I am notoriously terrible at packing for trips. I am also consistently and unfoundedly shocked by this fact, since usually my luggage is a good 10 to 15 pounds under the max limit.
Take this summer, for example. I packed three pairs of shoes (I wear two), three pairs of pants (I wear one), two dresses (I wear neither), a handful of shirts (of which I wear three), the heaviest purse/camera bag/backpack ever created, and no overnight bag. It’s like I both underpacked and overpacked in one of the biggest shows of idiocy imaginable for someone who is spending 1/6 of her year in a foreign country.
(This is, of course, second only to the fact that I have since purchased nine scarves, eleven shirts, four skirts, two pairs of pants, and am trying to smuggle an antique Ottoman gramophone back to the States, so I actually have to go out and buy another suitcase next week.)
This all became very apparent to me when I was in Ankara last weekend, carrying a too-small bag (no overnight bag, but I did have the good fortune of remembering to pack a totally useless cloth gym bag), buying too-many things and having to lug it all around the city, slowly watching the straps on my bag fall apart and mentally berating myself for putting myself in this same freaking situation no matter which city you travel to do you remember Italy at all?!
(Obviously, I do not. But at least I will get to throw a bag away to lighten the load a bit.)
Some days, I’ll trek over to the misty cafe (dubbed thus because there is a constant spray of mist falling from the overhead canopies that is rather enjoyable and gives the illusion that I’m doing homework in some sort of Alice-in-Wonderland-esque rain forest complete with a steady supply of backgammon) after class to spend a handful of TL on buzlu salep and a few minutes of casual chat with the favorite garson (‘the’ because he is everyone’s favorite garson), after which he’ll tell me how wonderful my Turkish is (it isn’t) and give me a free çay, and I generally feel quite good about the way my life is going.
Other days, I’ll be lying face-down on my too-short bed, day dreaming about dinnertime (because I’ll have — of course — forgotten to withdraw more cash from the ATM and spend my last handful of TL on buzlu salep at the misty cafe instead of on an actual lunch), before my host mother comes in, holds a 5-minute conversation that is 100% one-sided while I listen and nod and say “evet” and “tamam” a lot as if I actually understand whatever the hell is coming out of her mouth, after which she stares at me knowingly before coughing up a lung from laughter (at me, not with me) and shaking her head in dismay.
When she leaves, I realize I still have no idea what the hell was coming out of her mouth and pay for it in full when the entire extended family comes over while I’m sporting 36 hours’ worth of bed head and sweat stains.
I then deal with the embarrassment by eating my body weight in Ramazan pide and paying for it with trips to the hastane emergency room.
I find it a tragedy to quantify time. It does such a disservice to the marvels of the human experience. Equalizing, systemizing, reducing existence to mere numbers.
For example, I am now beginning my fourth week in Turkey. Almost twenty-eight days. One month. A twelfth of a year. And yet, I’ve done more these few weeks than I did in four months in uni (barring, perhaps, a thesis). I’ve met countless others that have moved me more than most of those I’ve met in four years. I’ve eaten some of the best food I’ve had in ages (a post on this in the coming weeks). I’ve seen beauty surpassing my wildest dreams. I’ve fallen in love with a country that, weeks ago, I hadn’t ever stepped foot in. I’ve realized that the things I thought I knew are slipping through my fingers like grains of sand, and that thoughts I’d never entertained are changing my perspective entirely.
I’ve lived an entire lifetime, really.
But a lifetime seems so short when quantified, and the tragedy is that I’ve only got four more.
I’ve never experienced a city quite like İstanbul, a city so alive. It has a spirit of its own; a life beyond merely its people; a heart that beats in rhythm with the trains weaving through narrow cobblestone roads and the cerulean waves of the Bosphorus. Up, down, up, down.
I was in the city for only two short days — a mere thirty hours — but it was time enough for the realization that İstanbul is also totally and unequivocally, a “she”. Arrogant, temperamental, and frighteningly beautiful in the way only a woman can truly be.
She is loud and brash, with her unmoving cars blaring their horns in frustration and impatience. She has an intimidating beauty about her, with the slender minarets of her many camiis towering over the city like soldiers posed for battle. She is young and new, with university students crowding her bars and cafes, expensive stores and boutiques lining the fashionable districts of her Asian half. She is timeless, with a wisdom beyond the ages buried deep beneath the foundations of stone mosques and crumbling towers, centuries of brilliant minds strolling through her ornate doors, leaving behind a legacy that has yet to fade.
Above all, she makes you feel small and insignificant.
I realize day by day that I am slowly falling into perfect sync with this city. Not even the city itself, really, but its spirit? Essence? Heart? Something saccharinely transcendent, in any case, but the sentiment holds nonetheless.
It’s weird, since my speaking abilities are still rudimentary at best. But I can’t help but feel as if I belong here, somehow. I can hardly string together a sentence of my own, but tamam’s and efendim’s roll naturally off my tongue as though I’ve been saying them my entire life. It surprises me, but it makes me smile.
I’ve barely been in Bursa ten days, and yet it feels like I’ve spent a lifetime here; walking through Turkish markets, ordering kebap in unassuming cafes, replacing all liquid with çay and Türk kahvesi, hearing the musicality of the language at every turn. Everything about this place is familiar, warm. Welcoming.