Update & Next Year’s Plans

I know I’m been past due in updating this blog. Exciting things still happen, I hope to write up some old stories soon. My camera still is out of commission.


My Fulbright Grant finishes in June. Afterward I will attend a colleague’s/my Turkish teacher’s wedding. Then, I’ll be flying to Rhode Island — the next Dratz Adventure!

In Turkey, local elections are Sunday. Each party has a car, printed with the name and party of its candidate, the cars drive around the city during daylight hours blaring music and campaign slogans. Large campaign rallies take place at train stations, Hunger Games Style. Different forms of social media have been banned and unbanned the last couple weeks, including Twitter and YouTube. Some believe, social media will all be back after the elections. Others believe elections will set off another season of protests.

Thunder Snow began last night in Erzurum and has continued today, there may be a foot of snow on the way.

Funniest thing that happened in class this week was when I played Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, two of my boys slow danced with each other, one with his head on the other’s shoulder. Entirely platonic.


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

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.]

A Year in Turkey

I will be spending this next year in Erzurum, Turkey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Erzurum is in Eastern Turkey an area of the country often seen as more conservative, more Muslim, and disconnected from the West. It’s also supposed to mountainously beautiful in that frosty, frozen way.

What exactly is involved in this position more specifically than teaching English to college students and lots of adventure is rather vague. I have a contract with the university, a visa, airline tickets, and a stomach full of excitement.

I’m flying to Turkey on September 2nd. Headed first to Istanbul and straight on to Ankara for a 10 day orientation for all the ETA’s (English Teaching Assistants) put on by the Fulbright Commission. I’ll try to keep this blog up to date once I get over there.

Disclaimer: The views of this blog are not that of the US State Department, the Fulbright Commission, the Turkish government, Ataturk University, or anyone who isn’t me.