marmara sunsets and strokes of serendipity

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.

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I’ll not think about that now, though. Now, I’ll think about how I have just enough Turkish memorized to hold a 3-minute conversation with a passerby — just enough to make them believe my skills far exceed my actual capabilities — after which I end up disappointing them tremendously with my continued illiteracy. It’s been fun.

(At least shop keepers and waiters now find me suitably adorable, in the same way that one would find a toddler experiencing peek-a-boo for the first time adorable.)

Even still, though I’m no where near capable of actually functioning in society on my own — Bursa society, especially — the odd exchange here and there and successful business transactions (so many scarves) are beginning to make me feel as though I have a place here. A place, and a purpose. And that brings with it a joy that I will not try to quantify.

I’ve well and truly fallen in love with this country. More than I was expecting to. There’s an ease about it that I find peaceful — uncomplicated — while at the same time deeply poignant.

Much of that is a tribute to those I’ve met here, students and Turks alike. The other students — now friends — that have taken this journey with me are truly remarkable, reinforcing the drive that underlies our collective experience while at the same time making me aspire to go beyond what I, until very recently, believed I was capable of. It is humbling beyond description.

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M Bey, as well, continues to be one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, Turkey aside. My small class — three other beginners in solidarity — and I often remark about how we’ve won the lottery with our instructor, a man with countless stories that are gradually revealed, as though flipping through the pages of a book. A David Foster Wallace novel, really: a complicated read that starts off with great difficulty due to utter incomprehensibility (ie: we didn’t understand a single word of Turkish for a good few days and it was really very reminiscent of my attempts to read Infinite Jest), yet slowly but surely transforms into a profoundly moving experience (which makes me believe that my completing Infinite Jest — I have, in 8 months, not progressed beyond page 127 — will be a great personal triumph).

This weekend saw a trip to a town along the coast of the Marmara Sea, Erdek. M Bey suggested it, a frequent visitor since it’s so close to his hometown, and offered to drive the four of us there and back while on his way to and from home. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity.

He spent the weekend with his kids while we spent the weekend lounging on the beach in Erdek, wading knee-high in the sea, reading (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, this time; DFW will have to wait until I’m back in the States) with our feet buried under the sand, lounging on sofas along the coast, indulging in levrek (sea bass) and helva in a boat-turned-restaurant, smoking nargile while watching the sun set over a horizon painted in oranges and blues. It was a relaxing weekend, much-needed and wholly unproductive in the way lazy summer days should be spent. M Bey had planned to meet us in Erdek on Sunday evening, where we’d have a quick dinner before heading off on our 2-hour ride back to Bursa.

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Also vendors sell simit from boats gliding along the Marmara Sea so I’ve basically decided that I’m never leaving this country.

To our immensely pleasant surprise, he arrived with his two children in tow, impatiently ready to dive into the sea for a swim. We migrated to a cafe and spent some time catching up over cups of çay and games of tavla. I also somehow found myself being called Sabeen Ablam (big sister Sabeen) by his 5-year-old daughter, adding to the overwhelming mystery of how and why children take to me with such intensity which was both incredibly adorable and highly convenient, since my Turkish capabilities are only a few levels below hers. After their swim and our dinner, he left us for a bit to drive them over to their grandparents’, during which we sat with our feet teasing the tide as we watched the sunset.

I don’t think any of us would have moved from that spot if given the opportunity.

He returned around 9, just as the call to prayer ended and the last of the sky’s pink was fading behind the horizon. We then hopped in the car, drove to the city center, and proceeded to spend the next hour and a half strolling through plazas and çay bahçesiler (tea gardens), drinking sour cherry juice and actually talking for what felt like the first time. Jokes laced with subtle Turkish lessons, as always, but beyond that even; tales of a childhood growing up in Germany, months of his youth spent in the military, the complicated situation with his family and his children (“they are my everything”). Stories both deeply moving and achingly bittersweet.

“Things may be bad now, but they were much worse before, so I am content.”

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We made for home by 10:30 — deeply irresponsible for a schoolnight, but given that it was on our teacher’s watch, we figured it was acceptable. Though the first hour was spent in conversation, the second saw bodies gradually slumping in their seats, succumbing to the exhaustion of a day spent under the sun. We hit Bursa by 12:45, each of us dropped off as we passed through the neighborhoods around the city. I was the last to be driven, after fifteen minutes in M Bey’s company discussing my experiences in Pakistan, the social difficulties of the east, Turkey’s future. I was struck then by how far we’d come as beginners, and humbled by M Bey’s ability to bring out such progress in each of us, without making us feel incapable.

(As someone who one day aspires to teach herself, I don’t think M Bey will ever realize quite how much he has inspired me.)

I crept quietly up the stairs at 2 am, careful not to wake Seyhan Anne or Çisil as they slept soundly in my absence, spent a little while putting away old clothes and new scarves — three purchased in Erdek, bringing the grand total up to 7 already — crawling under the covers just as the drummers made their rounds for sahur. Four hours of sleep and my first fast of this year’s Ramazan have left me exhausted today, but it’s a small price to pay for such an incredible weekend.

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Rest of the week is looking quite busy, which is just how I like it to be. Pages of Turkish work to get through, but a trip to a nearby village on Saturday looms on the horizon.

And Sunday? Perhaps a visit to the hamam for a massage and a long-overdue catnap.

Will write again soon, loves. xx

Bursa, part I
Bursa, part II
Bursa, part III
Istanbul, part I
Bursa, part V
Ankara

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