Art Buchwald once said, “The best things in life aren’t things” and while I was growing up my mother would often repeat his words but add “at all” to the end of the phrase. And when I went off to find myself at nineteen, she gave me an ornamental ‘thing’ that hung, and on it, it read, “The best things in life aren’t things at all.”
I added seven hours to my day while returning from a semester-long journey, discovering the ancient city of Istanbul, Turkey. What was once considered to be the center of the world and the heart of the Ottoman Empire I now consider something like a second home. But should I deem myself a tourist, even after having become so well acquainted with the city? Still, on my last full day in Istanbul, I was seen as a foreigner – the only one in a crowd of Turks, to have naturally long blond hair and skin as white as my own. Despite my feelings of belonging, I was still an outsider.
I suppose that’s part of the experience, because what I have seen, the beautiful people I have created bonds with, even those that I may never seen again, the opportunities I’ve stumbled upon – like the time I bummed a cigarette off of a man from South Africa and he offered to buy me lunch because he was unfamiliar with city and we spent a short nine hours sharing details of our lives together – gave me a different perspective, especially being an American in the Middle East and presented me with opportunities outside of my comfort zone.
It has only recently become a memory; its essence is all that can really be shared. And now that I’ve returned I find myself longing for the nonsensical traffic, the call to prayer that echoes from the mosques, the doner shops at every corner, and the smell of the cigarette perfume that I’ve grown to like.
And all the details still remain, too – the men at their simit carts, the ferries weaving the waters of the Bosphorus, the relics that remain hidden below the subway lines, and the women still within the home. And when I was younger, I thought that once my presence was absent from a space, everything paused. Luckily, I’ve come to understand how diverse the world really is; my perspective has changed and I think I’ve become even less interested in a girl with an overpriced hand bag and more curious to meet a women in a headscarf.