"I hope you never forget me," Erşah says as we walk down the sidewalk of the most famous street in Ankara at 2 in the morning, music blaring from every car.  Cars on the sidewalks, cars crammed between other cars, cars with drunks singing out of their windows - creating an infinite cacophony of sound.  The last symphony of 2011.  
"I promise, never, Habi," I say, using the Turkish word for big brother.  My brother who's spent the whole night trying to make it my best - stopping to dance with a group of strangers in the rain, asking a street guitarist to sing a song just for me, buying me balloons the size of my body, ordering me an apple flavored hookah while adamantly declaring that Iran's are far superior and at 3 in the morning screaming at the top of his lungs that Ankara is the capital of the world. 
  And I promise I will never forget these places.  
  I guess I just don't know where to start - the mosques in the subway station, burning Köfte in the kitchen, my host grandmother patiently counting the 99 names of Allah while she sits in front of the Christmas tree, about a man in a TV studio reading my fortune from the bottom of a coffee cup, riding a tired camel less than 30 feet just past a tour bus filled with Asian tourists, gambling with a vendor from India over a silk scarf, wincing while trying to watch a 50 year old woman with plastic surgery belly dance for 45 minutes too long, or the city lights on a long bus ride home. 
  I could tell you about squeezing through the underground city of Derinkuyu, with it's eleven floors - trying to imagine a city with a population of 200 all sharing the same stale air, 85 meters under the ground for years on end.  Or the Whirling Dervishes, all dressed in white spinning in endless circles, their arms out-stretched, heads pointed towards the sky aiming for religious ecstasy.  Or standing on top of an ancient castle, looking down at the lunar landscape just below your feet with no safety bar in place to catch you if you fall. 
  Before I came to Turkey I read about how the number one experience was crossing the Boğaz.  But, now I've learned if you're going to cross that bridge you have to cross it correctly.  You can't cross that bridge as a tourist and then expect to understand what's on the other side.  You have to cross that bridge at midnight with a bus full of excited Turks, screaming at each other in the third most difficult language in the world, while folk music plays in the background and all you can do is laugh as someone leans in and says, "Now that's Istanbul."  
  Then you know you've really made it. 

 
  
 
 
 
September 20th, 2011. The PKK sets off a car bomb in Ankara near a high school. 
My class crowds the window 
as we watch the smoke rise some streets away
and the sirens echo ricochets off the walls 
of the school for the next six hours. 
October 18th, 2011 some members of the PKK attempt to bomb Ankara's city center, Kızılay. 
I watch it on the news the next morning and realize
I was there just last night
where those two handcuffed middle aged men stand now,
there image flicking back and forth on the TV screen.
October 19th, 2011 24 Turkish soliders die.  That same day, Turkey launches an incursion into Iraq. 
The following weeks were a ballet of red flags and slogans
Martyrs never die
their voices marching up and down the streets. 
October 23rd, 2011 a 7.1 level earthquake hits Vann Turkey.
Then came the vendors crawling through the mid-day traffic 
Habi,
Habla 
they say. 
Brother, 
Sister
they say. 
Peddling flags and nationalism 
as I walk by with my head down. 
October 29th, 2011 Cumhuriyet Bayramı.
A plane flew over the school. 
but the noise sounded wrong. 
Too loud, too close - 
blocking out the call to worship 
projected from the speakers of the mosques outside
my classroom window
and in that istant, 
I really thought it was all over. 
But we laughed about it 
at lunch over köfte and ayran
because the plane was just practicing for Baraym.

I've never been this close to terror
to history
to war.


But then again, I've never felt so far.
And I wonder if it's the same for those in 
Pakistan, Iraq or Iran. 
If terror is a word used in headlines,
or only on television or just by politicians.
If a bomb explodes in your city
and the next morning you find out at breakfast.
If you keep living your life
even though the rest of the world is praying for you
even though your town is in the headlines
I wonder if they just let it be and move on.

And today - 
November 8th, 2011.  Life is back to normal.



 
 
  I'm sitting across from my Rotary President, silently watching the smoke from his cigarette float past the holographic Atatürk calendar when he laughs and says to himself, "I think I will call the White House: Obama, we have a problem."  When these words come out of his mouth in a distinctly Turkish accent, which always sounds slightly British, I realize this is my cue to laugh.  Instead I manage some kind of half snort followed by a  half cough on the sugar cubes I've been eating for the past hour like popcorn to calm my nerves. 
   Three hours ago, I lost my passport and now, sitting in this cramped office located in a maze of some kind of parking garage in the middle of a city of 4.4 million people - contacting the President of the United States doesn't seem like that bad of an idea.  
    Of course, I don't share this though because the rotund man sitting in front of me with red plastic glasses and matching red sweater doesn't seem like he was  in the mood to hear that kind of thing.  So, naturally, I ate another sugar cube instead.  

  The order of events went something like this:  after dumping out my backpack and all of my luggage bags, checking the pockets of every article of clothing I own, looking under my bed, the couches, in drawers, and in the trash can - I was escorted to this office and asked to recall every place I had been since my arrival in Turkey.  This ranged from the bathroom of the Burger King on 7th Street all the way to the largest mall in the whole city - AnkaMall, which has a whopping 5 floors and is 176000 square feet.  After 2 more hours of phone calls, the passport's location was still undetermined, but it was determined that if I didn't find it, I would be sent home within the next three days.  This was because I still needed to apply for my residency permit and if I didn't have a passport, I didn't have a permit, and if I didn't have a permit - I would be an illegal alien.   In the meantime,  I went down to the police station with my Rotarians to cancel my missing passport so that no criminal behavior would be recorded with my identity attached to it.  
  However, there was one solution that would allow me not to be deported from the country: I could schedule an appointment with the US Embassy that next week and have another passport printed for me.  The only problem was that in order to get a new passport, I needed the original copies of my birth certificate, social security card, and driver's license that were thousands of miles away sent to me in two to three days.   


  The end of this story goes something like this: when I returned home on Sunday I found my passport sitting on my bed.  One of the restraunts called back the day after I canceled the passport to say they had found it.  The next day, I went to the police station with my Rotarians, changed the passports status to "legal," and got an appointment for the 16th of November to receive my residency permit.  

  That was probably the most stressful weekend I've had in a while.  However, it taught me how important it is to keep your cool during situations like these - crack a joke, smile every once in a while because you're not the only one who's stressed out.  It taught me that I shouldn't carry my passport on my person.  It taught me how important it is to me to be here right now and how I would be failing myself, my family, my country, and Rotary if I went back home right now. 
  But most importantly it taught me that  If it weren't for the support and help of my Rotarians and my family along with a little dash of luck - I wouldn't be typing this right now.  I'd be on a plane flying home. 

So, thank you.   

  

 
 
  One month.  Thirty days. That's just about how long someone can survive without food. 
  In that time I have traveled over 5,000 miles, moved into a new house in a new city with a new family, started going to a new school with new friends, and learned enough Turkish to order the right sandwich at lunch without too much trouble.   
   I'm not going to say that now it seems normal to be interrupted half way through class by the call to worship being projected from the mosque right out of the classroom window, or that the pictures of Atatürk that are everywhere are suddenly looking more friendly, or that I can actually identify and name every piece of food that ends up on my plate - but I'm learning.  
   But, looking back - the month seems to have flown by: arrival, hockey camp, first day of school, figuring out the school bus system, finding a music school, sitting with people I met five minutes ago at lunch, birthday parties, shopping, sleepovers, new faces, new names, craving hamburgers, eating hamburgers, being invited to join a band, learning German, trying to learn Turkish, getting all sorts of permissions for this and that, waiting for Rotary to help me out, receiving mail from home, Friday night hockey games, unexpected trips to the city center, and, of course, saying "Amerikalyim" or "I am American" at least five times a day.  
  I'm not going to pretend that when I come home from school most days, I don't have headaches from trying to understand and communicate the most basic things like - I was late because I couldn't find a bathroom with toilet paper in it.  I'm not going to say that I don't miss home. I'm not going to flaunt that I never get frustrated or angry or that I'm constantly just having the time of my life, skipping through the street of Ankara without a care in the world. But I know that even when the going gets hard, thinking about everything I don't have is a waste of time when I can just look  around me and see everything I do:  I have the kindest and most generous host family, I have a hockey team, classmates, teachers, and maybe eventually I'll even have Rotarians looking out for me after this weekend.  
    The last thing I will ever tell you is that this is easy. 
    In fact, this might just be the hardest thing I've ever done - but I won't stop trying and there's no way I'm going home now.  
 
 
   I am starting to learn that as an exchange student, there will always be somethings that I will not fully comprehend.  Whether that is the language itself,  or simple things like which goal I am supposed to shoot on (although I've always had a problem with that), or the blatantly obvious like that bottle that looks like lemonade that I just drank out of is actually salad dressing - chances are 99.9% of the time I have no idea what the hell is going on.  It's kind of like follow the leader.  24-7. 
  But the other part of this is that I am learning to be okay with that. I have always know that a lot of communication is non-verbal, but here, in this place I've become completely dependent on it.  For example: attempting to smile in the morning,  wincing as you stand up because your legs hurt from a hard practice that day, slapping your friend on the butt, and sharing sleepless nights together because of the stupid wedding singer next door that never shuts up until 4 am.  And the reward for these simple moments is amazing.  Because now, whenever I attempt to speak Turkish everybody claps and I am never really alone.
  But of course there are already these moments when I feel alone.  There are those moments I want nothing more than to get on a plane and go home.  There are moments I kind of want to say, "Okay, everybody.  Joke's off.  I know you all speak English - let's just stop with this whole Turkish thing now."  
  But there are also moments when I am able to open my eyes and really see what I'm looking at and where I am.  And it's amazing.  What other middle-class 18-year-old white girl from the little town of Midland, Michigan is burning her tongue on      çay every morning, being taught Turkish swear words and tongue-twisters, having people ask her what Cheez-It's are, and traveling at the speed of light through the most congested round-abouts on earth with a bus-load of hockey players? 
   So I guess in the end, I may be thousands of miles from home, but at least I'm starting to make another one here.  


   
 
 
 Some part of me still cannot register the fact A) that I am actually here and B) that I've only been here since Friday night at midnight.  However, the amount of Turkish I know kind of points out to most people that I haven't been here long.  
  When I arrived Friday night, four people were waiting for me in the airport with balloons, signs, and a bouquet of flowers the size of my torso.  I might have been extremely tired and a little bit stressed out from traveling for at least 24 straight hours and then loosing two of my bags, but I was so happy to see them.  We all hugged and did the Turkish kissy-kissy thing, I attempted to speak Turkish, they laughed, Elif started speaking perfect English to me, and then we headed home (evde).  
   I stayed awake long enough to meet the cat, who's name translates into English as Almond, have some tea, recive a tour of the apartment, and watch a little bit of a Turkish soap opera.  I didn't wake up until 4:00 pm the next day when I discovered that the bags I was missing had all of my clothing. AKA all my underwear. 
   So the next day, wearing the underwear I've had on since I borded the plane at MBS, I went with Elif and Anne to watch the hockey practice in downtown Ankara.  Getting there was quite an adventure because my Anne is a crazy driver; but then again, so are all Turks.  When we got to the ice rink,  I met a lot of excited, sweaty, happy Turkish people with names I cannot pronounce who hugged me, fed me chocolate, and kissed my face.  Tomorrow I will start training with them at 8:50 am and stay in a hotel with the team for five days before they head out to Austria for a week.  Apparently, the last time the Turkish team played Austria, they lost 15-0 - which sounds just like all the other hockey teams I've ever played for.  
   I think I'll fit in just fine here.   
   
   
  
 
 
It's almost like being told, "You have one week left to live - go."  
  
   Except, it's not really. 
Because I hopefully won't be dying anytime soon and my trip isn't going to send me hurtling into the great unknown for the rest of eternity.  But, I mean, it's pretty close.  So, obviously, I'm going to construct a hypothetical "Bucket List" for my journey and this is what I have thus far: 
  1. Create a survival-pack. I have already travled to the far and distant land of Walmart to pack my carry-on backpack full of Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its, and Scooby-Doo fruit snacks; items necessary for my survival.  So, if I'm feeling even slightly nostalgic or questioning my own sanity on the plane-ride out, I can just munch down on some Cheez-Its and forget all my woes. Forget clothing, water, and first-aid - fruit snacks are where it's at. 
  2. Eat out at Rainforest Cafe.  One might assume that because it's labor day weekend and all that I might want to fill myself up to the gills with good ol' American food: hamburgs, french fries, and hot dawgs.  Or perhaps I would crave one last trip through the McDonald's drive-thru. But to be quite honest with you, I would rather spend my last meal with a bunch of animatronic apes than order another McDouble off the dollar menu.  
  3. Only spend time with people I want to spend time with.  If I only have five days left, why not spend it with the people I love?  It's amazing how differently people act when they know their time is running short: they start saying things to you they've always wanted to say, doing things with you they've always wanted to do as if they feel like if they don't get it all out now, they'll never get it out.  And it seems to be the same vise-versa. 
  4. Try to stay in the moment. I want to want to be here as much as I want to go.  If I leave mentally before I'm supposed to I'll miss out on what's right in front me: the way my mother smiles and laughs with her retainer in before she goes to bed, the sound my dog, Aslan, makes whenever he lets his giant body collapse on the ground after a long walk, how my brother can scream for hours at the computer screen when he's playing StarCraft2, how my dad clicks his nose while he watches golf from the couch.  This is how I want to remember them, even if everything changes while I'm gone .  And I have to keep reminding myself - this is what I'm leaving behind. 

 
 
  The news finally arrives. 
  I will be heading out to start my new life in Ankara next Thursday. 
 
 
Hi Gaia!

 SOME GOOD NEWS, I did get news that the visa has been processed and should be on it’s way very soon!

 I’m going to work on itineraries and should have you out of the US within the next week (I’m also waiting on the mess from the hurricane to clear up- delays and all of that).

 I should be in touch with you very soon with an itinerary.

 Thanks!