My Secret Cafe, Bakırköy

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This has become one of my favorite restaurants, especially when I’m craving pizza or just something besides Turkish cuisine. Niyazi is the best! My Secret Cafe is located in Bakırköy, walking distance from the İncirli/Bakırköy metro stop.

This is Niyazi Utku who owns My Secret Cafe along with his wonderful wife. It's my favorite place in all of Istanbul for pizza.
This is Niyazi Utku who owns My Secret Cafe along with his wonderful wife. It’s my favorite place in all of Istanbul for pizza.
And this is his special mixed pizza. After you've spent time in Asia, you get used to corn on pizza. It's common. Niyazi worked in the UK for 8 years so his English is excellent. The cafe is in İncirli.
And this is his special mixed pizza. After you’ve spent time in Asia, you get used to corn on pizza. It’s common. Niyazi worked in the UK for 8 years so his English is excellent. The cafe is in İncirli.
Burak has helped me with many things, but this day he helped me eat this pizza! The cake was promised to someone else, or we would have eaten that too!
Burak has helped me with many things, but this day he helped me eat this pizza! The cake was promised to someone else, or we would have eaten that too!
Here they are together at My Secret Cafe.
Here they are together at My Secret Cafe.
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My students take me to the top of the world

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I’m lucky. I may be the luckiest people I know. My life isn’t always easy. It’s sometimes frustrating. I am frequently lost and clueless and can’t even pretend otherwise. And yet, I meet wonderful people, who show me amazing sites. Three former students took me out last week for pizza, tea and a trip to the top of the world.

Mirac, me, Emil and Hezar
Mirac, me, Emil and Hezar

Student outting, Jan 2016, 9

Istanbul is endless glasses of hot tea and lovely sights like this one. That's the Süleymaniye Mosque behind me. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%BCleymaniye_Mosque
Istanbul is endless glasses of hot tea and lovely sights like this one. That’s the Süleymaniye Mosque behind me.
Yeah, this was probably dangerous, but how could I pass up a chance to be on top of the world?
Yeah, this was probably dangerous, but how could I pass up a chance to be on top of the world?

outing with students, Jan 2016, Istanbul, 4 Student outting, Jan 2016, 1

We had pizza and a view
We had pizza and a view

Student outting, Jan 2016, 6

This was the roof of an old building overlooking the Bosphorus. Safe? Probably not.
This was the roof of an old building overlooking the Bosphorus. Safe? Probably not.
Hezar, Mirac, Emel and me.
Hezar, Mirac, Emel and me.
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My crazy, nomadic life

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These former students took me out on the town last week. We had a wonderful time. It's the students I will miss most. As frustrating as teaching can be, this is the reason I love it.
These former students took me out on the town last week. We had a wonderful time. It’s the students I will miss most. As frustrating as teaching can be, this is the reason I love it.

5/2/2016
It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Let’s see if I can sum things up:

I Got Paid: My contract with English Time here is Istanbul ended Monday, Feb 1. I was promised I’d be paid that day (or the next day at the latest) in my home branch at Şirinevler. Of course it wasn’t that simple, naturally. ET restructured their school branches as of that very day and suddenly no one wanted to be responsible for paying me. On top of that, the branch manager for Şirinevler was suddenly gone with no explanation, so no one was actually in charge there. I was given a lot of frustrating mis-information, but eventually went to the head office in Mecidiyeköy and camped out until they paid me at the end of the day Wednesday, Feb 3. The money included my hourly wages for January, an end-of-contract bonus and a travel reimbursement, so it was a substantial amount of cash. It’s enough to fund some future adventures without having to dip into savings. I am relieved to finally be paid, but the runaround did nothing to endear me to the school.

12647301_1189316187768968_8088413790124966169_nOddly, the first thing they did after paying me was to offer me another contract! I laughed, then closed my mouth and waved goodbye as I walked out. I fear the unladylike (and useless) utterances that would have passed my lips if I had replied. Maybe I’ve finally learned some diplomacy? Or maybe I was just tired.

The teachers took me out Saturday night and I ate way too much! What a great group to work with.
The teachers took me out Saturday night as a send off. I ate way too much! What a great group to work with. When you work closely with people like this, you are connected forever.

New Work: I have a verbal agreement on a summer job in Russia. I’m very excited about this as it’s an interesting country and June and July seem like the best times to live there. I might not be hardy enough for a winter in Russia! I’ll be the first native English speaker that the school has ever had, so it will be an experience for all of us. More about the school later.

I have interviewed with a few other places, but last night had a good conversation with a school in Mexico. That seems to be my best option at the moment for work beginning in August (assuming they offer me a position). It doesn’t pay well, but I have a friend who worked there before and I trust his opinion of the school. Frankly, I’ve had two disappointing posts in a row and it would be a blessing to my mental health to be somewhere that lived up to its contract. Also, this school is closed on Sundays, so I’m guaranteed at least one day off a week. Overwork and slow payments are getting tiresome.

These are students from my last day of class who stuck around for a selfie with me. I will really miss these level 1 students: Can, Enes, Pelin, me, Bursra and Emil.
These are students from my last day of class who stuck around for a selfie with me. I will really miss these level 1 students: Can (taking the photo), Enes, Pelin, me, Bursra (in the scarf) and Emil.

Spanish: I work daily on my Spanish and while I am making progress, I’m pretty horrible. It’s surprising how poor at languages I can be when I love them so much! I’m using DulLingo on the laptop (which I do daily), an app on my phone called iLang (for vocabulary practice) and I’ve completed lessons 1-5 in Pimsleur (which I listen to while I walk). I’ll be in Spain for 2.5 months and need to have a functional level of language. Plus it will help tremendously if I am offered the job in Mexico. Many Americans speak Spanish, not to mention Spain, Mexico and almost all of South and Central America. It’s an important language to know. Wish me luck.

But let me add that learning Spanish as I live in Istanbul and need to converse in Turkish while teaching English grammar, is disorienting. I don’t always know what language will come out of my mouth!

2016 is going to be another year of adventure! Here’s the short list:

February: Leave Istanbul. Visit Athens, Greece on my own and and Edinburgh, Scotland with two dear friends, Julia and Kathy from NY. Kathy went to school there so she will be an excellent tour guide!

March: A few days in Barcelona, Spain, then volunteer teaching and a teacher improvement program in Valencia, Spain. I’m quite excited because I’ll be there over Easter, which should be spectacular. Also, there’s something called the Fire Festival that should make for some great blog photos! The last days of the month, I will head to Pamplona, Spain to meet three dear US friends: Kathy (NY), Stephanie (VA) and Tim (TX).

April to mid-May: Three of us will become pilgrims and hike the Camino (aka The Walk, The Way of St. James) from Pamplona to Santiago, and then (if our feet are still good) on to the sea at Finisterra! It’s an ancient pilgrim’s path to the church at Santiago where the bones of St. James are supposed to be buried. There are many paths to this church, but we are walking one of the main one, usually called The French Way. Selfishly, I convinced my partners to skip the Pyrenees mountains on the French/Spanish border. The weather is precarious in April and besides, I hiked enough mountains on the AT for a lifetime! This is traditionally a religious pilgrimage. I’m not a particularly religious person, though I have a spiritual side.  If we do the entire distance, it’s “only” 500 miles. I think this will be an easier walk than the AT hike: less elevation change, more fresh food, we will stay in hostels every night and eat fresh food every day. Because I don’t need a tent or stove, my pack will be ridiculously light, as well. Oh, and wine. There will be wine! Hum…..bottles of wine might weight the pack down a bit. And where did I pack that cork screw?

Mid-May to June: Not planned yet, but ideally, I’d like to see a bit of Russia before I start teaching there. What I’ve checked out so far is horribly expensive, so we will see…..

June and July: Teaching a summer school program in Nakhodka, Russia. The city is located on the Pacific Ocean, near Vladivostok. The school pays me, takes care of travel there and back and provides accommodations.

August: Still working on this, but by this point I’ll really need a year-long contract and stay put for a while.

Did I mention I love my crazy, nomadic life?

This is what passes for recycling in Istanbul. These men are not city workers, but they provide a valuable city service. They pick through the trash on street corners and bins. They recycle plastic, glass, old clothes, damaged machinery, cardboard...anything they can make money from. It's a tremendous amount of work for little pay and done by new immigrants and the poor. There is also a city trash service. These men are constantly sweeping the streets by hand and filling their bins. Cigarettes, candy wrappers and all refuse is simply thrown on the street. There are few bins.
This is what passes for recycling in Istanbul. These men are not city workers, but they provide a valuable city service. They pick through the trash on street corners and bins. They recycle plastic, glass, old clothes, damaged machinery, cardboard…anything they can make money from. It’s a tremendous amount of work for little pay and done by new immigrants and the poor. There is also a city trash service. These men are constantly sweeping the streets by hand and filling their bins. Cigarettes, candy wrappers and all refuse is simply thrown on the street. There are few bins.
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Time

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15/1/2016
<Sigh> You’d think that the worst thing about living in another country would be the language or maybe getting used to new foods. Or that the religion is a mystery and it is an important part of the culture. You’d think being lost half the time and being around people you can barely communicate with would be difficult. People often ask me ask about loneliness and the feeling of isolation.

Of course, these are, at times, frustrating. In my experience, though, you get used to these things. You get better at the language and you become a mime. You learn the tenets of the religion and how they apply to every day life. You find foods you like. You learn that being alone is OK. You figure out your way around. You adjust.

My undying frustration is with TIME, or the perception of time, particularly appointments.

Obviously, there are time related differences in the USA, too. I’m from the Midwest, so when we agree to meet at “noon,” what that really means to me is that I will be at the appointed meeting spot at 11:45a, ready and waiting for the other person so that we can actually do the activity at noon. In the southern states, this would mean that we will try to be at the spot at noon, but no later than 12:15pm with the expectation that we will actually start the activity before 12:30. I was quite frustrated in the south until I realized this.

Based on results, “noon” means something entirely different in most of the rest of the world. So far, in the last 10 days alone:

  • “I will call you at noon,” resulted in a 6pm phone call.
  • “We will have breakfast Thursday,” clearly meant no such thing. There was no breakfast, nor any apology. When I ran into the person on Friday, they didn’t even mention it.
  • “The refrigerator will be fixed Monday,” resulted in a repairman showing up Tuesday to unplug the refrigerator with a promise that he would come the NEXT day, between 9 and 10am to actually fix it. I let my landlords know that I was had to leave the apartment for an appointment at 10:30. If the repairman didn’t come during the appointed time, I would not be there to let him in. He did not come during that time. We were without a working fridge for a week.
  • The activity schedule at my school is, in theory, put out weekly, and starts on Mondays. The last month, when it was posted at all, it’s come out on Tuesday or even Wednesday. It may or may not be emailed to teachers, so no one knows when they are working. We haven’t seen a class schedule in over a month. New classes are handled by word of mouth, and they have not gone well.
  • “I’ll be back in 2 minutes,” resulted in me being completely abandoned at lunch. I thought my dining companion was just walking outside for better phone reception. I have no idea where he went. After 15 minutes and no word from him, I paid the bill and left. But at least I had the courtesy to text what I was doing.

This is not an unusual week, either. These actions frustrate me. It was just as bad in Vietnam. Time to me is ridged. I am honor bound by time agreements. Not so, the rest of the world.

I don’t know if I can ever change my perception completely, but I’ve got to give up my concept of time if I want to keep traveling AND have low blood pressure.

1/17/2016 ADDITION: My contract says I’ll be paid on the 15th of the month for the previous month’s work. So far, I’ve been paid on time the full amount only twice. When my pay was a day late this month, I simply said, “if you cannot pay, maybe I cannot work.” The other teachers were shocked by my response. Most felt it was too threatening. Before I left for the day, I was called into the office. I expected to be fired, but instead I was paid the full amount. It turns out I was the only teacher to be paid. The rest were offered 500TL toward their payment.

Being paid late is very common in Turkey, and I knew that. I agreed to come to work for English Time on the strength of their reputation for paying the full amount on the day owed. I knew they weren’t the highest paying school and they certainly didn’t have the best teaching materials. I chose them because prompt and accurate payment is more important to me. The new owners have completely lost that reputation and now English Time is having trouble attracting native English speakers. No surprise there.

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Evil

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where does it hurtI’ve gotten several emails, texts and FB posts asking if I am OK after yesterday’s bombing in Istanbul. Many have said the equivalent of, “Get out of there. You’re living in a war zone.”

I understand and value their concern for me. Really, I do.

The scary part is that I’m not living in a war zone. Or at least I’m not living in an area that is any worse than anywhere else. Syria is a war zone. Egypt isn’t much better. That’s why there are so many Egyptians and Syrians here in Istanbul. The reality is that violence like this can and does happen all over the world, whether caused by ISIS, Neo-Nazis, crazed lone gunmen or radical Christians.

Nowhere is “safe.” It never has been.

I don’t understand. I can’t imagine the thoughts of someone who will strap a bomb to their body to kill people they don’t even know and themselves. I can’t fathom walking into an elementary school to kill children and teachers, knowing you are never going to walk out again. (And let me remind those who say I need to “come home” that I’m statistically safer from violence in a classroom in Istanbul than one in any city in the USA.) This senseless, needless violence breaks my heart. I cannot believe this is about religion. I can believe it has much to do with the worship of power and the love of money. I can believe it has everything to do with fear and spreading fear.

I’ve traveled to over 30 countries, so I’ve met a lot of people and experienced several cultures. The vast majority of people are good. Even at their worst, most are doing the best they can. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone. They are just trying to feed and clothe their families, keep a decent roof over their heads and indulge in a small pleasure or two. There really is little evil in the world.

But, obviously, it only takes a little.

I don’t understand someone who just wants to watch the world burn. I don’t want to.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t believe I can protect myself from this in any real way. Yes, I’m vulnerable. We all are. But I can’t let my life be governed by fear and hate. I believe the words of D.H. Lawrence:

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

We’ve got to LIVE, no matter how many skies have fallen. Do what you can. Do what you want without hurting someone else. Learn. Run. Cry. Laugh. Read. Share. Sing and dance, even badly. Especially, badly! See what’s around the corner, on the other side of the world. Try. Love. Find your heart’s desire, even if you lose it. Fail at things. But live….

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Bomb in Istanbul’s old city center

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I had this morning off and slept in for the first day in almost a month, which was really nice. My lie-in was interrupted by the refrigerator repair guy, unfortunately, so I’m not quite caught up yet. He was here 10 minutes, unplugged the fridge, so that now we don’t even have a freezer!  He said he’ll be back tomorrow. Since he didn’t show yesterday as agreed, I’m doubting he will come on time tomorrow, either. We’ve been without a fridge for five days, so, as you can imagine, I’m not having the best day ever.

And then I found out that a bomb went off in the center of the old city this morning and my problems seem ever so silly, trivial and manageable.

At least 10 are dead, more wounded. Some are foreigners, as this is the heart of the tourist district. If the map is correct, the bomb was beside Sultan Ahmet Camii, better known to us as The Blue Mosque. It’s right in the middle of a park, formerly the old hippodrome (horse racing park) of ancient Constantinople. There are priceless treasures in the spina of this park, so it’s doubly horrible. I don’t live near this area (who could afford it?) so I’m OK, but it’s frightening and sad beyond words.

Did I mention I was ready to move on?

Here is a link to a website about the blast.

This is from the U.S. Consulate General Istanbul

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Explosion in the Sultan Ahmet area of Istanbul

January 12, 2016

U.S. Consulate General Istanbul, Turkey would like to inform U.S. citizens that Turkish news is reporting an explosion near the Sultan Ahmet area in Istanbul at approximately 10:15 a.m. this morning.   U.S. Mission Turkey is working to obtain more information.

We advise U.S. citizens to avoid that area and to exercise caution if you are in the vicinity. 

We strongly encourage U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security.

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Snow, flowers and too much food

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Snow in Turkey only comes about once a year and lasts for 2-3 days. Still, someone found a way to make the most of it.
Snow in Turkey only comes about once a year and lasts for 2-3 days. Still, someone found a way to make the most of it.

12/31/2015
The first real snow today and I went for a long walk and metro ride to take photos.

Learning English is spotty. Wednesday evening I said to my students, “See you next year.” There was an audible gasp in the room. “Teacher?” I repeated it and they were confused and alarmed. So I wrote it on the board and explained that I’d see them Monday, which would be 2016. Huge laughter. “Good one, teacher.”
So they can say and use the phrase “Good one” but don’t know “See you next year?” Always a teaching moment, for them and me.

Small victories with the Turkish language. The other day, I understood when a woman said to me in the elevator, “Cucuk var?” It translates literally as “Children exist?” but I understood her to mean, “Do you have children?” “Yok, yok.” (Literally, “they do not exist” but generally it just means “No.”)
I also understood when someone asked, “Tavuk sos?” They were serving me food. The translation is “chicken sauce” but I realized they wanted to know if I wanted gravy. Kinda a shame I can’t stick around long enough to really learn this language.

January 2, 2016
Happy New Year! First day back in classes and had to give a L1 Reading exam. The average was 62%. This makes me think I am wasting my time teaching English. I have two more exams on Monday. This will be a difficult week.

Feeling uneasy that I don’t have everything organized for the future as I’d like, but there is still time. I’ve put in a lot of work, but places just don’t hire this far out. And my work-for-stay place in Portugal seems to have fallen off the map—no response from them. Yesterday I reviewed my resume, applied for 5 jobs, applied for 12 work-for-stay places for the month of March, did lesson plans and laundry. I also sent a note reminding the school offices that I have only one month left on my contract. If I could trust them to pay as agreed, I’d stay here through the end of March, but I’ve probably pressed my luck staying this long. The school has stopped putting out a schedule for activities. We assume it’s a way to save money.

Mostly, I feel like I’m just waiting. My placement agency won’t post my resume with companies until February. I understand their position. I’ve applied to some jobs myself, but obviously many schools are trying to get teachers for January and won’t pay attention to my resume. It’s a struggle. This must be what learning patience is. I don’t have to like it, though.

January 3, 2016
My morning class seems to have forgotten English. It’s a level 1 class, but they took the Reading exam yesterday and did horrible. Today, I had a difficult time getting them to identify nouns, verbs and adjectives. And I know the Turkish words for these things. It breaks my heart. Am I doing the wrong thing with my life? Maybe every teacher feels this way at times? These same students did well in the beginning, but now, halfway through, they have lost focus and interest. It’s a weekend class, so if they don’t practice during the week all the information falls out of their head. Every Saturday it’s like starting over.

I'm sure his heart was in the right place, but by the time he presented flowers I just wanted him to leave. I did accept the flower graciously as his apology, but insisted that he go.
I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but by the time he presented flowers I just wanted him to leave. I did accept the flower graciously as his apology, but insisted that he go.

Here’s a new experience: I just kicked a kid out of class for smoking! H. is a 20-something, ought-to-know better, problem child. Not dumb, but I can’t figure why he is in class. He comes late, leaves early, finds an excuse to leave the class a couple times an hour and comes back late from break every hour. He refuses to do more than 2 out of 10 questions on any in class exercise. Sometimes he won’t even do that much. But today, I was writing on the board, my back to the class, while the students filed in from first break. It got deadly silent behind me. When I turned to face the class, every eye was on him. He had a huge smile on his face and held a lit cigarette!

I told him to get out of my class. He first seemed shocked, then took it in stride and packed his things and went with no argument. Then he came back 10 minutes later to apologize. I was trying to teach class, did not want to waste any more time on him, so I asked him to leave. Another 10 minutes and he was back again, with FLOWERS. Seriously? I just wanted him to go. I know the apology and flowers sound like a sweet thing, but he’d wasted too much of the class’ time already.

So his spelling is poor, but it was an apology. That is not his handwriting, however, so I don't know who he found to write this.
So his spelling is poor, but it was an apology. That is not his handwriting, however, so I don’t know who he found to write this.

January 4, 2016
I may never eat again. OK, maybe I won’t eat until tomorrow. Just had lunch with a student’s father and his friend. Both are taking English courses and wanted to practice English. They fed me too much! Such great food and company. This is an easy way to eat in Turkey and I could arrange for more free meals and LOTS of tea this way if I wanted to.

Ahmet, my student's father and me, over eating etli ekmek (meat bread) and adana kebabs.
Ahmet, my student’s father and me, over-eating etli ekmek (meat bread) and adana kebabs.
The restaurant, Mevlana Pide, makes their own ayran--a frothy yogurt drink. It's quite good and particularly nice with spicy food.
The restaurant, Mevlana Pide, makes their own ayran–a frothy yogurt drink. It’s quite good and particularly nice with spicy food.
Kunefe is a rich, super-sweet dessert of cheese, pastry and lots of sugar. It's a specialty of the city of Hatay, where Ahmet is from. That's butter and pistachios on top.
Kunefe is a rich, super-sweet dessert of cheese, pastry and lots of sugar. It’s a specialty of the city of Hatay, where Ahmet is from. That’s butter and pistachios on top.
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