Thursday, August 30, 2007


Things have been steadily improving over here in central Anatolia. It finally rained for the first time since I've been here, first of all - always a promising sign in a drought. I figured out how to activate my Turkish bank account & found my first paycheck waiting for me - another good sign - as well as how to buy a train ticket from Ankara to Izmir (to be used this Tuesday night) online for cheap, although I might've stuck myself in a male-sleeping-car accidentally; we'll see about that! My poison ivy is gone, my first post office excursion was successful, I have an ID card, my graduate class times are arranged, I've been going to the gym, and all lingering symptoms of my water-related sickness have been eradicated. I've got my bearings at Bilkent and my position as a "speaking skills instructor" looks more promising/challenging/exciting the more training we get. The moon/sunsets are beautiful.

But most importantly, I've started exploring Ankara and have found it (somewhat surprisingly) charming. Bilkent is a good 20 minutes outside the city-center, but the university runs 2 free bus lines to Tunus (the hip, modern, upscale shopping/dining area) and Sıhhiye (closer to the older, more traditional part of the city.) A few of us Bilkent teachers met up with some funny, generous middle-aged Australian/Canadian/Dutch expat journalists/embassy workers and got both a feel of what "relocating" to Ankara might involve and advice on taking the foreign-correspondent route (not to mention some free drinks) in a swanky area south of Tunus. Yesterday, however, was Victory Day (no work) so Laura and I went for the Sıhhiye section and stumbled upon streets and streets of tucked-away markets offering olives, nuts, shoes, copper pots, antiques, flowers, baklava, fabric, vegetables, bread, wooden spoons, and HALVA (my new favorite thing) among piles of everything else.

Laura and I stopped in a courtyard cafe for some gözleme, ayran, and çay before shopping for some pizza ingredients: (and a few other things.)

Laura, my kitchen mate Marion, and I take turns cooking dinner for each other; last night I sort of cheated and made a simple pizza on flat-bread, but all the toppings were so fresh it was worth it. When I tried to buy the tomatoes from a merchant he insisted that I just take them (!!!) and several minutes after giving a cute little boy 3 lira (about $2.25) for the box of pistachio baklava that was 2.5 lira (meant as a tip) I found his tugging on my arm, breathless, with the change. Ankara doesn't get as many tourists as, say, Istanbul or the west coast, so although our presence in the market wasn't exactly unusual it did rustle up some commotion and undeserved special service/attention. The whole experience really reminded me just how isolated and elite Bilkent's campus is - my first experience with a college "campus" at all, really, other than Marlboro this past summer.

accomplishing small tasks is what my life revolves around at the moment. being able to explore a market in a new part of town, practice my turkish, come home with a pile of cheap ingredients, and make some good pizza with friends is good. but when every bus is caught on-time, no one gets lost or tired or frustrated, the only mishap involves buying BUTTER instead of CHEESE, and a kindly man helps me more than he can ever imagine by offering six free tomatoes (when i asked for 5) with absolutely no gain on his part - that's basically heaven.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

they made frogs smoke til they exploded

although i had been looking forward to the premier of animal collective's new video for the catchy (albeit repetitive) song "peacebone," i'm not blown away. it was actually the video below which helped me relax after a particularly rough day:

thanks, múm. it's amazing how relatively normal/connected life within my dorm room can be thanks to the internet. . .after crying in front of a whole bus-load of people, walking way too far in shoes that blistered up my feet even more, and failing at a whole bunch of seemingly simple things, i can still rant to ross and lizzie (thanks) & find normalcy in silly american-cultural phenomena online:

living/getting things done abroad is totally different from traveling and is actually MUCH HARDER than i expected, especially now while i'm waiting for something concrete to materialize in my rather unstable world. (an apartment to unpack my bags in would be nice.) it's only been a week and a half!!!?!!!

Monday, August 27, 2007

dried apricots from a cappadocian gas station.

this past weekend the entire BUSEL "speaking skills instructor" crew piled into a posh bus and headed out to a fancy hotel in Ürgüp for a carefully scheduled & guided group tour of cappadocia. our first stop was Tuz Gölü, or "salt lake," the second-largest "lake" in turkey (a.k.a. a deserted expanse of bright, damp salt.)

next was Göreme National Park where artistic remains from the Christian-Roman period cling to carved-out cave walls (somewhat similar to the ajanta caves in india, although less elaborate.) most caves were used for monasterial purposes, such as this nunnery:

there were also several quirky details, like these pigeon-home-holes (look carefully) made because (according to our guide) the ancient cave-inhabitants used pigeon dung for fertilizer, pigeon flight for carrying messages, and pigeon meat for eating:

many rooms in the caves were decorated with simple red-painted designs and often contained stone-carved ovens, caskets, clay-pot-holders, and various furniture including this last-supper-ish table:

others served as churches complete with vivid frescoes depicting mostly biblical stories, although in this case the woman on the left was mysteriously punished with a male body from the waist up for being a sex-worker:

after Göreme we wandered through the incredibly beautiful volcanic-eroded landscape of cappadocia at large, somewhat similar to the the south-west U.S. and, for me, emotionally reminiscent of hampi's surrounding landscape, , ,even though further inspection reveals the two aren't very similar at all:

nazar boncuğu tree

undeniably phallic "fairy chimneys"

low-quality panorama of the landscape

we also visited the pretty impressive underground city of Kaymaklı where multiple levels of underground cave-rooms provided protection for various people throughout time including early Christians and Greeks. there's room for thousands of people; large plaza-like areas have amenities like stone-carved ovens, stables, and wine presses. we skipped derinkuyu, the nearby larger complex.

the trip included some expected big-group disappointments such as visits to "educational" tourist-trap pottery/jewelry/winery shops and a stern saturday-night warning from the hotel management for being too unruly (the disappointment being directed towards the majority of the group for drinking too much prohibited alcohol even after the hotel set up an impromptu disco for us the night before.) three girls and i avoided the whole scene and went off for a walk through town which, at 2AM, ended swimmingly at a courtyard table with two turkish men, 3 smoked hookahs (or "narghile" as they're called in turkish), the spoils of about a half-dozen rounds of çay (tea), and a nod from the owner that our bill had been taken care of. by that time we were too tired to bother wondering which cultural nuance we had botched in exchange for our free ticket, but in retrospect the all-too-common american-tendency-to-smile-misconstrued-as-flirting is a good guess. nevertheless, we were carefully escorted back to our hotel by one of our suitors and all ended well. finishing into thin air on the bus ride home helped me come to grips with the fact that i'll probably never climb mt. everest. i'm now okay with that.

if you'd like to see more photos, feel free to visit my flickr page where i plan on uploading images throughout my year in turkey and possibly beyond.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Merhaba from my borderline-swanky dorm on Bilkent University’s campus in Ankara, Turkey, where sprawling steppe-(ish?) mountains and wild brawling cats are currently having their way with the world outside my window. I arrived Saturday for my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to BUSEL (the university’s School of English Language) and graduate student in the Media and Visual Studies program. What was initially promised as a small-town solo teaching position has morphed into an experiment as a “speaking skills instructor” at Turkey’s wealthiest elite private university in the capital alongside 40 other recent American college grads (virtually all of whom are from elite private universities themselves.) The idea is to nudge the begrudged Bilkent undergrads towards fluency so they can comprehend the university’s English-medium classes. This, apparently, is not an easy task, but our two-week-long orientation program is doing its best to prepare us for the worst. And give us a crash-course in Turkish, which so far is quite difficult for me to understand aurally. And make sure we’re not planning on bringing up the Kurds/Armenians/Cypriots any time soon. And keep us on a steady dose of Cipro.

Nestled atop rocky hills covered in a mix of dry, scraggly vegetation and dust 20 minutes outside the city, Bilkent is a strange world in itself. Although the university is supposedly non-profit, virtually everything affiliated with the campus – the furniture factories, textbook printers, restaurant suppliers, construction firms – is owned by Bilkent. Hundreds of classy, modern buildings are spread out across three “campus” areas connected by a seemingly random bus schedule, and although the city is facing a severe drought, disconcertingly artificial arrangements of pine trees and flowers are drenched in water from Bilkent’s own private reservoir.

from atop a bilkent hill, drought-stricken ankara in the hazy distance. . .

while water flows free on main campus.

Most facilities, such as the gyms (not to mention the library’s current periodical room, to my delight) are fancier than those at Pitt. The weather, however, is harsh and dry and the landscape somewhat desolate and bare; a walk from one campus to the other involves crossing a ravine scattered with brush and olive trees.

the ditch between my apartment (middle campus) and job (east campus). . .

and the road i take to cross it (!!)

My 3-connection flight was uncomfortable to say the least thanks to an unexpected bout of poison ivy on my feet (picked up the eve of my departure) combined with the brilliant idea to break in a brand-new pair of Doc Marten shoes. Since then, my mood has drastically wavered between extreme highs and lows which, like any foreigner fumbling about in a new culture must find, are largely determined by the successful-ness of small tasks. Get lost, take the wrong bus, and end up on the edge of a desert-y embankment for an undetermined period of time, bad; bus driver takes pity and energetically teaches me Turkish for an hour, good. Blow out the power in my room, feel constantly nauseous, get yelled at for accidentally standing in the express line at the grocery store, and watch as faucet water turns from orange to brown, bad; get mistaken for a Turk and actually answer a question in Turkish correctly, good! The water quality in general is poor due to the drought, the apartment I’m supposed to be living is currently a slab of cement, and I don’t feel as though I fit in with the other Americans; on the other hand, the program is cushy and well organized and I’m excited to start my grad classes and travel. I have a cell phone. My life is still very "American," although Turkish hospitality has begun to peek out via kindly security guards, store clerks, and receptionists; learning Turkish and getting a handle on how to get around Bilkent/Ankara will help wean me off my current dependency on strangers. (Never have I felt so embarrassed for my inexcusable ignorance of a language.) I'm also expecting major changes once the students arrive on campus and my classes (both those that I'm teaching and taking) begin.

luckily there's always fellow-fulbrighter laura to bring a little raki over to my apartment. . .

for our first home-cooked dinner of bean salad and yoghurt.

Friday afternoon my “colleagues” and I (all 40 or so of us) are going on a weekend trip to Cappadocia, and during a short holiday in the beginning of September I'm taking a long train ride to meet my high school friend Bryan in Izmir for a trip up the west coast, so excitement approaches. . .more soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

To Punish Thai Police, a Hello Kitty Armband

so the thai police force in bangkok are trying out hello kitty armbands as punishment for disobedient officers. from the new york times article:

Ten of the armbands have been prepared, but so far none have actually been issued, according to an officer who declined to give his name while discussing this sensitive topic.

“After this policy came out, the police are scared,” the officer said. “It will be very embarrassing to walk around with Hello Kitty on your arm.”

...An early experiment using armbands was not encouraging. Mr. Pongpat first tried using plaid ones. But instead of feeling shame, Major Weeraprach said, the officers took them home as souvenirs. The force still has only one of the ten it originally issued.

After that misfire, police commanders met again to consider strategy, he said, and agreed that Hello Kitty might work where tartan had failed.

So far, he said, there is no fallback plan. The department has not yet decided what punishment to impose if officers make off with their pink armbands as well.

embarrassing workers in a "masculine" occupation with a "young/feminine" symbol? something's not right here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

the concept of feeling extreme gratitude for your life

although i'm only 23, i recently realized that my life has already been way more exciting than i ever thought it'd possibly be growing up. . .i feel totally lucky, as if everything from here on is an added bonus. it's like. . .waking up every morning and realizing: there's more?!

i'm aware how incredibly earnest/trite/silly that may sound, but i think feeling this way is a conscious act and it's shifted my perspective on things. not that i no longer feel largely cynical about human nature. . .just that life is way more fun than i thought it'd be, maybe.

i feel like something in my spirit is calming the heck down. i feel more level and happier than i can remember.

hopefully turkey won't send me too much of a curve ball. . .limited water and daylight are lurking in my future, if i even make it there (in less than a week!)

knut, kleinen eisbären

ack, these insanely cute videos are all over the place - knut is berlin's first captive-born polar bear "in over 30 yrs," was rejected by his mother, and subsequently raised by zoo-keepers. i feel bad enjoying knut's cuteness despite his impending future in a depressing zoo-environment - apparently others feel the same way (see "controversy")

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

130 cats in one (russian) apartment.

so is this real?? watch the video - it's truly crazy.

and how are the cats (and the apt.) so clean/healthy looking?


i just had a mini introduction-to-the-harp lesson with the very kind sivan magen and it was the most beautiful wonderful thing. dear mandolin! my eyes are wandering!

Monday, August 6, 2007


some new things for me these days:

- an attempt at growing my hair long
- mentally preparing to move to turkey
- eagerly anticipating (while recovering from the shock of) my sudden entrance into graduate school
- learning bluegrass-y mandolin
- formulating plans for a merfolk-themed fantasy novel
- a revived love for swimming/hanging out in water
- giving some serious thought to issues regarding child-raising, adoption (particularly international), the role of family, and emotional/cognitive child development via the two boys i've been nannying this summer
- feeling more confident, independent, and enjoying my time alone

and, unfortunately,

- a laptop, meaning more time online!!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

a giant attempt at cooking & baking. . .

. . .after not cooking a single thing all summer.

for my part in the traditional "international dinner" at the marlboro music festival where i've been working (hosted at marlboro college in south-eastern vermont), i experimented with two recipes i've always wanted to try.

four old-fashioned pennsylvania dutch shoo-fly pies - where, to my sweet-toothy delight, sugar in various forms (mainly molasses, corn syrup, brown sugar) gets plopped down on a pie crust and somehow (just barely) clings together:

and a gallons of german chilled raspberry soup mixed in with some vermont black & blueberries, inspired by a fond memory of the most wonderful cold-cherry soup at a russian restaurant in toronto:

the trick was making mass quantities of it all and getting each to their appropriate gooey-thickness.

after multiple rounds of taste-testing, frantic sprints between two kitchens, and a few gin and tonics among a half-dozen or so others trying to concoct their own dishes, both turned out better than expected.

(not that i exactly had high expectations to begin with - hopefully everything'll be eaten tomorrow night!)