I’ll be returning to Turkey in less than a month. It will be my first time back since moving back to New Mexico at the end of July.
Here is a reflection (remixed) about my trips to Turkey that I posted last year on Facebook.
2005. Late Spring. My first trip to Turkey. Back then, while excited about visiting and sharing my work at a conference (at Ege University in Izmir) I didn’t think I was going to return. At the time, my ties were in Spain, and my thoughts of travel were all centered there. I had close friends, places to crash, favorite hangouts, and when I would run into people on the street, they would often comment that they believed I actually lived in Madrid and commuted every so often to the US to teach. Six months after that first trip to Turkey, I did move to Madrid. I lived there for about 8 months.
During my time in Madrid, I returned to Istanbul with a friend for a long weekend. It was in the spring of 2006, and it was my second trip to Turkey. It was a fun weekend that began with a long night out in Madrid. I went to an event at the Casa de América to see some friends speak. After that, a group of us went out for dinner, following that, we headed to my favorite dive bar at the time, Luke Soy Tu Padre, over in Chueca. At 2 am, I took my leave, headed back to my apartment, took a quick shower, made some coffee, packed a bag and headed out to meet a friend at 4 am at the airport. We flew from Barajas to Atatürk, via Italy. I slept most of the way, and through most of our layover in Italy. When I woke up, we were landing in Istanbul. Going out for a night in Madrid and waking up in Istanbul. It felt, somehow, natural. I still felt that somehow, Turkey was a place to visit occasionally, my ties were in Spain.
2007. Trip three. I flew into Istanbul and took public transportation to Sultanahmet, Old Istanbul, where I had stayed my previous two times. Instead of finding a place in the warren of hostels catering to backpackers by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, I got a room at a hotel by Sirkeci train station. The Orient Express Hotel. As I had done on my previous trips, I walked over to the train station and sat at a low table to have tea and come to terms with my jet lag. On my first visit to Istanbul, two years earlier, I found a tiny tea room off the waiting room in the station, and on my previous trip, I stopped in there again. For many of my early visits to Turkey, that tea room was a familiar stop where I could sit on a stool, drink tea, read, or write.
The next day, I took the ferry from Eminönü to Kadıköy on the Asian shore of the city. I had a train to Ankara for that night, departing out of Haydarpaşa station. It was an overnight trip, and I had booked a private cabin, with bed, desk, and sink. I was on my way to the capital, my first trip to Ankara, for a conference at Hacettepe University. On the return train to Istanbul, a few days later, I began to think about a story that eventually became “Snapshots of People I’ve Known.” Arriving back in Istanbul in the evening, I had dinner in the large, almost empty, train station restaurant. Then I took the ferry back across to the European side. While on it, I started taking photos of the people around me. One of those photos, of a woman with a black beret and a red coat, standing at the boat railing, became the cover of my first book of short stories in English, One Day I’ll Tell You the Things I’ve Seen. It was probably then, standing on the ferry , looking out over the night city, that I realized that Turkey was with me.
2008. November. I returned to Turkey for a conference, this time at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. This time I arrived a few days early and spent a couple of nights in a small hotel on the Asian side. The only tourists there were Turkish. The day before the conference, I took the ferry back across and stayed in the hotel that had been designated for the conference. Flying back across the Atlantic, I believed that my trips to Turkey would be occasional, at most once a year.
And in 2009, I didn’t go to Turkey.
2010. November. I returned. This time, my destination, apart from Istanbul, was Alanya for a conference. My girlfriend at the time was in Rize, teaching on a Fulbright, over on the Black Sea. We met in Alanya, and from there we traveled to Istanbul for a few days. In the next eight months, I returned to Turkey twice to see her. And after our relationship was over, I continued to travel there a few times a year.
And in those visits, flights, bus trips, and walks around the cities, it hit me that maybe Turkey was going to be my place after Spain (which I stopped visiting on a yearly basis around 2008). Turkey became my favorite place to visit, and my favorite place to write. Moving to Turkey for a year in the summer of 2016 felt right, it was the right time. And though I was also worried about this, after all, I have a history of love affairs with a country that last about 10 years —I spent about a decade traveling frequently to Mexico, then the next decade in Spain, and finally another decade in Turkey— before I start looking for another country. After my eight months in Spain, my trips became more infrequent until now I only visit about every two years. I was worried that something similar would happen with Turkey.
But I’m not sure that it will.
I would like to say that it was a boat ride along the Bosphorous under a bright moon that did it, or it was watching the sun dip into the Black Sea off Rize, or playing dominoes and drinking tea in a teahouse in Izmir, or it was drinking tea in the little tea room tucked away in Sirkeci, but it was probably none of those memories, or maybe all of them. But I think it was this: the conversations with people I met, from the students who would ask me about Chicana/o literature, the colleagues who would tell me about life in Turkey over lunch, the people who would strike up conversations with me over tea or coffee, the friends who would invite me to crash on their couches (not realizing that this meant many visits from me) and who would then become my Turkish family.
And it all started with what I thought would be a one off trip to Turkey.