A disappointing return to school today after a nice holiday break. As I feared, the remodeling of Sirinevler, English Time is not complete. Despite promises, I’d venture to say that not a single thing was done during the break. The place is a mess. Cabinets are down. Furniture and equipment are scattered everywhere. This morning most of the lighting and air conditioning didn’t work. The computers weren’t hooked up to the internet or the printer, so I couldn’t print handouts or use the readings I meticulously edited yesterday. I had to move my classroom twice this morning. They were scraping paint in my assigned room. The second room was so hot and stuffy we had to move out—the A/C is shut down (it never worked well anyway) and if we opened a window we couldn’t hear for all the traffic noise. The E-5 is a 10 lane highway just below the window.
The last room had no light, no A/C, but since it faced the other side of the building, we could stand the noise. But then, right outside our classroom, they started sawing ceiling panels and using a nail gun to put them up. My students just abandoned class after that. Just as well. The fine dust from sanding was making us all cough, anyway. Let’s hope that wasn’t lead based paint.
Tonight, 5 new classes are scheduled to begin, but there aren’t enough classrooms for them. (They opened 3 of them, using every room we could get in, which the construction continued.) I can’t believe how disorganized everything is. How can I possibly do a good job in the middle of this? Why didn’t they do this while we were closed for five days?
But there is some good news: Kate was able to get back into the country. No idea how she did it. Naturally, ET won’t reimburse her for the fine she had to pay because THEY didn’t get her a residence card. I’m thrilled she’s here, since she’s scheduled to be the new head teacher. Robert’s last day is Wednesday and he is clearly over it. This is the second week in a row we haven’t gotten a schedule and he’s testy, too. I understand that he has some serious pain in one foot, so that’s part of the issue, but he’s bitten my head off one too many times.
And Kate brought me back a Brita water pitcher with filters! Finally, clean water! I’m speechless.
Later: And now I’m really depressed. When I filled the pitcher for the first time, I realized it has a crack and won’t hold water. Can I just go back to bed?
The remodeling has brought me down–my lowest point since arriving in Istanbul. This morning I had to argue why my students needed a classroom with working lights since they were taking an exam on this dark, cloudy day. I try to tell myself that the remodeling is good news in the long run, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re washing drywall dust out of your hair and worried that the paint they are scraping may have lead in it. And all the work seems to be cosmetic, no real improvements. I just want to do a good job and that takes a minimum of support. End of rant <puts away soapbox>
The bright spot in the week is that Kate made it back. No idea how she talked herself back into the country. English Time was supposed to get her a resident permit, but didn’t, so she was fined for overstaying her visa and told never to come back. She’s scheduled to be the new head teacher, but I’m not sure what will happen until it does around here.
Had to change classrooms again this morning. Mine was flooded. No, I have no idea why. At least the new room has light on this dark rainy day. And it’s cooler, so maybe we won’t notice that the A/C doesn’t work. (We did) During the renovation they’ve stopped cleaning and the classrooms are filthy–drywall dust and paint scrapings all over the floor, chairs. I have to shower when I get home each day. Someone finally emptied the trash cans this morning, at least.
My morning Level 3 students took the Reading exam yesterday and the average is 69%. Sad. I am shocked at how little they understand on the exam. But I also had a 98%, so someone is getting it. Most students only come half the time so it’s not surprising. I think 4 hours a day, 5 days a week is too much, except for the most intense learners who have nothing else to focus on. Add in a big holiday in the middle, the beginning of public school/university and the chaos of construction–it’s a recipe for poor performance and absences. It doesn’t help that their teacher is frustrated and can’t print even a simple lesson plan to bring better materials to class.
And after all that, English Time just decided there will be NO head teacher. Kate performed a miracle to get back into Turkey. They arranged a time for her to come to the office and sign her agreement. When she arrived, they’d changed the deal, so she didn’t sign. And now they just pull the rug out from under her.
I am catching up on things during the Bayram holiday. It coincides with the beginning of Fall. I have five days and have been cleaning, answering emails and sorting photos. I still have lesson plans to do, but I feel more organized. And now, I’ll catch up on my journaling.
First, this is a special religious holiday. In English it is the Feast of the Sacrifice.
I had images of calves and sheep being slaughtered in the streets, but that just doesn’t happen anymore—at least not in a big city like Istanbul. Maybe outside the city, though. Being a farm girl, I know where my meat comes from, so I can’t say anything negative about slaughtering animals. I’m not crazy about doing it, but I’m not a vegetarian, so I can’t complain. And, traditionally, a third of the meat is given to the poor.
Wednesday was the first full day of the holiday. Alex and I took two new teachers, Stephanie and Teresa, to see the Hagia Sophia. I had really looked forward to the audio tour, but it didn’t work and they wouldn’t give me my money back. Horrible. But I had a good time walking them around to the big sites in the old town. I hope they learned a few things and I didn’t bore them too much. I love playing tour guide!
Yesterday, three of my level 1 students from Avcilar took me out and we had a great time. I’ve posted photos.
On the 15th, we were paid, but I didn’t get my money for the hours at Avcilar. Seems the person who bought Sirinevler bought a few other branches, but not Avcilar. I’m surprised that they let me teach at both, but I’ve already been told I won’t get to teach another at a different branch. Easier on me, but I will miss these students. When I got there Saturday, I was paid for all the money I had disputed—a real relief. It means I am still planning to stay through the end of my contract. But there are others who have not been paid and I’m keeping an eye on the situation.
And my Level 1 students played Taboo with English words that day. They breezed through the Level 1 words, and I had to go to the Level 3 words to give them a challenge. Yeah! Best students on the planet!
The new owner is doing some remodeling at Sirinevler. All the signs and tiles in the suspended ceiling came down Monday and Tuesday. Looks like they plan to paint, which will make the school look better. I hope that is good news, but the place was a total mess and it was difficult to run classes with all the noise and disruption. Not that I’m an expert, but it seems to me that a new owner would only invest in the appearance of the school if he wanted to 1). Make things better or 2) Sell the school. I guess we will see if there are any substantial capital investments, like electronics; new furniture; improved heating and air conditioning; upgraded media room and computers. We will see. The latest Turkish office manager is great–Meylin speaks some English and used to work at Avcilar. Big improvement for the English teachers.
Robert, our head teacher, had trouble getting back into the country this past weekend. He had been in France with his wife seeing friends for four days. (as an aside, he brought me a bottle of really nice wine as a thank you for filling in for him as head teacher! Yum!) They wouldn’t accept his US passport or the paperwork that indicated his residence permit was applied for. But he could come in on his Australian passport. Dual citizenship has privileges. And guess what he got on Monday? His work permit! He’s leaving in less than a month and he finally gets his work permit. It’s crazy. I have a residence card, but no work permit.
I’ve bragged about my Level 1 students before. They are exceptional English students and they really study hard. But they are also great people. Yesterday, they took me out. They got to practice English. I got to see more of this amazing city!
I like to have a single glass of wine at night, but it’s tough to get. There is some locally produced wine, but this is simply not wine country, though there’s more alcohol than you’d expect in a mostly Muslim area. One large chain grocery carries wine, Migros (which sounds Hispanic, doesn’t it?). They have a fairly large selection of imported hard liquor, and an armed guard, too. There are small convenience shops with liquor behind the counter–but they focus on Raki (the Turkish hard liquor, similar to ouzo in Greece or grappa in Italy) and vodka (Turkish vodka is fairly inexpensive). The alcohol is never priced, so as a foreigner I’m going to be charged the highest rate. Even if I wanted alcohol, I wouldn’t buy it here. But you don’t really see a lot of drinking. There are a few neighborhood bars–they are often a bit hidden and for men only. Even when women are allowed, they are not the kind of places that I’d go to alone.
I spend WAAAAAY too much time preparing for classes, but my lesson plans keep improving. I’m focused on writing dialogues at the moment. These are usually two part conversations that use a particular grammar point (past perfect tense, If conditionals, modal verbs). I underline some of the words and after we read them as a class, I pair off the students and have them change the underlined words to make a new dialogue. This forces them to create at least part of a conversation themselves and use the new grammar point in a practical way. Well, the other day it finally happened–a student used the “N” word in a greeting! I was torn between horror and being impressed that he had the vocabulary. But these are all teaching points, right? So I did my best to remain calm and explain why we don’t use words like this. But at least this proves the kid is trying to learn English expressions.
Yesterday it finally cooled off–only 75 as the high temperature. Last night I almost got cold. It was wonderful.
Near my house is a public square (maydan) and there have been rallies/protests the last two nights concerning the ISIS issue, recent killings and the Syrian refugee question. There are speeches and chanting, lots of flag waving. There are also police in riot gear around the edges. While I’m fascinated to know what they are proposing (not that my Turkish is good enough to understand), these events are not a safe place for a pasty foreign woman. I take the long way around to go home and avoid them.
ISTANBUL — Nationalist and pro-government throngs filled the streets of Istanbul and Ankara for two nights last week, chanting “God is great” as they stormed a prominent newspaper and set fire to the offices of a Kurdish political party. Turkey’s economy, long an emerging market darling, has cooled, and the value of the Turkish lira slips by the day. Cruise ships have stopped docking in Istanbul, and many residents avoid the subway because of bomb threats. A sense of unease is spreading in Turkey as the decades-old conflict flares between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the volatile southeast. Fears are growing that the country could return to the dark days of the 1990s, when the conflict was at its height. The upheaval in major cities has prompted Turks, especially Kurds, to share pictures on social media comparing their own cities to ravaged areas in Syria. In recent years, Turkey has sought to influence and shape the Middle East, portraying itself as everything the region is not: democratic, prosperous and safe. But economic and political instability are deepening before the interim government holds a snap election in November — the country’s third national poll in a little over a year. A demonstration last week against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the government said was behind a deadly attack on Turkish soldiers. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Critics say Turkey’s military campaign against the Kurds is part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy of stoking nationalist sentiment to help his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., regain the parliamentary majority it lost in the June 7 election. “Right now, the tracks beneath us are shaking, and the country is on the verge of being derailed,” said Kudrettin Terzioglu, 52, who sells lottery tickets outside the main courthouse here, where a prominent prosecutor was killed this year by a Marxist group that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at the American Embassy in Ankara in 2013. “We’re on the brink of civil war, we have no stable government, the economy is a mess and there are no jobs,” he added. In a cafe in the central Besiktas district of Istanbul, tears trickled down Tuba Kent’s face as she watched televised images of family members clinging to the coffins of soldiers killed in the Sept. 6 bomb attack by Kurdish rebels. “For now, people in Istanbul are throwing rocks, beating their enemies with sticks and setting buildings on fire,” said Ms. Kent, 36, a manicurist. “But we are one step away from holding our own funerals.” Across the street, tourists waited in line to enter the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, spent the last days of his life. Usually bustling with sightseers, the palace was noticeably quieter. Attendance is down since militants set off explosives several weeks ago and shot at police officers guarding the palace. The attackers were later identified as belonging to the Marxist group known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, which had its heyday during the Cold War. “After hearing about the incident, a lot of friends canceled their entire trip to Turkey,” said Gemma Haighton, a visitor from London waiting outside the palace. “We were originally a group of 13, but only three of us ended up coming.” Just this month, the United States government issued a travel warning for Turkey, causing some cruise ship companies to cancel all overnight stops in Istanbul. The instability has been costly for Turkey’s tourism industry, with revenue sliding by almost 14 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to government figures. The mounting security concerns come after the collapse in July of the two-year cease-fire between rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state. Adding to that are increased threats and attacks from the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front and the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group believed to be responsible for a suicide bombing that killed more than 30 young Kurdish activists in the southern city of Suruc in July. Critics of Mr. Erdogan say the instability may well play to his advantage, however, and allow him to persuade the public to again vote for single-party government. In fact, he is campaigning on it: According to the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah, the party’s slogan for the election will be “Vote A.K.P. for stability.” The party’s loss after more than a decade in power came as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party gained representation in Parliament, a first for any Kurdish party. Since Mr. Erdogan called for an early election last month, at least 180 buildings belonging to the Kurdish party have been attacked by mobs that have accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party of being collaborators with the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The escalation in violence has left many wondering whether a credible election can be held in the southeast. “It’s becoming impossible to hold an election given the security situation in the region,” Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, said last week at a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Fearing worse violence, some Istanbul residents have started to vary their routines, avoiding crowded places and public transportation at peak times. “It feels like we’ve been dragged into the greater regional war, and under such circumstances a large-scale attack on Istanbul is imminent,” said Menekse Tekbas, 48, an accountant who was riding the subway recently. “This is all I think about when I’m in a crowded spot like this,” she added. “I’m always looking out for suspicious people and packages.” In the Sultanhamet district, Istanbul’s old city and home to some of its most breathtaking landmarks, many tour operators and businesses complain of a “tourism drought.” “With every bomb that goes off in the southeast comes an email or a phone call from a client asking for a refund,” said Yusuf Karaca, 52, the owner of Karaca Tur, a tour operator. On a recent day, a friend stormed into his office, lamenting the funeral of fallen soldiers he had just seen on television. “Damn those terrorists, and damn the man who dragged this country into war for his own political agenda,” said the man, Ahmet, who provided only his first name out of fear that he would be punished for insulting the president.
I’m behind in my journaling and so much has happened. Let’s see if I can catch up. I’ll try to write roughly in order. First, I’ve found a lovely young woman to trade language lessons with. I teach her English while she helps me with Turkish. She’s 29 years old, funny and I really enjoy the time I spend with her. Her parents have a restaurant in Bakakoy called My Secret Cafe and I’m so lucky because they feed me when I come. Dad lived outside of London and can cook a wide variety of dishes. While I love Turkish food, I’m used to some variety, so I really appreciate his pizza (best in Istanbul) and this lovely curry dish he fixed. Yum!
But that’s about all the good news I can report.
Robert is taking a few days off and I’m covering for him as Head Teacher. The big news so far is that Kate, who is to be our next head teacher after Robert leaves, won’t be able to come back into the country. She’s been here for 6 months and for reasons we don’t understand, still does not have a residence permit. Looks like incompetence by both English Time and Turkey. She had this trip out of the country planned and knew the risks before she left. She made arrangements for her stuff just in case. At the airport they demanded she pay a penalty for overstaying her visa (268TL) and she can’t come back. It’s unlikely she will be able to change that situation. Robert just left for his trip. He doesn’t have a residence permit either. Will the same thing to happen to him? <sigh>
We’ve been told that we have another new owner. That’s the third since the first of the year (though possibly at least one of the transactions never quite occurred). So far, I don’t see any changes, except for another new Turkish office manager. She’s Meylin, the woman who used to be head of the Avcilar branch. She speaks some English and brought with her an admin that also has level 1English. So far so good. We were paid on time this month (surprise!) but my pay was short 38 hours. That’s equal to a month’s rent and about a week’s worth of pay. And I worked far more hours than I wanted to last month. Insulting. AND Philip from the head office hasn’t even responded to the request for pay. It looks like it’s almost all money from Avcilar. I had trouble getting paid from there last month, too. I’ve asked Meylin to call there and she’s assured me the money will be there on Saturday. I’ve told her to tell them that if I am not paid I won’t teach this weekend. What else can I do?
Protests are happening in squares all over Istanbul. Soldiers are dying. Kurds are dying. Tensions are high everywhere. Last night, an older man across the street, pulled a shotgun out and fired. I didn’t see him shoot the gun; the shots woke me up and I looked out the window. He was standing there with a what looked like a sawed off shotgun, screaming at the top of his lungs and pointing at some unseen person. A younger man (maybe a grandson?) grabbed the firearm and took it inside. There are strict gun laws here and the consequences of being found with one are stiff. No police came to check out the situation. Should I be afraid? Possibly. But I saw this sort of thing in Atlanta too. Nowhere is safe.
One of the issues with living in another country is that communication is poor. First you don’t speak the language and second is that most companies are autocratic, disorganized and top down when compared with US companies. My Sunday class as Avcilar was canceled. No explanation. But it held exactly the same the next weekend. We have another holiday, maybe next week, but no one is giving actual dates. Maddening. How does anyone plan?
My Avcilar students are taking the Grammar Exam as I write this. It’s probably the toughest exam of Level 1–tougher than I would have made it. I spent all class yesterday reviewing and even wrote a quiz that was as much like the exam as I could make it. They didn’t do well on the quiz and I think it scared them. They kept asking if the exam was less difficult than the quiz. It’s not. I expect low grades. But the good news is that there are three more sections and we review everything we learned three more times so they really get it.
It’s always something, isn’t it? Over the weekend the refrigerator died. According to Rashawn, it’s been fixed a few times. Sounds like we need a new one, but I honestly don’t see how anyone will get it up the stairs. They are narrow, circular marble stairs. Good thing we are only on the second floor.
But I’m a bit worried about the fourth roommate. It’s a four bedroom flat, and Katt’s job is to keep it filled, so she’s been showing it. But the last potential roommate is only 15 years old! He’s from Egypt and he simply can’t stay in his country–he’s targeted by the police as many young men are if they protest, or even look in the wrong direction. Some of his friends are in jail. But he’s not an adult. You can say all you want about how responsible he is, but even a responsible 15 year old needs boundaries, limits and rules. His parents, who should be providing this, will be miles away. As the oldest in the apartment it’s easy for everyone to assume I will take him under my wing. But I don’t want to play housemother for someone I don’t know and have no actual authority over or interest in. I’ve voiced my opinion to Katt, but it’s her decision, not mine. She is acting like this will not be a problem and says he can take care of himself. I say that may be true, but she just met him so she doesn’t know how he is. Unfortunately she doesn’t live there and I do. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about this. I’m not succeeding so far.
The changes are so fast at English Time, I can’t keep up. The head offices moved last week and we were told there would be no central scheduling. Central scheduling seems to be back and poorer than ever. It’s afternoon on Sunday and I’ve not seen my schedule, which starts in the morning. It may or may not include a brand new Level 3 class at 10am. Good thing I’ve taught the class before and have at least the first two days mostly planned. And now we are no longer sure WHO owns the Sirinevler branch where I work. The info we had on a new owner may have been misinformation or the deal may have fallen through. I am in the dark all the time.
This morning I was asked for the hundredth time if I’d consider being Head Teacher at Sirinevler. Kate may get moved to another branch. Since communication is so poor, I don’t think I could do it and keep my blood pressure low. I’d be just as clueless with the added issue of people I’m responsible for asking me questions. It doesn’t pay better, the hours suck, there’s lots of paperwork and the frustration seems high. Besides, I like to teach.
Heard from Shelley, she’s made it back safely to Canada. I will miss her.
Good news on the 15 year old roommate. First he did move in, which really concerned me. I would never be mean to him, but I didn’t want to be responsible for him either. I felt this had disaster written all over it. But he is moving out tomorrow. He and his mother have found a school in London. He will live with his mom, which has to be a better situation for him. Of course I expect the father will stay in Egypt, so that’s bad. I’m really sympathetic to the kid, but I am not in a position to be his guardian.
When I look back over my life, I realize there were so many issues like the one above that really concerned me—but at least half never amounted to anything. Maybe more than half. Wouldn’t it be great if we knew ahead of time which things would be REAL problems and which we should just wait out? I waste so much energy on things that turn out not to matter.
New and working refrigerator tonight! Yeah!
I’m interviewed in this podcast from about 2 years ago. It’s now free on iTunes. Things have really changed since I gave this interview.
My roommates continue to be great! Feeling blessed in this area. And the landlord finally fixed the toilet. It’s my day off and I’ve done laundry, cleaned house and have my weekend lesson plans finished.
My English Time branch got a new Turkish manager. She speaks almost no English, but she seems more friendly than the last guy. She insisted that we clean up the Teacher’s room, which is fair. But we’ve asked for chairs and computers that are not broken! Fingers crossed.
Got a note from my placement agency–I’ve kept them informed about the issues here at English Time. They let me know that they will not place any teachers with English Time until they fix their payment issues. Since 80% of their teachers (and almost 100% of their native speakers) come from Oxford Seminars, let’s hope that means ET will clean up their act quickly. In the meantime, there is talk of a walkout with our students if we are paid late again. I was paid 2 days late, but many others were paid more than a week late.
Through a mutual Turkish friend, I’ve met a woman who needs private English tutoring. In exchange, she and her father are going to help me with Turkish. AND I get to eat at their restaurant for free! Seems like a deal to me.
I’ve been teaching double classes for 5 days straight and am tired. It starts again tomorrow, but one of my classes finishes next week. That should give me an easier schedule. I wanted to sleep-in this morning, but my head teacher called and asked me to work. I said I couldn’t–if I don’t get some rest, I’ll be calling in sick.
Travel to eastern Turkey is not recommended now due to expected violence. Nothing happening in Istanbul, but I’m keeping my ear and eyes open. Concerned about my friend Gabe who just moved to Diyarbakir. He’s not responded to my last email.
From the US Consulate: “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Turkey that the U.S. Consulate in Adana has authorized the voluntary departure of family members out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. On September 2, the Department of State permitted the departure of U.S. government family members from the U.S. Consulate in Adana, Turkey. U.S. citizens seeking to depart southern Turkey are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations; however, commercial flights are readily available and airports are functioning normally. The U.S. Consulate in Adana will continue to operate normally and provide consular services to U.S. citizens. U.S. government employees continue to be subject to travel restrictions in southeastern Turkey. They must obtain advance approval prior to official or unofficial travel to the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig. The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas in close proximity to the Syrian border. U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Turkey should be alert to the potential for violence. In the recent past, terrorists have conducted attacks on U.S. interests in Turkey, as well as at sites frequented by foreign tourists. We strongly urge U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
Today’s Quote, from FB “Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” – ~Mary Anne Radmacher
I’m feeling better today. I was a bum the entire morning yesterday and then wandered around the Levent area all late afternoon and evening. I needed a distraction and am glad to have gotten it, but the heat didn’t make it much fun.
Honestly, if I had a place to teach that I knew was solid, I’d go now. I don’t. While I love each new country, it’s a huge upheaval: new culture and language, new school and curriculum, new apartment and city to navigate and new roommates and co-workers. The horrible roommate really knocked the wind out of my sails. My self-confidence took a hit, too. We take changes on people in life and it doesn’t always work out.
I’ve gotten used to much of the Turkish culture, know a little of the language and I have a safe apartment near my school. It’s near restaurants and shopping and keeps my transportation costs low. The school isn’t great, but frankly, most aren’t. I’m going to have to learn to live with that. I’m already half way through my contract, which finishes at the end of January. The school pays late, but they do pay. I know the curriculum, the students like me, and my body doesn’t need a big upheaval. If I leave now, I lose a contract bonus of one month’s pay, reimbursement of my flight here and my apartment deposit. Besides, there’s no guarantee that the next position will be better. Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I could stand a little stability for a while. I’m simply not up to a new challenge.
I’ve had friends suggest that I go “home” and lick my wounds. But there is no home. Everything I have fits in a couple suitcases and I go from job to job. While I love that freedom, I miss the stability. I miss the feeling of roots. I’m not complaining. This was my choice. I just have to learn to live with more uncertainty in life. I’m simply not as good at it as I thought I’d be.
With yesterday and today off from work I’m already feeling better. Now if the weather will just cool off a little. I think I’ll just stay until my contract is up at the end of January and then move on in February–maybe travel a bit or volunteer somewhere until April when I plan to meet friends in Spain to hike the Camino. I’ll take another full-time teaching position starting in late May. I’ve updated my resume and cover letter. I’ve gotten an excellent reference from my head teacher here. I signed up for an online job fair in November and I’ve already notified my placement agency of when my contract ends.
But I do have a new injury to report. Yesterday on the MetroBus, I managed to get a seat during a long ride. When I was getting up, out of the seat, just as I hovered over the arm rest, the bus hit a pothole. I came down hard on my backside. My tailbone is quite bruised. No major damage, but it’s very sore. I’ll be sitting down rather gingerly for a few days.
It rained yesterday and things have cooled off. The world is suddenly an easier place to live in! Last night I didn’t even turn on my fan. I expect to pick up the exploring I left off before the heat of summer stepped in and made it too hot to contemplate extra walking in the sun. I’m back from an exploratory walk around the neighborhood this morning. I’m trying to find a post office, but can’t. The few signs so far for post offices (Postane, PTT) have led to nothing—either no office or it was closed. But I’m told there is a reliable one around here if I can just find it.
It is Monday morning and I have an easier schedule for the next few days. Weekends are brutal with double classes and a commute to another branch. The morning class (who I mentally think of as the Angry Teenagers) will finish next weekend. I will not be sorry to see them go. Sunday, not a single student showed up until 20 minutes after the start time and then they demanded their break exactly on time, even though we were in the middle of an exercise. I actually asked a student to go home. She didn’t bring a book, wouldn’t participate in class and either had her nose in her phone or was sleeping. They spent most of the class celebrating another student’s birthday. I don’t know why I bother. Only one person should be advanced to Level 2, but ET promotes everyone. <sigh>
The weekend afternoon class has turned into my beloved class. They are in Avcilar and a Level 1 class. Only three of the students are really good, but these three make the whole class worthwhile. They make teaching worthwhile! The other three students are hit and miss as to attendance, so their work is too. Because I have to give out vocabulary sheets with each class (the words I will use in class each day), it takes twice as long to develop my lesson plan, but it seems worth it when you see a few students thriving.
At Sirinevler, classrooms are still locked, but we have some interesting news. First, Richard K., the man who hired me, is gone for English Time. Second, my branch (and perhaps others) has been sold. I don’t know what that will mean to my contract or my ability to teach here in Turkey. None of this information is official, but it comes from Robert, the head teacher:
“Richard Kirsten has resigned and I understand he’s taken up an offer to teach at a school outside Istanbul. Richard was a great manager and always very supportive and ready to help the teachers. We will surely miss him. At this stage, until the dust settles, let’s get on with business as usual to the extent that we can. Watch this space for further announcements and be aware that I’m often in the dark as to what’s going on around here. … I understand also that Sirinevler was sold to Ozgur Bey but honestly not clear what this all implies. Hopefully things will get better soon.”
I wish I were as positive about it as Robert. I’ve notified Oxford Seminars (my placement agency and the place I got my TOEFL Teaching Certificate) as they’ve contacted me in the past about the stability of English Time. As they communicated to me, Turkey is an inherently “iffy” place and ET is their only active company at this time.
And that’s not the only unstable situation. Two days ago, I got this message from the US Consulate:
Security Incident Near U.S. Consulate Istanbul
Today, Saturday, August 22nd, there has been a shooting incident near the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. We urge individuals to please avoid that area for the time being. Please monitor the news for further developments and maintain security awareness.
U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution in the vicinity of large gatherings, as even peaceful gatherings can turn confrontational. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security, and follow instructions of local authorities.
I find it interesting that they did not mention AT ALL that 2 men were detained in shooting near Istanbul’s Dolmabahce palace four days ago. The men were allegedly targeting police officers, but it is a heavy tourist area.
Got a new roommate yesterday. Monique is a Canadian woman, mid-20’s. She has taught English before and seems to know some Arabic and a bit of Turkish. She’s beautiful and even though she had a 36 hour flight, was civil from the start. I think this bodes well!
Now that it’s cooled off, it’s much easier to walk. I need to train for the Camino next spring. While I am on my feet while I teach class, the best exercise is walking with weight. So far, I’ve been good about walking an hour or more a day, but need to add the “with weight” part. Maybe just a day-pack with books would be enough for now.
It’s amazing how much the cool weather has helped my mood. I feel more relaxed and more able to take on challenges. It also helps that new classes are opening up this weekend at my branch—I was beginning to think they were going to close it! There are still padlocked classrooms, but I’m told renovations will be “soon.” Pretty sure the Turkish “soon” is very different from the American “soon.” My morning weekend class finishes this Sunday, so I hope to have a new class to replace it immediately. This week I have a far more reasonable schedule of 25 teaching hours.
Having lunch today with Shelley. She is going back to Canada and I will miss her. She may come back to Istanbul, but it depends on many things back home for her. I also got an email from Maria, who left a couple months ago with health issues. She hoped to come back to Istanbul this month, but she is simply not well enough yet. Few people seem to finish their contracts—a good deal for the company as they don’t have to pay the contract bonus (approximately a month’s pay) or the travel reimbursement. It adds up to some serious money.
It’s getting warmer again, but is still better than the first of August. Had to turn my fan on to go to sleep last night. Took a two hour walk today, with a light backpack, and was drenched when I got home. Thank goodness for showers.
Lovely lunch with Shelley yesterday. She left for home (Canada) this morning early and I hope to hear that she’s landed safely. Her original plan was to return to Istanbul in a month or two, but with the instability here at our school, I’m not sure she will. Before she left, she gave me an entire suitcase filled with kitchen staples—salt, sugar, flour, oil, tea. I’m sharing with my roommates.
The good news at Sirinevler branch is that SIX new classes are opening up, starting this weekend. No idea where the students will go since classrooms remain locked, but I guess that’s not my problem. I get two of the classes, so there will be no break in my schedule as I go from one class to the next. (In fact I’ll have a slight overlap) That means that my hours will remain steady. Let’s hope that also means that my income will be steady. I found that Turkish staff at Sirinevler and the head office at Taksim (plus some teachers in two branches, at least) have yet to be paid for July. Also, Edgar, who returned after two months in the states, didn’t get his pay. This is money he was owed before he left, so he’s quite unhappy about it. Edgar isn’t one of my favorite people, but I think he should be paid for the time he worked. Robert introduced himself to the new owner and found the man uninterested in even greeting him. Our owner does not appear to be a “people person.”
My last few days of posts have been pretty negative. Living in another country where you don’t speak the language nor know the customs is unsettling. The company I work for, English Time, has new ownership. Things are in flux—and if you aren’t the one doing the changes, it never feels good. It’s worse when you have no idea what the plans are and no one will tell you. It just looks like a mess. Maybe it IS a mess. Maybe there’s a plan I know nothing of. Who can tell? Not me, that’s for sure.
But instability and not knowing are things I need to learn to live with. It’s part of the deal if you agree to be an ex-pat. I’m in no danger. I just feel unsettled. My company paid me late, but they do pay. I’ve got a financial safety net if they don’t. I have people I can stay with if I need to come home. The political system is (fairly) stable here in Turkey. I’m about as safe from physical harm as in most US cities (hey, no one is bombing churches here!), though political unrest does happen. Things are uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Hey, life is uncomfortable wherever you live! I know my mood has been dark, but frankly a big thunderstorm and the cool air that follows would do more to perk me up than almost anything. It’s hot. I’ve moved too many times. And I need a day off.
It will all get better. Please don’t worry about me, folks.
I’ve not been affected, but there has been some unrest in Turkey. The US consulate sent a message that they would close for one day. Internet news reports: “Istanbul (AFP) – Six members of the Turkish security forces were killed and the US consulate in Istanbul hit by a gun attack in a day of violence Monday blamed on Kurdish and Marxist radicals as Ankara pressed on with its air campaign against militants. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has claimed over 20 killings of police and soldiers since a devastating suicide attack three weeks ago in a mainly Kurdish town. Around 390 PKK militants have also been killed in Turkish retaliatory raids, according to the Anatolia news agency.”
It’s been a very tough week. I moved all my belongings to a flat in Sirinevler (from Sukrubey) on Friday (August 7th), then on Monday (August 10th) I moved everything across the hall to my actual room—which is quite small but has good windows and a terrace. This room had been fellow teacher Alex’s but ET is moving him to Silivi to teach there. He’s not amused by this. While the room is tiny, at least it has a real bed, not a just a couch, and two dressers where I can hang up clothes and put things away.
I’ve had double classes for five straight days which is brutal enough after moving, but I’ve also had to travel to a new branch. Monday through Wednesday I taught in Beylikduzu in the morning. This neighborhood is a miserable one hour MetroBus ride to a branch I’d never been to before. The staff was nice, but my 23 students and I were forced into a theater style room that barely held us all. It had no air conditioning or air movement. Not even a fan. I had to constantly drink water to avoid dehydration due to sweating. There were no desks so the students could barely write. Almost all of the students are Libyan and came to Istanbul just to learn English. They have good language skills for Level 2 students and despite the class size were a delight to teach, even in the heat.
The other teachers, however, were simply horrible to me. This is my EX roommate’s branch and I can only imagine what she’s said about me. The head teacher, Mark, was very complimentary of my work. He told me that the students had asked for me to stay on. I told him that while he seemed nice and the students and staff were great, I hoped never to meet any of his teachers again. And could he forward my pay from this branch so I wouldn’t have to come back?
My name is a mystery to most of my students. They have never heard it before. Looking at the class roster, I think I know how they feel. I always introduce myself to a new class, but invariably a few come late. So on a break, I will hear, “Teacher, what name?” I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I turned quickly and said, “Oh! Beth! “ I didn’t realize my mistake for a full day. What they had heard was “Ohbeth” or as they are far more likely to say, “Ohbet.” There was a small argument among the students about this before I could clear it up.
Today was a particularly hot one. My students, though wonderful, require almost constant attention, even during breaks. It’s four straight hours and it can be exhausting work. Add to that a one hour MetroBus, both coming and returning. Today the buses were packed, a solid mass of people crammed into a small, airless space. There is no personal space and you can’t move without touching someone. Elbows in your back. Bags and children hitting your shins. Crying babies. Strollers taking up the aisle and rolling over your feet. It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming. I am “peopled out.” I live just off a busy city center and by the time I walked back to my flat, I was ready to be away from people for a solid week. Unfortunately, I have to teach tonight.
My new roommate is a very handsome, 26-year old black man. I’m surprised to find he’s from Alabama as he has no southern accent. He seems a good roomie, even if he did take out the electricity a couple times with his X-Box. The wiring in these old flats just isn’t up to US standards.
I received this email today from the Embassy of the United States of America located in Ankara, Turkey: INCREASED THREAT LEVEL DUE TO PKK ANNIVERSARY AND RECENT EVENTS
“The U.S. Embassy in Ankara informs U.S. citizens of an elevated threat level from terrorism in Turkey, as evidenced by the August 10 attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, in which two DHKP/C members (one remains at large) fired weapons at the Consulate building.
The Embassy also notes that August 15 is the anniversary of the first Kurdistan Worker’s Party (known as PKK or Kongra-Gel (KGK)) attack against Turkish government installations. Historically, this anniversary date has prompted an escalation of violence by the PKK and other splinter groups. Recently, the PKK has targeted the Turkish military and Turkish National Police (TNP) officers and stations, while the DHKP/C has targeted TNP and Government of Turkey facilities. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey should be alert to the possibility of increased terror activity in urban and tourist areas, as well as throughout southeast Turkey. We urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution and maintain a high level of vigilance. U.S. citizens should be aware of the possibility that terrorists can conduct complex attacks, with secondary follow-on attacks targeting first responders to the initial attack. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, and monitor local news stations for updates.”
It’s Sunday and there’s never a dull moment, even on weekends. And not always in a good way. We should have been paid yesterday. The office used the excuse of “oh, it’s a weekend” to not paid us. Like they can’t see weekends coming? I think what bothers all of us is that we simply don’t know about our pay. We asked about it earlier in the week, but no one seemed to know. Will we get it on the day promised? The next? How about Monday? There’s no information. We aren’t exactly over-paid, so most of the teachers are broke by payday.
And speaking of no information, I was the first one in this morning to find classrooms padlocked. Robert came in a few minutes later and was just as surprised as I was. Neither of us could read the Turkish signs on the door. Robert’s the head teacher and when he asked the office he was given no explanation. He was told that Monday morning classes were canceled, but today’s classes would happen. WHERE? They opened my old classroom, but another teacher ended up in a makeshift office with no white board. (The signs turned out to say “closed for renovations.” The rooms all need it. The desks are broken, the AC doesn’t work, the windows don’t open and there’s no wifi, even though the school advertises it.)
We’ve been worried for the last couple weeks because classes aren’t opening up at this branch, while other branches have several new classes. Some of our teachers are on “loan” to other branches to deal with the shortages there. Will they come back? Our Turkish branch manager, Huysen, is blaming Robert—which is pretty ridiculous since Robert only manages teachers, not classes. He can’t open classes. We both suspect the entire office is far too busy watching soap operas to call students to arrange classes. Hey, those soaps aren’t gonna watch themselves!
We finally got paid this evening, though we didn’t know for use until we actually saw the money. The classrooms are still mostly locked. We still have no explanation. Today, the computer wasn’t working, We have four, but only one ever woks. We couldn’t reach our files at all. But since there was no internet access either, it didn’t matter, because we also couldn’t use the printer. It was a disaster for my lesson plan. Something else was missing, too: Husyen. He’s the Turkish Branch manager who’s been so negative. I understand he was fired today. I’m not sure how much of the staff is still around. While I’m glad to see him go, I don’t actually know how that will affect this branch. Will they remodel the classrooms and unlock them? Will we get more classes? I have two classes finishing soon and will need new classes to stay employed. If we don’t get new classes, will I be sent to another branch to teach? If so, where? That would be disappointing, since I JUST moved here to this branch. On the other hand, if I’m not sent to another branch, I’m out of a job. What the heck is going on!?! A little communication could go a long way here.
I ended up teaching my class in the tiny makeshift office tonight (the office Husyen used to have). They found a small whiteboard—about one foot by two feet in size. It doesn’t meet the needs. It all just seems too unprofessional for a such a big company with branches all over Turkey plus a few scattered across the world. They have about 200 teachers just in the Istanbul metro.
So, at 10pm, I walked home, hoping to just take a shower and crawl into bed. It was another disappointing and unsettling day and I wanted to forget it. Instead, I find an email from someone I’d never met. Seems she is a new potential ET teacher. The school gave her my email—without my permission. She had a long list of questions about how it was to work for English Time. This did not improve my day. Fortunately, she told me who had given her my personal email, so I emailed that person. I politely asked that they not do this (very) unprofessional thing again. I also suggested that I might not be the best choice if they wanted someone to persuade this young woman to be a new teacher with ET. Under the circumstances, I’m finding it difficult to think of positive things to say.
8/18/2015 Five minutes before this evening’s class, the power went out. Since I’m still teaching class in the tiny make-shift office, it got really stuffy in a hurry and the windows don’t open. I’d planned to give the Reading Exam, but by 7pm it was already too dark to give any exam without overhead lights. We stuck around until 8pm, but the power didn’t come on. Classes were canceled and I’ll give the exam tomorrow. The next question, of course, if whether or not I’ll be paid….
Power outages are very common here. Most businesses have generators and are back with electricity in a few minutes after a power outage. In fact, the floors below us all had power from a generator. Why didn’t we?