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Middle East Jasmine Dispatch

Title: A Day at the Grand Bazaar
March 4, 2000

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No money? Looks like another day of window shopping!

Before I joined the Worldtrek Team, I, like you, logged on from home and school to follow the trekkers on their journey around the globe. One article that Kavitha wrote while the team was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe still stands out to me today. It really captured the purpose of the trek: bringing the cultures of the world into your living room and classroom via the internet. After exploring the market, I felt like I had truly experienced the people of Bulawayo, from the sweet lady selling the fuzzy black worms (a local delicacy) that Kavitha and Abeja shared, to the spices used to cook traditional Zimbabwean dishes. The market really is a great way to get to know a place.

Despite the fact that we've been in Turkey for some time now, I was completely thrilled about spending the day in the Kapali Carsi (the Grand Bazaar). If you want to completely submerge yourself in a new place, nothing compares to a 4000-shop complex, complete with mosques, banks and restaurants. When we set off, the day was gloomy and rainy. Luckily, we had only to make it to the Grand Bazaar, also known as the Covered Bazaar, to escape the ugly weather. The market was covered for exactly this purpose back in the 15th Century, under Mehmet the Conqueror. The leaders of the time designed a series of docks at the edge of the bazaar so that caravans could unload and trade all in one area. Today, most of the old plan still functions as it did when the bazaar was first established.
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Careful for impostors. Everything that glitters ain't 

The market was originally set up according to the various types of trade. There was Mirror-Makers' Street, Pearl Merchants' Street, and the Kurkculer Carsisi (the Furriers'Bazaar), which is now where all leather goods are sold. Kavitha and I entered the market on Kuyumcular Cadessi, or Jewelers' Street, named after all of the gold and precious stone jewelry for sale. I was surprised at the overwhelming attention we received, since nowadays the bazaar caters mostly to tourists. I figured they would be used to seeing people of diverse nationalities, but maybe not. Still, in comparison to some other places, it wasn't so bad. "South Africa!" was usually the charming way I was greeted by store owners who would go on to explain how they have family there. I just laughed, realizing the distances to which they'd go to win a customer.

circumcise - To cut off the foreskin of the penis (in males)

We wandered through the maze of vaulted, ornately designed ceilings, marveling at the splendid gifts we could bring home with us for a cost of little to nothing. Unfortunately, we won't be heading home any time soon, and anything that would make our heavy packs heavier just didn't

Take a walk through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

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make the cut. Not even the beautiful, Turkish-designed blouse Kavi saw for only one million lira (or two US dollars) was worth its weight. Not everything is that cheap. The new stylish boutiques in the bazaar reminded me of home. We stopped in one shop that sold candles, soaps, dried aromatics, and the bath and body products that have become all the rage. After one purchases everything he or she needs for an aromatic bath, one has only to walk across the way to join the cool and trendy guys and girls for tea or coffee in a Turkish Starbucks-like-café.
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Turkish boys are king for a day when they come into their manhood and celebrate their Masallahs.

I was warned that the bazaar was a tourist trap. Even so, the locals still drop in quite regularly to make certain purchases. I can't blame them. The jubilant atmosphere of the bazaar is contagious. One favorite shop for Turks is the dress shop, which caters to those looking to purchase a tailored costume. Wedding dresses and boys' Masallah outfits seemed to be the most popular. As you can imagine, a woman's wedding is a big to-do. A boys' Masallah, or coming of age, is equally significant in Turkey. Tradition has it that at the age of eleven or twelve, the boy is paraded through the village (or by car through the town) to visit friends and relatives who congratulate him on his coming of age. In his special wardrobe, he is escorted to the local clinic by merry-making friends and family. He is then circumcised, as all males must be according to mandatory Islamic tradition. Due to the uncomfortable pain the boy just endured, he is allowed to lay in bed while gifts are delivered from loved ones late into the night.
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Music shops in the Grand Bazaar

Once through the clothing department, we rounded the corner and stumbled upon one of my favorite sections: shops selling Turkish musical instruments of all types (see Abeja’s Turkish music dispatch coming next week). I instantly remembered our friend Peter from San Francisco, who came to Turkey and volunteered at COREM after the earthquake. He was like the pied piper, with smiling children encircling him as he played spirited tunes on his clarinet. He's an awesome musician and learned to play a few Turkish instruments while he was here. He got pretty good at the zerna, a flute-like instrument like the ones snake-charmers use. My favorite instrument is the tabla, the small drum that is powerfully moving when played by a pro. The drums always remind me of the fast-paced West African style rhythms from Mali and Senegal. Kavitha's favorite, the ney, is a small flute used a lot by Turkish mystics like the Whirling Dervishes. They say the sound is akin to the voice of God. We also noticed the very popular predecessor of all western guitars, the ud. Its smaller, pear-shaped cousin, the kemence, is a similar guitar with only three strings, which was easier for me to tackle for my first lessons.
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Gummy, yummy, gooey, sweet and even some all-
natural tasty treats!

After much singing and window shopping, Kavitha and I were lured to the Egyptian Spice Market by the delicious smells of fresh cinnamon, rosemary, and coffee. What we found was an unbelievable abundance of spices and nuts from of all over. I even made my purchase of the day from a spice shop named Yasemine (which is my name in Turkish). The packet of spices I bought for 500,000 lira (one US dollar) included over ten yummy seasonings, like fennel, curry, coriander, and paprika. Turkish delights were in plentiful supply as well. Sampling from the generous shopkeepers left my tummy full. I feasted on all types of yummy, gooey treats, but my favorite was the fresh figs stuffed with whole walnuts. Ummm mmm good! It was a full day of fun and Turkish delights.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Walking on the Moon?
Andrew - Welcome to the Underground (Turkish Style)
Kavitha - Istanbul's Beloved Jewel
Kavitha - Karina of Circassi Part III: In the Hotbed of Intrigue and Deceit
Troy Through the Eyes of a Thirteen-Year-Old
Jasmine - Black History Month continues... Dare To Dream!

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