the fact that they use zills very heavily (the finger cymbals). I am not a fan of things I am not good at and I am not good at the zills (we have to learn them in dance) and therefore I don’t like them. Some of you may know that I have been belly dancing off and on since I was 18. I’ve recently started it up again and am very much looking forward to going to Turkey and finding myself some belly dancers to watch. Most places in Istanbul focus on Turkish pop/house music as that is what the crowd is there to listen to, but I’m very much looking forward to seeking out belly dancers. I have heard tell that you are more likely to see belly dancing in the more rural areas where they still do folk dancing, but I’ll check the guidebooks all the same.