[this is a post I wrote about 2 weeks ago, having just landed in Istanbul after the school year finished. I forgot to actually post it.]

..it’s been weird. I’m in Istanbul, reeling slightly from the abrupt end to my year in Iraq. I’m currently drinking tea in a my hostel, which is a 5-minute walk from Taksim square. Although the protests have calmed down and (it seems) all that’s left of the protests are a few flower-strewn sidewalk memorials, there are various barricades behind which armed Turkish police are watching the crowds. It was a bit of a shock to be following the crowds going about their grocery-shopping, money-exchanging, coffee-drinking days, and suddenly to my left, within an arm’s length, noticing 10 black-padded and helmeted Turkish riot police. Just standing there. Chatting. Keeping an eye on pedestrians.

So, back to Iraq. Work ended with little ceremony except a form stating that I absolve the school of all its responsibilities toward me. I got paid, I packed up my apartment, and I got on the plane. Very un-emotional and matter-of-fact. No thank-you’s or an end-of-year staff appreciation dinner. Glad I left.

I had to say goodbye to my best friend in Iraq, though, and that was the worst. This was the longest I’ve lived abroad. It was my first job with a contract and benefits and everything. It was a shitty place to be a young single woman, and it was a shitty school. I was, continually, fighting against the current. The current to obey men, the current to just say yes, to not raise my voice, to not object, to gossip about others, to complain loudly to my subordinates but to flatter my superiors, to teach my kids according to a poorly-thought-out curriculum. And Gwen, my best friend, helped me through it all. We could call each other, exasperated, and help each other work through our cultural and professional frustrations. We helped each other navigate the hazards of being single white female teachers in Kurdistan. We were each other’s lifelines in Iraq, and now, as is  life (and especially the life of a traveller), we don’t know when we’ll see each other again. InshAllah.

And I love my students to death, but they’re all 5 years old and aren’t capable of understanding that I’m leaving. I kept telling them that I was going back to America, and they’d look at me, smile, and say, “Ok, Miss Rachel. We see you after summer, yes?” So I didn’t get the satisfaction of closure. When they left, it was with the look of “See you next week!” I felt a little like a car part that gets taken out and replaced during a routine maintenance check.

But ON A BRIGHTER NOTE: I accomplished EVERYTHING that I came to Iraq for. I saved money, got (A LOT OF) teaching experience, made friends, and learned (some) Kurdish. I explored, travelled more than I ever have, twisted my brain into knots, and got used to being confused. For me, it was a success, no matter what others thought of my staying there. And I’m glad that the bad memories are already starting to fade, while the good memories are steadily becoming brighter. I can choose my thoughts like I choose my breakfast, and now I’m determined to be bouncy-optimistic again, to take from Iraq only those things which improve my character.

I’m unsure how I feel about my situation now. There are so many perspectives to take, that once again I’m just going with the flow.

So. For now:

June 22-July 6: Turkey (with my mom and aunts!)

July 6 – August 1: USA (Eugene, Portland, Walla Walla. Dates TBA)

August 1-August 8: Antigua and Barbuda (Carnival!)

August 8 – whenever: Nicaragua and surrounding countries (backpacking, odd jobs)

After a year of working my tail off in a country whose culture, from an American perspective, could not be any more Escher-like, I’m tempted to stay in Oregon for a while. But plane tickets have been bought, and probably after a few nights’ good sleep and some square, healthy meals I’ll once again be itching to explore. And Central America/the Caribbean is my dessert after a long year of eating my vegetables.

So for now, I’m cutting myself a break and allowing myself to spend all day in the hostel sleeping, drinking tea, sleeping some more, and reading. Life can’t all be adventure, so for a day or two I’m going to recharge my batteries so that soon I can take on Turkey with all the more enthusiasm. Talk to you soon.

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