Whenever I talk about Turkey, to anyone, I mention my family there. And then they say "oh, you're Turkish?" and I have to explain why I have family in a country that I don't (think I) originate from. No, not by blood, I explain, but there are two little families that took me in and I do love them (a lot) and they’ve shared my life for the past four months, almost every day. I can only hope that I have given them as much as they’ve given me. Who am I kidding, there’s no way I could repay Aysegul and Mehmet for bringing me into their home and letting me pretend I’m teaching English to their two adorable children, Zeynep and Ali, when they were all teaching me the whole time. I know I said two families, but I'll explain a little later--bear with me.
Not only has my Turkish somewhat improved (sorry everyone, definitely not fluent), but these kids have definitely added a positive note to every single day I’ve been living with them. They’ve taught me things only children can: to not take yourself too seriously, to dance whenever possible, and to be silly whenever possible. They’ve single-handedly added some great bullet points to my life philosophy.
Also, fun fact that no one tells you: you suck at cooking. Think you’re a good cook? Do you live in a dorm/house with no spices and three recipes? You suck. The first night I had a home cooked meal with my Turkish family was the best meal I had had in months. Restaurants are fine, yes, but nothing compares to the taste of a home-cooked Turkish meal made by a Mom with love, spices, and years of experience.
These are the two most obvious rewards for me, but on a broader, harder to put into words sort of reward: just being in a family. Going to pick up the kids from school, helping with homework, watching movies together, eating dinner together, going to the park, tagging along to go shopping, to English lessons, to piano classes…all these things have showed me what life in Istanbul is like for real people.
On top of all this, Aysegul is basically the most connected person in the whole of Istanbul, so when her friends wanted to test out having an au pair for one month: I was lent to another family. I know this sounds strange, and it was, but the opportunity to get to know and play with two more great kids (Nisan and Guney) and see what another “normal Turkish family” looks like on the inside.
These families have been so much more welcoming than I could’ve ever expected them to be, and they’ve given me a whole life outside of my university bubble in which I lived last semester. I’ve had the opportunity to not only get to know these lovely people, but also their extended families, their friends, their neighbors, and how they feel about their life here. I cannot possibly thank Erdem, Aysen, Aysegul, or Mehmet for everything they’ve done by welcoming me into their homes and letting me bother their children (Guney, Nisan, Zeynep, and Ali), but as I reflect on my time in Turkey after my return to the USA I can only hope they know they all have special places in my heart as my Turkish families. I can never repay them for all I’ve gained from them: both in experience, knowledge, and love. I will be forever indebted to them for their endless generosity and kindness.
Thank you all, and I know I will see you again.