Turkish Sleepover and Small Classes

My Turkish sleepover involved two very nice Kurdish girls who speak as much English as I do Turkish. That meant it quickly spiraled into three word sentences, lots of dictionaries, smiles and confusion. However, it was highlighted by about 10 glasses of tea, great food, pomegranates, dancing, and them doing my hair. There was also a midnight trip to get sunflower seeds, getting lost and the singing of love songs. I was also quite confused by whether a phone call one of the girls got was a wrong number, a stalker, or a potential suitor. Perhaps all three? All I know was that there were at least six calls from him, and several long conversations some with him, some about him. The next morning, after waking me nicely in Turkish they gave me all the food in the house of 5 girls since they were leaving for Bayram — which equaled about 20 servings of food and 8 loaves of bread. And I feel like this food could have fed five thousand. I was also invited to come milk cows, bake bread and bring my boyfriend to her house.

Each of my Monday and Tuesday classes were attended by 3 to 5 students. What could have been strange, but was actually quite a bit of fun. It’s only in those small groups that the quietest students open up, talk and are willing to make mistakes. In each class I could feel their fear and tension at the beginning of class (always punctuated by “Fine thank you, and you”), but through each two hour class we broke through that — playing bananagrams, me over-acting in ways they thought hilarious, or simply drinking tea together. I also played some pretty awesome ping pong with my students.

Turks are amazingly gracious even as students. Each class I told I would buy them tea, and, while they’d let me feed them chocolate, none of them would let me buy a round of tea. In some classes, one student would take it upon themselves to order everyone else to sit down, other classes would each get money out and compete for who could catch the çay guy’s eye to pay first. One class told me to stay in the classroom and that they’d get it (and chocolate) and bring it back up. Another class all wanted to take a smoke break but didn’t want to leave me behind. We went outside, and they showed me why they bring their books to class: to put atop the cement ledge and sit on, as insulation. Chivalry is far from dead in this land, there was a lending of a coat, opening of doors and always the guys rushing to pay for everyone involved.

A student told me the Iluminati killed Michael Jackson, Dan Brown should be proud. Also Eminem was a part of the Illuminati, but isn’t anymore.
Also there was a festival in the main square on Sunday with roller hockey, taekwondo, ping pong, volleyball, and Erzurum bars dancing. The organizers did some serious blasting of “Eye of the Tiger”.

My Turkish is crawling forward as friends, acquaintances, students, and passersby all take it upon themselves to teach me a word in a store, a phrase over çay, or a grammatical construct on the stairs. I’m going to Georgia (and possibly Armenia if there’s time) for Bayram, so a brief break from Turkish, traveling somewhere with an incomprehensible script and difficult language. Walking around the city today, I saw a man pulling along a sheep with a bunch of parsley in the other hand. That’s meat and vegetables, Erzurum style. I’m peacing out on the blood in the streets tradition, at least for this year.

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Teaching Has Begun

It’s been awhile dear readers, it will come as little surprise to you that when you start working, you have less time to do things like blog! I’ve taught two full weeks of classes now and next week in the Muslim Holiday of Kurban Bayrumu (i.e. six day weekend). This holiday, as my students tell me, “cut sheep, eat sugar, kiss hands, mother father.” By which they are imparting that this is the Festival of Sacrifice that commemorates Abraham sacrificing a sheep instead of his son (Ishmael, not Isaac). To celebrate each family kills a sheep and gives the meat to the poor. As well, it’s like Thanksgiving, students go home, eat lots of food and desserts. It’s also tradition to kiss the hands of your elders and they give you money. Pretty sweet holiday.

Teaching has been great fun so far. I love my students and they tell me on a daily basis, in Turkish at the beginning and now in English, that I am sweet or sweetness. I have a feeling that some of them will find this blog, as 8 of them have already found my facebook, so I won’t tell too many stories about them. My students all have learned some english previously, but few have spoken much English. So my job is more to encourage them to speak, re-teach them vocab, and create a positive class atmosphere than anything else. I teach two engineering classes and two tourism classes listening and speaking. They take all sorts of other English classes: grammar, reading, movies, etc. It’s fun because my students are engaged, most seem pleased to be there, and they always say things you don’t expect. There’s a 10 minute break in the middle of each 2 hour class and my classes like to use that time to teach me Turkish, ask me questions or teach me how to Turkish dance. Also, for anything out of the ordinary that I do, they’ll clap and cheer — anything from reading a dialogue in different voices to saying a Turkish word. I think my favorite part of being in Erzurum is my students and teaching, which is pretty great.

On my first day of class, no one came because they didn’t know their schedules. Second day, half of them came. I took pictures of my students to try to learn their names then. After that I told the class they could leave and I was waving at the door. They thought I meant I wanted a class picture, so I went with it. Here you go.I’ve also started to create real friendships with Turks, which is really exciting, but still full of cultural miscommunications and difficulties. It’s surprising the number of friendships that blossom with a dictionary on each side and half English and half Turkish, but I feel like that’s where my Turkish will actually come from. It is good to be getting to know my English teaching co-workers who are Turkish as well.

I went to a conference last weekend that had people from countries on the Silk Road. Which means it included everything from the water policy of Tajikistan to distance learning in Bangladesh to Medical School policies in Iraq. Afterward there was an exhibition of Turkish dancing. I will try to post a video of that soon.

Tonight, I’m headed to a sleepover with Turkish girls. On Wednesday, I’ll leave for Georgia (and possibly Armenia) on a bus for five or six days.

A Town Slated for Destruction, A Wrestling Festival on a Mountain Plateau, and Card Games With a Turkish Bus Driver

Wrestling Festival VIP Tent with New Friends

I ended up leaving Saturday afternoon from Erzurum for Yusufeli, a late start to an amazing weekend.

Yusufeli is a town at the confluence of three rivers a couple hours north from Erzurum. It reminds me of a Colorado mountain town, with rafting and little hotels, and locals that love the outdoors. Except that this town is slated to be underwater as a result of a hydroelectric project, though the date of destruction is unknown. The construction of the dam and infrastructure for it is in full swing. Every form of electricity generation has its drawbacks. But Yusufeli is not just some random town, but a town with character and a unique feel.

However, instead of moping, residents of the town are very busy…by Turkish standards. They are very busy…constructing buildings. Why? Because the government is going to reimburse all residents and owners of Yusufeli, so constructing a building pays off exponentially. Rather wasteful and pointless in the scheme of things though.

Upon arriving at “Green Piece Camping”, I talked with the owner and his wife for awhile over tea. Their 17-year-old daughter was doing the work of putting passport numbers into the computer and playing Gangnam Style. Her Dad was watching TV – a Turkish guy in his 40’s playing guitar – and turned it up, telling us, “This is a very popular Turkish singer.”

I saw his daughter shake her head slightly, so I asked, “What do you think of this music?”

“I don’t like it.”

“What kind of music do you like?”

“Korean music.”

“Oooh! I like Korean music too! What bands do you like?”

She launched into 5 minutes without a breath of listing bands, singers, and dramas. She’s been taking Korean classes for the last 3 years and wants to study abroad there once she goes to college. Instant friend. Who knew that kpop would be my connection point with Turks?

Turkish Kpop Friend

I walked along the river, to the base of the cliff atop which castle was precariously built. There were kayakers along the river and beautiful gardens and grape vines. The sun set and beautiful stars came out. That night the other Americans with me went out drinking and got caught in an endless number of toasts with a group of Georgian men with booming voices.

The next morning, I headed back to Uzundere to meet Rahmi — Turkish bus driver with unlimited patience for bad Turkish — for a wrestling festival. The bus ride did not treat hangovers kindly. Rahmi took switch-backed dirt roads winding up into the mountains. These are the roads where you have to back down when you meet another car and wait for cows to cross the roads.

All of a sudden we came to a hillside covered in trees and parked cars, along with a crowd of several hundred people. There was a ring of grass around which there were two sides with men, one side with women and children and one side with a tent filled with VIPs and old men. We stood behind the men’s side and watched Turkish folk dancing.

Then the wrestling began. We were told that it was a shame we hadn’t been there the previous evening because the wrestling had started last night and lasted all through the night. Anyone who had slept, had slept outside.

By wrestling, I mean on fair grass with a crowd that cheers like I imagine a Texas high school football crowd cheers. All ages and weight-classes of boys and men wrestle. Though most of it is in the take-down as actual wrestling in the dirt seemed  rather painful. There was an ambulance on site, that left at least once. The favorite hold seemed to be to grab the top of the pants and the bottom of a leg and then throwing the other guy to the ground.

So about ten minutes into the wrestling, Rahmi tells us to follow him and he takes us to the blue VIP tent, where a mixture of adding chairs and kicking old (but not old enough) men out occurs so that we all have first and second row spots. Once we were settled, Rahmi left to go sit back in the sun, I guess cause he wasn’t a VIP. The men served tea, tiny peaches and mineral water to me. With the mixture of the Eastern accent and not having half their teeth, these adorable old men are completely incomprehensible. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try and it doesn’t mean we didn’t become friends. That’s the picture at the beginning of this post. Those are the guys who, every time another pair of wrestlers would enter the ring would tell me “two boys” in Eastern accented Turkish…at least 20 or 30 times. There was an MC who would announce everyone, interview people, and anything he felt like when active wrestling wasn’t occurring. The whole festival was being broadcast around the country, several news vans were present. During one of those breaks I wasn’t really listening and then I heard “…Amerika….” and I started paying attention. He said it again and then we were ushered up into the ring to have him say something about “Our honored American guests, who do not speak Turkish but only English…” and something about us not having hats or headscarves and everyone laughed. He had us introduce ourselves, said something else and we were ushered back into VIP tent to be re-surrounded by familiar friends.

Upon leaving, we ended up having more time then we thought, drinking tea and sitting next to a bus parking lot. We played frisbee and Rahmi and I taught each other card games. This teaching/learning process was really fun because it was centered around a few words, but mostly guess and check. You play a card and find out what happens. Usually games are simply variations of other games, but Rahmi taught me games that were nothing like anything I had played before. I taught him Speed and Egyptian Rat Slap. We had an amazingly good time for several hours.

Then the bus came, I sat in the only open seat between two men who effervesced cigarette smoke, and there were whispers of “kar” (snow) as the bus drove back to Erzurum.

I start teaching tomorrow, but the schedule was only finalized today. It seems students are not expected to show up, we shall see what my first 8am class brings.