Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Things That I Miss About Istanbul ... (September 27, 2005)

Ex-collegue and American Istanbul-based friend, Jason Windes (married to Beste, as seen in the photograph here), recently started up a website project between Sisli Terakki (where I taught last year) and a school over in the U.S. He asked me to write a blog on the site, and although I'm already writing here, the tone is different, as is the audience, so I agreed. I finished one last night, and decided to post it here too...

I've been working on my own personal blog, adding photos, and writing small pieces that catch family and friends up with my life over here ... and as I looked through the photos I collected over the two years I was an Istanbul resident, it made me think of the things that I miss.

The people, the friends that I made, collegues I worked with, and students (oddly enough).
Being an immigrant; an expatriate, means that you are an outsider, and a different place in society opens up to you. You enter worlds that you never dreamed existed and the kindness of the strangers was, and is, stunning sometimes. I miss the warmth and generosity of the people of Istanbul.

I miss the traffic ... you can doubt me but it's the psychology of it. They have one or two truly terrifying road rules over here in Belgium, making me completely aware that I grew up in a country that drives on the other side of the road. In Istanbul, I didn't feel it in quite the same ways, and over time I came to trust the chaos ... I noticed an Istanbul driver is mostly capable of stopping quickly. For this New Zealander, the interplay between driver and pedestrian seemed like a ballet; a kind of dance that took my breath during my early days in the city. I watched as people walked casually towards death, or so it seemed, between cars all over Istanbul.

I miss the Bosphorous; I loved leaving from Besiktas and riding over to Kadikoy on the big old ferry boats. Moving between continents, watching Galata Tower and Topkapi Palace slide by on those hot summer days, or wrapped up warm in the winter, buying a salep to drink.

I miss the smell of fish cooking down at Eminonu and in the Fish Market up in Taksim; the fishermen on the bridge, and the view from Galata Tower - my favourite vantage point out over the city.

Hmmm Haghia Sophia with the sun on her walls; the carpet and leather salesmen who always promised that I 'didn't have to buy ... they were only inviting me to drink cay with them'. I miss the waiters who always smiled, even if they were sad on the inside ... Belgian waiters are so different, so haughty, as if they are PhD students, just earning some money to study.

I miss the students I taught, and their outraged 'What did I do?' Ahh, the joys of being a Yabanci English teacher ... but all teachers seem to say the same things in every country, and perhaps we all miss the students who pass through our lives.

I miss the sound of Turkish ... everyone knows I was a miserable student of language, but God is truly punishing me now. Instead of 'seni seviyorum', it's 'ik hou heel erg veel van jou' ... laugh all you want, I can if I look at it from a certain angle but it's a difficult language. My mouth can't believe what I'm asking it to do sometimes, and I have to learn Dutch here ... there's no negotiation. Sigh, and they're all fluent in about 29 languages, or so it seems.

I miss the food ... Iskender, Borek, Doner and Beste's mum's cooking.

I miss the way I could wander through time ... passing from post-modern Levent to the ancient places in Sultanahmet.

And I miss the call to prayer ... I never got tired of it.

Having written all this, I do love my new life. I was lucky to meet my Belgian man, and before I moved over here, he was approved of by a few of my Istanbul friends, so it's okay ... he received the Turkish and American seals of approval, but imagine, I recently applied for a long stay visa, and I had to smile about going through the process ... how can they even dream that I am here for any reason other than love. I'm a New Zealander who loves her home country, and I've just spent 2 years living in Istanbul ... surely it's clear that I've just come from two of the most incredible places on the planet. I would tell them, laughing, if they asked me ... 'I'm only here for the man, thank you'.

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