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

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