Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I know... it's what you all have been dying to hear about. Well, it took me 5 days of being here to find the climbing gym and 7 days to find the nearest rock climbing area: Karakaya. Karakaya is 1 1/2 hours west of Ankara. It's basically a hunk of granite protruding from the high desert. It's a semi-developed sport climbing area, with a little bit of traditional crack climbing. I was able to sneak away from an orientation day and climb with a fellow teacher from New Zealand, his Japanese wife, and their 9 month old son, Kenji. We took turns climbing, belaying, and watching Kenji (which means "Spirit" in Japanese). Even though we climbed in shady spots, we somehow still got sunburned, and were ridiculously dehydrated the next day. There were a handful of Turkish rock climbers there, and I had one of my first proud moments of understanding Turkish when I overheard a couple of them checking out a route, and saying "Cok guzel" which is pronounced choke goozel, meaning, "It's very nice." Five times a day, the Muslim "Call to Prayer" plays over a crackly loudspeaker in any area near a mosque. I heard the call to prayer when I was in Ulus, and here, the little town of Karakay played their Call to Prayer a couple times throughout the day. The town was very quiet except for this song invitation for all to come to the mosque to pray. It was a neat way to be reminded while doing something very familiar that I am in a very different place.
I can't wait to go back when it cools down a little.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
There are three campuses to Bilkent University, and our international school and staff housing are on East Campus. We are our own little community complete with playground and "Mehmet's Bufe" which means Mehmet, this guy, has a little snack shop where he sells some fresh bread, produce, snacks, as well as icecream and cold drinks for hot days. We also have a bus stop where we can catch free university buses into downtown Ankara, the other campuses of Bilkent, the supermarket, gym, etc. The high school is within walking distance, so no more 18 mile commutes to school in the morning.
We are up on a hill overlooking Ankara on the southwest edge of the city. It is relatively quiet here...not as quiet as Braig Road in Montana....night time there was so quiet, it was like sleeping inside a bubble. But it's extremely quiet for a city of 4 million living not too far away. My first night here I was a little worried, because there was some loud live music coming up the hill into my apartment. While I was trying to fall alseep in my strange new home, I heard horrible Turkish karaoke, including a Turkish version of "I Will Survive." And I wondered, Will I? But I haven't heard much more of that, and so far am really happy with my living situation.
The covered market at Umütköy goes on every Saturday in Ankara. This was my first time venturing out with my limited Turkish, trying to strike up deals. And it was so much fun! I have a little cheater notebook with Turkish phrases written in it. So before I go up to a vendor, I'd memorize how to ask for 2 kilograms of something. The only problem was if they said anything back to me, I wouldn't understand, and we would have to resort to holding up fingers and gesturing. But it was so fun feeling foolish and helpless, and only having the vocabulary of a 4-year-old!
The produce was so fresh and brightly colored. I could have taken pictures all afternoon if not for the Kurdish men who worked there that were trying to get in my pictures and give me their phone numbers in my little notebook. (They don't see many foreigners very often at this market). When they found out we couldn't understand Turkish, they would start hollering inappropriate (I'm sure) things in Turkish to their friends at the next stand, and then they'd stare and laugh and say more inappropriate things, and my friend Shauna and I would just laugh and smile like idiots and keep walking. At least inappropriate laughs, tones, and looks are universal, and I can understand those.
Compared to the expensive malls in the rich area we live in, we were all gleeful at the prices and the freshness of the produce, nuts, grains, dried fruits, bread, and cheese. And it was the custom to try everything. Anything I glanced at was given to me to try. I ate my first fresh fig, and I'm hooked.
Ulus or "Nation" is the oldest part of Ankara, and the most run-down, poorest, and conservative part as well. On my birthday, we visited Ulus as an orientation activity. We climbed the hill in Ulus to Ankara's old fortress and citadel. From atop the fortress, I took pictures of the sprawling city of red roofs. You can tell from the smog and yellow color of the hills just how hot it is here right now. Walking up to the citadel, there were many neat rug, fabric, copper, and jewelry shops. There were also many children running around begging for change. One little boy walked us to the fortress hoping to get one lira out of us for his guiding services. Compared to the semi-cosmopolitan nature of Tunali, the hip part of town we visited the night before, Ulus was a welcome change, for it was the first time I felt like I was in Turkey as I had imagined it to be. We also visited the oldest mosque in Ankara, built in 1290 AD, of the flat-roofed kind. Inside, the beams and ceiling were made of wood. I couldn't believe they were the original wooden beams, but I guess when it's this dry, wood doesn't rot.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
My work visa did not arrive until the Monday before the Saturday I was to leave for Turkey, and my plane tickets where not purchased by the school until the next day (I guess they don't want to spend the money on the ticket until they know you can actually come and work in Turkey). So by the time I called Lufthansa airline to find out the excess baggage requirements, I learned that several of my bags were of the wrong dimensions and weight. So my mom and I had to go buy MORE duffel bags, and repack. Thank God I had my mom to help me, because by this time, I was SO SICK of packing, I didn't even want to look at my bags. We had become regulars at the local UPS store where they let us use their scale to weigh my bags. The morning of my departure, my mom's cat peed on my carry-on bag, so we had to switch and repack that bag, too. (I forgive her, though; she had a bladder infection). When we got to the airport, everything ran so smoothly with baggage, and out of all the new teachers, I by far paid the least amount of money for excess baggage and brought the most. Yay, bags o' outdoor fun gear. Anyway, if I never have to think about baggage dimensions and weights again, I will be a happy woman.
On the red-eye flight to Munich, I used the tried-and-true technique of the Dramamine-overdose to put myself to sleep. By the time I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 6.5 hours later, they were serving breakfast. Perfect. When the flight attendant stopped at me, he was caught off guard that I was staring back at him. "Wow, I finally get to wait on you!"
There was a quick layover in Munich, and then I boarded the 2.5 hour flight to Ankara without knowing that I was surrounded by many other new teachers. I watched out the window as we entered Yellow-and-Brown Land. Ankara is situated in the central plateau of Turkey: high desert. August is when the temperature and lifelessness of the land peaks. Quite the opposite of the lush green of August in New Jersey or even Montana at the time I left.
Once in Ankara, we "pretended" to land once, and then accelerated back up into the sky to circle around the airport in nasty stomach rollercoasterness for 15 minutes while I was surrounded by an orchestra of vomiting noises. I was so proud of myself for not getting sick. I think it's the years of training I've had: sitting next to mother in boats, planes, helicopters, etc. while she threw up, and I worked hard to hold my own stomach together.
Once in the Ankara airport, all of us new teachers were met by our orientation staff, and we were whisked off to our new home: Bilkent University housing in East Campus.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I began my journey from Montana to Turkey in early August. I was to embark on my first 55-hour, cross-country Amtrak experience, leaving from the historic Whitefish train depot, and ending in Rochester, NY. I was hoping it would be everything one could imagine of a train route called "The Empire Builder." It probably seemed like I was solely trying to build the empire when I arrived at the train station with my eight 50-lb. bags.
Upon arriving, I learned that a cargo train just west of Whitefish had derailed early that morning, damaging the track, and we had to wait for buses to unload passengers and luggage from the Empire Builder in Libby, transport them to Whitefish to pick up us and our luggage, and then onward to Shelby, Montana, where all 6 buses including passengers and loads of luggage were to switch with the passengers heading west on the ol' "Builder." So, all in all, it was kind of a big gong show day. I missed the most scenic part of the Empire Builder where the train runs along the south side of Glacier National Park, I learned that two carry-on bags weighing 50 lbs. with no wheels was probably the stupidest idea I ever had, and our train ended up being 9 hours behind schedule.
Once on the train, the Empire Builder lived up to its expectations. I inherited two seats all to myself, and so I built myself a little cave for sleeping. I think I slept on and off for the first 24 hours, waking up here and there to watch some farmland go by. It was a slow, dreamlike transition from the West to the East.
Once I emerged from my slumber, the observation car was my favorite place to be. It was equipped with chairs and benches facing the scenery, and the windows extended onto the ceiling. Compared to my dark cave, it was a little greenhouse full of lively conversation, card games, and music. Two young guys played their banjo and guitar to supply us with background music. Here, you would meet all sorts of people, each with a very different reason for being on the train, from gypsying around the States to visiting family to moving to Turkey! I could have stayed on that Empire Builder for at least another 8.5 hours...
When we arrived in Chicago, I had missed my connection, and so Amtrak was kind enough to put all of us up at the Hyatt. By the time I got to the hotel at 2am, all the rooms were taken except for the penthouse suite. So I got to wake up to a wall of glass displaying Chicago's waterfront on Lake Michigan. Since the next train I could catch wouldn't leave 'til 10pm that night, I had the whole day to explore Chicago. I walked and walked, which felt great after sleeping in contorted positions on the train. I never really found a neat niche in Chicago that day, but I certainly walked around looking for it. I kept finding myself in crazy tourist trap areas and then trying to get out as fast as I could (ie, the Navy Pier and Museum Garden).
When I made my way back to the train station that night, I felt relieved to be "home." The train to Rochester, NY, was smaller and more ghetto than the Empire Builder, but I only had a short stint until I arrived in my birthplace the next morning. Here I had a few days to spend with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins before driving all my baggage down to my mother's house in New Jersey. (We had to rent an extra car for my baggage didn't fit into my mother's.)