Friday, September 30, 2011

What You Leave Behind

What you leave behind
Adventures are my thing. Were my thing. If there is a combination of the past and present tense to describe an action, this is where I would use it. Today I am left pondering what we leave behind when we seek adventure. This is for all you study abroaders, ex-pats, other Fulbrighters and PCV's who may be reading. When I go abroad, I tend to wear blinders. Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Belgium, France, Croatia, Italy, Egypt again, Israel again, Turkey, Lebanon... the list goes on. I become so entranced in the idea of the adventures that await me in my new country. The thrilling things I shall experience along my journey. The good street food, the open air markets, those random connections you make that change your perspective, the breathtaking sunsets, and maybe even the romance. All other thoughts of doubt, fear or insecurity are pushed out of my brain to make room for adventures. If you don't think about it, it seems less real. Focus on the positive, right? All that glass half-full stuff? Well, when I wear blinders, while I am truly able to singly focus on what is coming. I loose sight of the ideas that are trying to get to me before I leave, and even on my way there.
But this time it's different. This time I am different. In Turkey, I see things through different eyes. It isn't all adventure. It isn't purely exploration. This time, I am molding into society. I am not a study abroad student. I am resident of Duzce. No one is planning field trips for me, telling me my schedule, or cleaning my room. I put on my big girl pants and am creating a life for myself. I am an adult. And for the first time I am truly an adult, with a salary and a budget, and an apartment and no safety net. Oh, did I mention that I am abroad? And my Turkish is very slow? But it's more than that. I miss my family, my boyfriend, my best friends and my dog. I don't think I have ever posted about homesickness out of fear that people would perceive it as weakness, like I am not fully experiencing this amazing opportunity that has been gifted to me. Like adventure, when I feel homesickness coming on, I slam the blinders back on my head and plan lots and lots of trips to distract myself. This time, I can't. My sister is getting married. Today is my anniversary. My family and my church is going through beautiful times that I'm not there to be apart of. For the first time, I wish I was home. However, I would never, in a million years, go home. Or choose differently. I am very happy in Turkey, more so than I thought I'd be. It feels like home. But I miss the home I have in people too. I want hugs from the people I love.
So the message, besides all this sappy stuff? Be real with yourself. Allow yourself to experience all your emotions fully too. What you left behind shapes who you are just as much as the experiences you are living now. Blinders work for a while, but you can't go through life with only highs. It is the lows that make the highs truly extraordinary.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Americans eat turkey?

In class on Tuesday, I showed some of my students photos of my life- of Egypt, Israel, of my family, friends and places that are important to me, and had them ask questions. One of the photos was of my family on Thanksgiving; sitting around my mothers perfectly prepared table, with platters of food stretching from one end to the other, and a huge Turkey plopped right in the middle. My students curiously inquired, "hoca(teacher), what is that?" I replied, "Oh this is a famous American holiday. A special part is that we eat Turkeys on Thanksgiving." My students literally said nothing. Confused expressions instantly dawned their faces. "Hoca?" Searching for a delicate way to explain why we call turkeys, turkeys, I couldn't help but giggle. In Turkey, they call turkeys hindi. Hindistan is the Turkish word for India. So, in essence, our word for turkeys (and the meaning behind the holiday- cooperation of the settlers and the Indians) is their word for Indians. Half-way across the world, I sat pondering the irony.
English & Turkish Words 
Please, dear bloggers, see the ironic twist in this. How very culturally inappropriate, right? The Turks name for turkey is their name for Indian- where in fact we get the essence of our holiday(cooperation with the Indians[native Americans])- that we center around turkeys.After explaining the distinctions to my class, they burst out laughing. No shocker there. I can't wait for my second Thanksgiving in Turkey (the country). The first was rather anti-climatic in terms of turkey eating, but it sure was unforgettable. To read about it, Hoo-boy. Today is Wednesday, my day off, in the middle of the week, and I am off to purchase some bus tickets for my trip to Yalova/Istanbul this weekend and attempt to find a few sorely needed household items. Can't wait!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mutant Rats

Ding dong the two fat rats are dead. But let me back up...rats, you say?

Once upon a time, in an apartment far far away lived two American girls. They just moved into a beautiful apartment. It was pink and purple and cozy. But, on their second night, they heard noises. Paralyzed with fear, they wandered what the noises meant. Scared, trying to listen for intruders, or bats, or the strange sounds of a far off land, they grew increasingly nervous. When the noises wouldn't stop, there worst fears were confirmed; someone, or something was in the apartment. What could it be? Terrified, they phoned a friend. They shouted into the phone, fear in their voices. Their trusty friend, from the good ole American West advised them to keep a knife with them at all times. Unknowing and unsure, the girls listened. Walking around with knives and pots ready to swing, they then heard a bell ring. A bell? Who could that be? A burglar, ready, waiting with glee? The girls hoped not, and feared much more, and were terrified to open the door.

Approached, the did, with courage and knives, but alas, there was no one there. Hearing noises upon the roof, they thought the entrance must be from above. They rushed to the windows, just to make sure, but were disappointed once more. Confused, scared and awaiting their fate, the went to sleep with their hearts counting beats of 1008. Sleeping with knives, with pots and pans, they woke the next morning with sweat dripping from their hands. Discovered they did, the source of their fear, twas rats running all around here. They ate avocados, bread and more, and left little droppings all along the floor. Though today was a success, because after setting traps, we came back to look, and saw two dead rats. Large they were, with huge beady eyes, but now we can rest, and close our eyes.

Ding dong the rats are dead :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ahk-Cha-Co-Ja & the Black Sea

Ahk-Cha-Co-Ja, pronounced in English as such, spelled in Turkish like Akçakoca; A beautiful town about an hour north of us on the Black Sea. We hopped on a bus in the early afternoon to make our way north to the Black Sea. A bumbling bus ride up and over the northern mountains brought us to a cliffed, pebbly Black Sea beach, lined with cottages, quaint apartments with lush flowers exploding from the verandas with a magnificence that can only be described with a feeling, happiness.  I needed the sea. You never know what you love until it's gone and the sweet smell of an ocean breeze brought me back to the shores of Jupiter, Florida, another part of my heart.
The Black Sea
Leyla and Cansu (my amazingly sweet Turkish friends who are also English teachers at Duzce University with me) tagged along with Tas, Nick and I. They, the experts of these parts, and us, the cute yabanci's (foreigners) with cameras. We walked around, gloriously intrigued by the quaintness of the town and the places to explore. We of course, went straight down to the ocean to play. The beach was pebbly and the water cool, but the day was perfect. We had a mini-photo shoot on the beach and splashed around in the waves. After tiring ourselves out, we devoured some healthy food- crackers and gummy worms! Exploring the town was easy, tourist season being over, it was relatively quiet and full of delicious food to eat and beautiful architecture and sea views to see. We even saw some dolphins playing around in the water! (Who knew, dolphins in the black sea?!?) After some good exploration had happened, we decided to head over to the famous Hamsi restaurant and went on to devour two full plates of fish and calamari. It was oh-so-tasty. Two hours later, we could barely pick ourselves up out of the chairs, but miraculously managed it in time to see the most stunning sunset. Inspired by the beauty I was lucky enough to see, I managed to snag a postcard and write a love letter! It was one of those perfect moments in life where all you can do is think about how lucky you are, and how generations of people have watched the same sunset you are watching at this moment. There is something so magical about natures beauty. But I digress, before meeting some other friends, we headed to another restaurant to try the famous Akcakoca dessert, that is only found in Akcakoca. We sat under an ivy-covered veranda while trying this dessert made of friend phyllo-dough, a sweet cream butter and bananas and sipping Turkish coffee.  We went to rendezvous with our friends at another restaurant/bar. There were sprawling patios with lush wood carved architecture and of course, views of the harbor. We all enjoyed practicing our English and Turkish together, laughing at mistakes, and words that apparently, do not translate and ended in bouts of giggles! The men partook in the time honored Turkish tradition of drinking Raki (a licorice smelling alcohol), melon and white cheese. There was of course, more food. I felt like I was back in Italy! Our night ended after some fortune telling (from the remains in our Turkish coffee cups) around 2am. This may have been the first, but certainly the first of many trips to Akcakoca.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It Only Takes One

Musing about first impressions, and perceptions this morning over a steaming cup of French pressed organic Colombian coffee watching the raindrops pour over my little town of Duzce, I couldn't help but wander, am I prejudiced? I should certainly hope not! Do I stereotype different cultures? I like to think I am very open of new cultures, religions, orientations and colors. But in reality, we are all prejudiced. It is embarrassing to admit, politically incorrect, and sad. We are all shaped by the influences of our surroundings, of our family, of our experiences.

Below is the first definition and two examples that comes up for the word prejudiced:
Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
  • - English prejudice against foreigners
  • - anti-Jewish prejudice
This definition startled me. The examples irked me. When you think of prejudice, are those the first two examples that would pop up in your head? They are most certainly not mine. Besides, prejudice is not simply a preconceived opinion, but can also refer to an experienced prejudice- an experience that causes you to think a certain way about a person, or a culture, or a religion. There are two main points that need to be addressed.

First, the examples. English prejudice against foreigners? Great. We are back to xenophobia. As a Fulbrighter this year, part of our mission is to facilitate cross-cultural understanding. I take this very seriously. What is the point of living abroad, or becoming part of another culture if there is no exchange? I honestly, as corny as it sounds, believe with all my heart, that the key to change in this world is deep, meaningul cultural exchange. Cultural understanding. As Americans, I hope that we can embrace our visitors from other places. Maybe we can start a new movement, American hospitality? Sounds silly doesn't it? Well, the Turks are famous for theirs. Come on America, step it up! Take in a foreign exchange student. Invite a foreigner you know to a home cooked American meal. Take them to a place of cultural meaning to you. There is nothing to be afraid of. Let's change that example under the word prejudice. It starts with me, and you.
Additionally, As an American, as a former inhabitant of Israel, of Egypt and as a person I am deeply saddened that anti-Jewish is our example. Really? Get over it people. You don't have to agree with the politics of Israel, I certainly don't on many regards, but that doesn't stop my love for the people who have changed my life and for a beautiful country that truly has shaped the Middle East. This is not a political statement. AT ALL. This is a plea for understanding. Which brings me to my second point...

Second, The prejudice. You are prejudiced. I am prejudiced. It sucks, but it's true. Are you prejudiced because of Israelis because of the politics of their state? If so, I urge you to re-evaluate your prejudice, your opinion. Do you know an Israeli? Have you ever met an Israeli? If so, what did you think of them? Is your entire perception of a country based off of one person, and the media? My guess is yes. For most people, the answer is yes. THIS is my point. We all make huge, ridiculous, generalized assumptions about a country, or a community, or a religion, or whatever based off of our interactions with one, two or even three people (or the media). Maybe it was even a week vacation in a resort. But let's be real. Did you make your very best effort to communicate with them? Have you watched independent media sources about that country? Do you know the beautiful things about their culture? It is imperative that I, that we, do not generalize about cultures or countries or people. I found myself comparing Turkey to Egypt and swearing that all Middle Eastern countries incorporate the same cultural elements. This is simply not true. There are parts, indeed. But I will not fully experience the beauty of Turkish culture if I automatically categorize it in with a previous experience of mine. The more I travel, the more I become aware of these tendencies. With every day, starting tabla rasa is your best gift to the world.
I urge you to think of that one Danish person you met, or that one South African, or Cambodian. Where those interactions positive? Do you generalize your perception of that country because of one measly little interaction. Please re-evaluate. My world, my generations world is shrinking rapidly. Culture is now displayed via the internet; videos, biographies, facebook, etc. With all of this shrinking, and with all the changes, I beg my generation to not generalize. Every culture or country is unique, and what deepens understanding is appreciation. Let's appreciate our differences. Only then, can we find the truth: that we are all, really the same.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Police Escort

Tuesday morning rolls around and Tas and I head off to our second day of school. We left early, planning in some extra time to figure out the bus system. So we end up hopping on a bus to Konuralp, the small city where our English section of the University is located. Turns out, we turn off of the mountain and head for the neighboring town. Tas and I had a ahh crap moment and asked to be let off. Luckily for us, we were in the middle of nowhere, on a huge road with no taxis. We started walking back to our town and were close to hitchhiking on the back of a large red tractor when a bus appeared, heading to where we were trying to go. Supposedly. So we hop on and then realize that he is not going the way we thought, and is bringing us back up to the university, where we began this crazy journey. So, we once again ask to be let of the bus. No we are the in the middle of nowhere. Here is a picture of the middle of no where. So at this point, it is 9:45 and classes begin at ten. I decide to call a fellow colleague to try and help. Leila asks me, "Sarah where are you?" and my reply, "In the middle of no where. I am surrounded by trees. There are no signs anywhere." After several minutes of attempting to locate myself via the position of the sun, Tas hails down a cop car driving by our bumpy little spot in the road. Thankfully, I handed the phone over to the police officer and they clear out the back of the police car and escorted us, right to the very front gate (in front of some of Tas's students) to school. They were laughing at us for a good chunk of the ride, but seemed not to know where they were either, which made us feel better. Happy second day of school ya'll.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watermelons breed friendship

I finish class early on Tuesdays. Thus, I decided to explore the sleepy little town of Konuralp where our English campus is located. With Tas and Nick still teaching, I wondered around looking for a place to buy fruit and have some lunch. I said hello to some gentlemen sitting at a cafe- just a good afternoon- and got frowns in return. Not indifference, not smiles, frowns. Big, fat frowns. I am paranoid that people think I am a prostitute because I smile and am blonde and friendly. Apparently, there was a problem with blonde Eastern European women coming over to Turkey via the Black Sea for those reasons. I sincerely hope that word of me being an English teacher spreads fast, and I can ease on the paranoia. Despite my embarrassment, I wandered into a little store to buy some water and lo and behold, I find an old man SO excited to see me. Me? At this point, I am racking my memory for any past meetings...have I met him? Oh no, what's his name? After two awkward minutes, I realized that no, I really do not know this man and he is not assuming that I am a prostitute. (SUCCESS!) He owns the little dakkan(store) and wants to know all about my life. Oh, did I mention he doesn't speak English? He asks me questions in Turkish and I respond with "I am an English teacher at Duzce University and live in the guest house." He is delighted that I just spoke Turkish and insists that I sit on the only chair in the store, so that we may chat. He gestures to me to sit and disappears. Two minutes later, he comes back with a tray of freshly sliced watermelon, grown right here in Konuralp. We continue chatting and I understand him, but am pretty sure he thinks that I do not because my Turkish is mostly understanding based. When it comes to producing, I falter. He asks me all about my family, if I am a Doctor, if I am married and then proceeds to tell me about his two sons, who are 19 and 20, and his wife. I am officially invited to hear a surgeon (who speaks English) speak about heart surgery at 5pm today. I am hoping that I can go a bit later. Twenty minutes into our semi-intelligible conversation, I decide to whip out my dictionary to better communicate. He asks me if I like beer and I say it is okay but I don't drink beer because I am allergic to bread. He then asks me what food I like. Kofte, I say. He literally galloped out of the store and apparently ordered me a beautiful lunch. A cafe waiter brings it into this tiny little shop and I am the only one eating while he continues to ask me questions I think I understand, and struggle to reply to.  The meal was so tasty. Juicy kofte (grilled meat) with rice pilaf, grilled tomatoes and peppers and fresh onions. Eventually he starts using his computer to translate and asks what religion I am. I explain that I am a Protestant and he immediately exclaims in Turkish- "Muslims, Christians, Jews and others, we are all brothers! All religions are the same." Can I just tell you how happy that made me? After talking for a good forty minutes, he says "thank you so much for meeting me, and I hope you come to the speech tonight by the Doctor." I respond with, "Inshallah(god willing)," and ask him how much lunch is. I don't even know where it came from...but he says no and refuses to let me pay for anything. I began walking back to Duzce University and the beauty of this mountain town hit me. Hills flow seamlessly together in this lush place. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and I could not be happier, or luckier to be where I am.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"I love teacher."

The student finally became the teacher! To the left is our "First Day of School Picture." I never thought I'd live to see the day. Tas, Nick and I went off to school this morning, nervous just like we were starting school all over again, and not knowing how nice the kids are going to be. We had lesson planned for a solid 24 hours over the weekend. We headed off to our respective classes at 8:00am prepared for the worst hoping for the best. I started with a class of only 12ish students who were very attentive. Four hours of class later, I felt proud, victorious even. Ate some yogurt, tomato soup, burek (spinach/cheese concoction) for lunch and headed to my next class. Hoo-boy. Rambunctious describes it all. They are very intelligent and curious. But it was a totally different experience from my first class. We played a game where you sit in a circle and say things you like and don't like. If another person agrees, they must switch seats. I got "I don't like America." ouch. Then, "I don't like Israel." I finally got "I like America," and "I love teacher." Luckily all but two of my twenty of my students moved for that one. Whew. I like to think they were just being lazy. The kids were very curious about my age, my religion and my family. In the end, I feel as though I have already learned the lesson that 'each day of class is a learning experience.' For real. They actually taught me a lot of Turkish outside of class.

BUT, I wanted to give you a brief run-down on Duzce Universitsi and Duzce- which we call the Duz. Duzce has two municipalities- Duzce and Konuralp- both cities named after the loves of the famous Ottoman leader Osman. Konuralp is where the university is located, up on a large hill. On the right is a view of the new campus. I don't teach here, but this is where I am staying for now. It is beautiful campus, but with a very new feel. Newly planted trees, constant construction, etc. Surrounding the school are cow pastures, homes, two small villages and a couple great restaurants. On Sunday, we woke up for breakfast with nothing open to eat on campus. We ventured into the unknown, craving some serious food. We finally arrived to a restaurant and simply said, we are hungry in Turkish. We didn't order a thing and were brought 3 platters of Turkish breakfast, coffee, tea, etc. They presented it to us as "English Breakfast, welcome." Turkish hospitality is incredible. Such massive quantities of food cost the three of us a mere 16.60. That is about 6 dollars each. MASSIVE amounts people. Massive. Well ta' for now. More lesson planning is needed for my next class tomorrow. "Haydee Bye Bye" (As the Turks say!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Duz/The Purple Palace

Ah home sweet home, Duzce, that is. Pronounced 'dooz-chay'. It is a small city, known mostly for the 7.2 earthquake that destroyed it in 1998. Now there are virtually no traces of that tragic past. The Duz is my home. It was described to me as a little cup, with the city nestled in the bottom of the cup, and the hills and mountains rising quickly around it, creating a cup. My University is situated overlooking the Merkez- or town center. And my brand new apartment happily sits itself 3 blocks away from the main city center. We got the top floor, or "pent house" as the ad calls it. It is quite lovely- walls of purple and pink, furniture of pink and green. It is such a happy house. :)

This weekend has been a blur. We arrived to Duzce on Thursday to a bus station that was actually not a bus station at all, but a tea house. We waited for someone to pick us up and we were taken to the guest house- our temporary home until we found an apartment. It's basically a hostel for adults. Mehr. Tas and I share a room where the power has worked for exactly 1.5 out of the 4 days we've been here. That includes cold showers. Can you say, brr? But all the bad stuff washed away with the hope of our new apartment. I dream of the Purple Palace! 3 Days and Counting. Duzce itself is a lovely little thing, a quaint town with two beautiful large mosques in the town center, shopping on the avenues and the like. Quite metropolitan for such a small city- oh, did I mention they have a bowling alley? Though it still throws me to see bikers in the street, along with crazy cars, and horse drawn carriages to cart around agricultural products. It truly is a country where east meets west. The craziest and best parts of the Middle East seem to blend, comically at times, with the westerners of Europe. Baklava is a lovely example. It is served 2/3 meals a deal. The only thing that beats it is the tea, which is usually served to us a good 8-12 times per day. Lots of tea my friends, lots of tea. Tomorrow is officially my first day of teaching (8 hours- 2 classes= 4 hrs/class!) so I must finish the final touches on my lesson plans. Good night from Turkey!

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Naked Tradition

The oldest of all traditions in Turkey, the hamam. Wednesday evening I ventured to an old hamam in Ankara with three girlfriends and two guy friends to experience what had been promised to be an amazing time. We pulled up in the historic neighborhood in Ankara and walked quickly down the steps to the looming white building below. The men entered through the front entrance while the women had their own side entrance. We hurried down the alley and through the doors into the women's section. Upon entrance, we were mesmerized by the expansive marble room, decorated with wooden doors signaling an abundance of personal changing rooms. We changed, were given towels and chose our services. I decided to have the normal loofah scrub down, a coffee scrub massage and the general hamam services. Here is a general picture of a hamam (but in reality there is water everywhere!)
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Depending on your preference, you can go into the hamam in a bathing suit, just bottoms or your birthday suit! We entered the steamy hamam from the main hall and were hit with steamy streams of warm air. We were led to to the washing room and sat on the marble slabs while pouring buckets of warm water from the taps onto our heads.  Twenty minutes later my quite matronly masseuse brought me out to the main room and layed me down on the raised marble slabs. The loofah message is intense. Literally, half of your skin comes off. You wonder what is all over your arms and legs. As I realized it was my own skin,  I was, quite obviously, completely grossed out. But it is totally normal. So, after all our skin was basically loofahed off, we showered, and re-engaged in the sit and lather yourself with water phase. How glorious it is. The girls and I discussed the beauty of nudity in these places, how if things like this existed in America, there would be a much better idea of body image and of self-confidence if women walked around naked and didn't care. You got what ya' got, so be proud.
After a while we were beckoned back over to the  marble slabs and were massaged form head to toe in a delicious coffee scrub. Thirty minutes and coffee scrub later, my skin has never been so smooth! The old woman massaging me kept pinching my cheeks and saying "Cok guzel!" (very beautiful!) The best part came next- we started talking to some older women who were curious about where we were from and they told us that they were at the hamam because their daughter was getting married that week. We were invited to partake in the festivities which included splashing cold water over the head of the bride and dancing around on the marble slabs together, singing songs for the new bride's husband and wishing her good luck. It was the best communal experience I have ever had with  women. They welcomed us like we were part of the family, and even invited us to go and receive the traditional henna tattoos before the wedding. Who'd have thunk that dancing in a hamam in the nude to music sung by old women would be so enjoyable! We were so disappointed that we were leaving Ankara the next morning. But enjoyed some fruit with the family before we left for the evening. In short, go to a hamam. Do the traditional thing and good things are sure to come out of it. Hands down, it was the most relaxing, enjoyable and cultural experience I have had in Turkey thus far. (Though- warning- it definitely was not a tourist hamam because those I hear are a bit cheesy.) Güle Güle (=good bye)!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When I Revert

Some things in life are universal. As I lay in the park (adjacent to the Turkish Prime Minister's giant compound) infused with the melodic sounds of harmonzing birds and the gush of the water fountains spalshes reaching the calm waters of the pond, I am reminded that wherever I am nature brings me back to the very same place: when I am still, free to question, to ponder, to analyze. I have yet to discover if I believe in a religion, but no matter where I've been; the White Desert of the Sahrara, the islands of Croatia, the mountains of Turkey or the quiet beauty of Jupiter, Florida- my soul emits the same questions. But most importantly, it returns to the same feeling of reassurance, of some godly existance, of a higher, un-namable force. I watch children and their parents look for bugs and exlaim with glee upon their discoveries. Turkish couples flirt on park benhces and dogs roll around and play with a simple display of true joy.
My trip to Turkey has been a blur. Everyday, orientation introduces us to something new- a new unknown to explore- and I desperate cling to the information given to us that seems to float out of my brain, upwards, like a balloon. It is in the same quiet stillness that I return to reflection, where I found myself returning to the very things I advise others not to do. Sometimes, I notice my stubbornness, as if I am some diverse world traveler and "I know." If course I know what know, but what I do not know, is far more vast. I've noticed that once someone (including myself) becomes what most people would label "well-traveled," our international experiences are applied to others, even out of context. For example, because I am familiar with the Middle East and have working knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic, I like to think I know a good deal about the Middle East. I had subconsciously  grouped Turkey into that idea of culture and norms. I found myself making assumptions about behavior, non-verbal communication, gender roles, and the like. All because my international experiences are the pool from which I draw my knowledge. To become stuck- to make generalizations and assumptions (even though they are both Middle Eastern countries with Muslim majorities) fulfills the exact opposite purposes than what I came to Turkey to do. I've noticed the trend of well traveled individuals to always throw in a, "when I was in X country," and comparing there totally different experiences to this one instead of starting tabla rasa, so you don't implant false or generalized thoughts into your new adventure. In short, be open, you will always be ignorant unless you're willing to learn and willing to ask.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 in Turkey

September 11 was commemorated in Turkey by our visit to the US Ambassador's compound in Ankara. The US Marines and the ambassador led the ceremony with beautiful renditions of the anthem, a speech reflecting on the unfortunate events 10 years previous, and lowering the flag to half mast. Surprisingly emotional, the days events took me back to that morning in 7th grade when the first tower was hit.

America, what are you doing today? More than anything, meeting ambassadors, hanging out with foreign diplomats, I am convinced the government needs unselfish people with clear visions (and integrity) to enter into government service. Clarity, passion and direction are needed. If my generation continues the circus parading around oil, guns and money, the US won't maintain its hegemonic status, period. Education is the key to understanding, to cultural development, and ultimately to global success on a continuously expanding world market. I hope that my generation can step it up. The buck stops here: with my generation. Today was a day of clarity for me :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011


 A group of us at Ataturk's Mausoleum. After a tour of Ataturk's possessions, history and military successes. Like I said, Fulbrighters are pretty darn impressive. My roommate, Tas is the girl in the center- I got really lucky- she's an awesome girl, and reminds me of a combination of two of my best friends. We'll be living together this year!
A stunning view of Ankara from the Mausoleum. The Turks have an inherent source of pride for their heritage, their country, and the historical leaders. And whoever says Ankara is boring and ugly is seriously wrong. The city oozes green trees, charming cafes and a real-city feel, opposed to Istanbul which feels way more touristy. Walking around the city, we venture into Kuafors (hair shops), pastry shops, banks and tourist agencies. Just to talk, to practice Turkish. I attempted a visit to find hairspray. It took me at least 20 minutes to convey that I needed hairspray, not hair. It took me another 10 to negotiate a price. Starting at the beginning of a language is always humbling.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ataturk's Mausoleum & the Accident

Day 2 began with a slow start. Thank god for Turkish coffee. It's like hey, boom, awake, you! We had lectures today form the State Department on Health, Safety, you know all the good stuff. We learned that our biggest risk in Turkey is from rapid dogs in the east. They told us there is a 100% death rate. (of the dogs) But if you aren't treated within 10 days you will probably not make it. Great way to start the morning, right? Then a paranoid security guy reminded us of the do's and don'ts in a foreign country- i.e. do not be followed. if you are, report it. Or, do not use the internet... we all laughed until we realized he was serious. He swore he won't touch the internet except at work because of the possibility of internet hackers. Oops. Already messed up that one. He also told us Al-Queida is everywhere. Oh, lovely. And followed that up with "they are like cockroaches, they spring up everywhere."

We followed up the day with a visit to Ataturk's Mausoleum. It is quite beautiful and had a neo-fascist architectural feel to it. Check out the photos: Strolling through the museum under the large structures was surreal. Rows and rows of Ataturk's swords, clothes, shoes, name it, it was there. Swords from the Japanese emperor, the Soviet Union and others glistened on the walls exemplifying the importance of his rank politically and domestically.

After this enlightening day of Turkish history, we ate dinner with a beautiful Turkish band serenading us in the background. Everyone was clapping and our director even danced with a Fulbrighter! About 15 of us headed out to grab some nargileh and see the shopping district of Ankara. On a mission to find our nargileh, we stomped around the streets, taking the the lights, different stores (There is a Sephora!) and the beautiful Turkish people babbling in their melodic language. After several attempts we found a restaurant with nargileh and plopped down. Introducing ourselves in Turkish (already!!!) we chatted with the waiter and ordered some Turkish tea (called chai). We engaged ourselves in a game of backgammon and I killed the first game, attributing my skills to the countless Egyptian nights playing in street cafes. However, disaster struck. I attempt to exude grace and consistently fail. Like my usual Sarah self, I move my arm and dump a boiling hot cup of tea all down my pants. I mean all down. As in it looked like I peed my pants. Everyone in the restaurant turned and stared while I was clearly distracted by the burning pain searing my legs. Long story short, I waltzed into the restroom, cleaned myself up and sat back at the table (everyone still staring) intent on finishing the game of tabla(backgammon) I had begun. The pain faded and playing resumed. Besides the mild mortifcation, I survived. :) In tact. First accident happened, major crisis averted.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Orientation, Day 1.

The first day of orientation was exhausting. After waking up 4 times in the night from serious jet-lag.
We had a full day of orientation laid out for us. Can I just say that Fulbright has the most unique combination of highly interesting and well-traveled people I have ever met. Every single person has something to offer and I love getting to know them. By far the coolest people of any program I have attended, generally speaking of course.

Our lectures today were extensive, beginning with the Turkish Education System, we learned about the primary, secondary and university systems of education in Turkey. Cool differences from American schools?  Like us, there are public and private (or foundation) schools. But they test like mad crazy. From middle school to high school is a big one, as is the university entrance exam- and is almost the sole factor for getting into college. Flunked your SAT's? You'd be s.o.l. because 1.4 million Turkish students compete for 900,000 spots. But there are vocational schools for religious studies in high school- kids who want to became imams. There is also a "practical arts school" for girls, to learn skills like sewing, etc. This is not popular but in the eastern parts of Turkey a reality for poor background or from ultra-conservative parents who want their daughters to learn practical skills.

Unlike America though, there is compulsory religious education in Turkey. This actually only happened after the military coup d'etat in 1982 and now students in Turkey have to take religious class on Islam and pass it. This has become a huge problem for the non-Muslim minority in Turkey who obviously don't want to have to sit and pass exams in a religion that is not their own. But the re-introduction of religion back into the social and political spheres was a huge deal for Turkey, and continues to be a hot topic in the academic world as well as among the citizens.

Ah and guess what Turkey has now? They are starting No Child Left Behind! All I can say is good luck Turkey.

Random aside: I'm currently reading Katie Couric's new book The Best Advice I Ever Got. If you're a person inspired by stories, I highly recommend it. Dylan Nuquist told me to pick it up, and I was hooked on the plane. Great inspirational stuff for recent college grads. Gives some serious insight into the what to do next question. More later, tis past my bedtime.

iyi geceler friends! [good night! in Turkish]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome to Ankara

Palm Beach to Detroit to Amsterdam to Istanbul to Ankara. Ankara, yes. I am finally in the heart of the Ottoman empire. The flights were a blur, surrounded by happy faces of Fulbrighters. We all started chatting in Amsterdam, pondering the adventures awaiting us in Turkey, reciting short Turkish phrases and the like. I passed out on the way to Ankara, sleeping when my bottom touched the seat till the wheels landing on the tarmac. Welcome to Turkey! The airport was pristine and embellished with 40 feet long water fountains. I was the lucky duck and got my bags first!

We took a cab to our hotel, Niza Park Hotel, a schnazzy four star hotel in the quietly bustling city of Ankara. People are amazingly friendly. I had several people offer to help me with my bags, because I was clearly struggling under the mammoth carry-ons I had decided to pack with every heavy thing I couldn't fit in my other 2, 53 pound suitcases. So long shoulders, see you next year. I cannot feel my upper half. But alas, I am in Turkey, my home for the next 10 months. My Turkish is kicking back in, as is the feeling of half drowning in a conversation where someone assumes you speak Turkish and begins gabbing in rapid-fire Turkish, only to be subdued by my clearly puzzled expression.

Another year of adventure is at my fingertips. I am ready to explore. But first, orientation. Tomorrow morning until next Thursday, where I head to my city, Duzce. Or as it is affectionately known, the Duz.

Search My Blog