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A Calvinist in the Istanbul Airport

By November 12, 2015 2 Comments

Airports are usually generic places. They are means and not ends, serving as instruments to get people from point A to point B. They may also serve as significant economic engines for particular locales; but on the whole, the airport itself is not the destination. Airports are the way you get to the place you really want to go. As such airports are not especially unique. Sure, they may have an aspect of local flavour, an accent of regional specialty, or at their best an architectural flair or design feature that makes them more pleasant, but for the most part they are much the same. Indeed some are larger, some less crowded, some with varying efficiencies but little details aside whether you’re at O’Hare or Hartsfield-Jackson, Pittsburg or Phoenix, LAX or JFK, airports are generically the same, usually domestically speaking.

But internationally it is much the same as well, from Amsterdam Schiphol to Dubai, London Gatwick to Bengaluru, Toronto Pearson to Rome Fiumicino to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion, airports are very similar. (The only exception I’ve personally experienced was Tbilisi, still recovering from its Soviet period and a short time after the Rose Revolution, Georgia was much developing.)

Airports are much the same the world over and the world’s people rushing through them daily are also quite similar. Again, the locals may well display the incredible diversity of human variety, particular accents of regional specialty, a broad spectrum of cultures displayed in language, dress, religion, and custom, but on the whole we are immensely similar.

When I was a child/young person I grew up with many Amish around in daily life. They farmed nearby or worked in local manufacturing or in the building trades. We shopped in the same grocery store, went to the same sales, used the same bank and hospitals, even ate at the same restaurants. At different times my family employed Amish persons: a crew that harvested timber on our property, a young woman who helped my grandmother with spring cleaning. Another time we built an extension to our barn, a rather large shed for hay and machinery. A small local family of brothers and cousins who worked as builders and carpenters were hired. One of the men brought his son, Eli, who was around the age of my brother and I, maybe 8 or 9 years old, 10 at the most. We played around the farm as was our custom while the adults worked. What I recall most significantly about that time was that we three boys did what was normal for three young boys: we played and roughhoused and got into trouble just as you’d expect us to, and Eli was absolutely no different than my brother and I. Sure he wore different clothes and had a different accent and he and his family worshipped a little differently than my family and they lived a little differently–or perhaps a lot since they didn’t use electric–but we had much more in common than in difference.

I have observed many non-Amish having an incredible appreciation of and for Amish craftpersonship and simple way of living. That’s all well and good. But as I have known Amish people, I’ve experienced them with similar lives of drama that the rest of us live, with joys, sorrows, angst, and turmoil and all the other complexities of life. They do indeed live more conservatively and communally but they are much more similar to us who are not Amish than different from us.

It may seem an odd segue but I was thinking about those childhood experiences the other day as I was on a layover at the Istanbul airport. As said above, airports the world over are quite the same. Perhaps you have a bit more regional flavour in some places but generally, people are people. The Istanbul International Airport is filled with people traveling all around the world and there are times when outwardly particular customs/language/dress stand out as not what one may be used to seeing or hearing. While one may readily observe women in Islamic dress in almost any location–I’ve seen it in airports from Denver to Des Moines, and for that matter on my own neighbourhood block–places in and near the Islamic world have a much greater percentage of women wearing the hijab. You also notice, preferably without being voyeuristic, the huge variety of styles, colours, and patterns, not to mention additional differences with those who wear the niqab and others the burqa.

Waiting for my connecting flight it dawned on me as I people watched how easy it was to simply view the outward covering, beautiful or mysterious or downright different as it may be. But becoming aware of it, or maybe just because after a while any sort of peculiarity or novelty for me was worn away, I stopped seeing veils and instead started to see grandparents walking steadily and slowly down the concourse. I began to view hurried families corralling multiple children in tow. I saw young couples who walked with a lilt in their steps, hand in hand, eyes sparkling, enmeshed in conversation and laughter. I simply started to see other people.

Which brings me to my Amish thought: at a certain instance I see a younger couple with a small child walking between them all holding hands. “Mom” is wearing both a head covering and a face veil, “Dad” is in your basic jeans and a polo shirt standard, their preschool aged child looking like any other preschooler you might imagine–cute, mischievous, a joy and a handful all at once. The soundtrack in my head plays a certain stereotype response, mere background chatter of my mind. But then I considered what if she had a bonnet, he had a beard and wide brimmed hat, their clothing plain but religious? What if they were a conservative Christian sect I’m quite familiar with instead of who they appeared to be? What then would the background chatter in my head be thinking?

To be fair this is certainly not anything new. Jesus shared something akin when asked who one’s neighbour is. Maybe we’re not generically the same but we are remarkably similar even in our diversity.


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