I have been searching for my fan base my entire life, wondering why people only ask me for directions and not my autograph. Well apparently they have all been waiting for me in Eastern Turkey!
I caught an early morning flight from Istanbul to Malatya, which is in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Eastern Anatolia. Malatya is the apricot capital of the world. If you’ve had any significant number of apricots in your life, a good number have probably come from Malatya. They have a big apricot sculpture in the city center.
The moment I arrived on the campus I realized that this thing was much bigger than I thought. The auditorium was enormous – I still had suspicions that their 500-700 attendance estimate, but this place could definitely hold that many or more. Then they strapped a Britney Spears microphone to my face and asked me to rehearse. I’ll admit that it felt magical, but I was definitely not as prepared as I wanted to be at that point.
My rehearsal was HORRIBLE. I had been practicing my talk with notecards up until that point, assuming it would be like a normal science talk where notecards aren’t exactly encouraged, but are accepted. I was just terrible from the first slide, which literally consisted of me saying who I was and where I was from. Thankfully the real thing went much better – no notecards.
As the only non-Turkish speaker I had a translator on stage. I was nervous about this at first, but it actually worked in my favor and gave me time to think while on stage. I might start having all my talks translated from now on.
The whole event lasted about five hours and the line-up of speakers was really impressive. The whole event was meant to inspire Turkish students to pursue their interests, so they brought in leaders in a variety of fields. There was the CEO of a massive Turkish conglomerate and an author who had received support from the company that sponsored the event. There was also a high-profile fashion photographer – I don’t know how things are ranked among fashion photographers, but he had long hair and showed pictures he took of Paris Hilton, so he seemed pretty legit to me.
There was a short break after the first several I got a little bit confused because the program had listed one more speaker named Khave Monasi before me. They already had a giant National Geographic display up on stage and they were blasting jungle music, so it seemed like a logical (though ridiculous) set-up for me. The program didn’t have a bio for this guy and it was really getting close to the start time, so I did a quick Google Translate and found out that “Khave Monasi” actually just means coffee break. Thank you technology, for saving me from asking real people my stupid questions.
My talk ended up going really well despite my lackluster performance in rehearsal. Even though I didn’t understand what was going on, it was hard not to be excited after all the other speakers and everyone cheering. I went out on a limb and made a couple jokes that thankfully translated and landed, and then answered a few questions from the audience, the host, and from Twitter. That’s right, people TWEETED questions to me! Now that I think about it, those may have come from the conference organizers, but it still counts.
The whole thing was capped off with a speech and performance by Turkish pop star named Mustafa Sandal. Once again, I’m not sure how to judge these things, but he raced off stage and was never seen from again, which seems like a famous person thing to do. I realize that most of the students were probably there because of him, but I’m happy to profit off of his fame. Let’s just say they weren’t not there because of me.
Afterwards there was a lively crowd of students eager for pictures. A couple had questions about how they should get started in research – one had actually done an internship at Yale this past summer! Another girl shoved her program in front of me and, not really knowing what to do, I wrote down my email address. She looked back, confused and said “No! Sign!” So yeah, I’m the kind of person who signs things now. The fame has absolutely gone to my head; I’m going to be complete monster from now on.
We left the university and went out for an authentic Malatya-style dinner that was absolutely amazing. Most of the other people organizing the event were from Istanbul, so the dishes were even new to them. I also got to have some Turkish coffee, which was every bit as strong, delicious, and full of grounds as I had been told.
After dinner we flew back to Istanbul and I passed out in my hotel room. The whole day was such a blur of nerves and excitement; I can’t wait for the next one! For those of you who are feeling a little “bleh” about your day-to-day, I suggest becoming internationally famous – it’s fantastic.