I moved from Istanbul to the US on May second, two thousand. I was twenty five. I moved for a better life - where I wasn’t forced to serve the army, and where I wasn’t oppressed for being gay. This move meant that I wasn’t to go back home for a long, unknown amount of time, due to citizenship and army service issues.
After eleven years, Turkey passed a law that allowed payment in exchange of army service and I was finally free to go back home! In these eleven years, I missed many a wedding of my nieces, friends, and births of my grand-nephews and my friends’ babies… It was finally time to make up for all those years away from Home.
From the moment I got in the car from the airport to mom’s, I began to see how things changed in the last eleven years. I saw electronic road signs, metro-buses, and passed by too many stores with non-Turkish names, in order to attract tourists I presume, but obviously not authentic. And shopping malls! Malls everywhere! When did they become addicted to shopping? When I left there were three malls I knew of. Now they are everywhere. It wasn't a pretty sight. And the biggest one was built right in front of mom’s building, where I used to live. The only good news was the subway system they finally built. You don't want to get stuck in traffic in Istanbul, trust me.
I was finally home. Mom prepared a big table with food I loved and missed, and invited my uncle and my sister, and my nieces. I was at my happiest at that moment.
After a restful night, it was time to get re-acquainted with my hometown, to rediscover its old streets, the streets that took me from home to school, the streets where I cut class to go to bookstores, music stores, and the British Council to read poems of Walt Whitman and W.H. Auden, and come to terms with my sexuality, which was ignited after reading Shirley McLaine’s Out on a Limb, funny enough, which was recommended by my English teacher, after I lent her Michael Jackson’s Dancing the Dream book. I think I just reversed the order of events, just to confuse you.
These streets where once I couldn’t wait to leave, now felt like brand new, like they were begging me to discover them, explore them, and want to remind me that they helped me grow up. So I did. I went to streets I never knew existed, streets that I did not care to know what lies at the end of, and I introduced myself to them. I took their photographs, and they were kind enough to let me. The cats, the dogs, the kids, the people. All were game. And I loved every single minute of it.
In the evenings, I’d meet up with my old friends, meet their wives or husbands or children for the first time. They’d take me to amazing restaurants where they served the best authentic Turkish food. I wish I could put into words how you’d love the food in Turkey! And the service, how I missed being treated like a true ‘guest’ at a restaurant. The waiters are some of my favorite people in Istanbul. You just need to go and experience it yourself.
I had never cared for the Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia, but now I was in tourist mode, so I was certainly going to check them out. And boy were they magical. The smell of spices, the colors of the mosaics, the sparkle of copper coffee cups and trays. How had I never appreciated these?
I used to spend summertime at Princes’ Islands, where my aunts and my sister had summer homes. I had a specific group of friends there, I remember falling in love with a girl, and then with a boy… Then another boy. Hormones of the teenage years!...
Some nights one of my best friends would pick me up and we’d drive or take the boat to far away places in the city, where we could make photographs. We’d take our cameras and tripods and shoot the sunset and the night sky.
By then, I was in love with my old home. It had so much to give, I just could not get enough of it.
And just like that, it was time to go back to my new home, New York City. Istanbul will forever have my heart, my soul, and my past, and New York my present and my future. I’m grateful that I have two cities in this world that I can call home.
If you haven't yet, I urge you to go experience the history, the culture, the food, and the sights of Istanbul, and feel the warmth of its people.
Here’s to next year in Istanbul!