Turkish Hospitality on the Way to a Waterfall (and After That…and On and On)

In Turkey, you make plans. They rarely work out. Instead, someone takes you under their wing and makes your day better than you could ever believe or come up with on your own.

On Tuesday, I was told not to come into the office. The four Fulbrighters made plans to go a waterfall about an hour bus ride away near a town named Uzundere. I traipsed down to the bus station around 10am, bought a $5 ticket to Uzundere for 11:30, and went to buy some bread and drink 2 glasses of tea. I got on the bus, which wound its way to the other bus station in town and stopped. There was a second bus from which a horde of people descended onto our bus.

As people looked for seats on this intercity bus, the guy who sold us our tickets, came back and said, “Uzundere?” We nodded. And he pointed off the bus.

We got off the bus and asked the driver which bus. He waved opaquely to a line of vacant mini-buses. That’s when we learned, we were not being directed to a faster or correct way to get to Uzundere, they’d just oversold seats and decided to kick us off the bus. Artvin Ekspres, I shake my head in disapproval.

We found a mini-bus to Uzundere with neon orange seat covers and no one in it. Sat in the back anyway. Soon the driver came over, poked his head in the door and asked “çay?” Sure…yeah, and piled out of the bus.

We drank 2 glasses of tea with bus driver Rahmi, a conversation of pure Turkish and patience. (Though briefly Rahmi looked through an Intro to Turkish book, repeating English words out of it, with an other middle-aged Turkish man leaning over his shoulder.) We learned that his mini-bus was not leaving until 1pm, there weren’t any buses from Uzundere to the waterfall, and it was actually 24km outside town not the guidebook promised 8km. At this point, doubt about the day’s plans reached in all time high. Could we take a taxi from Uzundere? How long would it take to see things? When was the last bus back? What happened if we got stuck in this tiny Turkish town? Maybe just try again tomorrow?

Rahmi assured us that he knew the(?) taxi driver in Uzundere. One of us asked if he had a taxi. No, no taxi, but he said he had a car. Well, it’d been 3 hours with little movement, might as well keep trying. Life is an adventure. And it’s Eastern Turkey, which means life is a surprisingly inexpensive adventure. Rahmi told us Uzundere was great because of the waterfall, a church, and picnics.

We headed back to the mini-bus, which in addition to it’s outrageous seat-coverings now included a full-sized door down the aisle and other passengers. We stopped at several locales in Erzurum to pick us a bag of mail, some newspapers, prescription drugs and a small child. An hour later, we pulled into Uzundere, a town tucked into the mountains with a population of 3,200. I didn’t see a single woman without a headcovering, including the manikins. That makes it the only town I’ve been to that’s more conservative than Erzurum.

I have a theory that conservativism in Turkey is directly correlated with elevation.

Rahmi dropped each person and delivery off at their door…including the door. Then it was just the five of us. He stopped by the side of the road and ushered us out of the car. He traded his mini-bus keys with a guy who had car keys, and waved us in the car. Now this was not any car, it was a driver’s ed car from at least the 80’s, with peddles on the passenger side. And then he just started driving out of town. Up, up and up into the mountains. So much for his taxi friend.

We stopped when we got to Tortum Lake, already a good 16km from Uzundere.   Then he drove on to Tortum Waterfall. No buses in sight (internet, why do you lie?). Now Turkish guidebooks are not the most truthful or well-researched. In the English guidebook of Erzurum, it states that Tortum Waterfall is the 3rd highest waterfall in the world, after Victoria and Niagra. Tortum is impressive, but I googled in afterward, and it doesn’t even make wikipedia’s Top 35. Therefore my interpretation is that Tortum is the 3rd highest waterfall the authors, who only kinda speak English, have heard of.

The Turkish word for waterfall is şalale (sha-la-lei) which is a rather beautiful onomatopoeia

However, there was a nice set of steps down to the base of the waterfall.  Rahmi probably took more pictures than I did. Especially of us. With his phone, he was either talking or taking pictures with, at least 50% of the time. There was a lot of, “very, very beautiful” from us.

After that we drank tea at the top of the waterfall. And we had almost the same conversation that we’d had back at the bus station. (Are you students or teachers? How long are you here? When did you get here?) Rahmi had this ah-ha moment where he figured out that we could be friends for a long time and have lots of picnics in Erzurum and Uzundere. He told us the last bus back to Erzurum was at 8pm, and asked what we should do until then. It was about 4pm and that was his invitation to spend the next 4 hours with us, along with the last 4 hours.

We went back to the lake and had a picnic there. Rahmi moved seat-sized rocks for us to sit on during our picnic. Then our conversations got interesting. He wanted to know about America. What we do in the evening, whether there’s manti, whether there are cowboys…

After that, Rahmi wanted to take us to a church nearby. We drove off the main road, into a little town. It was so small that he honked at whatever tea house he went past. “Your friends?” “No, just saying ‘hi’.” In the middle of this little town, was a huge Gerogian Church built in 963. It’s slowly disintegrating, but utterly magestic, right next to tiny tea shops and houses.

Rahmi asked us what churches were like in the US, and nobody had the vocab for that. There was an old guy there whose sole purpose of retirement was to dress nicely and get as many people as possible to take his picture. I obliged.

Afterward, Rahmi drove back to Uzundere, a good 50km round trip. We got gas and one of the other Americans wondered how much this “taxi ride” would cost us, if we would have enough to cover it. But these were acts of hospitality and friendship, as only Eastern Turks provide in this sheer quality and quantity, with no previous interaction.

In a town of 3200, Rahmi knows everyone. He handed the keys of the car to a different guy who drove off, I kind of doubt that’s even Rahmi’s car. We sat outside, drank 2 more glasses of tea, met his friends and played backgammon. While I know the concept of backgammon and ever some strategy, they play so much backgammon that they rarely consider a move longer than half a second. That means if you consider a move for more than that, you don’t know what you’re doing and Rahmi or his friend will move for you. Lets just say I didn’t win, but it was fun. I think he might actually be moving my pieces in this picture.

It got later and Rahmi handed a 12-year-old five bucks and told him to go buy food. He came back and prepared a spread of the freshest of grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives and bread. It put our picnic to shame. We had long discussions over dinner about American history and family history. There was serious interest in who Americans are. Are we really just Germans or Irish or Italian? Where’s your father and mother from? Your grandfather? Your great grand-father? And on up the line. One of his friends named each ancestor back 7 generations and said that was the point his family moved from Kyrgyzstan.

They also spent a serious amount of time trying to figure out what the English word was for “your aunt’s daughters.” I think they were trying to communicate that we should consider ourselves their nieces.

Rahmi then looked up the English word for “invitation” and told us to come back on Sunday for the (looking up another word) oil wrestling festival that has live music. Now that sounds like culture. We nodded and he began writing down bus times for us, always ending with a pantomime of us getting off a bus, calling him and saying “Alo?”

At 7:40, Rahmi heard the bus coming and ran into the street to flag it down. One of the Americans asked, “How much?” referring to his grand tourism of the last 8 hours. Rahmi took it to mean for the bus back: why, $5 of course. The bar for hospitality has been set high.

Summary: Drank 2 cups of tea. Got on a bus to Uzundere. Got kicked off the bus. Sat on an unmoving mini-bus to Uzundere. Got invited to drink tea by the bus driver, Rahmi. Drank 2 cups of tea. Got back on the mini-bus that now included deliveries of mail, prescription drugs, a small child, and a full-sized door. Upon arriving in Uzundere, Rahmi directed us to a student-driving car, which he drove 25km to Tortum Lake and Waterfall. Drank 2 cups of tea. Had a picnic. Talked about cowboys in Turkish. Drove to a HUGE Georgian Church in a random town. Drank 2 cups of tea. Played backgammon. Ate dinner. Got invited back for Sunday’s Wrestling and Live Music Festival. Got back on a bus to Erzurum. Summary: 8 cups of tea, 8 hours of Turkish Hospitality…there will be oil wrestling on Sunday.


Kars: The Most Russian Part of Turkey

Talking to English Teachers who are Turkish:

Turk: “What are your plans for today?”
American: “We’re going to the bus station.”
Turk: “You can take buses from campus. You do not need to go the bus station.”
American: “But we want to go to Kars this weekend.”
Turk: “You don’t need a car, there are buses that go everywhere!”
American: “Yes, we want to take a bus…to Kars.”
Turk: “You do not need to take a bus to rent a car!!”
American: “Yes, but we want to go to Kars.”
Turks: “Cars?!?”
Americans: “Kars”
Turks: ??
American: “The city in north-eastern Turkey.”
Turk: “Where?”
American: “North and west of here. In Turkey. Kars.”
Turks: “Ohhhh, Karss!” (pronounced to rhyme with farce)
Americans: “Yes!! Karsss!”
Turk: “Why would you want to go there?” (nearly as confused as before)

Yes, that’s a good question to start off with. Why would I want to go to Kars? 1. The book “Snow”. 2. Ani: ghost capital from the 10th century.

Some of you may have heard of Orhan Pamuk’s book “Snow“, it won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. As a result of taking International Extemp in Lakewood Debate excessively serious, I read an article about this in high school, and that Turkey had won a Nobel Prize seemed intriguing. I read it soon after. It’s about a rather depressing man named Ka and his experience with Islamic radicals, a blizzard, a love story, Kurdish tensions, and a coup with magical realism undertones.

“Snow” (“Kar” in Turkish) takes place in Kars, Turkey. It was my first exposure to Turkey. And I loved it! As a teenager, Turkey was a far away place I hoped to visit one day — Kars a small city far from the beaten path. However, Kars is only a couple hours (and about $10) away from where I now live. It made sense to me to visit.

Kars is a city of 70,000 located within 100km of the tense border with Armenia. It is the one city in Turkey that actually has blocks, because it was rebuilt by the Russians who controlled it between 1877-1920 (shout out to Mr. Mehlbach – Russo-Turkish War of 1877. I also learned recently that Mehlbach was a Fulbrighter). Kars, the city still has a 19th century Russian setting and a great deal more alcohol than Erzurum. Main site on the “Snow” Tour was the Snow Palace Hotel, where Ka and Ipek stayed.

Other sites in Kars include the Kars Castle, built in the 12th century by Armenians and rebuilt in the 15th by Ottomans. On my way there, took a wrong turn into a school yard amongst kids playing dodgeball. They were overjoyed to get to speak the English they’d learned in school and 10 or 15 of them quickly swarmed to ask questions in Turkish and English. They got the principal/teacher to unlock a gate of the schoolyard that led to the road to the castle. While on top of the castle, a group of Armenians were filming something. They were very excited that foreigners were there to see this Armenian city and everyone wanted pictures with us. So I took a picture of Korey with one of them. One of the Armenians informed me that the black church below was built in the 900’s as an Armenian Church, then turned into a mosque with the take over of the Ottomans. Then for 40 years 1882-1920 it was a Russian Orthodox Church. After the creation of the Republic it became a storage space and just in the last 20 years was reconsecrated as a mosque.

If you look carefully that black building with the brown roof is from the 900’s. It was a church then a mosque then a church then storage then a mosque again.

On the way from Erzurum to Kars, I started talking to a woman named Zeynep who was moving to Kars to be close to her boyfriend and teach elementary school English. As soon as she found out we were going to Ani she started calling people, telling us there was no public transportation and trying to find us a good deal on a taxi. She gave me her phone number and texted me everyday we were in Kars, to ask how things were.

We checked Lonely Planet and they agreed there was no public transport. If you wanted to go, they gave the name of a guy and his phone number. We got off the bus, and a guy says in English, “Hi, do you want to go to Ani? I am in your travel book.” I’m talking to Zeynep while others are talking to Lonely Planet dude. Him, “Very special price only 50TL a person.” Zeynep finds us a taxi for 30TL and that changes Lonely Planet guys story, “Very special price, just for you, 30TL, do not tell anyone.” He speaks good English (though isn’t the one to actually drive the bus), and he’s in Lonely Planet.

So Ani. It’s an Armenian ghost capital, once called the city of a thousand and one churches. Once over 100,000 people lived there. It was at it’s height in from 961-1064. It’s past a bunch of houses that look ancient, where people still have grass roofs (though also satellite dishes) and within site of the Armenian border. Pictures say more than I can. I love running around and climbing on ancient ruins. Makes my travels.

I did take pictures for an Armenian tour group, and I counted off in my badly accented Turkish…because I didn’t know where they were from. They thanked me in French. I don’t think they knew quite what to make of me.

Also met an Italian couple in their 60’s who’d had free tickets to Antalya (decent-sized/modern city on the coast of Turkey). They said they had enough Mediterranean and decided to come to Kars and Ani instead. I like them, they’re awesome. I hope I’m like that in 40 years.

Also met a German guy (we called him Hans) who just got his PhD in biochemistry(?) and was traveling toward India. Hans had been waiting in Erzurum for an Iranian visa and letter of invitation. He wanted to spend awhile in Iran and Pakistan. Han’s eyes got big when he learned I was spending a year in Erzurum. I felt hardcore.

Honey, cheese and butter are the specialties of Kars. The honey and cheese, highly delicious. Found a Fulbright from 2008 that lives in Kars and does honey tasting tours etc. Contacted her and she was in Azerbaijan at the time, but excited that there’s new Fulbrighters nearby, hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back and meet up.

Turkish Futbol Watch Party and the Achievement of Wifi

Galatasaray Fans are Serious Business. …And Griffindor.

The 4 Fulbrighters of Erzurum decided to find somewhere to watch the Galatasaray/Manchester United game last night. We walked down the main street and at game time, the local’s pace picked up. There was anticipation in the air. We wandered a bit as people seemed to rush up and down apartment block stairs. We sited a poster advertising tonight’s game, it said it was on the 3rd floor of somewhere. An old man walked up and asked if we wanted to watch the game. Yes. He beckoned for us to follow him. After 50 meters he stopped a young guy and told him something to the effect of, “My sisters want to watch the game, take them up to such and such.” Young guy beckons and we follow him another half block, into what looks like an apartment building and up 3 flights of stairs, on each floor is a cheering crowd. We make it to the 3rd floor, (which is ostensibly a skiiing/snowboarding school) and the young guy passes us off to the owner/employees, in a huge room of 200 intent Turkish guys. We’re pointed to padded tables to sit on in the back.

About a minute later we’re ushered across the hall to a darkened room that was at least 10 degrees warmer. It had TV’s in 2 corners and was incredibly densely packed rows of chairs. We’re talking about 300 men and 12 women in a room with a US fire code of about 70. After a couple minutes of the workers in depth searching (/setting up?), somehow 4 chairs were found. We slipped into the center of this row, and a 10-year-old boy asked me in Turkish if there were 4 people. Yeah. Then he said something else. No clue. It is loud in this room, cheering, clapping, whooping. He gave me that 10 year-old-boy what’s-wrong-with-you-? look. A couple minutes later a phrase was carefully passed down the row, “the price is 5 lira a person”. Oooh. Pass money back down the line.

The fervor spreads easily and we cheer and boo with the home team. Our co-worker, Gükhan, had given us Galatasaray as our team and taught us the cheer of “Gym Bom Bom”. Every close call is punctuated by Turks standing, hands starting to rise, and then covering their heads with their arms. Every replay of the same close call, produces a similarly strong effect on the crowd. There’s a song or two and cheers but it was 1-0 when we got there, and 1-0 at half time.

The other two girls leave to get water, (“It is ok if you don’t have money, you can still have water.”) I’ll take this time to remind you readers that Erzurum is as close as I’ve seen to a dry city: meaning, not a beer in sight amongst 500 men watching sports. Your drink choices are hot tea or water. While the girls are gone:

The guy behind me asks, “Are you English?”
“No, no, American.”
“Manchester United?”
“No, no, no. Galatasaray”
Strange look from him. “It is okay if you support Manchester United, we respect all people here.”
“No. Galatasaray! Gym Bom Bom!” With slight fist pump.
Comic grin from him. “Okay. Okay. Why are you in Erzurum?”
“To teach English. Ataturk University.”
“Oh Ataturk University!! Which faculty?”
“Foreign Languages…Yabanci Diller.”
“Oh!!! You speak Turkish!!!!!”
“çok az.” (very little.)
“Oh you are so good at Turkish! How long are you in Erzurum? When did you get here?”
“A year. A week ago.”
“How do you find it?”
“Huh? Great, I like it a lot.”
“Oh wow!”

At which point I turned to ask the kid next to me in pidgin Turkish who his favorite player was, though all I knew how to say was: “Which man do you like?” He had me repeat it, figured it out, and told me, “Mamat” which gave me something to listen for in the Turkish broadcast. Though during this interaction, I could hear the guy behind me describing our conversation to his friends, and all of them laughing and echoing back and forth “Gym Bom Bom!”

The 2nd half got going and there was one small shoving match between two guys in the room, that more than anything just got a bunch of people to stand up and pull them apart. More yelling at refs and us foreigners making fun of the douchy looking Man U goalie. The game ended at 1-0 with a grim but quiet crowd.

Everyone files out of the room, many waving us girls forward and employees giving us an extra smile with the good night in Turkish. For a building full of at least 1000 Turkish men (3 full floors) watching the game we got a couple quizzical questions but zero dirty or uninviting looks. As everyone poured down the stairway, many lit cigarettes in the stairway, mourning their loss. Like 100’s of guys lit cigarettes. By the time I made it to the ground floor, there was a visible haze of cigarette smoke.

The four of us walked home and on the way there were stopped by 2 college aged boys and 1 of their little brothers all decked out in Galatasaray gear. One asked if he could take a picture with Korey, the guy of the group. Afterward, the other wanted a picture with the 3 girls. Probably thought we were English. Can’t help but wonder if they’ll be of my students…

Turks have this wonderful/horrible habit of thinking that if you speak a couple words in Turkish, you must be nearly fluent. Which either means, like tonight they congratulate you on speaking wonderful Turkish if you say a single word. Or, like earlier that day, they start speaking lots of Turkish at you after you say one word and are super surprised when you look blankly back. Whereby they repeat it again at the same pace.

The four of us went back to the internet guy yesterday, since ours wasn’t working. This guy, even with a translator, talks to you assuming you understand every word he says. Even if I know exactly the Turkish phrase he should be saying, I can barely pick the words out, herunsthemalltogether.

Yesterday we went without a translator. We figured all we needed to say was. “It doesn’t work. There is no internet. There is no DSL light.” Which is in my Turkish vocabulary. However, once we got passed that, he asked something and looked intently in turn at each of us, with a “You don’t understand me either!” look. He mumbled something about friends and went to the hall and came back with three guys, one of whom helped translate, though some of the time he forgot to translate and just talked clearly in Turkish which was surprisingly understandable.

Internet guy decided the phone number of our flat was wrong and told us we could borrow a landline phone to figure it out. The crowd of guys walked us toward the door of the building, into the little security office and with barely a word, unplugged the security guy’s phone and handed it to us taking great care to tell us how to plug in a phone. We walked it back across campus with the security guy’s phone, and long story short: after a phone call, discovering something we did wrong, I now have wi-fi in my apartment!

However, headed to Kars for the weekend!

Turkey: A Country of Formalities

As I was told by my boss Mehemet, “Turkey is a country of formailities.” Which is his way of saying that he signs at least 100 things a day and there are 1-inch binders full of the paperwork of each teacher. However, the paperwork is smoothed by endless glasses of tea and exceedingly nice people. Day 1 in Erzurum began with filling out a work visa form using the information from the work visa I got back in the US. Six glasses of tea later forced my reintroduction to a dear friend: Eastern Toilet.

Day 1 began, slightly dicily, since my University contact had not spoken any English and he sent his secretary, Ibrahim, who did not speak any English, to pick up the Fulbrighters from the airport. They placed three of us in a 1-bedroom apartment and left in a flurry of Turkish. After the six glasses of tea, and some interactions in English, two of us moved into the apartment the Fulbright girls had last year. It’s pretty big, filled with things the other Fulbrighters left and painted a beautiful sky blue.

Also comes with kitchen, dining room, bathroom and roommate! (If you don’t see your pic on the wall, there’s another wall of them, I may still love you…or you might be creeping on my site. In which case good for you! But you don’t get wall space.)

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time with the other three Fulbrighters and had long periods of interaction with four other English Teachers who are Turkish. The city is larger than I expected with a street where everyone seems to hang out, an old city with medrese, tombs and castle, and a mall on the other side of town.

The Eastern accent here is thick and difficult to understand. Vowels are different, z’s suddenly become sh’s, and g’s change to something breathy or guttural depending on the speaker. People always seem to give me more change than I think I deserve.

As far as food, it’s delicious as always. Though, as I was told on Monday that, “If you like meat, then Erzurum is a great place. If you don’t like meat, then you are mistaken.” The specialty around this place is cağ (pronounced jaa) kabob, which is literally roasted pieces of lamb. Period. I got bored one night and ate some “lamb head and cheek meat” soup. It was kinda strange. Tolerable though.

I asked one of our co-workers, Nermin, what she calls my boss Mehemet. “Hocam” which means “my teacher”. Nod, that makes sense. I went with a different co-worker, Güzhan, to get the electricity fixed at one of the Fulbrighter’s apartments. What did he call the repair guy? “Hocam.”

My days are still filled with the slow accumulation of necessities. Sunday (short version), we found the mall and bought towels. That’s it. Sunday (med. version), we trekked across the city, asked a woman for direction, she pulled us on a bus with her and told us where to get off. Followed by McDonalds internet, sketchy cafeteria style lunch punctuated by music videos, bought towels, and walked back through a neighborhood where we got some serious double-takes.

Monday we spent the day trying to get internet in our apartments, and, after being sold a broken router, were taught Turkish curse words. Earlier, we hung out in our co-worker’s office and played musical instruments. Still working on getting wifi (pronounced wee-fee) in my apartment, so sorry if communication has been thin.

Monday night, we went to figure out laundry completely in Turkish. We wrote down our names and addresses. After a glass of tea, he entered us into his computer program, he renamed us “Fetuş”. We have no idea why…

As we were heading back from dinner, on a busy, super modern street, I made my way back to the sidewalk after circumnavigating storefront construction. There was was a lamb, trotting down the street, with two sets of bells around its neck. Double-take. The lamb is following this middle-aged man, doggedly. I never knew lambs did that to anyone besides Mary.

People also do legitly drink tea through pieces of sugar. However, I’ve been told it’s only a particular type of sugar, called “Erzurum Sugar” that doesn’t dissolve as easily. “One piece of sugar, seven sips of tea.” Very popular in Russia, so I’ve been told.

Starting October 1st, I’ll be teaching speaking classes in the Engineering Faculty, the Tourism Faculty and maybe the Medical Faculty. At this point, not a single teacher knows their schedule. Why would you need to? All the teachers have to come to work these couple weeks before school starts, but no one has anything to do, so they just hangout and talk to each other…or shop online for shoes.

There are plans in the making to go to Kars (where Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow” took place) and Ani (ancient Armenian capital turned ghost town) this weekend.
[Alternate entry name: “Erzurum: Hot in Both Ways”. The vice rector of the university back in Ankara told us through a translator that everyone thinks Erzurum is cold, but it doesn’t feel like it. Anyway, “your apartments will be hot and our offices will be hot, in both ways.” Huh? “The temperature will be hot and the people will too.”  And by that I must assume “warm”, not that my coworkers aren’t good looking. But, the standout feature of this week in Erzurum is the warmth and sheer helpfulness of every one of my colleagues.]


Orientation has been great so far: 8 hours of day of interesting and useful information broken up by 3 delicious meals and 2 tea breaks. The Fulbright Turks have taken us to see Ataturk’s Mausoleum, but other than a couple walks around the neighborhood we’ve been fully scheduled in the hotel, meeting other Fulbright ETAs, listening to lectures and learning Turkish. Yesterday was by far my favorite day so far. After lunch we met our university representatives.

The assistant rector or Ataturk came to see us for Erzurum folks (2nd in command of the whole shebang). He sat down with the four of us and started in Turkish. I was the point person and managed a good five minutes of Turkish. Then one of the Fulbright staff translated for us. The rector really seems to have our back and made a phone call during the whole thing to check that our on campus apartments are fully furnished and ready. The university is 55,000 students on campus, big place. It’s cold. It’s wonderful.

That evening the Fulbrighters were invited to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corp’s arrival in Turkey at the US embassy house. We arrived to an outside garden greeted by trays of hors’ d’oeuvres and glasses of wine and whiskey. We all looked at each other and nervously agreed, “now we mingle”. I walked up to two Turkish men and introduced myself in Turkish. The first thing Metin and Ibrahim did was hand me business cards. They’re part of an NGO named “Kimse Yok Mu” (Isn’t There Anyone?). They handled a bunch of US aid given for the earthquake in Van a couple years ago, but actually mostly deal with money Turks give to charitable causes around the world (i.e. Bosnian orphans, Burma and Peru). One of them had worked in New York for 3 years as the principal of a private high school that won a bunch of science award (perhaps Gulen affilated?) He talked about his kids who are my age and both in the US for school and how early in his life he’d made and sold baklava. The deputy chief of mission (#2 to the US ambassador) came and greeted us all (more exchanging of business cards) and remembered the aid grant the US had given, after he left, Ibrahim and Metin both asked me why I didn’t have business cards. They asked about Fulbright and what I was doing and after checking for a third time if I had a business card, settled for telling me to email them.

Mingling continued and I talked to an American woman in her 50’s who came over in her 20’s teaching English, married a Turk and had taught for the last 36 years. Then the Deputy Chief of Mission spoke to the group and introduced one of the women who came 50 years ago with the Peace Corp who talked about being here when JFK was assassinated and how Turks would come over to sit with them and grieve. She talked about Turks’ disappointment and consternation when America and NATO didn’t support them in Cyprus, and how the Turks had gone to Korea for us. One of the other women from the Peace Corp in the 1960’s had been a nurse who helped set up the university hospital in Erzurum that still thrives, back when there were 2 cars in the entire city. And we thought we were in adventurous! The next woman I met was a Turkish marblist. (Whose first words were an apology of not having a business card.) She talked about what being a sculptor was like in Turkey, her exhibitions and the students of her studio. She was wearing high heals that would continually sink into the grass. You could see her getting shorter and shorter and then extricating herself from the grass, but being very much stuck exactly where she was. She has come to the US for her masters 23 years before and stayed with a host family who was at the reception as well. They had kept in contact and visited her 5 times over the years. Such long-standing relationships! It was definitely the most I’ve ever liked mingling.

At this point we were whisked from the reception, where we all had eaten too much, to dinner at a really nice restaurant. We ate, struggled in Turkish and joked with our vice-vector once again as he told us he would be our “guardian angel” through the year if we ever needed anything. Eight appetizers, a salad, three kinds of meat and three desserts later we left the restaurant and returned to our hotel around 10pm. It was definitely a good day.

I’ve got another week of orientation in Ankara and then I’ll head to Erzurum.

Travel “Day”

Exactly two years to the day after I headed to Turkey to study abroad, I’m going back to teach English. Though the travel “day” this time is 29 hours elapsed time stretching from 7AM on Sunday, Colorado time to 7PM on Monday Turkish time. As my flight attendant friend Tom pointed out, “red eye!!!” Anyway, travel days can be quite boring, but I’ve rediscovered my ability to rarely have a dull moment while traveling. I always (feel like I) meet the most interesting people!

I knew it was going to be a good day when I met a guy in the security line in Denver who works in Western Siberia. Then again he wished me an “uneventful travel day”, that did not quite work out.

At the gate from Denver to Newark, I picked the most likely person to be another Fulbright. I was right! – BeeBee who studied in Istanbul the same year I did and grew up in Bulgaria. If she’s a sample of who other Fulbrighters are, we’re going to get along and it’s going to be a good year.

In Newark my Dad and his deal-ing ways got me a pass into the United Club. I walked into this vast space of old stodgy people acting like each other don’t exist, surrounded by free bananas, milanos, wi-fi, cheese and crackers. Comfy chairs too. I struck up a conversation with an Israeli gentleman in his 50’s whose flight had been delayed for 4 hours at that point, he offered to buy me dinner, yarmulke and all.

For some reason United switched my Newark to Istanbul flight to a significantly smaller plane and paid a bunch of people to take different fights (11 people wide to 7 wide). That meant that they randomized coach seating. I didn’t mind too much, but one of the last guys on the plane (and definitely the last to find room for his suitcase) had the seat next to me and a wife five rows up. He asked if she could switch with me, I briefly quibbled about my bag being above and decided it didn’t really matter to me and agreed. I proceed five rows up whereby the guy next to the seat I was to occupy told me that his wife was five rows up and “could I switch with her?” Why the heck not. First guy promised we’d try to find somewhere for my bag near me before we made it to Istanbul. I thanked him and promptly went to sleep for the hour before takeoff actually occurred.

We took off and they served dinner an hour later. A couple hours after dinner most of the plane was asleep and I got up to get some water. Instead, I ended up standing in the back galley with a flight attendant, Tom, and a Turkish woman, Aylı, making jokes and telling life stories for an hour or two. Tom’s son did IB and is in college in Florida, and I let him tease me for looking young. We even talked about IB Spanish testing and his Argentinean wife. Aylı, is in her 40’s or 50’s and decided to visit New Orleans during hurricane season, and was forced to stick around a couple extra days because Isaac popped up.

Tom asked what I thought about Turkish men. I said, “they’re insistent.”

Aylı commented sagely, “They make good lovers, but bad husbands.”

I replied, “I have an American boyfriend.”

Aylı exclaimed, “Good! Keep him! Tell the Turkish men: ‘nişanlı’.”

“Doesn’t that means engaged?”

Aylı: “It doesn’t matter, Muslims don’t understand dating. Tell them you’re engaged. And point at your right ring finger. There.”

Tom was chuckling at us and went to do his rounds in first class. He came back and poured us each a glass of wine and the three of us continued talking. Aylı was talking about her Australian husband and how they’d met and lived in Turkey, taught in Gaza, taught in India, and lived in Australia. I asked her were her husband was now.

“Dead. Six months ago. He had pancreatic cancer, first diagnosed last summer.”

We talked a lot about what that was like for her and how his Catholic family have played a huge role in her life in the last couple months. She’s mildly Muslim, but said that was no comfort when he died. Tom refilled our wine glasses and gave us some Toblerone chocolate. We talked about life and it’s brevity, teaching and it’s inspirational ability. She told me about her high school teacher that taught her English that she’s still in contact with. Tom’s shift ended and with the sedative effect of wine it was easy to catch some sleep.

The next morning after breakfast I went back to my old seat and stood on my tippy-toes and grabbed my bag and that guy whose wife I had changed seats with came back up to my new seat with me, stowed my bag and thanked me again. Good deed (or two) for the day, right? Then he handed me $20 “for your trouble”. It surprised me and I told him it really wasn’t necessary, but he pressed and I took it. Which in my jet-legged state seems like an interesting cultural showing for America. It reminds me of Slumdog Millionaire when the kids steal everything off the car, the driver beats the kid up and all the American tourists know to do is give them money. So why do people give money in those kind of situations? You’re rewarding good behavior with cash, and it is some form of gratitude. But does money somehow allay the need to feel gratitude to a stranger? Or in the case of Slumdog allay guilt? Or does it cheapen the kindness of a stranger into service personal like a hostess or bellhop – to be tipped/bribed for good service or extra attention?

I was reading a book a couple weeks ago called “The Limits of Markets” by Robert Kuttner that talks about how market norms (read: money) have entered new realms in society in the last half-century where other norms had formally held sway (i.e. first come, first serve vs. jump to the head of the line passes). Being paid for a good deed seems to be a good example of that. Is it good or bad? I don’t know. It’s twenty bucks, and I’m not really complaining but readers: what do you think?

At this point lots of wandering Ataturk Airport trying to find where we were headed ensued, which led to confusion and the best plane food of the trip (on a one hour flight to Ankara). Oh Turkish tomatoes, I’ve missed you. Arriving in Ankara was great except none of my bags made it. So after an hour of muddling through Turkish/English with two offices and six people, I made my report, gave my address, was flirted with and headed to the hotel with three other Fulbrighters. After some Turkish traffic and staring at cool fountains we made it to the hotel, to be greeted by Fulbright staff, gift bags and bell hops. My roommate is one of the girls who will be in Erzurum with me. I think it’s going to be a good year.

Orientation starts this morning. Hopefully my suitcases come soon. I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens.