Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cell Phone - Part 2

The Turkish text messages I've been getting have been telling me I'm out of minutes on my calling plan. I know this because....well, here's the story.

Taking a left out of my apartment building takes me to the center of town. As I get closer and closer to the center, my hopes are rising. This is a big city with several nice boulevards, tree-lined streets, sidewalks, flowers, and landscaping. It's pretty. A few blocks closer to the center and I'm greeted by thousands of shops, lots of shoppers, lots of traffic, the smell of fresh baked bread, etc. If I change the alphabet on the signs, I can almost imagine downtown NYC without the skyscrapers. Keeping with my mission, I enter the first Turkcell store I see. It's a small shop, no more than an aisle wide and the shopkeeper speaks no English. After hand gestures and writing a few words from my dictionary, he's able to understand my request, I think, draws me a map and sends me to a bigger shop. But, before I get to the bigger shop, I run across a medium sized Turkcell shop with three employees. With my notepad, dictionary, pictures, and pointing I am unsuccessful and making any sense, but one of the employees pulls out his fall, calls a friend, and hands the phone to me. Here's the conversation:
Hello! Do you speak English?
Yes. I lived 2 years in Arkansas. What do you want?
I'm trying to add minutes to my sim card so I can call my family.
Give me 10, maybe 15 minutes, and I'll right there.
Ok. Thank you.
So, I sat down in this tiny shop waiting for a Turkish stranger who had lived in Arkansas and spoke English to come help me. About 15 minutes later, he arrived and apologized for the time it took him to get there. (Can you imagine apologizing..here I was so grateful that he would come help me on the beginning of his holiday that I would have waited hours...and, no, I'm not exaggerating..I was that desperate for help.) I showed him my Turkish text message. I explained my situation. And, with his help, I was able to 1) get more minutes 2) learn about some great hiking trails near Malatya and 3) add and English speaking Turk to my contact list. As a matter of fact, I will star him as a "favorite."

First night

12:05 am.
Restless and unable to fall asleep for the past several hours....motorcycles and cars racing by in a steady stream...horns honking...truck engines roaring...children laughing and playing...popped an Advil PM..read some more... got out of bed to turn off overhead fluorescent light...awake...turned on light...read some more...
12:45 am approximately
Turned off light and fell asleep...
2:30 am
woke with a start to the sound of drums beating a loud irregular cadence...noise getting louder and closer....5 or 6 large drums beating at the apartment doorstep...keeps beating...noise getting softer as drums pass and head down the street....drift off to sleep...
2:45 am.
more drums following same pattern...remembering a passage I read in Turkish culture book that explained these drums signal people in houses to awaken and eat last meal before sunrise for Ramadan...turn on light...read some more...
3:00 am.
drums play one more time and then stop...turn of light...fall back asleep...

5:00 am ish
muezzin begins prayer call from Mosque...much softer than the drums...fall back asleep
7:30 am
sun beaming in room and getting hot in there...lay in bed for 20 minutes afraid to open the window to see Malatya for fear of disappointment...finally garner courage to open curtains...the mosque is directly in front of my bedroom window...green trees line the boulevard...people are up walking around...traffic picks up...time to get up...
Goals for the day: buy towels and minutes for my sim card.

Malatya Apartment

August 28
After an anxious 20 minutes waiting at the curb for my ride from the airport, calling the number I'd been given, only to find out that my cell phone no longer worked, fighting back tears, and waiting some more, I was finally greeted by Ishmael, a friendly, polite young Turk. He, in turn, introduced meduced to Mr. Mahmet, our driver and the school accountant. It quickly became apparent that Mr. Mahmet spoke no English. Thankfully, Ishmael speaks pretty good English and is the high school grammar teacher. I learned that I will actually be teaching "speaking" in the high school and he eagerly told me how excited he is to welcome me and have a "native" speaker with whom he can learn and perfect his English. He was excited to show me my new "home"... emphasis on the word "home" and he hopes I will enjoy it. So far so good...

We drove thirty minutes to the apartment. We, and about five other cars, were actually pulled over for a random alcohol breath test of our driver. (Here's the kicker...I was actually thinking "cool", perhaps people do drink here. I had been under the impression that this is a fairly dry county..so to speak..) Upon arrival, we schlepped my 49 pound bags up to the 5th (top) floor of the building. I took their lead and removed my shoes before we crossed the threshold. Although the stairwell was very dingy and dirty, everything looked ok inside the apartment, new carpets, new tile floors, recently cleaned. I was starting to feel a little more relaxed until Ishmael proudly showed me the bathroom....a hole in the floor...a real Turkish toilet....My heart dropped, the tears welled up in my eyes, and I tried my best to keep the flood gates closed. I felt both disappointed and ungrateful. I had anticipated a lot, but I obviously had not anticipated this...Istanbul has quite modern plumbing so I hadn't given bathrooms a second thought. We came to one more door only to be disappointed again. This room included hose with a shower nozzles (no shower) and bidet. At this point I could hardly see anything as the tears welled up in my eyes. This is going to be harder than I had thought. And here's what I still, as an American, don't understand..a bidet?...I would take a real toilet and stand up shower any day over a bidet...
Now for more realities, the appliances are new but the stove is not hooked up. There is no hot water. There is no internet. And, tomorrow begins a five day holiday for Ramadan so nothing will happen until next weekend.
On the plus side, Ishmael bought me some fruit and a 2 liter bottle of water so I can have breakfast. And, there is an internet cafe two blocks away where, after only five minutes I was able to find the pound key so I could actually enter a password.
Hopefully, things will look brighter in the morning....
PS If I can't use my own keyboard for the next few weeks, do NOT judge my spelling, punctuation, etc. because the Turkish keyboard is just very different for ours and I'm not going to even bother with caps.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Gate of Happiness

The last time I heard of the Ottoman Empire was in my high school world history class taught by Mr. Randolph who also happened to be one of the football coaches. The only things I remember about the Ottoman Empire were that it began sometime a long time ago, it ended sometime a long time ago, it took place far away, and the football team was supposed to memorize four new plays for the weekend's game. Mr. Randolph was good at sprinkling a few football plays on the daily history time lines because I'm guessing there wasn't a chalk board in the boy's locker room. Anyway, between a little general female, teenage attitude and general apathy towards football and the coach, I did not learn a lot of history.

So, today when I was reintroduced to the Ottoman Empire by visiting the Topaki Palace, the home of 36 sultans and 435 prime ministers who occupied the palace during a period of 400 years, I've formulated my two reasons as to why the empire ended. 1)I think it got too difficult to keep all those four wives, seven favored ones, and numerous "other women" happy and 2) It was difficult to find good help (When a prime minister was not doing his job, he was beheaded.) Of course, our guide told us that Ottoman Empire was on the wrong side of the war in WWI (sided with the Germans) and that a famous General named Ataturk came and rescued the day and formed a secular democracy with elections every four years thus ending the Ottoman Empire. And, at least I would be able to fill in a few blanks on a world history test.

And, in case you're interested, The Gate of Happiness really is the name for the archway into the 3rd inner court yard of this palace...probably so named by the sultans themselves. This palace certainly is beautiful and full of national treasures (the 86karat Spoon Maker's Diamond, 3rd largest in the world, plus a gold throne and a jewel studded dagger made famous in a 1950's era movie) I'm sure not everyone was necessarily "happy" inside that gate.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I made it safe and sound to Istanbul and have had more experiences in one 24 hour period than I can remember. I'm pretty excited. I slept most of the flight but did watch a Turkish movie subtitled in English about a search for a sultan's chest that supposedly had a map of oil fields in Turkey but when they found the chest, they didn't have to code to open the secret chest so they broke it open which, in turn, broke some vials of vinegar which erased the maps. I learned from the guy next to me that gas costs $12.00 per gallon so maybe the movie had a hidden message about some hidden oil fields..

After a great flight sitting next to a nice guy who taught me to pronounce the Turkish vowels and special consonants and how to conjugate one of the 42 verb tenses, I feel like I can at least pick out an occasional verb in a sentence. That can be very helpful. The drive into Istanbul had me dumbstruck. I was impressed by the modern roads, the modern architecture, the amount of construction, and the overall cleanliness of the city. I'm not sure what I had expected but it seems nicer than I'd anticipated. I'm staying in a boutique hotel in the Sultanahmet District near the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. After checking in, the bell hop walked me to Turk Cell to help me buy a sim card for my cell phone. Thank goodness he came along. I didn't understand a word either he or the sales person was saying, nor do I really have any idea was the cost is per minute, but at least I have a phone number for emergencies...at least while I'm in Istanbul. I'll need a new number for Malatya.

Later I walked around one of the pedestrian districts near my hotel to soak in the sights, sounds, crowds and noise. The sun was beginning to set and restaurants were filling up so I settled upon an open air cafe where I could eat my first meal and partake in my favorite pastime, people watching. The meal started with this delicious puffed up bread called pide which I dipped in olive oil. The main course was lamb kebabs with a yogurt dipping sauce, rice, tomatoes, cucumber, and french fries. It was so fun sittiing out watching people that I had to extend my stay at the restaurant with my first Turkish coffee, good but not sleep inducing. Tourists ran the gamut from scantily clad American backpackers to Saudi Arabian style black abayas and everything in between. One of the biggest differences during meal time was is the number of people who smoked a cigarette after their meal. It reminds me of Paris 20 years ago. Every table is even set with an ash tray.

After dinner, I walked towards the noise and crowds of people gathered at Sultanahmet Square in front of the Blue Mosque. Because it's Ramadan and the muezzin had just ended the day's fast, the square was filled with food vendors and local artisans similar to our county fairs. The square was packed with families enjoying picnics, grilled corn-on-the-cob, kabobs, ice cream, and this kind of ribbon candy that these guys made right in front of you. There were many different stages set up with music on traditional Turkish instruments... not sure of their names yet...By this time I was starting to feel jet lagged and a little lost. Thankfully, it only took me 45 minutes to find my hotel. Hopefully, tomorrow, I'll get my bearings a little better.

Every few minutes I have to pinch myself because I can't believe I'm actually here. But, the muezzin is calling prayers through the loud speakers so it definitely is real. I hope I can sleep...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Last night I dreamed that my family and I scampered up scaffold to board a cruise ship. After leaving port, the ship was caught in a tidal wave large enough to cause a 360 degree rotation thus giving us the opportunity to experience the weightlessness of spinning in the center of the cabin similar to the NASA Vomit Comet. While I was spinning I told everyone I loved them and that this was might be the end, and that we would meet in Heaven. A few minutes later the ship landed upright in a parking lot. The captain navigated the ship to a halt without hitting any parked cars. What a ride...

Last night was last my night at home. Tomorrow I embark on my journey...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Preparing my Computer for Turkey

I keep telling myself that I can survive anything for one year as long as I have some way to communicate with family and friends...email, IM, Facebook, Google Chat, Skype, etc. And, according to my contract, I will have internet in my apartment.

But then yesterday, I realized my computer has been taking minutes (sometimes up to five) to boot up, and the new "critical update" from Windows took over 8 hours to download. OK, so I'm not the quickest, brightest, sharpest middle-aged computer techie on the block, but something in the back of my mind told me that 8 hours was just a little long for an update, even though it was defined as "critical". It occurred to me that I might actually have some problems with my computer.

Now, I could have called my son or son-in-law for assistance, but I figured it was time for me to learn how to solve my own computer problems. So I packed up my laptop and power cord and drove to Best Buy. There, I talked to my very own "Geek" from the "Geek Squad". After defining my computer as being "slow" (not to be derogatory, but for lack of any better vocabulary to define the problem) I paid my Geek $99 defrag my computer and clean off my temporary files. Actually, it was embarrassing because I think my son could have done the same thing for free (or a cold beer). But for a mere $99 I got someone to actually show me how to defrag and clean (just the sound of those words makes me feel techier). So, I think I got my money's worth. Here's hoping my new found skills work in Turkey. If not, I hope they have a "Geek Squad"!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cleaning for Turkey

Just when I think there can't be another closet or cupboard to sift through I discover another cranny filled with "stuff". Sifting through this "stuff" is exhausting because most of it has memories attached. For example, today I found a handwritten birthday card from one of my children that says "Your the best mom in the whole world." (I forgive the spelling because the drawing is so cute...). Then, I dug a little deeper and found a three page letter that listed all the reasons we should get a dog and that I "will be" the nicest mom if I get this child a dog. Notice how the verb tenses have changed from simple present to simple future tense....Digging even deeper in the nightstand and I'm greeted with a tersely written note that reads "you just don't understand me mom. Everyone else gets to {you can fill in the blank}. You are being so mean!" ...yeah, possibly I was being mean but my child can use the present progressive tense and spell it correctly! I've had success.

Although today does not have a lot to do with Turkey other than the fact that I'm contemplating verb tenses and wondering how many of English's 12 verb tenses my Turkish students already know, and, for that matter, how many do my past students know and use correctly, today does illustrate the effort in packing up a house and moving. It's not just the physical packing, it's the memories: the laughter and the tears, the celebrations and the routines, the work and the play. It's hard work to sort through these memories so I came up with a logical solution. I read and kept random cards and notes and tossed random cards and notes in hopes that I've saved enough realia to keep the memories alive but tossed enough to meet the weight allowance for the movers.

Back to sorting....