Little to No Sleep + An Exchange Student Wedding = Ankara Trip
Alright, I’ve been keeping track of my adventures in my journal so as not to forget anything important. However, since I write an overview of each individual day, sometimes I write things that aren’t, shall we say, interesting. They’re more because of some strange tendency I have to not skip over any days, no matter what happened. I usually don’t write on the weekends, so on Monday or Tuesday, I sit in school and replay the last 3 or 4 days in my head, writing down everything I can remember. But I’ve realized that while all that is tolerable as journal entries, it doesn’t always make for the most informative, or entertaining, blog entry. So I know for the last 9 weeks I have been writing a paragraph for each day in the week, but now, for both my conveniency and yours, I’m going to attempt to change the way I organize the entries from day-by-day format to interesting event-to-interesting event format. I just thought I would make you all aware of that before I take off on another culture-packed entry. Thanks for bearing with me through that. Now, on with the show!
At this point in time, November 16th to be exact, the exchange students here in Izmir were preparing for 2 different trips to different cities in Turkey. The first was to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and the second to Kapadokya, the home of some of the most incredible landscapes and most historical rock formations in the world. Our Ankara trip was paid for by Rotary, but we had to chip in a small fee for the second trip. So on this day of November 16th, I found my way to the travel agency to pay for my portion of the trip, along with Michelle, who was still learning her way around downtown. After we completed our mission, I walked Michelle to her bus stop and decided to treat myself to some Starbucks. When I walked in, I heard a familiar tune playing... a Christmas song. Now before I flip out, I’d like to remind my readers that Christmas does not exist in Turkey, seeing as it’s a primarily Muslim country. Towards the end of November and all through December, trees popped up in windows and lights decorated balconies and awnings. I’ve even seen quite a few Santa Claus decorations. I was just as confused as you probably are right now, thinking, “If Turkish people don’t do Christmas, what’s with all the Christmas decorations?!” Well, it was explained to me that although Turks don’t do the whole Santa bit, they’ve adopted the jolly red gentleman as a tradition from other cultures. It’s the same thing with the tree and the lights. But they do celebrate SOMETHING this time of year, it’s New Year. They give presents, they have parties, there’s a sort of “spirit” around the city, but it’s because of the coming of the new year rather than the coming of baby Jesus or of St. Nick. So with that, I return to the song playing in Starbucks. I recognized it right away and the lyrics instantly scrolled through my brain and came out my mouth.. “oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant...” Thankfully, I didn’t sing it loud enough for most people around me to notice, but I could feel that my face had taken on a sad composure at the sound of a lingering Christmas spirit. It’s like Starbucks wants to torture the exchange students here, making us feel that, just for a moment, we’re back home in our cities, enjoying the sounds of the holiday as it magically lifts up our souls and makes us feel like curling up near the fire with the drink we’ve just purchased while watching a classic holiday movie... then showing us the exit door to our fantasy and reminding us where we are. I tried to stifle my sadness as I walked out of the cafe and to a small shop nearby to purchase a hat, scarf, and gloves for the coming trip to Ankara. The one thing every Turkish person said when I told them I was going to Ankara was, “Oh... it’s cold there. There might be snow! Dress warm!” So naturally, I prepared for the coldest cold I could imagine in Turkey.
I had dinner with my host mom and two members of the Rotary committee (and their friend). Now before you get nervous, it wasn’t because I’d done anything wrong. My host mom is friends with these women from work and they just decided to have dinner. Nothing more. But even so, I still had that voice of a 3rd grader in the back of my head saying, “Ooooooh! You’re in trouble!” But I learned something very interesting during that dinner. I’m sure that all my readers, even those who don’t practice a religion, know that most prayers are ended with the word, “Amen.” Well the origin of that word and ritual, or the best theory created so far, came from none other than the great empire of Egypt. Most of the slaves that built the magnificent structures still standing there today were not practicers of the Egyptian religion, which was the reason for Moses’ whole “let my people go” thing. At one point during Egypt’s prime, the first single-god religion was created, that of Amon-Ra, the sun god. In order to keep from being scolded and tortured, the slaves would say “Amon” after a prayer to their God to make the Egyptians think they had converted and were praising the “right” God. From there it’s evolved into what we know today. Cool, huh? Well anyways, that doesn’t have anything to do with my exchange, so I guess I’ll get back on track.
The day after my Christmas depression episode, Michelle and I decided to crack down on ourselves in gym class, seeing as the Turkish cuisine doesn’t seem to be doing any good for our body weight. We rocked the jump rope for a while, did lunges and squats, laps back and forth in the courtyard, sit ups, planks, and something called seals (Michelle’s idea, which turned out to be quite embarrassing, as the name suggests, so we didn’t do many). We had Drama club later in the day, and I was quite impressed with how many of the kids had already started memorizing their lines. I mean memorizing lines isn’t that difficult to do, but when it’s in another language that you don’t necessarily speak, it takes everything to a new level. Later this same day, I gave my presentation to my Rotary club about back home. I said as many things in Turkish as I could, and a woman helped me translate the rest. I was sure to show them pictures of Bessie (the giant fiberglass cow on Milton Ave), my house during a snow day last year (which got quite a few shocked looks), the GM plant, and, of course, a hardy Packer fan with a “G” painted on his face and a traditional cheesehead hat on his head. Ya know, the basic need-to-know things about where I’m from. haha.
This brings me to Friday, November 18th, which is the day we left for Ankara. Michelle and I went to school that day, since we didn’t have to leave until the evening, but we brought our bags of clothes to layer up with and whatever else we thought we’d need. We didn’t stay overnight in Ankara, by the way. We left Friday night and arrived back in Izmir late Sunday morning. We traveled there by train, which sounded like it would go faster than a car, but no. Not at all. We endured 15 solid, non-stop hours on a train that was next to impossible to get comfortable on and... well let me just copy down what I wrote in my journal the Monday after to give you a better idea:
~~Back from Ankara, back to school... I’m dead. Friday, before our English class was supposed to start, Michelle and I asked if we could leave the class a little early at the end so we could change clothes. They ended up letting us go right then and there, so we changed in the bathroom and got ourselves organized. We then realized e didn’t have an escort to the metro like we would’ve had at the end of the day, so we asked a bunch of people until finally one of the gym teachers took us to the gate and pointed UP the hill. [and the “up” is emphasized for a good reason, folks. That hill is massive, and walking up it without 4-5 layers of clothes is strenuous enough.] I don’t know how I managed to make it up alive, but I was out of breath an sweating under my layers when we got to the top. We asked directions from several people who eventually got us down to the metro station. We followed the map my friend had drawn us and got to exactly where we wanted to be. We were a bit early, so I went out with Hannah and Mariana to buy some snacks for the long ride there. We all had to check in with the lady from the Rotary office and get our name tags and SUPER stylish fluorescent yellow vests. When I walked up to get mine, however, she stopped me and told me in Turkish that I was now the “captain” of the exchange students and that I was now responsible for 17 other students plus myself. I had no idea what the job entailed specifically, nor did the woman have any intention on elaborating on it, but I sort of figured it out as I went along. I didn’t ask for the job, I didn’t even suggest it to anyone, and I still don’t know who’s idea it was, but I suppose I’m flattered that someone thought highly enough of me to put me in a leadership position such as this. [By the way, no one from the Rotary committee came with us on this trip, which is probably why they wanted one of us to watch over the others in their absence.] So after a messy roll call and boarding the train for the second time, we left Izmir. We picked up Giulia, [a Brazilian girl who lives in a city just outside Izmir called Manisa], and kept on truckin... for 15 endless hours. We moved around a lot, constantly switching seats and positions, trying to find something comfortable enough to sleep in... which I never really found. Here is a picture of just one of the many positions we tried to sleep in (this is Cristina and Diana):
We ate a lot of snack food, drank a lot of juice, but restrained ourselves as long as humanly possible from going to the bathroom, which was “a la turco” [a.k.a. a hole in the floor, and a poorly cleaned one at that]. Everyone told stories about their lives before Turkey, which was perhaps the most beneficial part of the sleepless train ride. We didn’t sleep much, but we grew closer as a family, I feel. I slept about 5-10 minutes and didn’t sleep again until around probably 6am. I was sitting on the floor by the door, having no where else to sit. Diana was taking up two seats, hence the shortage. But Emily offered me half of her seat. Of course I wasn’t very comfortable, being half on the seat and holding the other half of me up with my right leg, but I provided a nice enough pillow for Emily to get comfy enough to sleep for a while. I sat there, unable to sleep, trying to concentrate on holding myself up. The muscles in my right leg strained and shook, but I couldn’t move from that position for fear of Emily waking up. Diana woke up and offered me one of her seats just as Emily woke up and urged me to go take it. I managed to sleep for a little over an hour before giving up. That was all the sleep I had that night/morning. One other random thing that happened that night was when Emily opened up her juice carton, she turned the plastic thingy into a ring, which she then presented to me as an “engagement” ring. [I said “yes,” of course, which set up the entertainment for the train ride back.] We got to Ankara a bit late, so we were rushed to Ataturk’s tomb (called Anitkabir) on a bus for a ceremony where our 85-person group presented a wreath to his grave.
After the ceremony, we went into an underground museum across the plaza with tons of Ataturk’s stuff in it. My role of “captain” was fulfilled by herding the exchange students along and making sure no one took too much time taking pictures and getting lost from the group. Sure, it was frustrating, but I enjoyed being the mother duck of the group for a bit. After the ceremony, we climbed onto our bus and went to one of the most famous restaurants in Ankara for lunch... where our table weaseled ourselves into seconds on dessert! Then we were off to two different parliament buildings, one new, one old, the old one housing a museum in itself with more of Ataturk’s artifacts and quotes and things.
Around 5:30, they let us roam free in a huge mall, where a small group of us (of course) bought food in a Wal-mart type store, then went to Starbucks. [there was Christmas music playing there, too, in case you wondered, but there wasn’t space for us to sit inside.] Oh, and p.s. It wasn’t freezing in Ankara like everyone told us it would be. No snow at all, and plenty of sunshine. Sure it was chilly, but most of the layers we had buried ourselves in were stripped off and shoved into our bags. Anyways, after the mall, we went to the train station and waited to board our train home. Plans for the “exchange wedding” unfolded rapidly at that station. [Remember the ring Emily ‘proposed’ to me with? Well I took the idea and ran with it... we all did.] We had a ring bearer (Maggie), best man (Alfonso), maid of honor (Hannah), drunk mother (Mariana), Jewish mother (Annie), a rabbi (Michelle, who is indeed Jewish and spoke Hebrew) AND a priest (Morgan)! We wrote vows, we had props, we made this as big as it could be in our small area on the train. We had the wedding after dinner and after we had all gussied up and prepared ourselves. It was still pretty unorganized and messy, and a few Turkish people walked through the “altar” (obviously not knowing what was happening), but it was fun. We taped the whole thing, too, which will be included on our end-of-the-year exchange video for sure. It took up several hours of our time actually, and made the ride home go a lot faster... Here's a picture of (L to R) Maggie, Alfonso, Emily, me, and Hannah:
And of our feuding rabbi (Michelle) and priest (Morgan):
The second night, I actually managed to sleep for like 5 or 6 hours. I woke up several times, but still, it was more than I expected. Everyone slept that night, probably because we were so tired from the night before. Anyways, we finally got back to Izmir, and when I found my host mother on the platform, she said we were having breakfast on Kordon [by the sea]. I would have been fine with Coco Puffs and some milk, but oh well. Then we went home and I showered. I never knew a shower could feel THAT good. I took my time brushing my teeth, which felt equally as refreshing, then I went to bed. I woke up around 6:30 pm and Demet made dinner for us. I felt like I couldn’t slept more, but then I knew i wouldn’t sleep at all at night. We sat together on the couch and I occupied myself until 10:30 putting my pictures up on Facebook. At that time, the Droz Family Thanksgiving was going on [this was a few days before actual Thanksgiving, but they had it early], and I got a chance to Skype with the whole gang! I was passed around like mashed potatoes. My sister took me into the garage for the prayer and held up the laptop so I could see everyone there. I felt liek I was really there somehow, and the feeling overwhelmed me.. and yes, I started to cry. Seeing everyone exactly like the should be, uncles watching TV, little cousins running around, aunts and older girl cousins putting out the food and chit chatting.... it was too real.. too much. Tradition gets me like that I guess... I loved it and hated it at the same time. And to top it off, my aunt Maria showed me her famous cheesy potatoes... ugh, now THAT was torture. ~~
So there’s my trip to Ankara and a Thanksgiving missed. It was hard for all the Americans here because it’s not a holiday that’s celebrated anywhere else (minus Canada but their’s is in October). Thankfully, the Mexicans and Brazilians agreed to help us out and have a Thanksgiving right here in Turkey. But that’s for another time. Görüşürüz!! (means “See you later!”)
Haley Drozdowicz is a Craig High School student who's visiting Turkey. She's studying there as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Haley is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.