Indian Summer in Istanbul

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I’ve had a lot of free time, so I’ve been walking a lot. Atakoy is the next neighborhood across the E5 and the flowers have been particularly lovely in the cool, but sunny weather. There’s a surprising number of roses (gul). It’s been my favorite weather so far. Yesterday, the rain moved in and it looks like more on the way. That will likely ruin the blooms, but I took a few photos to remember them by.IMG_0654 IMG_0649 IMG_0653

The Cats of Istanbul

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They run wild and you see them everywhere. These are photos from a single walk of about an hour in length. I saw several more cats than these.

This one is licking some ice cream I gave him--and waiting for more.
This one is licking some ice cream I gave him–and waiting for more.
I like the cat houses I see outside some businesses.
I like the cat houses I see outside some businesses.
Playing in the sunshine. These cats are often fed--you see cat food one the street, usually just poured in a pile on the sidewalk. There are also water bowls. When you see a stray dog, it will have a tag in it's ear, indicating it's been spayed/neutered. There isn't a program for cats.
Playing in the sunshine. These cats are often well fed–you see cat food on the street, usually just poured in a pile on the sidewalk. There are also water bowls. When you see a stray dog, it will have a tag in it’s ear, indicating it’s been spayed/neutered. There isn’t a program for cats.
Love the calicoes. Most are surprisingly healthy looking, though this one was a bit rough.
Love the calicoes. Most are surprisingly healthy looking, though this one was a bit rough.
It's a cat house! I can't read all the Turkish, but "ev hayvanlar" means "animal's home."
It’s a cat house! I can’t read all the Turkish, but “ev hayvanlar” means “animal’s home.”
Burak, my Turkish friend who has been so good to me.
Burak, my Turkish friend who has been so good to me.
My friend and fellow teacher, Alex.
My friend and fellow teacher, Alex.
I've learned that a red license plate means a government car.
I’ve learned that a red license plate means a government car.

A day of mixed blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 dead in suicide bombing

Friday prayers in the medan (public square)
Friday prayers in the medan (public square)
Friday prayers in the medan (public square)
Friday prayers in the medan (public square)

10/14/2015
My depression is lifting. I won’t say I’m completely over it, but I have accepted my situation here and–as long as I’m paid and treated fairly–plan to stay in Istanbul long enough to finish my contract. My friends have asked if I’m safe here and it’s a valid question. The recent suicide bombing in the capital city of Ankora is very unsettling. While that was many miles away and they weren’t targeting foreigners, it doesn’t make me want to extend my time here. I stay away from crowds and demonstrations as much as possible. But I’ve come to the conclusion that nowhere is safe. Hence the depression.

I’m sure all teachers find that their students are at different levels. A class that finished today was an especially difficult one in this respect. I had two students who were really superior. While it wouldn’t be easy, I think you could drop them in NYC and in two months, they’d be fluent English speakers. That’s quite an achievement for a level 3 student. I also had a student in the same class get a zero on a speaking exam. The exam is simple enough. I just ask two questions. The first was “Tell me about your city.” I’d given them a list of the possible questions and we’d practiced them many times, but she rarely came to class. She couldn’t even understand the question. I asked it 5 times. The same student hadn’t taken her Grammar exam (which is past due). I let her take it but I don’t know why she bothered. She got a 27%. On a multiple choice test, that’s barely above the probability of chance! If you aren’t going to attend class or do the homework, why bother? Clearly, I don’t understand. I suspect I find the situation more depressing than she does. I had another student in this same class who always came, but spent all his time on his phone. He didn’t do the assignments in class, didn’t do homework, didn’t listen or engage at all. When I’d call of him, I’d have to tell him what page and exercise we were doing. Why come? These classes aren’t cheap, either.

My dear friend, Burak, is an Emlak--a real estate agent. He works too much. We are here having tea, but his phone rings all the time. Poor man.
My dear friend, Burak, is an Emlak–a real estate agent. He works too much. We are here having tea, but his phone rings all the time. Poor man.
Akakoy sky.
Akakoy sky.

The cooler weather is so nice. Fall is finally here. We’ve had a lot of rain and I got completely soaked coming home from class the other evening. A hot shower after really felt good! Unfortunately, my Roommate, Monique, isn’t feeling well. She has a cold, but I could see last night that it really hit her hard. She went to school this morning, so I hope she feels better. Most or her students are 8year olds, and I’m sure she needs extra energy to deal with them. She says she has a “biter” in one class. That makes my students look a lot better.

Have I mentioned that pedestrians don’t have right of way here in Turkey? The other day I saw an elderly man get his foot run over by a driver. The car stopped right on top of the man’s foot and it took some screaming to get him to move a few inches off of the guy. The older man dropped to the ground in pain and the driver took off. Disgraceful.

Pizza is fairly easy to find in Istanbul. Good pizza, however, isn't. This is from My Secret Cafe, the best pizza I've tasted since leaving the US.
Pizza is fairly easy to find in Istanbul. Good pizza, however, isn’t. This is from My Secret Cafe, the best pizza I’ve tasted since leaving the US.
There are lots of chestnut vendors out on the streets of Istanbul. In the popular tourist districts like Sultanahmet and Taksim they need a license and get standardized red-white carts from the district authorities. In other districts jobless men make their own carts and start selling the popular snack in the working class neighborhoods of Istanbul.
There are lots of chestnut vendors out on the streets of Istanbul. In the popular tourist districts like Sultanahmet and Taksim they need a license and get standardized red-white carts from the district authorities. In other districts jobless men make their own carts and start selling the popular snack in the working class neighborhoods of Istanbul.

From the Consulate:
Embassy of the United States of America Ankara, Turkey October 16, 2015
Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Restriction on Pre-Election Gathering:
U.S. Embassy Ankara advises U.S. citizens that effective immediately, all official U.S. government employees and their dependents are directed to avoid any political demonstrations, rallies and large gatherings throughout Turkey until further notice. Terrorist attacks, such as the suicide bombings on October 10 in a central Ankara public plaza that killed approximately 100 people and injured upwards of 200, can occur without warning.

U.S. citizens should avoid the site of the October 10 suicide bombing, near the Ankara Train Station in Ulus. Crowds and traffic congestion are expected all day Saturday, October 17.

U.S. citizens in Turkey are reminded of the importance of maintaining security vigilance. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.

More of a snack than a meal, midye dolma is none other than mussels on the half shell, mixed with spicy rice and served with a squeeze of lemon juice, served right out of a tray on every other street corner in Taksim at night. The trick with midye dolma is to keep eating as many as the seller gives you until you feel half-full and then stop. Otherwise, by the time the rice expands in your stomach and your brain receives the message that you’re full, you might look down to find that you’ve spent upwards of 20 TL – and worse, you just might start to feel too full.
More of a snack than a meal, midye dolma is none other than mussels on the half shell, mixed with spicy rice and served with a squeeze of lemon juice, served right out of a tray on every other street corner in Taksim at night. The trick with midye dolma is to keep eating as many as the seller gives you until you feel half-full and then stop. Otherwise, by the time the rice expands in your stomach and your brain receives the message that you’re full, you might look down to find that you’ve spent upwards of 20 TL – and worse, you just might start to feel too full.

Holiday break: Feast of the Sacrifice

Stray cats everywhere in Istanbul. These are in the cemetery. As you can see, people set out food and water for them. Notice the date on the grave: 1305!
Stray cats everywhere in Istanbul. These are in the cemetery. As you can see, people set out food and water for them. Notice the date on the grave: 1305!

9/26/2015
I am catching up on things during the Bayram holiday. It coincides with the beginning of Fall. I have five days and have been cleaning, answering emails and sorting photos. I still have lesson plans to do, but I feel more organized. And now, I’ll catch up on my journaling.

I took Stephanie to the Grand Bazaar. That's her in front with the blue shirt. This is one of the the entrances.
I took Stephanie to the Grand Bazaar. That’s her in front with the blue shirt. This is one of the the entrances.

First, this is a special religious holiday. In English it is the Feast of the Sacrifice.
I had images of calves and sheep being slaughtered in the streets, but that just doesn’t happen anymore—at least not in a big city like Istanbul. Maybe outside the city, though. Being a farm girl, I know where my meat comes from, so I can’t say anything negative about slaughtering animals. I’m not crazy about doing it, but I’m not a vegetarian, so I can’t complain. And, traditionally, a third of the meat is given to the poor.

Wednesday was the first full day of the holiday. Alex and I took two new teachers, Stephanie and Teresa, to see the Hagia Sophia. I had really looked forward to the audio tour, but it didn’t work and they wouldn’t give me my money back. Horrible. But I had a good time walking them around to the big sites in the old town. I hope they learned a few things and I didn’t bore them too much. I love playing tour guide!

Alex and I took Stephanie and Teresa (new English Time teachers) to the Hagia Sophia. It is getting some much needed attention, so there's lots of scaffolding.
Alex and I took Stephanie and Teresa (new English Time teachers) to the Hagia Sophia. It is getting some much needed attention, so there’s lots of scaffolding.

Yesterday, three of my level 1 students from Avcilar took me out and we had a great time. I’ve posted photos.

On the 15th, we were paid, but I didn’t get my money for the hours at Avcilar. Seems the person who bought Sirinevler bought a few other branches, but not Avcilar. I’m surprised that they let me teach at both, but I’ve already been told I won’t get to teach another at a different branch. Easier on me, but I will miss these students. When I got there Saturday, I was paid for all the money I had disputed—a real relief. It means I am still planning to stay through the end of my contract. But there are others who have not been paid and I’m keeping an eye on the situation.

From the fourth story window of the English Time school in Avcilar. It's a nice shopping area.
From the fourth story window of the English Time school in Avcilar. It’s a nice shopping area.
This is looking down into the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. This is from the fourth story window of the English Time school. I love street performers.
This is looking down into the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. This is from the fourth story window of the English Time school. I love street performers.

And my Level 1 students played Taboo with English words that day. They breezed through the Level 1 words, and I had to go to the Level 3 words to give them a challenge. Yeah! Best students on the planet!

The new owner is doing some remodeling at Sirinevler. All the signs and tiles in the suspended ceiling came down Monday and Tuesday. Looks like they plan to paint, which will make the school look better. I hope that is good news, but the place was a total mess and it was difficult to run classes with all the noise and disruption. Not that I’m an expert, but it seems to me that a new owner would only invest in the appearance of the school if he wanted to 1). Make things better or 2) Sell the school. I guess we will see if there are any substantial capital investments, like electronics; new furniture; improved heating and air conditioning; upgraded media room and computers. We will see. The latest Turkish office manager is great–Meylin speaks some English and used to work at Avcilar. Big improvement for the English teachers.

Kumpir is my new comfort food in Istanbul. This guy makes them about a block from my apartment. He speaks fair English, too. Kumpir is a stuffed baked potato.
Kumpir is my new comfort food in Istanbul. This guy makes them about a block from my apartment. He speaks fair English, too. Kumpir is a stuffed baked potato.
These are some of the toppings. Naturally, I like everything, so have them all added.
These are some of the toppings. Naturally, I like everything, so have them all added.
This is the final result--and over stuffed baked potato. It's yummy, and more than a meal.
This is the final result: an over-stuffed baked potato. It’s yummy, and more than a meal.

Robert, our head teacher, had trouble getting back into the country this past weekend. He had been in France with his wife seeing friends for four days. (as an aside, he brought me a bottle of really nice wine as a thank you for filling in for him as head teacher! Yum!) They wouldn’t accept his US passport or the paperwork that indicated his residence permit was applied for. But he could come in on his Australian passport. Dual citizenship has privileges. And guess what he got on Monday? His work permit! He’s leaving in less than a month and he finally gets his work permit. It’s crazy. I have a residence card, but no work permit.

Avcilar MetroBus taken from the pedestrian bridge.
Avcilar MetroBus taken from the pedestrian bridge.
You see lots of begging, particularly in the Metro areas. The sign translates as "helpless." And it's hard to know who is and who isn't. Usually, the children fan out and beg separately. They also run wild and unsupervised on the buses, since they can ride for free. Avcilar MetroBus pedestrian bridge.
You see lots of begging, particularly in the Metro areas. The sign translates as “helpless.” And it’s hard to know who is and who isn’t. Usually, the children fan out and beg separately. They also run wild and unsupervised on the buses, since they can ride for free. Avcilar MetroBus pedestrian bridge.
The E5, taken as dusk from the Avcilar MetroBus pedestrian bridge.
The E5, taken as dusk from the Avcilar MetroBus pedestrian bridge.
The entrance to the Avcilar shopping area has a statue of Ataturk.
The entrance to the Avcilar shopping area has a statue of Ataturk.