TEHRAN – Let me give you a summary of my life. Every time that I get ready to go outside to unwind, I have to make sure that my clothes are appropriate enough so that I don’t get arrested while I’m trying to enjoy the air in one of the most air polluted cities in the world.
I have this spot on my eyelid that twitches when I get nervous. I used to have it for my school finals, but in the past one or two years it’s just been there. I got used to it.
I’m not saying I’m not enjoying my life, because I am, but in the back of my head there’s this thing that tells me that I don’t belong here.
My summer trip to Türkiye to attend Youth Journalism International’s Global Conference was my first travel abroad, and my first time on a plane.
I really don’t trust whatever that is made in Iran, so I was the most religious person in the plane during the flight. I’m kidding, it was a good flight. I even took a nap, then someone sneezed and woke me up.
Anyway, when I arrived in Istanbul, nothing was surprising to me. The shops, people, streets. I was so ready for it. I was so ready to put my scarf in my backpack and hug the people that are like me, my friends I met online.
“Freedom looks good on you,” was the first comment that I got. I was feeling good with my freedom.
Istanbul is a beautiful city with even more beautiful people. It is as crowded as Tehran – maybe even more – but it was way cleaner and more colorful.
The buildings, flowers, shops and the sky. It felt like my eyes were on HD mode and someone fixed the picture setting.
In Tehran, people are so impatient. I don’t blame them – it’s the circumstance, and I heard that Turkish people are the same.
But I felt nothing but politeness from them. Everyone would help us – me and my parents – with directions and if we spoke Persian loud enough for someone to hear it, we would get a welcome in Persian. It could have been the waiter, the guy working at a booth or another Iranian or Middle Easterner living in Istanbul.
For my first time traveling, it was really good that I went somewhere that there wasn’t a big cultural difference for me. I tried to experience every Turkish thing possible. I went to the mosque, tried kebab and tea with baklava, took ferry rides, walked on those rock-tiled streets and I tried to absorb all of the feelings.
That was all about the city. Let’s not forget my awesome YJI fellas. Someone would sneeze and we would say “bless you” in our languages. This is the most extraordinary group of people I have met in my life, all talented and intelligent.
Sreehitha Gandluri, an American, told me something about my country and I wanted to add to it or make it clearer, but there was no need.
“That’s pretty much it,” is what I said. She knew everything perfectly.
My dear Bilge Güven and Burak Sanel from Istanbul helped me and my parents whenever we were stuck.
I could fangirl for my YJI artist İpek Eser for hours – I would protect her sketches with my life.
My sister and neighbor, Arooj Khalid of Pakistan. My mirror selfie partner, and the strongest person I have ever met, Tanya Tkachenko of Ukraine. Mary Majerus-Collins from the U.S., who made sure I didn’t get lost. Nargis Babar, my roommate from Sweden.
The Ravenclaw to my Slytherin, Ana Fadul from Colombia. I could continue forever. I hugged many friends, more like sisters and brothers, from around the world. I can’t wait to hug them again.
Oh, I forgot to say – my eyelid stopped twitching after I arrived at Istanbul’s airport.
Parnian Shahsavary is a Junior Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International from Iran. She wrote this essay in June and took some of the photos.
Regina López is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Mexico. She contributed a photo.