We’re learning first gear today. A little gas and less clutch. We’re driving from the apartment building where we’ve been boxed in for six months. Fourteen floors, not counting the first one. No balconies. Just a creamy red monolith where there’s a living room-kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom that we call home.
First gear is a gear we’ll come back to, to contend with its complexities.
In second we watch the traffic rules we knew well back home get thrown out the window like a beer can from a “sad” man. Muslims only drink when they’re sad, a coworker told us. In the hills, on the dirt roads outside the city, there’s evidence of a lot of sadness. The hills are alive with the sound of cars parked, Turkish music pumping, cigarettes being drawn from, and older gentlemen resting their bottles on the trunk of the car having a gran— sad ol’ time.
Our progress with third gear is halted by, for lack of a better term, a Turkish round-about. It’s the type you’d see in Britain, but with a traffic light at each of the roads coming into the round-about and at each of the quarter turns around the thing. While it’s easy to criticize these things of being symptomatic of the lack of logic applied to civil engineering, doing so feels hypocritical. Who am I to say anything? Doesn’t my life have about as many traffic lights that flicker on and off at inopportune times at each indecisive juncture?
Are we staying another year here? Maybe. No. Probably not. Yes, but only in the eyes of those who are pumping us for an answer so that they can make a prediction about next year’s numbers and so that we can have a safety net.
Before our drive yesterday, I blamed my wife for our indecision. Graceful as she is, when my tantrum was over, she said that she thinks that I see elements of myself in her and that she’s a scapegoat for my own frustrations.
We’re both tall. We both have blue eyes. Sort of. We both take about a thousand invisible trips around the block when we’re deciding whether or not we should even take one.
In fourth gear we’ve made some progress. Our speed is up. On the highway it’s easier to live in a foreign country. You can pretend you have a place to go. You get just as many stares as you would on any highway anywhere in the world during that moment of passing. It’s relaxing. Containing.
In fifth gear, there is an illusion of flying. Transcendence. The moments in the day when you could make this life work for as long as you want. This feeling comes on the walk back to the office after a good class. It comes on Saturday when you’re returning home from a day trip with friends. It comes when the sun’s red light rests on the edge of the horizon, and you’re not worried about what’s to come.
You’re never in fifth for long. Realities disguised as those well-lit round-abouts are bound to appear. The man carrying sticks on his back steps into the highway. The dog trotting in the shoulder gets something thrown at it by a car going eighty.
Reverse is the same as first gear but backwards. Just like they told you in your driver’s ed., put your right hand on the back of the passenger seat, look over your shoulder, and then give it a little gas as you let off the clutch. Stall. Don’t worry. There’s only about fifty cars headed for you, waiting, expecting, glaring. They want you to get your shit together and get out of the way.
I wonder about my sense of objectivity. As a traveler, do I ever see the world for what it is? Or, is it the local people who see my wife and me wander around like lost chickens; is it them who get the most candid glimpse into our beings? And is that why the stares are uncomfortable and why we are embarrassed to accept the help that is sometimes offered us? We by nature of our language, our skin tones, our hair colors, our values, our way of reasoning are inadaptable. Especially during this first year. Especially at first.