In Turkey, traveling between cities in large, comfortable coach buses is one of the most efficient and cost effective ways of getting around the country. Turkey is served by at least 15 different bus companies, although that is a pretty conservative estimate. However, Kamil Koc (Coach), Metro Turizm, and Pammukale are the three largest bus companies serving Turkey. So far, I’ve made the 5 1/2 to 6 hour trip between Ankara and Istanbul four times, but no trip was more memorable than my first when I met a spirited 20 year-old from Kenya named Joel (pronounce Joe-el).
In the spacious bus, I was sitting in my window seat watching the crowds pushing and shoving their luggage across the gates of the Ankara’s Otogar (bus terminal) when the tall and lanky Joel took the seat next to mine. Joel was escorted in by two, young Turkish men who were smiling from rim to rim, and before leaving, each gave Joel the “infamous” two cheek kiss.
I always jump at the chance to practice my Turkish, so the few words I said to Joel and his friends were in Turkish. This led to a funny moment as the bus pulled away from the station. Joel and I started to say a few words in Turkish to each other, and attempted some sort of conversation. It took us about 5 or 10 minutes before we realized each of us spoke perfect English.
After that, our conversation really took off. I learned that although Joel and I lived on two very different continents (Africa and North America), we had some very similar experiences and interests. Joel was interested in going to college for technical theater and film. I told Joel about my work as a lighting technician in Boston, as well as some stories about my time doing production work for ESPN and local television outlets at home.
I have to admit my scope was widened during the four or five hours Joel and I spent chatting about film, today’s technology in film and theater, living in Turkey, and our own countries. I’ve spent 23 years living in an American Bubble that has certainly allowed me to paint some very generic pictures of the world. Even though one of my college roommates and best friends is also from Kenya, I never would have expected IF a Kenyan visiting Turkey sat down next to me on a bus that his interests would be in technical theater and film.
I told Joel this, mentioning that many Americans I know picture Kenyans as an incredibly skinny people who spend their days running across deserts while living among lions and elephants. He laughed, and added that many Kenyans picture Americans and other Westerners as people who live in “a fantasyland.” From the Kenyan perspective, “the West is a place of no problems, no sickness, and plenty of money,” said Joel.
“But when you travel (to richer countries),” Joel reflected, “you realize issues that effect humans, effect them everywhere.”
With that sentence alone, I think Joel summed up the main purpose of the Fulbright grant and why I’m out here documenting my trip. We all have had visions of people in another country living in a carefree environment. For example, today’s proponents of health care trumpet the happiness of Canadians, Brits, Danes, and etc. However, we can’t deny that the world is much more complicated.
For this reason I do hope readers of the blog will be able to get a more clearer look at Turkey and its different communities. More importantly however, I hope this yearlong expedition will help make me a better journalist. I expect to have many more “bubble bursting” moments. I can only hope that through these experiences, I will be able to write and pursue stories in the future with an enlarged and more careful perspective. Whether I end up covering local, national, or international issues, my ability to carefully process information without making rash generalizations will be critical.
It’s true that I’ll be a teacher while in Turkey. But, I am the real student. Turkey is my classroom, and the people I’ve met, people like Joel who have helped burst my bubble, are my teachers.
Here’s hoping I’ll get an A.