White “Christmas”

Istanbul gets it's annual snowfall.
Istanbul gets it’s annual snowfall.

This is the last day of 2015, but according to my students it is “Christmas.” I’ve tried to explain to them that many other countries celebrate Christmas on December 25, but I don’t think they are convince. It snowed a bit yesterday, but overnight the snow began to stick. It’s beautiful out there and what makes it more so is that I don’t have to work!

First I walked my neighborhood of Sirinevler–slick and slippery! No salt or snow shovels. When the temperature drops tonight this will really be a mess. My students tell me that we get about one snowfall a year here. It snowed the week before I came to Istanbul, so I missed last year’s. I bought a hat and gloves in Saigon before I came. I’ve been saving them just for this purpose.

My neighborhood got hit by snow!
My neighborhood got hit by snow!
Sirinevler square
Sirinevler square
From the top of an office building overlooking the E-5. Traffic was still running pretty well. Not sure that will be true in a few hours.
From the top of an office building overlooking the E-5. Traffic was still running pretty well. Not sure that will be true in a few hours.

Then I took public transportation to Beyazit Square, Istanbul University and a hike to the Suleyman Mosque.

The front of the Suleyman Mosque.
The front of the Suleyman Mosque.

Suleyman Mosque, Dec 31, 2015, 7 Suleyman Mosque, Dec 31, 2015, 6 Suleyman Mosque, Dec 31, 2015, 9

The Suleyman Mosque overlooks the Bosphorous, but the waters were so much warmer than the air temperature that fog clouded the view. This is the back side, that faces the water. You walk through the graveyard to get here.
The Suleyman Mosque overlooks the Bosphorous, but the waters were so much warmer than the air temperature that fog clouded the view. This is the back side, that faces the water. You walk through the graveyard to get here.

Finally, I went to the center of the old city, which is also the tourist district: Sultanahmet Square.

Haiga Sophia (Ayasofa) in the snow.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofa) in the snow.
There were several snowmen, but none were very fancy. In the background is The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Cami)
There were several snowmen, but none were very fancy. In the background is The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Cami)
Sultanahmet Square, with the Blue Mosque in the background. I was surprised to find this fountain still running.
Sultanahmet Square, with the Blue Mosque in the background. I was surprised to find this fountain still running.
From the spina of the former Hippodrome, now a park. The German Fountain. BTW, the Turkish word of horse racing park is still hippodrome.
From the spina of the former Hippodrome, now a park. The German Fountain. BTW, the Turkish word for horse racing park is still hippodrome.
Those palm trees probably give a hint at how often it snows here. Sultanahmet Meydani.
Those palm trees probably give a hint at how often it snows here. Sultanahmet Meydani.
Reminds me of my favorite dog growing up, Lobo. Still miss him.
Reminds me of my favorite dog growing up, Lobo. Still miss him.

And finally, Happy, Happy New Year to all. The weather looks like it might get bad, so I’ll probably stay home. Hope this is your best year yet!

Ring in the New Year, even with a cracked bell.
Ring in the New Year, even with a cracked bell.

Happy New Year!

New year12/30/2015

I’m behind on posting, but it comes down to two things: I’m working far more hours than I want & I’m ready to move on. I have a couple very difficult, overcrowded classes at the moment and there’s no support from the school staff. They haven’t bothered to put out a schedule for two weeks, they don’t communicate and only last night confirmed that we have New Year’s Day off of work. I have lost patience with the situation.

But I do have some good news to report:

The last teacher to finish a contract did, eventually, get her end-of-contract bonus, just hours before she left the country. It was days late and paid in Turkish Lira, rather than US dollars as promised by the contract. The bonus is substantial, so it’s very important to be that mine is paid when I leave.  I have a reliable but unconfirmed report that a teacher at another branch did not get his.

The other news is that I have some wonderful adventures planned for 2016:

  • a week in Athens, Greece.
  • a week visiting two dear friends in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • a month on a work-for-stay farm somewhere in Europe.
  • Hiking the Camino in Spain with three dear friends.

…and I’m working on my next full-time job. Keep your fingers crossed.

I can only hope that 2016 will be a year of good surprises, adventure and much love for us all. Wishing you the very best in the New Year.

Contracts ending

12/10/2015
S. will be leaving in just a few days. She is going back to Iran, sadly. We are taking her out Saturday night to celebrate (it’s a surprise). E. continues to teach and his students seem really happy with him. He’s mastered Level 1-2 Grammar. I have not seen him teach, but I have a good feeling about him. I didn’t know if he could make it as a teacher, but it’s nice to see someone succeed. His contract goes until April, but he hasn’t mentioned any plans for after. I share two classes with K. and she is a very competent and thorough teacher. Probably the best teacher at our branch. She is getting frustrated with English Time, though she doesn’t say much about it.

Somayah's going away party. Left to right: Foroogh, Somayay, Alex, Edgar (holding mugs of beer), Stephanie, me, Aylin, and Kate.
S’s going away party. I’ve removed names for privacy.

12/12/2015
We surprised S. with a going away party tonight. We told her we were going shopping for avocados so that she could try guacamole. Believe it or not, she didn’t see through this flimsy story. It is a testament to her basic goodness that she thought we were telling her the truth.

Alex, fooling around.
A., fooling around.

A couple stories from fellow teachers and their Adventures in English Grammar!
• Teacher: “Do you like soup?”
• Male Student: “Yes, I like soup.”
• Teacher: “What is your favorite soup?”
• Male Student: “Cock. I like cock.”
(The student meant chicken soup, made from a rooster, but in homophobic Turkey, this is a dangerous response. )

And when another teacher asked a student about marriage customs, one of the female students said, “We give bride nipple.” (She meant the rubber tip from a baby bottle.)

And this one I experienced this week:
The test question was: “What are you doing right now?” The student was supposed to give an answer using Present Continuous. One student answered, “I doing friend at moment.” Oh My! (Please read last line in the voice of George Taki)

12/14/15
The things my students say surprise and sadden me, at times. Today my Level 3 class did a dialogue and answered questions using the conditional, if. The question was, “What would you do if you were invisible?” (Type 2, Unreal). One of my favorite students answered in perfect English, “I would carry bombs to Israel.” I wanted to cry. He said it as though it was the most natural response in the world.

I need to move on.

12/17/2015
Still working more hours than I want, but coping. On my time off, I’m busy applying for jobs. The good news is that Somayah was paid her bonus on her last day as promised. It was paid in Turkish Lira (the contract promises US dollars), but at a fair exchange rate, so that’s acceptable. We were also paid on time and the full amount on the 15th of the month for November. That is only the second time I’ve been paid correctly and on time since I arrived here in February (10 months). Of course, I am still owed 40TL for October and no one seems to remember the money is owed. So that money is gone. It isn’t enough to quit over, but it is just one more thing in a long line of promises that are not kept. Speaking of that, we were promised by the head office we could take time off during Christmas, but the Sirinevler office said that’s not true. We will all be working Christmas day. Ho ho ho.

My current concern is for K. Her contract finishes in late February and she still does not have a residence card or work permit. Without these documents, a person is here illegally (once their tourist visa expires) and working illegally. She had another appointment this week to address the situation, but AGAIN there was a mis-communication. The time and place she was told to come to were wrong. Again. She can be deported, though it isn’t likely. What IS likely is that when she leaves the country in February she will be heavily fined (again) and her passport will be flagged for overstaying her visa a second time. This will certainly make it impossible for her to come back to Turkey EVER and may affect her ability to go to other countries.

In short, at this time I cannot recommend anyone work for English Time, Turkey. I understand that the latest owner wants to sell the branches he owns and I’ve seen groups of business people touring the branch. I assume they are potential buyers. Let’s hope someone better, more interested in education and legal operations will buy these branches.

Christmas is not a holiday that they celebrate in Turkey, so no decorations or Christmas music. This is Hanukkah week and OF COURSE there is nothing for that either. So far, I saw one Christmas tree in Avcilar, but it looked out of place. So, no holiday for me! But the Christmas spirit is inside you, anyway. I have everything I need, so presents aren’t important. I’m trying to arrange a Secret Santa gift exchange, just for fun.

The last day of my contract is February 3. I have a few adventures planned for immediately following.

–First, I will spend a week in Athens. I’ve never been to Greece, so am excited.
–Then I have a week in Edinburgh, Scotland where I will meet up with two friends. One of them went to school there, so can be our tour guide.
–I am arranging a month on a work-for-stay farm for the March. I have a verbal agreement with a place in Portugal where I will be working on some construction projects, including alternative energy for heating and electricity. I hope to learn a lot while I am there, though it will probably be very hard work. I have some back up ideas if it falls through, however.
–Starting the first of April, I will hike The Camino in Spain. I have three friends who have expressed an interest and hope that at least one of them will make it. We will start in Pamplona, hike to Santigo, then go on to Finisterra and walk to the ocean. Basically we will walk the length of Spain, east to west. It’s 500 miles and will take about 6 weeks. This is a path I’ve wanted to take for some time. Actually, there are several paths, but this one is the most popular. It’s an old Christian pilgrim’s path. It was featured in the film, The Way.

So I will need to go back to full time work after all of that! I am applying for jobs and hope to hear something soon. I’ve applied to many places and hope to arrange something soon. Oxford Seminars (my placement agency) says they won’t send out my resume until at least January–they are filling more urgent requests at the moment. They also seem to think I will have difficulty finding a full-time position in May. They say I may have to wait until August or September during the hiring “rush.” And they keep sending me information about volunteer jobs. While I don’t need a lot of money, I do need paid work. I am a tad frustrated.
I wish it were all arranged and I knew where I was going to be in May. It is hard to stay calm, but it is certain that 2016 will be another year of adventure!

Tavuk göğsü: the oddest dessert I’ve tried yet

I had no idea what I was buying when I saw this in the dessert counter of a nearby cafe. It was only after I took a bite that I realized something was odd about this sweet dessert.
I had no idea what I was buying when I saw this in the dessert (tatli) counter of a nearby cafe. It was only after I took a bite that I realized something was odd about this sweet dessert.

Tavuk göğsü looks just like a milk pudding. I picked it up at a cafe and took it home on a lark. I’d never had it, I didn’t know the name, therefore I would give it a try. I took a couple spoonfuls and noticed something was…..off.  There was an odd taste, not unpleasant, but…. different. It was the texture I had real issues with. At first I thought I’d gotten a hair in the pudding, but, no, that wasn’t it. Then it happened with another bite. OK, not a hair, but definitely a fiber of something.

Time to put down the spoon and check Google. Pretty soon, I found a photo of the white pudding with the signature flower stenciled on top. From there I got a name: Tavuk göğsü. My Turkish is minimal, but I recognized the first part. “Tavuk” means chicken. That’s not an ingredient I usually add to my sweets.  Wikipedia had the explanation:

“… a Turkish dessert (milk pudding) made with chicken meat. It became one of the most famous delicacies served to the Ottoman sultans in the Topkapı Palace. It is today considered a ‘signature’ dish of Turkey.

The traditional version uses white chicken breast meat, preferably freshly slaughtered capon. The meat is softened by boiling and separated into very fine fibers or rillettes. Modern recipes often pound the meat into a fine powder instead. The meat is mixed with milk, sugar, cracked rice and/or other thickeners, and often some sort of flavoring such as cinnamon. The result is a thick pudding often shaped for presentation.

The dish is more or less identical to the medieval “white dish”, blancmange that was common in the upper-class cuisine of Europe.”

So, it’s mike pudding with chicken. Sweet chicken. It’s never going to be a favorite. While I’m glad I’ve tried it, I don’t think I’ll be going back for more. If you are interested, here’s a recipe I found for it.

BTW, December is the fund drive for Wikipedia. Have you donated? I have.

Time to exit

This is Sirinevler, the neighborhood where I live. It is always busy, which is good and bad. It can be difficult to sleep sometimes because of the noise, but it is always well lit and people around, so it feels safe. Of course, avoid the square (meydan) when there is a demonstration, which is often.
This is Sirinevler, the neighborhood where I live. It is always busy, which is good and bad. It can be difficult to sleep sometimes because of the noise, but it is always well lit and people around, so it feels safe. Of course, avoid the square (meydan) when there is a demonstration, which is often.

12/3/2015
Today marks the two month mark for my contract completion. I’m ready to move on, too. The school continues to be a disappointment. Last week I was promised a new class: Level 4 evenings. Naturally, when the schedule came out, late on Saturday afternoon, I had a Level 2 morning class and a Level 3 evening class. So, once again, the time I spent preparing was a waste (that I am not paid for) and the late schedule meant I had no time to properly prepare for the Monday morning class (I had 17 teaching hours plus prep time this weekend). Just to add insult to injury, my new classes don’t have books and the office refuses to copy more than 10 pages. I’m supposed to cover the book, without a book. You can imagine my opinion of the school. (This isn’t a charity operation. This is a privately run school where the students pay a lot of money to attend classes. Most of my students are college-aged, have never worked a day in their lives and come from families who are financially well off.)

And did I mention I’m still owed 40TL for October?

It’s clearly time to get out of Turkey, too. There are US travel alerts, not just for Turkey, but worldwide. Saturday two pipe bombs exploded near separate Jewish synagogues in Istanbul, killing 23 and wounding hundreds (though most of the dead were not Jewish, they were Muslims just walking by). Tuesday, 5 were injured when another pipe bomb went off near the Bayrampasa metro station during evening rush hour. These may or may not be in response to the Russian plane shot down by Turkey near the Syrian border last week. It’s terrorism, folks, and it’s working. I’m officially afraid.

Oh, and not one of my two classes of students claimed to know about any of these events.

Yeah, I’m leaving. And not a moment too soon.

But as a reminder, nowhere is safe. Yesterday in San Bernardina, California, 14 people were shot down as they attended a holiday banquet for the developmentally disabled. I understand that was domestic terrorism. It doesn’t make me feel any better to know that.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am happy to have come to Turkey. Istanbul is an amazing city with great people, unbelievable history, yummy food and so much to learn, see and do. I am humbled to have had this opportunity. The world can be a wonderful place and I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet. I’m happy to be here, but it isn’t all good and it isn’t completely safe.

Sirinevler. I live in this neighborhood because I can walk to the school and it's fairly inexpensive. This allows me to save money on the metro. In light of the recent pipe bombing on the metro, it also helps me feel safer. As with most areas of Istanbul, we have a short term power outage once a month or so. Usually, it's only one hour. Occasionally it is as much at 8. Most businesses have generators, so they can stay open seamlessly. The school does not, so classes are canceled if a power outage goes more than an hour, as it did last week on Thanksgiving.
Sirinevler. I live in this neighborhood because I can walk to the school and it’s fairly inexpensive. This allows me to save money on the metro. In light of the recent pipe bombing on the metro, it also helps me feel safer. As with most areas of Istanbul, we have a short term power outage once a month or so. Usually, it’s only one hour. Occasionally it is as much at 8. Most businesses have generators, so they can stay open seamlessly. The school does not, so classes are canceled if a power outage goes more than an hour, as it did last week on Thanksgiving.

11/28/2015
Notice for U.S. Citizens: Demonstrations Today in Taksim, Galatasaray, and Kadikoy
Demonstrations in response to the killing of the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association are expected to begin this afternoon and last throughout the evening in Taksim, Galatasaray and Kadikoy in Istanbul. The U.S. Consulate General encourages U.S. citizens to exercise caution and to avoid the area if possible.
The U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens that demonstrations and large events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational. We advise to avoid the area of large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations 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.

The pomegranates are in season now. Messy to eat, but oh so sweet. I am enjoying them.
The pomegranates are in season now. Messy to eat, but oh so sweet. I am enjoying them, and often wearing them.