Prepare in Prayer and Bring Bacon
Within the hour of first meeting Chris and Kelly, Trent and I knew that this would be a meaningful friendship. On our one-week trip to Turkey, they embraced us with big hugs and gazes of understanding the million of thoughts running through our minds and hearts. Since that trip in November, we've Skyped a few times, written tons of messages, and prayed together and for each other.
Not only did Trent and Chris have matching shirts and Kelly and I have matching curly hair, our hearts to empower and love people connect deeply. Chris and Trent love talking business and Kelly and I love all things art and writing (she's a fellow Rabbit Room reader!). As we prepare for our move, I asked Kelly to write me a letter - a letter that I could share - to help prepare my thoughts and expectations for what the next year will hold. Every time I feel scared for this big transition, I picture myself sitting beside Kelly, drinking tea and holding her new baby, living life as friends and neighbors. Here is Kelly's letter.
I hope you like long letters, because my thoughts keep adding to what I want to say to you about coming to Turkey. My thoughts are about the thoughts you might have in your first days here, a couple things I wish I’d known, some things that I know only touch the surface of this new place and will take a long time for both of us to understand. Many conversations await us, I know. But here is what has come to mind.
Prepare to feel more emotions than you expected when you are jet-lagged and first get woken up by a 5am call to prayer. At first it’s eerie and it might even seem scary. The call rises from hundreds of mosques and reverberates out over the silent concrete city all the way to the mountains, the echoes swarming in waves and making the silent city strangely, invisibly, alive. You might lay there awake wondering what sort of place you’ve come to, wondering what kind of country this is where this happens five times a day, wondering if your sleep will always be broken by it. You might try to imagine how many other people are also lying there awake, or how many are actually praying, and if there are any hearts crying out in the night while the ancient Arabic words are sing-chanted over the city. But soon you’ll come to appreciate the differences in the voices of the callers and you might even find yourself being reminded to pray. I would say you’ll get used to it and eventually you won’t even notice it, but I’ve been here for a year and it still makes me stop and think and remember where I am every time I hear it.
When you get up and are going to get dressed, the biggest question for most of the year will be, “How much am I going to sweat today?” There is a “can-you-see-the-mountains” gauge that can tell you about the humidity of the coming day. If you can’t see the mountains in the distance for the misty-foggy-humidity that’s hiding them, oh, the sweat that’s coming. Unseeable mountains mean the day will be super humid, and it’s not the heat that makes you sweat, it’s the humidity (which you probably know from the Philippines). Bring clothes that are opaque enough to be worn in a single layer (why is this so difficult with women’s clothes??). But when you do sweat through your clothes, don’t worry. It’s happening to everyone else too. On the hottest days we’ve seen men walking down the street with sweat soaked through their business suits.
Something beautiful about Antalya is that groups of women are not segregated by the veil. You can be walking down the street and see two young Turkish friends, one covered and one not. You can see family groups walking around in which some of the women are covered and some are not, and it’s not always the older ones who are covered. Here the veil is often seen more as a personal choice. You don't need to have your hair covered and you won't feel that you stand out if you don't.
The best place to find fresh fruits and vegetables (the only place?) are the pazars (street markets) that are held weekly on different days around the city. Save yourself stress—shop for food at the pazar without a shopping list. Forget meal planning! At least, meal planning for a whole week at a time. Just go and buy what fruits and vegetables look freshest and what tastes good to you (you can try a taste of almost any food being sold at the pazar). In Antalya we eat things in season, and when oranges are perfectly in season, oh they taste so wonderful! The sellers shout “bal gibi, bal gibi” which means “like honey, like honey” and they are right. The perfect orange here will be a balance between tangy and sweet and be fragrant like flowers. The juice is just what you want to drink on an already-warm morning. Turkey will turn you into a fruit snob, if you aren’t already one.
One last thing about the pazar—if you see something you want, you should buy it, because there’s no guarantee it will be there next week!
If you like Asian food (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian), go to your favorite places before you come and say goodbye to them. The restaurants here are pretty much just Turkish food and American fast food. And one Italian place to save for special occasions ;) You’ll become really good at cooking your favorites. We will take you to the best little Turkish “ev yemeği” (home-style food) place we’ve found; I like it better than the bigger touristy Turkish restaurants on the main road.
You know those days with language when you talk to someone and understand them so well and you’re so happy with yourself? And then the next day you meet someone and you can’t understand a word they say for some reason or another; maybe they talk too fast or are from a different part of the country, or just maybe they’re using all words you haven’t learned yet? I just had one of those days yesterday. Sigh. But. Turkish is a really logical language. I love how the verbs in any tense begin with the same short root. This means that even when you have no idea what someone is talking about, you can usually still catch a few of those roots and understand some sort of general idea. And oh, the burst of happiness you’ll feel the first time a Turkish friend calls you “Christinecim”, which means something like “my dear little Christine”, or when an older lady calls you “canım”, which is literally “my life” and means “my dear” or “my darling”. How included you’ll feel in her heart!
Expect conflict here in Antalya. Turkey is a land of free-flowing emotion—all the emotions—and somehow all of that can seep into you, even if just a little bit. Maybe it’s the strength-sapping heat, or the fact that Turkey is locked between continents and its people carry the bloodlines of many origins, or because of the cultural value of showing your emotions to get things accomplished. But truly, the hotter it is the more fights there are on the bus. Prepare in prayer against conflict between you and Trent, and between you both and your coworkers and other believers. I wish we had.
Expect Turks to tell you what to do. There’s no way around it. In this communal culture everyone has advice on how you should do something. So be prepared to receive all sorts of advice on every activity you’re doing. Like the elderly Turkish man who saw I was trying to nurse my fussy baby (as discreetly as possible—it was not an ideal situation). He moved closer and confidently offered advice on how babies have gas and you have to help them with it and how to do that. I was embarrassed, uncomfortable, shocked, a bit scandalized. I’m sure he just thought he was being truly helpful. Which I didn’t feel in the moment at all but told myself later. The community can comment on anything and everything because the community knows best, right? Sometimes.
Other culture differences will delight you and maybe even make you feel ashamed of your home culture. I have been so touched by the Turks’ love of the elderly and of children. Once while I was in a doctor’s waiting room, a nurse came to an elderly man there in the waiting room and asked him in a hushed, respectful voice if he would like some breakfast (because of course every work place has a kitchen). He nodded discreetly and she brought him a plate. I asked my teacher about this with amazement in my voice and she was confused, because this is just normal here. Also, the elderly are so often with their friends, elderly men walking down the sidewalk laughing and slapping each other’s backs, elderly women shopping together, holding each other’s arm as they walk. You can just imagine how they once were as teenagers. And just about everyone loves to stop and take a moment to say something kind and loving to a child, even a child they are seeing for the first time. It’s a family culture, a communal culture, where the elderly and children still really have value. It makes you really feel the gaps in our American culture.
Other differences are just differences and take some getting used to. Doing business takes a long time here. If you’re going to buy a piece of furniture or a Klima (single-room AC unit) for instance, it’s necessary to sit and drink tea for a while with the sales person and talk about whatever you can think to talk about before signing.
Turkey will push all your buttons. The climate will challenge your body. The culture will challenge your ideals of privacy and introverted-ness. The general spiritual / political atmosphere will pressure your mind. And it’s simply not easy being a foreigner here. (Is it anywhere?)
Turkey is a desert-y kind of place. A desert for the soul. One of our experienced co-workers told us that living in some countries nearby, every day is like a knife-stab with sudden, shocking, and dangerous events, while living in Turkey is like living in a vice. It’s a long, slow pressure that you don’t notice fully until you’ve left Turkey’s borders. The week dries out my soul so much that every time we gather with the people of God I can literally feel the cooling, calming, filling effect of living water.
You’ll find your Shepherd around the bend giving you just enough, only enough, always enough. You’ll find yourself counting on Him in ways you haven’t before. But expect to need to count on Him like you haven’t before.
We are continually praying an apartment opens up near us, one off the ground away from the sounds and smells of the street, and full of light. We cannot wait to neighbor with you here.
P.S. For your future kitchen in Turkey, bring onion powder, Italian seasoning, & of course, maple syrup. And bacon. You can bring it frozen ;)
You can find more of Kelly's writing on her blog: kgracecollins.wordpress.com