Resfeber in Istanbul

Walking along a narrow, winding road lugging a red suitcase that was so heavy that it might be filled with rocks and stones, I stopped abruptly. It was a Saturday, 9:30AM in Etiler, and the neighborhood was still asleep. Just as a precaution, I stood behind a large, white truck to make sure no one witnessed my breakdown. I started crying silently, tears crawling down my cheeks as I watched a centipede near my shoe that was creeping slowly as if unsure of its destination. I asked myself, “How could I have so ignorantly believed that living in Istanbul would be the greatest experience ever?”

It was my first time in Turkey and after a ten hour direct flight from New York, a bumpy shuttle from Ataturk airport to Taksim, a taxi ride where the driver tried to charge me double the actual price (but failed to do so!), I was exhausted. All I wanted was to inform my parents I had arrived safely (albeit the craziness), but neither was my phone working nor was anyone at the university willing to provide internet for a quick Skype session. Hopelessly, I was looking for the coffee shops I was told to hunt for to get Wi-Fi. After meandering around several unfamiliar streets, taking four wrong turns, and having stopped twice for silent sobbing sessions, I finally encountered a café, magical for a few reasons.

It was called Boğaziçi Pastanesi. I walked in and after saying “Selam” (hello in Turkish), I asked the waiter if they have wifi. He didn’t understand until I made typing gestures on my laptop. He said, “Evet! Evet! Wi-Fi!” The way he pronounced Wi-Fi was “Why-Fee” and I smiled with relief. I wish I knew how to speak Turkish. I know a few phrases from the Turkish TV shows that I am obsessed with, but Turkish is such a beautiful language that I hope to master at least an elementary level during my Turkish 101 class here. I took a seat as far as possible from the two present customers (a lady smoking a cigarette while reading a newspaper and a young man engrossed in his iPad). I asked for çay, for I knew that Turks drink a lot of tea like we do and it probably was the only item I could have pronounced on the menu.

I didn’t even look at my first cup of Turkish tea in Turkey (I’ve had Turkish tea before at a Turkish friend’s place). I connected to Skype and as soon as I saw Mama (my mother), I started crying and this time not so silently. Never before had I done this: both crying in a public place and traveling to a country which wasn’t inhabited by either a family member or friend. After a long Skype session, I felt better, not too hopeful yet, but glad that I was in touch with the world “out there.” I returned to my dorm with the incentive to take a shower, a few hours of rest, and to return to this café.

It was at the end of the second Skype session at Boğaziçi Pastanesi that I heard four girls chatting in English at a nearby table. I asked if they too were students at Boğaziçi University for the summer. And voilà, I met a group of very sweet girls who were in the same boat as mine, but they were just invisible to me earlier. This is evidence for why I mentioned earlier the magic of Boğaziçi Pastanesi café. I haven’t returned there since, but I know I am bound to visit again soon.

Later that day, one of the Muslim girls I met asked if I wanted to go the mosque to pray the evening prayer (Maghrib in Arabic), and I said, of course! One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Turkey was to experience the culture and the Islamic atmosphere, especially because the holy month of Ramadhan (where we Muslims fast for several reasons which I will not elaborate right now) starts in a week. Both of us walked to a nearby mosque while hearing the beautiful call of prayer (Adhan in Arabic). The mosque wasn’t one of the many tourist attractions in Istanbul, but the peace we felt as we entered suffused into our hearts and minds.

The next day, we had orientation where we received our ID cards and participated in a campus tour.

Boğaziçi University

Boğaziçi University

The guide who was a senior at the university showed us several places, but the one that struck the most magnificent to me was what he called the manzara (manzar in Urdu and scenic area in English). It was a beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea, with boats sailing towards different directions, leaving behind fresh, white trails of waves, and houses as if placed on top of each other on a mountain-like area on the other side, merging into the sky. I had seen this before, in a Turkish TV show and of course, in a dream about Turkey.

Manzara: beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea from campus

Manzara: beautiful view of the Bosphorous Sea from campus

After we had attempted to relax our legs that weren’t used to all this intense walking (the main campus is a 30-minute long steep walk down the hill from our dormitories), around 4 o’clock that afternoon, we took a bus to Kabataş, an area from where you can hop on a boat for the Bosphorous Cruise. Once we had purchased the tickets, we had 45 minutes to kill before the next boat ride. So, we sat down at a nearby street café, which was more like a collection of tables and small stools (ah, I should have taken a picture of that – fret not for there will be plenty of chances in the future!). My two friends ordered çay and since I was still experiencing dehydration, I ordered a cold drink.

As we sipped our beverages, we quietly observed our surroundings. There were thousands of cats everywhere (and we’ve seen dogs in other areas). At a neighboring table, some rowdy men were noisily chatting and smoking. It disturbed us, but not the black cat which was sleeping on its back since the time we sat down. If only our environments wouldn’t have that large of an effect on us, perhaps life would be easier leading. However, I should correct myself. If we don’t learn new ideas, avoid sharing our practices, and neglect the importance of cultural exchange, wouldn’t life be dull and boring?

(P. S. I have the tendency to connect mundane incidents to deeper philosophical thoughts. At times, they may seem long winding or outright illogical. Do excuse me, but transcribing my experiences would be incomplete if I omit my views on different situations. So, I hope doing this will enhance my written journey.)

Back to the street café, or whatever your tongue desires to address it. I was appreciating the opportunity to people-watch from the corner where we were seated at. The diversity in Istanbul is fascinating, particularly in terms of the dressing of women. There are some who wear the shortest shorts and others who cover their bodies, hands and faces. I valued that everyone could fit in or rather create a unique identity and be part of such a vibrant culture.

The 90-minute long Bosphorous cruise made me appreciate the opportunity of being in Istanbul even further. It was çok güzel, very nice and beautiful! There was a voice speaker in the background first in Turkish and then in English to elaborate on the sights we encountered. There are too many to mention here and I plan on doing justice to each when we visit them individually and write about them. I took loads of pictures while enjoying the serene view. Perhaps, we can call it manzara. (I’m not sure if that’s the right context.) Nevertheless, it was scenic indeed.

Zahid, a friendly boy sitting next to me, mesmerized by the Bosphorous

Zahid, a friendly boy sitting next to me, mesmerized by the Bosphorous

The cruise ended in Beşiktaş, where we got off into a busy area with buses honking and pedestrians hurriedly walking trying not to get killed. The excitement and our hunger comprised of what we smelled in the air. We stopped at a restaurant called Adana something (I apologize, but I am trying to learn Turkish letters and names). I had şiş tavuk, a popular Turkish dish (also present in Arab cuisines), comprising of grilled chicken, a special kind of bread, and lots of different sauces. The meal was a perfect way to end the day.

The following day (today), we had classes, both of which I am so excited about! We ate at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Büfe Bu. I had a chicken burger with fries and a cold drink. At most restaurants in New York, I don’t eat meat, chicken, and so forth because it is not halal (lawful according to Islam; animals are given water and a prayer is recited before they are slaughtered, and the cut to the neck should be at the exact vein which leads to a quick and the least painful death; I wish I knew more about the exact rulings, but this is my basic understanding.) In conclusion, I plan on feasting in Istanbul for almost everything is halal here!

I will end with an explanation of my title. I learned this word from the Facebook page of Word Porn which brings to light some “fancy” vocabulary. Resfeber (according to this FB page) is a Swedish word pronounced as race-fay-ber. It means “the restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a ‘travel fever’ that can manifest as an illness.” This word perfectly depicts my situation. For the two weeks before my arrival and my first two days here, I felt nauseous and nervous, along with the sporadic pangs of excitement. I forgot that a lot of fellow travelers experience the same phenomenon. Thankfully, I feel much more comfortable now and I cannot wait to explore the güzel city of Istanbul.

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