turkish lessons and familiar faces

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.

That is, I think, the best way to describe it. Welcoming. I well and truly believe that the Turks are the most welcoming people I’ve ever met.

I could spend a lifetime here, really.

For the moment, I live with a sweetheart of a woman named Çisil. She works in the city and spends free evenings preparing for her last year of uni, where she’s studying economics and statistics, hoping to spend her subsequent year doing a masters in economics in the United Kingdom. Her English is impressive, so communication between us has been seamless. Even still, she tells the more fluent students to watch out for me, as the protective older sibling I never had. She calls some afternoons to see how I’m doing, if I’m managing to navigate the city on my own, if I need her to meet me somewhere for a friendly face. The unspoken reassurance eases any trepidation I once held.

Çisil will wake early on weekend mornings to prepare the Turkish breakfast I’ve grown to love so dearly, setting the plates out while I’m in the shower and leaving me absolutely nothing to help with. She has written down a travel itinerary for the two of us, insisting that my program isn’t immersing me in enough of Turkey, and takes me to bars in the city to meet her friends, who later tell me how she can’t stop talking about her “new little sister from America.”

It’s as though I’ve known her my entire life.


Her mother, whom I affectionally call Seyhan Anne (Mother Seyhan), is as kind, if not more; slicing me fruit when it’s just the two of us at home while Cisil is at work, to be eaten out on the balcony in the company of Bursa’s afternoon breeze. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but the silences are comfortable. Presence alone is enough for the both of us. She’ll quiz me as I sit in the living room, bent over Turkish workbooks sprawled across the floor, sometimes reverting to German (in which she was once fluent) to get a particularly important point across.

Anne has 3 children, a son who lives in California and another daughter who lives a few metro stops away with her own 5-year-old boy. He told me he loved me (in English!) the first time we met, and I knew immediately that his golden mop of curls would be stamped in my mind for years to come.

Seyhan and her husband have divorced. He now lives in Istanbul with his second wife and daughter. My third night in town, he called, speaking fluent English in a warm, rich voice from miles away. He told me that I am welcome to visit whenever I feel like taking a ferry a few hours north, that I have a room in their house already made. We’ve never met, and I already feel at home.

Most evenings during the week are spent in the company of Çisil and her best friend, Hanne. Both 24, both intimidatingly beautiful, and both wholly non-judgmental of my language struggles. As I study Turkish at the little round table out on the balcony, they keep me company with pronunciation lessons and stories about their favorite memories. Sometimes the sad ones, too.

Hanne purchased an English learning guide a few days after we met, which she now brings with her as I give her lessons in diphthongs in exchange for “o’s” and “ö’s.” We frequently laugh about the irony of the situation, me inspiring her to learn English and my insistence that her English is already miles better than my Turkish. (Which, without a doubt, it is.)


The institute has become a sanctuary as well, a treasure which I was not expecting initially. One of the directors, Mesut, humors my inability to speak with wide grins and infinite patience, waiting with soft eyes and encouraging smiles as I flounder through practiced responses to easy questions. We’ll have full conversations swapping cameras, flipping through photos we’ve snapped, showing off our particular favorites over çay. When visiting mosques and sites in town, he’ll point out the ones that awe him most, and we exchange appreciative maşallahs in place of words until I’m able. My intellectual ego should be much more damaged than it actually is, thanks to him and M Bey.

M Bey has grown into one of the people I most adore, coming into class every morning with AC remote in hand and a fresh supply of enthusiasm, a force that drives our 4-hour lesson to one that feels like mere minutes. Each class spans the equivalent of one uni week of language courses, and after only six lessons I feel as though I’ve been hearing Turkish all my life. He brings his 7-year-old son with him on occasion, a gorgeous child reminiscent of a renaissance sculpture, and shows us photographs of his 5-year-old daughter. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen such heartfelt love as I do when M Bey talks about his children.

M Bey teaches our class in full-immersion, reverting to charmingly accented English only when outrageous hand gestures and games of 20-Questions are insufficient, always laughing, always patient. Some days he’ll take us to a favorite lunch spot, taking time that could otherwise be spent in the company of colleagues and fluent Turkish speakers to recommend favorite dishes and chat like old friends. Others, he’ll tell us about his life, about Bandırma, about current events, captivating the four of us with words carefully spoken, yet candidly sincere.

They’re all lovely beyond reason. I don’t deserve them, to be honest. But I’m happy to be with them. Ecstatic, really. They’ve grown into family in such a short period; I can’t imagine letting them go.

At this point, I’m not sure I really will.


Nor am I sure I will actually be persuaded to leave this city come August, considering this is my view from the balcony every evening.

I’m off to İstanbul this weekend, excited to broaden my Turkish family, DSLR in hand and Çisil by my side. Turkish lessons and lazy afternoons with other students until then, enjoying the pleasantries of recent weather while it lasts.

Back in a few days, arkadaşlar. Take care until then. xx

Bursa, part I
Bursa, part II
Istanbul, part I
Bursa, part IV
Bursa, part V

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