On this day two years ago, I was in Istanbul. My study abroad group and I were preparing to go on our excursion through Anatolia, the beautiful, Asiatic side of Turkey. We would have been saying our goodbyes to the city at this point: wandering in and out of familiar and unfamiliar shops, sipping on elma chai or chowing down at Simit Sarayı, snapping photos, braving Istiklal caddesi, fervently cementing our memories of the sights and smells and sounds of Istanbul. And then, at 7 am on September 18th, we would have been on our way to Edirne.
You may be surprised at the detail in that description, especially since I’m the kind of person that forgets where my keys are on a daily basis (even though I always put them in the same place). In response, let me tell you something entertaining: today I stumbled upon the pathetic blog I attempted to update while I was in the Middle East.
I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. When I was a kid, my mom bought me a Pocahontas diary. It was purple and had a plush cover with leaves on it. I wrote in approximately 10 pages of that diary over a span of roughly 6 years. On rare occasions I would be self-satisfied enough to think that my life was interesting and, in a fit of inspiration, would write down my poetic and moving thoughts. And then I would get bored with the entire process and throw the diary away, to be rediscovered again next year when I felt the urge to document that I thought Timmy from 1st grade was gross.
So why I assumed I’d be any better at blogging during Term in the Middle East is a complete mystery.
I was in the Middle East for a total of 113 days, and I wrote a staggering 11 posts in that entire time. One of those posts doesn’t even count because it simply said, “I did that wrong. Don’t read the following post first. Read the one after it. That’s where the story starts.” I titled that particularly inspirational post ‘um.’ Genius.
Going back over my blog –named ‘Shannon on TIME’, which makes it sound like I was taking a hallucinogen – made me feel strangely disappointed. Reading over the few posts I had written, I was effectively transported back into Turkey and Morocco. And while those posts were incredibly amusing, I now desperately wish I could have encouraged myself to take more time to document, to reflect, and to describe.
Before I get all philosophical and serious, let’s a look at a few of 20 year old Shannon’s literary gems:
Post: more turkish time
Quote: “Our professor is so energetic and genuinely funny, but she gets really confused by our questions. Often. And might possibly be deaf, because she talks over us a lot.”
Post: let me show you…
Quote: “Turkish peanut butter is better than American peanut butter. Heresy! You may shout. However, it is the truth.”
Post: a little bit of spice, a little bit of nudity…
Quote: “Surprisingly enough, I had a conversation with a local merchant in Spanish. He tried to tell me that his Spanish wasn’t great considering he had only been taking classes for six months. Not only was his grammar better than mine but his accent was better too. I declined to tell him that I’ve been taking Spanish classes for a cumulative 7 years.”
Post: hello, i am embarrassing american [Here I display my inimitable command over the English language.]
Quote: “Basically that means that Orthodox Christians worship relics of the church, pictures, symbols, etc…They kissed pretty much everything, and crossed themselves after each kiss. Extremely different from my Baptist upbringing. We don’t kiss. We shake hands.”
Post: i suck at this.
Quote: “Our tour guide wanted us on the bus by 7 in the morning, which was not funny. However, the fact that she completely color coordinates her outfits is funny. She was wearing a purple shirt, purple pants, purple socks, and purple jewelry. Today she was in all grey. And she absolutely adores yogurt. Whenever we stop for food she points out all the places with yogurt. Turkish yogurt is disgusting.”
Post: seriously. i can’t eat any more.
Quote: We eat until we’re full, and then Grandma grabs my thigh (because I inevitably sit next to her) and says “Kul! Kul!” which means, “Eat! Eat!” and pushes more food towards me. This goes on until I absolutely refuse. By then I’m so full it’s obscene.”
Post: i rode in a horse cart. what? i rode in a horse cart.
Quote: “It was nice to have a male presence there, just in case. It was not so nice that he felt the need to pull the back of both mine and Kirsten’s shirts down, like we were showing off too much flesh (of which there was none visible) or were being too skanky (a label which realistically cannot be applied to either of us). We thanked him awkwardly, and he nodded gravely like he had done us some vital service.”
These snippets of blog are only a few of many which make up my TIME experience. I failed to detail even a single element of Egypt, which I deeply regret.
So what is this post actually about?
Maybe I’m writing it because I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. My Pocahontas diary didn’t work out because I had nothing altogether thrilling to make a note of, and I couldn’t have done it justice anyway. But my study abroad experience did deserve to be documented. My life was incredibly exciting every day for nearly four months, and although the imprint of that time will remain with me until I die, the memories won’t. I’m already beginning to lose the recollection of sensations and ideas that I couldn’t have imagined would fade away so fast. My slub life may not be 100% captivating – please see the post with the old lady for reference – but I’m knee deep in the process of transition right now, and that in and of itself is something I want to look back on.
Maybe it’s about the power of words. Who knows why I chose to remember the details in those 11 posts, but didn’t give in to the urgency to describe others? How could I explain the need to write about Mexican food and the Cannon River Winery but not feel compelled to write poetry, or a short story, or a critique of my favorite book? I feel remorse for the hole in my TIME blog where I should have used words to capture every day I was abroad. But more importantly, I’ll always be able to re-experience the emotions of the events I do write about, and that ability is one of the most precious I can claim.
Maybe I’m writing today because I miss the Middle East, and I wanted the excuse to reminisce about Turkey for a while. The two year anniversary of the beginning of my adventure has come and gone, but I think about TIME every day. I really do miss being there.
Whatever the point of this post, ultimately it’s an important piece of the larger mosaic that I’m attempting to draw this year. In the future I know I’ll be happy that I took the time to write down my thoughts, even if they’re not particularly interesting. Readers, listen up: everybody has a story to tell, and it’s important enough to write down because it would be a shame to forget.