Ramazan and bacon, glorious bacon

bacon and eggs--my first in months!
bacon and eggs–my first in months!

6/17/15
Today I had the most successful shopping trip so far in Turkey: I FOUND BACON! This is a Muslim country folks. Pork simply isn’t available at the corner store. It took 4 hours and five metro transfers (transfers are not free, BTW) to get to the store that caters to westerners and back to my apartment. The cost was astronomical: 100TL or about $36 US. That’s roughly 5% of my monthly pay. Totally worth it, too. You can get cured beef (dana) and sheep, but it is soooooo not the same as pork belly.

The other day I had a reading in class that mentioned that someone had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Not one of my students had ever even heard of the word before. So I wrote on the board: “pig meat = pork. Bacon is a type of pork.” The look of horror on my students’ faces was comical to me, but I dared not even smile. I explained that non-Muslims often ate pork and that bacon was one of my favorite foods. They were obviously seeing a side of their teacher that they hadn’t expected. We then went on to learn another vocabulary word: forbidden. Always a teaching moment!

6/18/15
Today is the first day of Ramazan (Ramadan to most of the Muslim world). Technically it started at sundown yesterday. Observant followers of Islam fast from sunup to sundown. A lunar holiday, the month long celebration moves each year. It is particularly difficult when it falls in the middle of the summer—the longest and hottest days. Not even water is allowed to pass your lips. According to Ramadan Mubarak:

“It was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. One of the five pillars or key practices of this faith tradition is to fast during this month from the time just before sunrise until just after sunset. During the fast, total abstinence is required from food, drink (including water), smoking or consumption of tobacco, sexual intercourse, and any form of negativity — backbiting, fighting, cursing, arguing and similar behaviors. Muslims rise before dawn for a breakfast, fast through the day, and then break the fast first with dates (which Muhammad ate) and then a light meal with family and friends.

This is also a time of intensified spiritual practice. In addition to the five times a day prayer, a longer Tajweed prayer is said nightly, and sometimes prayer extends hours into the night. Many Muslims also read the Qur’an cover to cover during Ramadan. Doing good deeds and making charitable contributions are also recommended.”

And with that in mind, what am I doing? I’m eating a late breakfast of BACON and sunny-side-up eggs fried in bacon grease. Trust me, this is not a political statement. This is just the breakfast of a woman who has not tasted bacon for nine months and two continents. It reminds me of last summer, hiking the AT, when the only foods that excited me were shelf stable bacon and instant mashed potatoes. Not an inspiring cuisine. Certainly not a healthy one. But old friend, I have missed you so! This isn’t the best bacon I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not free range, thick cut, maple-smoked. But it’s bacon. It will do.

We’ve been reminded not to bring food or water into the classroom during evening classes, which start at 7p. Usually we take a 10 minute break each hour, but during Ramazan, we combine all the breaks into one. We stop class a few minutes before sundown (so the break time changes by a minute or so each day) and let the students have 30 minutes to break their fast. Many students will not return after the break, I’m sure.

This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.
This is just a couple blocks from my apartment. The man is sorting wool.

I’m still getting organized here at the new apartment. Today I bought a sweeper and some rolling shelves. The place isn’t really set up to live in–I’m still on a futon couch and I have no place to hang clothes. Unfortunately, with the extra items I’ve bought for the kitchen and house, plus the very expensive trip yesterday to the “Western” grocery store, I’m almost broke. Since I was just paid Monday, that’s pretty bad. I have, of course, set aside my rent and utilities and put money on my Metro card and phone. The fridge is stocked for a week or so. But there isn’t much left over for the month now. Teachers are poorly paid.

The New Mosque

It's so big and the area so crowded, I had trouble getting far enough back to get a photo!
It’s so big and the area so crowded, I had trouble getting far enough back to get a photo!
The perfect break! Baklava and tea.
The perfect break! Baklava and tea.

In America, we think of something that’s 100 years old as being “very old.” Here in Istanbul, 100 years is barely considered “dusty.”

The Yeni Cami (Yen ee Jam ee) is one of the important items on the skyline, and shoreline, of Istanbul. The name means New Mosque, though “new” is clearly relative. It was completed in 1663. It was originally named the Valide Sultan Mosque. Begun in 1597, there were starts and stops, plus some partial reconstructions along the way, gaining it the name New Valide Sultan Mosque. Eventually, the population just called it the New Mosque. It’s an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, Turkey. Located on the Golden Horn, the mosque is right at the at the Eminönü Metro tram stop and within view of the Galata Bridge.

The exterior of the mosque boasts 66 domes and semi domes, as well as two minarets. You can, BTW, know the importance of a mosque by the number of minarets (towers). Only a sultan (or his family, who also carry the title of sultan, even the mother and daughters) could have a mosque with two minarets. Imagine how important that makes the Hagia Sophia (with four minarets) and The Blue Mosque (with 6).

This is where the ablutions really take place. Men were lined up to wash their feet, face, eyes and ears as required before prayers. Hey, at least they are clean! Bonus, you can almost always find a public rest room (WC) at a mosque. There may be a small donation to use it.
This is where the ablutions really take place. Men were lined up to wash their feet, face, eyes and ears as required before prayers. Hey, at least they are clean! Bonus, you can almost always find a public rest room (WC) at a mosque. There may be a small donation to use it.

An elegant şadırvan (ablution fountain) stands in the center courtyard, but is only ornamental. The actual ritual purifications are performed with water taps on the south wall of the mosque. Stone blocks supplied from the island of Rhodes were used in the construction of the mosque. The complete complex consists of a hospital (no longer in use), primary school, public baths, a türbe (cemetery), two public fountains and a market (The Spice Bazaar). The public square has undergone a recent renovation and the two fountains are now modern and new. Much of the rest was blocked from the public during renovations.

This woman sells wheat grain to feed the pigeons and they seem very well fed indeed. Fatih is the name of the district that the New Mosque is in. Belediyesi translates as "municipality." Odd the Turkish words I know, huh?
This woman sells wheat grain to feed the pigeons and they seem very well fed indeed. Fatih is the name of the district that the New Mosque is in. Belediyesi translates as “municipality.” Odd the Turkish words I know, huh?
Found this on the internet: "If you stop by the Yeni Camii at the entrance of the Spice bazaar (a.k.a The Egyptian Bazzar) you will surely observe the numerous flocks of pigeons feeding around the mosque. This is one of the most true and consistent vision of Istanbul, the pigeons and hence the pigeon feeders. The crowd of pigeons here is tremendous and honestly the season doesn’t matter at all. Here pigeons always rely on constant food provided by the locals or the tourists. Wheat supply is sold for very little money in mobile stalls ..... Continuous feeding ends up with overwhelming pigeons but still you feel like feeding them. This is one of the musts I do whenever I am in the neighbourhood. I buy a plate of wheat and scatter it around on the pigeons like throwing a frisbee. After your visit to the mosque spend some time with the pigeons and they will relax you while you watch the hordes fly from one feeder to the other. It might even be scary at some times as the pigeons swoosh before you, just inches above your head, or face. I always believe that this is a magic show that everyone has to experience for themselves."   http://www.spottedbylocals.com/istanbul/the-pigeon-feeder/
Found this on the internet: “If you stop by the Yeni Camii at the entrance of the Spice bazaar (a.k.a The Egyptian Bazzar) you will surely observe the numerous flocks of pigeons feeding around the mosque. This is one of the most true and consistent vision of Istanbul, the pigeons and hence the pigeon feeders. The crowd of pigeons here is tremendous and honestly the season doesn’t matter at all.
Here pigeons always rely on constant food provided by the locals or the tourists. Wheat supply is sold for very little money in mobile stalls ….. Continuous feeding ends up with overwhelming pigeons but still you feel like feeding them. This is one of the musts I do whenever I am in the neighbourhood. I buy a plate of wheat and scatter it around on the pigeons like throwing a frisbee.
After your visit to the mosque spend some time with the pigeons and they will relax you while you watch the hordes fly from one feeder to the other. It might even be scary at some times as the pigeons swoosh before you, just inches above your head, or face. I always believe that this is a magic show that everyone has to experience for themselves.”
The entrance to the court yard. So many steps everywhere!
The entrance to the court yard. So many steps everywhere!
It was a busy day and I didn't go inside.
It was a busy day and I didn’t go inside.

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.

What I’ve learned about the Turkish language

This may be the most patriotic country I've ever been to. They love their flag and you will see it everywhere.
This may be the most patriotic country I’ve ever been to. They love their flag and you will see it everywhere.

I started Turkish lessons, but everyone else in the class had been here for months and had a lot of basic vocabulary. I don’t, though I work at it every day. I simply could not keep up with the class, so I’ve dropped out. Also, the teacher, though a great guy, simply has a different style that doesn’t work for me. I need more structure. But I am continuing on my own to try to learn this language. Here’s what I know so far, after 4 weeks of living here.

Turkish is a language that developed heavily from Persian, Arabic and French. In 1928, the Ottoman script was replaced by the Latin Alphabet, mostly by the innovative leader Kemal Atatürk. He was a brilliant man who gave his life, his resources and his health to his country—dragging them kicking and screaming into the 20ith century, mostly by sheer force of will.  An amazing man, by all accounts.  There are statues, photos and death masks of him everywhere. If you look in the dictionary under the word “beloved” you will see his picture. Want to commit suicide? Go to a public place and start saying bad things about Ataturk. You won’t last long.

Anyway, back to Turkish. In the early 1980’s, English was established as the second language, with less emphasis on French and German—one of the reasons I can come here to teach.

The Turkish Alphabet has 29 letters to our 26. Vowels are a, e, i, o, u (the ones we are familiar with, called and pronounced ah, ay, ee, oh, oo) plus I (that’s an I without a dot, called and pronounced eh), ö, ü (referred to and pronounced as ea as in early and u as in nude).

There are also a few new consonants: ç  (Called chay, pronounced like ch in chair),  ş (called shay, pronounced like the sh in should) and  ğ(called yumasak gay, it is not pronounced). And they don’t use q, w or x. Every letter has its own sound. Most are similar to English but there are exceptions: for example, c is pronounced like j. You get used to it.

With the exception of ğ, every letter is pronounced in Turkish. If you can say it properly, you can spell it and vice versa. For example the word Mine (a common name) is pronounced MEE NAY). There is very little emphasis on any syllable, and often every syllable is pronounced with the same stress.

You will never see the –th sound. If you find a word that has these two letters side by side, assume that the syllable break is between the letters and pronounce them separately. The name Beth is impossible for them to say.

Forming words: The Turks form words mostly by adding suffixes—letters on the end of the root word. Sometimes a word will have several added to it and be a complete sentence in itself.  It’s logical and completely foreign to English. Endings are added one my one to the root word to produce the desired meeting and letters are added to create verb tenses. An English phrase such as “you should not have to go” will be expressed in Turkish as a single word “go” (git) as the root. For example: gitmek means “to go” or “going.” The single root word git is like the imperative form for English: Go!  Or to make a noun plural, you add either –lar or -ler.  It’s really very logical.

To Be/Articles—”be” is a verb that we use constantly in English (am, is, are, was, were) but isn’t seen in most languages. Same with articles (a, an, the). It is a constant struggle for Turkish speakers to comprehend how to use them and why on earth anyone would bother.  Once you understand that other languages don’t use them you begin to see what a hassle they are! Grammar rules in Turkish always apply, particularly those of pronunciation. English rules only work about 80% of the time. All of my students quickly learn the phrases: “most of the time in English…..” and “English is not fair.”

Vowel Harmony: I have much to learn on this subject, but it’s safe to say that Turkish is very concerned with vowel harmony. Words have to sound right and you can’t just stick any vowel in a suffix. All the vowels in a word have to be of the same “type” which I’ve learned is “thick” or “thin” though I can’t quite figure out why one is one way or another. It matters and I’m figuring out how. Always lots to learn.  I do know that ğ, yumasak gay, is only found between vowels and is used as a kind of spacer—since they don’t like vowels side by side. Again, it isn’t pronounced.

It’s hard. But I think I have a shot at eventually being functional in Turkish. Not sure that was even possible in Vietnamese.

Tomb and cemetery of Mahmud II

Mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II, taken from the busy street. You can see the tramlines in the street.
Mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II, taken from the busy street. You can see the tramlines in the street.

I wasn’t looking for this when I ran across it. I was looking for a haman–a Turkish bathhouse. But this quiet and regal cemetery and tomb simply drew me in from the crowded street of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar area.

The Sultan Mahmud II cemetery and tomb are in what is now a busy, downtown area, It’s surprising to see it so close to trams, carpet hawkers and  kabapci sellers (kee bap jee, sellers of kebobs).  The mausoleum itself houses the sarcophagi of three Ottoman sultans: Sultan Mahmud II (1875-1839), Sultan Abdulaziz (1830-1876), and Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918), and those of their close relatives. Adjacent to the mausoleum is a small graveyard containing the graves of some of the sultans’ more remote descendants and assorted dignitaries. Some graves are much older than the mausoleum.

Inside the mausoleum. You have to take your shoes off, but admission is free. I keep a scarf for this sort of thing. It's not required, but it is a sign of respect to cover your hair--much as used to be done in Catholic churches.
Inside the mausoleum. You have to take your shoes off, but admission is free. I keep a scarf for this sort of thing. It’s not required, but it is a sign of respect to cover your hair–much as used to be done in Catholic churches.
The caskets are oversized and tilted at an angle. On top of the draped box is a fez.
The caskets are oversized and tilted at an angle. On top of the draped box is a fez.

Istanbul, 032815, Tomb of Mehmud II, 12

Istanbul, 032815, Tomb of Mehmud II, 3 Istanbul, 032815, Tomb of Mehmud II, 7

The cemetery is even older and fascinating. I am still learning the symbolism. I found this information about Ottoman style tombstones: “Sixteenth-century Ottoman tombstones marked a change in funerary practice in the Empire. By now tombstones were beginning to appear as social markers where they were not only starting to be more prominent in structure, but there were also headgears of different turbans, decoration of the body of the tombstones with motifs, as well as providing more information about the deceased. The first mentioned change is said to be an indication of the pre-Islamic Turkic traditions. This carving of headgears displayed the social status and thus class of the deceased. Motifs were almost always reserved for women. With the exclusion of the palace women who had mausoleums next to their husbands, women didn’t hold social status through occupation. Perhaps it was because of this reason that women tombstones were fashioned in flower motifs.” There is a good video at the link that shows the cemetery.

From the internet: This beautiful tomb was built in Mahmud's sister's garden after his death. In the tomb with Mahmud is the 32nd Otomon Emperor Sultan Abdulazia, 34th Ottoman Emperor Sultan Abdulhamid II, and other members of the family incluing children and the wives of Mahmud and Abdulaziz. Eighteen family members are buried here. The chamber to the left of the entry contains the remains of 11 family members who are wives and children of the Sultans. There are 130 statesmen buried in the garden outside of the tomb. The tomb is located in the heart of the tourist district in the Sultan Ahmet section of Istanbul. It is very close to the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and other tourist attractions.
From the internet: This beautiful tomb was built in Mahmud’s sister’s garden after his death. In the tomb with Mahmud is the 32nd Otomon Emperor Sultan Abdulazia, 34th Ottoman Emperor Sultan Abdulhamid II, and other members of the family incluing children and the wives of Mahmud and Abdulaziz. Eighteen family members are buried here. The chamber to the left of the entry contains the remains of 11 family members who are wives and children of the Sultans. There are 130 statesmen buried in the garden outside of the tomb. The tomb is located in the heart of the tourist district in the Sultan Ahmet section of Istanbul. It is very close to the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and other tourist attractions.
These are dated in the 1300's.
These are dated in the 1300’s.

Istanbul, 032815, Tomb of Mehmud II, 6

The cemetery outside the Sultan Mahmud II mausoleum. The tombstones are made to resemble the "hats" or turbans that were worn.
The cemetery outside the Sultan Mahmud II mausoleum. The tombstones are made to resemble the “hats” or turbans that were worn.

Istanbul, 032815, Tomb of Mehmud II, 2

 

This is from the site:  Ottoman Tombstones http://tombstones.commons.gc.cuny.edu/inscriptions/
This is from the site: Ottoman Tombstones http://tombstones.commons.gc.cuny.edu/inscriptions/