Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ramstein and the Evacuation

I'm  currently sitting in the basement of a hotel by the Cologne airport on the eve of the 2016 Olmsted Ladies Trip.  Apparently, the hotel I booked a room with overbooked and this was what they offered me.  For $25 instead of the original $70, it's not too shabby.  And since I have to leave at 4am, it really didn't matter where I slept, as long as I had a bed.  So, as I sit in this basement hotel room, I have time to do a little reflecting.

basement living.  Not too shabby for $25

After Karen left, I had about ten days to wrap things up in Ramstein before heading out for good.  After a month of non stop travel and entertaining, a few days of nothing sounded pretty nice.  I ended up moving to a new room (definite downgrade) where there was no kitchen and it was essentially a bedroom, living room and bathroom, but I spent a couple of days unpacking.  I also watched A LOT of Netflix.  If you haven't watched Making a Murderer or Grace and Frankie, do so right now.  Making a Murderer will have you on the edge of your seat with your blood boiling and Grace and Frankie will have you literally laughing out loud.

Between episodes, I ventured out to the gym and to get things to eat, but other than that, I pretty much hung by myself.  That meant a lot of thinking time.  It's crazy to think that six weeks has passed since I arrived in Germany.  When we first got the word that I would be leaving, it was surreal.  My adrenaline kicked in and all I could think about was doing laundry, packing and planning for the evacuation.  Oh and recovering from the LASIK procedure that I thought was a good idea on the day of an evacuation notice.  Once I arrived at Ramstein, I went through MAJOR culture shock.  Hearing so much English was surprising and, after living in a country where rules are merely suggestions for 10 months, living on a military base with so much order and regulations left me feeling overwhelmed.  I spent the first week just trying to adjust back to the lifestyle that I missed so much in Turkey and found myself only venturing out for short trips before scurrying back to my apartment where things were quiet and calm.  If there is one word to sum up that first week at Ramstein, it would be overwhelmed.

Karen arrived the next week and was the perfect distraction.  I spent my time at Ramstein planning our next adventure.  We spent a week in Italy and a weekend in Munich, as well as day trips around Germany, Luxembourg and France.  I slowly came out of my shell on base and felt much more adjusted to life back in America. I didn't turn my head every time someone spoke English or check to make sure I wasn't breaking a rule as I crossed the street. If there is one word to describe that month, it would be adjusting.

After Karen left, I had ten days left at Ramstein and I think that is when I truly grasped what was going on.  It hit me that I'm not going to go back to Turkey. I'll never hear "Inshallah" or "Hamdullah" from a Turk (although I'll never stop saying them!) again and I'll never get those fresh strawberries from the market that I waited ten months for.  I won't get to say goodbye to my students and to my classmates. I won't be hearing the call to prayer any time soon and I won't be offered tea the next time I walk into a shop.  My life that had become very Turkish has changed. If there was one word to describe those ten days, it would be realization.

While I struggled a lot with adapting to life in Izmir, I now realize how much I love about Turkey.  I don't think I'll ever LOVE Izmir, but I can definitely say that I love Turkey.  Izmir felt very business like, with very little to do outside of summer. There weren't a lot of weekend activities (museums, concerts, etc) and it was hard to meet people, which made living there as an expat difficult.  That being said, the Turkish culture really grew on me. I love their dedication to their family and to their religion (Hamdullah = thanks be to God/Inshallah= God willing).  Their ability to take time to slow things down and really appreciate life drove me crazy at times because punctuality was not a strong point of theirs, but I love that they encourage you to slow down, drink a cup of tea and be in the moment.   Even though Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and is bigger than Los Angeles, it still had that old time feel.  There were markets every Sunday and everyone had a "guy."  If you needed a new carpet, you just had to run downstairs and ask the person on the street to take you to their brother/cousin/uncle's carpet shop.  It was almost guaranteed they knew someone.  Oh and the Turks' love for children? HUGE! It wasn't uncommon for a family with a baby to walk into a restaurant and get preferential seating.  Then, the baby would be passed around for all of the wait staff to hold and play with. Children are so valued and it's so refreshing.  There is also a great sense of community in Turkey.  Parents have no problem with their child being passed around a restaurant and, as the child grows older, they have no problem letting them roam around the neighborhood with a gang of friends. There is a trust in Turkey that everyone is looking out for everyone and it is what holds the Turkish culture together.  My eyes were opened, my horizons were broadened and my appreciation for other cultures deepened during my time in Turkey.  I became a more loving, accepting and a better person.

Leaving Turkey came before I planned, which made it shocking.   While the transition out of Turkey and the evacuation wasn't easy, it would have been a million times harder without the people at Ramstein.  Talk about community! Considering this was only my second real military move (the first being to Turkey, which I don't even really count because it was not a normal military move), I was pretty clueless. From the minute we met them at the airport, I felt welcome and taken care of.  They made sure we didn't have to think about anything, from transferring our health insurance to finding lodging.  I don't know how they did it for 700 families, but they did and they never once made us seem like a burden.  All I had to do was say "Sorry, I'm in the group from Turkey and need help with...." and before I could even finish, someone had jumped in ready to assist me.  For that, I'll be forever grateful.

So, as my time as an evacuee comes to a close, I can't help but think about how grateful I am for my time in Turkey and for the people who made the abrupt transition out so much easier.  I am thankful that I had a group of people helping me each step of the way.  There are so many people around the world who must leave their country out of fear of safety who don't have an entire military base to help and support them.  I only made it through this as smoothly as I did because of the hundreds of people who stepped in to help me and check on me throughout the entire process. So, if you're one of those people (in Turkey, Ramstein or back home....looking at you Russo fam!), thank you.  You have not gone unnoticed and us Turkey evacuees appreciate everything you've done.

As for what's next, you ask?  I'm leaving tomorrow for a weekend with the Olmsted ladies in Croatia. Then, I'm meeting up with Mike and friends who are on their honeymoon and so kindly let us crash the tail end of it.  Thanks Heberts!  After Croatia, I'll head home to the UNITED STATES for a few weeks.  My brother is graduating high school (!!!) and I have a god daughter to meet!  Plus, I know I've basically been living in the United States for the last six weeks, but there wasn't Chick fil a or Target, so I need to get my fix.  I'm well overdue.  The big question is what happens after that.  We've got something in the works and hopefully it will be solidified in the next week or two.  You know I'll keep you posted!