Julianne, outbound to Turkey

I realize my writings may not be the most well written or the most interesting, but the one goal I have tried to achieve is realism. I don’t try to embellish and use extreme word choice because just as I am in person, I like to get straight to the point. I want people to know what is happening and the effects of the events on me. I don’t want to give you three paragraphs describing how beautiful the scenery of a lake was or how great a muffin was that I ate for breakfast. I don’t want to write you an essay. I just want to let you know what’s going on in the simplest way possible. I want you to understand and see things through my eyes. As you can see from past writings my eyes tend to see the world in a realistic and logical way. I’m not the type to add embellishment without reason.

I experienced my first nation wide black out this past month. Actually in my life I have never experienced a blackout on such a large scale. People may think of Turkey as being off the map, but truthfully it holds some of the most populated metropolitan cities in the world. Istanbul blacking out is a prime example of this. The fact that not only a city lost power, but an entire nation, is a really huge event that went basically unacknowledged in international media outlets.

The best part is that the cause is unknown; no one really knows what happened. There are a bunch of stories flying around, ranging from this being a terrorist attack, to cats attacking wiring all at once throughout the nation. Obviously some accusations are more ridiculous than others (personally I think the cats theory is hilarious). Due to the amount of government censoring already taking place, I don’t think we will ever know the true cause of this blackout. All I know is that for an entire nation to go dark, for more than 12 hours is something unprecedented in the modern era.

To put this event in perspective for people that can’t create a clear image of Turkey in their mind, it is like if New York City and Washington D.C. were located in Texas and the entire state of Texas went dark. I do not know what caused this and I don’t dare to venture a guess for fear of reprimand for spreading slander from the Turkish government. The power was out until after the sun set so I was able to see my part of the city silent and dark except for the car lights on the streets.

We are now back with power. However at the time, we didn’t know how long the power outage would last and our phones were running out of charge one by one. The most stressful part wasn’t why this happened or if we would have electricity that night, it was the fact that we weren’t able to use our smart phones. This goes to show the true reliance our society has on technology. In apartments like mine we didn’t event have water to flush the toilet because the pump runs on electricity. However compared to not being able to text, no one was focusing on this.

It’s hard to pretend like I have problems when I look around me and see people with real problems. I see people begging just to survive from children to the elderly. My problems are miniscule in comparison with so many others. I can never feel bad for myself ever again. I have seen poverty and suffering before, but being surrounded by it every day is something entirely different. They live right next to me. They sleep in the newspaper I have read the day before. They eat the food I have not finished and carelessly dumped off my plate into the trash. The cast away parts of my life have become the sustenance for theirs. Children here roam the streets selling tissues for unknown figures that are commonly malicious criminals. They are unable to attend school because they must work to survive and even if they have the funds to attend school, most schools won’t even accept them because of their Syrian origin. Education is most definitely not available to all in this country.

Most of April and May was taken up by Rotary trips and endeavors. We traveled over majority of Turkey. Although I enjoy history quite a bit, many of the ruins look remarkably similar. Some are bigger, some taller, but all are white and old. As general as that sounds, after living in Turkey for 10 months, you get used to the fact that everything around you is ancient. The fact that they were built in a time without advanced technology doesn’t even enter your mind. Its odd how numb you can become to something being surrounded with it every day.

Our first trip was to Gocek. This is a beach town on the Mediterranean. While in Gocek I met the outbound student who is actually coming to Florida. He seems to be very open-minded and I think he will do well. His first host family is actually a gay couple. However what disgusted me was the fact that my director was less than thrilled with this placement because she thought being in that “environment” might “confuse” the boy. In Turkey homophobia is a part of the culture, but sometimes it still shocks me how medieval the mindsets can still be. Personally I think that from the sound of this couple they are great people and their sexual orientation has NOTHING to do with how they will be as host parents. I think that at the very least this will be a very good experience for this exchange student to become comfortable with the diversity of the world.

Our next trip was to Bergama, which has quite a few spectacular religious sights including one of the famous eight churches that letters were sent to in the bible. Not many people know this; being that Turkey is a country that is ninety nine percent Islamic, but it is also home to many major Christian landmarks being that it is in the area where Christianity began.

One of my favorite trips this entire year was to Pamukkale. This is the home to one of the most interesting and beautiful natural wonders of Turkey; the crystal travertines. These are also called the “cotton castles” or “ice mountains”.  In reality they are actually huge calcite formations filled with spring water. The calcite formations are huge and white giving the illusion from afar that it is snow or ice. We swam in the pools and felt the warmth of the dissolved minerals in the bottom. Also while in Pamukkale there is a pool that was actually built for Cleopatra to swim in. We paid thirty Turkish lira, which is equivalent to eleven dollars and swam where Cleopatra swam. The water in this pool is also a part of the same hot spring and the pool has tiny bubbles in it, making the water feel like a carbonated drink. It is said that the bubbles that are everywhere have healing properties for your skin. I thought this was incredible and I would have stayed there all day if we had been given the time.

After this my parents came to visit. I met them in Istanbul and showed them all of the famous sights. To see their reactions to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque reminded me of my Orientation in Istanbul, which seemed like it was just yesterday. This year has been like a dream. It went by so fast. Do you know how sometimes you feel like you’ve been only dreaming for five minutes, but you wake up and realize you slept for twelve hours. That’s how my exchange has been, it felt so fast and yet it was actually eleven months out of my life.

My parents then came to Izmir, my home city, and I took them all around. Honestly my parent’s visiting was so hard for me. To go back to feeling dependent on them and having to act like a tourist. I built my life for a year on my own and as awful as it sounds there just didn’t seem like there was a place for my family in it. My exchange was mine and it was just so hard to share it. To have to stop everything I was doing to show them around. To have to answer the same dumb questions I asked when I first arrived. They were a reminder of my old self; the self that I don’t want to go back to being. It reinforced the fact that I was leaving soon and that I had to return to my normal life; the reality that my time is almost up.

After the extreme stress of my parents visiting, we had our five day Greek cruise. As beautiful as Greece was and as cool as it was to go to another country without Rotarians, I realized I’m just not the type of person who takes cruises. I prefer to sleep in the country I’m visiting, to fly in and have the freedom to go where I want to go, when I want to go. On a cruise you spend majority of your time in the boat eating out of sheer boredom. We went to quite a few different Greek islands and the mainland to see Athens.

I enjoyed most of the islands although they were extremely touristy, however I extremely disliked Athens. Honestly it was kind of just a run down cookie cutter city. Also it left a bad taste in my mouth because I asked a man which bus to take to the temple of Zeus and he refused to tell me because I didn’t say “hello” and “how are you?” before I asked. Then he proceeded to lecture me on manners. I then turned and walked away while he was still talking in response to his rude condescending response. Overall though it was an eye opening experience in terms of how Greece was financially doing at the time. The issues with the economy showed in the upkeep of everything and in the faces of many of the citizens.

In our district at the conference it is traditional that the inbound students every year perform a traditional Turkish dance and create a video of their time in Turkey. Obviously to prepare we took dance classes every week for almost 2 months before the conference. Most people when they picture dance classes think that they aren’t difficult and you don’t exert much energy. Well I am here to tell you this isn’t true and that traditional Turkish dances are actually extremely tiring. We danced for almost three hours every class nonstop. After every class we were soaked in sweat.

Our particular dance for the 2014-2015 inbounds was called “Ata Bari”. It is a dance that was created for Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” when he visited the northeastern border of Turkey. The dance has many Russian influences as well as Turkish influences. Therefore there is a lot of difficult jumping and falling to ones knees and hopping up again, especially for the boy dancers. The funny thing about all of this was that because of the fact that in my district we have only two boys and ten girls, two of the girls had to play men in the dance. Lucky for me I am tall and don’t really have a feminine figure, so I was one of the few that got the lovely task of cross dressing for the performance in front of my entire district.

Our District conference this year was held in Marmaris, a lovely beach city farther south than Izmir. We stayed in a beautiful resort right on the water and met a bunch of foreigners there. I met the representative of the Rotary international president who was assigned to attend our conference in 2440. It turned out he was from Alabama and he noticed how I was pretending to be a boy. His wife and him said they knew because I was too pretty to be a boy. I thought they were both very sweet for saying this. At the conference we were a big hit and it really was a great experience. My host mom was also there and received a few awards because she is the president of one of the most successful clubs in our area.

Coming into my last month as an exchange student in Turkey, I am starting to get nervous, but I am still holding it together because no one has left yet and for some reason it still feels like I have time. I know logically it is almost over, but in my heart I can’t imagine how this year will ever end. This place has become my home and I don’t want to leave.