Adventures in Turkey pt. 9: Reflections on the Longest Flight Back Ever

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Well, I was right about there being tears today.

In addition to being tired and already emotional, we had quite the adventure going through customs this morning…or should I say, TRYING to go through customs this morning.

We entered the airport, ready to go through the usual process of removing our shoes and going through security. I was personally in a “Let’s go,” mode; if I HAD to leave, I wanted to just be back in the States already. We asked for where we were supposed to go, were escorted to our place, and waited patiently in the long line, only to be told when we reached the front of it that not only were we in the wrong line, we were in the wrong part of the airport. We were given directions and trooped over there to wait in yet another long line. We had snaked through half of that line when a worker came over and asked us where we were flying to. “Chicago?” he repeated incredulously. “Why are you here, then?”

“We were told–”

“No, no. You’re not even in the right part of the airport. Follow me.”

Trailing behind him like a pack of lost, sad, American puppies, we joined the end of yet another long line. My patience was thin at this point, and judging by the faces of my silent friends, they were feeling the same. We finally reached the front of that line, where a very disapproving worker informed us that we needed to trek to the other side of the airport.

Reaching that designated area, Dr. B asked a security guard before we even got in line if we were in the right place. He checked our passports and shook his head.

I reached a low point.

“Are you kidding me? Is this for real?” I demanded, turning to Natalie, in line behind me. Her lips had tightened into one thin line and frustrated tears ensued from some. If we had been in the wrong place because of our own ignorance, that would have been one thing, but we had been taken not once, not twice, but three times, to the wrong place.

Finally, we found the correct spot, and worries churned inside me as I looked at the clock while remembering the time we were supposed to fly out. Thankfully, flying out of Turkey was less of a hassle than flying out of America; we breezed through security and customs, waited at our gate for a few moments, and then boarded. Seated by Natalie, I settled into my seat and turned around to peek several rows back at Beth, Dram, and Bayleigh, who all gave me a thumbs up, seemingly just as relieved as I was to finally be on the plane. Allyson and Caleb were seated several rows ahead of us.

Once we were in the air, I was able to lean back in my seat and relax (I’m not afraid to fly anymore, but I still get nervous on take off) but I found myself becoming restless. Since we flew out of Chicago at 10pm to get here, I slept the whole flight; flying back in the middle of the afternoon was a different story. I scrolled through some pictures I had taken, tried to do some homework that’s due tomorrow when I get back, and played peek a boo with the adorable 10 month old in the seat in front of me, but time is crawling by as I sit here writing. It’s surreal to look back on the time I’ve spent here and all of the experiences I’ve been able to have. I admit that I’m still a little on edge (aka crabby) but I am excited to tell all of my stories when I get home.

(Later)

We landed in Chicago at 7pm, disoriented and COLD. (It was nice to escape the Michigan winter for Turkey’s warmer climate.) As the plane taxied onto the runway, Natalie turned wide-eyed to me and said, “Turn your phone on.” I did so, only to receive text multiple text messages saying something along the lines of, “I know you’re not flying Malaysian Airlines, but I’m still nervous…please text me when you’ve landed back in the States.” I turned back to her with eyes just as big and asked, “What happened?”

She shrugged. “My mom said that we don’t even know all of the details yet, but apparently there’s a plane that’s just disappeared. I’m thankful we flew Turkish Airlines and not Malaysia.”

(A note several months later: I still get chills sometimes when I think about what could have happened had it been our plane, or had we been flying to Malaysia.)

Happiness over being home warred with the sadness of being home as I loaded my bags onto the bus and climbed in the seat. We have a loooong drive back to school now.

(Later)

We got back to school around 2am. Mom and Dad picked me up (and went to bed shortly after we returned home) but I’m wide awake, unpacking, doing laundry, and reliving my experiences rereading through this journal. Words are insufficient to express the gratitude I possess over having this opportunity. I’m so blessed.

If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 8: Dealing with Prejudices, Mustaches, and Bargaining

Adventures in Turkey pt. 7: Eat, Pray, Love

Adventures in Turkey pt. 6: Exploring More Ancient Cities

Adventures in Turkey pt. 5: EPHESUS

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

Adventures in Turkey pt. 3: Some Heartfelt but Definite Jet-Lagged Rambling

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

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Adventures in Turkey pt. 5: EPHESUS

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My heart is just so full tonight.

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There are hardly words for the experiences I had today.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Ephesus. After being buried in an earthquake, the city was practically completely preserved when excavations began. We walked through the Celsus Library, Mary’s church, climbed up and down steps in the amphitheaters, tried to see Hadrian’s temple (under construction and covered with scaffolding) and stepped back centuries in history walking through the city. It’s overwhelming to try to sum it up.

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Excited, shameless English major selfies in the ancient library

Excited, shameless English major selfies in the ancient library

Cats. Cats everywhere. This guy did not appreciate Allyson interrupting his nap in the unseasonably warm weather.

Cats. Cats everywhere. This guy did not appreciate Allyson interrupting his nap in the unseasonably warm weather.

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Especially wonderful was to sit in the amphitheater mentioned in Acts and listen to Dr. B read that part of the story. The wind coming off the water whipped through my hair as I got chills listening to him read what had happened, as I was sitting in the very place that it happened.

After several hours had flown by and we had finished walking through the city, we headed off to see the Temple of Artemis. Once larger than the Parthenon and the largest marble structure of the world at the time, it was sadly destroyed by Christians and a few lonely pillars are all that remains. We explored the marshland and examined the few remains with some fish and turtles swimming nearby.

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After exploring there, we headed to a pottery place, where we learned about Ephesian pottery, watched them working on forming some, painting others, and preparing others to be fired.

The man molding the pottery into jars reminded me so much of the bad guy from the movie Ever After

The man molding the pottery into jars reminded me so much of the bad guy from the movie Ever After

Following a three hour drive to Denizli, we met another host family for dinner. There were considerably more people than Hakan and Ezra and they spoke less English, so there was a lot of smiling, nodding, and looks to Salih on both ends to translate. Even more people arrived as we were eating, and we quickly realized that there were both extended family members and friends who, hearing of our arrival, wanted to come and meet us. We gathered in the stunningly beautiful living room, where the host explained to us (through Salih) that, upon a couple’s engagement, the woman picks out whatever she wants to decorate the home, regardless of price, and the man is not allowed to say a word. Observing the sparkling glass tables, soft white carpets, and beautiful throw pillows and curtains, we all agreed that we loved the sense of style our hostess possessed. He also told us that, sadly, much of the beautiful wooden furniture made in Turkey gets slapped with a “Made in Italy” tag, since people are more likely to purchase it then.

We noticed a guitar in the corner of the room and asked whose it was; it belonged to the preteen girl who had been too shy even to join us for dinner, so our attempts to get her to play for us were futile. She quickly handed it to her brother, who played a few songs for us. Though we couldn’t understand a word, the music and his voice were beautiful. He played a few songs for us, and RC students and Turkish hosts alike relaxed, leaning back into a more natural stance opposed to the awkward, stick-straight poses we had been sitting in. The youngest girl immediately attached herself to Bayleigh, while Muhammad, a young boy in 2nd grade, practically worshipped Dramell. The shy preteen girl disappeared at one point only to return with some papers, which she shyly extended as she sat down next to me. I took them, slightly confused, and turned to Salih, who, with his eyes sparkling, informed me, “I told her that you’re going to be a teacher so she wants you to help her with her English homework.”

As the instructions were in Turkish, I had to rely on the lone example provided to help me, but I quickly realized that the assignment was about matching words with their synonyms. I tried to explain what a synonym is, only to receive the same nodding and shy smile, but after Salih spoke two Turkish words to her (I assume synonyms themselves) she was able to finish the assignment with few corrections needed. I tried to pantomime some of the adjectives (hot, cold) that she didn’t understand, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Another apparently universal tool that binds us all is Salgam. The host asked us if we enjoyed the meal (which, of course, we did) and then he and Salih began conversing in Turkish. Allyson and I caught the word “Salgam,” followed by uproarious laughter. We didn’t need a translator to figure out that he was telling the story of our experience with the foul juice. I pulled out my iPhone to show them the pictures documenting Natalie’s reaction, and more laughter ensued, followed what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!” One of the young men told us that he didn’t like it at all, either, salty fish dinner or no salty fish dinner.

As our time together began to wind down, we discovered that there was to be yet another memorable experience: the man hosting us wanted to arm wrestle Dramell. We all gathered around the table and took pictures to document, especially when the father helped his losing son win by pushing on Dramell’s arm while hiding his face in mock shame from the camera.

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Muhammad told us he was going to tell all of his friends at school the next day that he beat President Obama at arm wrestling

Muhammad told us he was going to tell all of his friends at school the next day that he beat President Obama at arm wrestling

 

The joy on this little girl's face after she "beat" ;) ;) Dramell was priceless

The joy on this little girl’s face after she “beat” 😉 😉 Dramell was priceless

One of the friends of this host family who had joined us when he heard that we were staying there invited all of us to come to his home for breakfast the next morning. We left this host family with a chorus of “goodbye, thank you,” and warm hearts. Truly, as Hakan told us the other night, “All people have the same heart.”

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If you missed previous entries:

Adventures in Turkey pt. 4: Confronting my Own Ignorance

Adventures in Turkey pt. 3: Some Heartfelt but Definite Jet-Lagged Rambling

Adventures in Turkey pt. 2: In Which We Hit the Ground Running

Adventures in Turkey pt. 1: Anxiety and Excitement

No Matter How Your Heart is Grieving, if You Keep on Believing…

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It’s hard to be a dreamer sometimes. It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply. Even when I was a little girl, I would get lost in my daydreams and hopes for the future, only to be extremely disappointed to learn that, in fact, there was no such thing as Making Ponies Happy University. The crush of disappointment after a letdown is just as strong as the tingle of anticipation leading up to an event. My pillow was soaked with bitter tears many nights (both as a kid and an adult, I admit.)

Cinderella would have been my favorite Disney Princess when I was little had it not been for Pocahontas.  I fell in love with the Disney film when it was released in 1995, despite the horrifying historical inaccuracies. (I was only four. Give me a break.) All I knew was that Pocahontas was brave and strong, had an awesome raccoon sidekick, and great hair. Plus, John Smith was slightly more involved in her life than Prince Charming was in Cinderella’s. Did you know he only speaks a grand total of 47 words in the film? It’s true. I looked up the script to prove it.

Anyway, despite the disgust I felt toward Prince Charming, I still liked Cinderella, and not just because I would pretend to be her whenever I had chores to do around the house. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes: this was my motto, and my little girl heart so innocently and completely trusted in her faithful refrain: “In dreams, you will lose your heartache: whatever you wish for, you keep.”

Pure poetry, I told myself, staring with wide-eyed adoration at the TV while hugging my Pocahontas doll.

As I grew older, I turned my attention to books and the magical worlds contained within them, particularly Anne of Green Gables. “Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions,” Anne told me. “I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”

She’s completely right, I sighed dreamily, chin in my hand, as I stared out my bedroom window at a world of possibilities.

My dreams slowly evolved and changed as time went on. I gave up my dreams of being a “Ponytologist” when I was informed that it was a word that I had made up and no such job existed, and switched to my goal of being an actress. When my preteen years hit and I struggled with debilitating shyness, my goal became to be a surgeon. Wanting to someday be able to be home with my kids, I set my sights on being a journalist when my college years arrived. It was perfect: I could travel to the Middle East, write, and solve the world’s problems. Fast forward two and a half semesters of writing music advertisements and news articles of invented car crashes, and I switched my major to English faster than you could say, “Inverted pyramid.”

“Why are you changing your major? You’re one of the best students I’ve ever had,” my Media Writing professor mourned when I made my decision.

“Because I really, really, really hate writing this stuff,” I replied.

He blinked. “You do?”

“So much.”

“Oh. Well, if you ever change your mind….”

I compromised by getting a concentration in professional writing so that I could get back into journalism if I should ever want to, and turned my sights on grad school so I can teach someday.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will: “You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never travel. You’ll never help anyone. You’ll never get accepted to University of Michigan; are you kidding? Do you know their acceptance rate?”

“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” ~Cinderella

“It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?” ~Anne Shirley

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” ~Psalm 37:4

Don’t ever give up on your dreams.

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Oh, the Places I’ve Been

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Let me be explicitly clear in saying that I believe that traveling is not only beneficial, but also necessary for people, especially writers. (I should also be clear in saying that the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. I have four stamps in my passport. It’s pretty underwhelming, but I like the sound of the title–thank you, Dr. Seuss–so indulge me, okay?)

There is no comparable experience for learning and being exposed to new material. I’m especially a proponent for visiting countries in which you don’t know how to speak a single word, and spend some of the time you’re there learning how to speak it. Words are beautiful in any language, particularly ones I don’t understand. I also recommend getting lost at least once. Wander around and take in the sights, smells, and sounds and marvel at being in a completely different country. Try a food you can’t identify. Sit in a park and observe people who belong there. There’s just something about sitting on a bench in a completely new country and writing in a notebook.

Recently, I had such an experience. I traveled through my school to Turkey for a whirlwind trip of sightseeing, learning, and visiting Turkish families. It was an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will never forget.

I don’t remember much of our first night there; we had been traveling for 18 of the last 19 hours and we were all exhausted and bleary from jet lag. I remember sitting in a very nice restaurant and being served an abundance of food, all of which was delicious (other than Ayran, a salty, yogurt drink.) I remember smiling and attempting to say, “Merhaba,” and feeling welcomed by everyone I saw…but that’s about it.

We hit the ground running the next day and didn’t really stop for the rest of the trip. In one afternoon, we toured Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cisterns, and the Blue Mosque. We were all ready for bed by the time dinner rolled around, but then our translator suggested a night walk along the Bosphorus Strait and Rumeli fortress so we instantly shook off our yawns and rubbed the sleepiness out of our eyes. It was a little chilly since we were right on the water, but the air was crisp and the spirit of adventure won out over our exhaustion.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hippodrome

Hippodrome

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Medusa head in the Basilica Cisterns

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Remember what I said about trying something you can’t identify?

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SALGAM. Aka, the most vile thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.

My friends tried to convince me that it was grape juice, and, while I knew those unidentifiable objects in the basket were most definitely not grapes, I had no idea what they were. “Is it date juice?” I questioned.

There was the briefest pause before they all exclaimed in unison, “Yeah!…..DATE juice!”

It is not date juice, my friends. It is fermented black carrot juice.

When I finally discovered those tiny English words on the bottle and announced in loud horror what it was, there was such an uproar that our translator came in to see what we were doing. We asked him if he drank Salgam, and he took one horrified look at our faces and said, “With fish, sometimes; never by itself!” Anytime we visited a host family and our translator would be chatting in Turkish, we’d suddenly catch the word “Salgam.” He would look mischievously  over at us and everyone would laugh and say what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!”

On the second day of our trip, we visited Dolmabacce Palace, enjoyed a boat ride on the Bosphorus, went inside Suleymaniye Mosque, and met our first family! I lost one of the slip on shoes they gave us to protect the Palace and didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to me, so one of my professors told me that basically made me Cinderella and I was totally fine with that.

Dolmabacce Palace

Dolmabacce Palace

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Rumeli fortress, by day, from the boat

Remember what I said about new experiences?

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

I have been in everything from Catholic to Pentecostal churches, to Orthodox and Messianic synagogues. I had never once stepped foot in a mosque. It was an enlightening and incredible experience, although I did have issues with my head scarf; do you know how difficult it is to have all your hair covered and still be able to retain your peripheral vision?!

The next day, we toured Fatih University, Zaman Newspaper, and went exploring. We found the best public workout place, one of many that we’d seen around Turkey. Since we were walking and not just seeing them from our bus, of course we had to try them out before we caught our plane flying out to Izmir that evening!

Fatih University

Fatih University

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Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

Workout place with an amazing view of the Bosporus

In Izmir, we toured the ancient city of Ephesus, walked around the remains of the Temple of Artemis, toured a pottery place, and met with another family, where, as usual, we were welcomed with overwhelming hospitality, generosity, and food.

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

View of the Aegean Sea from our hotel room

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Celsus Library in Ephesus. INCREDIBLE.

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Pottery place in Ephesus

Pottery place in Ephesus

The next morning, we had breakfast with another family and headed off to the ancient city of Laodicea, where we walked among the remains and watched some excavations being done before we headed off to Pamukkale hot springs and visited a high school before flying back over to Istanbul!

Laodicea

Laodicea

Pamukkale ("cotton castles") hot springs

Pamukkale (“cotton castles”) hot springs

Back in Istanbul, we toured a former synagogue turned museum, walked around Taxim Square, toured the military museum, visited St. Antoine’s Church, and met another family.

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Turkey is the only predominately Muslim country in the world that has a Jewish museum!

Statue in Taxim Square

Statue in Taxim Square

Orchestra performing at the museum

Orchestra performing at the museum

Remember what I said about getting lost at least once?

St. Antoine's Church

St. Antoine’s Church

I guess technically, we weren’t lost; the church was.

Remember also what I said about just sitting on a bench in a park and just taking it all in?

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Oh, man. Incredible.

The next day, we visited the Journalists and Writers Foundation (HEAVEN) and toured Samanyolu TV station, after which we spent the whole afternoon in the Grand Bazaar, where I learned that I am really, really bad at bargaining. We had dinner one last night with everyone in the restaurant we visited our first night there, and then headed home to pack up. The only thing we had time for our last day was breakfast with everyone, and then it was off to the airport. The flight back to the States was definitely not as thrilling as the flight there.

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Loved this place (for obvious reasons)

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Turkish TV shows at Samanyolu

Exploring the park

Exploring the park

Grand Bazaar!

Grand Bazaar!

When I came home, people asked me the same question they asked me when I returned from the Dominican Republic last year: “Would you do it again?” I’m always amazed and slightly confused by this question. Why wouldn’t I? I guess because I love adventures so much, it’s a given that of course I’m going to travel again. Will my next trip be to Turkey? Probably not…the next places on my list are Italy, Israel, and Africa. Who knows where I’ll end up?

Oh, the places I’ll go!

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