Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lost and Found in Google Translation

It’s hard to beat hearing Google Translate’s audio track deliver compliments or ask questions in a robotic while your Turkish friend and current flat mate silently mouths the words. Such has been the pattern of many of our conversations, as he speaks very basic English and I speak far less Turkish (which isn't saying much). Sometimes we sit side by side and type things into Google Translate, frequently trying to actually say the words we’re reading, something he is much better at than me. This is necessary when deciding what to make for dinner.
“What do you want?”
“All things for the good”
Blank stare
“Error?” (types again)  “Anything good”
Ah ok. “I will make something.”
“I will cook good food”
Ahhhh ok “Let’s go make the shopping”…

I have truly been enjoying this exchange. For two people with such a large language gap, we manage to communicate very well through words repeated for emphasis, short phrases and lots of body language.  It’s strange to become close friends and forge such a strong connection with someone where such seemingly daunting barrier exists.

Turkish hospitality has so far blown me away in the form of Mehmet and Gokhan. Mehmet is my Turkish friend I met two years ago while he was doing a summer exchange program and working in Maryland. I had met his Egyptian roommate Mohamed first, and subsequently met “the Turkish boys.”  Mehmet and his best friend Gokhan have been letting me stay with them until Lindsey and I could find a room to split somewhere more centrally located. The guys have been amazing, insisting on buying groceries until I get work, copying a key for me, and generally making me feel right at home. Mehmet picked me up from the airport via public transport and insisted on carrying both of my duffels through two forms of transportation and several kilometers of walking.  Gokhan lays out a breakfast buffet for us whenever he is home in the mornings, which has been very enjoyable—especially with the delicious fresh bread Turkey has to offer. I really cannot express how grateful I am to have these guys as friends, and how much I am enjoying their personalities and friendship.

Unfortunately, the boys live about an hour from the city center, which means a long and relatively expensive metrobus ride to get to Lindsey’s current flat, and basically all job possibilities, nightlife activities, etc. However, I haven’t minded much currently, as I spend a lot of time in the flat on my computer, applying for jobs; and when I’m not doing that, I can leisurely  ride down for interviews. And I have enjoyed fixing dinner whenever I’m home at dinner time using some of the most delicious produce I have ever tasted. I would live in Turkey forever just to eat the tomatoes every day. I have even cooked an original chicken dish—one of the first times I have ever cooked a meal involving meat. Those of you who know my cooking habits: pick your jaw off the floor; yes I handled raw meat, and yes I washed my hands a million times. The boys have been enjoying my culinary enthusiasm, as their version of dinner is perfect for everyone on that fancy new carbs and fried foods diet, but doesn’t include many nutrients.

I’ve been here in Istanbul for over a week now, and the shock is starting to wear off. I’ve never experienced culture shock like I have here. I expected it to be very different from Egypt, but the historic Istanbul I pictured in my head was no preparation for this vast expanse of city brimming wit skyscrapers and shopping malls. I wasn’t sure how to process all this. This is, in part, because Istanbul is much bigger and more fast-paced than any city I have ever lived in; and on top of this—I don’t speak the language—at all—which has been a near first in my travels. Adding to my “whelm” has been the extreme change in prices. I went from a country where 1 dollar equaled 6.7 pounds to a country where 1 dollar is only 1.7 Lira—and the prices aren’t much cheaper than the US either (with the exception of haircuts which are only 5 Lira!).
So re-cap. I moved to a country where I don’t know the language, have yet to find a job and where the exchange rate does not lend itself to relying on my dwindling savings account. Needless to say, I have had several panic moments.

I have, however, developed several leads in the paying job search (English teaching and au-pairing) as well as the refugee volunteer work arena (not bad for only being here just over a week). Step one and two. I have contacted a Palestinian  on CouchSurfing to practice Arabic with in exchange for English practice. Step three. Lindsey and I just committed (after some searching) to sharing a room in a duplex apartment. The room is HUGE and the only reason it’s cheap is that someone has to walk through our room to get to theirs. We basically have the upstairs living room, but the landlord will put two beds in (which is nice as we were prepared to have to share a double for several months), some dividers for privacy and an extra wardrobe. The room itself is huge and has two couches and a wall full of large windows overlooking a large portion of this beautiful city. We’ll be sharing the downstairs common area, kitchen, 2 toilets and shower with—I forget how many—male foreign exchange students and a couple.  It will be like living in a dorm again, most likely, which has the potential to be both fun and harrowing—but at least we’ll have our huge loft to retreat to: pictures to come. Step four.  To do: get paid and get residence permit before my account goes too low to be eligible.

Although I have had several moments where I completely questioned my reasoning for coming here and my sanity (not because of Turkey but because of the instability I have hurled myself into), I do feel, deep inside, that moving here was the right move; and my deep-seated need for adventure and challenge is being thoroughly satiated.

 I am also truly enjoying my exploration of Turkish culture. I love the music, the sound of then spoken language, the Turkish obsession with house slippers and the unique blend of regional influences and originality that permeates through Turkish life. I love how my house mates have people over to talk, play guitar and take turns singing. I love how Turkish tea—which is actually tastier than other black teas—is served in cute little cups at all times of day. I love the affectionate and caring nature of my Turkish friends, which makes me feel in some moments as though I had lived here my whole life.

In deciding to move here, I kept in mind that it was a complete risk and I could fall anywhere on the spectrum of success or failure. I decided to make the move and hoped that in doing so, I would re-learn how to trust God and that my spirituality would be stimulated once again and I would build anew my faith. I don’t know what form exactly it will take, and my end goal is not to become more or less religious, but rather to seek the truth, to question and doubt, and continue figuring out what I truly believe. I have to say, so far I do feel a helping hand and provider as some potentially big obstacles have been overcome, or near overcome. The terror I felt after re-assessing the financial aspects of this move has subsided and I feel relative peace about being here--which I cannot imagine is coming from me as I have a very hard time not being in control of my life.  I foresee many ups and downs in many different areas of my life; but really, I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jumping Out The Window. Landing in Istanbul, Inshallah

I need to start by saying that today I leave Cairo, my home for the past 9 months; but more notably, today I leave my Cairo family—some of the most amazing people and friends I have ever and will ever meet. You all are amazing and sent me off with (several) bangs. I love you all dearly and know that saying “see ya later” to you all has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Never before have I struggled to leave as I have leaving Cairo and you all. This only cements my resolve to both return to the country that will always hold a special place in my heart, and reunite with you all—wherever you may be.

A week ago today I made the decision to move to Turkey. I don’t have a plan. I have a rough draft of what I think I might do, but nothing officially set up awaits me in Turkey. The idea is to find a part time job teaching or doing something that will provide income, and spend the other half of my time volunteering with Syrian refugees and perhaps even networking into a job, should the opportunity arise. Anything, however, could happen. I am both terrified and excited.

I decided to leave Egypt because I felt restless. My living situation, although nice, had become unhealthy in the sense that I lived free, but far from my co-workers and most my friends, and had no one to really talk to once I got home. Teaching business executives English as a means of extremely minor income had started to wear on my patience and the influx of new interns at Saint Andrew’s led to a smaller caseload anyway. I either needed a job or a new destination. No doors opened. So I decided to jump out the window.

Turkey as a destination was inspired by the fact that my old roommate in Palestine Lindsey, whom I consider to be a sister, moved to Istanbul two weeks ago, with similar aspirations to the ones I described above (except she has a substantial teaching job lined up). She offered to let me live with her, and she would cover the rent until I found a job. With only the bare minimum of thought and processing required to make such a life-altering decision, I booked the ticket, packed my life into two duffels, a backpacker’s backpack and several jackets stuff together; and wrapped up all logistical loose ends left in Cairo. Then I started my goodbyes, which thanks to lots of practice, I managed to emotionally disconnect from in the moment in order to not to feel the pain of parting I have learned follows every goodbye. I still feel the tinges, and will likely burst into one set of sobs, perhaps as the plane takes off, thinking about all I am leaving behind.

However, as soon as the plane descends and I hit Turkish land, I know excitement will bubble at the smell of fresh air and limitless possibilities. Never before have I bought a one way ticket somewhere without any set occupation or program.  Never before have I lived, much less visited, a country where I didn't speak at least the basics of its language. I am terrified of failure, of not landing on my feet; but I think this is perhaps a necessary step. My spiritual life has reached a standstill—and I think leaping from a ledge is perhaps the only way to force myself into figuring out what I truly believe. In all respects, this will be a great chance to learn, grow and challenge myself in ways different from those I have faced thus far.