Tuesday, April 14, 2015
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
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 café 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.