It was August 27, 1999. I was 16 years old and about to embark on the greatest adventure of my young life.
This was back before September 11, when families were allowed to walk right up to the gate with you. I waited in line to board my Lufthansa plane to Germany with my parents, my brother and my grandma all waving and hollering not 10 feet away from me. I had tears in my eyes as I stole one more glance back at them, knowing that as I rounded the corner towards the plane, I wouldn't be seeing them again for a whole year.
I didn't sleep the entire plane ride. I remember thinking somewhere over Eastern Europe that I'd never been that high in the sky before, nor indeed, in my head. Adrenalin rushed through my body, my fingers tapped my the armrests incessantly, my feet fidgeted under the seat.
When I finally got off the plane in Istanbul and made my way to the exit, I saw my host sister -- blonde curls bouncing -- waving frantically and smiling. My entire host family was waiting for me. We piled my luggage -- way too much of it -- into their teeny tiny car and drove along Istanbul's Sahil Yolu (coast road) towards Sultanahmet.
I remember gazing at my new home with my eyes wide open. I had never seen a mosque before. I had never seen so much traffic. I had never seen so many people, so many men and women and children pushing and shoving and careening and just moving forward.
I had never heard a foreign language other than Spanish before. I don't think I had even been in a car that small before. I was a blank slate, starting from scratch, from zero, and when I stepped off that plane, I absorbed every little thing I could see, hear, smell and touch.
It was like being in a Twilight Zone episode where everything looks the same -- there were, after all, cars and people and signs and roads and houses and apartments -- but isn't.
It was, in a word, wild.
I am remembering all of this today because this is the day my cousin comes to visit. For two months.
Yes, this is not just any old trip, a one-week jaunt to Istanbul to see the highlights, drink some raki and buy some lackluster saffron from the Spice Bazaar.
I guess you could say that this trip for my cousin will be exploratory. A discovery, if you will. This is his first trip outside of the US, his first time seeing not just any foreign country but one that I love dearly.
Part of me wishes that I could see Turkey through his eyes again, past all the jadedness, past the annoyances, the "been there, done that" vibe expats can get when they've lost their sense of wonder at someplace new. I've been guilty of that, for sure.
But for today at least, I am going to think about that wonder, that awe, that sense of complete and utter astonishment.
What about you? What do you remember about your first time overseas, or your first time in Turkey? I'd love to hear your reminiscences.