Monday, September 1, 2014

Back in the ABD

(Amerika Birleşik Devletleri = United States of America; ABD = USA).

Hey everyone! 
Sorry I have yet to elaborate on much of anything that has been going on for a while now; I have (unfortunately) been back in the USA for exactly three weeks now.

I suppose that first I will give you all a brief overview of what took place during our last week in Turkey, and then a rundown of our return, the three weeks that have passed since, as well as some thoughts and reflections of mine which I've had in the meantime. 

Başka şeyler son haftada (the rest of the last week):
On the 5th after classes, with little else planned to do that day, Salma, Maddy, and I made a spontaneous and impromptu decision to accompany Gianna and Sena in their search for a little Protestant church. We took Bursa's adorable little above-ground red tram which is often affectionately nicknamed "the Silkworm" to get there. There was a bit of trouble with Google directions and stuff, as this church was tucked away deep within a neighborhood that none of us (including Sena) had ever been to before, but eventually we were able to find it - it was a little peach-colored building built back in the nineteenth century, I believe. We unfortunately were unable to go inside (as it was closed and only opens on Sundays to begin with, I believe), but it was cool to get a glimpse of a little French Protestant church, not something I ever thought I would encounter in Turkey. And as usual, it was nice to just go on a little adventure in good company. :)

The 6th was by far one of the craziest and most amazing days of the whole experience, if not my life so far. It was the day of one of the things we all agreed we'd been anxiously awaiting our whole exchange - going up on Uludağ (the tallest peak among the mountains which surround Bursa).
First, after classes that day, we went back to the music center at Merinos for our final musical practice, in which we practiced our traditional dance for the last time in preparation for the farewell party later in the week, and in the process, Salma, Sophia, Brendan, and I all got to try on some pretty snazzy traditional costumes (pictures coming later). It made me feel like Aladdin. xD
We also got to record our performances of the songs we'd been practicing - first, the two pairs that were doing duets (Salma and me, Sophia and Brendan) got to record our renditions in one of the musical center's professional recording studios, complete with stellar headphones in which we could all hear each other and the staff helping us in the next room. After that, we also went in two separate groups to record the song we sang all together as a big group. All of these were compiled into a CD that was given to us later on. All in all, it was a neat experience - but that's not even getting into the Uludağ part of that day.
We were running a little late due to getting all that done at the music studio, but we were bused over to the Teleferik, the cable-car system which has been newly constructed within the past year and goes up to the top of the mountain. The way up was a bit scary at first - my stomach dropped to my feet - but my fear quickly gave way to awe and astonishment, as we rapidly arose, and the unmistakable sweep of clustered red-roofed buildings that is Bursa grew smaller and smaller, gradually giving way to fantastically unspoiled nature - the lush emerald forests which cloaked the mountainside. The weather seemed to be taking a bit of a turn though - it was a cloudy day, and on the way up we caught sight of lightning in the distance, resulting in a rather spontaneous outburst of "I was promised a barbecue, I do not want to BE the barbecue!" from me, which both Gianna and Madeleine thought was rather funny (we were about to have a barbecue picnic on the mountaintop, as will soon be discussed, so that's the joke. xD). Gianna even captured that golden moment on video! :D
Once we reached the top, it was distinctly drizzling, but not particularly hard, and so it was actually quite refreshing. I realized once we reached the top that I had not thought of the temperatures we might encounter - I was quite unprepared for the fairly chilly weather we first encountered in my ISE T-shirt and jeans. We walked to our picnic site, which was located on wooden picnic tables in a little clearing, and were treated to a fantastic meal with a lovely selection of freshly barbecued meat, as well as some homemade food courtesy of Şeyma and Şebnem, Salma and Ruth's host sisters. Although it was a bit chilly, the gentle rain and crisp mountain air offered welcome relief from the murderous heat we'd been experiencing in the weeks passed, and the tea we were served during the meal helped a bit. Afterwards, Gianna, Salma, Ruth, and I went for a brief run through the inviting forest in the surrounding area to do some Bridge to Terabithia-like exploring, even finding an adorable stream at one point, and promising ourselves that when we go back to Turkey in the future, we'll camp out on Uludağ.
Immediately afterwards, we picked up some trash in and around the campsite for a while, which was our actual "volunteer activity" for the day, and then we went for a little hike. It was beautiful in every sense of the word, wild, and savage - endless grassy open spaces, eventually giving way to thick and impenetrable pine forests, with a large, wide, and unobstructed open feeling to it. We stopped at a modest but grand outcrop of rocks, and climbed up to take in the view. As we took it all in, I was reminded of the moment of the book "Remains of the Day" in which the main character James Stevens speaks of a sprawling view of the English countryside which he is looking at, that I was in the middle of reading when I received my semifinalist notification last December. It was humbling and awe-inspiring, to say the least, to think about how far I had come from that moment - from having to restrain my desire to scream out (as I was with my carpool) as I imagined all that potentially awaited me, adrenaline coursing through every inch of me at top speed, awash with joy, to standing on an outcrop of rocks on one of the tallest mountains in Turkey, surrounded by both Turks and Americans that had become some of my closest and most treasured friends.
After stopping there, we made our way back to the Teleferik to head back down to the city. Rose, Maddy, and I chatted contentedly while gazing at the crimson sunset, exchanging grandparent stories, discussing how much we'd loved that day and the chance to be back in nature, and marveling at how such wild and untouched and perfect natural space existed so close to a city of 2.5 million.
The Teleferik ride back down was a highlight of the entire experience, to put it lightly. I was with Salma, Şeyma, Gianna, Sena, Ruth, Şebnem, Rose, and Maddy (aka all my favorite people :3) in the same cable-car. As we made the journey back down, this time watching the wide expanse of Bursa light up the darkening twilight like fireflies in a summer night sky, Şeyma at one point started spontaneously playing the 2013 "Pop Danthology" (which, if you don't know it, is basically this guy who makes big mashups of popular songs of a given year) from her phone. We all gradually began to sing along and add little dances here and there as well. Once we started we didn't stop - we sang all the way through, laughing, smiling, and just feeling happy. A quote that comes to mind is "and I swear, in that moment, we were infinite..." from the book "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." It wasn't just like that quote, as far as I was concerned - it was that quote. I wrote in my journal that: "I remember writing around a year ago about how I wanted to feel infinite like that. I got my wish. It was a moment so unexpected, so spontaneous, but fun and free in the purest way, it was blissful, and one of the most fun moments of my life. I'll never forget how I felt in those moments; none of us wanted that teleferik ride to end. It's a memory from this experience which I'll cherish as long as I live." 

^Pop Danthology 2013, which we listened to on the way back down. 

On the way up 

The little stream

From the hike 

The rocks we climbed 

Up on the rocks with Seyma (far left) and Gianna (middle)

With (left to right) Gianna, Ruth, and Ayca. 

From the way down 

The next day was less amazing, but nice. After our last Peer Language Partners meeting, our friend Ayça, who had been coming to the meetings, gave me a small but beautiful gift in the form of a gorgeous little çini fridge magnet with a colorful and artsy design of a whirling dervish on it. It was a gift I much appreciated and still treasure, and by the look of it, she gave similarly amazing little gifts to the others as well (I must say, the girl has good taste :P). After that, I took refuge from a torrential downpour which followed by hanging out for a while with my host brother Erinç, my friend Miles from New York, and his host brother Batuhan in the Kent Meydanı mall.

Friday the 8th was our last day of language classes, and to celebrate, we had a little in-classroom potluck of sorts. Each of us brought food - I brought some leftover cold (and vegetarian!) dolma, as well as some fresh biscuits called kurabiye that my host mom had made the night before, just for us. :) We all LOVED it. Our last day was fun and interesting - we talked, had fun, played music, showed each other pictures of family members and friends from back home, and chatted in Turkish with our teacher, Yeliz Hoca. A few of us had also made thank you cards and stuff for her, which we gave to her at the same time, towards the end of the day. I'm glad that she was our teacher - although we may not see her for a long time or again, she was really sweet, funny, and relatable, and just a good teacher in general; I'm happy to have had her as our öğretmen. That day was a fun and pleasant end to the most integral and central part of the program - our classes.
After the lessons were over, we spent some time practicing and finalizing our culminating projects, and then after that, we presented in front of all the participants of our program, and the presentations were filmed to be sent to the Department of State back in DC.
After finishing up with that, we headed home for a few hours to get ready for our farewell party. It was held (interestingly enough) at a horse farm, which may seem a bit random, but was actually very nice. We had a few hours to ride horses, talk, and just hang out freely before dinner. After dinner, we got two things which I had seriously been hoping to receive prior to our departure - the çini we made in Iznik, and the CDs which the musical center at Merinos had made for us with the recordings of our songs on them. After that, we also had a dance party - it started with music being played after we performed our traditional dance, and a few people started to dance, gradually convincing more and more to come up and join them. We had another moment of feeling infinite as we learned to dance another popular and traditional Turkish dance, the halay, which was immensely fun, and followed by some songs more familiar to us Americans ("Best Day of My Life," "Pon de Replay," "Single Ladies," various Shakira songs, etc). It was a little awkward dancing with an audience of tired Turkish host families, but we had great fun all the same. An enjoyable end to the party, marking the end of our program. :)

Me with our teacher, Yeliz Hoca, on the last day of classes. 
Then the 9th was our last day in Bursa. I spent most of it with my host mom in Kozahan (the Silk Bazaar), and we walked around together, meeting a friend of hers who owns a shop there, bought a few last-minute gifts, ran into both Gianna and Nate, had some lunch together, and just chatted and enjoyed each other's company. :) Once we got home in the middle of the afternoon, I spent some more time packing, and once I was done after dinner, journaled about how I was feeling in those final hours, as the experience was truly beginning to come to an end.
I wrote, "I've packed everything solid away into a bag of some kind or another. But what can't be packed away are the memories I've made, the feelings I've felt, the Turkish I've learned, and the friendships I've gained during this incredible and irreplaceable experience." 

Seyahat Amerika'ya (the trip back to America):
The next morning, I ate one last breakfast together with my host family, and the four of us took a taxi together down to the TÖMER Center, where we would be boarding the bus to Mudanya, the nearby seaside town from which we would take our ferry back to Istanbul. We were able to wait a few minutes, all hanging out together as a group one last time, as we waited for everyone to arrive. Once everyone had arrived, as well as the bus, things got sentimental pretty fast. The whole thing turned into a super emotional cry-fest. I definitely joined in myself, tearing up significantly. I was very happy that I got to say goodbye to Sena, Şeyma, and Şebnem, my three favorite host siblings from all those in our group (aside from my own host brother). As we all tearily waved goodbye from the bus, we finally got moving, and the true end of our experience was officially underway.
After a pretty uneventful and actually fairly fun bus ride full of funny conversations to Mudanya, we arrived a few hours early for our ferry, and got that time free to roam around the inviting little seaside town before continuing on our way. I spent most of my time fascinatedly exploring with Gianna, Salma, and Ruth, checking out some questionable play structures and old wooden houses, stepping out on a pebbly beach and attempting to skip stones while gazing at the clear turquoise water, and having our very last dondurma (ice cream) and eating it on benches in a little park, before heading back to the cafe where we were keeping our stuff.
After getting a sunburn on the back of my neck from standing in line under the sun too long, and having to undergo a rather chaotic line and insufferably sullen employees, I was lucky enough to sit next to Gianna on the ferry ride to Istanbul, which passed pretty uneventfully. We talked, looked at all the places in Turkey we want to come back and visit in my Lonely Planet guidebook, and had a cool conversation with the young Turkish man sitting next to us. And after a tauntingly beautiful view of both the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque on our way into the harbor, we headed straight to the Ibis Hotel by bus. Sadly, the program had us stay at the hotel all day, as that was the day of the presidential election and they feared the possibility of riots (though there really was no trouble to speak of). In any case, we made the best of it. After eating a fairly early dinner, I tried two different times to get some sleep, went down to the lobby to play cards with the others, and managed to journal about how I was feeling so close to the departure. I was in a room alone, which allowed me a chance to really relax, be at ease, and reflect inwardly, although I missed my friends. I wrote, "Honestly, my emotions have been all over the place the past few days. One moment I feel ready. The next I panic and feel like I can't do this, even though I know I have no choice in the matter. Others I feel a resigned acceptance. Generally, leaving Turkey has been something I've been seriously dreading, to be honest. I'm not ready to leave behind an amazing and fascinating place, an experience I've worked so hard to achieve and have enjoyed so thoroughly, very strong friendships and connections that I've made, and a language I've only just become comfortable using. I'm just not ready to leave all these things behind and go home to a mere week to gather my wits before starting school. I'm not ready." and, "I have no clue where my next adventures will take me. But I know with unmistakable certainty that I have fallen in love with Turkey. As many things as there are that I'm excited to be going back to in America - cooler weather, world cuisines, my city, my family, my cat (don't judge me), etc - I will miss this place dearly, and I will do everything in my power to come back here as soon as I can, for this country now occupies a very special place in my heart."
Around 3 am, after another failed attempt to fall asleep, I gathered up all my things, took one last look at my empty hotel room, and headed down to the lobby to await the others, and eventually, the bus that would take us to the airport. I was the first down, and spent a few minutes just trying to stay awake until the others began to gradually trickle downstairs. Once we were all present and accounted for, we ate breakfast, which the hotel had generously prepared that early just for our sake. As we purposefully and slowly savored every morsel of our last Türkçe kahvaltı (Turkish breakfast), we made our final rounds and reluctantly ambled outside to catch the bus to the havalimanı (airport).

Me and my host brother at TOMER before we left.

Me and my host parents. :) 

Exploring the center of Mudanya.

The water.

At dinner.
An elevator shot with my favorite crazies. <3
I spent the bus ride to the airport chatting with Rose and Cat, and offering everyone kurabiye (my host mom made a whole box for us to eat during the journey and gave it to me the morning we left Bursa!). We eventually discovered that even our program-dictated arrival at the airport three hours prior was not enough. After a few brief scares making it through security, once we were on the other side, a few of us, including myself, sprinted towards our departing gate to get them to wait for the rest of our group, as we were dangerously close to boarding and nowhere near the gate. Seeing how I nearly missed my connecting flight in Istanbul en route to Cairo, I now have come to the conclusion that every time I'm flying somewhere from the Istanbul Airport, I end up sprinting.
In any case, the few of us who did sprint to stall for the rest of the group seemed to do the trick; they waited for the rest of us to get there, and we boarded the bus to the plane. At this point, the all nighter that we had essentially pulled that night began to really get to us, and many nodded off while the sun discreetly rose, casting crimson hues across the sky, as we waited for the bus to take us to the plane.
The rest is a bit of a blur, honestly. The next thing I can concretely remember was falling asleep as the plane took off, and I didn't wake up for a while thereafter. I woke up to breakfast being served, and chatted for a while with Cat and Gianna, who I was seated next to. I remember little else of that flight, to be honest.
After about four hours, we arrived in Paris. Our connection was not quite as long as it had been on the over to Turkey, but still comfortably long. We planted ourselves at our connecting gate, and did some wandering around the airport, just as we had on our outbound journey back in June. We even managed to hold our return orientation, sitting on the ground next to our gate.
After that, we boarded our flight to DC. At that point, most of us were getting severely tired. I was with Gianna and Cat again, and I spent most of my time napping, talking to them, watching movies, or writing notes to people. Towards the end, with our jetlag spiraling increasingly out of control, resulting in us getting more and more out of our headspace, some very sweet and hilarious exchanges took place. xD
As another result, the time ran together and that flight was a bit of a blur as well. We landed (quite roughly, as I remember) in DC more or less right on time - a moment we had all been dreading, as after landing following an already pretty grueling transatlantic trip, in that airport we would begin to go our separate ways after nearly seven weeks together as a group.
It was a bit weird, being back in that space where we'd last been to fly to Turkey, so full of excitement, hope, and a little bit of fear, all those weeks before, under such different circumstances. Nonetheless, many of us had very long connections to sit through (mine was 5 hours, but still one of the shortest!), and so we had prepared for a chance to spend more time together, do more things together (I had prepared a whole file of pictures on my computer to show people!), and say the long, sentimental goodbyes which we had been dreading for weeks.
However, it seems reality had other plans in store for us. Although we arrived on time, after having to clear customs, retrieve our bags, and recheck them, the several of us who were all leaving just after 5 pm were left with little more than 90 minutes to reach our gates and board our flights, and on top of that, we were going to have to split up, as some of us were flying with different airlines and therefore headed to different terminals. We stood in the face of our final passage to separation, the security line, very sad and slightly panic-stricken, thinking of what to do. Finally, we went through, and said our goodbyes by the interterminal train.
In spite of the tight, long hugs that were shared, and the thoughtful, heartfelt words that were spoken, those goodbyes still felt painfully sudden and rushed compared to what we'd all been hoping and planning for. I couldn't help but feel not only heartbroken that I was saying goodbye to people that had become some of my closest friends, but also that those had to be our goodbyes as they were.
Luckily, Gianna was headed in the same direction as me, and we took the train over to the United terminal together. After a brief mixup finding the gate which I was leaving from, we stood together for a little while, talking, exchanging promises to visit each other and keep in touch, all the while trying our best (and failing a little) to hold back tears.
After a biiiiig hug and many moments of looking back and waving to my dear friend as I walked down the jetway, I found myself on my connecting plane, completely alone (at least in terms of friends from the group) and with the adventure I'd been living for seven weeks finally at a tangible and undeniable end. To which my response was to take out my Turkish notebook that I'd been having friends sign (and saving the notes for the plane to Detroit once we'd all said goodbye to each other), and read the notes while listening to the two saddest, most depressing Rascal Flatts songs on my iPod set on repeat, crying my eyes out all the while.
I remember little of the flight itself. I tried to sleep a bit, cried some more, and read the notes and my journal entries from the trip over and over again, and that took up most of the brief flight. I landed in Detroit in the midst of some pretty intense downpours of rain, and after a brief and heartwarming call from Cat making sure that I had landed safely, I made my way out, reclaimed my bags, got in touch with my dad, who was picking me up, and we headed for home.
I opened the door to my house, with the odd feeling like I was floating on a cloud. I've felt it before for sure, coming back home, to all that is familiar and everyday, after an adventure in the complete unknown. I didn't feel particularly positive or negative about it - I was still missing Turkey and all my friends big time - but my God, I must say, after such a grueling trip home, it was heavenly to hunker down in my room (which I love to bits) and find a super sweet setup of Christmas lights draped over my bunkbed, see my cat's surprised reaction to seeing me again (and snuggle with her :D), and sit down to a meal of delicious Thai takeout with my parents and sister.
I went to bed that night feeling more exhausted than I have in a long time, too tired to process my own feelings.

Ve Türkiye'den döndükten sonra (and after coming back from Turkey): 
Then, I've been back for exactly three weeks now. At times it seems like mere days, at most it seems like it's been much longer. I didn't do much in the week after I got back before starting school (yuck). I did some wandering in downtown Ann Arbor, which was very nice. Went to the pool. Ran into a few friends along the way. Not much other than that. I started school on August 18th, exactly one week after my return from Turkey, which was less than ideal, to put it politely.
Overall, I've had a pretty okay transition. The first two days back were pretty hard - I still found myself crying every now and then, thinking of Turkey, my host family, my NSLI-Yer friends, and such. Although I've readjusted just fine and without any major problems, I still miss those things and those people a lot. Part of this is definitely due to school - with only a week to gather my wits before starting right back up again, and then jumping right back into the thick of things, I was really not able to have a post-return transition. It hasn't been all bad, though - as stressful as my school can be (and is), and as many deadlines as there may be hovering all around, it's been very nice to see everyone I'd missed again - close friends (many of whom I hadn't seen all summer!), teachers, acquaintances, and so on.
As crazy as this year has already been so far, I can daresay I've been happy. And I have a feeling things will work out.

I've gotten to do some pretty neat things since I returned to boot: I ran a color run with several good friends of mine, I've been to some pretty fun gatherings/parties at friends' houses, I've been going out a lot, I've swum quite a bit at my neighborhood pool, I hung out with Krista (who went to Turkey with the AFS-NSLI-Y group in Ankara) twice, I've been to a NSLI-Y alumni event already, I've been reading good books, and I even just went to the Detroit Jazz Festival today. :)
So I'm definitely still readjusting, and I miss Turkey and all the people I was there with immensely. But being back has been nice nonetheless.

Thank you guys as usual for putting up with my endless rambling, I hope I at least procrastinated on my homework for a reason tonight ;)
Herkese hoşçakal! (Bye everybody!)

PS: I'm going to give this blog's format another little touch-up, of sorts, pretty soon. While I definitely like the name very much, I think this blog's temporary Turkish stint as "Good Dil" has sadly come to an end.

For now.

No comments:

Post a Comment