My crazy, nomadic life

These former students took me out on the town last week. We had a wonderful time. It's the students I will miss most. As frustrating as teaching can be, this is the reason I love it.
These former students took me out on the town last week. We had a wonderful time. It’s the students I will miss most. As frustrating as teaching can be, this is the reason I love it.

5/2/2016
It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Let’s see if I can sum things up:

I Got Paid: My contract with English Time here is Istanbul ended Monday, Feb 1. I was promised I’d be paid that day (or the next day at the latest) in my home branch at Şirinevler. Of course it wasn’t that simple, naturally. ET restructured their school branches as of that very day and suddenly no one wanted to be responsible for paying me. On top of that, the branch manager for Şirinevler was suddenly gone with no explanation, so no one was actually in charge there. I was given a lot of frustrating mis-information, but eventually went to the head office in Mecidiyeköy and camped out until they paid me at the end of the day Wednesday, Feb 3. The money included my hourly wages for January, an end-of-contract bonus and a travel reimbursement, so it was a substantial amount of cash. It’s enough to fund some future adventures without having to dip into savings. I am relieved to finally be paid, but the runaround did nothing to endear me to the school.

12647301_1189316187768968_8088413790124966169_nOddly, the first thing they did after paying me was to offer me another contract! I laughed, then closed my mouth and waved goodbye as I walked out. I fear the unladylike (and useless) utterances that would have passed my lips if I had replied. Maybe I’ve finally learned some diplomacy? Or maybe I was just tired.

The teachers took me out Saturday night and I ate way too much! What a great group to work with.
The teachers took me out Saturday night as a send off. I ate way too much! What a great group to work with. When you work closely with people like this, you are connected forever.

New Work: I have a verbal agreement on a summer job in Russia. I’m very excited about this as it’s an interesting country and June and July seem like the best times to live there. I might not be hardy enough for a winter in Russia! I’ll be the first native English speaker that the school has ever had, so it will be an experience for all of us. More about the school later.

I have interviewed with a few other places, but last night had a good conversation with a school in Mexico. That seems to be my best option at the moment for work beginning in August (assuming they offer me a position). It doesn’t pay well, but I have a friend who worked there before and I trust his opinion of the school. Frankly, I’ve had two disappointing posts in a row and it would be a blessing to my mental health to be somewhere that lived up to its contract. Also, this school is closed on Sundays, so I’m guaranteed at least one day off a week. Overwork and slow payments are getting tiresome.

These are students from my last day of class who stuck around for a selfie with me. I will really miss these level 1 students: Can, Enes, Pelin, me, Bursra and Emil.
These are students from my last day of class who stuck around for a selfie with me. I will really miss these level 1 students: Can (taking the photo), Enes, Pelin, me, Bursra (in the scarf) and Emil.

Spanish: I work daily on my Spanish and while I am making progress, I’m pretty horrible. It’s surprising how poor at languages I can be when I love them so much! I’m using DulLingo on the laptop (which I do daily), an app on my phone called iLang (for vocabulary practice) and I’ve completed lessons 1-5 in Pimsleur (which I listen to while I walk). I’ll be in Spain for 2.5 months and need to have a functional level of language. Plus it will help tremendously if I am offered the job in Mexico. Many Americans speak Spanish, not to mention Spain, Mexico and almost all of South and Central America. It’s an important language to know. Wish me luck.

But let me add that learning Spanish as I live in Istanbul and need to converse in Turkish while teaching English grammar, is disorienting. I don’t always know what language will come out of my mouth!

2016 is going to be another year of adventure! Here’s the short list:

February: Leave Istanbul. Visit Athens, Greece on my own and and Edinburgh, Scotland with two dear friends, Julia and Kathy from NY. Kathy went to school there so she will be an excellent tour guide!

March: A few days in Barcelona, Spain, then volunteer teaching and a teacher improvement program in Valencia, Spain. I’m quite excited because I’ll be there over Easter, which should be spectacular. Also, there’s something called the Fire Festival that should make for some great blog photos! The last days of the month, I will head to Pamplona, Spain to meet three dear US friends: Kathy (NY), Stephanie (VA) and Tim (TX).

April to mid-May: Three of us will become pilgrims and hike the Camino (aka The Walk, The Way of St. James) from Pamplona to Santiago, and then (if our feet are still good) on to the sea at Finisterra! It’s an ancient pilgrim’s path to the church at Santiago where the bones of St. James are supposed to be buried. There are many paths to this church, but we are walking one of the main one, usually called The French Way. Selfishly, I convinced my partners to skip the Pyrenees mountains on the French/Spanish border. The weather is precarious in April and besides, I hiked enough mountains on the AT for a lifetime! This is traditionally a religious pilgrimage. I’m not a particularly religious person, though I have a spiritual side.  If we do the entire distance, it’s “only” 500 miles. I think this will be an easier walk than the AT hike: less elevation change, more fresh food, we will stay in hostels every night and eat fresh food every day. Because I don’t need a tent or stove, my pack will be ridiculously light, as well. Oh, and wine. There will be wine! Hum…..bottles of wine might weight the pack down a bit. And where did I pack that cork screw?

Mid-May to June: Not planned yet, but ideally, I’d like to see a bit of Russia before I start teaching there. What I’ve checked out so far is horribly expensive, so we will see…..

June and July: Teaching a summer school program in Nakhodka, Russia. The city is located on the Pacific Ocean, near Vladivostok. The school pays me, takes care of travel there and back and provides accommodations.

August: Still working on this, but by this point I’ll really need a year-long contract and stay put for a while.

Did I mention I love my crazy, nomadic life?

This is what passes for recycling in Istanbul. These men are not city workers, but they provide a valuable city service. They pick through the trash on street corners and bins. They recycle plastic, glass, old clothes, damaged machinery, cardboard...anything they can make money from. It's a tremendous amount of work for little pay and done by new immigrants and the poor. There is also a city trash service. These men are constantly sweeping the streets by hand and filling their bins. Cigarettes, candy wrappers and all refuse is simply thrown on the street. There are few bins.
This is what passes for recycling in Istanbul. These men are not city workers, but they provide a valuable city service. They pick through the trash on street corners and bins. They recycle plastic, glass, old clothes, damaged machinery, cardboard…anything they can make money from. It’s a tremendous amount of work for little pay and done by new immigrants and the poor. There is also a city trash service. These men are constantly sweeping the streets by hand and filling their bins. Cigarettes, candy wrappers and all refuse is simply thrown on the street. There are few bins.

Eating Turkey in Turkey

Aylin, Nadine, Barbara, me, Stephanie, Talin and Alex. Kate came later.
Aylin, Nadine, Barbara, me, Stephanie, Talin and Alex. Kate came later.

11/27/2015
I so enjoyed the Thanksgiving feast at school yesterday, organized by some of the teachers. It was a true thanksgiving potluck with lots of folks contributing. The award goes to Stephanie, who baked the turkey, and made pumpkin pie and rolls from scratch. This was her first time making all these items, so it was really great that everything turned out so well. As she said on FB, “I have made purée from an actual pumpkin and making ground cinnamon from cinnamon sticks Istanbul is upping my pilgrim game.” Somayah’s Iranian potato salad was also a big hit, plus it was beautiful. (I think she commented that this was her first and last Thanksgiving.) And though there was no cranberry sauce, the stuffing was great.

I contributed deviled eggs (which mystified the Turks in the office) and panna cotta (they took one bite to be polite and then pushed it aside). It can be overwhelming to try new foods, and Turks are particularly sensitive. When my students talk about other cuisines, it is usually with disdain. I thought our office staff (those who came) were pretty daring.

Stephanie with her perfectly roasted turkey and pumpkin pie. Both survived the trip by metro bus to the school.
Stephanie with her perfectly roasted turkey and pumpkin pie. Both survived the trip by metro bus to the school.
Barbara made cornbread, an item the Turks recognized.
Barbara made cornbread, an item the Turks recognized.

After the dinner, there was a power outage at school, so classes were canceled. We all grabbed a bus to Bakrikoy to go to a bar. With soccer on the TV, it rounded out a truly traditional Thanksgiving—too much food, lots to be thankful for and football.

We chowed down like there was no tomorrow! Nadine, Stephanie and Somayah.
We chowed down like there was no tomorrow! Nadine, Stephanie and Somayah.
Barbara and a Turkish man from our office--he was clearly the most daring of the staff. I think he tried everything!
Barbara and a Turkish man from our office–he was clearly the most daring of the staff. I think he tried everything!
Alex and his devilish grin came in from Silivi.
Alex and his devilish grin came in from Silivi.
Her smile was so good, I used both pictures.
Her smile was so good, I used both pictures.
This week's drawing, in honor of Thanksgiving.
This week’s drawing, in honor of Thanksgiving.

Free time in Istanbul

Here's something I saw on my walk today that I didn't expect! So far, this is the only Christmas item I've seen.
Here’s something I saw on my walk today that I didn’t expect! So far, this is the only Christmas item I’ve seen.

My school isn’t keeping me all that busy through the week. At first I spent some time catching up on cleaning, laundry and lesson plans that needed attention. And then as I continued to have more time, I decided to make a list of the things I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have time.

First, I bought a ukulele. They’re small and I should be able to carry it around with me all over the world. With only four strings, they are pretty easy to learn. So far, I can play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (which is also the ABC Song, who knew?), You Are My Sunshine and Amazing Grace.  I’m working up to another song I really want to do, but it’s a bit out of my league at the moment. But I know 7-8 chords already, so I’m on my way.

I'm telling you the stray cats are everywhere. This one was in a store window.
I’m telling you the stray cats are everywhere. This one was in a store window.

I’ve been using the time to walk and listen to audio books. Last week I listened to The Sociopath Next Door (did you know that 1 in 25 people is a sociopath?) and The Heat of the Moon (which was just OK). This week started The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Yes, I have eclectic tastes. And I’m putting in a lot of miles. The weather is great, too. The cooler temps are great for walking.

And I’m learning to draw. Last week, I focused on cartoon pencil drawings. But this week I’ve started more realistic pictures, using colored pencils. I’m starting with vegetables. Hey, you can learn almost anything on YouTube!

Beet
Beet
Carrot
Carrot

Short notes from other days:

11/17/2015
Yesterday was payday. And, as is getting common, there were issues. My pay was short 20 hours. Again. My pay has been late or wrong more times than it’s been right and on time. I’m just heartbroken and part of me just wonders why I continue working here.

11/9/2015
Another disappointing weekend at school. The good news is that I have two weekend classes—that means a minimum of 16 hours a week which will stretch to the end of my contract. While that’s not a full load, it is the bare minimum to stay afloat financially here. Let’s hope I can get another class during the weekday when this one finishes.

The bad news is that the afternoon class was one I took over from Maria, who has decided she won’t come back to Istanbul. Philip said he didn’t think there was much work in Sirinevler or the surrounding branches, so one class was all he could promise her. That’s simply not enough hours to stay afloat financially, nor to take on the expense of flying here from Miami and renting an apartment. So he told me to take over her class. But he didn’t tell the office, so when I asked about the class, they said there wasn’t one. I almost turned and walked away. So many classes I’ve been given end this way, two last month alone. But the office was still waiting for Maria. Luckily I asked a few more questions and told them that Maria was not coming. What if I’d just said, “OK” and walked out? Then when I was given the register I find it’s a class IN PROGRESS. These students have had 8 class hours already. The material I prepared wasn’t appropriate for them. And who ever the teacher was (Meylin said it was “her friend”) left no information about what was covered. Have I mentioned the lack of communication here?

It’s really difficult to do a good job with so little communication.

Have I mentioned how great my students are?

You’ve heard it before and you will have to hear it again. Or, see it. The Turks are generous. I once admired a student’s earrings and she took them off and gave them to me. Seriously! You’ve got to love people who are so generous. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.

I mentioned that my students brought me some slippers to give to my friend Kathy when I met up with her in Belgrade. Well, they also gave me some things. Here are the slippers for me--colorful and warm! And the scarf has crochet all around the edge.
I mentioned that my students brought me some slippers to give to my friend Kathy when I met up with her in Belgrade. Well, they also gave me some things. Here are the slippers for me–colorful and warm! And the scarf has crochet all around the edge.
Look at that crochet work--have not seen anything like it since my great grandmother.
Look at that crochet work–have not seen anything like it since my great grandmother.
These are the slippers for Kathy. She sent me a photo of her wearing them in her living room.
These are the slippers for Kathy. She sent me a photo of her wearing them in her living room.
 This is not even from a student--just a lovely women who we invited into class for our conversation hour while her son was in another classroom. A scarf, earrings (which I've worn a lot), hand made slippers, socks, a scarf with hand crocheted edges. In the middle is a hand mit to use in the shower. It's almost to lovely to get wet.
This is not even from a student–just a lovely women who we invited into class for our conversation hour while her son was in another classroom. A scarf, earrings (which I’ve worn a lot), hand made slippers, socks, a scarf with hand crocheted edges. In the middle is a hand mit to use in the shower. It’s almost to lovely to get wet.
Not a gift, but a lovely view of the full moon over the minaret of Sirinevler square.
Not a gift, but a lovely view of the full moon over the minaret of Sirinevler square.

Not my circus, not my monkeys

monkeys-310/7/2015
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’ve been really low lately, my lowest point since leaving the US. While I like Istanbul, I find the school I work for a very negative experience. They’ve never had a great curriculum, but the recent issues with getting paid, extra-poor communication, lack of resources (I have a class finishing their second week with no books!) and constant staff changes have made it worse. A couple weeks ago, they started remodeling and it’s a guessing game as to whether or not I’ll be able to print materials or even have lights in my classroom. I got confirmation that the school is just being prettied up to sell. Again. In short, the owner is just trying to make a quick buck, cares nothing for teaching and will do as little as possible for the teachers, students or staff. And the staff members don’t care about doing a good job since the owner doesn’t care.

I can expect nothing. No support. No assistance.

Oddly, this has made me feel better. I know, it sounds crazy, but I do better with information–even bad news. Before, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know that the remodeling was occurring or what would be done. Now I know what to expect. Knowledge is comfort, if not power.

And I’m going to try to focus less on the school and more on my experience here. I can’t do the kind of teaching job that I want to do. I don’t have any resources. I’ll do the best I can, but stop pushing for more. As they say in Poland: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

SO! Positive stuff: The weather is lovely here. Temps have dropped and we will soon need some heat at night. I feel much better now that it’s not so hot and humid (yeah, I would have melted in Vietnam). The flat is located very close to the school, so I don’t spend so much time (or money) packed into the Metro like a sardine. These are the best roommates I’ve had since I moved here. Sure, I’d like it if someone else occasionally took out the trash or vacuumed, but at least they don’t leave a mess in the kitchen and are never loud at night. Our newest roommate seems very nice, but we have no language in common. Muhammad speaks Arabic. I don’t. So it good that he is a nice guy since I couldn’t communicate with him. Rashawn is from The States and is very considerate. Monique from Australia is super. It’s a relief not to dread coming home!

I found out I can take up to 10 days off around Christmas. It’s not a school holiday–they simply cancel your classes for those days. No idea what I will do or if I will take the time. Possibilities….

What I’m most excited about is that I will see my dear friend Kathy later this month. She is going on a tour and I will meet her at the end in Belgrade, Serbia. I really miss her. She’s the friend that took me in when I had to get off the Appalachian Trail. She and her amazing neighbor, Julia (who came and got me even though she had never even met me), have been so kind I could never repay them.Considering getting these for my students.

Considering getting these for my students.

Messages from the Consulate:
“Embassy of the United States of America Ankara, Turkey October 1, 2015
Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Maintaining Security Awareness
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara would like to remind U.S. citizens of the importance of maintaining security vigilance and to take appropriate steps to ensure their ongoing security awareness in light of the continued security situation in Turkey.
As mentioned in the Worldwide Caution from July 29, 2015, “The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas… In response to the airstrikes, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world.” Also, terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) have been known to target Turkish Government offices and police stations.