May 16, 2012
Well kids, I'm on my way. Time seems to stop when I travel overseas, and I feel as if I have endless hours to do lots of things without the internet.
Unless, of course, I use my iPhone.
I've spent the past week and a half doing laundry, though not as frantically as I should have been, as my mother scoffed at many an item as we packed, claiming that it was dirty (it wasn't… mostly). As is the fashion in my family, I didn't actually begin putting clothes into a suitcase until about 8 pm last night, and my mother took that task over, because, let's face it, she's better than me. I turned into emotional goo while watching the 2 hour episode of Glee and letting the weight of my impending departure sink in. I also repaired my "Holy Toms" around 11 pm last night. It was actually quite fun, and I almost like them better than the originals! Though I did end with a disproportionate amount of Loc-Tite (Satan's stickiest of super glues) on my fingertips. Did anyone else know that vegetable oil gets that sort of thing off? Weird.
I thought I might write a bit about some of the key players in this summer's adventures, that way when I throw out these names all of a sudden you'll have some frame of reference for them.
(Okay side note- I've moved from the overpriced café to my gate, and the couple across from me is speaking Arabic, and my heart is all a flutter.)
Moving right along!
Ugur Uludag and Yagmur Kasifoglu: They are the lovely couple hosting me during about half of my time in Turkey. Serendipity has played a huge part in my arrangements this summer, and they are a wonderful example. Back in January, desperate for advice on how to sublet a room in Istanbul, I posted something like this on facebook:
"DOES ANYONE KNOW ANYONE AT ALL IN ISTANBUL HELP ME PLEASEEEEE."
An acquaintance of mine, who is an MFA grad from UNC Department of Dramatic Art, messaged me. He knew an American man who had acted there and traveled through Turkey for about a year. His name is Adrian, and he put me in touch with some of his contacts. Ugur and Yagmur were among them, he had travelled with them while he worked on a show in Turkey a few years back. Ugur runs his own theatre company, which, to my understanding, it a comic one. Yagmur acts with his company some, and is also on a television soap opera. Adrian described her as being a television celebrity of sorts.
I messaged Ugur asking for advice on renting, and he immediately offered me a room for free in their home. I am overwhelmed by their kindness. Not only did they offer up their home to me, they also dealt with all of my ridiculous hoops and demands as I applied for grants to conduct cultural research in Turkey. Ugur wrote letters, answered my nit picky questions, and offered me a wealth of opportunities that I otherwise would have never come across. I didn't get the grants for my own cultural research, but I did ultimately team up with the research being done by the Kenan Institute of the Arts, based on out Winston Salem, and involved in a partnership of sorts with UNC-School of the Arts, where I spent my senior year of high school.
Which brings me to my next point!
Omid Safi: Omid is the professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and for the past 12 years he's led an educational tour of Turkey every summer. I took a class with him, Modern Muslim History, last semester and loved every minute. His surprising and snarky humor is second in greatness only to the depth of his kindness. He is an esteemed religious scholar and writer (check him out on HuffPost!), and I know I have a great deal to learn from him. He has partnered with the Kenan Institute in their effort to seek connections with artists in a Muslim context.
The project is called ART/Islam, and began this year. Our goal is to achieve a greater understanding of Islam and the cultures in which it is found through the work of artists. We are aiming to create an exchange of sorts, in which artists from Muslim context can create with artists from North Carolina. There is a group going to Tunisia, while David (a UNC-School of the Arts college student) and I will join Omid's program in Turkey. We will travel through Istanbul, Konya, Bursa, Ankara, and Cappadocia, and spend our time discussing readings in breathtaking locations, meeting with artists and religious leaders, and trying to gain some semblance of the deep history and spirituality of the region. My job is to document, through writing, photographs, and video. I'll be setting up the official blog for that soon, and I'll link it on the right in case anyone is interested in seeing what is going on related specifically to that trip. To be honest, a lot of it will probably end up on here, too. It is sure to the be trip of a lifetime!
After the two weeks with Omid, I'll spend another 9 days in Istanbul, before flying to Amman, Jordan, where the fates have stepped in yet again to provide me with an incredible friend and roommate.
Jasmine Melvin-Koushki: I cannot even begin to describe this woman's accomplishments. You just need to google her. She's essentially done everything under the sun, and done it brilliantly. And she will be my roommate in Amman! I took my approach to housing in Amman in a similar fashion to my Istanbul search, only this time, couchsurfing.org was my platform instead of facebook. Many people are wary of couch surfing, and with good reason. But with the foolishness of youth, an optimistic nature, and what my father refers to as my "vagabond spirit," I simply can't resist it! I used it over spring break to great success, and encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds, to at least try it!
I posted on the Amman group, asking if anyone needed a subletter for the summer, or knew someone who needed one. Many men between the ages of 20 and 40 sent me very kind offers, and though I was of course a little wary, I would definitely have taken them up in a pinch. Many of them had pages of positive reviews from people they had hosted in the past, and it probably would have been just fine. But, for my mother's sake, I waited it out a little. And then, the stars aligned, and Jasmine messaged me.
Apparently her friend had seen my post, and had sent it along to her. She is now a design consultant at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and prior to that had been studying Islamic Art in Jordan on the Fulbright. As far as I can tell, she has a deeply creative spirit, a very poetic command of language, and an enormous heart. I foresee us getting along swimmingly.
And the apartment is to die for. It's a rooftop apartment, with vintage crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and….wait for it…
A terrace that appears to be the size of my bedroom.
And if all that weren't wonderful enough, she's fluent in Arabic, so she can help me with my studies.
Oh yes, because that's what I'll actually be doing there, if you can ever get me to leave the terrace. Studying Arabic at the University of Jordan, assuming the administration stops ignoring my emails asking for a tuition invoice for my scholarship. To anyone in college reading this who wants to pursue language studies:
Apply for the FLAS. Do it. I haven't really begun my program yet, so perhaps this is preemptive, but so far it's been a great lesson in learning how to travel independently and take the initiative. All good and useful things!
That's all for now. I'm on my flight to Istanbul as I type, and it seems that all the small children have finally drifted off. Total silence is not far away. The woman to my left is hilarious, she's from the Bronx and hates sitting, so she's been doing laps basically the entire flight. Another funny thing- my mom had a fit over my black fingernails before I left, and demanded that I remove the polish before landing. I did, in the airport, and they are squeaky clean and proper as a primrose. However, I snuck the black nail polish into my bag of liquids, out of both a streak of rebellion and an earnest desire to repaint them, if I gauged my company to be relaxed about that sort of thing (and they will be- no one in the whole world cares as much about nail polish as my mother).
But moments ago, as I opened my bulging quart size bag of approved liquids to retrieve my chap stick, the smell of acetone hit me.
My black nail polish has either exploded or broken, decorating my makeup and cute travel sized face wash with Jackson Pollock-esque spots. My mother must have put in a word with the pressurized cabin gods. I'm just superstitious enough to not purchase another bottle in Istanbul.