Sitting on a Balcony / Refractions / You Can’t Go Home Again

I’ve been writing this for a long time.

I remember sitting and sobbing on my balcony in Southwest

So scared

Sure, I was excited

Today I’d call it heycanli

But fear of the unknown

Of non comprehension

Of safety

Clouded my eyes

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“What am I going to do?” I implored to sometimes roommate, sometimes guru, always homie OT.

“You’re going to learn.”

“I don’t (expletive) know Turkish.”

“You’re going to learn. Body language.”

I got in a cab, got on that plane from Reagan alone.

Got to Ankara with a motley crew of people I’d only met on a Facebook forum.

Here I sit once again, again on a balcony and I again don’t know how I’m going to set foot on that plane.

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Many times since that day I’ve gotten on planes alone, and buses and taxis and ski chair lifts, ferry boats, camels, bicycles, minibuses….

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I’ve looked out over ancient amphitheaters,mountain ranges and seas that sparkle a turquoise you can’t define, over cities of red-tiled rooftops dotted with solar panels and satellite dishes, the Istanbul skyline with the glittering, churning Bosphorus cutting like a Middle Path through the hearts of the 20-some million who call it home, as well as the imaginations of the entire globe.

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I’ve gazed up at ceramic domes and through glass cases of museums and across hillsides from atop too many crumbling castles. I’ve shivered in the snow, danced in the rain, felt the gusts of wind blustering through my campus, felt the scorch of the southeastern Anatolian sun.

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I’ve walked through the first known site of worship in human history, hunched and gingerly stepped into the caves in which Abraham was born, and where Paul hid with his first disciples, hopped along the 2nd largest city wall system after the great wall of china, sauntered through biblical cities like Saul then Paul, traipsed through dusty roads strewn with bricks and construction debris and meadows strewn with wildflowers, and strolled through monasteries and churches whose paintings have endured the whippings of time in caves and on mountains and on islands and adjacent to the catastrophe that is today’s Syria. their patrons have dispersed.

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My feet have crossed continents.

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I’ve lived in three apartments.

I’ve drank (or is it drunk) ayran, Turkish coffee, cola, syriac wine and shitty wine too, and raki and tequila and bottomless cay and I remember almost everything.

photo credit Lisa Hartwig

photo credit Lisa Hartwig

My skin has been slicked by the waters of the waters of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Black Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.

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I’ve scaled mountains and too goddamn many flights of stairs.

My nazar boyuncu (evil eye) protects me, I take my fal seriously.

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I have sat for hours listening to the horrors of war and I have held those affected in my arms and in my heart.

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My stomach has been filled and destroyed and filled again by every imaginable regional cuisine and I regret almost nothing.

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I learned to love bread, and I will miss devouring the fresh loaves baked at the mosque around the corner.

My hands have been trained in all manner of Turkish cuisine but I continue to use the recipe that approximates my grandmother’s for grape leaves- no exceptions.

I have learned to live slowly, accept the additional glass of tea, spend a whole day in a new place simply sitting in a café enjoying the company of friends. I have laughed.

diayrbekir wallks and tigris

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My voice has echoed, my songs ricocheting across dusty ancient theaters carved into mountainsides and stifling hotel conference rooms and smoky karaoke bars and sweaty classrooms and the historic facades that line Istiklal Caddessi and even carpeted concert halls.

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photo credit Ahmet Emir Avici

photo credit Ahmet Emir Avici

I have learned the value of understanding and being understood.

I have felt euphoria I cannot describe and pain I cannot express. I have picked up my pen and I have taken up painting.

I have gained amazing friends. I have lost amazing friends.

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I have heard Andrew’s laugh and watched from afar as our friends have honored his life and I’ve tried to do that too.

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I have protested, sometimes sobbing alone in my apartment for a world I cannot fix, sometimes in a city square, wordlessly mourning the effects of police brutality and government ineptitude, sometimes shouting slogans in foreign tongues whose words I struggle to form but whose message rises from my heart on a crowded boulevard.

I told my sister I wasn’t ready to leave. “Graduation goggles,” she said.

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There is truth in that, of course, but leaving Turkey is different than leaving Maumee or Kenyon, and not just because of the price of return. Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “you can’t go home again,” and I’ve known that to be true of Maumee for a long time; I’ve been accepting that reality about Gambier slowly over the last two years.

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As in every place from which we depart, a part of us stays there. Parts of it come with us too, and not just spices and ceramics and hard disks full of photographs.

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Lately I’ve been frustrated with friends who bring my nationality to the attention of shopkeepers and waiters, partially because I don’t like that sort of attention (though I almost never tire of the “ne guzel Turkce konusuyorsun!(Your turkish is so good!)” I used to insist “I’m not a tourist, I’m a guest (misafir),” but now I don’t even say that.

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In its own way, Turkey has become home through a crazy two year adventure to which I can never return, not exactly.

There are still days I wonder what I’m doing here. There are still days when I don’t sleep, crisscrossing this country in a mad dash to experience all of it. There are days when hardly a word of English crosses my lips—how crazy is that?

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Maybe, in leaving, I’ve finally come to understand one of those elusive Turkish words: huzun.

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I now know exactly the route to take through the winding halls of Ataturk IST Aiport to connect my flight from Ankara to ones that will take me Detroit; how I’ll manage to carry all my baggage along that route remains a mystery. I’m not sure when again I’ll carry bags laden with groceries and 5 liter bottles of water across cobbled sidewalks that are cleaned by wicker broom and hose on the daily, but the memories I will carry on my flight home certainly won’t make Delta’s overseas baggage limit.

photo credit Sophia Yapalater

photo credit Sophia Yapalater

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Turkiye, biz nasil ayrilicaz? Gitmek istemiyorum.

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