Monday, June 15, 2015

Leaving Turkey.... for now

I just completed electronic check-in.  My flight leaves at 6 AM tomorrow morning from Ankara, Esenboga airport.  In Munich I'll change planes, and by early afternoon tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16th, I'll land at Newark airport. Just about everything's packed up.  Today I will turn in my Bilkent I.D., close my Bilkent email account, and close my bank account.  Then... I'm in limbo.

Since April I haven't written anything new about living in Turkey for this past semester.  I've considered it many times, but couldn't quite bring myself to sit down and write about what I've been doing, seeing, or living.  Partly it's because I've been lazy and partly it's because I don't think I can do it justice....or, more honestly, I don't know how to put all of this into words.  To say that being here has been life-changing is not enough. Plus, that sounds cliche.

 In April I put my children on the plane back to New York  City, and in the 9 weeks since then I have been moving inside a whirl of emotion, adventure, travel and soul-searching.  I will list (somewhere) below what I've been doing and where I've been going.  But a written list is kind of a cop-out, and it doesn't capture things like what you feel, and smell, and touch, and hear when you move about in this amazing country.  

Some sensory highlights for me have been: hearing the call to prayer everyday, several times a day, and often from several mosques at once;  the particular smell of burning, especially in winter in Ankara, that will forever remind me of being here, or a certain perfume scent that I catch every once in awhile in my classroom building at Bilkent, or on the street; listening to people speak Turkish...and watching their expressions when they speak.  I secretly love not understanding anything they say.  It makes me focus much more on how they speak and how they react to each other when they're speaking.  I've developed a particular fondness for watching Turkish men greet each other, talk to each other, and be around each other.  There is a special sweetness, and sometimes playfulness, to their relationships that I've not seen anywhere else.  Oh, yes, and I'll also always remember the relentless helicopters from the nearby military training center circling the campus everyday... or the daily sonic booms from military exercises we heard every few hours when I first got to the yoga retreat at Suleyman's Garden on the Mediterranean Sea.

Yeah, so, here is that list I warned about.  I'll try to be concise.  Someday I'll write a detailed account, but not to worry... here I"ll keep it as brief as I am capable of doing:

Last week of April:  I traveled to Zaragoza, Spain, to give two Media Literacy seminars at the Universidad de Zaragoza.  Jimmy came with me.   Met Marta Gil Lacruz who was the best host ever.  Tapas, biking, best hotel breakfast on the planet, high speed train.  A day in Barcelona on the way back.  It's Spain, what's not to love?

First week in May:  I flew to Izmir, Turkey, on the Aegean Sea, where I gave a keynote address at a cultural studies conference at Ege University.  Treated like a queen.  Met more wonderful people.  After the conference took a mini-bus to Selcuk, then a cab to Ephesus where my mind was promptly blown.  My first real experience with well-preserved ancient ruins.  Pictures don't capture how it feels to be there.

Back at Bilkent the next week.  Finished classes.  Got pictures with my students, listened to their final projects, held back tears as I said good-bye to them.  They have no idea how tough that was.  Got some very sweet emails from some of them that I will cherish forever.

Right after that, Jimmy and I flew to Cannakkale, Turkey, on the Aegean, again, where we toured battle sites of WWI, Gallipoli.  His grandfather was involved and it was incredibly moving for him to be there.  Spent a day on Bosccada Island.  Best seafood and meze I've ever eaten on the harbor there.  Worst pension ever.  A hell-hole, actually.  Fortunately, we laughed about it and made the best of the dreadful digs (truthfully, Jimmy did this much better than I did). But, seriously Jimmy, what were you thinking?

As soon as we returned to Ankara, Jimmy had to fly to Nepal.  The earthquake required his expertise.  He's there now and doing his thing, which amazes me, and they're still experiencing after-shocks.  I'm always relieved to get emails from him.   He's safe, and he'll be there until mid-August.  Sad departure.

Late May to early June:  hard to describe in words what happened to me during that stretch.  I'm still sorting it out for myself.  Took a bus down to Tekirova near Antalya on the Med. Sea for the final Fulbright conference where we all presented our work to the Board, bonded, rode on a pirate ship,  swam in the sea, danced, saw the burning Chimera on Mt. Olympus at midnight.  

Afterward I took a mini-bus to Kas for one night.  Right on the sea.  Beautiful village.  Met an odd older Greek/Turkish man who sat down next to me under a fig tree and started telling me things about myself.   While talking to me, he hovered his hand just over mine.  He didn't touch me but I felt a strong electronic current all over my hand.  He told me I had a gift for healing, but that I kept myself closed off from it.  I'm still freaked out about that.  A fitting beginning, though, to my week at a yoga retreat just off Olu Deniz, where I was headed next.

I can't possibly fully explain the yoga retreat.  It was life-enhancing, relaxing, cathartic.  I was the sole American woman amidst wonderful English women (and two men), of all ages.  We not only practiced together twice a day with an amazing instructor, but ate delicious organic food grown right there at the garden, had serious, silly, funny and intense conversations, swam, went on another boat, and connected for life.  I fulfilled my dream of hiking part of the Lycean Way (to Kabak beach twice).  Cried a lot when it was time to go.

Next, a night in Fetihye, close by.  I needed to be alone again for a few days.  Full of emotion.  Rented a bike and explored the harbor and visited the huge, beautiful Tuesday market.  Later that
afternoon caught a bus to Pamukkale.

Two nights in Pamukkale to see the travertines and the ruins of Hierapolis.  Again, mind blown. Woke up just after a night of the full moon to a thick curtain of sounds outside my room:  birds, bugs, breeze and, I swear,  the sound of plants growing.  I've never experience that before.   Swam in the thermal pool, had lots of alone, reflective time hiking in, and sitting amidst, the ruins.

A long bus ride to Ayvalik where my new friends Kim and Claire (Kim was another Fulbrighter at Bilkent) who have a house in this sweet town on the Aegean, were patiently waiting to pick me up at the bus station.  Gorgeous little house with beautiful views.  They took me to Bergama where we saw more ruins, ate more incredible food, and I bought two Turkish rugs from their favorite rug dealer in town.  I should get them shipped to Brooklyn by the end of this week.  Kim and Claire are incredibly generous, and we all drove back to Ankara together for our final week on campus.

And here's where I've been for the past 8 days, getting ready to come home.  I've been reading, taking long walks, going in to Ankara for my last days in the city.  I"m saying good-bye to people and giving away things I needed here, but can't possibly take back with me.  And now I have to go take care of my last errands (see list above).  I'll probably cry several times today.  It's what I do.

My life has deepened professionally, socially, spiritually, and immeasurably.  Now I need to be with all the people I love.  I get to see my children tomorrow when I get home.  I'm crying already just thinking about how sweet that will be.

Good-bye for now, Turkey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Turtle and Truck

I saw a fairly large turtle crossing the street near my apartment this morning.  The man driving by in a small water delivery truck also saw it.  He stopped his truck, slowly rolled it back to where the turtle was nearly across the road, got out, gently picked up the turtle, and put it on the other side of the concrete barrier that lined the road.  Now the turtle wouldn't have to worry about getting over that imposing thing.  He was safely on the grass and, without losing his stride, was merrily on his way down the hill into the woods.  I smiled to the man.  I don't know if he saw me.  He got into his truck and drove away.  I smiled to myself.  To the sky. And, deliriously happy, rambled on down the road in the sunshine to teach my class.  There's something like this almost every day here.  Probably everywhere.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Children Visit Me: Adventures, Hello and Good-bye For Now

I just completed a wonderful eight days with my children who were visiting me in Turkey for their spring break.  I picked them up Friday evening at the airport in Istanbul.  I’d arrived the night before from Ankara where I’d been teaching at Bilkent University for the semester.  After a joyful and teary reunion at the airport, Noah and Liv, who looked splendid, older and absolutely adorable, and I spent about 1 ½ full days in that magnificent city connecting Europe and Asia before boarding a plane to Ankara– a mere 40-minutes-in-the-air commute as my son pointed out to me.  Two and ½ days of exploration and fun in Ankara were followed by a 4-hour bus ride, then 2 1/2 days in Cappadocia, then back to Istanbul.  Cappadocia, by the way, is like nothing else on the great blue marble we live on.  One cannot explain it; it must be experienced first hand.  Not even photographs suffice, though we all try hard to capture panoramas of landscape that defy natural explanation.  What I can tell you is that I’ve enjoyed few moments of sheer bliss that compare with the walk I took last Thursday morning with my two beautiful teenagers, through PigeonValley, a trail that began just outside our cave hotel in Goreme, Turkey.  The rock formations, the fairy chimneys, the carved windows and doors in the rock caves, the endless trails that trail off other trails over and around hills and rocks, the birds, the spring flowers, the excitement of discovering new amazing photo opps at every turn on this perfect hiking adventure filled my heart with love and pride.  I was in my element.  My children seemed so happy and so excited, and so willing to climb the really steep stuff.  They were loving it as much as I was.  It was all so blissful and energizing. 

After our final shimmy up the slippery sloping rocks to the Goreme panorama, we congratulated ourselves for navigating the intense climb as we continued to bond over freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice and Turkish pancakes (and a varied assortment of coffee and chocolate beverages) at the conveniently-located cafĂ© and gift shop at the panorama along the main road.  The rest of the trip was more hiking, one breathtaking view after another, all sprinkled with funny conversations, observations, delicious food, a car rental allowing us to visit underground cities and a few more above-ground villages, ancient churches inside caves, and lots and lots of unexpected kindnesses from everyone we encountered.  It was magical and, even though it got cold and wintry before we left, I believe my children loved their visit and our cave hotel as much as I did. 

But now to get to the real point of this whole story.  It begins on the journey home  and it’s about leaving, saying good-bye, loss, patience, kindness, and a bit of profanity.  All of that, when you think about it, is exactly what life is sometimes.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

My children were to fly home again out of Istanbul, whence they came.  Our shuttle driver picked us up at our hotel in Goreme bound for the Nevesehir airport for the short flight to Istanbul.  Pick up was great, perfect, on time. We snaked our way in a rather large passenger van through several narrow streets in Goreme and a few other villages to pick up assorted others from small boutique hotels, then finally we were on our way to the local Cappadocian airport. With two airplanes and one small waiting area it was the smallest airport I’d ever seen in my life.  To date. The flight to Istanbul was one hour over beautiful scenery beneath. My kids had almost two hours before their flight back to JFK.  Since they had all their bags with them, I decided that I would pick up my checked bag from baggage claim in the domestic terminal later; my priority was to get them to the international terminal where friends from Brooklyn would be waiting to meet them at passport control--they were all on the same flight home.  I still didn’t have a plan about how I would get myself back to Ankara, but that didn’t matter.  I had several options.

Here’s where the inevitable tears, sadness and good-byes begin.  I had to let them make their way to their gate, passports and boarding passes in hand.  I couldn’t go with them, and so it was time to say good-bye--for now.  “I’ll see you in Brooklyn in June.  Let’s skype next Sunday, regular time.  Okay?”  I’m tearing up again even now as I write this.  I held tightly to each of them as long as I could, but not so long that they, and everyone around them, would start to feel awkward.  They are teenagers, after all, and I try to be sensitive to their journey of separation and oncoming adulthood as much as it’s possible for me, their mother, to be.  They are my babies and they were getting on another overseas flight without me, and I wouldn’t see them for 9 more weeks.  Through a haze of non-stop tears I watched them walk through the passport maze, then finally off to security and their appointed gate.  There was no point in staying any longer at that spot; it felt like torture and now I was all alone again and needed to figure out how and when I would get back to base in Ankara. 

Here’s the part where loss, patience and kindness kick in – along with other assorted emotions and reactions which don’t flatter me much, but which also tend to kick in during stressful times of loss and frustration bordering on panic. 

The first order of business was to retrieve my checked bag from the domestic terminal.  I got there and, oops, can’t get back in to the baggage area without explaining to the security guard that I had to get in again to get my bag because I took my children to the other terminal because their international flight was very soon and …… no use.  I don’t speak Turkish and he doesn’t speak English.  A very kind traveler coming through the security area translated for me and I was soon back in and searching for my bag.  I finally found it at Lost Luggage and was happily on my way out of the area.  I went upstairs to inquire about a possible flight back to Ankara that evening.  I knew it might be expensive, but because I was emotional and exhausted I couldn’t fathom a 6-hour bus ride back to Ankara, or even a long shuttle to the other, cheaper, airport on the other side of Istanbul.  I wanted to get back to Bilkent soon.  As luck would have it, there was an affordable  flight in 1 ½ hours to Ankara (much cheaper than the flights I’d seen listed online, by the way).  I bought the ticket, took it to check-in, re-checked my big red suitcase, then made my way to security.  As I picked up my carry-on bag from the belt, I realized that I had left my ipad and a novel I’d borrowed from the Bilkent library on the plane from Cappadocia.  I had completely forgotten to take them from the seat pocket when we left the plane.  Damn!!  Must act quickly.

I tried to explain to the security people what happened, and that I needed to figure out how to get my ipad back.  This ipad, by the way, is the same one I accidentally left in a Zip Car two years earlier in Brooklyn.  Then, the people who rented the same Zip Car right after me kindly kept it and returned it to me the next day.  I remembered wondering at the time whether that ipad wanted to be let go.  Or whether it was teaching me something.  I new there was a deeper meaning to the incident at the time.  And now here I was, in Turkey with that same ipad, and this time I left it on an airplane and needed to see if I could get it back. Long story short, I got it back, but not before having to return to the aforementioned baggage security area and accompanying language barrier issues.  Having navigated that one again, I got to the Lost and Found desk.  Yep, they had my ipad and book already there closed up in a neat plastic baggy.  After proving to them it was mine, they kindly returned it.  Now I had to go back upstairs, through security again, to my gate, with about 20 minutes to spare before the flight.  All was well.  I had a reasonably-priced ticket back to Ankara, my big bag was safely checked, the contents of my carry-on were intact, and I had a few minutes to finish eating my reserved chocolate pistachio bar (a must-have comfort food after having said good-bye to children at the airport) before getting on a very short flight back to Ankara.  The book/ipad crisis that had led me to a near panic (I had recorded research data and several important ibooks on that thing—and the paperback novel wasn’t even mine) had been resolved, but I wasn’t ready, yet, to process why I left them on the plane and why I got them back.  All I could think was, “you are very lucky and people are very kind to you and this country has been amazingly good.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  At the same time I was wondering,  “are my kids on their plane yet, are their seats okay, will they be able to sleep….”

A quick, comfortable and occasionally tear-strewn flight brought me safely back to Ankara.  At this point fatigue had fully set in and little inconveniences had begun to bring out my, shall we say, “lesser” qualities.  For some reason there were three busses just off the plane waiting on the tarmac to take us to the terminal.  Directions were scattered, and in Turkish, so I had no idea which one to get on, then decided to just get on the closest one, thinking they’re all going to the terminal, what does it matter, anyway?  Well, it mattered.  My bus stopped at the international arrivals door.  I was on a domestic flight, and hadn’t changed from another country.  “What the f%*#? ,” I whispered to myself, several times, as I got out with everyone else. (I warned you about this lesser quality of mine).  So, I went to baggage claim and waited for my bag.  Luckily there was no passport control involved, so I’m not sure why domestic and international passengers had to be separated.   I waited for my bag for a really long time.  I waited and waited.  It wasn’t on the belt.  The belt finally shut down.  Only one bag was left and it wasn’t mine.  Okay, I’m really tired.  I just want to get on the airport bus to the big bug terminal, then take a short taxi ride to Bilkent and be home.  Where’s my bag?  I found out, at Lost Luggage the Sequel: This Time in Ankara, that my bag was at baggage claim in the domestic terminal.  The man behind the counter who explained this to me seemed exasperated that I would bother him about this when it was so obvious I was in the wrong place……  okay.  Well, I would walk to the other terminal, get the damn bag, and get on the bus.  So I made for the other terminal and a kind gentleman, who’d heard me trying to ask how far it was from where we were, offered to translate for me.  By then I had figured out how to get to the domestic terminal, so I was more than rude when I answered his well-meaning question, “Do you need to get on another flight?” by snapping back, “No, I just need to get my f*%#ing bag.”  It was my lowest point of the evening.  I’m not proud of this.  I immediately felt awful, but just kept walking to the other terminal. 

Once I got there, guess what?  I had to convince the security guard that I had to get in to retrieve my bag from baggage claim because I was at the wrong terminal, and, whatever.  He didn’t speak a word of English.  Enter, for the fourth time in about two hours, a kind gentleman who offered to translate for me.  He was Turkish but spoke with nearly a perfect English accent.  I quickly explained to him what happened and he quickly let the security guard know, and I was quickly inside.  After 10 minutes poking around I finally found my bag – at Lost Luggage, Round Three: When Will You Learn?.   I now had everything and I was in Ankara.  I could go home and collapse.

Within 5 minutes I was at the airport bus that would take me to the big bus station on the other end of the city.  My big red bag was now safely stowed beneath the bus and I found a comfortable seat.  For some strange reason the guy selling tickets charged me an extra 2 Turkish Lira for my bus ticket than he’d charged other passengers, but I tried not to let it get to me.  It was so little anyway.  Profanities were unnecessary.  I was almost home.  I dozed a bit on the 25-minute ride to the other side of town.  I knew I was beyond exhausted at this point.  Soon we were at the station and I got out with quite a few other people, then waited at the side of the bus for someone to open it so I could retrieve –--- my big red bag.  After two minutes of standing around with about three other people waiting for the same thing, the bus just pulled out of its spot and whisked away.  Those of us in baggage-waiting mode looked at each other, then all took off running after the bus.  They were yelling loudly in Turkish, I was, not nearly as loudly yet quite audibly, repeating over and over the chosen “F” word—the word that had come to dominate this latter portion of my evening.  We were all perplexed.  One of the stranded passengers, yet another kindly Turkish gentleman, waved me over to the office of the bus company that was, luckily, right there.  He explained to the man standing at what I will now refer to as Lost Luggage: Bus Station Style what happened, and that we were all left stranded without our luggage because the bus driver understood that I needed one more little challenge to make my adventure complete. Of course I’m not sure about that last particular motivation, but it makes the story more about my own personal saga than about the other passengers, so I’m leaving it in. 

The man got on his phone immediately to right this wrong.  He looked both upset and mortified that this had happened to all of us.  When he got off the phone he instructed me, using hand gestures and a few words I understood, to get on the bus waiting right in front of me and take it to Kizilay station where my bag would be waiting for me.  I looked at him, I laughed, and said very loudly, “I have no idea where that is, but I really have no choice at this point, do I? “  Naturally, I got right on the bus to Kizilay.  What did I have to lose at this point?  How long would this ride take?  Would my big red bag really be there?  Is this a cruel test of my fondness for this country and these people?  Will I be forced to use the “F” word anymore this evening? 

After about a 10-minute ride the bus pulled over on the side of a busy street and there, sitting in the dark amidst three other bags, was my well-traveled red suitcase, waiting patiently for me to pick it up and take it home.  I jumped off the bus and leapt toward my prodigal bag.  Thankfully I still had my bus ticket stub to prove to the attendant that it was mine.  Now I just had to get home.  Wouldn’t you know, a cab was ready and waiting right there.  Ah, only one last mode of transport and I would be home at last.  The taxi ride, you’ll be happy to know, was completely event-free.  I used my practiced directional Turkish words to guide the driver to the top of the hill on the middle campus of Bilkent where I had to get out and walk the short distance to my apartment building, no. 105 (lojman yus bes).  The driver was so kind.  The night air was crisp and it was quiet as I rolled the red bag with one arm and lugged the ipad and book laden shoulder bag with the other, along the paved road and around the bend. 

In 10 more minutes I was up the stairs and in my apartment.  It smelled like ripening bananas and it was cozy warm.  Everything was exactly as my kids and I had left it before our Cappadocia adventure only a few days before.  But now they were on their way home to New York, and I was back in my temporary home at Bilkent.  They would never believe the story that unfolded after I moistly hugged them good-bye in Istanbul.  Their mom, her bags, her relationship with losing and finding, and the kindness, patience and helpfulness of everyone around her--- all of the effing time. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Settling in at Bilkent and Such

There's a sweet dog that hangs around campus at Bilkent.  I noticed him within my first few days getting my bearings around the place.  He's medium sized, mixed breed, and runs around all three campuses like he owns the place.  Sometimes he'll tolerate students who want to talk to him and pet him.  And if you've got food, he's your best friend for about 10 minutes.  Usually he just patrols the grounds, happy to have a job to do and, clearly enjoying his freedom.  Occasionally he's got a buddy, mostly he's alone.  He looks like the happiest dog in the world, and when I see him I smile and think all dogs should have lives like that.  I guess all people should, too.  Anyway.... it reminds me of the groups of dogs that would run around together in Ankara about 2 years ago when I was first here.  They'd join up in the evening and have a grand old time running around the neighborhood, playing in the water fountains.  Such great entertainment.

Time is speeding along and I'm woefully behind in writing about what's happening here.  In the last several weeks I've met with my classes, of course, and I've also opened up my bank account, got my Turkish ATM card, Bilkent I.D., Bilkent email address, met some of my Fulbright colleagues situated throughout Ankara, and otherwise continued becoming "legit" in Turkey.  One Friday morning was spent at the main polis station in Ankara applying for my residence card.  Luckily, one of the kind personnel people from Bilkent took a Ukrainian researcher and me to the huge, imposing station and did "the rounds" for us while we waited in the "foreigners" area.   It was sort of like sitting at One Police Plaza in NYC to get your fingerprints and conduct report, except with several more layers of bureaucracy, about five different places to go to fulfill various steps in the process, and way more people buzzing about -- many of them whole families with several small children who may have been refugees (hard to tell since I don't speak any of the languages, but you get the impression) getting their paperwork together.  It was clear that if we hadn't had expert help to do it for us, we could have been there many more hours, even days (well, you know what I mean), trying to figure out all the documents they require, the proper payment, enough passport photos, and the correct number of copies.  The funny thing to me is that, once you apply, it can take up to three months to get the card.  And that will be just about the time I'm coming back to the U.S.   Meanwhile, I carry around the piece of paper that says I've applied so that when my original work visa expires I've got my papers and I can leave the country and come back again.   All of this in itself is such an education.  And only a tiny fraction of what U.S. immigrants must go through and feel like all the time--new place, foreign language, foreign customs, trying to get a sense of structure and familiarity.  I get it (on a much smaller scale).

As for teaching, it's going well.  My undergraduate Media Literacy class has about 13 students and my graduate Media Ecology/Digital Media class has 5 students.  I meet in the same room for both classes in this great building that also houses architecture and design classes.    The students are very like BC students in some ways, and in some ways unlike them.  We're still getting to know each other, and there's very little language barrier, though I'm always trying to make sure I"m using references that make sense to them, and asking them a lot about their media and media use so I can understand them and the Turkish system better.  The toughest part sometimes is not knowing how much they already know or have familiarity with, and how much is just brand new stuff to them.  I trust they'll let me know, but sometimes I'm worried that they're being a bit too polite to say anything.  So I forge ahead.  I have a very quiet office all to myself in the adjacent building, but students haven't stopped in yet with questions or concerns.  My biggest challenge in all of this is figuring out the Moodle stystem.  Everything is to be posted online.  Another good thing for me to be caught up with.

One fantastic thing about being here is that Jimmy is spending lots of time with me here right now.  He's working on a few book projects of his own so we have a nice, relaxed pace in our lojman yuz bes.  Last weekend we hung out in the oldest Ankara neighborhood (with luck I've got pictures posted), and just yesterday we came back from 2 days in Safranbolu, just north of Ankara on the way to the Black Sea.  Those pictures and description soon to come.  Spoiler, though..... one of the cutest places I've ever seen in my life.  Ever.  And my first haman experience (I was a slippery hunk of mud-covered flesh on a marble slab at the mercy of a kind yet muscular young Turkish woman who really knew her way around a 450 year old steamy spa cavern).

As for learning Turkish: the new beginner's class was cancelled because only three of us were signed up and the other one conflicts with my teaching.  So, I'm working on my own version of "Turkish to get by and not feel like such an idiot all the time," which so far allows me to greet people, say a polite please and thank you, count to five so far, understand the entrance and exit to a building, order food, , ask for the check, and find:  coffee, water, the toilet.  Not bad, you say?  What gets me by is other people's patience, not worrying that my pre-school Turkish probably grates on the ear, and lots of smiles and general pleasantness on my part.  Being raised in Minnesota helps an awful lot on that score.  Oh, and I'm drinking more tea because, well because you just do.  And there's the baklava.  And food in general.   My appetite-- for everything-- is enormous.  

I just miss my kids crazy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting settled at Bilkent University

On Tuesday, Feb. 10th, it will be two weeks since my plane landed on time, and unceremoniously, in Ankara, Turkey, where I was greeted by an efficient driver and whisked to my new apartment at Bilkent.  I knew about one word to say to him, Merhaba, and that exchange of greeting was our only verbal communication on the 25 km drive to the University from Esenboga.  When we got to my apartment building, Blok 105, he took both of my incredibly heavy suitcases (a bulging brand new suitcase had already fallen open all over the street in Brooklyn on the way to the airport), one lifted with each arm, and proceeded straight up to the second floor apartment.  I followed behind heaving my other book-filled bags up two flights.  The quiet and efficient driver opened the door, handed me the keys, and was gone before I could even say thank you... tesekkur ederim... my only other Turkish phrase.

I was exhausted from my flight, completely out of my element, and all alone in my new....wait... this is a really nice apartment!  Yes, it's spare, but its large, and comfortable and bright and very modern, and has a washing machine.  I don't even have one of those in my Brooklyn apartment.  And, best of all, it's really, really warm.  I'm a fan of warmth and light and they do both very well here.  Now I just have to stay awake for a few more hours so I don't completely screw up my schedule.  Unpack, check out the kitchen (they had supplied me with water, cheese, juice, rolls, milk, tea and sugar), the bathroom, the two (yes two) bedrooms.  And there was my lifeline..... a wifi box set up next to the desk so I could go online.  There's no TV set, but I'm digitally connected to the rest of the world.  Ahhh.

The sun was getting very low in the sky, it was about 4:30 pm, so I grabbed my bag and set outside to make my way to Bilkent Center, the big shopping area at the bottom of the hill, just outside the campus, that I noted as we drove in.  A modern hunter-gatherer by nature, I needed to find out where the food was, and to get my directional bearings, before I could settle back into my new home for the first night.  When everything is brand new, including the language, the signs, the driving patterns, and the landscape (and everything else), your instincts are on constant high alert.  The fresh air and 20 minute walk downhill to the gigantic (Target superstore meets Whole Foods meets Big Top Liquor) Real megastore revived me, and I timidly made my way through most of the aisles so I knew what they had, how much it cost, and what I needed to buy just for tonight.  I settled on another big bottle of water, some fruit, bread and hummus. The trek back home with a bag of food was almost all uphill, a steep hill on a narrow sidewalk, in the dark.  Breathing hard and back at my apartment blok I had to figure out my keys for the first time.  There was a brief moment of panic when I couldn't figure out the front door key, and it was dark because most of the lights are motion sensitive (a very smart energy-saving idea here... I wish they did much more of in the States) and my motion hadn't turned on the light yet.  Finally, it worked.  I'm inside the building, now I'm at my own door.  A second key attempt got me into my apartment.  This is now home for the next 4 1/2 months.  Food, a glass of wine (I thought ahead at duty free), then finally I could safely try to sleep.  It was only 8 pm, but close enough.   The newness, the pangs of missing home already, the all alone-ness, the fear, the excitement.  I needed some escape, and sleep was my escape.

Since that first night I've experienced a whirlwind of learning....the campus, my colleagues, my students, the bureaucracy involved in setting in and figuring out a new system and new administration.  And a new language.  Fortunately I teach in English, but I'm living in a Turkish culture, and language class starts tomorrow.   More on that, and other stuff, soon.......

Bilkent, Ankara, Feb. 8, 2015