New adventures?

Just before this band started to play, there were a group of women walking up and down the blocks, carrying posters with the faces of their children, presumed dead. Some have been gone over a decade--all are Kurds, caught up in the crack down of this minority by the most recent administration. Most of the children were teenagers who participated in a peaceful protest. Police dragged many of them from their homes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Just before this band started to play, there were a group of women walking up and down the blocks, carrying posters with the faces of their children, presumed dead. Some have been gone over a decade–all are Kurds, caught up in the crack down of this minority by the most recent administration. Most of the children were teenagers who participated in a peaceful protest. Police dragged many of them from their homes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

10/26/2015
I’m developing a new way to choose which countries to live in. It’s the language. Not “can I figure it out” or “will this language be helpful for me in the future.” No, it’s the sound of things. When you live in a country where your home language isn’t spoken, you must listen to countless hours of the native language without knowing what is being said. You’ll be in line at the grocery, post office, airport and overhear conversations. You will be following some chatty old women in the market square or bragging young men on the metro. You will not know for a very long time what is being said. If you are lucky, you can catch a few words, newly acquired. Even when you are studying as hard as your mind will let you, it takes a while to tune your ear to the music of the language. And here’s the catch: It needs to sound like music to you. If it just sounds like clashing, guttural emissions, you are in for a horrible stay. The sound of people talking should not grate on your nerves. Life is difficult enough in a foreign country. You will be lost most of the time. When you think you understand you will often find later that you were totally clueless. You learn the true mending of “ignorance is bliss.” To live in another culture is to live in the dark. I can only liken it to losing one of your senses, but by choice. And if only twice a week you question your sanity, I’d say you’re doing well. Just don’t make it worse by choosing a language you hate the sound of.

Oh, and bacon. I’m not living in another country that doesn’t serve pork. While in Belgrade (honest, I’ll post pictures very soon) last week, I ate pork every meal and my dear friend Kathy brought me three boxes of shelf stable bacon. I’m having a couple pieces every day. Heaven!

This is a traditional band playing on the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. My students wanted me to hear them and they were very good. This is just outside the school branch in Avcilar, which I teach at on weekends.
This is a traditional band playing on the pedestrian mall of Avcilar. My students wanted me to hear them and they were very good. This is just outside the school branch in Avcilar, which I teach at on weekends.

Seriously, I’m looking at what to do with my time once my teaching contract is up in February. I don’t want to take another job right away because I plan to hike The Camino in April. Basically, I need a place to stay and I’m willing to work for it. If food is also provided, that’d be a bonus. I’m more likely to go to a country I can’t teach in, such as an EU country and I don’t want to get too far from the start of the Camino in Spain, just because of costs. Possibilities I’m investigating include: house/animal sitting (I’ve signed up with Trusted House Sitters and checking out availability); WWOOFing—world wide opportunities on organic farms (I’d really love to learn to make cheese or work with fruit trees) and Volunteer positions (there’s a potential farm in Bulgaria I’ve contacted). And while I expect I’ll take another teaching job when I get off the Camino, I have applied for a cruise ship job as staff. You never know what I’ll do!

Selling boiled corn on the square in Sirinevler. These are often roasted, too. Misir is the Turkish word for "corn" but also Egypt.
Selling boiled corn on the square in Sirinevler. These are often roasted, too. Misir is the Turkish word for “corn” but also “Egypt.”
These are just 1TL a piece, about 35 Cents. You can see that it is beginning to get cool here in Istanbul.
These are just 1TL a piece, about 35 Cents. You can see that it is beginning to get cool here in Istanbul.

Roommates and refrigerators

Level 1 Students from Sirinevler.
Level 1 Students from Sirinevler.

8/30/2015
My Avcilar students are taking the Grammar Exam as I write this. It’s probably the toughest exam of Level 1–tougher than I would have made it. I spent all class yesterday reviewing and even wrote a quiz that was as much like the exam as I could make it. They didn’t do well on the quiz and I think it scared them. They kept asking if the exam was less difficult than the quiz. It’s not. I expect low grades. But the good news is that there are three more sections and we review everything we learned three more times so they really get it.

It’s always something, isn’t it? Over the weekend the refrigerator died. According to Rashawn, it’s been fixed a few times. Sounds like we need a new one, but I honestly don’t see how anyone will get it up the stairs. They are narrow, circular marble stairs. Good thing we are only on the second floor.

But I’m a bit worried about the fourth roommate. It’s a four bedroom flat, and Katt’s job is to keep it filled, so she’s been showing it. But the last potential roommate is only 15 years old! He’s from Egypt and he simply can’t stay in his country–he’s targeted by the police as many young men are if they protest, or even look in the wrong direction. Some of his friends are in jail. But he’s not an adult. You can say all you want about how responsible he is, but even a responsible 15 year old needs boundaries, limits and rules. His parents, who should be providing this, will be miles away. As the oldest in the apartment it’s easy for everyone to assume I will take him under my wing. But I don’t want to play housemother for someone I don’t know and have no actual authority over or interest in. I’ve voiced my opinion to Katt, but it’s her decision, not mine. She is acting like this will not be a problem and says he can take care of himself. I say that may be true, but she just met him so she doesn’t know how he is. Unfortunately she doesn’t live there and I do. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about this. I’m not succeeding so far.

The changes are so fast at English Time, I can’t keep up. The head offices moved last week and we were told there would be no central scheduling. Central scheduling seems to be back and poorer than ever. It’s afternoon on Sunday and I’ve not seen my schedule, which starts in the morning. It may or may not include a brand new Level 3 class at 10am. Good thing I’ve taught the class before and have at least the first two days mostly planned. And now we are no longer sure WHO owns the Sirinevler branch where I work. The info we had on a new owner may have been misinformation or the deal may have fallen through. I am in the dark all the time.

Everywhere you go, you have tea in Turkey. I thought this tea glass so beautiful.
Everywhere you go, you have tea in Turkey. I thought this tea glass so beautiful.

This morning I was asked for the hundredth time if I’d consider being Head Teacher at Sirinevler. Kate may get moved to another branch. Since communication is so poor, I don’t think I could do it and keep my blood pressure low. I’d be just as clueless with the added issue of people I’m responsible for asking me questions. It doesn’t pay better, the hours suck, there’s lots of paperwork and the frustration seems high. Besides, I like to teach.
Heard from Shelley, she’s made it back safely to Canada. I will miss her.

8/31/2015
Good news on the 15 year old roommate. First he did move in, which really concerned me. I would never be mean to him, but I didn’t want to be responsible for him either. I felt this had disaster written all over it. But he is moving out tomorrow. He and his mother have found a school in London. He will live with his mom, which has to be a better situation for him. Of course I expect the father will stay in Egypt, so that’s bad. I’m really sympathetic to the kid, but I am not in a position to be his guardian.

When I look back over my life, I realize there were so many issues like the one above that really concerned me—but at least half never amounted to anything. Maybe more than half. Wouldn’t it be great if we knew ahead of time which things would be REAL problems and which we should just wait out? I waste so much energy on things that turn out not to matter.
New and working refrigerator tonight! Yeah!

Fresh flat bread is often served with a meal--and the salads are always fresh.
Fresh flat bread is often served with a meal–and the salads are always fresh.

9/4/2015
I’m interviewed in this podcast from about 2 years ago. It’s now free on iTunes. Things have really changed since I gave this interview.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/beth-robinette-blogger-case/id1021451073?i=350482185&mt=2

My roommates continue to be great! Feeling blessed in this area. And the landlord finally fixed the toilet. It’s my day off and I’ve done laundry, cleaned house and have my weekend lesson plans finished.

My English Time branch got a new Turkish manager. She speaks almost no English, but she seems more friendly than the last guy. She insisted that we clean up the Teacher’s room, which is fair. But we’ve asked for chairs and computers that are not broken! Fingers crossed.

Got a note from my placement agency–I’ve kept them informed about the issues here at English Time. They let me know that they will not place any teachers with English Time until they fix their payment issues. Since 80% of their teachers (and almost 100% of their native speakers) come from Oxford Seminars, let’s hope that means ET will clean up their act quickly. In the meantime, there is talk of a walkout with our students if we are paid late again. I was paid 2 days late, but many others were paid more than a week late.

Through a mutual Turkish friend, I’ve met a woman who needs private English tutoring. In exchange, she and her father are going to help me with Turkish. AND I get to eat at their restaurant for free! Seems like a deal to me.

My new student--lovely, funny and a good teacher, too.
My new student–lovely, funny and a good teacher, too.

I’ve been teaching double classes for 5 days straight and am tired. It starts again tomorrow, but one of my classes finishes next week. That should give me an easier schedule. I wanted to sleep-in this morning, but my head teacher called and asked me to work. I said I couldn’t–if I don’t get some rest, I’ll be calling in sick.

Travel to eastern Turkey is not recommended now due to expected violence. Nothing happening in Istanbul, but I’m keeping my ear and eyes open. Concerned about my friend Gabe who just moved to Diyarbakir. He’s not responded to my last email.

From the US Consulate:
“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Turkey that the U.S. Consulate in Adana has authorized the voluntary departure of family members out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.
On September 2, the Department of State permitted the departure of U.S. government family members from the U.S. Consulate in Adana, Turkey. U.S. citizens seeking to depart southern Turkey are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations; however, commercial flights are readily available and airports are functioning normally. The U.S. Consulate in Adana will continue to operate normally and provide consular services to U.S. citizens.
U.S. government employees continue to be subject to travel restrictions in southeastern Turkey. They must obtain advance approval prior to official or unofficial travel to the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig. The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens avoid areas in close proximity to the Syrian border.
U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Turkey should be alert to the potential for violence. In the recent past, terrorists have conducted attacks on U.S. interests in Turkey, as well as at sites frequented by foreign tourists. We strongly urge U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”

Often I buy something without knowing exactly what it is. Usually it works out. This drink was dark red and I hoped it was black cherry or berry. I was wrong. It tasted salty, bitter and horrible. I finally found a translation--wild, fermented black carrot. Never again.
Often I buy something without knowing exactly what it is. Usually it works out. This drink was dark red and I hoped it was black cherry or berry. I was wrong. It tasted salty, bitter and horrible. I finally found a translation–wild, fermented black carrot. Never again.

Today’s Quote, from FB “Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” – ~Mary Anne Radmacher

Moving. Again.

The fancy part of Istanbul has boats and money.
The fancy part of Istanbul has boats and money.

5/25/2015
Seen today on the internet:

There is a humble dignity in peeling paint
Wrinkled skin
Greying hair
and old worn shoes

5/27/2015
Trudy’s weight loss is pretty phenomenal and inspiring. She credits all the walking in Turkey (there are stairs everywhere) and the lack of junk food. The snack items are pretty healthy, mostly dried fruit, nuts and seats. Also lamacun (pronounced LA MAH JUNE) which is Turkey’s answer to fast food. It’s basically a flat-bread pizza. You add spices, fresh veggies and spritz of lemon juice then roll it up to eat. Pretty healthy compared to McDonald’s. I also think Trudy isn’t comfort eating. Of course, I’ve not dropped a pound.

The E5 is the major highway in my area. The MetroBuses run in the middle--where the median would be in the states. It is very busy 24 hours a day. Originally this road was part of the Silk Road.
The E5 is the major highway in my area. The MetroBuses run in the middle–where the median would be in the states. It is very busy 24 hours a day. Originally this road was part of the Silk Road.

Istanbul’s traffic is pretty bad. It’s not CAIRO bad, but very busy. The roads are in good shape and I’m grateful for the extensive public transportation system, which they continue to expand–half the system was built since my 2008 visit, so it’s new, too. However, the stated population of Istanbul (17-20 million, depending on who you ask) is a low-ball estimate. There may be 30 million people here. No system can keep up! The metro buses and trams are standing room only, at best and sardine cans, at worst. Yet, the buses and trams come every few minutes. The constant road noise outside my window is beginning to grate on my nerves–another reason to move. And because there is no air conditioning in Istanbul, I must have my windows open in the summer. The new apartment is a few blocks off the highway, while the current one is right above it. The view of the new place isn’t much, but it will be quieter. Everything is a trade-off.

English Time isn’t perfect–in fact we are getting regular emails and verbal admonishments about how we must not say negative things about the curriculum to the students, nor mention that our pay was late. I was called into the office this week and questioned by the business manager (Through an interpreter since the staff doesn’t speak English. Go figure.) He asked about what I had said to my students on these matters. I simply told him that my students sat me down and complained about the book and asked if I could use more supplemental materials, similar to what I’ve used in their last hour each day. Or was there another book we could use? They also asked me if I had been paid on time. I told the students the truth about my pay and that the problem with using alternate materials was that 1. the school wanted me to use the English Time curriculum 2. I wasn’t paid for preparation time and 3. I was very limited in the number of copies I could make each day. The manager was appalled! WHY would I say that copies were limited? Because they are. Why would I admit that I had been paid late? Because that‘s the truth. Should I lie? And I suggested that if the school did not want to be known as a place that paid late, then they should pay on time. Then he said that I should have told my Head Teacher (Robert) about this conversation with the students. He was in the room and he agreed that I had discussed it with him, as well as the Training Manager (Max) and the ET Head Business manager (Richard) in Taksim.

I had told the correct people. I reminded the business manager that I did not get paid for time I spent reporting issues or for finding supplemental materials to keep my students happy, so I felt that I had gone above and beyond what I had to do.

I don’t actually know what caused this line of questioning–the business manager has lied on other occasions and the translator isn’t so trustworthy either. BUT they told me that one of my students had posted to social media that the curriculum was poor, teachers could not easily supplement with copied materials, and that pay was slow in coming. I said that it sounded like the student had given his opinion and that since this was a free country that was his right. The business manager said that recently there had been other posts like this to social media. I suggested that it sounded like the school had a problem and it would be a good idea to improve. The business manager said that there were improvements in progress in the curriculum. I said that I had just asked this of the training manager and head office and they had already told me that no improvements were in progress. That’s when I was summarily thanked for my (wasted and unpaid for) time and let me go to my class.

So, no, ET isn’t perfect. Suspect it is run by 3rd graders. But it’s still better than Vietnam. And I don’t think that it’s better in another Turkey school. Or anywhere else in the world. THIS IS THE WAY IT IS.

The reason I can stay fairly cool and calm in a meeting like the above is because I have a legal resident card, money in the bank and the support of amazing friends. You can’t imagine what confidence it gives a person. But it’s great!

In front of Metro stops is a good place for street sellers. Lately, there have been lots of baby chicks and ducks for sale. Even some rabbits. I'm pretty sure they are not pets.
In front of Metro stops is a good place for street sellers. Lately, there have been lots of baby chicks and ducks for sale. Even some rabbits. I’m pretty sure they are not pets.
Another thing sold in front of Metro gates is mussels. They are stuffed with rice and baked, People usually buy two at a time and eat them standing right there. You open one and the seller squeezes fresh lemon on top and you use the top of the shell as a scoop to put it in your mouth. Tasty.
Another thing sold in front of Metro gates is mussels. They are stuffed with rice and baked, People usually buy two at a time and eat them standing right there. You open one and the seller squeezes fresh lemon on top and you use the top of the shell as a scoop to put it in your mouth. Tasty.

I’m thrilled that my dear friend Kathy from NY will consider hiking the Camino with me! I’d love a companion for a change and spring 2016 is great for us both. I want to do the French Way which is about 500 miles, though we plan to skip the first three days or so and the mountains of the Pyrenees. I’ve probably hiked enough mountains for a lifetime! Besides, spring in the mountains means unreliable weather. I have just finished reading two books on the Camino, but they are not exactly guidebooks. I bought them because I could get ebooks. I need to get a guidebook, and prefer a printed one, but delivery here in Turkey is very iffy. Not quite figured this part out yet. You ONLY need to do the last 100km to get the compostela.

5/29/2015
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.   ~Hans Hofmann

FINALLY we were able to get cable internet into the new apartment. The installation crew missed TWO appointments and were supposed to come back Friday, but on Thursday I get a call from Serkan and he asked me to drop everything and run to the apartment right then. I’m sure he would have preferred to call Trudy, but she doesn’t have a phone and I do. While I hate last minute things like this, I really need internet, so I ran. It was an hour before they actually came, but I had bought several items for the kitchen earlier in the day (obviously “furnished” didn’t include a single kitchen item, nor a bed in my room. grrrrrrr) and I spent the time washing dishes and cleaning.

The crew arrived and Serkan followed shortly after. But the apartment wasn’t internet/phone/cable ready. They told me to hire an electrician to take the cable from the street to the apartment. They absolutely couldn’t do this. But of course, after some negotiations (which required lots of translation) it was clear they could do it: for a price. I ended up paying 100TL, money the landlords should have paid since we were assured it was internet ready. THEN we had to walk 25 minutes to the Turk Telecom office for the router, wait almost an hour for the guy to hand it to us but was on a break, walk 25 minutes back and install the router ourselves. Fortunately, I got a Turkish lesson also, so it wasn’t a total loss. So glad to have this done but it took up my entire day, mostly just waiting around.

This is the Turkish version of Home Depot. Trudy and I needed to do some shopping for kitchen items so I met her after her class.
This is the Turkish version of Home Depot. Trudy and I needed to do some shopping for kitchen items so I met her after her class.
This is inside the Turkish Home Depot. They wear the orange aprons and everything! Trudy and I bought a large toaster oven. We had no oven and no microwave, so really needed it. Not fun getting it home on the Metro, tho!
This is inside the Turkish Home Depot. They wear the orange aprons and everything! Trudy and I bought a large toaster oven. We had no oven and no microwave, so really needed it. Not fun getting it home on the Metro, tho!

Trudy hasn’t moved into the apartment. It’s Friday morning. We’ve had a key to the place since Monday and I know she wants to leave the flat she is in.  The apartment has a bed (in her room, not mine), running water, electricity, working gas burners (called cookers here. Not an oven, though) and refrigerator. As of last night it had internet. Because no one has no one been there, the landlords haven’t fixed the door to the washer and a few other small items. In Turkey, it’s illegal for the landlord to have a key to your apartment! That’s pretty shocking to me and I didn’t realize it until yesterday.

Of course my paranoia is kicking in: Has she changed her mind about moving? Does she want to move but not with me? I’ve not known her long, so I can’t know her habits.

As an aside: I’m beginning to think my cleanliness standards are simply too high. Unreasonable, even. I end up cleaning after every single roommate I have. You’d think someone who could live in a tent for 4.5 months wouldn’t have high standards at all. But maybe I need to loosen up. Other people don’t seem to get sick and die from dirty dishes, un-swept floors and mold in the shower. Going to try not to clean up after this roomie.

Shelley took me on the speed ferry to do some shopping. Every neighborhood has its own personality, but they all have places to stop and have tea. Notice the tulip shaped glass on a saucer. That's how all tea is served here.
Shelley took me on the speed ferry to do some shopping. Every neighborhood has its own personality, but they all have places to stop and have tea. Notice the tulip shaped glass on a saucer. That’s how all tea is served here.
Waiting for the speed ferry.
Waiting for the speed ferry.

Technically I have about three weeks to move out of the current apartment. There’s plenty of time (despite the email from the landlord asking WHEN I was leaving). But I agreed to live in this apartment with Trudy before I’d actually seen it. Yes, I know, I should not have done this. I know better and take full responsibility for my actions. Because of this. I didn’t realize that I’d need a bed and that there were no kitchen items. And other items have cropped up. When we went to go see the apartment the first time, I though we were just going to pick up the keys. But Trudy hadn’t signed the lease. So we waited an hour for our interpreter and the landlord to fill out forms just to find out that Trudy couldn’t sign it. She doesn’t have a residence card yet and she didn’t have her passport with her. So my name is on the lease. And then the landlords backed out of installing the internet. So my name is on that, too. I’m not comfortable with this.

We are both buying kitchen things, roughly splitting costs, but it really adds up. Trudy has agreed to buy the bed. I’m getting anxious because it’s not the situation I agreed to and it’s more expensive than I’d believed. But I also want to get out of the place I’m in–it’s just too dirty and too difficult to live with children. Trudy is more fluid with time than I am and is more relaxed about the move. Frankly, I think it would serve me better to be able to let go of time commitments and ridged appointment schedules. To me, “I’ll meet you at 9” really means “I will be there at 8:45.” With the rest of the world, it means “I may or may not show up. I probably won’t call you to cancel, and if I come, I will not be there before 9. If you are silly enough to wait for me, it’s probably OK for you to stop waiting by 10.” I hate it, but this is the way the world is and unless I want high blood pressure, I’ve got to learn how to deal with it.

I seriously need to get settled somewhere—too much moving, too much of a temporary life. Have I said before that living in another country is more about learning about yourself than learning a new culture? I’m not liking everything I’ve learned.

The side streets have chickens! These look much healthier than the ones in Vietnam.
The side streets have chickens! These look much healthier than the ones in Vietnam.

Istanbul, May 2015, 35/31/2015
FROM THE INERNET: Beau Biden, son of the Vice President, died yesterday. President Obama, writing in a statement, quoted Irish poet William Butler Yeats — a favorite of the vice president’s — in honoring Beau Biden’s life. Yeats wrote, “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.” “Beau Biden believed the best of us all,” Obama said. “For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.”

LATER
I’ve talked with Trudy. We are to move her tomorrow morning. Then she is supposed to shop for a bed for me and have it installed ….soon.

A few students have asked me to do some private tutoring classes. I am probably not getting enough hours at school this summer, so it sounds good. I asked Albert what I should charge. He suggested between 80 and 100 TL per hour! That’s 4-5 times what I get at school! Not that I’m quitting the school—they give me a rent subsidy, pay taxes, take care of work visa and residence card, I have insurance through them……and if I complete my contract, there’s some big cash bonuses. But a couple hundred TL a week could make a big difference.

One of my students drew a picture of me!
One of my students drew a picture of me!

6/2/2015
We got Trudy mostly moved in yesterday.  Finding it painful to buy kitchen things–a financial loss for me since I can’t transport them to my next location. Trudy is on a shopping trip today for bed, but I still must buy bedding–again a total waste of money for me. AND I’m not sure of how to buy sheets–sizes aren’t standard, aren’t in a language I can understand, I have no measuring devices and it’s tough to return anything here if I make a mistake. Adventures in living in another country!

This is how it is when you move and when you live in a different country–not complaining, just facing up to the hard work of it all. Suffice to say that the honeymoon period of living Turkey is over–now I’m in the “Culture shock” mode of adjustment. I give the worst of the process 6 months and I’m only half way through that. It doesn’t help that I was so run down before I moved to Vietnam and then never got all the way through the adjustment period there before moving again. That’s another reason I need to finish my contract here. I need some stability–BUT my health is so much better here than in Vietnam. My hair (which had gotten quite thin) is growing in again and my energy level is much better. I don’t think I’ve fully realized how very difficult the AT was on my body. I simply can’t finish that trail. There are still 800 miles I’ve not hiked and I must face the fact that I never will. But the Camino will be easier, better nutrition, less weight to carry and FAR fewer rocks and mountains.

The good news with moving is that I have until June 20 to get out of this apartment. (Remember that English Time pays for my first 3 months rent (but in exchange you have no input into where you live). So there is plenty of time, though I hope there’s a bed this week and I can move in right away. Trudy has to be out of her room by June 3.

It will all work out, I just need to stop worrying about it, stop pushing, stop SPINNING. “Time” is a very fluid thing in most of the world. Appointments are not solid. At all. My students think nothing of showing up 20 minutes late for class. Or an hour late. People don’t call before they come over to visit. For me, “time” is the most difficult aspect of adjustment. But I must adjust. This is how almost everyone OUTSIDE the USA works.

I keep reminding myself: I wanted an adventure. I wanted to experience other cultures. That’s what I’m doing. But it isn’t all historic places and exotic meals, folks.

I do love the big Turkish Breakfast.
I do love the big Turkish Breakfast.

6/8/2015
The elections were yesterday, Sunday, but I’m not yet sure about the results. Here’s what I know. Current president Erdoğan’s (pronounced Air doh wan) Justice and Development party, AKP, did not get a majority. This means they will need a coalition partner to form a government. The Justice and Development party is religious-conservative and Erdoğan’s isn’t a nice guy, so I’m glad he didn’t get a strong victory. (Technically, he wasn’t on the ballot as he couldn’t by law run for a fourth term. Ahmet Davutoğlu ran) He doesn’t like foreigners At All, and he thinks women should be forced to wear headscarves (whether Muslim or not) and they should stay at home not work. The AKP wanted to re-write the constitution, making a far more conservative and less democratic country—effectively making Erdoğan a dictator. That’s very unlikely to happen now. The Kurdish Minority has suffered serious discrimination in the past (even recent past). Their party is new, the HDP or Peoples’ Democratic Party. They got above the 10% minimum which means they will finally have a voice in Parliament, which they’ve not have before. The HDP supports democracy, gay rights, women’s rights and non-Muslim minority rights. They don’t hate foreigners, either.

It’s a big improvement that the Turks have swung left after drifting right for the last decade and a half. Turnout was 86%, so it’s a clear statement of what people want. To be honest, one of the reasons I came to Turkey NOW and didn’t wait was because I could see the country was in flux. If it became as conservative as most Middle Eastern countries, say Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t be able to be here. I wanted to see it before the doors closed on me. Fortunately, they seem to be swinging open again.

A pedestrian street in Avcilar, decorated for the election.
A pedestrian street in Avcilar, decorated for the election.

But I’m not quite sure what happens next. The AKP aren’t out of power, just weakened. News reports say things like:

  • “The poor result for Erdoğan is likely to embolden dissenters and could spark a power struggle.”
  • “Official results based on 99.9% of votes counted gave the AKP 41%, followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) on 25%, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on 16.5% and the HDP in fourth place with 13%.”
  • “The fall coupled with an election triumph for a new pro-Kurdish party meant it was unlikely that the AKP would be able to form a majority government, forcing it to negotiate a coalition, probably with extreme nationalists, or to call a fresh election if no parliamentary majority can be secured within six weeks.”

<sigh> Trudy didn’t buy a bed. She said she shopped for beds but didn’t find anything she liked. Now we are in week three and by the look of her calendar, she won’t get it done this week either. I’m long past ready to get out of here.

6/11/2015
I moved yesterday—but it wasn’t exactly scheduled.

I’ve been living in an apartment with 7 other people. On my floor, I shared a bathroom and kitchen with 3 others. To say that they were NOT clean is the understatement of 2015. Also, A was unable to close drawers or flush. M was an amazing cook but didn’t see the need for soap or hot water when washing dishes. She didn’t think that hand towels or dish rags needed to be washed. (“They are self-cleaning, silly!”) I didn’t eat her cooking. Obviously, no one else ever took out trash or swept the carpet or washed the counters. It was so bad that I stopped cooking or even keeping food in the kitchen.

They were also odd things. Sunday morning I found all the sharp knives lined up on the kitchen floor. No idea why. Couldn’t bring myself to ask for fear of the answer. Yesterday, I found the refrigerator door wide open. Again. Third morning in a row. I had no perishable food in there, so what do I care? When I shut the door, I noticed A’s underwear on the floor, in a position that led me to believe he had simply stepped out of them and left them there. Can you say skid marks?

I packed up and left. I’ll sleep on the couch. I’m not living with that.

And while I was packing, I noticed 400TL missing from my room. Theft has been a big issue here in Istanbul. So far, I’ve lost 200TL and some teaching items from my hotel room—not that the hotel would even acknowledge that it could have possibly occurred! My phone was stolen, and I’d just put 100TL on the SIM card. Now more money. I’ve lost the equivalent of half a month’s pay.

While my roomies are slobs, I don’t think they are thieves. I keep my room locked all the time, except when I go to the bathroom. The only person who’s likely to have a key are the landlords. Another reason to move.

Istanbul, May 2015, 66/15/15
Got moved last week. Still sleeping on a futon couch, but it is much better than the other place. I miss my nice view, but that’s it. Trudy and I are getting along well.

I love teaching. I have a level 1 class on the weekends (4 hours each day) and they are doing so well. I had them do a simple speaking exercise yesterday–introducing themselves and telling about their family. It’s an extended exercise of one I did their first day. 6 weeks ago, when the class started, I had to write out a script for them to say with blanks for their name and age. This time they were talking for 4-5 minutes without notes–really communicating! I am so proud.

My classes change constantly, but I’ve been getting 22-30 hours a week of teaching–though a third of the work is filling in for someone who is on vacation or has been kicked out. And remember I spend about an hour preparing for every hour teaching, so it’s WORK. BUT next week I will only have the weekend class. It ends on the 28th and then I have nothing scheduled. No classes are starting until after Ramazan (Ramadan for the rest of the world, roughly June 18-July 18). Feast or Famine. But starting mid-July, we should suddenly have lots of classes beginning and I probably will have too much work. I have no classes in the first two weeks of July, so I’m going to try to figure out the trains and go to Budapest and Bucharest. I’m meeting a friend in Sofia in October, which is also a train ride away. From what I’ve read, the trains are clean and reasonably priced. I can get a direct train to Vienna!

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>

I can’t English today

The monument in the center of Taksim Square shows Ataturk. On one side he is leading the troops into battle, on the other he is a statesman, leading his country into the future.
The monument in the center of Taksim Square shows Ataturk. On one side he is leading the troops into battle, on the other he is a statesman, leading his country into the future.

4/30/15

Teaching English to beginners will be the death of my vocabulary. Many of the teachers, when having a bad day, say, “I can’t English today.” It’s a joke, since modal verbs like “can” are very tough for non-native speakers. You really don’t see how crazy English is until you try to teach it.

Taksim Square, where I won't be going today. It's May Day, (also called International Worker's Day or Labor Day) and labor unions often have demonstrations. Sometimes they get violent.
Taksim Square, where I won’t be going today. It’s May Day, (also called International Worker’s Day or Labor Day) and labor unions often have demonstrations. Sometimes they get violent.

There is always something in life, but all-in-all, I’d say I’m managing well living and working half way around the world from where I was born and raised. Having roommates turns out to be the most consistently challenging thing. Cleanliness standards are different from person to person. I find I have to clean the kitchen before I cook and I often re-wash a dish before I use it. The young woman here (who leaves in less than 2 months, so I’m not investing energy into working this out) just isn’t clean. AND she plans to open a pie shop when she gets home! The Heath Inspectors will love her!

Gulhane Park
Gulhane Park

I have been so busy with classes that I don’t spend much time studying Turkish. But I find that I am picking up a few words by osmosis. Yesterday a student said something under his breath in Turkish, “Teacher, in time.” (“Hocam, zamanla” implying that this was a difficult concept, but he would learn it over time, so please give it up for now!) And I replied, “Inshallah.” (If Allah wills it) The class applauded! Also, I posted on the board “Make-up tests are Wednesdays at 6pm.” It was after 7pm on a Wednesday, so a few students were confused. They understood “make-up” and “Wednesday,” just not the “s” on the end, So I said, “Her Çarşamba: Çarşambalar” (Every Wednesday: Wednesdays). It’s really gratifying to be able to use my tiny bit of knowledge to help a student. I probably only know 150 words, but I’ve been told that if you understand the suffixes (I don’t yet) you can be functional with just 300 words. That’s encouraging!

My landlords are smokers (they live upstairs, so I can smell it often) but they hate alcohol. Ali is a Turkish Muslim and seems to have an almost irrational fear of alcohol. Katt is a Canadian, and usually abstains as well. So I have taken to hiding my single bottle of wine. I just have a glass before bed, but they were shocked to find that I ever had a drink. You could see in their eyes that they think less of me because of it!

There was a thunderstorm two days ago so these tulips are long gone now. Glad I went to Gulhane Park on Monday to see them.  The rest of the photo are of the park.
There was a thunderstorm two days ago so these tulips are long gone now. Glad I went to Gulhane Park on Monday to see them. The rest of the photos are of the park.

Politics are in full swing–lots of banners, music, dancing (only men sing and dance at traditional Turkish events) and political speeches. It’s the latter than concerns me. I can’t understand what’s being said, of course, but the sound and the spectacle reminds me of Hitler and WWII. There is a strong conservative movement in the air. Turkey is poised for change–the question is what change. The country is more conservative than when I visited in 2008–more head scarves, fewer women’s rights. Some of it is the old story: men wanting power and calling it “religion.” Some of it is the number of recent immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. They are used to a more conservative, Islamic-centered government, not a democracy. Ataturk is rolling over in his grave! I am watching the situation as closely as I can. Elections are in June. If the wrong people get into power, I may have to move on. The most conservative branches don’t like foreign, particularly women, teachers. Honestly, I think that I will be able to finish out my contract here, but I’m looking for a Plan B, just in case. We teachers talk about it, when there are no English speaking Turks around.

Gulhane Park, April 25, 2015, 5 Gulhane Park, April 25, 2015, 3I think I’m doing well with teaching! I certainly spend a lot of time preparing for classes–too much based on how little I’m paid! But students ask to be in my classes and activities, ask for advice and even thank me for being their teacher. It brings me to tears. Not all teachers are doing so well–a few that came at the same time have washed out and are planning to go home.

I hope, now that my schedule is more even, that I can study more Turkish and get back to seeing more sights. I now have Thursday and Fridays off, starting this week. There was a scheduling error that I should have caught, so I will go into the office today (Thursday) for an hour to do a speaking activity, but that is all.

Last night, a terrific thunderstorm came up just as class was ending. I got soaked coming home. This will ruin the tulips, but I’m so glad I got to see them. Spring beauty is ephemeral. The tulips in Gulhane Park were so colorful. There must have been a million bulbs planted. The park was busy Monday. To think I was there for the first time less than two months ago and saw the first green blades of the tulip pushing through the earth! And now they are gone with the April showers. {Most of the photos on this page are from Gulhane Park}

Gulhane Park, April 25, 2015, 4 Gulhane Park, April 25, 2015, 11Monday was my interview with the police station for my residence permit. It took almost an hour and a half by metro to get to the office in Taksim. First I waited 45 minutes for my “handler” to show up. Then we stood in front of a police counter for 20 minutes. In the end, I was asked one simple question, “Have you ever been to Turkey?” I said, “Yes. As a tourist in 2008. This is why I came back.” He smiled and stamped my paperwork. I hope to see the permit soon.

I’m realizing that the hike last summer did not help my health at all. My hair is so thin and I think it is a combination of poor hair care and nutrition for 4.5 months. My skin looks older too. No woman wants that! Over all, my diet is very healthy now, so I hope my hair will grow back in strong. I’m adding some protein, as I think I may need it, too. Of course, I’m not as young as I used to be, so there’s that!

Have not had much internet access for several days. There’s a demolition going on next door and they took out the cable and the internet for the entire neighborhood. Wow–they are very unpopular! People stop at the site, shake their fist and yell at them! Must be worse than the fine they were given!

Gulhane Park, April 25, 2015, 15/1/15
I had a speaking activity yesterday and the topic was about politics. The older participants didn’t want to talk about it, but the younger ones did. I kept trying to steer the conversation to safer topics, but it was quite difficult. I could get them to discuss American politics, which seemed safer than Turkish politics, but the two older men, who I have much respect for, just weren’t commenting on any political topic. I apologized to them after, but they seemed to understand that I had tried to move the conversation in other directions. Both claimed they were “too tired to talk,” but I’m sure I saw fear in their eyes. The political climate in Turkey is volatile and it’s clear that change is coming. If the wrong leader comes into power, women’s rights, freedom of speech and foreigners will be gone with the wind. I hear the speeches in the square (meydani) outside school. I wish I knew what they were saying, but I’m sure I would not like much of it.

One of the American topics we discussed was how good we have it in the USA. And they are right! Complain all you want about gas prices, but they are 2-4 times higher in other countries. The students were shocked to have confirmed that most American families have 2 cars (most families here don’t even have one), that most middle class Americans own their own home (not just the rich), and that in ANY city in the US you can drink water directly from the tap. Everyone drinks bottled water here.

Gulhane Park
Gulhane Park

During the activity, I mentioned that Friday (today) was my day off and I planned to go to Topkapi Palace. They warned against it. This is May Day, an International worker’s holiday. It was banned for many years after 35 people were killed in 1978. Recently reinstated, there are concerns for violence. Here’s an excerpt from the Consular office email: “Following the lifting of the decades-long ban on May Day demonstrations in 2010 and the designation of May 1 as a national holiday, May Day events have been generally peaceful. In 2013, however, police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters who attempted to march to Taksim Square. The Istanbul Governor’s Office has approved the Yenikapı (Europe side) and Pendik (Asia side) areas as the official protest/demonstration locations on May 1. The U.S. Consulate General strongly recommends that all U.S. citizens avoid these areas, as well as Taksim Square, where the potential for unofficial protests/demonstrations exists.”

And an email, sent late last night, says morning classes are canceled. (Seriously? We can’t know about this until AFTER 10pm the day before? Communication, folks!) Maybe I’ll stay home. Keeping my electronics charged.

I really enjoy my level 5 class, Monday and Tuesday mornings. It’s a class I share with Albert and he has done an excellent job of teaching them vocabulary. After the Tuesday class (which ends at 2p), 10 students stayed for the speaking activity I led at 2:30. The assigned topic was lame, so we agreed on “What is your favorite memory?” They asked me to start, so I told them about a memory when I was 8yo, watching my parents dance in the kitchen while my father sang an old Hank Williams song. They were amazed by this simple memory. Their childhoods did not include anything like this. Most remembered childhood pranks, pulled with (or on!) friends, when they were about 10yo. Some were very mean things, like breaking windows, stealing candy from a shop or stopping a cab driver for a ride and then running away. It was so sad. It’s a different world, folks.

This woman is hand making manti, a tiny dumpling. Amazing, too!
This woman is hand making manti, a tiny dumpling. Amazing, too!