Random Thoughts from Turkey

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All the squares (meydan) are covered with political banners.
All the squares (meydan) are covered with political banners. Elections are next month.

5/22/2015

I’ve recently passed my three month mark working at English Time, so my probation period is over. Since no one has said otherwise, I guess I’m a full-fledged teacher now, whatever that means. Well, one thing is means is that I’ve been here long enough to make a few observations.

A pedestrian street in Avcilar, decorated for the election.
A pedestrian street in Avcilar, decorated for the election.

Noise: This is without a doubt the loudest city I’ve ever been in. There are no laws or limits that I can see to how loud music or speeches can be, even in residential areas. And while I generally like the call to prayer, it can be deafening at times since all the mosques use sound systems and they are all broadcasting at once, five times a day. And I don’t dare cover m ears, even when the sound is painful.

With the election only a few days away, the noise is worse than ever. Though they do usually stop by 10pm, the square outside our classrooms has music and folk dancing non-stop, 7 days a week, punctuated by speeches. I can’t wait for it to be over.

Now that it is getting so warm, I have to leave my balcony door or my window open to cool off. The sound of the E5, six stories below, is so loud that I can’t listen to music or hear if someone knocks on my door.

Busy metro: The only other metro system I’ve seen that was this crowded was Tokyo. Turks have much less of a need for personal space than the average American, though more than most Asians. But the Metro buses and trams are very, very crowded. Sardines in a can have a similar amount of elbow room. It’s unnerving for this American who isn’t used to having her body pressed against 3-4 strangers for 30 minutes at a time.

Ducks on the edge of the sea--taking from the park near my apartment.
Ducks on the edge of the Sea of Marmara–taken from the park near my apartment.

Driving: Turks believe that they are under the protection of Allah in all things, so cautious driving is optional at best. They aren’t as bad as Cairo, Egypt, or even quite as bad as Vietnam, but it’s bad. I don’t miss having a car. I would never be able to drive it here.

Knufe--a dessert with cheese and enough sugar to put you in a diabetic coma.
Knufe–a dessert with cheese and enough sugar to put you in a diabetic coma. I never thought I’d say this, but Turkish desserts are TOO sweet for me.

Ghost: OK, call me crazy. You won’t be the first. But I think my apartment hallway is haunted. Just the hallway, right outside my door. The handle to my bedroom door moves for no reason. Not the door—which will move because of air pressure changes, the HANDLE. And every time I get into the refrigerator, I swear I see someone in the hallway passing the doorway of the kitchen. Every time I look, no one is there.

My theory is that the ghost is trying to get me to eat less and get out of my room and walk more. How nice that I have a ghost concerned with my health.

Clothing and covering: Women are completely covered all the time. And most men are too, though no head covering. I’m beginning to realize that it’s less of a religious concern or a modesty issue. Turks believe that exposure is bad for your health. All this covering didn’t seem so bad when I arrived in February. It was still winter. There had been snow the week before I arrived.

Lentil soup (corba)
Lentil soup (corba)

But now it’s late May.

Even though it is over 80F now, the average woman will be covered head to toe, with several layers, with only her hands and face exposed. She will be wearing pants or a long skirt and long sleeve shirt, with a simple round neckline or buttoned to the neck. It is not unusual for her to have a long sleeved, calf length sweater as well. When out of her house (which includes inside the classroom), she will also have a overcoat. It will be ankle-length and long-sleeved, zipped to the neck and of a polyester (i.e. unbreathable) material. The coat will probably be black with buttoned cuffs at the wrists. Her hair will be covered first by a fitted black or white cap that tightly contains all the hair around the front of the face and ties behind her neck. Over this is a long, decorative scarf that is wrapped and pinned so that it goes over the head with the ends looped completely around the neck and knotted behind the head.

Even men will wear long pants, long sleeves and a sweater or jacket at all times.
I’m sweating just describing it.

Lamacum, one of Turkey's answers to fast food. Like a pizza, but no cheese.
Lamacum, (pronounced LA MA JUNE) Turkey’s answers to fast food. Like a flat-bread pizza, but no cheese.

Women are lesser human beings: Turkey is more progressive than other Muslim countries. I’m not required to wear a headscarf and according to the constitution, I can’t be made to do so. Officially, they are banned in public buildings, especially state universities. But that is a huge issue at the moment, so a step backward could be coming.

Regardless, women are still a lesser species here. Men are players and they act as though they have more rights than women. They do. Just yesterday I asked my students (a speaking exercise) to tell me what job they would like to have. One of my adult, female students said that if she were a man, she would be a pilot. When I said that women WERE pilots, she shook her head, “No, teacher. Turkey.”

Women basically have two routes: Wife and mother or wayward woman of the street. Your main job is to bring honor to your father or your husband. Women are paid less. Women are seldom in positions of authority. Women rarely go into male dominated jobs and they are expected to do all the housework and child rearing, even if they work outside the home. Men hold all the power. It’s roughly America in the 1950’s as far as women’s rights are concerned.

While I obviously don’t agree with this position, it’s not my country and I’m not here to change it. I’m a foreigner and if the situation gets untenable for me, I will leave.

I'm never going to get used to eggs left out on the counter. These have been here a week.
I’m never going to get used to eggs left out on the counter. These have been here a week.

Beggars: There are a LOT of them and they fall into different classes. There are those missing limbs and they openly display their deformities in exchange for money. Sometimes it’s family members displaying their seriously handicapped relative. At least I hope they are related. There are old women, usually with a child, begging loudly. It concerns me that the child is ALWAYS asleep. Perhaps “unconscious” is a better word. Honestly, I think the child is drugged. And I’ve noticed with the the old women I see daily in the same spot it’s not even the same child. I don’t know what to make of this, but it can’t be good. My least favorite class of beggar is the filthy children who never have shoes and rudely demand money, even grabbing at you. I immediately check that my purse is shut tight and I have nothing in my pockets for them to grab. They often walk up and down the Metro bus asking for handouts. Why are they not in school?

I don’t know what to think of these beggars. Some may be refugees. Some are disabled. I’ve given money, but the next time you pass them they yell at you if you don’t throw them some coins like last time. A few have loudly complained that I didn’t give them enough. And the children steal.

But mostly, the images make me despondent. Nothing changes. It’s the same beggars in the same public places with the same outstretched hands. You can give all you want, all you can, and nothing gets better. It feels hopeless.

Dork: I was working on descriptions with my Level 1 students this Sunday. When you try to explain questions like “How does she look?” and “How does he feel?” you quickly realize what a quirky language English is. It’s best to show pictures of emotions (He is happy, sad, angry….) and physical appearance (She is tall, short, young, old…). And when you run out of pictures, you let students start describing each other.

“Teacher, Emin is tall.”
“Yes, Emin IS tall.”
“Teacher, Emin is handsome.”
“Yes, Emin is tall, dark and handsome!”

And then I had to explain “dark” because that wasn’t one of the words in our vocabulary list. I thought everyone understood and we moved on to other descriptive words.

But after class, Emin came up to me and said, “Teacher, tall, dark and handsome?” I smiled and assure him that he was. But he looked so puzzled.

“Teacher, I stupid?” No! So I mimed “tall” and he agreed that yes, he was tall. I said “handsome” and he blushed. Then I pointed to his thick, black hair and said “dark hair” a couple times. I pointed to another student’s hair and said “blonde hair.” But he pointed to his head and repeated, “stupid?”

Fortunately, I gave him a marker and had him write the word on the board. He spelled it D-O-R-K. He thought I was calling him a dork! He’d used his cellphone translation app to find the definition. English pronunciations!

The white is manti, small dumplings covered in a garlic yogurt sauce and served cold. The salad just needed pomegranate syrup and lemon juice!
The white item is manti, small dumplings covered in a garlic yogurt sauce and served cold. The salad just needed pomegranate syrup and lemon juice!

Salad Dressing: There’s a reasonably priced, cafeteria-style restaurant near the school that I frequently go to. Some of the employees know a little English and always greet me warmly. I often get lentil soup and a salad. I usually just squeeze fresh lemon onto both before eating. The most gregarious of the troop brought over pomegranate syrup and lemon juice for my salad. OMG! This is an amazing combination for a salad dressing.

Touching: There’s a tremendous amount of touching in this country, but it’s rarely between men and women, at least in public. It’s usually between men. Men of all ages walk with their arms around each others’ shoulders. They kiss cheeks. They clasp hands and press their foreheads together for (what seems like) an uncomfortably long period. They stand very close when talking face to face. In America, these behaviors would signal homosexuality. The fact that the men are also fastidious about their appearance, particularly their hair and shoes, would just confirm that opinion. Oh, and lavender is a very popular color to decorate a bachelor’s quarters. But homosexuality is a sin in Islam and suggesting it is probably the worst insult imaginable. Besides I don’t think 95% of the male population is likely to be gay, though statistically 10-11% are. With the current conservative government (which is likely to get more conservative in the upcoming election), it can’t be a great place to be gay.

I still got it!
I still got it!

Quality Control: I keep some healthy snacks about. I eat things like seeds, nuts, dried fruit and roasted chickpeas. But I’ve learned to be very careful when I bite down. Quality control simply isn’t the same here. If you are eating walnuts, expect shells. I found a few rocks in my roasted pumpkin seeds the other day. The raisins often have stems attached. Get used to it.

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I’m official!

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Boats moored on the Marmara.
Boats moored on the Marmara.

5/20/2015
This week marked third month in Turkey–and technically my teaching probation period is up. Since no one has said otherwise, I guess I’m a full-fledged teacher at English Time, now. The school has gotten me my Residence Permit, so I’m here legally (something I couldn’t say in Vietnam, which is one of the reasons I left). They say they have applied for a work visa, so that’s good, too. I like to stay legal! A teacher across the hall skipped her police interview and so she didn’t get her Residence Permit. She was deported a couple weeks ago!

My students seem to like me and I certainly enjoy teaching. Of course, there’s the occasional student that I want to banish from the classroom, but that’s normal. Teachers are well respected here and my students are kind and mostly attentive. They often thank me for being their teacher–I don’t think that would ever happen in The States.

I still got it!
I still got it!

I do, however, spend WAY too much time preparing for class. For every hour I’m in class, I spend an additional hour preparing. And, of course, I’m only paid for teaching, not preparation, travel or paperwork before and after each class. But that is true of all teachers, I guess. The last two weeks I’ve only had 1 day off and most of the days I’ve had double shifts. You have to have some double shifts or you can’t get enough hours, but doing it every day is exhausting. With summer coming on, there are fewer classes starting, so I hate to turn down work when it’s offer now. I’ve been covering for other teachers who are taking time off. But I have this morning off and am doing laundry, cleaning and I slept in–that was wonderful! And I have a full day off tomorrow.

New roomie--Trudy!
New roomie–Trudy!

Final bit of news–one of the teachers that I room with has found an apartment we can share. It’s a little less money than the apartment I’m in now, but it will just be two of us. The current apartment has 7 people in it. I share a bathroom and kitchen with three others and it can be next to impossible to get into either. The living room is shared with everyone, but in practice, the landlords control it, so there’s nowhere to just “hang out.” And I pay for cable that I never get to enjoy. Female renters are not allowed overnight guests, though the men are. The landlords are nosy. They want to know where you are going, where you have been, who you are with. Lately they’ve been particularly nosy about alcohol consumption. I got some negative comments because I had a bottle of wine IN MY ROOM! And the male landlord is a bit too familiar, if you get my meaning.

For me, the most difficult thing is that I have the highest cleanliness standards of the bunch. I end up cleaning after everyone else–particularly in the kitchen. It’s getting old.

I’m grateful to be moving on. I own very little and the new place is walking distance from here. The move should be an easy one. This should lower my stress level. I need a certain amount of privacy and alone time to recover after work. Most people think of me as an extrovert and it’s true that I easily talk to new people and am very verbal. However, I need to be alone to recharge and that makes me an introvert. It’s hard to get alone time in an apartment with 7 people. Trudy, my soon-to-be roommate, works different shifts from me, so we won’t be forced together all the time.

Trudy and some very fresh bread to share--puffed up and hot from the oven.
Trudy and some very fresh bread to share–puffed up and hot from the oven.
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You never know….

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timthumb.php5/21/2015
You never know the people you meet. It’s said we have less than 5 seconds to make a good first impression, then less than 2 to confirm that impression. Say what you will, but humans DO judge a book by its cover. Hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, helped me to be less judgmental about looks, but obviously, I still form judgments. As a human, you have to.

But sometimes you are wrong.

I ran into Bismark and Hopper a half dozen times along the AT. We stayed in the same shelters as least two nights. One day when I was particularly tired, Bismark got water for me from a distant source—which is about as kind as it gets for a hiker. Bismark seemed honest and a normal hiker, if that’s possible. At least, he wasn’t any odder than any other long distance hiker. He said he got his name because he was from North Dakota, but when you go by trail names you don’t really expect much history from someone. He may have mentioned that he did contract jobs by computer. Our conversations were what ALL hikers talk about: weather, distances, trail conditions, and far to the next resupply point. He had decent, though not pricy, gear. I got the impression he was a life-long AT hiker–a “lifer”—and that he lived frugally so that he could afford the time to do so. I do remember that he wasn’t particularly modest and I had to avert my eyes quickly once. But if you’re very “sensitive” or a prude, staying in shelters is not a good idea. His girlfriend, Hopper, (though I thought “wife” at the time) WAS a bit off. I was polite, but kept her at arm’s length. If anyone had something to hide, I thought, it was her. In retrospect, perhaps she was being protective.

I haven’t thought of them in about a year. Until I read this. It seems Bismark was arrested during the recent Trail Days in Damascus for embezzling. He even has a Most Wanted Poster.

status-imageHere’s an additional article:
A fugitive since 2009 embezzling charges, Lexington man arrested in Virginia
A Lexington man wanted since 2009 on federal charges that he embezzled more than $8.7 million from a local Pepsi bottling plant has been arrested in southern Virginia.

James T. Hammes, 53, was arrested Saturday in Damascus, Va., the FBI announced Monday.

Hammes, a former controller for the Lexington division of G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, disappeared after being interviewed by the FBI in February 2009 about allegations that he had opened a fake bank account in the name of a vendor that worked for G&J, then put millions of the company’s money into the account. He allegedly then would move the money into personal bank and brokerage accounts.
Hammes had worked as controller for the company’s Southern Division in Lexington since 1995 and, according to an FBI news release, “was responsible for all financial accounting and internal controls.”

He is accused of taking $8,711,282 from 1998 to 2009.

Three months after Hammes fled, he was indicted in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio on 75 counts of wire fraud and money laundering.
In 2012, his case was featured the CNBC show American Greed: The Fugitives, and America’s Most Wanted.

A “Wanted” poster published by the FBI stated that Hammes, who was born in Wisconsin, was an accountant as well as an avid scuba diver and licensed pilot.
At the time of his disappearance, he was married to Deanna Hammes, but Herald-Leader archives indicate she later filed for divorce. Hammes’ previous wife, Joy Johnson Hammes, 40, who worked as community service food program coordinator at God’s Pantry, died after a fire at their Turkey Foot Road home in 2003. James Hammes was out for a walk at the time of the fire, and their teenage daughter, Amanda, was out with friends.

Joy Hammes’ family told American Greed and America’s Most Wanted that they were suspicious about the cause of the fire because James Hammes had been involved in a number of other fires in the past.

Investigators determined the fire was an accident.

The CNBC show reported that after James Hammes left, his wife and daughter went in a room he kept locked at their Lexington home. There they found books about how to disappear and create a new identity, as well as birth and death certificates for males who would have been about the same age he was.

Hammes was being held Monday by the Southwest Regional Virginia Regional Jail Authority in Abingdon, but is to be returned to Ohio to face the charges against him.

He made his first court appearance in Virginia on Monday, said Todd Lindgren of the FBI office in Cincinnati.

Lindgren said the charges against Hammes were filed in Ohio rather than Lexington because G&J is based in Cincinnati. The privately held company manufactures and distributes Pepsi products.

In its news release, the FBI thanked the Richmond Division of the FBI, Bristol Resident Agency, U.S. Marshals Service, Virginia State Police, Washington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office and the Damascus Police department for helping with the investigation.

No information was available about how investigators found Hammes or what he was doing in Virginia.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/05/18/3858239_a-fugitive-since-2009-embezzling.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

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Dealing with students and co-workers–it ain’t easy

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5/8/2015
Ali’s mother cleans the apartment every other week (or so). We call her Mamacita and she is so sweet! She just lights up a room when she walks into it. We only share a few words, but I can count on a big smile every time I see her. Such a joy to be around.

The Level 3 class I was to teach was supposed to start last week. It didn’t, but I was told it was only postponed. It would start this coming weekend. Yesterday evening I got an email that it is postponed again. Jeeze! Feast or Famine. Just yesterday, R. was worried that I would feel overworked by taking over “all” of Albert’s Level 5 classes (weekday mornings). No going to be overworked. In fact, I’m afraid to turn down work under the circumstances. Robert’s advice is simply to take all the work you can get, then when you need a day off, get a substitute. I hate that sort of thing, but it may be the only way to be sure of enough hours. And R. didn’t need to worry so about the Level 5 class. It only has a week and a half more to go. It fact it’s just four additional classes (each 4 hours). And since Albert has left the majority of the exams and all the presentations to the end, that’s all I’ll be doing. I have to give exams in: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Plus everyone–roughly 18 people–has to give a presentation. Oh joy.

Trudy will be moving downstairs! Mags is moving out in about a month and that leaves her room open. I know that Trudy has trouble with all the cigarette smoke upstairs—I would too. And Mamacita and Ali’s sister seem to need a temporary place to live as well. Everyone wins, here. For me, it will mean all adults downstairs! And I do love Trudy—like a sister. I fear we will stay up way too late every evening talking about boys. OK, the boys she’s interested in. She seems to attract young men in their 20’s and 30’s. I only attract the stray man who wants a green card. 😉

5/12/2015
Clearly, I spoke too soon about who I attract.

The Saturday night party at Shelley’s was great fun. Wonderful food, amazing view from the balcony and good conversation. But at 10p, I was the first to leave the party because I had to teach in the morning.

Took a wrong turn walking back and after 5-6 blocks realized I was going the wrong way. I was still in a public street that was well lit, so I asked someone for directions, in Turkish. But then I couldn’t get rid of the guy. He was perhaps 30ish, very tall. He knew 4-5 English words. At first I thought he just wanted to practice English, so I let him. Then he wanted to hold hands and put his arm around me! I was polite, but kept saying “no” in Turkish, firmly ,and would shake off his advances. I’ve learned you can’t be too nice about this sort of thing. He kept asking the same question, over and over, but I don’t know what it was. I suspect he was asking for sex. I got more and more firm and loud with my “NO” but he didn’t quit. Then he grabbed my hand tried to get me to pull off into some dark corner. I don’t mean to say that he was abducting me, but he wanted me to follow him. I stopped, stood my ground and said NO (in Turkish). I gave a very clear hand jester and motioned for him to go away, NOW. He grabbed my hand again and I simply started screaming like a little girl in trouble. He ran away.

Honestly, I wasn’t scared. I was angry. Pissed off, actually! It was a public place and I had never left the lighted street. There were always people around. I’m pretty sure it’s the blonde hair, worn down around the shoulders. (Which makes no sense because I’ve been growing out the hair for 14+ months and there’s darn little blonde left. It’s mostly gray!) Stupid men. They think blonde hair means “prostitute.” And an American accent apparently means “free prostitute.” They think American are sex starved! Nope–this never happened to me in the US! Considering carrying a scarf to wrap my head in for times when I’m alone on a Fri/Sat night. Jeeeze. At least men who act like this are mostly cowards.

5/13/2015
Albert has gone to Iran. I am teaching all the classes in the Level 5 class we share (Mon-Fri, 10a-2p), but it’s only a week and a half. In fact, it’s only four additional classes. I’ve confirmed several times by email and in person with both R., the head teacher, and Albert, that I would teach the classes. In fact, I’ve thought it odd that I had to confirm SO many times (and I keep emails like this as evidence. CYA). But somehow R. asked Kate (another teacher who is excellent) to cover for Thursday and Friday. When I questioned R. about it first thing yesterday morning, he lost his mind. He started screaming at me. “I don’t care who teaches the class!” and then “I can’t remember what I’ve said!” I was too shocked to respond. Then he said that he couldn’t have one teacher teaching all the days of a class, I should know that, so he obviously wouldn’t have asked me to teach the class. Plus it was too much for me to do when there were other teachers who needed work. THEN he said I have complained repeatedly about working too many hours.

I composed myself as much as I could and apologized if I had given him the impression that I was overworked. That had not been my intent, particularly when there were few classes starting lately and I’d had two canceled on me. I reminded him that his advice to me was to take as many hours as were offered and that I was taking that advice. I added that if he wanted Kate to teach the class, it was obviously his call as head teacher. All that I was trying to do was to live up to what I had agreed to. I hope I didn’t sound like a petulant child. I collected my stuff and went to my classroom, but was pretty shaken up. My first hour of teaching was not one of my best.

Later that evening, R. came and asked, “Are we good?” I didn’t respond immediately, so he stammered about how earlier when he questioned me about taking the class he was only asking my availability, not if I would teach the class. We both knew that wasn’t true. But I didn’t really answer his question. We aren’t good, just yet. It’s very uncomfortable for me and it will take a couple days to get over it. But the long term affect is that now I don’t know what to believe when I’m asked to cover a class. <sigh>

That incident sucked all the joy from yesterday and it threatens to do it again today.

To be fair, I understand that R. is under a lot of pressure. Working with the branch office is difficult, almost impossible. I wouldn’t have the job for twice the money. Stress ruins short term memory, so Robert may have simply forgotten our conversation, then didn’t want to admit he was wrong. Additionally, he isn’t well paid AND this job means he doesn’t get to teach (which he loves), except for at the last minute (which is never fun). I’m trying to see his point of view. But the over-reaction still stings. Feeling very alone.

LATER: This evening, Gabe asked how I was. Another teacher had witnessed R’s outburst and she had told Gabe, so he knew the situation (Gabe will be the head teacher when R. leaves in October, so he’s up to date on personnel issues). I confided that I was feeling quite uneasy. I told him that it would take me a few days to get over it. Nothing was really wrong and that I understood that Robert was under a lot of stress and had snapped. But Gabe asked me to look him in the eyes. He said I was a great person, the best teacher of the bunch. He said he wanted me to know that he always had my back and to never forget it. I cried. It’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Bless him.

And, today, I got a glowing letter of recommendation from R. I think it’s his way of saying, “I’m sorry.” I’d asked for one a week or two ago, since I needed one more for my files.

I’m feeling much better now.

5/15/2015
I’ve been working a LOT of hours so not posting to the blog very often. With summer coming on, we have fewer classes starting, so I hate to turn down work when it is offered. This week I’ve mostly been filling in for other teachers, double shifts every day. AND I’ve had 4-one hour activities. Two folks have taken a holiday, so their classes and activities needed a teacher and I got the work. Next week I have a class ending, but will immediately start to cover the last two weeks of another class. A teacher has decided that teaching isn’t for him. He’s going home to London. So I’ve got hours for the next couple weeks, anyway.

R. has confided in me that some of the teachers that started at the same time as I did, simply won’t make it through their three month trial period–which ends soon. (And it will be his job to fire them. No wonder he’s stressed!) So he says I should not worry about hours. There will be fewer classes, but also fewer teachers, so it should even out. I guess we will see.

Today I had to tear up a test in front of a student–caught him cheating. I’d warned the kid (he’s probably 20 years old) more than once, so I can’t understand why he was so surprised by my actions. He sat there shocked for several minutes without speaking! We were taking 2 exams, back-to-back, and I told him he could take the second exam, but if I saw him cheating again, I’d do the same. I’m sure he will complain at the office, so I wrote up a full report, took photographs of the board instructions (which clearly label what “cheating” means) and informed my head teacher (R.) and the teacher trainer (Max). With all the work it took me, it would have been much easier to let him just cheat! I stood my ground when the kid protested after class, but it made me sick to my stomach to do. Honestly, if he has started with an apology instead of a demand, I might have given him a second chance. I guess we will never know. This is not the fun part of teaching.

Today was payday, but we’ve been paid late the last two months. I was covering a class for someone else, but no students showed up. That happens on a Friday night, especially since they just had a test yesterday and knew there would be substitute teacher (me!). You have to wait 35 minutes, inform the office of the situation, THEN email your head teacher. So it was almost 8pm before I left the school. At that point they still didn’t know if they would be paying that night. The branch manager was still out “getting the money.” No one was sure if he’s be back tonight or tomorrow. So I went home rather than wait around for what was probably nothing. But according to R., everyone who was still there at 10p got paid. Now it will probably be Monday before I see any money. <sigh>

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Topkapı Palace, the harem

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The Imperial Hall (Hünkâr Sofası), also known as the Imperial Sofa, Throne Room Within or Hall of Diversions, is a domed hall in the Harem, believed to have been built in the late 16th century. It has the largest dome in the palace. The hall served as the official reception hall of the sultan as well as for the entertainment of the Harem. Here the sultan received his confidants, guests, his mother, his first wife (Hasseki), consorts, and his children. Entertainments, paying of homage during religious festivals, and wedding ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the dynasty.
The Imperial Hall (Hünkâr Sofası), also known as the Imperial Sofa, Throne Room Within or Hall of Diversions, is a domed hall in the Harem, believed to have been built in the late 16th century. It has the largest dome in the palace. The hall served as the official reception hall of the sultan as well as for the entertainment of the Harem. Here the sultan received his confidants, guests, his mother, his first wife (Hasseki), consorts, and his children. Entertainments, paying of homage during religious festivals, and wedding ceremonies took place here in the presence of the members of the dynasty.

Thursday, during a day off from teaching, I visited Istanbul’s original Ottoman Palace, Topkapı. Yesterday I shared photos of the palace, but today will add photos of the Harem. The word “harem” is a Arabic word, meaning forbidden and it was the private residence of the Sultan and his “family.”

Though not on the tour, the harem also included The Cage, a set of rooms where the sultan's brothers were confined to avoid them trying to take the throne. Brothers of sultans, kings and emperors were often killed, usually strangled, to keep them from trying to take over power.
Though not on the tour, the harem also included The Cage, a set of rooms where the sultan’s brothers were confined to avoid them trying to take the throne. Brothers of sultans, kings and emperors were often killed, usually strangled, to keep them from trying to take over power.
The domed ceiling of the Imperial Hall.  The harem was the residence of the sultan's wives, concubines and children. They were guarded by black African slaves, eunuchs. The sultan and his sons were the only other men allowed in the harem.
The domed ceiling of the Imperial Hall.
The harem was the residence of the sultan’s wives, concubines and children. They were guarded by black African slaves, eunuchs. The sultan and his sons were the only other men allowed in the harem.

According to Wikipedia: “The Imperial Harem (Harem-i Hümayûn) occupied one of the sections of the private apartments of the sultan; it contained more than 400 rooms. The harem was home to the sultan’s mother, the Valide Sultan; the concubines and wives of the sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants. The harem consists of a series of buildings and structures, connected through hallways and courtyards. Every service team and hierarchical group residing in the harem had its own living space clustered around a courtyard. The number of rooms is not determined, with probably over 100,[78] of which only a few are open to the public. These apartments (Daires) were occupied respectively by the harem eunuchs, the Chief Harem Eunuch (Darüssaade Ağası), the concubines, the queen mother, the sultan’s consorts, the princes and the favorites. There was no trespassing beyond the gates of the harem, except for the sultan, the queen mother, the sultan’s consorts and favourites, the princes and the concubines as well as the eunuchs guarding the harem.

The harem wing was only added at the end of the 16th century. Many of the rooms and features in the Harem were designed by Mimar Sinan. The harem section opens into the Second Courtyard (Divan Meydanı), which the Gate of Carriages (Arabalar Kapısı) also opens to. The structures expanded over time towards the Golden Horn side and evolved into a huge complex. The buildings added to this complex from its initial date of construction in the 15th century to the early 19th century capture the stylistic development of palace design and decoration. Parts of the harem were redecorated under the sultans Mahmud I and Osman III in an Italian-inspired Ottoman Baroque style. These decorations contrast with those of the Ottoman classical age.”

Much of the palace is under renovation, so it’s not all open to the public. Also, many of the jewels, portraits, clothing and special exhibits do not allow photographs.

The women of the harem were slaves, gathered from the furthest corners of the Ottoman Empire and sometimes beyond. Their highest dream was to become a favorite of the sultan and bear him a son. This could possibly lead to marriage. At it's height, the harem contained over 1,000 concubines. The last of these women left in 1909.
The women of the harem were slaves, gathered from the furthest corners of the Ottoman Empire and sometimes beyond. Their highest dream was to become a favorite of the sultan and bear him a son. This could possibly lead to marriage. At it’s height, the harem contained over 1,000 concubines. The last of these women left in 1909.
This terrace is part of the Summer Palace and overlooks the Bosphorus. It has a large fountain and several pavilions (kiosks).
This terrace is part of the Summer Palace and overlooks the Bosphorus. It has a large fountain and several pavilions (kiosks).
The Baghdad Kiosk is situated on the terrace, beside the fountain. It was built to commemorate the Baghdad Campaign of Murad IV after 1638.
The Baghdad Kiosk is situated on the terrace, beside the fountain. It was built to commemorate the Baghdad Campaign of Murad IV after 1638.
At the foot of the hill you can see part of the original palace walls, now alongside a highway.
At the foot of the hill you can see part of the original palace walls, now alongside a highway.
Detail of a door, decorated with mother of pearl.
Detail of a door, decorated with mother of pearl.
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Topkapı Palace

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The Gate of Salutation, entrance to the inner courtyard of the Topkapı Palace. From this vast palace complex, the Ottoman Empire was ruled for about 400 years.  The other courtyards are open parks, including Gulhane Park, which was covered in tulips this spring. The tulips will soon be pulled away, reveling the roses, for which the park is names. Another outer courtyard includes the green space around Hagia Eirene and a fountain, called the Executioner's fountain. It is so named because the executioner washed his hands and sword here after a public beheading.
The Gate of Salutation, entrance to the inner courtyard of the Topkapı Palace. From this vast palace complex, the Ottoman Empire was ruled for about 400 years.
The other courtyards are open parks, including Gulhane Park, which was covered in tulips this spring. The tulips will soon be pulled away, reveling the roses, for which the park is names. Another outer courtyard includes the green space around Hagia Eirene and a fountain, called the Executioner’s fountain. It is so named because the executioner washed his hands and sword here after a public beheading.

Went to Tapkapı Palace yesterday. It’s an amazing historical sight, but the crowds about did me in! Too many people. It was a beautiful, sunny, hot day and the lines were long. But the metro was worse. Can you say sardines?

The Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465–1856) of their 624-year reign. This post is about the palace. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on photos of the harem.

The tulips are past their prime, but still beautiful.
The tulips are past their prime, but still beautiful.
The Tower of Justice, between trees of the courtyard. The tower symbolizes the eternal vigilance of the sultan against injustice. Everyone from afar was supposed to be able to see the tower to feel assured about the sultan's presence. The tower was also used by the sultan for viewing pleasures. The old tower used to have grilled windows, enabling him to see without being seen, adding to the aura of seclusion. The golden window in the Imperial Council is accessible through the Tower of Justice, thus adding to the importance of the symbolism of justice.
The Tower of Justice, between trees of the courtyard. The tower symbolizes the eternal vigilance of the sultan against injustice. Everyone from afar was supposed to be able to see the tower to feel assured about the sultan’s presence. The tower was also used by the sultan for viewing pleasures. The old tower used to have grilled windows, enabling him to see without being seen, adding to the aura of seclusion. The golden window in the Imperial Council is accessible through the Tower of Justice, thus adding to the importance of the symbolism of justice.
Entrance to the Imperial Council chambers. The Imperial Council (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn) building is the chamber in which the ministers of state met.
Entrance to the Imperial Council chambers. The Imperial Council (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn) building is the chamber in which the ministers of state met.
 The ceiling of the Imperial Council chambers. My photo of the golden window did not come out, but from the window, covered by a golden grill, the Sultan or the Valide Sultan (his mother) was able to follow deliberations of the council without being noticed. The window could be reached from the imperial quarters in the adjacent Tower of Justice. This grill was removed by Ataturk.
The ceiling of the Imperial Council chambers. My photo of the golden window did not come out, but from the window, covered by a golden grill, the Sultan or the Valide Sultan (his mother) was able to follow deliberations of the council without being noticed. The window could be reached from the imperial quarters in the adjacent Tower of Justice. This grill was removed by Ataturk.
The Tower of Justice. The tower is the tallest structure in the palace, making it clearly visible from the Bosphorus. The tower was probably originally constructed under Mehmed II and then renovated and enlarged by Suleiman I between 1527-1529.
The Tower of Justice. The tower is the tallest structure in the palace, making it clearly visible from the Bosphorus. The tower was probably originally constructed under Mehmed II and then renovated and enlarged by Suleiman I between 1527-1529.
The Gate of Felicity (Bâbüssaâde or Bab-üs Saadet) is the entrance into the Inner Court (Enderûn). the private and residential areas of the palace. The gate has a dome supported by lean marble pillars. No one could pass this gate without the authority of the Sultan. Even the Grand Vizier was only granted authorization on specified days and under specified conditions. The small, indented stone on the ground in front of the gate marks the place where the banner of Muhammad was unfurled. The Grand Vizier or the commander going to war was entrusted with this banner in a solemn ceremony.
The Gate of Felicity (Bâbüssaâde or Bab-üs Saadet) is the entrance into the Inner Court (Enderûn). the private and residential areas of the palace. The gate has a dome supported by lean marble pillars. No one could pass this gate without the authority of the Sultan. Even the Grand Vizier was only granted authorization on specified days and under specified conditions. The small, indented stone on the ground in front of the gate marks the place where the banner of Muhammad was unfurled. The Grand Vizier or the commander going to war was entrusted with this banner in a solemn ceremony.
The throne room and chamber. Memet II (known as The Conquer) breached the walls of Constantinople in 1453. He chose this spot for his palace and construction began almost immediately. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantion stood here.
The throne room and chamber. Memet II (known as The Conquer) breached the walls of Constantinople in 1453. He chose this spot for his palace and construction began almost immediately. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantion stood here.
Inside the throne room and audience chamber, where Sultans ruled from 1465–1856. before moving to the Dolmabahçe Palace.
Inside the throne room and audience chamber, where Sultans ruled from 1465–1856. before moving to the Dolmabahçe Palace.
The trees in the Topkapı Palace complex are remarkable, as many have fallen victim to a fungus that has completely hollowed out their trunks, over the course of centuries. The trees nonetheless survive and remain standing.
The trees in the Topkapı Palace complex are remarkable, as many have fallen victim to a fungus that has completely hollowed out their trunks, over the course of centuries. The trees nonetheless survive and remain standing.
The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, with a good view of the Bosphorus from many points of the palace. The site is hilly and one of the highest points close to the sea. The tower in the center is the Galata Tower.
The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, with a good view of the Bosphorus from many points of the palace. The site is hilly and one of the highest points close to the sea. The tower in the center is the Galata Tower.
The Isnik tiles are a wonder--most of the interior walls have lavishly decorated tiles like this, in shades of blue. "Turquoise" literally means the color of the Turks. Isnik is a city in Turkey which produced these tiles, originally copies of Chinese porcelain.
The Isnik tiles are a wonder–most of the interior walls have lavishly decorated tiles like this, in shades of blue. “Turquoise” literally means the color of the Turks. Isnik is a city in Turkey which produced these tiles, originally copies of Chinese porcelain.
This reminded me of the window scene from Romeo and Juliet.
This reminded me of the window scene from Romeo and Juliet.
There was a special exhibit, hidden away and difficult to find. While I enjoyed the artifiacts and information about coffee at "A Drop of Pleasure," I liked the solitude most of all. I had a cool drink in the shade of this courtyard and collected myself. It's not even high season and the museum was bursting with people.
There was a special exhibit, hidden away and difficult to find. While I enjoyed the artifiacts and information about coffee at “A Drop of Pleasure,” I liked the solitude most of all. I had a cool drink in the shade of this courtyard and collected myself. It’s not even high season and the museum was bursting with people.
It was a hot summer day and museum goers seek the shade of one of the trees.
It was a hot summer day and museum goers seek the shade of one of the trees.
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Çiğköfte and therapy

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Left to right: Tuncay, Jon and Shelley.
Left to right: Tuncay, Jon and Shelley.

5/3/2015
A lovely day yesterday! I taught my Sunday class and after, the students took me out for lunch to practice English. I’m working hard on my Turkish again, and it slowly, slowly pays off. The students work so hard on their English that it is inspiring.

Jon is Kurdish, and his family is from an ancient city, located near the Iranian boarder. He's a level 4 student and doing very well with his English--but he takes every opportunity to practice. And yes, he is a handsome young man.
Jon is Kurdish, and his family is from an ancient city, located near the Iranian boarder. He’s a level 4 student and doing very well with his English–but he takes every opportunity to practice. And yes, he is a handsome young man.

After I prepared my Monday morning class, I took a quick nap then met other teachers at the school to walk to a student’s hour for home-made çiğköfte—a vegetarian version of bulgur (cracked wheat), onions and spices. Tasty! And Jon, who made it for us, got quite an upper body workout mixing the ingredients, as that “cooks” them. Jon is a Kurd, a minority, and there is a lot of prejudice here in Turkey against them. Albert (actually, Ali, from Iran) led us to Jon’s apartment and occasionally served as translator for Jon, a 4th level student.

Çiğ means raw and köfte is meatball. This dish was originally raw meat, but it’s seldom made with this in Istanbul. You can find it at most shops and even the grocery store, but it is a fat-less, vegetarian dish. It’s usually served rolled in a lettuce leaf or lavosh (a flat bread). We drank Ayran, a popular beverage in Turkish, made of thinned yogurt. It cools the tongue after the spicy meal. One of the ladies from the branch office, Barak, made a salad of chopped onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. It had a sauce of pomegranate syrups that was so tasty, a couple of the men drank it when it when we had eaten all the vegetables. It’s that tasty! There was lots of folk music and some dancing too!

Jon spent an HOUR mixing in ingredients--a serious upper body workout.
Jon spent an HOUR mixing in ingredients–a serious upper body workout.
The finished dish! Tasty, filling and spicy! The white parts are hard boiled egg, the last ingredient. It's rolled into lettuce or flat bread with a squeeze of lemon.
The finished dish! Tasty, filling and spicy! The white parts are hard boiled egg, the last ingredient. It’s rolled into lettuce or flat bread with a squeeze of lemon.
We ate it picnic style on the floor.
We ate it picnic style on the floor.

5/6/2015
Mondays and Tuesdays are tough days for me—double shift and usually at least one activity or private lesson. Next week, Albert is going back to Iran, his home country, for a couple weeks, so the entire class will be mine through the end of the class. The first week will be really tough. But since Albert has pretty much left all the tests and presentations to the last part of the class, that’s all I’ll be doing.

My private lesson yesterday (and again today) is with E., a sweet man in his early 30’s who is traveling to Spain, Portugal and Morocco for a month starting Saturday. We are practicing his “travel” English—booking tickets and hotels. Sounds like an amazing trip. He’s a nervous person and while his English isn’t perfect, he’s very understandable. Of course, more vocabulary would help. We often talk about religion and culture, so these are difficult subjects to discuss. Sometimes, though, I don’t think he is interested in the lessons at all. I think he just wants to be heard. He’s lonely, living with his mother, doesn’t really like his job. Travel is the only thing he seems to really like about his life and he has a second job just to afford it. He feels it’s time for him to make some big decisions in life, but her doesn’t really know the direction and hates to make a big change that will be bad for his widowed mother. It’s a tough time for him and English lessons are cheaper (and more acceptable) than therapy. He’s gone through several private teachers, but always asks for me now. Guess I’m his therapist!

Photos of Dancing from Sunday evening:

Jon and Barak dance for us!
Jon and Barak dance for us!

çiğköfte at Jon's, May 2015, 7

Notice the double tea pot. The bottom pot has only hot water. The top has very strong tea. You pour the strong tea into your glass then dilute it to your preferred strength. And there is always sugar! Lots of sugar!
Notice the double tea pot. The bottom pot has only hot water. The top has very strong tea. You pour the strong tea into your glass then dilute it to your preferred strength. And there is always sugar! Lots of sugar!

çiğköfte at Jon's, May 2015, 10

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