Everything felt familiar and unfamiliar all at once as I stepped off the plane into the hot summer sun. I confidently asked the woman where I could find the bus to Konyaaliti – in Turkish. When I had come here nine months ago, just one week after I had first landed in the country, I could barely stumble my way through a conversation with a dictionary in hand.
We chose a hotel close to the beach for easier access. On the way, we passed our favorite ice cream shop and the seafood place that had tried to rip us off the last time. We dropped our backpacks off upstairs – considerably lighter than the carry-ons we had had with us before – and walked across the street to join the hoards of people at the pebble beach. We walked farther until we could find a little space of our own. We stretched out on the tiny rocks to soak in the sun for a few moments before testing the water. When I felt ready, I inched forward and let the cold waves crash into my toes, and then up to my ankles. It was exactly as I remembered, and yet, totally different.
Antalya was my first real taste of Turkey. Having only had been here a week before our first holiday, I didn’t have time to process anything before that. All of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes wove into a web of sensory overload that would come to form the first imprints of my new country in my head. Going back to that place only made me realize how much I didn’t understand then and how far I’ve come in this journey.
Turkey is a place that takes some time to fall in love with and even longer to understand. Even after nearly a year, I still don’t fully understand it. It’s the kind of place that can push you to the edge of madness one second and then pull you in by the heartstrings the next. It hasn’t always been perfect and it’s never been easy, but being here has made me stronger in ways I never could have imagined. Turkey has made a better person out of me.