Have I mentioned how great my students are?

You’ve heard it before and you will have to hear it again. Or, see it. The Turks are generous. I once admired a student’s earrings and she took them off and gave them to me. Seriously! You’ve got to love people who are so generous. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.

I mentioned that my students brought me some slippers to give to my friend Kathy when I met up with her in Belgrade. Well, they also gave me some things. Here are the slippers for me--colorful and warm! And the scarf has crochet all around the edge.
I mentioned that my students brought me some slippers to give to my friend Kathy when I met up with her in Belgrade. Well, they also gave me some things. Here are the slippers for me–colorful and warm! And the scarf has crochet all around the edge.
Look at that crochet work--have not seen anything like it since my great grandmother.
Look at that crochet work–have not seen anything like it since my great grandmother.
These are the slippers for Kathy. She sent me a photo of her wearing them in her living room.
These are the slippers for Kathy. She sent me a photo of her wearing them in her living room.
 This is not even from a student--just a lovely women who we invited into class for our conversation hour while her son was in another classroom. A scarf, earrings (which I've worn a lot), hand made slippers, socks, a scarf with hand crocheted edges. In the middle is a hand mit to use in the shower. It's almost to lovely to get wet.
This is not even from a student–just a lovely women who we invited into class for our conversation hour while her son was in another classroom. A scarf, earrings (which I’ve worn a lot), hand made slippers, socks, a scarf with hand crocheted edges. In the middle is a hand mit to use in the shower. It’s almost to lovely to get wet.
Not a gift, but a lovely view of the full moon over the minaret of Sirinevler square.
Not a gift, but a lovely view of the full moon over the minaret of Sirinevler square.

My first day in Belgrade

Last week I traveled to Belgrade, Serbia to visit my dear friend, Kathy from New York. I stayed with her when I got off the Appalachian Trail, so I owe her in ways I can never repay. I really needed to see a friendly face and she made my month! Here are some photos from the first day. Kathy had been on a group tour and Belgrade was her final city, so I was lucky that my school schedule allowed me to  join her there.

Kathy in front of a sweets shop. Belgrade was once part of the Ottoman empire, so many of the sweets are familiar to me.
Kathy in front of a sweets shop. Belgrade was once part of the Ottoman empire, so many of the sweets are familiar to me.
Exterior of hotel Astoria.
Exterior of hotel Astoria.
Front dining room of the hotel. Quite glamorous and much better than I'm used to!
Front dining room of the hotel. Quite glamorous and much better than I’m used to!
Kathy on the left. Charlie in the middle (who I didn't know) and Penny. I roomed with Penny on my trip to Egypt. Lobby of hotel.
Kathy on the left. Charlie in the middle (who I didn’t know) and Penny. I roomed with Penny on my trip to Egypt. Lobby of hotel.
Yes, the hotel was much nicer than I'm used to.
Yes, the hotel was much nicer than I’m used to.
My room was quite large. Kathy moved in with me for the last night. We even got truffles each day. Yum!
My room was quite large. Kathy moved in with me for the last night. We even got truffles each day. Yum!
Grocery across the street from hotel. I wonder what this meant to the person who wrote it. Still no faith?
Grocery across the street from hotel. I wonder what this meant to the person who wrote it. Still no faith?
Not sure, but he was colorful!
Not sure, but he was colorful!
Republic Square or Square of the Republic (Serbian: Трг Републике / Trg Republike) is one of the central town squares and an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, located in the Stari Grad municipality. It is the site of some of Belgrade's most recognizable public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael.
Republic Square or Square of the Republic (Serbian: Трг Републике / Trg Republike) is one of the central town squares and an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, located in the Stari Grad municipality. It is the site of some of Belgrade’s most recognizable public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael.

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 4

Pedestrian mall near Republic Square. The shopping was easy because so much was in English. I found a really good pair of hiking shoes and a few other items I've needed but couldn't find in Istanbul.
Pedestrian mall near Republic Square. The shopping was easy because so much was in English. I found a really good pair of hiking shoes and a few other items I’ve needed but couldn’t find in Istanbul.
Fountain near Republic square
Fountain near Republic square
Traditional dancers near Republic Square
Traditional dancers near Republic Square

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 10 Belgrade, Oct 2015, 8

Hotel Moscow. Very posh. We went inside for a cappuccino.
Hotel Moscow. Very posh. We went inside for a cappuccino.
View from a city street near the Hotel Moscow.
View from a city street near the Hotel Moscow.

Belgrade, Oct 2015, 12 Belgrade, Oct 2015, 15

The parks are full of statues and I'd love to learn the history of each.
The parks are full of statues and I’d love to learn the history of each.
Bohemian Quarter
Bohemian Quarter
The front of an inviting little cafe.
The front of an inviting little cafe.
Statue of Dura Jakšic famous Serbian poet painter writer in Belgrade.
Statue of Dura Jakšic famous Serbian poet painter writer in Belgrade.
This is just a painting, good trompe l'oeil. But we kept coming across the word "Alcatraz" in the Bohemian quarter. Odd.
This is just a painting, good trompe l’oeil. But we kept coming across the word “Alcatraz” in the Bohemian quarter. Odd.
The Travelling Actor. Bohemian quarter of Belgrade.
The Travelling Actor. Bohemian quarter of Belgrade.
This is in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade. Probably a bit touristy, but nice.
This is in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade. Probably a bit touristy, but nice.
Here's the whole gang at dinner. All of them had been on the Go Ahead tour together and I knew a few of them from previous tours. From left to right: Carol (who I know as Cousin Carol); Mary, Penny (who I met on a previous tour), Kathy (my dear friend who I came here to see). Mary Ann (so sweet and she hasn't aged a day since we met on a tour in 2008!) and Mary Ellen. It was a nice girls night out.
Here’s the whole gang at dinner. All of them had been on the Go Ahead tour together and I knew a few of them from previous tours. From left to right: Carol (who I know as Cousin Carol); Mary, Penny (who I met on a previous tour), Kathy (my dear friend who I came here to see). Mary Ann (so sweet and she hasn’t aged a day since we met on a tour in 2008!) and Mary Ellen. It was a nice girls night out.
I had pork for every meal. Making up for lost time? Definitely! I'm living in a Muslim country and there's no pig allowed! This pork shish kabob was tasty, but too much meat, even for the pork starved!
I had pork for every meal. Making up for lost time? Definitely! I’m living in a Muslim country and there’s no pig allowed! This pork shish kabob was tasty, but too much meat, even for the pork starved!
Kathy always chooses good, local wine. And this is tastier than it looks--thinly sliced pickled beets. Crisp, earthy, excellent.
Kathy always chooses good, local wines. And this is tastier than it looks–thinly sliced pickled beets. Crisp, earthy, excellent.

I so enjoyed my stay. So much history. This is a city I will serious consider living in. I enjoyed trying to figure out the Cyrillic Letters.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason

Everything happens for a reason.

I cringe every time I hear this phrase. Every. Time. It’s a lie. Some things DON’T make sense. There is no “reason” for some events. If you can pick yourself up after loss, if you can go on after tragedy, congratulations. But don’t tell me it’s good or it’s part of some big cosmic plan. You don’t know that. You don’t know anything.

Last week I watched 50 women in a silent protest, walking up and down a crowded pedestrian mall.  The carried pictures of their children. Their teen-aged sons were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by police, just because they were Kurds who protested in a peaceful demonstration. They don’t know what happened to their children, but they were probably beaten to death. Most have never been heard from again. These woman were certainly risking their lives by protesting.

I’m happy to say that as they passed, everyone got out of their way, removed their hats and applauded. That was beautiful, but it isn’t a reason. The applause doesn’t make it OK.

Are you going to look these woman in the eye and say “everything happens for a reason?”

This is the article that prompted this.
http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

New adventures?

Just before this band started to play, there were a group of women walking up and down the blocks, carrying posters with the faces of their children, presumed dead. Some have been gone over a decade--all are Kurds, caught up in the crack down of this minority by the most recent administration. Most of the children were teenagers who participated in a peaceful protest. Police dragged many of them from their homes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Just before this band started to play, there were a group of women walking up and down the blocks, carrying posters with the faces of their children, presumed dead. Some have been gone over a decade–all are Kurds, caught up in the crack down of this minority by the most recent administration. Most of the children were teenagers who participated in a peaceful protest. Police dragged many of them from their homes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

10/26/2015
I’m developing a new way to choose which countries to live in. It’s the language. Not “can I figure it out” or “will this language be helpful for me in the future.” No, it’s the sound of things. When you live in a country where your home language isn’t spoken, you must listen to countless hours of the native language without knowing what is being said. You’ll be in line at the grocery, post office, airport and overhear conversations. You will be following some chatty old women in the market square or bragging young men on the metro. You will not know for a very long time what is being said. If you are lucky, you can catch a few words, newly acquired. Even when you are studying as hard as your mind will let you, it takes a while to tune your ear to the music of the language. And here’s the catch: It needs to sound like music to you. If it just sounds like clashing, guttural emissions, you are in for a horrible stay. The sound of people talking should not grate on your nerves. Life is difficult enough in a foreign country. You will be lost most of the time. When you think you understand you will often find later that you were totally clueless. You learn the true mending of “ignorance is bliss.” To live in another culture is to live in the dark. I can only liken it to losing one of your senses, but by choice. And if only twice a week you question your sanity, I’d say you’re doing well. Just don’t make it worse by choosing a language you hate the sound of.

Oh, and bacon. I’m not living in another country that doesn’t serve pork. While in Belgrade (honest, I’ll post pictures very soon) last week, I ate pork every meal and my dear friend Kathy brought me three boxes of shelf stable bacon. I’m having a couple pieces every day. Heaven!

This is a traditional band playing on the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. My students wanted me to hear them and they were very good. This is just outside the school branch in Avcilar, which I teach at on weekends.
This is a traditional band playing on the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. My students wanted me to hear them and they were very good. This is just outside the school branch in Avcilar, which I teach at on weekends.

Seriously, I’m looking at what to do with my time once my teaching contract is up in February. I don’t want to take another job right away because I plan to hike The Camino in April. Basically, I need a place to stay and I’m willing to work for it. If food is also provided, that’d be a bonus. I’m more likely to go to a country I can’t teach in, such as an EU country and I don’t want to get too far from the start of the Camino in Spain, just because of costs. Possibilities I’m investigating include: house/animal sitting (I’ve signed up with Trusted House Sitters and checking out availability); WWOOFing—world wide opportunities on organic farms (I’d really love to learn to make cheese or work with fruit trees) and Volunteer positions (there’s a potential farm in Bulgaria I’ve contacted). And while I expect I’ll take another teaching job when I get off the Camino, I have applied for a cruise ship job as staff. You never know what I’ll do!

Selling boiled corn on the square in Sirinevler. These are often roasted, too. Misir is the Turkish word for "corn" but also Egypt.
Selling boiled corn on the square in Sirinevler. These are often roasted, too. Misir is the Turkish word for “corn” but also “Egypt.”
These are just 1TL a piece, about 35 Cents. You can see that it is beginning to get cool here in Istanbul.
These are just 1TL a piece, about 35 Cents. You can see that it is beginning to get cool here in Istanbul.

A day of mixed blessings

These are sıcak tatlı--hot sweets. First dough is deep fried as you see here. Then it's dropped in a sweet syrup to coat completely. Each ring is .50TL (about 10 cents) and eaten hot.
These are sıcak tatlı–hot sweets. First dough is deep fried as you see here. Then it’s dropped in a sweet syrup to coat completely. Each ring is .50TL (about 10 cents) and eaten hot.

10/24/2015
My first day back from Belgrade (photos to follow soon) has been disappointing at best. First, I have a cold. It’s not unusual when I travel to pick up a bug, but it’s inconvenient. It was raining when I landed in Istanbul and the rain continued through today–cool, wet and humid. The laundry I did will never dry. Shortly before I left Belgrade I was sent an email saying I have a new weekend morning class. I find it rude to give less than 48 hours’ notice for a class, but it’s the norm here. So, even though I got in late and I felt badly, I prepared my lesson plan for the next morning. I got up in the dark and walked to class in the rain. I printed my materials and then asked to see the register so I’d know how many copies to make. Except there was no class. It had been canceled. In fact, it had been canceled BEFORE I was even given the class! After a couple email exchanges, it turns out that out of the 5 new classes “scheduled” to begin this week (2 of which were mine), only one will actually begin. Did I mention we have issues? Part of the problem is disorganization. Part is a lack of bi-lingual staff. And part of the problem is a total lack of concern for teachers.

They are incredibly sticky and sweet, but one is very satisfying on a cold evening.
They are incredibly sticky and sweet, but one is very satisfying on a cold evening.

At my afternoon class, I set up my materials, then walked out to get my class register, which took 2 minutes. When I returned, three of my markers were gone. Stolen. I’m pretty sure it was Trudy (the ex-roommate), not that I have any way to prove that. But there were few students here. She’s been rude to my students on breaks and she picked a fight with another teacher last weekend. It feels like I’m back in 3rd grade.

But there were highlights. Before I left, One of my students had brought me a lovely pair of handmade slippers for me to give to my dear friend Kathy in Belgrade. They are beautiful. Her grandmother made them and they fit Kathy’s small feet perfectly. (My humongous feet would have stretched them out!) Kathy, being the considerate soul that she is, naturally wrote them thank you notes on a post card. You can’t imagine how thrilled they were–their first English letter!
Coming home from school today a young man got up and gave me his seat on the MetroBus. It’s been raining all day and the bus was packed, so it was a really nice gesture. At the next stop a man limped on and I realized he could barely stand. I started to get up, but the young man across from me motioned for me to stay put and he gave the man his seat. It was only then that I realized that the man was injured. He had a huge cut on his leg and had lost a lot of blood. It looked like someone had cut a chunk of meat from just below his knee—an open wound three inches wide and no skin to cover it. I gave the man some tissues and a plastic bag for the bloody used tissues, but that was all I had. He kept talking to me. I couldn’t make him understand that I don’t speak Turkish (I can say “I don’t speak Turkish. I speak English.”) Since I didn’t share a language with anyone on the bus, I don’t know what happened to him. He seemed delirious–he was talking to himself, and sometimes to someone out the window, who wasn’t there. He would almost lose consciousness, then perk up. He seemed too clean to be homeless, but I think there was something more wrong with him besides just the injury. My heart went out to him.

In a city this size you see so much sadness. It attracts a lot of refugees. But it really puts my piddly little problems into perspective.

Just saw this on FB: “not knowing” is the whole … point. Life is all about not knowing, and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. All of it.”

This is Döner kebab, one of the most common street foods in Istanbul. This particular rotisserie of meat is chicken. The sliced meat is served wrapped in a flatbread called durum. Usually tomato and herbs are added too. While this looks like the Greek gyro, any Turk worth his salt will tell you otherwise! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doner_kebab
This is Döner kebab, one of the most common street foods in Istanbul. This particular rotisserie of meat is chicken. The sliced meat is served wrapped in a flatbread (like a tortilla) and called durum. Usually tomato and herbs are added too. While this looks like the Greek gyro, any Turk worth his salt will tell you otherwise!