Deuel_Nathan

Was it really that bad?

Fuck off.

 

Y’know, being a dad…wife in the war, Middle East, etc.

It was a fairly constant struggle for me: The fact that it wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, many times—a lot of the time—it was quite excellent. I can’t really adequately describe what it’s like to get rip-roaring drunk by yourself, as the bats fly overhead, wife in Baghdad, with the sound of the call to prayer ringing out over Istanbul, the moon coming up, and you light an illicit cigarette and the hum of the earth is loud and…A grilled fish lunch at an old cantina in a secluded cove north of Beirut, with the table literally in the water, catching up with an old friend from Riyadh, the waves licking up over the table cloth, sea froth kissing the food with salt water, cold bottles of beer…Or to have Christmas in Erbil, in northern Iraq, the odd situation of your wife agreeing to watch the kid while you put on a suit that doesn’t quite fit, so you can get in a taxi and try to track down Christians who fled Baghdad, in the wake of a bombing at a church that killed dozens, to find a woman who will speak to you, in the middle of the street, on Christmas day, with the taxi idling, getting a good enough quote to go back to the house, so you can file a story, so you can sing “Jingle Bells” and squint in the sun of northern Iraq, and later that night, toast it all with a bottle of duty-free scotch.

Basak meets me at the airport shuttle drop off point in the busy city center. We hail a cab and we’re off to my new apartment. She shows me how to get in and gives me a tour of the apartment. I drop my bags in my room and then we’re off again. She wants to show me the neighborhood so I won’t be lost when I’m all alone at home during the coming weeks. We walk, and walk, and walk. Where we’re going, I don’t know. She shows me her workplace, says I can come there anytime if I need help with anything. And then our destination is in sight: Cevahir, the biggest mall in Europe.

She shows me to the grocery store so I can stock up on a few necessities. I feel awkward shopping in front of her so I try to make healthy choices. I throw a couple of nectarines and bananas into the handbasket, then I head toward the dairy section. Without having to tell her what I’m looking for, and before I can reach for anything, she stops me: “That’s not milk.” I look at her, completely befuddled. We walk over a few aisles to where the cereal is, and there we find a wall of milk boxes – the kind that would never survive in America, the kind that has a shelf-life of two years and needs no refrigeration. “Oh, the Turks do milk like the French,” I think to myself. I throw it in the basket, along with some cereal.

“I need shampoo and soap too,” I tell her. She takes me to the toiletries and I’m dumbfounded by the sheer number of shampoo bottles, not one of them with a label I can read. Right, first order of business: Find an English to Turkish dictionary. I look at her and say, “We need a bookstore.”

***

The next day Basak takes me to see the University I’ll be attending. We aren’t able to talk with the International Student Relations office because it’s after business hours so she heads home, leaving me to explore on my own. I wander the street in front of campus until I see the restaurant I’d seen in my classmates’ pictures back home. “God, I hope this is the place,” I whisper as I walk in the door.

A handsome man with cutting green eyes approaches the reception counter. Nervously I ask, “Is there someone here named Aşkın?”

With a charming Turkish accent he says, “I am Aşkın.” Now I’m really nervous. I’d hoped I could explain the situation to a waiter or someone and they could explain it to him in Turkish. But now here I am and he’s right here, and he has those eyes.

“Uhhhh….I’m a friend of Kristina…” I begin to say, but he cuts me off before I can finish my explanation. “Are you Rebecca?” he asks happily. “Yes!” I say with relief. With ease he changes into French and welcomes me, telling me that my friend Dana had been there earlier that day, but that he wasn’t able to speak with her because he has a very limited English vocabulary. He calls Dana and hands me the phone.

***

Dana and I barely knew each other at home but we’re practically inseparable here. We’re both so grateful to have someone to share this craziness with. We help each other navigate the buses, the cell phone companies, the campus, and the Turkish bureaucracy.

After three weeks of spending our days sightseeing or in the mall, wishing school would start so we could make friends here, we learn of a language exchange group that meets every Saturday evening for drinks and conversation. We’ve got only one week of Turkish lessons under our belt and this week’s meeting is on the Asian side, but we will not be deterred. We leave two hours early to ensure we’ll make it there in time, but when we arrive in Kadiköy we’re not in the right place at all. All we know is we’re near the shore of the Bosphorus. With several missteps and the help of a number of Turks – one of which walked us all the way to our location even though he and his girl friend were running late for some kind of family ceremony – we finally made it, half an hour late.

Dana and a Kiwi girl get wrapped up in a Turkish lesson, while I mingle with the French at the table. I eventually find myself at a table with three young Turks who refuse to believe my claim that I can already count to a million in Turkish. When I first sat down they had asked me what I’d already learned in Turkish.

“Well, I pretty much only know my numbers,” I responded.

“Oh really, so you can count to, what? Ten?” one of them patronizingly asked me.

“No, I can count to a million!” I replied with confidence.

So they proceeded to quiz me by writing down numbers, first easy ones like 99 or 25. Then moving on to the hundreds, and finally giving me what was to be their “Gotcha!” number: 126,573.

Yüz yirmi altı bin beş yüz yetmiş uç!” Success was mine!

***

My pasta and cereal rations are running low and I’m tired of wasting my money on restaurant food, so I finally head to the grocery store on my own for the first time. I have  a personal mission to buy and then cook actual Turkish food. After all, one cannot survive on pasta, cereal and white wine for six months without wanting to jump out a window at the thought of food (or so I reasoned). I see the bread for Dürüm and it’s decided that this will be my first foray into Turkish cuisine. I head to the meat section and inspect everything, trying to decide whether I trusted myself to cook chicken or not. I decide on spicy pre-cooked Kebab meat (or at least it looks pre-cooked and the picture of peppers and fire on the package clued me into the spicy factor).

Then I’m off to conquer the cheese section. There are hundreds of cheeses, none of whose names I recognize. I finally just decide to grab any white cheese and hope for the best. Somehow my random grab landed me with cheddar, for which I will be forever grateful. Tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, and a couple walks through the aisles for good measure and then I’m done.

Elated by the fact that I didn’t die from food poisoning, I invite Dana over the next day to try what I have now coined “The Turkish Burrito.”

***

I’m sitting on a bench with my earbuds in, waiting for the metro to arrive. A pre-pubescent boy sits on the other end. His younger brother sits between us – his little kid arm, sticky with sweat, resting against mine. “Pardon,” he says as I inch over so we’re no longer touching. He looks up at me and asks something in Turkish. I look down at him and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand Turkish.” He looks confused and his brother gives him the 411. “Ah, Ingilizce?” he says, looking back at me. “Evet,” I say.

Now, excited to practice his English, he points to my earbuds and says, “What is this?”

“Music?” I say, confused by what he’s asking.

He looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, “Where are you from?”

“California.”

Ah, Kalifornya.

And we have now exhausted this eight-year-old’s English vocabulary. So we sit in silence, until, just as the train arrives I see his face light up. He’s remembered something. “I love you!” he shouts over the sound of the train. I look down at him and laugh. I walk away to catch my train and as the doors close I know for the first time that I’m really going to miss it here when I leave.

SACRAMENTO, CA

I come from a family of dreamers. My dad was always chasing some harebrained idea or another. One week he’d be talking about starting his own business, and the next he’d be obsessed with buying a motor home to travel cross-country. My mother spent many a weekend humoring my father as he dragged her from mobile home lot to mobile home lot looking for the perfect vehicle for this crazy adventure that has yet to materialize – twenty years later. At some point my mom took to saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it, Grant,” to just about every idea my father came up with.

Granted, my father made these things all sound wondrous and doable, but when it came to the logistics of trying to do any of the things he wanted to do, it just wasn’t going to happen with nine children in tow. In more recent years he has been far more productive in following through – like when he convinced my mom to get her truck driving license and the two of them drove big rigs across the country for a year or two. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the two of them happier and more close than when they were living out that life. Unfortunately, family drama made them have to quit that and my dad went back to his old dreamer self. I don’t talk to them much these days so I have no idea what he’s dreaming up these days, but I’m sure it’s something big.

The thing I’ve always admired about my dad’s big ideas is the enthusiasm with which he first approaches anything. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve inherited his big dreaming, as well as the enthusiasm that only lasts until the idea gets put down on paper. Somehow once I’ve thought something all the way through I no longer have the energy to actually put the pieces in motion. This is why I try very hard not to tell people I’m going to do something until I’ve actually got everything in place to make it happen. Many times I’ve heard the advice that you should tell people you’re going to do something because then you’ll feel obligated to follow through with it, but that’s just not the case with me or the people in my family. It seems that once we let our secret desires out into the ether, they escape never to be seen again. And so it is that I have been planning a move to Istanbul for the past six months but have not put it down in writing until now.

I’ve wanted to write about it here a million times over, but I would hate to become one of those people who sees everyone’s eyes roll every time she mentions another crazy adventure. I want to say, “I’m moving to Istanbul,” and have people actually believe it, rather than them saying, “I’ll believe it when it happens,” you know? I want to be a doer, not just a dreamer. So, now that the plane tickets are bought, my storage is beginning to fill up, and the funding has been secured, I feel it’s safe to come out to you all about my plans.

The most common question from people when I tell them I’m moving to Istanbul is: Why Turkey? The answer seems simple to me. I’m going to Turkey on a study abroad trip. My only other option for my major (MA TESOL) was Germany, which I felt was far too safe of a decision, considering I’ve already lived in Western Europe, have been learning German, and have been to Germany a couple of times. I wanted to explore someplace completely new and foreign to me. And, really, why not Turkey?

My friends and family also want to know why I’m going anywhere at all. Why not just stay in the states and finish up my MA quickly so I can move on with my life? Well, the easy answer is that I’m going because I can. If you had an opportunity to move to Istanbul, would you not take it? But the more true answer is that I applied in haste after having my heart shattered. All I wanted was to escape all of the memories of me and him. There isn’t a bar or restaurant in this town that doesn’t have some memory of us. And this apartment – it’s overflowing with promises not kept and things left unsaid. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve both had trouble letting go and I truly think a forced separation will allow us to move on in ways that we haven’t been able to over the past six months.

Also, it will give me the chance to be alone with myself and my thoughts while I get lost in the beauty and history of such a wonderful city. It’s only going to be for six months, but I’m hoping it will be enough time to explore Istanbul and some of the lesser traveled parts of Europe.

Already, I’ve been discovering the vast amount of history that has taken place in Turkey. Did you know Troy is in Turkey? I feel so ignorant for having thought it was in Greece all this time. I’m reading a huge travel guide on the country in the hopes of not seeming completely clueless upon arrival, but there’s so much to learn and so little time. It’s seriously unbelievable the layers and layers of history there – even just in Istanbul itself. I hope to send more regular updates from Istanbul with plenty of pictures for you all. Hopefully we’ll both learn something from the experience.

Any advice, suggestions, must-sees, or phone numbers of hot guys are more than welcome. Well, contact information for just about anyone living in Turkey (aside from creepy stalkers and serial killers), is welcomed.

So now, how many of you have that They Might Be Giants song stuck in your head?