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).
Troas

Troas

Assos

Assos

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

Turkish Protests

I talked to my parents last night and they said some of my readers have been concerned about me as a result of the recent protests in Turkey. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Picture of the Protests in Turkey taken by one of my students, Fatih Basyurt.

Picture of the Protests in Turkey taken by one of my students, Fatih Basyurt.

First, I’ll let you know not to worry about me. I live in Erzurum. Small protests began last week in Istanbul because an old and beautiful park at the center of Istanbul is to be converted into a strip mall and mosque, and  single-handedly because Erdogan (Prime Minister) thinks it should. Protests are not just about the park but how undemocratically such a decision was made. However, if you talk to the guy who sells vegetables down my street he says, “It is good that there will be another mall.” This city is conservative. About 200-300 students protested the other day, but it’s small and doesn’t seem to be catching as much in the East. I’m safe and sound.

40,000 marching across the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul

40,000 marching across the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul

However, the protests are not about the trees or the mall or even the stricter laws about alcohol. They’re about the brutality and violence of the police toward the early small demonstrations. I woke up Saturday to epic stories of 40,000 people marching across the pedestrian-free Istanbul Bridge, and protests spread around the country from there. Istanbul Bilgi University did an un-scientific poll of 3000 protestors in Istanbul. Their reasons for protesting:

  • Disproportionate use of police force : 91.3% strongly agree
  • Protection of democratic rights: 91.1% strongly agree
  • PM’s “authoritarianism”: 92.4% strongly agree
  • Preventing the cutting down of trees: 56.2% strongly agree
  • Directed to protest by a political party: 7.7% strongly agree

I’m hopeful because the hoped for outcomes according to this poll are ending police violence (96.7%) and the government’s respect of freedom (96.1%).

This is not the Arab Spring, because here you have an elected prime minister with dictatorial leanings, but one that can be voted out in a few years. That’s far from the dictators of Egypt and Tunisia. Also only 8.9% of those surveyed either agree or strongly agree with wanting military intervention (a la 1980 military coup style).

There’s also been evidence of the beginning of a split between the once inseparable Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul. Gul as President has a rather ceremonial role but is highly respected. While Erdogan has been referring to protestors as terrorists and extremists, Gul has been talking about the rights of people to protest their government and how a government ought to be in line with the demands of its people.

No one really knows what happens next, but that is the uncertainty and excitement of life. Change is afoot though. These protests seem more in line with the US in 1968 then they do with the regime changes in the Middle East.

The people call: Police brutality must end. Authoritarianism must be weakened. Democracy must be strengthened.

Good luck Turkey.

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In other news, one of my classes threw me a Turkish wedding on my last day of class and I watched open heart surgery yesterday. Life never ceases to amaze…