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.