July 30, 2014

Kadifekale and, of course, Kediler

I woke up with an adventure-killing headache this morning. I whined, groaned, and moaned my way out of what I thought would be an intolerable walk to Kadifekale, some castle ruins laying dormant atop a hill in İzmir.

Instead, we took a wonderful two-hour nap, brought home two huge 10 liter waters from the store, and studied Turkish.

By five o'clock, I was feeling fully myself again, and I volunteered to go on the previously "intolerable" march to the top of a hill in 100 degree heat. In typical Jena style, ponytail, t-shirt, walking shorts, and athletic shoes, I was ready to face the adventure. Alan, thoroughly slathered with his ever-present sunscreen, wearing all black, including black jeans (I guess people with less body fat don't get as hot?) set off alongside me with our water bottles in his backpack. We rode bikes for the first leg of the trip in order to save our energy for the climb.

We ditched the bikes at Konak, the place famous for its old clock tower. Fighting our way through the masses (sidenote: it's a holiday called Bayram here, the end of Ramadan) like salmon swimming upstream, we finally made it to the base of the enormous hill, which, in true Turkey style is covered, every square inch, with houses and other buildings. We followed the winding roads and steep alleyway staircases up and up and up. Cats, dogs, and beautiful plants lined the streets. The houses, built precariously close to the street, were painted in every tropical color. Not deeply saturated hues, but instead, the mellow sea foam, tangerine, and sky blue type. I love how every house is completely different from its neighbor--the Turkish houses have so much character. Mysterious little doors and peppers strung on twine begged for me to take pictures, but instead I just observed.

As we climbed higher and higher through the winding, narrow streets, I noticed that the beachfront of İzmir I have come to know is a far cry from how most people in this city live. The higher we climbed, the longer the women's hemlines became. I don't think I saw any women's bare arms or legs once we started climbing past a particular intersection. More of the women covered their hair, and some even wore the full black abaya and hijab characteristic of Saudi Arabia. In my shorts and uncovered hair, I became all the more conspicuous tripping over uneven sidewalks and dodging errant cars, catcalls, and motorcycles. I tolerated my own discomfort in favor of reaching our goal--the castle.

HUGE flag flying at Kadifekale
On top of the hill, just before the castle, I observed a cemetery in which each grave had a flagpole flying a good-sized Turkish flag. It was actually very beautiful and moving to me for some reason. I like the Turkish flag a lot--it's so bold and bright. It is displayed everywhere here, and while I refrained from photographing the cemetery, I did capture the enormous flag flying above the castle.

What remained of the castle was impressive, mostly because I'm still not used to really old things. I mean, in the US, something built in the 1800s is old. Here in Turkey, buildings from before the time of Christ are everywhere! It's cool to have so much history underfoot, even if it's pretty much just ruins.

Swingset at Kadifekale
There was an interesting playground on the hill with the castle. I have noticed that the Turks like to entertain the kids with playgrounds everywhere. A great idea. US--take note. Alan described this particular playground as "gnarly" because of its cruder than usual appearance. Picture a welder wanting to make something for his kids. He takes pieces of metal intended for framing a building, and welds them together. The final product looks like Piet Mondrian and an Eastern-block architect consulted on the blueprint for the play area. Alan said that he "wanted to play on it" but he was worried he "might get hurt," which means a lot from the guy who wanted to try kite surfing. By the way, my father, also a welder, once made me a swing set in his shop. It was pretty awesome, and a little gnarly.

The view of the highways leading out of Izmir.
The carving of Ataturk is just left of center.
We checked off the castle, and with attention to how much remaining sunlight we had to traverse back down through the jungle of allies and stairways, we decided to go with Alan's idea of orienting ourselves with the Kültürpark (our favorite place) and diving down the first long staircase pointing in that direction. While I might have preferred retracing our steps, I was game for the downhill adventure.

Not long into our dizzying route, we became the attraction for EVERYONE who was in shouting distance of us. They yelled very polite English phrases that they knew, such as: "HELLO!" and "MY NAME IS ASLI!" and "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" in hopes of gaining our foreigner attention. Children ran alongside us, asking for money (this is a Bayram tradition somewhat similar to trick-or-treating). The chatter and hubbub reached a fever pitch in the narrowest, most congested area of the hillside. I started to freak out due to the winding roads and unsolicited attention, and two teenage boys came up to me and started asking me questions. Instead of snapping at them, for some reason, their presence really calmed my frayed nerves. They asked if I was going to the Izmir Fuar (a.k.a the Kültürpark) and politely gave me directions (not that useful due to the incredible maze of streets) as they walked with us for a few twists and turns. They asked me about New York and Miami, and told me how old they were and where they went to school, etc. They left us to our own devices just as abruptly as they had approached us, and we easily navigated the rest of the way.

Talking to the boys would later be a point of contention between Alan and me as we discussed possible outcomes of this sort of random interaction. The fates of victims on the TV show "Locked Up Abroad" came up in our heated discussion, as did past run-ins with would-be muggers in various cities. Basically we decided that I might work on my street smarts and Alan might work on challenging his assumptions about all strangers in foreign countries being opportunist thieves. Marriage = lots of difficult conversions about compromise.

Lora, the kedi guard dog.
My favorite cat, Michael " Jordan" Jordan is photobombing.
We detoured to see our demi-pets on the way home, as a way to calm down from our argument and recharge our souls. Two-legged dog was there, and very happy to have both of our undivided attention focus on scratching his itchy places. The Kedi Anthill erupted with life when we showed up ready to play. We also greeted Erkan, who cleans the Kedi anthill and feeds the cats every single day. The kediler (kitties) chased the long pieces of rope Erkan gave us, and we enjoyed their enthusiasm. Even the super creepy one-eyed kedi (with an empty socket on the other side) got in on the action tonight. It was a perfect end to our adventure and to a day when I woke up with that nasty adventure-killing headache.

July 25, 2014

Benim Hikayem


Burada benim hikayem var.

Benim adım Jena. Ben yirmi altı yaşındayım. ABD'de yaşıyorum ama şimdi İzmir'de oturuyorum. İngilizce ve almanca konuşuyorum, fakat Türkçe konuşmak istiyorum. İzmir'de evim cok güzel. Apartman dairesinde bir evim var. Benim eşim Alan da İzmir'de oturuyor. Biz Türkçe öğreniyoruz. Alsancak'ta okulumuz var. Biz hergün 14.00-18.00 korsa gidiyoruz. Öğretmenimizin adı Elvan hanım. Elvan hanım Türk. O çok güzel bir öğretmen çünkü o sorulara cevap veriyor. O da Almanca ve İtalyanca konuşuyor. Alan ve ben Türkçe öğreniyoruz çünkü eylülde Kayseri'de biz İngilizce öğretmeni olacağız.

Royal Turkish'te iki sınıf var. Sınıfta bir masa, bir tahta ve beş adet sandalye var. Pencere ve klima da var çünkü Temmuz'da hava çok sıcak. Bugün Türkçe dersi yok çünkü Elvan hanım hasta. Alan ve ben Soulmates kafede calışıyoruz. Soulmates'de lezzetli kuru kahve var. İkinci katta çok masa, ve sandalyeler var. Tuvalet, bir balkon ve kitaplık da var. Bana göre Soulmates mükemmel bir kafe.

Hans Kültürpark'ta
Türkiye'yi seviyorum. Türkiye şirin ve ferah. İzmir'de Kültürpark'ı seviyorum. Kültürpark'ta çok kedi ve köpek var. Ben kırk kedi sayıyorum. Bazı kediler hasta. Bazı kediler çok güzel ve sağlıklı. Bir köpeğin adı Hans. Onda sadece iki bacak var. Hans siyah bir köpek ve yakışıklı. Onu seviyorum. Bir kedinin adı Ayşe. O beş yaşında. Kedi annenin cok yavrusu var. Ayşe çok sevimli bir kedi. Ben Ayşe kediyi istiyorum.
Evde Sam ve ben. Çok şık!

Ailem büyük ve kalabalık değil. Ailem'de annem, babam, ve erkek kardeşim var. Benim annemin adı Kathy. O elli dört yaşında. O iş kadını. Benim babam aynı şirkette çalışmıyor. O şirket başkanı. Onun adı Achim. O Alman ve o 46 yaşında. Erkek kardeşim Sam on dört yaşında. O basketbolcu ve futbolcu. O dokuzuncu sınıfta okuyor. Profesyonel basketbolcu olmak istiyor. Tabi ki!
Blitz, en çok büyük köpek!

Ailemin iki kedisi ve köpeği var. Kedilerin adları Twilight ve Bebe. Twilight kahverengi ve Bebe siyah. Köpeğin adı Blitz. En büyükleri köpek! Köpeğimi ve kedilerimi çok seviyorum.

July 22, 2014

What I'm eating and drinking at home

My version of the Turkish breakfast plate: eggs, cheese, olives, tomato paste and toast.
My first attempt at Turkish coffee wasn't perfect. There aren't enough bubbles.

Second attempt at Turkish coffee--much better. Look at that foam! YUM.

July 20, 2014

Where am I?

I've been really wanting to write some kind of all-encompassing post about living (well,...vacationing, so far) in Turkey, but I'm having a little trouble.

Quite literally situated between Gaza and Ukraine, Turkey is in the middle of a political minefield. My general ignorance about both situations is probably for the best, as talking politics in Turkey wouldn't earn me any friends. I'm just sick of reading about innocent people  killed for causes that they didn't ask to be part of. That's all.

Turkey doesn't necessarily "feel" like the Middle East, at least not here in Izmir. Some women dress very modestly and cover their hair with scarves, but many women dress just as women would in Europe or North America. While I understand that alcohol is typically off-limits for Muslims, many restaurants offer it, it is sold in grocery stores, and every night, we see young people out in the beach park drinking beer in public. In our particular neighborhood, we can't hear the daily calls to prayer, which lent Kayseri a distinctly more Middle Eastern feel.

One ever-present reminder of our location are the Mosques with their tall minarets are visible throughout Izmir. I have made the observation that, like many places of worship, mosques are some of the most beautiful and elaborate structures around. Yesterday, I saw a mosque covered in ceramic tiles with purple, turquoise and red flower designs. On their own, the tiles were intricate and pleasant, but when multiplied 5000 fold on the mosque, the overall shimmering lavender effect was mesmerizing.

The food matches many of my expectations about the Middle East. Meat (obviously no pork), rice, tomatoes, onions, and lots of spices. I have yet to have any Middle Eastern food top a fish kabsa (seasoned rice with grilled fish) made by a former student in Flagstaff, though. Thank you Aziz! Alan and I are slowly breaking into the food scene here in Izmir. We mostly cook in our apartment--lots of meat and rice with tomatoes and onions bought at the weekly pazar (street market). For breakfast, we either make veggie omlettes or indulge in German-made granola with yogurt. By the way, plain yogurt is an essential ingredient of the Turkish diet. It is sold in large containers at the store, and I've even seen literal buckets of yogurt for those who just can't get enough. Yogurt is the base for many savory sauces or main dishes. Yum!

I've already explained the tea and coffee situation, which is: small glasses, very concentrated. At least with tea, drink it all day, everyday, anywhere, anytime. There is always çay (chai) for sale. The Turks must have a huge tolerance for caffeine, and I think a dentist offering tooth whitening could make a killing!

Ultimately though, the defining factor of my existence in Turkey is Alan. We've been married for almost two months, and we've spent nearly every second together because of the unusual circumstance of having a break in employment this summer and living in small apartments. Although I sometimes really wish for space and some of my own friends to go out for a drink with, Alan and I are doing remarkably well. We occasionally get on each other's nerves, but who wouldn't with 24/7 interaction? We are getting better at understanding each other's limits, and Alan is definitely learning how to take care of me on adventures. Short water breaks in the shade go a long way.

Our demi-pets at the Kültür Park are a favorite topic of conversation. A demi-pet, as coined by Alan, is an animal of which you are not the owner, but you grow attached to and affectionate toward through repeated encounters. Alan and I exercise at the same park almost daily, and there are a collection of demi-pets at the backside of the park. One of our favorites is "Two-legs," the black lab who has three legs, but miraculously only uses two to walk. We often wonder aloud what "Two-legs" is doing, or what food he likes. There is also my favorite section of the park, which I have dubbed, the "Kedi Anthill." Kedi means cat in Turkish, and there are so many cats there, that it seems like an anthill of cats. Anyway, lots of the cats are pretty rough looking, with eye infections, mange, injured limbs, etc.; but plenty are strong and healthy. The healthy adult cats are very affectionate to humans, presumably because humans are a primary source of table scraps. The kittens tend to be skittish and distrustful, but some curious little ones will come interact if you move slowly enough. The street animals in Izmir have been a very real spirit lifter for me, as we don't have much human to human contact outside of each other and our Turkish teacher.

The last observation I'd like to make in this entry is how useful German is around here. So many Turks can use German--sometimes much better than English. Moreover, by comparison to my ridiculous Turkish or my attempt at a pidgin English, my German sounds really good and super fluent. Yay for language learning!

Overall, I hope you have the impression that I'm happily married, having a lovely holiday abroad, and enjoying some of the interesting creatures in Izmir. Until then, güle güle! (go with a laugh)

July 19, 2014

Adventure to Çeşme, Turkey

Today Alan and I visited a beach area near Çeşme (Chesh-may) Turkey. Start building your mental image: quaint beachy town, palm trees, well-groomed beach with lounge chairs, clear turquoise water, soft vanilla sand, sea breezes, etc. Our adventure marks a turning point for me in terms of letting go, in a lot of ways. Many of you will be relieved that this is not another tummy-bug or food-poisoning tale in which "letting go" has a dubious meaning.

Today, I let go of a plan to take a city bus to the major bus station. We waited at the supposed bus stop for our #250 bus for at least 45 minutes, but never saw it. We saw 255, 63, 70 each at least 3 times. Then, we hired a taxi to the major bus station were we were able, somehow, to find the right bus, board and get to the perfect stop, pretty much without knowing what we were doing. "Follow the guy in the swimsuit," I told Alan. My plan was genius.

Today, I let go of some of my "things." In order to both swim at the beach at the same time without worry of theft, Alan and I decided to pack no valuables. No camera, no iPad, no Kindle, no iPhone. Not even our Turkish textbooks! We packed only the necessary money, one credit card, and our IDs in a triple bagged ziplock bag. Alan secured this little pouch into the pocket of his swimsuit. Save for a little damp cash, this trick not only gave us peace of mind on the beach, but also lightened up our backpacks! I will say that I regret not having pictures of the most beautiful beach I've ever been to, but the freedom of not feeling like I needed to capture the moment helped me actually enjoy the moments more.

Today, I also let go of some anxiety about being a foreigner. I am, darn it, and I'm going to make some awkward mistakes. On the way back to our place in Izmir, we were dropped off by the regional bus at a different bus station, very far from our neighborhood. I had a reasonable solution to take the ferry back to our neck of the woods, as we were ironically back near the ferry station were we had mistakenly ended up on a previous adventure. It was only after a long-ish, hot walk and after I had gone through the turnstyle with my city-wide ticket that the dock worker asked Alan, still behind the turnstyle, were we were going. Basically, no boats from this station were going anywhere we wanted to go, and we weren't even really at the ferry station, but at some other boat station next door to the ferries. Some versions of Jena would have been very embarrassed at this point, but today's Jena just went back through the turnstyle, smiled, and headed back to the drawing board. Alan and I rented some free city bicycles instead and rode about 45 minutes (on a coastal bike path) to our apartment.

Side note, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and strollers in Izmir have trouble staying off the very well marked bike line. Annoying, but we got through it.

Today I learned that letting go of failing plans, "valuable" stuff, and anxiety about making mistakes makes for a much more enjoyable trip. I don't have any pictures, but I have renewed energy for minimalist adventure--way better.

July 17, 2014

There are no foreign lands, except the ones with flags I don't know.

While I find those "You know you're an Arizonan/Nebraskan/Redneck/Hippie if..." lists a little cliche and very stereotyping, I'm about to write an example of "You know you're an American in Turkey when..."

How many of these flags can you identify?
The course books that Alan and I are using in our Turkish class remind us that we are in a different part of the world. In the fifth unit of the book, we learn nationalities and country names. Looking at the picture, how many of those flags can you identify? I consider myself a fairly worldly person with a decent knowledge of geography, but I was stumped by more than half of these. Based on the Turkish name I could figure out some, but not all. Thanks to Google, I finished my homework. The flags in this book are representative of the countries that are important to Turks (I guess). Had this book been made in America, I think the flags would have been mostly western European, East Asian, and maybe Mexico and Canada. This homework assignment was particularly telling of our new location in the Middle East, and a reminder that the world doesn't revolve around the US, or even "the West."

Travel challenges (and if you're lucky, breaks down) subconscious assumptions about the world if you let it. For me, the best reason to travel is not the photographs or even the fantastic recalling of events at future dinner parties. It is this challenge to myself, to my assumptions, and to my identity that is the best reason to travel.

As my travel journal quotes Robert Lewis Stevenson, "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign."

Something to think about as we read about (or experience) what happens outside of our own neighborhoods.

July 12, 2014

A successful trip to Ephesus.

Alan and I just toasted to a successful day trip to Ephesus, ruins of a formerly major hub in the Greek and Roman empires.

He's drinking "Efes" beer, a local brew, and I'm sipping a local syrah and öküzgüzü grenache blend (red wine).

We thought the trip was successful as we made it to and from our desired destination at reasonable hours, and for a price that couldn't be beat! Except for the really expensive juice I bought to "fuel up" in the heat.

In any case, we went to some of the best preserved ruins outside of Pompeii. Turkey is a country of history, and the western region in particular was important and flourishing during Greek and Roman times. If you'd like to know more, I'll leave that up to you and Google. I'll tell you about my experience.

We took a pleasant train to the town nearest the ruins and walked about 4 km to the site. The walk was actually very nice, as the sidewalk was shaded by carefully groomed trees the entire way. The Turks seem to have a knack for this type of tree pruning. I love it. So practical in the heat!

The town of Ephesus was once a city of 250,000 people, and only about 15% has been excavated since the 1800s. That said, I was pretty wiped after a quick run through the place so that we could start our freebie Rick Steve's audio tour from the upper gate (we had arrived at the lower gate). The audio tour helped me zone out from the tourists swarming like ants between major sites. By the way, the butt-cheek short needs to go out of fashion immediately. I don't want to see the crease under your butt, ladies. Not at Ephesus, not at all.

The midday sun made the tour a sweaty, slow trek, but it was still pretty enjoyable. The highlight for me was an extra exhibition about the "Terrace House." This house is currently under renovation sponsored by German and Austrian agencies, so it was shielded from the sun--a huge plus! What I gathered was that this complex of housing units, built into the hillside, was a place for the prosperous residents of the time. Remarkably well preserved, the individual rooms had intricate details like marble paneling or paintings on the walls. I don't mean the pictographs seen in caves. I mean like-life paintings of faces and animals and flowers. Even the floors had tiles mosaics depicting beautiful scenes or geometric patterns. I would have loved to see this place in its prime.

The famous library facade was really impressive. The towering columns once housed a massive library, built to honor someone's father--an advocate of education and, presumably, literacy. Interestingly, many religions have intersected at Ephesus: the pageant built many of the building to honor Artemis, Jews lived peacefully in the community, and many important Christians from the Bible, including Paul and the virgin Mary, have ties to the place. Of course, it was ultimately Christians who pretty well destroyed the place in the end, but that was a different time. Now, the muslim calls to prayer from the town are just barely out of earshot.

What I love about Turkey is that I can have adventures, but they still feel manageable. Granted, the manageability reduces the easy blog fodder, but I could use a push as a writer, anyway. So, to sum it up, Alan and I had a great time touring Ephesus, we are happy to be back at our apartment, and Turkey is pretty awesome.

July 11, 2014

Breakfast out

Alan and I took the morning off from exercise. Instead, we ate tahinli simit, a pastry of coiled dough and a sweetened sesame seed paste. Delicious! The chocolate ball was really tasty, too. The books are our Turkish textbooks. 

July 9, 2014

Reflections on language learning, Day 3.

I'm two days deep into intensive Turkish lessons. As a language teacher myself, I certainly commiserate with our dear teacher, as she must stick out four hours with Alan, me, and beginning Turkish textbooks.

I found myself in a strikingly similar situation last summer, except that I was the teacher. I was assigned to teach level 1 (beginners) at the intensive English program back in Flagstaff. I had never taught very low level learners before, and the class only had two students: two teenagers from Saudi Arabia. One was really bold and had a talent for communicating, though I did have to chastise him for using English swear words in class. The other, a shy guy with a penchant for selfie photos For two hours each day, was stronger with the technical elements of English, like grammar and spelling. The two of them together were truly the odd couple. I met with these guys for two hours every day to practice English listening and speaking. Especially at first, I really had no idea how to teach in such an intense situation. With a larger class size, activities take longer, there is more interaction among students, and teaching feels more fluid. On the other hand, with only two students, I found that my activities shriveled up to half the time I thought they would take. We would be five worksheets into the lesson, and we would still have an hour of class left. I guess the reason I want to describe this experience is that one-to-one or one-to-two teaching is difficult, draining, and most of all, pretty darn boring.

The upshot of a VERY small class is that it is hard for students to slip through the cracks. The teacher knows if you're getting it. The pace of the class is definitely tailored to the students' aptitude, which is an advantage for learning.

So, as Alan and I both had the experience teaching these two guys last summer, we often compare ourselves to them. The shy guy always used mechanical pencils and tended to break the lead often, to which he always made a disappointed face that was so characteristic, I still think of him when I hear lead snap. For the other guy, I felt pretty lucky if he brought a pencil to class. I often brought extra school supplies--no excuses.

Alan is definitely the mechanical pencil user, and as I didn't want the extra weight in my bag, I haven't bought a notebook yet. I do bring pens to class, and I do take lots of notes, do I think I'm a little ahead of the game. Oh, and I haven't busted out any swear words during class...yet!

I started this entry with the intention to write about language learning from a language teacher's perspective. Back on track, Jena:

At the beginning level, it's all about vocabulary and developing good habits. Learners need lots of words to use, and they need practice in creating grammatical structures. This isn't necessarily information from my master's degree; more or less from experience and common sense. Fossilized errors, those mistakes we make so many times in a foreign language that we don't know they are wrong, are very hard to unlearn. Our Turkish teacher, Elvan Hanim (Ms. Elvan), has been drilling us on conjugating possessive pronouns and possessed nouns. In English, we've simplified our parts of our language system over the years (my book, your book, our books), but Turkish uses affixes to show whose book so that the pronoun is rendered optional. My book = benim kitabım, your book = senin kitabın, our books = bizim kitaplarımız. That last one include the stem, "kitap" + plural ending "lar" + possession "ımız." If you're thinking, where are the dots on those i's?, Turkish also has a letter "ı" that sounds like "uh." They also have dotted "i" (sounds like "ee"). Basically, as a language teacher, I tell myself to take things lightly. Language acquisition doesn't happen overnight. As a linguist, I try to dissect the "rules" of the language and understand the technical elements, which to me are very interesting. Turkish vowel harmony is a dream come true for the weary speller of English, but a pain in the neck to remember when you are focused on some other aspect of the language.

After four hours of vowel harmony, affixation, conjugation, nominalization, demonstrative pronoun-ization...I'm wiped out. Alan and I have left our lessons with heads spinning both days so far. The teacher prepares caffeinated tea and coffee during each short break in the lesson, which seems to help our brains keep up with all of the undotted i's and umlauts dancing across the board.

My favorite word so far is müdürlüğü. It's pronounced something like Mewr-dewr-lew-ew. It means directorate, and I see it on all of the official buildings near the harbor. I just love all the decorations above the letters. Umlauts everywhere!

Time to get ready for class! Hoşça kalın!

July 7, 2014

Photos from our first Turkish class

Alan and I are the only two students for the moment. Private lessons! Look at those grammar books. :)
Turkish grammar day one: my book, your book, his book, etc. Our heads were spinning!

Turkish Coffee on a Monday

Turkish hot drinks come in small cups. The coffee in tiny porcelain mugs; tea in curvy glass cups. It's not exactly the Starbucks' trente size, but who really needs that much of anything anyway?

Alan and I are finally working on somewhat normal sleep schedule, and we are both feeling better. 

We took a jog (for me a walk-n-jog) along the harbor this morning before breakfast. It felt good to stretch my legs and sweat on purpose for the first time in a while. My left leg wasn't so thrilled, as my Achilles' tendon started tensing about 15 minutes in, probably due to a week of serious lack of activity followed by jogging.

In any case, I'm seated outside a Turkish bakery with a little cup of coffee which Alan ordered for me in Turkish. Good job, Burrito! The gritty coffee tastes good, though incredibly strong and foreign.

I finally ventured out in something that bares my legs and arms, after surveying no clothing scene here in liberal Izmir. In Kayseri I didn't see any legs, and only a few arms, so I followed suite. Izmir is known for being less conservative than other parts of Turkey, and now during Ramadan, it is very clear that this is the case, at least in our neighborhood. We are surrounded by Turks who are eating and drinking during the time when most Muslims are fasting. Actually, I'm grateful that restaurants are open and serving food, as Alan and I don't plan to fast. I'm also glad that I don't have to sweat it out in jeans and my poly-blend blouse. I sweat. A lot.

I'm thinking back to yesterday, when Alan and I tackled the laundry. We did our best to translate the different buttons on our machine, and then fiddled with the dials until it started. We pretty much have to live at half speed or less because of the intense language barrier. It's refreshing in a way, because our jobs are so much about translating for others. I don't mind having a little more ambiguity in my life, and a little less rush.

Yesterday we also went on a neighborhood adventure to the Izmir fair. There were some similarities to the Park county Wyoming fairs that I used to attend as a kid, but alas, no demolition derby. I convinced Alan to go on huge Ferris wheel with me. It cost about 5 buck for the two of us, but spinning high above the city of Izmir was worth every kuruş. The fair itself was surrounded by a fantastic walk path, shaded by carefully grown and groomed trees. About halfway around the loop, we came across at least a dozen stray cats and a handful of dogs. As my camera shutter clicked the little, undernourished cats peeped and stretched, but didn't really get up. I'm a cat lover to the core, and it broke me heart a little to see all of these kitties without homes. We did see what appeared to be some kind of shelter or vet on the fairgrounds, and plenty of little tubs of water sitting out as kitty refreshment, but still. Where are your homes, little ones?

We also saw a black lab who only had two useable legs. Somehow he manged to walk around on just his front two legs, holding the unusable third (no fourth existed) up near his belly. The abdominal strength! True to his lab nature, this dog was happy and eager to please humans. He did his circus walk over to us, sat down, and started panting and smiling at us with soft and beautiful eyes. Alan dubbed this guy his "hero," which I thought was the cutest part. Even more than the mini-kitties.

I've drank my coffee down to the grit paste that remains in Turkish coffee. I wish Özge, my former roommate were here to read my fortune in the grounds. Alan has finished his tea, and is diligently working on Turkish grammar from a book published in the 1950s. I admire his dedication, but I'm going to save my language learner brain for this afternoon when our Turkish classes begin.

Until then, my regards to you, dear reader.
Alan, his tea, and his grammar book
My beverages, from left: lemonade, water, Turkish coffee. YUM.

July 6, 2014

We're here in Izmir!

Alan and I made it to our rented apartment in Izmir. I'd call this one of my most challenging travel days, but also one that motivated me to always keep the attitude that things will work out eventually.

The bus ride from hell got slightly worse around 5AM when the travel tummy bag caught up with me in the final rest area. Brutal on a squat pot. Sorry if that's TMI.

We did, however, make another friend, Burak the solider. He was nice, helpful and funny. 

Although it felt like that bus ride would never end, 15 hours after we left Kayseri, we stepped off the bus in Izmir. Our friend helped us find the shuttle bus service that would take us closer to our apartment. That bus was fine, and I got to try out some new Turkish, which made everyone around us giggle. Oh well, it got the job done: Does this go to Alsancak?

The driver dropped us off in a swanky downtown area, near the Hilton and Renaissance hotels. I had a phone number for Emre, the apartment renter. I was he supposed to call him when I was in the neighborhood so we could meet up. The only problem was that I has no phone.

Our boss had said that if we asked anyone to borrow their phone, it would be no problem in Turkey. So I left Alan (still pretty sick) with our bags and walked several hundred feet down the posh sidewalk to two  Turkish guys. Despite my Turkish and their English, I was soon on both guys' cell phones, using phone and internet browsing to check the number. They were so helpful. When I did get ahold of Emre, he told me that I was pretty far from the place and should take a taxi too meet his friend who would let us into the apartment. 

So, we found a taxi driver and set off for the strange address. The driver had very limited English, so I asked him what his name was. First he thought I was speaking English, but when he understood my. Turkish, he laughed, which broke the ice. He asked me if I was German. I replied in German that I could speak German, and asked him. He replied in German that he was too tired. Laughs all around.

15 minutes and a few phone calls later, we met Ismet, the renter's friend, outside a döner shop. A strange old women asked me if I were German (I see a pattern) and informed me that she was Italian and that Izmir was the best place.

Ok, on to the apartment. Ismet took us up to the place, showed us the wifi password and was about to leave when I asked about whether we could drink the tap water. He took a quick look in the fridge, and gestured that he would be back. He returned with his arms full of bottled water and refused my offer to pay for it. Again, the hospitality here is something to be reckoned with!

Alan took a shower and I tucked him into bed, my brave burrito. After showering the bus, sweat, and rest area off, I laid down too. We woke up about six hours later.

We decided that we really needed to get some light food in our stomachs, so somehow we mustered the strength to walk through the new neighborhood to a grocery store. A little groggy, we selected some basics: bread, lavaş, cheese, olive oil, eggs, juice, peppers, onions, soap, shampoo, and Turkish tea. I also really wanted laundry detergent. My roommate Özge from Flagstaff had taught me çamaşır, the word for laundry. Looking at the cleaning product selection, I used my understanding of Turkish derivations (su = water, maden suyu = mineral water, portakal suyu = orange juice) to deduce that çamaşır suyu would be some kind of laundry liquid. 

Turns out that it's bleach. I looked it up at home, and I'm glad I didn't wash anything in it, though I hope the smell would have clued me in. I'll know what to get next time! Çamaşır deterjen. That name totally makes sense, doesn't it. I think my inner linguist got in the way this time.

After another brief nap, I whipped up a little cheese lavaş as our only meal of the day. Traveling is hard, but rewarding. My number one goal is to get on a regular sleep schedule ASAP.

Made it to Izmir, check. Got some food, check. Have a bed and air conditioning, CHECK! 

July 5, 2014

Teşekküler, Türkiye!

Dear Turkey,

Teşekküler (thanks) for having such nice and generous people. It means a lot to this weary set of travelers who don't (yet) speak Turkish. 

It's 2:50 AM, and Alan and I are mid-overnight bus ride from Kayseri to Izmir. I'd say it's been pretty much our worst experience in Turkey so far, but by no fault of Süha Tourism. Alan seems to have caught a stomach bug just as we were heading out town. Alan is one tough burrito, but he did not look good at the bus station, and the first 6-ish hours of the bus ride were miserable for him. I even got a little empathy nausea at one point. At each rest area, I've gotten off the bus to use one of the squat pots and buy a small maden suyu (mineral water) to comfort our upset stomachs. During a difficult moment at a past rest area, a guy approached us, offering to help answer questions. I took him up on that at the last stop while Alan rested in the bus. I ordered a cheese lavoş with my mineral water, and sat down at his table. Turns out he studies at Melikşah in the mechanical engineering department, and actually knew one of my colleague in the Englixh program. Small world! Of course he bought us some  Turkish tea, my new life force, and we made our way through a nice conversation using a little of both languages. What I love about Turks in general is that they are assertive and willing to help when they see a problem. By the end of the conversation, I had his contact info for future questions and his help in getting us to our neighborhood in Izmir (free)!

Just another word about Turkish rest stops. I definitely connect parts of them back to those I experiened in Cambodia (squat pots, weird food, lots of carrying my backpack), but in Turkey, there are also very quaint, and beautiful elements, like pyramid of boxed dates or packaged candy for sale.  I also saw kolonya, a new discovery from today. At the end of the work day at melıkşah, my officemate Faruk came over to my desk while I was using my new iPad,  and doused my hands in a fragrant purple liquid. "Lavender," he said as he doused our colleagues' and bosses' hands. While I was pretty concerned about the liquid nod my iPad, none dripped on it, and my hands were nicely scented for the rest of the afternoon.

On another note, I'm having some issues with jet lag. I guess I could chalk up tonight to being on board a bumpy, crowded bus instead of being in a bed, nevertheless, I was up at this time last night, too. I woke to the Ramadan drums (a traditional wake up call for Muslims out eat breakfast before sunrise), and I was still awake at the call to payer about an hour later. The middle of the night is a time I don't often see, as I am typically a sound sleeper and an early to bed, early to rise personality. From the bus, it's dark minus the soft green glow of the bus's track lighting, the red glare of a digital clock that won't move fast enough, and a few house lights in the distance. The world has a still and peaceful quality as I ride, convinced that this bus trip, while uncomfortable, has much to teach me about Turkey.

July 4, 2014

Stretching my academic wings

The academician in me has been dormant for the month of June, and today, I got to briefly kick it back in gear.

After another delightful Turkish breakfast at the hotel, Alan and I were whisked off to Melikşah University for a day of observation and settling in with our future colleagues. Doğan explained to us the new European-funded projects being developed by teachers, including a refugee education project. Although I haven't directly worked with refugees, I have volunteered with organizations that help refugees gain literacy skills and developed a test for beginning literacy that was designed with refugees in mind. I'm actually very interested in the plight of people who, for a number of reasons, are forced to leave their country under difficult circumstances. Currently, there are an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Refugees often struggle with day-to-day tasks because of language and cultural barriers.

Alan and I were lucky enough to sit in on the committee meeting to discuss the refugee project. The basic goals for the project are to offer basic Turkish survival language skills to those seeking refuge or asylum in Turkey. During the meeting, despite the heat and my inability to drink (it's Ramadan, and I don't like to be impolite to my Muslim colleagues), we came up with a rough draft of a proposal for the project.

It felt good to stretch my academic wings on a topic that I'm interested in, and that will potentially help people who are in dire circumstances here in Turkey. I drew on some of the work I did during my master's degree in developing a literacy test appropriate for refugees. Alan and I both brought up ideas from our curriculum and administration courses. I was relieved that I haven't lost it all. It's not exactly riding a bike, but I'm happy to see the application of my master's degree work.

Welcome to Kayseri, Burritos.

If I summed up our first day in Kayseri in one word, it would be hospitality.

When we arrived in Kayseri, we were greeted by Mesut, one of the directors where we will be working. He was incredibly warm and welcoming to us weary travelers as he drove us through town and helped us get checked into the hotel. He gave us an excellent impression of our future coworkers. After a few emails home, a bottle of chilled water from the minibar (google search of "can I drink the water in Turkey" had mixed reviews), and cool showers, we were ready to pass out. Despite the very warm temperature in our room (we didn't realize that the window opened?), we slept deeply. Finally.

Turkish Breakfast is one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Even at our hotel, the breakfast was outstanding. There was a buffet of meats, cheeses, olives, marinated peppers, bread, savory pastries, eggs, potatoes, and salad. There was coffee and tea, juice, and water. The room itself was also beautiful: a glass ceiling to let in sunlight, lots of green plants, clean and fresh table linens, real silverware; this isn't exactly the complementary breakfast at Super 8. Turkish pop music filtered in from the lobby, providing a perfect backdrop for our first meal in Kayseri.

I struggled a little to get what I wanted to drink at breakfast. I wanted some of the famous Turkish tea. It's served in unique glasses that are shaped like small vases. I saw a small metal barrel, clearly full of hot liquid, so I assumed it was tea. Only hot water came out. I wasn't sure what to do, so I instead took a small mug and poured instant coffee and more hot water in. While eating, I watched another guest remove the pot from on top of the barrel and pour a glass of tea. What I didn't see, but would learn later in the day, was that the tea in the pot is atomic strength, and one must cut it about half and half with the hot water. That was one strong glass I poured myself.

Following the absolutely delicious breakfast, Alan and I were picked up by our boss, Doğan. He is one of the most personable people I've ever met. He took us on a short drive up to a hill above Kayseri so that we could see the city--it's beautiful, more to come on that--and then took us to Melikşah University to get a feel for our new workplace (we don't actually start until September). Melikşah is a small, profit school founded in 2008, so everything looks new. We toured the School of Foreign Languages, met briefly with our future colleagues, and then toured the campus. A highlight of the morning was meeting up with our former NAU colleges who now work at Melikşah. It was comforting to see familiar, English-speaking faces. They made us feel right at home and helped us feel uninhibited about asking questions.

My favorite moment of the morning was when we were touring the small campus. We were ascending an outdoor set of stairs on a hill overlooking the city. The Muslim call to prayer  resounded over a loud speaker as a hot breeze whipped around us. The sound echoed and resonated through my whole body, a thrilling audio experience for a foreign traveler. Doğan says we'll get used to it, and stop noticing, but I hope that I keep a reverence for this beautiful custom. If you've never heard a call to prayer (listen here), it's a single male voice tracing notes in what I think is called maqam (type of music scale used for Quran recitation, based on wikipedia research).  The same imam singer's voice is projected from every mosque in Kayseri (I didn't know that), and we will be hearing the call five times every day while we live in a Muslim country. Right now, Muslims are observing Ramadan, which in my understanding is a period of spiritual focus in which Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset to help themselves understand how it feels to have nothing, to be among the poorest in society.

After our visit to the school, Doğan dropped us off at our hotel to rest. We decided to ask the front desk for a little help with arranging our bus tickets to Izmir. If this weren't a packed and rambling blog entry already, I'd probably go into a lot more detail. I'll stick to the highlights. After a brief broken Enligh-Turkish encounter, we set off on foot with one of the hotel workers for the ticketing office to book our trip. Between his limited English and our barely existent Turkish, we managed to ask his name and occupation. I asked whether he was married, and his response "enshallah"(God willing) was familiar to Alan and me from our work with Arabic-speakers. It also made everyone laugh, which crosses all language barriers. The small ticketing station was manned by a 13-year-old boy who did a great job of interpreting our wants and booking our trip. We used our fancy "chip" credit card for the first time in Turkey without a hitch. Satisfied with the outcome of our multi- (or maybe anti-) lingual service encounter, the three of us came back to the hotel. We gave in to jet lag for the rest of the afternoon and napped in our hot hotel room for about 3 hours. My motto for jetlag is do your best to forget about what time it is at home and just be present in the new place, but also get rest if you are tired. They aren't as mutually exclusive as some travelers think.

At the end of each day during Ramadan, Muslims break the fast with Iftar, a special style of dinner. Doğan invited Alan, me, and our friends from NAU to dinner tonight. We ate at a restaurant serving a special Iftar meal. During Ramadan, if you want to go out to eat, you need a reservation, as everyone shows up just before sundown. Many people have Ramadan apps on their phones with a countdown to sunset, and we saw a second-by-second countdown on Doğan's phone, followed by a city-wide call over the loudspeakers, announcing that it was time to break the fast.

Our table was set with lots of small plates containing olives, bread, various desserts, and dates. We each had an individual salad of lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and tomato, as well as our choice of lentil or okra soup. I enjoyed the okra soup, which I've never had or seen before. The main course was slow-cooked beef, rice, and tomatoes. We sipped Turkish tea during the meal, and ordered turkish coffee afterwards. Turkish coffee is served in small cups, with the very fine grounds sinking to the bottom of the cup. The coffee grounds are sweetened with sugar, and can be read like fortunes after drinking, if desired. My Turkish roommate back in Flagstaff introduced me to that fun custom.

Doğan took us back to our hotel for the night. We are feeling really lucky to have such gracious hosts in Turkey, as arriving in a foreign country is a daunting and overwhelming experience for even seasoned travelers. In my experience, Turks are warm, welcoming, and incredibly generous. I hope to take on more of those traits during our time here.

Here's to our first day in Turkey, to the wonderful people, and to our new city.

July 3, 2014

Istanbul Airport

Alan and I have been in the Istanbul airport for about 8 hours now. Here are a few of the highlights so far:

1. A two-hour nap in the terminal. I was pretty sure that I was going to collapse from exhaustion, so this was a necessity.

2. Squat-pots. These exciting toilets really spice up airport bathrooms. Looks like Turkey may use both western and squat. Glad I (think I) know what to do.

3. A meal of fresh food. After a few days of cliff bars and airline food, anything is a step up, but I somehow got us a nice sandwich and a plate of Turkish veggie side dishes. Pointing and smiling works!

4. Using my limited Turkish effectively. Alan and I both ordered drinks successfully on the plane. Baby steps.

5. Having Alan as my travel buddy. Traveling with my husband is so much better, easier, more enjoyable, and less intimidating than traveling alone. We can watch the luggage during bathroom breaks, we can help each other stay positive, and we can encourage each other to take care of ourselves (e.g., drinking plenty of water, eating meals, walking around in between long sitting sessions).

So, in a few minutes we'll board for Kayseri, and not a minute too soon. Three days of travel and very few hours of sleep does not make me a very pleasant human being. It's time for the next chapter.

Dirty clothes and a business-class attitude

When you start measuring your trip in days you haven't changed your underwear, things are getting a little desperate. Let's see, I put these on Monday morning at 6, and it's now Wednesday, at least it is in London. Yep, time for a change. Time for a shower.

For now, I'll settle for ignoring the underwear situation (as I don't have a good solution that is possible to easily carry out in a lavatory), slathering on more deodorant, and dabbing a little lavender oil on my wrists. Sorry fellow passengers. We've arrived too late both nights to book an airport shower. In case you missed it, yes, Alan and I have "slept" in an airport two nights in a row. Mostly, that means that I haven't slept in about 50 hours.

We are on the plane now, Turkish Airlines. The moment I stepped on, I felt the smile of a travel rush creep onto my face. The plane music sounds like the Middle East. The intercom announcements and even little instructions about the life vests are in Turkish. I feel simultaneously in my element and totally disoriented. The plane itself is old and very cramped in terms of legs room (admittedly, I have this problem all the time, but notice when it is particularly close--I literally couldn't sit in a bus in Mexico because the length of my leg bones exceeded the space allotted between seats by several inches). 

I'm not sure how to transition into the next blurb. It's probably something about my self-righteous need for the world to accommodate my femurs, but in any case, the British guy sitting in front of me was really serious in the queue to board. Another guy walked up to the line, I'm not sure from where, and this British guy goes, "are you trying to step in front of me?" His tone was so stern that I first misread the whole thing as sarcasm among friends, but when the response was an equally serious, "No, I was in front of you," I realized that the British guy was not ready to lose his spot in these queue.

British guy: "No, you are mistaken. I was behind this lady." Gestures to me. He definitively ended the interaction with a sharp, "I think you had better move behind me." 

I figured the British guy would be at least a business class passenger, given his suit and his demeanor, but no. Just in the seat in front of me, regular dude. I can forgive the stern interaction with a line-cutter, but he better not try to recline his seat, or I'll have to tell him HE is mistaken.

Or maybe I'll just raise my arms and let my ripened armpits do the talking.

Let's get to Turkey already.

July 2, 2014

Be careful what you wish for

The adage goes, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

And I  definitely got it, all right.

In my last post, I confessed that I sometimes secretly wished for hiccups in travel plans because they lead to adventure. Well secret or not, that wish came true last night.

The purpose of this post is not to criticize the airline industry, and in fact, I had very friendly and helpful service from U.S. Airways in each encounter so far. Chicago gate agents Peter and Pam were particular standouts as careful listeners and problem solvers. The powerful storms rolling through Chicago are to blame for the now “extended” version of our travel to Turkey. We waited for more than two hours in Phoenix before even taking off, then we ended up circling over eastern Nebraska (of all places) in a holding pattern for Chicago-bound planes. Finally, we were diverted to Minneapolis where we sat on the tarmac for another two hours. During this time, our crew members’ exceeded shift hours allowed by the FAA, so we also waited for a new crew to take us back to Chicago.

If you’ve ever been on a plane, I’m sure you’ve experienced (or been, as I have) the obnoxious person who, while stuck on a plane with 200 other frustrated passengers, takes out her cell phone and calls everyone she knows to explain at full volume how she’s stuck in “F***ing Minneapolis because of the F***ing weather in Chicago and how this is the F***ing worst day of her life, etc.” (emphasis on the adjectives beginning with F). Alan and I put in headphones to drown her out, because really, there’s nothing any of us could do to make the bad situation better, and the negative vibes feel like the suck the life out of my immune system, not to mention that make me really want to take her phone and illegally flush it in the lavatory.

I’m writing this on a plane bound for London Heathrow, a stopover on our rescheduled itinerary. Direct flights from Chicago to Istanbul seem to happen daily, but only once daily, at 10 PM. Last night we had the choice between being held up in Chicago all day today to fly stand by tonight, or to get going at 9:00 this morning via Heathrow. My inclination was initially to take the direct flight, and in the meantime get a hotel room, sleep, and start a little fresher. Alan advocated for the adventurous new itinerary that kept the momentum of our trip (however minimal by last night at 2 in the morning when we finally deplaned in Chicago) going, and that got us out of the US one day earlier. While I was somewhat intrigued by visiting London’s airport for the first time, the prospect of flying standby on the other choice, with the potential danger of not being able to get on the plane, swayed me to the new itinerary.

The only problem (aside from planning on purpose not to sleep for two days straight) was that our checked bags might not follow us on the new route, or might not even be loaded onto the plane out of Chicago. Normally, I have plenty of blind faith in the airport system in general. I always believe that they have my best interests in mind, and that my luggage will arrive when and where I need it. Yet, in the confusion of yesterday/today, I figured that switching airlines, routes, and even days, our bags stood a pretty good chance of slipping through the cracks, waiting patiently in Chicago for the flight we wouldn’t be on.

As our checked bags basically contain all of the material possessions we are taking to Turkey, they are very important to us. On limited sleep, the situation started to feel pretty dire. Alan and I spent the hours between 3 and 6 AM waiting in lines to talk to baggage claim personnel, gate agents, and other staff who basically all had different responses to our inquiry after the bags. Our investigation gleaned only the following: 1) Our bags made it to Chicago, but that’s all that we know about their whereabouts, 2) Kayseri does not have customs check, so we will have to get ahold of the bags in Istanbul, 3) Each airline has a separate system for tagging bags, so no matter who we asked, no one could find the bag. It had already left US Air’s jurisdiction, but not yet made it to Turkish Airlines’, and since American (our new itinerary) never saw the bags, they have no record of the bags.

Alan and I struggled to prioritize this morning. It was a good lesson for our marriage in terms of listening to each other. We were both beyond exhausted from not having slept at all, and my priorities were eating and brushing my teeth. Alan was more concerned about figuring out the bag situation, which, after 3 hours of goose-chasing, I was pretty sure was a lost cause that we would have to figure out after the fact. So we did have breakfast, and I did brush my teeth, in exchange for standing for an hour in another stagnant line to talk to a gate agent who confirmed my suspicions that we just have to hope. Then file a claim. Then make a trip back to Istanbul. Yikes. Cross that bridge when you get there.

About 15 minutes out of Heathrow, I’m feeling good. Well, actually I feel pretty miserable and I want to stretch out on a real bed which won’t be happening tonight, but at least we are en route on our adventure and we have each other.

July 1, 2014

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

This text message from my mother sums up my day, and in fact many aspects of my life and marriage.

And so it begins. The gate agent at the Phoenix airport has just announced “lengthy” weather delays in our connecting location, Chicago. My husband, Alan, and I are traveling toward our indefinite stay in Turkey as English teachers. The best adventures (or, in my case, the best blog entries) begin with, include, or end on an unexpected turn of events such as a delayed flight. The hiccups in well-made plans create the chaos and anxiety that ultimately lead to resolution and a sense of accomplishment. Part of me secretly enjoys these “annoyances” because of what they add to an otherwise “normal” part of an adventure. It’s a better story if something went a little bit wrong along the way.

I’m a fan of adventure, at least in theory. In the moment, I often get frustrated and despondent; but if I know it will be fun to write about later, I somehow get through it.

In my mind, our adventure doesn’t officially begin until we actually walk out onto a Turkish sidewalk and smell the Anatolian air. For now, our pre-adventure fate rests with the powers at be in airport world and the powerful bow-echo line of thunderstorms racing toward the already Windy City. I’m glad I brought those protein bars and compression socks. It might just be a long trip.