I can’t English today

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

4/30/15

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

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

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

Gulhane Park
Gulhane Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulhane Park
Gulhane Park

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

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

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

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

Walking the walls and getting paid

Spring in Istanbul, just outside the old city walls.
Spring in Istanbul, just outside the old city walls.

4/17/2015
I’m happy to report that English Time did pay us, only one day late. In fact, I was over paid! I was surprised when I saw the branch manager (the word is müdür!) counting out so much money. I asked to see the hours and he got defensive. To be fair, he had a line of angry teachers waiting for their money, and we later found that he didn’t have enough to pay everyone! Paying people late is bound to be stressful. I knew I worked about 85 hours, but the sheet he pointed to said 160—which is almost impossible. The manager and I don’t share a language, so most communication is done with single nouns and a lot of gestures. I said, “Mistake?” He growled and pointed again, violently, with his finger at the hours. Who am I to argue? So I signed for the money. When I got back to my room that evening, I got the necessary paperwork to prove the hours I had worked and put aside the money I needed to return. Later the next day I got a sheepish email stating that I’d been overpaid and could I please return the money?

It was a lovely walk along the Northern half of the Theodosian Walls and a beautiful Spring day. I was not successful in finding ANY of the sites I was looking for, but I enjoyed the 5 mile walk (out and back) along the old city walls of Constantinople.
It was a lovely walk along the Northern half of the Theodosian Walls and a beautiful Spring day. I was not successful in finding ANY of the sites I was looking for, but I enjoyed the 5 mile walk (out and back) along the old city walls of Constantinople.

4/26/2015
Theodosian Walls, North, 042615, 21I finally got a day off Saturday, but somehow it wasn’t a very satisfying day. First, my roommate, Mags, had left the kitchen a mess—dirty dishes, sink clogged, all the surfaces needed to be washed and the floor swept and even sticky in spots. I started to clean it up, but when I took the trash (which was overflowing) to the front door, I saw that she had left the door open! I left a note saying that this was unacceptable. The underlying threat was that I’d tell Katt and Ali if it happened again. (She’s been warned about this behavior in the past and told she’d be kicked out if she did it again.) It was especially frustrating since I had JUST swept and mopped on Friday morning, including cleaning out the kitchen trash can, since Mags can’t seem to keep the trash inside the plastic liner. She’s sweet, but she seems to think she owns the kitchen and she doesn’t clean up after herself. I have not even spoken to her since. Didn’t think I could be civil.

Theodosian Walls, North, 042615, 19I took the metro to walk the northern half of the Theodosian Walls, but somehow it just wasn’t that interesting. I couldn’t find the Chora church, either. I knew it was being remodeled, so I wasn’t planning to go in. And I didn’t find the scant remains of either old palace that should have been attached to the walls. It was about 5 miles of walking. I finally came home about 2p and just stayed in my room the rest of the evening. I was having a bad day and didn’t think I was fit for public consumption.

Theodosian Walls, North, 042615, 23We have a new roommate, Magid, a retired man from Jordan. His wife died about 6 months ago and he is lonely. Not sure what he is doing here in Istanbul, probably just needed a change of scenery. He’s 62 and mostly keeps to himself. A tad messy and so far has not contributed to cleaning or to the household use items (toilet paper, dish soap, etc.). {Note: He and I talked about these things later and he simply didn’t understand the situation. I think all is resolved. Fingers crossed}

Football is played by young and old, even dogs.
Football is played by young and old, even dogs.

Did I mention I changed rooms? After Virginia moved out, her room was empty, so I took a look. Better light and a small balcony! You can see the Sea of Marmara from it. Lovely. So I talked to Katt and Ali and moved in. It took less than an hour to move my few belongings and arrange everything. I cleaned the old room (which Magid now lives in) and washed the sheets.

Today (Sunday) I taught my Level 1 class. Shelley had given them the Grammar exam Saturday, so I planned to review it with them. But I found several grading mistakes she had made and a major mistake in the answer key. She should know to check the answers! <sigh> She isn’t winning any points with this class. She’s already been removed from 2 other classes and this class has complained to me about her. If they go to the office, she’ll be sacked.

Theodosian Walls, North, 042615, 29

The front "lawn" of the walls creates a narrow green space.
The front “lawn” of the walls creates a narrow green space.

Was so tired when I got back from class that I napped most of the afternoon. Hope I sleep tonight. (I did!)

These photos are all from my walk along the northern half of the Theodosian Walls. Enjoy!

A rare christian cemetery was locked up tight.
A rare Christian cemetery was locked up tight. This photo was taken through the gate.
Somewhere here are the remains of two old palaces, but I couldn't find anything. The Blachernae Palace is near the Golden Horn and is also known as The Prison of Anemas. I suspect it is one of the towers in the distance. It dates as far back as AD 500. The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus must have been grand back in the 10th Century. My guidebooks lists it as a museum, but I didn't find it. Perhaps it was on the inside walls, which I couldn't access without walking back a half mile to the Endirnekapi and back.
Somewhere here are the remains of two old palaces, but I couldn’t find anything. The Blachernae Palace is near the Golden Horn and is also known as The Prison of Anemas. I suspect it is one of the towers in the distance. It dates as far back as AD 500. The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus must have been grand back in the 10th Century. My guidebooks lists it as a museum, but I didn’t find it. Perhaps it was on the inside walls? I couldn’t pass to the other side without walking back a half mile to the Endirnekapi and back. I just wasn’t feeling it this day.
Life goes on just inside the walls of the old city.
Life goes on just inside the walls of the old city.
On a side street, I found this cat sanctuary. There must have been three dozen cats of all ages. They looked a bit thin and not entirely healthy, behind their fenced in nich.
On a side street, I found this cat sanctuary. There must have been three dozen cats of all ages. They looked a bit thin and not entirely healthy, behind their fenced in niche.
The ruins of the Theodosian Walls are now in the heart of the city--surrounded by modern structures. The walls are mostly crumbling in a thin green line around the old city.
The ruins of the Theodosian Walls are now in the heart of the city–surrounded by modern structures and cars speeding past. The walls are crumbling on the edge of their narrow line of green that marks the old city limits.

The Theodosian Walls

The 5th-century city walls built by Emperor Theodosius II stretch for 6.5 km (4 miles) from Istanbul's Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara.  I initially thought this woman was foraging, but when I got closer I realized she had a garden. Most of the area in front of the walls seems to be produce!
The 5th-century city walls built by Emperor Theodosius II stretch for 6.5 km (4 miles) from Istanbul’s Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara.
I initially thought this woman was foraging, but when I got closer I realized she had a garden. Most of the area in front of the walls seems to be produce!

4/4/2015

The tulips were in bloom!
The tulips were in bloom!

Today was Saturday, my only full day off, so I decided to spend a few hours walking in the bright sunshine of spring in Istanbul. My path? To follow the remains of the old city walls—known as the Theodosian Walls. They are one of the most impressive remains of the Byzantine past, and they held off invaders for more than 1,000 years! I walked from Topkapı Metro  (Pronounced: Top Kap Uh. That final letter isn’t an “I” it’s the vowel pronounced uh) south to the Marmara Sea. I walked around the sea park, investigated a few old city gates and cemeteries, and walked back. Probably 4 miles in all. I’ll sleep well tonight! I do a lot of walking here in Istanbul, so I’m glad I’m in fair shape.

Most of the walls are in pretty poor shape. I walked along side, but my guidebook was very clear that climbing the walls was unsafe in every way. There's the danger of falling and of being accosted by thieves. Many homeless and questionable characters hang out here.
Most of the walls are in pretty poor shape. I walked along side, but my guidebook was very clear that climbing the walls was unsafe in every way. There’s the danger of falling and of being accosted by thieves. Many homeless and questionable characters hang out here.

It was cool and breezy, but the sun shone all day—perfect walking weather. The tulips are in bloom and (my favorite) daffodils. It is spring in the city of cities!

Cats everywhere around the ruins--I see them all over the world.
Cats everywhere around the ruins–I see them all over the world.

With 11 fortified gates and 192 towers, this double walled enclosure sealed in the landward side of the old city of Constantinople. The length of the wall is about 4 miles (6km), so I saw approximately half of it today. It extends from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, enclosing an area of about 2.5 square miles. As with many important old Roman cities, the “walls” are actually three layers, each taller and thicker than the one before. A thick inner wall had 60 foot towers that gave a view of any approaching enemy, by land or sea. The outer wall was lower, 26 feet high, with additional towers, offset and between the inner wall towers, creating unblocked line of sight. Both walls were made of alternating limestone blocks and red tile brick. This arrangement is attractive and helped them to withstand earthquakes. Between the walls was a 50 foot terrace, used to move military troops easily. (in many cities, this area is where the bazaar is) A second terrace ended in a short crenelated defense wall. In front of it all was a moat (which may or may not have had water) which was 60 feet across and 20 feet deep. Even dry, the moat would have kept large artillery from coming too close.

The walls were built between AD 412-422 (dates vary), mostly during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II (408-50). At the time, they were half a mile outside the city’s original Walls of Constantine, extending the city’s protected area. Though the older Constantine Walls were still standing when the Theodosian Walls were built, nothing remains of them today. In 447 an earthquake destroyed 54 (some reports say 57) of the towers and much of the sea wall. The timing could not have been worse as Attila the Hun was already in the Balkans and on his way to take over the city. For 60 straight days and nights, the population labored to repair the walls.

This park is clearly dedicated to TULIPS. There is even a statue of two tulip bulbs. But, I preferred the daffodils at the far entrance.
This park is clearly dedicated to TULIPS. There is even a statue of two tulip bulbs. But, I preferred the daffodils at the far entrance.

Ultimately the city finally fell from sheer weight of numbers of the Ottoman forces in May 1453 after a six-week siege. According to Wikipedia, “The walls were largely maintained intact during most of the Ottoman period, until sections began to be dismantled in the 19th century, as the city outgrew its medieval boundaries. Despite the subsequent lack of maintenance, many parts of the walls survived and are still standing today. A large-scale restoration program has been under way since the 1980s.”     

Just inside this city gate is a mosque and cemetery (turbesi).
Just inside this city gate is a mosque and cemetery (turbesi).
The headstones look like turbans.
The headstones look like turbans.
A simple marble area to wash before entering the mosque. Of course, only the men can expose their feet to make the ritual ablutions before prayer. The women all crowd the bathrooms.
A simple marble area to wash before entering the mosque. Of course, only the men can expose their feet to make the ritual ablutions before prayer. The women all crowd the bathrooms.
My guidebook calls the neighborhood just inside the walls "working class." I think that's pretty diplomatic.
My guidebook calls the neighborhood just inside the walls “working class.” I think that’s pretty diplomatic.
The wall has several openings--formerly city gates. Most were narrow since they might be walled up in case of attack. I have no idea how the cars get through, though. This is two way traffic and there is only room for one car width. Visibility is nil through the wall. Eeek.
The wall has several openings–formerly city gates. Most were narrow since they might be walled up in case of attack. I have no idea how the cars get through, though. This is two way traffic and there is only room for one car width. Visibility is nil through the two layers of wall. Eeek.
This end of the wall is at the Sea of Marmara and is part of a park. It was a lovely day and lots of barges were on the water.
This end of the wall is at the Sea of Marmara and is part of a park. It was a lovely day and lots of barges were on the water.
It was lovely seeing families picnic along the Marble Tower, the end of the wall. This tower was once actually in the sea.
It was endearing to see families picnic along the Marble Tower, the end of the wall. This tower was once actually in the sea.
This tower is at the end of the wall, at the Sea or Marmara, now a park.
This tower is at the end of the wall, at the Sea or Marmara, now a park.

Milion Marker

 

All the Tulips have just bloomed, so it is glorious in Istanbul. There's a Tulip Festival coming up, too. Not sure what the brick structure is beside this marker. Anyone?
All the Tulips have just bloomed, so it is glorious in Istanbul. There’s a Tulip Festival coming up, too. Not sure what the brick structure is beside this marker. One guidebook refers to it as an Ottoman water tower.

Sometimes there is just a tiny bit of history here in Istanbul. It’s so easy to just walk by. Trudy and I stumbled across the Milion mile marker yesterday while strolling through a misty, rainy Sultanahmet area. I’ve walked by it a few times already, but was looking for it this trip. This stone is located in the Hagia Sophia square, just around the corner from the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. There’s the remains of a large masonry structure beside it, but it doesn’t seem to be connected.

This marker was located in the Hippodrome (the chariot racing stadium) area. It is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch. All road distances to the far corners of the empire were once measured from this stone. Now there’s a cute sign post with distances and directions to major cities.

According to Wikipedia“The domed building of the Milion rested on 4 large arches, and it was expanded and decorated with several statues and paintings. It had survived intact, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), for about the next 50 years, but disappeared at the start of the 16th century. During excavations in the 1960s, some partial fragments of it were discovered under houses in the area.”

This is the Milion marker, or at least what is left of it. It was raining, so I got really wet, then there was a power outage and so we walked a mile to a bus station in the rain to find a way back. Welcome to Turkey.
This is the Milion marker, or at least what is left of it. It was raining, so I got really wet, then there was a power outage and so we walked a mile to a bus station in the rain to find a way back. Welcome to Turkey.

Istanbul, 033115, 12

 

Impressions of Istanbul, first month

Garbage collection is good in Istanbul. You can find trash cans on the streets and dumpsters in residential areas. The streets are swept daily--with all the smokers, there's always lots of cigarette butts.
Garbage collection is good in Istanbul. You can find trash cans on the streets and dumpsters in residential areas. The streets are swept daily–with all the smokers, there’s always lots of cigarette butts.

4/1/2015

So far, I’m quite happy here in Istanbul. It’s an amazing city—crowded, of course, but most everything is better than Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Especially the job. In fact, Vietnam seems like a long time ago. And I can’t believe by this time last year I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for a month!

Here are the positives: It’s easier for me to find clothes. Things are in my size and the quality of clothing is comparable to the US. In Vietnam, all the clothes were very small and looked like it would fall apart in a couple washings. The quality and variety of all items for sale is better here, too—and vacuum cleaners exist here, unlike Vietnam.  I’ve not seen any cordless models, but at least you don’t have to sweep with those wimpy brooms. Garbage is a better system—though Turks throw garbage in the gutter, the streets are cleaned every day. There are also trashcans on the sidewalk and on the corner of many residential streets there are large dumpsters. That’s where I throw my trash every day. Otherwise things are fairly clean with little graffiti.

I like the weather—it is variable, unlike VN. You can’t believe how much you miss cool mornings or gentle rain or even an overcast sky.  The “sameness” just got boring. Two seasons: wet and dry. Two temperatures: hot and hotter. And the heat was oppressive. Here in Istanbul, it’s cool enough that I can find clover–and four leaf clovers! (My favorite pastime) It’s spring now and things are blooming, including winter pansies and lots of bulbs. There’s a Tulip festival coming up soon. It rains often, but it’s mostly a gentle sprinkle.

The Metro system is new—most of it less than a decade old. It’s in good shape and the buses and trams run very often. But they are all very full because there are so many people here using the system. I usually have to stand when I take the metro bus 8 stops to school. There are actually two bus systems. There are conventional buses that run with traffic and there are metro buses. The metro buses run in dedicated lanes in the middle of the highways–what would be the median in the US. They are surprisingly fast. Plus, there are underground metro systems, tramways and funiculars in addition to trains. All of these a paid with the same card system. Only the dolmas–which run from the metro buses around neighborhoods–are paid separately, in cash.

One of my co-teachers has railed about the rudeness of people on the metro, but I’ve not noticed it. Occasionally, some youngster won’t vacate a seat for an older person, but it’s less than I’d expect in NYC. And most of the time someone will step up and tell the youth to get up, which they do, sheepishly. Hopefully, I still “look” young and healthy enough that they don’t feel the need to get up for me all the time.

(I recently had a student who I took to be old enough to be my father. Turned out I was 2 years older than he! I just don’t feel old, even though I am by many standards. My students tell me that when a woman here is my age, she just stays home since she is old. LOL)

The big downside here is smoking. It’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Men smoke almost constantly. Women smoke too, but not always in public. It shocks me to see smoking at the level of 1950’s USA. My students even argue that smoking isn’t THAT bad for you. They are not allowed to smoke in the classroom, fortunately, but they do smoke in most cafes and restaurants and trying to get into a doorway can be impossible in the rain–all the smokers are crowded just outside. The 10 minute break every hour is a requirement for the smokers in my classroom. I don’t have to look at the time. They will tell me!

The worst things in Istanbul are caused by too many people and a (currently) conservative government. I experienced my second power outage in Istanbul yesterday. The first was a few days ago and lasted just an hour. I’m told that’s common and affects part of the city every weekday, though there doesn’t appear to be a schedule. It’s a way to force reduced electrical use. Yesterday the outage was 8 hours and affected most of the country!

I’d taken a new teacher and roommate, Trudy, to see the Sultanahmet area (see photos below) and we couldn’t get the tram back because none of them were running! No one could speak enough English to explain the problem to us, but we eventually figured out that none of them were working and the stores that were open had generators. I had an appointment at 1p, so needed to be at school. We tried to take a taxi, but the driver wouldn’t use the meter–he wanted us to pay 100TL (about double what it should have been)! I didn’t even try to bargain, I just walked away. We eventually found a bus that went to our destination. Felt pretty lucky to have figured it out. Welcome to Turkey!

I took Trudy to the Sultanahmet area, which includes the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish). We didn't have time to enter the old church, but we did visit the tombs in the back, which are free.
I took Trudy to the Sultanahmet area, which includes the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish). We didn’t have time to enter the old church, but we did visit the tombs in the back, which are free.

Istanbul, 033115, 4

Don't you love the turbans? The room was very grand--lovely tile and marble.
Don’t you love the turbans? The room was very grand–lovely tile and marble.
I try to carry a scarf all the time, in case I run into a tomb or religious place I want to visit. It is not REQUIRED that I cover my hair--that's the law. But it is a sign of respect to do so. Everyone takes off their shoes however.
I try to carry a scarf all the time, in case I run into a tomb or religious place I want to visit. It is not REQUIRED that I cover my hair–that’s the law. But it is a sign of respect to do so. Everyone takes off their shoes, however.

I made it to my appointment only 10 minutes late—AFTER walking up 9 flights of stairs to get to the Şirinevler (SHEAR EE NEV LAR) classrooms (this is a neighborhood in the district Bahçelievler BAH CHE LEEV LAR). Tuncay (TOON JAI) was not there yet—he’d had the same problem with trams. He’s much younger, but since he’s a smoker, the stairs nearly killed him! LOL He took me to buy another cell phone to replace the one that was stolen over the weekend. I paid 660TL for a used iPhone 4S, case, charger, and SIM card. Seems like a lot of money for an older model phone, but I have to have one. And then we walked back up the stairs a second time.

After, I planned to stay at school and do my lesson plan for that night, but Edgar (a new teacher) simply wouldn’t leave me alone, so I decided I’d brave the steps AGAIN. Got a metro bus to my apartment, which, surprisingly has limited power. No elevator, though, so up 5 flights of stairs. The limited power means that we have no hot water, can’t shower or do laundry, but we have lights, can charge phones, wash our faces and cook. Better than much of the city. (These restrictions were lifted the next day)

At 5p, I got back on the metro bus and walked up the stairs again to school. Still no power. They were just about to cancel classes when the power came back on at 6:15! I only had 6 students for my 7p class—and three of them left at the second break. We all agreed that it had been a difficult day. If I could have, I would have gone home too. The three students that stayed are actually some of the lowest level English speakers—Murat (who seems to have just broken up with his Russian girlfriend, Natalie), Gökhan (who recently learned how to properly use “This is,” There are,” “but” and “so”) , and Serhat (a poor but adorable student, who will never pass level 1, but has a good attitude and a wonderful smile.) Though their skills are low with English, they are very nice. I think of them as Turkish good-old-boys, and they are improving, though they never study outside of class and never do their homework. (They even leave their books at school in an empty cabinet in our classroom). Despite this, I can still see a lot of improvement in a month. I spent the last hour just talking with them—I’d placed a few simple questions on the board and we discussed them. Easy Peasy (as my students have learned)—this activity does more to make them think and speak in English than anything else. But it only works with small groups that are at the same level so that everyone can participate.