Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy Christmas/New Year!

It's Christmas/New Year in Izmir and I feel a few pictures and comments are in order to help me explain how my family and I celebrated "Christmas" along with the Izmirian version of the Turkish New Year.

Lobby Decoration at the Hilton
The Christmas season officially began for me on the first weekend of December when I was in Istanbul at a student conference. We were at Uskudar American High School, an international school decked out with Christmas trees in all the buildings and an organ in their performance hall. I was fascinated by the number of Christmas trees decking the halls and the Christmas books lining the shelves of the library This is a Turkish School after all.

Additional Christmas cheer was added when I taught my 9th graders the "Twelve Days of Christmas." They were super enthusiastic and great participants in learning and singing this song on stage in front of the entire high school.

The arrival of Ellen and Eric signaled more happiness. Eric always comes loaded with good ideas and it was his suggestion that we find a Christmas dinner at a major hotel. The 31st floor of the Hilton for Christmas Eve dinner fit the bill. (Keep in mind,  December 25th is a normal work day here. So there were no activities on Christmas Day.) The view was stunning and the four course, 3 hour long meal was delicious.
Decorations at Bodrum fish restaurant

I was supposed to work on Christmas Day but thanks to one of our British teachers who had the nerve to ask if all the native speakers (I'm one of those..) we were granted a "day off." Of course, our Turkish counter parts had to cover our classes so treats and many thanks were in order, but I was so grateful to NOT be working. I'm not sure my emotions could have survived working on Christmas Day.

Festive red and green cheese plate
Sightseeing to Pergammon and Bergama, the site of one of the seven original churches of the ancient world and a magnificent well-preserved Roman City were our "presents" for the 25th. We ended the tour of historical sites at one of our favorite restaurants in Bostanli,  called Paprica, where the owner remembered it was Christmas and treated to a lovely appetizer with a candle to make it festive.

On Friday afternoon, the English department hosted the High School New Year's Party. My 9th graders sang and passed out 240 candy canes that Ellen had brought from the USA. Both the singing and the candy canes were big hits.

Konak New Year's Lights
Last night's outing to Konak brought the surprise of beautiful New Year's Lights illuminating the path along the Aegean Sea and the Clock Tower Square. It was spectacular.

Ali and Ellen in front of the Virgin Mary's House
Today's trip to Ephesus followed by a visit to the Virgin Mary's House which was decorated in olive greens, poinsettias, and an elaborate nativity scene was also "Christmas" festive. In case you're wondering, the Virgin Mary's House is supposedly the place where she spent the end of her life. It may or may not be true, but the fact remains that the three of us felt a peacefulness and presence there.

Tonight  as I dropped Ellen and her friend off at the mall and could only find a parking place 2 blocks away, I was reminded of the frantic last hours of Christmas shopping. Not all, but many people in Izmir exchange gifts on New Year Day and, because Monday is a work day, that leaves this weekend for shopping. Life-sized singing toy Santas with their hips shaking and their bellies jiggling were greeting shoppers at numerous store fronts. Toy stores were filled to the brim with games, stuffed animals, and candy. Grocery shoppers were greeted with bins filled with lacy red panties, rows of Lindt chocolate and an Absolute Vodka display promising a free pink, blown glass, music box Christmas tree for purchases of extra large holiday cheer.

There are a couple of things I don't understand about Christmas in Turkey:
1) Santa - they have displays but I don't think the kids write letters, hang stockings, or understand the difference between naughty and nice. They can however buy little Santa suits and dress up like Santa....kind of like a Halloween costume.
Hotel Lobby in Bodrum

 2) Christmas trees - They have them everywhere and they call them "Christmas trees" but I don't think they associate Christmas with Christ...although they do believe Jesus was a prophet like Mohammed...just not the last or most important prophet.
3) Their love of Christmas music, secular and religious. Michael Bubble's Christmas album (Thank God they have good taste) has been playing in the hallway of our school every day for the past two weeks.

4) Wrapping Paper or Gift boxes - or the lack thereof..I cant' find any anywhere...

So as I sit here reflecting on the past week of Christmas, sure I had to work 4 out of 5 days. Yes, I miss my family terribly. No, it's not the same as Christmas in America. But, yes, I can say I survived, with most emotions in tact and with the balance on the scale tipping towards the positive.
Christmas Breakfast

Friday, December 21, 2012

Finding Christmas Spirit

Volumes have been written about  the excited-for Christmas expectations not meeting the reality-based Christmas actualities. So far this year is a poster year for anticipated vs. actual including, but not limited to, travel-preventing snowboarding accidents and travel-delaying absence of airplanes. Add to those problems the idea of working in a country that does not celebrate the Christmas I've grown up with or honor the traditional one-week "holiday" between Christmas and New Years and it takes some extra effort to stay "jolly."

I've been trying to keep my spirits up including exercise, eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and looking for  Christmas cheer in different places. Someday it's hard to find but today it showed up in a very unexpected 9th grade class. Here's the background...

About two weeks ago our department head informed us that the English department plans a New Year's party for all the high school students. This includes some songs and games, Santa Claus, a Christmas tree (yep, they call it that), and gifts... I'm not sure about food. Anyway, I volunteered to get a group of students together to sing a song (easy and appropriate considering my experience in the States..) Anyway, I  thought I could teach the 12 Days of Christmas and we could even use the song for an English lesson where students could write their own modern version....But, then I got nervous..I've been teaching young students and I wasn't sure if the older ones would want to stand on the stage, wave silly posters around, and...even more importantly...sing.. We'd had a "run-though" in class and it went OK. Most everyone either sang or pretended to sing. And, like most students, they seemed pretty willing (eager is more like it) to take a class period, head to the performance hall and practice.

Upon arrival on the stage -  my first time there - we were greeted with not one, not two, but probably 9 live microphones. Once I saw the students fighting to be "live" and be "heard", I knew there would be no problem. Most of them are "hams" (interesting pun that popped into my head) O I knew there would be no problem.

I would also thrilled to see a real piano! I had planned on accapello but the sight of a piano was another Christmas present. Thank goodness playing the 12 Days of Christmas is like riding a bicycle. Practice is not necessary. Anyway,  I gave a loud, peppy introduction and the students launched into the song. They were amazing...their loud, joyful, silly, English-with-Turkish-accent voices filled the concert hall...and they gave so much "spirit" and "joy" to a tradition that is not even part of their "culture" that I almost forgot where I was. We had a blast and I was filled with Christmas spirit.

By the way, these students also wrote some great lyrics with their friends. One of the funniest, albeit inappropriate, was the group who wrote On the of Christmas my principal gave to me...and then they listed all the things they can't have at school including: shots of tequila  make-up, painted nails, short skirts, and no homework.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Man on the Ferry

Making myself visible to automobiles by wearing a bright yellow reflective bicycle jacket has its pros and cons. For the positive I think drivers see me better than when I'm dressed all in black. On the flip side, the strangeness of a female dressed in neon yellow and carrying a mountain bike onto the ferry empowers total strangers to strike up a conversation.
Today I met a gentleman probably age or older. He asked me a question about my bike in Turkish and when I replied in Turkish that I don't understand he was not discouraged. He smiled, shortened his sentences, spoke more slowly, and kept at it, trying to converse with a yabanci (foreigner). The conversation was so pleasant. It's common for the Turkish to ask"how much?" "Where did you buy it?" "where are you from,"etc. So, I'm honest and don't bat an eye even though we don't generally talk so freely about money. I'm frustrated with myself because my vocabulary is so lacking. But we managed.

As the ferry pulled away from the port, he pulled out his cell phone and called his daughter in Istanbul. I was eavesdropping (my listening far exceeds my speaking) and I'm pretty sure the conversation went something like this:
"Hi honey. How are you? how's it going? I've met an American. I thought you might like to talk to her."

"Hi dad, I'm fine. What am I supposed to say to her?"

"Well, you could say 'hello.' "

(he passed the phone to me)

So we said hello. And it actually turned out quite well. She lived in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York so her English is quite good. I told her she has a very nice, friendly dad. She agreed that he's never met a stranger (I hope my kids are reading this...Im pretty normal ) Anyway, I've got a name and phone number for a new fried in Istanbul, and I'm once again reminded of the joy in making personal, human connections wherever I am.
The neon yellow attention grabber.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Record Week

To say that Turkish students take a lot of exams would be an understatement. They take exams to test the previous exam questions which may have been about topics that had just been introduced on the exam.  And, someone's got to write these exams which takes a lot of time. Now, I've never been a really quick exam writer. As a matter of fact, I'm so aware of the impact of bad questions on the outcome of test results, that I agonize over test questions and the relevance of what I'm actually testing. I also figure if a student is going to spend a lot of time taking tests, maybe the least I can do is find relevant and current reading and listening topics so perhaps they will glean something from the actual test itself. I can spend several hours just trying to find "good" reading samples and write "good" questions. And, that's only one part of the test. But this week, I had to throw away my idealism and desire to write an interesting test...a good test...a relevant test..a test on material we had actually taught...and just produce..So produce I did.

I am proud to say that I have written eight exams since Wednesday. (I have to keep changing the vocabulary because I used the word "test" in America,  but the students here only understand the word "exam".) Eights exams...Think about that. Five of the exams are three-hour long exams  and one is a one-hour exam. There are 18 students in each class and there are 5 classes. Therefore,  I will keep 90 students busy for 4 hours each this week.  That's 360 hour of testing. In addition, since the exams have to be proctored, I will give 15 teachers an extra prep period (or two)  where they are not responsible for plans or work. 

With the sheer quantity of tests I had to write,  I had to forgo my idealism and quit looking for current topics online. I took my supervisor's advice and just copied reading passages from old textbooks. ("Why create anything new? It's not possible," she urged.) However, I still have my standards. I drew the line at any articles that used the word "gay" as in "merry" or  "happy". And, I did a quick skim for dates and numbers that would be so "dated" as to be almost ludicrous. For example, to say that the population is going to reach 270 million by 1982 is just too close to the actual "Weekly Reader" numbers I had to memorize as a kid so it might be confusing.

All in all, it's been a productive week..I've met my deadline  thanks to two classes being off campus yesterday giving me an extra 4 hours of planning time. Plus, now I've got lesson plans for the beginning of next week... teaching some of the things that we actually put on the exam....

Time for beer and pizza...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crises: Real or Imagined

(Note, any references to real US security events are purely coincidental..this is fiction...)

All Model United Nations advisers including me had been briefed Sunday morning that the student leadership for the conference had planned a "crisis" that would involve an emergency Security Council meeting and would then move into the General Assembly where all the delegates (students) and me and most of the advisers although some had made a trip to Starbucks, had just started watching a short video briefing of the student created "crisis".

Imaginary "crisis" mode started like this:

"We've just learned that China has "accidentally" bombed some imaginary island in the Pacific Ocean,  Hilary Clinton is dead, and Robert Downey, Jr. has just been named the new Secretary of State. The ambassadors of Japan, China, the United States,  North Korea and the Security Council have been called to a special session to "solve this crisis."


Real crisis mode started like this:

My cell phone buzzed announcing a Viber (free call using wifi) call from our son. Trying to be respectful of the "no talking on cell phones" rule, I texted him back and asked he needed to talk because I was in a "conference." He texted in reply, "Um, Well I'll let you decide....accident...snowboarding...kind of broke my back..."

I leaped over five pairs of legs, tripped in the aisle, and raced to the auditorium's entryway. With my  pulse racing and my mind jumping to the worst possible scenario, I called him right back....yes, a crisis, yes, broken bones in his back, no, not spinal cord injury.

Back to imaginary "crisis":

The US asked China for a public apology for bombing the "wrong" island. (Is this the foreign students' view of American diplomatic relations or youthful idealism?")

Back to real crisis:
We are saying a million prayers of thanks. (Seriously...Thank God.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Club advisor

I'm sitting on a comfy bed in a brand spanking new Holiday Inn Express in a suburb of Istanbul, üskülar, I think. I'm an advisor for a MUN club (Model United Nations )and our team is here along with schools from all over Europe and the Middle East participating in a mock United Nations assembly
My job is very easy so far. My co-teacher is the real leader so I just tag along and make sure i get to the meeting place on time and go where she tells me.
My first duty today was to attend the opening assembly followed by the advisors' cocktail party complete with wine and appetizers in the school library. At the meet and greet we were assured that the techie man would give us the wifi password for our iPhones and laptops tomorrow morning so we'll be free the surf the net at leisure. Other than that, we're pretty free to relax. I like this job already.
I have mixed feelings about this club. The research, public speaking, and debate skills this club develops are great. But the resolution topics seem a biased against democracy and capitalism. It will be interesting to see how it plays out these next few days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Movie Reviews

Today I asked some students to write a journal response to the quote, "Drama is life with the dull bits cut out." This seems like a pretty easy reflection and I have bright enough 11th grade students to tackle this type of creative thinking, but there are a couple of problems for non native speakers. The first is the word "drama" which I helped them define as films, television shows, and theater. I won't even begin to peel away the layers for other meanings of "drama" and the idea of a metaphor. The second problem is "dull bits" which is fairly synonymous with "boring/uninteresting parts" There were still lots of blank stares (not all...some really got it...) so I wrote a brief paragraph stating basically that I agree with the quote and used the example of James Bond 007 "Skyfall" and made up some BS response that I learned about the life of a spy, M16, some interesting deserted islands, etc. without the boredom of watching James do paperwork and all the slow parts of life in between. In other words, drama is very exciting life.

Well, my brief paragraph led to a discussion of "Skyfall". Because I liked the movie so much, and because there was nothing else playing, I saw the movie twice. I love the setting in Istanbul, the crazy bad guy, and the fact the James does not take the easy way out and retire, but rather comes back and uses his skills, experience, and talent to save the world...well M16 at least. As a matter of fact, I thought everyone liked this film. But, I was mistaken. My students did not like "Skyfall" or at least the scenes in Turkey. They were irritated that the film only showed the old parts of Turkey; the covered women, the old bazaars, the dusty streets, the donkeys and old motorcycles. They felt the movie showed only the less-developed parts of Turkey. They are tired of being asked by foreigners if they ride camels. They thought it was very unfair that all the new, shiny parts of  China were shown. They want the world to know they, too, are developed and modern. (Hence, the idea for this blog and this public service announce that parts of Turkey are developed and modern.You should come and visit...)

So, then I asked them what movie they would recommend. The answer from both the boys and the girls was "Twilight....." (whatever the third one is called) I asked "why" and they responded because it's "good." (Note to self...vocabulary lesson is necessary.) At this point the bell rang for lunch. With a smile on my face and the good fortune of finding my male co-teachers at a table, I grabbed a seat and gave a quick summary of the movie reviews from my class. Like me, they had only made note of the setting for "Skyfall" because we could secretly think "I've been there!" As a matter of fact, one teacher thought he would see the movie again just so he could see the scarves...he didn't even remember them. And, like me, my colleagues were more than amused to hear about "Twilight." Think American style guffaws that echoed across the very large dining hall. We were trying to think of one time when a boy would willing go to "Twilight" in the States, and we both agreed that it would only happen if his girl friend had a noose around his neck.

This brings me back to my original quote, "Drama is life...."

Saturday, December 1, 2012


It's the last Friday of a very long month and it's payday. I generally like paydays especially after a very long month (short in days but long in hours and work time) because it's a small reminder of one reason we work. But, today's payday was a reminder that I haven't solved my inability to access the bank account in which my school direct deposits my salary, so it's like getting paid but not really because I don't have access to my money.
So after five calls to the telephone banking center, squeezing back tears of frustration and trying to convince them of the correct spelling of my mother's maiden name where each call meant I got an new operator (an"e" in English sounds like an "i" in Turkish) I finally got a password to try internet banking. Then after numerous attempts to log-on to the internet where each log-on meant a new password plus a new temporary password  (they like passwords over is never enough) sent by text to my cell phone, I was finally able to locate, hidden at the very bottom of the web page in size 5 font the "continuance"  button (Google translate has confused the verb "continue" with the noun "continuance") which finally took me to internet banking.

From the bank web site, (keep in mind it's mostly in Turkish)  I think I was able to pay a bill to my landlord for December's rent. (I guess I'll get a late notice if I didn't.) I also think I was able to ascertain that my bank card has been sitting on a manager's desk at my school since October. Knowing that a bank card has been sitting there for over a month, even after I asked a Turkish teacher to call the manager last week to "see" if the card had arrived, really irks me. But, it's also a reminder that communication is still not 100% effective and I can never be totally sure that my requests are understood or translated properly...

There is a golden lining to my Friday meltdown. The last banking phone operator I spoke with understood that I was upset and calmly asked me to send her a screen shot of the web page problem. Then, she called me back with further information about 5 minutes later. She was a gem!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Apartment Manager's Request

My apartment manager wanted me to write an article for a local quarterly magazine. He's trying to promote biking, health and fitness. Once the article is translated into Turkish, I'll never know what it really sounds like, but I was super conscious of the phrasal verbs and idiomatic phrases while writing's kind of bland...

Would you please tell us something about yourself?
My name is Penny Jansen. I'm from Colorado, in the United States. I'm 52 years old and I've been biking for 37 of those years. I love freedom I get from biking: the feeling of the wind in my hair, the scenery passing by, and the adrenalin.

Why did you choose Izmir? Are you happy to live in this city?
I moved to Izmir in June. I'd been living in Malatya, Turkey and it was time for a change.  I came here for a job interview and the hotel where I was staying had bicycles for guests to use.  After taking a bike on the seaside bike path, I knew this was the city for me. I love it here: the climate, the healthy living, the food, the people. It's great.

What was my first impression of Turkey? As the years passed by did it change?
I moved to Turkey in August 2011. My husband is working in Saudi Arabia and our children are grown, so he suggested I join him overseas as an English teacher. (I am actually an English teacher in the United States as well.) After researching jobs and countries I decided I would be very unhappy in Saudi Arabia because of the lack of freedom for women. We both agreed that Turkey would make a nice "meeting point." I landed in Istanbul in August of 2012 and spent 3 glorious days exploring the city. I love the blend of ancient history and customs with modern architecture and pace. The city is alive and vibrant. I was so excited about our decision to come to Turkey. Then, I flew to Malatya, Turkey, the location of my first teaching job. I have to admit that I went through tremendous culture shock, not only from the lack of modern conveniences, but also from what felt like lack some lack of freedom. As much as I liked the people I met and my colleagues at school, there was not a social life for me.
 After my first month in town, I bought an inexpensive bicycle ( a girl's bicycle because the shop owner would not sell me a man's bicycle) to get around. I used this bicycle for about 6 months but it was too small and very uncomfortable.
One lucky day in March, a young man of about 24 years old  saw me riding and invited me to join a bicycle group that took rides around Malatya every weekend.  This young man even spoke a bit of English, which was not so common in Malatya. I showed up the following Saturday and the rest is history. I bought a performance bicycle from a new shop in Malatya. I then bought a second bicycle from a young man who was headed off to university in Bosnia so my husband could ride. I brought both of those bicycles with me to Izmir.
 When did I start to bicycle?
My brother taught me how to ride when I was 5 years old. I used to ride to the grocery store and the ice cream shop for fun. When I was 16 years old, I saved all my money from my first summer job to buy a 10 speed bicycle. My dad thought I was crazy because I was old enough to drive a car and he thought I was wasting my money. But, I put over 7000 kilometers on that first 10 speed. I've ridden thousands of  kilometers ever since.
After I married my husband Eric, we started riding bicycles together. We used to load up our bikes with camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, food) and ride 120 or more kilometers up to the mountains to camp and then ride home the next day. We even biked to the Grand Canyon.
When our first daughter  was born, we replaced the panniers (racks for holding gear) with a child's seat for the bicycle. As soon as she could hold up her head, we strapped her into the seat and continued our rides. With the arrival of our next two children, we had to shorten our rides a little, but we were able to find safe bike paths and continue our journeys. Because of my husband's work we have lived in many places in the United States so our family has biked around the monuments in Washington, DC, down 5th Avenue and Broadway in New York City, across the San Juan Islands in Washington State and Canada, and around Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
We know you have been to many countries. What is it like to be a world citizen? What benefits did you get? Does it help your personality?
Traveling to many countries has helped me to understand both the similarities and differences of people and cultures. In Turkey I love the hospitality and friendliness of the people and their ability to chat for hours with friends. I hope I can keep the friendliness as a part of my personality. Living in Turkey has also required a lot of patience, something I'm not so good at. I'm still working on the virtue of patience.
Have I biked in other countries? Which country is best for bikers?
I've biked in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, France, England and Turkey. Of those countries, I would say the Netherlands is the best for bikers. There are bike lanes, traffic lights, and respect from both pedestrians and cars in this country. Parts of the US are also very biker friendly. Turkey is probably at the bottom of my list but bike clubs and progressive cities like Izmir are making positive changes towards the accessibility of and respect for biking. Adding bicycle lanes and paths, angling curbs, removing pot holes and hazards from the roads are all improvements. By providing free bicycles for use, the City of Izmir is encouraging a whole new generation of riders who will want better biking for everyone.
What is it like to be a woman biker in Turkey?
I think the attitudes towards female bikers  changes a great deal by regions in Turkey. For example, it is much easier to be a female biker in Izmir than in Malatya. But in both places I hope I'm a positive role model for women. My students, both male and female, see me riding to school and at first they can't believe it's possible. But, when they see how much I enjoy it and how much freedom it gives me, I think they are curious to give biking a try.
 There are some misconceptions about female bikers. For example, I've had women think they their hips will get fat from riding. Sure, their thighs might get more muscles and be more toned and firm but the exercise from biking will also help keep them fit.
What do you think about the Turkish driver's attitudes against bikers?
I think education and mutual respect is the key for drivers and bikers. I don't think any car driver wants to intentionally hit a bike rider. On the flip side, I think bike riders need to keep in mind that we are difficult to see. Designated bike lanes painted on the streets, bike paths, reflective clothing, and educated bike riders who ride in single file lines can all improve the safety of biking. I am just as annoyed by car drivers who pass too closely, drive on the shoulder, and honk at me right when they are next to  me as I am with bike riders who ride 2 or more abreast, zig zag in and out among traffic, and try to take up a whole lane on the road.
I have witnessed both very courteous and very rude drivers in Turkey and I have found knowledgeable and ignorant bike riders as well who tempt fate with stupid bike moves.
Drivers in Turkey are generally much more aggressive and less mindful of traffic laws than in America. I still have trouble walking across the street and I have to be very careful when I rent a car because I'm never sure the other drivers will obey signals or laws. So, I think the driving issue is bigger than just respect for bikers.
Do I follow a specific training program?
At the present time, I don't have a training program. I just have a goal to get some exercise five days per week of at least 40 minutes per day. My exercise can include biking, jogging, hiking and tennis. When I train for a race like a 10K or marathon, I add in strength training and stretching. For me, variety is the key and I like to do many different things.
What advice do I have for new bike beginners?
I encourage anyone interested in biking to give it a try. It's so fun and such a good way to meet people, get exercise, and travel. I recommend that you first start out riding in safe places so you can practice using your brakes, changing gears and getting your body used to exercise. Wear a helmut! Put a bell and reflectors on your bike so you can be seen and heard. Biking around the path here in Soyak is a great place to start. Once you have a feel for your bike, head to  bike path by the sea. There are even free bicycles provided by the City of Izmir at a stand near Jasemin Cafe where you can try out biking for a couple of hours. Izmir is great place to start biking and the bike trails make it safer than starting on the road.  
There are also many bike clubs in Izmir. I often join Ege Pedal here in Karsyika for rides. They have riders of all abilities and can be very helpful teaching you to change flat tires, adjust gears, and suggest bike shops.
Do I have advice for a certain routes?
There are many great routes near our neighborhood. You can head towards the seaside near Ege Park. For beginners, I would turn right on the trail and head north. There is less pedestrian and bike traffic and the trail is smooth with very few obstacles.  You can bike for 20 kilometers and end at the Bird Paradise. There you can have a snack and sip some tea. If you have energy, you can bike another 30 kilometers around the Bird Paradise and enjoy the pink flamingos. Once your are really confident, you can continue on your ride to Foca and cool off with a dip in the sea.
Another good option for beginners is to turn left or south on the bike trail and bike to Bostanli or Karsyika.There are lots of places to stop and get a drink, eat some food, or visit with friends. As you get more comfortable on your bike you can hop on the Uskelere Ferry. From there you can bike to Inceralta on a bike path and then continue on nice country roads to, Narlidere, Urla, or even Cesme.
What do I think about Turkish people's attitudes on sports?
I'm not sure I know understand all the Turkish attitudes about sports. I see more and more students participating in sports  lessons like tennis, swimming, and biking. But, I also see tremendous pressure on students to take tests, attend after school tutoring,  and take weekend dershanes.. Many students have told me they have given up their sports activities so they have more time to study. I think this lack of exercise will eventually be a large burden on the Turkish society because of decreases in health, increases in medical costs for unfit adults, and increases in the students with the inability to concentrate in the classroom because their body is craving physical activity. I actually find that I concentrate more and work more efficiently after I've had some exercise.
We know that your job is teaching. Comparing your country what can you say about the teaching programs of the school in Turkey. Are they intense, hard, and easy?
I 'm not sure what you mean about the teaching" programs" in Turkey, either university course work or the actual job of teaching. I can't comment on the Turkish University system because I have no experience with it. Regarding my job, the Turkish school system is so different from the American system that I'm just trying to do the best I can within the Turkish testing structure and bring lots of English, joy and love of life into the classroom. I want students to feel confident speaking English. I'm not concerned about the small grammatical mistakes. I'm more interested in the art of conversation and getting to know and understand people. I hope I can make people feel comfortable conversing in English. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Portraits and the Pera Museum

Today I visited my first art museum in Istanbul, the Pera Museum. It currently houses an exhibit of childrens' portraits from the14th, 15th and 16th centuries. Most of the portraits are European: Italian, Spanish, English, Northern Germany, etc. Of course, most of the children were royalty because, let's face it. Who else could afford to hire an artist?
I loved this exhibit because it really got my imagination going. For example some of the little boys were holding whips so they could whip their toy horses. From the expressions on their faces I'm guessing they tested their whips out on other things too. Their faces has the mischievous grins of rambunctious boys who fear no reprisal or discipline. Of course their little silk ballet slippers and sashes on their knickers would give most boys cause to want to whip something.
Many of the girls held little baskets of fruit, especially cherries. The symbolism is just what you would think , purity and virtue. Their portraits were then shipped to lands far, far and away to arrange marriages and allies between two countries. Some of the painters took artistic license to make the girls more beautiful than they actually were. Even with paint and artistic license , some of these girls could stop a ten day clock. Although perhaps they did eventually turn into swans, some of the countries may have been better off to forego the alliances in order to have cuter offspring.
In Several paintings, children held silver rattles with a boars tusk fixed to one end. Gnawing on the boar's tusk was supposed to help with teething. We probably don't use these toys today because 1) the cost of silver is too high 2) the boar's tusk could poke out an eye or make a 2 inch deep gash, and 3) boars might be an endangered species. But in those days one of these rattles was a real indication of power and wealth.
I especially enjoyed seeing Queen Isabella of Spain before she was actually queen. She was a rather pretty preteen looking askance at the future king Charles who was hanging on the opposite wall. Charles was a rather skinny, scrawny looking middle school boy oblivious to Isabella's advances that I imagine went something like this, " hey Charles! When we grow up you're going to marry me and were going to get your friend Columbus to discover a new country called America. What do you think of that?" And Charles replied something like this, "Huh? " while riding his toy horses and giving it an occasional whack with his whip.
Ok, so now before you think I've gone bonkers with my imagination, I want to assure you that I loved this exhibit. It made me smile and think.
On a side note, the Pera Cafe houses a piano that has traveled across many lands and seas. It's story was the inspiration for the book and later movie calked "The Piano" which I've seen and enjoyed.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

London Escape

This is less of a blog post and more of a brief travel diary for my records. I prefaced my trip to London with a read of "Elizabeth the Queen" which I loved. It put me in the mood for the location and the history.

4:00 pm arrived at flat
Go for walk around South kensington Hyde Park, Knightsbridge
Dinner at pub. Beer and fish and chips
In bed by 8 pm jet lag from America
Slept 12 hours!
Toured the Tower of London. Much cooler than I'd anticipated. Loved the crown jewels
Toured the TowerBbridge
Walked to St. Paul's
Walked to Westminster Abbey. Attended an evensong service. Beautiful.
Dinner in Notting Hill at a pub. Bed early again. Slept another 10 hours.
Rode train to Windsor Castle. Also fantastic. I couldn't believe what good shape this castle is in and the fact that it's still used..The Queen considers this her home. Rode train back to London. Stopped at the Churchill War Rooms. Very interesting! Toured a reconstruction of  Globe Theater. Took a cursory tour through the Tate Modern Museum.
Walked to the Eye of London. Didn't want to spend 28 pounds to ride it. But thought about James Bond jumping from car to car.
Walked to Leicester Square. Ate Italian food. Saw movie "Untouchable. " Fantastic film!
Bed at midnight after a really good day.
Used the Barclays bicycles for transport. Biked through all the parks and along the Thames to Chelsea. Saw historical fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Ate dinner with Jay
Saw play "The 39 Steps"
Had a nice run in Hyde park.
Ate a delicious breakfast and read "The London Times".
Spent 2 hours in the Victoria and Albert museum - want to go back.
Flew back to Izmir

It was especially difficult to come back..I loved the lines, the order, the cleanliness, and even the food...and I never thought I'd say that about British food...

Saturday at Carrefour

Shopping on a Saturday at Carrefour is like shopping at Walmart on Black Friday. It's crowded. People are shoving and pushing. There is a shortage of carts. And the line for anything that requires customer service is about 10 deep. I would choose other stores at different days and times, but because I don't have a car and I don't get home before 6 on most evenings, that leaves me and the other 10,000 people in my neighborhood (I'm not exaggerating here on the number, that's really how big this neighborhood of high rise apartments is...) visiting Carrefour on a Saturday afternoon.

Everything about today's trip, however, was especially annoying. Here's the run down:
1. It took three tries to find a cart that would accept my lira and actually release it from the pack.
2. While waiting in line for my fish to be weighed, someone took my cart. It was filled with those little items that have been on my list for several weeks, tricky things to find like shampoo without built-in conditioner and a nail file, and I was dreading another trip across the "Super Walmart" type store to find them.  I know for a fact I took the last nail file.
3. Regarding #2 - I shouldn't even call it waiting in line because there aren't lines here in Turkey. It's more like watching people not even notice that I exist and have been holding my fish up to the scale for over 10 minutes and then jump in front of me totally unaware and get served...actually it's the total lack of awareness of other people in general that is getting on my nerves...
4. The fish monger pretend not to understand when I asked him to filet (fileto) my fish..probably because mine was a lone bugger and everyone else was buying now I get to use my sorry excuse of a Turkish knife and try to filet (fileto) the dang thing at home...
5. I watched a lady check loaves of fresh bakery bread by pulling each loaf completely out of the paper wrapper and then squeezing the loaf at the bottom to make sure it was crusty enough..I watched her check at least three loaves this way and then put them back.  I guess none met her specifications. At that point, none met mine either but for different reasons.
6. I was rammed from behind by an errant boy (most of them are...errant, that is...) In all fairness, his mom did try to apologize for him but by then said youngster was on to ramming the next person.
7. The lady behind me in the check out line, before I had even  been told the final amount, jumped up to be next to me totally invading my personal space, hovering over my wallet and standing between me and the checker. She then proceeded to bag my remaining 3 items. Then she asked if those items were mine. (What the @#$%!.... I had so many snide replies floating through my head at this point, but they were in English and totally ineffective so I tried to give my "Are you really this stupid or were you born this way?" kind of look.) I don't know, maybe she was trying to be helpful.
8. Then I got home...and then isn't related to the store but it is kind of...because the washing machine was still running. I'd purposely started in before I left for the store but I guess 2 hours is not enough time to complete the task.

So it's Saturday afternoon and I'm thinking about the concept by Jimmy Buffet..."It's 5 o'clock somewhere."....

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turkish Independence and Tennis Fundraiser

Last night I had the unique opportunity to attend a cocktail hour at the large tennis center in the culture park in Izmir's city center. It was a last minute invite by a neighbor whom I'd only just met in passing, but who remembered that I was interested in getting involved in the tennis community. I was imagining a small gathering of a few tennis women sipping cocktails in their tennis clothes after playing a few matches and I enthusiastically accepted her invitation.

Nothing had prepared me for the size and mixture of the crowd, the patriotic decorations, center court nestled in an amphitheater with 100's of chairs surrounding the court, the quantity and quality of food, and the live music greeting me when I arrived. Luckily I had come straight from work wearing a dress and heels albeit wearing my purple backpack. This was a "posh" event. I wasn't even sure I could recognize the woman who had invited me, but luckily, as I was scanning the crowd, she turned her head at the same time and recognized me. She immediately invited me to join her group and proceeded to introduce me to an American woman who has been living here in Izmir with her American husband for 23 years. Feeling a little bit sad myself after having just returned from the States and England, I was intrigued about "why and how" this couple (my age, I think) could have lived here for so long. But, that story is later...

I was eager to chat with the American woman and see if I could set up a tennis match. She asked where I played and we exchanged phone numbers and then she excused herself because she "needed to mingle". Those words should have been my first clue, but I dismissed them and rejoined the discussion with my neighbor. We were sipping red wine, eating light snacks, and watching the men's final match of the Independence Day Tennis Tournament. Competitive tennis matches share similarities no matter what country. One player was definitely more aggressive, high strung, and showy. I witnessed some new Turkish profanity delivered complete with spit flying from his mouth. The other player was more defensive but like a backboard, getting everything back. He was annoying to "aggressive man" but highly entertaining to the crowd for obvious reasons.

In the middle of the match, the microphones began...and just in case you haven't read my blogs for the past year...Turkish microphones are generally turned up as loud as they can go, generally just at the "feedback" stage. The crowd of several hundred people quit watching the match and turned their attention to the stage. I can't imagine this kind noise and distraction at a USTA match of which this tournament was probably the same caliber of competitiveness. But, the contrast between competitive and social is one of the things that made this such an interesting experience.

After a long list of "thank you's" by the announcer,  the crowd was introduced to several VIP's like the city Mayor. Next was a fashion show of woman dressed like they were from the 1920's in beautiful long dresses, with "flapper hair" and carrying picnic baskets. I think the fashion show was a fundraiser for the disabled tennis program but the crowd had not been told "what to do" and this was a new type of fundraiser for them. After the matches were finished big, tall trophies were awarded to the winners of the tennis tournament. I know all of this because I was standing next to the American husband and he was explaining.

Now, back to the American couple....It turns out she is a really good tennis player (she won the over 35 women's division in the tournament)....she's way above my level I think..(I was learning all of this from her husband so I was now feeling pretty stupid) ...She was a college basketball player, I think at UCLA, way back when Title 9 had just started. She is the National Team Coach for the Turkish disabled tennis program. (One of the team's female players is #2 or 3 in the world.) He is a emergency room doctor and was brought to Turkey years ago to start the EMT program and train doctors in emergency medicine. Needless to say..they are very interesting people.

As the night progressed and the wine kept coming, I got to know my neighbor better. She works for Slovakian/Polish consulate here in town. She's also really nice and my age. Bingo...I've wanted a friend my age since I arrived in Turkey. The consulate's primary responsibilities are social and cultural events. So I was able to snag an invite to the symphony orchestra this Friday night featuring a Polish pianist...(I know this is a stereotype but based on the movie "The Pianist", Polish piano players are good!) I'm so excited. I just hope I can have something appropriate to wear...

The program concluded with a fantastic live band singing and playing some great jazz and Frank Sinatra type songs intermingled with the Izmir Turkish National Anthem march which the crowd sang while waving little Turkish Flags. (Playing this song and singing it is important statement of freedom,I think, because there were some problems on the 29th of October, the actual Independence Day when the riot police attacked a crowd and prohibited a march/gathering in Ankara because it wasn't the "official" march by the more conservative party.)

Anyway, the night was a fun experience...I made a new friend. I'm thinking of a way to suggest a tennis match with this good player...maybe a donation to the disabled team...and I've got a classical music concert to attend. OK, I think I can hang on here in Turkey a little longer.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I'm in London on a short holiday. There are many things comforting about being in an English speaking country including forming proper lines, respecting my rather large space bubble, being able to ask directions without fear of misunderstanding, and riding a subway with the computer announcements actually matching the stop they announce. (you can never trust the announcer in Izmir)
But the one experience today that reminded me I'm not in Turkey was the stumbling, by chance, onto an Evensong service at Westminster Abbey this afternoon.
An Evensong service at the end of the day is a perfect way to unwind, find peace, and relax. Today was no exception. The organist and the all-male choir ( how did that 60 year old man sing soprano?) sang words I understood with tunes I found pleasing and beautiful. And one of the readings struck a chord "Be dependent upon nobody." That one line signified the biggest cultural difference between me in England or the US and me in Turkey. Here I am independent In Turkey I seek independence by making my own plans, riding my bicycle, etc. But I really am dependent upon others for their help, especially with language. So I always have inner turmoil. At least tonight I am at peace.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I Love About Teaching

One of the perks of my job is that I get to be one of the advisors for a club called Model United Nations (MUN). What's even better is that I am not in charge so I don't have to worry about travel reservations, lesson plans, etc. I think I'm there because I speak, read, and write pretty good English.
So yesterday evening I worked one-on-one with a student to research his topic "cyber security and personal privacy". Not only did I get excited when we were able to find good information, I marveled at him conducting research, writing and delivering speeches in English, not his native language. I'm not sure I could do it.
I like working with students in a smaller setting without the distractions of behavior. I like learning about new topics and trying to be impartial and using questions to help students analyze different viewpoints. Helping unlock doors is what I like about teaching.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

6 Week Check-Up

I don't know if I'm getting old, or if the work processes are really inefficient, ridiculous, redundant, or all/none of the above, but things are taking SO much time that I feel like my teaching is getting worse while I try to learn and meet the job requirements.
Here are some metrics:
1. It's taking me 15-30 minutes per class to enter assignments onto the school web site, longer if I have to upload any Power Points that were used in class. I have 7 different classes but the most that I have on a given day is 4 so after a long day at work, I have to remember to come home, log into the school website and upload documents that, oh, by they way, have to be saved as PDFs. 1-2 hours
2. Each class is supposed to be taught with Power Point presentations. I'm getting faster at these but if I want to add any images then I get sucked into searching images on the computer and may get sidetracked. So, plan on 1 or more hours per day per Power Point.
3. Most of the classes scan the text books onto Power Point slides so when we are reading the text book, lazy learners don't have to remember their text book, listen to page numbers, or learn to follow along in a book. They can just "watch" the show. (scanning text gets so boring that I have to force myself to do this.)
4. Create extra materials: gap fills, pop quizzes, graphic organizers, etc. 1-2 hours per class, every few days...
FYI - All the computer commands are in "Turkish" so I'm trying to memorize key strokes when I work at home, but I'm amazed how much I rely on words. (My male counterpart uses icons so he doesn't struggle quite so much)
Here are some of my mental struggles with the job requirements:
1. These teacher tasks are really boring to prepare. I also think they would be really boring for a student to listen to as well. I have lots of creative/student centered ideas but the time needed just to meet the requirements...ppts, scanning documents, and making pdfs, is taking away from other options.
2. I'm supposed to finish the text book. I'm sure my lower ability students don't understand or retain much as we race through to meet the clock, and I'm sure the upper students are bored. I'm fairly confident I'll get the hang of this system and learn to tweak it to help each group of learners more, but right now it's a struggle.
3. I like seeing my students get excited about learning and seeing their growth. But, right now..I don't think that is happening.
Here is what has saved me/make the job enjoyable so far:
1. Journals. At the beginning of school, I bought about 100 small, inexpensive journals and gave one to each student. I keep them and try to use them at least once a week/class. I've always loved journals and it's my one way to "connect" with students. (I still don't know probably half of their names.) I was rewarded yesterday when one of my 11th graders asked me if I really "read" their and I replied "yes." I think he'd noticed I'd made comments and he was really surprised, but I think also delighted. So, I noticed he really got motivated to write even more that day.
2. Hall duty. I always make an effort to talk to students while I'm on duty. It's fun and keeps me sane and connected.
3. My colleagues. They are fun, funny, supportive, and hard working. And, what's not to asked if I'd like to join a Model United Nations trip to Istanbul in December! Duh..yea...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Meals on Wheels

I've discovered a great little service here in Izmir called translation is "meals delivered to your front door by cute guys on motorcycles". Yemeksepti is like "Dominos Delivers in 30 minutes or Less," but even better. You get a whole choice of meals and cuisines from over 200 restaurants and most of those restaurants guarantee service in ...yep 30 dakika (30 minutes or less).  In addition, my computer translates most of the names for traditional Turkish menu items which gives me a pretty good idea what the meal might be. Things like "Adana kebob" translates to "meat on a stick", "Urfa kebob" translates to "meat on stick" and "patlican kebob" translates to "eggplant on a  stick. I'm still working on the differences of kebobs, but tonight I decided to try a "wrap" instead of a kebob. It tasted OK, but my own personal translation of tonight's meal is "meat that was on a stick but is now wrapped inside bread so we'll call it a wrap instead of a kebob."

OK, I know I'm joking a bit, but the beauty of home delivery is that a) I don't have to sit alone in a restaurant and pretend that I'm reading my book or enjoying the sunset. I can sip my beer at home alone, watch CNBC sitcoms in English with Turkish subtitles, and laugh at Turkish commercials like Michael Phelps advertising dandruff shampoo (Head and Shoulders) and b) I don't have to cook, which involves a trip to the store, trying order less than a kilo of any kind of meat, and doing the dishes afterwards.

Even though it is takeout food, I have my standards. Rather than accepting plastic utensils, (I guess some people do care about the amount of plastic trash lining the sides of the road. Or they've figured out a way to cut costs...) I did choose the "go green" option when ordering by computer which means I didn't need the plastic silverware. Upon receipt of my food packet, I just dump the whole meal onto a nice place, pull out the "silverware" and sit comfortably in front of the TV.  I mean, I have my standards.

And, just to clarify that I'm not a recluse, hermit, finding fun in solitude, a beer and mindless TV, I was supposed to have guests throughout the weekend...But, a missed plane flight by one and a chance to visit Bodrum (jealous!) by the other two meant that  what was supposed to be a fun/tourist filled weekend has morphed into a whole lot of free time. Thanks to Yemeksepti for making my life grand.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Today was one of those days that just didn't go well. It could be that I was a slacker and didn't get the endorphins flowing with my usual morning jog, or the fact that I started the day behind because of an unplanned "all day" outing to a government agency yesterday, or it could just be the changing of the seasons, (yes, I woke up to much cooler temperatures this morning) which signal a beginning to shorter days and longer periods of darkness. Whatever it was, almost everything annoyed me. But the kicker, the icing on the cake, the metaphor for my frustration is the effort it's taking (notice present progressive verb tense..) to pay a simple bill.

As you may remember, I changed internet providers to a snazzy new service with fiber optic cables and super high speed service about a month ago. It's all been good, but what I didn't realize is this provider also has a modern way of paying bills..You see, I've gotten so used to not having a bank account and just walking the mall and paying all my bills in cash at the store with the bill's name on the top, that I've forgotten how to do things electronically. Well, I haven't really forgotten..I just don't know the difference between a "fatura", a "musteris No." and a "hizmet", so I can't set these things up on-line. Plus, when the web site translates the banking instructions to English, a pin number may mean something different, and my customer number may be my name or my Turkish resident number or any myriad of other things that I don't recognize. I just feel like numbers are swimming in my head and I can't make sense of them. Plus it's money (my money) so I don't want to send the money to the wrong place, nor do I want to ask my teacher friends for help because then they know my banking stuff and it's not private, and they share everything with their friends...not in a bad's just that "privacy" means something different, etc. (Actually, I'd be curious to know if there even is a word in Turkish for "privacy.")

So, you can probably tell, I went to the bank. I deposited money into my Turkish bank so I could cover the bill since the firm where I got the service didn't want cash. I asked the teller to help me pay the bill but she said I have to use the ATM. I inserted my card into the ATM...luckily I remembered the pin as I haven't used this card since August.  I tried to guess if my bill was a "utility" or many other categories..none of which made any sense in English.  After 3 attempts...luckily there wasn't a line behind me....I found my company..I entered the number I though the machine was asking for...and...drum roll please....nothing happened.  Even worse, I couldn't tell how to get back to the home screen, how to get my card out, or how to get my question answered. I pushed lots of buttons and finally settled on the red "x" with the raised button for blind users. Bingo! My card was returned (not eaten, yeah baby) but nothing was paid. I think the due date is tomorrow.

But two things happened to make the day seem good. 1)After my unsuccessful 3rd attempt I might add to pay this bill,  I stopped by Starbucks where American music was playing (I needed this) and ordered a 1/2 kilo of coffee which then entitled me to a free drink of my choice.. (Never mind that it was now 7:00 p.m. Bring on the caffeine. (Eric suggested I counter it with a Tylenol pm for sleep.)  and 2) I read Mark Wright's blog post (you know the guy I was biking with when I had my accident in Malatya) and he arrived in Hong Kong today at 16,500 + kilometers on his bicycle ride from London to Hong Kong. Cool huh?

As for the blog posts title...I stole the acronym from an American friend living here in Turkey. It means: Things Take Time in Turkey. OK, so time to chill and relax.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Over the mountains and to the sea...

Thank goodness I have a teacher friend who looks out for me and invites me to fun outings. Today we were lucky enough to join a great hike with a club from Izmir. In typical Turkish fashion I started out needing a dose of patience because there were 5 different  pick-up points, the last of which was about 10 minutes from my house so I could have slept in for another hour...But...the rest of the day was worth it.

I took many pictures so hopefully they will give the gist. There were over 70 of us on the hike so we looked like a ribbon of walkers at the beginning as we strolled though olive orchards, past fig trees, and  underneath pomegranate trees. Our first stop was at a small village where the Sunday bazaar of fresh produce and home baked village bread was tempting us to load up our packs. My friend and I settled for a nice tree-ripen pear before joining our group at the local tea/coffee garden. A special treat awaited us there. Across from the garden a man was making small, fresh, piping hot homemade donuts. It was explained to me that they make these donuts when someone dies and the family passes out free donuts until they run out. What an opportunity! And, God rest his soul...But, these were the best donuts I've ever eaten. They were so good, and I'm sure I'll never find this village again, so I helped myself to a second.

With the donut I enjoyed my first cup of dibek's like Turkish coffee only I think I like it even better. On the saucer coffee was a delicious piece of homemade lemon locum that complimented the coffee perfectly. Staring me in the face while I was eating my donuts and sipping my coffee was a tray of just baked village bread. I'm a big bread fan and couldn't resist, so I walked inside and paid my 4 tl. What I didn't realize is that this loaf felt like a 2 kilogram loaf. (That's 4.4 pounds I added to my pack.) And, you're probably thinking how can I ever eat a 2 kg loaf of bread. Well, my friend mentioned that it freezes I was....sold.

We continued our journey up and down steep hills, through brambles, across slippery lose rocks, underneath tree branches, and finally to the top of a fire lookout station. This gave a really good 360 degree view of the coastline and the valley behind us. The lookout station was equipped with two beds, a small tv, running water, and a brick oven outside. And, I think I got a glimpse of the fire ranger on the roof of the hut.

All along the path were wild strawberries, but not like the wild strawberries I know from the US. These were round and had prickly fuzz on the outside. The flavor was good but the text was difficult for me to really appreciate...but I think one women ate at least a kilo.

We concluded our walk at the Foca Teacher's House (every town has these "houses" which are kind of like fancy YMCA's for inexpensive hotels and meals.) There we feasted on fresh fried sardines and mixed salad. The sardines were remarkably tasty and especially palatable to me because the heads were already removed. Luckily the friend I was with showed me how to eat them with her fingers and left the bones and tails on the plate. (Sometimes they eat everything but again, I just don't like the texture of bones and tails so I was very happy.)

After a filling meal we changed into bathing suits and dived into the Aegean Sea for a delightful end of season swim. The water was crystal clear, the small fish were enjoying our company, and the men were showing off with diving competitions from the dock.

I'm at home now...sipping a glass of wine and eating bread and butter before bed. I will probably be sore but good reminders of a great day.
Ribbon of more than 70 hikers

Fig Tree
Sunday Market

Pomegranate Tree in front of Antique Shop 

Home made donuts for the recently deceased.

View to Foca

After a swim at the Teacher's House

Picking wild strawberries
Fire lookout station

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bike Ride to Cesme

A fitting way to officially end summer
vacation AND to spend the last weekend together with Eric before he headed back to Saudi was to have a weekend get-a-way at a resort on the Aegean Sea. And, in typical Jansen style, what better way to reach that destination than by bicycle?! Saturday morning we caught the 8:45 ferry to the opposite of Izmir Bay (and cut the trip by about 30 kilometers and avoid lots of traffic).

Here is a picture of an Turkish Naval Museum including a submarine.

Our first stop is coffee..

Our next stop was a melon stand where we convinced the owner to cut open the melon for us.

This is at the top of the last long hill. The scenery was not so go here and it was very hot. But those hills in the distance are our goal.

 The view from our hotel window. The ride was worth it for this.
 Heading to the spa and steam baths (the dome shaped buildings on the left by the pool) for some muscle repair...
 Heading to the beach for replenishing the lost liquids from our journey.
 View from our dinner table.
Our appetizers...homemade sarma and fresh calamari. 
 The restaurant cat waiting for his share of dinner.
View from our ferry back to Bostanli. We were about 10 meters from this cargo ship. I guess the ship captains are pretty good at those algebra problems..."If one ship is traveling north at x mph and another ship is traveling east at y mph and they both maintaining full speed ahead,  how close can they get without hitting each other?"

It's in the Presentation

Yesterday evening I went to the home of one of my colleagues for wine and cheese. My friend likes to cook and she is very modern. She bakes "American" style cookies like gingerbread, chocolate chip, and shortbread. She recognizes the taste value of real vanilla (not fake vanilla powder with sugar mixed in) and has friends bring back supplies when they go abroad. And she appreciates the creativity the comes along with the table settings, the dishes, the quality of food, and the bottle of wine. She calls it an "aesthetic table" In other words, she reminds me of my mom and Martha Stewart.

Three teachers and myself sat on the balcony of this lovely old Bostanli neighborhood apartment surrounded by quiet, mature tree-lined boulevards and looking at and into large apartments with antique parquet floors, wooden shutters and window trim, and marble bathrooms and kitchens. Being teachers the conversation eventually drifted to students, curriculum, and behavior but in a pleasant way..for me at least...It was comforting to be among friends close to my age..well at least my generation...and all mothers. I haven't had this type of friendship in awhile so the evening was especially beautiful.

Be sure at take a close look at the picture and notice the "red and green" theme on the table. They like the red and green colors a lot over here but they are not tied to a season like Christmas. I especially like the red and green Christmas tree shaped serving dishes filled with olives and pickles. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Teen age and Tardy

This year I ride a service bus comprised of about 20 students and me to school . The bus is supposed to leave at 8:20 a.m. and, when everything is working smoothly, should arrive at school at 8:50, thus giving me a whole 10 minutes to briefly catch my breath and start the day at 9:00. Unfortunately, it doesn't work this way. I have several teenage girls on my bus who do not think promptness and courtesy should trump their morning ablutions. Often they are so late that the bus monitor must call their apartments to announce our arrival. In addition, the bus driver turns off the engine  to save the precious $10/gal. fuel, and we all wait...and wait...and wait....After what feels like an eternity, (probably only 5-10 minutes, but I'm a product of the book Cheaper by the Dozen so minutes count) we see the co-eds strolling down the lane towards the bus at a speed meant to keep all of their hairs in perfect place and  show they are not going to rush for anybody...And, I guess, thinking about it from a their perspective..why should they be 10 minutes early for school?!

So, today I decided to ride my bike. It's 16 kilometers one way and takes me about 45 minutes going and about 35 minutes coming home. Adding in an extra 15 minutes for a possible flat tire and another 10 minutes to change it, I can leave the house at about 7:45 a.m., have a beautiful ride along the Aegean, and arrive at school having accomplished two goals: exercise and a peaceful start to the day. Granted, I don't get to listen to a student practice whistling for 16 kilometers or check out the perfectly coiffed hair, but I do get to start the day a little bit more in control. In other words, I don't like my time being managed by "teen age and tardy."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Find a blue eye...Nazar

Today was one of those great days when things just fell into place. As a matter of fact, I came out of one class (it's supposed to be trouble with a capital T) feeling like we'd had a very good class. But, when I commented on the fact that the students were "great", my co-teacher said, "Don't say that...find a blue know..Nazar?" And, I said, "Oh, like if I say something good I will jinx it." "Exactly!" she replied. "Shhhh."

In any event, I rode home on the bus in good spirits feeling ready to face a undesirable chore, cancelling my internet service. (Yes, I have a new, better service but I still haven't cancelled the old one because... a) Eric was here and I wanted to savour every minute with him, and b) the offices are only open M-F until 5:30 so the only day I can possibly get there in time is Tuesday. (

Heading out of my apartment  with modem in my backpack, and bike at hand, I met an English speaking neighbor who both plays tennis and wants to ride bikes. We exchanged numbers.

At the internet office, I was able to both cancel my service AND prove to the customer service representative that I had a) fulfilled my 1 year contract because of good service and timely payment in Malatya and b) was not going to pay a penalty for cancelling early. In effect I was NOT cancelling early and the company was NOT providing internet service so there really was no least since my arrival in Izmir. And, I did most of this talking in Turkish.! Go me.

The sun was still shining and the weather was beautiful so I decided that rather than go home to my dirty apartment and cook the sad little chicken and slightly old green beans sitting in my fridge, I would enjoy the beautiful Aegean Fall weather and ride my bike until I felt hungry. 20 kilometers later and I found a delightful, delicious Turkish restaurant that made the best salad and chicken kebab that I've eaten so far in Turkey..not exaggerating...

Next to the restaurant was an outlet store for one of the large Turkish porcelain manufacturers. I've been searching for coffee mugs..I have no matching sets..or any without chips for that matter. I was able to locate a pretty blue mug with a big handle that settled nicely in my hand. When I inquired about the price I had to ask twice because it was too cheap..(about 75 cents) I couldn't believe it, so I went ahead and bought 4. Hopefully to handles won't fall off.

On the way home I ran into one of the first bike riders I met in Izmir and organized a ride for this weekend..not one of the 8 hour group affairs with too many chai stops, but a 3-4 hour ride to a beautiful destination on the sea for a quick bite and return home.

As soon as I got inside my apartment, I found a blue Nazar to ward off the evil eye. But, I still say...Thank God, it was a great day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jumping over Campfires

Friday night I had the pleasure of chaperoning the 9th grade "Welcome Back to School Campout." This is an annual event to welcome both new old students alike and to hide the fact that summer really is ending in two days and students will be buried under a mountain of homework for the next 180 plus days. This student/teacher bonding experience was similar to many I've attended during my years of teaching except for two main differences: tent construction and campfires.

At the start of school on Thursday, one custodian starting putting up the tents. He worked throughout the day and late into the evening. By Friday morning when I arrived at school, all tents were neatly assembled in tidy rows and columns making it easier for me to count. Six times six equals thirty-six tents. Things were becoming clear to me.. Whereas we as teachers in my US schools taught the students to put up and take down their "own" tents thus killing 2 hours of student free time, we were actually going to have to plan many more activities than originally thought.

Luckily, each department (math, science, PE, English, art, music, etc.)was responsible for only 1 to 2 hours of activities during the night. Thank goodness for Orcas Island and it's plethora of "team-building activities" that could be modified to encourage problem solving and decision making in English.

Fortunately, the time between after school and the start of the evening campfire passed pretty much like I would have, volleyball, loud music, chips and soda, girls wearing their cutest non-uniform outfits in hopes the boys would notice and the boys still acting like they were middle school students and not even aware that girls even existed,  the PE teachers organizing games that gave us teachers the ability to evaluate who are potential  "problems" might be e.g. the athletes that cheat on the playing field are often worse in class...

Around 11:00 p.m. the group of 70 + students and 25 teachers moved to the parking lot where a large campfire was built. There were no s'mores but there were girls singing current pop music and boys adding fuel to the fire, literally and figuratively.  At one point a police car stopped by with his lights flashing to make sure we were "supposed" to be there. The flames were getting higher, the fire was getting bigger and the boys were huddling together making "plans." The principal gave her "don't you even think about it" look and I was wondering what they might be "thinking" about when all of a sudden the boys starting leaping across the fire. Apparently this fire-leaping is very common and they even have a holiday for camp fire jumping on May 6th. The flames were licking the boys butts and nipping at their baggy pant legs. Several boys slipped as they crossed the flames just catching themselves before falling backwards into the fire.

The principal marched over and put a stop to all the "foolishness" (I would call it a "lawsuit"  just waiting to happen in America), but not before the boys scored big points for bravery, finesse, bravado, and heroics from the girls..(I guess they noticed each other after all..) Did I mention that a male teacher was the first to jump the flames...?

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Like Competition!

For those of you who are used to more regular posts, I can blame my irregularity on 1) the terrible internet service and 2) the fact that there's just a lot more to see and do here...

Regarding #1 above, I think I've solved that problem. I've used the good old principal of free market capitalism and found a new service. Everyone had heard about my complaining but finally I complained to the right person. Our apartment manager mentioned that a new company had installed fiber optic cables to our building and did I have a contract with the other company, blah, blah, or would I like to change? I immediately jumped on that option..problem solved!

Regarding # 2 - There is a lot more to see and do here. This is a very active town that rarely sleeps. So, in making up for lost time, I'm socializing a lot more. Socializing can mean tea, coffee, beer, snacks, dinner, a walk, tennis, a bike ride, shopping, a movie, a ferry ride, etc. I suspect that things will slow down once school starts, but as this is the last weekend before opening day, there is still plenty of time to cram in some more fun. Eric and I are heading off on a weekend bike ride to Cesme and an overnight at a beach resort. It will be 200 km round trip, so yes, we still like individual challenges/competitions as well.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It's a Man's Place

The first stop on Sunday's blistering hot bike ride was for pastries at a local bakery and hot chai at the tea shop next door. Both stores were located on the frontage road of the local freeway on the way to the airport. Cars were wizzing by, horns were honking, and the ambiance of the breakfast place matched the scenery and serenity of the ride. It was hot, loud, and dirty. However, there was one good part to the bakery...the right-out-of-the-hot-brick-oven warm pocha, bread-like thing (I know I'm spelling this phonetically and not even close to Turkish) that was melting in my mouth.

There really was not best part to the tea house except that it matched most tea houses I've sat at. It is dominated by men reading newspapers or playing cards and guessed it....tea. I washed down the bread with a steaming hot cup of bitter, brewed-to-long tea, the first of 3 cups for the day. I'm really getting a taste for piping hot drinks on scorching hot 95 degree days..yum...

The stop was brief and the group was getting ready to pack up but I needed to find a bathroom. Those 2 cups of early morning coffee plus the litter and a half of water (I told you it was hot!) and the recent addition of the tea were forcing me to speak Turkish. (Usually I just follow the women to the WC but I had'nt seen them make a move.) So, I approached the man at the copper tea machine.

Me: Tuvalet, (toilet) Lutfen.(please)
Man: (giving me the blank stare)
Me: (speaking slower and thinking my accent can't be that bad) Tu-va-let....Lut-fen.
Man: (pointing to the back of the building) Burada. (back there)

I walked in the direction he pointed but I didn't see any WC signs. I did, however, see the typical white door of a bathroom. I gently pushed open the door expecting the worst, a Turkish toilet perhaps. Unfortunately, not only was I not greeted with a toilet, I was greeted with a new "worst", a urinal, not even a Turkish toilet on the floor.

I stepped back and quickly closed the door thinking I'd missed the door for the Bayan. (women) but no. There was only one door.

This confirmed two things:
1) Tea houses are for men. Our male bike riding leaders don't notice how awkward they are for us women to enter.
2) My accent had nothing to do with the man's response to my question.

I'll bet I was the topic of the rest of the day's card should have seen that foreign female bike rider....asking for a toilet at a tea house....ha, ha, ha.....that'll teach her from entering our space....