Tensions are high in Turkey

A man plays in the metro for change. Obviously, I can't judge this kind of music, but the singers always seem very sincere and heartfelt. Much of the time they just have a microphone and beat out the time with a stick.
A man plays in the metro for change. Obviously, I can’t judge this kind of music, but the singers always seem very sincere and heartfelt. Much of the time they just have a microphone and beat out the time with a stick.

I like to have a single glass of wine at night, but it’s tough to get. There is some locally produced wine, but this is simply not wine country, though there’s more alcohol than you’d expect in a mostly Muslim area. One large chain grocery carries wine, Migros (which sounds Hispanic, doesn’t it?). They have a fairly large selection of imported hard liquor, and an armed guard, too. There are small convenience shops with liquor behind the counter–but they focus on Raki (the Turkish hard liquor, similar to ouzo in Greece or grappa in Italy) and vodka (Turkish vodka is fairly inexpensive). The alcohol is never priced, so as a foreigner I’m going to be charged the highest rate. Even if I wanted alcohol, I wouldn’t buy it here. But you don’t really see a lot of drinking. There are a few neighborhood bars–they are often a bit hidden and for men only. Even when women are allowed, they are not the kind of places that I’d go to alone.

I spend WAAAAAY too much time preparing for classes, but my lesson plans keep improving. I’m focused on writing dialogues at the moment. These are usually two part conversations that use a particular grammar point (past perfect tense, If conditionals, modal verbs). I underline some of the words and after we read them as a class, I pair off the students and have them change the underlined words to make a new dialogue. This forces them to create at least part of a conversation themselves and use the new grammar point in a practical way. Well, the other day it finally happened–a student used the “N” word in a greeting! I was torn between horror and being impressed that he had the vocabulary. But these are all teaching points, right? So I did my best to remain calm and explain why we don’t use words like this. But at least this proves the kid is trying to learn English expressions.

Yesterday it finally cooled off–only 75 as the high temperature. Last night I almost got cold. It was wonderful.

Near my house is a public square (maydan) and there have been rallies/protests the last two nights concerning the ISIS issue, recent killings and the Syrian refugee question. There are speeches and chanting, lots of flag waving. There are also police in riot gear around the edges. While I’m fascinated to know what they are proposing (not that my Turkish is good enough to understand), these events are not a safe place for a pasty foreign woman. I take the long way around to go home and avoid them.

This is a small fun park, beside the Bakrikoy Metro station.
This is a small fun park, beside the Bakirkoy Metro station.

Sept 2015, Istanbul 69/15/2015
Dated yesterday, New York Times: A Sense of Instability Settles Over Turkey as Conflict With Kurds Flares

ISTANBUL — Nationalist and pro-government throngs filled the streets of Istanbul and Ankara for two nights last week, chanting “God is great” as they stormed a prominent newspaper and set fire to the offices of a Kurdish political party.
Turkey’s economy, long an emerging market darling, has cooled, and the value of the Turkish lira slips by the day. Cruise ships have stopped docking in Istanbul, and many residents avoid the subway because of bomb threats.
A sense of unease is spreading in Turkey as the decades-old conflict flares between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the volatile southeast. Fears are growing that the country could return to the dark days of the 1990s, when the conflict was at its height.
The upheaval in major cities has prompted Turks, especially Kurds, to share pictures on social media comparing their own cities to ravaged areas in Syria.
In recent years, Turkey has sought to influence and shape the Middle East, portraying itself as everything the region is not: democratic, prosperous and safe. But economic and political instability are deepening before the interim government holds a snap election in November — the country’s third national poll in a little over a year.
A demonstration last week against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the government said was behind a deadly attack on Turkish soldiers. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Critics say Turkey’s military campaign against the Kurds is part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy of stoking nationalist sentiment to help his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., regain the parliamentary majority it lost in the June 7 election.
“Right now, the tracks beneath us are shaking, and the country is on the verge of being derailed,” said Kudrettin Terzioglu, 52, who sells lottery tickets outside the main courthouse here, where a prominent prosecutor was killed this year by a Marxist group that claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at the American Embassy in Ankara in 2013.
“We’re on the brink of civil war, we have no stable government, the economy is a mess and there are no jobs,” he added.
In a cafe in the central Besiktas district of Istanbul, tears trickled down Tuba Kent’s face as she watched televised images of family members clinging to the coffins of soldiers killed in the Sept. 6 bomb attack by Kurdish rebels.
“For now, people in Istanbul are throwing rocks, beating their enemies with sticks and setting buildings on fire,” said Ms. Kent, 36, a manicurist. “But we are one step away from holding our own funerals.”
Across the street, tourists waited in line to enter the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, spent the last days of his life. Usually bustling with sightseers, the palace was noticeably quieter.
Attendance is down since militants set off explosives several weeks ago and shot at police officers guarding the palace. The attackers were later identified as belonging to the Marxist group known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, which had its heyday during the Cold War.
“After hearing about the incident, a lot of friends canceled their entire trip to Turkey,” said Gemma Haighton, a visitor from London waiting outside the palace. “We were originally a group of 13, but only three of us ended up coming.”
Just this month, the United States government issued a travel warning for Turkey, causing some cruise ship companies to cancel all overnight stops in Istanbul.
The instability has been costly for Turkey’s tourism industry, with revenue sliding by almost 14 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to government figures.
The mounting security concerns come after the collapse in July of the two-year cease-fire between rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state. Adding to that are increased threats and attacks from the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front and the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group believed to be responsible for a suicide bombing that killed more than 30 young Kurdish activists in the southern city of Suruc in July.
Critics of Mr. Erdogan say the instability may well play to his advantage, however, and allow him to persuade the public to again vote for single-party government. In fact, he is campaigning on it: According to the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah, the party’s slogan for the election will be “Vote A.K.P. for stability.”
The party’s loss after more than a decade in power came as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party gained representation in Parliament, a first for any Kurdish party. Since Mr. Erdogan called for an early election last month, at least 180 buildings belonging to the Kurdish party have been attacked by mobs that have accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party of being collaborators with the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The escalation in violence has left many wondering whether a credible election can be held in the southeast.
“It’s becoming impossible to hold an election given the security situation in the region,” Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, said last week at a news conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.
Fearing worse violence, some Istanbul residents have started to vary their routines, avoiding crowded places and public transportation at peak times.
“It feels like we’ve been dragged into the greater regional war, and under such circumstances a large-scale attack on Istanbul is imminent,” said Menekse Tekbas, 48, an accountant who was riding the subway recently.
“This is all I think about when I’m in a crowded spot like this,” she added. “I’m always looking out for suspicious people and packages.”
In the Sultanhamet district, Istanbul’s old city and home to some of its most breathtaking landmarks, many tour operators and businesses complain of a “tourism drought.”
“With every bomb that goes off in the southeast comes an email or a phone call from a client asking for a refund,” said Yusuf Karaca, 52, the owner of Karaca Tur, a tour operator.
On a recent day, a friend stormed into his office, lamenting the funeral of fallen soldiers he had just seen on television.
“Damn those terrorists, and damn the man who dragged this country into war for his own political agenda,” said the man, Ahmet, who provided only his first name out of fear that he would be punished for insulting the president.

I’m behind in my journaling and so much has happened. Let’s see if I can catch up. I’ll try to write roughly in order. First, I’ve found a lovely young woman to trade language lessons with. I teach her English while she helps me with Turkish. She’s 29 years old, funny and I really enjoy the time I spend with her. Her parents have a restaurant in Bakakoy called My Secret Cafe and I’m so lucky because they feed me when I come. Dad lived outside of London and can cook a wide variety of dishes. While I love Turkish food, I’m used to some variety, so I really appreciate his pizza (best in Istanbul) and this lovely curry dish he fixed. Yum!

This is my student/teacher. Nilgun and her mother and cousin.
This is my student/teacher. Nilgun and her mother and cousin.
This is the amazing curry dish. YUM-O
This is the amazing curry dish. YUM-O
My Secret Cafe in Bakirkoy
My Secret Cafe in Bakirkoy

But that’s about all the good news I can report.

Robert is taking a few days off and I’m covering for him as Head Teacher. The big news so far is that Kate, who is to be our next head teacher after Robert leaves, won’t be able to come back into the country. She’s been here for 6 months and for reasons we don’t understand, still does not have a residence permit. Looks like incompetence by both English Time and Turkey. She had this trip out of the country planned and knew the risks before she left. She made arrangements for her stuff just in case. At the airport they demanded she pay a penalty for overstaying her visa (268TL) and she can’t come back. It’s unlikely she will be able to change that situation. Robert just left for his trip. He doesn’t have a residence permit either. Will the same thing to happen to him? <sigh>

We’ve been told that we have another new owner. That’s the third since the first of the year (though possibly at least one of the transactions never quite occurred). So far, I don’t see any changes, except for another new Turkish office manager. She’s Meylin, the woman who used to be head of the Avcilar branch. She speaks some English and brought with her an admin that also has level 1English. So far so good. We were paid on time this month (surprise!) but my pay was short 38 hours. That’s equal to a month’s rent and about a week’s worth of pay. And I worked far more hours than I wanted to last month. Insulting. AND Philip from the head office hasn’t even responded to the request for pay. It looks like it’s almost all money from Avcilar. I had trouble getting paid from there last month, too. I’ve asked Meylin to call there and she’s assured me the money will be there on Saturday. I’ve told her to tell them that if I am not paid I won’t teach this weekend. What else can I do?

Protests are happening in squares all over Istanbul. Soldiers are dying. Kurds are dying. Tensions are high everywhere. Last night, an older man across the street, pulled a shotgun out and fired. I didn’t see him shoot the gun; the shots woke me up and I looked out the window. He was standing there with a what looked like a sawed off shotgun, screaming at the top of his lungs and pointing at some unseen person. A younger man (maybe a grandson?) grabbed the firearm and took it inside. There are strict gun laws here and the consequences of being found with one are stiff. No police came to check out the situation. Should I be afraid? Possibly. But I saw this sort of thing in Atlanta too. Nowhere is safe.

One of the issues with living in another country is that communication is poor. First you don’t speak the language and second is that most companies are autocratic, disorganized and top down when compared with US companies. My Sunday class as Avcilar was canceled. No explanation. But it held exactly the same the next weekend. We have another holiday, maybe next week, but no one is giving actual dates. Maddening. How does anyone plan?

My new friend Burak. He started a business in real estate just four months ago, but still takes the time to worry about a foreigner. He's introduced me to some restaurants and he helped me find my private student/teacher. He's a funny and kind guy, too.
My new friend Burak. He started a business in real estate just four months ago, but still takes the time to worry about a foreigner. He’s introduced me to some restaurants and he helped me find my private student/teacher. He’s a funny and kind guy, too.

August, and it’s not just the weather that’s hot

It's August. There is little air conditioning on the metro. But these women have at least two (and probably three) layers of clothing covering everything but their hands and face. I am melting just looking at them.
It’s August. There is little air conditioning on the metro. But these women have at least two (and probably three) layers of clothing covering everything but their hands and face. Even scarves take a minimum of two to cover the hair completely. I am melting just looking at them.

My last few days of posts have been pretty negative. Living in another country where you don’t speak the language nor know the customs is unsettling. The company I work for, English Time, has new ownership. Things are in flux—and if you aren’t the one doing the changes, it never feels good. It’s worse when you have no idea what the plans are and no one will tell you. It just looks like a mess. Maybe it IS a mess. Maybe there’s a plan I know nothing of. Who can tell? Not me, that’s for sure.

But instability and not knowing are things I need to learn to live with. It’s part of the deal if you agree to be an ex-pat. I’m in no danger. I just feel unsettled. My company paid me late, but they do pay. I’ve got a financial safety net if they don’t. I have people I can stay with if I need to come home. The political system is (fairly) stable here in Turkey. I’m about as safe from physical harm as in most US cities (hey, no one is bombing churches here!), though political unrest does happen.
Things are uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Hey, life is uncomfortable wherever you live! I know my mood has been dark, but frankly a big thunderstorm and the cool air that follows would do more to perk me up than almost anything. It’s hot. I’ve moved too many times. And I need a day off.

It will all get better. Please don’t worry about me, folks.

I’ve not been affected, but there has been some unrest in Turkey. The US consulate sent a message that they would close for one day. Internet news reports:
“Istanbul (AFP) – Six members of the Turkish security forces were killed and the US consulate in Istanbul hit by a gun attack in a day of violence Monday blamed on Kurdish and Marxist radicals as Ankara pressed on with its air campaign against militants.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has claimed over 20 killings of police and soldiers since a devastating suicide attack three weeks ago in a mainly Kurdish town.
Around 390 PKK militants have also been killed in Turkish retaliatory raids, according to the Anatolia news agency.”

It’s been a very tough week. I moved all my belongings to a flat in Sirinevler (from Sukrubey) on Friday (August 7th), then on Monday (August 10th) I moved everything across the hall to my actual room—which is quite small but has good windows and a terrace. This room had been fellow teacher Alex’s but ET is moving him to Silivi to teach there. He’s not amused by this. While the room is tiny, at least it has a real bed, not a just a couch, and two dressers where I can hang up clothes and put things away.

I’ve had double classes for five straight days which is brutal enough after moving, but I’ve also had to travel to a new branch. Monday through Wednesday I taught in Beylikduzu in the morning. This neighborhood is a miserable one hour MetroBus ride to a branch I’d never been to before. The staff was nice, but my 23 students and I were forced into a theater style room that barely held us all. It had no air conditioning or air movement. Not even a fan. I had to constantly drink water to avoid dehydration due to sweating. There were no desks so the students could barely write. Almost all of the students are Libyan and came to Istanbul just to learn English. They have good language skills for Level 2 students and despite the class size were a delight to teach, even in the heat.

The other teachers, however, were simply horrible to me. This is my EX roommate’s branch and I can only imagine what she’s said about me. The head teacher, Mark, was very complimentary of my work. He told me that the students had asked for me to stay on. I told him that while he seemed nice and the students and staff were great, I hoped never to meet any of his teachers again. And could he forward my pay from this branch so I wouldn’t have to come back?

My name is a mystery to most of my students. They have never heard it before. Looking at the class roster, I think I know how they feel. I always introduce myself to a new class, but invariably a few come late. So on a break, I will hear, “Teacher, what name?” I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I turned quickly and said, “Oh! Beth! “ I didn’t realize my mistake for a full day. What they had heard was “Ohbeth” or as they are far more likely to say, “Ohbet.” There was a small argument among the students about this before I could clear it up.

Today was a particularly hot one. My students, though wonderful, require almost constant attention, even during breaks. It’s four straight hours and it can be exhausting work. Add to that a one hour MetroBus, both coming and returning. Today the buses were packed, a solid mass of people crammed into a small, airless space. There is no personal space and you can’t move without touching someone. Elbows in your back. Bags and children hitting your shins. Crying babies. Strollers taking up the aisle and rolling over your feet. It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming. I am “peopled out.” I live just off a busy city center and by the time I walked back to my flat, I was ready to be away from people for a solid week. Unfortunately, I have to teach tonight.

My new roommate is a very handsome, 26-year old black man. I’m surprised to find he’s from Alabama as he has no southern accent. He seems a good roomie, even if he did take out the electricity a couple times with his X-Box. The wiring in these old flats just isn’t up to US standards.

You see few tattoos in Turkey, but perhaps if you put Ataturk, the father of the country, on your shoulder it's ok. The man's dress is atypical. Even Turkish men usually wear a long sleeved shirt and perhaps a jacket, even in August. Earrings are very unusual and large necklaces uncommon, though bracelets are often worn. The beard, however, is practically de rigueur.
You see few tattoos in Turkey, but perhaps if you put Ataturk, the father of the country, on your shoulder it’s ok. The man’s dress is atypical. Even Turkish men usually wear a long sleeved shirt and perhaps a jacket, even in August. Earrings are very unusual and large necklaces uncommon, though bracelets are often worn. The beard, however, is practically de rigueur.

I received this email today from the Embassy of the United States of America located in Ankara, Turkey:

“The U.S. Embassy in Ankara informs U.S. citizens of an elevated threat level from terrorism in Turkey, as evidenced by the August 10 attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, in which two DHKP/C members (one remains at large) fired weapons at the Consulate building.

The Embassy also notes that August 15 is the anniversary of the first Kurdistan Worker’s Party (known as PKK or Kongra-Gel (KGK)) attack against Turkish government installations. Historically, this anniversary date has prompted an escalation of violence by the PKK and other splinter groups. Recently, the PKK has targeted the Turkish military and Turkish National Police (TNP) officers and stations, while the DHKP/C has targeted TNP and Government of Turkey facilities.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey should be alert to the possibility of increased terror activity in urban and tourist areas, as well as throughout southeast Turkey. We urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution and maintain a high level of vigilance. U.S. citizens should be aware of the possibility that terrorists can conduct complex attacks, with secondary follow-on attacks targeting first responders to the initial attack. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, and monitor local news stations for updates.”

It’s Sunday and there’s never a dull moment, even on weekends. And not always in a good way. We should have been paid yesterday. The office used the excuse of “oh, it’s a weekend” to not paid us. Like they can’t see weekends coming? I think what bothers all of us is that we simply don’t know about our pay. We asked about it earlier in the week, but no one seemed to know. Will we get it on the day promised? The next? How about Monday? There’s no information. We aren’t exactly over-paid, so most of the teachers are broke by payday.

And speaking of no information, I was the first one in this morning to find classrooms padlocked. Robert came in a few minutes later and was just as surprised as I was. Neither of us could read the Turkish signs on the door. Robert’s the head teacher and when he asked the office he was given no explanation. He was told that Monday morning classes were canceled, but today’s classes would happen. WHERE? They opened my old classroom, but another teacher ended up in a makeshift office with no white board. (The signs turned out to say “closed for renovations.” The rooms all need it. The desks are broken, the AC doesn’t work, the windows don’t open and there’s no wifi, even though the school advertises it.)

We’ve been worried for the last couple weeks because classes aren’t opening up at this branch, while other branches have several new classes. Some of our teachers are on “loan” to other branches to deal with the shortages there. Will they come back? Our Turkish branch manager, Huysen, is blaming Robert—which is pretty ridiculous since Robert only manages teachers, not classes. He can’t open classes. We both suspect the entire office is far too busy watching soap operas to call students to arrange classes. Hey, those soaps aren’t gonna watch themselves!

A park in Atakoy, walking distance from my new flat. It's too hot to use the equipment and the men are just sitting there.
A park in Atakoy, walking distance from my new flat. It’s too hot to use the equipment and the men are just sitting there.

We finally got paid this evening, though we didn’t know for use until we actually saw the money. The classrooms are still mostly locked. We still have no explanation. Today, the computer wasn’t working, We have four, but only one ever woks. We couldn’t reach our files at all. But since there was no internet access either, it didn’t matter, because we also couldn’t use the printer. It was a disaster for my lesson plan. Something else was missing, too: Husyen. He’s the Turkish Branch manager who’s been so negative. I understand he was fired today. I’m not sure how much of the staff is still around. While I’m glad to see him go, I don’t actually know how that will affect this branch. Will they remodel the classrooms and unlock them? Will we get more classes? I have two classes finishing soon and will need new classes to stay employed. If we don’t get new classes, will I be sent to another branch to teach? If so, where? That would be disappointing, since I JUST moved here to this branch. On the other hand, if I’m not sent to another branch, I’m out of a job. What the heck is going on!?! A little communication could go a long way here.

I ended up teaching my class in the tiny makeshift office tonight (the office Husyen used to have). They found a small whiteboard—about one foot by two feet in size. It doesn’t meet the needs. It all just seems too unprofessional for a such a big company with branches all over Turkey plus a few scattered across the world. They have about 200 teachers just in the Istanbul metro.

So, at 10pm, I walked home, hoping to just take a shower and crawl into bed. It was another disappointing and unsettling day and I wanted to forget it. Instead, I find an email from someone I’d never met. Seems she is a new potential ET teacher. The school gave her my email—without my permission. She had a long list of questions about how it was to work for English Time. This did not improve my day. Fortunately, she told me who had given her my personal email, so I emailed that person. I politely asked that they not do this (very) unprofessional thing again. I also suggested that I might not be the best choice if they wanted someone to persuade this young woman to be a new teacher with ET. Under the circumstances, I’m finding it difficult to think of positive things to say.

This is from the YeniKapa (new gate) metro station. They have displayed several of the artifacts found while digging this line.
This is from the YeniKapa (new gate) metro station. They have displayed several of the artifacts found while digging this line.
People have probably continuously lived in this area for 10,000 years--we aren't that far from some of the word's earliest civilizations. It's pretty tough to dig and not find something.
People have probably continuously lived in this area for 10,000 years–we aren’t that far from some of the word’s earliest civilizations. It’s pretty tough to dig and not find something. Public works projects must be a nightmare.

8/18/2015  Five minutes before this evening’s class, the power went out. Since I’m still teaching class in the tiny make-shift office, it got really stuffy in a hurry and the windows don’t open. I’d planned to give the Reading Exam, but by 7pm it was already too dark to give any exam without overhead lights. We stuck around until 8pm, but the power didn’t come on. Classes were canceled and I’ll give the exam tomorrow. The next question, of course, if whether or not I’ll be paid….

Power outages are very common here. Most businesses have generators and are back with electricity in a few minutes after a power outage. In fact, the floors below us all had power from a generator. Why didn’t we?