‘It’s good to shake up the system and make a new start,’ I wrote to a friend, explaining our BIG decision to leave Istanbul, my beloved home for 26 years, and move to Brussels. Today’s mantra says that change is good, and I believed it, but I can tell you that moving -this time- was one of the most painful things I’ve done in my life.
I made a list of all the things I needed to do beforehand. It seemed so simple. ‘Reupholster furniture.’ ‘Have carpets cleaned.’ ‘Cancel electricity.’ ‘Cancel phone.’ Just items to be ticked off. Little did I realise that I’d need to spend hours, if not long days to deal with each single one of them.
I kicked myself for crying when I told the school that our daughter would no longer be attending, but I couldn’t help it. For weeks I couldn’t bring myself to tell the shop owners I had been frequenting for so long, that I was leaving. When I finally did, some of them cried.
I have been stroking the walls and tall wooden doors of our house, remembering all the fun times I’ve had there, convinced that I’d never find such a lovely home again. Each time I walked through the streets of our neighborhood, a deep sense of already missing it penetrated me, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Meanwhile I felt guilty about being so sad, for the nooks and crooks of those same streets were populated with Syrian refugees who had had to leave their homes under much worse conditions.
Whenever I met a friend, over lunch or a drink, I shared my news, but, as the date of our departure approached, I couldn’t bear to organise the grand farewell party I had been determined to throw.
Then, all of a sudden the time arrived that our belongings were packed up. As the movers swiftly wrapped up object after object I felt crushed. Crushed not only by the enormity of what we had done, but also by the mountain of stuff we collected over the years.
Nearly fifty cubic meters, a whole container load! Whereas in the summer of 1989, in my tender mid-twenties, I landed on Ataturk airport armed with just one suitcase that held the belongings I cared for, to set up camp on the shores of the Bosporus.
Back then I was full of wonder for this exotic place. Like a happy dolphin I dived into and embraced its newness, its strangeness, its hugeness, its difference to all I had know before. I welcomed the wave of fate that had picked me up and took me far away from the village I had grown up, but never felt at home in.
In that Belgian village being different had been a curse. We were city folk from Holland and moved there when I was 6, but we might as well have come from Mars. For the children at my school I was the first alien they had ever seen, and they sure let me know it. The Istanbullu’s, however, treated me with interest and respect, and have never made me feel unwelcome. Throughout the years I learned to appreciate their ‘largesse’, nourished by the genetic make-up of the city that was the capital of a multicultural empire for nearly 2.000 years. I deeply admire the ease with which the inhabitants of this city, this country, absorb strangers, and share their resources with them. As a journalist I had to focus on what’s wrong with Turkey, but from experience I also know that its people have their heart in the right place.
Surrounded by all the white bubble plastic it was too late to say stop to the packers. So soon, here in Brussels, we will be confronted with the mountain that already seems to belong to the past. Of course I will be happy to be reunited with some of our things, but part of me wishes all of it could have stayed behind. Our move has taught me that it is liberating to let go big time.
Of course, I do not only refer to material goods. In order to move back to Belgium I have had to let go of some hang-ups, and have had to heal some emotional wounds. As a result I now travel lighter through life. That in itself is a great outcome of having shaken up my system.