Holiday Cheer Yok

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Christmas nerede? Not in Turkey. My only exposure to Christmas capitalism has come when I’ve fired up the VPN and watched American television (and therefore Christmas commercials) on Hulu. The PTT has three packages containing my Christmas presents held hostage in customs. Tomorrow I am journeying across the Marmara Denizli, taking the Tramvay seven stops, and crossing a major highway to rescue them.

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Updates

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1. Yalova University’s new quarter has begun. I have three new classes of students. Day 3, and I’ve learned about a third of their names so far.

2. The past two times I have been to İstanbul it has rained. I need to start checking the weather report.

3. Finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Remains of the Day.’ Starting Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Museum of Innocence.’

4. I have twenty written and addressed postcards stockpiled in my apartment. I need to mail them, but the PTT (Turkish post office) intimidates me.

5. Yalova has a new çay lady. With Ayşe Gul, I really had to work to get her to like me. Now the tables have turned. Sevgi smiles eagerly at me and whenever I walk towards her with an empty çay glass she tries to refill it. Sevgi is awesome and I have never had so much çay before–but I kind of miss buttering up to Ayşe Gul.

6. I need new whiteboard markers. Mine are all dried up.

The Grateful Game

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Syria

One of the brilliant aspects of this year’s Fulbright ETA program in Turkey, is that they have chosen students from across America, and placed them across Turkey. In many ways, the geographic diversity across Turkey echoes that of the United STates. Yalova has had an influx of visitors this past week, one from Erzurum in northeast Turkey and one from Osmaniye near the Syrian border. Swapping yabanci (foreigner) stories with them has been fascinating. I have a tendency to make friends and vistors play my favorite dining game: “The Grateful Game.” Essentially a series of rapidfire cheers, each person takes a turn sharing what they are grateful for in life, and everyone drinks to that gratitude. If the game works right, you should wind up grateful, happy and a little hiccup-y. Naturally, we played the Grateful Game with our visitors and in the process shared the best of our past two months in Turkey.

In Yalova, the smell of fish, pigeon poop, and stream of pedestrians has become a constant in my life. However, in Erzurum the cold, a bar scene devoid of any alcohol, and dance has become the familiar. In Osmaniye, check points, armored cars, Syrian refugees, and mountains filled with PKK are a daily presence. Yet, we are all loving our experience, and we are all thriving.

That being said, the nearness of Syria’s civil war, the violence that erupted in Gaza last night, and my friends stories all give a new sense of urgency and discomfort. And yet, this is life in Turkey. In the periphery are beings and entities and nations that seep into my consciousness and daily life like never before. This adds an added frustration that I cannot communicate better in Turkish. I am more keenly aware that I am an outsider, an observer. The niche I was sent to carve out here was pretty small and pretty specific. But my new physical location echoes, or really instigated, a shifting in my awareness. I wish I could be more precise about what aspects of my awareness have changed; but, as of now, that is still impossible to verbalize. Although in many ways painful, for this new awareness I am also grateful.

Now that I have unloaded the heavy, I am off on a feribot to Istanbul to pick up my mom from the havaalani [airport]! My father and my sister arrive on Sunday and I can’t wait to show them my new life and spend time with them. Still undecided what we will wind up eating on Thanksgiving here in Turkey, but I am so grateful they will be here!

İstanbul İpekyol

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In Turkish, “İpekyol” translates to “The Silk Road.” While I didn’t exactly run along the silk road this past weekend, I did run through the beautiful streets İstanbul as part of the Avrasya Maratonu (Eurasian Marathon). iPod-free, my 8k journey was perhaps the most meditative experience I’ve had in awhile. Once my mind and body realized all I wanted it to do was put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line, my thoughts and emotions started flying. It seemed I was finally giving myself a needed hour to let the past two months swirl and settle in.

In other news, I am trying to collect an English library of books. So, the bookstores of İstiklal were raided this weekend. My Fulbright friends and I threw down the TL “teyley” on materials we can actually read. I haven’t opened any yet, but just flipping the pages in the bookstore, choosing the most appealing cover, testing the feel of the paper, and actually recognizing the words gave me a total nerd-orgasm.

Back in Yalova teaching. Two more weeks until the end of the module (quarter). Gave an exam yesterday. Also giving one on Monday. In Turkey, I think they made up a word for people who give exams. When in that capacity, my official title is: “Invigilator.” Pretty awesome. That word will look great on my resume.

Bayram’dan Sonra

So, Bayram is over, and I am in my sixth week of teaching. I almost feel like I have phantom limb syndrome of location, as Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 Presidential Election, Halloween and Thanksgiving all seem a little hazy. Luckily, my classes seem eager as eager to learn about my life in America as I am to learn more about their Turkish culture. Their curiousity, however, is tempered by the weird looks I recieved while going to a bar in Eskisehir with a group of arkadaşlar wearing kitten ears and whiskers on Halloween weekend. Even though I have always known I am in a strange ex-pat, ‘Fulbright civilian diplomat’ bubble, I’m beginning to get a clearer sense of exactly how far that bubble extends. I am trying to stretch those boundaries. At a very basic level, I am trying to tweak my mannerisms so that I can better blend in to Yalova and Turkey. So far, I’ve got:

-Stop powerwalking, start strolling.
-Eat more food, share it with everyone close to you, and complain about your weight gain.
-When greeting someone with a smile, blink and nod your head downwards (this one is a classic Turkish move, but it is tricky to master).
-When you want to say no, the direct translation:”hayır,” is somewhat rude. Use değil, yok, yoo, or a one-two punch clicking noise and head jerk upwards gesture if at all possible.

I don’t really know how far these changes will get me, but I’m hoping the mannerism tweaks will get me by until I can learn more Turkish. Yalova Üniversitesi has been awesome in providing a lecturer to teach us Turkish. Gökçin, who I share an office with, teaches Mari, Sarah and I Turkish twice a week. Being taught by her is actually incredibly helpful, because it both gives me more teaching ideas but also reminds me how difficult trying to crack into another language can be. That being said, I’m hoping that by next month, I will be able to correctly pronounce ”Ö” and actually speak using verbs in Turkish!

Aside

Georgia on My Mind

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Georgia, the country, not the state. In Turkey it is a holiday weekend. Kurban Bayram to be exact. This Muslim holiday is exemplified by the wealthy giving meat to the poor, which culminates in a lot of feasting. Unlike Thanksgiving, however, where the majority of Americans buy their Turkeys pre-killed from the grocery store, a decent number of families slaughter the animals they will eat themselves. This explains why when I asked my students to tell me a little more about the Bayram holiday, one girl looked at me and said, “teacher,” and then drew her finger across her throat.

Instead of escaping to the Mediterranean or Aegean Coast for the holiday in an attempt to escape the oncoming winter–I headed straight for it. After classes ended, I hopped on a twenty one hour bus ride from Yalova to Erzurum–a city in the far East known throughout Turkey and the world for being “cok soguk” (very cold). Korey picked me up from the Otogar early on Sunday morning and the Erzurum crew–Korey, Elizabeth, and Emily showed me the sights. Since being here, I haven’t felt my toes, I have seen the Erzurum castle, fallen in love with cheese bread, seen the Erzurum bars (knife fight dance) performed, and had an awesome time. My time in Erzurum is coming to an end, though, as the five of us are all preparing to head to Georgia on the 3:30am bus to the Georgian border this morning. This means I won’t get to spend Bayram in Turkey, but I can’t wait to see what Georgia has to offer these next six days.

Evidence of the sacrifices we barely escaped witnessing.

Evidence of the lamb sacrifices we barely escaped witnessing.

To Tell, Or Not To Tell

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I have been a really bad blogger this past week. I will definitely do better in the future. This Monday, I did attendance for my students during the second period of our class, and all of them were yawning or sleepily staring at me. A lot of them were sick. Trying to surmount all those germy-sleepy vibes and keep everyone awake and invested is, well, exhausting.

But! Amilee, our State Department-appointed English Language Fellow, came to visit on Monday and Tuesday and it was great to see her! She sat in on our classes and gave us feedback, support, and advice. She is lively and insightful, as well as extremely motivated to help us become better teachers. Being a teacher or a professor is never something I was interested in doing as a career, but now that I have fallen into this role, I feel so invested in making sure I do a good job. It is really terrifying to think that I could potentially hinder a student’s ability to learn, and because I’ve fallen in love with my classes, I would feel awful if I let them down.

That being said, there is definitely a strange line between having a good repoire with students and being their friend. Going along with what the State Department likes to call us: “cultural ambassadors,” I want to share my life with my students, but obviously don’t want to go to far. And my students will ask anything: my weight, if I have a boyfriend, my phone number, my father’s phone number, the list goes on. One of my favorite students asked me the other day who I wanted to win the Presidential election. I got nervous, as most Turks are pretty hush hush about their own political views, but told her I wanted Obama to win. She smiled and replied with her classic, “Yeah, yeah teacher. Me too.”

I don’t want to boil the moment down to a happy “Go Obama!” moment, because that isn’t what I think it was. It was so nice though, to have a young student curious about international and American politics, but also my views. It was a strange cultural exchange in which we both probably crossed some boundaries, she in asking me about politics, me in telling her my personal views, but perhaps these were the types of boundaries that we were sent here to test. Anyways, I have a ferry to catch! Headed to Istanbul and then Bursa this weekend. Bursa is famous for inventing Iskender Kebap, which I have never tried before. I’ve heard both Bursa and their food are pretty amazing though, so I’m excited!