10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

As an expat, no doubt you’ve been there. When you set up a new life in a new city, you seek out your hometown comforts in your newtown surrounds. Maybe it’s going on a mission to find the best coffee in your new neighbourhood, or seeking friends who connect with your nationality, or posting pleas online to find the products, the food, or the experiences that once made you hum in your hometown.

Perhaps you seek these things to close the gap between what you know and what you don’t know. Assimilation is simply gentler on the soul when your creature comforts are close by. They provide a steady platform, a familiar base, to dive head first into discovering a new and wondrous culture and its peculiar ways.

As time passes, the gap between the known and the unknown lessens. Your list of creature comforts grows to include the offerings of your newtown. You gain a sense of belonging, and with it, a new lifestyle and perspective emerges. You no longer feel like you’re drowning in the tides of cultural change. Instead, your wading, maybe even riding the waves, and your struggle with the oddities of your newtown, that once left you perplexed, have washed away.

You’re a local now (of the expat kind at least). You know where to find this and that, or how to get from point A to point B with ease. The language, the culture – all start to make sense. You respect it. In fact you no longer judge it, you indulge in it. Your two worlds, once awkward and creating friction, finally get along. Your newtown isn’t new anymore – it’s a place you call home.

I hadn’t realised how much Istanbul felt like home until last year. I packed away my work from home freelancing threads and suited up to return to my former corporate life in Australia. (Note: Hence my absence from this blog). I was immersed back into my old lifestyle and my hometown culture and after living in Istanbul, Australia didn’t feel like the home it once was.

I was perplexed. Had Australia changed? Had I changed? Had I really been that Turkified!?  I had to rediscover my hometown like a newtown to re-create my sense of belonging. I had to reassimilate.

I initially struggled to adapt to the oddities of Australia such as the abundance of space, the swearing, the drinking, the huge houses and other material values. I struggled with the need to be on time, to plan, to drive within the white lines, even to drive! All the things that once seemed familiar were somewhat awkward for me. I began to miss Istanbul. I began to miss…

1. Spontaneity

The traffic, complicated streets, the weather, the “rules aren’t for all” bureaucracy of a city of over 14 million people were factors that taught me I wouldn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted in Istanbul. My inner control freak died years ago as I embraced the city’s manic spontaneous ways which offered a more satisfying alternative to my initial plans.  It became a part of my lifestyle to “go with the flow” and embrace spontaneity.

One evening in Sydney, I was spontaneous. I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to break-up the predictability of my working day. I gazed down to the peach-hued sails of the Sydney Opera House illuminated by sunset. A pearly patriotic smile flashed across my face and I sighed. I thought, this is beautiful, this is unique, this is just…

just…

not…

2. The Bosphorus

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Not to “diss” my country’s beloved iconic landmark. Sydney Harbour is an unmissable destination. But a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I peered down on the waters of Sydney Harbour. I missed the energy and the busyness of the Bosphorus – a waterway that divides Europe and Asia – that had fed my senses daily.  I longed to sit on a rickety wooden bench or a rocky outcrop on the cusp of a continent and feel the Bosphorus breeze on my cheek, watch a sunset silhouette the old city skyline, hear the caw of seagulls hoover overhead and taste the bitter-sweet flavour of a crimson glass of …

3. Çay (Turkish tea)

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A brewed English breakfast could not fill the void in Australia. Neither did an Earl Grey self-served in a shapely glass. I joined the corporate coffee culture instead where the day could not start without the jolt of a barista-style skinny cap, flat white or double espresso. Drinking them glued to the computer in the vortex of consumerism where deadlines were “by yesterday”, I yearned for a tulip-shaped glass of çay served with plenty of…

4. Keyif

Keyif, the art of idle relaxation. An art that brings pleasure, joy and contentment in the company of friends or strangers – without the deeds of deadlines – was lacking from my life.  I missed keyif on a Sunday morning or late into the evening where conversations jumped from global news, to family news, from gossip about the neighbours to truths about friendships and from telling jokes to stories of meaningful matters.  I missed the friends who were masters of this art and the banter associated with such gatherings. I wanted to engage again with people and say…

5. Turkish pleasantries

“Hayırlı olsun,” (let it be with goodness) was something I could not say within the fluidity of English when friends shared good news. “Geçmiş olsun,” was in my heart when, “Hope they get well soon,” flew out of my mouth. Phrases that don’t translate well in English that once left me perplexed were constantly on the tip of my tongue. “Güle güle kullan!” (Use it with smiles), “Kolay gelsin,” (May it come easy) and…

6. Afiyet olsun!

Before dinner. during dinner, after dinner.  My way of wanting to bless everyone I dined with with, “Afiyet olsun,” (enjoy your meal) was the hardest habit to break. “Bon appetit,” would spill from my lips instead, which proved too fancy. After all, when did Westerners ever acknowledge a co-worker dining on a ham sandwich in the lunchroom so formally?  Instead, I said nothing, I put my head down between conversations and ate whilst remembering to …   

7. Appreciate my food

554477_132225386902332_1282653357_n My Turkish friends once said to me, “Why do you eat so fast? Yavaş yavaş!” (Slow down). Eating fast was a by-product of my fast-paced, do everything by yesterday lifestyle in Australia…and I was slipping back into that realm. Life is too short to eat lunch by yourself at your desk.  Turkey had taught me that. Food is to be appreciated.  I now took time to savour the flavours and the keyif served generously on the side. Come to think of it, I missed the cuisine and the fresh produce to make up those meals in Turkey! I longed to swap the long polished aisles of my Australian mega-supermarket for the chaos of my…

8. Pazarlar! (Weekly street markets)

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Twice a week the main street near my home in Istanbul transforms into a fresh food market where I stock up on locally-grown produce. Not only is buying easy on the purse, it’s always entertaining to hustle with the head scarfed housewives and their three-wheel canvas carts to bag a bargain or two from rows of fervent sellers. More importantly, I missed what the markets created – I missed…

9. Life on the streets

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Whether it’s festivities in the streets, kids playing in the lane, remnants of chalk etchings of hopscotch on the path, or seeing wooden baskets lowered from apartments to collect goods from the bakkal (market), I missed seeing all the cues of life on the streets of Istanbul.  Sure, the drone of the eskci (junk collector) that resembles, ”Bring out the dead,” is a nuisance at times but I did miss the morning call from the man peddling pogača (small baked bread) from the street,  the call of, “Buyurun abla.” (Can I help you sister) as I walked through the markets, and the call of, “Bir lira,” (one lira) from the sellers with the yellow and red carts and most of all I missed …

10. The call to prayer

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The call, made five times a day, had become part of my list of creature comforts that tell me I’m in a place I call home. I missed hearing it – reminding me to pause, to “stop and smell the roses” and be present in that moment of life. Most of all I wanted to be where I loved hearing it most; atop a rooftop terrace at dusk, on the edge of the Bosphorus, with a crimson tea in hand, after a spontaneous day out with friends and with the call of a thousand muezzinler echoing across the city.

That same sound etched in my memory eventually called me back to Istanbul. Even though I tried, I could not find the things that made me hum in Istanbul in my hometown surrounds. After all, the things I missed were intangible in Australia. I could not put my finger on them or find them in my neighbourhood. I was somewhat lost without all my creature comforts surrounding me. My soul could not settle and a wave of homesickness for Turkey washed over me. I could have given more time for the feeling to subside, to settle, to become still. But my second home was calling me.

“Be like water,” a friend said to me, and,“Su gibi git, su gibi gel,” (go like water, come back like water) flowed freely from my tongue.

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26 thoughts on “10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

  1. Love how this rolls! Wow! So great!
    And, Its so obvious you’ve been “turkified” even more than most Turks are. Its such a gift to live in a place, settle in, and still be able to appreciate its subtitles that seem at arrival, so fascinating, foreign and sometimes perplexing. You are so right, as we de-perplex, sometimes even these things get more comfortable, but sadly also taken for granted! We are truly adaptable creatures, if we are lucky. And the even luckier if we can love and appreciate the things that enter those spaces called “home”. (That being said, I still can’t give up my coffee and Greek milk I can’t help but bring in by the case-load 🙂 …but CAY has certainly entered my “list!” Back in NY I felt so weird having any other beverage with a nargile now. as Americans down beers and cocktails in the “hookah bars!” haha
    Great job on the blog! Can’t wait till the next!

  2. Great article. Brought tears to my eyes… Made me “homesick” for Istanbul..a city I called home for only 4 yrs. A city that changed me forever! Thx

  3. Thank you for this amazing post. It brought tears to my eyes as well and made me very homesick for my own city – a city I left 10 years ago but grew up in every part of it and appreciated all the nuances you mentioned that makes Istanbul – Home. Thanks for sharing;)

  4. Absolutely loved your article! I was fortunate enough to live in Istanbul for six years many years ago. The city will always be in my heart. Your words brought back so many sights and sounds. Thank you.

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  6. This article made me really emotional. And it’s not just about Istanbul. Though my hometown is Izmir (another city in Turkey) and I lived in Istanbul for 4 years it made me a bit homesick.

    I live in UK now but I miss and appreciate every single thing on the list too. Thank you for this article 🙂

    • It’s true – it’s any city or town. It’s just Turkish culture in general and that connection it creates to “life”. To be able to breath it all in is so invigorating. Thank you for letting me know your thoughts on the article.

  7. Wow.. what a good read… made me between smiling and crying as being a Turkish expat living in Hamburg… I walked by Bosphorus in your lines drinking my tea and having brain-burning chats with my friends… thanx for reminding me the beauties of my city…

  8. Being from Izmir and not much in love with Istanbul, I don’t recall more objective and passionate description of daily life in my country by someone “bizden biri” and a foreigner at the same time…

    After 5 years in New York your article brought up a lot of intangible little things that I didn’t like while I was back “home” but somehow I miss occasionally now.. Great piece..

  9. #5 and #7 especially. I always feel like saying “kolay gelsin” when I see a friend or neighbour hard at work and yet – there’s nothing to say. It seems wrong to stay silent!

  10. I love your piece. It brought tears to my eyes. You’ve explained so beautifully the things that we all love about Istanbul and Turkey. I am Turkish and I have been living in US since 2001 and I have been homesick most of the time! For reasons that are personal it just happened this way. Finally I am moving back in couple of months 🙂 I can’t wait to do keyif/geyik with all my friends. And this is the best description of keyif/geyik I’ve ever seen. 🙂

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  12. You have described the indescribable moments of everyday life here in Istanbul perfectly. I have been in Istanbul for a year and I can relate so wholeheartedly for every point and the ease of turkification. I want to stay here long term with my partner but do not want our future children to be subject to such competitive schooling system… I will one day return to the corporate aus work culture and can feel your pangs of homesickness even though i appreciate every moment here on the asian side. Thanks for the heads up, no city body of water can beat the Bosphorus 🙂

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