Sufis and Money Exchange in Kisli Turkey
Woke up in the Istanbul Hotel on the Syrian bordertown of Kisli and toggled off a list of what I needed to do before I would be ready to cross the border.
1. Check couchsurfing to confirm my travel details with host in Aleppo.
2. Get US Dollars
3. Get Syrian pounds
Craigy from Travelvice.com tipped me off that international ATMs are hard to come by in Syria and recommended that we stock up with Syrian money before crossing into the country. The Catch-22 of the situation was that we did not know if we would be given Syrian visa at the border. Officially, American citizens need to apply for Syrian visas in the USA and pay a stuffed pocket full of cash for it; in actuality, visas can usually be obtained at the border for $16. We did not want to enter Syria without spendable currency, but we also did not want to have to return to Turkey with tails tucked between our legs and hundreds of dollars of useless Syrian pounds in the event that we were not permitted to enter. So I figured that I would exchange the equivalent of $60 into Syrian pounds, which would be enough to get us deep into the country, and then see what happens.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Kisli, Turkey- April 9, 2009
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Chaya was still a little sick after the previous nauseous day of travel (Bus from Sanliurfa to Gaziantep to Kilis), so I set out alone to make the border crossing preparations. My mission was to change money and check the internet; I ended up making friends, finding a free ride to the border, drinking numerous glasses of coffee and tea, smoking many bad Turkish cigarettes, and being ordained as a Naqshbandi Sufi.
A simple trip to the bank and the internet cafe ended up taking more than three hours. The wheels of forward progress work a little slower in the East, there are social formalities that need to be enacted every step of the way. Steps such as shaking hands, drinking multiple cups of tea, smoking cigarettes, and speaking every detail of your entire life history. There is no such thing as a cut and dry, quickly completed business transaction in Asia Minor; by formal decree, for me to get Syrian pounds meant that I had to hang out and make some friends.
I walked in and out of a couple banks in Kisli looking for someone who could change my Turkish Lira into Syrian pounds and US dollars. One bank dished me out the dollars and a good rate with no difficulties. For the Syrian pounds, I would have to find a “gold shop” near a mosque, I was directed by a bank teller.
I found what I thought was the mosque, but could not find the gold shop. I was thinking that a gold shop was simply a shop that sold golden jewelry, but my thinking flipped itself inside out when I could not find this shop that was said to be easy to locate. Then I noticed that standing directly next to the mosque was a shop that did not sell gold but had gold trimmings around its windows and doors. For all intensive purposes, I was looking at a gold shop.
I walked up to the doors, it was a pro-Palestinian activist center. It momentarily seemed to make sense that they could be able to sell me some Syrian pounds. I thought I had the right location, that “gold shop” meant a shop with the color gold painted upon its exterior.
I walked in and found two men sitting in the far corner of a large room that had Palestinian flags and free Palestine posters all over it. The men oddly did not seem too surprised at my intrusion, which further convinced me that I found the right place. I greeted them and asked if they could sell me some Syrian pounds. They said that they could, and I sat down next to them with a cup of coffee. We worked out the details of the exchange and had some introductory talk. One man spoke decent English, the other did not but smiled at my words and gestured kindly when he communicated with me through the English speaker.
The man that I could communicate with in my native tongue was named Mesut, he was slightly round shaped and had a kind face. He was a medical doctor in Kisli and a Naqshbandi Sufi, and he spoke an excited way and carried a cheerful countenance.
“My name in English means “happy,” he told me very happily.
He loved his Islam.
“You are a Muslim?” he directly questioned me.
I was not going to lie.
Mesut then grew very excited and began speaking prayers in Arabic and lines from the Qur’an. Some of which I could understand, most of which I could not. We then began talking about Sufis and poetry.
He mentioned Konya, the international center of Sufism, and I mentioned Rumi, who is buried there.
“No, not Rumi,” Mesut correct, “Nazim.”
I had previously thought that Konya was held sacred because of Rumi and his teacher Shams-i Tabriz, but I learned that it was just held sacred because it is sacred.
I mentioned Omar Khayyam, and Mesut answered in appreciation of his poetry but with slight reservations about his life style.
“Khayyam was good, but he did not follow all of the Muslim rules. He drank a lot of wine.”
I have long wondered about the degree of metaphor in regards to wine in Khayyam’s Rubiyat. Some Western critiques say that it was all metaphor, that the word “wine” was simply a stand in to represent the sweet essence of life, but, from reading the poems – even in translation – I could never fully agree wholly with this.
It is my impression that Khayyam concurrently talk of wine both literally and metaphorically. It was reaffirming to learn that a Sufi man in Turkey thought the same.
I made a motion to change money, and the medical doctor said that he would help me. We then rose and left the Palestine activist center.
We went to the gold shop that I was initially set out to find. It stood next to a different mosque. “Gold shop” really did mean a shop that sold gold and not the activist center with the gold trimmings.
The gold shop was closed. Mesut called its owner and we then went and sat down in a perfume shop. We drank more tea and were offered more cigarettes. We talked with a young man who sold the perfume. He seemed very happy that I was in his shop, and, as we got up to leave, he offered me a free bottle of perfume. I thanked him and accepted the gift.
I then went to the gold shop with Mesut. I shook hands with the gold vendor who opened his shop on Friday, the Muslim sabbath, just for me. I was given more tea. Mesut talked to me about Islam and the gold shop owner put on some Muslim music. I was then instructed in the ways of the Naqshbandi sufi.
“Promise me,” Mesut began, “that you will say this prayer every day.”
I was then presented with a square piece of paper that had unintelligible Turkish words written all over it. I was instructed to recite each part of the prayer 33 – 100 times every day.
ESTAGFIRULLAH – ELHAMADULILLAH
EL AZIM EL KERIM ELLEZI LA ILAHE ILLA HU
ALLAHUMME SALLI ALA MUHAMMEDIN VE ALA ALI MUHAMMED
LA ILAHE ILLALLAH
BESMELE ILE IHLAS-I SERIF
Eventually, a small fold of Syrian pounds found its way into my hand and my Turkish Lira exited my pocket. The rate was good, everybody was smiling and happy, and I was ready to go to Syria.
Before leaving the shop Mesut grabbed my hand. He squeezed hard and intensely spoke a long prayer in Arabic. Upon finishing he released his grasp and announced that I was now a Naqshbandi Sufi.
He then agreed to give me a ride to the Syrian border and have us escorted through the exit formalities by one of his friends, who just so happened to be a high authority at this border post. This good gesture turned out to be very clutch indeed, as you will read as this story continues to unfold.
Sufis and Money Exchange in Kisli Turkey