Merhaba! I am Rev Darragh, and I am seventeen years old. I am finishing off my last year at Stanton in north Jacksonville, and I just finished my last school theatre production (March 1-3). A new chapter of my life begins in Turkey…
I live with my mother, father, and two dogs just south of San Marco in central Jacksonville. My older brother lives in Deland and attends Stetson University as a Religious Studies major. I enjoy life.
My life abridged: I like to make music, to exercise, and to do artsy stuff. I play piano, guitar, bass, and I sing (there’s nothing better than music). I jog, have done Taekwondo (got my black belt), and play team sports occasionally. I have done school theatre for most of high school, and I dabble in writing, poetry, and photography. I like to converse about religion, politics, society, or anything else pertinent to my (or others’) life. My greatest love, as of now, is probably food and friendship.
I am very enthusiastic toward my upcoming Turkey journey; it will be both a long physical trip and a personal journey. My greatest fear is being unable to communicate, but this is also my greatest confidence (I feel that I can learn any language). I thank everyone involved for this opportunity…and I plan to make the most of it.
October 3 Journal
Things are not so different as one may suspect, in Turkey. Not outwardly, at least. Many things are as modern and Western as anything that you or I have seen, and perhaps more so. The traffic here is just as atrocious as in New York, the shops just as cosmopolitan as in Paris, and the food is just as tasty as is that of any cuisine's best dishes. Of course, this is in Istanbul, the de facto capital of the region, I declare, where the commerce pours in from the Bosphorous, and the tourists pour in to join in the commerce that pours in from the Bosphorous. The city is beautiful and vibrant, and growing. In its own way, Istanbul is the greatest city in the world: where else does history dating to millennia and night clubs that were built last year merge so flawlessly and beautifully (plenty of places, you may say, of course, but Istanbul is the BEST of those places).
For all of the wonders of modern society, there is a greater number of things that are, to some, of the past, and, of course, things that are uniquely Turkish. One needs not look far to see the street vendors selling their rolls of bread from open containers, or roasted corn or nuts from mobile hot-plate-carts. One indeed can hear these sellers shouting their wares, eager to, I suppose, finish their stock for the day so they too can chill out. It definitely is not a long shot to see a distinctly different style of driving; just look out your window, and you shall see cars screeching through winding streets, double parked, scraping by each other through narrow sections of road at speed, and disregarding the painted lane markers. And of course, there is the ever present grit that, while not horrible, would likely never be seen for long on US streets, and yet settles so evenly here. Let us not forget also the sketchy areas and establishments, and the houses that were built illegally, and now stand to the slow decay of time and the elements, whether or not they are occupied.
The most striking difference, to me, is the attitude that the Turkish people share. While they are a wonderfully pleasant and hospitable people, an uncautious American may at first miss this. Why? We in the USA (well, for now, YOU in the USA), or at least in the South, have this notion of eternal politeness and conversational etiquette, which must always be abided by. Don't get me wrong, please; I have no problems whatsoever with this system. The thing is, such a system just isn't there in Istanbul, amidst the dust and bus exhaust of daily life. As in many big cities, one loses his individuality, instead becoming just a face in the crowd. And it is this that I am not used to.
Did that make sense? If not, allow me to give some examples. When I sneeze on the bus, does anyone say "Bless You!"? NO. When I see someone on the street whom I don't know, do I say, "Hi, how are you?" NO. And when I feel someone's hand on my backside in a crowd, do I think they want to go out on a date? NO. I secure my belongings. But I ask them out anyway.
I hope that this has been fulfilling to the reader. Looking back, I don't see too much that would actually inform you as to anything that I actually have done, but, well, this is all I've got for you now. I guess you'll just have to come on back for the second installment of "The Life of Rev," abridged.
November 4 Journal
I have solemnly decided that, since my last entry did not really cover any pertinent information when it comes to what I have been doing in the past two months, I will now etch in painstaking detail my every action. So strap in, kids, it may be a bumpy ride.
I arrived on August 26, 2007, after quite a bit of travel time; departure from Jacksonville at about noon, and arrival in Istanbul at about four in the afternoon, Istanbul time. I was tired beyond belief, having slept little on the flights aside from that from Amsterdam. I was greeted by my host parents and brother (my sister was so mean as to not show up! I mean, she was only on a different continent!), my brother's girlfriend, my exchange coordinator, and Gülten (the lovely exchange student whom my family hosted two years before) and her older sister.
My greetings were perfunctory because of my sheer exhaustion, and I just coasted on by, following my new family with my bags. I mean to say, I was not rude. Just really tired. In fact, I did not even realize who Gülten's sister was until about four days later. After our greetings, we packed into the car (I was TOLD to sit in the front seat), and I was provided with a running commentary on the passing scenery. In German.
We arrived home after a long drive (we were driving in right through the worst of the Sunday traffic) along the Bosphorous, which was really beautiful to me; the European shore by which we were driving was lined with bare-chested men and boys swimming and fishing as the day melted into the warm afternoon and evening. I recall that the rest of the first day was not spectacular. I put my things in my room, then went swimming with my hosts at the neighborhood pool. What an excellent way to relieve the stresses of international air travel! We eventually had dinner. I was pleasantly surprised at the large volume of fruit that was thrust upon me at the end of the meal; all fresh, ripe, and delicious. I ate my first fig that night (these are AMAZING). And then I went to sleep.
The next days passed on pretty slowly. Most of them were spent in the house, watching National Geographic Wild television programs (about reptiles, for the most part) with my host brother. I fantasized about the days when I would break free of the domesticile's confining walls and explore the outside world, but I felt unconfident in doing this at the time, because I had not a map, a cell phone, nor the slightest inkling about how I could not get lost. So I spent about nine days at home. I worked on my tan significantly (by the pool) and swam every day, and I also finished off both The Plague by Albert Camus and JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. I thought these were perfect books for my situation; they are both excellent, but need some thought. And I had plenty of time to think.
But anyway... I got sick on the third day. I think it may have been a mix of drinking less water than was normal (I was not used to only drinking bottled water) and generally just the travel and the new climate, food, etc. I was fortunate to be done with my illness after only one day of suffering; the next morning, I felt fine. The only problem was, that the sick-day was the day that I met for the first time several of my fellow exchangers and some Rotex people, so I was kind of just lying back, trying to dissolve the nausea clogging my mind, while they were chatting merrily about, well, I don't quite remember.
My orientation weekend followed, in the first week of September. I liked all of the exchange students, but from the beginning, we have had the slight (but apparently not unusual) problem of the Brazilian kids making one group and the others another. At first, there was a stark difference between these two groups (because of language, mostly), but that has fortunately since resolved itself, for the most part. There are four Brazilians (three girls and one boy, but NOW only two girls; one went home already), three American boys, four American girls, one Japanese girl, one Canadian girl (who arrived very recently), one Mexican boy and girl, one Brazilian boy that should be coming soon, and one Australian that is coming when her school finishes (different hemisphere). We really started to bond pretty well, or at least get along, right from the beginning.
The orientation camp was fun. It was held at a resort hotel that is close to the Marmara Sea and has a fine view of the surrounding countryside. Nothing spectacular happened, aside from the fact that on the Saturday of the weekend, a Turkish wedding took place in the pool area, which was really cool, aside from the fact that we could not swim on that fine afternoon. The couple actually invited us to come down and join the dancing festivities (we were watching "inobtrusively" from our balconies). Good times.
After that weekend, language courses at Bosphorous University began. The school is beautiful, and its faculty is highly talented. I very much enjoyed the language class, learned a lot, and would like to consider myself a stand-out in the class (but that of course is my slightly-biased opinion). After our classes on many of the days, we went out to various places, enjoying the sunny weather that persisted until only about a week or two ago. Eventually (after about a week of getting used to the transit system), I began to feel much more confident, and I began substituting my morning or afternoon commute for a walk. The school was only an hour away at a blazingly-fast pace, and was no mean feat (my house is on the top of a large hill, and the University is on top of a larger hill), but was thoroughly delightful. I simply love to walk in this city, although most of the time it is not wholly intentional that I do walk: several times, due to getting off the bus at the wrong stop or having similar mishaps, I have solved the problem by walking to my destination, rather than get mixed up again on a crowded bus or take the easy way out with a taxi.
My final explanation of this entry is that of my early communication with my family. Because my parents do not really speak English, and I DEFINITELY did not speak Turkish, we began conducting our affairs in German. I took it in high school, as did they, so we had a merry time of being similarly awkward in conversation. But we got along fine. Our language was actually more of a Gernglish: German with some English words thrown in here and there. But now, we have begun conversing (well, trying to converse) solely in Turkish. It is not so bad, except on the phone, as my parents have the tendency to speak loudly when giving instructions over the phone. But, NO PROBLEMO. I like them a lot, and I assume and hope that they like me.
Oh, fine. One more thing. Food. The following are foods that I have come to appreciate, or that I have had for the first time here. Fish (small fish fried whole that you eat all but the tail). Yogurt. Olives. Bread. Figs. Dates. Natural fruits and vegetables (that is, not the ones that are sold in Publix after being shipped for two months). Butter. Cheese. And, of course, well, everything that my host mom cooks (delicious).
So, that is my entry. I hope it has been enjoyable. Feel free to email me if you like. Turkey is a great country, and I think pretty much all of you readers would enjoy the lovely climate, food, people, and history.
Until next time ...
December 15 Journal
Hmmm, how to begin. I suppose I should say hello, so HOWDY! I am well, and I hope that you are well.
You should know, I have realized that, when I start writing in great detail, I begin to divulge quite easily from the path upon which I was intent on setting out, by throwing in random details or stories, or just talking (well, typing) too much... (as, I suppose, I just did), which makes my writing far less comprehensible and requires far more editing (argh!). So, I have decided to give skimpier descriptions, in order to cover more stuff. Unfortunately, this takes a bit of the, shall we say, personality out of what you read, so if you have questions, feel free to email, or otherwise contact, me.
(I stretch a large stretch, crack my knuckles, and settle into my chair, wondering, for the second time in this entry, "Where to begin?" "Aha," I say to myself. "I think I shall talk about every difference I see, the smaller ones, the ones that are hard to describe in many words. Subtle differences. Given that there are MANY small differences, I will tell them in the most concise possible way. Yes, perfect!" I put my fingers to the keyboard, and begin to type.)
Most people greet with an air kiss to each cheek. They may clasp hands or grab the upper arm, in the process. Strangers, particularly men and professionals, may greet each other simply with a handshake. Very good friends hug while doing the kissing, may actually kiss the cheeks, and may pause between kisses (to extend the embrace), or repeat the kisses.
Friends commonly walk arm in arm, including men. Men are, physically, much closer to each other than in the US; prolonged physical contact (such as hands or arms on/around shoulders) is not uncommon. Men and women are more physically distant. Men tend to sit with other men on the bus, as do women with women.
As in many big cities, Turks are closer to strangers physically just because of the mass transit system; buses, metro trains, and other modes of transportation are filled beyond what we would consider their capacity (not altogether unsafely, in my opinion). I feel closer to the population, because I am not viewing them through a piece of glass that is part of a large metal box that carries only me or a few other people I know. Though many people use mass transit (most commonly buses), many people (those who can afford cars or motorbikes, gas, and parking) drive. A standard commute, for me, to get anywhere significant/common in my social life can take from one to three hours, depending on traffic. Traffic is terrible. If I can, I walk places, during the rush hour or when I see standstill traffic; walking can prove much faster, not to say more comfortable (buses from my area into the urban core are rather crowded).
Foods are more often made with bazaar-bought produce, which tends to be fresher and more local. Meat also tends to be of a more local nature. Turks are very conscious of the ingredients in the foods they eat; processed foods such as frozen dinners, to my knowledge, not available (or just quite rare).
Speed limits, parking zones, passing, obedience of traffic lights, and other such traffic laws are viewed with a far more liberal attitude.
Shoes are not worn inside the house (but neither are bare feet acceptible in most households).
There is a security service at virtually every business, somewhat upperclass neighborhood, parking structure, metro station, and so forth. (most guards just have radios and batons, though). Before entering any mall and most large indoor public and private spaces, you must pass through a metal detector. Car trunks are cursorily searched before you can park in parking garages.
The military is viewed very differently: military service is compulsory for men, so a soldier's death is viewed as far more of a national emotional event.
Virtually everyone has a cell phone. Most young people have iPods (of course, mostly those who can afford one). Many people have computers. Few people have printers (as far as I can tell). While video games are popular, they are not in more than ten percent of households (my estimation, based on everything including GameBoys and such). Video games and other technology goods are very expensive.
Most homes are heated by radiator-like appliances, and have no air conditioning, but public buildings (such as malls and office buildings) normally have central heating and cooling.
People eat outside, provided it is not too cold or too rainy. All restaurants that have the space have outdoor seating areas with umbrellas or awnings (and some have heaters, even), which fill up before the inside does.
Smoking is allowed virtually everywhere (though not on the bus, in the metro, etc.). Many people smoke cigarettes. These are far more popular than the more traditional nargile.
Turks litter. The ground basically everywhere is a trash can, so to speak.
There is no such thing as free phone calls (like "nights and weekends"), and telephone service is generally more expensive.
Well, I have pretty much worn myself out on writing. I hope that you have gained some insight into what I see each day. I enjoy this country and like most everything about it. The holiday season, as I knew it, does not really exist. So, I have not really missed them, and do not expect to miss Christmas. The reason is that Christmas does not exist here (well, it can be found, but is not nearly as large of an event), so it just feels like the rest of the year, like a normal month. I have always felt that the holidays really creep up on me; I do not expect them, and it is a bit of a shock when they come along. So, I just feel like that shock is never happening, therefore not evoking the emotions that are usual at Christmastime. I feel like I am in the summer of a normal year (with Christmas as a far-off event).
Yep, I am definitely burnt out on writing. Bye. Drop a line, if you'd like.
February 25 Journal
The lights fade in the background, leaving to be seen only the intense face under the short hair. Shadows stretch themselves across the plain and into the pits and falls, being broken only by the pinprick glow-light of the sleeping monitor, and the slowly-pulled cigarette’s amber stain against the ridges of the nose and cheeks. The heater on the wall smolders against the cheap rubber houseshoes, and the heater on his hip digs in with its cold metallic bite, piercing through to the soul and the sole alike, as the man of the changing culture considers what to write. The idea comes, the monitor flashes on, and light falls upon the room. The hands stretch, descend upon the keys, and start their work, hindered only by the stubbornly sputtering cigarette, its last embers fading into grey as the last life falls off to the keyboard in a thin grey dust.
I don’t actually smoke, you know, but for the sake of Noir-ness, let’s pretend that I did. But that is not so important now. With the illumination of the room came the end of the noir, and the end of the introduction. Hello my dear friends, and welcome to my life.
I come to bring news, good news of not particularly exciting things. At least, that is how it seems to me. While I can say that everything that is going on now is great, I have unfortunately gotten past that phase where I was fascinated by every single thing. Each bus ride held joy, each time I step in a puddle gave excitement, each woman I dated was adventure. But now, those things that held so much oomph in my life now are so, while not dreary, drab. Bus rides grate on my patience. Puddles frustrate (and give me colds). And the women, well, they are just so much work.
But really. I am great. I am Ruthven Avery Darragh, the one and only son of Michael and Nancy Darragh that is currently eighteen and in Istanbul, and I was not created to become downtrodden and/or be defeated by the onslaughts of murderous men, villainous vixens, and treacherous terrestrials, not to mention boredom. No! My life is one of eternal education! At every moment, I try to keep in my mind that every experience is one that builds and contributes to the whole that is me. I am the sum of the whole of the parts, which themselves are every single thing that I have ever seen, heard, felt, touched, thought, been told, and et cetera’d. I try to remember that, as boring as the days at school may be, there is surely something to be found to occupy the mind, because there is no single thing on earth that does not contribute to the mind/self, if you can only find what that contribution is. Do you follow me? Even if I am bored way out of my mind, which happens often at school, I can console myself with the thought that some day, while stuck at my desk and working, I will look back fondly on the carefree and youthful days, in which a student was almost compulsed to relax and do nothing.
But on to the state of things.
Since the last time I wrote to you, I have done a great many things. But, come to think of it, this journal of mine has never seemed to be quite the catalogue of events (things that I have done), as those of my fellow outbounds seem to be, so how about I give you an account of every significant event, that I can recall, since the beginning of the year? Any objections? Good. Off we go then. Just do not be so presumptuous as to expect proper grammar or spelling (those have left me somewhat, since coming here), or to expect proper chronological order. Now, knowing that, we can begin.
As you know, my exchange has been long. Today marks six months nearly to the day (the actual “anniversary” being the day after my writing this, the 25 of February; I arrived on 26 August). And I am proud to report that I am still alive and well.
I have been in Istanbul’s European side’s farther northern area, called Yenikoy, with the same family since my arrival. My particular area of Istanbul is very nice and beautiful, with its view of the more pristine, more unspoiled part of the Bosporus. My area (and the area directly across from us, on the other side of the Strait) are predominantly residential, and there is a good number of wealthier settlements. But at the same time, I have witnessed an interesting mix. While they don’t clash, there is a startling different embodied here, based on altitude. On the tops of the hills of Yenikoy and the surrounding area, the rich have placed their homes, which are predominantly flats in buildings that are maybe five or six stories high. These hills are large, so the tops do give a significant view to the owner of a home located on them. But, as you go down the hill, the houses degrade in quality and/or expense. At the bottom of the hill, while there are still plenty of nice houses to be found, it is not rare to see the barely-livable (by our standards) houses called “night houses,” which are allegedly thrown up overnight illegally, so that the government cannot stop it. But also please note that all of the houses are not so, either very rich or very poor. I have only mentioned the extremes, and you should know that the majority of the houses in the area fall into the category of flats; just, some are smaller and in less nice areas. You follow?
Right. I recall my celebration of our American holidays. While some of my comrade exchange students really put a lot of effort into constructing a semblance of home, for holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I really outdid them all. Allow me to enumerate what I did for the mentioned three holidays. Halloween: bought a pack of Riesen chocolates, meant to save them to give them out to the other exchangers, but ended up eating most of them myself. Thanksgiving: forgot about the date (as I do every year), and realized when a Turkish classmate mentioned it. Oh, yeah, it’s Thanksgiving. woohoo. We did have a Thanksgiving Party, though, provided by Rotary. Every one was detailed to bring a national dish, and I had the distinct pleasure of cooking the turkey (in Turkish- “hindi”) for our festival, with my New Hampshirean comrade. We ended up cooking two small birds, which were completely doused in butter, at a fish restaurant, whose oven had no temperature settings, while our recipe came from The Joy of Cooking. Needless to say, the birds were not exactly worthy of Norman Rockwell, but the effort surely was, and it resulted in two edible and unburned, if rather buttery and gravy-less, turkeys. And lastly, Christmas: I took a self-prescribed three-day hiatus from school (after having had a Turkish Bayram, or holiday, for the few days prior). Christians apparently have three days off, but I put nothing to chance, so took off anyway, and I did as I wished around Istanbul. Not anything special, really. I did visit the Grand Bazaar for the first time, though, in that holiday. I missed going to church by about ten minutes (and in fact, I have not been to a service yet, though I do want to, to see a Turkish Catholic mass; I am neither Turkish nor Catholic). I DID, however, meet some of my fellow exchangers at Burger King. The more important holiday (but still almost meaningless, with only one day given to miss work/school) is New Year, on which I went out with some Rotary students, to a restaurant and a club, then spend a rather quite but exciting enough evening at home (like most of my New Years).
On the tenth of November, the great leader of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, died, and there is a national holiday every year. We Rotary Exchange Students had the distinct pleasure to accompany a group of young elementary children (as part of a 22-bus caravan) to the great memorial and tomb of Ataturk, called Anitkabir, on the ninth of November. We had a nice but very busy and very short tour of Ankara (pretty much just the major Turkish Republic sights: the first congress building, the modern congress building, and Ataturk's tomb and the large museum there).
Ugh. I just lost all steam (plus, my host brother is about to kick me off of the computer). Humph. I will have to finish this entry some other time. But until then, remember me, because, as long as I live in your heart, I live.
July 14 Journal
Hello my dear friends, and welcome back to my exchange student journal. I have, for nearly five long months, kept you in suspense as to the progress and status of my exchange, but wait no longer. I thought it fitting to spend part of my last day in Turkey, on one of my last bus rides in Turkey, to write my last entry from Turkey. Geez, I hope I can read this handwriting later; the bus is bouncing my already bad handwriting into a scrawl that defies human comprehension.
I have been quite well, thank you very much. I think that this last part of my exchange is definitely the best; as time became scarcer, the pace got quicker, and the fun really started rolling in. Lots of stuff has happened, events and experiences, new people and places that really defy explanation. I mean, it's just been so wonderful; though it is rather cliché to say, I think that this past year has been the best in my life, yes indeed.
Well anyway, I think I stopped my last entry at Christmas or so. In late January and early February we had our first trip. It was really a fantastic time, and I felt that we really bonded for the first time, being together for so long in the minibus as we toured southwestern and Thracian turkey. An especially special part of the trip was that on it we first met our newcome Australian comrade, who arrived a week before the trip and filled out our number to nine. She added that much more energy and fun to our group, even as we groggedly dragged our sickened bodies around open-air museums in the nippy but still rather resemblant of Florida weather. You may ask why we were sick. That was a result of the absolute highpoint of our trip, which also turns out to be possibly my favorite memory of my exchange. On our visit to Pamukkale on the second day of the trip, we had a lovely tour of some stuff around the area, but right as we were heading to the last and most famous site (the Trevertines, which are white cliffs of mineral deposits of some sort from whose midst spurts warm water, and whose name is hard to spell), it started raining. Of course, given that our group consisted of eight hardy, tough, and iron-willed women (plus myself), we did not allow our spirits to be dampened. NO, we charged, AFTER stripping off our shoes (so as to not damage the mineral deposits), onto the cliffs, under the freezing-cold rain, and stood with rolled-up pants knee-deep in warmth, all the while trying to take pictures without the rain destroying our cameras. Eventually, we realized how soaked we were, and how little our hoods and coats actually did to keep us dry, and bared our heads to the downpour. But we soon fled away from the pools of water, when a bolt of lightning made one of the girls' hair stand up completely, in a fashion not so different from that of the bride of Frankenstein.
My group here is eight girls and myself. We are a very interesting group. We feature an art prodigy and outdoorswoman of a New Hampshirean, a quiet half-Japanese girl from Ohio, a shopping fiend of a Japanese girl from Tokyo, an ardent environmentalist of an Albertan (Canadian), a country girl from small-mountain-town Colorado, a Mexican girl who loves German boys and gossip, a Californian track runner and Peace Corps aspiree, an adventurous and loud Australian from Newcastle, and, of course, yours truly. A very interesting group indeed. I find that, although we of course have our tiffs, disagreements and misunderstandings, we have come to love and appreciate each other very much. Perhaps it's because our group is so small, but regardless of the reason, we, come though we may from different backgrounds and beliefs, have become as a family, they being my sisters (although occasionally our Japanese friend, the youngest one in the group, claims to be our mother). My own role is a combination of big and little brother. It's odd, that we should become so close and such good friends with such different people, with whom we might not have even talked to, normally. But we have, and I have the feeling that I will have them as friends for a long time. One of the coolest things that I have learned from the girls is how different we are within the English-speaking countries, but also within just the USA. Seven of us speak English as our native language, and five of us are from the US, and I often am amazed by the differences that are apparent between us, whether they be foods, sayings, jokes, TV programs and music, or just stuff that we do for fun. We each have our own interesting regional flavour, and I am constantly reminded of how much more colourful life can be when we embrace people different from ourselves.
Soon after the trip, we had the Outbound Orientation. Although traditionally the Inbounds only joined the Outbounds at the end (the last day) of their first orientation camp, we were invited, because of our small number, to participate. In other words, we got to go for a weekend to a decent resort hotel (only decent, but definitely good enough for my tastes) and do pretty much whatever we wanted (because the outbounds had meetings), and eat for free. Really hard work, as you can imagine. The weekend was great; we ended up, on one of the days when we had to occupy ourselves for two hours or so, deciding to play a soccer match against the AFS exchange program kids in Istanbul, and then playing a practice match that left me quite sore, but happy. We also had a merry time amongst ourselves, basking in the memories of our own Orientation Camp, which had taken place in the same hotel about five months earlier; I was finally able to settle my ping pong grudge with my New Hampshirean colleague, albeit with her as the victor. And the weekend concluded very nicely with a talent show (that involved the Outbounds gawking at our "unique" dance and our rather "not normal" clothes - the girls made me cross-dress, kind of, followed by a bit of a dance party (that we gradually had to make quieter and quieter, because other guests were complaining). And the greatest part of it was that, earlier that day snow had begun to fall, lots of snow, and to spite our fear that we would not be able to return to Istanbul the next day, we cloaked ourselves and battled furiously with snowballs, which the Outbounds could only watch enviously from the huge windows in their meeting room. They soon joined us, though, and I feel that in general that weekend left me confident and refreshed, with new friends and, very soon after, a new haircut. After a few days of sickness caused by my walk home through the slushy streets of Istanbul, I saw that spring had begun to be sprung.
Soon after that camp (maybe even before) we began taking dance lessons in "Folklor," or Turkish traditional dancing. We had high aspirations, and were to perform our show for the entire Istanbul Rotary District at a fancy dinner, and though our small number and "high talent" destined our dance to fail, and though we often accidentally kicked each other and I lost my shoes, it was a victory in our own minds. It was loads of fun, looking like an idiot and wandering afterwards around a gala dinner's tuxedoed guests in a T-shirt and jeans (we were not told of the dress code until after we had gotten there and changed into our costumes). We did have a slight disappointment, though; we were supposed to perform and be aired by TRT, Turkey's main TV network, but it didn't happen. Just as good, though. The Rotarians were scarred enough from our first show to eliminate the need for a redo.
That night, one in March, was my last night at my host family's house. Times had been good, and we had gone through quite a bit, from communicating in German as a common tongue as they tried to make me un-lost (well, more like un-misguided, not lost; I could have found my way, just after hours of trying), to speaking about home life, people, watching television together and analysing the shows and actors, and so on. We had gone from my brother yelling at me to my brother yelling at me more (but only, of course, in the nicest kind of shouting). We had had a good stretch, and then I was off, bound for Asia. My host mom went to the States, that's why I changed; some of you may have met her when she stayed in Jacksonville, visiting her daughter, Destan.
The new family was very different. For one, they lived in Asia, and their home (well, my room) was much smaller, although it was also more centrally-located. They have a fifteen-year-old son, as opposed to my old family's 22-year-old brother (and, of course, I myself have only an older brother). Their rules on everything from noise, to eating times, and when I had to be home were more strict, and were rather hard to get used to, especially at first. But after I got used to it, it was fine, great, really. They spent much more time talking as a family, and in a more intellectual fashion, and I enjoyed it lots and learned lots too.
But now, so you know, my friends, I have almost nine hours before I leave for the airport (at 3 AM tomorrow morning), so I must finish for now with the digest of my past activities, and instead give you the juicy part, brief though it may be: how I feel about my exchange and leaving.
i feel my exchange has gone well. There have been good times and bad times, but quite interestingly I've never felt debilitated or anything like that. I've never felt like the world is crashing down on my head. Nothing too big. Perhaps that's because of the strong support network that I had in my fellow exchangers. My only regret of this exchange is that I did not make more Turkish friends, did not venture so much outside of the comfort zone of the exchangers. Of course, in a city such as this, friends are not so easy to make; everyone is stuck in their own small life, and don't really look around at the faces that surround them in the streets, the bodies that press against one in the bus. The loneliness among millions. Well, the point still stands that I wish I'd made more Turkish friends. Then, my Turkish would doubtlessly be much better (though apparently it is quite good, I still have trouble speaking quickly with correct grammar), although many upper class Turks have an annoying habit of trying to speak English with me whenever possible. In fact, Turkey in general has kind of sold itself; after the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire and during the formation of the Republic, the principles behind the nation were adopted from elsewhere (in civics, law, government, fashions and clothes, even the alphabet). Turkey is dominated by the popular cultures of the United States and Western Europe, and students flock out to go to university or emigrate completely. Turkey is brand-dominated not just by the powerhouses of the world (i.e. McDonalds), but also by the smaller and lesser-known of brands, all of which are considered good because they are foreign. Few good schools teach in Turkish; mostly, they educate only in English, French, Italian, or German. And yet, Turkey is rather ironic because there is an unbelievably powerful sense of national pride and patriotism in almost every Turk.
Well, anyway, I am glad to be returning. I will be starting my freshman year at Grinnell College in about a month! I will return to my own culture, which I really took for granted, in the past. But I will miss Turkey. I will miss the city life of Istanbul, and cheap, efficient public transportation. I will not miss crowds and traffic. I am glad to be returning to the lush greenness of Florida, and will not miss the dirt and trash. I will miss the food, and the more natural and fresh ingredients. I will miss being able to sit, wherever I go, and rest while drinking a hot glass of tea, before moving on with my day. I will miss the Bosporus, which you will understand if you've ever seen it. I will miss the warmness of Turkish hospitality. I will miss getting food on the street for less than two dollars, from a stand with its shouting vendors. Most of all, I will miss the time that this year has given me, with nothing to do other than think about things. I am going back to the daily grind of life and work, but I will always remember this experience, and am much better for having had it. Goodbye Turkey. Hello United States. Bring it on.
I wrote this on the 14th of July, my last day, on buses and ferries as I made my last rounds of errands. I wrote it to commemorate the end of one thing and to celebrate the beginning of another. Please excuse the mistypes, and if you could only see the original handwritten copy...
Keep it real, folks. Hope to talk to you soon.