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.

Holiday break: Feast of the Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August heat, roommate roulette

7/30/2015
I’m doing OK, just VERY busy, We are short on teachers, so I’m working 40 TEACHING hours a week right now, not counting office hours, prep time or commuting. I do little else but work. The cause of the teacher’s shortage is poor communication, as always. During the month of Ramazan (mid-June to mid-July), plus a week or two on either side of that, there were few classes and no new classes. Some of the teachers were surprised by this and suddenly had no income. I knew about the month of holy fasting and had specifically asked about its timing and effect on classes, so I knew before I came. They didn’t. I simply planned other things to do during that month (I took the train to Bucharest, Romania. Then I flew to Paris!). But many of the younger teachers didn’t know about the break, nor did they have financial resources to afford it. So they quit–went back home or took another position. So now we are short teachers and I’m working too much. I hope it will even out in a month or so. Fingers crossed (which is an expression none of my students know, so I got to teach it to them).
I’ve checked the weather forecast in the USA and it is boiling there, so I hesitate to complain about the heat here. The advantage of The States over Turkey, however, is more air conditioning. I have none in my apartment, and only a few of the classrooms have working AC. I have taught all my students the Present Continuous phrase: “I am melting.” They also know a few new vocabulary words like: boiling, sweat, cool off, humid, air conditioning and miserable.

I was asked repeatedly by Robert, the Sirinevler head teacher, to consider taking his place when he leaves in October. I love to teach and I hate paperwork and politics, so I feel I’m better off remaining a simple teacher. I almost caved, but fortunately, Kate has stepped up to take the job. She is in her mid-to-late 20’s, very mature and organized, and this is her second teaching assignment (she was in Korea before). I think she will do great, plus it’s a good first management position for her and will look good on her resume. Being a head teacher is all about diplomacy and organization, so it won’t be easy, but she will do well and learn what she needs to. I hope it isn’t too frustrating for her and I will be as supportive as I can.

Upper management has decided that no one can take ANY time off–even one day–without their expressed permission. The teachers are protesting this and we will likely get a more reasonable ruling but not sure how long that will take. In the meantime, this will make it more challenging see my friend Kathy in October. I’m still confident that I can work this out, but I’m still not sure of where and when. I will work this out as soon as I can since I know this is important for good priced airfare. If I were SURE that my days off would not change, that would make it easier, but I have no control over my schedule and I am lucky to even get the week’s schedule starting Monday before I go to bed Saturday night. Makes it impossible to plan, huh?

I won’t go into details, but the new roommate situation is not working out and I’m going to have to move on. I’m still sleeping on a couch and I don’t have anywhere to hang my clothes. The roommate promised to buy furniture for my room before I agreed to move in. That was two months ago. She also promised to put the apartment in her name as well as the cable bill. She hasn’t followed through with any of these promises. Shortly after she returned from Copenhagen, she stopped speaking to me, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in her mind, but I can watch her behavior. She’s staying out all night, drinking heavily (I can’t even keep wine in the house because she drinks it) and she’s often late for work (based on the time she leaves the apartment she can’t possibly make it to school on time). She also rarely cleans, eats my food and didn’t pay the cable bill as promised. Now past due. I’ve also got concerns about the landlord, since he didn’t fix the water heater in a timely fashion and refuses to fix the shower.

Time to move on.

I’ve contacted Katt and Ali, who have several flats, and will see if they can arrange something for me that is walking distance to my school branch. This would have the added affect of keeping down my transportation costs and keeping off the over-crowded Metro, which is often the worst part of my day.

August 2, 2015
I have my first class that I truly dislike. They are mostly teen-aged, Level 1 students and their English is pretty poor. To be fair to them I am at least the third teacher they have seen, so it’s not like they expect me to stick around. I had to split up one couple because they were making out in class—that’s a first. (they later each sent me a FaceBook request. How odd?) They reluctantly moved, but spent the rest of the class on their phones and didn’t participate. My best English speaker can’t seem to shut up–short attention span theater! One young man is so far behind he should start again. But the worst is the oldest woman, E. She complains constantly, “Teacher, very difficult.” She is occasionally hostile and rolls her eyes a LOT. She influences the other girls negatively. Today I gave a 15 minute break (they are supposed to get 10 minutes) and she and 2 others took 20 additional minutes. So I decided to do the Writing Exam review while they were out, just for spite.

I have just a few more weeks of them. So I will try to remain as positive as I can and simply endure. (How very British of me!) But the class I feel most badly about is the new Level 1 class in Avcilar. I started the class last week and they are lovely, patient people. But they simply aren’t ready for an English speaker who knows almost no Turkish. I told the office manager that they needed our standard prep class—something all students are supposed to get before Level 1. These folks are struggling with the alphabet, numbers and know so few words that we could not communicate. Last week I abandoned the book. After the alphabet, we identified every noun in the room, plus most body parts. Then I taught them “This is a/an …” since I know the Turkish. We struggled with a few adjectives that I knew the Turkish for or they knew the English for. Then he/she/it/I/you/we/they and the “be” verb that goes with them. Then I acted out every verb I could think of: run, walk, sleep, snore……It was fun, but EXHAUSTING. I hate working without a plan like that. I wasn’t prepared at all, so I think it went well despite the problems—but it was successful to some extent because the class members are so positive and patient. This simply would not have worked with all students.

The office manager emailed me that she would get them some help and that their prep classes would be the next weekend. She hoped the class would be ready “in a few hours.” (I doubted that!) Fortunately, I forwarded the email to my head teacher, Robert, and the scheduler, Philip, with a note saying that I was now free on weekend afternoons. That’s the only reason I didn’t get into trouble when Avcilar’s office manager emailed Philip and asked why I wasn’t there to teach my class on Saturday! I was stunned. Apparently they were given 2 hours of tutoring Saturday and that’s supposed be enough to get them ready for Level 1?? I feel like I’m being set up to fail and taking my class down with me. But I will show up tomorrow and do my best. I can teach them some English, but I don’t see how they can pass Level 1.

August 4, 2015
I finished a Level 3 class today. It’s a group that I really like, so I’m disappointed to lose them. Classes wrap up quickly—weekday classes are just 5-6 weeks depending on if they are morning (4 hours a day) or evening (3 hours a day), so I’ve learned that it’s best to be slightly over-scheduled. Some class won’t work out. Another will finish before something new starts up.

If I understand it correctly, things at the Avcilar branch with the Level 1 class weren’t exactly as I was told. It’s partly a communication/translation issue (there’s no head teacher and the branch manager has only Level 1 English). IF I understand, the class had a bi-lingual teacher on Saturday. They didn’t want her. I know this teacher and have every reason to believe she’s good, so I don’t know what the issue is. But they wanted me back! I hope they know what they are doing. I figure I’ll learn Turkish or die trying while teaching this class. I don’t really believe they will do well on the exams. Possibly they won’t even finish the material. But I will try. It will take me twice as long to prepare classes for them. I decided I’ll have to do much more careful lesson planning and give them a vocabulary sheet with translated words each and every class.

Overnight, Katt emailed me and asked if I wanted to see the Sirinevler flats during my days off (Thur/Fri). I replied that I did. Maybe something will work out in that area. I don’t think living with Trudy can work out well. I can’t sleep on that couch much longer—my back hurts every morning. Our only form of communication now seems to be email. And the cable bill remains unpaid. Today she emailed she couldn’t find the cable contract and that since it was in my name it was my problem. I don’t think she’s going to like how I’m going to deal with the problem.

But the worst for me is that I’ve lost faith in people. Or at least my ability to judge people. I believed her. I trusted her from the word go. I was wrong. Trying to see the best in people doesn’t work out every time. IF she comes home, it’s usually after 3am—turning on lights and waking me up. Last night she and some male came in about 2:30a. I don’t know who it was or what they were doing. I don’t want to know. Sunday morning I met her coming home as I left the flat to go to work. She was wearing the clothes she had on Friday. And she was scheduled to teach, so she was late. Again.

Time for me to leave. I’ll be as fair as possible by paying my share of the next month’s rent (minus money she owes me). Let’s just hope that one of the rooms in Sirinevler is acceptable and I can secure it immediately.

I’m in the canteen now. It’s Trudy’s day off and so I don’t want to go home. Also, it is simply too hot to go home. There isn’t enough of a breeze at the apartment and I just sweat. At least here at the office, I can get in some AC. Let’s hope it cools off soon as none of the flats have AC. September should be better.

8/7/2015
Yesterday I met Katt and secured a room in Sirinevler, just three blocks from my school.

Just moved the last bag to the new place. Emailed my departure to the EX-roomie. I can’t believe she will be surprised. The internet is in my name (something she was supposed to do) so I took the equipment and am canceling that today. (I had to pay for the modem and a huge early cancellation fee) I’ve given her until Thursday to put the apartment in her name–something the owner knew was supposed to happen immediately, so I expect no issue for her. If not, Ali, who knows the landlord, has agreed to go with me to explain the situation, since the landlord speaks no English. I can’t have my name on her lease.

It’s messy. I’m exhausted, but I hope the worst is over.

Unfortunately we are both teaching at the same branch in Avcilar on weekends. And I was asked to teach M-W morning (this week only) for a level 2 class in her regular branch, Beylikduzu. Let’s hope I can just teach my class and go each day.

Right now, I’m just terribly sad about the entire situation and exhausted from carting all my stuff on the Metro. Not the best way to move.

I’m teaching double classes for five days straight. At least I have over half the lesson plans already done.

Day to day in Istanbul

A beggar on the street breast feeds her child. Her sign reads "Aciz" which means helpless.
A beggar on the street breast feeds her child. Her sign reads “Aciz” which means helpless.

6/21/2015
I am typing on my laptop and glad that the battery is charged. When you live in a foreign country, you quickly learn to keep your electronics charged and figure out where candles and flashlights are. We are in a power outage. No idea how long it will last (it was only an hour). These things usually don’t last long, but could last days. I don’t mind not having light, but I quickly miss internet access. I can, at least, check email on my smart phone.

Trudy and I have just returned with several bags of fresh vegetables from the open market. Every community has a market day and in Avcilar (pronounced Av Ja Ler) it is Sunday. The market blocks the street and stretches over a mile, beginning a block and a half from our apartment. Absolutely beautiful produce, but also plants, kitchen items, eggs, cheese, bread, clothes and household things. We quickly decided to split the cost of most vegetables and fruit. Items are sold by the kilo and few stalls will split a kilo.

The view from my third story apartment terrace.
The view from my third story apartment terrace.
From the terrace--and there's no elevator.
From the terrace–and there’s no elevator.

Buying clothes is a trip, since everything is in UK or European sizes—neither of which I understand. I had to do a Google search for my sizes and I keep a piece of paper in my wallet with them written down. In shoes I find I wear a size 40! This does not make me want to buy them. Honestly, I don’t enjoy clothes shopping, even in the best of conditions, so this makes it even worse. But I must replace things. I bought almost no clothing in Vietnam, except for socks, a silk nightgown and a silk robe. Nothing else would have fit me and besides the quality was too poor to consider a purchase. Here I have a better shot at things fitting and being of a quality I would pay for. Oddly enough, my first serious clothing purchase turned out to be bras. In a conservative Muslim country, it’s odd enough to buy lacy bras from a man. Odder still to buy them off table in an open market where the women are simply trying them on over their clothes. I hated it, but did exactly the same. How else can I know if they fit?

I tend to eat what is fresh and in season. Cherries are ripe now, so it is the fruit we eat every day. The peppers are beautiful, so all my dishes contain them. I tend to cook up a large portion of something and eat on it for four or five days at a time. I’ve also become accustomed to the Turkish custom of eating olives and white cheese for breakfast. We buy black olives by the kilo, which costs roughly 8TL (3 dollars, US).

This is a public beach, but a bit rocky for my tastes.
This is a public beach, but a bit rocky for my tastes.
Fishing in the Sea of Marmara. The sea is just a few blocks from my apartment and I walk there a couple times a week.
Fishing in the Sea of Marmara. The sea is just a few blocks from my apartment and I walk there a couple times a week.
Restrooms are marked in the English fashion with WC for water closet. In Turkish it's pronounced Wee Jee. Betting this one is just a hole in the floor....
Restrooms are marked in the English fashion with WC for water closet. In Turkish it’s pronounced Wee Jee. Betting this one is just a hole in the floor….

6/23/2015
Since the start of Ramazan a few days ago, I’ve been awakened at 2am by a drum. At first I thought I had imagined it. I’m a vivid dreamer and also typically able to go right back to sleep when awakened in the middle of the night. (In fact I love to wake up at 4am and tell myself, “Ah! I don’t have to get up yet!”) But last night, Trudy heard it too, so I’m not making it up. On my walk today, I saw a man with a large drum. Wish I spoke enough Turkish to ask him about it. Must remember to ask my students.

But later the mystery was solved. First, Trudy’s friend, Dilek, explained that the drum is to awaken the women at 2a so that they can prepare breakfast. Today a man in a fancy red vest carrying a drum knocked on the door. When I opened it, all I could understand was “para” which is the word for money. I said, “Yok Islam,” which is poor Turkish for “no Islam.” He then got testy and rubbed his fingers together in the universal symbol for money. I just shut the door. This probably won’t win me any awards with the neighborhood, but I have a difficult time paying to be awakened in the middle of the night.

Notice the cat. Stray cats are everywhere and everyone seems to feed them. These are waiting for the fishermen to catch and share.
Notice the cat. Stray cats are everywhere and everyone seems to feed them. These are waiting for the fishermen to catch and share.
Always practicing football.
Always practicing football.
Roses in the park.
Roses in the park.

Today I began a new level 3 class, daytime, Monday-Friday, 10a-2p. It is odd having a class that goes right through lunchtime. I have to bring a snack. But I eat the snack in the privacy of the teacher’s lounge, since so many of my students are fasting. This appears to be a wonderful group of about 14 students. Fortunately, they all seem to be at level, or at least close. I always start classes with a few exercises designed to let me know their vocabulary, and they did well with their first efforts. I had each introduce himself and no one stumbled. Then we reviewed all the verb tenses they should have learned in Levels 1 and 2. Success! I’m very excited with the class. The last week I’ve put in a strong effort to introduce a systematic vocabulary for each level, since this is decidedly lacking. I’ve already come up with dialogues, too, which gives reluctant students an opportunity to speak. It also builds familiarity with actual conversations and we always learn new vocabulary. So this class will be my most organized yet. I spend half of the four hour class in the book, then the other half with materials I’ve developed or found. I laid out a calendar of vocabulary lessons, dialogues, major activities, and even some of the warm-ups. I’m pretty excited about this. This could be my most successful yet. If I keep this up, I might be a pretty good teacher before I leave Turkey!

Not that it is likely to matter to English Time.

Based on recent changes, it’s highly unlikely that I would extend my stay here. Max, our teacher trainer who I’ve learned much from, was relieved of his duties last week. No one will fill his role. Our hourly system went electronic a few weeks ago, though none of us were given any information or training on it. The move went badly. The system simply stopped working late last week. Yesterday we were forwarded an email, ostensibly about work permits. Buried in paragraphs 4-5 was the announcement that we will soon go to a fingerprint system for check in and out of our classes. If we make any mistakes, we will not be paid. Finally, the head teacher position may also disappear. Starting next week, all teachers in Istanbul will be scheduled by a single person. Since there are over a dozen offices, some with35-40 teachers, this sounds like a disaster to me. Robert, my head teacher, has never been paid his “bonus” hours, promised to him and based on the productivity of his office. He’s decidedly unmotivated, as you might imagine. Robert leaves in October and you can see his interest waning with each passing day.

Great students; poor school. Sound familiar?

Cotton candy sellers take a break under cotton candy skies.
Cotton candy sellers take a break under cotton candy skies.

6/28/2015
I often play games to reinforce vocabulary or speaking. Last weekend I played Taboo with my students to review things in a house and jobs. I wrote phrases for them to say to help. “This is a thing in a house.” “This is a job.” “This thing is found in (room). “ This person works in ______.” “You use this to ____.” One student got the word fork and he started off well, and then got confused. Finally, he said, “This is the wife of the spoon.” We all laughed, but got the word right.
The summer here seem to be cooler than Atlanta. It does climb to 90F occasionally, but usually stays in the 80’s. Despite this, body odor, at least in the men, is surprisingly strong. And I’m not talking about the beggars, either. These men are usually young, fashionable men who appear to have clean clothes and styled hair. Their shoes will shine and they may have the latest iPhone 6. But when they stand next to you on the bus, you are almost knocked over by the stench. Wow. I never find stinky women, though.

Planning an excursion west to Bucharest, Romania and Budapest, Hungary for next week. These are two new countries for me and I’m very excited. It’s (mostly) by train. If I’d had 2 more days I’d have gone on the Vienna, but I barely have a week and this vacation has caused an uproar, unfortunately
I scheduled the timing of this week off carefully. I put it on the calendar over a month ago, during a week no one else was off. I chose a time when my existing classes were finished and during Ramazan when I was assured no new classes would begin. When I found that we would be getting a new scheduler, Philip, I immediately emailed him about my time off and didn’t buy a ticket until he had responded that he agreed with it. So imagine my surprise when mid-day yesterday I get an email from Philip about a L1 class beginning the next day. I asked for the time of the class (he hadn’t specified) and asked how we would cover it during my week off. He didn’t reply to me, but it sparked a heated series of emails between Robert (my head teacher) and Philip, which Robert forwarded to me. The level 1 class was given to someone else, Philip had deemed me “stupid” for taking time off and that several teachers (including me) didn’t deserve to teach if we were going to “leave our posts.”

This new experiment in scheduling isn’t going to be fun. And it seems there’s a fingerprint system coming soon. Always something new. Not always good, though.

I mentioned that the trip next week is “mostly” by train. Seems the tracks from Istanbul to the border are being refurbished, so it’s a bus ride. An overnight bus ride, since I leave the Sirceki station at 10pm. Oh dear. This sounds horrible. Bringing earplugs and a scarf to double as a blanket. May consider eyeshades and a pillow–(though with carry-on luggage that could be a problem. I love traveling. It’s getting there that’s the problem.

The view from one of my classrooms--seven stories above the E5. The median is where the MetroBuses run. The structure over the tracks is the Atakoy metro station.
The view from one of my classrooms–seven stories above the E5. The median is where the MetroBuses run. The structure over the tracks is the Atakoy metro station.

I continue to work on my Turkish, but it is mostly just nouns and adjectives. I don’t quite understand verbs yet—and tenses and most pronouns are added as suffixes to the verbs. Wish I could take a class. Still, I looked up at a new sign on the bus this morning and realized I could read enough of it to understand what was meant. Today I bought something in the canteen and noticed the empty cash drawer. “Para yok gun!” (No money today) I’m coming along. I have a Turkish to English dictionary and often just sit and translate words off signs during long metro rides, IF I can get a seat. If not, I listen to books or my Pimsler Turkish.

My level 1 class finishes this weekend. Everyone so far has passed, save one. I SO hope I can teach their level 2 class. The young gentleman who will not pass (though I have no control over whether or not he is moved onto level 2) started off with such promise. But stopped showing up for class and his English seemed to disintegrate. By the final speaking exam he could not understand the questions I asked and simply starting saying all the English words he knew. “What are you going to do this week?” “Ah….sofa….chair….cinema…mother…sister….” Oh dear.
Another issue with speaking questions is that they can be interpreted in more than one way. I have to show a photo of an attractive woman in an office, speaking on a telephone. I ask, “Where is the woman?” One student replied. “Well, she’s right there in the picture, of course!” He got full marks. Another question on the same photo is, “Describe how she may feel.” One 20-something man seemed surprised. “Teacher? Again?” So I repeated the question. He said, “Boobies. Soft!” Then he cupped his hands and flexed his fingers in an unmistakable gesture. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

And then there is the occasional poet in my class. Sahin always asks several ways to say a phrase. He’s my best student in the Level 2 class that just finished. It turns out he was looking for “the most beautiful way” to say something.
I adore my new Level 3 students that started with me this past week. Feeling guilty that they will have a sub for 3 days.