August 20, 2014

Reflections on lessons from this summer

Author's note: I wrote this yesterday in the Antalya airport (now we are in Kayseri), but wasn't sure I wanted to post it. After letting it sit, I think it has an important purpose in my blog as a reality check, so here it is:

Convinced that another overnight bus ride was the least desirable way to get back to our “real” city in Turkey, Alan and I decided to fly from Antalya back to Kayseri.

Back in early July, Kayseri was our first stop in Turkey. We met the director of the English program at the university where we will be teaching, reunited with colleagues we knew from Flagstaff, and got a taste for the city where we will be living for at least the next year.

Despite not having to endure a marathon bus ride and already having an idea of the city where we are going, sitting here in the Antalya airport, I feel nervous. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is I’m nervous about, though.

We’ve been basically on an extended vacation since July 5, and after a month and a half of lazing around with minimal responsibility and no alarm clocks, I’m feeling a bit out of shape for working. The dwindling reserve of Turkish Lira generously given by our wedding guests reminds me of the practical reason that I need to get back to work; and the void in my soul normally filled with teaching aches to be back in the classroom.

In İzmir, Alan and I focused on our Turkish lessons. Our typical day was grammar drills for four hours, followed by visiting the demi-pets at the Kültürpark, followed by watching NatGeo People while sipping wine and eating köfte and rice. Our apartment was cozy and in a perfect location for school and park going.

We took mini adventures to see the ruins at Ephesus and the beaches at Ceşme. We spent a lot of time doing homework and debriefing about the days’ lessons.

From İzmir, we went to İstanbul, to meet up with my former roommate from Flagstaff. We focused on enjoying her company and staying sane in a crazy city. We stayed in the tiniest hotel room above three loud bars with live music every night. We ate out for every meal.

We flew south to Finike, a sleepy beach town just beginning to awaken to tourists and all of the unfortunate side effects of foreigners. Our spacious apartment was wonderful, and our renter one of the most human-oriented business people I’ve ever encountered. After my initial relief from the overwhelming bustle of İstanbul, we soon discovered the summer traveler’s paradox: staying at home in the a/c is boring, but leaving the house means being absolutely drenched in sweat and exhausted even after a short walk. A few long walks and mini adventures showed me that I prefer the a/c, however lame that might sound.

I also had my first real break down in Finike after falling into one tourist trap too many. I think anyone who has been a tourist has experienced the classic, and in my mind worst, trap: the person who is just so interested in you.

They appear out of nowhere on a crowded Street. They greet you in English and pull you into a conversation about American movie stars or some other topic of interest. At first, the person makes you feel special by asking about you and your life, sharing related stories and maybe even making up a few details to make the situation seem serendipitous. Then they invite you for tea. To their shop where they sell jewellery, pottery, or other tourist stuff. And you go with them because you think they are interested in you and you are feeling so lonely in this strange, new country. You get your tea, they talk and talk and talk about some detail of your story that they know a little about. Soon enough, they are pushing the hard sell on you and you want to run, but you don’t know local customs. They try to flatter you and tell you how beautiful you are. They plead with you about needing a sale for the luck of their business. They tell you that the price is special or say “it’s not big money I’m talking about.” You want to scream, but that won’t help. You make American style excuses (need to talk with my husband, didn’t bring money on this outing, etc.) about why you can’t buy whatever they’re selling; they insist. You eventually work your way to the door and it can’t close fast enough behind you. You feel used, as though your personhood means nothing and all everyone cares about it squeezing the cash from your wallet. Having one’s worth reduced to a handful of bills, maybe $20, feels really awful. That person doesn’t give a hoot who you are or why you're in Turkey. They don’t even care that you’re somewhat interested in what they have to say (lies or otherwise). They only care that somewhere in your blue eyes, blonde hair and in your trusting nature, you, as a stupid foreigner might be willing to pay way more than any local would (or could, in some cases). Indeed, an impetus for a break down.

Wow. That was quite the rant. I want to be clear that MOST people I encounter are not of this skeezy variety. In fact, I’ve encountered far more süper generous, süper sincere Turks than money-hungry creeps. The fact remains though, that a bad encounter can be enough to keep me out of a neighborhood or even entire city for the rest of my trip.

I took out my laptop this morning with the hope that writing about how far I’ve come so far in Turkey would ease my nerves about the next chapter. It has. I’ll still probably be seen as an outsider and be stared at, and have plenty of awkward and difficult situations to handle; but I’ll have a month of practice and experience to draw on.