"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.