My summer vacation was spent visiting family—specifically my mom—in Cesme, Turkey. (Cesme is a coastal town on the Aegean Sea, west of Izmir.) I don’t know about you but, for me, visiting family is never a vacation. While Cesme is a beach town, it’s not like I spent my days at the beach. I spent my days fixing the house, cooking, cleaning, visiting family and relatives, and running errands. And getting together with my family can be particularly stressful. (One person described being around my family as being in a constant human fire drill.)
The logistics itself aren’t easy: I fly from Chicago to Turkey on an 11-hour flight, then I dash through the Istanbul airport to catch my domestic flight to Izmir, then I get on a one-hour bus to Cesme, and finally a taxi or dolmus (shared minibus) to our house in Dalyan. All said and done, that’s almost a full 24 hours of travel.
And then there is Turkey itself. I have my usual complaints: I can’t speak the language that well so I don’t even try; the government is corrupt; I do not support the current president Recip Erdogan; Turks are always so nosy and in your business; everyone is a friend and I have to meet them all; and I have to deal with the Turkish way, which means no schedules, everyone on their own time, slow pace but then suddenly hurry, hurry, hurry.
I decided the best way to approach this trip—and my family—was to surrender. I’ve done this trip so many times that by now I know what to expect. So instead of complaining and fighting against things—like travel logistics, mom criticisms, the Turkish way—just surrender, listen, and go with it. That perspective helped me so much on this trip. A few things I learned:
- It’s easier to allow my mom to say what she has to say than fight against her. When I stopped pushing back and listening, I actually heard how much she wants to be of use, to be of value, and to be seen. AND . . .
- When I let go, listen, and relax, there’s nothing for my mom to push back against, so she relaxes. She also had nothing really to criticize. I think the whole trip she only had one or two mild criticisms. We actually got to enjoy spending time together instead of bickering.
- If I don’t use my Turkish, I will lose it. Usually when I go to Turkey, I let my family do the talking. This time, I spoke for myself and tried to speak Turkish as much as I could. I engaged in conversations with family and friends (when I usually stay quiet after making the initial hellos and how are yous), and I engaged in conversations with shop owners, restaurant staff, and others.
- When I speak Turkish—or try to—people appreciate it and I learn more.
- There are positive aspects to the Turkish way. Turks want to help. In fact, they will go out of their way to help. They want to add value. When one of the locals found out I was coming in to the bus station late at night, he offered to drive my mom there to pick me up.
- I love the Turkish way when it comes to meals: Start with mezze (small-portion appetizers), then salad, then entrée with no sides, and finish with fruit for dessert. Turks know how to do meals. For dinner, you go inside most restaurants and pick your mezze from the day’s selections on display. And Turkish breakfasts are still the best breakfasts in the world.
- Turks are nosy and in your business . . . and sometimes that’s a good thing. When my mom and I went to our local beach club, it was packed and there were almost no chairs. Two women saw us looking and made it their business to find us chairs, which they did, and they got a shade umbrella for my mom.
- Relationships and community are important in Turkey. My mom’s neighbors check in on her every day and offer her rides to wherever she needs to go. They share each other’s newspapers. One of her neighbor’s sons owns a farm, and he brings my mom grapes and vegetables from the farm. I used to get annoyed that all her friends wanted to meet me but now I value it. I realized how much community is important to people there—it’s part of the Turkish way.
- The aspects of Turkey I used to love so much aren’t gone. They are still there. Turkey is a country known for its hospitality—people there love to host and are, in general, friendly. I thought that was changing in Turkey but I was proven wrong. When I was at the airport, I tried to catch an earlier connecting flight but couldn’t do it. The ticket agent smiled and genuinely said, well, I guess that means you will be our guest for a little longer here in Istanbul. And that really says it: Turks will treat visitors as guests.
- There is no such thing as personal space, and everyone wants to talk with you. I used to hate this fact. My American-ness shows when it comes to personal space. As I waited for my connecting flight, an older Turkish woman in a wheelchair was being wheeled to the sitting area. There were so many open spaces to sit but she wanted to sit by me. At first, I was annoyed. I knew she was going to start talking with me. But then I surrendered, and it was ok. She did try talking with me, and in my limited Turkish, we had a pleasant conversation. It was actually a better way to pass the time than be on my phone.
So while my summer vacation wasn’t necessarily relaxing or fun, it was good, it was productive, and it was meaningful. Each time I go to Turkey, I find a piece of me that connects me to my Turkish identity. And for that I am grateful
(Image found here.)