Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turkish Independence and Tennis Fundraiser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012


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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I Love About Teaching

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

6 Week Check-Up

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Meals on Wheels

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Over the mountains and to the sea...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig Tree
Sunday Market

Pomegranate Tree in front of Antique Shop 

Home made donuts for the recently deceased.

View to Foca

After a swim at the Teacher's House

Picking wild strawberries
Fire lookout station

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bike Ride to Cesme

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

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

Our first stop is coffee..

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

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

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

It's in the Presentation

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

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

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