“Do you need help?” I asked in English. The stooped, old woman, wearing a babushka/hijab and carrying a cane and carpet bag was stopped on the sidewalk a few doors down from my apartment building last week. I’m not sure what I planned to do for her, but I hated to breeze by her. She smiled sweetly and replied in Turkish – something I assumed was “Nah, I’m good.” What if she was saying, “Would you be so kind as to carry my bag?” and I just walked away? Silently cursing myself for not learning more Turkish, I proceeded home. As I unlocked the door, she caught up with me and said, “Komşa!” She smiled and said it again and again. I got out my phone while she stood there and looked it up on Google Translate which is fantastic software when used correctly, but I unknowingly had it on English to Turkish instead of the reverse. The woman was so grandmotherly, and I wanted so much to understand her. Instead I smiled and waved goodbye as I walked in to my building. As I walked up the stairs, I looked again at my phone and realized my mistake. After switching the language order, I saw that she had been saying, “A neighbor.” (She had been pointing down the street to where she lived.) Then I was really filled with self-loathing. I felt like I should say, “You were right, Grandma. I should have studied Turkish more like you told me. My fancy phone didn’t help, did it?”
My poor language skills are not my only impediment to daily human interaction. We don’t meet people at work or school or staying in hostels. We are always strangers in a strange land. Airbnb is great for saving us money and providing a larger place to stay than a hotel, but it means we are caught between two worlds – tourist and resident. The Airbnb apartments where we’ve stayed are not meant to be lived in by a family of three for a month or more. The apartment owners we’ve encountered, with a few exceptions, are too busy or too far away to be bothered with a malfunctioning appliance or plumbing problems. Airbnb is extremely understaffed, based on my Vancouver experience when I called about the subletting problem. SO…on October 8, when the kids and I were sitting in the dark living room because the power was out and I was trying to figure out what to do with my wet laundry (I asked the young woman who had posted this place on Airbnb where the closest laundromat is, and she replied that she didn’t know and made no effort to find out. I called her dad who eventually found one where it cost 20 lira/$9 per load. The young woman and her dad, of course, did not apologize for the inconvenience or offer to pay for the laundromat.) and Charlie and I were nauseated by the sewer stench (Laurel doesn’t have a sense of smell.) emanating from the bathroom and we scratched our numerous mosquito bites that we get inside the apartment since there are no screens on the windows, the kids were reminiscing about my baking pizza bread and a variety of gluten-free treats (which I can’t do here because there’s no oven). Was that the world’s longest run-on sentence? Beautiful visions of stability and baked goods danced through our heads, and we decided to move back to the US in May 2015. I’ve already found a realtor and made offers on two condos in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The credit union wouldn’t approve the loan on the first one (too expensive) for which I’m now grateful. The second one had just been listed, and my offer was one of three – apparently not the highest. There’s another one I like now and am hoping my realtor can see it today (He makes a video of it while he tours it and posts it for me on YouTube.) and get the offer written (if everything looks and smells ok) before someone else grabs it.
We’ll be in Europe (counting the UK and Ireland) November 1 – April 1 and then maybe go to New Zealand and Australia for a couple weeks each. I had hoped to be a volunteer English teacher for three months in Cambodia at a charitable organization I read about in Readers Digest a couple years ago, but that won’t be happening now. We were going to go to every continent. Maybe we still can somehow, but not long-term in these short-term apartments. Laurel would like to go to high school, and we are happy at the thought of being able to make plans for our future. We’ve done some wonderful sightseeing recently, but I think I need to make a few different blog posts with those photos and stories instead of putting it all on this one.