I’ve already had a nice big helping of Turkey. Before I gave much thought to our family Thanksgiving, this past week I traveled to Istanbul to visit my daughter, Annie. The chestnuts we ate were roasted on an open fire by street vendors outside Taksim Square. The laughter I heard was our own, as we walked arm in arm back to the hotel after dinner, telling stories. This Thanksgiving, among my other blessings, I will be grateful for this special mother/daughter experience.
Annie is lucky enough to have one of the coolest jobs around (that is, if you have lots of energy and a gigantic sense of adventure) with a fabulous company out of Cambridge, MA called Associates for International Research, better known as AIRINC. Annie and her colleagues travel, by themselves, to different parts of the world, doing cost of living research. It is demanding and difficult work–more than I imagined from her descriptions–but at the same time, she is traveling the world.
This particular trip brought her to Kiev, then Bucharest, then Baku, Azerbaijan (Google maps was helpful for this one), then Tbilisi, Georgia (not the U.S. state–but if you made that mistake, you wouldn’t be alone), and then to Istanbul (followed by a couple of other cities in Turkey). I have wanted to meet her for a couple of years, but either the timing or the geography didn’t work. (I wasn’t about to hop on a plane to meet her in Nigeria.) It needed to be a place where I could keep myself busy while she was busy all day working. Istanbul was perfect.
Except for her weekend off, Annie left for work early–well before I was able to stumble out of bed—and worked all day. She was focused, organized, and would not be distracted–she had things to do, and she went about them with a determination I haven’t seen in twenty years. She loves her work, that is easy to see, and it is easy to see why. It is exciting and empowering (if not a little humbling) to navigate a foreign city, and she’s a pro.
But me? Not so much. I not only have a new appreciation for what Annie does for work, but I learned a few things (besides a few things about history/geography/art/religion) along the way:
- Being on my own, even in a city where most people speak English, was not easy. Alone, I planned–then stumbled through–my itinerary, got money from the ATM, used subways, tramways and funiculars, ate breakfast and lunch, and found my way back to the hotel. I couldn’t wait to meet up with Annie for dinner.
- I wondered when, exactly, Annie started worrying about me more than I worried about her? She checked the locks on the door before retiring. She knew the pass code to the in-room safe. She checked to make sure I had my visa before I left Boston. She actually texted me one morning to remind me to bring a jacket.
- I should definitely not be left alone in a city that has a baklava shop on every corner.
- There is no holding me back when my husband is not there to tell me, “honey, maybe you shouldn’t eat that.” I tried: Kokorec (sheep intestines on a skewer), Icli Kofte (stuffed and fried meatballs), Kaymak (water buffalo clotted cream) Ayran (a salted yogurt drink), Boza, a thick, sweet drink made from fermented wheat, not to mention all the street vendor food. I simply prayed that I would not be praying to the porcelain goddess (and so far, my prayers have been answered.)
- Retribution for those times Annie was a pain in the ass as a kid was not all that sweet. I got dust in my contact lens (multiple times.) My shoes hurt. I developed a crick in my elbow from carrying a bag. My back hurt. My rotator cuff acted up. If I were my kid, I might have smacked myself.
- Apparently, I am a constant source of amusement: I am slow with foreign currency. I can’t read a map or find my reading glasses. I never know which side of the subway to exit. The size of my suitcase was hysterical. Once, as I was reading in bed, Annie glanced over, and starting laughing uncontrollably. “Is that really how big you need to make the writing? Really, mom, your iPad looks like a children’s book!” (I am on page 612 of 2,812 in Wally Lamb’s We Are Water – you might have a shorter version.)
- Annie has gotten so worldly, she is able to answer important questions such as: “so what’s the deal with the mothballs in the bathroom sinks?” Apparently, naphthalene is sometimes used in bathroom sinks to suppress the smell of pee…isn’t that stupid?
- My daughter can go many days in a new city without buying anything. I am not sure she is really my daughter.
- Istanbul is a fantastic mix of the old and the new- the Blue Mosque, the cisterns, the malls, the hamam, the nightlife, the Hagia Sophia, the modern art, the Turkish carpets, the traffic… and bottled water only costs $.50. How cool is that?
- Never, ever tell your daughter that one doesn’t get completely naked in a Turkish Bath. That would be a lie. And probably one she will never forget.