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.

Cooler weather, but more uncertainty on the teaching front

In the distance, across the water, you can see the Galata Tower on the Asian Side of Istanbul. This photo was taken in March. But the rest of the photos were taken today as my new roommate and I walked up the hill to the tower and climbed to the top (there's an elevator most of the way). Enjoy the view!
In the distance, across the water, you can see the Galata Tower on the Asian Side of Istanbul. This photo was taken in March. But the rest of the photos on this post were taken today as my new roommate and I walked up the hill to the Galata tower and climbed to the top (there’s an elevator most of the way). Enjoy the view!

8/21/2015
I’m feeling better today. I was a bum the entire morning yesterday and then wandered around the Levent area all late afternoon and evening. I needed a distraction and am glad to have gotten it, but the heat didn’t make it much fun.
Honestly, if I had a place to teach that I knew was solid, I’d go now. I don’t. While I love each new country, it’s a huge upheaval: new culture and language, new school and curriculum, new apartment and city to navigate and new roommates and co-workers. The horrible roommate really knocked the wind out of my sails. My self-confidence took a hit, too. We take changes on people in life and it doesn’t always work out.

I’ve gotten used to much of the Turkish culture, know a little of the language and I have a safe apartment near my school. It’s near restaurants and shopping and keeps my transportation costs low. The school isn’t great, but frankly, most aren’t. I’m going to have to learn to live with that. I’m already half way through my contract, which finishes at the end of January. The school pays late, but they do pay. I know the curriculum, the students like me, and my body doesn’t need a big upheaval. If I leave now, I lose a contract bonus of one month’s pay, reimbursement of my flight here and my apartment deposit. Besides, there’s no guarantee that the next position will be better. Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I could stand a little stability for a while. I’m simply not up to a new challenge.

I’ve had friends suggest that I go “home” and lick my wounds. But there is no home. Everything I have fits in a couple suitcases and I go from job to job. While I love that freedom, I miss the stability. I miss the feeling of roots. I’m not complaining. This was my choice. I just have to learn to live with more uncertainty in life. I’m simply not as good at it as I thought I’d be.

With yesterday and today off from work I’m already feeling better. Now if the weather will just cool off a little. I think I’ll just stay until my contract is up at the end of January and then move on in February–maybe travel a bit or volunteer somewhere until April when I plan to meet friends in Spain to hike the Camino. I’ll take another full-time teaching position starting in late May. I’ve updated my resume and cover letter. I’ve gotten an excellent reference from my head teacher here. I signed up for an online job fair in November and I’ve already notified my placement agency of when my contract ends.

But I do have a new injury to report. Yesterday on the MetroBus, I managed to get a seat during a long ride. When I was getting up, out of the seat, just as I hovered over the arm rest, the bus hit a pothole. I came down hard on my backside. My tailbone is quite bruised. No major damage, but it’s very sore. I’ll be sitting down rather gingerly for a few days.

Walking up the hill, our first glimpse of the tower.
Walking up the hill, our first glimpse of the tower.
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From the top

8/24/2015
It rained yesterday and things have cooled off. The world is suddenly an easier place to live in! Last night I didn’t even turn on my fan. I expect to pick up the exploring I left off before the heat of summer stepped in and made it too hot to contemplate extra walking in the sun. I’m back from an exploratory walk around the neighborhood this morning. I’m trying to find a post office, but can’t. The few signs so far for post offices (Postane, PTT) have led to nothing—either no office or it was closed. But I’m told there is a reliable one around here if I can just find it.
It is Monday morning and I have an easier schedule for the next few days. Weekends are brutal with double classes and a commute to another branch. The morning class (who I mentally think of as the Angry Teenagers) will finish next weekend. I will not be sorry to see them go. Sunday, not a single student showed up until 20 minutes after the start time and then they demanded their break exactly on time, even though we were in the middle of an exercise. I actually asked a student to go home. She didn’t bring a book, wouldn’t participate in class and either had her nose in her phone or was sleeping. They spent most of the class celebrating another student’s birthday. I don’t know why I bother. Only one person should be advanced to Level 2, but ET promotes everyone. <sigh>

The weekend afternoon class has turned into my beloved class. They are in Avcilar and a Level 1 class. Only three of the students are really good, but these three make the whole class worthwhile. They make teaching worthwhile! The other three students are hit and miss as to attendance, so their work is too. Because I have to give out vocabulary sheets with each class (the words I will use in class each day), it takes twice as long to develop my lesson plan, but it seems worth it when you see a few students thriving.
At Sirinevler, classrooms are still locked, but we have some interesting news. First, Richard K., the man who hired me, is gone for English Time. Second, my branch (and perhaps others) has been sold. I don’t know what that will mean to my contract or my ability to teach here in Turkey. None of this information is official, but it comes from Robert, the head teacher:

“Richard Kirsten has resigned and I understand he’s taken up an offer to teach at a school outside Istanbul. Richard was a great manager and always very supportive and ready to help the teachers. We will surely miss him.
At this stage, until the dust settles, let’s get on with business as usual to the extent that we can. Watch this space for further announcements and be aware that I’m often in the dark as to what’s going on around here. … I understand also that Sirinevler was sold to Ozgur Bey but honestly not clear what this all implies. Hopefully things will get better soon.”

I wish I were as positive about it as Robert. I’ve notified Oxford Seminars (my placement agency and the place I got my TOEFL Teaching Certificate) as they’ve contacted me in the past about the stability of English Time. As they communicated to me, Turkey is an inherently “iffy” place and ET is their only active company at this time.

And that’s not the only unstable situation. Two days ago, I got this message from the US Consulate:

Security Incident Near U.S. Consulate Istanbul

Today, Saturday, August 22nd, there has been a shooting incident near the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. We urge individuals to please avoid that area for the time being. Please monitor the news for further developments and maintain security awareness.

U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution in the vicinity of large gatherings, as even peaceful gatherings can turn confrontational. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security, and follow instructions of local authorities.

I find it interesting that they did not mention AT ALL that 2 men were detained in shooting near Istanbul’s Dolmabahce palace four days ago. The men were allegedly targeting police officers, but it is a heavy tourist area.

Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 5 Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 8 Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 11

Monique, my new roommate has taught English before and studied languages. She's been in country for three days and knows more Turkish than I do!
Monique, my new roommate has taught English before and studied languages. She’s been in country for three days and knows more Turkish than I do!

8/25/2015
Got a new roommate yesterday. Monique is a Canadian woman, mid-20’s. She has taught English before and seems to know some Arabic and a bit of Turkish. She’s beautiful and even though she had a 36 hour flight, was civil from the start. I think this bodes well!

Now that it’s cooled off, it’s much easier to walk. I need to train for the Camino next spring. While I am on my feet while I teach class, the best exercise is walking with weight. So far, I’ve been good about walking an hour or more a day, but need to add the “with weight” part. Maybe just a day-pack with books would be enough for now.

It’s amazing how much the cool weather has helped my mood. I feel more relaxed and more able to take on challenges. It also helps that new classes are opening up this weekend at my branch—I was beginning to think they were going to close it! There are still padlocked classrooms, but I’m told renovations will be “soon.” Pretty sure the Turkish “soon” is very different from the American “soon.” My morning weekend class finishes this Sunday, so I hope to have a new class to replace it immediately. This week I have a far more reasonable schedule of 25 teaching hours.

Having lunch today with Shelley. She is going back to Canada and I will miss her. She may come back to Istanbul, but it depends on many things back home for her. I also got an email from Maria, who left a couple months ago with health issues. She hoped to come back to Istanbul this month, but she is simply not well enough yet. Few people seem to finish their contracts—a good deal for the company as they don’t have to pay the contract bonus (approximately a month’s pay) or the travel reimbursement. It adds up to some serious money.

Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 16 Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 17 Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 198/26/2015
It’s getting warmer again, but is still better than the first of August. Had to turn my fan on to go to sleep last night. Took a two hour walk today, with a light backpack, and was drenched when I got home. Thank goodness for showers.

Lovely lunch with Shelley yesterday. She left for home (Canada) this morning early and I hope to hear that she’s landed safely. Her original plan was to return to Istanbul in a month or two, but with the instability here at our school, I’m not sure she will. Before she left, she gave me an entire suitcase filled with kitchen staples—salt, sugar, flour, oil, tea. I’m sharing with my roommates.

The good news at Sirinevler branch is that SIX new classes are opening up, starting this weekend. No idea where the students will go since classrooms remain locked, but I guess that’s not my problem. I get two of the classes, so there will be no break in my schedule as I go from one class to the next. (In fact I’ll have a slight overlap) That means that my hours will remain steady. Let’s hope that also means that my income will be steady. I found that Turkish staff at Sirinevler and the head office at Taksim (plus some teachers in two branches, at least) have yet to be paid for July. Also, Edgar, who returned after two months in the states, didn’t get his pay. This is money he was owed before he left, so he’s quite unhappy about it. Edgar isn’t one of my favorite people, but I think he should be paid for the time he worked. Robert introduced himself to the new owner and found the man uninterested in even greeting him. Our owner does not appear to be a “people person.”

From the base of the Galata Tower
From the base of the Galata Tower

Galata Tower, Istanbul, Aug 2015, 22

Stray cats are everywhere, but lovely.
Stray cats are everywhere, but lovely.

August heat, roommate roulette

7/30/2015
I’m doing OK, just VERY busy, We are short on teachers, so I’m working 40 TEACHING hours a week right now, not counting office hours, prep time or commuting. I do little else but work. The cause of the teacher’s shortage is poor communication, as always. During the month of Ramazan (mid-June to mid-July), plus a week or two on either side of that, there were few classes and no new classes. Some of the teachers were surprised by this and suddenly had no income. I knew about the month of holy fasting and had specifically asked about its timing and effect on classes, so I knew before I came. They didn’t. I simply planned other things to do during that month (I took the train to Bucharest, Romania. Then I flew to Paris!). But many of the younger teachers didn’t know about the break, nor did they have financial resources to afford it. So they quit–went back home or took another position. So now we are short teachers and I’m working too much. I hope it will even out in a month or so. Fingers crossed (which is an expression none of my students know, so I got to teach it to them).
I’ve checked the weather forecast in the USA and it is boiling there, so I hesitate to complain about the heat here. The advantage of The States over Turkey, however, is more air conditioning. I have none in my apartment, and only a few of the classrooms have working AC. I have taught all my students the Present Continuous phrase: “I am melting.” They also know a few new vocabulary words like: boiling, sweat, cool off, humid, air conditioning and miserable.

I was asked repeatedly by Robert, the Sirinevler head teacher, to consider taking his place when he leaves in October. I love to teach and I hate paperwork and politics, so I feel I’m better off remaining a simple teacher. I almost caved, but fortunately, Kate has stepped up to take the job. She is in her mid-to-late 20’s, very mature and organized, and this is her second teaching assignment (she was in Korea before). I think she will do great, plus it’s a good first management position for her and will look good on her resume. Being a head teacher is all about diplomacy and organization, so it won’t be easy, but she will do well and learn what she needs to. I hope it isn’t too frustrating for her and I will be as supportive as I can.

Upper management has decided that no one can take ANY time off–even one day–without their expressed permission. The teachers are protesting this and we will likely get a more reasonable ruling but not sure how long that will take. In the meantime, this will make it more challenging see my friend Kathy in October. I’m still confident that I can work this out, but I’m still not sure of where and when. I will work this out as soon as I can since I know this is important for good priced airfare. If I were SURE that my days off would not change, that would make it easier, but I have no control over my schedule and I am lucky to even get the week’s schedule starting Monday before I go to bed Saturday night. Makes it impossible to plan, huh?

I won’t go into details, but the new roommate situation is not working out and I’m going to have to move on. I’m still sleeping on a couch and I don’t have anywhere to hang my clothes. The roommate promised to buy furniture for my room before I agreed to move in. That was two months ago. She also promised to put the apartment in her name as well as the cable bill. She hasn’t followed through with any of these promises. Shortly after she returned from Copenhagen, she stopped speaking to me, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in her mind, but I can watch her behavior. She’s staying out all night, drinking heavily (I can’t even keep wine in the house because she drinks it) and she’s often late for work (based on the time she leaves the apartment she can’t possibly make it to school on time). She also rarely cleans, eats my food and didn’t pay the cable bill as promised. Now past due. I’ve also got concerns about the landlord, since he didn’t fix the water heater in a timely fashion and refuses to fix the shower.

Time to move on.

I’ve contacted Katt and Ali, who have several flats, and will see if they can arrange something for me that is walking distance to my school branch. This would have the added affect of keeping down my transportation costs and keeping off the over-crowded Metro, which is often the worst part of my day.

August 2, 2015
I have my first class that I truly dislike. They are mostly teen-aged, Level 1 students and their English is pretty poor. To be fair to them I am at least the third teacher they have seen, so it’s not like they expect me to stick around. I had to split up one couple because they were making out in class—that’s a first. (they later each sent me a FaceBook request. How odd?) They reluctantly moved, but spent the rest of the class on their phones and didn’t participate. My best English speaker can’t seem to shut up–short attention span theater! One young man is so far behind he should start again. But the worst is the oldest woman, E. She complains constantly, “Teacher, very difficult.” She is occasionally hostile and rolls her eyes a LOT. She influences the other girls negatively. Today I gave a 15 minute break (they are supposed to get 10 minutes) and she and 2 others took 20 additional minutes. So I decided to do the Writing Exam review while they were out, just for spite.

I have just a few more weeks of them. So I will try to remain as positive as I can and simply endure. (How very British of me!) But the class I feel most badly about is the new Level 1 class in Avcilar. I started the class last week and they are lovely, patient people. But they simply aren’t ready for an English speaker who knows almost no Turkish. I told the office manager that they needed our standard prep class—something all students are supposed to get before Level 1. These folks are struggling with the alphabet, numbers and know so few words that we could not communicate. Last week I abandoned the book. After the alphabet, we identified every noun in the room, plus most body parts. Then I taught them “This is a/an …” since I know the Turkish. We struggled with a few adjectives that I knew the Turkish for or they knew the English for. Then he/she/it/I/you/we/they and the “be” verb that goes with them. Then I acted out every verb I could think of: run, walk, sleep, snore……It was fun, but EXHAUSTING. I hate working without a plan like that. I wasn’t prepared at all, so I think it went well despite the problems—but it was successful to some extent because the class members are so positive and patient. This simply would not have worked with all students.

The office manager emailed me that she would get them some help and that their prep classes would be the next weekend. She hoped the class would be ready “in a few hours.” (I doubted that!) Fortunately, I forwarded the email to my head teacher, Robert, and the scheduler, Philip, with a note saying that I was now free on weekend afternoons. That’s the only reason I didn’t get into trouble when Avcilar’s office manager emailed Philip and asked why I wasn’t there to teach my class on Saturday! I was stunned. Apparently they were given 2 hours of tutoring Saturday and that’s supposed be enough to get them ready for Level 1?? I feel like I’m being set up to fail and taking my class down with me. But I will show up tomorrow and do my best. I can teach them some English, but I don’t see how they can pass Level 1.

August 4, 2015
I finished a Level 3 class today. It’s a group that I really like, so I’m disappointed to lose them. Classes wrap up quickly—weekday classes are just 5-6 weeks depending on if they are morning (4 hours a day) or evening (3 hours a day), so I’ve learned that it’s best to be slightly over-scheduled. Some class won’t work out. Another will finish before something new starts up.

If I understand it correctly, things at the Avcilar branch with the Level 1 class weren’t exactly as I was told. It’s partly a communication/translation issue (there’s no head teacher and the branch manager has only Level 1 English). IF I understand, the class had a bi-lingual teacher on Saturday. They didn’t want her. I know this teacher and have every reason to believe she’s good, so I don’t know what the issue is. But they wanted me back! I hope they know what they are doing. I figure I’ll learn Turkish or die trying while teaching this class. I don’t really believe they will do well on the exams. Possibly they won’t even finish the material. But I will try. It will take me twice as long to prepare classes for them. I decided I’ll have to do much more careful lesson planning and give them a vocabulary sheet with translated words each and every class.

Overnight, Katt emailed me and asked if I wanted to see the Sirinevler flats during my days off (Thur/Fri). I replied that I did. Maybe something will work out in that area. I don’t think living with Trudy can work out well. I can’t sleep on that couch much longer—my back hurts every morning. Our only form of communication now seems to be email. And the cable bill remains unpaid. Today she emailed she couldn’t find the cable contract and that since it was in my name it was my problem. I don’t think she’s going to like how I’m going to deal with the problem.

But the worst for me is that I’ve lost faith in people. Or at least my ability to judge people. I believed her. I trusted her from the word go. I was wrong. Trying to see the best in people doesn’t work out every time. IF she comes home, it’s usually after 3am—turning on lights and waking me up. Last night she and some male came in about 2:30a. I don’t know who it was or what they were doing. I don’t want to know. Sunday morning I met her coming home as I left the flat to go to work. She was wearing the clothes she had on Friday. And she was scheduled to teach, so she was late. Again.

Time for me to leave. I’ll be as fair as possible by paying my share of the next month’s rent (minus money she owes me). Let’s just hope that one of the rooms in Sirinevler is acceptable and I can secure it immediately.

I’m in the canteen now. It’s Trudy’s day off and so I don’t want to go home. Also, it is simply too hot to go home. There isn’t enough of a breeze at the apartment and I just sweat. At least here at the office, I can get in some AC. Let’s hope it cools off soon as none of the flats have AC. September should be better.

8/7/2015
Yesterday I met Katt and secured a room in Sirinevler, just three blocks from my school.

Just moved the last bag to the new place. Emailed my departure to the EX-roomie. I can’t believe she will be surprised. The internet is in my name (something she was supposed to do) so I took the equipment and am canceling that today. (I had to pay for the modem and a huge early cancellation fee) I’ve given her until Thursday to put the apartment in her name–something the owner knew was supposed to happen immediately, so I expect no issue for her. If not, Ali, who knows the landlord, has agreed to go with me to explain the situation, since the landlord speaks no English. I can’t have my name on her lease.

It’s messy. I’m exhausted, but I hope the worst is over.

Unfortunately we are both teaching at the same branch in Avcilar on weekends. And I was asked to teach M-W morning (this week only) for a level 2 class in her regular branch, Beylikduzu. Let’s hope I can just teach my class and go each day.

Right now, I’m just terribly sad about the entire situation and exhausted from carting all my stuff on the Metro. Not the best way to move.

I’m teaching double classes for five days straight. At least I have over half the lesson plans already done.

July and the end of Ramazan

7/4/2016
Hope this is a happy holiday weekend for all of the USA!

I am back in Istanbul. With somewhat limited funds and limited time I skipped Budapest. An adventure for the future, though. Bucharest was OK. Perhaps I needed a better plan to explore the city because I felt I didn’t really see the beauty of it. Not a horrible trip, but not very memorable. Think I will investigate the price of flights for future trips into Europe and skip the train. I plan to meet my dear friend, Kathy in October, perhaps in Serbia. The long train/bus trip really wore me out. I got in yesterday morning around 8am after traveling since noon the day before. The old Orient Express is not what it used to be. I slept most of the day and all of the night, waking up to do laundry, shower and eat. I almost feel human.

I now have three friends considering hiking the Camino with me next spring. Rather excited and surprised as I just assumed that I would be all alone on this trek. Of course, it is a long way off still and the plans may not work out for all of us. I feel lucky to have y any of them consider hiking with me. And not a whiner in the bunch. These long distance trails turn out to be more of a social experience than you’d think, and it would be nice to share memories.

7/5/2015
This morning I walked to the sea and dipped my fingers into the water. It’s warm enough to swim and I think I may just do that tomorrow, after class. Wonder if I can find a snorkel and goggles? Love to see what’s down there. (Later I did get a snorkel. Never doing that again. Filthy water. I took an extra-long shower.)

Last week, with my Migros Card, I got a whole chicken for 1TL! (Migros is a local grocery) Last night I roasted it with onions, carrots and potatoes. Last night I picked the carcass, not too clean, and boiled it for broth with some herbs and half a lemon. This morning I strained it and I’m letting it cool to skim. It should be soup by tomorrow or the next day. I already have veggies cut up and frozen from an earlier excursion to the weekly market. Yum!

7/13/15
Ramadan is almost over and I’ll be glad to see the end of it. My neighbors seem to sleep all day and are awake and partying all night. Even the children are playing in the streets–loudly calling each other at 1am. Last night I went out on the terrace and told them to stop bouncing their ball on the wall of my apartment just outside my window. The sounds of laughter, arguing (there is SO much arguing!) and talking bounce off the tile which faces most buildings. It is almost impossible to sleep. Percussive sounds, like forks hitting plates or dishes being knocked together as they are washed and stacked, are particularly annoying. For those who venture out during the day, I find their bodies and breath especially pungent. I assume it is the keytones released when someone is fasting. The bodies of the men are strong but their breath is so much worse. The MetroBus is almost unbearable some mornings.

Bayram is a religious holiday and the entire Ramazan is a holy (lunar) month. The last four days is especially festive, called Seker Bayam (sugar holiday) and so the school is closed for four days. Of course, I wasn’t informed of this until the week before–no way to plan ahead! But communication is an afterthought, particularly to foreign teachers. Still, Shelley and I found an inexpensive package to Paris! For $550 U.S. each, we have round trip air and 4nights in a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. (I’ve posted my Paris pictures already)

Speaking of communication, I was called with 24-hours notice to come to the head office in Taksim (more than an hour away) to sign some papers for my work permit. We were asked to bring a photo–no information on the photo size, no consideration as to my teaching schedule. And when I got there, I found the head office had moved! Why don’t they mention these things? When I finally found the new building, a secretary thrust a three page document in front of me. It was in Turkish. She spoke no English and I have no idea what I signed. In theory, it is for my work permit, which I need.

Two nights ago, Trudy was packing to leave on a trip to Copenhagen. We heard a loud pop and our hallway filled with acrid smoke. I open the door to the stairway and could see that the entire building had no power. Lots of voices called “Tamom, tamom!” (Ok, ok!) so I didn’t worry much, but was still concerned about the white smoke (bayaz durman) that had come from the breaker box. One breaker was blown and I switched it back on. In 20 minutes the rest of the building had power, but not our apartment. We went upstairs to the landlord, “guc yok, elektrik yok.” (No power, no electric). Trudy needed to leave for her trip, so I was left with the issue. There was a parade of men in and out of our door until 11pm. I got a good look at the wiring and am surprised that we hadn’t had issues earlier–a tangle of extra-long wires and WAY too much exposed copper! Finally someone who actually seemed to know some electrical information got the lights on. He shortened wires to an appropriate length and put proper electrical ties on them. Phew! He even fixed a hall light that had never worked. But he didn’t get the power to the hot water heater going. The landlord said they would be back tomorrow. My shower that evening was short!

The next day I had to work but was home by 2:30p as I had promised. But no one came. At 5pm, I went to the landlord again. “Aksamlar” (evening), he said. But no one came. Another cold shower and laundry done in cold water. This morning I had to leave for Paris. I left a note in Turkish and a key for the landlord asking that the power be fixed before I am back on Sunday. We will see.

You can see my Paris Photos here.

Dealing with students and co-workers–it ain’t easy

5/8/2015
Ali’s mother cleans the apartment every other week (or so). We call her Mamacita and she is so sweet! She just lights up a room when she walks into it. We only share a few words, but I can count on a big smile every time I see her. Such a joy to be around.

The Level 3 class I was to teach was supposed to start last week. It didn’t, but I was told it was only postponed. It would start this coming weekend. Yesterday evening I got an email that it is postponed again. Jeeze! Feast or Famine. Just yesterday, R. was worried that I would feel overworked by taking over “all” of Albert’s Level 5 classes (weekday mornings). No going to be overworked. In fact, I’m afraid to turn down work under the circumstances. Robert’s advice is simply to take all the work you can get, then when you need a day off, get a substitute. I hate that sort of thing, but it may be the only way to be sure of enough hours. And R. didn’t need to worry so about the Level 5 class. It only has a week and a half more to go. It fact it’s just four additional classes (each 4 hours). And since Albert has left the majority of the exams and all the presentations to the end, that’s all I’ll be doing. I have to give exams in: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Plus everyone–roughly 18 people–has to give a presentation. Oh joy.

Trudy will be moving downstairs! Mags is moving out in about a month and that leaves her room open. I know that Trudy has trouble with all the cigarette smoke upstairs—I would too. And Mamacita and Ali’s sister seem to need a temporary place to live as well. Everyone wins, here. For me, it will mean all adults downstairs! And I do love Trudy—like a sister. I fear we will stay up way too late every evening talking about boys. OK, the boys she’s interested in. She seems to attract young men in their 20’s and 30’s. I only attract the stray man who wants a green card. 😉

5/12/2015
Clearly, I spoke too soon about who I attract.

The Saturday night party at Shelley’s was great fun. Wonderful food, amazing view from the balcony and good conversation. But at 10p, I was the first to leave the party because I had to teach in the morning.

Took a wrong turn walking back and after 5-6 blocks realized I was going the wrong way. I was still in a public street that was well lit, so I asked someone for directions, in Turkish. But then I couldn’t get rid of the guy. He was perhaps 30ish, very tall. He knew 4-5 English words. At first I thought he just wanted to practice English, so I let him. Then he wanted to hold hands and put his arm around me! I was polite, but kept saying “no” in Turkish, firmly ,and would shake off his advances. I’ve learned you can’t be too nice about this sort of thing. He kept asking the same question, over and over, but I don’t know what it was. I suspect he was asking for sex. I got more and more firm and loud with my “NO” but he didn’t quit. Then he grabbed my hand tried to get me to pull off into some dark corner. I don’t mean to say that he was abducting me, but he wanted me to follow him. I stopped, stood my ground and said NO (in Turkish). I gave a very clear hand jester and motioned for him to go away, NOW. He grabbed my hand again and I simply started screaming like a little girl in trouble. He ran away.

Honestly, I wasn’t scared. I was angry. Pissed off, actually! It was a public place and I had never left the lighted street. There were always people around. I’m pretty sure it’s the blonde hair, worn down around the shoulders. (Which makes no sense because I’ve been growing out the hair for 14+ months and there’s darn little blonde left. It’s mostly gray!) Stupid men. They think blonde hair means “prostitute.” And an American accent apparently means “free prostitute.” They think American are sex starved! Nope–this never happened to me in the US! Considering carrying a scarf to wrap my head in for times when I’m alone on a Fri/Sat night. Jeeeze. At least men who act like this are mostly cowards.

5/13/2015
Albert has gone to Iran. I am teaching all the classes in the Level 5 class we share (Mon-Fri, 10a-2p), but it’s only a week and a half. In fact, it’s only four additional classes. I’ve confirmed several times by email and in person with both R., the head teacher, and Albert, that I would teach the classes. In fact, I’ve thought it odd that I had to confirm SO many times (and I keep emails like this as evidence. CYA). But somehow R. asked Kate (another teacher who is excellent) to cover for Thursday and Friday. When I questioned R. about it first thing yesterday morning, he lost his mind. He started screaming at me. “I don’t care who teaches the class!” and then “I can’t remember what I’ve said!” I was too shocked to respond. Then he said that he couldn’t have one teacher teaching all the days of a class, I should know that, so he obviously wouldn’t have asked me to teach the class. Plus it was too much for me to do when there were other teachers who needed work. THEN he said I have complained repeatedly about working too many hours.

I composed myself as much as I could and apologized if I had given him the impression that I was overworked. That had not been my intent, particularly when there were few classes starting lately and I’d had two canceled on me. I reminded him that his advice to me was to take as many hours as were offered and that I was taking that advice. I added that if he wanted Kate to teach the class, it was obviously his call as head teacher. All that I was trying to do was to live up to what I had agreed to. I hope I didn’t sound like a petulant child. I collected my stuff and went to my classroom, but was pretty shaken up. My first hour of teaching was not one of my best.

Later that evening, R. came and asked, “Are we good?” I didn’t respond immediately, so he stammered about how earlier when he questioned me about taking the class he was only asking my availability, not if I would teach the class. We both knew that wasn’t true. But I didn’t really answer his question. We aren’t good, just yet. It’s very uncomfortable for me and it will take a couple days to get over it. But the long term affect is that now I don’t know what to believe when I’m asked to cover a class. <sigh>

That incident sucked all the joy from yesterday and it threatens to do it again today.

To be fair, I understand that R. is under a lot of pressure. Working with the branch office is difficult, almost impossible. I wouldn’t have the job for twice the money. Stress ruins short term memory, so Robert may have simply forgotten our conversation, then didn’t want to admit he was wrong. Additionally, he isn’t well paid AND this job means he doesn’t get to teach (which he loves), except for at the last minute (which is never fun). I’m trying to see his point of view. But the over-reaction still stings. Feeling very alone.

LATER: This evening, Gabe asked how I was. Another teacher had witnessed R’s outburst and she had told Gabe, so he knew the situation (Gabe will be the head teacher when R. leaves in October, so he’s up to date on personnel issues). I confided that I was feeling quite uneasy. I told him that it would take me a few days to get over it. Nothing was really wrong and that I understood that Robert was under a lot of stress and had snapped. But Gabe asked me to look him in the eyes. He said I was a great person, the best teacher of the bunch. He said he wanted me to know that he always had my back and to never forget it. I cried. It’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Bless him.

And, today, I got a glowing letter of recommendation from R. I think it’s his way of saying, “I’m sorry.” I’d asked for one a week or two ago, since I needed one more for my files.

I’m feeling much better now.

5/15/2015
I’ve been working a LOT of hours so not posting to the blog very often. With summer coming on, we have fewer classes starting, so I hate to turn down work when it is offered. This week I’ve mostly been filling in for other teachers, double shifts every day. AND I’ve had 4-one hour activities. Two folks have taken a holiday, so their classes and activities needed a teacher and I got the work. Next week I have a class ending, but will immediately start to cover the last two weeks of another class. A teacher has decided that teaching isn’t for him. He’s going home to London. So I’ve got hours for the next couple weeks, anyway.

R. has confided in me that some of the teachers that started at the same time as I did, simply won’t make it through their three month trial period–which ends soon. (And it will be his job to fire them. No wonder he’s stressed!) So he says I should not worry about hours. There will be fewer classes, but also fewer teachers, so it should even out. I guess we will see.

Today I had to tear up a test in front of a student–caught him cheating. I’d warned the kid (he’s probably 20 years old) more than once, so I can’t understand why he was so surprised by my actions. He sat there shocked for several minutes without speaking! We were taking 2 exams, back-to-back, and I told him he could take the second exam, but if I saw him cheating again, I’d do the same. I’m sure he will complain at the office, so I wrote up a full report, took photographs of the board instructions (which clearly label what “cheating” means) and informed my head teacher (R.) and the teacher trainer (Max). With all the work it took me, it would have been much easier to let him just cheat! I stood my ground when the kid protested after class, but it made me sick to my stomach to do. Honestly, if he has started with an apology instead of a demand, I might have given him a second chance. I guess we will never know. This is not the fun part of teaching.

Today was payday, but we’ve been paid late the last two months. I was covering a class for someone else, but no students showed up. That happens on a Friday night, especially since they just had a test yesterday and knew there would be substitute teacher (me!). You have to wait 35 minutes, inform the office of the situation, THEN email your head teacher. So it was almost 8pm before I left the school. At that point they still didn’t know if they would be paying that night. The branch manager was still out “getting the money.” No one was sure if he’s be back tonight or tomorrow. So I went home rather than wait around for what was probably nothing. But according to R., everyone who was still there at 10p got paid. Now it will probably be Monday before I see any money. <sigh>