Friday, December 30, 2011

Buying Gas in Italy

I'm tired tonight...Traveling usually energizes me but I think the stress of buying gas in Italy just about wiped me out. Our Fiat, dubbed "The Clown Car" by Alex held about 6 gallons of gas, so even though it got good gas mileage, we still needed to fill it up frequently. The first stop was in Sienna, Italy on December 26th. The date matters because nothing was open except self serve gas stations and coffee shops. We pulled up to the pump at a Shell station with a mini-mart/coffee shop. Then, we found the machine that took cash and credit cards and tried to pay. First I tried the credit card but the machine kept spitting it back. Then, another gas patron said "Euros only" so I pulled out a 50 Euro note and fed it to the machine. Alex filled the tank and the machine spitted out a receipt with a 12 euro credit. I walked into the shop where the cashier indicated that they only sold coffee and I would have to come back the next day for more gas or my refund. Even though I don't speak Italian, I'm sure there was nothing on that machine that said, "under estimate the amount of gas you will need and pay for the minimum because we don't give change."

The next time we bought gas was at a service area on the freeway. I liked this place because they pumped the gas for us and accepted a credit card. The problem was that I never specified "regular" or whatever it's called, so The Clown Card had steak for dinner that day. (easily $10/gal)

The last time I bought gas was the night before returning the rental car. This was another self serve place so I was smart this time. I went to the coffee shop, got 20 euro notes, and tried to insert a 20 euro into the machine. I tried and tried but could not get the machine to suck up the bill. Finally, another patron came over and showed me that the slot was over-sized (probably for money they don't even print any more) and showed me how to line it up with the right edge. Trust me...there were no words or pictures on the machine to explain this. Unfortunately the 20 euro note did not fill the tank and I had to repeat the whole process...get smaller bills (10 Euro notes this time..I certainly don't want to leave another credit in Italy) , have a stranger teach me again to insert the bills (I'm a slow learner..), unlock the gas cap, etc...
Just writing about this is making me even tireder...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Living on a movie set

Today I felt like I was living on a movie set. I was James Bond driving on the road to Sorrento even though my car was only a tiny rental Fiat. I was Lucy Honeychurch with the view from our attic hotel room in a " A Room With a View". I bumped elbows with several Matt Damons in "The Talented Mr. Ripley". And the narrow, winding path that takes us into town reminds me of the postman delivering letters in "Il Postino." This place is beautiful!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Waking up to bells

This old monastery with modern facilities is about the coolest place I've ever stayed. The walk up to our attic room through twisting hallways and irregular steps reminds me this place was built a long time before building codes. Waking up to the sound of chimes and gazing out onto tiles roofs with an occasional bell tower peeking through is peaceful and beautiful. I wish we had more time to spend here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today we visited the Roman Coliseum and Forum. I can appreciate the attraction of watching gladiators fighting until death against either man or beast, vestal virgins keeping the fires burning, and large public spectacles because they seem similar to today's football matches. I'm totally sold on Rick Steves' free podcasts to entertain me along the touristic journey, and I especially enjoyed tossing Alex and Ellen some tidbits of information like the origin of the word "vomit" as we roamed (a copy of Rick's pun intended) along the levels of the stadium. The Roman Forum was also interesting and I imagined that I was walking on the same stones as Caesar and could hear him saying "You too, Brute?" moments before his death. Now it's Italian Siesta time to get enough energy to eat another big Italian meal and stay awake through Christmas Eve Mass.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cool Gift

Today the teachers at my school surprised me with their excitement and support for my upcoming Christmas holiday. (Keep in mind that they will have to cover my classes while I'm gone so their work load actually increases...)Their thoughtfulness was genuine and moving. One teacher wrote the following words, "You are my Mary Poppins." What a gift from a wonderful colleague!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Pencils

Yesterday I donned a Santa hat with a red blinking light, sang "Jolly Old St. Nicholas", and gave my second graders a "present" (new vocabulary word) of a lollipop and a new pencil. Their eyes lit up as I called each of their names and they waited patiently for everyone's name to be called. Patience is not something I see very often. When the bell rang, the boys and girls jumped out of their chairs saying "thank you" and knocking me over with hugs and kisses. Even though these kids can make me crazy sometimes, they are really cute and really loving.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

celebrate local foods week

Last week many classes had parties with lots of food. Not only did I see the quantity of food, I had the pleasure of a last-period-on-Friday-2nd-grade class whose behavior gave testament to the number of empty calories consumed during the day.It took my questioning of several different teachers to understand the reason for the parties. And, I'm not sure this is an exact translation but I think the purpose of the parties was to eat food prepared only from local ingredients. Based upon the quantity and variety of food prepared, Malatya must be the food belt of the country. Aside from the expected apricots and pistachios, there were tons of sweets and savories, an abundance of fresh produce and a large assortment of nuts and dried apricot seeds. I'm finding the sweets here are either too sweet as in honey-dripped baklava, or too bitter as in a chocolate cookie that tastes like it has cocoa powder but no sugar. I have my best luck with the savory snacks like a cookie or pastry filled with spinach. They tend to please my palate the most. Also, the apricot seeds are as good or better than almonds.

I love the food experiences but the quantity of food is daunting. And my polite refusal of any snacks or asking for a tiny taste gets either lost in the translation, is not understood from my accent, or is just incomprehensible to the Turkish portion standard. So, I follow the lead of the other teachers, allow the students to load my plate to overflowing, carry the plate to the English teacher work room, nibble a taste of everything and then place the rest in trash bin.

By the way, the green colored cake on the plate was colored with spinach. (Ah, ha moment...)Using spinach explains why I can't find food coloring at the store. I guess I'll skip the green frosted Christmas tree sugar cookies this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vacuum Cleaner Bags

When I moved into my apartment, I was excited to see a new Hoover vacuum cleaner, an American brand, smiling at me in the hall closet eager to be put to use. Actually, I was not excited at all about the prospect of cleaning a foreign apartment. I was just intrigued by the brand name. It was the only thing that made sense. It was a comfort after facing the fact that my new home was only equipped with a Turkish toilet. The "Hoover" was like a security blanket. I can remember when Hoover was like Kleenex. Hoover was both a brand name and noun. You didn't just get the vacuum out of the closet. You got the Hoover.
Hoover and I had been meeting weekly for a walks around the apartment, but recently our dates have ended. I haven't "Hoovered" since Eric left about two weeks ago. You see, Eric, in his zeal to be a great husband, a modern American husband, a man who is not too proud to admit that he can run a vacuum, decided, while I was at work, to remove the almost full vacuum cleaner bag, throw it away, and venture out to purchase new bags.
Unfortunately, I'm beginning to realize the problem with having an American brand name vacuum in Eastern Turkey. Vacuum cleaner bags...or should I say, the lack of Hoover #64 bags. Eric has been to many places. I've been to at least 8. I've asked the man who furnished my apartment for help. So far, nothing. But there is a silver cleaning with a clear conscience!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taxi ride

I seldom take a taxi to or from the mall because 1 ) the 40 minute one-way walk is filled with lots to see along the way thus making the time pass quickly 2) I have the time because I have no responsibilities 3) I don't want to fork out the 10TL or $5.00 fare (forget the fact that I never used to think twice about filling up our cars once a week at $60.00 per fill-up..gosh, I could take a taxi 12 times for that amount of gas) and 4) I'm a health nut.

But, tonight I made an exception and took a taxi home from the mall. The reason is pretty silly but here it is. I had a lot of shopping bags and I was really self-conscious about the quantity. It's one thing to carry home a lot of grocery bags...kind of a symbol of martyrdom. But I was Christmas shopping, not X-mas shopping as the mall displays called it, and I was carrying a few more "wants" than "needs".

Anyway, I hopped in the taxi at the front of the line and said my accent-laden "merhaba." At this point in the past I would have stopped talking, pulled out my cell phone, brought up my name under "contacts" and pointed to phone to show the driver where I wanted to go. But tonight I was feeling brave. I had just found some great Christmas gifts. It was time to actually be an adult and say my address in Turkish. I took a deep breath, said my street name and the name of the mosque that I'm near. And guess what? It worked. Even better, the driver replied with some pleasantries is Turkish. In the past, I would have frozen and said in English, "I don't speak Turkish" which, by the way, doesn't work at all because the Turks in Malatya don't usually speak English. But tonight was different. I remained calm. I remained calm even when the driver turned up the radio to blare some American rap music making it even more difficult to hear. I listened intently. I asked him to repeat or say more slowly. I replied in Turkish. We carried on a conversation the entire drive home. Here's what I learned: He's got two children. The oldest son is in high school and speaks good English. Yes, he could give me a special price to drive me to the airport. Would I like to stop and have tea? (no, thank you) Could I come back tomorrow and have tea..etc. etc. Yes, I am proud of myself!

Do I speak Turkish? I still say "chok az" or "very little." But, yes, I can speak a little Turkish. Was the taxi ride worth it? Absolutely!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fish Market

I've been keeping my eye on a outdoor fish store that is usually packed with people and loaded with piles of fresh fish. I love fish, but because the market is not close to my house, I needed to visit on a trip home from the mall when I was not laden with bags. So, last night was the perfect night. As usual, when approaching a mob of people in Turkey, I have two questions in mind: "Where is the end of the line?" and "What do I say in Turkish."

Lines are tricky in Turkey because they don't really exist. For example, it is chaos when boarding and de-boarding planes. Passenger in seat 15 B will remove his or her seat belt before the plane stops taxiing, hop across passenger in seat 15A, and be at the front of the plane before it stops at the gate. The rest will squeeze into the aisles and push themselves to the exit. It is chaos at the Walmart-like superstore because people feed into the line from both sides and, if I stand at my American-space-bubble distance of 16 inches, I will never get to the cashier. The fish market is no different. Actually, it's more chaotic. It took me 20 minutes to figure out that some people had ordered their fish and were waiting for it to be gutted and cleaned, some people had brought their own stainless steel pans from home and were waiting for the fish to be breaded and cooked in the large, hot ovens that I was finally close enough to see, and the rest were just speaking better, faster Turkish and reaching over my shoulder like I was a lamppost holding all while holding out their liras and shouting out what they wanted to order. On several occasions I heard, "I'll take 5 kilos of sardines." And, I'm thinking to myself, what does anyone do with 5 kilos (over 10 pounds) of raw sardines?

In addition to the time I'm spending trying to figure out the line, I'm also practicing what I will say when I actually get the courage to speak. Shouting out the name of the fish in Turkish is not the problem. I can just read the sign on the display. Trying to buy just one fish and not one kilo is the tricky part. So, I've watched and waited, and been jostled, bumped and ignored. I'm ready to order. I reach in my purse to pull out some lira and lo and behold, I've only got a 100 lira note. The fish I want to buy is 15TL per kilo and I don't want a kilo. Will I stop this entire operation if he can't make change? (I'd already been given a free coffee because the coffee store couldn't make change) After 20 minutes of observation, I actually contemplated leaving, but then I noticed there were several 100 TL notes in the cash box so I'was hoping it wouldn't be a problem.
I finally hold up my note, make eye contact with the fish monger and shout out "bir lekvent balik ve bir solmon". The buzz of activity stops...The fish monger gives me a quizzical look of non-comprehension. There are stares from all sides. (Do I really want fish for dinner?) Thankfully, the nice old Turkish woman standing next to me understood what I said and repeated in her native Turkish and emphasized that I wanted only one fish. I stood proudly, gave her a big smile of thanks, and accepted my tiny bag of fish and my 90 soggy, fish smelling TL in change....

By the way, the fish was worth the wait. It was delicious. And, no, I don't know what kind it was.

School exam answer sheets

To the best of my understanding, the determination a Turkish student's future is determined almost entirely by the ability to score well on exams. Thankfully, students get lots of practice taking exams. It seems like every two or three weeks every class has a unit exam. These exams are comprised of exactly 50 (I guess the computer can't calculate percentages for numbers different that 50) multiple choice or true false questions and students answer on forms similar to our SAT answer sheets. Students who are good test/exam takers, especially at the end of 8th grade, will attend the best high schools, which, in turn, leads to the best universities and on to the most prestigious careers. The pressure is on. Many students also take additional classes on Saturday and Sunday which means additional homework and additional tests, and more money, of course. Students take a lot of exams. (By they way, I always want to call them "tests" but they don't know that word so I'm trying to use the word "exam."

Ok, so let's get back to answer sheets...Considering the middle school has 300+ students taking 8 classes per day, and for ease of calculation, each student takes one exam per class per month, that's 2400 answer sheets generated each month. (Oh, and I think the students have to buy their own blank answer sheets.) Here's where the school is pretty smart. We make photocopies on the back (blank) side of the answer sheets. Not only is the paper free to the school, even better, the bubbles on the answer side make great mindless activities for active students who want to bubble and/or make designs and/or read the name of the test taker and say, "Oh, that's my brother's friend" rather than pay attention to the teacher or complete a worksheet. So I say, "Why buy copy paper when you can create handouts and fidigity finger activities for free on the back of exam answer sheets?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ways to get in the Christmas Spirit

1. Have your picture taken in front of mall Christmas decorations.
2. Celebrate St. Nicholas'Day (Dec. 6) and give candy to students who inquire about the sign on your uniform that reads, "Ask me...'What day is today?'"
3. Repeat #2 on Dec. 7 only change your sign to read, "Ask me...'What day was yesterday?'" (kills two birds with one stone...the need to get some Christmas Spirit and the need to reinforce vocabulary: "yesterday", "today", and "tomorrow".)
3. Teach preschoolers to "Run, run, as fast as you can't catch me. I'm the Gingerbread Man." Then have them chase you around the room. Then make Gingerbread men stick puppets and have them chase each other around the room.
4. Bargain for red and green sparkly fabric in Istanbul.
5. Run on the treadmill while exercising to Michael Buble' singing "Ave Maria". This was powerful physically and emotionally...
6. Buy molasses (At least, I think I bought molasses. Is molasses made from grapes because that's what I think I bought?)
7. Buy red and green pencils and green construction paper for student Christmas presents.
8. Read Facebook posts about Christmas and enjoy the photos but be happy to not feel the shopping stress.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Two Weekends in Istanbul

A visit from Eric and the meeting of friends in Istanbul for the past two weekends has caused a shortage of recent posts but provided a increased dose of happiness that all traveling provides me. First, I had the great fortune to meet a high school friend in Istanbul for shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. Even Martha Stuart agrees that shopping any time at these places is fun. Add the expertise of my friend the shopper who has come to Istanbul two times a year for like the last 1000 years and you've got the key to special prices, hidden stashes, and quality shop owners. It was a blast. Then, add the introductions to another "new" friend who I hope to meet in the future either here or in Bend, a husband who graciously leaves us gals to shop, and some delicious food on the floor of a carpet shop and you have a perfect weekend.

Following the weekend of fun, Eric, then, flew home to Malatya with me and made my work week perfectly enjoyable. He introduced me to P90X, a killer exercise program that we slogged through every morning before work...five days of sore muscles... After the workout, he cooked me breakfast and walked me to my bus stop. I came home each night to good smells of a hot dinner, a clean house, and clean laundry. However, I wish I could have captured the look of dismay on one of our male Turkish friends when we described Eric's domesticity. His wife thought it was pretty neat, though..

A text from Eric on Wednesday asking if I would like to return to Istanbul the following weekend to meet a friend of his from a prior job was the cure for getting over the mid-week slump. Of course I would!.... We caught the Saturday 9:30 a.m. flight to Istanbul and were walking on the Bosporus by early afternoon. It was fun to see the city like a native rather than a tourist, sipping coffee with the locals, walking along the water of the Bebek, taking pictures of the bridges at night, and driving up and down the hills of Istanbul. We dined on fresh seafood and drank raki at a wonderful restaurant, savored brunch and enjoyed the gardens in the 1867 Mayor/Viceroy of Egypt's Mansion house and enjoyed the company of a lovely Turkish couple and their 6 month old daughter.

So, it's back to work but energized andthankful for my husband, my friends both old and new and the new experiences over these past few weeks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

National Teacher's Day

The 24th of November is National Teacher's Day in Turkey. Now I'm going to be is not even a close 2nd to Thanksgiving and being with family, but for a teacher appreciation day, this is turning out to be a great celebration. This evening the parent board of the school(I think) provided a lovely evening for teachers and their families.

Following a delicious meal, we were treated to a great concert of traditional Turkish folk music. I could tell these were talented, professional musicians playing instruments that were both familiar and unfamiliar to me. My favorite were the percussionists. The man playing the bass drum who used an L-shaped paddle on one side and what looked like a conductor's baton on the other. At one point he put the drum strap in his mouth and twirled in circles while beating the drum. I don't know what kept him from getting dizzy and falling off the stage but he was sure a crowd pleaser.

The three other percussionists used different size hand drums. They beat with all of their fingers and the palms of their hands to achieve many different sounds and rhythms. Much of the music is played in different time signatures like 5/4, 7/8 or 10/8. With my Western 4/4 0r 3/4 musical background I have a very difficult time tapping to the beat.

Another instrumentalist included a wood wind player. He had four different sized instruments two of which used double reeds like an oboe. One man played what looked like a lap harp or auto harp and he used four fingers each holding metal picks. He tuned the pegs with a wrench similar to a harp or piano. One man played a balgama (looks like a 4-stringed guitar with a deeper, more rounded body) and one man played an electric violin. The vocalist used his voice in ways that drew lots of applause from the men in the audience. I think he vibrated his voice over 1/2 or 1/4 tones, tones I can't even sing because I'm so used to do re me...

Of final interest to me was the enthusiasm by the audience. The male teachers and staff all sat in the back of the auditorium and danced, cheered, and cat-called for special songs. They were like groupies at a rock concert. Of course, the audience enthusiasm fed the performers who reciprocated by pulling out the stops and putting on a great show. Sweat was pouring through the audience members' shirts and they kept calling for more encores. I've never before seen a group of men dancing and singing and having this much uninhibited alcohol-free fun.

This was a great evening and a great way to temporarily forget that I'm not with my family eating turkey...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Feasting on Films

I had the luxury of watching five movies this weekend. Having both the gift of time and an interesting way to spend it was like savoring rich chocolate and sipping a delicious red wine. I started my treat yesterday with the most recent "Jane Eyre." Having missed it when it was released in the States, I was thrilled to be able to see it on the big screen. Jane Eyre was one of my favorite books in junior high and seeing it again as an adult made me realize how strongly I was influenced by Jane's character and independence. I just wish I had her vocabulary with which to express myself. I then watched "Paris, Texas", a 1984 Sam Shepherd movie. I guess I was too busy getting married to have seen or remembered this when it first came out but it was a good film. The scorched brown earth of Texas and the wide main street littered with tumbleweeds made me feel like I was almost home.

Today was my tour of Europe and exposure to all the languages I know. I started with "Lisbon", a German film set in Portugal, spoken in German, Portuguese, and English, and subtitled in English and Turkish. This was a good "friendship" story where one friend had the courage and love to tell the other to get off his duff and get to work.

My second and favorite film of the day was "The Women on the 6th Floor" a French film set in modern day Paris and Spain spoken in French and Spanish with French, English, and Turkish subtitles. The reason I'm mentioning the languages is because I was using English, German, and French to add to my Turkish vocabulary. It was weird what was happening in my brain. The thing that was really interesting was when I started noticing when the person running the subtitles (yes, a person sits at a laptop attached to a projector pointed at the bottom of the big screen and tabs through Power Point slides of translations) was not in sync with the movie. Even more interesting to me was when my brain did not agree with the English translation. I know it takes a lot to be a translator, but in some cases, I think I could have done a better job today.

The last film of the day was "The Mosque." I had heard about this film and the basic plot was kind of interesting...a film maker had erected a movie set that included a mosque on private land in Morocco. During the making of this movie the local residents had started praying at the fake mosque so the land owner was not allowed to demolish the fake mosque nor could he go back to farming his land to support his family. The problem with the film was that there was no ending and left me just going "huh" at the end.

Although the day was really great, the highlight for me was hearing native English spoken in the lobby of the theater after the third movie. As a matter of fact, the sound of English voices and their blond hair attracted me enough to go say "hi" and "where are you from?" It turns out they were the jury for the film festival and had come from all over: LA, Toronto, the UK, France, German and Spain. (I need a job like this!) They asked me which films I'd seen and I was "spot on" in liking "The Women ..." and in my confusion of "The Mosque." They encouraged me to see "The Finger" and "Le Havre" which I can just make this week, if I head to the cinema directly from school.

Although I may never again have the opportunity to watch this many movies in one weekend, I'm glad I was able to enjoy the feast here in Malatya.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday night TV

So, it's Friday night and I'm watching my first TV detective program here in Turkey. The simple act of watching TV in a different language takes a lot of concentration and I'm really not picking up more than a few words and phrases, but thank goodness for the visuals. I know the good guys from the bad guys based on the following observations. The bad men drink alcoholic beverages which are fuzzied out kind of like we bleep out the bad language on the radio. The bad girl wears a skimpy, spaghetti strapped shirt and sleeps at the bad guy's house. The good girl wears a dress, serves her boyfriend tea, and rejects all of his advances for a kiss.The female detectives are blond from a box and serve the male detectives tea at every meeting. Car chases result in immediate gun fire or immediate arrest when the bad guy leaps from the Miranda rights read here....
flip to new channel...I found a local Malatya station with the words 2. Malatya International Film Festival, 18-24 November, 2011, printed on a screen behind a speaker wearing a black off the shoulder evening gown. (The gown attracted my attention because it's more revealing that most everything I see here. The English also attracted my attention and I kept rereading the words Malatya because I couldn't believe it.) Because I don't have a calendar and have completely lost track of days, I pulled out my phone and discovered that today is Nov. 18th and this program was being taped live. A quick search on the internet yielded positive results. I found the festival and the schedule of movies. Guess what I'm doing this weekend?! Watching movies!!!! Jane Eyre, Paris Texas, Istanbul Remember Me, and Lisbon Story to name a few. I wonder what else I've been missing without a tv?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taking out the Trash

When I moved into my apartment, I was told (or rather shown) to place my bags of trash on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building. In late summer especially it was kind of gross because the stray cats and dogs in the neighborhood were pretty good at sniffing out the chicken bones and fish skins so broken bags and garbage were strewn across the sidewalk. (With a dumpster, at least, the stray animals eat their meals inside the container and keep the streets clean.)

Luckily, at some time during the day, a man pushing a hand cart stops by our trash pile and picks up the bags of trash. There is even a short window of time when the sidewalk is trash free. (Where the trash goes after the man on with the push cart, I still don't know.) Anyway, all was fine and good until about two weeks ago when my neighbor Azzet saw me placing my bag of trash on the sidewalk and she waved her arm and clucked "Yok, yok!" and then proceeded to make me pick up my bag of trash and move it to a place behind the apartment gate so as not to be seen from the sidewalk. I obliged with a smile and thought that behind the gate was actually a better place to put the trash...It's out of sight for the pedestrians.

Fast forward to this morning when, as usual, I placed my trash behind the gate and heard a "Yok, yok!" plus a string of what sounded like Turkish expletives directed at me. An angry man's finger was pointing at my trash bag and then at me and indicating that my trash needed to be moved to the sidewalk. He wouldn't stop yelling until I did as I was told.

Well, either I'm in the middle of some type of apartment dwellers' argument about where trash bags should be placed, or there are unwritten rules about trash bags, times, and placements. (For example, if morning..on sidewalk...if night...behind gate...)In any event, I was not in the mood for this type of early morning berating. So, in my best angry Turkish voice I tried to convey my displeasure at the tone of his voice and the confusing unwritten rules about trash bags. Here are the 4 words I was able to say "Azzet ve sen.... anlamadin" (Azzet and you...I don't understand.) Yep...I don't think my message was clear at all. But it sure felt good to say in my angry voice...

What I really want to know is why the apartments one street behind have a dumpster. Then I wouldn't need to learn more vocabulary for this silly conversation.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to make çig᷃kofte. (pronounced chikofta, I think)

1. Take 2 lbs of hamburger.

2. Grate 3 onions and kneed into the hamburger mixture.

3. Add 1 lb (or more) bulgur and knead into the meat.

4. Add oil until it feels right.

5. Add 1 cup of red chili paste and pomegranate sauce. Knead

6. Add 1 cup of mixed spices and 1 cup of black pepper and lots of salt. (They like salt here and buy it like we buy sugar)

7. Grate and add 10 cloves of garlic and 2 tomatoes.

8. Knead together.

9. Wipe the sweat off your brow. This is hard work.. almost 2 hours of kneading at this point.

9. Quarter one lemon and knead into the mixture.

10. Roll mixture into little cigars.

11. Pray that the onion juice and the lemon juice cooked the hamburger. Hopefully this is not my last blog entry.

Luncheon for Teachers

Yesterday, the wife of the owner of our school invited the teachers for lunch. All I knew was that the lunch started at either 1 or 1:30 and that she lived far away from the center of town and that someone would try to get me a ride.

At about 11:00 a.m. I got a call from my friend Seda who apologized that she couldn't get me a ride. I replied that it was no problem. I just needed a phone number or an address and I would either take a taxi or ride my bike. The key word here is "address." You see, I don't think they function with addresses here, only landmarks. So my independent thinking just didn't register. Seda wouldn't hear of it and said she would call me back.

A few minutes later she called again and said I could meet a different friend, Aysegul, at the bus transit center in the center of town and we could ride the bus together. Well, I arrived at the center of town at 12:50 to a mob of Saturday shoppers and students who were all waiting to catch buses home. It was a zoo of people all wearing black coats and scarves so they all looked alike, except me of course who kept getting approached by beggars and obnoxious teenage boys saying "hello and what's your name?" and then laughing because they can't say anymore than that . It took 20 minutes to find Aysegul. Between her little English and my little Turkish, we finally were able to find each other.

For the next 20 minutes I held her arm while she dragged me through the crowd going from bus to bus asking the driver where he was going. Did I mention it was freezing cold outside? In the meantime, we ran into two additional teachers so now there were four of us. Because all the buses were packed to overflowing, and because we were not finding a bus heading in the right direction, and because a car had just run into the side of a bus and been dragged 100 yards and was blocking the only road through the center of town, and because there were four of us, I suggested we split a taxi ride. (I even said this in Turkish and I was pretty proud of my suggestion and Turkish.) One even said, that's a good idea. But group decision making takes time, so in the meantime, we just kept walking through the crowds stopping at each bus asking for directions. We even lost one of our colleagues. Later, I discovered that she had actually jumped on a bus. Long story short, we did not ride a taxi, and we did eventually find a bus, which by the way was a long way from the house of the lunch, and we did eventually arrive about 45 minutes late or 15 minutes late (I never was exactly sure of the start time for the lunch).

As soon as we walked in and sat down, everyone jumped up, headed straight to the food, and started gobbling down whatever was closest to them...not even bothering to pass until about about 20 bites had been consumed to fill the void in those hungry tummies. Once the immediate hunger was filled, we were able to enjoy the rest of the dishes: kofte (grape leaves stuffed with rice and bulger), manti (Turkish meat raviolli with yogurt sauce), sauted vegetables, potato salad, spicy red chili sauce and garlic on bread, Turkish pancake (more like a quiche) and chai. The table was set with china dishes and sterling silver utensils. I should mention that the main course is eaten with a fork and a table spoon and they use the table spoon like a knife. Then dessert was served on a small plate. Each person got four desserts; one chocolate thing, one baklava, one thing that had stringed sugar that looks like coconut, and one cheesy thing rolled in powdered sugar. Dessert is eaten with a knife and a small fork. Sweet is an understatement.

I'm sure the owner's wife had been cooking for two days and we inhaled everything in about 20 minutes. The rest of the luncheon was spent listening to a women give a talk on the Koran. Here were the four points of the talk according to my translator: 1) don't gossip 2) wives should respect husbands and husbands should respect wives 3) love God 4) pray. The only things I understood on my own were "Allah" and the fact that I was getting very sleepy from the food and the effort required to listen and look attentive.

On a side note, the apartment was exactly where I thought it might be in the newer, very nice part of town. I actually ride my bike there every weekend and could have been at the apartment in 20 minutes versus the almost 1 1/2 hours it took via bus, etc. I am 100% sure I could have found the place on my own with either an apartment building name or a phone number. Yes, this sounds like bragging, but I'm really trying to illustrate the fact that not only do many people not leave this town, many don't ever leave their neighborhoods.

On a second side note, no one told me to bring my rhinestone studded stilettos. The shoe thing still confounds me. I know to remove my shoes before entering someone's house. And, at a colleague's suggestion, I bought five pairs of slippers to supply to friends visiting my house. So, I figured that this house would have slippers for me, as well. Well, now I know that for "fancy" events, I should carry the type of shoes in shopping bag that, in America, we would wear for dancing at a nightclub or for the annual Christmas party, and slip them on when entering the luncheon. Luckily, I did wear my Ann Taylor tailored skirt but it doesn't give quite the same effect in stocking feet (thank goodness I wore the pair with no holes!) But, I will need to shop for stilettos...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Appreciating What I've Got

I've been noticing that many of my Facebook friends have been making daily posts of things for which they are thankful. I don't know if they are keeping some kind of gratitude journal like Oprah several years ago, or if it is another type of gratitude challenge but their posts have inspired me to do the same with my blog. As a matter of fact, I've been reminded of the words Cher used to sing, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone.." And, spending time in Abu Dhabi with Eric made me grateful for many of the small things that have been missing for the past few months. Here is my abridged list:

Speaking hours of idiomatic English with lots of phrasal verbs to Eric and not having to explain myself.

Eating French butter made with cream, not yogurt

Eating whole grain bread

Eating toasted whole grain bread

Wearing shorts

Drinking brewed coffee

Drinking wine and beer

Being a passenger in a car where I am not the only one wearing a seat belt.

Stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk

Sleeping in a king- sized bed with luxurious cotton sheets

Showering without seeing holes in the tiles stuffed with trash bags

Playing tennis with Eric and winning

Adidas stores (They are amazing over here!)

Riding the Dubai metro and seeing three mega malls in one day..

Going to movies

Taking naps at the beach.

Listening to piano music in hotel lounges

Above all, I'm grateful that Eric encouraged me to accept a job overseas because, even though it's easy to dwell on the things that I miss, our lives have been enriched by this experience.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hot peppers for lunch

Yesterday's school lunch reminded me of one difference between American and Turkish children... the tolerance for hot peppers. Let me first describe yesterday's fairly typical meal. The main course was doner (chicken roasted on a spit and then sliced into bit-sized pieces), rice pilaf, mixed green salad, and ayran (yogurt drink). The condiment was little yellow hot peppers. It was my day to sit with the second grade and not only was I busy refilling water cups, I was running to the serving line every few minutes for more hot peppers. Granted, the addition of the hot pepper made the chicken much more flavorful, but it also set my tongue on fire. And here these children were eating the peppers like they were candy! I thought to myself that it must be a dare by the boys, but it wasn't everyone was enjoying the little hot peppers. I can't remember a time when I saw my American students eating lots of hot peppers.

Then I started thinking about the fact that I'm really happy I get lunch everyday because it's definitely my best and healthiest meal. And, I'm glad I now enjoy the little hot peppers. And, I thought about how little complaining about food I see from children and how willingly they eat everyday what is served: spinach, grilled eggplant, baked fish, tons of tomatoes, roasted peppers, etc. So, thank goodness for hot peppers!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Letter to a computer program

Dear Google Chrome,

I know you think you were doing some nice consumer upgrades by changing your look and adding some new features. But today, I was just not in the mood to try and figure out something "new" . You see, I'd just spent the day trying to learn how to use a "smart board" simultaneously while teaching classes of rambunctious 4th and 2nd graders.

I know that, in most cases, having a "smart board" is a real asset and lots of fun! (This smart board replaced everything in the chalk white document I needed to learn it quickly!) I would agree that this piece of equipment is going to be great when I get a chance to practice. However, because we teachers arrive at school often after the students in the morning and because we leave at the same time, I do not have the opportunity to learn without interruption. To compound this problem, the computer commands including the program "Aspire" are all in Turkish (not to mention the Turkish keyboard) and the computer is not connected to the internet where I could get some quick translation help. So, classroom management, computer tutorial, and Turkish translation were all occurring simultaneously today while learning a new electronic presentation device. Fortunately, I did manage to open a clean white frame, change the marker to a really pretty peaceful blue color, and use an eraser.. I was pretty proud of myself for this...but I didn't get past this first step and could not figure out how to combine slides or save.

So you see, Google Chrome, this day sapped me all of my brainpower. I just wanted to come home after school and relax by checking my emails and Facebook messages and reading some newspapers on You, my centralized Google Chrome home page. But, no....You made me work through another computer tutorial and sort through a bunch of games that I'll never play. I just wanted to let you know about my displeasure.


Not game for Google change.

PS. Things could have been could have been in Turkish.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turkish Wedding - Part 2

Last night I attended the second day of a Turkish wedding..the actual ceremony. Both the wedding and the reception are typically held in the same venue and last night's was no exception. My friend Seda and her parents gave a ride to the wedding salon (salonu) and I was so appreciative to not have to walk in alone. This was a very large wedding..I'm estimating 500 people. The men and the women sat separately so when we walked in the salon, I saw only a sea of men.The men's reception line was near the front door. Seda's father joined his male friends and the three of us walked to the back of the salon to give Turkish kisses and hand shakes to the women's reception line and find a seat at a woman's table.

About 15 minutes after we arrived, large Roman candles (yes, the fireworks type) were lit to line the entry way. A video screen recorded the entry of the bride and groom and followed them to their seats of honor on a stage at the center of the room. At the wedding couple's table sat the mayor and three male witnesses. The mayor or one of his representatives attends all the weddings. The mayor welcomed us to the wedding, signed some papers, had the wedding couple sign some papers and said some words.. The bride said "evet" loudly. The mayor said some more words and the groom said "evet" loudly. Then we clapped and the groom kissed the bride quickly on the forehead. The mayor the turned his attention to the other men at the table and asked each if he was a witness and each said "evet" loudly. All this time was food was being served. Then the iman started chanting a verse from the Koran all while children were running wild and playing hide and seek under the tables. A wedding song was sung and a prayer was said and I could understand the frequent "amens".

We finished our meal, stood in line to greet the new couple, and left about 1 1/2 hour after we had arrived.

By the way, the bride was beautiful. She is a English teacher colleague at my school. A wedding is a five day paid vacation for the couple from work. Also, you can see the leaf-type floral arrangements behind the bride. There were probably 25 of these arrangements around the room. They are from friends and businesses that cannot be at the actual ceremony but send happy wishes via flowers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Judging the quality of an apple

It's apple season here in Turkey. The Turkish name is "elma" and, like America, there are many different varieties. People tend to buy them by the crate fulls and leave them on their balconies to keep cold. I don't think many pesticides are used because the apples often have worm holes, but I've never been bothered by a little extra protein. And, they certainly are not waxed to look pretty like they are in America. But again, not a problem. What matters most to me is that an apple is very crunchy and a little tart. And, discovering that specific apple has been hit-or-miss for the past few weeks. However, one thing has been consistent. For every crisp, delicious apple I've savoured, I've broken the handle off a knife while cutting it. So, I've eaten three very delicious apples and today I need to go shopping....for knives.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dinner with School Family

Last night I was invited to dinner at the home of one of my 4th grade students. The father is the head of the IT department at the university and he, his wife, and their two daughters live "on-campus" in the academic and employee housing of the university. It was a delightful evening of wonderful conversation and delicious food.

The father had been a visiting professor at Rensselaer and speaks good English, a plus for me. I learned that he is implementing ideas learned in America to increase worker productivity.

The mother is a high school math teacher. I learned that all students take the same math classes through 9th grade. Then they are separated by ability. Those academically able continue with math. The others are finished with math and focus on the social sciences. This "decision making" at 9th grade explains to me why so many students take extra classes in middle school on the weekends.

The dinner began with onion soup followed by what you see in my picture. I can't remember the name but it was delicious, meat, vegetables, all packed together and displayed on a serving platter that looked like a layered cake. This post wouldn't be complete without the mention of the "after dinner" latte. When I chose coffee, the wife said (and I understood this in Turkish) that she can make chai but her husband is the coffee maker. (sounds like our home.) Anyway, I mention the latte because it was made in an espresso machine with Starbucks coffee and it was DELICIOUS!

At about midnight, I arrived home from my "school night" dinner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reflecting on an Earthquake

It's day two after the devastating earthquake in Van, Turkey and I've been thinking about how close I am to the epicenter, yet really how far I away I am from what I know and understand. No, I didn't feel any aftershocks. I don't think any prayers were said at school for the victims, although I might not have understood, if they had been said. I didn't seen any kids talking about it. And, the only fairly close impact on Malatya is that two teachers had friends at the university in Van and both of those friends caught the bus home to Malatya yesterday afternoon. I think officials in Van have asked many people to leave and seek alternate housing if possible.
I'm still processing the fact that I didn't even know about the earthquake until about 6 hours after the fact when I turned on my computer. In the United States, I would have known fairly soon, either from the "Breaking News" flashing across the bottom of the TV screen, from the radio while traveling in my car, from the TVs at the club while working out, or from my phone because I am often walking through, or sitting in Wi-Fi hots spots. Here in Turkey, I've mostly quit watching TV's in the mall because they are only showing soccer replays. The only radio I've heard is in my school transport and it only plays Turkish pop music. My health club doesn't have TV and has been playing the same CD for 2 months (speaking of which, one song uses the F bomb so frequently that I'm always tempted to ask them to fast forward, but then I get a little smile to myself when they stop the music during the imam's call to prayer on the loudspeaker at the mosque. The contrast is huge). And, I've yet to find a Wi-Fi hotspot in Malatya. I am really out-of-touch, but not sure if it really matters.
The updates I've gotten for this earthquake have all come from American news channels via my computer. Tonight, for instance a 10-day old baby was rescued alive and there is hope of finding more survivors! But the footage of the surrounding buildings has also impacted me. I am living in a building exactly like so many of those that crumbled to the ground in Van. I see many new apartment buildings being constructed near my house, but construction seems very rudimentary. I don't think this building would survive an earthquake..not even sure how I would get out if there were a fire. Then, I think about California and Seattle building codes and contrast that to my present reality.
Which reminds me to thank all who sent messages to me. It is nice to be remembered. But especially keep the victims of the earthquake in your thoughts and prayers. They have the difficult months ahead.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paper Airplanes

Today is one of those days when I woke up and just didn't feel like teaching. It could be that I was starting the day with my least favorite class or that I had been kept awake by the grumblings of an upset stomach, but whatever it was, I thought to myself, "I need to show a movie." Unfortunately, I have not yet found or used any of the technology that might be available to me so a movie also seemed like too big of a task. Therefore, I settled for the next best thing...paper airplanes. I drew a target on the board, told the students to make an airplane, and held a paper airplane throwing contest. The prize for the most points was a piece of candy.
Here are the neat things about this type of activity in an EFL classroom. First, the students don't remember what a piece of paper is so they gets lots of vocabulary instruction for that word. Second, in Turkey, many students don't have lose sheets of paper, so we learn words like "share" and "yes, you can recycle the old homework assignment with an F on it." (I hope that's true because we threw a few F's.) Third, the most difficult behaving boys can make great paper airplanes and the smartest, most academic girls have no idea how to make a plane, so we get in some cooperative learning activities. Fourth, this activity works really well because each student only gets to throw their plane if they answer a question correctly. As you can imagine, many of the boys couldn't answer even one question correctly so they seldom got to throw their super-dynamic, pin-point accurate planes. And the girls who answered almost every question correctly earned very few points because their planes didn't fly. Fifth, each student only gets to answer a question if they hear me call their name the first time. That left out a few non-listeners who, by the way, started perking up towards the end when they realized their friends had already had several turns. And finally, this activity was a great assessment activity. It quickly identified those students who know this week's vocabulary and grammar and those who don't.
For you teachers out there, you can see how the bolded words work well in a lesson plan. And, as for my self-evaluation of ways to improve this activity, I think next time I will make boy/girl teams. Maybe the boys can learn the English from the girls, because they are certainly not learning it from me. And maybe the girls will learn that they can be a pilot if they want when they grow up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walk to the Mall

Tonight I decided to make the 45 minute walk to the mall for dinner for two reasons. The first was to postpone grading papers or working on lesson plans. But the second, more important reason, was because the mall is one place where I can eat dinner alone and not feel strange. The mall has an actual food court with Burger King, McDonalds, Sbarro Pizza, and myriad Turkish brands of fast foods..mostly kofte and doners. There are even two semi-fast food restaurants where they have actual waiters, the chairs are really comfy, and the menu has pictures so I have a pretty good idea what I'm ordering. Tonight I chose the semi-fast food restaurant and ordered an adana iskender because the picture was pretty. (For all you English buffs, I would capitalize Adana because it's the name of a city here in Turkey, but maybe the iskender is not really named after the city or maybe Turkish has different capitalization rules)..Oh, I guess more importantly, an iskender is like a long skinny kabob made with ground hamburger or ground lamb. The food was tasted fine...not amazing, not bad.
The best part of this restaurant was that they had a TV playing so I could engross myself in trying to understand Turkish. On the television set appeared to be either Brandi Chastain or Tiffeny Milbrett helping girls in Africa learn to play soccer. Two things struck me about this program: 1. the fact that girls were playing soccer and 2. location of the playing field which consisted of dirt and rocks, with a few tough drought resistant weeds sprinkled in as obstacles...very similar to here in Turkey...the fields, that is. I haven't seen many girls playing soccer.
Then I got to thinking about Ellen and all the soccer fields we've seen and soccer players we've met. So, I decided it was time to walk home before I made myself homesick.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

British vs. American English

There are many differences between British English and American English. Of course pronunciation of words like "tomato" (American -long a) and "tomato (British - short a..kind of stretched out for effect like bowing to the queen) and the spelling of American "color" and British "colour" are well documented differences. But the word that trips me up every day when showing students flash cards is the picture of an eraser. The students yell out RUBBER and I try really hard not to laugh. I really want to explain that it might not be a good idea to call an eraser a "rubber" if they plan on attending university in America. But where do I even begin...other than to say that "In America we call a "rubber" an "eraser?"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoe Repair

About six months ago I threw away a pair of shoes in the Tri-Cities. I couldn't find a shop to nail new tips into the heels. Yesterday, I was dressed in jeans and high heels, (because that's what you do here) and had walked many kilometers with my friend Sema to help settle all the food we had consumed at brunch. All the cobblestones and the fact that my shoes are over a year old, left me clacking along the street on nails only. I knew I'd seen an alley in Malatya that consists of only shoe makers (it's actually really cool to see) so I figured a repair was possible. Not only are my shoes now repaired, I got a good price, too. My friend spent about five minutes negotiating the price down from 7 TL to 5Tl or about $2.50. It sure is a good thing I didn't go alone or I would have overpaid....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Classroom Vocabulary

We here at the English department are trying to enforce a "Speak English Only" rule during English class. For those of you who've studied a foreign language you know how difficult speaking in your L2 can be. But for second graders, this is next to impossible. I can give simple classroom room instructions like "Get pencil", "Cut", "Write" orally, with physical motion, and with pictures and a student will nod in reply "cut, ah ha" and then rattle off a paragraph in Turkish with the gist being "I don't have any scissors." So much for the Speak English Only rule. I could buy a classroom set of scissors to carry around in my already super stuffed portable office (a plastic basket) to avoid this frantic conversation, but instead, I decided we could use this opportunity to learn some manners and English at the same time. So, I made a poster with two hand-drawn students (OK, I lied...I traced some flash cards of students because I can't draw) and word bubbles. The conversation reads like this:
(Girl)- (actually, I should have made "her" a "him" because the "hims" never have any supplies and the girls always do, but I was trying not to be sexist) "May I borrow your_____, please?" (There are pictures of classroom supplies at the bottom of the poster below the boy.)
(Boy) "Yes."
(Girl) "Thank you."
(Boy) "You're welcome."

This poster actually works so well, that I will probably make some more conversation posters explaining things like the word "interrupt" as in "don't", and "throw pencils" as in "don't", etc.

Here's a poster I want to make, but, for obvious reasons, won't:
(Student) Teacher, Teacher!* (This means "I want to be your helper" but the student doesn't know any more words to explain his eagerness, and then that student scoops up all my flash cards, lesson plans, magnets, pens, pencils and dumps them in my basket and fights with another student to be my helper and carries everything out of the room)
(Teacher) Thank you for wanting to help, but I'm not ready to leave the class room yet, and when you scoop everything into a pile, even though you mean well, I won't be able to find anything and then I will lose control of the next class in the middle of an activity because I will be digging through my basket looking for a picture of a kite (the kids say something like "key tay"... the "i" in Turkish is pronounced like a long "e" in English and there are no silent letters in Turkish) and I won't be able to find the kite and then we won't learn this week's vocabulary word or have today's pronunciation lesson.

Here's the conversation that really occurs:
(Student) Teacher, Teacher! (same scooping action as above)
(Teacher) Thank you for your help. That's so nice. (forced smile)

*The phrase "Teacher, Teacher" can mean just about anything depending upon who's bored and needs a trip to the bathroom, who hasn't listened to one word of instruction, who's crying, or who has just suffered an grave injustice.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bake Sale for Charity

Today the 2nd graders had a bake sale to earn money for charity. At 9:00 am I accompanied my 4th grade class to the indoor gym area in the basement of the school where each of the 4 second grade classes had set up tables around the perimeter of the room filled to the brim with Turkish baked goods. Most everything I'd never seen before: cakes, cookies, stuffed apricots, countless delicacies decorated with pistachios, corn bread soaked in honey, stuffed grape leaves, puffed pastries filled with cheese and herbs...there could be an entire dictionary dedicated to names of only Turkish sweets..Standing behind each table was each of the second graders wearing a rubber glove (yeah for that!) and "selling" their baked goods (or rather their mother's culinary skills.) Each child had his or her own "sales pitch" and plastic baggie to collect the money from their sales. Many of these kids were very persuasive and their persuasiveness led me to an orangeish/greenish pastry that I would never have chosen on my own, but which, indeed, turned out to be delicious!

While I was savoring my purchases and talking with one of the other English teachers, we were interrupted by a very friendly and thoughtful second grade girl. According to my English "translator" this girl wanted to know how I was able to buy some treats. She thought that since I don't speak Turkish and I come from America that I don't have any Turkish money. She wanted to know if I needed some "charity".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Look-out Men

My transportation to school is a 20 passenger white van provided by a private service. There are two teacher vans and I ride van #40. The bus stop used to be conveniently located right in front of my apartment building, but now I walk about two blocks away and wait with another teacher. Occasionally, like this morning, my colleague will point (she doesn't speak English) to indicate that we are meeting the van at another location. How she knows where the van will pick us up is a mystery to me because I never know where, but I think there is an intricate system of calls and text messages from the look-out men in the front seat of the van. Aside from being teachers, I think their job is to watch for closed roads and police officers doing random traffic checks, and to remind the driver to go back and pick up passengers who missed the van on the first drive-by because the first pass was 20 minutes earlier than said passenger was told..(just in case you're wondering, that passenger was me...)

Anyway, back to today and a little back ground information...the city has been modernizing the roads by my house for as long as I've lived here, but I think it's been more like two years according to my boss. It's a mess: dusty, noisy, random pieces of equipment left out to trip over, random power outages and internet disruptions as the wrong wires are cut or attached or whatever. And, at random times the city workers will stretch some tape across the road (kind of like crime scene tape) to indicate that the road is closed. (There's no such thing as the American digital signs indicating that on X date the road will be closed for x number of days)... Anyway, this morning was one of those days for a closed road and some road construction work. Often passenger cars just disregard the tape, send out the person riding shot-gun to hold up it up, and then proceed on through the construction zone. But today a police car with flashing lights was enforcing the stretched tape across the road.. thus the new van pick-up location.

Last week the look-out men had gotten some kind of word from fellow van drivers that there was a random traffic check on our route to school. All vans and cars were being stopped, all papers were being checked, and entire vans of teachers and students were late to school. But, thanks to Van #40's look-out men, our driver made a quick left turn, crossed a major highway, geared down to go up a steep hill, and raced through some farms and down a dirt road to avoid the traffic stop. I'm not sure if the look-out men were joking or if something was lost in the translation, but I understood them to say that our driver did not have a license and it would be a problem to be stopped.

Unfortunately, yesterday our look-out men must have been chatting because they did not see the police officer pulling over all the speeding school vans just in front of our school. (There were at least four of them!) We were stopped for speeding I think,(I would estimate 20- 30 km/hour over in a school zone.) The driver's papers were taken, the police officer gave a quick glance though our van (so glad I did not have to show my heart always skips a beat when I see a police officer) and we were allowed to be driven on to school. But I'm sure the driver had to go back to retrieve his papers and/or pay some money...

In spite of not knowing where to meet the van, the service is a memorable experience, and the look-out men are quite entertaining. Oh, and did I mention that the van leaves exactly 10 minutes after school lets out? So much for working late....

Monday, October 10, 2011


I joined an all women's health club when I first arrived in Malatya. I chose it, not because it has the best equipment, or even the equipment I wanted like a tread mill or exercise bike, but because of Sema, the cleaning lady, who is so nice and did her best to make me feel welcome. So, I've been using weight machines very regularly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I'm usually the only one in the gym and, because Sema has to turn on the lights and the music for me, I've often wondered if anyone even uses this gym. But, religiously, I go through the motions of trying to stay healthy while Sema watches me exercise.
Fast forward to today when there were not one, not two, but three other women using the machines. And even more exciting, one of the younger women was really putting her heart and soul into her work-out. This was great news for me as I've really needed to amp up my routine. Seeing this other women giving her best effort was just the motivation I needed. Just ask any of my family and they will tell you that I'm just a little competitive. If someone puts 40 pounds on a machine, I'm going to put 45. If someone does 10 push-ups, I'm going to try and do 11. So having some competition was good...
Bottom line...a big THANK YOU to the stranger at the health club and please come back soon! I really needed you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


About a week ago someone commented that I need to iron my white work jacket (lab coat), so I joked back that if they want me to iron, then the school will need to buy me an iron. I said it with a smile, but didn't really give it a second thought. You see, I haven't ironed anything more a seam on a sewing project in years. Ironing is not really my thing. But that may change. You see, last night some co-workers delivered a brand new iron and pink ironing board, both still in their wrappers. Unfortunately, now I may have to buy some hangers...

Fast forward to now, Sunday night, and it's ironing time. I've removed the wrappers, set up the ironing board...(did I mention the pink ironing board cover has camels printed on it? that's a metaphor!) and spent the past 20 minutes trying to figure out which way is hot. No matter which way I turn the dial, I can't get it hot enough to do any good on my wrinkled cotton or even polyester for that matter.

Currently, I am turning the knob one notch clockwise and writing one sentence for this post in a scientific method to find hot. I still haven't discovered the setting for that good "ironing sizzle" from my childhood. At this rate, I'll be fine with my current supply of hangers...

Ok, the iron's getting a little hotter, and I just discovered bird poop on the sleeve of my white lab coat...I wonder if it's from the same family that left a present on my tea pot?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Turkish Wedding - Part 1

The Henna Party

My friend Sema invited me to her relative's wedding this evening. Apparently it doesn't matter if I'm related or know the person getting married to attend a wedding. So in pouring rain, we walked across town to the apartment of the bride. The 4th floor flat was packed with women greeting the bride who was perched on a chair in a sitting room waiting for well-wishes from family and friends and me..a total stranger. The bride was more than willing to pose for pictures so I quickly tried to snap a few but the family insisted that I be in the pictures, so here I am.

Soon, everyone stood, walked downstairs, and started dancing in the street to Turkish music provided by a local DJ. There was some clapping after the mother of the groom placed four gold bracelets on the bride's wrist and then some more dancing. I never noticed the bride leaving the parking lot, but apparently she did, because pretty soon all the children held lit sparklers and candles and formed a little path for both the bride and groom to walk. Each was wearing a red cloth over their head, and the bride was wearing a new outfit similar to Jasmine in Walt Disney's Aladdin. Everyone formed a circle around the wedding couple and danced for several minutes until the rain started falling again.

The bride party disappeared down a dark alley, but the rest of us hopped on a Dolmus (a small bus) and drove through some different back alleys of Malatya until we arrived at a different street dance with live music. Things definitely got more lively here at the house of the groom with some very entertaining drummers and a few Turkish women and men who really got into dancing. I should mention that the wedding couple took the first dance and looked about a uncomfortable as most middle school students at their first slow dance, straight, locked arms, plenty of space between the bodies, fear of looking each other in the eyes, and no smiles. In addition, Turkish men were lighting off fireworks more powerful than anything sold in Wyoming at distance of about two feet from the dance area. I noticed this because I was thinking that one spark landing on the bride's dress would burn to a crisp. And, one girl did come crying too her mom to say she had gotten a spark in her eye.

I am understanding things correctly, the frown on the bride's face could be caused by fact that the father of the bride who left Malatya 14 years ago and took a second wife and had two children with her in Lithuania, showed up in Malatya last night just in time for the wedding. That could be cause for some tension...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bike for dinner

Last night I hopped on my bike for a quick fall ride before the sun set. I found some new roads, actually more like paved donkey cart paths, winding up the steep hills behind my house. On several occasions I was approached by one or two brave children asking me to stop and talk. At this point, the original 2 children often morphed into 10 or 15 children within seconds. After learning that both boys and girls like football and basketball, the girls love Justin Bieber, and the boys like video games, I usually say my goodbyes and start pedaling. But last night was different. A 16 year old girl asked me, mostly with sign language by rubbing her tummy, and saying "yekmek" if I'd eaten. The easy response would have been "yes" but I decided to tell the truth "yok" (no) and see what happened. Well, she managed to tell me her mother was a very good cook and that I must come home to dinner with her. I contemplated asking the polite "Are you sure it's OK with your mom?" but realized I have zero vocabulary for that type of sentence and also figured it's not my problem (a very new me!) I also pictured my empty cupboard at home...

So, yes, I followed a 16 year old stranger home for dinner where I was greeted by like royalty with a kiss and an extended Turkish hug. I was presented with delicious leftovers on a tea tray in the living room with everyone watching me eat, the TV blaring in the background making it very difficult for me to concentrate and hear the very little Turkish I even understand, and the most beautiful and kind family you can imagine. I was treated to a look-see of the father's passport and his many stamps as a chauffeur...Bulgaria, Romania, Syria, Croatia, etc. I played a new marble game with the 7 year old little brother who also, by the way, treated me to a showing off of his new a match and putting the flame out in his mouth. I carried on a conversation about computer games and math with the 16 year old cousin as he lit up his second cigarette. And, I practiced speaking English with 16 year old Rabia who really LOVES America and wants to visit someday. The mother, as you can tell from the photo, is a beautiful, kind, loving, and generous person. And, she IS a good cook, just like Rabia said.

I may have to take a bike ride every night!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


When my printed schedule says school ends at 4:10 and the bell hasn't yet rung and all the class periods are 40 minutes long, which would make for a 4:10 departure, and I have 40 minutes of lessons planned, but at 4:00 all the children are saying "home Mrs. Jansen" and begging to go to the "toilet" and then coming back with their coats on, and then dragging me to the door to show me that the custodians are already cleaning the other rooms and the hallway is dark, quiet, and void of children, what is the point of a bell and a schedule? Either all the other classes were at specials like music and PE and the students are clever and playing me for a clueless English, or some teachers are calling it "quits" early. This will require some detective work. If the other classes have specials, then I can explain to students. If the other classes are just leaving early...that puts me in an awkward position.

PS. The run-on sentence was matches the constant stream of noise and people from 8:20 a.m - 4:10 p.m. (well actually 4:04 today )

Saturday, October 1, 2011

From City to Country in 2km

(For my Tri-Cities Friends..the scenery is very similar )
Thanks to Eric's getting some mechanical fixes on my bicycle, today I was finally brave enough to ride out of town. After pedaling for about 10 minutes, I left the noise, dirt, and bustle of the city and found myself in the heart of apricot farmland, sharing the one-lane road with, donkey carts, tractors, chickens, stray dogs, and numerous children playing in the road
There were a few sights that left impressions. First was a Turkish woman struggling to keep upright a wheelbarrow that was loaded with a 6-foot tall load of sticks while her husband stood right next to her and supervised. Next was the group of boys playing out in a meadow who came running across a large field to say "Hello, What's your name?" and when I ask the same question in return and I could actually pronounce their names. (thanks to a week at school trying to pronounce names.) Last was the disappointment at not being able to stop for a chai in the beautiful town square at Battlegazi because it was completely dominated by men. Being a Saturday morning, all the women were home pushing wheelbarrows and plowing fields by hand with a hoe while the men were out sipping tea and playing backgammon.
Also, I got the answers to two burning questions. I've been wondering where the pide bakeries (bread) located every block or so get all the wood for their brick ovens that run all day and night. There aren't many trees around here. And, second, I've been wondering it the apricot orchards use chemical fertilizers. Based upon what I saw today, the wood for the furnaces comes from the pruned apricot trees, and the apricot trees are fertilized with mounds of natural cow fertilizer from the dairy farms.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday afternoon staff meeting

(Photo of the Girl's Folk Dance Team...nothing to do with the post topic.))
I can't imagine scheduling a two-hour Friday afternoon school staff meeting in America, but here in Turkey nobody seems to bat an eye. So at 4:30 pm, I grabbed a quick glass of chai, trying to avoid falling asleep to the drone of Turkish and then met the staff in the Cinema Salonu (theater).
When the movie began I was pretty excited to see Turkish subtitles and hear some words in English, so I sat up a little taller in my chair. The movie was actually shot in India with the language a combination of Hindi and English so it was fairly understandable. ( Funny thing though...The father seemed to do most of his swearing in English...) Between the language, the good music, and the good acting I was able to understand enough of the movie to be wiping away happy tears at the end
Basically, the story is about a young boy who struggled in school, got very poor grades, came from a very successful, competitive family, and was eventually shipped to a boarding school to "gain some discipline." Luckily for the boy, a loving art teacher recognized dyslexia, spent extra time helping him and encouraging his abilities in art, and helped him gain admittance into an art high school where I'm sure the boy had great success.
The down side to a movie like this is that I feel guilty about my tough week with second grade. Could I have done more? The upside to a movie like this is that it lasted 2 1/2 hours and was good enough to call it my " Friday night date movie" ...(Eric is back in Saudi) so it didn't feel like a staff meeting...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tour bus local style

According to the Rough Guide to Turkey Nemrut Dagi is ranked #2 in the 30 things "not to miss" in Turkey. Therefore, living only 100 km away from this "grandiose mountain-top sanctuary" built by Antiochus I Epiphanes at 2150 meters above sea level (app. 6500 feet), visiting it was on my "to-do" list with Eric. So, last rainy Saturday morning we walked to the tea garden in the center of town in search the tour operator. After questioning a few strangers we were escorted to a platic white table covered with a few Malatya maps and several photocopied sheets explaining the trip to Nemrut. We signed up for the tour and met our fellow backpacker-type tour companions: a retired couple from Belgium who were on 3-month holiday traveling only by hitchhiking and local bus across Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey, two female Japanese law school students on holiday from school, a female message therapist from Iowa, and a couple from Poland whose hobby is studying Middle Eastern history. The common language was a mix of English and German...a nice break for me from Turkish.
We headed to a sketchy van parked across the street. It's road worthiness:a late model Ford van with bald tires, numerous dents and scratches, fading/peeling paint, and metal roof rack to hold our gear. After scanning the tiny size of the interior and the quantiry of our travel companions we both yelled "shotgun." Well, we really didn't yell shot gun, but we pointed to the front seats and jumped in. (Claustrophia and car sickness seemed strong possibilities everywhere except the front. I was the only person to locate and use my seat belt. And, I made mental note of the 435,000 km on the odometer and hoped that the breaks had been checked recently.
After securing our gear on the van's roof, the driver took a quick break for a cigarette, hopped in, ground the gear shift lever into first, and with a honk of his horn pulled into traffic . Our first stop was the gas station. While the attendant pumped, the driver hopped out, gingerly scraped a wet parking ticket off the windshield, and threw it in the trash. Our next stop was the bakery for about 10 loaves of bread.
The quality and age of our transport was soon forgotten once we left Malatya. The scenery gradually shifted from the bald brown mountains similar to Eastern Washington to the lush green hills of the Swiss Alps. Instead of little churches dotting the hillsides and valleys, the minarets of the mosques became the village identifying markers. The road was narrow, with no shoulder or guard rails to protect us from the tight switchbacks winding us higher and higher into the mountains. We made good time as our driver passed all other vehicles whether he could see around a curve or not, politely beeping his horn as we wizzed by.
About 1 1/2 hours later the driver pulled off the road where we stopped at a little cafe for lunch. The food was nondescript but hopefully warm enough to kill any latent bacteria, and the bathrooms were across the street....(need I elaborate?) The rain, by now was pouring down, and we were in a hurry to get to Nimrut before sunset so we hopped back into the muggy, hot, fog laden van and started driving. As I was commenting to Eric that this road is very similar to the Million Dollar Highway outside of Ouray, Colorado, the driver pulled off the road to within inches of the steep edge and pulled out his cell phone. My immediate thought was that this must be the only cell phone zone, because earlier the driver had been chatting up a storm all while passing 18-Wheelers on blind curves. Anyway, after a lengthy conversation he handed the phone to me and said "hotel." Not speaking Turkish, I just said "hello" into the phone. A voice at the other end apologized but said that our van was broken and a new van would arrive in about an hour. The driver pointed to the brakes....Funny thing was that all the drive before lunch I had been watching him pump the brakes just figuring that he must have a new method to save wear and tear on the brake pads. Lo and behold the brake line had actually broken and we were lucky to be alive...
Luckily the wait passed quickly. I had a pleasant conversation getting to know the retired couple from Belgium. (For those of you who think my adventure to Turkey is brave, this couple takes the cake.) They had no itinerary, no set plans other than to start in Georgia and end in Turkey, and no predefined mode of transportation. They were fine with local buses and whoever would pick them up on the side of the road: donkey carts, tractors, cars, etc.
Our replacement van ride to our hotel located at the base of Mt. Nemrut was uneventful but the scenery was spectacular, climbing to about 6000 feet above sea level. Upon arrival at the Gunes Hotel we were told to quickly change or we would miss sunset at the top. The last 12 switchbacks of the climb were on a dirt road, rutted and steep like many of the jeep roads outside of Ouray and Telluride, Colorado. Although our "new" 15 passenger tour van had only 235,000 kilometers on the odometer, it still did not have 4-wheel drive. Not to worry. The driver seemed to know which ruts were shallow enough to keep the van from high-centering, how to shift and not throw too many rocks from under the wheels, and where the boulders were located, even in the dark...
We survived the ride, the temple was worth seeing, and pictures from my camera cannot give justice to the beauty of the sunrise and sunset.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Classroom Management

I seriously need some suggestions on how to handle a group of second grade boys. I have a class of four girls and twelve boys and, after four days, I'm no closer to being in control of the class than I was on the first day. I asked my boss to attend one day, and between the two of us, there was still no control. I told my boss it's a waste of time and money to bring me to Turkey to teach this type of class because they are not getting any English, only discipline. (And not really any of that either)..She agreed but said she had the same problems last year and the principal said she just had to deal with it. But, she did ask the classroom teacher to stay in class for two weeks. The classroom teacher hasn't, but did manage to peek in and have a look yesterday. By that time, I had given up on the boys and focused on the four girls who wanted to learn. Here's the picture she saw:
My back was to the class with the four girls in the corner by the board on the floor trying to sing songs, count, etc. Behind me were the twelve boys jumping off of desks, throwing pencils and erasers, wrestling, making dog piles, tipping out of chairs, running, trying to snap the elastic on the girls' pants, etc. There were about three boys who were hovering around the perimeter of my little circle of girls who were obviously interested in what I was doing, but when invited to join, were too reluctant because of the other boys, and returned to their seats.
Here's what I had tried before she peeked in:
*removing distractions
*simple commands with modeling like "stand" "sit" "zip".
*separating offenders
*changing activities
*movement, large motor activities
*quiet activities
The teacher seemed very non-nonplussed about the entire situation. The boys ran towards their chairs when she stopped by, but she never waited to see if they actually settled down. They didn't.

So, I'm asking all of my blog readers for help. Please!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Random thoughts and observations

I have much upon which to elaborate but little time so I will give a brief window into the thoughts swimming around in my brain...

- Time out chairs don't work for 2nd graders in Turkey. Everyone wants to move to the time out place.
- Trying to keep students from running through the halls is kind of silly when even the teachers race the students in the hallway.
- Today's 2nd grade vocabulary included "pinch", "punch", and "strangle" complete with examples. Then I taught the negative as in "Do not____".
- I've been told that pulling the child's ear often works to get him or her to behave. Not sure I can do that...
- Not speaking Turkish helps a lot when it comes to tattling. A child will come up and rattle off a minute's worth of injustices in Turkish. I just smile kindly and see if I can pick out a word or two...(usually I can't)...Then I just shrug my shoulders and away they scoot. In addition to not understanding WHAT they are saying, I also don't know WHO they talking about. It's easy to not get involved.
- These kids are very physical, touching, pinching, etc, but they are also very tough. I haven't seen any crying or whining.
- At school picnics in America, 5th graders like to set their blankets in little groups spread all around the park. At school picnics in Turkey, the students place all their picnic blankets touching so not a blade of grass is showing. Then newspaper is placed in the center of the blankets to act as a long table cloth.
- Playing basketball with 5th grade boys at recess is a great way to teach English vocabulary and win some desperately needed classroom cooperation. Today we learned "pass", "dribble", "double dribble", "basket"(which I proudly got) and "rebound" which I could actually do because I'm about 6 feet taller than them.
- Saying "anlarmadin" (I don't understand)is not enough to stop my neighbor from carrying on a conversation. He just repeated the same words over and over again like an endless computer programming loop. Smiling is not working anymore either. I need some more vocabulary so I can politely excuse myself from a hopelessly complicated conversation.
- I finally returned three empty plates from my really nice neighbor downstairs and gave her some chocolates in return. Then she went to her kitchen and returned with a plated filled with more cakes and cookies. I think it's a game to keep me stocked with treats. I like this game..
- Eric and I had our first dinner party last night. Two dictionaries, Google translate and a sprinkling of English and we had a great night. I offered Turkish Coffee and then asked our guests to show me how to make it. :)
- I invited the English teachers to my apartment for tea this afternoon. Eric was a delightful host and even spot cleaned the house when I texted him from the bus on the way home to warn him of our arrival.

Finally, I wanted to include scenes from today's recess time. The photo is of the basketball boys who, after the game, bought me a water and introduced me to the school birds.