Monday, July 14, 2014

The Foreign Becoming Less Foreign 7/14/14

Jena worried that Turkey wouldn't be foreign enough. She lived in Cambodia previously. I never shared her feeling. To me anywhere other than the Western United States would be foreign enough. The otherness of Turkey hit me in the domestic terminal of the Istanbul Airport, with the throes of people, obviously Muslim; the food that was advertised without English translations; and the Turkish announcements of every flight. For Jena it hit when we were in Kayseri. It was apparent to me then, too, as I woke at three in the morning to the call to prayer from across the street.

Then we arrived in Izmir, a city that I keep likening to the Turkish version of Miami. Things are a bit looser here. We can't hear the calls to prayer, and Ramadan is not as widely observed, at least not in our part of town. A smaller proportion of women cover their hair, and a higher proportion of them are out and about on the bustling pedway that serves as a main street near our apartment.

We've come here to acclimate, and we're successfully doing just that.

About a week ago we went to the Sunday vegetable market and timidly bought a bunch of bananas. We had our phrasebook in hand. Yesterday at the same weekly market, we successfully had a number of service encounters using the Turkish that we studied over the past week in class.

As we walk through the crowded streets, I walk more confidently now like a city inhabitant. Previously, I put more cognitive energy into walking politely and cautiously through such crowded streets. In fact, the other day on the pedway a street dog was barking aggressively and momentarily halted a group of young men. Mentally scoffing, I walked right through the men. The dog turned and began coming toward me. It frightened me somewhat, but I didn't entirely stop. The best plan of action on that pedway is simply to pretend to have a destination and to continue on your way.

Each day the hundreds, or possibly thousands, of signs I pass are beginning to take on bits of meaning. Even when I don't know the meaning of a word, I can now see a morpheme or two at the end of a word which indicates its relationship to the words around it. The city's language-scape is like a picture being rendered, pixel by pixel, from the inside out.

It has become clear to me that Turkey, at least in our neighborhood, is relatively safe. By safe I mean something beyond its definitions pertaining to security. I mean that in the past week Turkey has become a place where I can feel comfortable without undue worry about what's going to happen to me next, whether that's during an interaction, while traveling, or while walking through the streets. Granted, I don't want this feeling to become a false aegis of invulnerability, but I do want to reap its benefits. I want to be happy that Jena and I have made a wise decision to move here, and I want to be happy that we're gradually figuring out how to assimilate. As we approach the two week mark of moving to Turkey, I'd say we're done a pretty good job.


  1. Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

  2. That must make me Odysseus! I hope Jena isn't one of my men. Maybe she's Odysseus and I'm one of her men. That wouldn't surprise me, given my record with food poisoning so far.

  3. It was just the "Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted" part that made me recall the quote. You are in just the right part of the world, so I couldn't resist. The rest is just there for lets say context rather than laziness.

    I hope neither you nor Jena suffer or die.