Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Journey to Antalya

Sunday, September 12, 2015

The Journey to Antalya deserved its own post.

For the most part, the journey was smooth, unlike the hustle and bustle of my journey to Ankara. Alex and I had a hearty lunch and departed the hotel at 1:30p to catch our 4p flight, which was booked by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. We said goodbye to our peers as  we passed them, and it was impossible to track everyone down. We hugged Mevlude Hanim goodbye, jam-packed our luggage and our bodies into one taxi, and off we went. Our driver was a young 20-something man who tried to teach us some Turkish words in exchange for English words. I was sweating buckets that day because of a stomachache and dizziness; but the driver made the 45-minute ride to the airport enjoyable through up-beat Turkish music and good conversation.

One thing that is repeatedly happening to Alex and me is that Turkish people are trying to guess our ethnicities/backgrounds/origins. When we tell them we are from New Jersey and Virginia, respectively, they do not believe us. They politely rephrase the question to “where are your ancestors from?” I proudly tell them I’m Pakistani, because it is true, I was in fact born in Pakistan so part of me is Pakistani and then I’m American. But for Alex, who is of Italian heritage from generations ago, it feels weird to call herself Italian because she was not born or raised in that country. She says she doesn’t mind owning the Italian part of her background, but she and her parents were born and raised in America. For convenience-sake, however, we now just tell everyone our 'true' origins so they don’t have to scratch their heads and ask a follow-up question. We were definitely warned of this at one of the renewal grantee sessions during orientation: Turkish people’s curiosity stems from ignorance, not malice. That said, it is our responsibility as a Fulbrighter to showcase America’s diversity, so we shouldn’t shy away from owning our American identity and educating the Turkish people that America truly is a melting pot.

A nice bell-hop helped Alex and me push our luggage to the check-in counter, where we encountered—wait for it—yes, more baggage fees! Can you believe that only 15 kilo is allowed per person to travel domestically? Ridiculous. Alex and I each had two bags of 23 kilo each, because our understanding was that 23 kilos (50 pounds) is a normal baggage allowance. Anyway, we got a receipt with our luggage weight printed on it, and just like the Istanbul Airport, the ladies at the counter withheld our passports until we went to the sales office (half way across the airport) to pay the fees. I think I’m becoming a professional at Turkish airport travel, if I must say so myself. To those coming to visit, please, please be weary of this concept: they will make you weigh your checked luggage (pack lightly!), and they will withhold your passport at the desk until you pay overweight baggage fees (again, pack lightly!). Enough on that—the horse has been beaten to death, right? Moving on.

Security was miserable; they made us open our carry-on items only to discover beautiful jewelry and not harmful weapons. We waited at our gate for a good hour before boarding, and my nausea had calmed although I was still at unease. And then, out of nowhere, we spotted Casey at the airport! He was traveling to Malatya with a few other Fulbrighters. A selfie bayram.

View of Toros Mountains from our flight.
The flight to Antalya was short, about an hour or so. I had zero appetite so I skipped the white cheese sandwich and snacks that were offered, and instead, drank water. The view outside the window was amazing—the majestic Toros Mountains and the glistening Mediterranean Sea screamed “Hoşgeldiniz!” (Welcome!) to us.

We retrieved our luggage at the domestic section of the airport. You know what they say; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Proud to say, ladies and gentlemen, we were not fooled. Outside the arrival gate, our university representative, Meltem, (whom we had met earlier at orientation) and her friend picked us up and drove us to the campus’ Social Facilities Hotel, where we had pizza for dinner and spent the night.

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