October 29, 2014

Cappadocia with friends

There's nothing that a night out with friends, some fresh air, and a hotel room carved out of a cave can't fix.

And my, between work and culture shock, have I needed some fixing lately!

With our day and a half off of work (Turkish Republic Day), Alan, me, and three other couples went to Cappadocia for a little getaway. It was exactly what I needed, and I think exactly what we all needed.

We drank tea and wine, ate a nice meal, tried Rakı (Anise flavored Turkish liquor) and laughed until we cried.

We drove cars through the back roads of Cappadocia, climbed around fascinating ruins, took photos, and became suuuuper hungry. We found food.

We enjoyed being in Turkey. We forgot many of our worries, and laughed about the ones we couldn't forget.

I'll go back to work tomorrow a little bit tired from the trip, but I will mentally refreshed from our mid-week holiday.
View from Cave Hotel Room

Beautiful carpet market

These aren't just any caves. This was part of the cathedral.

Some of the fairy chimneys

I love the landscape out here.

October 12, 2014

Sunday Morning Reflections

First, may I suggest that you check out this beautiful video of Turkey: video link here

It's Sunday morning here in Talas.

I haven't taken my usual dive into the electronic version of The New York Times (Thank you, Chris!) yet, but instead I've opened up my blog.

Unlike the entries I wrote from Cambodia in which I tried to capture each excruciating drop of sweat, I find my entries from Turkey deserve a more even keel. Living and working in Talas at a university where my expertise is desired and rewarded, I feel valuable. Being married to Alan, a coworker, confident, and most-trusted friend, is wonderful. We have learned so much about each other since May 31st. Moving to Turkey together has highlighted our strengths and weaknesses as a couple and forced us to work on them.

Speaking of strengths and weaknesses, last week, Alan and I needed to pay our internet bill. When we arrived at the shop, Alan realized that he had left the slip of paper with our account number at home. As we had walked 20 minutes to get to the shop, we decided to try anyway. Between my vocabulary and Alan's grammar, our Turkish sometimes gets us through. The next twenty minutes were a struggle for all involved. First, they thought we wanted to set up new internet, but of course we didn't catch that, so after struggling to say our address and translate some terms of the contract...I realized that we weren't on the same page. Next, the employee and I had an exchange that, translated, probably went like this, but with more grammatical inaccuracy on my part.

Jena: Ma'am. But, now internet.

Employee: Right now, do you have internet?

Jena: Yes. At home. We want to buy. I mean not buy! At home. Now.

Employee: Do you have the account number?

Jena: Unfortunately. At home.

Employee: ....

Jena: Passport?

Employee: Ok. Yes. Let's try to find your account via your passport.

Employee: Here it is. I am writing the account number. DO NOT lose it this time.

Jena: Yes. Ok.

Employee: That'll be 66 lira.

So, from this encounter, I learned that I didn't know the verb for "to pay", nor the word for "account." On the way home, a random turkish guy shouted "Good Evening!" and then told us how he wasn't selling anything, he just wanted to practice English. We took his number, written on Alan's hand, and bid him adieu, wishing he had been a few blocks back to help us at the internet store.

To shift topics, one aspect of Flagstaff that I loved and hated was that anywhere I went I was bound to run into a colleague, student, or former student. Even after just a few weeks in Talas, I have a huge network of people, and I now see colleagues and students everywhere. In the grocery store, on the bus, at the mall. I can't get away! But it's nice to know people--helps me feel more integrated.

Oh, and to share an incredible "small world" story, one of my Turkish colleagues spent part of her childhood in the US. Guess where? Culler middle school, Lincoln, Nebraska. I mean seriously! I didn't go to Culler (Mickle Missles, all the way!), but I've been inside that building. Out of all the cities in the US and in Turkey, she and I have our childhood home and an adult home in common. It's pretty incredible, if you ask me. She even said "Go Huskers!" --a true taste of home.

On the work front, I will say that no MA program can prepare teachers for life in the real world. Every program has stakeholders pulling in all directions, and every program has unique challenges and demands in curricula, technology, and assessment. The best MA programs prepare teachers to adapt to the circumstances and apply their knowledge however they can given the particular constraints. Okay, enough rambling. Basically, I feel like the teaching context I'm in currently really pushes me to develop as a teacher. However, the benefit of having studied theory and research for two years is that I feel comfortable presenting a professional development workshops and discussing research articles with colleagues, which happened to be two opportunities last week. In fact, I will say that one of the best final exams I was ever given was to create a powerpoint presentation and handout for a hypothetical professional development workshop. Thank you Dr. Stoller! Much love from Turkey! This kind of assignment required us to pull together our knowledge in a meaningful and practical way that we could actually use in the future! Alan, another American colleague, and I each presented a few ideas for teaching vocabulary. Our colleagues have responded well, reporting back that our suggestions have been fun and useful in the classroom. Later in the week, a few colleagues gathered to discuss a journal article from TESOL Quarterly. It felt great to sink my teeth into some academic work and have a meaningful discussion about the implications of the article in our context here in Talas. To sum up, the two years of intense MA study prepared me well (though the adaptation is up to me!).

Now to a topic more behind the scenes (sorry for my randomness this morning). ISIS, ISIL, or IS. If you live in America, I'm sure that you are bombarded with news about the self-proclaimed Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The most recent stories are coming from Kobane, a Syrian town on the Turkish border. This town is on the verge of falling to ISIS, and in the process, stirring up huge international debate among myriad stakeholders. The US embassy in Ankara sends me frequent messages about how the situation is affecting Turkey. Recently, clashes between Kurdish and Turkish forces have resulted in injuries and death in various cities around Turkey. Sites of demonstrations are considered the biggest danger to foreigners, so the embassy simply advises us to avoid large gatherings of people and stay informed about local events. In addition, there are travel restrictions on Southern and Eastern parts of Turkey because of the intensity of the clashes there. For Alan and me, life goes on as usual. Our city is conservative and quiet. Only small protests happen downtown, far away from our sleepy suburb. I opened this post by saying that I haven't dove into the NYT yet, and based on what's happening in neighboring areas, I think you can understand that sometimes the headlines make me fearful, or at the very least, somewhat worried. As of know, there is nothing to worry about in Talas or Kayseri. Staying informed and keeping one's attention on the surroundings are the best protection.

Wow. I don't want to end on that note. Let's see. It's time for my second cup of tea, and maybe time to wake Alan up. We have tentative plans to visit a dog refuge on the outskirts of the city. Our friends have a car, and there are visitation hours. The only problem is falling in love with these animals. Maybe one day (hopefully not too far from now) we will have a dog-friendly place (and of course, also cat-friendly!).

October 7, 2014

Jena's first world problems

Ankara. I don't know it's official tagline, but if I could write one, it would be

Ankara: city of freeways.

Man alive! (Nice Midwestern expression, huh?) Ankara is a crazy city. The roads are mind boggling to me. Basically the freeways are based on where they end up, that is, other cities. So, Konya Yolu (Konya way) leads one to Konya. Eskişehir Yolu has a similar path to its namesake. This I can deal with, as my Turkish geography is getting better, but these names seem to only apply to maps, not to the roads as you are driving on them. Signs on the roadway indicate that you are traveling toward Istanbul, Eskişehir, and three other places, but the don't tell you which road you are on. In general, I'd say that Turkey isn't big on street signs, so the lack of signage indicating names for the big roads doesn't surprise me much. Suprise, no. Irritate, yes. As designated navigator for the trip, I totally failed due to confusing signage, lack of labeling, and minimal knowledge of the area.

Trying to find our hotel took well over an hour because we were lost three separate times. A kind gentlemen eventually gave us pretty good directions, but it was still a challenge to figure out when to exit the freeway. By the way, turning around on Turkish freeways isn't as simple as the American Interstate system. The overpasses don't really work like that. If you get on the wrong street, you might be going that direction for a while. You might even end up in Istanbul if you really mess up. That's my attempt at a geography and city planning joke for Ankara's mess of freeways.

Anyway, we arrived at the JW Marriot in Ankara not a moment too soon as we were both fried from the exhausting navigation and traffic. We had earned a free stay from our credit card, so it seemed like a good excuse to "put on the ritz" for a night. Our room had a cute box of Turkish delights and handmade chocolates waiting for us, as well as a bathtub, shower cabinet, plush robes, and view from the 18th floor. The hotel was probably the nicest I've ever stayed in.

One important reason I had wanted to go to Ankara was that they have şarap evleri (= literally, wine houses). I scoped out one on Google, and we, by some miracle and good directions, were able to find it. The ambience was perfect. Miniature red lights cast a warm glow over the outdoor seating. The menu was great and the wine selection was excellent (I guess. I'm no expert on Turkish wine). I picked out a steak and paired it with a red wine. A local Cabernet Sauvignon. I don't have a refined wine pallet, but I do enjoy drinking wine, especially the red stuff. In Kayseri, I don't drink much wine (because it's pretty hard to come by), so I was really excited to drink a real glass of wine with my dinner.

Our meals and drinks arrived. We toasted, and I took a sip. Wine snob alert...

Parents, if you are reading this, you may want to cover your eyes.

The wine was a frosty, fresh-from-the-fridge temperature. Seriously?

I don't know much, but I think I know that dry red wine is almost always served at just barely cooler than room temperature. Ultimately, I know that temperature is a preference thing. There's nothing wrong with a chilled red, but I think it changes the flavor and the way it goes with the food.

I cupped my hands around the glass to try to warm it up, but eventually resigned myself to a much colder than usual glass of wine. There is a punchline, "first world problems" meaning that my complaints are absolutely ridiculous when compared to the problems faced by people in the developing world. I think the temperature of my wine in Ankara definitely falls into this category, but nevertheless, I pretty much chose the restaurant based on the idea of a great glass of wine. It fell short.

After the wine experience, we went back to the hotel to explore the swimming pool. Unfortunately, no one is allowed in the pool without a swim cap, but the Turkish steam room, hamam, jacuzzi, and amazing shower area are open to all, swim cap or not. After steaming, soaking and laying on a hot slab for an hour, Alan and I were thoroughly spa-ed. We snuggled into real down pillows and comforters and slept soundly.

The next morning, we explored a small section of Ankara. We ate a tasty breakfast and walked around, hoping to find a guitar shop.

Here comes an anticlimactic ending to the post:

After fighting the traffic and freeways again, we were on our way back to Kayseri. No additional wine temperature incidents or spa time. We did get chips at a rest area. They were very delicious.

Home sweet home.

Cappadocia: Claustrophobes need not apply.

Whimsical rock formations
Kurban Bayramı is nearly over. Having Friday to Tuesday off is pretty luxurious.

It's Tuesday afternoon here in Talas. Our rental car is parked outside, waiting to go back to its city home in a few hours. We will come back by bus and resume our car-less  life. Tomorrow, we will go back to work.

"Love Valley"
I want to share a little about what Alan and I did during the holiday. After our impromptu visit to Cappadocia, Alan and I returned the following day to see more fairy chimney action and tour an underground city.

Let me paint a picture of Cappadocia. According to Alan, it looks a lot like Southern Utah. To both of us, the novelty of Cappodocia's beauty is reminiscent of Sedona, Arizona. The arid plain is dotted with colorful rock mesas. Jutting out from the earth are also these pointy spires. Some are shaped like isosiclies triangles, some are more organic and whimsical, and some look like they belong on a naughty cake for a bachelorette party. Into the hillsides and pointed rocks, previous civilizations have carved homes and entire cities. Some sections mimick adobe homes of the Southwest, and others look a lot more alien. The vast majority of Cappadocia is free and open to the public, so tourists can explore unimpeded nearly everything. Even the incredibly dangerous and scary stuff, like unlit cave tunnels with uneven bottoms, no clear signage, and no help if one is trapped. I did not encourage Alan to push his limits in the caves.

Cappadocia is beautiful. The landscape is colorful, whimsical, and practically begs to be explored. As rich as the place is in beauty, it is also full of history. Alan and I visited a church designated as a world heritage site. The church was carved into the mountainside and wonderfully preserved over the centuries. We climbed up modern stairways to see the ancient rooms painted with depictions of Christ's life and teachings. Most of the faces, save those painted on the ceiling, had been scratched out, presumably by Muslim or nomadic conquerers.

The second world heritage site that we visited was the underground tunnel. We began our second day of Cappadocia there, and I'm glad we didn't have much planned for afterward. The tour was intense.

Okay, admittedly, an ancient "underground city" pretty much tells you what to expect. Dark, damp, rocks, maybe some tighter spaces. Wow. For this particular city, claustrophobes need not apply. The first 15 minutes of the self-guided tour were tame enough. Easy clearance, larger rooms, no hallways. But then, as more and more tourists piled in behind us, we came to a bottleneck stairway which was part of the tour and exit route. We waited for several minutes as tourist after tourist climbed out of the stairway, looking exhausted and a little aghast. As soon as the train of people ended, Alan and I fell in line with a Korean tour group. Bent at 90 degrees, we crept down the staircase in single file (no room for doubles here). My backpack scraped at the ceiling of the stairway, and my knees nearly knocked my jaw as I treaded down the uneven stairs for several minutes. We passed huge stone disks that were once rolled in place to keep the enemy out. I muttered curses and encouragements to myself as I listened to the Koreans squeal with fear and delight behind me. Finally, we emerged at the bottom, in a chamber. To our right, the church section and to our left, the graves section. My heart rate was sky high from the adrenaline of the tight staircase, and the thin underground air and increased pressure had me feeling dizzy. Somehow, I was convinced to travel down the even tighter tunnel to the grave section. There weren't lights in the tunnel as it was too tight to fit them, but there were lights in the ambiguous grave room. Nothing much to see there, really. Unfortunately, before we could make our way back out of there, a party of boisterous Turks made their way in. Their loud and excited chatter made me feel really closed in, but I had to wait until every last one of them filed back out before I could reenter the passageway.

Alan showing the size of the tunnel to the grave section
The tour of the underground city wouldn't be complete without a look down the perilous well, or a look up the disparaging ventilation shaft. After a solid half hour eight stories underground, we were ready to get out of there. The problem was, if your remember that single file staircase, we were now on the other end. Waiting for loads and loads of people to come down. With no tour guides to manage the staircase situation, the noisy Turks from the grave section began yelling and gesticulating. If I can imagine the only way to make the underground city more scary, it would be to have an angry mob rushing a one way at a time staircase. I tried to take deep breaths (wondering how much oxygen there really was down there) and stay focused on getting out.

It occurred to me to make a video of the ascent on the staircase, so I have about 90 seconds of footage featuring a stranger's butt as he ascended the stairs in front of me.

We weren't out of the woods yet, though. After the staircase, the exit route included a ridiculously awful second staircase that was even smaller than the first. My thighs were burning as we crept through the dark tunnel, bent over, legs not even able to straighten. Without an alternative, I just kept going, pushed onward by the crowd behind me. Emerging into the sunlight, I thanked my lucky stars that I survived.
Free puppy guides!
We bought post cards and headed back out to the open plain for more exploring. Highlights of that excursion included an easy to explore section of larger structures, some potato chips, and a free puppy guide.


Cappadocia has captured our hearts. The surrounding areas are so open and naturally beautiful, not unlike Northern Arizona. Though touristy, Cappadocia is still relatively wild. I'm sure we will be renting more cars to visit this place again in the near future.

Coming next: Ankara, city of freeways.

October 3, 2014

The Freedom Only a Rental Car Can Provide

Welcome to Turkey.

That thought has been on my mind a lot the past three months, especially in the face of weird or frustrating occurances. Welcome to Turkey.

Well, now that I'm three months in and I've finally acquired a residence permit, bank account, and first salary installment, I'm feeling more settled.

Alan and I are trying to take advantage of a five day weekend with a rental car and desire to get away from the 15-story apartment buildings that give Talas its distinctive vibe. Getting the rental car was a struggle, but thanks to some very generous co-workers, I think we got the best deal in the city. We rented an automatic (hard to find) Nissan Micra for the holiday at a very reasonable price. Luckily the car was reasonable, because benzine definitely isn't. Filling up our tank cost around $75.

Our first trip with the car was to Beğendik (grocery store), the big one. We loaded up our cart with necessities and treats for the holiday weekend, as most shops will be closed in observance of the holiday. Standing in long lines at the cash register reminded me of doing grocery shopping on Christmas eve. Lots of frazzled people with full carts. Then, some random teenage boys nearly knocked my cart over with their crazy rollerblade tricks on the front steps of the store. Welcome to Turkey.

Today, we drove around the big dormant volcano, Erciyes. The trek took us past ski resorts, up a gondola, through open plains, shanty towns, and also one of the most touristy places in Turkey--Cappadocia. More on that topic later.

Alan and I did pretty well, considering the amount of stress that driving (or in my case, passengering) in Turkey put on us. My iPad had screen shot maps of our directions, but they didn't account for getting lost pretty much straight away, and it took a few minutes before Alan and I could communicate calmly again. We made it everywhere we wanted to go, despite a serious lack of street signage and a ridiculous traffic situation near the bus station on our way back into town. Alan did a great job of pulling off some Turkish driving to get through that.

In Turkey, driving is all about flow. Traffic rules, lane lines, slow vehicles, turn signals, basically anything that gets in the way of one's flow while driving, is to be avoided. Just try to get to your destination as fast as  possible. Don't worry about other things. Needless to say, I've personally witnessed three accidents in the past month. None today, thank God.

One of the weirdest moments today, a real Welcome to the Middle East moment, was seeing the sheep lined up downtown. The Muslim Eid holiday starts tomorrow, and the traditions include sacrificing a sheep. Christians know this story too, as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, who was then replaced by a lamb. In the Islamic version, his name is Ibrahim. So, the customary thing to do in Turkey is to buy a lamb and perform the sacrifice. Welcome to Turkey.

Even with the many surprises and tribulations, Turkey is really growing on me. With a few modifications to our current situation, including maybe a car of our own, and a place with a pet and a balcony, I could see myself living in Turkey for a few years. There are some things that are hard to get used to, but overall, it is a great place.