East Toward Home

A writer returns to Turkey revived.

By / February 2012

A few months ago my family and I left Adana, the city in southern Turkey where we have lived for the past three years, to make a trip back to the United States. We looked forward to visiting with family, reconnecting with friends, and frequenting old haunts. Still, after a few months of wandering about the continental US introducing the kids to relatives they were too young to remember, we grew tired of sleeping in borrowed beds.

As good as it felt to be back in America, we found ourselves more and more missing Turkey, the evenings spent drinking hot tea from tulip-shaped glasses with friends, the spicy, mouthwatering Adana kebabs, the weekly pazar with its endless rows of fresh fruits and vegetables, our neighborhood with everything we needed no more than a walk away.

Lured by history and culture and a desire to give our children experiences we never had growing up, my wife and I had thrilled at the chance to live in the “Cradle of Civilization” following my departure from the Air Force. It seems we had adapted to life there more than we realized. It was time, I told my wife, for us to return home. The word caught in my throat, felt strange rolling off my tongue. Just where was home, anyway?

Because of our itinerant lifestyle with the military, we had come to associate “home” more with our actual possessions than any geographical location. When moving time came, we would pack with little to no thought of ever living in the same locale again. Now, as a civilian, the idea of heading back to the same city seemed foreign. The fact that it was a city in a foreign land made it doubly strange.

The airport scene with family was a storm of emotions, but after the tearful goodbyes, we made our way to the gate.

As we waited to board the Lufthansa aircraft, my mind raced back and forth between what we were leaving and what awaited us in Turkey. I wavered between the sorrow of departing from family and the excitement of returning home. There was that word again.

Late the next evening we finally arrived in Adana. Miraculously, all eight of our bags came through the luggage chute one right after the other, ahead of everyone else’s. I hefted piece after piece off the belt while other passengers glared at me as if I had pushed my luggage ahead of theirs on the conveyor. A friend with a vehicle large enough to haul us and our bags picked us up and launched into the free-style traffic where the only rule seems to be “do to others before they do to you.” I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

It took us three trips in the tiny elevator to get everything to our sixth floor apartment. Door to door, the trip had taken 24 hours. We had hardly plopped everything inside before the phone rang. It was our upstairs neighbors. Looking down from their balcony, they had seen our lights come on.

Despite the late hour, we rushed upstairs where we were greeted with hugs and handshakes and a chorus of “Hos Geldiniz,” Turkish for “We’re so glad you’re here!” We meant to stay for a minute or two but wound up staying for a glass of tea. After catching up on the latest news about family (little Efe had grown so big) and our building (the new manager is an improvement over the last one) and getting an update on the price of produce (it had risen, of course), we could no longer fight the yawns.

After a reluctant goodnight and a promise to return soon, we hurried back to our apartment and crashed, leaving the unpacking for a brighter hour.

We awoke the next morning to heavy sunshine. I took my cup of hot Nescafe and stepped onto the balcony. I looked across the street to the park where we had learned some of our first Turkish words from curious children. To the left was the bakery where we bought hot flat bread for breakfast. On the way back, we never ceased from fighting over the crispy tips. To the right I could see Turgut Ozal Boulevard with its orange trees and wide sidewalks perfect for a vigorous morning walk or leisurely evening stroll.

I stood listening to the sounds. Kids laughing and shouting on their way to school, the junk man asking passersby for unwanted goods, buses lurching down the street. Between surrounding apartment buildings I could make out the snow-covered Toros Mountains, those giant icebergs floating in the sky. I turned to go back inside. It was good to be home.


Michael Cervantez, formerly a logistics officer in the Air Force, is a writer living in Adana.