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Opening My Eyes
Growing up, I had always seen the world from one perspective. I considered my lifestyle basic and ordinary. I viewed normalcy in getting an education, dining with etiquette and sleeping comfortably in a bed. Last year, I found small, meaningless conflicts such as “bad” wifi to be the most horrendous crises. I thought buying a new pair of boots was a form of luxury and blessing, rather than coming home to a loving family everyday. Living in my bubble of resources at my disposal, I took my world for granted. I viewed the world from only one perspective because it was the only view I had ever known and the only view that I ever understood. In the summer of 2016, I realized that there was more to the world than the boundaries I was accustomed to. Until one day, I opened my eyes.
It was June when my parents, my two brothers, and I were contemplating at our wooden dining table over where we would go for our vacation that upcoming summer. After hours of dispute, we finally settled that we would visit Turkey for our vacation. The fact that our family had biological roots from the Ottoman Empire, made us just that much more excited for the trip.
When I stepped off the plane, I was welcomed by grass covered mountains blending into an orange-pink color that evenly coated the Istanbul sky. The warm, summer breeze gently blew in my hair and since that moment, I had a feeling that this vacation was bound to be the most memorable yet.
Later that night my family and I ventured into the Great Bazaar of Istanbul. Stores lined the edge of the Bizarre, selling candy, chandeliers, books, clothing, and almost every food imaginable. There, I purchased a fur coat with the finest embroidered edges and diamonds embedded into every corner and turn of the hand crafted mesh. Every hour or so that day, I would take quick little glances into my shopping bag just to view the majestic luxury of the fur coat. I planned one outfit after another, trying to choose what I would wear coat with, while there was someone else that was desperate for a warm coat. Later that night, we went to a luxurious restaurant for dinner. Our entire table was overflowing with plates and plates of delicious food we knew we would never be able to finish in the first place. Little did I know, the value of the food I was eating and endless clothes I was buying was a dream to another soul.
Two days later, protests against Istanbul army spread to the area we were staying in. I remembered looking out my window and seeing over 400 people in a crowd marching down the street chanting in Turkish with posters of the president and admirable sayings about him. The crowd marched as one and their chants flowed in sync. I exclaimed my dad, “ Dad, there’s people outside, What’s happening!”. Earlier that week, apparently, the army general made a threat against the president to disobey his orders and instead abide by their own terms. The citizens felt scared and in turn felt the need to protest to keep their president in power. . Three hours later, the chanting continued and the crowd of people concealed the street like a blanket. I opened the door of the hotel balcony to get a better view as the muffled voices soon became clear as day. I could not comprehend the words their shouting, yet I had chills along my arms from witnessing the patriotism of Turks. I felt proud to have a heritage from this country despite the hardships it endured of that summer.
Later on in the trip, I became sick so my father and I went into a small restaurant along the bay to get soup. Neither of us could speak Turkish, so a Syrian waiter came to assist us. I asked him for soup and my dad began asking him questions about his living condition. In Syrian culture it isn’t rude to ask another about their paycheck and job so the conversation went very smoothly. Our waiter told us that he worked at the restaurant seven days a week from 12pm to 12am every day. He only received 600 American dollars a month.
By the end of our dinner we learned that his family had saved up all their earnings in Syria in order to send him to Turkey so that he could have a stable future away from all the chaos. He came alone to Turkey when the Turkish borders allowed Syrians to enter the country to which he currently lived with five other boys in a studio apartment. They each paid 200 dollars a month in rent. However, he mailed 300 dollars to his family in Syria and he used the remaining one hundred on his own utilities such as clothing and food. This young man was only nineteen years old.
I was speechless after hearing this. At nineteen years old, I’d visualize myself to be in college, getting a proper education. I see myself attending lectures and going to dinner with friends. I see myself driving a car and visiting my family. But, there I sat in the restaurant with a $200 coat hearing this nineteen year old talk about how he worked all month to make a measly 100 dollars for himself. Guilt over washed me, his voice was sincere and my dad left him a 100 dollar tip.
We left the restaurant and began walking down the street when we heard, “WAIT!”. I turned to see our waiter jogging towards us. “I can not accept 100 dollars. Please keep it!”. He handed my father the tip with sincerity in his eyes despite his true desperation for the money. My dad refused to take the money back and the boy kept it.
A few days of touring around Istanbul, my dad’s friend, Zayn, had joined us as our tour guide. He told us all the best places to go and came with us in the car to direct us where we needed to go and how to get there. One night after returning from the Mall of Istanbul, we reached a huge traffic jam. 10 cars ahead of us there was a protest of people chanting and singing the Turkish national anthem.
I looked out the van window but I saw no one. I then heard knocking and saw a small fist knocking on the window. I opened the window and looked down to see a young boy around the age of seven. His hair was dark and messy, his clothes looked a bit dirty and his toes slightly stuck out of his sandals.
“Water! 30 cents bottle!” He stuttered as he waved the water bottle in the air. In his arms he held four more bottles as he struggled to balance them on his arms. I handed him a dollar for the bottle and told him to keep the change. After a few moments the traffic slightly moved forward. We stood in front of the red traffic light and the small boy that sold me the water ran across the crosswalk. He struggled with the bottles in his hand and the money he was holding fell out of his hands onto the middle of the street. He quickly leaned down to gather his coins just as the traffic light turned green. The line of cars behind us began honking and the boy filled his fist with coins. A young girl who was also carrying bottles ran to him and grabbed him by the collar to pull him out of our way. As we drove past them it seemed like she was his older sister. This young boy had me thinking Was a young boy desperate enough to value a few dollars over his own safety?
A few days later we drove to the bottom of Turkey. The Titanic Resort was relatively modern with Jet skis and magic shows every night. The sky was a bright orange color that brought about a sense of serenity. I was somewhat relieved to be away from the native country because I felt uneasy and guilty after hearing our waiter’s life story. For days, I could not get the thought of seeing the small boy gathering his fallen coins on the street. The thought of a boy his age willing to put himself in danger for a few cents bewildered in every way. It irritated me that the cars continued to honk and how the other passengers who witnessed the event just continued to walk on even after seeing the small boy. However, I was excited to be at The Titanic because I was away from the chaos of Istanbul.
My brother and I spent the first morning swimming and jet skiing in the water. He and i were finally having the relaxing vacation that we wanted on the beach. The water was calm and the sky was a warm yellow color whilst the edges of land illuminated from the dying rays of the sunset.
“Let's get some food,” my brother said.
Walking into the buffet, I could smell the variety of foods each topped with different spices; some bland, some more exotic than others. I could only begin to imagine the endless amounts of food I would come to devour. I filled my plate with just enough food to satisfy my appetite.
At the dinner table, the conversation started out light, talking about superficial things like how I spent my summer and how my brother was doing in school so far. One topic led to another and eventually we transitioned into politics, just like any other typical family conversation.
Zayn told us about his time that he served as a prisoner of war in Syria. The stories he shared were filled with torture and gunshots that I have only heard of in Halauafu survivor stories.
“Hows your leg,” my dad asked him. Zayn stood up and placed his foot on the chair. He rolled up the edges of his right pant leg to reveal a blackness that encompassed the entirety of his upper leg. The area looked darkened and heavily bruised. “A bullet wound!” exclaimed Zayn with extreme pride. Suddenly our table went silent. Everybody was staring at Zayn in complete shock and bewilderment.
“Its healing, it was a lot worse a year ago when I left the prison. They let me go because it was overcrowding with war prisoners. If I could ever lay my hands on one of them, I would give them a slow, painful death, and strangle them with my bare hands until they are empty of both blood and soul!”.
Even though I was full, for the first time i made an effort to finish all the food on my plate because I realized how much I have taken for granted in my life. Such that every ounce of food that I dispose of was worth a man’s craving and every penny sitting in my pocket was worth another man’s salary. Why didn’t I see this before? It was all so clear. From that day, I didn’t look at anything the same way. The food I had on my plate every night did not magically appear from my fridge, it came from the time that my parents took out of their lives to work. The money I’ve spent on jackets and fashion trends was the same money that someone else needed to pay rent. My everyday life is beyond another man’s luxury. Since witnessing the struggles of others in Turkey, I had seen the world in another light. I am now grateful for every crumb of bread on the dinner table and I am thankful for every dollar I own. I am blessed for all the opportunities i am granted such as sitting in a classroom and sleeping in a safe home, even the simple things like the sprinkle of salt on my french-fries.
At last, I understood that I have freedom which other people around the world dream of; and I had taken it all for granted. From that summer forward, my perspective of the world was forever changed as I began to truly consider the blessings I receive everyday; my eyes finally opened.