<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 are lost half the time and around people you can barely communicate. You’d guess this 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 them and adapt. 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 learn 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.

but time is fluid in the rest of the world. Based on results, “noon” means something entirely different. So far, in the last 10 days:

  • “I will call you at noon,” resulted in a 6pm phone call.
  • “Let’s 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 seem embarrassed or 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 10a to actually fix it. I let my landlords know that I had to leave the apartment for an appointment at 10:30a. If the repairman didn’t come during the appointed time, I would not be there to let him in. Naturally, he didn’t come. In fact, he didn’t come all day. 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. This has not gone well, yet nothing ever changes.
  • “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 walked outside to look for him. He’d taken a taxi and left. I paid the bill (his meal AND mine) and left. But at least I had the courtesy to text him what I was doing. He didn’t apologize, just said he had to leave.

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 two days 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 “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 owed. 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 don’t have the best teaching materials. I chose them because prompt and accurate payment is extremely 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. I can’t recommend the school to teachers.


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….

Bomb in Istanbul’s old city center

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.

Snow, flowers and too much food

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.

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.