-In January we move into our new home. It is bright and cheery, and also very cold for a bit until the gas is hooked up. In the meantime we drag space heaters around with us and wear layers.
We host a Sunday board game afternoon as a housewarming of sorts, and it becomes a tradition. We alternate between Settlers of Catan and Game of Thrones, with occasional rounds of Jenga.
We drink lots of fresh orange and pomegranate juice, and I buy huge pomegranates every Thursday at the farmer’s market outside our apartment building. We have a few interesting run-ins with our neighbors, who are all wary of foreigners. Month by month, we will win them over. Isla keeps our same-floor neighbors awake one night with her teething, so I appease them with a batch of cookies by way of apology, and it sweetens our relationship.
I turn 30 the day my brother and cousin fly in for a visit. We have a great time taking them around, eating lots of good food, hiking up steep mountain trails, visiting the archeological museum and playing games at home. We’re both sad to see them go.
-There is a lot of rain in February. Still, the views from every side of our home are stunning. We are on the seventh floor and look out at mountain ranges from every room. We eat breakfast together in the mornings and head out for a morning walk together; C to work, and me to drop off Isla at her babysitter’s house for a few hours so I can work on my turtle novels. They are not about turtles, but they move forward as slowly, and probably with more self-doubt. One stalls and sleeps for awhile. Sometimes the days stretch out too long, and I feel lost and wonder and scheme about what I want for my life. There’s a persistent sense that I should be doing something very specific here, and it’s eluding me. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time now, but I’m a slow learner.
I print out tax forms and take them to the post office, where no one speaks English or Arabic. The woman at the desk asks me a few questions and I stare at her blankly. She goes outside and steps into neighboring shops to look for someone who speaks Arabic. We stop a Syrian pedestrian and he comes into the post office to translate. All the woman wants to know is whether or not I’d like the package express-mailed. I start laughing, and the three of us laugh at the effort it took to request standard mailing. Isla cries impatiently in her stroller.
At night people use coal to heat their homes and shops, and the air is gritty and acrid. It will all be clear again come spring. Almost every building here is topped with solar panels, and C laughs at the juxtaposition of such archaic and modern energy sources.
I fly out to Ankara to settle residency permits for Isla and me. I visit the US Embassy, which proves useless, and then talk with the notary public, a translator’s office, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US consulate in Adana. It is an ultimately frustrating trip, which I’ll have to repeat again in March before we finally receive our residencies.
C flies to Istanbul for ten days. Isla and I try to keep busy at home. We have guests for dinner, make a few visits, and swim in an indoor pool. I join a yoga group and book club. I begin language lessons with one of our Syrian friends for two hours a week. He coaches me in Arabic, and teaches me some Turkish when I’m feeling ambitious, and I work through the TOEFL practice book with him. As a bonus, he helps me understand the ins and outs and nuances of what’s happening in Syria.
On somewhat of a whim, I take a pregnancy test at the end of the month and I’m floored when it jumps out positive. C had been saying as much, but I didn’t think it was possible. In the nausea and exhaustion of the first three months, my emotions swing back and forth from excitement to fear and anxiety. How will Isla handle it? How will I handle it? Where will the baby be born? How many batches of cookies will I be making for all the nights we’ll keep our neighbors awake? When I sing to Isla at night before putting her to sleep, I hold her close and kiss her dark little head. I add more songs than usual. I worry and struggle to sleep at night. Months later, when I begin to feel better and regain my energy, I am less afraid and more full of anticipation.
-Jim and his friend come for a visit in March. They somehow end up on opposite jetlag schedules. Jim wakes up early and takes morning walks around the small city. I join him when I can. It’s good to have him hear. We eat good food again and take them around. We visit the first Christian church built into the base of a mountain by St. Peter. We have a particularly lovely day driving up to Arsuz and Iskandarun with one of our friends here. We walk by the sea and then eat a spectacular meal prepared at a small family restaurant. They set a table outside for us on the shore. We eat shrimp, salad, and grilled fish.
Campaign trucks drive around every few hours blasting songs meant to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum. They wake Isla from her nap several times until she gets used to it. Now, the calls to prayer from nearby mosques have become like lullabies for her. C goes in to check on her one night and comes back to tell me she’s sleeping in the position of prayer. We laugh when the call to prayer starts, and think she must be becoming devout.
-April weather is perfect. Everything is green and blooming and breezy. Lilacs spill out over fences into the streets alongside honeysuckle and gardenia. I am constantly sniffing the air. Swallows dip and slide across the sky all day long. In Isla’s fifteenth month, she learns to walk, becomes a picky vegetable-averse vegetarian eater, and expands her vocabulary to eight nouns, one verb, and one interjection (la2, which is Arabic for no). She clings to me more than usual. Luckily for her, Turks are crazy about babies. When she gets cranky in a restaurant, the waiter takes her around and shows her the trees in the courtyard while we eat. When I stop in to the small grocery store across the street where everyone knows us, the woman at the register sits Isla on top of the counter with her while I collect the things I come in for. We learn that Ayla is a Turkish name derived from the word “ay,” which means moon.
We attend an Easter mass at dawn on the day of the referendum vote. The street is blocked off by security, and our friend meets us to let us into the church. Armed guards stand on the rooftop. Candles are lit by a flame carried from Jerusalem through Syria and up into Antakya. The chanting is in Arabic, Greek and Turkish. We arrive home and stay in for the day. The outcome of the vote is no surprise. The political landscape here and everywhere colors everything, and sometimes I force myself to break from reading the news for a few days. Too much makes me feel dirty and stale inside.
We walk everywhere and wander around public parks on the weekends snacking on cups of spiced corn sold at stands. The produce at the farmer’s market no longer offers pomegranates or oranges. Now it includes apricots, green plums, fresh green almonds, and heaping buckets of wild thyme. Chickpeas begin to grow, and people of all ages carry around their green stalks and pop the beans off to eat. We buy birdseed and fill an empty candle on the window ledge. It only attracts mourning doves, but Isla loves them and so we do too.
-We spend just two thirds of May in Turkey. It’s 5:30am here now, quiet and cool. We’ll head out for the airport at mid-morning and take a domestic flight to Istanbul and then fly straight on to JFK. I haven’t had a direct flight to the US in years, because it’s not an option when flying out of Beirut. This will be Isla’s sixth international flight (outside the womb and not counting domestic flights). It will be the first flight for her sibling in utero. I haven’t quite packed yet.