One Moment in Life

by Carrie Visintainer

It is not until I am halfway through my question that I realize I may be offending my new Turkish friend.

“Mustafa,” I say, “do the women in this village do all the work?”

We are sitting across from each other in an open-air café in Bozalan, Turkey, sipping yellow tea from tiny hourglasses. From our place on the balcony, weathered buildings traipse downhill in notched angles to the shores of the Aegean Sea.

Mustafa, who is the Kaptan of our sailboat, rubs his white-flecked mustache. I resist the urge to tug on my hair, tangled from the saltwater that doesn’t exist at home in Colorado.

“Carrie, why do you think this?” Mustafa asks.

He is smiling, and I gesture at the dozen men sitting around us in the café. It is the middle of the day, and they are drinking tea and playing a game that looks like Scrabble, except the clinking tiles are etched with numbers instead of letters. In contrast, on our walk up the hill to the café, the only women I glimpsed were behind windows or on porches, chasing pudgy-cheeked toddlers or weaving intricate Turkish rugs.

I state the obvious. “Well, there are only men at this café, and the women I’ve seen are at home, working.”

Mustafa frames his face with calloused hands. He nods. “It looks that way, maybe.”

I stir my tea, waiting.

“But Carrie, this is one moment in life.”

*****

Six months earlier, I was sitting at my computer searching for an adventure. Outside, plump snowflakes floated to the ground, disappearing into brown grass. After several listless clicks of the mouse, I came across the headline: Writing Workshop Sailing Off the Coast of Turkey.

Captivated, I sped through the description: Seven days sailing the Aegean Sea on a traditional Turkish gullet, swimming in the sea and visiting ancient ruins. Turkey evoked mystery. I could already feel the sand squishing between my toes, and taste flakes of fresh fish on my tongue.
Then, as if on cue, my 10-month-old son woke up from his nap. Jake’s squeals yanked me straight off the gullet, and I wandered downstairs to comfort him. As I stroked his sparse hair I thought, Will I ever be able to leave for two weeks?

At that point, I was having trouble leaving him for one day. The primordial pull of motherhood had me tangled in contradictions. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I wanted freedom, but it was hard to leave. I needed adventure, but this felt frivolous compared to my baby boy. The weight of the guilt replaced the bulging baby in my belly.

Deep down, I knew I had to go. Prior to Jake’s birth, solo adventure had been a thriving part of my identity. I’d lived for short periods in Germany and Mexico, and I’d been all around the U.S. in my Subaru. I promised myself that a baby wouldn’t change me.

The next day, I sent in my deposit.

*****

Mustafa gestures toward the buildings of Bozalan, elaborating on men’s and women’s roles in Turkish culture. He says that men are mostly responsible for the tasks “outside” of the house, such as growing vegetables, raising cattle, and negotiating rug prices with dealers.

Women have authority over things “inside” the house like cooking, weaving rugs and caring for the children. “Which is why you see them there,” he explains.

Mustafa adds that Turkish culture varies between regions and within families. In this particular village, the women prefer to socialize at each other’s houses, while men enjoy gathering at cafés.

As Mustafa talks, my mind drifts back to Colorado. Right now my husband is probably feeding Jake breakfast before dashing to daycare and then to his job. It occurs to me that my original question had to do with my own guilt about leaving. I thought I had worked through it, but maybe guilt is the kind of emotion that you shove out to sea, and sometimes it floats back with the tide.

*****

As we exit the café, I begin the descent from the village back to the boat. I take in the lush landscape—pine trees mixed with sage and flowering shrubs—and I consider how solo travel has changed for me. It has been refreshing to embrace this adventure without the distractions of domestic responsibility. But now there is an invisible cord connecting me to my child, and the emotions occasionally pull me overboard. The good news, as Mustafa says, is that every moment is “just one moment in life.” I can always climb back into the boat.

With this, I wave to some local men who are gathered outside a small store.

Merhaba,” they say, in greeting.

I snap a picture of them, so I will remember.

Carrie Visintainer is a Colorado-based freelance writer. Her essays have appeared in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2008: True Stories from Around the World (Travelers’ Tales), Cahoots magazine and Get Born Magazine. Carrie’s travel blog can be found at www.carriegowandering.blogspot.com.


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