Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ilhara Valley: The Outdoor Club

I have been growingly involved as of late as one of the supervisors of The Outdoor Club at school. Those who are in the outdoor club are mostly international students. One of the sadder truths of our school is that the 10% of the students who are foreigners tend to stick together and not mix with the Turkish kids; they also tend to flock towards the international teachers, and I generally feel closer to my international students. As I have mentioned before, when I do go climbing or hiking, I meet other foreigners doing it. There is little to no outdoor culture in Turkey, so it is no surprise that the club consists mostly of international students and teachers.

My colleagues, Pierre and Phil, started the club this year after pulling some strings, and as they are leaving at the end of this year, I am transitioning in so I can take it over next year. I am also interested in helping create a higher profile for the club to generate interest with the Turkish students. I enjoy being a female teacher, hopefully acting as inspiration to the girls involved.

We've taken the kids to the local climbing gym a couple of times and they love it. Today, we took them on a hike down the Ilhara Valley of Cappadoccia, and explored some of the connected caverns of homes and churches carved into the cliffsides.

Some of the churches had painted ceilings- I am still amazed in this country how something so old and fragile is not barred off from the public. We could crawl around in the churches, taking flash pictures and destroying the place if we so pleased. Of course the students don't even think of defacing the art, and maybe that's because it isn't off limits?? It would be interesting to research countries' differing preservation efforts and subsequent successes.

Many of the religious figures had no eyeballs, and we were discussing the anti-iconoclastic time period, where deities were not allowed to be depicted as human beings, and so many of their human features were altered in later years.

We came across this cool gang symbol. I cannot quite tell if it belongs to the Sharks or the Jets.

The students' favorite part of the day was finding a three story cave dwelling, and exploring the connected rooms with flashlights.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as it is to see kids enjoying the outdoors in ways they never have before, I was reminded today of the accompanying risk involved.

As we came to the end of the Ilhara Valley, we had some time to spare, so teachers and students crossed to a rock above a small waterfall. I was standing across the way taking pictures, when I noticed through my viewfinder one of the girls starting to slip. It was an awful feeling to watch her slide down this waterfall in her clothes with her backpack on and not be able to do anything about it.

You can see from the pictures that it wasn't a huge drop-off, maybe just 6 feet or so, and she luckily fell feet first. But it was a cold day and the water was freezing, and when we all rushed to the edge to find her, we couldn't see her. All we could see was turning whitewater at the base of the waterfall, and of course my mind went racing that she was caught underneath in an eddy, and I instantly thought I would throw up at the implications of this. Then one of the students leaned over far enough to spot her clinging onto a rock, and was able to talk to her and find out that she was okay.

At this point, some local men who had been fishing nearby, had run over, jumped in the water, and got her to grab onto their fishing net so we could pull her up the bank. We were able to strip her down and dress her in dry warm layers. She was not at all hurt, and warmed up after a 1/2 hour.

She was only in the water for 2 minutes, but of course every second felt like an eternity, thinking of the worst possible ending to the situation. But it was such an awful feeling to think someone I am responsible for could have died; my life would be changed forever if I had to carry that around with me. Nobody said this aloud, but we were all thinking it and so thankful that she was okay. Phil, Pierre, and I retraced our actions, and I don't think any of us would have not crossed the river if we were to take the trip again; it wasn't an incredibly risky place to step. It was just an unlucky moment of imbalance. Water is such a scary thing to me, especially cold water. Forceful and paralyzing all at the same time. Even though the actual hike ended on a traumatic note, everyone was still able to smile and laugh on the busride home.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

After the Snowstorm

It snowed on and off this week, and even though teachers pooled money together to bet on which day we would get off from school, we never got a snowday. Today the sky cleared for the first time all week, and I was inspired to take pictures. I could see mountains across the valley that I had never seen before (usually there is a lot of pollution). So on my walk to main campus for my Turkish lesson this morning, I took some pictures. Nothing fancy, but I have been posting a lot of gorgeous pictures of my travels, and these are almost more important as they give the feeling of my day-to-day life here. These are the sights I see on a daily basis (usually without the snow). Stark, ugly, plain, beautiful, dismal, simple, barren, you can decide. This is Bilkent, the area of Ankara in which I live.

the road that leads down to the gym and the supermarket, the road that takes us towards the city

the bus stop, where i spend a lot of time waiting

bilkent main campus

mountains i never saw before today

taken from main campus, looking up at our apartments in east campus

the shopping plaza where we do all our grocery shopping

the cafe where i have my private turkish lessons

the reservoir where our (orange) drinking water comes from

Sports International: the gym I belong to; my winter salvation

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Turkish Hammam (Bath)

I finally experienced a true Turkish hamam. It took three girl friends, a few inches of fresh snow, and a yoga class beforehand. We went to Şengül Hamamı in Ulus (the old part of Ankara), a bathhouse built in the 18th century and restored in the 19th. The tradition of Turkish hammams come from the Islam value of cleanliness, and the ritual of women gathering once a week to sit around half-nude, catching up on gossip and trying to fix up their daughters with other women's sons.
When we first arrived, we were ushered to a room where we removed everything but our bathing suit bottoms and a wrap-around towel. It is culturally acceptable to walk around with your boobs exposed, no matter how large or saggy, but bottom exposure is considered a no-no. Once undressed, we were ushered into a steamy marble domed room with cookie-cutter star holes at the top of the dome for heat to escape. Hammams are recognizable from the outside for their domes that emit steam. We each had our own marble basin to fill with warm water and a plastic bowl to scoop the water out of the basin and pour over ourselves, both to wet us and keep us warm until it was our turn to get scrubbed. One by one, we each had our scrubbing turn, where you lay facedown on a marble slab and the hammam woman wearing a brillo-pad mit, scrubs you up and down exfoliating rolls of deadskin, turning you over and under, getting every last dead skin cell off of you. Then she pours soap all over your body and massages you. She then sits you up and with her own plastic bowl and marble basin water, rinses you off. Then you head back to the original room to shampoo your hair, rinse off, and dry off. Most of the time is spent with your girl friends at your marble basin rinsing off, chatting. Other than enjoying babysoft skin and feeling ultra clean, I realized women need to hang out together every so often, and what better way than half naked in a steamy room talking, laughing, and exfoliating together? Unfortunately, I am unable to post pictures of this event.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Skiing at Kartalkaya

Well, it's no Montana, but there is snow and there are ski hills not far from Ankara. The last two Sundays, I hopped on a local ski tour bus to Kartalkaya, or Eagle Rock, ski resort. The first time, I ventured out by myself; the second, I managed to convince some friends to come along.

The bus picked us up at 5:45am under a bridge (sketchy, yes, but bus stops are in the weirdest places here, and always unmarked), and took us on a snow-free 2 1/2 hour ride to a small resort west of the city. Once we started climbing in elevation, we hit snow, and the bus had to stop to put on chains.
The runs were quite mellow, but it was still fun to get out. The resort is in the high steppe, like Ankara, and so it was bizarre to ski on a tree-less mountain, and not because we were above treeline. All was white. I had good weather and fresh tracks the time I went by myself, but the second time, we ended up picking one of those days where if you lived at the base of the ski hill, you would have woken up, looked at the weather and then gone back to bed. But since we had reserved bus seats in advance, we ended up skiing in sleeting, cold, foggy, windy conditions, not a great combo of weather phenomena. All were troopers, however, and fun was still had. Unfortunately, we didn't get great pictures of the actual skiing, but here we are messing around in the cafe, in between runs, our clothing monopolizing the heating vents.