As soon as we sat down, the hotel roof started rubbing off on our clothes and shoes. Brushing away the dust seemed silly. I wanted a piece of that roof on me. We were in Urfa, close to the Syrian border. The day was hot, but the night soon became cool, and the wind on the rooftop scattered a few goose bumps across my arms.
It wasn't just the chill air that made me shiver—there was magic here. The rooftop was everything I had pictured it ought to be. Behind me, the sign "Asur Hotel" was blinking merrily—the different letters lighting up in a specific order. Each letter was outlined with bright bulbs, and I could sit and watch them light up for hours. Below the rooftop, the city lights stretched out on all sides, and the minarets became beautiful silhouettes against the deep blue sky.
I fell in love with Turkey that night.
We had only the blinking sign to light the roof, and the moon. But the sign was bright, and the faces of my friends glowed. It wasn't just the light bulbs that made the evening especially bright. It was the joy of a day spent seeing the city, meeting the friendliest of locals, and sharing lunch with one another. We had wine in glasses that we each brought from our rooms. And we sang. "Be Thou My Vision." "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." "It is well." I'm glad I learned so many hymns growing up. We need them for nights like that. As the 10 p.m. call to prayer echoed around the city, our voices only grew louder.
I remembered our waiter from earlier that evening. During dinner, he took a cardboard box out on the balcony, and prayed towards Mecca. As he bowed, and stood, then bowed again, I prayed for him. That night, when the mosques called to one another from across the buildings, I prayed for the city as I would for a friend.
That night, Turkey became more than an unknown country in Asia, or the place where East meets West. Turkey became like a friend who I can call by name and it means something every time.