We’ve moved! (From Lebanon to Turkey). We’re not quite settled; we’re still staying in a temporary guest house because frankly we’ve just been too busy to move into our new apartment, which is only a ten minute walk away. We’ll use the New Year holiday to continue assembling our mountain of two-dimensional Ikea pieces into the objects the online catalogue promised they were.
I’m surprised by how much I love it here. The thing about having perpetually low expectations for everything means that I’m almost always startled by my own happiness. Here are some first impressions and recent happenings.
-We arrive in Hatay (Antakya’s province) at night after a long layover in Istanbul. I have been breastfeeding Isla the entire second flight without eating enough, so I have a migraine and I’m too exhausted to notice our new surroundings through the taxi window. C holds Isla, we arrive at the guest house, and he goes out to bring us food. All I am aware of is the fact that we still have to put Isla’s crib together, which in the moment feels like knowing we need to run a marathon up a steep mountain range without sleeping first. To C’s amusement, I start crying with joy when he comes home with a huge steak and puts the crib together by himself. (Me through my tears: “I thought you meant you were bringing a raw steak that we’d have to cook! But I can eat this right now!”)
-I wake up in the sun and look out the living room window to a view of the bustling center of the tiny city. The red flapping of a Turkish flag, a mosque’s spire jutting up against the mountain, cars and pedestrians circling a roundabout with Ataturk’s statue in the center. We go out for a walk and there are so many young people and the sidewalks are crammed with baby strollers vying for space. You’d think babies would attract as little attention as the squirrels in NJ; they are so commonplace, but no, Isla receives more waves and smiles and admiring words than a celebrity would. We hear as much Arabic in passing conversation as we do Turkish. We sit down in a restaurant, guess at the menu, and make the happy accident of ordering a breakfast that could feed about five people.
-We find a babysitter for Isla; a Syrian woman from Hasakeh who has one home in Aleppo and another in Damascus. She doesn’t speak English and sings the Arabic songs that Isla has grown up with. Isla loves her right away, and we walk to her house every morning where I drop her off, write for a couple hours, and pick her up. Before I take Isla home, we have coffee or tea and watch the news together and learn the updates on Syria.
-C’s work is urgent and stressful: truckloads of food and winter supplies need to make it over the border into Syria, and war tends to throw everything off course all too often. There is little predictability. His office is across the street from where we are staying, and we have lunch together every day. C and I haven’t done too much cooking for each other since we’ve been together, (I made my own meals and we ate a lot of C’s mother’s dishes before we had our own kitchen) but I have always loved real food and loved to cook. Now once I day I make a meal for our lunch. I haven’t found a good volunteering fit yet, so feeding him is my contribution to relief efforts for now.
-I am always homesick around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and so I call my family almost daily. We celebrate Thanksgiving with a big group of American expats and we eat all the beloved signature dishes of the day including two large turkeys.
-Isla turns one year old. She is happy here and sings a lot. We laugh when she starts singing along with all the calls to prayer from the mosques. She prefers tearing sheets of tin foil into tiny shreds over playing with her toys. She is stubborn and emotive and wonderful. I think back to last year when her early arrival caught us off guard. She was so incredibly tiny that we were scared for her, but she’s been a tough little girl from the get go.
-C travels to the US and Isla and I stay and prepare for Christmas by setting up a nativity scene, playing holiday music, making cookies and buying two small cypress trees. Christmas involves cinnamon rolls, gifts, whiskey, games, and a Christmas Day lunch celebrated with a small group of (mostly Muslim) Syrians. The evacuations from Aleppo have finished and peace talks are underway. For now, things seem hopeful.
-I’m homesick for both New Jersey and Lebanon, but I do love it here. Turkey is less accessible to me than Lebanon; the people seem more guarded. It might just be my interpretation and the fact that I don’t speak Turkish, or it might be the result of all the attacks that Turkey has undergone lately.
For now it’s so right for us to be here and we’re soaking it up. We’re in close proximity to a whole lot of suffering and terror, but we’re also amongst brave people and witnessing incredible resilience and humanity and ordinary life in the midst of it. (I need to expand on what I mean by that in another post.) I know 2016 was a bruiser, but here we are at the end of it, and here’s to seeing what 2017 will bring.