The fear of the unknown is an interesting thing. Why are we scared of something that we have so little knowledge about? The fear will cloud our judgment and make us act out of emotion.

I had about half a year time to develop a fear of the east of Turkey. A goal of my year in Turkey has always been to discover every part of the country. After I’ve seen major places and cities in the west of Turkey, I wanted to go to the east as well. The fear I built up started with me using the term ‘the east’ when I told people where I wanted to go. That leaves a lot of space for imagination. The variety of perspectives I got from people amazed me. They painted me the most different pictures. Everyone has their own version. Before I even made plans, I learned that the east is different. Especially from Izmir. It would be conservative, and less developed. Some suggested that I will face dangerous situations. Turkey is huge, so there is quite some distance to cover when you start from Izmir. Interesting is also that friends of mine, who grew up in the east or spend more time there told me that I am going to love it. That I will meet amazing people, and see beautiful things. So, I started my journey with a lot of mixed expectations.

The first stop of the trip was Gaziantep. It was the first day of Kurban Bayramı, so the streets were empty, only filled by those who sacrificed their sheep on the pavement. Because of the ongoing refugee crisis, lots of people had to flee from their unsafe homelands, like Syria, to Turkey. In Gaziantep, I heard a lot of Arabic being spoken. In Şanlıurfa I walked among pilgrims, visiting the Balıklıgöl and the cave where the prophet Abraham was born. A holy site in the Islamic belief. In Mardin and Diyabakır I heard another new language. Kurdish. I encountered special police, armored trucks, and military bases. I heard jets flying in the night and I couldn’t believe the number of Turkish flags I saw on the streets and official buildings. So, I experienced new things. Things I didn’t see before.

And I got used to them. I got used to the slight difference in the temperature, the change of landscape, and to the different languages. As I got used to hitchhiking from city to city and to the constant change of environment. I got to meet people with unique backgrounds and stories. I got to see amazing cities and I learned a lot about the region itself. I wasn’t aware of its importance in the development of the modern human being. I saw the first settlement of humans in Göbeklitepe. Where hunter and gatherer nomads wanted to create a holy site and therefore settled to stay at one place over a long period of time.

I was confronted with the unknown, embraced it, and found joy in it. The same thing happened to me when I took the plane to Izmir and set my first real steps into Turkey. I decided to live one year in a new country, with new people, new culture, a new religion, and a new work environment. It’s the definition of going into the unknown. And it turned out to be amazing. I grew so much in the past ten months. It is crazy how much I learned and matured. It probably wouldn’t have happened if I had decided to go to a university directly after school.

Well, I guess I can learn from that and continue to seek the unknown. Leaving your comfort zone opens you up for so much. Seeking discomfort and embracing, the unknown will benefit you more than staying with what you know and what you are comfortable with. That among other things is what I learned from my ten-day trip to the east of Turkey.

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