Sunday, April 29, 2012

Five taxis, a Lifetime of Stories

This Istanbul weekend was filled with taxi adventures. Luckily we had a sense of humor and an iPhone with GPS.
1) Airport to hotel- I knew there was a problem when the taxi driver called the hotel for directions and the hotel hung up on him. We eventually located the hotel with my GPS but upon arrival at 2 am the clerk greeted us with "Have a seat and would you like tea or Turkish coffee? " Not a good sign... Sure enough the hotel clerk was sorry to inform us that there were "bathroom problems" and he would be moving us to another hotel. Taxi!..
2) First hotel to second hotel- This ride took us through the narrow, back streets of Sisli and dropped us off at what appeared to be a dump. Upon closer inspection, it was a dump with paper thin walls and seriously dirty carpets, but it was close to a metro stop and it was 2:30 am. Too tired to argue.
3) Hotel to Kumkapi - This driver was fast like a NASCAR driver which was good because I was hungry for fresh fish and thirsty for something with alcohol.
4) Kumkapi to hotel- This ride provided a great opportunity to practice my Turkish. We had a friendly and patient speaker/listener/driver. The only problem is that he couldn't and drive. I noticed we'd passed our hotel, and I knew he was lost so I whipped out the GSP and Google Maps and gave him directions. But, he didn't believe my directions so he rolled down the window and asked at least 3 fellow cab drivers, double parked at the Ramada and ran inside for directions, and still couldn't figure out the one-way streets. I decided to learn the word for "walk" so this wouldn't happen again. I knew we were about 200 meters from the front door severals times but I couldn't get him to let us out and walk.
5) Istanbul Archeological Museum to airport Sheridan hotel- When this driver learned I was teaching in Malatya, he pulled out his Malatya ID card and had the driving skills to prove it: erratic decision making,rabbit starts, squealing stops, idiotic speed, underdeveloped brain, and serious need for an afternoon calming chai and cigarette. My mom screamed once and my dad had white knuckles as we reached speeds of 120 kph on roads designed for 70. The thought crossed my mind that I would never let Eric or any of the kids drive at that speed, but here I was riding along (with no seat belt) letting a complete stranger take our lives into his hands and we would arrive at our destination inshallah. (God willing.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Teaching with my Mom

I took my mom for "show and tell" yesterday, although I didn't call it that because it would be too difficult to explain the terms. I gave her some questions that the students should be able to answer and I was delighted they were able to both understand her "accent" and to elaborate and answer even if she phrased the questions a little differently than they have learned from the "script."

The students love her (and so do I) but I also love the fact the she zeroed in on some of the little "gems" (e.g. disruptors) and was able to help keep them focused and help them feel successful. I was also able to use her for dialog activities, teaching circle games in kindergarten like the "Farmer in the Dell", and to seek suggestions for my most difficult class 2C. Her suggestion is a better balance of boys (13) to girls(3) and since that's not possible, at least I know that I'm not crazy. This is one tough class.

Anyway, I had a great time teaching with her and I'm so excited that she will come back for another day.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I've been parking my bicycle near the front of the school building, under a stairwell, and locked to a support beam. I figured it was safe there because it's not in a direct line of site for the students but it's near a "supervised" play area. I use the word "supervised" lightly because in America I remember actually watching the children, setting boundaries, stopping fights, etc. Here I see clumps of teachers texting with their backs turned away from the play areas (granted the best wi-fi in the school is near the soccer field) and fights happening right under teacher noses.

Anyway, I digress. When I approached my bike this afternoon a group of children left their school bus and came over to say hello and examine my bicycle. One of the astute young boys pointed out that I had a flat tire. Darn, I thought,but luckily I have a spare tube..I'll just pop it in and be on my way. Upon closer examination I noticed that my bike pump had also been swiped. Now I knew the flat was caused from foul play and not from one of the many pieces of broken Efes beer bottles I ride over every morning. I got mad and angrily started walking my bike the seven kilometers towards home. Alas, there is no privacy in Turkey so pretty soon all the teachers knew and went in to get the head master which is probably a good thing because not only did I have a flat and a missing pump, but I also had a flat cause by someone breaking off the stem of the tube. I guess that was faster and more damaging than just letting the air out of the tire.

Well, the head master arrived and he was very apologetic and said the school would pay, and they would catch the students on the security cameras, and his workers would drive my bike to a tire shop, and bring it to my home later. (I'm sure they wanted to take it to a motorcycle and car repair shop because they didn't want me to come along and said "it is not a place for women, you know Turkey, ha, ha, ha".) And, I said, "no." I'm coming with the bike,and I want to go to a bike shop, and then I can ride it home after it's repaired. Plus, if they were paying, I wanted to give the business to my bicycle friends who had just opened a beautiful shop with quality bikes and equipment. I want them to stay in business.

Little did they know that I also needed my bicycle to ride to a mailing company in time to mail my signed teaching contract to Izmir. For most of the week I had actually been waivering about staying in Malatya next year, especially since about two hours earlier the headmaster said he really wanted me to stay, I really like many of the people here, and the beautiful spring weather has been clouding my judgement....But, I'll take the vandalism as a sign...It's time to go...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Plus for Testing

Yesterday as I was biking out of the parking lot at school my co-teacher informed me that I did not have to come to school today because the older students were taking a national test and the younger students would not be coming to school. I felt a tiny tinge of guilt because the other teachers did have to come, but mostly I felt a surge of exaltation and focused all my energy on mentally keeping my feet on the ground rather than jumping for joy and shouting "hurrah". I also did a mental inventory of my empty backpack, briefly considered coming into work today to write the lesson plans that I was going to prepare during today's first hour prep, but then decided to enjoy today's gift.

I started with a lovely two hour bike ride through the hills and valleys of the surrounding countryside. As pleasant as it was, however, I missed my biking buddies because I still get the evil eye stares when I am alone, whereas I am treated like royalty when I ride with the men.For example I gave a pleasent "merhaba" and wave to one woman as I was huffing and puffing up a steep hill, and she stared straight into my eyes, even craning her neck to keep her eyes locked while I rode by, but she never replied, smiled, or nothing. Oh well...I got my exercise.

Then I wrote a lesson plan for my adult class. One thing I've learned about myself is that I prefer teaching older students and adults, and I am much more likely to write good lesson plans and not procrastinate when I know I'm teaching adults. Today I even tested my theory that I could record a listening sample on the voice memo section of my iphone, email it to myself, and insert it into a Power Point presentation. I was pretty proud of this. But, I won't pat myself on my back until it actually plays on the school computers (a problem I've had all year)...On the flip side... watch me plan for kindergarten...I can come up with all kinds of excuses including housework, before I write plans for that class....

After a nice afternoon nap in my sun-filled living room, I rode my bike to the best coffee shop in town, sipped a filter press Kenya, read a Turkish newspaper that has an English version and enjoyed my current novel...relaxing and guilt-free pleasure.

But the highlight of the day was stopping by the local Bosch dealer, a store owned by the father of one of my biker friends where I enjoyed sipping chai, meeting much of the family, and listening to his brother play his original compositions on the guitar between waiting on customers.

It's days like today when I really enjoy and appreciate the opportunity I've been given to live here in Turkey.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trash Out the Train Window

I know that I am just a guest in Turkey but I am getting a little disgusted with the quantity of trash littering the banks of the rivers, the sides of the roads, the hillsides, the canals, the gutters, etc. I could accept the old trash if there were some effort being made to change the the current behavior.

And, yes, I can tell a second grade student that it is inappropriate to open the classroom window and throw his trash out. But I'm not sure it's appropriate for me to chastise the two grown men on the train who opened the window and tossed out their plastic bottles and trash.

I'm having a hard to time wrapping my head around the incongruence between bathing every part of the body to pray and picnicking/ living in trash filled everything.

We should have bought a carpet

In Eric's effort to make our weekend in Istanbul special he casually mentioned to a very persistent carpet salesperson that we didn't want a carpet but we would be interested in tickets to a football playoff game between Fenerbache and Besiktas. I should mention that I was not yet in Istanbul so Eric got sucked in all by himself.

To make a long story short, the tickets cost more than they originally agreed upon and Istanbul was flooded with the rain storm of the century. after hearing the fight songs for each team and watching what appeared to be a Fenerbahce cheerleader fully clothed in black long sleeves and long pants slip and fall on her butt and the official looking referees toss around a soccer ball which stopped dead in its tracks when it in the puddles in the turf, game was called off. Our new "friend" Arkan was first out the gate and suggested we enjoy an expensive dinner of fresh fish, raki, and live music, not necessarily in that order, to drown our miseries and end the date on a positive note. Of course he would join us.

Ok, so we got "had" by the carpet salesman in several ways: we paid scalper prices and I'm sure carpet man got a cut, we saved our stubbs ( carpet man did not) but because the game is rescheduled for Monday and we can't stay, we gave carpet man our stubbs so he can resell them yet again, and we bought the dinner and the raki. In Eric's defense, the game would have been really cool and the carpet salesman was pretty entertaining and I got another story for my blog. But an actual carpet would have been cheaper.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrong side of the Bed

I woke up in a really grumpy mood today. It's been one of those days when my negative emotions have been hovering just beneath the surface of my skin waiting to explode and infect everyone around me. And because negative attracts negative, I attracted two perfect situations in which to release my anger.

The first was the phone call between first and second hours when one of the school managers requested my Resident's Visa to make a photocopy of it for the umteenth time for my now-eighth-month-delayed work visa application. This process has been so irritating and frustrating and hightlights bureaucracy and ineptitude at a scale of which I've never seen including a DMV, that I don't trust anyone or believe anything anyone has to say at this point. So, I spewed off list of grievances and I'm sure my translator only translated a few of them which is probably a good thing and I felt remarkably better when I headed back to class and had a couple of fun classes.

The second was a email notification that a package containing my diploma (which I need for another job) was sitting in Istanbul because of a wrong address (not the address I gave them, by the way, and I have email documentation to prove it)and was shipped back today to the sender in the states. On a side note, I'd had to reorder this diploma because of the supposed "loss" of documents relating to the process from the last paragraph.@#$%!

So, I'm doing what all good females do when they are chocolate..a delicious Ulker bitter chocolate with pistachio nuts, and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow I'll role out of bed on the other side..I hope....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Strength in Numbers

Some of the Malatya Bike Club members just got back from a 240 km 3-day ride to Mount Nemrut. This ride included bikers from across Turkey including a very famous Turkish biker/retros 70's hippee/ rider/film maker whose picture you'll see in this post. In honor of their return, and because of the possibility of television coverage, a pack of us road through the night time rainy streets two or three abreast and completely taking up the one lane of traffic, to the mall, down the fast food/night time club street and back to a famous ice cream stand for an ice cream cone.

I liked this short but exhilarating ride because we were a "presence". The drivers, who are generally very rude and follow no traffic laws that I've ever learned, had to look out for the 20 or more of us. I felt like we were one of those Youtube videos where the bike riders ride in circles in the middle of an intersection and complete stop the traffic. The only difference was, we could "flow" as fast or faster than the traffic, so we didn't slow things down. We just made ourselves the width of a car so they couldn't push us into the opening doors of the cars lining the sides of the streets. I just hope that rides like these help open the drivers' eyes to bikers.

Although there is strength in numbers, my complete lack of trust on the part of the drivers still dictates that I ride in the middle of the pack.


I have a lot of unmarried friends, both male and female, here in Malatya. And it seems like the men are looking for the women and vice verse but neither frequents the same spots or pursues the same activities, and they are all bound by the extremely strict social structure which reminds me of Victorian England and the requirements for chaperons and no talking to members of the opposite sex unless in a group. So this brings me to my new role as matchmaker which is a role I was informed that supposedly ALL women of my age and stature play in Turkey.

For the past couple of weeks I have had two people in mind in my role as matchmaker, one man in my conversation club who is nice, intelligent, funny, interesting, and wanting a girl friend. And one woman who is nice, intelligent, funny, and cheerful looking for "sparks." They are both from the same education and social strata so that's a big plus. Well, the topic of dating came up at the conversation group on Monday so it seemed the appropriate time to mention that "I have a nice female friend, blah, blah,blah..."His eyes lit up and he immediately replied, "Well, I'm feeling confident right now. Call her and see if she'll come to the cafe."

So...I did...And....she came.....I was a little nervous (but I didn't admit it) but he admitted that he was really nervous, and he was afraid he would say silly things...(Oh God!) but she arrived in her cheerful, upbeat self (in really cute jeans I might add.) The conversation was pleasant and especially lively when we talked about our favorite movies..(I can't believe how much they like Pulp Fiction over here) but it was getting way past my bedtime and it already takes too much effort to be nice to the second graders even when I've had a good night's sleep. So I suggested I walk her home (she's a really cute 27 ish and doesn't like to be alone at night) and ride my bike from her house. Well, the man accompanied us (I was wondering how she felt about that because then he would know where she lived) but they chatted along the way and, as we approached her door, he asked if he could get her phone number and she said "yes" and he was so happy he was almost skipping as we left her apartment door.

Now he wants to know if we can go to a pub one night this week (it would be my first pub in Malatya so that's kind of cool) and invite her along...I didn't know my role as chaperon would continue past the first coffee but we'll see where this takes us...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sharing has its Limits

Yesterday's bike ride took us through kilometers of apricot trees in full blossom. The sun was shiningbrightly. There wasn't a breeze in the sky. The water in the reservoir was the kind of calm, glass that makes for epic water skiing. I could almost imagine I was cycling through the vineyards and orchards of Eastern Washington except for four things: 1) the quantity of trash lining the shore of the river and hanging from the tree branches, 2) the samovar strapped to the back of a bicycle rattling like tin cans being pulled behind a wedding car 3) the uncontrolled weed burn that lapped at our bike tires as a sudden gust of wind turned the small fire into a 6 foot monster and 4) the beggar carrying a bottle of Coke.

It's the beggar about whom I will write. We had just settled down to our breakfast picnic. I had found a small clump of trash-free spring grass and begun to devour my pita, olives, butter, honey, cheese, whole tomato, and whole cucumber when an unkempt man sporting baggie Turkish flood pants, a dirty sweat shirt, and too-small sandals with toes poking through
his socks sauntered into our camp. He was hugging a 3/4 full liter of Coke. I think I'd read somewhere that in Turkey, if someone asks for food and has something to share e.g. Coke, they are invited to sit and given food. And this is exactly what happened. Although he was not invited to join the circle he was given some of everything we were eating.

Our lively conversation continued and everyone tended to ignore the man sitting just outside the circle who was, all the while, smiling and hugging his bottle of Coke. He was also waiting for the samovar to heat the water for tea. I should also mention that once the food was finished, a small fire was started to burn our mostly-plastic trash while the smokers lit their "after breakfast" cigarette. Now here's where it got interesting. The beggar also wanted a cigarette but the leader of our group said "no"(food, yes, cigarettes, no) and tried to steer the man away from the camp. Coke man turned from smiling to crazy. I was wondering if I should hop on my bike and get out of there. Fortunately his "crazy" only applied to the threat of being touched. (Men like to walk arm-in-arm and greet by touching their heads (or bike helmuts) together, but apparently not this guy.) With much loud persuasion and pointing commands much like we give our dog, Coke man relented and ran off to the next group of picnickers. There he bummed a cigarette and then returned to our camp to smoke it like aristocracy: cigarette gently held between Pointer and Tall Man, head cocked at a proud, confident angle, beautiful smoke rings wafting gently in the air. I was envisioning a Pasha sitting on a pillow surrounded by his "court."

Well, the Turkish conversation lulled me to sleep on my little clump of grass and when I woke, he was gone.....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Got some Easter at a Monastary

At 6:00 p.m. tonight I meet Pasha and several other bikers for an evening ride up Vank Hill. I'd been wanting to try this ride but I'd been afraid to try it on my own because there are just some places where I get too many unfriendly stares and this was one of them.

But what a different a group of male cyclists makes
in Malatya. Tonight we were celebrities like Vance Armstrong and his team winding through the crumbling down hill-side neighborhoods while bringing out small cheering crowds cheering, and offering tea of course, on our ascent to the top.

The entire ride was good but the destination was great. We ended at a very old Armenian church/monastery just as the sun was setting. Although the church is crumbling down, the four walls and roof still remain in tack and the crosses carved in the stone walls are still very visible. In front of the church is what looks like a blue army bunker but is actually a small room built over the top of a grave. The floor of the room is covered in Turkish carpets and pillows and appears to be used on occasion. Pasha,
my tour guide, said that some people in Turkey think it's spiritual to sleep near/on/by graves and that it's very possible that
people stay there, especially in the summer. He also thinks that this church is slated for restoration which would be interesting to see.

A quick Google search only provided me the name Vank church and no other details. It might be 600 years old or it could be 200 years old and modern construction techniques had not yet arrived. Whatever the age however, I could see how the location was chosen for it's solitude and peacefulness.

Standing there with my bike riding buddies photographying the beauty of being on a hill, by a church overlooking a valley at sunset, it occurred to me this is probably the only church I'll see this Easter, so I made it count.

Testing in Turkey

Turkey does a lot of testing. Students buy packets of test booklets to practice taking even more tests. Teachers write tests or copy questions from workbooks and paste them together to make extra tests. I liken it to taking SAT prep classes for 10 years and attending class 7 days per week. Not only do they take tests at school, they take lots of test-taking classes on the weekends so they can take more tests.

When the students get a question or two wrong, they bring them to me and ask me to explain why. Sometimes I am tricked by the questions because they are worded so poorly e.g. Google translate from Turkish to English, that even I have difficulty, or they are about a topic that is so foreign to a Turkish student (I guess you'd call this test bias in America) that I can see why they would have trouble. Take, for example, the multiple choice question a student had yesterday. It was about cats. Now, I don't know a single person here in Turkey who has a pet cat. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of wild cats and I think they are allowed to roam freely because they clean the dumpsters of leftover fish and chicken and keep the restaurant floors crumb-free. But, getting back to the test question. It used a sentence structure like this.... "Cats can _____ but they can't _____." The student chose (sleep/swim) and at first reading that seemed like a logical answer. Seriously, are we ever taught that cats can swim? The only reason I know they can swim (even though they don't like it) is because we tried giving our pet cat a bath and he definitely figured out how to swim when he realized he couldn't dig his claws into the poreceline. But how is a Turkish student going to know that? And the answer they chose was letter B and it's a timed test and, actually I thought it was a pretty good answer. But, the correct answer was really D, (swim/cook) and of course that's the better answer because the only cat who can cook is Garfield and he only makes lasagna, or does Jon cook that for him?... But seriously, I wasn't helping her with English, I was helping her with test-taking skills and the fine intricacies of a cat of which I can't ever see as being really that important.

And now let me jump ahead to today. An 8th grade English teacher brought me a test booklet from a last year's 7th grade practice test and asked if I would write 5 test questions from the reading passage so he could recycle the test again this year. I said, "Sure." The 6 or 7 line reading passage was about Ghandi. In the middle of the passage there was such an abrupt transition, that I'm pretty sure the original test writer was "cutting" and "pasting" on his computer and put his cursor in the middle of the sentence and deleted a couple of key words like "South Africa", "returned", "left", etc. I, for the life of me, could not tell when Ghandi left London, where he held some of his non-violent demonstrations, and when he returned to India. So I opened Safari on my phone and read some background information. I ended up rewriting the passage and five questions and handing it back to the teacher who was enjoying some tea and resting time. I threw in a couple of the "Ghandi did all of the following except:" types of test questions to be tricky, and I added my own sense of humor in "Ghandi married at age 13 because he fell in love." The correct answer was "It was common practice at the time" as in, it's still common practice here in Malatya to become engaged at a young age and marry early. (14, 15, 16..etc. with parent's consent.) There's an entire essay on why I think I was funny with my options for answers but this is not time or place for my humor so I'll get back to the topic at hand. Testing..Aaah, I also kept the teacher's day stress free by giving him the answers to the questions.

On a positive note, I asked the 5th graders to bring in baby pictures and write using past tense (which they just started) and present tense comparing themselves from babies to now. They loved this assignment and did some of the best work I've seen all year! Their grammar would not pass a test but their meaning, intent, and communication is beautiful!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weekend in Izmir

I have a new favorite city... Izmir...It's clean. It's green. It's on the water. It's got nice weather. It's got good food. It's got some nice places to sip beverages. It's got bike paths, jogging paths, and tennis courts. It's got nice people. It's got a metro and a good bus system. It's got good shopping. It's got ferries and a nice airport. I think I might like living there.....