At the beginning, I had booked hostels in both Chicago and Istanbul and had been planning on staying in both cities by myself. But as kindness would have it, I was able to connect with an old friend from elementary school and a friend of a friend in Istanbul and cancel both bookings.
While there is a wild sort of beauty in exploring a city completely on your own, an equally beautiful counterpart is exploring a city with a local. In the hands of a local, you no longer have to communicate via your fine-tuned pantomiming skills. It gets exhausting always playing the part of uniformed tourist, never knowing if you have fully succeeded at doing anything exactly right. The more you travel, the more friends and connections you make and as an act of good will (and as a secret investment in hopes of reciprocation) you host and hope to one day be hosted. It’s a wonderful thing; I like sleeping in overpriced bunk beds with 20 snoring roommates about as much as the next person.
To the outsider, this gift of friendship that we give and take so readily may seem flippant. Surely, a true friend is someone who lives life beside you and is someone you can count on at any hour of the day. WELL sure but in my experience, travel forces an expansion of this definition. A friend can be someone who shares their oranges with you in the train station when they see you are distressed and alone, or someone who helps you even though they insist they don’t speak any English, or someone who lets you stay in their home and accompanies you, if only for the night. Friends don’t have to be similar to you in any way other than attitude: you can speak different languages and eat different foods and live in different cities and practice different religions.
A taxi driver in Chicago this past week told my friend and I, “People here are not so different. Whether rich or poor, headache is same headache.”
I’m living now in an old city that I have lived in before, but in most ways I feel like a completely different person than I was a little over 2 years ago when I studied here. Living with a new family, my heart is once again opened and stretched. The girl I am looking after teaches me these things daily, she hugged me the moment we met. She greets me in the morning and wants to play with me and introduces me to everyone she encounters during the day. Kids just get some things. Without pretense, I’m going to try and look at Siena with new eyes and search deeper cause I know there is more to find.