When I graduated from college, the euphoria of accomplishment and endless summer wore off like a temporary tattoo. My predisposition towards impatience settled in and I made the hasty decision to jet off to Istanbul for two months, leaving just two weeks after I walked across the stage in a big robe and tasseled hat. Ten days after arriving, I would be in a month-long internship program, but the rest of the time was mine alone. And this alone time really started to freak me out.
At home, I’m not adverse to solitude. But home is the familiar. Istanbul – halfway round the world and in stark contrast to my native culture – was completely foreign to me in language, lifestyle and locus. I was unprepared for the difficulty of knowing no one and nothing, of trying to see through the fog of jetlag and fear to find even a place to sit and eat. And for the first seven days, unsleeping and unsteady, I lived between a strong case of homesickness and total culture shock. Don’t get me wrong, the city was magnificent: the domes and spires of ancient mosques rising from the bounding hills, the music of the call to prayer, the old tiles, the delicate tulip glasses of tea, the sparkling Bosphorous, the winding, cobbled streets. But it was hard to take it in when it all meant “unknown.”
For this trip, I bought myself a beautiful pair of dark brown, soft leather sandals, simple, but with a woven pattern over the toes and built to last. They were stiff at first; I didn’t plan to wear them everyday. But the heavy heat and humidity kept me from grabbing my boots. And soon, I was forced to break them in – to tamp down thoughts like, “what the hell am I doing here and why?” I walked. From the moment I woke to sundown, I’d just walk and walk. First, it was about making my body so tired it might quiet my mind. But soon it became about finding my way, becoming oriented in a strange new place and being comfortable getting lost. And then, getting lost became the aim. I wanted to discover what I never could have planned to find, to wander into unknown areas of the dense city, walk up and down the meandering hills, stumble upon graveyards filled with kings and forgotten mosques with crumbling tiles. By getting lost, I could lose myself. And by losing myself, I could patch together a new me: tan from the Mediterranean sun and as confident of my direction in the streets as in my reasoning for flying across the world to combat restlessness.
Istanbul became imprinted in me like an old memory or new love, and as I carved routes into the city, I wore deep grooves into my soft leather shoes. By the end of the two months, they were all but destroyed, the soles cracking, the leather straps stretched out and splintering. Now they are a relic living in a box in my closet. But like the memories of those life-altering two months, I won’t ever toss them away.
Tessa Love is a culture writer by day and travel blogger by night. Find her at www.wanderhomeblog.com