I spent far too many hours in the Istanbul airport last week, passing through from Abu Dhabi to Prague and back again. On the way back I saw dozens of men dressed in white towels, basically white hotel towels, wrapped around their waists and draped and safety-pinned around their shoulders. Is this some sort of sect I don't know about, I wondered? That airport is quite a mosaic of different cultures and customs, perhaps more than any other I have been in. A teenager asked to borrow my brush in the bathroom. While her little brother horsed around with the taps, pouring water on his head and killing himself laughing, her older sister asked where I was from and what I was doing there. Turns out they were from Kabul, and were heading on vacation to Italy.
Anyway, I took a great picture of the white towel clan all crowding through the gate to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but of course I can't include it BECAUSE MY CAMERA IS GONE. Not that I am dwelling.
It turns out they were all heading to the Haj, that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Holy City thousands (CORR: millions) of Muslims make every year. I asked the woman from Turkish Airlines about it, and she explained that people who are chosen to go on the Haj must also pass through their countries of origin on their way. So if you are a Turkish Muslim living in the US, well, Istanbul and a couple of towels is how you gotta roll.