December 31, 2014

The box I didn't get

Sometime in early October, my mom put a box in the mail to Turkey.

Sometime in early November, the box arrived in Kayseri. Someone at the post office opened the box to do the usual check of international mail. They found some Imodium--diarrhea medicine--in the original packaging.

This person, following procedure, filled in the blanks on the customary letter explaining in Turkish why the package could not be delivered. "This medicine is a controlled substance and requires a doctor's prescription." This letter doesn't include the recipient's name or address. The letter was folded and tucked into a brown waxy envelop. A label with the recipient's address and the parcel's tracking number was carefully placed on the letter.

The letter was delivered to the correct apartment building, but as there was no recipient's name on the label, nor on the inner letter, the waxy brown envelop was filed into a box by the security guard.

The letter sat in the box, undisturbed for nearly a month. The US Postal Service tracking eventually told my mom that the box hadn't been delivered due to a missed delivery, so I went down to the security desk to ask. In Turkish. Yeah.

No package at the desk.

But, are you sure?

Yes. Then the security guard helped me call the shipping company. Ah yes! They knew the package.

Did the box have medicine in it?

Yes probably! I said.

The waxy brown envelop surfaced from the depths of the box.

I needed a prescription for the Imodium, or I could chuck the medicine and collect the rest at the office downtown.

I asked a coworker for help. She kindly took me to a doctor first, to try and score a prescription. This is Turkey, I thought. A fake-ish prescription outta be about the easiest thing to get, considering that Xanax is sold over the counter here.

Turns out we went to an awesome and ethical doctor who was very hesitant to write the prescription for an ailment I didn't have, for a medicine that they have in Turkish pharmacies. When you have infectious diarrhea, we cautioned, you shouldn't take this medicine. You should, let the bacteria come out of your body. Or you will die.

After a few minutes more of our most dignified pleading, the doctor compromised his ethics and wrote the prescription, but on the condition that I would visit his office if I have diarrhea so that he can consult me about whether to take the medicine.

We took the prescription and made the longish drive to the downtown Kargo office. We were taken to a back room, where I expected to see a beat up box from the US. Instead of a box, I saw a man sitting between two desks. He took out a seriously old school ledger. Not just any ledger, but a giant book of package information. I imagine that they've been using that book since the 1970s. He found my number in the book.

Punchline: the box had been sitting there for a month or more, but was shipped back to the US in the past week. Out of Turkey, out of reach. The worker had a number of legitimate excuses which were almost nullified by the awesome excuse that he didn't know that my name wasn't on the label. Apparently he thought my last name was "Rezidans"--the Turkish word for residence--a type of apartment. Nice try.

No box.

Somehow I didn't cry, despite my extreme disappointment. Oh Turkey.

December 28, 2014

Shopping-spree dream

Just for fun, I think I'll make a list of what I would buy if I had an hour at Target (US big box store, just a step up from Wal-Mart).
--Target-- Are the angels signing yet?

  • Rosarita refried beans. I'll take three cases, please.
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, a few of the monster-sized bags I used to buy in Flagstaff.
  • Tortillas. They have them here, but if I'm at Target, why not?
  • Avocados.
  • SALSA. Another three-case purchase. Target sells a pretty good tomatillo salsa. I'd probably get that.
  • Tapatio and Sriracha. Maybe a case of each. Hot sauce is also expensive and hard to come by here.
  • Tortilla chips. OMG. Maybe a pallet of these. They are my favorite. Doritos are everywhere here, but I just want some plain tortilla chips to make nachos... (I might cry now).
  • Coffee beans and a french press. I can get these here, but while at Target, I'll get American-sized, and American-priced stuff.
  • Food processor.
  • Several brownie and cake mixes.
  • Soy sauce (3 gallons)
  • Ice cream maker. Our friends have one and it is AMAZING.
  • American beef. Turkish cows eat different stuff. 
  • The entire spice rack and baking supply area would be tempting. I'll prioritize ingredients for a dozen pumpkin pies (don't forget whipped cream from a spray can).
  • Unscented lotion and face soap. Turkey loves perfumed toiletries. My skin doesn't.
  • American make up. You can buy it here, but it's expensive and doesn't always look...unused.
  • Sunscreen, lots, also unscented, strong SPF. It's expensive here.
  • Unscented laundry detergent. 
  • Natural cleaning spray (Method brand).
  • Ziplock bags with real zippers. Gallon, quart, and snack size.
  • Tampons. Sorry TMI (too much information) but darn are those things hard to find and expensive here.
  • WINE WINE WINE. Without sounding too dependent, I would stock up. I mean, cases. There is really only one place with a decent selection in this town, and it's a pain in the you-know-what to get there and back from our apartment by bus carrying bags.
  • PBR Beer. A pallet. For my Alan. :) and a case of limeade to make "alien blood."
  • Pepper jack cheese. Gouda. YUM.
  • Supplies for green bean casserole. Maybe a case of each ingredient.
  • While I'm there, let's get some new socks and underwear. Always a good idea.
  • Snow boots. Waterproof. Size women's HUGE. It doesn't exist here, and I'm a little embarrassed to go to the men's stores.
  • Pepto-bismol, Tylenol, Advil, Claritin (you know I'll need these if I'm consuming cases of spicy food and wine).
  • Emergen-C packets.  A case, please.
  • Multivitamins. Big supply.
  • Games: Apples to Apples, Twister, Taboo, CatchPhrase, Jenga.
Okay, that was fun. My mouth is watering. I miss capitalism, my car, Target...

Well, I'm planning to be in "the States" in August 2015, so maybe I can pick up some of these things when I'm there. Target, if you're reading this, please open a location in Talas. I will be your best customer!

And yes, if there were a Starbucks inside the Target, I would have a soy latte. Thank you for asking. Corporation inside corporation. Gotta love the USA.

December 25, 2014

Christmas and a Milestone.

Christmas Day in Talas, Turkey. It's sort of like swinging through parallel universes because I know it's Christmas, but there are so few external indications that it's easy to forget. Our office Christmas party created a festive vibe for about 25 minutes, which was great. There aren't Christmas lights or trees, nativity scenes, or presents from Santa. It's just another day.

International instructors were offered the day off, so Alan, some coworkers, and I spent the day on Erciyes mountain, breakfasting and sledding down the snow-packed slopes. Definitely not my usual Christmas.

I'm battling homesickness this week as I see photos from home of familiar events and food. I'm also passing an important milestone in my journeys abroad.

In the past, I've lasted about six months. A semester in Austria, a semester plus some in Cambodia (and Japan).

I'm passing the six month mark here in Turkey, and I'm in for at least another 8. Being here on a contract for work, and being here with my husband has made a huge difference in my "staying power." Traditional study abroad wisdom suggests a U shaped experience that begins high, with the excitement of a new place, goes low with frustration and language barrier, and then climbs again one your start to figure things out.

In the past, I've bailed or at least ended at the bottom, when culture shock hit it's peak.

This time, I feel like I've survived the some of the very low points (for example, locking myself in a bathroom stall at work to cry it all out--good indication of a low point), and come out the other side more prepared to deal with life in Turkey.

My Turkish is getting better. Even though it's still barely there, it's exponentially better than it was three months ago. I feel a huge sense of achievement when small encounters are successful in Turkish. For example, today I helped my American friends order food and sort out a ticket situation. Knowing a little of the language really soothes some parts of culture shock for me. I guess it really comes down to autonomy and feeling like a competent adult, rather than a helpless baby every time someone speaks to you.

So, here's to one foreign Christmas and six months in Turkey down; and to a vibrant 2015 full of the upside of the "U".

December 13, 2014

You might be an American in Turkey if...

You might be an American in Turkey if... (Thanks Alan, for your help writing this)

Speaking and language:
  • you've nearly finished two beginning Turkish classes, but you still can't ask "Can you call the water company for me?" You can, however, question the existence of everything in the room and ask profoundly self-reflective questions like, "am I not ironing?"
  • your latest learned grammar point literally translates to "before you don't leave the house, drink a tea"...a bit of a mind-bender.
  • when you assign homework, "oofya"(exasperated sigh meaning "you have to be kidding me") and "enshallah" (God willing) are the most common responses.
  • you tell  a student "I hope it's easy for you" which is an interpretation of the ubiquitous Turkish "Kolay gelsin" (meaning "may it come easily to you")
  • instead of "isn't it?", your go-to tag question is "dimi?", the Turkish equivalent. 
  • you've started including Turkish misuses of English words into your own lexis: "I'm too excited" (I'm really nervous), "Can you control it?" (Can you check my work?)
  • your textbook teaches British English, despite the fact that only 1 of 50 of the teachers in your school is from England. 
  • you subsequently find yourself saying "at the weekend" and "I'm keen on that" in your daily conversations
Call to prayer:
  • students'  presentations are sometimes drowned out by the school mosque's call to prayer.
  • you plan your lessons around the call to prayer, especially if you want to include video or music. It's disrespectful to play music during the call to prayer. 
  • you probably learned the hard way about the disrespectful thing.
  • different singers have different styles--you have picked out a favorite and look forward to his calls.
  • in your syllabus, you included a rule about cleaning up tea cups after class.
  • people produce sugar cubes from their pockets (lint and all) to sweeten your brew.
  • there's an entire section of every supermarket and mini market completely devoted to tea.
  • students bring you tea, whether you asked for it or not.
  • tea is often served from two containers, one is atomic-strength brewed tea and the other is hot water. You decide your strength: weak, medium, strong, or brand-new-foreigner (mistakenly all atomic won't forget that cup)
  • you've made the brand-new-foreigner mistake more than once.
  • your yearly consumption of eggplant  and tomato has increased by 2000%.
  • you've seen a few two many chicken drumsticks melting into a bowl of watery broth.
  • your salad, and really, all of your food, is swimming in yogurt.
  • you avoid any soup or dish with mushrooms (2 for 2 with food poisoning here)
  • your 6 lira Turkish coffee is two tablespoons of drinkable liquid and the rest is tongue-exfoliating coffee grounds
  • your coffee takes 15 minutes to prepare and creates 5 dishes to wash: cup, saucer, water glass, cezve, and spoon
  • a latte at Starbucks is like the BEST treat ever.
Grocery store
  • there are only three types of cereal in the grocery store: cocoa puffs, musli, and cornflakes.
  • students all say they eat "cheese" for breakfast--sometimes nothing else--language proficiency or simple diet--not sure which. 
  • there are 15 different kinds of cheeses in the diary section, but none are shredded, and none are mozzarella.

Paper Marbling, Mystery Sleigh, and Me

Nothing says "It's the holiday (Christmas) season" like learning a traditional paper marbling technique in a Muslim country.

I miss American Christmas stuff. As tacky as a lot of it is--read: George Michael's "Last Christmas" or cheap, fake greenery--it's a deeply embedded part of my Americanness. This year though, I'm experiencing a non-Christmas-celebrating culture.
"Happy New Year" -- See what I mean?

Well, kind of. Turkey doesn't want to commit to Christmas, especially here in Kayseri. Too Christian, I suppose. I understand and respect that. This is a Muslim country. In America, we don't do much for Ramadan or any Eid holiday. However, here in Kayseri, there is a strange mix of not wanting Christmas, and wanting just a little.

New Year's decorations often include a mysterious sleigh led by deer hovering in the background. Strings of tiny lights wrap pillars at the mall. Surprisingly, the bigger grocery stores stock a very modest collection of Christmas decorations. On our budget, I limited myself to a string of multi-colored lights and box of six assorted ornaments. Just a hint of Christmas this year.

Ok, so there I was, last weekend, the first week of December, missing my holiday season. Our Turkish teacher (also my colleague at school, and friend who plays volleyball) organized a trip downtown to a historic building where we could learn Ebru, the art of paper marbling.

Hunat Hatun Medresesi
The building itself is worth a description here. As I understood, it was a school used in Ottoman times. It's connected to a big Mosque, and also to a historic tomb, though I don't know much about either of those things. The old, stone building we visited was laid out around an open-air courtyard where Kayserians meet up for tea and chatting. A dozen tiny rooms border the courtyard, each with a tiny door. The small doors force those who enter to lower their heads (or whole torso in my case), which is a symbol of humility and respect for the teacher inside. The rooms, which are no bigger than the kitchen of most American homes built in the 1970s, are filled with art, carpets, instruments, or books. Our room was dedicated to Ebru.

The Ebru Master and me
The Ebru master in our room demonstrated how to use oil, water, paint and a special chemical to create a marbled masterpiece. A clear plexiglass tray is lit from underneath, and filled with water to allow the painter to drop bits of color onto the surface of the water.This technique has traditionally been used to make decorative covers for the Koran. He worked quickly and with the grace as he dipped the tools into paint, and then lightly touched the water's surface, causing a ripple of color to surge forth. From three green circles, suddenly an elegant tulip emerged as he pulled the colors around on the water's surface. For me, watching the colors was almost hyponotic. I have always been an artist at heart. Once satisfied with the design, the artist placed a paper onto the water's surface and then carefully lifted it back out, revealing the same beautiful design transfered to a paper. We helped him set it on the drying rack hanging just inches above our heads.

Trying my hand at Ebru
The master let me try my hand at Ebru. Using a pigeon language between English and Turkish, I decided to try to make a cactus. It was fun dipping into the paint and touching the water, though having an audience and being in the smallest possible space made me both light-headed and shakey. I made dots and curves, and pulled the colors around on the surface. At some point, the master gave up on my cactus idea and gave me instructions for making a traditional tulip. The resulting painting has a beautiful red tulip atop a clumsy cactus-stem. He also didn't let me choose not to add two red hearts to the background. When learning someone's art, it's best to follow directions, right? So my painting turned out looking a little weird, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I'd love to try again with more autonomy, and fewer people in a small room.

Overall, life in Turkey is becoming richer every day. Developing friendships piece by piece, riding the ups and downs of teaching, learning more Turkish, trying more cultural things--this is the process of having a life here.

Me, Justyna (awesome Polish friend), and Alan