Lest you think that a predominately Muslim country shuns alcohol, let me assure you otherwise. The Bosphorus Brewing Company is a bit of a hike from the school, but two handsome gentleman, fellow teachers, accompanied me. It’s a nice pub atmosphere and they had lots of beers available. Alex (who holds both a US and UK passport) discovered the place and served as our guide. Gabe (from the US and married to a lovely and brilliant Turkish woman) is a more experienced teacher here in Istanbul and we all hope he will be the next head teacher in our branch after Robert leaves in October.
I had two wheat beers that went straight to my head. The gentlemen each had something on tap. We shared some tasty snacks: Red Pepper Dip Sauce and Spicy potato chips. It’s a bit pricy on a teacher’s pay, so this is strictly a special occasion joint. But a lovely time was had by all.
I am typing on my laptop and glad that the battery is charged. When you live in a foreign country, you quickly learn to keep your electronics charged and figure out where candles and flashlights are. We are in a power outage. No idea how long it will last (it was only an hour). These things usually don’t last long, but could last days. I don’t mind not having light, but I quickly miss internet access. I can, at least, check email on my smart phone.
Trudy and I have just returned with several bags of fresh vegetables from the open market. Every community has a market day and in Avcilar (pronounced Av Ja Ler) it is Sunday. The market blocks the street and stretches over a mile, beginning a block and a half from our apartment. Absolutely beautiful produce, but also plants, kitchen items, eggs, cheese, bread, clothes and household things. We quickly decided to split the cost of most vegetables and fruit. Items are sold by the kilo and few stalls will split a kilo.
Buying clothes is a trip, since everything is in UK or European sizes—neither of which I understand. I had to do a Google search for my sizes and I keep a piece of paper in my wallet with them written down. In shoes I find I wear a size 40! This does not make me want to buy them. Honestly, I don’t enjoy clothes shopping, even in the best of conditions, so this makes it even worse. But I must replace things. I bought almost no clothing in Vietnam, except for socks, a silk nightgown and a silk robe. Nothing else would have fit me and besides the quality was too poor to consider a purchase. Here I have a better shot at things fitting and being of a quality I would pay for. Oddly enough, my first serious clothing purchase turned out to be bras. In a conservative Muslim country, it’s odd enough to buy lacy bras from a man. Odder still to buy them off table in an open market where the women are simply trying them on over their clothes. I hated it, but did exactly the same. How else can I know if they fit?
I tend to eat what is fresh and in season. Cherries are ripe now, so it is the fruit we eat every day. The peppers are beautiful, so all my dishes contain them. I tend to cook up a large portion of something and eat on it for four or five days at a time. I’ve also become accustomed to the Turkish custom of eating olives and white cheese for breakfast. We buy black olives by the kilo, which costs roughly 8TL (3 dollars, US).
Since the start of Ramazan a few days ago, I’ve been awakened at 2am by a drum. At first I thought I had imagined it. I’m a vivid dreamer and also typically able to go right back to sleep when awakened in the middle of the night. (In fact I love to wake up at 4am and tell myself, “Ah! I don’t have to get up yet!”) But last night, Trudy heard it too, so I’m not making it up. On my walk today, I saw a man with a large drum. Wish I spoke enough Turkish to ask him about it. Must remember to ask my students.
But later the mystery was solved. First, Trudy’s friend, Dilek, explained that the drum is to awaken the women at 2a so that they can prepare breakfast. Today a man in a fancy red vest carrying a drum knocked on the door. When I opened it, all I could understand was “para” which is the word for money. I said, “Yok Islam,” which is poor Turkish for “no Islam.” He then got testy and rubbed his fingers together in the universal symbol for money. I just shut the door. This probably won’t win me any awards with the neighborhood, but I have a difficult time paying to be awakened in the middle of the night.
Today I began a new level 3 class, daytime, Monday-Friday, 10a-2p. It is odd having a class that goes right through lunchtime. I have to bring a snack. But I eat the snack in the privacy of the teacher’s lounge, since so many of my students are fasting. This appears to be a wonderful group of about 14 students. Fortunately, they all seem to be at level, or at least close. I always start classes with a few exercises designed to let me know their vocabulary, and they did well with their first efforts. I had each introduce himself and no one stumbled. Then we reviewed all the verb tenses they should have learned in Levels 1 and 2. Success! I’m very excited with the class. The last week I’ve put in a strong effort to introduce a systematic vocabulary for each level, since this is decidedly lacking. I’ve already come up with dialogues, too, which gives reluctant students an opportunity to speak. It also builds familiarity with actual conversations and we always learn new vocabulary. So this class will be my most organized yet. I spend half of the four hour class in the book, then the other half with materials I’ve developed or found. I laid out a calendar of vocabulary lessons, dialogues, major activities, and even some of the warm-ups. I’m pretty excited about this. This could be my most successful yet. If I keep this up, I might be a pretty good teacher before I leave Turkey!
Not that it is likely to matter to English Time.
Based on recent changes, it’s highly unlikely that I would extend my stay here. Max, our teacher trainer who I’ve learned much from, was relieved of his duties last week. No one will fill his role. Our hourly system went electronic a few weeks ago, though none of us were given any information or training on it. The move went badly. The system simply stopped working late last week. Yesterday we were forwarded an email, ostensibly about work permits. Buried in paragraphs 4-5 was the announcement that we will soon go to a fingerprint system for check in and out of our classes. If we make any mistakes, we will not be paid. Finally, the head teacher position may also disappear. Starting next week, all teachers in Istanbul will be scheduled by a single person. Since there are over a dozen offices, some with35-40 teachers, this sounds like a disaster to me. Robert, my head teacher, has never been paid his “bonus” hours, promised to him and based on the productivity of his office. He’s decidedly unmotivated, as you might imagine. Robert leaves in October and you can see his interest waning with each passing day.
Great students; poor school. Sound familiar?
I often play games to reinforce vocabulary or speaking. Last weekend I played Taboo with my students to review things in a house and jobs. I wrote phrases for them to say to help. “This is a thing in a house.” “This is a job.” “This thing is found in (room). “ This person works in ______.” “You use this to ____.” One student got the word fork and he started off well, and then got confused. Finally, he said, “This is the wife of the spoon.” We all laughed, but got the word right.
The summer here seem to be cooler than Atlanta. It does climb to 90F occasionally, but usually stays in the 80’s. Despite this, body odor, at least in the men, is surprisingly strong. And I’m not talking about the beggars, either. These men are usually young, fashionable men who appear to have clean clothes and styled hair. Their shoes will shine and they may have the latest iPhone 6. But when they stand next to you on the bus, you are almost knocked over by the stench. Wow. I never find stinky women, though.
Planning an excursion west to Bucharest, Romania and Budapest, Hungary for next week. These are two new countries for me and I’m very excited. It’s (mostly) by train. If I’d had 2 more days I’d have gone on the Vienna, but I barely have a week and this vacation has caused an uproar, unfortunately
I scheduled the timing of this week off carefully. I put it on the calendar over a month ago, during a week no one else was off. I chose a time when my existing classes were finished and during Ramazan when I was assured no new classes would begin. When I found that we would be getting a new scheduler, Philip, I immediately emailed him about my time off and didn’t buy a ticket until he had responded that he agreed with it. So imagine my surprise when mid-day yesterday I get an email from Philip about a L1 class beginning the next day. I asked for the time of the class (he hadn’t specified) and asked how we would cover it during my week off. He didn’t reply to me, but it sparked a heated series of emails between Robert (my head teacher) and Philip, which Robert forwarded to me. The level 1 class was given to someone else, Philip had deemed me “stupid” for taking time off and that several teachers (including me) didn’t deserve to teach if we were going to “leave our posts.”
This new experiment in scheduling isn’t going to be fun. And it seems there’s a fingerprint system coming soon. Always something new. Not always good, though.
I mentioned that the trip next week is “mostly” by train. Seems the tracks from Istanbul to the border are being refurbished, so it’s a bus ride. An overnight bus ride, since I leave the Sirceki station at 10pm. Oh dear. This sounds horrible. Bringing earplugs and a scarf to double as a blanket. May consider eyeshades and a pillow–(though with carry-on luggage that could be a problem. I love traveling. It’s getting there that’s the problem.
I continue to work on my Turkish, but it is mostly just nouns and adjectives. I don’t quite understand verbs yet—and tenses and most pronouns are added as suffixes to the verbs. Wish I could take a class. Still, I looked up at a new sign on the bus this morning and realized I could read enough of it to understand what was meant. Today I bought something in the canteen and noticed the empty cash drawer. “Para yok gun!” (No money today) I’m coming along. I have a Turkish to English dictionary and often just sit and translate words off signs during long metro rides, IF I can get a seat. If not, I listen to books or my Pimsler Turkish.
My level 1 class finishes this weekend. Everyone so far has passed, save one. I SO hope I can teach their level 2 class. The young gentleman who will not pass (though I have no control over whether or not he is moved onto level 2) started off with such promise. But stopped showing up for class and his English seemed to disintegrate. By the final speaking exam he could not understand the questions I asked and simply starting saying all the English words he knew. “What are you going to do this week?” “Ah….sofa….chair….cinema…mother…sister….” Oh dear.
Another issue with speaking questions is that they can be interpreted in more than one way. I have to show a photo of an attractive woman in an office, speaking on a telephone. I ask, “Where is the woman?” One student replied. “Well, she’s right there in the picture, of course!” He got full marks. Another question on the same photo is, “Describe how she may feel.” One 20-something man seemed surprised. “Teacher? Again?” So I repeated the question. He said, “Boobies. Soft!” Then he cupped his hands and flexed his fingers in an unmistakable gesture. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.
And then there is the occasional poet in my class. Sahin always asks several ways to say a phrase. He’s my best student in the Level 2 class that just finished. It turns out he was looking for “the most beautiful way” to say something.
I adore my new Level 3 students that started with me this past week. Feeling guilty that they will have a sub for 3 days.
Today, I took a cruise from the mouth of the Golden Horn’s Galata Bridge down the Bosphorus. It was just a two hour cruise, so we did not go all the way to the Black Sea. This strait divides the city of Istanbul as well as the continents of Asia and Europe. The water flows from the Sea of Marmara (and the Mediterranean) to the Black Sea. I wish this had been a narrated cruise, but I have a good guidebook, so knew most of what I was seeing.
Today I had a rare day off and decided to visit the Dolmabahçe (DOL MA BA CHAY) Palace, the last Ottoman Palace constructed. It is a mix of styles and frankly too opulent for it’s own good. It reminded me of a “small” man buying a fancy Lamborghini to impress the ladies, and doing so on credit. This isn’t far off the mark, either, since the Ottoman Empire was in decline when this palace was built and much of the money was borrowed.
I couldn’t take photos inside, so these are all taken outside the buildings. The palace has belonged to the state since 1924 and is now a museum. The cost to tour both the palace and the harem is 40 Turkish Lira (about $18US). The English tour guide for the palace spoke so poorly and with such a thick accent, I have no idea what he said–and I’m typically very good with accents. The guide for the haram was quite good and easy to understand.
The most amazing thing for me was the crystal staircase. It stunned visitors from the first. It is made of Baccarat Crystal and brass, with a polished mahogany rail. I was in awe of the numerous crystal chandeliers–every room seemed to have one or more. Just keeping them clean would have taken a small army! The Ceremonial Hall with its domed ceiling has (reportedly) the world’s heaviest chandelier, an estimated 4 tons. All the window treatments were rich and varied. The parquet floors were covered by lavish silk carpets. Even the doorknobs and keyhole covers were ornate, hand painted porcelain. But the mish-mash of styles and over-abundance of gold leaf was too much for me–like someone trying too hard. Lavish, but unlivable.
The following are NOT my photos. All are licensed by Wikimedia Commons. I use them since I could not take photos and I want you to see some the inside palace.
Only part of the spine (spina) of the old Roman Hippodrome remains in Istanbul. It was in disrepair when the Ottoman Turks invaded the city in 1452, and allowed to fall into ruins after, though there are a few painting showing the Ottomans using the structure. The Hippodrome was the “circus,” a gigantic stadium for chariot racing and other sporting events. It was also the center of society in Constantinople. Originally laid out by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, in the 3rd century, it was enlarged by Constantine to hold 100,000 people.
What remains is now called the Sultanahmet Meydanı(Sultan Ahmet Square) and is a park. In fact, much of the hippodrome was destroyed, along with the palaces of some Ottoman dignitaries, in the 17th century to build the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known to tourist as The Blue Mosque. The road ringing this elongated park follows the path the chariots took during a race.
My guidebook add: “Conspicuous by its absence is the column which once stood on the spot where the tourist information office is now located. This was topped by four bronze horses which were pillaged during the Fourth Crusades…and taken to St. Mark’s in Venice.” I managed to see these when I was in Venice!
Below are some of the treasures located on the square. Most were moved here (i.e stolen) from other locations.
The Archaeology museum is located nearby. I plan to visit very soon!