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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

we must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. we must learn to sail in high winds. - aristotle (maybe)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

butterfly cloud

on sept 29th, four other speaking skills instructors (i.e. similarly-aged foreigners on my program) and i trekked down the street to middle eastern technical university to meet up with some turkish co-workers & see the wonderfully fun/wildly popular yugoslav goran bregovic with his wedding & funeral band. it was in an outdoor stadium and quickly turned into a full-fledged dance party once the crowd broke through the gates - the video below (not mine) gives a sense of the atmosphere.

this is a fairly good (& haunting) recording of one of the more somber pieces from a performance in Plovdiv:

but this (found on youtube and insanely edited - you've been warned) video from the night in ankara gives a much better feel of the whole thing. it was a great time.

other recent highlights include fancy taxpayer food & drinks at the u.s. ambassador's fulbright party (and the blissful realization that i can wear silly, colorful, barely-formal clothes and still hold my own among fancy-smancy government types), going out "drinking" with some turkish co-workers (most of whom drank energy drinks, re: ramazan) followed by the equivalent of an adult sleepover at a teacher named bedra's apartment and cozy turkish-style breakfast in the morning, and the promise of moving into our new apartments this wednesday.

teaching + planning lessons for 20-hours-a-week of english as a second language classes is surprisingly draining. on fridays i leave work after seven solid hours of conversation in a zombie-like burnt-out haze; it's amazing how much i cherish the time spent zoning out on the bus to and from work as part of my coping strategy. (a steady dose of chocolate and pomegranates are also involved.) still, there are moving moments: last thursday i walked into my dreaded uncooperative 8:50 class (of several hyper-masculine, somewhat intimidating 20-something male students) still red-eyed from the expected occasional sobbing that accompanies culture shock + loneliness mixed with mild heartache in the morning (not a good combination) and was shocked to find a class of suddenly eager, hilarious, good-natured students practically falling over themselves to speak english: ghost stories about haunted hamams, where i should go to get the best doner kebab, and why they call ferit (a student) "little cow." i guess life has a funny way of making sure you get what you need. without those students i really don't know if i could have made it through the day.

bedra invited me to stay with her and her mom in istanbul for bayram which means i'll probably be leaving this wednesday night until next sunday afternoon. i'm excited to get my first shot at istanbul with a native istanbul-er and maybe go to the istanbul biennial while i'm there. finally moving into my apartment will hopefully help settle things a bit - until then i'm off for another unpredictable week!