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.

Friday, March 22, 2013

L'Alliance Francaise-Izmir

The test message read, "We're meeting on Thursday at 7pm at le Cigal for XXXXX's good bye dinner. It's in the garden of the L'Alliance Francaise (French Cultural Center). Can you come?"

My brain raced ahead...after-school meeting will end at 6:30ish...30 minute bus ride to ferry...20 minute ferry ride...15 minute walk....20 minutes for missed connections...35 of the 95 report card comments to finish writing...sleep deprived...

But, the message was from my new German friend and her gatherings are always very international with very enjoyable conversations.

I texted back, "Can I come late? like 8ish."

And things couldn't have worked out better. Yesterday, when I hopped on the school bus service, I noticed my favorite biology teacher (she and I are the same age AND she speaks English) was on the bus. I also happened to remember that she lives in Alsancak, probably near the L'Alliance Francaise, so I asked it it would be possible to stay on the bus to the city center rather than hopping off early to catch the ferry across the bay.

"No problem," she replied.

We talked and laughed the entire ride. She has to clean for Passover and I told her I "should" clean. (notice I'm avoiding cleaning even now to write this post.) Just before she got off, she asked the bus driver to drop me front of my destination. Arriving only 15 minutes late, I was actually "on-time".

As I walked up the steps to the information desk I remembered my college French teacher explaining how most great cities have a L'Alliance Francaise and they are great places to meet people from all over the world and to speak French. I was finally going to take advantage of her advice.

Actually, I'd walked by this building many times but had been so wrapped up in trying to speak Turkish that I hadn't taken the time to step inside and have a look around. Last night, however, I needed directions to the cafe Le Cigale, located somewhere on this property.

Approaching the information desk, I wasn't sure what language to use but it seemed logical to try French. Sure enough, the cute, young receptionist, (without batting an eye or saying she didn't understand) replied in perfect French. It was so simple. My brain registered her response on a deeper level and, without even thinking, my feet took me in the correct direction. At that moment, I realized that I still cannot have a simple encounter like that in Turkish. I either have to repeat myself, draw a picture, or panic at the really long response to my limited Turkish.

Anyway, my feet took me around the corner, through a long corridor, and down some dark stairs. I was wondering why the group had chosen this location when there are so many other places in Izmir with a bustling atmosphere to celebrate a friendship. In other words, this was a bland, government-type office space. But, my question was soon answered. At the bottom of the stairs, I pushed through a dark doorway and was immediately transported to a French garden bar/cafe. The bar with packed with a young "happy-hour" crowd, standing around tiny,standing-height tables sipping wine and cocktails. Beyond the glass windows and glass door was a courtyard covered with trees and vines beyond which was the white table-clothed, candle-lit atmosphere of a French cafe. How had I missed this for the past 8 months?

I found my friends, exchanged a combination of Turkish hugs and kisses and handshakes, and was introduced to a couple of new friends. We enjoyed a delicious meal and interesting conversation...A Brit who started as an English teacher but is making more money in 1/3 of the time tuning and voicing pianos for concerts, teaching piano lessons, and playing at some of the local clubs (I'm sure there is a shortage of his profession here in Turkey)...A German police office who provides security for the German consulate (He gets the opportunity to work on three overseas rotations) ...A Turkish stockbroker married to the piano man (she likes hiking and camping all over Turkey)... a Turkish airline pilot (I asked why they land the planes so fast here and he just laughed) German motorcycle friend (She's ridden on Route 66 and in one of the 9/11 Fundraising rides in the US)...and the guest of honor who is headed back to Copenhagen this weekend (gosh I hope I get to visit her some day.)

My French professor (I can still see her big mouth and teeth as she tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to say "oui" correctly) was correct about one thing. The L'Alliance Francaise is a great place to meet people!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Student Cultural Exchange

The students in Europe are lucky because they have many more opportunities to travel to foreign countries than our students. In addition if the schools have on-the-ball, proactive teachers who can find European Union (EU) money to fund the exchanges, the trips are relatively inexpensive. In December, 20 of our students and 2 teachers traveled to The Netherlands for a week. Last week, 20 students from The Netherlands and their teacher/advisers came here. The purpose of the exchange was to share cultures. The common languages were English and German which were 2nd and 3rd languages for all 40 students. Each school had to prepare activities introducing things like native foods, dances, traditional games, and holidays. The students lived in their "partner" students houses, attend school. and did some local sightseeing. One example of the cultural differences between the two countries is that when our students went to The Netherlands, they rode bikes to school with their partners. Likewise, the students from the Netherlands rode in the service buses with our students.

Students from the Netherlands and Turkey receive their certificates of participation in this cultural exchange.
I joined the group for their last activity together last Friday night. After the presentations and planned activities, the kids plugged their i-pods into the stereo system and started dancing. The first song up, the ice breaker if you will, was the Harlem Shake. Two countries became one and, for the rest of the evening, the kids had a blast dancing together. While watching them dance I was transported back to my high school days. Even back then, I was itching to see the world, to meet new people, the explore new cultures. I would have loved an opportunity like these students had.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Off the Beaten Track

I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Istanbul. Having visited many of the mainstream tourist destinations, I decided to spend some time wandering off the beaten path and checking out some of the less touristic/more local museums and neighborhoods.

En-route to Istanbul Modern (art museum) I saw signs pointing to the Museum of Innocence. I'd read about this museum and was curious to see it because I'd read the book with the same title by Orhan Pamuk. As typical in Turkey, the signs did not take me directly to the museum but my wanderings took me through some interesting neighborhoods. I found many boutique shops fills with antiques and nostalgia. I always wondered where I could buy an original Roman or Greek pillar (sorry, I don't remember how to tell them apart). They might be a little expensive to ship but they sure would be a nice conversation piece if I had the right garden.

 The bathtub caught my attention because, although it didn't have claws for legs, it did remind me of  the tub we had when I was a little girl.
 Camera phones (or maybe it's me) are not good at capturing perspective but this is a really steep hill and the man pushing the cart is laboring to reach the top.
 What a clever way to hide the air-conditioning unit (or maybe she's using the unit for a shelf.) In any event her flower garden added a touch of elegance to this rather run-down Turkish neighborhood.
This toy pony caught my eye because it's different than the ponies we rode as kids but it looks just as fun.

Orhan Pamuke  wrote The Museum of Innocence, a love story, and imagined  a museum of the same name, at the same time. The museum is organized by chapters and each chapter contains items relating to the same chapter in the book. Both the book and the museum give cultural snippets into life in Turkey.

A visit to the Koc Museum, a museum built from the private collection of one of the richest families in Turkey, yielded many beautiful surprises including over 100 automobiles, planes, trains, locomotives, boats, yachts, machines, engines, and lots of scientific mechanical devices. This is a beautiful, wood water ski boat complete with wood water skis. The family got it start selling Ford automobiles I think.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Carrefour Customer Rewards Card

Today, checking out at Carrefour was like winning the lottery. First, my cashier spoke a little English. You'd be surprised how pleasant a little English is after a rough day with 7E. She even offered a rubber band for the poster paper I'd bought for a school project. Usually the cashier just throws down a shopping baggie and watches my new poster paper get wrinkled bent as I stuff it into the sack. And trust me, poster paper doesn't stuff very well. Second, she asked if I would like her to apply the money accumulated on my customer rewards card to today's bill. Wow! I didn't even know that I earned money for shopping at Carrefour. I'd thought the card was to make sure I got the sales price on specific items. Previously, I'd convinced myself that pulling out the blue Carrefour card was my way to "fake" the cashier into believing I understood what she was saying. (In reality, I'd just memorized the sequence: 1. Hello and welcome. 2. Have you got a rewards card? and 3. (here's where I fall apart..they usually ask me something I don't understand so I just say no.)  But, remember, today was lottery day. Here was this nice cashier speaking a little English and offering to apply my card credit to my shopping total. When she showed me my 16tl credit towards a 26tl bill I was pretty excited....bonus cash that I probably would never have known I had,without her kind help! Score!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stray Dogs

Turkey has a lot of stray dogs.
Some are really cute like the white Labrador puppies behind the Thermal hotel.
Some are so lazy or "dog tired"  that I think they're dead, but then then slowly raise one ear and an eyebrow when I wizz by on my bike.
Some are playful like the puppies near the trash dump who frolic around and tumble all over each other and fight over a plastic baggie dripping with grease.
Some are docile and tired from trying to find scraps of food or dead fish near dumpsters and behind restaurants.
Some are the lucky beneficiaries of an early-morning walker bringing treats like a bag of stale bread or left-over bones.
Many are tagged which means someone took them to the free vet to get spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies.
One or two are actual house pets complete with collars and leashes pulling their owners along for their daily walks.
And some just need to be killed....
              like the pack of five, tagged, so-they're-only-acting-like-rabid-dogs who chase me every day at kilometer 6 of my way to work.

I wish I knew enough Turkish to call a dog catcher.
Wait, based upon the number of strays, I don't think they have dog catchers here.

My colleague suggested pepper spray but I'm afraid I'd miss and spray myself while trying to keep their extra-sharp canine incisors from nipping at my calves.

Today I imagined myself buying a cheap steak, slathering it with rat poison and hoping for the pack's slow, painful death....'s time to do something about the dogs. You've got too many...

Monday, March 11, 2013

One Day Maybe We'll Be Old

Today's blog post title is actually the title of a song. I heard this song for the first time tonight because it's playing under a You Tube video my son made during an epic (his word/not mine) 24 mile mountain climbing/snowboarding trip he made this past weekend. Lately, his weekends have consisted of taking adventurous challenges, creating memories, and thinking that "getting old" is something that happens many years down the road.

I guess the reality that "one day maybe we'll be old" is one of the reasons that I'm here in Turkey the first place.  Moving here seemed like a good opportunity for adventure and to create some memories. And, although daily living here in Turkey is always an adventure (welcome or not), and memories are hastily stored in the camera folder of my phone and via this blog, the reality is that I'm not in a hurry to get old.

What made this song and the "getting old" part even more poignant was a conversation at today's school lunch. I was talking with one of my Turkish colleagues and  asked about her mom. I'd remembered that she had to travel to eastern Turkey to care for her mom during the semester break. Today I learned the visit was also to give her mom's caregiver a few days off to travel back to Georgia (the country - not the state). As it turned out, my colleague's dad died when she was 26 years old and her mother had a stoke that paralyzed her one year later. So, my colleague has had the difficult task of finding care and making difficult moral decisions for over 20 years. She reminded me how lucky I am that both parents are healthy. I agreed and we both pulled our earlobes and knocked on wood. (for good ward off the evil eye).

So many thanks to my parents for instilling the sense of adventure and the importance of creating memories in me as a young child. Maybe one day we'll all be old. But for now, let's keep the adventure alive.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

"Happy Women's Day!" was the greeting from many of my male students today at school. At first it caught me quite off guard. In fact, although I said the obligatory "thank you"  to the first greeting, it took me several moments to sort out just what he had just other words, today felt like any other Friday..excitement about the end of the week and dread at a certain 2 class periods that I had to face....and nothing special.

To be quite honest, it wasn't until I moved to Turkey last year that I even became aware of a holiday for women or appreciated the significance of this day in a country where many women still don't enjoy the same freedoms that I do.

And, it wasn't until yesterday around 5:00 p.m. when my property manager called me to invite me to a neighborhood celebration for International Women's Day including give-a-ways for things like manicures and pedicures that I even remembered that March 8th is THE day.

Unfortunately, today's significance still didn't sink in until about the 15th male student yelled out a "Happy Women's Day" greeting. Finally, I stopped to ponder the reason for this day. After a walk from the high school building to the middle school building, I finally came to the conclusion that International Women's Day is a day to give thanks.

Therefore, I'm thankful for the many men and women around the world who have fought for basic human rights for women. It's easy to take their efforts for granted because:

- I had the freedom to choose who I married.
- I have a husband who supports me, respects my ideas, and encourages me to be the best I can be.
- I have a partnership and friendship in my marriage.
- I have the freedom to go where I want, when I want, and by bicycle if I want.
- I have the opportunity to read, watch movies, listen to music, and travel.
- I can choose the clothes I want to wear.
- I have the support to encourage my children to be confident and to pursue their dreams.

And, while I realize there are many women who do not have these rights, hopefully days like today will encourage the myriad young men and women of this generation to work towards assuring that all women have the basic human rights.