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. 6: Exploring More Ancient Cities

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Every night, I climb into bed and think to myself, “Today was by far the best day of the trip,” only to say the same thing the next night, and the next night, and the next.

Muhammad had been disappointed last night when his pleas to skip school had been turned down, but we promised him that we would look for him in the morning, since we were staying in some of the dorm rooms connected to his school. As we were walking with our luggage to the bus, Dramell yelled, “Hey, Muhammed!” as he spotted him in the crowd, and the young boy came running over to give him a hug and then chatter excitedly in half-English, half Turkish as his friends gazed up in awe at Dramell. One of them punched Muhammed playfully on the arm, shaking his head in admiration, and Muhammed beamed at us and said, “He did not believe me when I told him that you all came to my house last night.”

We headed off to the other host family’s apartment for breakfast, where the host was extremely interested in all of us and asked each of us what we were studying. Of course, Salih told the Salgam story again, to gales of laughter. More extended family members and friends joined the apartment, as well.

As we were leaving to head to Laodicea, I took the grandmother’s hand in mine, thanked her in Turkish (no easy feat!) and handed her one of the mugs we had brought. Though I’m sure I butchered the pronunciation, she clasped her hands in delight and kissed both of my cheeks, warm words flowing from her mouth. She stood in the doorway and watched us leave, proudly waving.

Highschool student Aprul and her father joined us on the trip. We chatted with her on the bus, and Dramell was asking her what she knew about American culture. Yes, she had heard of Katy Perry and enjoyed her music; no, she did not like One Direction. This led to questions of other American music, after which someone facetiously started the “Fresh Prince of Bell Air” rap; of course, we all had to join in. This led to an announcement by Brynn that her father was quite the rapper himself; it took some convincing and he was reluctant at first, but eventually Dr. B, provost and professor of religion and philosophy at Rochester College, treated us to, “Roxanne, Roxanne.”

Once we arrived at Laodicea, we tumbled off of the bus, eager to explore. I was so thankful for the sunny, 70 degree weather we experienced in Ephesus, but it seemed only right that ominous storm clouds rolled in over the city that was strongly rebuked in Revelation. I was also thankful to be currently enrolled in Dr. Stevenson’s Revelation class and to apply the knowledge I learned from him firsthand. Laodicea, a city far away from both Pamukkale’s hot springs and other sources of cold water, had to have all of its water piped in to the city. By the time the hot water from the north reached the city, it was lukewarm; by the time cold water was brought in from the west, it was also lukewarm. Revelation 3:15-17 states of Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” All of these admonitions are significant; Laodicea with only access to lukewarm water, too cold to have healing properties but too warm to drink, was only used by doctors to induce vomiting in their patients–hence “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” It was not flirting dangerously with idolatry like some of the other churches written to in Revelation, but it was also not faithful: it was lukewarm, just like its water, and therefore useless.

Laodicea was also a proud city; after natural disasters such as earthquakes, the government would offer financial assistance to rebuild, of course on their terms and with heavy interest. Laodicea often boasted that they never needed to be reliant on the government, as they had stores of wealth in their banks and were able to be financially independent. They didn’t realize that they were poor spiritually, which John tries to tell them about.

It was significant in both the textile and medical fields; they were famous for their black garments and eye salve, which was used to help treat and cure various eye diseases. John takes all of these aspects that make up their very identity and uses it as a word picture to show them where they are lacking spiritually.

I knew it was going to be cool to visit some of the churches that I was studying in my Revelation class, but it especially hit home walking through this city.

Unlike Ephesus, ongoing work is being done to Laodicea, and Allyson said a significant portion of what we walked through had been buried when she had been here two years prior.

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More English major pics in the library

More English major pics in the library

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After Laodicea, we were off to Pamukkale “cotton castles” hot springs, where calcium deposits in the water form a hardened, slippery, calcified floor. We removed our shoes and socks and rolled up our jeans, excited for this new adventure. As Salih turned back to warn us to be careful, he slipped and fell, landing hard on his wrist. With words like “fracture,” flying around his pained face, the spirit of excitement and adventure fizzled out a bit, and I eyed the roads ahead of me with a bit of trepidation. Picking our way slowly, we gained our footing and became more confident as we splashed through the warm water. Although I was slightly relieved when we reached the end of the springs and I could put my shoes back on solid, non-treacherous ground, the view was well worth it and I loved living yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Creepy Sarcophagi

Creepy Sarcophagi walking on the path to the springs

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As Salih headed to the hospital for X-rays, we went for lunch and then took off for a visit to a high school, where we learned about academics and sat in a classroom (that looks nothing like high schools back in America) before heading to the airport and flying back to Istanbul. We have another full day tomorrow and I’m exhausted!

If you missed previous entries:

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

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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