Wednesday, June 8, 2011
I’m on a flight from Istanbul to New York. After landing in New York, I’ll take a small flight to Boston, and be home soon thereafter. I’m in a bizarre state of mind right now. I will miss Turkey deeply and I’ve determined I’ll be back. Not just once for a visit or a tour around the country, but to stay for a long period of time, to live once again among the mosques and the bucolic scenery. I plan on making Turkey somewhat of a second home.
I’ve learned a great deal, much of which has already been mentioned, and it’ll be interesting to learn more from my experience upon reflection. I remember returning from my semester abroad in Egypt and slowly witnessing how my experience there affected me back at home – how it slowly unraveled, forever altering, or giving consciousness to, my American reality.
For that, I am grateful. And having lived in Turkey for 9 months has allowed me to conceptualize the world in an entirely different way all over again, though more so than I thought possible. It is unimaginable to those who haven’t experienced life in another country just how connected humanity seems. It requires, I believe, more than a trip here or there to get a taste of it. It requires a prolonged stay and conscious openness.
I spent my final day in Turkey in Istanbul. I fortunately woke up early that day and had a good amount of hop around and see what I had wanted to see before leaving. I wandered through the chic neighborhoods of Bebek and Ortakoy, lined with cafes overlooking the Bosphorous. I even decided on a Bosphorous tour – essentially an hour boat ride with no real agenda. The tour boat just kind of drifts around for a while before returning to the dock, but it’s relaxing. I had coffee with a friend near the Yeni Camii, where fishermen populate the bridge over the Golden Horn. It's a busy place, with boats speeding in and out, and craft dealers begging the attention of wandering tourists. Dinner was at a swanky restaurant in Sultanahmet, where the famous Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya solemnly stare each other down not a thousand feet from one another. The food was decent, but the view of the ocean was spectacular.
The evening was special. I went, with a few friends, to a nargile cafe in an ancient stone marketplace near Sultanahmet. We sat, chatted, took in the ambiance, and met a few others’ in the mostly crowded space we occupied. In true Istanbul fashion, we met a few people from Iran and ending up sharing their birthday cake. It was delicious and a nice, celebratory way to end my time. The mix of Persian, Turkish, and English swirled about the room like the smoke from our water pipes.
Back at the airport my friend and I shared the surreal experience of abruptly being tossed back into the US. A few observations through the lens of an American turned Turk turned American:
- Americans are a shabby bunch. Since when did sweatpants and shorts replace trousers, hmm? I felt like I was I was at a huge slumber party rather than JFK.
- Americans work hard… but they’re miserable (this is based on 5 of the 6 cashiers I saw).
- Americans drink comically huge beverages. Why order a glass of water when you can order a tub of cola for 25 cents more!?!?!
I’ve been back for a few days now. It’s an indescribable feeling, really. The first morning back, I struggled to order an iced coffee. I think I’ve become rather soft-spoken after 10 months in solitude. I tried coughing out the words only half-successfully.
It’s not as if things seem new to me again. Actually everything seems familiar, only undercut by a sense of weirdness. I may be feeling some residual anxiety about being back. Because I’m newly returned, my surroundings have adopted a foreignness despite their familiarity. It’s as if there’s something mildly “off,” and I have yet to determine the roots of that strangeness.
So I reckon it’ll take a little while to feel completely re-acclimated. I’m sad about not hearing the call to prayer anymore. Though by the end of my time in Turkey I had barely noticed it, I feel its absence.
My Fulbright experience will only grow on me. I will continue to miss what is no more. I will strive to hold onto the values of a society more devoted to community. The selflessness I received from colleagues and friends and students will forever remain appreciated and loved.