There was some combination of hand gesturing and words in Turkish that seemed to suggest no as I attempted to take my belt and shoes off. I was sweating more than I would have liked, and the confusion of whether or not I should start taking clothes off only made me sweat more.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no—I was not seeking the comfort of another human being in a foreign land. I was, however, in a foreign airport (Istanbul, to be exact). And I was seeking to board my flight to Antalya. The latter of which was leaving in a matter of minutes.
Why Antalya? Soccer. You see, months before this, I had flown to California and participated in a soccer combine. What that means, basically, is that a bunch of people who wanted to get paid to play soccer showed up at the same place at the same time to play in front of people who claimed to be of reasonable enough importance. I did well there, I guess, and the people of power invited me to play in front of professional scouts in Antalya, Turkey. An invitation I gladly accepted.
The team, as well as the coaching staff, was compiled of people from all parts of the globe—a good majority scattered around the United States, a handful from South Africa, and some from England. Which meant a couple of things, among them being everybody’s familiarity with McDonald’s. But it also meant everybody had a different flight schedule. As such, we were to all meet at our final location (Antalya) at a pre-determined spot (a cafe just outside the airport). Simple enough, right?
Up until the Istanbul airport my travels had gone smoothly. My biggest problems, in fact, had been occupying large amounts of time between layovers and figuring out European outlets. But since arriving off the plane from Germany, things had gone… less smooth. For starters, there was the incident where I tried to get through the wrong customs line. You know, the one for only Turkish citizens (which feels like something I should have been able to figure out). After hopping a hand rail or two, however, I was able to correct that mistake and eventually make my way to the front of the correct customs line (the one for non-Turkish citizens), where I was promptly informed, rather bluntly, and with a look one might give their seven-year-old after eating sand, that I needed a Visa. I won’t go into detail why I didn’t have one, or why I thought I didn’t need one—we’ll chalk it up to miscommunication—but the fact of the matter was this: it was very much something I needed. The customs guy made it very clear. Painstakingly clear. I can’t emphasize enough how clear he made it. It was like he was telling his mother not to mix his white underwear with his Superman underwear, something he thought she should have already figured out, especially after last weeks debacle. So I backtracked a good bit, found a place that would sell me one, and spent twenty dollars to acquire it. All in all, it was a pretty easy process—even for a first time Visa-purchaser such as myself—but it did cost me a fair amount of time. Not ideal, considering this was my shortest layover; forty five minutes from when I landed to when I departed. Which, at this point, left me with about fifteen minutes before my plane was scheduled to take off. And before getting on that plane I had to make my way back through customs, through security on the other side, and then to a bus somewhere in the airport that would take me to that plane. (Did I mention this was my first time traveling out of the country?)
Eventually, after enough hand gesturing, I determined that the nice Istanbul security men and women did in fact NOT want me to disrobe. As it turns out, it’s not a requirement to take off one’s shoes and belt in a Turkish airport (maybe it’s not a requirement in any other country outside of the United States, I don’t know, this was and is my only such experience). It is, however, one of the faster ways you can expose yourself as being an American. Well, that and wearing American flag pants and a camouflage bandana while gulping down 56 ounces of soda.
I stomped my shoes on, buckled my belt, grabbed my bags, thanked security for not having to give a very PG strip tease, and rushed through the rest of security and into a large open area of the airport. It was almost stop-sign like in shape, but more sides. Maybe a decagon, I don’t know. And at each side was a hallway leading to another section of the airport. I needed to take one of these. The only problem was, I had no idea which one.
It was an overwhelming sensation. Being in this crowded, foreign airport. Running behind, not knowing where to go, while everybody around me seemed to know exactly where they were supposed to go. The airport was all but spinning as I stood there and tried to gather myself. I attempted to navigate by sign, but most of it was written in Turkish. And the little that was written in English didn’t exactly paint a clear picture. Finally, though, I saw something that looked promising enough and took off down the corridor, hoping for the best. Soon, I came upon some stairs, at the bottom of which were a bunch of passengers boarding a bus. Which, by some minor miracle, was the bus I needed.
The flight from Istanbul to Antalya was relatively short. Maybe an hour and a half. For flying, that’s basically enough time to ascend, level out for a little while, perhaps just long enough to enjoy a sandwich, and descend. Which we did. It all went rather smoothly, too, including the eating of my sandwich, which just so happened to be a turkey sandwich—something I thought was more than amusing, and would document with a picture.
Upon landing in Antalya, however, I was greeted with a feeling of uneasiness. This despite the amusement of eating a Turkey sandwich on a Turkish plane somewhere in Turkey. With all the chaos in Istanbul, I hadn’t had much time to think about it before. But as I grabbed my bags and exited the plane I couldn’t help but wonder: what if nobody’s there to meet me? I mean, sure, that’s an unlikely scenario. After all, this is a professional organization and trips like this are what fund their existence, so surely following through on a plan and punctuality are things they believe in, but still: what if?
I convinced myself it was just my imagination. Of course that’s not going to happen, Devon, this is real life. The professional world. People do what they say they are going to do, that’s just how it works. There will be a team of guys in red track suits in the cafe, like we discussed, holding signs that say something like, hey young man, yeah, you, the one looking right at us thinking, ‘are those the guys who said they were going to meet me here?’ Of course we are! Yay for people who do what they say they are going to do! This is all so wonderful! People are great! The world is full of magic and wonder and common courtesy, who needs to be skeptical of others? While we’re at it, would you mind giving us the numbers to your checking account?’ Right?
Wrong. Nobody was there to meet me upon arriving at the cafe outside the airport. Nobody was wearing a red track suit. Nobody was holding a surprisingly descriptive sign answering all my unvoiced questions, easing my nerves and pointing me in the right direction. Just a number of people greeting loved ones, and others trying to leave the airport to find their ride. In fact, it was all pretty dead.
Not knowing what else to do, I took up a seat in the cafe. When—or if—somebody was going to show up, this is where they would come, I thought. I was welcomed by a waiter, who asked if he could get me anything. Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of a language barrier as I thought there would be. At least, not with him. He spoke good enough english, to the point where we were able to communicate rather easily with basic words and physical gestures. I thanked him, but politely told him I was okay; water would be fine. He responded, politely informing me, in order to sit in this cafe I would have to order something that cost actual money. So I reluctantly purchased a tea. (Spending money wasn’t exactly at the top of my to-do list. After all, I may soon need to buy a scooter, some goggles, a scarf, and a map to a lost city where I could find enough gold to buy a plane ticket back to the United States.)
As I sat there, sipping my tea, I thought about what I could do in the event that somebody never came. I went back through my email—using data, which cost just about the same amount as buying a medium sized yacht—to make sure I was in the right spot, which I was, then I looked up the address of where we were supposed to stay for the next two weeks, some 45 minutes away. An expensive taxi, perhaps?
Just then, an American looking kid, roughly the same age as me, walked through the cafe looking just as confused as I was. It was the best thing I’d seen since stepping foot in Antalya. We made eye contact eventually—being the only two people in the cafe there was always a good chance this would happen—and confirmed what we were both thinking: we were here for the same reason.
This was enormously comforting. Sure, there was still no solution to the larger problem, but at least there was somebody to solve the problem with. And an American at that (which may or may not be a good thing, but at least we could communicate and get made fun of together). We chatted, more about soccer and college than our current predicament. He had gone to school in Hawaii, something I was fascinated with and couldn’t stop asking questions about. Like how much did milk cost there? He also ordered a water and got away with it, something I wasn’t totally cool about with our waiter.
This back and forth continued on for a good while. Between the stories and laughs, it was all but the perfect first date. Even so, there was always an underlying feeling of angst. After all, we were in an unfamiliar country, both of us halfway around the world from home, very much looking the part. And still no sign of anyone.
Minutes that first crept by were now escaping us in chunks. Ten here, fifteen there, five more just for fun. If you were attending a lecture on something you didn’t really care for, you’d be pleased at how the time was passing. But, unfortunately for us, we were lost in Turkey instead. Finally, though, with the question of how the two of us would proceed from here at the forefront of our conversation, we saw something in the distance. People, to be exact. Wearing something red. Yep, it was a couple of guys wearing red track suits, heading our way. And only an hour late.
I’d like to think there’s some meaning I can take away from this story. And who knows, maybe there is. Something about throwing yourself into the deep end, the unknown, and finding out what you’re made of. Or getting out of your comfort zone, or being spontaneous, or not freaking out when things look bleak, or the fact that the professional world isn’t always so professional. But maybe it’s none of that. Maybe it’s nothing more than being totally lost halfway around the world and hoping for the best. And hey, if nothing else, there’s always eating a turkey sandwich on a Turkish plane somewhere in Turkey. And that seems pretty special to me. So much so that I’ve created a list of things one could do that would be equally special in other countries.
Things One Could Do That Would be Equally Special in Other Countries as Eating a Turkey Sandwich in Turkey
1. Get covered in grease in Greece. Go to Greece, maybe Athens. Spend a good while there enjoying all it has to offer—meet somebody special, drink fancy wine, walk the grounds of the original Olympic games. Before you know it, you of course fall in love with all things Greece and decide to live there for a while. You work at an Auto shop, for money to live, and then realize months later that you ironically get covered in grease daily. You laugh a little.
2. Drink a can of ‘Duh’ in Canada. I envision this drink being comparable to a Sprite. Not too overwhelming, just something with a little carbonation. Crack it open and enjoy everything about this.
3. Meet and befriend twins in Germany named Germ and E. This speaks for itself.
4. Find a patch of green land in Greenland. This may be impossible. Pics or it didn’t happen.
5. Dance with a girl named Fran in France. When people ask what you two are doing, tell them you’re ‘Francing’.
6. Stub your toe in Spain. Really sell this one. When people ask if you’re okay, say, of course I’m not okay, I’m in so much spain. This works similar to using meow instead of now. Repeat ad nauseam.
7. Say ‘in the uh’ in India. It would probably look like this:
You [pointing at nothing in particular]: “What’s in there?”
Stranger: “In where?”
You: “In the uh… in the uh… I don’t know, man. I just wanted to say ‘in the uh’. Thank you, and sorry for wasting your time.”
8. Find more than one toy whale in Wales. Again, pics or it didn’t happen.
9. Find a banana in the Czech Republic. And when you do, say this to the next person you see, “So I’m sure you get this all the time, and I think the answer is pretty obvious, but is this how Banana Republic was founded?”
10. Eat chili on a chilly day in Chile. I think we all knew this was going to happen.