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.
Months later, it's time for another post. I'll explain the delay shortly, but I won't apologize for it. It's recently become painfully obvious (literally) that there is a lot of stress involved in moving between continents, spending months away from your partner, changing jobs, and planning a wedding. Doing all of those things at the same time creates an ideal situation for an immune system to cry out in rebellion its own variation of, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about!"
Once upon a time, about three weeks ago, I was preparing for a solo trip to Vienna to present my first-ever conference paper. I would spend a few days there and then return to Turkey to pack my things, say my goodbyes, and then fly back to the US to begin the transition to life there, waiting for Hüseyin to join after his visa interview. Prior to leaving for the trip, I'd been putting a lot of time into this website, searching and applying for new jobs daily, and beginning training for an online tutoring position. It was a lot, but I was, as I tend to be, optimistic that the combination of my brain, my work ethic, and the internet would create an unstoppable force such that within days of arriving back home I'd have a full time job, an apartment, a car...all the things I'd never prioritized in my adventurous years abroad that I now felt would reassure me that leaving Turkey was the right decision for my new little family.
Here's a picture my new friend Emma took of me in Vienna, so idealistic and hopeful it almost hurts:
I enjoyed Vienna a lot. It's a beautiful city, I made a new friend, and I survived my first presentation.
Coming back to Turkey, I faced the reality that Hüseyin's visa interview had been scheduled for November 30th, the next available appointment, while I was due to leave on September 12th. I was disappointed beyond what might be a rational amount of disappointment. I had assumed he'd be with us by Thanksgiving, that we'd celebrate our November birthdays together, go to a cider mill, watch some football. Instead, the end of November meant if all went smoothly he'd be flying in early December, and that simply wouldn't do.
Of course, it has to "do." Such things are out of our control, and we know that we must accept what we cannot change. Easier said than done. Within a couple days, the sore throat I'd been nursing in Vienna blossomed into tonsillitis, which earned me my first course of antibiotics in about a decade. Either the ailment or the treatment brought with it crippling nausea, and it was a miserable few days. Once that passed and I should have been feeling better, the large spots on my tonsils showed the amoxicillin hadn't worked after all, and I would need a stronger dose of penicillin. Finally, I got a bit of relief and was able to eat and drink as the second antibiotic worked its charms, but a few days after that, I learned that I'm allergic to penicillin, and I'm still dealing with the itchy, red effects of that nonsense.
Happily, I was able to stay in Turkey longer than I'd originally planned, which means spending more time with my future in-laws and ultimately a shorter stint in a long-distance relationship. Rather than having a miserable travel experience, I was taken care of by someone who doesn't turn away in disgust when I'm hugging the toilet and who translates for me when doctors don't speak English, even asking them about the scary syndromes I've read about online that no one else would take seriously. I've also been forced to reexamine and reevaluate my expectations for the future and be just a little cooler with the uncertainties ahead.
Moving forward, I'm embracing the 30th of November and asking you to join me. Apart from being Visa Interview Day, it will also be the deadline for your submissions of your own stories. We've got 65 days, me to wait for some good news and you to write something to share! Head to the home page for your free copy of "Getting Started" if you need some encouragement!
This is the first in a series of I-don't-know-how-many posts intended as prompts for the hesitant writers out there. When you try to think of a single story to share about a relationship that is such a large part of your life, where do you start? One area of unique challenges for couples like us: BUREAUCRACY.
Hüseyin and I began the process of getting his US fiance visa almost exactly two months ago, and it's no surprise it has taken this long - this is just the beginning of a much longer process, and we're prepared to wait it out. We understand this is a unique situation, there are procedures that must be followed, and that's just the way it is.
But then there are times when Bureaucracy sneaks up behind you in an alley that has suddenly gone dark and sinister, covers your mouth with one hand, and demands you give it all your money. After getting a UK visa just in time to see my old orchestra play in Scotland and Harry Potter on stage in London, we figured Bureaucracy had gotten a new girlfriend, let's call her Karma, and would continue to smile on us.
In a month, a friend of mine is getting married in Germany, and we've been invited to her wedding. We've gone to visit Bureaucracy to ask for his blessing for the journey. He calls me over first. "Passport?"
"I'm just coming to visit..."
"Don't need to know. You're fine...NEXT!"
And then it's Hüseyin's turn.
"Passport? Hmmm. Turkish. Do you also have the requisite return flight, travel insurance, proof of employment, sponsor who is not your fiancee, and 500 mL of unicorn blood? Yeah, I'm a Harry Potter fan too, but Voldemort's my favorite character."
These are concerns that not all couples face. When you're from the same country, you're allowed to visit the same countries, or at least you get to apply for a visa together and be accepted or rejected together. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm frustrated that it's hard to go on vacation with my fiance, but I'll survive. Where immigration is concerned, couples wait months or years to be together, not to mention the penalties applied to any rule-breaking in this ever-changing game.
There's a verse from the book of Ruth that's popular to read at weddings: "Where you go, I'll go. Where you stay, I'll stay." It's a beautiful sentiment, but sadly a challenging reality for some of us. "Where you go, I'll go if I can get a visa. Where you stay, I'll stay after at least a year of waiting for my papers to be processed."