This blog post has been, by far, the hardest to write yet. I want to solely attribute this to my now-routine lack of sleep or my slowly deteriorating English vocabulary and grammar that can only come with hanging out with ESL-students on a regular basis, but I really cannot say this is the case.
I have been here for well over two months now, and have, I think, completed the initial adjustment period attached to any person’s move to a new country. I no longer suffer from constant revelation after revelation of cultural ‘awakenings’ that makes me rethink my life and the lives of those around me. While I still learn new things every day, the Muslim morning call to prayer at 5 am no longer startles me, and the rice in a Caesar Salad no longer shocks me.
When I look back on the past 17 days, it surprises me that the moments I remember most are not the Ottoman History I need to know for my midterm on Friday, or the Maiden Tower (one of Istanbul’s most scenic landmarks) where I was honored to have brunch.
I remember two weeks ago, I became addicted to coffee.
Ok, we won’t know if it is addiction until ten years down the road, but after refusing to drink coffee since my incident in Vermont’s Green Mountains at the age of twelve, and now relying on my cup of Turkish Coffee or Nescafe a day, I am a bit worried. Deep down, I want to believe this is my body’s way of combating the cigarette addiction that plagues 1 in 2.75 males over the age of 18. Coffee might be bad, but hey, at least I’m not becoming a chain smoker, right?
There are other moments that stand out in my mind as I write this reflection.
I remember walking around the Rumeli Hisari Fortress that sits along the Bosphorus Straight next to campus. I felt like a kid in a story book, walking on history with every step up the 600 year-old winding stone staircases. I also remember that after the hour long walk home from the fortress, I spontaneously turned around to make the hour-long walk back down the hill for the most delicious waffle in the history of waffles.
I remember the Bogazici Block Party last Wednesday night on Kucuk Begolu off
Istiklal Cadessi. The school rented out the entire back-alley bar street and provided discounted drinks and a DJ for the nearly 1000 Bogazici students who came to dance and drink.
I also remember seeing two films at the internationally renowned Istanbul Film Festival. One was a British film about the creation of the vibrator in Victorian England, and the other was from Quebec, and told the story of a man whose repetitive sperm donations spawned 533 children. Besides the films being entertaining to say the least, I remember suiting up for the premier, carrying in a large box of popcorn, chocolate, two frozen yogurts, and a soda, and being the only ones in the entire festival to be eating. Best decision ever.
I remember in the span of one day, I cooked a huge Turkish breakfast, dressed up as a French tourist, gallivanted over to the Sabanci Museum to see the travelling Rembrandt exhibit, and then smoked nargile and ate the best Pasta Bolognese Turkey has ever made. I remember eating take-out Chinese food (which is weirdly expensive in Istanbul) on the South Campus quad at 2 AM while drinking a bottle of wine and listening to the 8tracks playlist “Parisian Café” made by a man in Ankara; And I remember watching the sunrise from the South Campus overlook above the Bosphorus Straight after staying up for an entire night.
Hande was with me during these moments (including, of course, the waffle), and I cannot think of another person I’d want to share these memories with.
In my last post, I noted my upcoming trips to the Ottoman capitals of Edirne and Bursa. Edirne didn’t work out in the end, but Bursa proved to be truly amazing. I went with my Turkish-American exchange buddy Alex, whose Turkish grandparents live in the center of the city. During our one major site-seeing day, we had no plan on where to go or what to see. We simply went to the city center, and began to walk.
To our amazement, we not only saw nearly every major site in a single day (which, for an old Ottoman capital with a current population of 2.6 million, is quite impressive), but we also stumbled upon the Bursa Folklore Festival, one of the
largest yearly one-day cultural event in region. Now this might sound like something only our parents or a tour company would promote, but this was something different. As the only two tourists in the entire festival, we sat behind the Mayor of Bursa and the Commanders of the regional Air Force, Navy, and Army while watching local adults and students perform Ottoman Turkish music and dances. The costumes were superb, and the number of people in attendance was even more impressive. We spent three hours of our day watching that festival, and not for one second did we have any intention of leaving.
Additionally interesting to note was the lack of communication between me and his grandparents. They spoke no English, and yet continued to talk to me in Turkish as if I understood. They were the sweetest people, but I could not for the life of me comprehend what they said. I just shook my head, laughed once in a while, and hoped my little bit of charm might win them over or at least show my gratitude for their hospitality.
I was further pushed out of my comfort zone while figuring out our return itinerary to Istanbul. My Achilles heel shows in the moments when I have an idea or plan of action in my mind, and I struggle to waver from it (a fact my parents constantly remind me of). Our modes of transportation greatly differed, and I did not trust the directions we received from his relatives in half-Turkish, half-broken English. That moment, while stressful to say the least, reminded me of the need to increase my flexibility in these situations, especially in preparation for my travels to India. This is a goal I hope to continue working on while studying abroad.
Despite this stress, I still had a fantastic time, and we did, as you can see, make it back to Istanbul. My last night in Bursa was also the first night of Passover. While we relied on Google Translate and many Google Images to explain the holiday to Alex’s secular grandparents, they were kind enough to create a feast for the ages, with dishes that, for the most part, took my temporary dietary restrictions into consideration. The holiday observing my people’s escape from Egypt allowed me to reflect on my most current religious feelings, and my position as the first Jew most of my Turkish friends have met. Even when I spent 3 or 4 days of the week in Temple at the end of high school or when I traveled to Israel for two weeks, I have never felt so connected with Judaism in my entire life. I have not attended synagogue once, and there are few other Jews I interact with on a daily basis, but I guess in the face of stark differences, we realize the aspects of our own lives that are of most value.
Overall, I like this city a lot. More specifically, I like the opportunities it presents to me on a daily basis. Istanbul has the nightlife when I want to go out and the natural beauty that allows me to sit outside and relax. I met people who like to get lost and wander around foreign neighborhoods, and others who like to go to dinner and film festivals. There are 400-year old alleyways and buildings that suit my geeky History side, modern districts that fit those finer aspects of life that I greatly enjoy, and nargile cafes that truly blend the two. After two months of searching, I am finally finding the nooks and crannies that suit me best. Plus, I am still not sick of the food, always a sign of good cuisine.
I want to thank Bryce and Morgan who respectively came to visit last week and over the next few days. I am so happy you both decided to trek over to this part of the world. You gave me a taste of home while allowing me to be the tour guide I have had to suppress since leaving Skidmore.
Next weekend, I am renting an apartment in Gonca’s hometown of Eskisehir (near Ankara) with her, Buse, and Hande. The following week is Spring Break, where I will venture out to the Northeastern Black Sea Region to see, as Onur says, “Forests, Forests, and more Forests.” We’ll see how that goes.
Until next time,