Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bubble Gum and Baseball

School is winding down fairly quickly and I was caught a little off guard by just how fast the students went from working "fairly" hard to completely checking out. I actually have lesson plans and due dates through the end of the this week, but silly me. It didn't occur to me that the students would have had their state exams by now, so they care even less now than they did before about homework. The halls are always noisy. The students have reached a new level of wild. The water bottles with the flip tops make great water guns. Ice cream wrappers litter the hallways and playground, and the kids pretty much eat all day long. The building is hot and humid with sweaty, kid smell, and other body odors based up the excess amount of fatty foods being consumed, and my 100% polyester teaching jacket makes me feel like I'm baking in an oven. In other words, school is making me restless and grumpy.

But, there are two things that saved my lack of foresight for planning fun, non academic end-of-the-year activities. The first is baseball. I found a plastic bat and ball at the mall last night and started teaching baseball today. It's a big hit. They made a line. They learned to hold and swing, some made hits, and they walked to the end of the line for their next turn. I think I can make this game last through next week when we learn to throw and catch, keep score, count outs, and run the bases.

The second is bubble gum. One of the second grade teachers brought in a jar full and she counted out exactly 11 pieces for one of my "difficult" second grade classes. The "possibility" of a piece of gum for good behavior was AMAZING! Why didn't I think of that before? Oh, I know why. Because it's a mess. For example, one of the kids was using the gum to make sticky pictures on his desk that I'm sure will take the custodians weeks to remove. But, hey, he wasn't bothering me and the rest of the students were happily chomping away and working so I turned a blind eye.

Writing this blog and made it clear to me that I need to ditch the previous lesson plans and modify for next week. It will read something like this: "Students will be able to use the verbs "chew", "blow", and "play" while learning about the great American pasttime." And, if that doesn't work, they can do whatever they feel like and I'll drink tea.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

To honor our veterans, to herald in the first days of summer, and to satisfy a deep need to speak English I invited my recent acquaintance and a State Department fellow from the local university to my apartment for a traditional American bbq. There were some good things that came about as a result of this invitation/dinner.
* I got the nerve to order ground beef from the butcher. Because I don't really like the smell and/or the taste of the beef over here, I haven't bought much. But for this occassion I chose the most expensive cut and had the butcher grind it. This was a good choice as the beef was palatable. Next time, however, I have to ask him to put it through the grinder only one time as I prefer a little more texture and a little less mush.
* I bought a portable grill and charcoal, but not briquettes. I think they must save the remnants from the pita furnaces, bag it and sell it as charcoal because the pieces are all shapes and sizes. And, because I didn't see any lighter fluid at the store, I had to inquire as to how to work the grill. (stuffed newspaper in the bottom of the grill warms to briquettes enough to get them lit.)
* I bought beer. I've been very self-conscious about this but I found a "normal" liquor/beer store and the guy running it seemed really friendly even though I'm a women, so now I know where to go.
* I found blackberries and strawberries and bought vanilla ice cream to keep with the red,white, and blue theme.
* I found my first head of iceberg lettuce and it was crisp and delicious!
* My friend baked peanut butter cookies- her first batch here in Malatya- and brought Pringles potato chips, and a jar of lard with bacon bits from Poland (contraband..) which we spread on our burgers to call them bacon cheeseburgers.

We were still talking non-stop at 8:30 so I asked if she would like to stay for the night rather than take the bus back to the university. She liked that idea so we quickly made up the spare bed before we opened the bottle of wine (once I was in the liquor store, I figured I might as well stock up) and the container of Pringles and continued our native English conversation/snack food/wine fest late into the night.

Thank you, veterans, for all your do to keep America safe and for giving us this holiday. I appreciate you more now than ever, and I am anxious for the day when I set foot back on American soil and can give you a proper thank you and enjoy the barbecue tradition with family and friends.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


When I step back an try to analyze why, this week, I was so homesick, I can sum it up in one word. Stapler...I miss my stapler.

At St. Joe's, I had this big, heavy, 20-year-old, green, steel stapler that I inherited from the many loving teachers before me who had used my desk. Now, I'm not saying this stapler was perfect. It wasn't. It had some idiosyncrasies. For example, if students used the stapler, they often jammed it because they didn't give it the extra push with the palm of their hand to "finish" the staple. And, this stapler did not like to be held in the air to staple. It had to be used flat on a desk. Again, it needed that extra push to finish the job. But, my old green stapler was my favorite. It was a work horse handling thick stacks of paper and large jobs. It was the symbol of good old-fashioned quality American manufacturing.

My current school does not furnish staplers. As a matter of fact, it doesn't furnish anything except computer paper in small quantities. So far, I've bought three staplers this year and I've broken two. The staplers here are about the length of a crayon or the size we would find in a back-to-school student promotion pack. The staples range in size from 2 mm to the "heavy duty" at 3 mm which is the difference between stapling about two sheets of paper to about four sheets of paper depending upon the quality and thickness of the copy paper the school bought for the week. The staplers are made of plastic and a tiny bit of tin with a few thin springs thrown for function. In other words they are junk.

Stapler number 3, however, is a tiny bit more heavy duty so I've been caring for it like a mother bear with her cub. I keep it in my teacher jacket and I don't let students use it. However, I made the mistake on Wednesday of leaving it on my desk in 2C while I was packing up my flash cards at the end of class. Because the students have a "no boundaries" philosophy e.g. they feel free to pick up anything, sit at the teacher's desk, play on her computer (that's why none of them work), etc., so within seconds a students had jammed stapler number 3.

My response was probably a little harsh for the crime (picture mother bear herself) but I'm homesick for quality manufacturing and things that actually work the way they are intended. Actually, I'm homesick for a lot more, but the stapler kind of sums it up.

(Just a side note...I'related this story to Eric and he said, "Oh, that's nothing. In China it was common for us to open a brand new stapler, test it, and throw it across the room." So far, I've gotten at least a few sheets stapled with each stapler.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lunch time Football (soccer) Matches

The arrival of spring weather also means the beginning of a soccer tournament between classes held at noon each day. These matches have been going on for about a month and I think we're down to the playoffs where the best teams of each grade are matched against opponents from a grade one year higher or lower. For example, today's match was 4B versus 3C. Because most of my misbehaving 4th grade boys are also the "stars" of 4B's football team I thought attending their match would be a good way to "earn" some better behavior from them.

Basically this match was 4th grade soccer at it's finest with the added pressure of a humiliating defeat should 3C snag a win. I have to start with the goalie for 4B. I never knew there was an official school PE uniform because on PE day the students usually wear their favorite football team's colors or an official jersey (well, maybe a Turkish faux official copycat) of their favorite player or team. For example, the red and yellow Galatasary, black and white Besiktas, or the infamous Fenerbache (in trouble for match-fixing) jerseys are common PE clothes. It's common to see Ronaldo, Messe, or other big names stamped on their backs. But, 4B's goalie did not get the memo to wear some "cool" clothes or to bring his goalie gloves. He was sporting his school uniform polo shirt that may have fit in September but was now riding up over his poochy belly (they call it a balkon- balcony) leaving just a line of white skin showing over his bright orange PE shorts. His PE shorts had a untied string threaded around the waist that was swinging down between his legs touching his knees with every step he took. If I were his teacher, I would have politely asked him if we could take care of the uniform issues so he would "fit in" just a little better. The string was very distracting to me as a viewer but I'm thinking it was a little awkward for him as a player as well. And, I know his having buck teeth is not his fault, but the kids call him "rabbit" and I'm not sure it's a term of endearment. Turkish or will be mean. This kid is probably not a real goalie. I'm not even sure he plays soccer. But, I'm thinking the "stars" of the class were so sure they would dominate that he was just there to fill a slot.

Being the underdogs, 3B did not have the pressure of a win, but they did have the enthusiasm to play, they hustled a lot more, and they had a scary coach (I guess because he is an administrator of the school he can stand at one of the goal posts and coach his players.) So you can guess where this is going, 3B did make the first goal. The "stars" on 4B were livid and threw the soccer right into their own goalie's chest, stormed down to the center, and resumed an ugly match. They, however, did not volunteer to play goalie because they wanted they all wanted to be forwards and try for the unassisted goals. In general at the lunch time matches, red cards are common..usually at least one per game. Fights between the halves and at the end are common and the disrespectful body language, arguing with the refs, and fake injuries make them appear like mini football stars.

I know you're dying to know who won but I couldn't stay until the end. I don't know if "sportsmanship" is an American concept just like "weekend", but I do know their behavior made me uncomfortable. Have we been so trained to watch for bullying and to earn trophies for good sportsmanship that we've lost the concept of a sports competition? Or, is this just another example of a "fair" Turkish match?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bus Ride with 8th Grade

Although I will write about the actual field trip experiences in a separate blog, I thought the bus ride to and from Mersin warranted its own page. I have chaperonned many 8th Grade field trips so being invited to attend this class trip was exciting for me. 8th graders are fun to take on trips and the Turkish students are no exception. As a matter of fact, when they arrived with their back packs, their carefully planned non-uniform outfits, sunglasses, cameras, purses, wallets, bags of snack food, fingernails painted in bold colors for the girls, and the lack of extra clothes or jackets for the boys, I could have been with any group of 8th grade students in America.

But here are some of the differences:

First -This bus had 3 drivers, 1 tea boy/apprentice driver, and a bed located behind the driver's seat so the drivers could switch out driving and sleep between shifts. This was a 2 night-1 day trip.

Second- We left at 11:00 p.m. so bus became kind of like a hotel, except that we were with 8th graders so really they didn't really sleep that first night. They were too excited.

Third -The tea boy/apprentice driver has three jobs. 1) He serves tea and coffee. I like this duty. 2. he gets to start the bus so it's all warmed up for the real driver(s). 3. He's just a little older than the students so he joins in their fun. (See 6 and 9 below.)

Fourth -The bus stops every two hours for tea/smoke breaks and at sunrise for a trip to pray at the mosque. I guess I slept in spite of the noise the first night because I don't remember most of the stops.

Fifth - It's OK to pick up strangers/hitch-hikers, especially if those people can act like a local GPS the bus driver.

Sixth - Sitting is optional but dancing in the aisles to loud Turkish pop or Turkish folk music is a must. Imagine squeezing a middle school dance into a single, narrow bus aisle and turning the music up loud and you've got the even activities. When the driver hits the brakes or swerves quickly, we each grab on to each other or a seat and hope we don't fly through the windshield. I've got to admit that I really enjoyed dancing on the bus. It's very liberating!

Seventh - From about 3 - 4:30 am there was total silence on the bus because all the students fell asleep. Then, the bus stopped for the prayer call and the "faithful" (well, actually, only three teachers got off the bus and entered the mosque to pray.)

Eighth - I think we were all asleep to too tired to think, because we drove another 20 kilometers down the road before anyone noticed that we'd left one of the teachers praying at the mosque. So, the bus pulled a u-turn and 20 minutes later we retrieved him. Everyone, including the left teacher, thought this was really funny.

Ninth - One of the male middle school teachers is perfect for his job. He walked around with a can of shaving cream at 5:30 a.m. and sprayed a glob on the heads of every sleeping student. Watching them wake up, stretch, brush their hair out of their face, rub their eyes awake all while unknowingly smearing shaving cream all over themselves was hilarious. Some students had totally painted their faces white before they recognized anything was amiss. A few were not too happy and paybacks to the offending teacher including shaving cream fights in the aisles and water fights at the bus stops occurred for the remainder of the ride home, but the prank was worthy of "Candid Camera."

Except for the wild partying in the aisles, our bus drivers were very conscientious and courteous of traffic laws and lane stripes...not always common in my experience. So, it was a good trip.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bug in my Mouth

On the downhill sprint of today's early morning jog, a bug flew into the gaping hole of my mouth as I was gasping for air. My quick reflexes closed the wind pipe before totally inhaling the live bug. And, I was able to blow him out, unharmed I think, and avoiding a sting (it looked like a small bee or wasp) all while never breaking a stride. I lifted my head just in time to stop myself dead-in-my tracks from a head-on-collision with a parked bus. And to think that for the past nine months I've been worried about the erratic moving vehicles. This is the closest I've come to a crash....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Teaching First

Today's classroom event is either evidence that I should not teach young children, an argument against leaving a non-bilingual, native-English speaking teacher alone in a classroom, or both.

Here's the scenario:
It was my fourth, second grade class of the day so I felt like I had mastered today's speaking activity. As a matter of fact, all of the classes were speaking so much English and so proud of their efforts with this particular game, that I was actually thinking I should submit this idea to an ESL website so other teachers could be inspired these last few weeks of school.

The game was called "Race to the Moon." The classes were divided into teams of 3 or 4. I drew rocket ships and paths to the moon on the chalk board. Each team was assigned a rocket ship and given a pile of flash cards. The students were to create sentences using their assorted flash cards. The teams were awarded a star for each sentence they spoke. The first round was pretty slow as the students got the hang of the game but by the 3rd round, some teams were getting pretty clever. Ex: The pillow is on the bed. The pillow is under the bed. The pillow is next to the bed. There are 50 pillows on the bed. There are 50 pillows under the bed...etc. (Unfortunately, some teams were not so clever.) But, the best part for me was that ALL the students were excited about the game. All were participating and speaking English. I could hear that a year's worth of flash cards and exercises were coming together with the positive results of both speaking and comprehension. It was exciting to see..for about 30 seconds that is.

Unfortunately, one team had to win. Team 1 was the first to land on the moon. (Actually, it was pretty neat that Team 1 won because 2 of the 4 students are not usually so successful.) However, a boy on Team 4 was jealous, got mad, and refused to participate in the rest of the game. Then, another boy from Team 3 joined in and started to cry. So, I sat down and tried in my most simple English to explain that it's "just" a game. Trust me, "just" is a hard word to explain. So, I tried changing the activity. I pulled some smiles out of my pocket..temporary relief. I tried the "ha, ha" game. No luck. Turkish words were thrown across the room and before I knew it, 7 of the 14 students were crying, not fake crying, but outright bawling: tears dripping from chins, red puffy ears, a cacophony of sobs, heads buried in arms on desks. I had absolutely no idea what to do. One part of me wanted to laugh, another part of me wanted to say "Stop, this is so stupid!", and another part of me started to panic. If the homeroom teacher walks in, this looks pretty bad.

Just then the bell rang. I wanted to hold them in class and garner some semblance of control before they left, but the students are so conditioned to bolt at the bell, that I thought maybe their trips to the bathroom and separation from each other would be the best. Unfortunately, things continued their downhill slide. As I was picking up my notebooks, one of the grounded, really cool, easy going students said, "Mrs. Jansen! Come! Run!" and she grabbed my hand and led me out the back door, around the side of the building, and out towards the front of the school where one of the crying students was marching to the gate, her backpack bouncing up and down one her back, and tears streaming down her face. She was "going home." The security guard came out (thank goodness he like me because it looks pretty bad right now) and he convinced the girl that she should turn around and go back to school. I think he was trying not to laugh, but I was still worried about how this looked and I still didn't even know why all the kids were crying.

Back pack girl and I headed into the school and up the stairs to her classroom. As luck would have it, I met my co-teacher at the top of the stairs and asked her if she could find out what just happened. I was right about most of the situation. The boys were jealous of Team 1, and particularly this girl (who never wins at games and is usually picked on by the others) and they chose to be really mean in flinging their Turkish insults and brought the class to tears.

As I reflect back on this day, a first of its kind with so many students bawling, my inability to communicate in Turkish the problems with and possible solutions to their behaviors coupled with my lack of tolerance and understanding of this age-appropriate behavior remind me why I prefer to teach the older students.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Finding an Apartment

Finding housing is always stressful. But adding the complications of language, foreign laws and practices, and time constraints, and my heart is beating a little faster than normal. But the papers have been sent to my lawyer for review and I found a fast-food burger joint at the mall that serves Efes so all is good with the world. (The fact that they actually serve beer in the mall is a big seal of confirmation that this may be a good move.)

Here are some stress points of the weekend:
*The realtor does not speak English but her colleague did...a little. Thank goodness.
*After seeing the first unit, I was able to convey that clean and modern bathrooms are a priority.
*Driving around only resulted in one minor fender bender. Although angry words were exchanged and my realtor was most probably at fault, no cops were called and we just continued on our merry way.
* If you can't show the actual apartment it's ok for female realtors to knock on strangers' doors and ask to look around a similar unit.
*The realtors collect their fee the day the contract is written, not the day it is signed. I spent a lot of money today with not a lot to show for it.

Here are some reasons to be excited:
*The apartment is located close to the Aegean Sea, the metro, biking, ferries, cinemas, malls, restaurants, tennis, swimming...
*Guests will want to visit me because they will have their own private bedroom and bathroom, and super awesome, friendly, cool tour guide to show them around.

So, the reservation line is open. I hope you'll come see me in Izmir (Ancient Smyrna, Ephesus, St. Mary's House, Cesme and more) all about an hour away.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Trip to the Dried Apricot Factory

I joined second grade for a short field trip to an apricot factory.
One of the parents of this class owns this business so I knew it would be a special trip.

First we put our hands through a sanitizing machine. The students did not like the smell of the solution. I unwitting replied, "Oh, it's alcohol." The students started of chorus of the word "alcohol" (a taboo word) and someone else said it's "menthol." Glad we clarified that...

The apricots are washed and dried. Then each apricot is hand-checked for blemishes and stems which are cut-off.

The apricots are hand-packed in plastic containers.

The students had fun running the vacuum package sealing machine. It sealed four packages at once.

The students had fun packing the smaller containers into the larger boxes as the apricots came off the conveyor belt.

The students are being presented with a plaque from the owner of the company.

Malatya's apricots are "world famous" and now you know the fabrication story behind that tiny apricot. Hopefully, I'll get to see the harvest as well.

Just a side note: right now the special delicacy is green apricots. Yes, Malatyans pick some apricots early while they are still green and fuzzy and eat them. They are a little tart and crunchy for me but based upon the number of street vendors selling them, they must be quite popular.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2C Opened the Floodgates

2C made me cry again yesterday. When I walked in the classroom, pencils were flying, soccer was being played with half-full water bottles, children were fighting, mouths were full of food. I sat down and waited for the chaos to slow down (even to a trickle). It never did. I felt the tears well up and just decided to leave the classroom. I waited in the hall trying to get myself under control. The music teacher saw me, walked into the room and started yelling at the class. I headed to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. She sent two of the worst (there are 16 in the class - 14 mis-behavors) upstairs although don't know what upstairs means. Since they are unescorted, maybe it means a trip to the school candy story.

Anyway, I had just gotten the class under control and speaking English when the two (of the 14) culprits returned, knocked on the door, disrupted the fragile peace, and said "I am sorry teacher." They sound like robots when they say it and have no comprehension of the meaning. I motioned for them to sit down (accepting their apology was not going to happen, because it would be insincere, just like their apologies) , but by then the peace was broken. More pencils and erasers were thrown. I had a pocket bulging with miscellaneous projectiles. After class, I told my co-teacher that I needed to talk to the homeroom teacher. The behavior is unacceptable. She came with me and when we approached the classroom, every child was wet and there was a 1/2 cm of water sprayed all over the floor. It was like walking into a cage of monkeys. The homeroom teacher was nowhere to be found so my co-teacher asked me to get the head master, which I gladly did. He said he would come but never did. If he could not grasp the sense of urgency in my body language and Turkish then this class will "rule" the school by 8th grade. 18 days (720 minutes) left of this class...And, I am counting every minute.

...I just had a brainstorm.. These kids like math so every day we will count backwards from 720, subtracting 40 each day. It will take up lots of time because it's difficult to count backwards in a foreign language and it will give me an internal sense of glee and a chuckle.

...Update: on the morning after this incident, the students came bearing gifts and apologies. That was awkward for me. I was able to muster a "thank you" but it brought forth very conflicting emotions...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fourth Grade Field Trip

My Turkish has improved enough to understand that the 4th graders were going on a field trip, but not enough to understand the itinerary so yesterday's field trip to Gazientep was filled with unexpected surprises and delights. One hundred and forty of us met at 6:00 a.m. in front of the school and boarded three Mercedes luxury cruiser coaches equipped with individual DVD players, free WiFi, refrigerators, stoves for heating water, and an ever-so-attentive tea boy. The best part of the trip was that I had absolutely no responsibilities. And believe me, after taking countless 8th graders outdoor education camping in the Pacific Northwest for five days or "dive hotel" camping for three days in New York City, this absence of responsibility was so appreciated!

Our first stop was a cliff side tea garden/WC (think: American West outhouse . I passed on the pit stop and skipped the photo op due to the large quantities of trash littering the scenery. But, if I held my nose and only looked up, the scenery was impressive: towering mountains, steep cliffs, spring waterfalls, and budding trees.

Our next stop was for breakfast (kavahlti). The restaurant was located at the back of a very clean gas station. (There was a man who washed all the buses while we ate breakfast.) The bathrooms were spotless and worth every bit of the 1 lira piece charged by the attendant sitting at the entrance. The outside balcony of the restaurant was overlooking a beautiful lake and trash-free orchard. The food was traditional: three cheeses, black olives, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, bread, honey, butter and jam. The tea was hot but many parents complained that the glasses were too big so their tea got cold so they kept the waiter hopping.

We got back on the highway and my eyes were glued to the window. We were entering the textile capital of Turkey and it was fun to see all the factories and brand names I recognize: Pierre Cardin, Levi, etc.The roads are smoother, the country side is cleaner, and it felt like I was entering a new country.

Our first stop in Gazientep (Antep as the locals say) was the zoo. We had one and three quarters hours to explore "Europe's Third Largest" so off we walked. The zoo was a great field trip for me to learn some Turkish words and to speak lots of English to any students who were interested. I was also asked by complete strangers to pose in their group photos. I was tempted to whip out my permanent marker and ask if they wanted me to autograph their scarves too, but I'm really just kidding. Basically, it's pretty awkward to pose with strangers...OK, but back to the zoo. It was beautiful and clean. Although many of the animals are still in traditional Bronx Zoo types of cages, they are building many of the new animal friendly/depression reduction types of
enclosures. Aside,from the giraffe eating figs (do our giraffes eat figs?) I also got a kick out of the Mickey Mouse trash cans. See the picture below.

For being "Europe's Third Largest" zoo, the time allotted was just about right. We saw everything except the aviary. They also have some really cute spotted dear and because of the warm climate they can reproduce almost all year long, so I'm guessing their enclosure will be too small by about next month...the large population reminded me of some of the government buildings in Montgomery County Maryland.

Our next stop was lunch. Now here's why I like Turkish private school field trips. No sack lunches involved..We stopped for a full three-course lunch will all the trimmings: lahmacun (Turkish pizza), salad and bread, chicken, beef, and lamb kebobs (yes, all three), roasted eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, all followed by the famous Gazientep baklava made with native green pistachios. It was so delicious that I ate every drop of everything and was ready for a nap.

Unfortunately a nap was not on the itinerary, but a stop at the science museum was. This place is cool, new and modern, and the exhibits are still working. Go Turkey! They had some really cute robots that sang a song in English.

I figured our adventures were finished at this point, but no. Our next stop, the Mosaic Museum, was my favorite. This museum has full sized excavated mosaics from Roman villas that were discovered as recently as 2003 under water at an ancient town call Zeugma. Many of these mosaics are from the 1st and 2nd centuries and they are in beautiful shape. As a matter of fact, this place is a quilter's inspiration many cool geometric designs. I loved this museum because I felt like I was walking in actual Roman houses and experiencing their beautiful floors and walls. If I understand the story correctly, the ruins were discovered when the water level dropped due to a the Ataturk Dam project on the Euphrates River. Imagine how fun it would be to look under a couple of inches of water and see these:

I slept most of the trip home, but I was a little cold because I was sitting right behind the bus driver who kept the window open in order to sneak a few cigarettes on the way. Also, today's story wouldn't be complete without a little description of the driving. Our driver, in typical Malatya style, preferred to straighten out many of the blind curves on the roads. Luckily we did not meet any oncoming cars as our big bus would induce great damage in a head-on collision. And if we were to meet another bus doing the same....I don't even want to imagine the catastrophe. I should also mention that one of our buses got a flat tire, so we all squeezed into two buses for the in-town driving. We were met with a new bus for the ride home because I don't think our original bus had a spare tire.

Aside from the crazy driving, it was a great, responsibility-free day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Night time Bike Ride

What's dark, crazy, wet, and a whole lot of fun? If you guessed biking at night in a warm drizzle after a heavy downpour then you are right. Luckily my adult beginning English class did not happen so I was able to join the ride. (I say "Luckily" because normal people who have not lived in Turkey for 9 months might be perturbed to wait around an empty school building for for 2 hours to teach a class only to be told at exactly 6:00 p.m., the class start time, that all of their adult students had been called to emergency meetings at their "various" places of work so we would have to cancel the class until next week. But, the new me just took the news in stride, said a little "yippee" to myself and ran out the door.)

The ride started at 8:00 p.m. at my favorite outdoor adventure shop. We all turned on our headlights, tail lights, and helmut lamps except for the one crazy male adolescent who had none of the safety lamps from above, but used his "stealth" look to take undue risks weaving through traffic, charging red lights, and winning at games of chicken with the crazy Malatya drivers. However, just to reassure any family members who are already concerned about my biking here, I want it to be known that I stopped at traffic lights, assumed all drivers were drunk and couldn't see me, and gave plenty of space to parked cars.

Of course, a ride wouldn't be complete without a stop for chai (or two) and a cigarette (or two or three) and this ride was no different. I know my male friends didn't give their choice of tea house a second thought, but I sure noticed the absence of women (there were none) and the quantity of men (there were a lot) hanging out. I pulled down my hat, quickly took a seat near the wall and tried to blend in. Luckily my friends were non-plussed and we enjoyed a lively loud conversation between chanted lines of the very last, very loud Thursday night, extra long prayer blaring from the minaret.

There were many great parts to this ride including: 1) talking to a man from Izmir and getting lots of ideas for when I move there. 2) the challenge of the ride from dodging pot holes in the dark, to using brakes on rain soaked, slick and slippery cobblestones. It was a brain tune-up. However, there were a couple of "bests."

The second best part of the ride was the ride's all downhill.
The first best part of the ride was the cold Efes beer in the fridge. The fact that I even had one is novelty. Thanks, Dad!

I'm looking forward to next Thursday's ride and hoping for a repeat performance in attendance of my English class....

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Early Riser in a Night Owl Country

As the days get longer the first prayer call comes earlier and earlier each morning. This presents a big problem for someone like me who is already an "early riser" and a light sleeper. Today, I'm convinced the microphone on the minaret was at its loudest setting yet. Today's 4:30 am prayer call woke me up and woke up all the birds living in the trees in the mosque garden below my apartment window and the two living in the vent above my stove. Falling back asleep was not going to happen.

So, I sipped my treasured cup of filter press Costa Rican on my balcony, played two words in "Words with Friends" on my phone, and forced myself down my five flights of stairs and out the door for an early morning jog. I haven't been running outside much (I can count on one hand, the number of runs I've made off the tread mill) but it was such a beautiful morning that I hated to let the time go to waste.

My decision and self motivation was well-rewarded. The sidewalks were virtually empty thus saving myself from the evil eye and/or disgusting stares of the rural Turkish men. There were occasional bakers stoking their furnaces and several groups of women walking together (I wouldn't call it exercise because they were still in their fancy shoes..but at least they were moving) but generally I was alone on a beautiful morning watching the sun rise, listening to the roosters crow, and feeling the energy that a good morning jog can provide.

It's hard to explain to my night owl friends why going on a 30 km bike ride at 8:30 at night and stopping for tea and possibly finishing by 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. is not a good idea for me. But, I'm glad I said "no" last night so I was able to say "yes" to this beautiful morning.