All day yesterday and today I have been thinking about that blog review. I wasn't offended by anything the reviewer said. Everyone who left comments gave me great feedback. Made me think. But one comment that wasn't even left on my blog really hit me. The person left a comment on the original review site. The comment said
I'm sure she's lovely, but she's that kind of expat (usually Americans like myself) who just don't assimilate. That's why you're not getting what you're after Gene.
I thought a lot about those words. About assimilating into Turkish culture. She's right that we haven't totally assimilated. And while there are many ways that we could further adapt to our host culture there are things we have done to fit into the culture. Things like buying all Turkish furniture. We didn't have any of our stuff shipped here. We don't own a car, but our company has one we borrow on occasion. I would much rather take public transportation anyway. Everyone here thinks Americans are wealthy so we try not to perpetuate that myth as much as we can, and, well...we aren't wealthy at all so that helps! We have studied Turkish since we arrived. We are by no means fluent, but can conduct quite a bit of our lives in Turkish. Our kids went to Turkish schools for the first two years so that they could get Turkish culture and language. Their education suffered some at the time, but they were able to catch up when we moved them to an international school. I have only been keeping a blog for the last 2 years or so, and 7 months of that was spent in America. I wish I had been blogging when we first arrived. I'm sure the culture shock we went through, the many language frustrations, the complete inadequacy we felt as we tried to help the kids do homework in Turkish...all of that would be really interesting for me to look back on now. I know those posts would have been vastly different than the ones you are reading now. So many people who commented when I asked for feedback on what I could do to improve the blog said that I needed to share more of myself...how I feel about things. Since this comment brought back many of those early feelings I thought I would try to capture some of them here.
We decided to move to Turkey in the summer of 2001. We had never been to Turkey and had no idea what to expect. Oh, we watched videos on Turkey and read books about the culture, and thought we knew what we were getting into. Let me tell you...we had no clue.
We sold or gave away all of our furniture, sold our house, and moved all the things we weren't ready to get rid of to a storage unit. After months of preparation we were finally ready to move overseas in March of 2002. We moved to Turkey with 19 pieces of luggage. That was all. It seemed like a lot until we were trying to pack all that we thought we would need in those action packers. I was given a list of all the things you couldn't get but would probably want by an American woman who was living in Turkey. It was mostly a list of kitchen items. I found out later that this woman loved to cook. Even though I had never used things like mint extract and sea salt I packed them anyway. Surely she knew what I would need better than I did. The good pots and pans she recommended bringing were taken out of the luggage to make room for toys. We had four small children. I decided I would just buy pots in Turkey so that they could have the space. She recommended bringing good towels. To Turkey...the home of the Turkish towel. She said all the good towels were exported so we brought a few towels. We figured we would just buy whatever they had here to supplement what we brought. And the list went on. We packed those 19 bags full and got on the plane.
My first bit of culture shock happened immediately after arriving in Turkey. We were met at the airport by the guy who was going to be Brian’s business partner. He led us out to his van. Our two youngest kids were still in car seats in America. The van we were now about to ride in didn’t even have seatbelts much less car seats. My 2 and 4 year old loved it, but I was a nervous wreck! For the next 30 minutes I just prayed we would make it to the place we were to call home without getting killed by the insanely crazy driving I was witnessing out my window!
On the way to our place we passed many run down looking houses and some tall buildings. I had no idea that the tall buildings were apartment buildings. I fully expected to be living in one of the run down things we were passing. When we pulled up to our building it was like a dream. Our apartment building was new so there were only a few other tenants in it. We were the only Americans. Our new friends had already purchased a stove, washing machine, and refrigerator for us so all we had to do was get everything else we would need to live!
Those first few weeks all we did was shop. We bought mattresses first and slept on the floor. We slowly purchased all that we would need to actually be able to live here. Including nice pots and pans and nicer towels than I had ever owned from a seconds bin at the pazar. I had never shopped so much in my life. Honestly I don’t like to shop so it got old quite quickly for me. Picking out furniture when nothing looked like what I was used to was difficult. The couches and chairs were so firm. Nothing like the nice soft furniture in America. Mattresses were the same way. I think I had bruised hips for a month because of how hard the mattress was.
I think back on those shopping days and how frustrating it was. We couldn’t do anything by ourselves since we didn’t know any Turkish. I remember being laughed at by a check-out clerk and the lady standing behind me in line when I had no idea what she was asking me. I remember being flabbergasted by the lack of a line at a customer service desk. I will never forget the frustration I felt when our heater wasn't working and it took a gas man, a plumber, and an electrician to fix one appliance. Through all of that we managed to persevere. And we had several people who were gracious enough to take us places and translate for us as we pieced together a new life.
But all of that was nothing compared to how I felt about my kids. I had uprooted them from the only life they had ever known. I had taken them away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well as friends. I had plopped them down in a place where they knew no one and not one word of the language they heard in the streets. I had to make sure they were adjusting before I could even think about myself. One of the things I remember repeating to them over and over was that we were a family, and as long as they had each other they had friends. I knew that would only work for so long though.
Next door to our apartment building was a vacant lot. It was littered with trash, broken bricks, and all kinds of treasures. It quickly became my kids’ favorite place to play. One day while they were outside playing a boy who looked to be about Will’s age came out of the building and started to play in the lot as well. For a while they played separately each observing the other. I watched from the window to see if they would play together despite the language barrier. Finally the Turkish boy joined my kids in building their playhouse. Words were exchanged, but I don’t know if they really understood each other. Later that afternoon when my kids came in they were so excited about the games they had played with their new friend. They went into a long drawn out story about the game of princess and bad guys they played. I have often wondered what the Turkish boy said to his parents about their game. Did he call it by the same name?
I think I will stop here. My mind is full with thoughts from those first few months. I think I will spread them out some.
(Oh...and Sra I totally had doner for lunch today and thought of you.)