Strangers in a Strange Land, Part II


“7,000 miles from home.”

Despite the uncertainty after the horrific events of 9-11, we were packing to make the nearly 7,000 mile voyage to the Anatolian Plain of Turkey, to our final destination of the capital city of Ankara.  When we left our spacious rental home in Fairfield for our small ranch with a carport on Travis Air Force Base, we put some of our furniture and belongings in storage, a process we repeated in the move to Seaside, California for our short year at language school.  Again, we shed additional household belongings for the final move to Ankara to keep under the 25% weight allowance.  Our beloved dog, Sammy, was not to come with us initially, staying with friends of ours (who frankly took her under some duress after we threw ourselves and her on their mercy).  As with all my big trips dating back to field trips in second grade, I was fighting an overwhelming urge to throw up.  So much could go wrong, not just with our assignment, but just in getting there.  First, we were driving our 13-year-old van with nearly 150,000 miles across the country to Washington, D.C.  It would be headed to Goodwill while our VW Golf would make the trek to Turkey.  Our road trip felt more like a final farewell than a temporary one.  Two years seemed like a very long time to be so far away.  We almost made it, the car breaking down in Ohio (on a Sunday) with a cracked distributor cap.  Miraculously, we found a mechanic who could make repairs in a matter of hours.  I celebrated by cleaving a tooth in two at O’Charley’s.  Not being as fortunate in locating a Sabbath Day Dentist, I compromised with Denta Tek compound from Wal-Mart, mixing it with diet soda rather than the recommended distilled water and packing my tooth in the darkened van as we headed back out on the highway, even managing to sculpt the surfaces after about 15 tries.  We made it to Washington, bade farewell to our van, got my tooth capped, and found ourselves strapped into our airline seats for the first leg of our journey to Vienna, Austria.  There was no turning back now.

Changing planes in Vienna was our first taste of the country that was to be our home for the next two years.  The passengers waiting for the Austrian Air flight to Istanbul looked and dressed differently.  They also weren’t speaking English.  I looked at our daughters, Caroline with her blonde wavy hair, and Emily in her jeans and t-shirt.  Suddenly I felt as if we had a neon sign above our heads that proclaimed “do not belong”.  It didn’t help that we were attracting some attention, albeit subtle.  I would continually catch someone looking at us.  Rather than engage in a stare down, I would smile back somewhat sheepishly.  Some women returned my smile with one of their own; fellow mothers.  At least I had that sisterhood affiliation to help me.

After changing planes in Istanbul, we finally arrived at the small airport in Ankara.  It had been nearly a calendar day of travel.  David’s sponsor and a driver met us.  It was a blessing to be scooped up and that someone knew where we were going.  We saw Turkish families bustling by,  many carrying an odd assortment of bags.  We could hear them talking, the language sounding nothing like any language I’d ever heard.  I had a sense of helpless isolation that I had never felt before, as if I was surrounded by an invisible wall that separated me from these people.

We got into a large white van with our luggage and left the airport to travel on a modern highway.  Our vehicle was one of the very few.  It was almost as if we had been given a dedicated road just for us.  I was struck at how infrequently there were exits, but I could see clusters of homes and towns in the distance, punctuated by the minarets of the neighborhood mosques.  When we finally exited, the scenery changed drastically.  We were adjacent to a huge dump; the smell was overwhelming.  Now the roads became narrower and knotted.  There were no discernible lanes and we were surrounded by large articulated busses and smaller blue busses (called a dolmus (dohl-moosh)),  all crammed with people.  Cars usually held individuals rather than families, but it was clear that driving in the city required an offensive posture at all times.  Finally we arrived in Oran Sitesi, a suburb of Ankara punctuated by high-rise apartment buildings.  We entered through a guarded gate to a small five-story apartment house with a lovely shaded front yard.  Our apartment was on the third floor.  It was comfortable and furnished — three bedrooms, a dining room and a nice living area.  There was a balcony large enough to sit on.  Next door there was a school.  I could hear the children outside at play.  Somehow it was reassuring, but I still had that stomach ache.

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