|Me at Sumela Monastery again|
I was feeling down today. Not sad, not depressed, not homesick, just, down. Before you all freak out, it’s fine. I just wasn’t feeling as optimistic as usual. Class didn’t go awesome. I hadn’t done well with the writing assignment, despite the fact that I really liked what I written. It was hitting me hard because, well, it was. I went for a swim, which usually cheers me up but it was just a so-so swim. Not terrible, where you swear you’ll never go near water again, not great where you feel like you could swim to France—tomorrow. And I started my walk home through the park where I’ve been keeping my eye out for the cat that scratched me a couple of weeks ago, checking for signs of disease. I was lost in my own mind when a woman in the long-sleeved, long skirted black coat that matched her black headscarf went past. She was also wearing black sneakers and was power walking. The incongruity roused me from my ruminations. I looked up. And I was struck yet again with the realization that I’m living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Istanbul isn’t all romance and poetry—but a whole damn lot of it is. The city was getting dark, not a magnificent sunset, on the contrary a gray one and it was just dark enough that the lights were starting to be visible. I was looking out over the Bosporus to the Asian side, hills beyond hills, some swathed in apartment blocks, others a wall of green, as far as the eye can see. The Rumeli fortress was beneath me, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge to my left. I was seeing the same view for the hundredth first time, because it’s always new and awe-inspiring and breath-taking. Every time someone tells me I’m doing well, or is surprised that I speak Turkish (with any degree of fluency), or I understand something said around me )or to me) or a stranger is kind to me, I’m reminded of why it is that I’m here and why it is that I do what I do. And why I love. A few anecdotes to prove my point:
|The Black Sea in Trabzon|
a) My weekend in Trabzon. This town on way to the East on the Black Sea doesn’t get a lot of tourists. It doesn’t get a lot of Western tourists. It doesn’t get a lot of women travelers. It doesn’t get a lot of tourists in March. So surprise that a group of 6 young American women a few weeks ago attracted some attention. We were invited in everywhere we went. Within half an hour of arriving in town we had struck up a conversation with a fruit seller who then invited his friend over and his friend invited us to his tea shop for conversation and as much chay as we could drink. He took a picture with us before we left. This was to set the theme for the weekend. Every store that we walked into was surprised to see us, every restaurant was thrilled by our appearance. At a newly opened Pide (a Turkish version of pizza, except long and thin) shop run by a man and his children and perhaps nephews, the proprietor brought us chay on the house, apologized for not having a menu and again took a photo with us before we left. He was so proud of having Americans in his place of business. A friend bought a hair straightener and the man who sold it to her recorded her name, nationality occupation the date and item sold so that he would have proof for posterity that he had an American customer. At every museum guards and guides seemed surprised to see us and then made sure that we got to see whatever we wanted and generally helped us get around, because they were so proud of what they had. Buying postcards, the men in the shop chatted with each other about who we could possibly be and when I replied to their non-question in Turkish they started violently and then we had a terrible time leaving because they wanted to keep talking. I think the thing that I most enjoyed was that everything in Trabzon took place in Turkish. Every time we ordered a meal, every time we asked for directions, every tour, every entrance fee, every hotel issue, every taxi ride, every flight check in, every interaction with anyone outside of the group, Turkish was the language of communication. And I was the only member of the group who could speak Turkish so I got to take charge from the moment we left the dorm. This was a lot of responsibility, but it was also a chance to just speak Turkish and to prove to myself that I could function. We never got lost, we never got into a bad situation or a bad neighborhood, we never got brought the wrong thing, or charged the wrong amount. I was a perfectly function Turk. I wasn’t going to fool anyone that I wasn’t some crazy female yabancı (foreigner) but I was one that you could have a conversation with and understand, could question about her motives, education and seemingly silent friends. We decided to visit a mosque in town that had been converted from a Byzantine church and on the way out I was putting my shoes back on as men started to come in for evening prayer. One stopped, bent over me and asked what we were doing there. It ended up that he was a retired chemist who lived in Trabzon and he was pretty surprised to find visitors at the neighborhood mosque, but he also seemed incredibly pleased that they understood the cultural regulations regarding our visit, and that at least one of these nutters spoke Turkish. I so enjoyed being the conduit through which the town became understandable to my peers, and relished the opportunity to represent America and the West for the people that we met. I’ve been told that cultural representation is not a form of leadership, but I couldn’t care less, because nothing makes me so proud in the entire world. And that’s why I love Trabzon.
|A street in Istanbul near Dolmabahce Palace|
b) On Friday I went to Karaköy, down on the Golden Horn, to get my student bus pass. When I got on the bus here in Etiler, I didn’t have enough on my card for the fare. So someone paid for me. I didn’t get the chance to pay him back. When I got to the office what felt like forever later, I was able to easily navigate the system, and I didn’t have any trouble understanding the clerk behind the desk. He tried to ask me a couple of questions in English, but quickly discovered that it was faster to work in Turkish with me, so he did. A few minutes later I had my last piece of ID that proved I was an Istanbullu, a resident of Istanbul. I was legit. And I get to pay half price for all public transport in the city, so overall life was looking pretty good.
c) The other day, I was the first one to class and when my teacher walked into class, she said hello to me in Turkish. I responded to her in Turkish and she was surprised. We ended up having a short conversation about how and why I decided to learn Turkish and about my home university. As the crowning achievement of this whole interaction, she complimented my accent, which always makes me ridiculously pleased because I’m fairly certain that my only actual language-related talent is my ability to hear and replicate native accents faster than my peers. So I was very pleased to say the least and now she doesn’t feel the need to translate everything into English for me in class. The other American doesn’t always follow the questions and jokes in class, but I can and it makes me feel like I’m part of a special club. Maybe someday I will really be able to speak Turkish and it will be beautiful. I’m on my way at least.
|The Aya Sofya Museum in Trabzon|
That’s probably enough random stories for today, I will spare you all the strange details of my life, things that make me laugh, like the dogs that walk you home, the conversations you have with Turks at the grocery store, or my physical chemistry teacher. But I hope that you have enjoyed this and that you remember to see the beauty in the everyday places in your life. It’s easier to do when you’re traveling and constantly in new neighborhoods and situations, but I hope that when I get back to East Lansing I will be jarred into seeing by the unexpected happenstances and that I will look up and see beauty. Because I know that it’s there.