Looking out over the Bosphorus from the safety of my armchair I find myself watching the ships go by, and can’t help but feel that wave of sentiment that I knew was inevitable. I’ve been in Istanbul longer than I intended and I suspect I’ve grown into it more than I thought I would. I’ve found my way here in this chaotic, confusing, frustrating, maddeningly beautiful city, and now I find myself getting ready to pack up and leave it all behind and it is harder than I thought it would be. I’ve moved before, packed my bags so many times, taken flights away from cities and countries before, but this time is different. This time, I know that the life I’ve made for myself here would be all too easy to stay in; I’ve got a good job that pays me more than I deserve some days, I’ve got a flat with a view to kill for, friends who I can and do count on for everything, and a wonderful boyfriend who has helped me adjust to this city, and supports me always. I’ve made this home, despite everything, despite all the ups and downs, and now I’m leaving.
Istanbul has been different from Dubai and Dar es Salaam and even Canada, because it’s the first place I’ve really made my own home, as opposed to living in someone else’s. This time, I’ve got a flat of my own, with my own furniture and my own bills. I’ve only had it for a year, but there is something to be said for a place with your name on the lease. At the age of 17 I moved out and stayed in a dormitory for two years, and this wasn’t home, because it wasn’t ours. I lived for the next two years of my degree in a flat that I shared with two friends. This was a kind of home, but it was never really mine; I wasn’t going it alone, and I wasn’t planning on staying longer than my degree. After this, I moved to Dar es Salaam and lived as a nanny in someone else’s house, in a friend’s house, and eventually in my boyfriend’s house. I moved back to Canada to my parents’ house for a few months to recover financially, and it’s funny – that wasn’t home anymore either. The entire city I grew up in didn’t feel like home anymore. I’d gone away for so long and come back all different while it stayed the same. I felt like a guest in my family home, disrupting the routines they’ve made without me, expecting too much or too little, and I found that I was now an outsider in the town I grew up in. After having recovered financially (almost), I moved to Dubai to live with a family as an au pair. I loved them like my own family; but I was still the au pair, and it was their home I was living in. I then moved from Dubai to Istanbul, where I worked again as an au pair twice before settling into the place I am now.
After all those temporary and borrowed homes, for the first time in my life I have a place that is only my own. I am entirely independent; I have had nobody to rely on but myself and nobody to be responsible for but myself. Not only am I independent with my flat, but I’ve found a job as a teacher that pays me a salary that allows me to live miles beyond the way that I could afford to live in Canada. Beyond this, I’ve got people here. We are all from different parts of the world; Canada, America, Germany, Ecuador, Russia, Australia, Albania, Iran and so many more, and yet here we all are, together. These relationships I’ve made with other expats here have been so incredibly necessary to making Istanbul home. I love all my Turkish friends here, and of course my Turkish boyfriend, but as opposed to locals, expats understand how hard it can be to live here, or any foreign country. They speak my language and come from surprisingly similar backgrounds despite the distance in many cases, and we all have at least one thing in common; we all ended up in Istanbul one way or another. We are all here because we like to travel, whether we travel for work or for love or for school or for no reason at all, travelling is something we all have in common.
So all of these things and these people have made Istanbul home for me; my unlikely friends from all over the world, my little flat that lets me watch the ships go by, and the job that has allowed me to live so much better than I thought I could. These things and this city have become home in a way that I’ve never had before. I’m sure I will call many more places home after this, but this is the first one, and it means something more to me. I’m not sure what it will mean in five years’ time or ten years’ time, but right now, leaving Istanbul means a great deal. I don’t know if leaving home will ever get easier, or whether it will get harder every time. I know that regardless of how many times I have been angry and frustrated with this city, it will always be special, and the people who have made this home will always be family to me. I’m grateful for times I’ve had here, and I hope this won’t be the last time I see this beautiful city, but it is time to move on to new experiences, and look for the next place to call home. I don’t know if Budapest will be it, or where I’ll end up after Budapest, but I look forward to the places I’ll go and the ones it will be hard to leave. While I’m so incredibly sad to be leaving Istanbul, I think that leaving home, any home, will always be the right decision.