Stories From An Airport In Turkey is a continuation from this post.
An 8 hour layover.
It’s such an awkward amount of time to spend in a city, especially with passport checks. Being one of the major transit points between the East and West, the customs line was insanely long; longer than my Saturday morning arrival in Heathrow just last week.
I was going to meet a friend in the city, but with spotty wifi and with my phone appearing to not work in this country (thanks a bunch, L’Orange) I opted to stay in the airport. My arrival into Istanbul was late already, leaving me with not the 8 hours I was promised but instead roughly seven hours, under six and possibly closer to five after clearing the passport check point… had I stayed in line.
I hate admitting that I pussied out of taking a (very) short day trip into Turkey but with a required two and a half hours needed at the airport before my midnight flight to T’bilisi I felt it was a good idea to play it safe. Instead of seeing the promised blend of old world meets new, mixed with protests and political tensions, I ended up surrounded by euro-pop techno/club remixes, a huge Victoria’s Secret right in the middle of the terminal, and a smattering of languages. I drank a Turkish beer and tried to write but failed as I let my thoughts escape me and my laptop screen.
I couldn’t get over the feeling of having freaked out, held on even stronger by the constant question that I kept asking myself: Did I not leave because I was traveling alone and afraid of time constraints or because I was a WOMAN traveling ALONE.
Possibly the most literal version of a time I opted out of something because at some level my gender and the anxieties of feeling unsafe because of it came in to play, at least in my head. I was told I would have been fine.
My friend who had been living in Istanbul looked about as much of a local as I would have (we’re both super white with light hair and blue eyes) said everything was fine and that the protests had calmed down over the past week. It’s not that I didn’t believe him but I already knew that his view on whether or not he felt safe would only go so far for me.
While he has the experience of living in Turkey as ab obvious non-local, he has his gender going for him, and this is something I’ve actually managed to get a few male friends to admit to being an advantage for them, especially when they travel.
I’ve had people ask me if I feel safe when I travel alone, especially since I seem to fly solo more often than not and my answer is yes, yes I do feel safe… on a plane, in the airport and mostly safe while navigating metro systems alone… but navigating a city one foot that I’ve never been to alone is always a little scary, and I’m aware that I’m not exactly intimidating and I’m a woman traveling alone. I made a few Taken references and laughed it off for the most part but I still felt that there was a lingering sense of threat and it scared me.
For now, I’m still going to brush it off as an issue of time constraint and take in the bits of the new that is around me
This layover hasn’t been as jarringly different from any other airport layover experiences. However, it has left me with more a sense of feeling tiny and lost in a sea of people. As airports go, there’s not much difference between this one and any American airport when it comes to architecture but the details are in the people. The sheer variety and number of people and there being no “rush hour” or work-day schedule effecting when the place feels crowded or empty. There’s a constant flow of people coming in and flying out.
My mother often jokes that I know people all over the world… and she’s not totally wrong. I had tentative plans with a friend from university in Istanbul, I met up with a former classmate in my 28 hours in London, and i rendez-voused with a friend from high school while in Paris crashing on the floor of my former university roommate’s apartment AND visited another university friend and his new growing family in their new apartment in a suburb of Paris (5 different people total). To top it off, I even ran into another friend from the same university at the airport in Chicago. She was arriving, I was leaving. We grabbed lunch, a short one, but a delightfully spontaneous one.
However, I find myself sitting alone at a Starbucks counter. I’m using wifi I managed to scrounge up with a password from another weary traveler. I feel the magnitude of the distance I am from home and the fact that I am traveling alone. I’m not scared, I just feel alone. It’s not a sad feeling, but is just a sense of being. Not being able to just text a friend about this offers that extra level of detachment. Even being online right now offers little in the way of connection. I’m several hours off from most friends time zone wise, I rarely see my G-chat so empty.
It’s calming and invigorating even if I know it’s a feeling that will pass, with in only hours at that.
But even in this solitude there’s still something connect me with fellow travelers of all ages, ethnicities, languages, backgrounds, and genders: our search for a stable free Wifi connection.
Jax is a digital video and documentary producer living in the heartland. You can follow her highjinks @Jtoddles