08 May 2014

Waiting for My Wish to Come True

Back in December a friend told me about the April 23 Aya Yorgi festival on Büyükada and I've been waiting for it ever since! Aya Yorgi (Saint George) is an orthodox monastery honoring (quelle suprise) Saint George of the dragon slaying and is situated at the highest point on Büyükada 200 something meters up. I've been to Büyükada a couple times this past year but I've never been to the monastery. Even knowing it was there, little could induce me to make the climb...but for the promise of a wish come true!

In order to get to Aya Yorgi you have to first climb the hill that takes you to the bottom of the hill to get to the monastery. Yeah. There are usually a few vendors here and there selling those weird flower crowns that seem to be a thing in Istanbul but today there were a plethora of people selling all sorts of things. Including the strings, charms, and candles you need for your pilgrimage.

Crowd at the base of the monastery hill

The day of the festival is also a Turkish national holiday and everyone here, regardless of religious affiliation, celebrates the Aya Yorgi festival so the ferries and the island were even busier than usual. I wasn't sure if the ferries would be running on the regular week day schedule or the weekend/holiday schedule so I just went to the Kabataş iskelesi early to get on whatever there was to get on. It seemed that rather than running either of the posted schedule, they were just running all the ferries as fast as they could. I managed to get to the front of the line for one and so got a seat on the top of the boat in the open-air section. The holiday atmosphere filled the air on the ferry, as did the music from a drum someone had brought along and the singing and clapping that accompanied it.

Wishers tying their strings.

My wish :)
It was so crowded when we disembarked on the island that it took me almost 10 minutes to fight my way through the crowds to the head of the trail. Once there though the crowds thinned out quite a bit so I was able to enjoy the stroll (while avoiding the regular crazy horse cart drivers and people who have no business riding bikes) to the base of the monastery hill. When I got to the base I bought my string and charm, found a place to tie my string, and got started.

It was not easy going! On the plus side, there were so many people like me also walking off path to tie their strings in the wooded area that there was no need to rush. On the downside, there were so many strings from the earlier morning pilgrims that it was a struggle to move around. I felt very much like a Tolkein character making my way gingerly through the webbed layer of the giant spider Shelob. If Shelob spun multicolored web that is. At least it wasn't sticky! I was really trying to be careful as I made my way over, under, around, and through the various cat's cradle traps. What if I broke someone's string! Wearing sandals with velcro straps was certainly not a wise move on my part as the velcro kept trying to eat the strings near the ground

My string

So what's the deal with the string? I've done some Googling and I'm afraid I cannot find the origin of this tradition, but the deal is that if you can make the climb with your string intact (either to the very top or to whatever point you run out of string) then the wish you've made will come true within the year. If it does come true then you should come back the following year and pass out sugar (literally just sugar cubes) to those making the pilgrimage. And I did see plenty of people passing out sugar!

Strings carpeted the path up the hill

My entire climb I did my best to contemplate my wish, anchor my string as firmly as I could, not break someone else's string, and not slip on the carpet of strings. They really made the path slippery. I also did my best to avoid the creepy Jesus people. I'm Catholic, we've talked about that, but I'm a bit old school. Give me Latin, lots of kneeling, choirs, and heck bring back the hats. But keep the Yay Jesus people away from me. I don't care if you're Catholic, Protestant, or even a Jew for Jesus (still waiting for an explanation on them). Your enthusiasm is awesome...but back up off of me. So while making my way through a string jungle, I and everyone else, also had to dodge the multiple yabangi groups taking up space on both sides of the path who were passing out pamphlets, singing far less good music than we had on the ferry, and asking if we knew Jesus.

Having a rest

Finally I reached the top (or at least near the top) of the hill. I didn't make it to the Aya Yorgi monastery itself because the crowd was a solid, unmoving wall at the top of the hill. And if I've learned anything this last year in Turkey it's to avoid crowds. Instead I explored the wall where people were lighting candles for their wishes and prayers. Each color candle had a specific wish associated with it: love, money, children, soldiers, success, etc. Likewise the charms. 

Getting down the hill was almost as difficult as the trip up. Given my proclivity for falling down I was especially careful. The entire hike took me just shy of two hours so I treated myself to some of the glorious lokma available from island vendors as well as a large ice cream. I also somehow ended up on an express boat back to Kabataş that didn't stop at any of the other islands and so took only about an hour instead of the usual 100-ish minutes.

I successfully made it all the way to the end of my string without it breaking. So in theory by this time next year my wish will come true. If it does I'll be back on the island passing out sugar cubes!In the meantime thought I'll keep my fingers crossed and take any other luck that comes my way.

No comments: