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in which audrey comes face to face with “real life”

26 Aug

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the morning (okay, afternoon) with the sunlight streaming in through my window. I yawned lazily and stretched out in my bed. As I snuggled back into my pillow, I left completely relaxed and blissful due to the fact that, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had NOTHING to do. No thesis to write, no assignments to submit, no emails to send, no class, no readings, not even any dirty laundry to wash. I was FREE. I smiled and my eyes began to close again as I began to drift off into a peaceful half-sleep. That’s when it happened.

A small, uneasy thought crept into the back of my mind and stubbornly refused to go away. I tried to block it out, but ultimately my mind was forced out of its sleepy daze and to come to grips with reality. This troublesome thought wasn’t a complicated one… just two little words that kept tumbling around in my brain—“what now?”

This thought would be the cause of many future sleepless nights. I had been so preoccupied with getting to this point in my life that when it finally came, I wasn’t exactly sure what this point in my life really was. Is this “real life”? Psh. Real life so far has consisted of me just wandering around Istanbul (and other parts of Turkey), sleeping every day until after noon, and generally having no purpose in life. The hours and hours (and hours and hours) I had spent writing papers and trying to finish my thesis had conditioned me to the feeling of always having some deadline hanging over my head, always some work that needs to be done. It gave my life structure in a way, I had achieved my perfect balance of procrastination and productivity. But now the work is gone and what used to be procrastination has become my way of life. The things I had always planned on doing for fun (like reading, blogging, and catching up on TV shows) became the new work that I procrastinated. This is part of the reason for my Internet silence, I very quickly shifted from being busy to being completely unmotivated.

I’ve had a lot of fun this summer. I graduated from college. I traveled all over the country and hosted a few international guests. I learned a lot of Turkish and I even have several friends now who don’t speak any English, which is a very cool thing. I went to a linguistics summer school in Sweden and figured out what I want to do with my life. I even got a part-time job as an editor for a Turkish university publishing science articles in English. I’ll write all about these things soon, I can’t fit my whole summer into this post. Despite all the cool people and things that have been a part of my life during these past few months, I think that it’s maybe time to move on. At this point in my life, Turkey represents the strange gap I’m stuck in, somewhere between college and whatever comes next. I don’t want to leave, I could be happy here forever learning Turkish and eating delicious food and hanging out with my friends. But the rest of my life involves forward motion, and I can’t get my momentum back until I start moving again.

But seriously, how am I ever going to leave this place?

I apologize for the long gaps between my posts over the past few months. During the next few weeks, I plan to post stories that have happened during my time abroad this year, such as my two weeks in Sweden, an impromptu dance party in Tbilisi (Georgia), and the friendships I’ve developed in the Grand Bazaar. Stay tuned.

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denial

29 Mar

It finally hit me when, of all things, I reached the last piece of the three-pack Trident cinnamon gum I brought from home and my state of denial was shattered… I’ve been in Turkey for over a month. How did the time pass so quickly? Six weeks ago, my plane touched down in a cold, foggy Istanbul, and the following days were a continuous experience of déjà vu, a strange feeling of familiarity in an unfamiliar place, despite the fact that I had once called Istanbul home. Not much had changed, yet everything had changed.

I was caught off guard by the small things, things I had become so accustomed to during my past trip that I stopped noticing them. The rediscovery of these things caused countless memories to come flooding back, like the giant close-up of Jessica Simpson’s face plastered on the building across from my favorite restaurant. Or one of the many campus dogs that had politely walked me home at night, the funny-looking one with a body and head the size of a Labrador, but stumpy little sausage legs. And the old man selling fruit in the little grocery store near campus, who always smiles and answers “şöyle böyle” (“so-so”) when I ask him how he’s doing. Jessica Simpson, the sausage dog, and the fruit guy were not the highlights of my last trip, but seeing them again brought me back to a past life, different than the one I went back to in Texas and different from the one I am living now.

Fishermen on the bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü

Fishermen on the bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü

My first week in Istanbul was completely perfect. I was reunited with many of my Turkish friends from last semester, eating all the delicious Turkish foods I had missed last year, dove back into another semester of interesting classes at Bogazici, and had new fun experiences with new fun friends. Then the reality/panic that I had only a few months left to complete my thesis sunk in, and I retreated into hermit mode in my apartment. I have since found somewhat of a balance between having a social life and “thesis-ing”, but in general it’s just been very hard to concentrate on writing. I am doing my best to finish before the weather gets nice next month and staying indoors with my computer becomes even more tortuous than it already is.

In addition to my thesis, I am working on an independent study with one of my professors at Baylor, in which I analyze the language use of the vendors in the Grand Bazaar. They all speak multiple language and can guess the native language of potential customers passing by with surprising accuracy. I will probably write a whole post about this soon because it is fascinating and very entertaining (the vendors can get extremely creative with their comments to passing shoppers). “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something…” I turned around in case he was actually telling the truth. The vendor smiled, winked, and said, “It’s my heart, can you give it back?” Sneaky, sneaky.

One other really significant thing has happened while I’ve been here—other than the fact that I went to a DJ set by Elijah Wood (more commonly known as Frodo) a few weeks ago, and that is my upcoming trip to Sweden. A joke from a professor in class about recording languages in the jungle sparked a conversation with a classmate, which in turn sparked my interest and registration for the 2014 Summer School in Language Documentation and Linguistic Diversity in Stockholm for two weeks this June. I had never planned on going to expensive Scandinavia before being a real adult with real money, but this summer school focuses on exactly what I want to do in my life and was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Now for the elephant in the room (or the elephant in the country, I suppose). You may have heard about all the crazy things going on in Turkey right now. This whole political unrest thing has been new to me, since the Gezi Park protests of 2013 began seven or eight months after I returned to the US. But a few weeks ago, Berkin Elvan, an innocent teenage boy who was not involved in protests but had been a victim of police brutality and spent most of the year in a coma, died in the hospital, provoking major  demonstrations against the government. Coming from a country where political activism means sharing a link on Facebook or getting in a heated virtual debate in the comments of someone’s post, I initially felt very on edge seeing large crowds of people marching and yelling in the streets. I’ve come around however, and agree that action must be taken since the government has overstepped its boundaries and begun blocking social media sites (as of now, both Twitter and YouTube are blocked in Turkey).

I urge everyone back home to follow Turkey in the news. The biggest realization I have had within the past few weeks is that we cannot solve all our problems on the Internet, and that if our basic human rights are ever infringed upon, complaining about the problem via social media is not going to change anything. Especially if the government has blocked said social media. I am not a political activist. I hate confrontation to the point that if someone is blocking an aisle in the grocery store, I will go to the next aisle and walk all the way around rather than asking them to move. However, the events of this month have forced me to examine myself and brought me closer to the obvious but easier-said-than-done conclusion that if something is wrong, I should DO something about it.

Flags for one of the campaigning parties (CHP) in front of the Galata Tower

Flags for one of the campaigning parties (CHP) in front of the Galata Tower

Local elections will take place tomorrow and will be the climax of the action of the past few weeks since they will determine which political party holds power. Someone isn’t going to be happy with the results, and we’ll see what exactly that means within the next few days… Keep Turkey in your thoughts, please, because things are once again about to get interesting over here.

güle güle

12 Feb

I have been putting off writing this post for a month now… I guess I’m still in denial about leaving Istanbul, and I feel as though posting this will solidify the fact that I am no longer a temporary resident of one of the world’s most amazing cities.

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My last day at Boğaziçi… Complete with a symbolic rainbow in the sky

There are two ways to say goodbye in Turkish, depending on whether you are the one staying or going. “Güle güle” is what you say to someone who is leaving. Literally, it means “smiling, smiling.” Last month, I was forced to leave behind my home for the past four months and come straight back to school in Texas. My taxi ride to the airport provided a perfect contrast with the one from my first day in Turkey. I sat in the backseat and had a whole conversation in Turkish with the taxi driver, who encouraged me to come back to Turkey someday. As if I needed any convincing.

These past few months have been nothing less than incredible, and I have been so lucky to have met some of the greatest people in the world, from all my Turkish classmates to the other exchange students I have met from all over the world to the closeknit group of friends I began to have there at the end to everyone I encountered in Tbilisi and Cappadocia to all the people I have met in the strangest of circumstances, and I really can’t wait to go back over there.

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Looking out over the Bosphorus from a fortress near my university

Now I am back in Waco, working in the international office and in a constant state of scrambling to keep up with everything– not having a winter break turned out to be a little more challenging than I had anticipated. My job has been one of the best things about being back in the states, because I have been able to meet many of the exchange students studying at Baylor, including a Turkish guy who has become a pretty good friend of mine and even came back to Louisiana with me for Mardi Gras weekend.

Ever since I have come back, people have been asking me where I’m going next. I’m working on it. My days of studying abroad are over because I have to stay at Baylor to write a thesis next year, but for the summer (my last one as an undergrad), my rough draft plan includes a language school in the Himalayas, some time with friends in New Delhi, and depending on my money situation, hopefully Istanbul at the end. Operation Obtain Travel Funds begins now.

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The most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Goodbye Istanbul, I’ll see you again soon.

we all fall down

3 Jan

I knew I was falling as soon as I shifted my balance from one foot to the other. There was no time to catch myself, and during my very short transition from a vertical position to a horizontal one, the only thing I was aware of was a Japanese lady screaming. Then I was lying in a pool of warm water in front of approximately one hundred tourists to the Pamukkale World Heritage Site. I picked myself up as well as the pieces of my shattered pride. Unable to think of anything else to do, I bowed to my audience and, soaking wet, began walking as quickly and carefully as possible towards the exit.

To be fair, there WAS a caution sign... (foreshadowing)

To be fair, there WAS a caution sign… (foreshadowing)

I had arrived in Pamukkale just that morning, the first destination on my four-day solo trip to southwestern Turkey. All semester I had been planning to visit Ephesus, a place I have been hearing about in church for my whole life. None of my friends were able to go (understandably, money is running low at the end of the semester), but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from taking this trip. So, I made my plans and after my Turkish final last Friday, I caught an overnight bus to Pamukkale. Traveling alone as a girl is often discouraged because there are some creeps in the world, but I have found that it can be a rewarding experience as long as you are constantly aware of your surroundings and make smart decisions.

Other than busting it in the water front of a hundred people, I had a lot of fun in Pamukkale. I had successfully made it to the top of the calcium carbonate hill (which looks exactly like snow, but is actually just hardened minerals) without falling and spent several hours walking around through the ruins of the Hierapolis, an ancient Greco-Roman city. Then as soon as I took off my shoes and took about five steps in the hot spring water, I hit a slippery spot and you already heard that story. Luckily, my camera and phone both survived, but I had worn my warmest clothes that day, which included my only pair of jeans. I returned to my hostel and tried to dry my jeans, but the sun was already almost down and the room I was staying in had no heater. I changed into some leggings and a dress I had stuffed into my bag last minute and ended up wearing those for the next two days until my pants were finally dry. That evening, since I was confined to the hostel by my wardrobe, I made friends with several people there, including a British chemistry teacher and the old Turkish woman who owned the place (she ended up helping me get a discount on my next bus ticket- success!)

The tomb of Phillip (as in the disciple)

The tomb of Phillip (as in the disciple)

Wet and cold but happy anyway

Wet and cold but happy anyway

The next day, I went to Izmir, a city on the Aegean Sea and not far from Ephesus. On my first day there, I met up with a Turkish friend from one of my classes and she showed me around the city, and then took me home to have dinner at her house, where I ended up spending the night. I woke up early the next morning to head back to the bus station, where I found a dolmuş (a kind of minibus) to Selçuk, which is right next to Ephesus. I then got on another dolmuş which brought me right to the city gates. Ephesus was amazing. A lot of the stone pillars and carvings are still intact, and it was easy to imagine the city as it was hundreds of years ago.

Library in Ephesus

Library in Ephesus

After Ephesus, I went back to Selçuk, back to Izmir, and to my lonely little hotel room (I wasn’t able to find any hostels), where I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, it was dark and cold and pretty close to 2013. Not having enough motivation to leave the bed I had warmed with my body heat and wanting to walk alone in the darkness at midnight, I turned on the TV and found a Turkish New Years show, and at midnight I counted down with them in Turkish (beş, dört, üç, iki, bir, AAAAAH!) and reflected on my year as well as thought about what the upcoming one will be like. I know that in 2013 I will probably not spend time in five different countries like I did in 2012, and I know I will be spending at least nine months of next year in Waco, which is a little less exciting than New Delhi or Istanbul. But ultimately, 2013 will be what I make of it… And I think it could be pretty cool.

chestnuts roasting on istiklal street

28 Dec

This year I spent my first Christmas away from home. I had been anticipating that I would be homesick during this particular time of year, but my little Turkish community once again pulled through for me. It was definitely strange not being at home with my family, but spending time with my good friends here and the fact that Turkey doesn’t really do commercial Christmas made it very easy to be away during the holiday season.

The best Christmas moment of this year happened in one of my classes. Since Turkey is a primarily Muslim country, schools are not cancelled on Christmas and I had four hours of class that day. I had contemplated skipping school, but I had an assignment to turn in and nothing else to do with my Christmas morning, so at 8:45 AM, I left my apartment and headed to class. In the hallway, I ran into one of my Turkish classmates and I wished him a “Mutlu Noel!” (“Merry Christmas”). He laughed at my early morning cheerfulness and wished me a merry Christmas too as we walked into the classroom. Halfway through the two-hour lesson, we were given a break and many students left the room to stretch their legs and get fresh air. At the end of the break, Coşkun (my friend from the hallway) and three other guys from the class came back in the classroom and started singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” and they each put a little bar of chocolate on my desk. That in itself was enough to make my Christmas great. I have had so much fun getting to know all my classmates and becoming friends with some of them, and the fact that they made that special gesture on Christmas meant so much to me… I will never forget it.

Other highlights from this Christmas season included: an awkward run-in with a priest at an Italian Christmas Eve mass, eating my first chestnut (they tasted like potatoes, which made me happy), my friend Rachel coming from Georgia to visit for a week, Santa Claus coming to my apartment, my first visit to the Hagia Sophia (I don’t know why I had never gone before), hanging out with the Afghani friend I had met in Cappadocia, and SNOW a few days before Christmas, which I think caught everyone off guard.

As of tomorrow, I have two weeks left in this amazing place, and 2012 is also coming to an end. I’m honestly not sure if I will ever be able to top what has most definitely been the best year of my life. I got to spend one month in India, four and a half in South Africa, two and a half in Louisiana, and four in Istanbul. I have seen natural wonders on three different continents, eaten weird foreign foods, learned new languages, and made friends all over the world. Everyone I have met everywhere has taught me something. Even the time I spent working at the factory was a valuable experience (I see that now in retrospect). 2013 has got a lot of work to do if it’s going to hold a candle to the epic year I’ve just had.

tick tock

12 Dec

December is already here… The time has passed so quickly, it’s unreal. It feels like just last week that I was trying to navigate Istanbul with zero knowledge of the layout of the city or the Turkish language. But it wasn’t last week, it was three months ago. I now know the average length of a bus ride from Rumeli Hisarüstü (where I live) to Kabataş, Beşiktaş, or Taksim. I can also say things in Turkish like “Boğaziçi Üniversitesi’nde Türkçe öğreniyorum” (“I am learning Turkish at Boğaziçi University”) and “tavla oynamak ister misin?” (“would you like to play backgammon?”) Just this afternoon, the old man who sells me bananas told me that my Turkish is improving. Coming from the old man who sells bananas, it must be true. Silhouetted minarets of mosques against sunset skies and the sounds of car horns and cats and calls to prayer are all familiar to me now. I can even read most menus in Turkish, and I have memorized the wifi password at the Poğaçacı (bakery) near my apartment. I am well on my way to becoming a competent member of Turkish society.

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Another thing that is starting to happen as time passes is that I run into people I know all over the place. For example, on Wednesday I had a really difficult phonology test, and after it was over I went to celebrate the end of suffering with some of my friends from class. Then I went to another friend’s apartment to work on a group presentation for my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class, and then we hung out for a while after we finished preparing for our presentation. Then on my way back to my apartment, I ran into my German friends from Cappadocia, who invited me to their apartment to make pancakes and celebrate the Dutch Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, who comes on December 5th and not on Christmas. After eating some delicious pancakes and having interesting cultural exchanges, I again headed toward my apartment, only to come across three of my good friends at Mutfak. I joined them for dinner, çay, and tavla (backgammon). Eventually I made it home, where I spent some quality bonding time with our new obese cat. That day was particularly full of chance encounters, but the fact that these things are happening to me more and more frequently is proving that this place is really starting to be my home.

Cats on a bench. So. Many. Cats.

Cats on a bench on campus. So. Many. Cats.

However, the time to go back to the US is quickly approaching. One month from now I will have to say goodbye to Istanbul, which is truly starting to feel like home, and I get panicky just thinking about it. Although it will be nice to be back at Baylor after one year of being abroad, I know I will have a hard time giving up the life I have built in what is possibly the most beautiful city in the world. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already can’t wait to come back and all I can say is that it had better be soon.

arkadaşlar

24 Nov

Yet again, I have been reminded of how blessed I am to be able to live this dream life. On Wednesday of last week, I set out to Göreme, a tiny town in central Turkey which is located in the region of Cappadocia, a land of crazy rock formations (where some of the early Christians lived) and hot air balloons. I planned my trip with several friends from my university, but I ended up going by myself two days earlier since my classes on Thursday and Friday had been cancelled. I thought that during the two extra days I would just sit in a hostel and do some homework, maybe do a little walking around the town and practicing my Turkish. But from the moment my overnight bus dropped me off amid the bizarre landscape of Göreme at 7 AM on Thursday morning, I began to realize that this little town had other plans for me.

Within my first 24 hours in Cappadocia, I had made several new international friends: the Turkish hostel manager with whom I played multiple hours of backgammon, a Pakistani banker, a Canadian backpacker, a Brazilian med student, an Afghani refugee/barista at a coffee shop, a Mexican architect, and multiple Turkish gift shop employees. My first two days were full of cultural and linguistic exploration, and I was able to speak in Turkish, Hindi, and Spanish with various people I met. If I had only met a Xhosa speaker there, I would have been able to practice every language I know.

Other than speaking foreign languages, during the first days my activities included exploring an underground city, bicycling through a valley, going to an open air museum where I was photographed (ambushed, actually) by multiple Japanese tourists, and eating a free traditional Turkish meal prepared for me by the awesome staff of my hostel (Cappadocia Rock Valley Pension, I highly recommend it). One of the best things about my trip is that I was never alone except for when I wanted to be (Parental Disclaimer: during the daylight hours and in populated places, of course). On Friday, I walked a Canadian friend to the bus stop just as my school friends were arriving from the airport… Perfect timing. Over Saturday and Sunday, we went hot air ballooning, hiking and exploring some ancient ruins, and I made a return trip with them to the underground city. Then on Sunday night I hopped on a bus back to Istanbul, where I arrived just in time for my Monday morning class. My Cappadocia weekend was easily one of the best experiences I have had in Turkey so far.

Biking in Love Valley

Sunrise from a hot air balloon

Balloons in a valley

A few days later, on Thursday night, several of my arkadaşlar (it’s Turkish for friends) and I had a Thanksgiving feast at my apartment. Although we weren’t able to find a turkey or even an oven big enough in which to cook one, KFC made a delicious substitute, and we had other food as well (I really missed my Aunt Jeanne’s green bean casserole though). Overall, it was a great night and I was still able to feel that warm holiday feeling despite being thousands of miles away from home. And better still, Thanksgiving Round 2 (complete with a real Turkish turkey) will begin in a few short hours.

Two delightful Thanksgiving friends

Basically, the best thing about Turkey is the people I have been able to meet during my time here. During the past week, I have made many new friends in both Cappadocia and Istanbul, became better friends with many acquaintances, and had a perfect Thanksgiving made epic by the people who were there. So thank you, my arkadaşlar, for this wonderful experience. I love everything.