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.