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.
The past few days have been strange. A sort of whirlwind of internal spiritual discord, an exhaustion that doesn’t seem to abate no matter how many snatches of sleep are stolen, a bone-deep discontentedness that casts a shadow over every moment. It’s not just me, either; it seems that almost everyone is victim to this emotional drainage that has swept through the program like some cruel, supernatural force. I’m not quite sure why.
Well, no, that’s a lie. I’ve spent enough time in pensive introversion these days that I could offer a laundry list of reasons. But that’s not something I want to expand upon in great detail here.
(I’m more of a think-too-much-right-before-bed-and-suffer-the-consequences-with-crippling-insomnia type of gal.)
I just finished up dinner with Çisil and Seyhan Anne on the balcony — a sauté of eggplant and tomato atop a bed of pilav, side of stewed greens and yogurt and leftover grilled chicken from the weekend — and we went through my final days in the country. It hit me then that this was going to be my last real meal at home with the two of them (tomorrow’s another evening spent cooking with sınıf 16 and M Bey, Wednesday’s a trip up to the coast for rakı–balık, Thursday’s a group dinner with the program, Friday’s a bus ride to Bandırma for the night, and Saturday is off for Atatürk Airport), and I promptly almost had a mental breakdown.
So much for keeping it contained to late-night insomniac musings.
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.)
I hate the term “self-discovery.” I feel as though it’s been co-opted by recent-grads and television writers in the hopes of adding depth to what they dub the ‘defining characteristic of the millennial generation.’ The me, me, me generation; the generation blaming their parents for frustrations with social, environmental, and political issues, unemployment; the generation using ‘self-discovery’ as justification for traveling, for exploring, for internships, for idleness. Ten minutes’ worth of Girls, a few pages clicking through Thought Catalog, an existential journey à la Eat, Pray, Love.
Some similar bullshit along those lines.
A phase that seems to inflict only liberal-minded 20-somethings, worn with pride by some but thrown in scorn by most. I just think it’s all bullshit. Saying that 20-somethings are going through a period of “self-discovery” implies that there’s some sort of revelation to look forward to, some sort of discovery to be had.
What discovery? The acceptance that the first 29 years of my life were spent in a haze of immaturity and no direction? Like I’m going to wake up the day I turn 30 with a terribly jaded, concrete notion of who I am?
Ah, yes. Single, spinster, eighth year of graduate school, fifteenth Battlestar Galactica marathon of the month, and a burnt-orange Kitchen Aid. This is Sabeen.
Really, I’m not quite sure when this “discovery” is supposed to happen. I’m also not quite sure why it exists solely in this Twilight-zone-esque decade of one’s life. As if I’m only allowed to change and travel and grow for the next 9 years. As if I’m going to one day stop doing any of those things.
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.