I sincerely apologize for the title of this post.
I’ve finished up my papers. I’ve done my last load of laundry in Denmark. I’m wrapping up the final steps of studying abroad. So, here I am, reflecting on my past travels home to Turkey.
I haven’t been able to travel back home over the past five years for a myriad of reasons: family visiting the US, starting college, the political climate, and the fact that I’ve grown quite a bit since I was last home as a fifteen-year-old who was worried about outlining her AP Euro chapters from her aunt’s balcony. After being in Copenhagen for around a week in August, I decided to book a flight to Ordu for Thanksgiving break. I didn’t think the three months in between would pass so quickly.
I was completely incapable of sleeping the night before and therefore ended up passing out on the flight to Istanbul. (Side note: the great thing about study abroad is that I’ve taken more flights within the last four months than I have my entire life. So, I’ve become decently capable at falling asleep on planes.) After an unpleasant layover, I landed in Ordu…more than twelve hours of travel later.
The week that proceeded is a huge blur filled with family, çay (chai, tea, chai tea), and lots of food. Essentially, I complained about the lack of spice in Danish cuisine (sorry, Denmark, but y’all got to take it a few steps up) and my aunts decided to rectify the situation by making every traditional dish my heart could ever desire. During our many cooking-conversations, I was asked what traditional Danish food was like. After some thought, I told them that I can’t accurately answer their questions because I haven’t tried most traditional Danish meals; since Danish cuisine is built upon pork, my options have been quite limited. On the other hand, I hadn’t really given this much thought. Being both in the US and in Denmark (and now having traveled to many countries in Europe), I have gotten used to finding dietary accommodations. But back home, never did I have to worry about the meat I was eating, nor did I have to go out of my way to find accommodations when I ate out.
It was a strange feeling finally being in a place where the cultural “things” I do are completely normal. The difference between being in the US and Denmark is that my parents and I have been able to establish our own cultural context while still being in the US. We make our çay, keep pork out of the house, and make life feel like home. This made me think about kids like me in Denmark, growing up in this juxtaposed space where, outside your doorstep, the culture around you doesn’t want to accommodate your needs, so you have to make that space for yourself. It oftentimes doesn’t start or end with simply skin color, but instead is an amalgamation of cultural and religious identities that amplifies this feeling of “otherness.”
While home, I quickly got used to a life where my family members are next-door neighbors. To hearing the ezan, the call to prayer, marking the time of day. To seeing the Black Sea from the balcony. To greeting others with assalamualaikum. Within a few days, I had gotten so accustomed to life at home that I didn’t feel like leaving. My aunt picked up on my nostalgia, and found it interesting how even though my mom raised me in the States, I had managed to hold on to Turkish culture—arguably more than my mom—whether it be tying a çember around my head into a bow, following the newest weird wedding trends, or being invested in my religious identity.
Yes, I live in the US, but my identity will never be fully American; I will always live within the liminal space of the hyphenated: Turkish-American. After being in Denmark for a semester, I’ve realized the privilege (although I could go into discussion on the problematic nature of assimilation and integration of American culture, but alas) of having this dual identity. I’m not sure if the same is true in Denmark, where “Danishness” seems to be contingent upon (white) Danish ancestry, and not necessarily an adoption of Danish cultural norms. This question of identity is difficult, as facets of my identity are constantly in dynamic flux while other facets stay consistent and define who I am. The former is difficult to manage, as it’s oftentimes scary to reconcile these changes, no matter how insignificant they may be.
And perhaps that’s why I talk about my Turkish identity: it’s something that grounds me and contextualizes my existence; it is embedded in a deep history that constantly needs deconstructing; it is a part of me—my DNA, my name, my upbringing, and all of the things that follow—that I’m grateful for.
Especially within a Danish context, it is something I will yell from the rooftops. My existence here has transformed into an act of protest, as the social rhetoric is often against people like me being here in the first place. Within the broader immigrant context, it’s been interesting to chart the history of this discourse in Denmark for my Danish final, and it is a constant reminder that ethnic identity serves as much as a tool for building bridges as a tool to burning them apart.
Trying to find words that describe what it was like leaving my family is difficult; I’m used to staying there for summers at a time, where after two and a half months, I feel ready to return to the US. The week felt far too short, and I wished that I had more time to joke around with my aunts, hop from family member’s living room to another family member’s living room for night-time çay, and eat unlimited fluffy white bread. As I’m nearing my last days in Denmark, I am faced with a bittersweet reality: I have grown in unimaginable ways, have bonded with people who will now be far from me, have found spaces of comfort, have lost those spaces only to find new ones, and will leave a part of myself here within the mess of it all.
Until next time.
PS: I, unfortunately, did not eat any Turkey in Turkey this Thanksgiving. My family is still a bit confused about the premise of the holiday, and turkey is really expensive nowadays.