To Turkey,

I have been waiting to write to you. After all, you have been the greatest stranger as of late. But now it seems I have nothing to say except, hello, merhaba! My arrival, our meeting, has been a prospect for five months. You turned from a thought, a desire, to a possibility and then a reality. My reality. Each month my perception of you shifted. But, as the day approached any expectation I desperately clutched concerning you dissolved to pieces—ash in the wind. Now that I am here, I am the stranger and any preconception of myself that I held onto has disintegrated.

I went to New York City, The City, my city, a month before my departure date to get my visa at the Turkish consulate—my very first interaction with this foreign place, with the language, with the customs. I was alone, on my own, walking down 33rd Street, breathing the chilled January air, the tip of my nose and cheeks frozen from the wind, the aroma of garbage and car exhaust quaffing across my face, the sounds of New Yorkers’ footsteps and tidbits of phone conversations buzzing in my head.

A. Lombardi 2011

Everyone was on the move, connected to something other than the moment they were experiencing. I felt the deepest gratitude to be an outsider in the city I identify myself with, to see it with new eyes, to hear and feel every vibration of life on the island. It was the first time I had taken the bus to New York alone. The first time I tread the streets by myself and I thought, “If I can do this, I can do Turkey. I can get on the plane. I can be without my twin. I can discover who I am individually. I can color in the pieces and choose whatever color I want. I will not have to discuss it with anyone! I can be fearless.”

(Though, all of this has taken on a new meaning since my arrival.)

When I landed in Istanbul and stepped off the aircraft I was caught up in the thrush of a Bolivian soccer team. They were a traveling pack, clad in lime green and yellow, and I was not one of them. As soon as their steps exceeded mine I was completely on my own. All my fearlessness disintegrated. I wanted to crawl up into a ball. I wanted to cry. I wanted someone to tell me where to go. I wanted to speak English, to be able to express what I needed clearly. And then it hit me. You hit me all at once. I had waited to meet you for five months. But after getting off of the plane, arriving at my dormitory and night after night of sleeplessness, physical heartbreak and longing to be with my twin, I realized that I had been running away from you while sitting in the same place. Holding time in my head. Telling myself, Turkey is the key, Turkey will teach me what I need to know. But, now I see that you are merely a conduit. As I discover new parts of you, I uncover pieces of myself.

A. Lombardi 2011

You are surrounded by water, two seas encase you and connect both sides of the world. You exist on a divide! Fog hangs over your head everyday. Prayer calls are sung to you five, six times a day. Your people are beautiful. They are passionate. They walk arm in arm with one another and take their time. They enjoy coffee and tea, kahve and cay, I should say, and smoke cigarettes one after another. They have given new meaning to the saying, “You smoke like a Turk.” They eat dinner at nine o’clock, begin their night at eleven, go to the bars, and dance until the sun comes up. You are a city unlike any I could have fathomed. I am a person that I never thought I would be within you.

I am the stranger here–to you, your people, and to myself. Everything about you has taken me by surprise, even my own voice. I look forward to acquainting myself with you, to learning your language, to treading your streets fearlessly. I am my own map and you are the legend in which I will direct myself. Thank you for having me and for all of your sweet disposition.

-A.L.

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