August 30, 2014

Ten weird things I'm doing

  1. Washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar to save money and let my hair take care of itself better. It’s called the “no-poo” movement. So far, so good.
  2. Playing basketball games with my husband on busted up outdoor courts.
  3. Using a strange hand pump to extract drinking water from a large container that is delivered to my apartment.
  4. Ordering corn nuts by the kilo at the local market.
  5. Using an exercise room where there are strange posters of male body-builders who may or may not be wearing clothes.
  6. Laboring over a small, scalding pot full of fine coffee grounds, only to be disappointed when drinking it is a little like taking a sip of sand.
  7. Drinking sparkling water as a replacement for alcohol—surprisingly, it still has a relaxing effect if you believe it will.
  8. Watching three episodes of Star Trek with my husband every evening. And liking it.
  9. Eating from dishes printed with the logo of my workplace.
  10. Sleeping on sheets with a pattern best described as camo-meets-houndstooth-meets-girly.

August 23, 2014

Pictures from our apartment in Kayseri

Seza Apartments. We are on the 11th floor.

Our office room

Our bedroom

Our kitchen with Great Grandma Ivy's tablecloth. 

Our living room

The view from our living room

The view in Kayseri

The view from the office room we’ve set up in our apartment is nice this afternoon. I can see the balconies of neighboring apartment buildings, a partially completed demolition project in an adjacent vacant lot, the boulevard that passes our university, and in the distance, more towering apartment buildings, construction projects, and even far off hills.

Last night the view from this room was much the same, but with one terrifying difference. After 30 minutes of screams and sounds of smashing glass, a woman emerged on her balcony, wailing and screaming belligerently. I could see shadows moving around her apartment, across the way about 100 meters from mine. After a while, a loud shattering sound coincided with her apartment light going out. The light must have been smashed. The noise had brought neighbors to their own windows and balconies. I worried that someone was hurting her, but I felt helpless.

Flashing lights from an ambulance eased my nerves, until it became clearer that this was not a domestic violence case, but rather a suicide attempt. A crowd began to gather below as the woman climbed onto the railing of her balcony. Even in the dim light, we could all see that she balanced precariously on a slim railing no less than 15 stories above the parking lot. Two fire trucks came, and the firemen set up an air pillow designed for people trapped by fire to jump from great heights. I didn’t want to watch, but the situation was so dire, I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing what this poor woman’s fate would be. Alan wisely advised me to stop watching, as the sight of someone leaping to their death might have psychological ramifications for me as a viewer.

I tried to sleep, but found myself up to check on the situation every few minutes. Still on the balcony rail, still voicing her intense inner disturbance, still alive.

With the help of a podcast, I was eventually able to drown out enough of the noise and flashing lights to drift off to fitful sleep. This morning Alan told me that he had heard clapping last night, which he interpreted as a good sign that she hadn’t jumped. Whether he really heard that or not, I appreciated that he said it because I would otherwise worry that she had in fact committed suicide from a balcony that I can see from where I sit.

Rather than say more about this event, I will simply wish her peace and professional help in dealing with her demons.

Having a slow Internet connection and only two English language TV channels gives me the chance to reflect very deeply on my existence here in Kayseri. Culture shock is a multi-faceted foe that leaves transplanted travelers weary and exhausted, sometimes for no apparent reason. Even the simplest tasks like buying food from the corner market can be tiring adventures because of the language barrier and differing expectations between customer and business in a new culture. Without a car, which I have grown very attached to as an American, going anywhere seems to take forever. In the heat of Turkish summer, walking trips leave me sweaty and usually in a foul mood. I feel thirsty most of the time, but don’t want to chug too much of our bottled water because it means more trips to the store and more subsequent thirst.

Granted, the culture shock I describe doesn’t overwhelm me all of the time. Sometimes, like last night prior to the balcony incident, Alan and I had a fantastic dinner out. It was a three course meal for two with (non-alcoholic) beverages for $15. The amount and quality of the food would have easily been $50 in the US, and I’m pretty sure that we don’t make bread half that tasty anywhere in America. There are beautiful elements of travel--when attempts at using the local language are successful and communicative, when the food is amazing, when you get where you wanted to go (and back) despite half-assed directions—that drive me to persevere.

Now having 27 years behind me, I feel more capable as a human being. I can make decisions about my life, and make sacrifices and exceptions. I have the maturity to put some goals on hold (like getting a pet), and some goals on indefinite suspension (having a really nice house) in order to accommodate my current living arrangements and the salary of my chosen profession. I can see past the challenges to the big picture of a life that means something to me, and something that I am proud of. I can support my partner and lean on him when I need to. Despite the ravages of culture shock, I will stick it out here in Turkey with the hope that things will get easier. I will adjust. I will thrive.

August 20, 2014

Reflections on lessons from this summer

Author's note: I wrote this yesterday in the Antalya airport (now we are in Kayseri), but wasn't sure I wanted to post it. After letting it sit, I think it has an important purpose in my blog as a reality check, so here it is:

Convinced that another overnight bus ride was the least desirable way to get back to our “real” city in Turkey, Alan and I decided to fly from Antalya back to Kayseri.

Back in early July, Kayseri was our first stop in Turkey. We met the director of the English program at the university where we will be teaching, reunited with colleagues we knew from Flagstaff, and got a taste for the city where we will be living for at least the next year.

Despite not having to endure a marathon bus ride and already having an idea of the city where we are going, sitting here in the Antalya airport, I feel nervous. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is I’m nervous about, though.

We’ve been basically on an extended vacation since July 5, and after a month and a half of lazing around with minimal responsibility and no alarm clocks, I’m feeling a bit out of shape for working. The dwindling reserve of Turkish Lira generously given by our wedding guests reminds me of the practical reason that I need to get back to work; and the void in my soul normally filled with teaching aches to be back in the classroom.

In İzmir, Alan and I focused on our Turkish lessons. Our typical day was grammar drills for four hours, followed by visiting the demi-pets at the Kültürpark, followed by watching NatGeo People while sipping wine and eating köfte and rice. Our apartment was cozy and in a perfect location for school and park going.

We took mini adventures to see the ruins at Ephesus and the beaches at Ceşme. We spent a lot of time doing homework and debriefing about the days’ lessons.

From İzmir, we went to İstanbul, to meet up with my former roommate from Flagstaff. We focused on enjoying her company and staying sane in a crazy city. We stayed in the tiniest hotel room above three loud bars with live music every night. We ate out for every meal.

We flew south to Finike, a sleepy beach town just beginning to awaken to tourists and all of the unfortunate side effects of foreigners. Our spacious apartment was wonderful, and our renter one of the most human-oriented business people I’ve ever encountered. After my initial relief from the overwhelming bustle of İstanbul, we soon discovered the summer traveler’s paradox: staying at home in the a/c is boring, but leaving the house means being absolutely drenched in sweat and exhausted even after a short walk. A few long walks and mini adventures showed me that I prefer the a/c, however lame that might sound.

I also had my first real break down in Finike after falling into one tourist trap too many. I think anyone who has been a tourist has experienced the classic, and in my mind worst, trap: the person who is just so interested in you.

They appear out of nowhere on a crowded Street. They greet you in English and pull you into a conversation about American movie stars or some other topic of interest. At first, the person makes you feel special by asking about you and your life, sharing related stories and maybe even making up a few details to make the situation seem serendipitous. Then they invite you for tea. To their shop where they sell jewellery, pottery, or other tourist stuff. And you go with them because you think they are interested in you and you are feeling so lonely in this strange, new country. You get your tea, they talk and talk and talk about some detail of your story that they know a little about. Soon enough, they are pushing the hard sell on you and you want to run, but you don’t know local customs. They try to flatter you and tell you how beautiful you are. They plead with you about needing a sale for the luck of their business. They tell you that the price is special or say “it’s not big money I’m talking about.” You want to scream, but that won’t help. You make American style excuses (need to talk with my husband, didn’t bring money on this outing, etc.) about why you can’t buy whatever they’re selling; they insist. You eventually work your way to the door and it can’t close fast enough behind you. You feel used, as though your personhood means nothing and all everyone cares about it squeezing the cash from your wallet. Having one’s worth reduced to a handful of bills, maybe $20, feels really awful. That person doesn’t give a hoot who you are or why you're in Turkey. They don’t even care that you’re somewhat interested in what they have to say (lies or otherwise). They only care that somewhere in your blue eyes, blonde hair and in your trusting nature, you, as a stupid foreigner might be willing to pay way more than any local would (or could, in some cases). Indeed, an impetus for a break down.

Wow. That was quite the rant. I want to be clear that MOST people I encounter are not of this skeezy variety. In fact, I’ve encountered far more süper generous, süper sincere Turks than money-hungry creeps. The fact remains though, that a bad encounter can be enough to keep me out of a neighborhood or even entire city for the rest of my trip.

I took out my laptop this morning with the hope that writing about how far I’ve come so far in Turkey would ease my nerves about the next chapter. It has. I’ll still probably be seen as an outsider and be stared at, and have plenty of awkward and difficult situations to handle; but I’ll have a month of practice and experience to draw on.

Selected Awesome Things

List of selected awesome things Alan and I bought at Migros (Turkish equivalent of Walmart and Sam's Club probably):

1. Standing fan. It didn't make the line up in the picture because I wanted its gentle breeze on my forehead as I photographed. Our 11th floor apartment is pretty hot and stuffy.

Jena and Alan's Shopping Trip
2. Cezve. This is the pot to make Turkish coffee. I choose the kind that harkens back to the old days, just because it looked more interesting than the modern ones.

3. A set of towels. Indeed, towels are an essential for any apartment with a shower. After a couple of showers using a hand towel from the kitchen, the need is especially apparent. I picked out one of each: Aegean blue, Mediterranean navy, castle grey, and tulip magenta. So Turkey, değil mi? (right?)

4. "Robust" tea glasses. The Turks love their çay, and they serve it in tiny cups with no handles. It's very hot and awkward for us to hold, so Alan and I picked up larger cups with handles. Foreigners.

5. Hangers. While I really miss a good ol' cheapy 10-pack of plastic hangers from Target, the classy (and moderately priced) wooden hangers available at Migros were the only option, so my clothes are now sitting pretty on the best (or at least, most wooden) hangers they've ever seen.

But wait! I've saved the best for last!

6. + 7. Wine and quirky opener. One of my biggest concerns about Kayseri as a conservative city was that I wouldn't be able to find wine. I was prepared to forgo one of my most-enjoyed evening drinks, but today we found a large (albeit expensive) selection at the Migros. I bought one with an appealing label and grape I know I like. I would have stocked up, but we had a cart full of stuff to carry home already. Anyway, once you've got a bottle, you need to get into it, so I couldn't pass up the lime green mod-inspired opener. Instead of the cheapest option, I went for the one I really liked. I think it's important to do that occasionally.

By the way, today is my birthday, so the wine is like a special happy-birthday-to-me gift from Turkey.

August 14, 2014

Walking to a fireplace

There are better adventures and worse adventures. Either way, the best way to end any adventure is with a cold beer, corn nuts, and an Al-Jazeera documentary about Palestine…well, it’s one way.

I definitely earned my beer yesterday. Alan and I decided to take a short trip up the coast by minibus to see the Eternal Flame, an ignited natural gas mine on the side of a mountain in a neighbouring town.

From the second we stepped out of our apartment, my major obstacle was the oppressive heat. Reaching around 100 degrees under blazing sun, the outdoors are no place for this Viking-descendant.

Our first leg of minibus was easy enough: a short ride to a rest area at a junction to both Mount Olympos and the town housing the Eternal Flame. The problem was that we were only at the junction to the town, a healthy 7 km walk into the valley. Alan had read online that an hourly minibus takes passengers down to the town, Çıralı (Chuh-ra-luh). We waited at the rest area, and waited, and waited. I was just a little too hot to be comfortable, I didn’t have anything to do, and I was making my displeasure too obvious to Alan. He tried to engage me in a Turkish lesson with the 1950s Turkish grammar book he brought along, but I wasn’t feeling it.

After waiting for more than an hour, we finally asked a worker at the stop. Within minutes (we think he called the minibus), we were en route down the steep drive. Without knowing the minibus’s route, we had few choices but to get off at the beach stop. A nearby map gave us a general idea of how to get to the Eternal Flame (via the ONE road in town). We (I somewhat begrudgingly) set off, already sweating for a walk of unknown length.

My moodiness and Alan’s response cast a nasty tone for the walk, which we ended up doing with about 25 meters in between us. The sun beat down and the heat radiated off of the stony street. Sweat beaded up on my arms and forehead, coming out white because of my natural zinc sunscreen. I trudged onward, spurred only by the thought that giving up wouldn’t do me any good this far into the walk away from the city.

All the while, the irony of hauling myself this far in the heat just to see an open flame kept my heart a little lighter. If nothing else, I would enjoy noting that in my blog. (Check.)

Alan and I argued a little at the entrance to the Eternal Flame national park, mostly about my attitude and his resentment of me messing up the adventure. I think we were both so hot and exhausted that we just said what was on our minds.

Still angry, we paid the 5 TL ($2.50) entrance fee and began climbing a 1000 m ascent to the flame. The climb was not for the faint of heart. Sure, stones had been laid to form a path with stairs, but add in a steep grade and the incredible heat, and you’ve got yourself a killer workout. I was astounded at how difficult it was. I was also upset that I hadn’t volunteered to carry my own water from Alan’s backpack for this portion. He was again way ahead of me, and I was parched from the exertion. Stair after stair, I forced myself up. Turkish Grannies also ascended the path, at a rate slightly faster than me, which was embarrassing, but I got over it. Women in shoes not meant for hiking scurried up the stones with composure and minimal sweat.

I actually became concerned at one point about getting heat stroke because I was so hot and my heart was racing.

As we neared the top, more people had stopped for rest, panting and sweating as I was.

Alan and I caught our first glimpse of the flame as a Turkish guy roasted a sausage on a stick. I’m not sure that’s legal, but it looked tasty.
The orange to my left is the Eternal Flame.

The eternal flame was certainly modest in size, no larger than you might see in a gas fireplace. The heat it produced was uncomfortable as Alan and I posed for a photo before heading back.

A woman who started her descent at the same time as us was wearing six-inch wedges as she teetered on the stones—I’m not even exaggerating. My own ankles felt empathy as she wobbled. She and her husband went quickly, though we caught up to them a few hundred meters down. She had removed her shoes and was pawing over the hot stones now unprotected. I have serious respect for her toughness, though I think a wiser shoe choice would have impressed me more.

Alan and I each drank most of a 1.5 liter chilled water from the small café. I think the heat and exhaustion helped us move on from our earlier argument. On the walk back to town, just as long or longer, we actually talked, took pictures, and had a somewhat enjoyable time.

Getting home wasn’t as easy as getting there. Some confusion with the minibuses left us on the side of the highway trying to flag down a passing bus to get us to the town where we were staying. Although it sounds pretty rough, I think it's fairly normal for Turkey. I wasn't that concerned.We eventually flagged down the right kind of bus to get us home.

Once home, the beer and corn nuts replaced much of the salt we lost through our pours, and the beer helped us relax. The documentary was sad, and left me wondering what pieces to the Israeli-Palestinian puzzle I am missing. Putting aside thoughts of the problems in the world, Alan and I fell asleep early last night.

August 11, 2014

Ten things I'm so glad I brought with me

When one moves abroad, what are the most useful things? I’ve often arrived at a far-away destination with a suitcase full of clothes I don’t want to wear, large toiletries I could buy for half the price at the local market, and basically nothing useful. I kept past mistakes in mind as I packed for my two-month exploration of Western Turkey. Here is a list of things that I am really glad to have with me this summer.

  1. iPad Mini: among the fleet of Apple products that accompany me here in Turkey, the iPad has come in the most handy. I use my iPad as an e-reader, as a eco-friendly substitute for printing out maps or directions, as a communication tool (Skype, Viber, FaceTime), as an on-the-go camera, and as a stereo for listening to podcasts, music or NPR. The Mini was a bit of an impulse buy on my part, but the smaller size means that this device fits into another invaluable item, the travel purse.
  2. Travel purse: This bag was designed with the female traveler in mind. It is big enough for a book (iPad for me), a wallet, sunglasses, phrasebook, and passport, but not so big that one is tempted to bring too much on an adventure. The bag itself is modest, a textured brown fabric that doesn’t draw extra attention from would-be pickpockets. The bag is lined with a fun lime green nylon that is not only easy to clean, but also adds extra sturdiness. I bought the bag in 2009 for a trip to Cambodia. I didn’t really use it much there, but it’s getting a daily workout here in Turkey.
  3. Slip-shorts: Guys, no need to read this. Ladies, I’m sure you can relate to wearing a skirt on a hot day and feeling your sweaty thighs rubbing together, leading to annoying chafing. I saw an ad for these Spanx-type shorts made by Jockey, and picked up a pair at Target before packing for Turkey. Jockey bills them as something like: the smoothness of a slip, the coverage of shorts. They are awesome. They don’t make strange bulges on my legs like super-tight Spanx, they just glide over everything and prevent skin-to-skin contact. Amazing. I might be asking my mom to send more. I wouldn’t mind them under tight dress pants either.
  4. Delicates laundry bag: For washing bras and other delicates, these inexpensive mesh bags are invaluable. I could probably get it here, but that requires a lot of language I don’t have yet. Small and easy to pack, there’s no reason not to bring one.
  5. Small notebook with hard cover: For our wedding, one of Alan’s family friends gifted us each a small hard cover notebook. It’s about the size of an index card and only half and inch thick, so it’s easy to tuck into the travel purse for daily excursions. I write so many things in there: directions, phrases, new vocabulary, phone numbers, and so on. It’s also a great idea to carry something to write with in a new country as sometimes writing it out helps bridge the language barrier.
  6. “Chip” credit card: This trend hasn’t quite caught on in the US, but in Europe and Turkey, credit card machines read a special chip, then either ask for a pin or signature. Alan’s dad recommended that we get one, and it had been a huge help in keeping track of what we are spending, not having to waste money on ATM fees, and not having to carry a lot of cash on us. We have the Marriott Rewards Visa. It has an annual fee, but you also earn a free night at a Marriott every year, so it kind of balances out. It’s also a cool metal card that feels important and sophisticated—two things that appeal to me.
  7. Refillable water bottle: living in a hippie town taught me to bring my own water everywhere. I carry a neon green Nalgene bottle at all times. It even appeared in my wedding photos because I sipped water to help me stop blubbering during my vows. In Turkey, I try to always fill it up with water from water coolers when I have a chance because the tap water isn’t drinkable and buying water in small disposable bottles contributes to a global problem around single-use plastic.
  8. Modest, sporty swimsuit: I could have bought a swimsuit in Turkey, but I would have two seemingly polar alternatives. One, the typical teeny-tiny Western bikini that shows just how far one’s body is from a Victoria’s Secret model; but perhaps worse, this type of suit never stays in its original location during any water activity. My other choice here in Turkey, on the completely opposite end, is what I think of as a Muslim swimsuit. It’s a mono-chromatic, long-sleeved loose fitting tunic and pant set with either a separate matching swim cap, or with the head covering sewn directly onto the tunic. I like the SPF factor of the second option, but it seems tough to stay afloat in that many layers of fabric. The point is, I brought a Nike tankini that provides reasonable coverage of my body, even while splashing around in the waves.
  9. Water shoes: Dorky as they look, water shoes are a godsend for squeamish gals like me who hate feeling anything pokey or slimy underfoot while in the water. I'm glad I made room in my suitcase for these simple rubbery shoes because they help me be more adventurous in the ocean, which means I have more fun. 
  10. My husband: There are many travellers, especially women, who claim that traveling solo is the best way because you are liberated to do what you want, when you want. I acknowledge that this is a valid point, however, in my experience as a solo traveler in Cambodia, I’m pretty timid as a lone lady out in the world. The demands of exploring a new country with a foreign language are really intense when taken on by oneself. For me, I definitely prefer traveling with a partner, especially my husband, because we have two brains to figure out all the little things that happen. We make better decisions about where to go, what to bring, and what to do. We try foods and activities that I probably wouldn’t try on my own (like swimming into the “Abyss” today). Most important, we have someone to look out for us, keep us company; and someone to share the experience with. In favor of not ending on that completely sappy note: Also, traveling with a partner means you someone to hold your purse, do the dishes, and hit the snooze button.

August 10, 2014

Ode to the Mini-bus a.k.a Dolmuş

Drops me off at home on request—nice touch.

Often picks up more than capacity passengers—grab a stool and hold on.

Larger bottoms spill over onto the useless seatbelt buckles—ouch.

My legs don’t fit in the space between seats—literally.

Use the handles on the back of the seat in front of you to pretend you are driving—prevents motion sickness.

Shut up—it costs less than $3.

August 9, 2014

Finike Tour!

Is everyone in Finike awesome and generous?

Our renter from airbnb is Fırat. He is a thirty-something guy with a wife and baby on the way. He has a career as project manager on international engineering projects, as well as strong interests in sociolinguistics and history. I mean, wow. This guy is sharp!
Stuffed Eggplant

He took us out to lunch today, his treat, as part of his tour of the city. His best friend from childhood runs a few restaurants in town. Airbnb hosts are not obligated to do anything of the sort, but for Fırat, this is par for the course. He explained so many interesting things about this town and region, its history, and what he sees as its current path to destruction (based on the money-hungry who want to turn it into a tourist-centric place). We learned that Finike has won international contests for the best oranges, supposedly due to the combination of ideal geographic features including sea and mountains in the area. We also learned that there are seven Turkic countries, meaning they speak a language similar to Turkish. We learned that the eggplant dish we enjoyed at lunch is controversial because the Greeks and Turks both claim it; however, the dish’s name only has meaning in Turkish, so for Fırat, the case is clearly closed. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of foods and drinks around here that face a similar heritage debate.

I also sipped my first ayran, the mysterious and ubiquitous white drink that we’ve been seeing everywhere. It’s a cold, liquidy, plain yogurt drink with a touch of salt. Basically a tart, salty milkshake (minus the ice cream). Fırat says that it’s good for health in the summer because of the yogurt (probiotics, probably) and the salt that replaces minerals lost during perspiration. Alan summed up the experience well when he later said to me, “yeah, I probably won’t be ordering it again…unless I’m really dehydrated.” Exactly.

After lunch, we treated Fırat to goat-milk icecream at his friend’s café. He told me that the portions were small, so I should get three scoops. I selected two scoops of flavors that don’t really have an American equivalent, and a scoop of strawberry. The portions were actually pretty big, so I ended up with what my family would call a “Jena-size” (a.k.a huge portion). It was delicious, goat or not. I couldn’t tell the difference.
Goat Ice Cream

I’m glad that we are getting to know our host, as he seems like a really good and conscientious person who cares about his hometown. Throughout our conversations today I got the sense that he doesn’t like how the town has changed during his lifetime. Heavily agricultural in the past, Finike has suffered in the wake of globalization. The famous oranges are not bringing in the cash as they used to. It sounds like some people in Finike are looking for the income that tourists bring to neighboring communities as a potential source, as well as to mining marble from the surrounding hills. Unfortunately, it’s clear that building hotels and clearing the cedar trees from the hill sides detracts from the town’s natural beauty.

These conversations make me feel a little self-conscious about myself as a tourist. I am the kind of person who doesn’t want the resort lifestyle. I want to mix with the locals and try the foods and see why the locals choose to live there. On the other hand, I have trouble with using the local language and fitting into the local transportation, which are two things that touristy places usually account for. Making accommodations for tourists does ruin the authenticity of a place. I secretly fear that coming here and having a great time and talking about it with friends will somehow cause an avalanche of tourists who will ruin everything by inspiring Bob Marley-themed restaurants and tattoo parlors and pick-pockets. I’m being too hyperbolic. Treading lightly as a tourist is okay, and in fact does boost the local economy. Getting to know the people enriches my life and theirs (I hope). It’s okay, Jena.

For now, I think I've satiated my inner writer and it's time for a quick dip in the ocean across the street.

First Impressions of Finike

Our apartment in Finike

Alan and I arrived in Finike, Turkey late last night, around 9:15 PM. The town’s name, Finike (Fee-nee-kay), sounds an awful lot like finicky, the appropriateness of which is not lost on a girl with a certain pickiness. 

Our accommodation here in Finike is a fully furnished apartment, found by Alan on, a fantastic site if you’ve never used it. Lured by warnings of too-touristy areas on the opposite side of Antalya, and a nightly rate less than a third of what we’ve been paying, Alan couldn’t resist. I needed some coaxing, as well as a total falling through of my plan for the touristy area in order to be convinced. Travel karma works this way though, and this place is, well, groovy to say the least.

It seems that stepping over the threshold into apartment number nine also stepped us into a wormhole to 1973. That certain charm of the 70s, Turkey in the 70s no less, pervades the space from the harvest gold (yes parents, the same color as the original shag carpet and dishwasher at our Briarhurst house) sofas to the funky ball lamp above the rose-petal patterned sheets. Dear reader, don’t misconstrue my observations as criticism, as I am thrilled to be in a place with such character! Note also that Alan and I have been living together in a tiny studio and micro-sized hotel for the past month, so this two bedroom apartment feels enormous. Grandma and Grandpa, if you’re reading, you definitely would have loved this place during the first year of your marriage—I know you had it pretty rough in your Stuttgart room above the animals.

So the apartment. 70s vibe aside, it sits literally just across the highway from a public beach. We can see the water from our spacious balcony (yes, we ARE living the dream) and it looks great. 

As we just arrived last night, we haven’t explored the town yet. However, we did have an entertaining, and we think VERY Turkish experience at the grocery store just down the street last night.

Filling our grocery baskets with necessities at 10 PM, Alan and I seemed to cause a lot of excitement among the employees of the store. We were the only customers at the time, and the man who I assume was the manager not only helped me with selecting some olives, but also made sure we didn’t forget bread (Ekmek is a staple of any meal here), or forget to weigh our tomatoes at check out. While checking out, everyone got in on the action practicing their English and cheering on our attempts at Turkish. An adolescent boy from Iraq was the most curious, and he got a lot of help from older Turkish men to ask us questions about where we were from what we did, etc.

As we were walking out of the store, bags of groceries and 10 liter water in hand, the manager insisted on carrying nearly all of it to our apartment for us. This is the part that I think is very Turkish, though how can I be sure? On the short walk, we used Turkish and English to make small talk with this very pleasant guy. The area was largely deserted, and our apartment is not exactly what I would call well lit. I was hoping he would bid us adieu in the apartment parking lot, but he insisted. I’ll admit that I felt pretty uncomfortable with him coming all the way to our apartment door up several flights of dimly lit stairs. I wondered if this was his trick to rob us, or even to try to sell us something. The anxious traveller syndrome can be a lifesaver or a fun-sucker depending. Alan later confessed that he had sized the guys up and determined that in shorts and a thin t-shirt there would be no place to hide a weapon. Reflecting back now, after hauling what was easily 50 pounds up several flights of stairs, he would have probably been too exhausted anyway.

In any case, nothing bad happened, and in fact he was very, very nice. He bid us a pleasant evening and hoped to see us back at the store soon. We heard from friends that this type of door service happens in Turkey, so I guess it really does!

Taksim to Finike: McDonald's, Mini-Busses, and ELJ

Jena's translation: Awesome start to your day

Big? No. Breakfast? Yes.
Today, I ate at Turkish McDonald’s twice.

Just writing that makes me shudder, cringe, feel shame, wonder about my arteries, etc. Both times were in the airport. The first time was on purpose—to try the Turkish version of a Big (Mc)Breakfast: scrambled eggs, olives, feta cheese, an English muffin, and of course çay. Honestly, I really just wanted to take a picture for my brother Sam because I think he would like it. I needed breakfast, Mickey D’s was there, and the price was right. Well, as right as an airport price can be. The breakfast was neither very flavorful, nor was it big by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much-needed nourishment before what would be another epic Jena-Alan travel adventure.

The day actually began in the Taksim area of Istanbul, a city of around 25 million people (did you catch that? 25 MILLION—It’s so big I can’t even wrap my mind around it). Alan and I hauled our bags over cobblestone streets for 20 minutes to the airport shuttle pick up area. I found this low-cost and convenient service on Google, and Alan and I had scouted the location the day before so that we wouldn’t get lost on the real trip. The ride to the airport, though long and traffic-ridden, was easy enough. Airport check in at Istanbul’s smaller airport was a breeze, and even going through security was easy. We were off to a good start.

McDonald’s meal #1 happened after security. Yum. Sort of.

Our flight was scheduled for 12:15 on a cheapy budget airline. Torrential downpours of rain enlivened the gate waiting area about 11:00. Then, like the wicked witch, everything started to melt. Not literally, but in the sense that western Turkey’s airports all seemed to be crippled by the storm. First, we were notified of a 45-minute delay for our flight. Fair enough. Clearly the weather is bad.

Alan and I queued up again with the masses after 45 minutes, only to stand unmoving for 20 minutes before someone announced an additional 45 minute wait. I made a snack run during which I heard a very angry Romanian (maybe?) man berate a Turkish gate agent in the hallway. Something about how he and his family had been stuck in the airport since the previous night. I know how that goes—many travelers do. The part that got scary was when the angry man said in English, “No! Look at my face! Look at my face and tell me that you don’t know where my plane is!” The rage was palpable as I snuck by, headed for the nearest simit and çay stand.

In my field, English as a lingua franca (comically abbreviated as ELF) is discussed as a main reason for people in countries where English is NOT the official language to learn English. As a so-called lingua franca, English serves as a common language between speakers of other languages.

For me as an English teacher in Turkey, the ELF trend means job security. However, in some domains (e.g., airports and city streets) it seems like English as a lingua jerka is a more accurate depiction. With English as the common language, uncomfortable shouting matches in stressful places like airports are intelligible to many more people, including me.

As soon as our pastries devoured, a nearby Turkish-Austrian used German to tell me that our plane was now scheduled for 3:00.

Not that we really had any actual plans to be messed up by the delay, but Alan and I were trying to coordinate a few more transportation modes to get to our final destination before dark.

Helpful Turk-Austrian advised us that we could actually “redeem” our late flight for free food at McDonalds. Who were we to say no? We headed up to the bustling counter and stood there until we figured out what to say to whom. I can’t sugar coat this experience—it was disorganized and chaotic. Turks don't seem big on standing in lines. The mob formation seems to be more normal here. In any case, there’s nothing like a free burger, fries and room temperature flat soda to soothe the irritated passenger. McDonald’s meal #2 was not exactly on purpose, nor was it very delicious, but it was free. I still had to shudder a little that we ate there not just once, but twice. As Alan (or I) might say, I shudder about eating McDonald's “on principle.”

In the interest of not missing our flight, we transferred the steaming, greasy food to our backpacks somehow and went back to our gate. Just in time for the show, apparently. Angry Romanian man’s wife was verbally assaulting another helpless gate agent who was trying to get out of the area. Literally screaming at him for several minutes (remember English as a lingua jerka?), she made quite a scene. She even started shoving him, at which point, he scurried away yelling “Policeman!” Suddenly distraught and embarrassed, she slunk back to her waiting family who consoled the obviously exhausted woman. Alan and I had nearly finished our fries as we watched this disturbing tussle erupt and subside.

We did eventually get on the plane and after a very short flight, landed in Antalya, the population base of southern Turkey. It’s kind of a blur how we managed to find the minibus to the Otogar (bus station), and frantically catch the last minibus to our destination, but we made it, and even made a quick phone call to the person hosting us at our final destination. There are certain powers at be that either smile or don’t on weary travelers. Something smiled on Alan as he dialed that last time, just a minute or two before the minibus peeled out of the parking lot. He arranged the time to meet our renter, then ran out to the waiting mini bus.

Dear reader, I’m afraid to bore you with details, but I can’t help myself. Things are just too interesting to me not to share with you.

One challenge of the minibus ride to Finike, our destination, was that getting off of the minibus is something of an art. You can kind of get off anytime, as long as you know what to say (clearly we don’t) or your driver knows where to drop you. Banking on the latter, Alan tried to ask the driver early in the trip, but the driver seemed preoccupied and not very willing to put up with out foreignness. The worst-case scenario was that he would drop us off at the Finike Otogar and we’d find a way to get to our place from there. Because I wasn’t ready to walk 2 kilometers in the dark with my super heavy suitcase and backpack, I mustered the courage to approach the driver at the rest stop, Alan’s hand-drawn map in hand. I smiled in such a way that probably conveyed, “Yep, this will be awkward, but aren’t I so charming??” I sat next to him and his friend, and began with a few Turkish niceties. We then studied the map together, consulted an additional map I had saved to my iPad, and then he called Fırat to double check the directions and arrange a time for us to be dropped off. SCORE!! I mean, there are little victories, and then there are awesome victories. Skipping out on a long, dark walk without clear directions—MAJOR victory. Good job Jena’s Turkish and foreigner charm. I was really proud when we were dropped off literally directly in front of our apartment with Fırat waiting to help with our bags. Perfection.

Plus, once you get off of a super cramped minibus where your knees have become one with seat in front of you against your will, bouts of severe motion-induced nausea have forced you to desperately administer your last dose of Dramamine, and the air temperature has been about 10 degrees too hot---pretty much everything else looks like paradise.