I’ve tried five different countries, and no one will exchange Georgian Lari. I don’t know what these people did to damage their currency so much – possibly the cursive double-u’s that make up their entire alphabet – but I just got home from my American bank who said they had never seen this money before. They called the home office and confirmed what I already suspected – there is no country called Georgia. It was all an elaborate scam.
Now I use my three fifty-lari bills as bookmarks in the new paperbacks I picked up at Barnes and Noble my first day home. My Kindle was lifted while I slept in a corner of the international terminal at the Ataturk Airport. I’m not as broken up about the theft of the Kindle – it had served its purpose, and I have many other things they could’ve stolen (ex. my soul) – but I think what hurts the most is that in the immediate future I won’t finish 1776. I had one chapter to go; George Washington had just finished making a triology of bad decisions and left me asking, “How is Colonial MacGuyver going to get out of this one?”
The journey from Van, Turkey, to Fayetteville, AR, took 56 hours. They discontinued direct flights after no one from Fayetteville ever came to Van. After watching a few episodes of Farscape, I slept Sunday night on a row of padded airport chairs with my ninth-grade basketball hoodie pulled over my face. Every few hours another group of Germans would arrive, singing and tap dancing and slapping me awake with their joy of finaling making it to
safety Istanbul. By the time my alarm went off at four in the morning and I made my way to the Delta check-in desk, sanitation workers were moving my luggage to wax the floor underneath where I laid.
Monday night, after my flight out of Detroit was canceled due to lazy storms, I held back exhaustion tears on a free airport shuttle filled with old people (I was by far the youngest person on my final plane home). As they talked about the Northwest Arkansas Craft Fair we arrived at La Quinta Inn, where half an hour later I fell asleep in a large box of mix fried rice.
Early Tuesday morning as the passengers from my plane gathered in the La Quinta lobby for the shuttle back to our replacement flight, a elderly couple from Joplin talked about the things they lost in the recent tornados. Antique scooters, three of them, though the man originally pieced them together out of spare parts and was confident he could do it again. I sat down on the outside of the circle, preparing to fast forward through the next four hours, when one of the soccer mom passengers said, “You’re the guy from Turkey, right?”
“Yeah,” said another grandmother, “I heard you were in Turkey teaching karate or something.”
“English,” I said. “It’s a more aggressive style than karate.”
“Well, good for you. We talked, and we’re proud that you went over there and had adventures.”
The day before, as we sat on the tarmac for two hours waiting for our pilots’ work day to expire, I told the man sitting next to me what I had done with my last nine months. After that I ran silent all the way to my two queen beds in room 122. I guess the other stranded passengers Breakfast Club-ed together to welcome back to the U.S. And it worked. After we went through security I waited for the other passengers so we could walk to the gate together as the group we had become. Even the old woman from Joplin who, the day before as we waited to board the flight the first time, woke me up as I sat next to her and said, “Take you hair off my shoulder,” like I had put my hand on her naked thigh. Tonight I’m cutting my hair.