It’s with not an insignificant amount of trepidation that I step off Turkish Airlines flight 1758 in Istanbul. After a solid few months of travelling I’ve become pretty accustomed to arriving in a completely new country, but never one that I would be spending the better part of a year in. Did I tell you that I was moving to Istanbul? Sorry if you missed that bit. After spending what felt like nine months of that year waiting for a stamp in a passport and for all of my worldly possessions to be unceremoniously dumped onto a conveyor belt, I am greeted after customs by my name on a sign! I’ve always wanted to be important enough to have my name on a sign. The agency that I got my job as an English teacher through sent someone to pick me up. Did I tell you I’m going to be an English teacher? Sorry if you missed that bit. We zip down the highway listening to Turkish radio, dodging cars that have the tenacity to only do 120km/hr, my face glued to the window like a five-year old at an aquarium. I am in Istanbul, the byproduct of waking up one morning, looking on a map and deciding that the bridge between Europe and Asia would be a fun place to whittle away my time until I decide what it is I want to do with my life.
That was just over a week ago. I now have an apartment and a Turkish phone number and an Istanbulkart and have smelled enough men’s underarms on the metrobus to be able to say that I live here now, I guess. Although I’m still taking enough photos and gaping open-mouthed at the sheer beauty of this city to make an American cruise-ship tourist look like a local. While I’m sure that phase will pass, there’s something about hopping on a ferry to Asia (a trip all of 20 minutes) that will never get old, and it’s reassuring that even all the locals can’t resist taking photos of the Istanbul skyline.
Because this place is intoxicating. It’s the second largest city in the world (depending on how you measure population) and it has all the chaos of Tokyo but without the calculated efficiency. To get some places I have to take a minibus and then a metrobus and then a metro (which are all very different things). And yet, somehow, everything works. My favourite form of transportation is the Dolmus (literally, packed full), which is basically a shared maxi-taxi where people jump in and out separately, often while the vehicle is still moving. General road rules seem to be taken more as suggestions here, albeit ones that aren’t adhered to very often.
Despite swearing black and blue my entire upbringing that I would never follow in the footsteps of ABSOLUTELY EVERY OTHER MEMBER of my family, I suppose I’m an English teacher now. I have the tweed jacket (with elbow patches, naturally) and the piece of paper saying that I’m officially a grammar nazi to prove it. Still yet to obtain my pen licence, though. Although here the teachers all have to wear doctors coats (for modesty) and use Interactive Touch Screen White Boards (to show how much money they have) and there is talk of ‘gamification of the classroom’ and its all very different to how I remember school despite it being only ten years ago that I was the age of the kids I’m now teaching. I feel woefully unprepared to be put in charge of another living being’s education, but I suppose I can always just make them dance to The Fox if all else fails.
When I told people I was coming here it was always met with a look of concern and a question of whether I’d brought my gas mask. Naturally, it was the day after I signed the contract to teach here that the Gezi Park protests broke out. Today the park is open again but Taksim square still has an odd tension in the air – no doubt exacerbated by the hundreds of riot police just standing around waiting for someone to drop a kebab the wrong way. On Sunday which also happened to be World Peace Day we were walking by the Bosphorus when a crowd began chanting and joining hands, only to be forcefully removed within minutes by the police. World peace, indeed. Despite only being here for a week and really having no claim to the political machinations of this country, my blood already boils when I hear the stories of police brutality and the attitude of the government towards the public and just nice things in general. Yesterday I listened to an art historian being almost reduced to tears when she described the so-called ‘development’ of the city. Supposedly the protests will start up again once all the students return to university in a couple of weeks, so watch this space (Dear Mum, I promise I won’t go anywhere near them).
For now it seems that the major hurdles of arriving unannounced and unprepared in a new city have been overcome. I have a job and a place to sleep and have met enough people to not be lonely 100% of the time which is nice. All the other teachers seem lovely and we’ve already bonded over numerous beers and Raki, the local alcohol that unfortunately doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Rakia of the Balkans. I’m looking forward to being able to develop relationships beyond the stock-standard three day hostel friendships that are over as soon as they’ve begun. The other day I even went grocery shopping and everything turned out to be what I thought it was on the packet, which gave me great pleasure. It’s funny how when you’re living in a foreign country small victories like successfully buying milk and not Aryan (a salty yoghurt drink) become achievements worth celebrating. The actual teaching of children doesn’t start for another week or so, but I’m keen to just get stuck into it and hope that I don’t fail miserably. It’s certainly going to be an interesting 10 months.