Tag Archives: humanity

Feeling Like a Foreigner

Share

When you travel – even within the same country, for instance from the North East of America to the Deep South or the West of Turkey to the East – it is only natural to at times be self-consciously overwhelmed by feeling like a foreigner. Traveling to a different country, where the language and culture is different, only compounds this feeling. During my first stay in Turkey, a two month intensive language program in Ankara, I suffered a lot from culture shock. I think it was only to be expected.

Luckily, my stay so far in Malatya has really been free of any problems; however, I have noticed something about living abroad that I would never had thought of otherwise. Namely, the difference between being a foreigner and feeling like a foreigner.

For instance, I am a foreigner here in Turkey. The way I hold myself, dress, speak and react are all different enough from the locals for people to realize that I am not from around here and there is very little I can do about that – at least immediately. Turks, by and large though, absolutely love foreigners and try their best to be as hospitable and helpful as possible. I have had random men who I’ve asked for directions go out of their way to ensure that I arrive safely at my destination. Speaking a little bit of Turkish does help to grease the wheels, but people are generally overjoyed to help.

In this way, being a foreigner in Turkey really has very few problems associated with it; people truly strive and welcoming as possible. I am actively encouraged to think of this new country as my new home. Although I am a foreigner here, I am not made to feel like one – the country is incredibly inclusive, at least in my experience. For example, while on my way to Harput last week another passenger on the mini-bus realized I was a foreigner and insisted on sharing his snacks with me. He then went on to lecture me about how I had to visit Izmir, smiling the whole time.

Feeling like a foreigner, on the other hand, can happen anywhere – even if your own country or hometown. This feeling isn’t linked to you nearly as much as it is linked to your circumstances. For example, I am sure everyone has had that one experience of being at a party or a meeting in which you felt unwelcome and excluded; you did not belong, and you felt like a foreigner. Obviously being in a different country, where the language and culture is different, can easily lead to the feeling of being a foreigner.

For the three months that I have been in Turkey so far, I can think of maybe one or two examples at most of when I truly felt I did not belong. The first was in Istanbul, where at a restaurant I was charged five times the normal amount for a cup of tea – the foreigner price – that I begrudgingly had to pay. The second example was when I was having a conversation with a few Turks. When they asked me a question, and I stumbled to respond, they turned to each other and said “Oh, he doesn’t understand!” and then laughed about it.

Overall, though, these are two minor occurrences that I truly had to rack my head about to think of. I am truly lucky to be in a country where, although I an undoubtedly a foreigner, I am almost never made to feel that way. Turkey has, at least for the year that I am here, truly become my new home; as it is Thanksgiving in America as I post this, I can say that I am truly grateful for that.

“Home” for the Holidays

Share

Last week I had been feeling a little homesick. I’m not really sure why, but it may have been due to the approach of the holidays and students talking of visiting their families, the gradual approach of fall, or the knowledge that this would be my first Autumn and Halloween spent outside of the country. Whatever the case, heading to Amasya helped buck my spirits up, as well as the knowledge that I would be spending Kurban Bayramı in Ankara with my old Turkish host family from last year – the same host family I had tried to visit two months ago.

Home for the Holidays
Ankara has a bad rap amongst Turks of not being beautiful – bah!

Continue reading “Home” for the Holidays

The Kindness of Strangers

Share

As rough a day as I had on Friday – my Turkish completely failed me, my bank account got closed out, and my internet ceased to function (compounding the other two problems) – Saturday was the exact opposite.

There is a type of a mini-bus/taxi hybrid, that functions like a subway, in Turkey called a dolmuş. These buses always look extremely sketchy – small white vans, sliding side doors, tinted windows and clusters of people huddled in the back – and stop when someone waves them down on their route. As Danielle, Fabio and myself were on the way to the univerity’s main gate to ask whether any buses were going into the city center on Saturday’s, we saw a dolmuş and hailed it.

Yeni Camii
A cool mosque in the center of the city… It really has nothing to do with what I’m writing, it just looks nice.

Continue reading The Kindness of Strangers

Feeling Like a Boss

Share

State DepartmentYesterday evening, after a long day of orientation, my fellow Fulbrighters and myself were invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corp in Turkey at a diplomat’s house. Honestly, nothing really puts you in the mind set of feeling like a boss – at least from my own limited experience – like attending an official State Department garden party, complete with the press chief for the embassy, whiskey and wine on the rocks following freely, bountiful appetizers, and a podium that actually had the U.S. seal on the front of it.

Continue reading Feeling Like a Boss

Machine Men

Share

Instead of music today, this Friday Refrain is instead a refrain from all the talks of war – with Iran, Syria, Russia, etc – and religious based politics that seemed to define the RNC. It seems cosmically ironic that Charlie Chaplin made one of the greatest political speeches I’ve ever heard. Just remember, don’t follow the machine men with their machine hearts.

Always Explore

Share

When I was younger, I was obsessed by the idea of being anywhere but where I was. Why stay in New Jersey, I would think to myself, when there was almost an infinite amount to be seen outside of my known world. My imagination was also spoiled when I was little – my mom, or dad, or brothers would read to me stories of Greek myths, Tolkien, and His Dark Materials. My entire world view was based on the idea that sitting still in one place was almost sinful.

To need to explore seemed like a default state of nature to me. By the time I reached high school, explorers and drifters had become heroes of mine. Almost eight years after first learning about Ibn Battuta, for instance, I am still hard pressed to think of someone who I admire more. I mean, the man spent the second half of his life traveling from Morroco to Mecca, down the East coast of Africa, back to Turkey, and then all the way to China. Oh, and he did it in all in the 14th century – and got rich because of it! Who could pass up the chance to explore in the face of the amazement of something like that?

explore
 Photo credit at tatteredpassport.com

I like to think that I have made the most out of any chance to explore so far in my life. I have been to 4 continents, the Arctic Circle, and I have lived in Turkey – even if it was only for 2 months. I definitely have not let chances pass me by, but I am afraid. I graduate in two months and after that, if I manage to find a job, my dreams of long-term traveling seem to be mostly dead. I am waiting to hear back about the Fulbright Grant, which would allow me to live in Turkey for another nine months (perfect amount of time to have a kid a bail), but that isn’t certain. Unless I want to commit to living abroad for years – like my brother – my years of exploration seem to be quickly running out.

Except, they aren’t. There is always another frontier to explore, although I never realized it. As cheesy as it may sound – if it does sound corny, I can’t really tell – that last final frontier is the future. Although I may never be able to explore as much strictly temporal space as Ibn Battuta, it does not mean my life has to be any less interesting.

I have no idea what will happen in my life. Even tonight, I know only vagaries of a plan – meet with some friends, go to a party, hopefully get Pizza City. That’s the thing, though! Legitimately every action I can ever take is a journey unto itself, with every outcome possible and unknown.

That’s not just exploring, that’s a full on adventure.

Suck it, Ibn Battuta, my life can be just as bad ass as yours… even if I don’t travel more than 75,000 miles before steam power (damn!).

The World

Share
organic growth
Photo credit at Christoper Gielen (christophgielen.com)

I was taking a piss the other night in my perfectly well lighted, but typical dingy and disgusting college bathroom. Aside from the splattering noise of my piss hitting the sides and the water inside the porcelain bowl, all I heard was the noise of the TV from the neighboring room and my roommates drunkenly laughing. I didn’t hear any sounds of animals from outside, or the wind, or even just the sound of natural silence – why would I? I live in a fairly large college city, I should, and do, expect this.

Slowly (it was a long piss) my gaze left the bowel and traveled along the wall to the electrical outlet above the sink. Blinking in the socket was the small orange light demonstrating **aside, is demon and demonstrate from the same root? Should check that out** the circuit was still alive and flowing. Staring at that small, slightly flickering but always constant, light it hit me hard – I barely live in the world. The world as I know it, and most people in general, isn’t really the world – it’s just a further extension of humanity.

I think, for me at least, this is no where clearer than New York City. There is nothing natural about that city, nothing organic about it besides the organic growth of the city itself; that, in itself, is astounding. We refer to cities growing organically versus a planned city, but there is still nothing organic or natural about cities. Don’t get me wrong, I love cities, and I especially love NYC, but that is not the world in the slightest – it is the compounding and extension of millions of people. Not only people directly involved in the growth of NYC, but the billions of people in human history who have helped to develop what it even means to be human.

We say we are animals, and that we are still part of the world, but we really aren’t. We have divided the world into the natural and the human, heavily so. So heavily, in fact, that people need to set aside times in their life to experience ‘nature’ by going for hikes, or walks, or going fishing. Even then, though, it is still as if we have never experienced the real natural essence of the world.

Last summer, I was in Turkey for two months. While there, I went for a hike in the world’s second largest canyon – and fuck, was it amazing and beautiful. Looking back on it, though, that canyon is still fully within the realm of belonging to humanity now, not the world. Why? Well, simply because it is completely enshrined by the humanity around it – food vendors, bus stations, restaurants, camping grounds, etc. I am not complaining, I am just saying that this natural wonder ceases to be natural. It is instead just a wonder of the world that has been engulfed by humanity.

It is astounding. Thinking of life like this, I fully expect to never really leave humanity, or to truly experience nature. Any nature left, now, seems like just the leftovers of the world – something we looked at and said, to ourselves, “Well, we should probably try to preserve something.” It is bittersweet. Thinking like this, I realize how much we are just products of those who came before us.

At the same time, it is fully reasonable to wonder “Have I ever been outside?”