Friday, October 5, 2012

One Month

To say that it is hard to believe that I left Seattle one month ago today would be an understatement: Rya and I actually had to take time this afternoon to convince Hana that we have in fact been in school for three, not two, weeks. It dawned on me yesterday that this is actually the longest I have ever been away from home, and that I just set a new personal life record of Days Without Seeing My Mother.

When we first met our host families by going out for dinner at a fancy hotel, Rya, Hana and I sat next to each other rigidly and awkwardly in our chairs trying to figure out the right things to say as we introduced ourselves and answered their questions about our time in Istanbul and Ankara. Though daunting at first as we grappled to get to know them (and them us), we were soon all joking and laughing (adorable little kids are universally good at joy-making) and at ease by the time that we split up and went home. The first few days are supposed to be some of the hardest an uncomfortable, but for me and my family, they were a breeze. I was worried we would be tiptoeing around one another trying not to offend, but not at all! My dad and I went over the AFS questionnaire we were given, that asked about daily routines, if its okay to snack between meals, if there are preferred times for showering, if there are appliances I need to ask about before using etc., to which his answers were usually 'Yes, okay, no problem!' They are incredibly friendly and open, and I pretty much immediately felt comfortable and right at home (haha, figuratively and literally, this is my home now...)
Just after meeting our families, right before going home.
Communication with my family usually consists of their broken English mixed with my broken Turkish (sentences that are usually something to the effect of 'Me now shower. Okay?') and hilariously fun over-exaggerated pantomimes. Because of this, and the whirlwind of school starting just two days after our arrival, it took me a few days to realize that host mom actually doesn't speak any English! She's quite good at gestures. She must be well practiced, because last year they hosted a Malaysian student for two months, and they tell me she barely learned any Turkish (how did they manage?). Because of this limited ability to communicate, life is pretty spur of the moment. My family likes to go to friend's or relative's houses for tea in the evening, or to tea gardens after dinner, and sometimes we make foods like mantı or börek in the afternoon. At this point I'm not really sure if we do things spontaneously or if they plan things in advance and I just couldn't understand their previous conversations (I think it's a bit of both). One minute it will be 8 o'clock and I'm already in my pajamas and considering going to bed after an exhausting day of stuffing my head with Turkish vocab, and my host dad tells us we should all get dressed to go to a tea garden- next thing I know, I'm piloting a pedal boat in the pool surrounding a fountain at the local college (true story- there's a çay bahçesi on campus, next to a fountain and when Onur and Fatma saw that you could rent a boat to dink around in, we of course had to try it).

Or last weekend, we went to visit my host mom's sister in the nearby city of Aksaray. After going shopping in the morning with my mom and aunt they told me in Turkish what I understood to be 'Now we are going home to eat fish'. Instead, we went home, filled water bottles and grabbed cameras and got in the car.

We drove for almost an hour, stopping to take photos here:

Go wading in a thermal pool here:

Go for a brief hike here:

Sit on cushions under these shelters over a river here:

And eat fish:

Some things are, and always will be hilarious...
Don't get me wrong, it's not like my family and I can't understand each other! My father, brother and sister do speak some English, and a dictionary or iPhone is never out if reach. In addition, I've found that the amount you can get to know someone even if they don't speak the same language as you is quite surprising- body language goes a long way! My family (and I think Turkish people in general) are super loving and touch each other a lot, making it easy to fit in and feel at home (if, like me, you don't mind having your cheeks pinched and arms linked with). Annem and Babam love to wink at me from across the room and Fatma Ceren (my nine year old sister) likes to hug me and kiss my cheeks. Also, apparently slapping your brother on the back/arm/leg/head with the false pretense of 'mosquito!' is cross culturally acceptable! (We have a lot of fun together)

School is quite fun, I don't think that the concept of an exchange student really reached Kayseri. No one really understood what I was at first, especially because barely any of the teachers speak English (except the English teachers, but not even all of them are exactly fluent) . I was put in a tenth grade class that is an English learning track, so we all can have some basic conversations and with the the aid of my ever-present pocket dictionary, understand each other pretty well.

While the majority of my classmates have dark hair and pretty tanned skin, being blonde, fair, or even red headed isn't that strange. Apparently I fit in: constantly during the first week of school the teacher would be giving a lesson and turn to me, asking something that was probably quite normal and simple (I was sitting in the front row) and all I could do was sit there with my eyes bulging out of my head and stutter, in Turkish, 'Pardon, I'm learning Turkish'. A classmate would chime in with a brief explanation of me, at which point the teacher would chuckle upon realizing that they had been lecturing for maybe half an hour and I hadn't understood any of it. They would then ask all kinds of questions and someone would have to translate for me or I would be able to get enough of the gist of it to say in Turkish 'I came from Seattle' 'Washington but that's different from Washington DC' 'I came one week ago' 'Turkey is very beautiful', 'Yes, I love this school' 'I have eaten mantı one time, yes it was delicious'. This happened all week with varying levels of curiousity and interrogation, since there are about 14 different classes, each with a different teacher, and they don't all happen everyday.

I often get bombarded with questions, by teachers and students alike, the main ones being, 'Did you choose to come here?' 'Where are your parents?' 'Why did you come here?' I've taken to saying that I came because I wanted to learn Turkish (which is true, but there is much more to it than that, it's sometimes hard to explain in English even what exactly propelled me to go abroad). It seems that most people love Turkey and Kayseri and think that it is wonderful that I decided to come and stay for a whole year with the intent of learning Turkish. However I'm sure that find it quite funny and a little strange that my method of learning Turkish was to just be plopped into a one million population city in the dead center if the country, into a high school where I just sit and smile and barely understand a word of my classes... But then again, it is pretty darn funny, isn't it?

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