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.
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.
Sometimes, there will be days that can only be survived through indulging in every form of carbohydrate imaginable. Today has been one such day.
It hasn’t been bad, mind you — no more barely-contained emotional breakdowns looming like storm clouds at the moment — but I’ve definitely taken solace in the serotonin that has accompanied my gluttonous gastronomic scrounging (evidenced by the fact that I’m currently lying at a diagonal on my bed, laptop on the floor and upper body slumped over the side of the mattress to ensure that my entire self is in direct line of the fan’s trajectory).
It has, however, been a bit stressful, seeing as how today marked the first of three days of language assessment. Today was also the more significant of the three, as it will result in my score for US language assessment purposes. I spent my four hours of free time after
going to the cinema and watching a dubbed version of Wolverine which, by the way, I highly do not recommend class alternating between reading very important news articles about Turkish current events in a hasty, half-arsed attempt to seem globally aware just in case I needed to be and eating my bodyweight in lahmacun and dondurma. And then a second lahmacun. And also cookies at some point.
This may be the first time in recent memory that I’ve not been with family for Eid. Or at least, in the same country as family. Not that I mind; I gave them a call last night while taking advantage of in-home WIFI access and wished them Eid Mubarak. (I am a good daughter on the odd rare occasion.)
Instead, this is the first time in recent memory that I’ve been in a Muslim country for Eid. Or Bayram, rather. The conclusion of Ramazan, the celebration of togetherness and food and receiving money from older family members. A Muslim child’s Christmas. (And mine, incidentally, since I somehow racked up a decent amount of TL.)
I spent my morning at Merve’s, stuffing my face with traditional Turkish breakfast before visiting the neighbors along with her family, which consisted mostly of me sitting in different living rooms, giggling stupidly to any conversation directed my way (which seems to be the equivalent of fluency, in this country), and being force-fed diabetes-inducing quantities of baklava and kadaif. I’m back at home for the moment, sitting on the couch in PJs, indulging in Türk kahvesi and lokum for the next few hours before accompanying Çisil and Seyhan Anne to family’s homes, anticipating a second trip to the ER later tonight in a hyperglycemic diabetic coma. (I will keep you posted.)
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 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.
Day four in Bursa. It feels as though I’ve been here a month. My mind is nothing but a jumbled mess of broken Turkish and deteriorating English, recalled through a cloudy haze brought on by summer heat.
It was only today, though, that it really hit me that I am well and truly in Turkey, strolling through the Ulu Cami and feeling inexplicably insignificant against the majesty of its domes. It felt nice in the same way one feels nice after a good cry and a warm bath, almost as though you’re a different person by the end.
Crossing the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul to Bursa, 36 hours after having departed from Dulles. The smell emanating off of our collective group can only be described as “ripe.”
I am currently writing from a very comfortable couch in a quintessentially, Turkishly furnished living room, floor #2 (which is actually the third) of an apartment complex situated in the heart of Nilüfer, one of Bursa’s three main districts. I have been here (in Bursa, not on this couch) for about all of one full day, and I have four main observations to make about Turkey at this point in my two-month visit: