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.

News:

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.

Advertisements

Thanksgiving in Erzurum

Image

Thanksgiving 2013
Erzurum, Turkey

I hosted Thanksgiving in Erzurum this year! The Fulbright Commission helped us secure two turkeys and a restaurant, Güzelyurt, in which to cook them. Last year in Erzurum, a colleague of mine helped me find a turkey, but when we’d acquired him, he was still alive. It was a messy process to watch him die and see his transformation from life to the center of a Thanksgiving feast. For more, you can read Hank Hindi’s story. As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to be supplied with dead, plucked, de-organed turkeys.

Image

Latasha Wilson Seems To Always Bring the Cold Snaps to Erzurum and the Wonderful Photography. (All of these pictures are her’s)

I arrived at Güzelyurt mid-morning the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start cooking. The cooks there helped me stuff the turkeys and insisted on sewing them back together with needle and thread. The concept of stuffing a turkey made a lot of sense to them, there are a lot of stuffed foods in Turkey. Poultry seasoning is uniquely American however and caused widespread interest amongst the cooks and the owner.

Image

Me, Turkish Cooks and The Center Island that is Entirely an Oven and Stove.

Then came the oven: it was the size of my apartment’s kitchen! It was an old-style oven with no temperature gauge that still burns wood. As I continued to check on the turkeys, one of the cooks would pull out the pans of turkey barehanded! He had hands like oven mitts. We talked and joked in broken Turkish.

Image

Gravy Making.

Image

The stove top is metal and all warming/simmer level. If you want to make it hotter you take rings off the stove top with a metal bar. One ring gets you to low heat — closer to the coals and burning wood. Two rings off lets you set your pot on the coals and boil anything.

When the turkeys finished cooking around four hours later, I made gravy. The cook nearly poured the half gallon of gravy over the turkeys, I stopped him just in time. The turkeys were lovingly wrapped up in paper and nearly a full roll of packing tape, and then transported by taxi back to my apartment and guests.

Image

OLD style oven

Ten Americans and fifteen of my Turkish friends and colleagues enjoyed these turkeys along with a range of side dishes and desserts: from mashed potatoes to çiğ köfte; pumpkin pie to baklava. Tom, a Fulbrighter in Bayburt, offered to carve a turkey. One of his Turkish friends Mutlu came into the kitchen and was laughing about how Tom was doing a woman’s work. I explained that it was traditional for the woman to cook the turkey and the man to carve the turkey. Mutlu jumped at the opportunity to take part in this tradition and offered to carve the second turkey. He spent nearly an hour happily carving a turkey perfectly. Thanksgiving was a joyous event this year, surrounded by my dearest Turkish and American friends.

Image

My Apartment and Friends

Image

Dessert! Emily and Her Beautiful Pumpkin and Apple Pies

A Cow, My Birthday and “Game Over”

Here is a cow, being led through the city center of Erzurum. The holiday of sacrifice is coming…
Cows say "Muuu" in Turkey, not "Moo". My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

Cows say “Muuu” in Turkey, not “Moo”. My camera cord is MIA, so this slightly blurry picture is all you get.

I started teaching on Tuesday of this week, following last week’s extended bureaucracy and cups of tea. My students range from eager and curious to completely disinterested and unwilling.

My first day of teaching was actually my birthday as well. I wrote “October 8th” on the board. My first class of students said “month, day. you birthday?”
I replied, “Yes, my birthday. What day is today?”
“Tuesday.”
“Yes! What date is today?”
No one knew. We went through all the months of the year, counted up to the 10th month and then there was a look of sudden comprehension and a resounding, “Teacher! Your birthday! Today! Happy Birthday!!!”

I had my students ask each other questions and then introduce each other to the class. One of my students motioned to me that he was finished. I find it often helpful to play dumb and asked, “What?” He told me, “Game over!” Everyone picks of bits and pieces of English somewhere these days.

The way the calender works this year, all of next week is a break for a religious holiday (the one that will likely be the end of that cow). Three days teaching, one week off. Beginning English speakers in Turkey are quickly sentimental. Some of it is the Mediterranean show of emotion versus the more reserved German-ness that pervades large sectors of the US, some is that Turkish has the same word for “like” and “love, and some is a warmness toward foreigners that Erzurum is imbued with. The second day of class, one girl at the end of class said, “Teacher, I miss you! Long holiday. I miss you!” The rest of the class nodded sadly. No matter how loud they can be, teaching in Turkey means having such sweet students. It’s probably messing severely with my self image, but I love them for it. And for the continuous snacks and nuts.

My birthday was Tuesday! I was surprised with lots of creative gifts. David made fried rice and Emily carved up a pumpkin to make delicious pumpkin pie that I got to share with my closet friends. It was a nice mix of Turks and Americans and of both languages all evening. The next day one of my Turkish friends invited me over, she and her friends had made me two cakes and dinner and sung half of Happy Birthday in English, half in Turkish! 11 of her friends were there, one girl told me she loved me. It doesn’t surprise or weird me out quite as much as it did last year, and neither does kissing 36 cheeks upon entering and leaving an apartment (3 per person, per direction going). My Turkish is pretty passable in social situations at the point, though my grammar needs serious help. My friend gave me a clock in a pretty box with candy and a Qur’an, surprisingly the first Qur’an I’ve gotten since moving to Turkey. She promised to buy a New Testament so we could talk about them together. At the end of the night she and her friend walked me to the bus stop, but instead bundled me into a car with a young engineer and an old woman who took me home and fawned over me.

Starting to teach again has showed me how much I’ve learned since last year. I know so much better how to explain things, conduct a class, react to student affection and noise, and adapt to different circumstances. I hope I can say the same about how much I’ve learned 12 months from now.

I will be in Cappadocia next week, land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. I’m in the process of resolving my camera issues. In Turkey there are few solutions but many processes.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

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.

—–
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…

Huffington Post

So, I wrote a thesis last year about Religions effects on Economic Indicators of Growth. My thesis adviser then became my co-author and fixed my beginner mistakes and presented the paper at ASREC (Association for the study of Religion, Economics and Culture) in DC.

THEN Huffington Post decided it was interesting and wrote an article “Faith and Economic Growth: Drive to Succeed in Business Crosses Religious Traditions” about our paper! I’m excited!

Teaching, Living, Coalescing (TLC)

Erzurum Beauties -- while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

Erzurum Mountains — while skiing (Photo Credit to Latasha)

This is my fourth week of teaching back in Erzurum, Turkey a little mindblowing for those Americans on/after Spring Break. It’s great to be back with all of the same students. Each class has really created its own personality and I’m trying to do better at catering to each class’s interests and needs, rather than having a set regimen. My least favorite class has been pulled into shape, and most days their dubious amounts of energy are directed in the general direction of learning English.

BeFunky_DSC01305ladiesoferzurum.jpg

My favorite English learning mistake was when a group of students were explaining a game show to me. One guy said:

“There are two persons. One asks questions. Other person push…. (confer with friends) …. push Ben-jah-min.”

“Benjamin? Push Benjamin? I don’t understand.”

“Yes! Benjamin!” (confusion).

Me: “Ooooooh. Button. He pushes the button!”

“Yes. Yes. Benjamin Button.”

I haven’t traveled since returning to teaching. Somehow, I’ve found reasons to stay in Erzurum each weekend. I went to the mall with students who wanted to play air hockey (there now exist 36 pictures of me playing air hockey) and go GoKarting. Last weekend I stayed the night at my friend Sevda’s house, each time I go she invites a near infinite number of people to come meet me — anyone in her life that’s ever expressed a desire or capacity for learning English. This time, there were six girls sitting around a low table making manti (the pasta/dumpling that’s so delicious). The friend from the theology department and the English teaching department were explaining and grilling me about Fethullah Gülen, Islam, and Christianity. I’ve also done a much better job of sustaining one on one friendships that seem to have more depth, especially as my Turkish edges forward and they continue to learn English.
155974_10152617531540640_232740878_nOne weekend I went skiing for the first time in 10 years. It turns out you can see my apartment from the slopes. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day with fresh powder on the group. The group of us that went got lessons from someone our colleague termed “the best”. Only a couple hours in did I learn that this was an Olympian (competed in Salt Lake) teaching us beginning skiing. Well he took us down the green run lots of times and then a yellow run (Turkey’s different, yellow = slightly harder then green). Then he told us it would be the last run he did with us and asked who wanted to go down the hardest black. I raised my hand, since I’d much rather go down it with him than by myself. It really was near vertical, and I was unprepared. I didn’t fall, but the instructor also held my hand on each turn back and forth and therefore I survived. That was my private lesson from an Olympian.

I’m attending the Turkish version of 12th Night tomorrow, and hurriedly reading the play so I have some idea what’s happening. I’ve really settled into living in Erzurum and am enjoying both that every day is different, but also that their is rhythm, and I can anticipate some things. There are good days and bad days; good weeks and bad weeks. For the most part I really enjoy my job and living here, especially since it’s only bitterly cold some of the time. My definition of normal has changed such that my life now falls within the realm of normalcy.

I definitely want to stick around next year.