Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Normal Days

On this bumbly blustering Wednesday here in the Duz, I had quite a productive day; which is a surprising thing. In addition to the graduate school essays that I finally finished, I caught up with my work and all that goes along with it. I am convinced this productivity was brought about by the misty fog that rolled in this morning. I couldn't see further than 20 feet outside my window until about 1:00pm today. When I looked up a half hour later, there was a perfectly clear blue sunny sky, complete with the Disney-esque scene with birds chirping happily.

There hasn't been much happening recently, with the exception of graduate school and job applications. I felt like Santa's gift was a huge shove into the real world... depressing. But the real world is kind of ok. The responsibility is both constraining and freeing at the same time. Alas, I digress. Work has been keeping me busy.  You see, Turkey's education system is quite different than ours. A year before they begin study in their department, they are required to study for a year in "Hazirlik" - basically university prep, but only for English. Students must take a full year of English before they can begin university. Suffice it to say that the general motivation is pretty low- they spend the entire previous year studying for their equivalent of the SAT's- except that the test score they receive is the only factor that gets them into college. Can you imagine that kind of pressure? So now, my students are preparing for exam week. They have a placement exam, a listening exam, a grammar exam, a reading and writing exam and a speaking exam. All in one week. Midterms were painful to watch- half of the kids just gave up, and when they came in for their speaking exams, they were shaking. Poor kids. Lately, life has consisted of preparing my kids for the exams, preparing the actual exams themselves and fitting graduate school and a social life in between. But I made it to the end of the week!

Today is Friday, the day before the epic celebration of the coming year. I honestly cannot believe that a whole year has passed. This past year, I traveled to California twice, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel. I graduated college, I got a Fulbright, my sister got engaged and I am an adult. Yeesh. I have now been in Turkey for a full four months and ready to ring in this year with all the glamor it deserves! About 30 Fulbrighters and I are renting a boat to sail the Bosphorus for a few hours tomorrow night. 30 people. 1 boat. New Years. Bring it on.  

So I leave you all today with a beautiful reminder for reflection I got in my email this morning: 

"As you approach the start of a New Year, reflect back on the past one to see how you've grown and what issues still block your way to a deeper transformation. Has there been a theme during this past year and do you see a pattern for your future challenges?"

As the Turks say, yeni yil kutlu olsun! (Happy New  Years!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Our Christmas Party

the teachers
My Christmas Miracle

a little Christmas spirit

Our beautiful Christmas brunch

Merry Christmas from Turkey

the star

oh what could it be?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

White Christmas

If I am being completely honest, this month has been extremely difficult for me. I have now been away longer than I ever have without coming back home. The Christmas season just isn't the same. I miss the carolers and the spirit and the crazies who camp out 24 hours ahead of opening times on Black Friday.

All week, I have been checking the weather forecast. I have been a bit compulsive. I convinced myself that it would snow for me on Christmas. I kept crossing my fingers while the forecasts grew increasingly dismal. Talking to friends and family celebrating back home really sets in the homesickness. So, today, in the gloomy, gray-smeared sky of Duzce, I decided to head out of the apartment and run some last minute errands to prepare for our Christmas brunch we are hosting tomorrow. I was a bit down in the dumps because of the rainy weather when I looked up from my feet slushing through the wet sidewalks and saw SNOW! If any of you are from Florida, you can imagine my excitement. Snow. Snow. Snow. The first time that it has snowed in my tiny town in Turkey was on Christmas Eve! I took this is a godly blessing! I keep telling myself to remember that the spirit of Christmas is not where you are, but the loved ones you are with. So as I walked in the freezing outdoors, I couldn't help but burst out into the full three minute song of White Christmas. Did I care that passers by thought I was crazy? Absolutely not. The weird American was singing Christmas songs referring to snow in her black coat and galoshes and her white, clear, umbrella. And that weird American, in that moment, turned a months worth of disappointment and sadness of being away from home, into pure joy. The flakes were the biggest, whitest flakes I have ever seen: the kind where the child in you can't help but stick out your tongue and throw your head back! The three hours of beautiful, white, pure and magical snow made my Christmas amazingly special.

So dear loved ones around the world, I wish you a Merry Christmas from Duzce, a place that surprised me with my very first White Christmas :) May our perspectives be challenged this next year. May we look at the ones we love and see the very best in them, and recognize the best in ourselves. May we spread love and truth, instead of hate and slander. Let's celebrate this day with all the love we've got.  I plan to. Sending all my love.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to being a Minority

In America I blend. I am WASPy, blonde haired, blue eyed and was raised in a Christian household in Palm Beach. Does it get anymore stereotypical? I worked hard to distinguish myself from the same WASPy Palm Beach girl I was afraid of becoming. It wasn't the world I chose to grow up in, and I was constantly looking for new adventures to experience new parts of the world outside of the Palm Beach bubble. This year, that adventure is Turkey. As most of you know, I am on a Fulbright Fellowship in a small conservative town in Turkey called Duzce. Every single person I have met in my town is Sunni Muslim, with the exception of my roommate, who is Shiite, my other American Fulbrighter is who Christian and our friend from Belgian who is also Christian. But, we are all foreigners. Here, I stand out. I am always asked where I am from, and am usually welcomed with big smiles and homes bursting with food. The Christmas Season however, has been very different, and quite frankly extremely difficult for me. Being away from home is hard enough. This is my first Christmas alone, and it just plain sucks. I'm sure I'll have a nice time, but being away from familiy is certainly not ideal.

I digress. Here, like I said, I am noticed. I am an obvious minority. This isn't always a bad thing. In fact, with strangers, it is a great conversation starter. An opportunity to bridge cultural gaps. That was why I applied for a Fulbright in the first place. But as I begin to live my life, really live my life and truly integrate into the community, I feel as though I am drifting further and further away. My students always ask me, "Teacher, do you drink alcohol? Teacher do you have a boyfriend? Teacher are you Muslim?" When I reply no to the first question, they say "I don't believe you." When I reply no to the second question they drop it. It just isn't their business and they know it. But the third question is different. When I answer "no" to being a Muslim, they give me a look of pity and say...oh, which is accompanied with a look of sincere sadness and pity. When politics are brought up, I am apparently solely responsible for all America's political policies. I have to hear things like "American military kills babies. Americans are wrong in Iraq. Americans all love George Bush. Americans all drink alcohol on Christmas." My responses must be carefully chosen. For many, I am their only personal link to the 'Western World.' To read more, see my old post, about tough questions I get asked daily.   The longer I stay, and the more integrated I become, the harder it gets. Once you get past the superficial differences, the tough questions begin.

Which brings us up to speed to the current problem. Tas and I decided to host a Christmas party for our university students. You know, to learn about the Christmas traditions in America, sans  religiosity. We have been disappointed with the number of students interested, though. And we finally were informed as to why. There have been several people who have expressed the feeling that coming to a Christmas party would be wrong, as Muslims. This idea at first struck me as odd. Every language class that I was ever in, we always learned about their holidays and traditions, as it is very integral in every culture. Here, some students feel that it would be inappropriate to celebrate. There is a saying in Turkish "if you do as they do, you are as they are." I can definitely respect their opinions, especially from a religious point of view, but am sad that I am unable to share a part of my culture. Here, I am the minority. Here, I am out of the loop. Here, I hold no trump card. Here, life is different.
I can honestly say that until this year, truly, I didn't understand the minority struggle: the perspective you are forced to see. The ignorance that persists, and is often times pushed into your face, in the form of questions, and sometimes, as confrontations. It is only now, living, working and fighting for understanding as a minority, that I have begun to understand. To read just the opposite point of view, my roomie Tas, has beautifully phrased her own story: in the Frustration of No Longer Being a Minority.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one, guys.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

So Slow

In Turkey, there is a thing. A thing that tourists may not notice at first. It wasn't something that caught my attention immediately. On the contrary, I found it quite relaxing. It is only now, after working here for three months, that I start to notice frustration. Everything is slow.

Nothing is rushed. Perhaps with the exception of building construction. But, for example, Tas, Umit Hoca and his friend Ali and I drove to Konya to see the Mevlana festival celebrating the famous poet Rumi. We stopped at three different places to clean our car windows. Each time took 15 minutes. I have no idea why windows are so crucial. There is 100% visibility yet there is an unstoppable urge to clean the windows- which of course, in total, adds a good hour to any trip. It is the same when you take a bus. Around 1 or 2am, if you are on a bus in Turkey, and there are many overnight buses, there is a thirty minute break for them to bathe the outside of the bus. The bus isn't really the issue. It is a microcosmic example of the larger trend of inefficiency. Things get done when they get done. There are timetables, but they are more of a suggestion. It's not that nothing runs, it is just inefficiently run. Everywhere you go, you must stop for tea. There is little communication and expected times of completion or arrival are fairy tale guesstimates. Meh. It is, I suppose, an American per-disposition to expect highly efficient processes- to become dependent on timetables and schedules and things running on time. Maybe this is some powerful life lesson: that the American way may be great for business and success but life isn't meant to be rushed. The little moments are meant to be enjoyed slowly. Life is luscious. And ironically, the slow lusciousness of life has slipped into mine- this blog took me an hour and a half...stopping, starting, resting, thinking, talking. Everything is slow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


So between my wild hand gestures and awkward imitations of the actions I am generally trying to portray, my Turkish isn't all that bad. I generally am able to get my point across. Although, it is the constant source of both joy and sincere frustration in my life. Many things I would like to communicate politely come out extremely direct. When speaking to colleagues, the rector of the University or just my nut guy (the person I by nuts from every week), I am sure that I sound like a child. Alas, I am speaking. But my vocabulary probably reaches a 4th grade level. Below are some examples that highlight this daily situation:

I need the bathroom. (Instead of, may you point me in the direction of the bathroom, please?)
I want a soda. (Instead of, Can I please order a soda?)
Why are you here? (Instead of, Oh! I'm so surprised to see you! What brings you here?)
I don't like it. (Instead of, It's not really my thing.)

And for all you linguistic junkies, who like myself, have a serious fascination with the way language shapes perception and provides insight into cultural nuances, here are some fun little Turkish examples that I liked. Enjoy. 

brother= kardeş ---- kar=the womb and des=sharing a brother is one who shares the womb

comrade=yoldaş ----- yol=way and das= sharing a comrade is one shares the same way, or path 

to be born=doğmak  ---- In Turkish, to be born is, in translation, "I borned." In Turkish, the one is who is the babt is active. As in, I am birthing my way out of the womb. I am the one doing all the action. The mother is the passive participant. There is a whole different verb for the part the mother does (the pushing part). Another example where two different concepts show two slightly different perspectives of the same situation.

I honestly believe that languages hold the key to healing the worlds misconceptions and simultaneously opening the door to eventual understanding. The Eskimo's for example have dozens of words for snow. When we look outside during winter, we see, only snow. One word. Snow. Maybe slush. Another example? English, unlike many other languages, only has one word for love. You love your brother and you love your dog and you love your lover. But in so many other languages, there are different concepts engrained into the language describing, and ultimately defining for you, different kinds of love. Imagine being able to claim you are in a relationship with someone, instead of "seeing them" or "dating them" or "just having..ya know... a thing." The way we express ourselves spills over into our actions, our perceptions, and even more recently, to an alarmingly quick rate, to other cultures. Other cultures see ours through our movies, or television and our magazines. Imagine what they see. English is quickly becoming the lingua-franca of the world, and everyone is expressing themselves in English. But we've got ourselves a hodge-podge language, stealing from Germanic, French, Greek and Latin words, not to mention countless others. Remembering that other perspectives exist is critical in this ever-changing, blog-updating, twitter refreshing kind of world.

For a mind-blowing read, check out this article on "Does Language Influence Culture?". When all these things go unnoticed,  undiscovered, and overlooked, that is the very point where cultural and linguistic misconceptions are birthed. It is the crux of both the problem and the solution.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans peeked their curious little heads out of their caves and thought, "well dang...I better just do it." The world changed. Then there were the nomads, who got bored. So they thought, "hey, there's gotta be something beyond this river. Maybe I'll just take a quick look." That kind of out-of-the-box thinking has carried on through the generations. The explorers, the scientists, the astronauts, the nomads. Throughout the generations, discovery has been an essential component of development, of pushing the boundaries of the unknown.

Now, our generation, the kids who remember the first computers, who woke up to Saturday morning cartoons on ABC Saturdays, who remember pogs and pokemon and hair scrunchies, we are the generation with the power to change the world. We are the transition generation. We are the link to the world before computers and twitter and cellphones and the world now. But, this post is not about how amazing our potential is. It is about the transitioning world, and our place in it. There is a new culture of 'the shrinking world' which tells us we are in the information age, we know so much more about other cultures, languages and practices because of the internet and other forms of media. But what they don't mention is that things really haven't changed.

I am in the process of writing a book, a travel guide for the new generation, of sorts. Our generation, backpacking through Europe, teaching English abroad, volunteering on sustainable farms across the world, we are the modern day nomads. Instead of sheep herders and clans packing up to head to greener pastures, we are taking the step of traveling, going outside of our comfort zones and documenting our world adventures through journals, blogs, photos, and Facebook. We are documenting these experiences to share with the world, and to assist in the process of, of course, spreading more information.

The modern day nomads come in every shape, size and color. We are the people are break barriers. We are the people to introduce ourselves to someone who has never met an American, we are the people who eat tongue or intestines and enjoy it, we are the ones who learn the cultural dialect no one else speaks, we are the ones who are changing the world. Never staying in one place, the desire to experience the new, the unknown is unquenchable. Packing up and landing in the next place, the modern day nomads are a continuation of the nomadic developments since the beginning of time. We, however, are different in one very important way. We've got Facebook. ha. Just kidding. But really, we have the ability to spread our new-found knowledge, self and cultural awareness to others. Understanding is the only way to stop war, suffering, stereotypes and misinformation. So, fellow nomads, lead well, learn much, and share what you've learned so the world can learn with you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Turkish Eccentricities

  • there aren't ever any schedules- everything is more of a guesstimate
  • Turks are obsessed with their cars, but most especially their windshields, which are stopped and clean numerous times (6x) on a normal road trip-- buses too
  • you cannot order a piece of dessert, you order by the amount of money you want to spend. For example, you say, I want 1TL worth of baklava
  • people are offended if you wear seat belts in their car
  • Everyone lives with their parents until they get married, it is very much the norm, and not the exception
  • It seems every upper-middle class family in Ankara owns a golden retriever (no other dogs are seen except golden retrievers) 
  • talking on modes of public transportation is highly frowned upon. In fact, I usually am shhshhed
  • chai (tea that is) is basically a requirement- drinking six glasses a day is a normal thing
  • everyone has a "teze" an "aunt" to watch over them, scold them, and of course, cook for them 
  • vanilla extract is a powder, and called vanilla sugar
  • Christmas is celebrated as New Years (on Jan. 1- the Turks say they are celebrating Christmas, trees and all
  • in Turkish, "to sit" is "to live/reside"
  • water is delivered to your door in gallon jugs because we don't drink the tap water
  • sometimes our water is brown, like mud brown. it is very gross
  • city wide power outages are common and occur frequently. No on seems to be bothered or unnerved by them
  • all men have murses (man-purses) to carry their cell phones, cigarettes and wallets
Well this list is certainly not exhaustive. But one of the most beautiful things about a culture are the small differences you find, that are nearly imperceptible, but speak volumes louder than words. The Turkish culture is one of the most beautiful I have encountered, and the people here are endlessly charitable and helpful. But, from time to time, I can't help noticing our differences, though small they may be. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa on a boat?

Tonight was full of Santa Claus education for me. Our Belgian friend, Victoria, surprised us with a St. Nicholas feast. In Belgium, Santa comes to the kids on a steam boat, from Spain. He brings oranges and chocolates. He comes with his helper, called Black Peter, who is black because of the soot after sliding down the chimney. But originally, Black Peter came from the moors of Spain. The children leave their shoes out by the fire, and in the morning there are chocolates in the shoes. They also leave a bowl of water and a carrot for Santa's horse- there is no sleigh or reindeer, that is an American tradition.

In Turkey, Santa Claus is merely an American figure representing the Christmas holiday. However, in Turkey, if you ask a Turk if they celebrate Christmas, they would say yes. The Turks celebrate "Christmas" on New Years. They are the same thing. They decorate trees for New Years with ornaments and twinkle lights. It took me twenty minutes to explain the difference between Christmas and New Years to my students. Here, they are the same entity. It was only when I brought up the religiosity of Christmas did it make sense to them. Though, as Tas explained, in America, there are really two Christmas's- the religious one, and the commercial one.

But, the Santa Claus of all our childhoods came from a town in south central Turkey. So, it all comes full circle. I am celebrating the American religious version of Christmas in the birthplace of St. Nicholas, a hop-skip and a jump away from the original birthplace of Jesus in what is today, Palestine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Whirling Dervish Festival

The Mevlana Festival, known to us English speakers as the festival celebrating the acclaimed poet and philosopher, Rumi, was one whirlwind of a weekend, pun intended. We left Duzce at 6am with two friends and a little white car. Because of the cold front that came through, the drive was slow, avoiding icy patches up the road on the mountain and taking care of heavy fog. Six stops to clean the windshield, one car-swap in Ankara and 8 hours later, we finally made it to Konya. We drove all that way for the Mevlana Festival, the largest global festival devoted to the Sufi's. Konya is the sight of Rumi/Mevlanas burial and the majority of the later part of his life. First stop was meeting the other Fulbrighters and dropping off our stuff at their adorably 1970's deco apartment provided by their university. I can't tell you how nice it is sometimes to just speak English without trying. No having to explain jokes or watch your words or actions. We could just let loose and be silly. We grabbed lunch together at this great place in Konya, famous for their etli-etmek, a dish of flat bread with sprinkled herbs and ground beef. Twas quite delicious, though I only snuck a bite because of the whole bread allergy thing. What a drag.

We visited the Mevlana museum, which houses Rumi's tomb. It was magnificent. Never have I stood in front of a grave and felt a sense of holiness like I did that way. The simplistic majesty of his tomb and the near tangible religiosity wafting through the air was inspiring. As we left the museum, and tried to keep warm from the bitter cold eating through our jackets, we were lucky enough to witness a lunar eclipse. A baby slice of a red moon appeared from darkness, and became brighter, fuller and more yellow over the course of about twenty minutes. That was a first in my life. Never have I ever seen a lunar eclipse.

It was, I suppose a fortuitous evening. After watching our eclipse, we walked to the 8:00 showing of the whirling dervishes. Inside Turkey, from coast to coast, tickets were sold out. And this is only the second biggest weekend. The grand finally is December 17, but this weekend was also huge, celebrating his marriage and wedding. Sufi's from all over the world were in attendance, from Asian to Turkish to all kinds of Arabs. It was a beautiful mix. We sat down and waited for the world famous show to begin. It is, after all, the birthplace of the whirling dervishes, and is most famous for them. We had high expectations. But, being a ceremony and all, we were enterained by two MC's, a band, a singer and three speakers for a good hour in Turkish. About twenty minutes in, my focus was shot. I was bored and anxious to see the show. It finally began. I wouldn't do it justice by using my words, so I tried to record video for you all to see. It is of the beginning, middle and end. Both the beginning and end involve beautifully blended instrumental accompaniments and a prayer. It was inspiring to say the least.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Deco in the Duz

the beginning of our holiday spirit !

Time honored tradition of hanging ornaments

our lil' tree: presents under the tree...

The apartment :) Lights, garland, and tree going up

gettin crafty for christmas

The culmination of hours slaving over a perfect tree...
Placing the final star

Ta Da!
 Though I truly miss the craziness of the holiday season, there is something beautiful about celebrating so simply. We make peppermint mocha's and boil Cinnamon to bring in smells of the holidays. We have Christmas music playing all hours of the day. And, every morning, I've taken to sitting and watching the Christmas lights. There is something mesmerizing about it. When I was little, I used to lay under the center of the tree and watch the lights twinkle for hours. It never gets old.Now, I just have to send Santa my list! :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Today I was invited to observe another teachers class. So, I crept in the class, hoping to observe but was thrust into the spotlight when one of my favorite teachers encouraged his students to ask me questions. At first, they were shy asking things like "Do you like Turkey?" and "why don't Americans like soccer?" But after the inital introduction, I encouraged them to ask real questions, things they were curious about. Bad idea. The questions include, but aren't limited to.
  • Do you agree with the War in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Do you know what your President is doing?
  • Do you think Americans are terrorists for killing innocent people?
  • What do you think of Turkish-American relations
I was so taken aback. I know my students don't agree with much of the American foreign policies, but I was shocked at the depth and intensity of their questions. I tried to answer to the best of my knowledge. But, just like in America, the media only portrays what they want to of America. They see our foreign policies in place, see the consequences firsthand, watch our movies about teen parties, pregnant teenagers and rich people throwing away money like it is nothing. So, as I tried to remain impartial and  fulfill my roles as both teacher and American answering those questions, I coolly responded. I asked them how they define terrorism. They responded with killing innocent people. Which took us into a debate about the affects of war and the implications it has for humanity. (Keep in mind this is the highest level class at my university.) It was quite an interesting debate. It took us to the conversation of American politics. Many people don't know about our political system, the fact that we have two parties vying for power positions and who oppose certain policies. After I explained that Americans are pretty much split on the war, Democrats and Republicans aside, they started to cool down. Their perception was that all Americans love money and hence are ok with killing people for oil. (Their logic, not mine.) I felt so attacked, so unready to give the answers these kids should hear and know that the world is not what they see on the television. But I ended with something like - I am not the president. I vote, but in the end, the choices are mostly up to the politicians. The important thing to remember is that there is a difference between people and politics. You absolutely cannot judge a country based on its political leaders anymore than you can judge a book by its cover. I think this is something that we, as human beings, need to be reminded of from time to time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the most religious?

Below is an article I found highly thought provoking. Though I disagree with the authors on a few points, they present an interesting argument. Their premise: Conflict, theology and history make Muslims 'more religious.' Hmm. My first thought was 'how can you comparatively analyze degrees of peoples religiosity?' You can represent degrees of adherence to religious codes. But to make a scale for defining religiosity, to me, is a pompous idea. Isn't that the job of a god? 

The study that the CNN article quotes is largely analyzing data from the three major Muslim countries: Saudi Arabic, Indonesia and Turkey, where I am currently living. See below, the underlined paragraph for the authors reflections on Turkey, and mine at the end. 
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
(CNN) – Every religion has its true believers and its doubters, its pious and its pragmatists, but new evidence suggests that Muslims tend to be more committed to their faith than other believers.
Muslims are much more likely than Christians and Hindus to say that their own faith is the only true path to paradise, according to a recent global survey, and they are more inclined to say their religion is an important part of their daily lives.
Muslims also have a much greater tendency to say their religion motivates them to do good works, said the survey, released over the summer by Ipsos-Mori, a British research company that polls around the world.
Islam is the world's second-largest religion - behind Christianity and ahead of Hinduism, the third largest. With some 1.5 billion followers and rising, Islam's influence may be growing even faster than its numbers as the Arab Spring topples long-reigning secular rulers and opens the way to religiously inspired political parties. But while there's no doubt about the importance of Islam, experts have different theories about why Muslims appear to be more religious than members of other global faiths - and contrasting views on whether to fear the depth of Muslims' commitment to their faith.
One explanation lies in current affairs, says Azyumardi Azra, an expert on Islam in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim majority country.
Many Muslims increasingly define themselves in contrast with what they see as the Christian West, says Azra, the director of the graduate school at the State Islamic University in Jakarta.
"When they confront the West that they perceive or misperceive as morally in decline, many Muslims feel that Islam is the best way of life. Islam for them is the only salvation," he says. That feeling has become stronger since the September 11 attacks, as many Muslims believe there is a "growing conflict between Islam and the so-called West," he says.
"Unfortunately this growing attachment to Islam among Muslims in general has been used and abused by literal-minded Muslims and the jihadists for their own purposes," he says.
But other experts say that deep religious commitment doesn't necessarily lead to violence.
"Being more religious doesn't necessarily mean that they will become suicide bombers," says Ed Husain, a former radical Islamist who is now a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
In fact, Husain argues that religious upbringing "could be an antidote" to radicalism.
The people most likely to become Islamist radicals, he says, are those who were raised without a religious education and came to Islam later, as "born-agains." Muslims raised with a grounding in their religion are better able to resist the distortions of Islam peddled by recruiters to radical causes, some experts like Husain argue, making them less likely to turn to violence. But he agrees that Muslims are strongly attached to their faith, and says the reason lies in the religion itself.
"Muslims have this mindset that we alone possess the final truth," Husain says.
Muslims believe "Jews and Christians went before us and Mohammed was the last prophet," says Husain, whose book "The Islamist" chronicles his experiences with radicals. "Our prophet aimed to nullify the message of the previous prophets."
The depth of the Muslim commitment to Islam is not only a matter of theology and current events, but of education and history, as well, other experts say.
"Where religion is linked into the state institutions, where religion is deeply ingrained from childhood, you are getting this feeling that 'My way is the only way,'" says Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, a conflict-resolution organization in London.
The Ipsos-Mori survey results included two countries with a strong link between religion and the state: Legally Muslim Saudi Arabia, which calls itself the guardian of Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina; and Indonesia, home of the world's largest Muslim population.
 The third majority Muslim country in the study is Turkey, which has a very different relationship with religion. It was founded after World War I as a legally secular country. But despite generations of trying to separate mosque and state, Turkey is now governed by an Islam-inspired party, the AKP.
Turkey's experience shows how difficult it can be to untangle government and religion in Muslim majority countries and helps explain the Muslim commitment to their religion, says Azyumardi Azra, the Indonesia expert.
He notes that there has been no "Enlightenment" in Islam as there was in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, weakening the link between church and state in many Christian countries.
"Muslim communities have never experienced intense secularization that took place in Europe and the West in general," says Azra. "So Islam is still adhered to very strongly."
But it's not only the link between mosque and state in many Muslim majority countries that ties followers to their faith, says professor Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat who has written a book about Islam around the world.
Like Christians who wear "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, many Muslims feel a deep personal connection to the founder of their faith, the prophet Muhammad, he says.
Muhammad isn't simply a historical figure to them, but rather a personal inspiration to hundreds of millions of people around the world today.
"When a Muslim is fasting or is asked to give charity or behave in a certain way, he is constantly reminded of the example set by the prophet many centuries ago," argues Ahmed, the author of "Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization."
His book is based on interviews with Muslims around the world, and one thing he found wherever he traveled was admiration for Muhammad.
"One of the questions was, 'Who is your role model?' From Morocco to Indonesia, it was the prophet, the prophet, the prophet," says Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. But while Ahmed sees similar patterns across the Islamic world, Ed Husain, the former radical, said it was important to understand its diversity, as well. "There is no monolithic religiosity - Muslims in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are following different versions of Islam," says Husain. "All we're seeing (in the survey) is an adherence to a faith."
Political scientist Farid Senzai, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, raised questions about the survey's findings.
"Look at the countries that are surveyed - Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey," he says. "There are about 300 million Muslims in those three countries, (who make up) about 20% of Muslims globally."
Islam is "incredibly important" in Saudi Arabia, he says.
"But in Tunisia or Morocco you could have had a different result. It would have been nice if they had picked a few more Arab countries and had a bit more diversity," says Senzai.
The pollster, Ipsos-Mori, does monthly surveys in 24 countries, three of which are majority Muslim – Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. The other countries range from India to the United States, and Mexico to South Korea, and are the same each month, regardless of the subject the pollsters are investigating. In the survey released in July, about six in 10 Muslims in the survey said their religion was the only way to salvation, while only a quarter of Hindus and two out of 10 Christians made that claim about their own faiths.
More than nine out of 10 Muslims said their faith was important in their lives, while the figure was 86% for Hindus and 66% for Christians. Ipsos-Mori surveyed 18,473 adults via an online panel in April and released the findings in July. Results were weighted to make the results as representative as possible, but the pollster cautioned that because the survey was conducted online, it was harder to get representative results in poorer countries where internet access is not widespread.
CNN polling director Keating Holland also warns that in an "opt-in" survey, where respondents actively choose to participate, results tend to come from "people who are confident in their opinions and express them openly... not good for intensely private matters like faith or income or sex."
Online surveys in countries that are not entirely free are also open to the possibility that pollsters get "the approved response" in those nations, "where the people who are most likely to be willing to talk about such matters are the ones who hold, or at least verbalize, opinions that won't get them in trouble if they are expressed," Holland says.
That may have been an issue in Saudi Arabia, where respondents were given the choice of not answering questions on religion due to their potential sensitivity in the kingdom. The Saudi sample was the smallest, with 354 participants, meaning "findings for Saudi Arabia must be treated with caution," Ipsos-Mori said.
Muslims in different countries were committed to their faith for different reasons, he says."Saudi Arabia is an institutionally religious state. Indonesia has religion tied into its culture," says Mughal.
But Muslim immigrants to Europe also show strong ties to their religion, either as a defense mechanism in the face of a perceived threat, or because of an effort to cling to identity, he contends.
He detects a link between insular communities and commitment to faith regardless of what religion is involved. It is prevalent in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but he has seen it among Israeli Jews as well, he says.
"The Israeli Jewish perspective is that (the dispute with the Palestinians) is a conflict of land and religion which are integrally linked," Mughal says.
"What does play a role in that scenario is a sense of isolationism and seclusion in Israeli Jewish religious communities, a growing trend to say, 'Our way is the only way,'" he says.
Religious leaders of all faiths need to combat those kinds of attitudes because of the greater diversity people encounter in the world today, he argues. But Senzai, the political scientist, says that it's also important for the West to take the Muslim world on its own terms. "Many Muslims want religion to play a role in politics," he says. "To assume that everyone around the world wants to be like the West - that they want liberal secular democracy - is an absurd idea."
– CNN's Nima Elbagir and Atika Shubert contributed to this report.
(for the full article, see the webpage) 

·      My thoughts? The intensity of Islam in the daily lives of its followers merits reflection. It is important to notice that the major difference between Islam & Judaism versus Christianity & the other major religions.  The legal code given to the people to uphold is one of the most important differences that is affecting the world today. The Christians were told come as you are, flaws and all, and were given a relatively flexible set of suggestions to lead a moral life. But the Jews were given their commandments, there mitzvahs and the religious duties to follow. Islam is similar, providing a code of moral conduct to be carried out daily. Examples are five prayers a day, interrupting what we would call a normal life. For the Jews, no pork and resting on Sabbath. The Christians have few laws like this. And if they do exist, they are buried somewhere in the Vatican, and clearly not part of the current culture of the Christian faith. However, the author goes on to say. "He detects a link between insular communities and commitment to faith regardless of what religion is involved. It is prevalent in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but he has seen it among Israeli Jews as well, he says."  This statement also reflects what is historically accurate. The Jews preserved Hebrew, a dead language, and revived it, because of the insular communities they lived in throughout the centuries because of persecution. Minorities tend to hold strongest to their faith and culture, as a duty to pass it on to the coming generations. This idea of intense religiosity is just as strong for the Jews as it is for the Muslims. The integration of religious and cultural symbols into governmental organizations and the national consciousness is undeniable, both in Israel and in Egypt. This is significant because of the production of a generation of religiously conscious individuals, raised in a culture where religiosity is blended into daily life. This (as the author suggests) develops an unbalanced perception of us versus them. National consciousness produces certain identifiable cultural and, in this case, religious symbols with which to identify. Those who do not identify with these symbols are outsiders. 
·      So why don't you and I make it a bit easier to bring about world peace? Polarizing our world will only lead to more destruction. An "us" versus "them" mentality is the opposite of what we need. If the west is the ultimate symbol of moral degradation, maybe we should reconsider how we present ourselves and our culture to the world. What does the rest of the world see of us? Sex, beautiful girls, easy lives, shopping, drugs, drama, lots of money. How accurately does that reflect your life? I would hope, not much. My ultimate goal is to promote the understanding between the east and west; to find the common links; and accept our differences as a beautiful thing, not as a reason to rise up against.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Land of Safron

On the way to Safranbolu on a sleepy Saturday morning in December, coming from the Duzce highway through Karabuk, we drove through plains full of African safari trees- the kind from the Lion King- where we passed through a huge canyon surrounded by cliffs looming up and up, high above our heads, gigantically high. We passed through Karabuk, famous for its god-ugly steel mills. We we passed it, we mused about a looked like something you'd see in an old western movie- a wooden building with down-sloping wooden walkways. It is huge, and god, so ugly. The city of Karabuk emits an aura of old world; its highlights being crumbling buildings and thick smoke stacks rising in the distance. It's ugliness is even greater defined by about four brand new buildings rising above, and in stark contrast to, the oldness of the this sleep old world city.

Though when you reach Safranbolu, your curiosity at such a place as Karabuk turns into wonderment as you drive through the windy roads of old Safranbolu. Once upon a time, it was a place where the residents of the nearby neighborhoods overflowing with vineyards came to be sheltered for the winter season. Now, it is famous for its well preserved Ottoman houses dating to the 1800's and a popular weekend getaway for Turks. These old dark brown houses supported with horizontal and diagonal wooden beams and plastered with a white paste, giving the houses the look of ancient gingerbread houses settled within the protection of the surrounding mountains. This weekend I spent time traveling through such a picturesque city filled with historical visits to ancient houses, buckets of saffron flavored lokum (Turkish delight!) and shopping through the seemingly endless districts of antiques and chochky souvenirs. It was quite a weekend of marathon shopping. We bought too much, including but not limited to kilos of Turkish delight, handmade lace dresses, postcards, rose-saffron jelly, saffron spices, wooden toys...the list goes on. But wandering around the city so much, we saw a great deal of its back alleyways and its surrounding hills highlighting the panoramic views of the region. We were outside from just about dawn till sunset, making the most of our short winter days. Around sunset on Saturday, we headed to the hamam. The hamam ladies looked rather un-enthused to see us when we walked in, which is quite unusual. We ordered "the works" with the long massage. The argued, telling us the long massage was "cok para" = a lot of money. Everything, with a short massage was 35TL. So we asked, how much money for the long massage. She looked at me and said 40TL. We were a bit confused, but we went to our stall to prepare for the hamam when our lady opened our changing room door and pulling down her pants halfway showed us that we needed to wear undies with a little smack of her bottom. Giggling, we followed her through the three different doors into to the heart of the hamam. (to keep the steam and heat in) We sat on the the low benches surrounding the circular room and filled our basins with water, enjoying the luxury of pouring water of our heads for a good hour. (If only this was possible in America!) Then the scrub-down began. My masseur literally scrubbed my skin raw. I almost cried. My skin was red for a good twelve hours afterwards. But, does my skin feel like a babies bottom? You betcha it does! Two hours of pure relaxation, a few tears and an amazing sauna experience later.

Sunday, we woke up late, dug into our traditional Turkish breakfast provided by the lovely owners of the Efe Guest Pensiyon. The best part was the fresh strawberry jelly and the rose petal jelly. Mmm mm good. We finished up the rest of our sight seeing and headed home. The only disappointment. The tourist map we were given indicates the presence of a castle- so we hiked all the way up to see it, where we were sad to find military headquarters and an old barn- aka- castle, where they store the guns now. Overall, it was a lusciously relaxing girl weekend. Two days of meandering, shopping, bathing and eating. Like I said, lush.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Off We go

We are leaving for the land of Safronbolu. Guess what they are famous for?!? Safran! Which is incredibly expensive. We are also going to see well preserved houses from Ottoman times, eat lots of safran flavored lokum (I'm not joking!), a special kind of helva, go to one of the best hamams in Turkey and enjoy my weekend!

Updates upon my...return

Friday, December 2, 2011

Conversation with my Landlord

Sarah Kaiser-Cross
yay internet!!!! cok mutluyum  (I am very happy)
Metin Gözütok
I'm happy
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
ben de
Metin Gözütok
We waited, but we reached a very happy ending.
nasılsın? (How are you?)
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
cok yogunum (I am very tired, today was very long...)
gun cok uzundi
Metin Gözütok
dersler çok? (Were there alot of classes?)
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
evet (Yes, there was alot of work.)
cok is var
Metin Gözütok
lot of money in a lot of work :))))
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
haha istiyorum ama cok para yok  (I want but there isn't alot of money.)
Metin Gözütok
give private lessons in the evenings
özel ingilizce dersi (special English school)
private English lessons
can win a lot of money
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
i know, but in my contract, it is not allowed :(
Metin Gözütok
hıım oke
Give the secret
such work is done turkey
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
Metin Gözütok
Turks are fraudulent :P
joke :))
Sarah Kaiser-Cross
haha Metin - sen cok comik! (You are very funny!)

So this basically the conversation I had with my landlord about never having enough money. His suggestion? Lie. I almost died when he sent me this!! Enjoy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Christmas Season Abroad

Spending holidays abroad is like trying to get through Christmas morning blindfolded and without breakfast. Pardon the  analogy, but holidays abroad just aren't the same. Though lovely, the true essence of a holiday is those you spend it with. Without family, I feel like some of my senses have been cut off. However, I am lucky enough to have a surrogate kind of family over here in Turkey this year. But as the Christmas season approaches, there are an abundance of things that we Americans take for granted while abroad. Those ex-pats and study abroader's understand this...
 Things I really miss...
  • Peppermint for example. (Luckily, roomie bought a peppermint syrup thing at Starbucks! whew!)
  • the smell of Christmas trees
  • carolers, Christmas pageants
  • Black Friday reports of ridiuclous that always seems to top the year before
  • yummy holiday candle smells
  • decorating a Christmas tree
  • getting annoyed by Christmas carols playing non-stop on the radio, but secretly relishing every moment of it until about December 26...
  • driving through town taking in the Christmas lights on peoples much to decorate houses
  • gingerbread houses and all cookie making activities
  • Themed parties
  • Having a day off for Christmas
Things that make up for it...
  • I am living in Turkey...did I say that?!?
  • I am surrounded by some truly amazing friends 
  • Fresh, frenched-pressed coffee every morning
  • An amazing family that pre-sent me Christmas presents, just in case.
  • we boil cinammon sticks to extract the smell of Christmas yumminess and let it waft through the apartment
  •  teaching my friends here about Christmas and all our traditions
  • I will be experiencing my very first white Christmas! 
    • today, right on schedule, December 1st, brought our first thick frost that stuck :) Bring on the snowmen!

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