Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

I've been back in the United States for about three weeks and can definitely confirm that I've been experiencing some "reverse culture shock." I'd read about this condition and knew that it could occur but wasn't sure what to expect. Culture shock isn't necessarily good or just "is." So here are some snippets of my experiences over the past few weeks....

1. Lining up - Having lived in Turkey for almost 2 years I'd gotten used to the pushing, shoving and lack of making a queue. As a matter of fact, I missed the predictability of lines and the respect of body space while I was in Turkey. But nothing prepared me for the Southwest Airlines numbering system outside the gate for efficiency in boarding planes. Don't get me wrong. I liked the organization and I couldn't help but peek over my shoulder to make I "understood" the process and was in the correct position.
2. Crosswalks - I'm still adjusting to crossing the street. After 2 years of waiting until I could see no cars in any direction and then sprinting across a road or highway, I'm still not trusting of walk lights or the laws where the cars "must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks."  Many times, I've been standing at the curb while cars stop and then honk or wave to prompt me to take my "right-of-way" to cross the street.
3. Driving - I get a little bored and tired during long distance drives here  in the US. Traffic is predictable, roads are wide and generally smooth, and cars keep their distance. I'd kind of gotten used to unpredictable, white-knuckle driving.
4. Bluetooth and Google Maps with voice commands - I'm enjoying both here in the US especially because they are in English. I used Google Maps in Turkey but often ended up in the wrong location, probably because I didn't use the correct Turkish characters while typing.
5. Satellite Radio - I know this isn't new but I've never had it. Thank goodness for the radio to solve problem #3 above.
6. Grocery Stores - They are overwhelmingly large and exhausting to enter. The walk to find healthy foods seems so great that I can see why obesity is such a problem. It's just easier to grab the first packaged food product one can find and then head on out the door.
7. Obesity - Never believed it, but yes, we seem much fatter than I remember two years ago. Is it the grocery store design, the frequency of driving or our general laziness.
8. Bicycles - The number of trails, bikes and riders has increased. I've even seen a new design of bicycle that will hold 3 kids or a week's worth of groceries on the back. 200 miles of bike trails conveniently located 2 minutes from our daughter's front door was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I don't see any of the people in #7 riding bikes.
9. Streets - They are soooooo wide, so straight (especially here in the West), and so smooth.
10.Taste of food - I'm not used to the richness of butter not the sweetness of sugar. However, I feel like everything needs salt.
11. Grass - It's green and there is lots of it. Grass was kind of sparse and rare.
12. Quiet - I can hear birds chirping and nights are so quiet. I've been sleeping really well.
13. Tattoos and body piercings - Although there were tattoo parlors in Turkey and many young people had small tattoos and tiny nose rings, I'm seeing whole bodies including faces covered in art. I'm seeing quarter sized holes in earlobes and lips, eyes, noses etc. covered with piercings.
14. Cars and trucks  - They are huge, newer, and fast. Gas stations are plentiful and easy to find.
15. Emergency vehicles - Red lights flash and cars pull over.
16. Gadgets - A trip to REI yields things that I never knew were made and yet now can't imagine living without.
17. Leisure time - We work hard at playing and planning our free time.

In spite of all the things I'm enjoying about being back in the United States, I'm also conscious of the things I  miss about Turkey. I miss the kind, hospitable people. I miss the fresh produce including vine-ripe tomatoes, small-crunchy cucumbers, and bags of delicious lemons. I loved the olives and olive oil. The warm pita bread was delicious. Eating healthy was much less expensive than eating fast food or packaged food. The pace of life was slower. The seaside was beautiful.

Although I know I have a lot more to process, reflect and write about Turkey, time dictates that I get ready for the next adventure. Be watching for the first installment in the new blog pjinmalaysia coming soon. Güle Güle.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Savoring Santorini

After one all-night ferry ride, another baking-hot-in-the-sun ferry ride, a hot coach (big bus), and an even hotter mini-bus ride, I returned from Santorini to my sweltering/stuffy apartment, five loads of laundry(including sheets and bedding) in my tiny washing machine and tons of cancelling-utility-errands-in-a-foreign-language drudgery. On top of that, I have to cancel my wi-fi tomorrow which means I'll be going "cold turkey" for four days. (I'm a bit panicked about that and have started scouting air-conditioned free-wifi hotspots.) Anyway, I never had a chance to write about one of the most beautiful touristic places (Colorado mountains excluded) that I've had the opportunity to visit so here's my last opportunity for several days.

My travel companions and I arrived at the Santorini ferry port about 1:00 am and were met by our shuttle driver who then drove us up a narrow, steep, windy road switch-backing up the steep cliff of the famous lost-city-of Atlantis-mythical volcano. I wasn't scared but I was American-judgmental watching our driver talk on a cell phone with his left hand, shift gears with his right hand and swing wide on all the switch backs to avoid making 3 point turns. Luckily, I didn't  have to see him back up to one of only several wide points in the road because we never met oncoming traffic. After driving for about 20 minutes the van left us at the top of a hill where we were met by a porter who hefted our over-weight bags on his shoulders and led us down a city block's worth of curvy, steep cobblestone steps and into our hotel room where were promptly dropped onto our beds and fell fast asleep.

The next morning I awoke early (what's new?) and quietly tiptoed out of our hotel room door and onto our balcony. Our room was nestled into the steep, rocky cliffs of the volcano's caldera and overlooking the sea and nearby Greek islands. To the right, hundreds of crisp white hotel rooms dotted the curved edge of the caldera making it appear as if we were all modern-day cliff dwellers. Birds were gracefully floating at the exact height of our balcony and occasional song birds would chat with each other on the grape vines filled with plump, green grapes that were shading our balcony. Church bells from the surrounding hillsides chimed on the hour reminding me we were in a new country. Soon a steaming cup of coffee magically appeared via last night's smiling porter. I soaked up the beauty, pinched myself several times, and relaxed in the peacefulness of my favorite time of day in such a beautiful location.

After my companions awoke, a delicious breakfast including eggs and bacon, fresh Greek yogurt and fruit, breads, honey, fresh squeeze OJ, and more coffee was delivered to the table on our balcony. Sitting in the slice of heaven was just the peaceful interlude needed after a the crowds and noise of Fethiye and Rhodes.

After a day of relaxing by the pool, exploring the tiny cobblestone paths, climbing and descending stairs countless stairs, and eating our fill of delicious Greek food, we returned to our hotel room, raised our glasses of white wine to Santorini's world famous sunset.

For the next two days, we hiked the trail from Fira to Oia, drove the island's scenic, roads, swam at the island's many different colored beaches, and walked through many ancient historical places. We even managed to stumble upon a "local" hangout complete with live music and a California woman who fell in love with Santorini 25 years ago and never left. A short conversation yielded the fact that she currently leads tours of Santorini's many wineries, but she really got our attention after the Greek musicians coaxed her into singing "Summertime". At this point one of my travel companions created the story that she must have jumped off a cruise ship all those years ago and never got back on. She was  really good!

After a final, delicious meal and another beautiful, yet cloud-covered sunset, we parted ways. My companions liked it so much they decided to stay an extra couple of days on the island, but I needed to get home and pack for my departure. Sitting here among half-packed boxes, trash bags, dusty floors, and over-sized suitcases, I needed to take a break to remember where I was only two days ago before the memories fade away.

View from our hotel patio/balcony.

Watching the sunset from our balcony.

The Red Beach

The ropes tempted me so I rang the bells.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Ferry Good Surprise

I was sitting in café waiting for our Blue Star Ferry to depart Rhodes, Greece  for Santorini. We’d “settled in” to a café style table and three comfy chairs in preparation for the nine hour journey. We were wondering if there would be a snack bar or should we take food. Would we have enough entertainment to keep us busy for the ride. Would there be wi-fi? We were surprised and delighted by the size of the ferry along with its amenities including four levels, sleeping cabins, pool, numerous bars, restaurants, a casino and.....wi-fi! I had been expecting something like the ferry I took 30 years ago with only a bottle of Ouzo, my sleeping bag, a couple of fellow backpackers, for company. This ferry was somewhere between a Royal Caribbean cruise and a Washington State Ferry with the amenities leaning towards Royal Caribbean. Very Cool!
We were even confronted with  the usual cruise dilemma…Should we eat, drink, nap, read, stroll or type a blog? I can't speak for my travel companions but blogging came first followed by an ice-cappuccino and happy hour on the upper deck while watching the magnificent sunset. Several high lights of the trip were dinner on linen table cloths in the dining room and watching the unloading and loading process of people, cars, motorbikes and 18-wheelers. It would make sense that Greece has a very efficient ferry system since most islands are dependent upon goods being delivered.
The best part of this ride was the cost - It seemed to be a heck of a deal for 39 Euros (about $50).

My travel companions.

Sailing into the sunset.

Rhodes, Greece

Although my blog is PJinTurkey, I can justify a discussion of Rhodes, Greece because it was occupied by the Turks for a long time…hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, at the bazaar inside of Rhodes Castle, many of the shops were selling Turkish lanterns, bright colored pottery, and scarves exactly the same as one could find in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or Kemeralti in Izmir.  In addition to many churches and evidence of the Knights of St. Johns inside the castle wall, tourists can also find a beautiful mosque, a peaceful fountain, and a library donated by one of the sultans during the Turkish occupation.
On our second day in Rhodes, we rented a car and drove to the base of the Tsampike Monastery and hiked 377 steps up the rock faced mountain to its small chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary. Story has it that many years ago some miracles happened so a chapel was built to thank God for the miracles. Then, during the Turkish occupation, it is rumored that one of the sultan’s wives could not conceive a child. Hearing of the miracles that had occurred at this chapel, she climbed the steps to the top of the mountain to pray for fertility. She also swallowed a candle wick. Later, when she was pregnant, her husband the sultan did not believe the child was his and accused her of infidelity. But, when the child was born it was holding the wick of the candle she had swallowed when praying at the chapel thus convincing him the child was his and a miracle had occurred.

In addition to the chapel we also swam at four different beaches, hiked to the ancient acropolis of Lindos, and enjoyed a traditional Greek meal at the hotelier’s brother's restaurant complete with mezze (appetizers) that were similar to Turkey with the exception of the many different kinds of pork, the Greek white wine, and the flavor of the bread.

Entering Rhodes Castle

The acropolis at Rhodes

Some humor at Rhodes Castle

Fantastic Fethiye

I had the unexpected good fortune to travel to Fethyie for the first stop on an final week’s tour through Turkey and Greece. (Our school let non-returning teachers leave one week early...yippee!) Three nights at Calais Plaj, Fethyie was enough to give us a beautiful cruise with swimming stops, dinners at sunset, a four- hour, 16 kilometer hike up mountains, across olive orchards, through the ghost town of Karakoy, and down the rugged hillside to Oludeniz. Although strong winds prevented us from partaking in the world famous paragliding, they also gave us an excuse to return one day to Turkey. A final rooftop dinner sipping wine and watching a sunset completed our tour of the Turquoise Coast.

We walked to this ghost town bout 9 km from Fethyie on our way to the sea.

These homes were abandoned when the Greeks we sent to Greece.

After leaving the village we hiked another 6 km. This was our first view of the sea before we started downhill to Oludeniz.

We took a 6 island cruise and swam in this cave. The water was beautiful.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saying Goodbye to my School

Friday was the last day of school for students and teachers like me who are not returning next year. The parking lot was packed with parents and students excited for summer to begin.  The outdoor canteens were overflowing with parents and teachers enjoying  tea or Turkish coffee under bright blue skies, swaying palm trees and pink, red and white oleander. Students were trying to lick their ice cream cones before they melted under the hot June sun.

I tried to hug as many students and teachers as I could. I tried to inquire about summer plans and minimize the tears of some students who were learning for the first time that I would not be back next year. I tried to thank both the teachers and the staff members like the copy-center lady who did her best to understand my Turkish directions (collate/front to back/booklet) and the food service worker who tried every day to tell me in English what they were serving and I would try to repeat in Turkish.

I hugged my English department colleagues and gave them hand-written notes because I knew I would not be able to express what was in my heart and I feared the day would be so chaotic and full that I might not even see some of them during the day.

I did not go to lunch, the last period of the day, because I couldn't handle any more "goodbyes". I hope that I will see some of the people again. The world is small so you never know. I do know that I will take carry a small part of many people with me me and I am richer for having met them. Until we meet again, goodbye for now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Banging Pans, Flashing Lights, Honking Horns

There is plenty in the news about the protests in Taksim Square (Istanbul) as well as "solidarity" protests in over 70 cities across Turkey, Izmir included. A quick internet search will yield ample photos of tear gas, riot police, barricades, burning cars, the Prime Minister speaking, etc. My students have been eager to talk about the reasons for the protests, what they hope the protests will accomplish, and their fears/concerns.

I think by reading many of our news sources you will get the general sense of what is occurring over here so I won't bore you with the details. What I can do is give you a first-hand account of what I've seen or been told in Izmir.

The changes that I've seen are:
-The park along the seaside in Alsancak (downtown Izmir) filled with tents, banners, people playing guitars and singing, make-shift food tables with people lined up to share meals, campers sweeping the mats in front of their tents and several vendors making the most of the proximity to new customers.
-Grafitti on many buildings and public areas, broken street signs, lamp posts, upended chairs and tables.
-Additional gendarme (police) on the bike path and patrolling the road to work. (I'f they've been there before, I'd never noticed.)
-Broken glass, broken signs, snapped off lamp posts and trees.
-Random traffic jams caused by impromptu protest marches chocking out the drivers and closing the roads.
- The consistent 9:00 p.m. banging on pots and pans, honking of horns, and flicking the house lights on and off.

The things I've been told:
- The protests are not really about taking down trees for a mall, but are really for myriad political reasons..there is a long list of grievances that you can find on the internet.
- Some female students are afraid for their future. They don't want to lose their freedoms. They don't want to cover. They want to be free to drink alcohol.
- Many people are worried about the future and stability for their families. They find it difficult to make plans.
- Several  are worried about the world perceptions of Turkey. They know it takes years to build a reputation and only a short time to destroy.
- Some people are afraid of the police. Where they used to see the police as someone who could help if they had a problem, they now are afraid and turn the other way if they see police.
- They believe that some of the tear gas contained a diluted amount of "agent orange."
- People feel nervous, tense, and stressed out. They wonder what will happen.

However, as I go about my normal day, it's easy to forget there are protests. I can hear music from a wedding echoing from the nearby hills.  A stop by my favorite organic market yielded fresh veggies and "just baked country bread." Dinner needs to be cooked. Bills need to be paid. Problems need to be solved. Beer and wine needs to be sipped with friends while overlooking the sunset on Izmir Bay. In other words, if it weren't for the 9:00 pm cacophony of pots of and pans, the English Facebook posts from Turkish friends, or the concerned updates from my American friends, life is going on as usual.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Baseball in Turkey

This is my second year teaching baseball during the last two weeks of school. Exams are finished, class sizes dwindle, and the motivation for "academic" book work is zero. This is my second year of being amazed at the way baseball ignites student effort to speak and understand English. This is my second year of ending a school term with my least favorite classes becoming some of my favorites. In other words, baseball is a great way to both motivate learners and increase understanding and memory.

Here's my first example: Middle school student #1 who lost most of his books and supplies in November, never wrote anything but scribbles on his paper, and threw paper wads and talked most of the year loves baseball. He listens to, repeats, and comprehends each new rule. He was the first player to "catch a fly ball" to make the batter "out." At the end of class he walked up beside me beaming and said, "Mrs. Jansen, today I hit a home run and caught a fly ball." (That was his first complete spoken sentence of the year!) And, I'll never forget the time he asked if he could be the catcher. I said "yes", and he was crestfallen when he saw that he wasn't the pitcher. "But you asked to be the catcher," I said. It was a perfect natural consequence for not listening well to the names of the positions and you better believe that next inning he got that straightened out.

Here's another example: High School student #1 (a boy) and high school students #s 2 and 3 (girls) were not particularly interested in going outside and playing a baseball.  They were OK playing BINGO with baseball terms and eating their M&Ms markers if they got a BINGO. But physical activity is not a favorite past-time. As a matter of fact, they are pretty good English students but  typical "non PE types." They even asked if they could just sit in the shade and watch.

Me: "No, you should at least 'give it a try' and 'be a good sport'. Besides we needs you. It's hard to play baseball with only 5 players."

After all three of them got their first hit, (yes, for the first several innings I pitch them balls they can hit.)They were hooked on the game. The boy said to me, "This is the only sport I like playing!" The girls asked if we could play again next week.

I philosophize about "why" baseball works so well to teach English (and American culture)  I can come up with lots of  reasons. But the bottom line is, we all have fun!

Baaaaaaat-ter Up!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Turkish Piano Concert

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful concert performed by Fazil Say, a famous Turkish pianist and composer, at the lovely Bostanili open-air theater.

A friend secured tickets to this sold-out concert several weeks ago. I'd never heard of Fazil Say but after saying "yes" to the concert and writing the date on my calendar, his name started popping up frequently in the news. Apparently he'd recently received a 10 month suspended sentence and 5 years of parole for exercising his freedom of expression.

Fast forward to last night and I'll have to admit that I was little concerned about attending a concert of a celebrity musician who is a poster child for free speech at the exact time that protests have escalated here in Turkey. Also, attending a concert in an open-air theater (although they closed most of the windows to block some of the noise from the beating-on-frying-pans) in the middle of a neighborhood where light protests were going on outside made me think about my exit strategy a little during the concert.

Fortunately, the concert was excellent! Fazil Say is loved by his fans who gave him a standing ovation  the minute he entered the stage and approached the Steinway concert grand. He began the program with a rousting, five-finger-chords, heavy-on-the-bass rendition of the Turkish National Anthem and sung by Turkish citizens of the sold-out crowd.

Aside from this masterful performance with fingers flying across the keyboard, the structure of his piano concert was interesting as well. He played everything from memory. He stopped after very song, took a bow, reached for the microphone and the talked with the audience. His rapport seemed friendly and joking but supportive of the protests and openly critical of the current administration.  He used both the pedal and the strings in ways that made me want to go home and try the piano to see if I could achieve the similar sounds: hollow echos, plucked strings with haunting resonance, changes in mood and timbre.The sway of his body into the keyboard and the expressions on his face between a smile and a grimace was not distracting but rather led me deeper into the audience into the music.

(You can hear the protesters in the background)
As I'm writing this post I'm greeted with the 6th night in a row of the "music" of pots and pans being beat by my neighbors. They've been playing for over 10 minutes with no sign of let-up. The rhythm just recently changed to match the chant "resign Erdogan". Fireworks are exploding, people are whistling, car horns are honking, and cheers can be heard from a distance. I miss the music of last night's concert.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Occupy Gezi Park - Solidarity in Izmir

The ferry was packed with people wearing red and green shirts, chanting slogans, and lighting torches as they exited the boat. Behind the ferry terminal was the biggest crowd I've seen anywhere in Turkey packed between the ferry terminal and the row of restaurants and cafes about 200 meters away. Based upon the colors and the cheering I guessed the crowd was a group of sports fans cheering Karsiyika, the local basketball or soccer club. I was less interested in the reason for the gathering and more interested in a safe passage (an exit strategy so-to-speak) through the crowd. I wasn't being paranoid either. Just several weeks ago a fan had been killed in an after-match scuttle with an opposing team. Sports crowds fueled by alcohol, heat, and shouting have always made me nervous. This was no different. I wanted out of there.

I made my way upstream like a sardine packed upside down in the tin. Eventually the crowd thinned and I made my way to the meeting place to join my friend. We'd just settled into good conversation between bites of food, when I noticed a dull roar approaching from the sea side. My friend stood and walked closer to hear the reason for the crowd and then reported back to me that it was a demonstration to protest the tear gas treatment of the protesters in Istanbul at Taxsim square and to protest the current prime minister and his policies. "The interesting thing about this demonstration," remarked my friend, "is that the groups are all different." There were political parties, anarchists, sports fans from opposing clubs, and families to name a few. She noted that even the extremely leftists radicals were united with some of the other groups to protest "fascism."

I was trying to listen to her while at the same time watching for signs that there could be trouble with this crowd. Most of the people were carrying open bottles and many were talking long slugs from their beer cans or bottles. Several were carrying posters, waving flags or taking pictures and videos. All were chanting. It was nearly impossible to carry on a conversation above the roar of the crowd. In addition, the fact that rival soccer clubs were marching in separate packs but were next to each other in the greater demonstration group spelled trouble with a capital T for me.

Luckily my friend suggested we leave. Unfortunately, I knew there was no way I could even get close to my bike locked against a street lamp pole at the Starbucks next to our cafe. This happened to be the epic-enter of the crowd. We headed the opposite direction and walked away from the demonstrators. After we said our "good-byes" I slowly made my way back to the street where my bike was waiting. The crowd had thinned substantially. In front of the Starbucks about 10 feet from my "parking place" I noticed broken glass lying everyone, upturned tables and chairs pushed to one side in front of Starbucks. Not only that, Starbucks was actually closed. It was very apparent the crowd had lost control directly in front of the store.

When I arrived home I found an email from the US State Department warning of protests in several Turkish cities this weekend and reminding citizens to be vigilant and avoid large crowds. (It would have been nice to get the email earlier.)

I think the protests are in response to Prime Minister's intent to build a large shopping mall in Taksim Square in Istanbul, his recent policy changes regarding alcohol consumption, Syria, reduction of the freedom of expression.... Protesters had been tear gassed earlier in the day. This morning I awoke to numerous Facebook posts in protest..One even went so far as to describe this as a "Turkish Spring."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life Long Learning

Wednesdays are my "light" day at school. I teach only three classes and have four prep periods. I've never had a luxury of a large block of time such as this. Generally on Wednesdays,  I'm glued to a computer uploading lessons from the previous day, writing exams, or preparing lessons for the follow couple of days. But, as this is the last "highly academic" week for the students, and I've finished the "curriculum", I have the opportunity to learn and teach some new things. Last week I asked my students what they would like to learn and I got some GREAT ideas: rules of baseball, the history and development of the Swiss Army Knife, Dubstep and House music....

Baseball is fairly easy to teach because I grew up with it, and it provides a great opportunity to have a TPR lesson. (Total Physical Response). In other words, we can go outside and play. But, before going outside,especially with the older students, I can teach lots of vocabulary and then have a "mock" baseball game on the white board with quiz questions for review. Plus, for the older students, lots of baseball words are used in our business world. That's a home run or We struck out with that idea or the infamous Let's give criminals 'three strikes' before we lock 'em up.

Learning about the Swiss Army knife was new to me. Of course, I'd played with the Victorinox Classic when I was a kid and I remember being afraid of the blade but thinking the mini-scissors were cool. However, I'd never thought about the engineering, design, functionality, and purpose of the knife. Research of the company gave me some interesting history e.g.there used to be two companies, Wenger and Victorinox but a recent merger made Wenger the wholly owned subsidiary. Have the prices gone up? But a dictionary gave me the extra knowledge of the nouns and verbs needed to go with all the small parts. For example, I now know the difference between a rivet and a flange and I learned that a reamer can change a hole size. Better yet, modern Swiss Army knives have USB drives and laser pointers. (makes sense). And, I loved learning that "Swiss Army Knife" has actually entered popular culture to refer to someone as "useful" and "adaptable".

Moving on to music...I'd never heard of the genre "House Music". As a matter of fact, I was surprised to learn that it was "House" with a capital "H". I was too busy starting a family (at 'home')  at the time of this music's onset to be aware of anything except the possibility of doorbells waking sleeping babies. And, I had just recently heard of Dubstep but knew nothing about it. After some research I found the answers to some burning questions. Why are vinyl records popular again? What is a drum machine? What are some Dubstep songs or  who are some artists? I even learned that Sponge Bob sings Dubstep.

So, what's this got to do with Turkey? Not much except for the fact that I had the gift of time in this position and the ideas from clever students to make yesterday's learning quite enjoyable.

(Normally these types of topics make great student-directed research and student-led classes. At least that's what I would have done in the States. But, I know if I assign this type of project for homework, most students won't bother, (and it can't be part of their grade) and we haven't got the luxury of classroom computers. So, I look at the opportunity to improve my learning as a gift.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Selling a Bicycle

I will soon be leaving Turkey so I've started shedding some of the possessions I've accumulated over the past two years. Taking clothes to the dumpster or donating them to the "Good Will" is easy. Ridding myself of travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner, books and magazines, and maps is not difficult. But yesterday I sold one of my two bicycles. It was almost like saying "good bye" to family or sending a son or daughter off to college. I am sad for beginning of the end of this chapter in my life that selling the bicycle represents, and I am hoping the bicycle will bring joy and freedom to its new owner.

I purchased Bicycle #3 for Eric when he came to town and for weekend rides with companions. I'd bought it used from a friend/Malatya bike racer who had two bikes and needed cash for college. I knew my handy husband could use his TLC to tune it up and make it ride like new. The bike has seen Cesme,  climbed the mountain bike trails behind Balcova and the steep road upYemenlar, ridden all the bike routes along Izmir Bay, taken countless trips to Kus Cenneti (the Bird Paradise), joined in some rides with Ege Pedal, and met me after school whenever Eric is in town. The bike has taken untold numbers of rides on the ferries, bounced on the cobblestones of Alsancak, and made friends with all the bike store employees and owners in Izmir. But Eric won't be back in Izmir because of his new job in Malaysia and Bike #2 needed a home.

This week I cleaned up the bike and prepared a bag of "extras" for the new owner (locks, helmut, extra tubes). I thought about the fun Eric and I'd had biking together. I left out wrenches to help adjust the seat and handle bars for the new owner. I stayed in my sweaty bike clothes because I thought I'd offer to help the new owner ride the bike home and make sure she understood the gears, the quick-release tires, etc.

They new owner arrived with her husband and a car. (Of course I hadn't thought about this.) She was excited about the bicycle but I could tell that they wanted to drive the bicycle home and she would ride it later. (I just assumed everyone was like me and rode their new bikes home from the store) Anyway,  I did show her husband how to release the brake and remove the wheel so they could stuff the bike into the trunk. And they declined the offer of a bungee cord to secure the lid and the bike so neither the car nor the bike got damaged in transit... "It's only a few kilometers away and we will drive slowly...."

So, this morning I'm feeling a little sad. It's not really the bicycle but rather the fun with my husband that it represents. And, like a son or daughter leaving home, I know the bike will have many new adventures, see new places, and "be" the bike that's it's meant to be.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Transitioning to the End of the School Year

One week ago my life was hectic, every minute planned, early mornings, late nights, sleepless nights, seemingly endless to-do list.

This weekend is the opposite, extra time, no plans, random papers to grade, empty time looming ahead.

I woke up at 6:00 am. I don't know why...sun streaming in my window, birds chirping, hot, humid...
I made my coffee and sipped while reading my current book, graded the remaining term exams, (the students took their last exam but still have 3 weeks of school...I don't understand this), read some more, checked Facebook, started some laundry.
7:00 a.m. Read some more, hung up some laundry, started another load, wandered aimlessly around the apartment.
8:00 a.m. Rode to my favorite breakfast place, ate, lingered over my 3rd cup of tea, read some more.
9:00 a.m. Cycled along the Aegean Sea down to Karsiyika and back to my apartment.
10:00 a.m. Hung up the 2nd load, read some more, researched Malaysia, checked Facebook (which is a waste of time because everyone is asleep in the States) Downloaded a movie for tonight.
11:00 a.m. Researched on-line courses. Started and finished a UW Open University on-line course on World War II. Missed one question on the final too quickly I guess...
12:30 p.m. Walked to the mall to buy swim goggles.
1:00 p.m. Walked to the pool. Took a nap. Finished my book. Swam. Started another book.
3:30 p.m. Showered. Rode my bike to the photography museum that I've been postponing for the past year.
4:30 p.m. Continued on to my favorite produce market and bought peppers for tacos. (I was planning on making a burger for Memorial Day but finding a grill was too much effort. Plus I don't think I'm allowed to grill on my balcony.)
5:30 p.m. Cooked and ate dinner. Talked with a daughter.
6:30 p.m. Washed dishes. Currently writing blog.

I've always had difficulty with transitions and the transition between school and summer always catches me off guard.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Performing "Fiddler on the Roof" in Turkey

I love high school spring musical season so I was thrilled that I would be able to actually attend a play this spring. Today I watched many of my English students who are Turkish perform "Fiddler on the Roof" in English to a Turkish audience that understands some English. The all female cast, with the exception of a male English teacher, was fantastic! The more they practiced the more they understood their lines and the fine nuances of the language. The fact that this is not their native tongue impresses me even more.

While I was watching the play I couldn't help reflect on the courage  of the teachers who chose this play and edited it down to a manageable one and one-half hour length. Maybe I'm crazy but my experience living in Eastern Turkey and recent newspaper articles regarding Turkey and animosity with some of its Middle Eastern neighbors, made me view the play through a different lens. I was even watching for parent reaction during some of the scenes. Beginning with the matchmaker and scene and witnessing Tzeitel's horror and being matched with 62 year old Lazar Wolf, the butcher, and ending with Hodel and Perchik, a daughter and a man dancing together at Tzeitel's and Motel wedding,  I am reminded just how similar the more traditional Jewish culture is to the more conservative Muslim culture. Matchmaking, although  not called so directly, is still practiced in some areas in Turkey. Often the mother of sons or "aunts" even go so far as to visit schools and find "teachers" for matches for their sons. And weddings, especially in eastern Turkey are often segregated. I remember feeling very shy at first realizing only the women were dancing with each other.

But, as I'm currently living in Western Turkey, the theme of this play, being reliant on tradition and faith in times of change and turbulence, is especially relevant. Many of the students at my school tend to shun the old traditions and many claim they are atheists. I'm sure many can identify with the character of Perchik.  In addition the Turkish government is becoming more conservative and more tolerant of religious traditions - an example being of allowing head scarves at schools. So the choice of  performing "Fiddler on the Roof" makes good sense even though I can't imagine a similar choice in eastern Turkey.

In the meantime, I'm ksoftly singing the words to "Matchmaker", stomping my feet to "Tradition"and shedding tears to "Sunrise/Sunset". 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading Jane Austen in Turkey

After a class discussion today regarding marriage from the view points of several different characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and a discussion of Jane Austen herself and whether or not she was criticizing the cultural attitudes towards marriage during the 18th century, one students whose unwitting role is to disrupt the class and change discussion topics to something more of interest to her, piped up and asked,  "Mrs. Jansen, what was your "courtship" like?" ("Courtship" is one of the words that will be on their next exam.)

I briefly explained that I met my husband skiing and then we had a fairly unconventional-for-the-21st-century"courtship" where we wrote letters for the next few years without actually seeing each other face-to-face.

Another girl asked,"Is he a romantic?" (notice the use of a noun instead of an adjective.)

I could name many "romantic" things that he has done, (the usual like flowers, chocolates, cards, and the unusual like fixing my bike, organizing a toilet installation in Malatya, setting up my internet) but I wouldn't necessarily call him a "romantic." I started to say something about women focusing more on the word "romantic" than men. (What was I thinking?!)

A male student who seldom speaks queried like a lawyer cross-examining a witness, "Do you know any female poets?" (Well, yes, a couple but under his intense scrutiny I could only remember Emily Dickinson (love for nature poems) so he got me there. I could, however,  think of lots of old men: Byron, Yeats, Donne, Browning, Kipling  etc.) So I had to concede that he made his point about who is more "romantic."

By now the same girl who directed the conversation away from the book exclaimed, "Let's just skip the courtship. How did he [your husband] propose?"

So I explained hiking, the Rocky Mountains, the wildflowers.....

Same girl replied, "That could never happen to me. I hate exercise."

A different boy asked, "How tall was the mountain?" (Now that's an important question! Does a taller mountain mean more "romantic?")

...Luckily I was saved by the bell.

However, after class a quiet, serious female, "Is marriage always good and happy?"

Her question reflects the difficulty of achieving a fairly proficient level of  English (or any language for that matter)but not having the depth of vocabulary to convey all types of emotions and sentiments. Using that limited knowledge to make judgments and generalizations about other people or cultures can be unrealistic. To further complicate matters, when I tell stories or anecdotes they are generally upbeat. So my students only hear my happy-to-be-married-to-a-nice-husband anecdotes. Therefore, I can understand where she might get the idea that marriage is always good and happy. With that careful reflection, I gently launched into my reply.

"Of course marriage is not always good and happy. You have to work at it. You have to choose what is important and what you can ignore. And knowing the difference is sometimes difficult. There are always good days and bad days. Like my mom always says, 'Remember the good times and not the bad.'"

She smiled and turned to leave. "Thanks. I thought so" and headed to lunch.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Turkish Kavali

One of my favorite things to do is to go out for breakfast. I loved it in college when "breakfast" could mean anything from 2:00 a.m. at Denny's after an evening of drinking 3.2 beer at the local fraternities to 5:00 a.m. at Perkins after pulling an "all-nighter" studying for a business law exam and hoping to "pull out" a passing grade, to a  gas-station-converted-diner in Boulder with the to-die-for giant, greasy omelets and homemade, hearty  bread,  to today, sitting in an outdoor cafe in Izmir, Turkey realizing I've finally adapted to, and currently  love,  what constitutes" breakfast" in Turkey. Although the name of the meal is the same, the food is really different, and those differences are symbolic of the changes in me  that have occurred over the past two years.

Kavalti is big and filling, like brunch in America, but the focus is on very different things. Where we have large plates of bacon, eggs, pancakes or waffles, the foods here are served on little plates and small dishes like appetizers. They tend to be more protein-heavy although they do have an enjoyable share of carbohydrates. I do love bread!  There is usually a plate of seasonal greens lightly flavored with local olive oil and fresh lemons. Today's "in-season" greens consisted of ripe-on-the-vine cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced Turkish cucumbers, a sliced light-green banana pepper with just the proper zing, and little parsley.

 Today's center platter had samples of 3 kinds of cheeses: one hard, one medium soft and one feta sprinkled with chopped, fresh local walnuts and a hard-boiled egg. The plate also had tiny bowls of green and black olives, homemade spicy red pepper tomato paste with crushed walnuts,  local honey, fresh, homemade cherry preserves, Nutella (I usually skip this), butter, and kaymak, a thick yogurt concoction that spreads like soft butter and tastes like thick whipped cream. I'm sure it has the calories to match but I don't care.

Last, but by no means least, is the basket of bread. The bread basket changes by regions of Turkey, and although they are all good, I really love Izmir's bread. They have thick slices of country white and hearty wheat, rolls covered with sunflower seeds, and simit, Turkish "bagels" covered with sesame seeds.

The secret to enjoying kavalti is the experimentation of mixing the different flavors together to see what taste is the most pleasing to you. Here's how I eat:

1. I start with the hard-boiled egg because by the time I usually get to the restaurant I'm starving. For example, today I woke up at 6:00 am and my family Skyped me for Mother's Day. Then I went for a fun, read some newspaper articles , and researched Swiss Army Knives for a possible EFL lesson. By the time I got to the restaurant, it was 10:00 am (typical) so I was famished. The egg takes care of the growling stomach almost immediately.

2. I eat some olives. This is the amazing part. As I've mentioned before, I used to hate olives and now I think they're delicious. I still prefer black to green and I think it's the salt that I crave/need with the exercise in the heat. In reality, I had to learn to like them because they are such a big part of this culture, and now I can't imagine not having ever liked them.

3. I dive into the cheese and vegetables. Here's where I get creative. I mix the cheeses with the red pepper tomato paste. Or I spread the paste on the vegetables. Or I spread the cheese on the vegetables. I decide which is the "flavor of the day" and eat a lot of that combination. (I should mention that I have a "go to" breakfast place because the quality and flavor of cheese is consistently delicious and pleasing to my pallet. More often than not, buy cheese I don't like, so I generally stick to this cafe for my calcium intake.) Today's delicious combination was spicy tomato paste on the hard white cheese with a walnut top.

4. I save the bread for my dessert. I vary the types of bread with the honey, kaymak, cherry preserves, maybe all three, maybe only one...and I eat until I'm stuffed. I usually skip the butter because, frankly, the kaymak is so delicious and I think we have better butter at home..(same with the beef but that's another post). Today, I used my bread to scrape the bowl of the cherry preserves so that was the "flavor of the day."

5. All this eating is washed down with never-ending glasses of tea. (another big change..I love coffee but it just doesn't go well with Turkish breakfast so I usually drink my coffee first thing in the morning  to wake up and save the tea for breakfast.)

Flexibility and willingness to try new things are some of the many benefits I've gained by living in a new culture.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about stress lately. I think it was prompted by my reading of a February 12, 2013 article in a WSJ article by Shirley S. Wang titled "Stress Benefit Tied to Upbeat Mindset." The basic premise is that how we view stress can have an impact on whether stress impacts us negatively or positively.

I generally have a positive mindset. I'm generally optimistic. But, in regards to how I handle stress, I've discovered that the kind of stress impacts how I handle it. I can categorize my stress into three types that I'll call Types 1,2 and 3.

Type 1 is the the stress of being very busy with time commitments. In other words, almost all of the slots of my day are filled and the prospect of adding one more activity is like the last drop that causes the glass to over-flow. This kind of stress, I actually don't  mind. As a matter of fact, I kind of thrive with this kind of stress and it becomes almost a game to see if I can keep things running smoothly. I would say this is the kind of stress I had before I moved to Turkey: wife, mother, friend, full-time teacher, private piano teacher, church musician, team tennis player, book group member, etc. I generally loved everything except when the extra dropped (unexpected events) made the stress too great.

The second kind (Type 2) is the stress of the unknown. I can handle this type of stress up to a point, and then I find myself avoiding more stress by becoming an "ostrich in the sand" and ignoring what I can't handle.  I've had a lot stress of the unknown for the past two years. The good parts of this stress are learning experiences: the exposure to many new cultures and different view points, the meeting of new, interesting people, and the travel to places I'd never even heard of. The bad parts are my choosing NOT to handle the most routine of problems (phone plan changes, automatic banking challenges, shopping in general) or choosing to stay home and order take-out because I don't want to be bothered with the language barriers and the cultural stress. Today's experience at Carrefour, for example, almost made me cry when the shoplifting alarm sounded while I was exiting the store. The security guard marched over all official-like and I held up both my backpack and my shopping bag like I was being arrested. Of course, he checked my backpack first assuming I was a shop-lifter, but (and I could have told him this in English but not Turkish) it ended up being the toothbrushes in shopping bag because the checker hadn't scanned them properly. I didn't enjoy the public humiliation or the inability to comment.

The third kind of stress (Type 3) is the stress of not feeling useful, effective, or appreciated and the lack of mental challenge. I know this sounds a little ridiculous and kind of like spoiled child who needs to be complimented for doing a good job. But it's not really about the compliments or praise. It's more about the lack of challenge on the job and the pressure to make things so easy that every student gets a good grade. And, it's the frustration of knowing the students are intelligent but they know that English doesn't matter and they don't do the homework, and they cheat on the easy exams anyway. (For more information of cheating see the May 9, 2013 WSJ video and article about the May 4th SATs being cancelled because of cheating.)This is the first time in my life where I've actually felt that nothing I do has an impact one way or the other on anything. I'm just a body to fill a space kind of like you would put a trophy on a shelf.

Back to the idea of mindset having an impact on stress, to restate, I can be upbeat with Type 1 stress. Basically, I still have a modicum of control e.g. I can ramp up my schedule and/or start saying "no" when the days start getting too hectic. I can also have a positive attitude with Type 2 stress up to a point. Type 2 stress makes me grow and learn the most. And, when the challenges become too great, rather than lose my optimism, I choose to ignore new things. In fact, I still have bit of control and a positive mindset with Type 2 stress. The real problem for me is Type 3 stress. With this stress, I find it the most difficult to keep a positive. Actually, Type 3 actually makes me less willing to tackle Type 2 stressful experiences. Type 3 is the reason I ride my bike and/or get some kind of exercise everyday. I need to endorphins to counter the negative mind set.

Interestingly enough, just writing this blog has given me the change to "dream" that maybe something I say or do could have an impact. It's been a Type 2 answer to a Type 3 stress. Consequently, I'm back to a more upbeat/positive mindset.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Looking for the Good

In spite of the recent negativeness of some posts there are still many daily moments that make me smile. Here are some examples that happened today:

- Rows of ants crossing the bike path. There are at least 4 narrow lines of ants that are busy marching across the bike path every morning. Three of the rows are simply blank ants marching back and forth from one side of the path to the other. But the fourth row is very productive. Each ant is carrying a large dried grass seed on its shoulder. From a distance it looks like little spikes of wheat moving across a conveyor towards a grain elevator. Each morning I ponder why only 1 of the 4 rows seems to be working efficiently and I've come to the conclusion that the efficient, productive row of ants has a good queen. She has given them their instructions, made their work process efficient, and motivated her worker ants to be productive. Then I think of the children's story (I can't remember the name) where one ant plays and parties all summer but the other ant collects food and saves it up for the winter. Then I ponder the productivity of ants with the productivity of human beings...

- Turkish coffee and fortune telling. Thanks to a 7th grade field trip, I had an extra free period. While heading back to my office after receiving the good news  several of the Turkish social studies teachers stopped me an motioned for me to join them for a Turkish coffee. One of the teachers speaks a little English remembering what she learned in middle school/high school about 35 years ago., (We are about the same age) The other teacher speaks only Turkish. We enjoyed a delightful 40 minutes together with a mixture of languages. Here's what I learned: 1) When both of them got their teaching degrees in Turkey, they were expected to teach in village schools. Therefore they had to know music, art, sewing, how to give injections (school nurse stuff) wood working, all the subjects plus and little English, French and German. 2) The teacher who speaks the English who has a haircut, glasses and wedding ring that look just like mine, is also a great teller of fortunes from the remaining coffee grounds in a Turkish coffee cup. Even more amazing is that she told my fortune with her limited English. She looked at the grounds with serious intensity and began like this...
 You have a husband and you are very happy. You have a son and he is tall and thin. He is very, he will be very successful. You have a daughter and she is in love. Oh, is she married? (yes). She is very happy.He is very happy. You have another daughter. She is very happy. Oh, and look here...Here is your mom. She is very happy. She loves you very much. You have a very happy family.

Today made it easy to "find the good."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Things I Don't Understand

*backing up on a freeway
*pulling a right-hand U-turn to drive backwards up an on-ramp
*driving a school bus filled with children down the highway with all the doors wide open
*running a red light with a school bus filled with children
*picnicking on the median strip of a freeway
*passing on the right shoulder of a highway going 100 kph
*jaywalking on a 6-lane divided highway 10 feet to the left of a painted crosswalk
*grabbing a ride on the cables of a crane with each foot in separate cables and the wind pushing your legs wide apart like a triangle while hanging on for dear life and not wearing a hard hat.(I guess the hard hat wouldn't be much help if you lost your grip at 15 meters above the ground.)
*leaving picnic garbage (bags, bottles, food scraps) on the grass at the park for the City workers to clean up the next day
*paving a new road, then digging it up one week later to install sewer lines, fiber optic cables, or water mains, and then never repaving the road
*driving at night with the flashers blinking
*driving at night with the flashers blinking and no headlights
*feeding a vicious stray dog (docile "maybe", but vicious "no")
*left hand turns from the right lane of a 4 lane road
*on-line bill pay that is unavailable from 5:00 pm until 9:00 am.
*school bus stops that are 15 feet away from each other...maybe there could be one compromise stop in the middle of the two.

I'm wondering if I could find a similar list back home if I were to look objectively...hum....

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Moving into Summer

I had a weekend that makes me understand why everyone loves Izmir. Longer days, warmer temperatures, gentle lapping waves, fresh fish, farmers markets, lively bazaars, hot cappuccinos and fresh fruit tarts, cold beers and crisp white wines, pink sunrises and orange sunsets were all part of the last 48 hours.

This was one of those weekends where I want to bottle up the fun and save it for a rainy day. I started with an afternoon bike ride to the 5:15 ferry. I was met on the opposite shore by an acquaintance with a car who threw my bike in the back and drove us to Urla where we met up with several more friends for dinner on the bay. (This was an international crowd: German, Turkish and me) Later we sipped wine at a friend's villa on the beach until the waves lulled us to sleep. I woke to birds chirping and an ocean that was so still it was hard to tell where water ended and sky began. A slow, peaceful walk into town yielded a new, Parisian style cafe where I sipped delicious coffee at a table perfectly situated for watching the early morning fishermen in their gently-bobbing blue, red and white wooden boats.

On the walk home I stopped in at a bakery and loaded up on warm bread, rolls and Turkish bagels to share with my host and the other guests. After a slow, lazy breakfast the hot sun prodded us to head to the market in Alacati where we took in the sights and smells of fresh produce: bulbs of garlic, mounds of ripe strawberries, fresh farmer's cheese, grilling donars... Winding down further cobblestone streets led us to boutique, artsy shops filled with dresses, leather shoes and handbags, and bright colored accessories. Stepping out of the sun and into one lovely shop yielded a beautiful-perfect-for-an-upcoming-event dress.

After meeting another group of Turkish friends for coffee and pastries, we headed to the white sand, aquamarine beach of Cesme for a swim and a nap. As the sun began to set, the winds picked up telling us it was time to head back to my friend's villa. We arrived into her town of Urla just before the dinner crowd and were lucky enough to sit at a table where we could enjoy food, people watching, and live music without actually being part of the wedding and business grand opening for which the crowds had gathered.

After another great night's sleep of not being wakened from the 5:00 am prayer call (yippee), I headed home about 6:30 am on my bike into the pinkish-blue sunrise. I was about 30 minutes early for the ferry, just enough time to enjoy a coffee at the marina before heading back to my apartment. It's now 11:00 am on Sunday morning. I've had enough time to start my laundry and get ready for a required Sunday afternoon appearance at school where we will be leading English games and activities for the 2000 or so students and family who are expected to attend. Even though temperatures are expected to reach 86 degrees and the high humidity is making my fingers stick to the keyboard, I think I'm in the "right frame of mind" for noise and crowds after having been blessed with such a beautiful weekend.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Turkish Tailor/Seamstress

Finding clothes and shoes that fit me has been a constant problem for the past almost-two years. The clothes are generally too tight or cut for a different body type, and the shoes are too small with 7 1/2 often being the largest size. I'd thought  I was the only yabanci (foreigner) trying to fit into a Turkish body type. But, lo and behold, when my German friend, unfamiliar with my clothing woes, asked if I'd like to join her on a trip to her tailor  (she said she had trouble finding clothes that fit) of course, I said yes. Heck, the closest I'd been to a tailor in the States was a watching a man at Men's Warehouse, hem my husband's or son's trousers or take in a suit jacket. This would be "Project Runway" Turkish style.

After driving up and down cobblestone streets we 20 minutes, we finally parking in front of a neighborhood townhouse where a woman was watering her garden. We climbed the steep stairs to her house, exchanged introductions and walked into what appeared to be a framed-in balcony turned sewing room. Two large, industrial sewing machines bearing names I'd never heard of were stationed in front of the garden windows facing the street. Bolts of fabric lined the walls. Industrial sized spools of thread lines shelved above the machines. Burda magazines for inspiration and ideas were stacked on a nearby shelf.

Today's meeting was a "fitting" of some garments tacked together by thread. My friend had bought an assortment of fabrics like men's shirting, lightweight silks and chiffons, ham man towels, and upholstery fabric, and then drawn little designs on fake "Post-it Notes" with dress ideas, blouses, pockets, collars, etc. These two Turkish women had taken those ideas and made them patterns, just imagination and excellent tailoring skills. During the fitting, we suggested a snip here, and tuck there, and we thought one of the dresses would look good with a "boat neck" collar. My German friend was trying to explain what she wanted. I provided the English term, and the Turkish tailor (seamstress is probably more accurate) used a word like "deniz" which means sea and we all knew we were talking about the same thing.

During the fittings of about 7 pieces, I was thinking to myself that there are actually three universal languages - math, music, and sewing. It was amazing to see how well the three of us communicated about collars, buttons, hem lines, darts, seams, and trim in spite of the actual language difference. Not only that, I was so impressed my friend had solved her "clothes" problem by hiring a tailor. I would never have thought of that.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Recess Duty

I've enjoyed this month's recess duty because I'm on the basketball courts behind the high school building. At lunch-recess there is plenty of action to watch so the time passes relatively quickly. There are four nets and each net has a character of its own.

The net farthest away from supervision (I'll call it Court 1) is usually filled with 12th grade boys but yesterday, for some reason, fourth or fifth grade students took over the court. (I would not have had the courage at that age to even set foot on high school territory, but more power to them.) The thing that made me smile about this game was that it consisted of 9 boys and 1 girl making it one of the few, if only, basketball games I've seen since arriving in Turkey being played with mixed genders. The girl was really cute - long pony tail, glasses, and laughing/smiling the whole time. The boys didn't seem to notice she was wearing a skirt. They played hard, and said the score out loud (good chance for me to practice listening to Turkish) after every basket for the entire 40 minute break.

The next net  (Court 2) consisted of the less-than-fit boys. With shirts untucked, shoes untied, beads of sweat pouring off their brows and frequent trips to the water fountain, these boys are the "low energy" court - an occasional dribble, an occasional reach for a rebound, and lots of free-throw practice. If the ball bounces in their direction- and they generally space themselves around the next like shot positions in a game of "Horse" to prevent the ball from rolling too far away- they will take a shot.

Court 3 is always- probably an unwritten playground rule- the athletes, the good basketball players, the "jocks". They've mastered the art of "hang time". They like to try and grab the rim. They stroll away from a basket like it's a "given" their shot will go in. Court 3 usually consists of 9th grade boys. Their opponents tend to be one grade older or one to two grades younger. (How do they pass the word about game-time three buildings away?) Anyway, yesterday's game looked like 9th grade v. 7th grade. Of course, 9th dominated. Their height alone gave them the advantage in rebounds, and of course, their age meant they had been playing longer, but it was a good game. There were several 7th graders who were jumping like grasshoppers often cutting off passes or deflecting rebounds. The 7th graders had a point guard who was seeing opportunities, calling plays and making the 9th graders work. It was fun to watch.

The last net (Court 4) is closest to where I stand, although I do make periodic walk-arounds to keep things interesting. This is the court that changes weekly. This is the court that makes me nervous. This is the court where I'm glad the PE teacher makes random "walk-bys" because I can't figure out what's going on but my gut feeling tells me that sometimes things are "not right". Is it friendly play or is it bullying? I they "being nice" or "making someone the object of a joke." This is the court where some kids sit on the periphery. They look like they want to play but seem to be included only in that they get to shag balls or enter the "out-of-bounds" areas to fetch a ball that "just happened" to go over the fence. This is the court of confusion. And, with my language difficulities, I can't communicate what I think is going on. So, I give uncomfortable stares and proximity control.

Even though the language is different, the children at their different development ages, seem to be the same. And, it's enjoying seeing children be children that makes recess duty fun.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Translations, Visa, and Overstays

I was asked to help with a translation this afternoon. I generally find the process of taking a Turkish/English-translated piece of writing and then refining it to make it sound more "native" is both challenging and enjoyable. But today's piece, a letter actually, made me sad.

A little background information is in order...

One of the perks for the Turkish teachers of working at my school is the eligibility, after 3 years of service, for a trip to the United States...all expenses paid. The school has taken over 25 teachers each of the past two years. This year there are approximately 30 teachers scheduled this year to travel to the United States all expenses paid to visit museums, Broadway plays, universities like Harvard and MIT.  But before the teachers can attend, they must secure a visa from the American Embassy in Ankara. This means taking a day off of school, flying to Ankara, and going through a grueling/stressful interview to get a tourist visa. Yesterday, the first group made the embassy trip and good number were denied visas.

I don't know the criteria for obtaining tourist visas to the United States, but I'm guessing that in light of the recent terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon the scrutiny of persons coming from countries with citizens who have a history of overstaying their "tourist" visas has heightened and, consequently, the granting of visas has declined. In other words it's bad timing. Again, I'm just surmising.

Today's translation was a letter that will accompany the next group of teachers explaining the school's travel incentive/motivation program. Although I don't know all of the teachers who won the trip, I do know that most have too much to lose here in Turkey (family, good jobs, homes, beautiful Izmir climate) to overstay their visas in the United States. In other words, for most of them it's a trip-of-a-lifetime but not a reason to immigrate.

I know immigration reform is a hot-topic in the US right now and quick internet search yielded me information that suggests as many as 40% of unauthorized immigrants are those who overstay their visas. (Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2013). The same article also quoted a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California that shows the some 55% of visa over-stayers speak English well and have 13.2 years of education as compared with those who cross the border illegally. Given these statistics, I can understand why the Embassy is reluctant to grant tourist visas.

I don't have a good solution to the problem. I know we fingerprint and track foreigners when they enter the United States, but after that I'm not sure we have the tracking controls in place like many foreign countries, so it's fairly easy to overstay a visa. For example, in Turkey I'm tracked all the time - whenever I enter or leave the country, stay in a hotel, rent a car, change money, etc. As a guest in this country, I don't mind the Turkish government  always knowing where I am. But, a big part of my American heritage respects and defends the right to privacy, to live and stay where I choose, and to basically be anonymous. Unfortunately, our freedoms are being used against us by terrorists which, in turn, harms law-abiding people from around the world.

I feel sad that my colleagues can't travel freely to the US, and I feel sad that Islamic terrorists dictate that America be hesitant, for obvious reasons, to share our freedoms with teachers who have earned an award.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fortune Tellers

I've been waiting for the perfect time and opportunity to sneak of picture of the fortune tellers in downtown Izmir since I first arrived. Either I'm alone and feel too self-conscious, I'm riding my bike and don't have instant access to my phone, or the fortune tellers are busy "telling fortunes" to paying customers - young couples in love, groups of giggling girl friends, mothers and daughters making plans for their futures, etc.

Armed with the confidence that comes from the  support of an out-of-town guest who trusts that I know what I'm doing because I've lived here for a year, I approached this fortune teller, dropped a couple of coins in her hand and asked for a "resim" (photo). I actually wouldn't have minded asking for my fortune but, as she speaks only Turkish, I wouldn't have understood what she was saying anyway.

I snapped a quick photo with my phone but my friend captured the true essence of this fortune teller from her vantage point so what you're seeing is a much better image.

What the picture doesn't capture is the fortune teller's friends teasing her and giggling in the background. But the joke's on them because we snapped photos of them all resting and enjoying a smoke break later on in the afternoon.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Testing and Grades

Last Thursday the students sat through their thrice-annual, 160 minute long test which determines their placement/scholarship in the school. After the tests, which last longer than SAT tests (remember, they take three of these per year)  I finally resorted to showing movies for the rest of the day as they had nothing left in their brains to give.

Today the school passed out the test results in the 6th hour so the kids were pretty much worthless for the last two hours of the day. They were comparing their low scores and making plans for better academic achievement, all while missing my instruction for the material on Monday's English exam. Of course, this was 7th grade and most of this class has still made no connection between effort, work, homework, and listening, to learning. Many fear losing their scholarships, some fear not being asked back to the school, and others just talk about feeling stupid. One classroom has a poster of the school with devil ears burning in hell with the caption at the bottom.."I see children dying"..

Little do they know, it's not much fun to teach in this environment either....

Monday, April 1, 2013

Never Give up Hope

Yesterday was least in Roman Catholic and western churches.

Although spring and Easter kind of snuck up on me this year(which seems reasonable living in a Muslim country), there were some things that happen during Holy Week to remind me of this special time of year. Here they are:

Monday - a Turkish teacher who had been in Harlem (Netherlands not NYC) last week brought me a pack of foiled-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. Little did she know that I'd been wondering if I could find some. As a matter of fact, I was so excited that I jumped up and down while hugging her when she presented me the package.
Tuesday - I wished my Jewish colleague a Happy Passover and she was so excited that I'd remembered that she treated me to a Turkish coffee.
Wednesday - In anticipation of not being alone on a holiday, I invited some English speaking teachers to an Easter dinner at my house.
Holy Thursday - the new Pope's washing of inmates feet from many different religions made the news.
Good Friday - a friend mentioned in her blog that she'd attended a Tennebrae service. It reminded me how much I love the peacefulness at those services.
Saturday - I enjoyed the spring-like weather with my first dip in the sea near Cesme.
Sunday - I rode my bike and the ferry in beautiful sunshine to church, sang familiar hymns, and then cooked dinner and cleaned the house.

Aside from giving my young friends a home away from home during the holiday, another goal was to steer the conversation away from school. I also knew this would be a first Easter for one teacher's Turkish boyfriend so it was a good opportunity to share our culture. In lieu of dying Easter eggs, (I never found dye and just wasn't up to boiling vegetables) I found coloring pages of Easter eggs on the internet. I left those pictures and markers on the coffee table which were a big hit especially with the elementary teachers. When I served the traditional tray of deviled eggs, I learned that deviled eggs were my family's tradition. Nobody ate OR dyed eggs as children. (I thought EVERYONE did those things..I'm always learning even about my own country.) I talked about how making the deviled eggs was the children's job as a way to keep them involved with the dinner preparations. Aemon from Ireland ate his first deviled egg and second and third and so forth..They are addicting..

As corny and forced as it sounds, I asked everyone to talk about their favorite Easter memories. They were all pretty typical (Jacqui from England liked Cadbury eggs, and Sarah from America did, too. I still don't like the way the stuff oozes out of them like a raw egg. Paul from America liked Easter egg hunts and finding plastic eggs filled with candy. But my favorite of all was Ugur from Turkey who said this was his best (and first) Easter ever. He added that thinks it's much more positive for kids to hunt for eggs and eat candy than to watch a sheep be slaughtered and die which is the tradition for the Muslim Kurban Bayram,

To wrap up this year's Easter, I was catching up on some old video clips and saw the Cardinal of Washington being interviewed about the new Pope. In answer to the question how he would explain the meaning of Easter to non-Christians, he answered, "Easter is about hope. Never give up hope that we can make things better." I think Ugur from Turkey figured that meaning just by virtue of the egg hunt - the possibility of finding candy versus the sheep slaughter - the reality of death.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Enter the Sea in March

"Let's go to the beach!" a colleague suggested a couple of nights ago. After a beers and a few texts to more teachers, the plan was set - 2 cars, 9 teachers, 1 ferry and plenty of sunshine. Today, the Saturday before Easter, the last weekend in March, the weekend where snow is still on the ground in many of this ex-pat groups' home countries, we were lying at a secluded beach, enjoying the waves, blue water and gentle breeze.

It wasn't but about five minutes before the men said, "Let's swim." I pretended not to hear and buried myself in my book. The other women ignored by chatting. Non-plussed the men jumped in and proved that the water was swim-able by splashing around for about 15 minutes. Although, I had dipped my toes into the chilly water, it was  not nearly as cold as the Columbia River in July and I'd been in that water on more than several occasions. However, I wasn't ready to actually "get in."

However, I kept being distracted from reading my book by thoughts that I'm in this beautiful place, blue waves and sea foam lapping at the shore, on the last weekend in March, and far from home. Even more distracting were thoughts that my husband would have been the first to run into the waters, knees high, arms flailing getting the most out of life. Here I was trying to focus on The End of Your Life Book Club. (yes, there really is a book by this name, and no it's not really as depressing as it sounds.) Luckily, the irony wasn't lost on me.

I switched off my Kindle, grabbed my beach bag, snuck into a cabin to change, and said to myself, "Eric, this swim is for you -- and for me." I ran about 40 feet from the cabin into the first 6 inches of water. was a little chilly..I almost turned around and got back out, but I pictured Eric's method, which he learned from his Uncle Charlie many years ago in Canada, of running head first into the waves with his arms splashing wildly at his side until he could no longer feel the cold. I ran. I splashed. I kept running. I kept splashing. And, guess what?! It worked. I was in. The water was fine...a little cold but bearable. The waves were fun. For those swimming moments, I felt relaxed and calm. It was a great day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good things come in small packages...

I was unlocking my front door yesterday when I looked down and noticed a small slip of paper stuck between the door jam and the door. Upon inspection I was able to ascertain that the PTT (Turkish Postal Service) had tried to deliver a package at 12 noon. I could figure out a tracking number and I could read the words "Mavesehir" and "7 days" but I had no idea where my package was. But not to worry. I was excited because it was the first package I'd received in Izmir!

I came inside and pondered just how I could pick up this surprise. I didn't know where the Mavesehir post office was and there was no address on the slip. After putting on my reading glasses and staring at the slip until the miniscule numbers were clear, I found a web site. Ah ha! Maybe I could figure this out on my own.

I was able to log onto the PTT website and I was even able to find a button for "English." Cool! Then I was able to find "locate the post office nearest you." Even better! Then I followed the commands and got as far as Izmir/Karsiyiak but there was no "Mavesehir" choice. After that failure I was able to find a link for "track your package." I typed in the numbers several ways as my best guess with the sloppy handwriting. I kept getting error messages so I knew I'd have to wait until the next day at school when I could ask a Turkish friend.

At school today, even though my teacher friend did not know exactly which substation was Mavesehir, her husband happened to be in that part of town and walked to the post office where she thought it might be. Bingo!  Yes, they had my package. No, they wouldn't give it to her husband. Darn!

Knowing that the substation closed at 5:00, I knew today would be one of my fastest bike rides ever. Luckily there was a tail wind and green lights most of the way, and I pulled up to the post office at 4:56 with time to lock my bike. I showed my passport, wrote my initials on the form, dropped the package into my backpack, and rode home.

I ripped open the packing (no one to slow me down) and inside was a delicious assortment of American candy and a happy birthday note from a wonderful, thoughtful book group friend. This birthday present gave me a wonderful experience with a sweet reward. Thank you, friend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Copy-Paste Projects

"Are you here to watch our projects," asked one of my 7th grade students when I entered the classroom. The room was abuzz with the nervous energy of students required to make presentations that they have been working on for weeks.

Although I could stay and watch I could sense from both the Turkish teacher and several of the students that they would prefer that I not. They were both nervous. Taking the cues, I politely excused myself and joined a colleague for a cup of Turkish coffee and a friendly chat in the sun-filled snack room.

After the hour break I headed back to the 7th grade classroom. It was a double period and I had to be ready to cover in case the projects finished early. The nervous buzz had subsided a little and this time the Turkish teacher indicated that I should stay.

I settled in for the opportunity to watch some of my students presenting a project in their native language and a more comfortable environment. Watching the presentation was enlightening and I'm pretty sure I could guess the requirements:
1 Title Slide - 1 table of contents, 6 slides and a couple of pictures. And, I think I guessed the topic: Hybrid Cars.

The actual presentation consisted of two boys reading paragraphs of information that had been copied from the internet (probably Wikipedia) complete with bold hyperlinks and big words they couldn't pronounce. And, these boys could read fast. I couldn't even follow along with the paragraphs of white words as they read, they were speaking so quickly. (probably nerves..)

But, there was one question that was answered by watching this presentation. I now understand why it's so difficult to get some students to drop the inflection of their voices at the end of English sentences. I think it's because they don't do it in Turkish either. I've tried drawing pictures, making students repeat after me, singing chants, etc, but some students still raise their voices at the period as if they're asking a question.

So, even though I could be critical of the copy-paste projects, I can be grateful that I learned something new.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Car Rental Policies and Socialism

"Don't worry, you can go at least 50 kilometers on the tank of gas," said Emir, the car rental agent via his friend who had worked at a hotel in Ankara and was acting as Emir's translator.

I didn't pay much attention to the "50 km" because I figured there was some mistake in the translation. Knowing I would have to buy gas anyway, I just made a mental note to buy gas sooner rather than later. I continued my walk-around to point out all the dents and scratches: a glued-together, cracked front bumper, a oddly located dent above the rear passenger door, scrapes, nicks, and cracks on the rear bumper.

"Looks fine," I said.

"You can return it on empty," said the car rental agent as I stepped into the driver's seat.

"Well, that's nice," I thought to myself. But I knew I would never be able to drive a car on empty. I'm the type of person who can barely let a car get below half-full before I start rerouting my errands to include a gas station. I'm the wife who can't pick up her husband who has run out of gas without launching into a huge, preachy lecture. I'm the mom who reminds all her daughters for their safety, they should never let the tank go below half full.

I smiled, waved through the window, put the car in gear, and eased myself into traffic with an audience of four Turkish men watching my every move. I was so happy I didn't kill the engine. After a few more minutes of adjusting to the traffic and making myself comfortable- turning off the Turkish music, squirting and wiping the windows, adjusting the rear view mirror - I glanced down at the gas gauge. Empty...Below the red line... Gas can illuminated... No wonder he offered the "you can return it on empty!"... S@#$!

I was in an unfamiliar part of town. I wondered if I should drive the 20 km to the gas station I knew. Should I hope to find a closer one? Should I pull a u-turn and return the car before I had to walk down the freeway? Would I make it to the airport in time? Seriously, I couldn't believe there was anything close to 50 km of gas left in that tank.

I did eventually find a gas station. And, thank goodness, I didn't have to walk. But I don't like this Turkish car rental culture of leaving the car with some or very little gas. I didn't like it when several agencies said to return car half-full. I didn't like it when I was told I could leave it really empty. These are not accurate measures. They do not measure my usage of the car. They do not measure the previous or the next renters usage of the car. I want to pay for what I use and I want everyone else to pay for what they use. Starting a rental contract with a tank of gas that is anywhere less than full is socialism. And today's rental car owner got a nice gift of a 1/4 tank of gas. At $10/gallon that's no too shabby for absolutely no work.