People often ask me why I came to Turkey. It is a fair question as it is not an obvious place for an American woman to be. The bureaucracy involved with setting up a life here is torturous, most people don’t speak English, it’s a long 16-hour flight from home, the culture is often conservative, women are often the object of unfair attention, there’s no real Christmas… falan filan. In my city, a major regional center and very cosmopolitan, there are perhaps only two other Americans besides us. So when I’m asked The Question, my usual spiel goes: “I had the opportunity to come to Istanbul in high school, and I just never stopped coming back.”
If I were honest, I would have to recite off a protracted list of small, seemingly insignificant things I love about being here. I love that life here is surrounded by learning–linguistic, cultural, personal–whereas in the states, my surroundings felt stale and predictable. I love that life here is filled with little successes; every interaction that flows smoothly, every correctly-applied “güle güle” and “hosça kalın” buoys me up a little bit, so I can feel myself improving every day, becoming more natural and immersed in the linguistic sea. In comparison, back home daily interactions are mundane at best and annoying indignities at worst. I love that I can live without driving or owning a car, unlike most U.S. cities. I love that stores are open late every day, and that there are public spaces–parks, cafes, meydans, and bars–open until late in the night, even weekdays; even children play at the playgrounds until 10 or 11 at night, long past the time when American children have been banished to bedtime. I love the ezan and the way that an intensively shared national and religious culture gives structure and meaning to life. I even enjoy the political conspiracy theories, and I appreciate how other foreigners who end up in Turkey are engaging, adventuresome people who have good, interesting reasons for being here. And who can’t help but love the fresh produce and delicious cuisine and ubiquitous tea?
Most of all, it’s rewarding to have worked for something so hard–I’ve been traveling here since 2008, and been learning the language since 2009–and to see it pay off. It’s gratifying to think back to myself at age 14, heading off to boarding school in my first attempt to get away from whatever I was fleeing, or going towards whatever I was seeking, and realize I have come this far. Without really knowing what I am going towards, I can’t know if I am actually any closer, but it feels like I am closer to…something.
Post on Eskişehir, the university, and my living situation to follow soon? Unfortunately, general rosy contentment does not translate into a reliable Internet connection.
Photo of Ankara by W.D. Thanks for the great shot.