August 23 Journal
I have officially been in Turkey for a week. The plane ride was a nightmare, because I was sick to my stomach the whole 20 some hours of flight and layover. But I made several friends on the flights and they all encouraged me. One word of advice to those of you who have not left yet, do not trust your emotions. You will be on a rollercoaster, teetering on the edge of unparalleled joy and excitement, and unsurmounted negativity, regret and sorrow. Having only a single thought be all it takes to trigger tears or smiles. Nothing is stable and nothing lasts, so just trust that this is not how you will feel the whole time.
My host family is wonderful beyond belief. Everything here is just as perfect as I could have imagined. I have been here a week and still I have not found a single cloud in the sky. The water is sooooo blue, and crystal clear. Their beaches make the beaches in Vero look like mud. The weather is beautiful with no humidity, and that was a very pleasant surprise.
I don't like the city as much as I do the country side, and I get to live out the rest of the summer in this cute little country home by the shore.
I have made many new friends already. Turkish culture is very different, for example:
1. You take off your shoes outside the front door, only to put on a pair of inside shoes. All in all you have 3 pairs of shoes. One for outside, one for the first floor, and one for the second floor because you aren't supposed to wear the shoes while walking up stairs. No one knows why. I think I was the first person to ever question it.
2. When greeting someone, you can either say hello, and shake their hand, or you can give them a kiss on both cheeks and look at them like they are your long lost lover. But knowing which to do and with whom is like a sixth sense that I don't have. I am always getting confused, because there seems to be no rules about it. It causes much laughter amongst my friends.
3. When you go to the market (the bazaar), you ask how much something is, and he gives you the price, then you act offended, like "how dare you price it so high?" and then you cut the price in half and offer that much. Then he looks at you the same way, and you keep arguing until you agree, which is usually somewhere in the middle.
4. Once you are done drinking coffee, which you do every morning, and afternoon, you turn your glass upside down and have someone look at the dregs inside and read your fortune for the day.
5. Turkish people will just stare at you if they find you weird or interesting. And you can meet their eye, and they won't look away, they will just keep staring wordlessly until they are done and it is perfectly normal.
That is all I can think of for now. I wish everyone who is reading this good luck on your adventures. And whenever you are struggling, just remember that this is much bigger than us, and no one said the whole thing would be easy. Remember why we are doing this and what it stands for.
Best of luck
September 14 Journal
Today is my one month anniversary with Turkey. Things are definitely getting better than they were before. But I suppose such a drastic change just is not complete without its ups and downs. Emotionally, I was subconsciously unstable, if that makes any sense. I seemed to teeter on the extremities of every side of the emotional spectrum. And having nothing to do with my time except think made me do just that.
I was thinking about whether this year is going to sever my dependence on my parents or only make me realize how much I truly need them. I was thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. Lying in my bed, insomnia taking its iron grip on my mind, I began to ponder fate and God, and existence. I hadn't thought so hard in a very long time, just alone with the silence. When you take a swim down memory creek, the water is nice and warm and placid. Seeing old friends again and reminiscing pleasantly in random childhood memories. However sometimes you swim through an icy undercurrent that chills you to the bone, and you freeze up. When you truly allow your mind to be free, and stop filtering your thoughts, it will carry you to the places you need to go.
And so, last night, in Turkey of all places, I finally faced something I had been running from for two long years. And I think it may be over now. Who knows.
For now, things seem to have taken on a comfortably steady pace. Bouts of loneliness are growing thin and far apart. As I become more attuned to Turkish culture and people, I feel my sense of displacement is wearing thin. My doe eyes replaced with passive curiosity, if not a simple acceptance.
I cannot help but wonder, as I write this journal, which sentence Al is going to choose as a headline. It is kind of exciting.
Something wonderful happened the other day. I woke up one morning to the first day of Autumn. Living in Florida for so long, I had forgotten that it is caught in a permanent stasis. I had forgotten that nature likes to change. So as I woke up with the sun, and I felt a familiar chill in the air that I hadn’t felt since I moved from Montana in 2002. A gentle crispness that, though mild, is a promise of much colder days to come.
In Izmir, Autumn is the season for celebration, the end of the fasting months of Ramazan, the end of the sweltering summer. As I write I am watching ladies string vegetables together to be dried. One by one the air conditioners will be turned off, replaced by open windows. I hear that, in Istanbul, the trees are just beginning to turn red.
I have not been this excited in a long, long time.
October 23 Journal
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step out onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." -J.R.R. Tolkien
I am just beginning to scratch the surface. Of what, I am not entirely sure. But I feel it coming like the silhouette of some obscure figure walking toward you that you can't quite make out. Like some revelation, I really don't know how to describe it. But you know what they say: One wanders for distraction, one travels for fulfillment. And I suppose in this emptiness, this loneliness I have been fulfilled. How ironic.
When one lacks external intimacy, deep solid mental connections with those whom you have known always, and who know you, one finds a more internal friendship. You begin to tap into things that weren't there before. To draw from a well that has been covered with comfort and familiarity; and forgotten. You begin to explore the depths of your own mind, to think in mysterious ways otherwise unfamiliar. When you cannot speak or be understood, you learn to fall back into the peripheral vision of your world. You learn to become an observer, a passerby, a wanderer who is bound to nothing.
Recently, I have been amazed at the fact that I can understand a percentage of the conversation, and more amazing still, I am beginning to think in this strange new language. The other day in class, I was reading a book and someone from a university in America came to the school to advertise their college. When I heard the English spoken fluently, and without an accent; at first I didn't even know what I was hearing. Some sharp and unattractive sound that scratched at my ears. It took me about 10 seconds to realize that it was English. And then I couldn't read at all after that because the sound was too disturbing to me. Turkish is a beautiful language that is so smooth and sweet, like cream and honey.
School has started and it is boring, I'm not going to lie. Even if I could understand what was being said, it would still be boring. But I have made many friends. I have started giving kickboxing lessons in the gymnasium after class, and the kids are really liking it. Because this city is very dangerous. Everyone has been mugged at least once, most people twice and one kid had been mugged 5 times. So they were all eager at the chance to learn some self defense and I was more than eager to contribute something that didn't involve strenuous conversation. The kids have really improved, especially one boy, who seems to have found his hidden talent. I speculate that by the end of two months he will be able to beat me easily.
However, insomnia has become a real problem. I can't sleep at night, and I just lay in bed for hours on hours with my eyes closed. Then I am exhausted in class and lack energy or enthusiasm. When I come home, I play the piano and guitar for about an hour or two, and then crash on my bed until about 8:30, when dinner is eaten, I check my email, and then I go to lay down for another sleepless night. It is getting brutal and my host mom is becoming concerned. I don't know what to do. Usually I just let it take its course and in a month it should be gone, like it always has gone before. But this bout is lasting longer than ever before and I have no idea when it will end. Oh well, hakuna matata.
It is starting to get REALLY cold now. I walk around the house in my sweater and I wear my good jacket to school. I think it's ridiculous that the girls still have to wear skirts, even in freezing weather, but there is nothing I can do. Every day at lunch, I watch the red and gold leaves fall onto the ground. I hear them crunch under my feet as I walk. I feel the uncomfortable but welcome chill of the wind, which only promises to get sharper. I can't wait for winter.
*RANDOM MOMENT* ".....what is this...?" "Ferarbachemlachmedakumblakuhajhjhdkfhkdhfkhsdkfh" "umm...I don't think this is what I ordered" ... the man at the table just stares at me, my Turkish is still not good enough for me to tell him anything more than that. He says something quickly and gives me the evil eye. His strange mustache seems to glare at me, and I can't stop staring at it, so I just nod. My host mom and I were passing through a small fishing village that I couldn't even pronounce the name of, she needed to get some gas and some snacks on our way to Cesme, so she told me I could go buy a treat somewhere. I had gone into this little shop that had said "Pasta ve Kurabiye" - cakes and cookies. So I walk inside, look at the menu, see a picture of something that looks pretty delicious and I told the waiter that I wanted it. He then came back 5 minutes later with this very disgusting looking glob of a mess on a plate.
So... I look at it, and I thought about tasting it. Then I gingerly took a tiny bit with my fork and I smelled it. Nothing. I proceeded to put a small amount in my mouth. And it felt like God had just violently flung me into some alternate universe where miracles really do happen. In a split second I was lost in some indescribable ecstasy that my taste buds had never known before. Dreams do come true. My eyes widened, I forgot to breathe. It was, hands down, the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. Neither English nor Turkish contained a word for this amazing mass of unknown flavors that were spinning around inside my mouth. I couldn't bring myself to swallow, it felt like blasphemy. Like in Greek legend when a mere mortal would die if he ate the ambrosia of the Gods. When I finally did swallow, a felt a tear roll down my cheek. Yes, I cried. I could only eat one more small bite, or I would have probably exploded.
The rest of the time I just sat there looking at it like it was some incredible, fascinating work of art. For 10 minutes I stayed there, stupefied, dumbfounded, at a complete loss for words. Finally my host mom walks in, says it's time to go. I tell her to try a bite, she looks at it, wrinkles her nose, and just walks away. As though in a trance, I walk away too, but before I shut the door, I indulge in one last glance behind me, and said my silent goodbye to the mysterious "Ferarbachemlachmedakumblakuhajhjhdkfhkdhfkhsdkfh" and tried to recall what it had tasted like. But like a dream, the flavor was already beginning to fade.
January 14 Journal
Half way done with my exchange. New exchange students basking in their optimism, bubbling with excitement and suspense. It has been a year since I was in their position. I feel like a completely different person. I have become much calmer and much more docile. And though I hate to say it, detached and increasingly apathetic. I see my days drifting by in silence and neutrality. This insomnia is becoming so unbearable, I have no doubt that it is to blame for my current attitude. The circles under my eyes make me look constantly ill. They started out gray, became bluish, then purple, now they are bordering on black. I simply cannot sleep and its driving me insane. Or, rather, the opposite. Its driving me into silence and desperation to feel any kind of enthusiasm for anything. The kids at school are calling me "the child of pain" because, some days, I have to bite my tongue in order to keep my eyes open. My days are systematic and monotonous. As soon as I see the sun come through my window, I get out of bed and watch the sunrise. It is a beautiful thing, accompanied by a call to prayer. To all you exchange students going to Turkey: Be prepared. It is one of the most beautiful things about this country.
I can sometimes, with the holy man raising his voice to the heavens, carrying all his sadness and prayers in the bitter winter wind, summon my old fascination and enthusiasm for this experience. But as I get dressed for school, shivering with the cold, and walk down to the bus stop, I begin to lose it again. After school, I have to go home, change, and then go straight to my host grandmother's house, because my host mom doesn't like for me to be at home alone. I stay there until about 8:30, when she gets back from work. I then practice my piano and guitar for hours, usually playing long into the night, for, it is the only thing I can do.
On the weekends, if I get permission (which is rarely) I hang out with my best friend named Oz. He really helps me with my Turkish and I thoroughly enjoy every minute spent with him, because he makes me feel happy. Its as simple as that. However, I'm pretty sure God (Allah in this case) doesn't want us to be friends. Because whenever my host mom lets us see each other, things always go terribly wrong. We will begin walking and it will rain. I will get really sick on a day we were supposed to go see a movie together, my guitar string will break when we are jamming together, we go to the store to cook a dinner that we always wanted to cook, and they are out of milk. MILK! We go to another store, get the milk, come home, and it is sour. We go to another store, get the milk, come home, make the food. Its delicious, but just as we are picking up our plates, the power goes out and we run into each other, spilling the contents of our plates all over the precious rug. These are just a few of the countless examples of the unfortunate things that happen to us any time we are together. We often laugh about how Allah is probably just using us for his amusement, and when he's done, he'll probably just strike us with lightning.
My brother back in America just turned 21, which reminds me that life back home still goes on, even when I'm not looking.
The strangest thing happened the other day. I was laying my head down in class, and the boy who sits in front of me leaned his chair back in such a way that his back was pressed against my hands. I couldn't understand why it felt so nice. It took me about a minute to realize that this was pretty much the first physical contact I'd had since I came here.
I really have to fight myself, every day, not to allow myself to feel animosity towards my host mom. We just don't fit well together. I know that any type of anger and negativity will only hurt myself, and make things miserable for both of us. I dont want to be angry. I don't want to be filled with that poisonous rage, all it does is damage your soul. I wish, I try, every day, to be above it all, but I am not a saint. However, that's what life is. Every day we wake up is a chance to make ourselves better. Thousands of chances to learn and to grow. If anything, I feel like this journey was put in front of me so I could learn patience and understanding. Much easier said than done, as I have always been surrounded by people I love, and who love me. But now, I am forced to spend all my time with someone whom I don't understand, and don't particularly like. Trying to put myself in her shoes has proved to be a bigger challenge than I imagined, as her antics still make no sense to me. But, if this were all easy, what would we learn?
Please don't misunderstand me. No, I am not having the time of my life. No, this is not the best year ever. Yes, this is the most educational year ever. Yes, I am doing everything I said I would do here. Learn a new culture and language. Yes, it is difficult. But that is what will make you so much stronger in the end. I will not give up, or give in to apathy and indifference. I must fight through this period with my head held high and my mind open. Nothing ever really ends, it only changes. I don't, nor will I ever, regret a thing.
March 9 Journal
It’s been a while since my last journal, and I am very happy to say things have changed quite dramatically. I switched host families, which has been by far the best decision I have made since my arrival in Turkey. My new host family is wonderful. I have a 15 year old host sister, and it is so strange how quickly we have bonded already. Now that we are past the dangerous business of getting to know each other, we are already comfortable together. She kicks me in the butt every time I bend over, I turn off the light whenever she is in the bathroom, you know how it goes. My lifestyle has changed drastically, instead of staying home all day and going out for 2 hours once a week, my new family encourages me to go out all the time. They trust me. I get the benefit of the doubt, something I never had with my old host family.
Oh yeah, and just to show how psycho my old host mom was; the day I moved, she stole my passport and visa and then called the police saying that there was an illegal alien living in such and such address (the address of my new host family) and she tried to get me deported. I got my passport back, and everything is fine now, thank god. I am so glad to be out of that house. I just regret having spent 6 months with her. I have a little more than 3 months left now.
I have a wonderful exchange friend with whom I spend hours upon hours with, plotting ways to cheat the system. We do this so well that we have become the class valedictorians, tied with a score of 100%, in a class of 1,700 students. We have found the strings that control the system and we found out how to move them. We can now get away with almost anything. For instance, our school is closed campus, no one is allowed in or out without written permission. So what we do is, go to the southern perimeter of the school (less teachers) and call over one of the various street vendors. (Since all teachers know you are foreign, they don't say anything even if they do see you.) Tell him you will give him one Lira to go to the Doner stand and buy one. (Doner costs 2.5 Lira) You give him 50 Krus and tell him he gets the other 50 when you get the Doner. Once you get the Doner, you put it in an inconspicuous little bag so no teachers suspect anything. Then you sell said Doner to the hungry students for 5 Lira. Pocketing 1.5 Lira. You can use these funds to buy yourself even better lunches, like Kebab. Congratulations. You have just beat the system.
I might reveal the other techniques when I am back in my own country and cannot be reprimanded for their practice. (Just kidding Al) …
However, I seem to have found myself unknowingly singing 'The Final Countdown' by Europe with my friend's band for the school talent show. When you have insomnia, short term memory is the first thing to go. Followed by a feeling of transparency and insubstantiality. Basically, your mind has trouble separating what really went down, from what you just imagined.
So, apparently, what really went down was (I received this memory from my exchange friend I mentioned above, who was sitting next to me at the time). I was zoning out at my desk, listening to music, when a group of 5 boys from my school come rushing into my classroom. I was jumpy and a little taken aback by their stampede towards my desk. They were all out of breath and had a wild look of excitement on their faces. Out of the 5 said faces I recognized three to be kids from my class. Each of them began speaking Turkish at a rapid rate, it was extremely difficult to follow. Plus, in my surprise, I had forgotten to take the headphones out of my ears. This my friend did for me. Basically (and I find this pretty impressive seeing as the dissonant flurry of words would have been hard to understand in English), I got "We are doing a song for a talent show, you are a musician, can you help us please?" I said I would. They all exploded in cheers and ran away as fast as they had run in. I then turned to my friend and said that they probably just wanted help transposing the notes from one key to another or something. (End of friend's memory.)
The following day I learn from a phone call that I am to meet the group of boys in their studio in Alsancak. I go, bringing my guitar in case they need it for something. I arrive and they tell me to go to the microphone. "Ne?" Yeah, go to the mic, you are singing. Houston, we have just lots cabin pressure. I tried in vain to explain to them that I don't sing. But they will have none of it. My heart in my throat I take the mic (thank god I knew the words to that song) and I began to sing. I actually wasn't as bad as I had feared, and once I got comfortable, we ended up having a blast. We went through a whole set of songs from their collective repertoire, ranging from rock, to blues, to metal. Once again I am grateful to my past self for learning to sing like James Hetfield as a joke when I was young. I knew almost every song, they shared my taste in music almost exactly. Once the session was over, I was actually excited to sing on stage next month. In front of 1,700 kids...
May 21 Journal
What a strange and interesting year this has been. With only just over four weeks left, the whole spectrum of emotions, this whole crazy adventure is beginning to make sense. As time passes, events of the past begin to fit together, and you see the meaning in them that you may have missed before.
As I sit here in my little room, my window open, letting in the cool afternoon breeze. I see my city, MY city, placidly winding down. I watch the bakers and the fishermen return to their homes and their families. I watch women hanging clothes out to dry, beating the dirt out of their rugs, peeling vegetables. Their lives seem too simple from far away. I watch children playing futbol in the alleyway, getting yelled at by the neighborhood widow to keep the noise down. The Hocam will sing his prayers soon, and I will accompany it on my guitar, so that I can learn middle eastern scales. Everything is quiet, everything is peaceful. I feel at rest here.
These past two months have been among the richest and most fulfilling of my life. I have taken my new freedom and ran with it, barreling headfirst into all the things I have wanted to do, but couldn't before. I feel like I knew nothing about this country before I moved in with my new family. There is so much here to enjoy, so much to do, so much to experience. I am making new friends every day and I am doing so much all the time that I am exhausted by the end of the day and I can finally sleep. Oh, the wonders of sleep. Such an amazing thing.
The best thing, the thing that has changed everything for me, is my band. These boys have become my best friends. I have never met anyone else like them. Their talent, their creativity, their flexibility and innovation is awe inspiring. I am honored, and humbled, to make music with them.
For the past couple of months, we have been playing in bars and night clubs mostly. We were just starting out and those were the only places that would book us. Then we heard about this battle of the bands competition, and the grand prize would be 5,000 TL (about $4,500) We were reluctant, but we decided to enter. We practiced all the time, not knowing what to expect. There were three stages of the competition. The first was tryouts, to see if you could compete at all. That was only about one hundred people. Mainly the bands and their families. We passed that, and then the real work began. We decided to play Enter Sandman for the competition. Two weeks later, the day finally came. And I will count it as one of the greatest moments of my life. We performed on stage at the fairgrounds in front of 2,000 people. I had never been so nervous.
There were lots of different kinds of musicians there. There were some acoustic hippies, some jazz kids, some punks, some metros, some snobs, and wannabees, and then there was us, the metal heads. Metal doesn't get much respect over here. Most of the bands were playing Turkish pop. But as soon as we came out, and announced what we were playing, the whole place cheered. Kids in Turkey don't really go to concerts, so the things that we did, such as headbanging and stage diving, they had never seen it before. They were going crazy. I will never forget, ever, when I looked down and saw a bunch of hippies in a mosh-pit. It serves as one of my proudest moments. We had them eating out of the palm of our hands. If I threw my hands in the air, they cheered louder, if I jumped up and down, they jumped up and down. If I told them to scream until they couldn't talk tomorrow, that's exactly what they did.
Our guitarist nailed his solo, and he played the last few notes with his tongue, which made all the girls in the audience freak out. Everyone was on their feet and cheering, people were throwing their shirts and telephone numbers on the stage. When the song was over, we got a minute long standing ovation. We won that competition, and then we went to the capitol, Ankara, for the finals, where we competed against the thirty other winners from the other major cities. There were 8,000 people there.
We won that competition too, and we won the 5,000. I have never been happier. It felt like all our hard work had finally paid off. We then got interviewed and I did the interview in Turkish, which surprised them all. When we came home, we were bombarded with praise and smiles and celebrations. I love my band mates, and it makes me happy to see them so happy. I would do anything for them.
They are all extremely excited, but I can't help but choke on the bitter-sweetness of the whole thing. Because this is my dream. Since I was twelve years old I have wanted to make music. I used to imagine these exact same scenarios in my head. I finally find this incredible group of musicians with so much to offer, so many untapped resources just waiting to be released, and I am right here, in the middle of it, experiencing it with them. And I have it in the palm of my hand, and now I have to leave. For the first time, the thought of going home is no longer pleasant. All I can think of is how I can go back to America, when everything I have wanted is right here in front of me. How can I pass up this incredible opportunity?
I consider this place my home. This bed is MY bed. These streets are no longer intimidating and daunting, they are welcoming and familiar. This language has began to permanently occupy my thoughts. These people, these incredible, generous, loving, passionate and amazing people are my friends. They are my family. I would die for many of them.
I have to hold on to the time I have left, I have to savor everything. Because in just a few weeks, I have to go back to my own country. I can honestly say that this goodbye is going to be harder than the first one, just because I really may never see these people again. This thought scares and saddens me. This place has become my home.