Exactly two years to the day after I headed to Turkey to study abroad, I’m going back to teach English. Though the travel “day” this time is 29 hours elapsed time stretching from 7AM on Sunday, Colorado time to 7PM on Monday Turkish time. As my flight attendant friend Tom pointed out, “red eye!!!” Anyway, travel days can be quite boring, but I’ve rediscovered my ability to rarely have a dull moment while traveling. I always (feel like I) meet the most interesting people!
I knew it was going to be a good day when I met a guy in the security line in Denver who works in Western Siberia. Then again he wished me an “uneventful travel day”, that did not quite work out.
At the gate from Denver to Newark, I picked the most likely person to be another Fulbright. I was right! – BeeBee who studied in Istanbul the same year I did and grew up in Bulgaria. If she’s a sample of who other Fulbrighters are, we’re going to get along and it’s going to be a good year.
In Newark my Dad and his deal-ing ways got me a pass into the United Club. I walked into this vast space of old stodgy people acting like each other don’t exist, surrounded by free bananas, milanos, wi-fi, cheese and crackers. Comfy chairs too. I struck up a conversation with an Israeli gentleman in his 50’s whose flight had been delayed for 4 hours at that point, he offered to buy me dinner, yarmulke and all.
For some reason United switched my Newark to Istanbul flight to a significantly smaller plane and paid a bunch of people to take different fights (11 people wide to 7 wide). That meant that they randomized coach seating. I didn’t mind too much, but one of the last guys on the plane (and definitely the last to find room for his suitcase) had the seat next to me and a wife five rows up. He asked if she could switch with me, I briefly quibbled about my bag being above and decided it didn’t really matter to me and agreed. I proceed five rows up whereby the guy next to the seat I was to occupy told me that his wife was five rows up and “could I switch with her?” Why the heck not. First guy promised we’d try to find somewhere for my bag near me before we made it to Istanbul. I thanked him and promptly went to sleep for the hour before takeoff actually occurred.
We took off and they served dinner an hour later. A couple hours after dinner most of the plane was asleep and I got up to get some water. Instead, I ended up standing in the back galley with a flight attendant, Tom, and a Turkish woman, Aylı, making jokes and telling life stories for an hour or two. Tom’s son did IB and is in college in Florida, and I let him tease me for looking young. We even talked about IB Spanish testing and his Argentinean wife. Aylı, is in her 40’s or 50’s and decided to visit New Orleans during hurricane season, and was forced to stick around a couple extra days because Isaac popped up.
Tom asked what I thought about Turkish men. I said, “they’re insistent.”
Aylı commented sagely, “They make good lovers, but bad husbands.”
I replied, “I have an American boyfriend.”
Aylı exclaimed, “Good! Keep him! Tell the Turkish men: ‘nişanlı’.”
“Doesn’t that means engaged?”
Aylı: “It doesn’t matter, Muslims don’t understand dating. Tell them you’re engaged. And point at your right ring finger. There.”
Tom was chuckling at us and went to do his rounds in first class. He came back and poured us each a glass of wine and the three of us continued talking. Aylı was talking about her Australian husband and how they’d met and lived in Turkey, taught in Gaza, taught in India, and lived in Australia. I asked her were her husband was now.
“Dead. Six months ago. He had pancreatic cancer, first diagnosed last summer.”
We talked a lot about what that was like for her and how his Catholic family have played a huge role in her life in the last couple months. She’s mildly Muslim, but said that was no comfort when he died. Tom refilled our wine glasses and gave us some Toblerone chocolate. We talked about life and it’s brevity, teaching and it’s inspirational ability. She told me about her high school teacher that taught her English that she’s still in contact with. Tom’s shift ended and with the sedative effect of wine it was easy to catch some sleep.
The next morning after breakfast I went back to my old seat and stood on my tippy-toes and grabbed my bag and that guy whose wife I had changed seats with came back up to my new seat with me, stowed my bag and thanked me again. Good deed (or two) for the day, right? Then he handed me $20 “for your trouble”. It surprised me and I told him it really wasn’t necessary, but he pressed and I took it. Which in my jet-legged state seems like an interesting cultural showing for America. It reminds me of Slumdog Millionaire when the kids steal everything off the car, the driver beats the kid up and all the American tourists know to do is give them money. So why do people give money in those kind of situations? You’re rewarding good behavior with cash, and it is some form of gratitude. But does money somehow allay the need to feel gratitude to a stranger? Or in the case of Slumdog allay guilt? Or does it cheapen the kindness of a stranger into service personal like a hostess or bellhop – to be tipped/bribed for good service or extra attention?
I was reading a book a couple weeks ago called “The Limits of Markets” by Robert Kuttner that talks about how market norms (read: money) have entered new realms in society in the last half-century where other norms had formally held sway (i.e. first come, first serve vs. jump to the head of the line passes). Being paid for a good deed seems to be a good example of that. Is it good or bad? I don’t know. It’s twenty bucks, and I’m not really complaining but readers: what do you think?
At this point lots of wandering Ataturk Airport trying to find where we were headed ensued, which led to confusion and the best plane food of the trip (on a one hour flight to Ankara). Oh Turkish tomatoes, I’ve missed you. Arriving in Ankara was great except none of my bags made it. So after an hour of muddling through Turkish/English with two offices and six people, I made my report, gave my address, was flirted with and headed to the hotel with three other Fulbrighters. After some Turkish traffic and staring at cool fountains we made it to the hotel, to be greeted by Fulbright staff, gift bags and bell hops. My roommate is one of the girls who will be in Erzurum with me. I think it’s going to be a good year.
Orientation starts this morning. Hopefully my suitcases come soon. I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens.