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)