On Saturday, my fourth week on the Alalakh compound, I celebrated my 19th birthday. While it’s always bittersweet celebrating a birthday away from one’s family, being here is a present in itself. But the best birthday present I got by far was being able to sleep in! And although I would have been happy if that was my only present, the day got even better when I went into Antakya with some friends from the compound.

We arrived at 1:30 pm, and since it’s ridiculously hot at that time of day, walking through the crowded, sweaty bazaar didn’t seem all that appealing. So we headed straight for the movie theater. Sneh and I were the only non-Turkish speakers in the group, so we decided to see Ice Age 3. We figured the plot would be relatively easy to understand in any language. And even though I only recognized a few words (I got really excited when they said “merhaba,” “cok guzel,” and “bebek geliyor”) I completely understood what was going on. It probably helped that half of the film focused on two squirrels fighting over a nut.

After the movie ended we left the air-conditioned theater and ventured out into the streets of Antakya. We wandered through and shopped in the bazaar, and when we stopped to get a snack, two young Turkish girls came up to me and started talking to me in English. I guess my blonde hair and pale, sun burnt skin is pretty conspicuous in southern Turkey. The two girls could speak English beautifully, and they even knew some Arabic and Italian. I was so impressed and humbled.

Later that night, back at the compound, my supervisor and roommate Marjie surprised me with a cake, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” Even though I was so far away from home, everyone at the compound made me feel like I was with family.

-Lee Kraljev

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