Saturday, December 15, 2007

iyi kurban bayramlar

this is my first winter-holiday-season away from my family. even though i'm not especially nostalgic for american-style christmas-time, i hosted a gingerbread-house-making night to get in the spirit of things. recently i've been growing to love (and appreciate) my american friends here - especially laura and michelle - and since we're pretty isolated in a mostly-foreigner dorm-like apartment building in the semi-middle of nowhere (on bilkent university's campus) we spend a lot of time together. it's not ideal in terms of exposure to (let alone immersion in) turkish culture, but it's fun to pretend i'm a fresh(wo)man in college again, wandering around in pajamas & stumbling upon impromptu visits/dance parties/existential crises/discussions & dreams of life-plans. it was nice to gather up some people and realize how much i genuinely like them. makes being away from home a lot easier.

michelle, as always, came over early to help set up. we tried to eat something healthy before the whole thing -

until marion brought real gingerbread, , ,

and everyone dug into a mess of sugar.

we also cut paper snowflakes,

stuck cloves in oranges,

and don't be fooled by laura's grave expression: got goofy + stayed up way too late for a wednesday night with work at 8:50 the next morning.

thanks to this year's kurban bayramı falling in mid-december, after work on tuesday i'll be leaving for a week in berlin with my friends brian and megan. i'm looking forward to great museums, sorely-missed indian food, good beer, confusing turkish immigrants with my turkish, and a fancy christian christmas eve service somewhere before flying back on christmas day. since brie pushed her visit back i'll be staying in ankara over new years to work on my final paper + project for my grad classes. even though i love my new batch of students, juggling work with my classes has been pretty tiring recently & i haven't been able to give enough energy to the latter. these breaks will be nice.

also, after four months in turkey i was just given keys to a mailbox!! if you wanna send mail you can either send it to my work address at BUSEL or. . .my apartment, which is probably better:

Orta Kampus, Lojman 106
Bilkent Üniversitesi
Bilkent, Ankara 06800

more after germany. . .my first time to europe (unless istanbul counts?)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

brick in the wall

While working at the Marlboro Music Festival this summer, I befriended an awesome & inspiring girl named Brie (featured in this older post) who runs the blog Where have all the cowgirls gone? with her friend Huma. Brie asked me back in July or so for a contribution and I finally got around to putting one together this week with the editing help of Michelle and especially Laura. (THANK YOU!!) It should be posted on her blog soon, but I've decided to post a version here too since I haven't written much about my experiences teaching. I'm also posting a picture I didn't take because 1. it vaguely reminds me of brie (since i first saw it this past summer on the BBC's site) and 2. pembe seviyorum!

This August, recently armed with undergraduate degrees in literature and political science, I did what any directionless American liberal arts major lacking financial ambition might do: ship off to teach English abroad. I was lucky to land a year-long Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship at the prestigious Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey – a part of the world I’d always wanted to visit. I could take free graduate classes while teaching “speaking skills” to small classes of would-be Bilkent undergraduates lacking the language skills necessary to meet the English-medium university’s standards. Read: they wanted warm-blooded native speakers to talk for twenty hours a week. Sounded simple enough. Little did I know just how provocative those hours of essentially free-for-all conversation would be.

My original goal was simply to hold the students’ interest, avoid philosophical landmines (i.e. obey the law) and nudge them towards fluency. I start out with a seemingly flawless lesson plan: an analysis of the Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” followed by predictions of what their lives will be like when they reach that age. To my dismay, my chirpy questions are answered with blank stares. The distant future? They’re late teens still trying to pass the upcoming exam, much less deal with answers to existential questions fifty years from now. To top it all off, the questions are coming from a wacky 23-year-old teacher – barely older than them – hiding anarchist sentiments under awkward-fitting “professional” clothes. The fact that I’m ditching my friends and family to teach them the English they need to get a Turkish education is beyond comprehension. What can they say? Will they end up staying in Turkey or go for the “utopian” dream of graduate school – and potentially life – abroad? Will their passports ever double as tickets into the EU? Is Turkey sliding down the same “slippery slope” towards fundamentalist Islamic rule à la Iran as some Turks insist? For those with immediate family in current or potential war zones, the future is even more precarious. “Insh’Allah, teacher,” they say, Arabic for “god-willing,” “we want a good life, but we don’t know what will happen.”

Actually, each time I walk into a classroom, neither do I. I consistently find myself in a crossfire of social issues I only vaguely understand. A macho student in a pink playboy-bunny shirt fiddles with his brand-new BMW keys in one hand and seductively swings his prayer beads in the other, bragging about the girls he’d met at a bar the night before; next to him, a girl pats her hairpins to make sure the hat she’s wearing covers all her hair (since by law she can’t wear a headscarf to school) as she complains about society’s expectations of women’s physical appearances; next to her a heavily made-up girl in a skin-tight miniskirt and knee-high boots furrows her brows at the mention of alcohol (technically prohibited in Islam) and promises to bring me a copy of the Koran next class. An Iraqi exchange student describes her recent trip home as “peaceful” while an adrenaline-charged boy fresh from his military service demands an explanation of the US’s presence there. A previously quiet girl offhandedly suggests the army destroy Kurdish villages out east; an invisibly-Kurdish boy from the far east is silent. The Bulgarians and Azerbaijanians need special translations of new vocabulary. Those on scholarship need help circumventing the all-too-prevalent topic of “shopping.” Most students are happy discussing their hometowns and Turkish food, but for a small yet vocal minority, the topic of Greeks and Armenians (not to mention Jews, Asians, and blacks) offers endless material for cruel jokes. One boy says he wants to “holocaust gay people.” And I am to say…what? “Holocaust” is not a verb?

The problem is, I’m trying to juggle a little too much: teach English with laughable training, wind my way through a labyrinth of cultural nuances, and figure out what to do with my life. Let’s be frank: for most young graduates, “teaching English” is less a passion for grammar than it is a “gap year” between school and “real life.” Meanwhile, the luxury of my indecision feels increasingly unfair. Bilkent University is one of the top universities in Turkey, and the Turkish-born English teachers I work with are some of the best in their field. Their jobs are competitive and they work hard towards advanced teaching degrees. Me? I didn’t take a single education course in college – yet I have the option of teaching virtually anywhere until I decide to dabble in the myriad of choices available to me. Japan or Spain? Journalism career or graduate school? I’m the face of the cultural imperialist force neither side can escape: no matter how hard my coworkers study English, I’ll always have a leg up just because my native language happens to be the current international one. No matter how much I struggle with the assigned English translations of Foucault and Deleuze in my graduate courses, my Turkish peers are facing an exponentially more difficult battle. And yet no matter how American foreign policy taints my students’ gut reaction to my nationality, they’re always up for talking about Justin Timberlake’s new song. Not necessarily because it’s good. Just infectious. Because it’s everywhere.

These students don’t particularly care about the Beatles. Like most of the industrialized world they know Lost and Angelina Jolie, but they’re also growing up in an especially conflicted and diverse country currently facing issues with enough conversation material to last a lifetime. They deserve teachers who will encourage critical thinking relevant to their lives. I’ve adjusted my lesson plans to discuss topics like gender roles, global warming, and international standards of beauty – even the wildly popular (and arguably anti-American) Turkish television show Valley of the Wolves Iraq. We have debates. Heated debates. And I learn far more about Turkish culture from my students than I ever could fumbling through Turkey on my own.

The cliché rings true: I learn just as much as – if not more than – my students. What was originally a vehicle for getting abroad has become the most stimulating aspect of my life in Turkey. I can’t always give them my all; teaching, studying, translating, and missing home is exhausting. However, I give them more than I expected. Like them, my future life-path is fuzzy. We’re figuring it out together.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

sanfran- - i mean safranbolu

due to a blissfully lackadaisical avoidance of planning-ahead, my weekend trip to amasya with laura, michelle, sidney, and marion was abruptly botched when we realized the bus schedule wouldn't allow for enough time in the area. instead, michelle and i opted for two days in the partially preserved ottoman-style town of safranbolu (where the others had already visited) - a UNESCO world heritage site about 3 hours north of ankara. a visit to the old-part of town mainly involves wandering through the maze of ottoman houses and narrow stone streets, picking at street vendors' wares, and taste-testing a bunch of lokum (turkish delight); - - however, the brisk/crumbling november weather made it especially atmospheric (and off-season as far as the tourist industry goes.)

our pension (bastoncu pension) was gorgeously restored & immediately discounted.

however, it was also very cold - the owners turned on the heat upon our arrival - so michelle and i hung out in cafes as late as possible & drank salep to keep warm.

it's a hot drink made with the flour of ground + dried orchid tubers, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. (recipe here.) i loved it, although apparently it's apparently depleting turkey's orchid population (and thus illegal to export.)

we also got a semi-creepy impromptu massage from a blacksmith in the back of his shop, two free private tours by a parking lot attendant-turned-"official"-tourist-guy and a certain (more genuine & wonderful) mehmet, and ate ridiculous lollipops from a man who must HATE his work uniform. but was jolly all the same.

as usual, there are a few more pictures here. ALSO, the most wonderful thing just happened: it's snowing and i got to announce this fact to a CELTA girl from florida who has never seen snow before. words cannot express the joy this brought laura + me as we watched her look out the window. before it was snow it was rain, and this is what laura looked like when she came home:

(hi dad, she says!) she then requested i post this picture of a mannequin from an ottoman-house-museum in safranbolu.

because it is crazy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy turkey-turkey day.

after work today the SSIs (speaking skills instructors - that's me!) in our building really pulled together a wonderful-giant thanksgiving potluck dinner in our building's atrium - here are the initial tables which ended up seating a portion of the people that came:

and the line for (some of!) the food:

a picture of laura (for her dad!) making mulled wine with alix:

and a general picture of bucky, me, and michelle:

i made 2 giant bowls of fruit salad. laura, sidney, michelle, and i are going to amasya this weekend so check back for a report on that. until then, happy thanksgiving!! - i really missed my family tonight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

look for me on tv.

to convey the pleasant & self-indulgent nature of most of my weekends here in ankara, here's a recap of this week's:

after finishing friday's 7 hours of teaching duties i took the bus downtown to go out with the 3 aforementioned american speaking skills instructors (also known as SSIs - abbreviations are a way of life here) from my teaching unit (TU): paul, anna, and erik - along with laura and a few other SSIs - to meet up with azra and bedra (from our TU) and a few of their friends. we met in the landmark known as BURGER KING and headed on to a bar with a texas/western theme (complete with a giant texas flag + a COVERED WAGON inside) to hear a live band playing the 80's english-language pop music that is so incredibly popular here (featuring billie jean and englishman in new york.) azra chose shots of sex on the beach as our drink which ensured a night of dancing and singing. at 1:30 laura + most others took the last bus back to bilkent while paul, azra, bedra, and i drove to another bar/club to dance to the same songs played by a different (actually, much worse) cover band but in a really cool atmosphere - there were blue christmas lights strung all over, stained glass lanterns, and outdoor space heaters hanging from trees in a shaded garden. afterwards paul and i went to bedra's apartment to eat pasta and sleep for a few hours before waking up on saturday and driving to atatürk's mausoleum for the annual remembrance of his death.

atatürk died in 1938; since then, every november 10th at 9:05 am the entire country stops for a moment of silence as deafening sirens blare. everything stops. we were actually next to a large outdoor running track/exercise playground on our way to the mausoleum when it happened and it was such an eerie scene to see all the runners standing erect and motionless as only tree branches rustled near my face. cars stop (although some blare on their horns the whole time to enhance the effect of the sirens, i guess) and time freezes. it was an incredible minute.

afterwards the three of us walked to the cafe-ish middle-class neighborhood of bahçelievler to drink turkish coffee and buy some produce; the sun filtered through the trees and buildings in the beautiful, relaxing way only saturday-morning-sun can. paul and i took the bus home where i relaxed in my room for only an hour or two before laura invited me to the lower-class & more religious neighborhood of ulus for my first-ever trip to a hamam.

inside, we were instructed to undress and wash ourselves off in a steamy white marble room while naked women of all shapes and sizes did the same, older women sang, and a purple sunset hovered over the star-of-david-shaped skylights in the domed ceiling. after a bit a large kindly woman beckoned me to lay down for an intense scrubbing massage where layers of black dirt i didn't even know existed peeled off on large quantities. she then dumped buckets of warm water all over me and completely soaped me up. i rinsed off as laura went through the same process; afterwards we were totally pink-skinned, clean, and relaxed.

we walked from ulus to a nearby metro station to get back to bahçelievler for some silly fun on these ubiquitous outdoor exercise machines in a park, went to a restaurant for amazing pide, kebabs, and ayran while goofing around with two rambunctious little boys, and took a cab to a bilkent bus stop. unfortunately it started RAINING & we were forced to take cover in a nearby sweet shop & subsequently buy some fancy chocolate. our plan to watch a movie in my apartment was quickly foiled after we had to run for 20 minutes through the rain & i promptly fell asleep - exhausted - at 11pm.

this afternoon i went for coffee with my friend michelle and attended a ceremony awarding shimon peres with an honorary doctorate from bilkent university. although i would have gone anyway, bilkent - perhaps fearing low attendance? - required all BUSEL teachers to attend. he was an eloquent, charismatic speaker & answered the expected questions re: the wall separating israel and palestine, his views on iran (or, rather, his views on mahmous ahmadinejad, since peres was quick to separate the president from the iranian people), the connection between israel and the US in regard to their middle east involvement, etc, in a somewhat evasive yet wise-grandfather-like-way. afterwards i was interviewed by either the turkish or israeli news (not sure which, although most bystanders claimed to see israeli on the video camera) whose eyes lit up when i said i was from the united states. it was actually pretty stressful since it was obvious they were asking me purposefully provocative questions like "no one here is wearing head scarves. is turkey a muslim country or what?" and "what do you think of the claim that the US and israel are involved in a conspiracy together?" and "why do you think most turkish students are against america and israel?" i tried to be as honest as possible, but after working at npr where selecting seconds of clips is key, it was hard to be candid knowing any given phrase could be chopped out and spread across national television.

i just finished eating michelle's eggplant parmigiana & now i'm planning to read for the rest of the night. this week is our last week with our first set of students - next week they'll find out if they pass on to upper-intermediate or will stay to repeat intermediate. apparently repeating is more common than it should be, which for me isn't totally bad - i love my students!

Monday, November 5, 2007

i can't hide

apparently in another life i resembled turkish top model deniz akkaya, since every week or so a new person tells me i look like her. ("just the face" they usually point out.) it's seriously getting ridiculous.

i have yet to be convinced!

however, a fight practically broke out in one of my classes after two girls said i looked more like liv tyler:

either one is fine by me, although i think the comparisons might have to do with my "foreignness" rather than my actual looks. maybe.

today was the second in a series of tests at BUSEL (the english school where i work) called "CATs." last time i was a hall monitor, but this round i had to "invigilate" - in other words, stand silently in a classroom for 50-minute chunks to watch for cheating students. it was actually an amazing experience in mental stamina - 50 minutes is a long time to be completely silent and motionless for multiple hours in a row. after i had thought of multiple potential life-trajectories for myself, analyzed and re-analyzed across the universe (which i saw sunday night and, despite its many flaws, thoroughly enjoyed - especially t.v. carpio singing "i wanna hold your hand") and tried to recall both every turkish word i knew and then every word i knew in any foreign language, i invented detailed life-stories for all the students in the room. what i should have done is think about the paper i have to write tonight since i spent the night eating authentic tapas (made by my friend mirelle), frying apples, rearranging my room, and. . .uh. . . updating my blog. clearly my college-esque procrastination habits must come to an end - especially since i just discovered james clifford and totally want to study with him at uc santa cruz where funding is apparently non-existent!! rats!!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

dinosaur backs

on saturday i went on a fulbright-sponsored day trip to the town of baypazarı, famous for carrots, silverwork, mineral water, and really good food like thinly-wrapped stuffed grape leaves (the thinner the better) and 80-layer baklava. apparently the town is used as a model in the tourism industry as a highly "successful" rural-town-turned-tourist-destination transformed over the past few years. i was shown around by four turkish college students studying to be tour guides; being the first native english-speaker they'd guided, i was given special attention and learned a lot. below is a section of the town from a hilltop - notice the two "dinosaur back" rock formations.

we walked along narrow streets of beautiful old/restored ottoman-style houses:

tried sweet turkish-delight style dessert (maybe from carrots?):

& ate the BEST dessert ever (next to a glass of ayran which i totally love & drink all the time here):

upon returning home i was quickly swept up in the frantic communal preparation for a a halloween party in the basement of our apartment building as we (silly) foreigners ran from closet to closet - - looking desperately for semblances of costumes with the limited junk we'd brought over to turkey. here i am with the 3 other american speaking skills instructors from my teaching unit (i.e. the people i see the MOST during the week & eat lunch with every day), all of whom have totally different personalities/backgrounds from me/each other but have slowly + endearingly won my affection. there's erik as a character from lost, anna as a ladybug, paul as the marine he actually is, and me as a. . .zapatista guerrilla. (crazy-high commando boots not shown.)

i see the potential for a problematic/hypocritical reading of me "dressing up" as an indigenous rebel involved in a serious struggle - not that i necessarily disagree with the majority of their ideologies - but my options were limited and very last-second!! as usual, a few more photos from the day are available - both of beypazarı and some incriminating shots - although the subsequent midnight trip downtown for nargile and dancing is better left undocumented.

now to recover. goodnight!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

istanbul take two: republic day.

last weekend i returned to istanbul to visit my friend dilek, an incredibly kind and intelligent turk who scored twelfth on the ÖSS (a terrifying multiple-choice national university entrance exam) and visited pittsburgh on her way home from studying abroad in san diego last year. dilek kindly welcomed me into her beşiktaş apartment at 5:15 AM on saturday morning when my overnight bus arrived; after a nap, i woke up to the call to prayer and a beautiful view of the bosporus from her apartment balcony:

after breakfast with her equally kind roommates zehra and ayşen, dilek and i took the tram to topkapı palace to see the large complex where ottoman sultans once lived. once inside, we paid the (well-spent) extra 10 YTL to see the harem where the sultan's mother, concubines, wives, family, children, and servants (including many "eunuchs" apparently taken from africa) lived. the architecture and ornate decorations were gorgeous and different in each room/passageway/courtyard - below is a photo i took from a room in the harem, but there are much better photos on the wiki page:

afterwards dilek graciously waited in the non-turk line with me to enter the equally beautiful and difficult-to-convey sultanahmet camii (also known as the blue mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque - camii meaning mosque.) a strong emotion overtook me immediately upon entering; it was clearly a spiritual place even though we hung towards the back in the tourist area near the rear "women's section" and watched from afar.

hagia sophia (basilica/mosque/museum and largest cathedral in the world for a thousand-ish years) is the third main tourist attracting in the immediate area but was closed by the time we arrived. (i'll be back, inshallah.) just the outside was impressive:

as we were getting back on the tram i watched helplessly as a tram door separated a fellow foreign girl from her group of friends - - - but when i approached her to see if she could use some help (from dilek) i realized she was my friend hayley from vermont! we actually ended up getting separated ourselves a few stops down the line, but there was enough time before that to exchange phone numbers & meet up later in taxim for a birthday-turned-mini-dance-party with dilek's friends in a chic high-rise bar overlooking the city and, later, hanging out at the apartment of some german exchange students.

the next day about a dozen of dilek's funny, generous friends carpooled out to a protected forest (bahçeköy belediyesi) where we cooked a giant meal of grilled meat and vegetables and played a turkish variant of dodgeball in the woods until it grew dark. the day offered exactly what i had been craving: a real experience of autumn with trees and october air and crunchy leaves and friends. nothing could have been better.

afterwards dilek's friend kanon drove her, her two roommates, and me to a funky outdoor tea (çay) house looking out over the bosporus towards the asian side to sit for hot chocolate and tea. eventually he dropped us back off in beşiktaş where we wandered around a maze of jewellery/cloth/trinket stands and sat by the water to watch the changing patterns of the bosporus bridge and the fireworks celebrating the eve of turkey's republic day.

we also ate waffles - a crepe-like snack stuffed and rolled with flavored nutella-ish spreads, fruit, honey-drenched nuts, candy, and other sweet things - made in colorful stands throughout the area which i found so pretty.

that night dilek, zehra, ayşen, and i had a calming & enlightening conversation about religion and our spirituality. it was so wonderful to relax by the water with them and people-watch. they gave me gifts: a cell-phone holder, a book to write turkish in, and a pillow for the bus ride home (much appreciated.) we went home, made popcorn, and watched the TERRIBLE movie "girl next door" before falling asleep very late into the night.

the next morning was republic day - a holiday - so i made pancakes for everyone before kanon returned with his car to take me on a whirlwind tour of a few neighborhoods before my bus arrived. there were flags everywhere for the holiday - it was a great day to drive around and watch istanbul flash before my eyes.

i left istanbul with a crowd of dilek's friends waving me on in the rain and then faced about 10 hours of exhausted-travel back to bilkent where i proceeded to unpack, lesson plan, write a response paper on gilles deleuze, and make dozens of halloween pumpkin-and-ghost-shaped halloween cards for my students before getting any sleep. although i'm still recovering from sleep deprivation, it was one of the best weekends i've had in a very long time. possibly ever. i'm considering finding work in istanbul for a while after my fulbright grant ends at bilkent next august.

for more photos of the weekend go here (although wikipedia has very extensive pages on the three major sights i listed if you want the real deal.) next is a day trip to beypazarı on saturday organized for fulbrighters. i've been feeling busy and too tired lately to give my full self - just not taking care of my physical self - so hopefully i'll be able to prioritize that over the next few weeks. the weather is still unusually warm but with daylight savings time the days are drastically shorter. winter is definitely on its way.

Friday, October 26, 2007

! ! ! جني

after 2+ months in turkey, an amazing feeling is creeping up on me: normalcy. although i still can't linguistically understand most of what is going on around me (i find turkish interesting but difficult) things are starting to make sense & my days are less and less frustrating on a basic getting-by level. as a result, i'm feeling much more comfortable being "myself" as opposed to an apologetic charade of my personality fumbling around through turkish culture. i go to work five days a week, love my students (although not necessarily my job), and get along well with my co-workers (both turkish and foreign.) i go to + enjoy my graduate & turkish classes. i go to the gym. i can handle grocery shopping, the post office, the bank, and (finally!) the borderline-illogical on-campus bus system. i know my way around downtown ankara. i have a stable living situation (big help) & regular, genuinely fun social activities like communal cooking with some of the older (read: not fresh out of college like most) foreign speaking skills instructors. below are my dinner partners marion, sidney, and laura about to eat my attempts at ratatouille (in honor of the movie!) and buttered brussels sprouts with peach juice (very popular in turkey, as well as cherry and apricot juice):

teaching has been the focus of my life recently; i've grown to really develop relationships with my students via conversation classes on topics (that i make up) like media and violence, climate change, global standards of beauty, and most importantly HALLOWEEN. they are totally (and very seriously) into/afraid of cins (say: jinns) or genies, which are apparently written about in the koran and all over the place all the time! luckily my students take pity on me & teach me strategies (like repeating bismillah) to keep them at bay.

in general, turkish students seem to get a bit closer emotionally to their teachers than americans: after class today a few of my (17-year-old) students took me out for iskender kebap (vegetarians beware) and aşure, a deliciously sweet mix of fruit, nuts, wheat, and beans - supposedly what noah ate to celebrate upon arriving on mount ararat (in turkey!) i've also been promised various types of traditional turkish foods and english versions of the koran; we'll see if they materialize. my students seem totally invested in my happiness here and love to give me advice on foods, places to go, random problems, and turkish culture - i'm so lucky to have such a constant support system.

maybe a concrete plan to leave turkey helps a little: after much deliberation, my friend/fellow speaking skills instructor brian and i bought relatively cheap winter-break tickets to BERLIN leaving december 18 and returning christmas day via munich. brian is super nice & majored in history and german (i think - or at least speaks it and wants to get a phd in german history) at williams college, so i think he'll be an ideal travel partner. i've romanticized berlin since falling in love with wings of desire's angelic black and white portrayal & i'm looking forward to my first trip to europe (not counting istanbul or moscow) although i'm still trying to wrap my head around the cost of traveling in hyper-developed countries. the pathetic state of the dollar doesn't help.

as for now, i'm off for another long weekend in istanbul - this time to meet up with dilek, a friend-of-a-turkish-friend of mine from pittsburgh named nurözge. dilek visited nurözge in pittsburgh last year and we spent a silly + fun time running around the andy warhol museum together - so i'm excited to see her & meet her friends.

oh, and apparently i'll be attending a lecture with shimon peres on november 11th??

Thursday, October 18, 2007

what happens

i want to share two Hāfez (14th century persian poet) poems my father recently sent me. (the text is copied from an email - not sure of the original source.) what a comfort to remember the joy in finding wonderful, wild (literary) companions.

How Does It Feel to Be a Heart?

Once a young woman asked me,
"how does it feel to be a man?"
And I replied
"My dear,
I am not so sure."

Then she said,
"Well, aren't you a man?"

And this time I replied,

"I view gender
As a beautiful animal
That people often talk for a walk on a leash
And might enter in some odd contest
To try to win strange prizes.

My dear,
A better question for Hafiz
Would have been,
'How does it feel to be a heart?'

For all I know is Love,
And I find my heart Infinite
and Everywhere!

What Happens

What happens when your soul
Begins to awaken
Your eyes
And your heart
And the cells of your body
To the great Journey of Love?

First there is wonderful laughter
And probably precious tears

And a hundred sweet promises
And those heroic vows
No one can ever keep.

But still God is delighted and amused
You once tried to be a staint

What happens when your soul
Begins to awake in this world

To our deep need to love
And serve the Friend?

O the Beloved
Will send you
One of His wonderful, wild companions-

Like Hafiz

thank you so much, dad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

iyi şeker bayramlar

so. my first turkish bayram (literally "holiday") was şeker ("sugar") bayram, meaning the end of ramazan when everyone basically visits family + friends and eats a ton of CANDY (especially baklava & similar honey-drenched desserts) at the various stops. kids also go door-to-door trick-or-treat style, kissing the hands and foreheads of elders in exchange for sweets. while most of my foreign co-workers headed for istanbul's hostels and sights, i totally lucked out with an invitation from my 26-year-old co-worker to go to her mother's house in istanbul to see what a traditional bayram involves. translation: 4 days of eating really good homemade food, peering around turkish apartments, and memorizing turkish commercials as i drifted in and out of mental consciousness between the perpetual presence of television and the intense level of turkish around me. although i still haven't seen the blue mosque or a single hamam, such an intimate, homestay-like experience was great. here's bedra and her super-fashionable mom (anne in turkish):

and bedra's anne showing off the beautiful traditional turkish breakfast awaiting me each morning in her pretty amazing apartment (on the asian side of istanbul):

over the course of the trip i developed a mysterious bond with one of bedra's anneannes (grandmothers.) bedra translated for us for a while, but eventually her anneanne was content to simply sit on the couch and hold my hand, occasionally waving her mug around for me to refill with su (water) or çay (tea.) not only did she give me two of her old rings but (!!) she also complained (loudly) that her grandson should have married me instead of his new wife. here she is reading bedra's future in her coffee grinds:

we did head over to the european side twice to meet up with bedra's friend and thensome of my american co-workers; in just a few hours i fell in love with istanbul's beautiful architecture (especially mosques) even from afar.

both times we stuck around taxim, (one of) the city's centers.

from a rooftop teahouse we saw a drizzly, overcast, Pamuk-esque view of the city:

& here we are waiting in line with bedra's friend for the year's final iftar (breaking of the daily fast.) during ramazan restaurants offer deals on giant plates of food and, just before sunset, hand out dates to the lines of fasters winding up and down the streets so they can eat immediately as they wait. iftar dinners are fun; apparently it's common to gain weight during ramazan thanks to the giant helpings of pide and the like.

the juxtaposition of secular, non-fasting turks (i.e. bedra) against those that do fast and are religious to varying degrees (i.e. her friend pictured above) is subtle. the bus ride from ankara to istanbul was interesting - turkish bus-rides, by the way, are incomparable with the typical american greyhound experience; most companies serve complimentary drinks, food, and moist towelettes, show movies, and stop at privately-owned rest-stops. on the ride, food and drinks were served twice - once for non-fasters and then again just at sunset, accompanied by a call to prayer played over the bus' speaker system. when i was in zanzibar over ramadan in 2004, the entire archipelago (save travelers, the ill, menstruating women, and others exempt in the koran) was fasting to the point where it was impossible to find food before sunset. not so in turkey. my extremely rough estimate (based on informal surveys of my students) is that less than half the urban population fasts, and eating in front of fasters is not an issue.

in other news, my fellow foreign speaking skills instructors and i (finally & somewhat amazingly!) moved into our new 5-story building overlooking ankara. my 2nd-floor apartment is small but fancy and probably the nicest place i'll live for a while:

totally brand-new kitchen:

bathroom (insane storage on the right wall - described as an "entertainment center for personal hygiene"):

mandolin-playing-couch overlooking the city:

laura is next door & constantly cooking me things like curry-apple-eggplant-bulgurwheat stir fry. here she is posing next to a starry-painting she gave me and my ridiculous new knee-high BOOTS bedra talked me into buying. i love them.

You can see more pictures from the trip (mostly tipsy karaoke-related action-shots) here.

according to bedra's anneanne, my coffee grinds say i'm emotional, moody, and take things as problems when there's really nothing to worry about - i should get happy news from my family, "hug a male friend," "talk with a female friend," and in general have a çok ferah (very open/bright) future. i hope she's right. i'm trying to keep in mind a quote my former next-door neighbor mille recently sent me in a letter: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle (supposedly by plato.) she's an amazing, spunky, elderly woman who just suffered major injuries after being hit by a car - and, in her bed-ridden state, she's thinking about quotes like that. sometimes, when i'm walking home from work alone through the cold mud of a deserted field feeling especially lonely, incompetent, and lost, i remember i'm in turkey and hopefully growing somehow - and incredibly lucky to be here. i know there's a reason why i'm here, but i still have to figure it out.