Day to day in Istanbul

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A beggar on the street breast feeds her child. Her sign reads "Aciz" which means helpless.
A beggar on the street breast feeds her child. Her sign reads “Aciz” which means helpless.

6/21/2015
I am typing on my laptop and glad that the battery is charged. When you live in a foreign country, you quickly learn to keep your electronics charged and figure out where candles and flashlights are. We are in a power outage. No idea how long it will last (it was only an hour). These things usually don’t last long, but could last days. I don’t mind not having light, but I quickly miss internet access. I can, at least, check email on my smart phone.

Trudy and I have just returned with several bags of fresh vegetables from the open market. Every community has a market day and in Avcilar (pronounced Av Ja Ler) it is Sunday. The market blocks the street and stretches over a mile, beginning a block and a half from our apartment. Absolutely beautiful produce, but also plants, kitchen items, eggs, cheese, bread, clothes and household things. We quickly decided to split the cost of most vegetables and fruit. Items are sold by the kilo and few stalls will split a kilo.

The view from my third story apartment terrace.
The view from my third story apartment terrace.
From the terrace--and there's no elevator.
From the terrace–and there’s no elevator.

Buying clothes is a trip, since everything is in UK or European sizes—neither of which I understand. I had to do a Google search for my sizes and I keep a piece of paper in my wallet with them written down. In shoes I find I wear a size 40! This does not make me want to buy them. Honestly, I don’t enjoy clothes shopping, even in the best of conditions, so this makes it even worse. But I must replace things. I bought almost no clothing in Vietnam, except for socks, a silk nightgown and a silk robe. Nothing else would have fit me and besides the quality was too poor to consider a purchase. Here I have a better shot at things fitting and being of a quality I would pay for. Oddly enough, my first serious clothing purchase turned out to be bras. In a conservative Muslim country, it’s odd enough to buy lacy bras from a man. Odder still to buy them off table in an open market where the women are simply trying them on over their clothes. I hated it, but did exactly the same. How else can I know if they fit?

I tend to eat what is fresh and in season. Cherries are ripe now, so it is the fruit we eat every day. The peppers are beautiful, so all my dishes contain them. I tend to cook up a large portion of something and eat on it for four or five days at a time. I’ve also become accustomed to the Turkish custom of eating olives and white cheese for breakfast. We buy black olives by the kilo, which costs roughly 8TL (3 dollars, US).

This is a public beach, but a bit rocky for my tastes.
This is a public beach, but a bit rocky for my tastes.
Fishing in the Sea of Marmara. The sea is just a few blocks from my apartment and I walk there a couple times a week.
Fishing in the Sea of Marmara. The sea is just a few blocks from my apartment and I walk there a couple times a week.
Restrooms are marked in the English fashion with WC for water closet. In Turkish it's pronounced Wee Jee. Betting this one is just a hole in the floor....
Restrooms are marked in the English fashion with WC for water closet. In Turkish it’s pronounced Wee Jee. Betting this one is just a hole in the floor….

6/23/2015
Since the start of Ramazan a few days ago, I’ve been awakened at 2am by a drum. At first I thought I had imagined it. I’m a vivid dreamer and also typically able to go right back to sleep when awakened in the middle of the night. (In fact I love to wake up at 4am and tell myself, “Ah! I don’t have to get up yet!”) But last night, Trudy heard it too, so I’m not making it up. On my walk today, I saw a man with a large drum. Wish I spoke enough Turkish to ask him about it. Must remember to ask my students.

But later the mystery was solved. First, Trudy’s friend, Dilek, explained that the drum is to awaken the women at 2a so that they can prepare breakfast. Today a man in a fancy red vest carrying a drum knocked on the door. When I opened it, all I could understand was “para” which is the word for money. I said, “Yok Islam,” which is poor Turkish for “no Islam.” He then got testy and rubbed his fingers together in the universal symbol for money. I just shut the door. This probably won’t win me any awards with the neighborhood, but I have a difficult time paying to be awakened in the middle of the night.

Notice the cat. Stray cats are everywhere and everyone seems to feed them. These are waiting for the fishermen to catch and share.
Notice the cat. Stray cats are everywhere and everyone seems to feed them. These are waiting for the fishermen to catch and share.
Always practicing football.
Always practicing football.
Roses in the park.
Roses in the park.

Today I began a new level 3 class, daytime, Monday-Friday, 10a-2p. It is odd having a class that goes right through lunchtime. I have to bring a snack. But I eat the snack in the privacy of the teacher’s lounge, since so many of my students are fasting. This appears to be a wonderful group of about 14 students. Fortunately, they all seem to be at level, or at least close. I always start classes with a few exercises designed to let me know their vocabulary, and they did well with their first efforts. I had each introduce himself and no one stumbled. Then we reviewed all the verb tenses they should have learned in Levels 1 and 2. Success! I’m very excited with the class. The last week I’ve put in a strong effort to introduce a systematic vocabulary for each level, since this is decidedly lacking. I’ve already come up with dialogues, too, which gives reluctant students an opportunity to speak. It also builds familiarity with actual conversations and we always learn new vocabulary. So this class will be my most organized yet. I spend half of the four hour class in the book, then the other half with materials I’ve developed or found. I laid out a calendar of vocabulary lessons, dialogues, major activities, and even some of the warm-ups. I’m pretty excited about this. This could be my most successful yet. If I keep this up, I might be a pretty good teacher before I leave Turkey!

Not that it is likely to matter to English Time.

Based on recent changes, it’s highly unlikely that I would extend my stay here. Max, our teacher trainer who I’ve learned much from, was relieved of his duties last week. No one will fill his role. Our hourly system went electronic a few weeks ago, though none of us were given any information or training on it. The move went badly. The system simply stopped working late last week. Yesterday we were forwarded an email, ostensibly about work permits. Buried in paragraphs 4-5 was the announcement that we will soon go to a fingerprint system for check in and out of our classes. If we make any mistakes, we will not be paid. Finally, the head teacher position may also disappear. Starting next week, all teachers in Istanbul will be scheduled by a single person. Since there are over a dozen offices, some with35-40 teachers, this sounds like a disaster to me. Robert, my head teacher, has never been paid his “bonus” hours, promised to him and based on the productivity of his office. He’s decidedly unmotivated, as you might imagine. Robert leaves in October and you can see his interest waning with each passing day.

Great students; poor school. Sound familiar?

Cotton candy sellers take a break under cotton candy skies.
Cotton candy sellers take a break under cotton candy skies.

6/28/2015
I often play games to reinforce vocabulary or speaking. Last weekend I played Taboo with my students to review things in a house and jobs. I wrote phrases for them to say to help. “This is a thing in a house.” “This is a job.” “This thing is found in (room). “ This person works in ______.” “You use this to ____.” One student got the word fork and he started off well, and then got confused. Finally, he said, “This is the wife of the spoon.” We all laughed, but got the word right.
The summer here seem to be cooler than Atlanta. It does climb to 90F occasionally, but usually stays in the 80’s. Despite this, body odor, at least in the men, is surprisingly strong. And I’m not talking about the beggars, either. These men are usually young, fashionable men who appear to have clean clothes and styled hair. Their shoes will shine and they may have the latest iPhone 6. But when they stand next to you on the bus, you are almost knocked over by the stench. Wow. I never find stinky women, though.

Planning an excursion west to Bucharest, Romania and Budapest, Hungary for next week. These are two new countries for me and I’m very excited. It’s (mostly) by train. If I’d had 2 more days I’d have gone on the Vienna, but I barely have a week and this vacation has caused an uproar, unfortunately
I scheduled the timing of this week off carefully. I put it on the calendar over a month ago, during a week no one else was off. I chose a time when my existing classes were finished and during Ramazan when I was assured no new classes would begin. When I found that we would be getting a new scheduler, Philip, I immediately emailed him about my time off and didn’t buy a ticket until he had responded that he agreed with it. So imagine my surprise when mid-day yesterday I get an email from Philip about a L1 class beginning the next day. I asked for the time of the class (he hadn’t specified) and asked how we would cover it during my week off. He didn’t reply to me, but it sparked a heated series of emails between Robert (my head teacher) and Philip, which Robert forwarded to me. The level 1 class was given to someone else, Philip had deemed me “stupid” for taking time off and that several teachers (including me) didn’t deserve to teach if we were going to “leave our posts.”

This new experiment in scheduling isn’t going to be fun. And it seems there’s a fingerprint system coming soon. Always something new. Not always good, though.

I mentioned that the trip next week is “mostly” by train. Seems the tracks from Istanbul to the border are being refurbished, so it’s a bus ride. An overnight bus ride, since I leave the Sirceki station at 10pm. Oh dear. This sounds horrible. Bringing earplugs and a scarf to double as a blanket. May consider eyeshades and a pillow–(though with carry-on luggage that could be a problem. I love traveling. It’s getting there that’s the problem.

The view from one of my classrooms--seven stories above the E5. The median is where the MetroBuses run. The structure over the tracks is the Atakoy metro station.
The view from one of my classrooms–seven stories above the E5. The median is where the MetroBuses run. The structure over the tracks is the Atakoy metro station.

I continue to work on my Turkish, but it is mostly just nouns and adjectives. I don’t quite understand verbs yet—and tenses and most pronouns are added as suffixes to the verbs. Wish I could take a class. Still, I looked up at a new sign on the bus this morning and realized I could read enough of it to understand what was meant. Today I bought something in the canteen and noticed the empty cash drawer. “Para yok gun!” (No money today) I’m coming along. I have a Turkish to English dictionary and often just sit and translate words off signs during long metro rides, IF I can get a seat. If not, I listen to books or my Pimsler Turkish.

My level 1 class finishes this weekend. Everyone so far has passed, save one. I SO hope I can teach their level 2 class. The young gentleman who will not pass (though I have no control over whether or not he is moved onto level 2) started off with such promise. But stopped showing up for class and his English seemed to disintegrate. By the final speaking exam he could not understand the questions I asked and simply starting saying all the English words he knew. “What are you going to do this week?” “Ah….sofa….chair….cinema…mother…sister….” Oh dear.
Another issue with speaking questions is that they can be interpreted in more than one way. I have to show a photo of an attractive woman in an office, speaking on a telephone. I ask, “Where is the woman?” One student replied. “Well, she’s right there in the picture, of course!” He got full marks. Another question on the same photo is, “Describe how she may feel.” One 20-something man seemed surprised. “Teacher? Again?” So I repeated the question. He said, “Boobies. Soft!” Then he cupped his hands and flexed his fingers in an unmistakable gesture. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

And then there is the occasional poet in my class. Sahin always asks several ways to say a phrase. He’s my best student in the Level 2 class that just finished. It turns out he was looking for “the most beautiful way” to say something.
I adore my new Level 3 students that started with me this past week. Feeling guilty that they will have a sub for 3 days.

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Bosphorus Cruise!

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The Bosphorus Bridge. Below it is the Beylerbeyi Palace. "Bey" is the Turkish word for "man" or "gentleman." The ending "-ler" (or "lar" depending on the word) makes it plural. Not sure if this makes the palace a "gentlemen's gentleman" or what?
The Bosphorus Bridge. Below it is the Beylerbeyi Palace. “Bey” is the Turkish word for “man” or “gentleman.” The ending “-ler” (or “lar” depending on the word) makes it plural. Not sure if this makes the palace a “gentlemen’s gentleman” or what?

Today, I took a cruise from the mouth of the Golden Horn’s Galata Bridge down the Bosphorus. It was just a two hour cruise, so we did not go all the way to the Black Sea. This strait divides the city of Istanbul as well as the continents of Asia and Europe. The water flows from the Sea of Marmara (and the Mediterranean) to the Black Sea. I wish this had been a narrated cruise, but I have a good guidebook, so knew most of what I was seeing.

Leaving port
Leaving port
On top of our cruise boat. The canopy was quickly pulled back and we were in full sun the entire trip.
On top of our cruise boat. The canopy was quickly pulled back and we were in full sun the entire trip.
Leaving port, beside the Galata Bridge.
Leaving port, beside the Galata Bridge.
Going beneath the Galata Bridge. That's the New Mosque on the shore.
Going beneath the Galata Bridge. That’s the New Mosque on the shore.
Even cruise ships stop here.
Even cruise ships stop here.
On the water is the Kabatas pier, where I boarded a ferry yesterday to go to the Prince's Islands. The Mosque is part of the Dolmabahce Palace and you can see the ornate palace clock tower just to the right of the mosque.
On the water is the Kabatas pier, where I boarded a ferry yesterday to go to the Prince’s Islands. The Mosque is part of the Dolmabahce Palace and you can see the ornate palace clock tower just to the right of the mosque.
Dolmabahce Palace is an opulent early 19th century palace with a series or ornate gates along the waterfront, used the the sultan on the royal barge.
Dolmabahce Palace is an opulent early 19th century palace with a series or ornate gates along the waterfront, used the the sultan on the royal barge.
Bosphorus Bridge
Bosphorus Bridge
The Mecidiye Mosque on the European side with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background. Notice the crowd on men with their foreheads touching the ground. This scene is one of 5 times a day that men pray.
The Mecidiye Mosque on the European side with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background. Notice the crowd on men with their foreheads touching the ground. This scene is one of 5 times a day that men pray.
This small island is now a pool and restaurant.
This small island is now a pool and restaurant.
It was a very sunny day, almost too bright for photos, so I'm lucky so many came out well. At the end of June, it is surprisingly cool. Temps this week stayed below 80F, while my old stomping ground of "Hotlanta" is above 90F.
It was a very sunny day, almost too bright for photos, so I’m lucky so many came out well. At the end of June, it is surprisingly cool. Temps this week stayed below 80F, while my old stomping ground of “Hotlanta” is above 90F.
Here is our first good view of the Fortress of Europe rising above and to the left of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
Here is our first good view of the Fortress of Europe rising above and to the left of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
Bebek, famous for its marzipan. Oddly, the name means "baby" in Turkish. Most of the current homes are of stone and concrete, but originally, the fashionable summer homes and elegant villas along the Bosphorus were called yalti.
Bebek, famous for its marzipan. Oddly, the name means “baby” in Turkish. Most of the current homes are of stone and concrete, but originally, the fashionable summer homes and elegant villas along the Bosphorus were called yalti and made of wood.
The Egyptian Consulate in Bebek, a suburb of Istanbul. Built in the late 19th century, it is the only remaining monumental architecture in Bebek, once the home of the Ottoman elite. It's still a fashionable address, however.  This building show the influence of Art Nouveau, with wrought iron railings worked into a leaf design.
The Egyptian Consulate in Bebek, a suburb of Istanbul. Built in the late 19th century, it is the only remaining monumental architecture in Bebek, once the home of the Ottoman elite. It’s still a fashionable address, however.
This building shows the influence of Art Nouveau, with wrought iron railings worked into a leaf design.
On the Asian side of the bridge, hidden from view is the Fortress of Asia. It was build 50 years earlier than the one in Europe. It was part of a failed attempt in 1396 by Beyazit I to take Constantinople.
On the Asian side of the bridge, hidden from view is the Fortress of Asia. It was build 50 years earlier than the Fortress of Europe as part of a failed attempt in 1396 by Beyazit I to take Constantinople.
This was our turn around spot--the Fortress of Europe and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (Mehmet the Conquer).  This is the narrowest part of the Bosphorus and the waters flow fastest here. It was at this point that the Persian emperor Darius and his army crossed the Bosphorus on a pontoon bridge in 512BCE, on their way to fight the Greeks.  We can see only one of the two famous fortresses that face each other across the waters here. The Fortress of Europe was built in just 4 months by Mehmet II (the Conquer) in 1452, as a prelude to his invasion of Constantinople the following year.
This was our turn around spot–the Fortress of Europe and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (Mehmet the Conquer).
This is the narrowest part of the Bosphorus and the waters flow fastest here. It was at this point that the Persian emperor Darius and his army crossed the Bosphorus on a pontoon bridge in 512BCE, on their way to fight the Greeks.
We can see only one of the two famous fortresses that face each other across the waters here. The Fortress of Europe was built in just 4 months by Mehmet II (the Conquer) in 1452, as a prelude to his invasion of Constantinople the following year. The Fortress of Asia is on the other side.
Just left of center you can see a young boy fishing. The two towers behind are part of a military school.
Just left of center you can see a young boy fishing. The two towers behind are part of a military school.
The Beylerbeyi Palace, beneath the Bosphorus Bridge.  The bridge was the first to be built across the strait. Construction began in 1970. It is the world's ninth longest suspension bridge, with a length of 1,074 m.  The Beylerbeyi Palace was build for Sultan Abdul Aziz in 1861 as a summer residence. Empress Eugenie of France visited (on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal) and had her face slapped by the Sultan's mother for daring to enter the palace on the arm of the Sultan. Other regal visitors include the Duck and Duchess of Windsor.
The Beylerbeyi Palace, beneath the Bosphorus Bridge.
The bridge was the first to be built across the strait. Construction began in 1970. It is the world’s ninth longest suspension bridge, with a length of 1,074 m.
The Beylerbeyi Palace was build for Sultan Abdul Aziz in 1861 as a summer residence. Empress Eugenie of France visited (on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal) and had her face slapped by the Sultan’s mother for daring to enter the palace on the arm of the Sultan. Other regal visitors include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Close up of one of the Bathing Pavilions of the Beylerbeyi Palace.
Close up of one of the Bathing Pavilions of the Beylerbeyi Palace. There were two: one for men and one for women.
Leander's Tower was built on an islet in the 18th century. It once served as a quarantine center during a cholera outbreak. It's also been a lighthouse, customs port and toll gate. Now it's a restaurant.  The tower is known in Turkish as Maiden's Tower after a princess who was confined here when a prophet foretold that she would die from a snakebite. The snake showed up in a basket of figs and the princess died anyway.  The English name comes from the Greek myth of Leanders, who swam the Hellespont (Dardanelles) to see his lover, Hero.
Leander’s Tower was built on an islet in the 18th century. It once served as a quarantine center during a cholera outbreak. It’s also been a lighthouse, customs port and toll gate. Now it’s a restaurant.
The tower is known in Turkish as Maiden’s Tower after a story about a princess who was confined here when a prophet foretold that she would die from a snakebite. Her father forced her to live here to protect her. The snake showed up in a basket of figs and the princess died anyway.
The English name comes from the Greek myth of Leanders, who swam the Hellespont (Dardanelles) to see his lover, Hero.
The mosque on the left is the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) and the one in the center is the Suleyman Mosque.
The mosque on the left is the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) and the one in the center is the Suleyman Mosque.
On the Asian side, the Galata tower is one of the most recognizable features on the Golden Horn. It is 65 meters tall. It's origins date for the 6th century where it was used to monitor shipping. The Ottoman's turned it into a prison. In the 18yh century, aviation pioneer Hazarfan Ahmet Celebi attached wings to his arms and "flew" from it.
On the Asian side, the Galata tower is one of the most recognizable features on the Golden Horn. It is 65 meters tall. It’s origins date for the 6th century where it was used to monitor shipping. The Ottomans turned it into a prison. In the 18yh century, aviation pioneer Hazarfan Ahmet Celebi attached wings to his arms and “flew” from it.
Back in port again. That's the Suleyman Mosque, with four minarets and easy to spot from the waterfront. It's probably Istanbul's most important mosque, actually a huge complex and charitable organization. Built by Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect, between 1550-57. It is named in honor of Suleyman the Magnificent and built on the site of the original Ottoman palace where Mehmet the Conquer lived while the Topkapi Palace was under construction.
Back in port again. That’s the Suleyman Mosque, with four minarets and easy to spot from the waterfront. It’s probably Istanbul’s most important mosque, actually a huge complex and charitable organization. Built by Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect, between 1550-57. It is named in honor of Suleyman the Magnificent and built on the site of the original Ottoman palace where Mehmet the Conquer lived while the Topkapi Palace was under construction.
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Prince’s Islands

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From the Bosphorus, this is the Topkai Palace in center. The Blue Mosque is left and the Hagia Sophia to the far left.
From the Bosporus, this is the Topkai Palace in center. The Blue Mosque is left and the Hagia Sophia to the far left.

Just a ferry ride away from bustling Istanbul are the Prince’s Islands–a busy spot for those seeking refuge from the heat and bustle of the city. I had a rare day off today, so found my way there. Because I must use public transportation and I’m a poor teacher, I spent longer getting there and back than I did on the island, but it was still a nice day.

The Ferry at Kabatas, and easy way to get to the four largest of the Prince's Islands.  The Islands get their name from a former palace, built by Roman Emperor Justin II in 569, known as Prinkipo (island of the prince). They were are famous place of exile during the Byzantine era.
The Ferry at Kabatas, and easy way to get to the four largest of the Prince’s Islands.
The Islands get their name from a former palace, built by Roman Emperor Justin II in 569, known as Prinkipo (island of the prince). They were are famous place of exile during the Byzantine era.
Inside the ferry--it's dated, but clean and comfortable. The ferry stops at four of the nine islands and then reverses course for the return. It's an unnecessarily long journey if you want to go to the largest island, like I did. There are faster ways, but none as inexpensive.
Inside the ferry–it’s dated, but clean and comfortable. The ferry stops at four of the nine islands and then reverses course for the return. It’s an unnecessarily long journey if you want to go to the largest island, like I did. There are faster ways, but none as inexpensive.
This is the Haydarpasa train station on the Asian side of Istanbul. You can take trains to central Turkey. Someday....
This is the Haydarpasa train station on the Asian side of Istanbul. You can take trains to central Turkey. Someday….
A man carrying simit. The price of bread is very cheap and I know this item usually costs 1 Turkish Lira. When I asked the price, he told me two Lira. I responded in Turkish, "No. One lira." (Hayır. Bir tane lira) He smiled and said, "Yes. One lira."
A man carrying simit. The price of bread is very cheap and I know this item usually costs 1 Turkish Lira. When I asked the price, he told me two Lira. I responded in Turkish, “No. One lira.” (Hayır. Bir lira) He smiled and said, “Yes. One lira.”
Here's the ferry pulling into Buyukada. Among the ex-pats who called this island home, Leon Trotsky.
Here’s the ferry pulling into Buyukada. Among the ex-pats who called this island home, Leon Trotsky.
I've mentioned the "squatty potty" before, but don't think I've included a photo. Not much, huh? Notice no toilet paper, just a faucet to wash with. No flush either. You fill the green bucket with water and rinse when you are done.
I’ve mentioned the “squatty potty” before, but don’t think I’ve included a photo. Not much, huh? Notice no toilet paper, just a faucet to wash with. No flush either. You fill the green bucket with water and rinse when you are done.
The ferry port. I could use the same card I used on metro buses and trams to get here.
The ferry port. I could use the same card I used on metro buses and trams to get here.
The town square.
The town square.
Only horses allowed on the island--no cars. But there were bicycles and electric scooters and golf carts.
Only horses allowed on the island–no cars. But there were bicycles and electric scooters and golf carts.
Many of the rich from Istanbul have summer homes on one of the Prince's Islands. This must be their private yachts.
Many of the rich from Istanbul have summer homes on one of the Prince’s Islands. This must be their private yachts.
Some of the homes needed some attention. Constant sun is hard on a paint job.
Some of the homes needed some attention. Constant sun is hard on a paint job.
Flowers everywhere.
Flowers everywhere.
Wish this house had been open to tour--interesting art, mostly blown glass.
Wish this house had been open to tour–interesting art, mostly blown glass.
It's a picturesque little town, but a bit touristy for me.
It’s a picturesque little town, but a bit touristy for me.
The mosque is in the center of the island (ada) on the top of the highest hill. I got my exercise!
The mosque is in the center of the island (ada) on the top of the highest hill. I got my exercise!
Bicycles for rent everywhere and lots of dondurma (ice cream). The islands are known for our pine trees.
Bicycles for rent everywhere and lots of dondurma (ice cream). The islands are known for our pine trees.
There are some very fancy hotels on the big island, Büyükada (Büyük means big). This is one of 9 islands all called the Prince's Islands.
There are some very fancy hotels on the big island, Büyükada (Büyük means big). This is one of 9 islands all called the Prince’s Islands.
It was a perfect summer day--sunny, with a slight breeze and the temps were below 80's.
It was a perfect summer day–sunny, with a slight breeze and the temps were below 80’s.
Did I mention that pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Turkey? Walkers must get out of the way for all traffic, even horses.
Did I mention that pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Turkey? Walkers must get out of the way for all traffic, even horses.
The man is carrying simit (pronounced see MIT) also called a Turkish bagel. It's a cheap snack item here. You see them sold everywhere, but I've not seen anyone carry them on their head.
The man is carrying simit (pronounced see MIT) also called a Turkish bagel. It’s a cheap snack item here. You see them sold everywhere, but I’ve not seen anyone carry them on their head.

 

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Ramazan and bacon, glorious bacon

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bacon and eggs--my first in months!
bacon and eggs–my first in months!

6/17/15
Today I had the most successful shopping trip so far in Turkey: I FOUND BACON! This is a Muslim country folks. Pork simply isn’t available at the corner store. It took 4 hours and five metro transfers (transfers are not free, BTW) to get to the store that caters to westerners and back to my apartment. The cost was astronomical: 100TL or about $36 US. That’s roughly 5% of my monthly pay. Totally worth it, too. You can get cured beef (dana) and sheep, but it is soooooo not the same as pork belly.

The other day I had a reading in class that mentioned that someone had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not one of my students had ever even heard of the word before. So I wrote on the board: “pig meat = pork. Bacon is a type of pork.” The look of horror on my students’ faces was comical to me, but I dared not even smile. I explained that non-Muslims often ate pork and that bacon was one of my favorite foods. They were obviously seeing a side of their teacher that they hadn’t expected. We then went on to learn another vocabulary word: forbidden. Always a teaching moment!

6/18/15
Today is the first day of Ramazan (Ramadan to most of the Muslim world). Technically it started at sundown yesterday. Observant followers of Islam fast from sunup to sundown. A lunar holiday, the month long celebration moves each year. It is particularly difficult when it falls in the middle of the summer—the longest and hottest days. Not even water is allowed to pass your lips. According to Ramadan Mubarak:

“It was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. One of the five pillars or key practices of this faith tradition is to fast during this month from the time just before sunrise until just after sunset. During the fast, total abstinence is required from food, drink (including water), smoking or consumption of tobacco, sexual intercourse, and any form of negativity — backbiting, fighting, cursing, arguing and similar behaviors. Muslims rise before dawn for a breakfast, fast through the day, and then break the fast first with dates (which Muhammad ate) and then a light meal with family and friends.

This is also a time of intensified spiritual practice. In addition to the five times a day prayer, a longer Tajweed prayer is said nightly, and sometimes prayer extends hours into the night. Many Muslims also read the Qur’an cover to cover during Ramadan. Doing good deeds and making charitable contributions are also recommended.”

And with that in mind, what am I doing? I’m eating a late breakfast of BACON and sunny-side-up eggs fried in bacon grease. Trust me, this is not a political statement. This is just the breakfast of a woman who has not tasted bacon for nine months and two continents. It reminds me of last summer, hiking the AT, when the only foods that excited me were shelf stable bacon and instant mashed potatoes. Not an inspiring cuisine. Certainly not a healthy one. But old friend, I have missed you so! This isn’t the best bacon I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not free range, thick cut, maple-smoked. But it’s bacon. It will do.

We’ve been reminded not to bring food or water into the classroom during evening classes, which start at 7p. Usually we take a 10 minute break each hour, but during Ramazan, we combine all the breaks into one. We stop class a few minutes before sundown (so the break time changes by a minute or so each day) and let the students have 30 minutes to break their fast. Many students will not return after the break, I’m sure.

This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.
This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.

I’m still getting organized here at the new apartment. Today I bought a sweeper and some rolling shelves. The place isn’t really set up to live in–I’m still on a futon couch and I have no place to hang clothes. Unfortunately, with the extra items I’ve bought for the kitchen and house, plus the very expensive trip yesterday to the “Western” grocery store, I’m almost broke. Since I was just paid Monday, that’s pretty bad. I have, of course, set aside my rent and utilities and put money on my Metro card and phone. The fridge is stocked for a week or so. But there isn’t much left over for the month now. Teachers are poorly paid.

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Moving. Again.

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The fancy part of Istanbul has boats and money.
The fancy part of Istanbul has boats and money.

5/25/2015
Seen today on the internet:

There is a humble dignity in peeling paint
Wrinkled skin
Greying hair
and old worn shoes

5/27/2015
Trudy’s weight loss is pretty phenomenal and inspiring. She credits all the walking in Turkey (there are stairs everywhere) and the lack of junk food. The snack items are pretty healthy, mostly dried fruit, nuts and seats. Also lamacun (pronounced LA MAH JUNE) which is Turkey’s answer to fast food. It’s basically a flat-bread pizza. You add spices, fresh veggies and spritz of lemon juice then roll it up to eat. Pretty healthy compared to McDonald’s. I also think Trudy isn’t comfort eating. Of course, I’ve not dropped a pound.

The E5 is the major highway in my area. The MetroBuses run in the middle--where the median would be in the states. It is very busy 24 hours a day. Originally this road was part of the Silk Road.
The E5 is the major highway in my area. The MetroBuses run in the middle–where the median would be in the states. It is very busy 24 hours a day. Originally this road was part of the Silk Road.

Istanbul’s traffic is pretty bad. It’s not CAIRO bad, but very busy. The roads are in good shape and I’m grateful for the extensive public transportation system, which they continue to expand–half the system was built since my 2008 visit, so it’s new, too. However, the stated population of Istanbul (17-20 million, depending on who you ask) is a low-ball estimate. There may be 30 million people here. No system can keep up! The metro buses and trams are standing room only, at best and sardine cans, at worst. Yet, the buses and trams come every few minutes. The constant road noise outside my window is beginning to grate on my nerves–another reason to move. And because there is no air conditioning in Istanbul, I must have my windows open in the summer. The new apartment is a few blocks off the highway, while the current one is right above it. The view of the new place isn’t much, but it will be quieter. Everything is a trade-off.

English Time isn’t perfect–in fact we are getting regular emails and verbal admonishments about how we must not say negative things about the curriculum to the students, nor mention that our pay was late. I was called into the office this week and questioned by the business manager (Through an interpreter since the staff doesn’t speak English. Go figure.) He asked about what I had said to my students on these matters. I simply told him that my students sat me down and complained about the book and asked if I could use more supplemental materials, similar to what I’ve used in their last hour each day. Or was there another book we could use? They also asked me if I had been paid on time. I told the students the truth about my pay and that the problem with using alternate materials was that 1. the school wanted me to use the English Time curriculum 2. I wasn’t paid for preparation time and 3. I was very limited in the number of copies I could make each day. The manager was appalled! WHY would I say that copies were limited? Because they are. Why would I admit that I had been paid late? Because that‘s the truth. Should I lie? And I suggested that if the school did not want to be known as a place that paid late, then they should pay on time. Then he said that I should have told my Head Teacher (Robert) about this conversation with the students. He was in the room and he agreed that I had discussed it with him, as well as the Training Manager (Max) and the ET Head Business manager (Richard) in Taksim.

I had told the correct people. I reminded the business manager that I did not get paid for time I spent reporting issues or for finding supplemental materials to keep my students happy, so I felt that I had gone above and beyond what I had to do.

I don’t actually know what caused this line of questioning–the business manager has lied on other occasions and the translator isn’t so trustworthy either. BUT they told me that one of my students had posted to social media that the curriculum was poor, teachers could not easily supplement with copied materials, and that pay was slow in coming. I said that it sounded like the student had given his opinion and that since this was a free country that was his right. The business manager said that recently there had been other posts like this to social media. I suggested that it sounded like the school had a problem and it would be a good idea to improve. The business manager said that there were improvements in progress in the curriculum. I said that I had just asked this of the training manager and head office and they had already told me that no improvements were in progress. That’s when I was summarily thanked for my (wasted and unpaid for) time and let me go to my class.

So, no, ET isn’t perfect. Suspect it is run by 3rd graders. But it’s still better than Vietnam. And I don’t think that it’s better in another Turkey school. Or anywhere else in the world. THIS IS THE WAY IT IS.

The reason I can stay fairly cool and calm in a meeting like the above is because I have a legal resident card, money in the bank and the support of amazing friends. You can’t imagine what confidence it gives a person. But it’s great!

In front of Metro stops is a good place for street sellers. Lately, there have been lots of baby chicks and ducks for sale. Even some rabbits. I'm pretty sure they are not pets.
In front of Metro stops is a good place for street sellers. Lately, there have been lots of baby chicks and ducks for sale. Even some rabbits. I’m pretty sure they are not pets.
Another thing sold in front of Metro gates is mussels. They are stuffed with rice and baked, People usually buy two at a time and eat them standing right there. You open one and the seller squeezes fresh lemon on top and you use the top of the shell as a scoop to put it in your mouth. Tasty.
Another thing sold in front of Metro gates is mussels. They are stuffed with rice and baked, People usually buy two at a time and eat them standing right there. You open one and the seller squeezes fresh lemon on top and you use the top of the shell as a scoop to put it in your mouth. Tasty.

I’m thrilled that my dear friend Kathy from NY will consider hiking the Camino with me! I’d love a companion for a change and spring 2016 is great for us both. I want to do the French Way which is about 500 miles, though we plan to skip the first three days or so and the mountains of the Pyrenees. I’ve probably hiked enough mountains for a lifetime! Besides, spring in the mountains means unreliable weather. I have just finished reading two books on the Camino, but they are not exactly guidebooks. I bought them because I could get ebooks. I need to get a guidebook, and prefer a printed one, but delivery here in Turkey is very iffy. Not quite figured this part out yet. You ONLY need to do the last 100km to get the compostela.

5/29/2015
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.   ~Hans Hofmann

FINALLY we were able to get cable internet into the new apartment. The installation crew missed TWO appointments and were supposed to come back Friday, but on Thursday I get a call from Serkan and he asked me to drop everything and run to the apartment right then. I’m sure he would have preferred to call Trudy, but she doesn’t have a phone and I do. While I hate last minute things like this, I really need internet, so I ran. It was an hour before they actually came, but I had bought several items for the kitchen earlier in the day (obviously “furnished” didn’t include a single kitchen item, nor a bed in my room. grrrrrrr) and I spent the time washing dishes and cleaning.

The crew arrived and Serkan followed shortly after. But the apartment wasn’t internet/phone/cable ready. They told me to hire an electrician to take the cable from the street to the apartment. They absolutely couldn’t do this. But of course, after some negotiations (which required lots of translation) it was clear they could do it: for a price. I ended up paying 100TL, money the landlords should have paid since we were assured it was internet ready. THEN we had to walk 25 minutes to the Turk Telecom office for the router, wait almost an hour for the guy to hand it to us but was on a break, walk 25 minutes back and install the router ourselves. Fortunately, I got a Turkish lesson also, so it wasn’t a total loss. So glad to have this done but it took up my entire day, mostly just waiting around.

This is the Turkish version of Home Depot. Trudy and I needed to do some shopping for kitchen items so I met her after her class.
This is the Turkish version of Home Depot. Trudy and I needed to do some shopping for kitchen items so I met her after her class.
This is inside the Turkish Home Depot. They wear the orange aprons and everything! Trudy and I bought a large toaster oven. We had no oven and no microwave, so really needed it. Not fun getting it home on the Metro, tho!
This is inside the Turkish Home Depot. They wear the orange aprons and everything! Trudy and I bought a large toaster oven. We had no oven and no microwave, so really needed it. Not fun getting it home on the Metro, tho!

Trudy hasn’t moved into the apartment. It’s Friday morning. We’ve had a key to the place since Monday and I know she wants to leave the flat she is in.  The apartment has a bed (in her room, not mine), running water, electricity, working gas burners (called cookers here. Not an oven, though) and refrigerator. As of last night it had internet. Because no one has no one been there, the landlords haven’t fixed the door to the washer and a few other small items. In Turkey, it’s illegal for the landlord to have a key to your apartment! That’s pretty shocking to me and I didn’t realize it until yesterday.

Of course my paranoia is kicking in: Has she changed her mind about moving? Does she want to move but not with me? I’ve not known her long, so I can’t know her habits.

As an aside: I’m beginning to think my cleanliness standards are simply too high. Unreasonable, even. I end up cleaning after every single roommate I have. You’d think someone who could live in a tent for 4.5 months wouldn’t have high standards at all. But maybe I need to loosen up. Other people don’t seem to get sick and die from dirty dishes, un-swept floors and mold in the shower. Going to try not to clean up after this roomie.

Shelley took me on the speed ferry to do some shopping. Every neighborhood has its own personality, but they all have places to stop and have tea. Notice the tulip shaped glass on a saucer. That's how all tea is served here.
Shelley took me on the speed ferry to do some shopping. Every neighborhood has its own personality, but they all have places to stop and have tea. Notice the tulip shaped glass on a saucer. That’s how all tea is served here.
Waiting for the speed ferry.
Waiting for the speed ferry.

Technically I have about three weeks to move out of the current apartment. There’s plenty of time (despite the email from the landlord asking WHEN I was leaving). But I agreed to live in this apartment with Trudy before I’d actually seen it. Yes, I know, I should not have done this. I know better and take full responsibility for my actions. Because of this. I didn’t realize that I’d need a bed and that there were no kitchen items. And other items have cropped up. When we went to go see the apartment the first time, I though we were just going to pick up the keys. But Trudy hadn’t signed the lease. So we waited an hour for our interpreter and the landlord to fill out forms just to find out that Trudy couldn’t sign it. She doesn’t have a residence card yet and she didn’t have her passport with her. So my name is on the lease. And then the landlords backed out of installing the internet. So my name is on that, too. I’m not comfortable with this.

We are both buying kitchen things, roughly splitting costs, but it really adds up. Trudy has agreed to buy the bed. I’m getting anxious because it’s not the situation I agreed to and it’s more expensive than I’d believed. But I also want to get out of the place I’m in–it’s just too dirty and too difficult to live with children. Trudy is more fluid with time than I am and is more relaxed about the move. Frankly, I think it would serve me better to be able to let go of time commitments and ridged appointment schedules. To me, “I’ll meet you at 9” really means “I will be there at 8:45.” With the rest of the world, it means “I may or may not show up. I probably won’t call you to cancel, and if I come, I will not be there before 9. If you are silly enough to wait for me, it’s probably OK for you to stop waiting by 10.” I hate it, but this is the way the world is and unless I want high blood pressure, I’ve got to learn how to deal with it.

I seriously need to get settled somewhere—too much moving, too much of a temporary life. Have I said before that living in another country is more about learning about yourself than learning a new culture? I’m not liking everything I’ve learned.

The side streets have chickens! These look much healthier than the ones in Vietnam.
The side streets have chickens! These look much healthier than the ones in Vietnam.

Istanbul, May 2015, 35/31/2015
FROM THE INERNET: Beau Biden, son of the Vice President, died yesterday. President Obama, writing in a statement, quoted Irish poet William Butler Yeats — a favorite of the vice president’s — in honoring Beau Biden’s life. Yeats wrote, “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.” “Beau Biden believed the best of us all,” Obama said. “For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.”

LATER
I’ve talked with Trudy. We are to move her tomorrow morning. Then she is supposed to shop for a bed for me and have it installed ….soon.

A few students have asked me to do some private tutoring classes. I am probably not getting enough hours at school this summer, so it sounds good. I asked Albert what I should charge. He suggested between 80 and 100 TL per hour! That’s 4-5 times what I get at school! Not that I’m quitting the school—they give me a rent subsidy, pay taxes, take care of work visa and residence card, I have insurance through them……and if I complete my contract, there’s some big cash bonuses. But a couple hundred TL a week could make a big difference.

One of my students drew a picture of me!
One of my students drew a picture of me!

6/2/2015
We got Trudy mostly moved in yesterday.  Finding it painful to buy kitchen things–a financial loss for me since I can’t transport them to my next location. Trudy is on a shopping trip today for bed, but I still must buy bedding–again a total waste of money for me. AND I’m not sure of how to buy sheets–sizes aren’t standard, aren’t in a language I can understand, I have no measuring devices and it’s tough to return anything here if I make a mistake. Adventures in living in another country!

This is how it is when you move and when you live in a different country–not complaining, just facing up to the hard work of it all. Suffice to say that the honeymoon period of living Turkey is over–now I’m in the “Culture shock” mode of adjustment. I give the worst of the process 6 months and I’m only half way through that. It doesn’t help that I was so run down before I moved to Vietnam and then never got all the way through the adjustment period there before moving again. That’s another reason I need to finish my contract here. I need some stability–BUT my health is so much better here than in Vietnam. My hair (which had gotten quite thin) is growing in again and my energy level is much better. I don’t think I’ve fully realized how very difficult the AT was on my body. I simply can’t finish that trail. There are still 800 miles I’ve not hiked and I must face the fact that I never will. But the Camino will be easier, better nutrition, less weight to carry and FAR fewer rocks and mountains.

The good news with moving is that I have until June 20 to get out of this apartment. (Remember that English Time pays for my first 3 months rent (but in exchange you have no input into where you live). So there is plenty of time, though I hope there’s a bed this week and I can move in right away. Trudy has to be out of her room by June 3.

It will all work out, I just need to stop worrying about it, stop pushing, stop SPINNING. “Time” is a very fluid thing in most of the world. Appointments are not solid. At all. My students think nothing of showing up 20 minutes late for class. Or an hour late. People don’t call before they come over to visit. For me, “time” is the most difficult aspect of adjustment. But I must adjust. This is how almost everyone OUTSIDE the USA works.

I keep reminding myself: I wanted an adventure. I wanted to experience other cultures. That’s what I’m doing. But it isn’t all historic places and exotic meals, folks.

I do love the big Turkish Breakfast.
I do love the big Turkish Breakfast.

6/8/2015
The elections were yesterday, Sunday, but I’m not yet sure about the results. Here’s what I know. Current president Erdoğan’s (pronounced Air doh wan) Justice and Development party, AKP, did not get a majority. This means they will need a coalition partner to form a government. The Justice and Development party is religious-conservative and Erdoğan’s isn’t a nice guy, so I’m glad he didn’t get a strong victory. (Technically, he wasn’t on the ballot as he couldn’t by law run for a fourth term. Ahmet Davutoğlu ran) He doesn’t like foreigners At All, and he thinks women should be forced to wear headscarves (whether Muslim or not) and they should stay at home not work. The AKP wanted to re-write the constitution, making a far more conservative and less democratic country—effectively making Erdoğan a dictator. That’s very unlikely to happen now. The Kurdish Minority has suffered serious discrimination in the past (even recent past). Their party is new, the HDP or Peoples’ Democratic Party. They got above the 10% minimum which means they will finally have a voice in Parliament, which they’ve not have before. The HDP supports democracy, gay rights, women’s rights and non-Muslim minority rights. They don’t hate foreigners, either.

It’s a big improvement that the Turks have swung left after drifting right for the last decade and a half. Turnout was 86%, so it’s a clear statement of what people want. To be honest, one of the reasons I came to Turkey NOW and didn’t wait was because I could see the country was in flux. If it became as conservative as most Middle Eastern countries, say Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t be able to be here. I wanted to see it before the doors closed on me. Fortunately, they seem to be swinging open again.

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

But I’m not quite sure what happens next. The AKP aren’t out of power, just weakened. News reports say things like:

  • “The poor result for Erdoğan is likely to embolden dissenters and could spark a power struggle.”
  • “Official results based on 99.9% of votes counted gave the AKP 41%, followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) on 25%, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on 16.5% and the HDP in fourth place with 13%.”
  • “The fall coupled with an election triumph for a new pro-Kurdish party meant it was unlikely that the AKP would be able to form a majority government, forcing it to negotiate a coalition, probably with extreme nationalists, or to call a fresh election if no parliamentary majority can be secured within six weeks.”

<sigh> Trudy didn’t buy a bed. She said she shopped for beds but didn’t find anything she liked. Now we are in week three and by the look of her calendar, she won’t get it done this week either. I’m long past ready to get out of here.

6/11/2015
I moved yesterday—but it wasn’t exactly scheduled.

I’ve been living in an apartment with 7 other people. On my floor, I shared a bathroom and kitchen with 3 others. To say that they were NOT clean is the understatement of 2015. Also, A was unable to close drawers or flush. M was an amazing cook but didn’t see the need for soap or hot water when washing dishes. She didn’t think that hand towels or dish rags needed to be washed. (“They are self-cleaning, silly!”) I didn’t eat her cooking. Obviously, no one else ever took out trash or swept the carpet or washed the counters. It was so bad that I stopped cooking or even keeping food in the kitchen.

They were also odd things. Sunday morning I found all the sharp knives lined up on the kitchen floor. No idea why. Couldn’t bring myself to ask for fear of the answer. Yesterday, I found the refrigerator door wide open. Again. Third morning in a row. I had no perishable food in there, so what do I care? When I shut the door, I noticed A’s underwear on the floor, in a position that led me to believe he had simply stepped out of them and left them there. Can you say skid marks?

I packed up and left. I’ll sleep on the couch. I’m not living with that.

And while I was packing, I noticed 400TL missing from my room. Theft has been a big issue here in Istanbul. So far, I’ve lost 200TL and some teaching items from my hotel room—not that the hotel would even acknowledge that it could have possibly occurred! My phone was stolen, and I’d just put 100TL on the SIM card. Now more money. I’ve lost the equivalent of half a month’s pay.

While my roomies are slobs, I don’t think they are thieves. I keep my room locked all the time, except when I go to the bathroom. The only person who’s likely to have a key are the landlords. Another reason to move.

Istanbul, May 2015, 66/15/15
Got moved last week. Still sleeping on a futon couch, but it is much better than the other place. I miss my nice view, but that’s it. Trudy and I are getting along well.

I love teaching. I have a level 1 class on the weekends (4 hours each day) and they are doing so well. I had them do a simple speaking exercise yesterday–introducing themselves and telling about their family. It’s an extended exercise of one I did their first day. 6 weeks ago, when the class started, I had to write out a script for them to say with blanks for their name and age. This time they were talking for 4-5 minutes without notes–really communicating! I am so proud.

My classes change constantly, but I’ve been getting 22-30 hours a week of teaching–though a third of the work is filling in for someone who is on vacation or has been kicked out. And remember I spend about an hour preparing for every hour teaching, so it’s WORK. BUT next week I will only have the weekend class. It ends on the 28th and then I have nothing scheduled. No classes are starting until after Ramazan (Ramadan for the rest of the world, roughly June 18-July 18). Feast or Famine. But starting mid-July, we should suddenly have lots of classes beginning and I probably will have too much work. I have no classes in the first two weeks of July, so I’m going to try to figure out the trains and go to Budapest and Bucharest. I’m meeting a friend in Sofia in October, which is also a train ride away. From what I’ve read, the trains are clean and reasonably priced. I can get a direct train to Vienna!

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The honeymoon is over

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The BIG Turkish breakfast--best way to start the day!
The BIG Turkish breakfast, kahvaltı–best way to start the day!

Adjusting to a new culture and country is difficult, even when it’s what you want.

Even when you want it very, very much.

The adjustment has phases. It starts with the honeymoon phase where everything is new, exciting and exotic. The brand new world around you is amazing and everything you see is bathed in a warm glow. But there’s a reason vacations only last 1-3 weeks. The glow starts to fade after a couple weeks. Things stop being new and exciting and start being odd, unusual and just …well…..different.  And different stops being good. The constant unexpected becomes jarring. You don’t know how anything works anymore. At some point it’s just incomprehensible.

When that happens, the honeymoon is over and the real adjustment to life in a new country begins.

For the last few weeks I’ve been in the “incomprehensible” phase. It’s not pretty. You fight feelings of agitation, anger, even a little paranoia. You begin to realize that there are a lot of things happening around you and you don’t know what they are. You may only find out when you’ve made some grievous error. You don’t speak the language, understand the facial expressions nor the hand gestures. You’ve been making mistakes that your hosts have been forgiving because you are new. They are tired of your (inadvertent) indiscretions and are a bit bored with you. Maybe you stand too close or talk too loud. Maybe your open smile seems like flirting. Perhaps you ask too many questions. You may be too direct with questions. All of these are “faults” of Americans. And none of this is conscious–on your part or theirs.

Everything you thought you knew about how people work is suspect.

Work situations are particularly tricky. Throw into this mix one American (the most independent people on earth, except perhaps Australians) in a mix where authority is respected and workers make few decisions and expect to be told what to do. Blindly. And the American is just a worker, not a manager. It’s also a culture where things don’t happen quickly–certainly not as quickly as promised.  I believe the rate of progress can be described as “glacial.” Promises mean very little here. Efficiency is rated well below office harmony. As a foreigner your needs are judged pretty low in the list of priorities, assuming you can make your needs known at all, since none of the office staff speaks English (despite the fact that they work for an English school).

We are not in Kansas anymore.

But this is how most of the world works. If I want to be a citizen of the world, I have to accept reality as it is. Frustration is normal, but you can’t live there. The answer is to adjust–learn the language, the customs. Ask for things politely and pick up on subtle clues that mean “no.” Unlike America, most cultures hardly ever say “no.” What sounds like a a “yes” or (heaven forbid) a promise, probably isn’t. “I will meet you tomorrow at 2p” may be a wish or a nice sentiment. Or it may be a polite way of saying they hope never to see you again. Don’t take it personally. Learn and move on. Get out and enjoy life. See the sites. Notice how much more people are alike than different. Explore. Enjoy.

But it’s all easier to say than to do. This is difficult, unrelenting and exhausting. Understanding what’s going on does little to change the fact that you are a lost and ignorant foreigner. All. The. Time.

So if I’ve not posted much recently, it doesn’t mean I’m not doing things. I’m working. I’m doing the difficult job of adjusting. The worse should be over in about 6 months. I’m over halfway there.

But the process is simply never complete.

But I still make myself get out and see new things. That’s the reason I’m here! So here are some of the wonderful things I’ve seen this week.

This is a wedding party. They've blocked a moderate sized side street for block. There's music and they are dancing, everyone dressed in their best.
This is a wedding party. They’ve blocked a moderate-sized side street for several blocks. There’s music and they are dancing, everyone dressed in their best. And none of the cars that are stuck in the road are honking their horns or complaining.
Saturday night and a park by the Sea. Families walking by the water, getting ice cream and picnicking on the lawn.
Saturday night and a park by the Sea. Families walking by the water, getting ice cream and picnicking on the lawn. We are more alike than we are different.
A beach! It's walking distance from my apartment!
A beach! It’s walking distance from my apartment!
Kids will always play in the water, no matter how cold.
Kids will always play in the water, no matter how cold.
A typical morning breakfast: cay (tea) and borek (a pastry with either cheese or meat filling).
A typical morning breakfast: çay (tea, pronounced CHAI) and börek (a pastry with either cheese or meat filling, pronounced BEREK).

 

Malls are the same everywhere. This one has an ice skating rink.
Malls are the same everywhere. This one has an ice skating rink.
This little boy is dressed like a sultan in anticipation of his circumcision. I wonder if anyone has told him how much this is going to hurt?
This little boy is dressed like a sultan in anticipation of his circumcision. I wonder if anyone has told him how much this is going to hurt?
OK, that's just odd.....
OK, that’s just odd…..
A skating park, near my new apartment.
A skating park, near my new apartment.
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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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