August 23, 2014

The view in Kayseri

The view from the office room we’ve set up in our apartment is nice this afternoon. I can see the balconies of neighboring apartment buildings, a partially completed demolition project in an adjacent vacant lot, the boulevard that passes our university, and in the distance, more towering apartment buildings, construction projects, and even far off hills.

Last night the view from this room was much the same, but with one terrifying difference. After 30 minutes of screams and sounds of smashing glass, a woman emerged on her balcony, wailing and screaming belligerently. I could see shadows moving around her apartment, across the way about 100 meters from mine. After a while, a loud shattering sound coincided with her apartment light going out. The light must have been smashed. The noise had brought neighbors to their own windows and balconies. I worried that someone was hurting her, but I felt helpless.

Flashing lights from an ambulance eased my nerves, until it became clearer that this was not a domestic violence case, but rather a suicide attempt. A crowd began to gather below as the woman climbed onto the railing of her balcony. Even in the dim light, we could all see that she balanced precariously on a slim railing no less than 15 stories above the parking lot. Two fire trucks came, and the firemen set up an air pillow designed for people trapped by fire to jump from great heights. I didn’t want to watch, but the situation was so dire, I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing what this poor woman’s fate would be. Alan wisely advised me to stop watching, as the sight of someone leaping to their death might have psychological ramifications for me as a viewer.

I tried to sleep, but found myself up to check on the situation every few minutes. Still on the balcony rail, still voicing her intense inner disturbance, still alive.

With the help of a podcast, I was eventually able to drown out enough of the noise and flashing lights to drift off to fitful sleep. This morning Alan told me that he had heard clapping last night, which he interpreted as a good sign that she hadn’t jumped. Whether he really heard that or not, I appreciated that he said it because I would otherwise worry that she had in fact committed suicide from a balcony that I can see from where I sit.

Rather than say more about this event, I will simply wish her peace and professional help in dealing with her demons.

Having a slow Internet connection and only two English language TV channels gives me the chance to reflect very deeply on my existence here in Kayseri. Culture shock is a multi-faceted foe that leaves transplanted travelers weary and exhausted, sometimes for no apparent reason. Even the simplest tasks like buying food from the corner market can be tiring adventures because of the language barrier and differing expectations between customer and business in a new culture. Without a car, which I have grown very attached to as an American, going anywhere seems to take forever. In the heat of Turkish summer, walking trips leave me sweaty and usually in a foul mood. I feel thirsty most of the time, but don’t want to chug too much of our bottled water because it means more trips to the store and more subsequent thirst.

Granted, the culture shock I describe doesn’t overwhelm me all of the time. Sometimes, like last night prior to the balcony incident, Alan and I had a fantastic dinner out. It was a three course meal for two with (non-alcoholic) beverages for $15. The amount and quality of the food would have easily been $50 in the US, and I’m pretty sure that we don’t make bread half that tasty anywhere in America. There are beautiful elements of travel--when attempts at using the local language are successful and communicative, when the food is amazing, when you get where you wanted to go (and back) despite half-assed directions—that drive me to persevere.

Now having 27 years behind me, I feel more capable as a human being. I can make decisions about my life, and make sacrifices and exceptions. I have the maturity to put some goals on hold (like getting a pet), and some goals on indefinite suspension (having a really nice house) in order to accommodate my current living arrangements and the salary of my chosen profession. I can see past the challenges to the big picture of a life that means something to me, and something that I am proud of. I can support my partner and lean on him when I need to. Despite the ravages of culture shock, I will stick it out here in Turkey with the hope that things will get easier. I will adjust. I will thrive.