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