Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Woman's Meal

This afternoon I was invited to a friend's house for kisir. (Take the dots off the "i's" and you'll have the actual Turkish spelling.) This is a traditional women's meal made with bulgar, red pepper paste, parsley, and other spices, I think. It's served with sliced cucumber, tomatoes, Romaine lettuce leaves and lemon. The meal pairs well ayrun, the drink made from yogurt, water and salt.Dessert is an integral part of every meal and today was no exception, whute pudding-like cake covered with honey sweetened shredded wheat. The meal was delicious and the conversation interesting: comparing social programs in both Turkey and the US,capital punishment, leaders, Syria, religion, travel, etc.

It was difficult to pull myself away and back to packing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A "Shout Out" to Turkish Doctors and Hospitals

The last thing I remember is thinking Mark's, the guy from London who is biking to Hong Kong, brakes squeak as we were riding down the steep hill into Yesilyurt. The next thing I saw were nurses and doctors, an MRI machine, and my friend Fatma asking, "Do you remember me?"

It took me awhile to understand that I was not dreaming and I was the patient, but thankfully, I am OK. My helmut did its job and my scapula and rotator cuff will heal. Although my worst fear had come true and I was in a Turkish hospital as a patient, my fear was unwarranted. The treatment I got was kind, compassionate, and thorough. I actually think I got the VIP treatment because I never really waited for any doctors or x-rays. It was very nice.

However, my blogs will be shorter...lucky you... because typing with one hand is not fun.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Biking for Breast Cancer

(Clockwise from me, Kemel, Fatma, Mark Wright)
Tonight I met Mark Wright, a tall 27 year old British guy, who is biking from London to Hong Kong approximately 16,000 kilometers and 5 months of riding. The fact that I got to met this guy in Malatya on the night he just happened to be riding through town is a pretty interesting story:

One of my new Turkish-English teacher friends has been part of an organization called "Warm Showers" for about two years. I think of "Warm Showers" as couch surfing for bicycle riders. I'm fascinated that a single woman in Malatya (remember when I was told it's IMPOSSIBLE for a woman to live alone in Malatya...it's just not done...an aunt or a friend always comes to stay with the girl if her parents aren't home....blah,blah, blah..) opens up her home to strangers, and men at that. I asked if she worries about safety and she says, "no" she always has another friend stay with her at first until she gets to know the bike rider. She has found, so far, that all the people biking across Turkey are very nice, personable, and interesting . She has had very good experiences...

So, fast forward to tonight. The aforementioned bike rider, Mark, had emailed about a week ago and arrived in town at 3:30 p.m. My friend texted me and we all met at the statue in the city center, walked to Kanal Boyu for tantuni (spicy meat rolled in a flat bread), and then ate dessert at Mado where we joined up with my Monday night conversation club. My special "native speaker" Mark, was a big hit for show-n-tell.

Because he will be in town for several days and mentioned he would be doing some minor bike and camp equipment repairs, I walked him to my local bike shop and introduced him to some bike friends and the owners of the shop. I knew they would be happy to meet him and he was excited, as well, because they will be able to provide additional ideas/suggestions for the repairs he will make tomorrow.

To learn more about Mark's journey you can check out his website and blog:

And, now I'm going to bed and reflect once again the amazing random experiences I've had these past months...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Observations of new home

(I pushed the shopping cart to the building in the center back, up the elevator and into my apartment.)
This weekend I flew to Izmir and started moving into my new home. This is going to be a very different experience from Malatya and all other places I've lived. I'm excited for the opportunity but also nervous because, once again, everything is new and the language continues to be a barrier.
1) I'm living in a high rise apartment complex. I've never lived like this...Apparently there are many rules (that I can't read) and I already broke one. No hanging carpets from the balcony rails. Hanging carpets in Malatya is very popular, but against the rules here. Guess I'll have to buy a vacuum.
2) High rise apartments have a trash chute. This is fun. I think I went to the chute 4 times to test gravity.
3) There is a "no cardboard" picture on the chute. I dragged my very large bicycle box all around my building trying to find a solution. Finally I got the nerve to ask "nerede" (where ?) to the man just getting off the elevator. I don't think he really knew either but he pointed me to a wall. I guess the "super " can take care of it.
4) I am a 5 minute walk from a major mall with a Carrefour (a FrenchWallmart). I loaded my cart with pounds of cleaning supplies, a clothes rack, mops, brooms,and new dishes. Then I pushed the cart home,wheeled it into the elevator, up 9 floors to my apartment, and into my apartment where I unloaded it. I left the cart in front of my apartment where I think the clerks from the store retrieve them and take them back. Either that or a kid takes them back and collects the 1 lira coin for each cart. (Better than finding money in pay phones, if you ask me)..
5) I have access to two very nice pools. Seriously, it's like living at the Hilton.
6) I don't have electricity. Just a minor, temporary inconvenience(I hope). The lack of fluency in language could be to blame, but in this case, the realtors were yelling at each other and I think the owner's realtor and the owner made a big boo boo. I may just "forget" to pay the rent if it's not fixed when I return at the end of the month.
7) Izmir is hot and humid in the summer. The thermometer says 40C ( if I multiply by 2 and add 30 that means approximately 110F. That's probably about right..

Although the Jansen hotel is now officially open for business, you might want to wait for the fall or spring to come. Whatever you do, please come!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Making the Best Use of Time

I have a lot unplanned time on my hands. School for students ended on June 8th but teachers must come every day for "seminars" from 10:00 - 3:00 until June 29th. The school has asked me to help them recruit new teachers and have given me a beautiful office with leather furniture, a beautiful mahogany desk, a credenza covered with magazines, and a leather padded door (I'm worried I'll need the pads for beating my head against a wall after 2 1/2 weeks in here with little to do). The best part of the room is the computer with a Turkish keyboard and no internet.

Speaking of internet, I love my supervisor because she recognizes the inefficiencies of trying to post jobs in America without internet and she suggested to the head master that I could work at home. I liked that idea, too, except that I wouldn't get my free lunch every day..But the head master said "no". Logic never overrides the marketing appeal of having a "native" walking around campus when prospective parents come visit. So here is my morning:

10:00 a.m. Arrived at school - Notice there is no working internet in the office, although there is an ethernet cable. Tried to plug in. No luck. Wrote three word documents that I will copy and paste into emails when I have internet.

10:20 - Looked for internet help. Found some custodians. They fiddled around. No luck.

10:30 - Walked around the school searching for wi-fi hot spots. No luck. Determined there is no internet anywhere today when I saw wires laying across the entire play ground.

10:45 - Started writing this blog (on a word document).

11:00 - Drank some water. Surfed my for emails. Got a phone call from Izmir Real Estate Agent who said she will be busy on Saturday and can't meet me at my new apartment to give me the keys even though I've paid a huge realtor's fee, deposit and June's rent, and they need a power of attorney, blah, blah, blah...I said, "This is "bull@#$%. I'm calling my attorney." Hung up. (Interesting phrasal verb..Do we still "hang up" cell phones or do we "end" the call?) Had fleeting thoughts that I'm a dumb American who has wired thousands of Turkish lira to a stranger and still doesn't have keys to show for it. Blood pressure was rising.

11:05 - Got a call back from real estate agent. Another agent can meet me at the apartment....No mention of Power of Attorney.....What the !@#$

11:15 - Wrote more on my blog.

12:06 - Looked at my watch....Lunch time!

12:50 - Suggested again that I go home and work from home. Got an OK from the Head Master.

1:00 - Internet now working with 1 to 2 bars. Decided to stay at school.

1:20 - Copied and pasted the morning's word documents into email's and watched the little spinner go around while they slowly "sent."

2:00 - Posted the English teaching position at my alma mater.

2:40 - Twiddled my thumbs.

2:50 - Shut down the computer, put on my tennis shoes and headed out the door.

I've now posted the job openings in the four places that I can think of. Hopefully some resumes will start coming in. By the way, if you want a English teaching job in Turkey, send me your resume... (OK, now posted in five places)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A friend and I took Martha Stewart's recommendation to ride a hot air balloon in Cappadocia and we would agree that it is an amazing, once-in-a-life-time experience! It is well worth it if you are ever in Turkey. I'll let you check out her website and pictures because her professional team will do a much better job illustrating the beauty and uniqueness of the area.

But, what I'm sure Martha didn't do was take three buses a dolmus, a taxi, and a ride with a farmer to explore the area. She also probably didn't enjoy the company of four stray dogs. So, I will give you the real Goreme, Turkey without the a tour guide or production crew. My friend and I met at the Masti (big bus station in Malatya) on Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm excited about leaving Malatya and heading west towards tourism, English speakers and alcoholic beverages. This six hour bus ride to Kayseri was in a modertly modern Mercedes coach with entertainment systems built into eat seat back. This sounds like fun but everything was mostly old American shows dubbed in Turkish..not fun to watch. And, when I inquired about Wi-Fi (there was a USB port) the driver looked at me like I was from Mars..either that or he didn't understand my Turkish. So I settled in for a nap.

After about 2 1/2 hours the bus made a dinner stop at a fairly clean bus-company owned rest area. Not realizing this was "dinner" I bought a banana and a bag of peanuts which helped pass the time for the next 3 hours. We arrived at Kayseri and promptly looked for buses to Goreme (the heart of Cappadocia).Unfortunately, the best we could find was a bus to Nevesehir which would get us to within 10 km of our destination. After a quick second dinner of manti (Turkish ravioli) we took the 1 hour ride to Nevesehir. Thinking that Cappadocia was this amazing world travel destination we were surprised to be the only tourists on the bus. But we struck up a conversation with a man aross the aisle who spoke a little of about five languages and helped us located a passenger on the bus who was going to Goreme.

Arrival at theNevesehir bus station led us to believe that we were taking the very non-touristic route. As a matter of fact, the bus station was dark, only three of us disembarked, and there was neither dolmus nor taxi to be found. We were now following a strange Turkish male whose only word I understood was "gel"(come). He appeared to knows what he was doing but this is a common Turkish trait. In the quest to be hospitable, many offer to help. Because we were in the middle of nowhere we had to follow him for awhile, but I was mentally planning my exit strategy should it be necessary, and secretly very thankful that I was not alone.

After about 10 minutes a dolmus (small, local minibus) arrived. It wasn't going to Goreme but the driver said he would take us to a place that would have a dolmus to Goreme. By now it was getting late..10:00 pm and I was a little concerned that we were following a strange man through a deserted part of Nevesehir to an unknown destination. I was also sad we were not sipping wine in our luxurious cave hotel in Goreme. We passed empty tea shops, hardware stores, and clothing stores...all dark for the evening.

Another 10 minute walk plus a 10 minute wait in front of a late night market finally rewarded us with a dolmus enroute to Urgup (not Goreme) but the driver said told us to hop on. He could take us to a taxi stand. Fine. I was imagining a 2 minute jaunt to a corner taxi stand, but it turned out to be a 15 minute "local" picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. The man we had been following inquired of all the passengers how to get to Goreme. (I knew he didn't know what he was doing.) At the next stop, a dark dusty road in the middle of nowhere, a man got up and motioned for us to follow him off the bus. He would call us a taxi. I said "No, thanks." I would ride to the end of the line if necessary...better than get off in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily, we did not have to wait long. A few minutes later we saw a four star hotel. We made a quick decision to get off, walked into the lobby and asked the receptionist to call a taxi. Another 10 minute wait and our taxi arrived. At this point I was hoping the hotel would still be open and they would have our reservation. What I should have hoped was that our driver had GPS or knew his way around the cave hotel district. After three phone calls and lots of dead ends, we finally arrived at the front door. Luckily, the long rides were worth it. The hotel was beautiful and a small bottle of white wine was waiting for us in the mini bar. We admired the beautiful view and got to bed early in anticipation of the balloon flight scheduled for the next morning.

The next day's transportation consisted of shuttles to and from the hot air balloon and walking. It was a pleasant touristy day. Followed by a nice dinner cooked in a clay pot.

On Sunday morning, after hiking through caves, villages, and hot desert landscape, for several hours, accompanied by three stray dogs, we decided we should try again for a local dolmus to take us back to our hotel. The sun was baking hot, we were out of water, and we hoped to catch up with a Malatya tour group for our ride home. While walking along the small shoulder of a busy highway, hot, sweaty and tired, we looked behind and saw what looked like a white dolmus van. We put out our thumbs and the van stopped. After hopping on and saying goodbye to our sad looking dogs, we looked around and realized this was a family van not a dolmus. But, a seat is a seat and a ride is a ride, so we stayed on. They farmer, his wife and daughter and son seemed happy enough to give us a lift. We bounced along chatting in Turkish and German until arrival back at our destination..

For our ride home, even though we'd purchase tickets for regular buses, we were able to tag along with a Malatya tour group for free. (This coincidence is almost an entirely new story) The ride home was an awesome experience because I met my new friend Fatma and the group toured a winery. What a surprise!

So, 3 buses, 2 dolumuses, 1 hot air balloon, 1 taxi and 3 dogs later, we returned to Malatya. It felt like a lifetime of experiences in 2 short days.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Till the Cows Come Home

My bike ride home from school takes me through what appears to be an old dumping ground. Piles of broken concrete, pieces of bricks, bags of trash, and clumps of asphalt dot the side of the road like termite hills providing homes for the many stray dogs. This dumping ground is also sprinkled with bits of thistle and clover, clumps of grass, and numerous other weeds and flowers. Often this field is being grazed by local sheep and cows and tended by the moms from the neighboring houses in the mornings, and by the children of those same houses after school.

About a month ago a group of young girls ranging from about
10 to 14 years old and dressed in traditional colorful Turkish skirts and scarves with embroidered flowers came running from all sides of the hill calling "Merhaba" and "Hello". Within seconds they had surrounded my bicycle and brought me to a stop. As I've discovered in all groups of children, there is always one gregarious sole who takes over as translator/spokesperson for the group
and we carried on a typical first conversation in Turkish/English (Where are you from? What's your name? How old are you? What's your job? We love you. Come to my house.)

After about 20 minutes I was able to pull myself away and head home but only after promising I would come to their home one day.

For the next month, on almost every ride home from school, the girls came running while shouting Penny, Penny we love you. Come to our home. Followed by my response I love you too..Today, no. Soon.

After learning that tonight's school concert had been cancelled and I was free for the evening, I decided that soon would be today. Pedaling up the steep hill in first gear and reflecting on today's baseball lessons, I was startled back to reality when, running beside me was one of the farm girls.
Come to my house?
OK. When?
OK?...(look of surprise)One minute. My friends. Come.

She pointed to a girl wearing a blue flowered shirt, a long white skirt and a hand-embroidered scarf, who could speak a fair amount of English sitting with two friends under a shade tree watching the cows graze.

The girls jumped to their feet excited to break up their afternoon with an American guest, grabbed their switches, swatted the cow behinds, and herded the the full uddered mamas to a new pasture away from the pine trees and thistle. Do those weeds make the cows sick or make the milk taste bad? I tried to ask. I think the answer was yes but what I understood even more was that she milks the cows, her mom makes fresh yogurt, cheese and ayran and they also had fresh bread to eat. The food would be great!

You should understand that I prefer NOT knowing the chicken who laid my eggs, nor the cow who provided my milk. I like to believe that all my eggs and milk have been properly chilled, date stamped, and produced with the utmost attention to bacteria and health codes. But, here I was headed towards an afternoon snack of homemade everything from a house that may or may not have electricity or running water. I said a quick prayer to St. Hygienia and hoped for the best.

As the cows, girls, and I rounded the corner to "home" we were met by a stern looking Turkish mom. Her daughter gave quick introductions and a smile and welcome ensued. The children directed me to put my bike in the chicken coop, and I awkwardly locked it. Locking it was a tough decision but I wasn't prepared for it to be stolen (possible) or ridden by every kid in the village (probable) and I wanted to get home at a decent hour.
We entered their house, a one room stone affair with Turkish carpets covering the floor and walls, an older refrigerator, a small 1960's vintage TV playing a fuzzy Turkish soap opera, and bed mats stacks neatly in the corner. The room was dark but surprisingly cooler than outside. They offered me Turkish coffee, not tea. What a treat! They then brought me a platter of enough cheese, yogurt and bread to feed me for a week. The group kept multiplying and pretty soon about 20 women, girls and children were crowded in the tiny one room house. Everyone was talking at once and one mom kept telling them to be quiet and let me eat. I was thinking please keep talking, I really don't want to eat. However, to be polite I ate four or five tablespoons of yogurt. It was pungent and much tarter than I'm used to and a little hard to swallow...Was it truly the flavor of the yogurt or the sight of the cows? I can't be sure. The cheese was much better although, like much Turkish cheese, saltier than I'm used to. The corn bread was delicious.

I asked if I could take pictures and they were delighted. The girls took turns taking and being in pictures. Then they started looking through about 300 of the 800 pictures on my camera. They really liked my husband, my children and the tulips in Istanbul.

The joy and happiness of this tiny village of people and the generosity of people with so little to give was humbling. I will remember it until the cows come home..and that's a long time because I don't have any cows.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Take me out to the Ball Game - Baseball Part 2

After singing the "Take me out to the ball game..." in the classroom and teaching the students how to say For it's one, two, three strikes... You're Out with great flourish and a sharp thumb pointing to the sky, I led my rowdy 4th grade class to the garden for their first baseball lesson. They loved running the bases and would have kept doing that, but I thought we should move on to batting and, hopefully, hitting so we would actually have a reason to run the bases. Because this is a large class, I divided them in half and sent the twos to the field and had the ones line up to bat. (Side note: I think I'll call them the Rockies and the Mariners tomorrow. It's a little easier to remember than ones and twos.)

The guy at first base was a sight to be seen. He was sporting his dress-black, pointy-toed concert performance shoes, a pair of black trousers cinched up nice and tight high above his waistline, and a long sleeved buttoned-to-the-very-top-button white dress shirt. He'd been giving the guy at second base, who appeared a bit more athletic in his genuine-resting-at-hip-level Adidas pants and t-shirt, a lot of Turkish threats and evil stares. To make matters more annoying, first base boy kept flaunting the electric key fob to someone's Passat and bragging that it was his car (he does talk about cars and driving all the time, and I'm always surprised at what I see over here, so maybe he DID drive to school..) But, seriously, how many kids carry a $150 key fob and flaunt it all day. I wanted to punch him.

Thank goodness I didn't have to because the boy at second was getting tired of first base's bravado and general idiocy. At least I think that was what was happening. I was actually in the process of pitching to a girly-girl in pink sandals, butterfly tights, and a pink headband, and was having to re position her hands on the bat after every pitch (right hand on top, left hand on bottom). It was while returning to the pitching mound after one of these "how to hold the bat" sessions that I looked up and saw the first base boy step out of his black imitation Florsheims , square off his shoulders, puff up his chest like a peacock, and throw his key fob to the ground like a knight throws down the gauntlet. He then started his stocking footed I'm-going-to-beat-the-crab-out-of-you strut to second base. The second base boy, also of proud Turkish male stock, matched the square shoulders, puffed up chest even bigger, but kept on his Adidas football cleats while marching in his equally threatening wanna-bet? strut towards first.

Not one to miss an opportunity to be a middle-aged-I'm-sick-of-the antics-from-you-two teacher, I pulled back my shoulders , marched to the center of the field, looked snug-pants nerd in the face and yelled, "Turkish football match, fight OK. American baseball game, fight NOT OK. You're OUT! ( I pointed my thumb to the exit of the field and tried not to spit as I gave shouted the command.) Get...off... the... field... Now!"

Keeping with the cultural norm that commands and rules are "suggestions" but not actually meant to be followed, nerdy first base boy calmly stepped back into his shoes, gently tucked his key fob back in his pocket, carefully hiked his pants back up to their former just-below-the breast-bone snug position, and quietly took his place back at first base.

...Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks..