I’d initially intended to break my silence with a piece about our wedding(s), but then inspiration struck, and this happened. I promise, soon, there will be news (and photos!) from both our December ceremony and our March reception.
For now, let’s talk about how current events and public perception can affect an intercultural relationship.
When you wake up to the news that travel to your country has been restricted for citizens of some Muslim countries, the first thing you do is check if the country where your husband was born is on the list. When you see it isn’t there, you breathe a sigh of relief…for just a moment. Then, the guilt hits. This didn’t stop being a problem just because MY family isn’t affected. There are couples just like us who are now facing obstacles far bigger than a delayed visa or two.
The luxury of sticking my head in the sand, ignoring what’s happening in the world as a whole, and focusing on my immediate surroundings is quickly becoming a luxury that I MUST make space in my budget to afford. My country is behaving in ways that could impact our ability to be together (or at least travel together) and so is his. My anxiety level and inner prayer monologue are becoming more active with every headline I click on. What if our countries stop being friends? What if I can’t travel to Turkey? What if we go to Turkey and he can’t come back to the US? What could we do? Where could we go?
If you’re from Michigan and marry someone from Illinois, there’s no need to study up on inter-state relations or keep an ear tuned to what stones one gubernatorial office might throw at the other. You’re from the same country, and even though relatives on one side of a state border might tease a significant other from the other side (looking at you, Ohio), we know it’s all in good fun.
But while we might tell jokes about Arkansas or Wisconsin (and yes, those are arbitrary choices – mostly chosen because I’ve got a dear friend in each one), our perceptions of countries on the other side of the world (and especially in the Middle East) can really color our mindsets about them. People tell me all the time that they’re glad I’m “home” and they’re glad I’m “safe.” I get that, I do. My parents have worried about me a lot while I’ve been overseas, and especially in that last year in Turkey, and it’s good for us to be together again. Of course, “home” is a funny concept after being away from my country of birth for so long. “Home” was Ireland, after I discovered great friends there. The same phenomenon occurred in Germany, and again in South Korea, after going away for a weekend and feeling like I was returning “home” to my apartment. More than all of that, Turkey was and is home. I found a family there, in my little community of foreign teachers and one extra special Turk. We celebrated holidays, shared meals, grieved losses, laughed until we were in pain, and danced like crazy people.
Sometimes, well-meaning people say similar things to Hüseyin, about being glad that he’s here and safe. This makes me uncomfortable, and I always hurry to downplay the comment and change the subject. How can he be glad that he has left his country? How does being a stranger in a strange land feel safer than being at home? Turkey isn’t a war zone, and he didn’t narrowly escape with his life. It’s the place where he was born, and it’s full of natural and historical beauty and some of the warmest people I’ve ever met.
Our American wedding reception is less than a week away, and it’s creeping into my dreams – last night I dreamt about a ceremony in Turkey, with Hüseyin’s dad presiding, his sister holding my hand, my dad interjecting an opinion or two, and the familiar face of my aunt in a crowded village celebration. When I woke up, I realized that the feelings I have for all of those people, that random sampling of both sides of our family, share a common depth. In the family that I continue to grow up in, I’ve been surrounded by role models who’ve given me the space and freedom to share my thoughts, stretch my wings, and figure out what my place is in this existence. In the family that I’ve married into, I’ve found people that I am mostly unable to communicate with (apart from the sister I never had in my childhood), but who have embraced me and my terrible shyness with kind eyes, warm smiles, and the faith that their son is safe with me.
“Home” is a fluid place, a concept carried within oneself and within the space of a relationship, and nowhere is that more evident than in a relationship that tries to define it across an ocean. We will never be able to choose one country and say we’ve settled there permanently, and we can’t split the difference and set up shop in the middle of the two countries — much to my dismay, we are neither whales nor sharks. We can only accept the old adage that home is where the heart is, and carry it with us wherever we may go.