March 22, 2015

March snow...

There are six inches of fresh snow on the ground this morning, and it's still coming down.

It's the punctuation to a week that left me and most of my colleagues worn-down and weary. In addition to the usual workload, many of us picked up extra hours subbing for colleagues who were attending weddings or conferences out of town. We also spent a morning proctoring the oral interview quiz, which largely amounted to two hours of listening to and assessing some half-baked answers to questions like "Would you like to live as a cowboy?" or "What are some ways in which you could conserve water?" The same day, some of us were asked to proctor an additional two-hour written exam. Add to that a few miscellaneous meetings with students, and my usual planning day was gone before I even had a chance to look at it.

I trudged (while spontaneously lesson-planning in the moment) through Thursday and Friday during which I teach every available class period. By Friday evening, I had a headache, a stomach ache, and no patience left.

Alan and I were both exhausted, and we had a fight almost immediately when we came home on Friday (which we later discussed on a more even keel and came to a resolution). Thankfully, we went to a friend's house for some board games and beer. That took the edge off nicely!

Ironically, yesterday I spent the day shopping for lightweight blouses and coral-colored nail polish because my winter sweaters and black nails seemed too heavy for March. Looking out the window now, my coral nails feel comically premature.

I'm baking the cookie mix that my mom sent for us. They smell delicious! I already ate a few spoonfuls of the dough, so I'll wait a few more minutes to have a cookie, but I'm always appreciative for something from the States.

In the previous sentence I had to choose "the States" or "home." It's hard to say where my home is at this point. I've been in Turkey for nine months now. I own a car and rent an apartment here. I work here. Is this my home? Before I get too lost in the questions haunting my life as an adult, let's change the subject.

I read an article in the New York Times this morning about a young man from Minnesota who decided to join ISIS in Syria. Although I live in Turkey, a neighboring country to Syria and Iraq, and the main entryway for people wanting to join ISIS, I am very sheltered from what's going on. The NYT story caught my attention because a "regular" guy from Minnesota decided that his best life choice was to go to a war-ravaged country and pick up a machine gun.

I've made some crazy decisions in my life (Cambodia, anyone?), but I can't even imagine deciding to go to Syria. There's got to be another way to find fulfilment in your life.

Turkey is situated in the middle of the madness. Syria, Ukraine, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Gaza...

I try not to think about the craziness too much. I have students from Iraq and Afghanistan in my classes. I want to ask them so many questions about their families and their situations, but I don't know how. I think about one of my Iraqi students a lot. She's from Baghdad and she has super long black hair that she styles fashionably in a ponytail with her bangs coiffed in a bump. She lines her eyes heavily with kohl and she always has a cute smile on. She wears skinny jeans and high-top sneakers. When we did our pen pal assignment, she wrote enthusiastic messages and I was so happy that at least one American was getting to see this awesome person from a country that doesn't usually stand a chance in American rhetoric. Meeting and befriending people from other countries is one of the best ways to get past prejudice.

I have been so fortunate to have close friends from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey, and to have formed bonds with students from Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and other parts of the world. I love my job because I get to meet people who have different orientations to the world. I get to push my own boundaries and challenge my own stereotypes. I get to have really awkward moments, like discussing "conspiracy theories" about September 11th (thanks much to my textbook) with an Afghani student in my classroom. I get to have amazing moments where students from Turkey and students from Senegal realize that they practice the same traditions during Muslim holidays. I like to think of my job as a foundation for diplomacy and conversation between nations.

It's still snowing. The cookies are out of the oven. Alan's awake.

It's time for breakfast. Thanks for reading.

March 15, 2015

The weekend, so far.

The weather is colder today. It rained and thundered earlier. The sky is gray. I supposed the change rolled in sometime yesterday, as the wind gusts yesterday were like Nebraska's.

Yesterday, Alan and I went hiking with one of our good friends. We drove to the edge of a canyon and hiked down a washed out road. A flash flood had reeked havoc on this canyon sometime in the past year, and the downed trees were visual evidence.

The canyon itself was picturesque and idyllic. Spring's deceptive warmth glowed off of boulders as we scampered across them. A creek flowed next to us, pulling leaves and sticks through a winding maze of rocks, downed tree limbs, and small waterfalls.

We challenged each other to a barefoot cold water challenge in the creek. We dried off and headed back. The boys took a challenging climb back to the top of the canyon to see some sheep, and I headed back the way we came. I found the sheep trail and the big flock my own way.

We met up again to try slack lining--a flat rope hung between two trees. Our line was about 3 feet off of the ground. Alan and our friend were amazing at this feat of balance. I wasn't so much.

The cold wind had changed the sun to clouds, so we started to get cold. Back to the car.

We ordered Gözleme (like a quesadilla) and köfte (small hamburger shaped patties) at a local restaurant. We discussed the ups and downs of living abroad.

We dropped our friend off near the fence behind his house.

I drove the rest of the way home, including a precariously busy street.

About an hour later, we found a message from our friend that he had had an accident while scaling the fence. More or less getting lightly impaled in the thigh by one of the spikes atop the fence.

We decided that a hospital trip was definitely in order, so we picked him up for our first Turkish hospital visit. He was in surprisingly good spirits, but clearly needed stitches and a dose or two of iodine.

After a non-comprehensible conversation with the woman running the front desk, we found the emergency exam room. Our friend had lost a lot of blood and wasn't waking very well.

Alan accompanied his to the exam room, armed with my iPad to take photos. Our friend's sister wanted to see the damage. I stayed in the waiting area, as I am known to be super queasy.

About 30 minutes later, everything was taken care of. We tried to find an open pharmacy, which is nearly impossible on a Saturday night. The pharmacies rotate which will be open Saturdays, and it's only about six of them in the whole city. We didn't find one, but I took a picture of the list of open ones to show some of our friends later (we needed directions).

Instead of antibiotics, we decided that some Turkish fast food was the next best. We found a bakery serving pide (thin bread with cheese or meat--like a long, thin pizza) and lahmacun (sort of like a soft taco served with lemon juice and parsley). The meal was delicious, and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed drinking ayran (a popular salty, liquid yogurt drink).

We hung out for a few hours at his place for a beer, some time with a cat, and to make sure he was doing okay. It's hard to beat cat therapy in my opinion.

While I'm on the subject of therapy, some of the foreign female teachers and I went to the spa on Friday night. I paid for one of the best massages of my life (they are so much better if you have been craving one for eight months), and got a free scrub down by my colleagues in the Turkish bath. It was just what I needed. My skin is soft and glowing, and I think my shoulders now rest at least an inch lower than they were last week.

So far the weekend has been pretty unpredictable, so I'm hoping for an easy Sunday.

March 1, 2015

Manual transmission blues

So far, my experience driving a stick shift (manual transmission) in Turkey has seen ups, downs, and a few more stalls than I'd like to admit.

I mean, I've never driven stick shift in America before, and Turkey is not exactly a country of rule-following drivers, so as a learning ground, it's not that friendly.

Yesterday, I was living the good life, fifth gear cruising. I drove on the highway all the way to Cappadocia with no incidents. Alan and I laughed about the Turkish "bogeys" that pop up about every five minutes. Such blips on the radar include drivers cruising down the middle of a two lanes going half the speed limit, random pedestrians streaking across the road, giant tumbleweeds, etc. I successfully navigated all the bogeys and didn't stall once.  Alan praised my successful attempt and encouraged me a lot. I did make the car roll backwards down a hill when Alan and I were switching places. Lesson learned: our parking break has two levels "not quite engaged" and "engaged."

Today, I was not living the good life. Picture this: we've just finished grocery shopping after a long hike. I'm trying to back out of my parking space into one of the exits of a poorly regulated roundabout intersection (a major bogey in itself). My parking space is on a hill, and there is traffic. I coasted out of the space fine, but thanks to a little too much adrenaline, I pulled my foot off the clutch too soon and stalled it out. Right there in the middle of the street. put put put.

I started it up again, and made it to the stop light. At a complete stop, I coached myself of what I would do at the green light. Of course as my light changed, some cute Turkish girls (total bogeys) stepped into the crosswalk, inciting a chorus of honks behind me. I waited for the girls, and as my path cleared, the honking continued. Flustered, I again didn't get the gas-clutch timing right. Damn. put put put. stall.

Alan wasn't pleased. The honking continued.

I got us going again, made it into second and third gear before approaching an intersection that doesn't make any sense, and I hate crossing even as a pedestrian. It's a Turkish psuedo-roundabout that causes a lot of accidents. As I was really focused on the foot coordination coming from my complete stop in the roundabout, I pretty much forgot to look for cars coming. Luckily Alan alerted me, and I stopped just in time. After that, I successfully got into first gear and made it to our parking lot, which involved small hills and sharp turns. I stalled getting into a tight parking space, which was a self-esteem-crushing last blow. I guess I had forgotten the number one rule: don't come to a full stop while in gear. Alan reminded me of the rule with a disapproving tone. I felt really embarrassed.

For me, driving a stick shift is like playing a new sport. I have the right moves to play volleyball without even thinking, but when you had me a basketball, even though I kind of know what I'm supposed to do, it's not fluid or confident. I have to think about every movement, and then I forget to do basic things and someone steals the ball. Driving in a foreign country is sometimes like playing blindfolded, or at least playing on a topsy-turvy court, so I'm trying to cut myself some slack. Getting the foot coordination for a manual is my new challenge. I'm not allowed (self-imposed rule) to drive in Kayseri yet. Talas, maybe, if there are none of the big hills involved.

Eventually I'll be able to drive this car without stalling or doing other problematic things to the engine. Until then I need to be patient with myself.

By the way, Alan says I'm really good at racing sticks in creeks. That was our mini adventure today. Unfortunately our creek was really close to a private shooting range and we decided we were too close to unregulated weapons. Back to the car!