We are the Other: When I stopped belonging everywhere

I am participating in a "synchroblog" at SheLoves Magazine today on their month's theme, "We Are The Other." Check out the other great writers and their stories. ************************ Our young interns had named it the Dragon Wagon. The big black Volkswagen Euro Van which could cart 10 of them across town or country, but which I drove alone with our two-year old on most days. The van in which my husband had coached me to drive offensively rather than defensively through the narrow cobblestone streets of ancient Chalcedon.

We lived on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey in the largest neighborhood in the largest city in the largest unreached nation in the world. But the streets were narrow and the buildings tall and skinny. Sidewalks had been added as an after thought and were often overtaken by carts selling seasonal produce.

The day I returned from dropping my son off at Turkish preschool, screaming not to leave him, was another day among many in which the streets were torn up, bricks relaid and new sand poured. I made a turn and then another, weaving up the hill into the depths of our neighborhood. Taking an unplanned right with the enormous van, I couldn’t compensate for the car extending beyond the curb, couldn’t get around. I was stuck. Another car was on my tail and another behind him. Now they were all in the street, yelling for me to get out-of-the-way. Turkish hands flapping in the wind, a clear sign of total disgust.

When I opened my mouth, they knew. Hands went down and “Allahallas” circled among the men.

Yabanci. Foreigner, they said to explain it all.

I had come to hate that word, muttered by corner grocers and on minibuses and in smoke-filled college cafes. No matter where I went, I was the foreigner. No matter how good my accent was. No matter how hard I tried. No matter how long I lived in their country, how much I loved their country, I was always the foreigner. The one who wasn’t like them.

But there’s another memory. A trek through a valley. A team of 60, representing 6 cultures, following a village boy to a hidden church. A moonscape valley of sandstone rocks carved into homes and hiding places. A small crevice, indistinguishable from the rest, that we climb up and through. Frescoes preserved through the centuries, painted by monks and persecuted Christians. Our brothers of an ancient land. And we break bread, dip into the cup, and praise God in our one shared language, Turkish.

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We are all foreigners. None of us belong to this Muslim land of Mosques and Calls to Prayer and the kneeling and bending of bodies. We are Korean, Albanian, Kiwi, American, Turk. We are Jesus followers. And we are all yabanci.

I hold to this when I walk the shredded tires of playgrounds feeling alone. When I can no longer follow conversations to the depths of a language I can't comprehend. When I feel as much out-of-place in America visiting family, feeling speared in two, soul and body separated by oceans. When I feel desperately other among the very teammates I stood shoulder to shoulder with in the dark expanse of an ancient holy place. Not like them. And not like them.

Yabanci. Forever?