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.]


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