I’m Back!

The Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

David and I with the Huge Cabbages of Erzurum

I’ve been back in Turkey for a month. It’s a very different feeling this year to move back into the same apartment and step back into a city, friendships and a language I can converse at least a bit in. It’s a great feeling! Also, David has moved to Erzurum this year and is working in one of the private English schools. As a result, the ways in which my life feels split over continents has lessened by at least one large one.

My parents came to visit my first two weeks in Turkey. We spent a couple days on the sights in Istanbul, the Great Cistern never gets less cool.

Underground Cistern

Underground Cistern

Then we rented a car and drove to the Dardanelles and Cannakkale/Gallipoli, site of the World War I battle between the Brits, Australians, and New Zealanders against the vestiges of the Ottoman Empire and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. (Also the subject of a Mel Gibson movie, Gallipoli, where he looks very young and doesn’t sound all that Aussie.) Turkey has opened a simulation center there that puts any US national park/memorial to shame: Nine screens, 3-D, and they even managed to hold off on the heavy propaganda until screen 9.

We stayed at a lushly-treed Bed and Breakfast that night where the owner had lived in New Jersey for awhile. He did most of the talking, his wife did most of the work. She glowed at my meager Turkish and after two conversations (for those unfamiliar with Dratz vacations: we only stayed one night), she told my parents they could leave, but she’d keep me. She offered herself as my Turkish mother and 2nd home since I would be all alone in Turkey for the next year. Turkey is such a wonderful place and Turkish hospitality is unrivaled.

1233495_10153295891230451_2112911358_nWe went and saw famous Troy and also Troas, ruins just being excavated that show up in Acts 16:7-12. The next two days were spent being Greek ruined (meaning: being amazed at the history and how much remains but also lulled into a sense of sameness).




Then I flew to Fulbright orientation in Ankara to meet 75 Fulbright ETAs and garner some friendships and teaching techniques. A few days later I met my parents again in Erzurum, where life seemed to shift into place. They were amazed at the difference between being a tourist and a guest in Turkey. My friends know how to make guest feel special.

563606_10153295896805451_239839723_nMy parents packed up and left and life truly seemed to settle into a new rhythm. With David here, my roommate Emily back and my Turkish friends slowly filtering in for the new school year, life is fascinating and exciting but also ordinary. I enjoy hosting people at my apartment and, beside my parents, an American living in Kars (selling super delicious honey), two Fulbrighters from Bayburt and a breakfast for two new American families in town have been hosted at my apartment. It no longer surprises or irks me to spend 7 hours with a friend and feel it may not be long enough. Also, drinking tea and people’s kindness are the only things that make bureaucracy tolerable, once the US government restarts, perhaps the DMV should take notes.

My life and blogs will liven up once I have students and classes. Though I did make a brief trip to Dogubayezit and do believe I met a guy who smuggles Iranians over the Turkish border — though he kept referring to it as Couch Surfing….

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit

Ishak Pasha Palace in Dogubeyazit



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.