Monday, January 30, 2012

Wine Tasting in Sirence

Seeing a little hand painted sign "Wine Tasting" tacked to a tree near Ephesus made us disregard Mandy our Tom Tom navigator, pull a U-turn and head the 8 km up a narrow windy road to Sirence to see what fruits from the Turkish vines we could find. In addition, a quick read of my guide book said that this is one of the most beautiful and quaint Turkish towns with traditional Greek houses that we would find on this trip. The drive up was slow as we were sharing the 1 1/2 lane road with tractors laden with olive branches, cattle feed, bricks, rubbish and family members all piled on top. But the drive was worth it. Nestled at the top of the hill was a village with narrow cobblestone streets and many tiny shops offering free wine tasting. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to find that most of the shops were selling fruit wines (cherry, pomegranate, and apple). That should have been our clue about the quality. But after a few more steps we found a shop selling "red" or "white" wine. The shop owner then proceeded to pour us four little shot glasses of red wine, sat us on his little Turkish carpet covered benches near the wood burning stove, and left us to taste, sniff, and tasting notes, no explanation..Here are our comments:
Glass #1 - bland grape juice with a hint of vinegar.
Glass #2 - vinegar
Glass #3 - dish water
Glass #4 - marginally palatable with no lingering vinegar after taste.
We forked over 20TL or about $10 and asked the "wine maker" (I use this term in the very loosest sense of the word) to snap our photo to remember this experience and to make us homesick for Washington.
Last night, after a long day of driving and sightseeing plus staying in a hotel with a cork screw, seemed like a good time to open the bottle. After two sips, Eric announced that he was getting a headache. After one glass, we recorked the bottle. And this morning, after I awoke with a headache, we poured the rest down the drain. But, we sure got a cute little burlap bag and photo to remember the experience.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Relaxing in Izmir

Today was a well-needed break from driving and viewing antiquities with our dey in beautiful Izmir (ancient name Smyrna). Walking along the water with a brisk cold breeze pounding the waves and our cheeks, we were delighted to see the beautiful parks, colorful wooden sailboats, bars, coffee shops, and fish restaurants dotting the landscape.
Sipping a glass of wine from the rooftop lounge of our hotel and relaxing in the hotel steam room and sauna capped off a perfect day.

Chinese food

Although America is not known for any one cuisine except maybe hamburgers or McDonalds, we are known for our melting pot culture which provides for a wide variety of delicious world cuisines. And after five months of eating only Turkish food (and one week of Italian pasta) I am starving for variety. So, last night's delicious Chinese food at our hotel was a welcome change. As a matter of fact, between Eric and me, we ordered every Chinese item on the menu and happily cleaned our plates...all six of them. The restaurant manager said we were lucky because he had just introduced the menu a week ago.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Skiing in Turkey

Yesterday's ski adventure at Uludag was similar to many ski days Eric and I have had over the course of our marriage except for a few minor differences which I'll highlight below.
1) transportation to the mountain consisted of a taxi ride to Topane where we hopped on a dolmus and waited for 25 minutes until the minibus was full. The wait required lots of patience and we almost hopped off and sprung for the $40 taxi ride to the mountain.
2) ski equipment- we found a nice little shop that had new boots and skis waiting for nice American tourists to fork over the lira. For $25 I skied in better equipment than I own.
3) food- all the cafes and restaurants had full menus, waiters, and cooks. No self service here. The food was delicious.
4) lifts - t-bars, covered high speed quads, and gondolas. The best part. No lift line except on the bunny runs. The worst part, no really challenging terrain. Intermediate runs at best.
4) snow- it snowed most of the day so we had fresh tracks every run The worst part, fog and flat light. We couldn't see our hands in front of us. So we had to ski slowly. Darn!

Bottom line- the day was fun and made it possible to say we have skied every year of our marriage and in a new country. But, one day was enough.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Free advertising-not

Waiting for us in the parking garage at Ataturk airport was our little subcompact Hyundai. It was a cute, tiny 4 door affair with the words HERTZ tattooed across all doors , the hood, and the roof with 16 inch letters large enough to be read at speeds of 120km or more.
Fortunately, Eric did not want to be a poster child for Hertz and requested a car without body art. Note to self. Request smoke free, advertising free cars in the future.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Good Deal

Living in Saudi Arabia with blowing sand wreaks havoc on eye glasses. Therefore Eric wanted to spend part of our shopping day buying a new pair. We entered an optical shop at the mall with our Turkish dictionary feeling pretty proud of ourselves as we got the clerk to "read" Eric's prescription from the lenses with a machine, had Eric try on about 50 pairs of stylish new glasses, and pat ourselves on the back because we left buying 3 pairs of regular glasses and 1 pair of sunglasses for less than a single pair at Costco. We were smiling all day at our good fortune while waiting for the glasses to be finished. I was even thinking that, for that price, I should get some new glasses, too.

Well, after enjoying "Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol" we stopped back into the store eager to see Eric in his new "eyes". He tried on the first pair and (drum roll here....) he couldn't see a thing. He had the same problem with pairs two and three. It then occurred to us that, instead of making bi-focals, they had made all the glasses into single vision distance frames. And, here's the kicker...he needs to readers more than the distance. The "machine" had only read one prescription. Well, with some more gesturing, the dictionary, and a new reading from the "machine" we were able to explain that the glasses needed to be bi-focals. And, as you can guess, multi-focus lenses are much more expensive than single vision.

Unfortunately, we forgot to heed the age old advice, "It the price seems too good to be true, it is." To make matters worse, the nicest, designer frame was too small to make into bi-focals. On the bright side, Eric will have 3 new glasses, but not at Costco prices....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

End of Marking Period

Today marks the end of my first semester teaching in Turkey so it seems like a good time to reflect upon the progress of both my students and myself. As teachers I think we all like to hope we make an impact, but in reality it's difficult to measure improvement. Here in Turkey, I am the "speaking" teacher and, as such, I've argued on several occasions, that giving a paper and pencil grammar test does not show their speaking ability, confidence, pronunciation, etc. I have asked the staff to let me develop and administer a speaking test. But, old Turkish fill-in-the-bubble-type habits are difficult to break so 1) I do not get to write the tests 2) I do not get to give speaking tests 3) I don't usually see the tests before they administer them to the students 4) I don't get to point out that the content of the tests (usually chunks copied and cut from workbook pages) might ask 90% of one type of grammar structure, miss some sections entirely, and place too much weight on irrelevant issues just to make the test point total equal 1o0 points and 5) I would answer many questions the same "wrong" way as the students because the directions are unclear...But, that doesn't matter.

So, aside from poorly designed paper and pencil tests...How do I measure improvement? My performance measures are completely subjective and would not pass a single "school improvement" benchmark, but here they are:

1)The number of students who talk to me at lunch and in the hallway has increased. When I started work here, I had a 2 or 3 students who sat with me everyday and practiced their English. But, now I have many students inviting me to their table. Currently, I'm reaching out to the shy, reluctant not-so-confident students and convincing them that they can understand at least a little of what I say or ask. Today, for example, one girl, who always used to turn to her "translator" friend for help is shushing her friend and saying "I understand. I don't need you to translate." I'll call that a win!

2) The number of English teachers who talk to me on the bus has increased. They all admitted that they were lacking confidence and did not understand me when I first came. They were afraid to talk to me because they did not think their English was "good enough". Luckily, they have all increased their effort to talk and they don't feel embarrassed to say, "They don't understand" or ask me to explain. They actually make me think...For example..They like to dance. And, they like dancing. The point is, who really cares if they use an infinitive or a gerund. Even better, they are starting to understand my jokes.

3) The number of Turkish teachers who passed their English proficiency exams to graduate from college but have never uttered a word of oral English (kind of like studying Latin) have started stringing some words together. Couple that with my rudimentary Turkish (nouns, pronouns, a few adjectives and verbs ..only in the infinitive form) we are getting to know each other and sharing some laughs.

4) The number of second graders who now understand me and then turn to their classmates to translate in Turkish word-for-word what I said in English has increased by about 40%. Now I have to tell students "no Turkish" because it's my job to help everyone understand. However, Fatih in 2B is so cute when he steps in front of his class mates, pounds his heart with his right fist, and then proudly explains in Turkish what I've just said in English.

5) The number of strangers from the sport salon (health club) and the number of school parents wanting to meet for coffee and speak English has increased. For example, I met the district manager for Coca Cola in Malatya who is very excited to practice conversational English (he is driven to rise in the Coca Cola Company but needs some English to advance) and his General Manager is so excited to hear that he is practicing English that I will probably get a nice all-expenses paid day trip to Eliza to visit the bottling plant/distribution center. Believe, any time I get out of town, it's a good day. Or take the parent who has met me weekly for coffee to build her speaking confidence. She can read and translate medical journals (she's a doctor) in English but has never had to speak English.

Unfortunately, as with all performance evaluations, I must be honest and look at areas where I don't see the improvement I would like. The first is discipline, or lack thereof, in both classes 2C and 2A. Today, for example in 2C, 6 out of 16 kids had already left on vacation and I honestly couldn't tell that kids were missing. It was still a zoo. I worry that I've become so non-nonplussed about choke holds, punches, hooks and jabs, that I might not even notice when there is a serious problem.. The second area needing improvement is moving students beyond the basic informal conversation to more interesting topics. I probably hear "I'm fine, thanks, and you?" 75-100 times per day. (I usually try to replace "fine" with many other adjectives but the students just don't seem to pick them up..And, seriously, I'd like to talk about something beside how I'm feeling anyway, because who's really honest with that answer anyway) I've started wearing a "Question of the day" on my jacket to spur some more creative conversation.

Speaking of "fine", however, it's time end this post. I'm "excited" because tomorrow I meet Eric in Istanbul and we begin a 2 week sojourn in Turkey. Yippee!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shopping with Ellen in Istanbul

One thing that is a "must do" for girls visiting Istanbul is shop. The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market both offer unlimited possibilities to drop some lira. But you have to be ready for high pressure tactics. Shopping with a 21 year old blonde took me to a new level of attention fighting off would be suitors...I mean sales clerks.

Ellen was called all of the following: Shakira, Victoria Beckham, Spice Girl, Ginger Spice, Angel, my lady, Beautiful.

The pick up lines were: "Am I dreaming or are you real?" "take me anywhere you want." "Let me help you spend your money." (actually, I think the last line was for me)

Yes, shopping can be fun but it's also exhausting. Time for a nap.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Going out on Friday night

The Turkish women really pulled out the stops (idiom based on organ playing.) for Ellen and me on Friday night. A neighbor of one of my colleagues invited us to a traditional Turkish dinner. We arrived at 6:00 p.m., slipped out of our muddy boots and into some black men's Turkish slippers (Ellen and my feet are too big to fit into the cute sequin covered slippers that most women wear), and gave the traditional Turkish hugs and kisses to all the women present.

We were ushered into the living room where we chatted a bit until the tricky question was asked. "Are you hungry?" This question always throws me for a loop because here's what happens. If I say, 'yes' and it's not dinner time or tea time, they walk me into the kitchen and prepare some extra food for me to eat immediately and then, when the intended food is presented, I'm stuffed. If I say 'no', I'm not hungry and it is dinnertime, then they let the meal get cold until I say I'm hungry. So, on Friday night, I turned to my Turkish English teacher colleague and whispered, "What should I answer?" She laughed and said, "Say, you're hungry."

We all stood, and moved to the entryway where the meal was sitting on a table cloth on top of a Turkish carpet on the floor. The presentation was beautiful. The hostess pointed to seats for Ellen and me. Thank goodness I had been wearing my jeans for about a week and they were loose enough to not split when I lowered myself to sit "Indian style", I mean "Native American Style", I mean "like a pretzel." (See, I've been in Turkey so long I don't know how to be politically correct.)

The meal...I warned Ellen there would be a lot of food...was delicious. The problem is, the portions are huge and if we don't finished everything, the hostess thinks we don't like it. Ellen was a trooper. She plowed through her bowl of six kofte...I'm usually full after two but I managed to eat four and then asked to take the rest home. (There is a good luck coin in one of the kofte and I was afraid we were going to have to eat all of the kofte to find the it.) We all had bowls of thick, delicious lentil soup, carrot and yogurt salad, sarma (grape leaves wrapped around rice/bulgar), mixed salad (lettuce, red cabbage, onions, cucumber and tomatoes) and bread. We drank ayran (yogurt, water, and salt) and Pepsi.

After dinner, we went back to the living room, drank many cups of chai and nibbled on Turkish cookies. More women joined us. More hugs and kisses were passed around. Several of the older women were crocheting intricate lace. Everyone was laughing and talking across the room trying to be part of at least three different conversations. The issue of my age always comes up and they are always surprised that I'm 51. One of the women crocheting was 52, had married at age 14, had 5 children, and indicated that several of the children popping in and out were her grandchildren.

Several women were eager to present Ellen's picture to their sons or nephews. We discussed bride prices (I think they were pulling my leg but they said I could get a good price for her like 10,000 or 20,000 TL). One woman has a nice nephew studying law in Canada who wants to work in Alaska and he only speaks English now and has forgotten his Turkish so he would be a good match. Ellen and I got some good laughs out of this. Yes, we agree the Turkish men are very handsome, but....looks aren't everything....

The dinner concluded with a delicious Turkish coffee prepared by the hostess's daughter who was home from university for the weekend. I have a lot respect for a well-prepared cup because I can't do it. I either burn it or make it too watery. And, of course, the evening would not be complete without the "reading of the coffee grounds" by the evening's "expert fortune teller." Ellen, of course, will meet a nice, handsome Turkish man and have a good travels in Spain. I will meet my husband and have good travels in Turkey.

It was a beautiful, memorable evening and the hostess really out did herself!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Knit Shop

My colleague and friend Miki gave me some beautiful yarn for Christmas with the idea that I could knit a Turkish shawl. So, today we met at the knit shop in the city center to select a pattern and get instructions. From the store front I would never have known what treasures this shop held, but as we climbed the two flights of stairs to the top floor I was in awe of the unlimited creative possibilities this store possessed. Floor to ceiling bins filled with skeins of vibrant colors and creative textures surrounded me. Hanging from the ceiling were samples of knitted and crocheted baby clothes, shawls, hats, scarves, sweaters, rugs, stuffed animals, and house decorations that looked like years of work.

Sitting in the middle of the room was an older Turkish woman knitting from "her heart" as Miki put patterns here. I looked at the knitted samples surrounding the room, choose my shawl pattern and sat down for instructions. Miki translated the Turkish andwe each practiced making a flower while sipping chai. I now have the goal of completing 4 flowers per day so I can return and learn the next step while the weather is still cold enough to need a shawl. I was in awe of the knitting talent of these women.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Take your Daughter to Work Day

Today I took Ellen to school with me. I had warned Ellen ahead of time that she would be treated like a celebrity, but I think even she was surprised by the attention she received. What I loved the most was watching how Ellen handled the "stardom" with poise, warmth, and kindness. (We both agree that we are not used to or comfortable being so noticed) Ellen was bombarded with mobs of students, questions, hugs, and stares from shy but curious by-standers. She was snatched by my fellow colleagues to visit their classes and talk with their students. She had many students squeezing extra chairs in at the lunch table to say "Hello. What's Your Name? and How old are you?"

After lunch Ellen whispered in my ear, "And how many classes do we have left and are we finished at like 3:00 or 3:15?" (yes, she said "like") When she figured out that we still had 4 classes to go and school didn't end until 4:10, she muttered a soft "Oh no, I'm tired." But, she maintained a smile and kept talking to talk to as many students as she could. She joined in the remainder of classes, sang songs, helped me model conversation, participated in skits, and looked like a professional teacher.

It was very fun and helpful to have an assistant and a witness to some of the school differences I've mentioned in earlier posts.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Needing "normal"

I am very blessed to have this opportunity to travel and see all of these exotic places. But sometimes I am just craving the comfort of a life more similar to "home." New Years Day was one of those days. Granted I was lacking in sleep after a New Years Eve cruise that lasted until 3:00 am but the idea of standing in line to see Topkapi Palace was more than I could handle. So I asked Ellen if she would mind if we tried to find "Mission Impossible" on a big screen and get a dose of English and adventure. The quickness of her response led me to believe that she did not want to be a tourist either.

Thank goodness for google and translate. Within minutes I had located a 5 star mall and cinema. Five minutes later and I had public transport directions. The only thing that didn't work was purchasing tickets on line. So we headed out early.
Forty five minutes later and we found ourselves at Kanyon Mall, a very modern, contemporary, elegant mall, complete with aroma therapy on the escalators. We found the cinema, boughs tickets for the 7 pm show and then settled in for 2 hours of bliss: buying American magazines, sipping Starbucks lattes, sipping wine with a hamburger (unfortunately it still wasn't an "Eric special" on the grill) and people watching. I was at peace.

The movie theater was the biggest I've been to besides an IMAX and it had really comfy reclining/rocking seats. Wr settled in for a great movie and even felt like we were standing at the top of the Burj Dubai as Tom Cruise saved the world We ended the night with Ben and Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, a "normal" weekend outing.

I'm hoping this dose of "normal" will tide me over as I head back to malatya tonight.