Istanbul’s Art Scene

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One of the things I love about Turkey is the constant presence of art, whether it’s in the form of paintings, drawings, handcrafts, pottery, music, or literature – you name it, it’s probably here.  Where I come from, there is fairly little emphasis on the arts.  It’s not that people from Kansas aren’t creative or artistic, but there is a strong sense of “you will never make a living off of this, so don’t bother” that can really stamp that kind of passion out of a person, even if you don’t plan on making a career out of it.  After more than 20 years of boring, rectangular buildings and almost no funding for anything that didn’t seem profitable, it’s so refreshing to be in a place where art and music are on every street and no two buildings look quite the same.

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MIXER, in all its locked up glory

My husband and I both love modern art and had completely failed to visit any art museums in Turkey all year, so we decided it was long overdue to check some out.  We planned our whole weekend around visiting several modern art museums around the Galata area, even booking our hotel within walking distance of our top picks…unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned.  Not one, but THREE of the museums on our list were closed when we arrived on site, despite us being there within the listed visiting hours.  There have been rumors about some of the museums being closed due to censorship, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  In either case, we were very disappointed after having walked several miles up and down hills and through many winding alleys for nothing.

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As we were walking back towards the main part of the neighborhood to deal with my growing “hanger” after walking for so long, something occurred to me:  just because the museum was closed did not mean I couldn’t experience Turkey’s modern art scene.  There is amazing street art on pretty much every street in the entire city.  While I certainly hope I am able to go back and actually see the museums (because it’s so, so important to support the arts if you can, people!), I’m happy to say I still got my fill of contemporary art and got a pretty good workout in the process.  The streets, it seems, will always belong to the people -and particularly the artists.

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Love Malala!  Also, I could actually read the Turkish on this one without looking it up.  Yay!

It wasn’t the weekend we had planned, but to be honest, I had a pretty awesome time wandering through the streets looking for hidden gems and also picking out gifts for family since summer is right around the corner (yikes!).  You could seriously plan a whole week around Istanbul’s street art and still probably not see everything.  I’m looking forward to checking out some different neighborhoods next time.  Istanbul is such a special city!

 

Burgazada: Island Paradise in Istanbul

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The enormous cityscape of Istanbul peeking through the fog

Fun Fact:  Thursday was a national holiday here in Turkey, albeit one I didn’t fully understand.  It has something to do with kids playing sports…but the important thing was the fact that we got the day off.  Yay!

Fun Fact #2:  Istanbul has islands!  It seems hard to believe when you’re in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Taksim Square or Sultanahmet, but there are several islands off the coast of Istanbul that are reachable by ferry several times each day.  The islands are locally known as  Adalar (which simply means “islands” in Turkish), and they make for a perfect little escape from the big city, especially on a nice day.

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Shenanigans on the ferry

Our original plan for Thursday was to catch up on some grading and maybe play a few rounds of League of Legends, but when our friends invited us to go to Burgazada – the third largest of the islands- with them, we thought that sounded like a much better plan.

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One super exciting part of the trip for me was seeing all the jellyfish!  It was the first time I’d ever seen them in their natural habitat (you know, since I grew up landlocked…), and though they are largely considered a nuisance because they make swimming on the island difficult, I was totally mesmerized by them.

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The ultimate reading nook

The tiny island was a lot more beautiful than I would have expected for being so close to such a sprawling city.  There were tons of beautiful, Ottoman style holiday homes stacked along the cliffs, most of which also had perfectly landscaped gardens.  We spent most of our time walking along the coast, trying to dodge the speeding carriages being pulled by malnourished horses (unfortunately, most of the horses on the island did not look well taken care of).

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The absolute highlight for all of us was this rocky beach, which was full of nice hiking and climbing spots over the water.  The sun was shining, the breeze was perfect, and the views from the top were spectacular.

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I love this candid picture my husband got of us all looking out the water, stacked at different heights.

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I also love this shot my friend took of me from the rock above.  Beautiful water!

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Nothing like a cliff and a day off to make you feel on top of the world.

After soaking up the sun for awhile, we decided to head back to the main part of the island to get some food.  We passed some horses on the way back, which my friends could not resist feeding some discarded sugar cubes they found on the ground nearby (probably from old cups of çay).

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It was all fun and games until they ran out of sugar.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat at a seafood restaurant, where we got ripped off (yabancı probs), but we didn’t even mind because it had been such a beautiful, relaxing day.  After exploring a few more nooks and crannies on the island, we grabbed the evening ferry back into Istanbul to prepare for a night of pizza, cookies, and general merriment.

I can’t wait to check out the rest of the Adalar!

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Heading back to the city

What’s in A Cup of (Turkish) Coffee?

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If you ever come to Turkey, you will soon become acquainted with Turkish Coffee, or as they call it, Türk kahvesi.  It is vastly different from what most Westerners consider to be coffee, so some people like it and others don’t so much.  I happen to be a HUGE coffee drinker and I love myself a good, strong cup of black coffee (which is a little hard to come by in Turkey), but luckily, Turkish Coffee has slowly started to grow on me.

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Turkish Coffee at Rixos in Eskisehir

Generally, Turkish coffee is served in a small coffee cup called a fincan with a side of Turkish Delight, otherwise known as lokum.  It is served in a small amount like an espresso and has a thick, somewhat gritty texture (which is what turns some people away from it) and a layer of foam on top.  It is also not the kind of coffee one can easily drink black.  I usually have at least 1/2 a cube of sugar in it.

I’ve been drinking Turkish Coffee pretty much since I got here, but only recently learned about the art of reading Turkish Coffee grounds when I noticed so many of the Turkish teachers doing it in the tea room at school.  Similar to reading tea leaves, Turks will look into their empty fincans for shapes and patterns left by the foam and coffee grounds to tell them what’s in store for their future.

Here’s just a quick little guide to reading your Turkish Coffee cup, just in case you  have access to Turkish Coffee and you’re interested in giving it a try:

Step 1:  Get your Türk kahvesi.  You can order it at a cafe or restaurant, or if you have a cezve, you can make it yourself.

Step 2:  Drink your coffee, but leave the grounds and just a tiny amount of the liquid to swirl them around.  I only mean a drop or two…otherwise it will all just fall out of the cup when you turn it over.

Step 3:  Put the small coffee plate over the top of your empty coffee cup and gently tip it over.  Leave the cup turned over on the plate for about five minutes.  The allows the remaining foam and grounds to drip down and dry up.

Step 4:  It’s time to predict your future.  When you look at your cup, you should see  some shapes and patterns, like so:

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In this particular cup, I noticed a mountain shape, which apparently means “a great ambition.”  The interpretation of symbols can vary according to the cup reader.  The best advice I’ve gotten is simply to have fun with it and think about what the symbols I find mean to me personally.

So far, I haven’t found any grims, so I guess I’m doing alright.  🙂

 

The Turkish Art of Construction-Watching

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After such a lovely vacation in Greece, it’s been hard to readjust to the ol’ grind back in Turkey.  This past week has simultaneously been slow and crazy trying to settle back into a bit of a routine for these last few weeks of school.

Even though I’ve been here for almost a year now (how is that even possible!?), I’m still learning something new about Turkey every day.  My most recent discovery is the traditional Turkish pastime of watching construction.  The school is currently undergoing some construction for a new Arts building (yay!), so there’s been a lot of digging, drilling, and demolition around here lately.  To me, it seemed like nothing special.  If anything, it was a bit of a nuisance to have to try to teach a class through all the racket.  The students, however, seemed fascinated by what was going on.  I had to coax my 10th graders away from the outside railing to actually come to class.

Initially I thought it was just a silly excuse for students to sit outside and duck out on a few minutes of class, but it turns out the love of watching construction is a legit thing here.  Even after classes, students were crowded in droves to watch all the action.  Even some of the cats were watching!  I finally had to ask what it was all about and the students explained that it was very normal for families to sit outside, drink some hot tea, and just watch construction.  It’s a soothing sight for many Turks.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the thought of sitting and watching a large yellow drilling machine tapping at a few measly bricks all day…to me it seemed just a notch above watching paint dry.  Still, I felt like I had to at least give it a try, so as the sun was setting, I stepped out to one of the balconies as the sun was setting to see what the hype was.  It turns out it was a pretty nice way to spend the evening, although to be fair, I think it was more about the nice weather and the sunset than it was about the drill.  Also, I didn’t have any tea handy, so I guess it wasn’t the full experience anyway.

Oh, Turkey.  Seni seviyorum!

Bursa

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As I mentioned in a previous post, we chilled out in Bursa for a couple days with our friends to get away from the stress and chaos of work.  Besides Uludağ, Bursa is also known for many historical sites, especially its mosques and tombs.

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Ulu Cami (Great Mosque)

Bursa was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire and many traces of that heritage remain in the city.  In the short bursts of time during which we were not climbing up mountains and playing board games until the crack of dawn, we managed to see some of the city.

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More than anything, we indulged in a ridiculous amount of good Turkish food, including the original Iskender.

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If it were up to me, I’d replace half of that meat with more of that delicious, smoky eggplant

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Best sahlep (hot orchid milk with cinnamon) I’ve had so far!

We also managed to run into a crowd of adorable school girls who were eager to practice their English skills. (“Hello, how are you?  Where are you from?  Bye bye!”)

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After one last glass of çay, it was time to hop on the bus (which in turn would hop onto a ferry…coolest route ever!) and head back to reality.

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Aboard the ferry

My biggest regret is that I didn’t make it to the Green Mosque before we left.  I guess that just means I’ll have to go back!

Ode to the Sun

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Nihayet güneş geldi

Derim ve keyifim ısıtır

Güneş çok seviyorum

 

Just a little haiku in Turkish to celebrate the return of the sun and warmer weather… as well as my progress in Turkish.  It’s 7-9-7 because Turkish words are super long, and I’m not 100% sure if it’s grammatically correct, but I’m going with it.

Uludağ – The Great Mountain

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After the longest and craziest week of duties I’ve had so far this year, it was time for another weekend escape.  Our whole yabanci family just so happened to have the whole weekend off at the same time (a true Turkish miracle), so we decided to go off on an adventure together.  We had a hard time deciding where to go (because there are just so many options in Turkey!), but settled on Bursa because it was relatively close and one of our friends knew where we could get a cheap apartment that would hold all six of us.

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The main event of this trip was Uludağ mountain, which literally translates as “great mountain”.  Uludağ is a common winter destination as it houses one of the largest ski resorts in the country.  While our initial plan was to go skiing, we didn’t think there would be enough snow for it since we’ve been having a lot of warm weather lately, so we just decided to enjoy the mountain for its views.  It turns out there was plenty of snow and it was absolutely freezing at the top, but I suppose that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20.  Next time, we’ll have to be more prepared because I saw some snowmobiles with my name on it.

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Nevertheless, the view alone was worth the trip.  It takes over an hour to get all the way to the top with the teleferik, even without stopping at the halfway point.  Though it was fairly warm and sunny at the bottom, the closer we got to the top, the more snow dusted the sea of pine trees below us became.  Coming from a place that is quite literally flatter than a pancake in some areas, Dakota and I were particularly stunned.  Needless to say, I took a lot of photos.

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Much fun was had!

 

 

Coming Up for Air

 

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Maybe it’s because the holidays have just passed.  Maybe it’s because the four month mark in a new country is a textbook point in the integration process.  Maybe  it’s because I’d rather write than think about the stack of research essays I still have to grade.  Whatever it is, I feel it’s time for some honest reflection on what it’s like to slowly dig yourself out of the massive hole that is culture shock.

I knew it was inevitable; at least, I thought I did.  Really, it was naive of me to think I knew anything at all about culture shock before actually experiencing it.  I tried to prepare myself beforehand, to rationalize it, hoping that if I did so, the effects would be minimal.  Of course, it didn’t help and it hit me even sooner than I expected.

After the first few weeks of soaking up all of the novelty, the honeymoon came to a screeching halt.  Suddenly, the feeling that I didn’t belong here and never would became overwhelming.  No matter how hard I was studying, it seemed like my Turkish wasn’t getting any better and that the shopkeepers were only getting more annoyed at my inability.  No matter how often I greeted or smiled at my Turkish co-workers, it still seemed obvious that many of them were keeping their distance because I was not one of them.  The bureaucracy, constant last-minute changes for literally everything, and the general feeling of isolation just kept piling up.  Everything felt personal, and on top of that, we were drowning in the insane workload of first-year teachers.  I was left feeling so disheartened; this wasn’t what I’d wanted or planned.  I felt cheated out of the magical world of teaching, travel, and adventure that I’d created in my head.  I kept questioning myself again and again…where had I gone wrong?  What had I missed?  All of the stress and anxiety took a major toll on me both mentally and physically.  I probably spent  at least half of my first two months here sick.

And then I started feeling guilty and stupid.  I scolded myself for not being grateful for the amazing opportunity I have.  I felt ashamed of myself for struggling when it seemed like so many people don’t struggle.  I didn’t even want to talk about it because the words felt silly and trivial coming out of my mouth.  It wasn’t until one of our friends here opened up about the same things that we were feeling that I realized it was more normal than I thought.  Even our friends who came here from other schools in Turkey had been struggling to adjust to the new school, which is a new culture in itself.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I felt the veil start to lift, but I think it was around Thanksgiving when I noticed a shift in myself.  It was like coming up to the surface after a long swim.  I felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin and in my surroundings.  When something random and unexpected would happen, I’d just  laugh and say “Turkiye’de hos geldiniz” instead of panicking.  I didn’t take the points and stares from strangers and the whispers of “yabanci” so personally anymore.  I realized that I really can do this and that it will get better…and it’s only gotten better since then.

I know that it isn’t over…these feelings of culture shock will come and go from time to time.  At least now I know that it’s normal, it’s okay, and I can deal with it.  Sometimes all you need is to talk about it, grab a cup of (American) coffee, or take a nice, solitary walk to reconnect with yourself.  A lot of solace can be found in little things.  I just wanted to put these words out there to get them off of my chest and to remind myself that it’s okay to talk about it.  I also hope that these words- should they find their way to someone who is dealing with or has dealt with these same feelings – bring some comfort and serve as a reminder that you’re not alone.

Goodbye U.S.A, Merhaba Türkiye

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Yes, I’m still alive.

It has been just over two weeks since I arrived in Turkey and it has been insane. Classes started just two days after we landed, so between lesson planning and jet lag, I haven’t had much time (or desire) to devote to writing.  With the beginning of the Kurban Bayramı (probably more commonly known as Eid in the U.S.), we have finally had a chance to catch our breath.  The students have just left for the holiday, and lessons won’t resume until the week after next, so I have finally had a chance to sit back, relax, and reflect on my first couple of weeks here.

The school

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This is where I have been spending most of my time, so this is the easiest thing for me to write about at the moment.  The campus is  breathtakingly beautiful.  You can see the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Marmara from every angle (including our bedroom window!) and the housing and facilities are reminiscent of a Mediterranean village, but with all of the modern conveniences.  My heart skips a beat every single time I walk by a window (which is quite often).

The students here are nothing short of brilliant.  This is a school specifically for gifted children and it has been a very eye-opening experience so far to teach students like this.  I teach primarily first-year students, which has been a blast.  The work I have to do in order to keep them properly challenged is 10 times harder than any time I’ve taught before, but it also feels very rewarding.  It is a pleasure to have such motivated and talented students…I hope they stay that way.

The language

The language barrier here has been more significant than I had anticipated.  While English is pretty commonly spoken around Istanbul, Gebze and the surrounding villages (where we live) are more traditional and industrial, and it is very difficult to find people who can speak English here.  While most of the students and staff speak English very well, getting around outside of the campus can be quite the challenge. We have plans after the holiday to arrange for one of the upper level students to tutor us so that we can (hopefully) speak somewhat proficiently by the end of the year, which would make our lives  much easier.

The culture

I want to add a disclaimer here that it is impossible to fully understand a new culture in a matter of two weeks.  However, there are a number of observations I have made so far.

The first and most challenging observation I have made is the total lack of structure here, especially with anything procedural.  Rules, regulations, laws, dates, meeting times, EVERYTHING changes constantly and without any kind of notice.  Basically, it’s chaos and anything can change at any moment, so you really have to  learn to just go with the flow and do a lot of things off the cuff.  For example, to get a bank account, we were told we needed to have a tax number, so we drove to a nearby city to do so.  When we got there, they told us to go to a different place, and when we went to that place, they told us that the banks no longer require foreigners to have a tax number, but that the banks were unaware of the change, so we had to take a giant stack of documents explaining this issue (even though several of our co-workers got a tax number just a couple of weeks before.)  This has been a major source of culture shock for us yabancıs , coming from places like the U.S. and U.K. where things tend to be planned out to the T.

One of the more  pleasant things I have noticed about Turkey is that the people here are extremely kind and hospitable toward foreigners, which is definitely not the case in many other places.  Despite our inability to speak Turkish and obvious confusion at just about everything, we have always found that people are very willing to help us and talk to us.  Just yesterday, we went to get a phone and one of the employees at Turkcell who was actually on his day off noticed that we could not communicate well in Turkish.  He happened to speak really good English and stepped right up to help us with the whole process, even though he was off the clock.  Service is also exceptional here.  If you are at a restaurant, the staff will go above and beyond your expectations, and often offer you complimentary coffee or tea, both of which are amazing.

The food

OMG THE FOOD.  It’s so good and soooo cheap.  Honestly, I could kiss a lot of American food goodbye forever (except for maybe peanut butter…and Mexican food, which really isn’t American anyway). Any produce you buy here tastes about a thousand times better than their GMO-laden equivalents in the States and it’s less than a third of the cost.  Chocolate, pistachios, and all kinds of delicious breads are staples here.  Meatballs, kebabs…I could go on forever.  I will definitely not go hungry here.

That’s it for now, I suppose.  We have just two more days before our first official vacation here!  We are headed to sunny, beachy Antalya.  Stay tuned.

Ça fait longtemps

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View from the house, taken by my awesome husband.

So it’s been awhile since my last post.  I promised myself I wouldn’t get this behind on blogging, but what can I say…life happens.

Things have been an awkward combination of crazy and lazy these days.  Getting stuff ready for the work visa process has been stressful and has involved a LOT of patience and waiting.  I know it will all work out in the end, but still.  Patience is not my strong suit.

While we’ve been playing the waiting game, I’ve been doing my best to put my time to good use.  I’ve started studying Turkish on Duolingo and it is definitely more difficult than other languages I have encountered.  Nevertheless, I’m starting to get the hang of it and can’t wait to put it to the test IRL (that’s “in real life” for you non-gamers).  I’ve also been trying to brush up on my French because it has gotten very rusty!  As fate would have it, I ran into an old Congolese friend and started speaking French with him and found myself having to have him repeat himself way more than I would have liked! So in addition to my Turkish studies, I’m also going to try to commit to at least 30 minutes a day of French, be it podcasts or films (sans sous-titres!) or maybe even a good novel.  We shall see.

Most of this past week has been spent at my grandpa’s lake house in Council Grove since it’s so close to Emporia and we had some documents we needed from ESU for the visas.  Even though we were here on “business”, it has been a much-needed break from the depressing monotony that is Pittsburg.  I hate to be so negative, but that place just does not jive with me.  I have felt very stuck in a rut there, which is probably the biggest reason for my recent lack of blogging.  Hopefully this little jaunt will refresh that mindset.

It’s been a surprisingly amazing week here, full of beautiful weather, bike rides, kayaking, stand up paddling, paddle boating, walks around the river, and bocce ball.  We even got a couple of days with the house to ourselves, which has been AMAZING after a month of living with other people.  It really hasn’t been that bad, but it’s very hard to adjust to sharing space with others…especially when it isn’t your own.  I really don’t want to leave tomorrow at all, but I know we will be on a plane to Turkey before we know it, so I can’t wish time away too quickly.

Anyway, here’s to snapping out of my Pittsburg blues and to enjoying more of my last summer of living in the USA!