︎ Jessica Belt Saem Eldahr
translated by Peng Wu
The land of germs on slides and swings
March 14, the day before we had airplane tickets to leave our home in Minnesota and fly into Istanbul, was one of the most stressful days I can remember. Thousands of questions and fears circled around in our heads and were ever present in our conversations. Was it safe to fly when just that four days earlier COVID-19 was declared a pandemic? How would we keep our two-year-old from touching everything and everyone? If we postponed our travel where would we live? How long would this last? Could we afford waiting around? I had just stepped down from my job, and we had sold our house and all our belongings, packing everything we had left into 5 suitcases (1.5 of them being filled with my husband’s instruments). Regardless if our decision was to leave as planned or stay, we were stepping into the unknown. The unknown has been our faithful friend these past four months.
We arrived at our cold and dank Airbnb in a city of 15 million people and immediately felt we needed to wait out the pandemic somewhere else. The next day my husband rented a car, got lost multiple times as he found his way to where we now call home, Cinarcik, a small town nestled on the coast of the sea of Marmara. Our short-term rental had a sliver of a view of the sea, but the rest of our view was consumed with concrete buildings, stray dogs, and lots of weeds. With a curfew on anyone under 18 or above 60, I would sneak my son out early in the morning where our only company were the stray dogs and cats, and hundreds of seagulls and pigeons. I was never so grateful for my son’s fascination with animals (and frankly, their poop) as it was our exclusive entertainment for our first three weeks. I often wonder what my son must have thought about this new Turkey; a place where everyone wears masks, we talk to no one, and where “germs” are on every slide and swing.
We are slowly settling in. We now have views of olive orchards, minarets, and huge cargo ships making their way through the Bosphorus strait. At night we can see the lights of Istanbul flickering across the sea. On our daily walks I am delighted by more flowers than I could ever imagine and the lovely breeze one feels when living by the sea. I do wonder what the long-term effects of raising a child during COVID-19 are, as my son runs away from the other kids on the playground and constantly worries about germs. Today, July 15th marks four months he hasn’t played with another child.
We continue to seek out a balance of living healthy and full lives, for ourselves and for others. There is no perfect combination. Ultimately, we are beyond grateful to be healthy. And we are finding joy in the littlest observations and discoveries; finding a new walking path to our house, watching from our window the addition of the ferry boats that have started to arrive from Istanbul, trying new flavors of ice-cream, befriending the garden snails and neighborhood cats. There is certainly a lot of fear that exists in the unknown, but it is also full of joy, discovery, and gratefulness.