on overcast skies and morning reflections

I’m the type of person that needs a routine; a list of things to check off as they get done throughout the day; a sense of accomplishment to feel as though time doesn’t pass by wasted. After I graduated from uni, I went straight back into work at Digital Services full-time, taking care of the apartment in the evenings with a vacuum cleaner and a background of Hannibal and Arrested Development on Netflix. I left work a few days before flying abroad, a bridal henna order dispersed in between and a few drives up north for interviews to keep me focused.

Then, I was in Turkey: two months of 20 hours of class per week, homework in the evenings after afternoons spent exploring Bursa, each weekend spent in a different city, familiarizing myself with the sights and people alongside the language. I felt as though there was never a free moment, and I loved every second of it.

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I’m back home now, free of obligations for a few short weeks before moving to the city for a while, a new position at a research institute and fresh anxieties about graduate school to look forward to. But that’s for later. For now, I have nothing on my plate but unpacking suitcases full of clothes mum and dad brought back from Cville a few weeks ago and sorting through boxes of knickknacks collected over the years. There’s no deadline, no order, no feeling of necessity, no routine.

It’s maddening.

Mostly, though, I’ve realized that I miss it. My last 24 hours in the country were a blur of emotion and misty-eyed farewells, despite being kept busy with rushed packing and traveling from city to city. I thought that if I kept myself busy enough, I wouldn’t have time to be sad about leaving. Maybe that’s why I need routine. Free time gives me too much opportunity to think. I was doomed from the start, though, as I’m sure was everyone else.

That’s the problem with falling in love, I think. Whether with a place, or a language, or a person. You inevitably give a part of your heart away, and from that moment onward, you’ve lost a part of yourself that you don’t realize is missing until you’re far from it.

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My last weekend in Turkey was, truly, ideal. It wasn’t as exciting as my weekends in Istanbul, or as insightful as my experiences in Ankara, or even as beautiful as my strolls through Çanakkale or Erdek. But I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

The latter half of my final week was spent in the company of language exams and suitcases. Dull, mostly, but a necessity. Thursday saw a break from Turkish study by hiking through the old city to the silk market with a friend from the institute, hoping to buy some last-minute scarves and a final meander through Bursa. Little did we know we would spend the next two hours in deep conversation with two of the loveliest shop owners I’d met in the city, drinking lemonade and practicing our Turkish to unwarranted high praise — “you’ve only been studying this language for 8 weeks? Incredible” — remembering why we loved being in the country. The evening was spent at a Farewell Dinner, attended by Turkish families, language partners, and students and teachers from the institute, hosted at a really lovely outdoor venue at the foot of Uludağ, happily reminiscing about the past two months and lamenting time gone too fast.

Friday afternoon, after finishing up our fifth and final exam, L, N and I hopped a bus going west for a few hours en route to Bandırma. M Bey had invited us to attend his son’s Sünnet Düğünü, a large party that would be attended by his entire family and that we had been counting down the days for. The three of us arrived early on Friday afternoon, checking into a hotel looking over the Sea of Marmara, eyes following the ships glide lazily along the water from the balcony.

L and I took a stroll through the city center for a while, stopping for lunch at an anonymous cafe wedged between tall buildings, passing the time over baskets of bread and cups of çay, conversation about eastern politics, feminism, life after Turkey. We shopped for a while afterward, picking up fragrant bags of loose teas and çay spoons as personal souvenirs under the guise of gifts for others (a constant theme in my shopping excursions this summer) before meeting up with N and heading back to the hotel.

M picked us up from there, sporting a grin despite tired eyes, driving a car dressed in ribbons and banners in celebration for the night’s event. He took us back to his parents’ home, where we sat on benches in the garden in the company of his father — a jolly man who asked us excited questions in Turkish laced with fluent German — and siblings for some time, waiting to be taken to the party. A while later, M reappeared with his son and daughter in tow, dressed to the nines and looking as adorable as we’d ever seen them. We hopped in a car and headed off for the venue, and spent the next few hours caught a whirlwind of Turkish dancing, drums and violins singing merry tunes amidst laughter, taking a few breaks to stroll along the shore outside as night crept over us.

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The next morning, M picked us up again, this time to take us to his parents’ home for breakfast with his extended family. It was a full house, brimming with conversation in rapid Turkish, dining table set with heaping plates of peynir and olives and tomato-cucumber salads; fresh boiled eggs with yolks as orange as pumpkins and baskets of breads piled high; bowls of strawberry and cherry jams and teacups scattered about. It was, by far, one of the most delicious breakfasts I’d had in the country, even beyond the wonderful company seated beside us.

A short while later, M took us on a drive, telling us about his hometown as we weaved through narrow streets and showing us the home he was born in decades ago, a place that was “very important to him, though perhaps not to us.” (He, of course, could not have been more wrong.) Our destination ended up being a cafe — “one of my favorite spots when I was in university, though I haven’t been back since then” — overlooking the sea, and we sat at a tiny table against the balcony, cradling mugs of apple teas against the sea breeze as we chatted about anything that came to mind. As the clock neared 1, we realized we should probably get going, back to a bus bound for Bursa to finish last-minute packing before heading off for the airport that night. We mentioned this to M, who nodded resignedly before declaring that we absolutely could not go back without eating lunch, especially a lunch of iskender for our last meal in the country, which he assured us was far better than any iskender we’d have eaten in Bursa. Realizing that none of us wanted the afternoon to end, we agreed wholeheartedly and went back to town for kebap.

It was, truly, the best iskender I’d had in Turkey — perfectly seasoned on a bed of golden pita, buttered to pre-2012-Paula-Deen standards of perfection — and a bittersweet echo of my first meal in the country all those weeks ago. We chatted further over lunch, M telling us that he would look back on the day with fond nostalgia and I realizing that I could, truly, spend the rest of my days in Turkey. I felt overwhelmingly sad at that moment.

We’d purchased our bus tickets before lunch, scheduled for 3pm, so around 2:45 we made our way to a tiny ice cream shop next to the bus station to wait for its arrival. We sat in silence, then, not really having much to say that could be taken as anything beyond a halfhearted attempt at casual conversation as we awaited the inevitable goodbye. The bus rolled around soon after, and M took us to his car to grab the rest of our bags. We exchanged hugs — he teasing us not to cry as we said our farewells and us making promises to visit next time (next time) we were in Turkey — and hopped into the bus. I threw on a pair of oversized sunglasses in haste before we turned back to the window to wave at his form on the sidewalk as the bus took off.

I must have wept behind those frames for at least 30 minutes, it having hit me finally that 8 weeks of living in Turkey had come to an end, that I’d never be in class with M and sınıf 16 again, that soon I’d have to say goodbye to Seyhan Anne and my older sister Çisil, that some experiences can never be relived no matter how much you’d want. I also thought back to lunch the previous day with L, where we both mentioned how sad, above all, was the thought of not chatting about politics and religion with M, of not hearing about his children, of not knowing about the goings-on in his life. He had become, truly, for all of us, one of the most important people we’d ever met; bizim için, çok önemli bir insan.

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I arrived back at home that afternoon with a heavy heart, not ready for another of the most difficult goodbyes of my life. I hopped immediately into the shower to wash the grit out of my eyes and the scent of sea salt from my hair, unwilling to face Çisil immediately after the bus ride home and acknowledge the elephant in the room called these-are-my-last-four-hours-in-Turkey-and-I’m-very-willing-to-miss-my-flight-if-it-means-I-can-stay-here-forever.

Lucky for me, Çisil decided to resolutely ignore the fact that I was leaving, and we headed to the market together to return a pair of pants and pick up some produce for the night’s dinner. Along the way, we laughed over silly stories about people we knew and chatted about her plans for later that night (a party, since Hanne would be coming back home from vacation late in the evening), me pretending I’d be there with her.

We came back home to Seyhan Anne in the kitchen, and an apartment smelling absolutely heavenly. Çisil had spent the afternoon earlier making sarma, which were perfectly rolled and absolutely delicious with a serving of thick, plain yogurt and sides of köfte Seyhan Anne cooked up while we were out. A simple meal, unpretentious and unspecial (as though this were any other night), and exactly what I wanted.

It was only over dinner, 15 minutes before we had to make for the language institute for my bus to Istanbul, that Çisil gave a heavy sigh and, looking at me from across the table, told me not to go.

“Benim kız kardeşim, gitme.”

I thought back to all our tavla matches on the living room floor, out at cafes drinking Turkish coffee and indulging in lokum, our rushed travels through Istanbul, staying up with her deep in conversation until 2am during my first night in the country.

I could only smile sadly back at her.

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We took a taxi to the institute, arriving there earlier than necessary for a final half-hour to chat. We went to a market nearby to pick up some drinks, and took them to narrow alleyway where we sat upon the curb, bottles in hand, and leaned against one another’s shoulders in silence. She dialed the numbers of some of the people I had come to know and love while I’d been in Turkey — Can Baba and Asume Anne, Cenk, Hanne, her older sister — so I could say goodbye with promises of coming back to see them soon.

She was humming softly by my side — Where are you Now by Mumford and Sons — a song she had listened to quite a lot ever since I’d given her their CD a few days earlier as a gift. 

Finally, drinks drained and out of time, we made for the bus. I don’t remember much of the goodbye, save for hugging her harder than I’d hugged anyone in recent memory, tears streaming down my face in the biggest show of emotion I’d displayed in public in my post-infant life. A wee bit embarrassing, but it was 10pm and dark as black at the time, so at least she couldn’t see the extent to which I’d lost full control of my composure. I waved to her from the bus window once I was aboard, waving until she was no longer in view, and sat back against my seat, wishing to skip the next 16 hours and find myself back at home.

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I’ve been back in the States less than 48 hours, now — this time two days ago I was at M’s house for breakfast and that alone feels like it was years ago — and yet it’s as though I never left. Like the last 8 weeks of my life were just some insane and wondrous dream. Mum and dad are back at work, Yusra’s moved to her dorm in the city, and I spend my mornings — for the next few days, at least — waking up to an empty house, rain falling lazily from overcast skies, boiling eggs and slicing cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers for breakfast, buying dried figs and peaches from the city market, as if trying to keep hold of some familiarity from the past 2 months.

Disappointing, really, to realize just how underwhelming overpriced Greek yogurt actually tastes, and I can’t help but laugh from imagining the reaction I’d have gotten from Seyhan Anne from spending the equivalent of 9 lira on 3 peaches.

I’ve spent my time here so far lamenting a summer gone by too fast, wishing desperately that I’d had just one more day to spend with M and Çisil and Cenk and friends from class. But that’s the tragedy of time, isn’t it? Always wanting one more day, as if having one more day will make it any less sad when it comes to an end.

But it has ended, and it was worth every second. Turkey was incredible; it was beautiful, and warm, and kind, and always welcoming. Turkey was eye-opening; sometimes shocking, sometimes awful, sometimes uncomfortable, but always inspiring. Turkey was delicious; it smelled of pita and kebap, of briny fish and the sea, of fresh fruit and earth. And, more than any place I’ve visited before, Turkey changed my life, in ways far beyond the silly words I’ve typed up on this thing over the past 8 weeks.

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It’s weird to be back home, to have a house quiet in the mornings, to have no routine but to make sure I remember to eat (note that this is usually not a difficult thing to accomplish). I’m off again soon — a trip to Toronto for a few days in the company of cousins I haven’t seen in months, a short visit to Chicago for the first time to see an old friend and stroll through an old university — and moving to DC early next month, ready to start research at a firm by day and pour over GRE textbooks by night. I look forward to the chaos, to getting used to a new routine to keep my mind busy, too busy to dwell on how much I wish I were still in Turkey.

Until then, I’ll flip through photos in fond memory of the past two months, smiling because I know I’ll be back again, ideally with a better command of the language to catch up with Çisil, M, Seyhan Anne, and the others.

And, you know, perhaps I’ll spend my few free mornings learning how to make my own yogurt.

Until next time, dear readers. xx.

Kardaş, görmüyorum ama hala duyabiliyorum,
Geçmiş zamanlar gelecek zamanlardan parlak değil.
Vakte şahadet edercesine yükselmiş,
Akşam parıltısından, bütün zaferler üzerine,
Dağlar dalgalanmakta, bayrak değil.

–Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca

Bursa, part I
Bursa, part II
Bursa, part III
Istanbul, part I
Bursa, part IV
Bursa, part V
Ankara
Istanbul, part II
Bursa, part VI
Bursa, part VII
Bursa, part VIII

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