Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bowling, Party of 5.

For our dear friend Victoria's birthday, we decided to surprise her by going bowling. Bowling is the "it" spot in Duzce, besides of course the Burger King. There really isn't much to do in the way of city life, we are more a country-minded people, relishing our waterfalls and great hiking and lakes. But for a birthday, our choices were movies, bowling or a restaurant. We decided to combine the later two. So we went out for the best Kofte (grilled beef) in Duzce, a little family owned restaurant where the only thing they make is kofte. You get kofte, grilled veggies, and a salad. That is literally all they serve but it is darn good. I mean mouth-waterin', finger-lickin' good. After devouring our meat, we headed over to the bowling alley to surprise Vic.
We arrived, and it was so appropriately named "Fun House" where we proceeded to have fun. There were 4 bowling lanes, and ping-pong tables with an area set up for tea and games. During our terribly amusing game of bowling we were lucky enough to listen to the musical stylings of Evanescence, Jay-Z and every other early 2000's songs you can think of. We jammed out, taught our friend Ahmet how to dance, and threw balls down the aisle, nearly cracking the floor. But hey, when I bowl, this is my trick. I throw the  ball and I get a strike. Towards the end of our game, the attendant gave us an extra two strikes each, we think because it was his way of boosting our confidence, or our future patronage. We then chowed down on cake and tea, while being surrounded by an "OK" tournament. "OK" is the Turkish version of our Gin-Rummy but with tiles. I think there is a similar game in America, but alas, I do not know the game. We then rode the children's machines...I squeezed into a baby space ship and apparently caught the attention of every person in that bowling alley, laughing as I got stuck inside and had to wiggle, rather ferociously to free myself. What a Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


A nibblet is a nuggest of information. Just a bit, a little anecdote, a tale, an example even. I decided to compile a few nibblets about my Turkish experience thus far. Do they each merit a full story? No, but a nibblet will suffice just fine.

  • Today, I began Turkish lessons with a fellow teacher. He was kind enough to just offer to teach new words every Tuesday. He is a great guy, always wears excellent hats that are a cross between a bowlers hat and a newsboy cap. He gave me a ride home today in his 1997 sports car, weaving in and out of traffic (not so different from my Egyptian friends) like the other cars were simply a distraction. He switched on some tunes and much to my surprise, proclaimed his love for the musical styling of Mrs. Celiene Dion and the notable Shania Twain. We jammed out to "Man I feel like a Woman" the whole way home. 
  • Completely unrelated, I love my nut shop. In Turkey, but especially in Duzce, there are an assortment of excellent nut shops. Any kind of nut you want, they've got it. And they are warm. Always toasty warm. You can literally get a pound or three of nuts for under $5. As a gluten-free woman, I must pass on many tasty things so I need something (besides kuenfe) to obsess over here. My city is famous for their hazlenuts and I buy them by the bushel. Dried strawberries? Walnuts? Almonds? Pumpkin seeds? Chocolate? Cigarettes? They've got it. Plus, I have become a regular at the nut shop around the corner. I get free bags of nuts sometimes. Whenever I go and the owner is there, I get little sample bags of the freshly made Turkish delight. Am I going a bit nutty? Perhaps. But alas, if you had a nut shop, you would be a regular too.  The nuts are amazing in this country.Dare I say it, nut-tastic? Ok, I went too far.
  • As the holidays approach, I am especially grateful to the Turkish culture for two reasons. First, chestnuts roasting on an open fire is a common thing. Men and their little heating grills plop themselves down on the side of a street and roast them chestnuts. Nothing brings on the holiday cheer like a roasting chestnut. And second, I have found numerous Christmas trees and ornaments in Istanbul...though pricey they may be, the exist. Truth be told, I am going to go chop down my own Christmas tree. Inshallah. I really want the whole go into a forest, hack away and chop down a tree experience. Axes are available at my local "Bazaristan" which means the country of bazaars, which is my Walmart equivalent over here, for a mere 5tl ($2.75)

Monday, November 28, 2011

#1 BreakfastJoint in Turkey

Namlı Gurme in Karaköy, Istanbul is the best breakfast joint in the whole of Turkey. Apparently rated number one by dozens of newspapers, articles and the culinary know-it-alls of the region, Namlı Gurme more than lived up to its name. Ranked above all the ritzy hotels, and other breakfast places throughout the country, it had a lot to live up to.
The breakfast was divine. Pass on religion, bring on the breakfast. Ok, bad joke. But seriously, I stumbled upon this place on my way to the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul on Saturday morning. It looked pretty crowded and the brightness of the colors combined with blocks upon blocks of endless mounds of cheese piqued my interest. So, when I arrived back on the Asian side at the end of the day after attending a full-day English Language Teaching conference, I walked into this little slice of paradise. They also have a selection of cooking ingredients that are rare in Turkey. Cheddar cheese, soy sauce, wing sauce. These things are hot commodities for those of us with an American craving every now and again. Saturday night I will blog about later, because its amazingness requires a whole new blog. But come Sunday morning, half awake, needing coffee and a good jolt to my day, we decided to wait behind the hordes of other Turks in line at Namlı Gurme. About 20 people long, plus or minus, we waited in line while we were served complimentary fresh burek and chai. It screamed good breakfast food. If ever food could be described as sexy, it would be this food. Try this on for size: a platter of honey, honey comb and the thickest cream you could ever eat. Just sweet enough to eat without dying. What do you put honey and thick cream on you may ask? Nothing my dear! Nothing at all! Bread, if you wish. Heck, slather it on some salami slabs. Me? Just me, the cream, the honey and a fork. The rest is history. I may or may not have had an affair with this breakfast. The meat counter is pretty impressive. Meats upon meats upon varieties of meats. You wait in line, choose your breakfast and they bring it to your table. Your options? Ohh...anything. Specifically? Any kind of egg or egg and sausage combination you desire. Though, if you visit, you must indulge in the kahvalti plate (breakfast plate) full of different cheeses of all color and texture. We had a soft, delicate cheese, a hearty cheddar, a swiss slice and it was overflowing with fresh olives, perfectly snappy cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. I could go on for pages, really. But if you go to Istanbul, you must go to this fantastic place.
Tips: bring someone who speaks Turkish if you can (though they were so accomodating to us!)
If you go on Sunday morning, be prepared to wait. It is worth it.
Bring your appetite. Veg-heads, be wary. It is meat heaven. Though they have vegetarian options. It is mildly pricey. We paid about 90TL for the three of us...that's about $22 a person...for the best breakfast in Turkey?!?! Steal of a deal, I say. Afiyet olsun arkadaşlar!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Day in Turkey

The bird was slaughtered yesterday morning. After a failed attempt to procure a Turkey from a factory in a town about an hour away, we got nervous. It isn't truly Thanksgiving without a bird! Finally, a friend of ours found out her neighbor had a Turkey she was willing to sell and kill and clean. What luck! I was a bit sad about the whole killing thing, but alas, as a carnivore, it is what it is. So Wednesday morning I awoke early, put my Martha Stewart hat on and got to cookin'. We have to celebrate today, Wednesday because we have to give our students midterms tomorrow. Today is my free today, left wide open for me to cook up a storm.
9am, bright and early, I began the homemade apple pie, the stuffed mushrooms, homemade whipped cream, the fall harvest salad, the rasberry & pomegranate jello and all else. Nick took care of the turkey and the stuffing and Tas, the mashed potatoes and the sweet potato casserole. Finding certain ingredients abroad can be quite a challenge and makes you get creative real fast. I had no rolling pin for the deliciously buttery apple pie and thus used a beer bottle to roll out the dough. Since there is no rasberry jello to be found in Turkey, and I needed the tart flavor, I decided to get Strawberry jello and use boiled pomegranate juice instead of water to infuse the tarty flavor. Also, I put in frozen rasberries and a little apple baby food, in place of apple sauce. I'll let you know the results! So far, so good.
Generally speaking, holidays abroad can be quite depressing. No family, and traditions are nothing but a memory of years past. But this year, I actually have a family to celebrate with. The people I live with in Duzce have become a little family, bonding together through the unique, ridiculous experiences we generally go through on a daily basis. Including but not limited to me asking someone where they lived, or attempting at least, and then apparently asking him if he just finished in the bathroom. Top ten embarrassing moments. Seriously. Or tripping walking down out of a bus? The list goes on and on. But alas, I digress. Thanksgiving dinner is a mere two hours away. I have cream to whip and serious dinner table preparations to attend to. Lastly, I finally understand why our parents stress about holidays. The amount of cooking, cleaning and preparation necessary for literally one day of celebration is mind-boggling. With my roommate, I worked for a good 8 hours today. It will be worth it though! Happy Thanksgiving from Turkey!

P.s. For an interesting read, check out my Thanksgiving experience in Turkey two years ago. Turkey in Turkey 2009 was a completely different experience, but definitnely the first trip that pulled me into to the glorious-ness of Turkey!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teacher, you are ugly today.

So, throughout my thus far brief career as an English teacher, I have many, if not embarrassingly amazing, yet utterly absurd stories. And today, after a particularly tough day of pantomiming and explaining the difference between action and non-action verbs (and only one can be used in the present progressive, except if that verb can be used as both an action and non-action verb! (try saying that 5x fast!!)) one of my students raised his hand. He happens to be a particularly advanced student for this class and asked, "hoca, why glasses?" I replied casually, "Oh, I like them. Sometimes, I like to wear glasses." The response was swift. I didn't see it coming. There was no shift in tone, bemusement or traces of humor. He wasn't trying to get any laughs. He just simply looked at me and said, "hoca, you are very ugly today." All I could muster was, "thank you." For the rest of the first hour of class, a group in the back had to keep reminding me, "Hoca without glasses, very very beautiful. Ugly glasses."

So, basically, it was a day of morale boosters.

To be fair, my students usually tell me how beautiful I look every day. This is my favorite part of having students with limited vocabulary. It makes it easier. Apparently, I am either very very beautiful or ugly. There is no in between.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Impossible Choice

As I sat in Palestine, in the West Bank, my heart ached for the peace of Jerusalem. Sitting in Bethlehem, listening to the story of the arrival of the shepherds and the words of the angels on the very first Christmas night allowed me to pull back, to appreciate this unique place irrespective of politics and personal experiences. This is a holy place, a place of my childhood bible stories, where I can connect on a deeper spiritual level. Where I can let go and see only spirituality. But, the stories mold themselves into my reality, complicating my feelings much more so than I know how to express. I tell myself it is holy irrespective of the fact that I sit staring at the barrier wall running around the perimeter of the West Bank. It is impossible for my heart to not ache for the people whose lives it has so deeply affected. It is impossible for me to sit and reflect only on spirituality when two halves of my heart are tugging at each other in front of my eyes.

How do you choose between two things you love? Sometimes I feel like a mother. I simply cannot choose between my children, between two very different yet very deep loves. I find myself playing favorites at times but at the end of each day, I know I love them both but for very different reasons. Israel was my first love, Hebrew my first language. It was my enlightened me to my passion. I have another family in Israel who took me in, made me part of the family. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, these are the places of the language of my heart, Arabic. The places where I am most challenged and inquisitive. They are the places of hospitality, warmth and conundrums I strive to understand. I love them both at my very core. Do they have faults/temper tantrums and fights? Do I want to pull my hair out some days and tell them to grow up, think critically or stop lying to each other?  You better believe it...but like brothers, I believe someday, they will reconcile. They must.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

the suprising&the uncomfortable

Anecdote #1: The Ding-Dong Dash
On Friday morning, our doorbell rang 6 times. I buzzed whoever it was into the building. 5 more rings. No one appeared at our door. It woke Tas up and thoroughly confused me. Ten minutes later someone knocked on my door. I opened it and much to my surprise was a little boy and a golden retriever dog. Back story: last week, our neighbor's golden retreiver was stolen right out of her pen. She was pregnant, and as our landlord explained to us with the help of google translate and a dictionary, they wanted the money for her many puppies. He was devastated, as were we. Lady, the name of the golden, was like our dog, the sweetest thing ever. Surmise it to say that I was ecstatic to see Lady when the door open. The boy babbled off something too fast for me to catch in Turkish but I caught "street" and "dog." So I ushered the dog inside, thanked the boy, and called my landlord. As the moments passed, I kept scrutinizing her face...and becoming more and more skeptical it wasn't Lady. Twenty minutes later, my landlord appeared at our doorstep. Alas, it wasn't Lady and the dog literally ran out of my fourth floor apartment back down the stairs to the street. I felt terrible.

Anecdote #2: The Underground Bar
Nick and I wandered around Duzce on a Friday night, figuring there must be something to do. Right? We made our way to the back of some sketchy street, following the distant sound of live music. We see a place with a staircase leading down and a sign for beer, so we headed down. A man was busy stocking the cellar as we passed and he looked a little too delighted to see me. When he opened the door, I understood why. The door swung open, and there was live music, but there were also fifty men (no women) who turned, stared, and then frantically starting shouting "Buyrun! Buyrun!" Translation- please! please! come in! I was so mortified I literally turned and ran back up the stairs till I hit the street. Nick and I burst out laughing. Lesson learned: be aware of sketchy underground bars.


I always travel in hostels and schlep all over the world with backpacks and bags falling off my shoulders. If you can picture me traveling, especially when I'm by myself, imagine a tiny little blond girl whipping in and out of the crowds hitting people trying to sell postcards with my gigantic, overstuffed bags. Taking out the postcard sellers is my specialty. Thus, In Israel, I wasn’t used to the five star hotels who take away any bag I may be holding and take it all the way up to my room. Not to mention the buffet meals. I travel cheap. Bring on the hostels and sketchy places, I only ever sleep in the place anyway. 
Suffice it to say that I gained a good pound or two with so much good, free food while I was living it up in the fanschy-schmancy hotels in Israel. When I came back to Istanbul from Tel Aviv, after being thoroughly searched by Israeli security, I was carrying my gigantic duffel, my bulging purse, a stuffed duty-free bag and a big cardboard box. I had to take the subway at crux hours with all this stuff to get to the main area of Istanbul cheaply and quickly. Schlepping is the only word for it. Like I said, I am a master at accidentally knocking people over.I slept in the "Best Island Hotel" in Istanbul, a decently sketchy but family owned place that was clean. I finally finished schlepping my stuff through the streets of the most touristy part of Istanbul and checked into my hostel. I wandered around into four different hotels asking different prices. One place was 150Euro for a night. It was not a nice hotel. Bah. I looked at the maitre'de and said, oh sorry, I am poor. And walked down the street to the next hotel I saw. Four hotels and ridiculous high prices later, I found the Best Island Hostel. 

After shlepping I need some good relaxation. I wanted to go to a hamam but I was so darn tired I thought I'd fall asleep in the steamy hot rooms and die of a heat stroke. So, I passed. I decided to sit and enjoy a hot cup of coffee (or 3) and journal all my reflections from my Israel trip. I keep thinking about all the things I've learned throughout my travels and how I can pass that along. If I could give non-country specific advice, it would be:
1) make a reservation. prices are always cheaper. (obvious, but really.)
2) journal while you are traveling. collect business cards from the restaurants and hostels and cool people you meet. Write about the cultural differences you encounter. You won't remember what you first thought...and one day, you'll be so happy. Plus, you can give your friends good recommendations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

HW Assignment: HowToSteal

To give you a  little taste of my daily life as an English Teacher and as a Fulbright Fellow in Turkey, I wanted to share a little something that amused me! I gave my kids an assignment to teach them how to give instructions. Basically, how to walk someone through a "how-to." I had everything from how-to make bread, how to cook macaroni and how to play soccer. But my favorite, my absolute favorite, was a group of students who decided to write a how-to instruction manual entitled
"How to Steal?" 
"Firstly, he makes firm the place. After that, he waits to see and begin to rob. He climbs the balcony or breaks the door but he always prefers climbing the balcony. He opens with a special stick the door. He walks the room. He stoles valuable objects. After that, he escapes."

These are the days where teaching is such a joy. I have sixty amazing students, who, by the way surprised me on my birthday with three tiramisu cakes lit with candles and sang, what they could of Happy Birthday to me. They then insisted I take an individual photo with each kid in the class.

The Existence of God

This journey marked my third stay in Israel and my second to the West Bank. It seems that every time I embark upon a journey to a place I have been, I believe I know the area. Not perfectly of course. But, god, nothing is more humbling than thinking you know a lot and realizing you know nothing. Really, nothing. How many times have I been to the Middle East? Every single time I go, even to the same place, I learn heaps of new information, things that rock my world.
For example, I have visited the inner part of the Western Wall (the Kotel) at least four times. I can’t even count how many times I’ve prayed at the Western Wall or visited with a tour group. But this time, on my tour with Jupiter First Church, I had the best tour guide I’ve ever had, underground, inside the walls of the Western Wall. Her tour lit up the walls, made me imagine that thousands of years ago, my ancestors were touching the same wall. I learned the ancient temple, upon which much of the conflict rests, was 23 stories high. Now listen people, that was thousands of years ago. 23 stories high is a modern-day skyscraper. Can you imagine seeing such magnificence in the old days and realizing that was the home of God? If I was living on dirt roads, fending of thieves, dying of plague and trying to make it through each day with enough to eat, I would see something like that and be darn sure God existed. 
It led me to wonder, if such holiness, or at least the perception of holiness and awe-inspiring architecture and prestige encouraged the belief in God in days of old, where is our inspiration today? In modern day churches, synagogues and even some mosques, I am comfortable, yes, but inspired? Certainly not. While I realize that the presence of God should not be dictated by architecture and grandeur, it wouldn't be bad to use a little to inspire a bit? If you walked into a place of worship, blown away by its magnificence and splendor, it inspires a new kind of prayer. A tribute to the beauty God could create on earth, through his creations, humans. What happened to our desire to build monuments of beauty? Look at Europe...half of the reason many Americans go to Europe (minus the lower drinking age and a good time) is the history and architecture. All the cathedrals of old and the castles inspire this grand idea of beauty and shocks you into imagining life during these times. In 300 years, what will history being saying about our time? Ugly giant, metal structures used more as a symbol of power than an attempt at beauty or inspiration. 
My message on this quiet Wednesday morning from downtown Duzce in the north/central part of Turkey? Let us, our generation that is, have something beautiful to be remembered for. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could work together to create another Wonder of the World or an International source of beauty instead of more skyscrapers? That is my wish. Now, if only I was an architecture or decent at math. Drat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Israeli Security...

My trip to back to the Holy Land literally turned me upside down. I couldn’t sleep well for three says before my trip. I was so nervous they wouldn’t let me in the country just because I had a Lebanese stamp in my passport. I was only there for ten days but I’ve heard of people getting turned away. And, this was my only opportunity to see my family until May. Thus, I was quite anxious. I arrived in Tel Aviv at 2:30 in the morning and was dead tired. I sat next to this jerk on the plane who kept muttering in Hebrew than Israeli’s were so much better than Turks. He subtly noted peoples stupid moments or things they did wrong. I “fell asleep” real quickly once we took off. Who wants to listen to that? When I “woke up” about an hour later, he started asking me all these questions about my background, my opinions of the state of Israel and of course, of Turkey. I was irked. Fast. When I got off the plane I was selected by Israeli security, before formal security, for a few questions. I answered them and they let me go about five minutes later. I went through visa control, so nervous, and I literally wasn’t asked even one question about my passport. I was almost upset. I lost so much sleep over it and then they let me in, just like that. I was so surprised and relieved that I forgot to ask them not to stamp my passport. Now I have to renew the darn thing again! (For those of you who don’t know, if you’ve been to Israel you will not be allowed entry into several Middle Eastern nations including but not limited to Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, etc.)

Maybe that is the key. Randomness and lack of consistency? Hmm... for all you travelers out there...don't get an Israeli stamp. It complicates things. Politely ask them to for go it. Oh, and by the way, I was definitely searched again. Rather intimately. They kept telling me "we think someone is using you to plant a bomb." Well dang that would suck! So, I let them do their thing, and I really did feel quite safe on the plane. Which is the purpose, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Taking Flight

After nearly two full months in Turkey, a country full of surprises, I am headed back to the source of my inspiration: Israel and Palestine. I am heading over to meet my mother for a tour that my church from back home is going on - and am excited to get a bit of Arabic and Hebrew inspiration! For me, Israel was the one place I was able to connect with a sense of spirituality, and I'm hoping to feel it again. It should be some good mother-daughter bonding time- and my aunt is coming too!

I will be frolicking around Tiberias, Jerusalem and a bit of Palestine for a week and can't wait to take in the earth-shattering hummus, the musical blend of Arabic and Hebrew, and the magic that seems to exist uniquely in Jerusalem. I fly to Tel-Aviv bright an early- as in 00:30am. Keep me in your thoughts, as getting into the country with a Lebanese and a Turkish stamp on my new passport might give me some trouble with Israeli security. But hey, every time I fly through Ben Gurion Int'l Airport, I am strip-searched. Should be used to it by now I suppose. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Mafia

Yes, the Mafia very much exists in my city. Have I seen them? No. Was there a shooting in the public square at a restaurant last year? Yes. Was it a Mafia quarrel? You betcha.

When someone told me that the Mafia existed in this teeny tiny sleepy town, did my jaw drop? You better believe it. Our other Fulbright co-teacher, Nick, just moved into his new apartment, which we recently discovered is in the heart of Mafia territory. People are of course, afraid to talk about it. I know nothing, except that it exists. And I am warned not to walk in certain areas by myself or after dark. My Turkish friends have yet to divulge any significant information and are, quite frankly, not interested in talking about it especially in public, for understandable reasons. But if I hear more, I will probably keep it to myself, or post it just for the "followers" of my blog. Lest I be followed. Bah! It is quite thrilling/nerve-wracking to know the Mafia exists. Every time I walk down the street in that district, I find myself wondering if someone is in the Mafia? Is her brother in it? Has their family given money? This is my thought process. I feel as though I am walking through the life of a detective novel!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween in Turkey

Our Halloween spread

Our Scarecrow!
The girls
best pumpkin ever.

 We celebrated  Halloween by throwing a big bash, inviting all 12 of our Turkish friends, 1 Tunisian and a Belgian friend to our apartment for some good ole Halloween festivities. We carved a pumpkin, which are MUCH thicker than American pumpkins. It took us four hours to carve! 4 Hours! But, check it out. It looks pretty fierce. We made a delicious pumpkin dessert and roasted pumpkin seeds, in true American fashion. We made mud-pies, brain juice and a bunch of other spooky desserts :) We went out in search of Halloween costumes in Duzce and found HALLOWEEN NAPKINS! While this may seem trivial to you, you must put yourself in my shoes. I am living in a foreign country that doesn't celebrate Halloween, let alone know what it is. I find PUMPKIN NAPKINS in a tiny store in an already tiny town. We bought hats for everyone to wear, and some friends even dressed up! The party was a huge success. And not going to lie, I didn't miss seeing eight million girls dressed up like baby prostitutes.

all lit up :)
the group
sharing some laughs
Hundreds of bats in the sky
Sunset on Halloween- with bats flying...

Hilal and I

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