Merhaba!

Hope all is well lovelies! x

My brother was in town a few weeks ago and me being the bestest big sister in the world decided to take him to Istanbul for a couple days! I’ve been before, around the same time last year actually! but it was a first for him and I’m pretty sure he had a fab time (he better have haha)

Istanbul is pure magic on its own, but finding someplace to stay which enhances that is a tad hit and miss. After my last trip, I really wanted to stay someplace in close proximity to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia; its all kinds of beautiful and hearing the call to prayer echo between both mosques amidst the hustle&bustle of people does things to your heart and soul and having the freedom to walk between the two at any time of day is just an experience on its own which leaves you in a state of blessings upon blessings and I just really really love it!

We stayed at the ever so lovely Hotel Empress Zoe, a boutique hotel situated in the heart of historic Sultanahmet and I kid you not, an approximate 8 minute walk to the grounds of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia! (I was hella excited!) A few minutes walking distance from there you’ve got the Cistern and Gulhane Park to visit, and can easily hop onto the metro if you’re headed elsewhere.

Besides its amazing location, the charming interior exudes a contemporary Byzantine feel which is showcased throughout the hotel. From the rooftop terrace, to the décor chosen in both the indoor and outdoor dining areas, to the intrinsic wood detailing in the bedrooms, it was hard not to feel like a modern-day Turkish princess haha (the most precious and fluffiest ginger house-cat included as well!) Given that the hotel is built from the remains of an Ottoman passage and barrel vaulted room, there is no elevator, however staff are more than helpful in taking baggage up and down the beautiful marble spiraled staircase for you. (yes, I took a shoe-fie on the staircase each day #noshame)

The hotel boasts 26 rooms, 4 of them being suites which include their own marble hamam-style bathrooms. A hamam is a traditional Turkish bath usually hosted in a communal type environment; so to have your own personal one is pretty freaking amazing! Pictured below is one of the suites (room 702) which has got its own stairwell entry and terrace, essentially your own private living quarters overlooking the beautiful garden below. Look at all that light legit just beaming through the windows! ah! I’m a big windows and letting light shine through type of person so totally in love with everything that was going on at this moment! It’s also a lovely choice if you’re traveling with your special someone for that added privacy and bit of seclusion from the rest of the hotel.

Breakfast and taxes are included in all bookings at the hotel; breakfast consists of a traditional Turkish mezze which included Turkish borek and a variety of cheeses and breads and olives and cereals etc. in an open buffet style concept meaning you could always go back for seconds so yes, more than enough food lol

We stayed in a double-room with a garden view and ugh, it was just so beautiful. A large wooden four-poster canopy bed to one side with a tradition Turkish sedir on the other (large couch built on the wall covered in textiles and pillows used for lounging on sleeping) (this was basically the brothers bed lol). Consistent flow of water (hot and cold) in the bathroom and shower was ace as well; the only only gripe I had was that the full length mirrors in the room were both on opposite sides of the window lol so to put on makeup or even take pictures just didn’t happen because it couldn’t as everything was just dark, but that might just have been our room!

I have to say my most favorite part of the hotel would be the attention to detail in terms of the décor and furniture chosen to effectively execute a tactile presence of another time. All the furniture, textiles, pillows etc. are made up of a collection of old Turkish pieces, and its careful curation comes off as effortless; broken pieces of paving, Ottoman marble fountains and antique stone artifacts lying about as though they’ve been there for centuries. The rooftop terrace with its breathtaking view of the Bosphorus glistening in sunlight to your left, with the two mosques to your right was another fave, alongside the sunken lobby upon entrance to the hotel. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous!x

If you’re ever in town, or Istanbul is on your bucket list, make it happen in the new year and get yourself a room at the Empress Zoe (click here). Being a boutique hotel, not only will it exceed your expectations and provide a much more authentic experience and appreciation for traditional Turkish architecture, but promise it’ll make your trip that little more special x

Thank you a million and one to the exceptionally helpful and friendly staff at Hotel Empress Zoe for providing complimentary stay for the 2 nights. All opinions are my own.

If you think about it, kids were the more recent people to hang out with God and so we should respect them, value them, not like smaller adults but more like if they were the best versions of humanity.

                                                                        – Jerome Jarre

totally aware that not all of these are photos of children, but I’m so in love with the aforementioned and find it quite fitting. Still having warm fuzzies about all of it, but there’s always that extra something about the people you meet (and smother with hugs) in certain places. That in-explainable tug at the strings of your heart&soul which concludes with a massive drawn out sigh on my part because I want to go back! Until then though, I hope you fall as in love with these as I have xx

So much was accomplished and endured this day to the point where I hardly had a second to realize I was leaving later that night.

Our day began earlier than usual as we had to be at the football stadium for around 9am, and headed to the warehouse to load the final 1500 boxes we’d be distributing. Driving into the lot you’d think it was market day what with cars and pick-up trucks lined on the roads, bikes and wheelbarrows sprawled on the side ready to collect their goods for the day.

Upon entering the stadium (I use the term stadium lightly; an indoor pitch really, so a small stadium?), I felt this massive hot heavy feeling on my heart which made it stop for a second and it wasn’t the crying type of of hotness but just this sudden pang of something. An overwhelming-ness maybe, or my entire being in a state of ‘wow’, but essentially a scene which stops you dead in your tracks to take it all in.

People were lined all around the pitch, men on the right, women and children on the left, waiting for us. Once we were sorted, a system was established where half of us would be told how many boxes each person was to receive, we’d walk them out of the stadium, let someone on the truck know, he’d pass the boxes to the second group, we’d pass the person onto the box-bearer who’d then carry the load to either a parked car or taxi or to the end of the road where some waited in the blistering heat for a ride to come collect them. Many of the men were physically able to carry their own, but many women had come with strollers and children and just had too much to handle on top of finding armspace to carry this heavy box someplace.

 

Extra hands were required and I guess it’s one of those moments where you don’t know what you’re truly capable of until you’re placed in a certain situation. Wallahi I tried to lift those boxes before for more than 10 seconds and I know the limitations of my own strength which is pretty much non-existent, but there was also no way I was going to watch another woman struggle with this load and her crying baby, so I had a go at it. Honestly the worst that happened is me being super sore the next day and receiving hugs and kisses and prayers, which is a freaking no brainer and I’m a tad proud of pushing myself beyond what I thought I couldn’t do.

Word had got round that we were in the area which resulted in so many unregistered people trying to make their way inside and pleading with each of us for a box or some food, showing us ID that they too were Syrians and just as eligible I suppose, but unfortunately there was really nothing we could do for them. They were definitely directed to the SKT Turkey team who gave them more information on how to go about registering etc. but saying no in that moment and having to leave people empty handed who are just as much in need is kind of a shitty feeling. Which isn’t anyone’s fault at all but just ugh.

It was a super special moment though, watching it all unfold before your eyes whilst physically being a part of it all and seeing your work and intentions from day one materialize into the final product, the culmination of it all and you couldn’t help but feel your heart expand with an overwhelming amount of joy and love and satisfaction in that you helped make this happen x

Once we were finished, a football match had been organized between SKT volunteers, both local and overseas, against the local SKT sponsored teams who are coached by the goalkeeper of Syria’s national football team. Fam. Those boys annihilated us. Mashallah mashallah mashallah. We played against both teams, the younger and older boys, and lost both terribly haha but they were all so amazing and talented!

The remainder of our evening was meant to be spent at the SOH where the kiddies had put on a show for us and we got to have dinner together which was super special x prior to that had a quick stroll through one of the markets and creeped on some people as per usual lol

I don’t think I want to get into all the feels of those final hours and moments spent with the kiddies and sneaking upstairs to learn Syrian dabke with the mums and listening to their stories because I’d rather they remain etched in my heart and soul for the time being x but there were lots of tears and hugs and kisses and a blanket of sadness in the air for all of us xx

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I’m sure I’ll get round to a post-deployment posting once all of this has been mentally and emotionally processed and I’m able to wrap my head around it all. Also want to do a portrait series of all the beautiful faces I captured so keep a look out for that. The post on how to go about volunteering with SKT is also in the works, alongside a special debut posting by the real Qes Ahmed himself haha so yea definitely stay tuned inshallah!

I want to thank and hug each and every one of you who’ve followed this deployment with me and have been keeping up-to-date with my blogs and other social media platforms. All the prayers and love and well wishes you sent were sent back your way ten-fold and it makes me so happy that so many of you are interested and wanting to make a difference to help and care about raising awareness about the plight of others for the sake of humanity x A massive thank you and hug to Qes and SKT Welfare for inviting me to join their cause and this deployment and allowing me to showcase the wonderful things they do on the grounds in Reyhanli for the Syrian refugees, and inshallah I hope to head back with them in the future! All of this truly came about after I creeped on Hasnain’s (@torynainz) instagram and then Qes’s (@qes321) whilst they were on deployment last Eid and fell in love with all the goodness they were doing lol definitely didn’t think it would result in my being invited to join so thanks a million and one you two! Xxx

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If you have any comments or questions at all etc. please please feel free to send myself a message or even SKT themselves as either of us would be more than happy to help answer or get you the information you need!

As always, lots of love, light, and endless happiness sent your way inshallah x ma salama xoxo

If you’re ever on any type of deployment or volunteer gig which includes people, human beings, and you’re told not to interact with those people because that’s not what you’re here for, do.not.listen.

You might be someplace to help with infrastructure, deliver medical aid, or work on a conservation project etc., but not hugging or speaking to even one local person is a missed opportunity at creating human connection. How else are you to fathom what someone’s gone through, or what they are in need of? For us to simply enter unknown territory and deliver boxes of food because we want to ‘help’, but don’t want to even attempt to understand how those we’re here to help have come to such a point in their lives to require said ‘help’ is a shittier form of colonialism in my opinion.

To presume that ones physical presence as a result of where you come from (‘First World’) is more than enough and that that alone should speak volumes unto an oppressed or already victimized peoples is probably the massivest load of bollocks I could ever think of. You are present as a result of your privilege. As a result of chance and circumstance. Nothing more, nothing less. As humans its in our nature to feel things, sadness, hurt, anger, love, regardless of where you come from, and that’s the beauty of having a heart isn’t it? Allowing it to feel and permeate into the depths of each others souls without using words. Our hearts speak the same language but more importantly our souls share the same voice x

We visited a few villages today where people who’ve already registered with SKT come to pick up their boxes. Each person is notified beforehand be it via text or word of mouth about the upcoming drop-off where they must bring/show a form of ID alongside an SKT registration card. It’s overwhelming seeing mothers with baby in hand, toddler waddling close behind and trying to balance this pretty heavy box on her head as though it’s no big deal, but you know she hasn’t got a choice because that box literally contains her bread and butter until the next drop-off (fyi some of us did carry them all the way home to help because duh.)

Also saw a different side to the cute ickle kids which I think was a bit of a shock to some of the others lol kids are kids no matter where in the world and will forever go mad over sweets. Even more so when they’re from a foreign land and it ended up being super mob-like with a few tears and lots of pushings etc. but I’d like to think everyone at least got something x

Evening ended with visits to local families who suffer from various illnesses or disabilities as a result of the war whom SKT also provide assistance too. One of the men we met was paralyzed from the waist down and suffers from cancer; his 17-year-old son has had to drop out of school in order to tend to his father. Another family had 4 children between the ages of 24 and 30 more or less in a vegetable state literally sprawled across the room unable to walk, speak, eat on their own, absolutely nothing and completely dependent upon their parents for survival. That was hard to see, and again how does one even attempt to console or see the good in that situation. Of course you well up but what good are my tears. You can’t help but be in awe of and make silent dua for the immense patience instilled in mothers and fathers to both accept an expected fate, and do the best they can within their means for the sake of that love for ones family and children.

One more day left and I’m trying not to think about leaving. I’m taking it all in, every second, every persons face I kiss, every embrace and cuddle, and I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to go back and simply define all of this as an ‘experience’ because it’s so much more than that x

 

If I could give massive hugs to each and every one of you who took time out of your super busy lives to message me, comment on the work that’s being done, read my postings, shared my postings, etc etc etc., trust me I would! It makes my heart and soul so happy that loads of you are being touched by the work SKT are doing on the grounds and wanting to know how to get involved which is amazing! I promise sometime this week I’ll have an extra post focused solely on how one goes about volunteering with SKT for the Reyhanli deployment specifically as a bit of a guide for those interested! X

Today was packing day and what an experience! We were driven to a nearby warehouse where the SKT Turkey team store food items and boxes; rows of massive white boxes were already aligned waiting for us upon arrival (empty of course!) We were given a demonstration on how to pack the items so as to avoid over-spillage and I guess just ensuring everything fit comfortably!  The contents of the parcels vary based on the region from which SKT is operating from whilst still sticking to basic staples most households will most likely be in need of. Each of our boxes were to contain the following:

  • Bottle of olive oil
  • Bottle of sunflower oil
  • Tin of tomato paste
  • 4 bags of rice
  • 2 bags of barley
  • 2 bags of flour
  • 1 packet of brown lentils
  • 1 packet of red lentils
  • 2 bags of sugar
  • 1 box of tea
  • 1 packet of vermicelli
  • 1 packet of zaatar
  • 1 packet of sweets
  • 1 packet of balloons (for Eid!)

 

I’m not the strongest person I know; ya’anee sometimes I can’t open the cap to plastic water bottles lol so certain things were a tad heavy for me but promise no one would be guessed because I troopered on haha we had set up a bit of a production line and had local volunteers from SKT Turkey assisting as well which was SUCH a big help! Carrying heavy loads, literally ripping open boxes in no time (no x-acto knife was used) just to make our lives a bit easier was a god sent. After all items were added, we taped them shut, had them loaded into the next room ready for our distribution later in the week, had a bit of a break, and started all over again!

I mentioned yesterday that our total goal for this deployment was 2400 boxes, so 1200 today and 1200 tomorrow. We worked on 200 boxes at once, and managed to complete 1600 by the 8pm stop time which was great! We’re back at it in the morning for the remainder but this way it’s definitely lightened the load for us a bit!

(empty boxes I promise!)

I kept envisioning how it must be like for a family, large or small, to receive and depend upon this mere box of a few items as a means to their survival. How we take for granted the ability to pop into the shops or grocery store on a whim to grab a loaf of bread, or if milks run out in the morning we know the place round the corner is open 24hours so you’re fine to grab it in the evening. To be able to choose what we want to consume depending on what day of the week and how we feel, and on top of that, the specific freaking branding we ‘only’ eat…really y’all?! I’m nowhere near perfect in any way, shape, or form, and promise I’ll be the first to admit my flaws (yes Iman I know I’m picky about how I like my tea!), but we are so unbelievably blessed and lucky to have the ability and freedom to make a simple choice, yet how often are we grateful for it? I feel as though it just comes as second nature to us because it’s how things have always been, and when something is a constant in your life its hard to imagine life without it or in a different way, but being thankful, void of religious beliefs, genuinely acknowledging in your heart and soul that you’re a bloody lucky duck is something we should all make a habit of doing.

The innate human desire within all of us to help and offer assistance to someone or to a cause in whatever way we can, is something I’ve noticed within SKT. Be it via the people I’ve met, from members to volunteers, and what I’ve read up about them, everyone is in it because they want to make a positive difference in the lives of the Syrian refugees. Refugees who weren’t always refugees. They had lives prior to this, prior to the war and injustice which was by no fault of their own, and I hardly think any one of them envisioned a future in which their homeland was obliterated, and ‘home’ itself became a questionable unknown. I feel it more when I see the children around me (surely by now you must have figured out I’m a massive fan of little humans and their naïve lust of living such a beautiful and carefree life) but I see them and MY silly privileged first-world 26-year old adult self doesn’t want to think about what they might have endured, let alone what they must be going through. I don’t want it to come off as though I’m painting everyone I meet or the children I’ve come across with the same miskeen, unfortunate circumstance paintbrush, but to be honest it’s a reality for many here in Reyhanli. I can legit see the Syrian border from the hotel, and fact is that many of those who fled did so via the Turkish/Syrian border, which enters into Reyhanli (google it and you’ll see how close it is to the border!); it’s also apparently been dubbed as ‘Little Syria’ by some due to the influx. When I’m finished hugging and kissing the cheeks off my new tiny human friends, I ask them where they’re from (all have said Syria), how long they’ve been here, if they’re here with family or not etc. specifically to avoid projecting my own biases and perhaps false misconceptions about their current plight.

I’ve strayed from what I wanted to say lol but SKT being here and assisting in whatever way they can is affecting the lives of so many people Alhamdulillah and that’s all one could ask for. Their purpose is one which unites people, volunteers from around the world to provide assistance and do their part for humanity, however big or small it may be, and that’s a freaking beautiful thing x

My feet are super sore and tired lol for some reason whenever I travel and am in need of comfortable footwear, it never happens and no matter how many plasters I apply to help the feet cuttings and rubbings, it’s all a blady fail lol

I’m also posting videos and snapshots of our day on me instastory (@shazaira) so be sure to have a peep when you can! They last 24 hours so catch it while its still up! xo.