I have spent most or part of the summer in Içmeler since 2009. When we moved back to the US in 2015 we didn’t go to Içmeler that summer. I have missed it more than I realized. It has also changed quite a bit. Between the “attempted” coup, the bombing in the Istanbul Airport in 2016 and the rate of inflation, the tourism rate is down significantly. We can see the results in the community here, and the business that are, and no longer there.
What I have been enjoying the most is watching Kayra absorb the language and the culture. What I have appreciated the most, is watching his grandparents interact with him, and respect the differences in which we have been raising him. For example Turkish folks kiss and hug babies. This means waiters kiss his cheeks and touch his face, strangers will stroke his face and kiss his hands, teenagers will pick him up and play with him. We have been raising Kayra with bodily autonomy, meaning we ask him if he wants kisses and hugs, and if he says no we respect that. While it is hard for them to not smother him in kisses and hugs, but they do ask, and listen to him, at least 70% of the time. It’s a start.
It has been four years since I left Turkey. I lived there for most of my (young) adult life, from 24 to 30. I absorbed much of how I live my life from that time, learning to move more slowly, savor time, cook with the seasons, avoid waste and over consumption. I learned the language and culture, which means my son can grow up in a bilingual and bicultural household.
We speak Turkish at home to Kayra, and I cook Turkish meals often, but this first week in Ankara has been a whirl wind of newness for him. Rather than the normal vocabulary of daily life, he has been immersed in Turkish. I can practically see his head spinning to absorb it all. He is learning to code switch, as his grandmother and great aunt do not speak English, he notices and responds to them only in Turkish. He is learning tens of words each day and hundreds each week, it seems. I love to watch his amazement and wonder. The first time he heard the ezan, or call to prayer, reverberate off the hills and buildings in Ankara he looked at me and asked “bu ne? (What’s that?) The camii, I said. He repeated it two or three times, rolling it around his mouth, such a new word, such a new sound.
We were only in Ankara for a week. He met his extended family, and I was able to visit my old friends with him, some of my chosen Ankara family. We went to Kuğulu Park and visited the swans. We listed to the amca (uncle) playing the accordion for tips in the park, wearing Apple ear pods, of course the juxtaposition of old and new in Turkey is always there. We walked by my friend Terry’s old house and I practically stopped in for tea, so strong are the memories of love and adventure with friends.
The city I grew up in has grown, and shrunk, the politics have change, there has been a coup, there is an undercurrent that I can’t quite figure out. Many things were different, but many are still the same. Just like me. I came to Turkey as a young woman, fell in love with the land and people, found friends, lost family, and generally became an adult. The woman that came back to Turkey this summer is not the same woman that left four years ago. I have grown, developed, discovered a career I love and an ambition I didn’t know I had. I got pregnant, and birthed a child, I am stronger and braver and more full of love than I ever knew I could be. I am glad I left, it was the right time for us and allowed our life, personal and professional, to flourish in a way they would never had here. However, I am glad to be back, for the summer.