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.