Coming home to America was stressful, not least cause I was pretty shaken by the circumstances of how I had to leave, also cause I just plain didn’t wanna, and also cause there was quite a bit of reverse culture shock.
Oh, and then I abruptly quit smoking, before the holidays.
Cause when you’re unemployed and stressed and living in an impossibly inconvenient area of town without a car, you should definitely take one of your solaces away from yourself.
There have been lovely things, and awful things and comical things about repatriating. Here are some of them for me:
The first was for at least a week or two I felt I was living in a magical world with no time. A combination of jet lag, having spent the previous five days in a constantly dimly lit cell where one of my few time markers was getting harassed by the evening shift of riot cops boisterously getting ready to go out and commit international crimes against largely peaceful protesters; the sudden lack of a call to prayer, which it turns out guided my inner clock to an extent I hadn’t realized; and brain-crippling insomnia left me pretty much helpless when anyone asked me the time. I don’t know. Ten? Three? It’s daylight- I know that much.
Then there was the sensory overload- to be unable to tune out conversations around me. Even though I lived there for three years my Turkish was never so great that I couldn’t tune it out, and I walked around the city and road transit and went to the supermarket in a comforting womb of nonsense noise, for the most part, unless there were tourists, when I would get annoyed cause I COULDN’T tune out their conversations. The words pierced right through any hubbub and demanded attention from my brain. Suddenly, everyone around me spoke English and all those conversations were demanding attention from my brain and it was overwhelming.
It is impossible to walk down a road in Istanbul and not see someone. It could be 4 am on a quiet residential street- doesn’t matter. You’ll see someone. Walking to and from work I would frequently be caught in fits of sidewalk rage as I dodged tourists staring straight up and not looking around, hoards of shoppers who all seem to walk half as slow as me, people in business suits staring at their cell phones, boys running pel-mel making deliveries, delivery scooters winding their way through the crowds, beeping, fish vendors hollering, high school kids walking five abreast, people making ARRRGH sudden stops in front of shop windows, and the familiar sight of two old men, walking in such a way that they take up the whole sidewaalk between them, wearing once-dapper suits, twiddling their prayer beads behind their backs as they stroll, oblivious to the back-up behind them, at approximately 1.5 miles per hour. Hundreds of people in a five minute walk. When I began having periodic fantasies about pushing down little old ladies laden with shopping I knew it was time to get out, go to the islands, sit in the park, something. There is something distinctly eerie about how in Baltimore I can walk for blocks and blocks and not see a soul walking on the streets, even go for blocks and not see a car pass. It just doesn’t feel right. It feels somehow desolate and lonely.
On the other hand, one thing I dearly missed without realizing it is how friendly people are. When I DO run across people in the street, particularly in neighborhoods with a high proportion of Baltimore natives, there’s inevitably a nice exchange. “How you, hon?” “Oh, I’m fine. How you?” “Cold enough for ya?” “Yep. Not exactly beach weather.” “Ho ho. You stay warm, hear?” “Thank you sir. You too.” I also missed being able to go to a bar or coffee shop and start up a random conversation with whoever’s there. I missed random chit-chat with strangers that doesn’t involve bored young waiters trying to practice their English and get my number, or men desperate to impress me with the fact that their brothers live in New Jersey. Here I can ask what someone’s eating or reading or who they’re rooting for this weekend, have a very nice few minutes of no strings attached conversation, and then move on with my life.
I’ve had to re-learn how to cross roads. It took me a little while to catch onto that. I know exactly how much lee-way I have in terms of time to run across traffic. I’ve developed GREAT car-dodging reflexes. But here folks aren’t used to people jumping out in front of their car. It alarms them.
I can no longer abide the transit system in Baltimore, which is clunky, and unbelievably poorly run. It once took me less time to walk five miles than to take a train the same distance. I have watched three Northbound trains pass, fifteen minutes apart, before a Southbound train came along, not once, but fairly regularly. The bus system is… you get the idea. I actually miss the metrobus, and would rather be in Zincirlikuyu at rush hour than waiting for the 27.
The car-based urban plans of our cities I’m now finding infuriating. Within a ten minute walk from my house were seven grocery stores, and probably twice that number of tekels. I didn’t realize before that quality of life can and should be measured in “how far do I have to walk for tampons, milk and bread?” The answer right now is about 35 minutes round-trip minimum, not counting time in store. How did we let this happen? Why do people just put up with this?
On a related note, I found myself walking through a grocery store one day, the layout of which has changed drastically since I returned home, getting more and more frustrated because I couldn’t find the wine and beer aisle, and then I remembered that right, they don’t SELL wine and beer in grocery stores in Baltimore County. You have to go to a special wine store. Now if we’re measuring quality of life by how far do I have to walk to buy beer, we’re at 50 minutes round trip.