Saturday, May 30, 2009


New to me, Eurovision is as popular in Europe as American Idol is in the U.S. Perhaps I didn't know this, because I haven't owned a TV in my adult life??
Well, anyway, for those of you that don't know what Eurovision is, it is a popsong competition between each country in Europe. Turkey won 4th place this year, and they're proud.
It is a BUPS tradition to throw a Eurovision party, in which each attendee picks a country at random, and has to dress like someone from that country and bring a food and drink from that country to share. I picked Portugal, so I dressed in a traditional folksy way, and brought Rose Wine and Grilled Tomato spread. We had the party in the nasty basement laundry room of one of our apartment buildings. The wine and food was spread out over the laundry machines. We borrowed a projector from school, and projected the streamed Eurovision show onto the white wall. When a country's song act began, the person representing that country had to pour their drink in everyone's cup, and you all had to finish it by the end of the song, before the next drink arrives. We drank a medley of wine, beer, G&Ts, raki, rum, etc. And unless you sat by the sink like me and were able to dump some of the drinks out, you got pretty silly and were in bed quite early. But the party started at 3pm, so bedtime was early, like 9pm.

You'll recognize Mother Teresa from Albania, a unibrowed man from Turkey, a dalmation from Croatia, a punk from the UK, a Hasidic Jew from Israel, Vlad (Count Dracula) from Romania, etc. You know, all the politically correct figures you'd naturally expect an international community to be sensitive enough to depict. :)


This is the first year I have taught seniors, and though it wasn't surprising that I would cry at their graduation ceremony (given the weepy genetics on both sides of my family), I was surprised at the lingering swirl of emotions that has stayed with me all week. We had our last senior classes weeks ago, as they have been taking a full month of IB exams. We went out to lunch on our last day of class. They were going to take me out, but they forgot to bring enough money to pay for me. But, hey, it was the thought that counts! I have been down to just 14 teaching hours a week (my teaching load was cut in half by their departure), so there has been an emptiness in my classroom. When they finished their IB exams, it is BUPS tradition for the senior class to take their teachers out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. This time, they did pay. :)
The pictures below are from that dinner at The Wall restaurant. Many of the girls had dresses custom made for the occasion; the guys wore expensive tuxes. I felt a little star-struck, like I was at the Oscars. Everyone looked so gorgeous and grown-up!

The graduation ceremony was the following evening. I had to present the Best English Student award for my department to Melis Aker, one of the loveliest students I have ever had. I was quite nervous to speak in front of this audience at such a formal ceremony, but I wrote a little heartfelt speech, and was glad to honor such a great student. Melis was in my homeroom, English class, literary magazine, and helped me with costumes for the school play. I will miss her lots!

The ceremony itself was lovely; all the female teachers were crying in the audience. Lots of slideshows as this graduating class of 30 has been at BUPS since elementary school; they are such a tightknit family. I am super proud of them for surviving the intense IB 12th grade year, and many are going on to topline universities in England, Canada, and the U.S.

Many high school teachers are at the end of their contracts this year, and are moving on to other international schools or moving back home. In fact, just about everyone I spend time with or feel a connection to is moving on. So I am sure that is part of my emotionalism this week. Luckily next year, I will be following all my juniors into their senior year, and have their faces and our relationships to look forward to in September. Next May, I will probably be even weepier, as I will be graduating with them, moving on to whatever is next for me.

Lingering from the graduation ceremony last night:
My job of living beings
Who laugh and smile and
Look me in the eye
Departed from my classroom one last time.

But they remain in the pages on the bookshelf.

They pondered their own Hearts of Darkness,
They read Master Harold and the Boys with donned accents
And shared pregnant silences between the lines
Now their Death Shall Have No Dominion.

We affect each other, humans
Stepping out of "the solitary confinement of our own skins."
In great surges we feel
Because we laughed and smiled
And looked each other in the eye.

It remains in the pages on the bookshelf.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Non-Reggae Festival in Olympos

This past weekend, Stacy, Liam, Gabe and I took an overnight bus to Olympos for the "First Ever Reggae Festival in Turkey," or so the website boasted (we found out later it was the second annual "first ever reggae festival"). Lately, we've been feeling the deluge of constant planning: weekends, breaks, and now the 2 1/2 month-long summer holiday. But when we saw there was going to be a reggae festival in one of the coolest areas in Turkey, Olympos, we couldn't resist.

Upon arriving in Olympos, we checked into our bungalow at the Bayram's Treehouses, and chilled outside on the raised wooden platforms and cushions (low treehouses) for a Turkish breakfast.

Then we lubed up and headed to the beach, passing the Roman ruins on the way.

We heard some buzz that the Reggae Fest had been moved to a beach that was a 1/2 hour mini-busride away. When we got back to our pansyon, we learned there was only one shuttle going there that night at 9pm, but we were psyched because one of the best reggae bands was scheduled for that slot. However when we got there, whatever was playing was quite possibly the worst live music I have ever heard. It wasn't reggae, and the dude couldn't sing in tune. He kept starting songs, then stopping a minute in and yelling for a new one to start. After a half-hour of that weirdness, the MC announced that the live music was over for the night and the disc jockey took over by playing reggae music for the rest of the night. So we took the midnight bus back and there was our reggae. We didn't venture out to the festival the next day, because chillin' at the beach was much more fun. It is not atypical for something in Turkey to be all buzz and then either be impossible to find or not pan out. We knew there was a risk in tracking down a reggae festival in a country that is a tad far from reggae's roots, but we embraced the adventure. There were many buses, taxis, airplane, and mini-bus rides involved in this adventure. But then there was the ocean...

It felt like school had let out. But, alas, we have one more month until it does let us out. And we will be back to the Mediterranean for our Blue Cruise.

After staying Sunday night in Antalya, we took an early early flight home on Monday morning and were back at school by 9:30am. So even though we didn't get to hear reggae, the "festival" got us down there, and now I have a little nugget of beach in my soul.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Turkey in the News

Unfortunately, Turkey has received some negative press lately. For those who are curious, the first news article is about a suicide bomber's failed attempt on main campus of Bilkent University last week (I live and teach on East Campus). The second article is about Kurdish rebels opening fire at a wedding party in Southeast Turkey.

Suicide attacks on ex-minister foiled at private university in Turkish capital
by Mustafa Oguz
Hurriyet Daily News

ANKARA – A former Turkish justice minister walked away from an attempted suicide attack unharmed when his bodyguards thwarted the bomber at a private university in Ankara, officials said.

The suspected attacker, Didem Akman, was injured as a fuse on her body exploded and she was hospitalized, former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said at a press conference Wednesday.
Another suspect, Onur Yilmaz, was caught in a bus terminal after security forces spotted him with Akman on security cameras, officials from Bilkent University said in a press conference. TV channels later reported that a third suspect was also being searched.
The assassination attempt on Turk came just he was entering the classroom at Bilkent University where he has given lectures in the law faculty since leaving the government in 2002.
"The girl came to me and said she wants to ask a question,” Turk said. “I refused as the class was about to start. I heard a small explosion just I entered the classroom.”
Turk, 74, served as justice minister between May 1999 and November 2002 in the government of late Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Before that, he had assumed the positions of defense minister and state minister responsible for human rights.
He said his bodyguards overpowered the attacker after she failed to detonate her explosives and drew a weapon.
The university's faculty building has been evacuated and all of the university’s entrances and exits were closed.
Bilkent officials also said the attacker entered the university using a fake identity card and said she wanted to use the library. The university’s library is open to the public.
"She entered Turkey from Bulgaria. We believe the attack was planned by an organization to protest Operation Return to Life," a security official added.
Turk was Justice Minister when Turkey launched F-type prisons. Far-leftists inmates started hunger strikes to protest isolation in the F-type prisons.
Turkey launched an operation called Return to Life to end the hunger strikes, which left two gendarmes and 12 prisoners dead.
Turk said this was the closest assassination attempt he escaped. The officials did not release information about the amount of explosives that the suspected attacker had, but Turk said that according to the information he had, if the explosives had been detonated, the faculty building might have been destroyed.
He also recalled a similar incident in 2002 when another female suspected militant attempted a suicide attack in Kartal prison while pretending to be a journalist. She also entered Turkey from Bulgaria, he added.
Earlier reports said that Turkey's Security General Directorate warned police departments in major cities against possible suicide attacks that could be launched by three bombers sent by terror organization PKK from the country's Southeast.

The second news item made international news. Friends in the U.S. heard about it before I did:

45 Killed in Attack on Engagement Party in Turkey
Masked gunmen kill 45 in attack on engagement party in Turkey, at least 6 injured
The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey

Masked assailants with grenades and automatic weapons attacked an engagement ceremony in southeast Turkey on Monday, killing 45 people. Two girls survived after the bodies of slain friends fell on top of them during the onslaught.

NTV television quoted Deputy Gov. Ferhat Ozen of Mardin province as saying the nighttime attack occurred in Bilge village near the city of Mardin. Some media outlets reported that a "blood feud" among families had led to the killings in a region where tribal ties and rivalries sometimes eclipse the power of the state.

Citing Ozen, NTV said the motive could be an old feud between rival groups of pro-government village guards who fight alongside Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels in the region. If that is the case, the government would come under renewed pressure to rein in the militiamen, some of whom have been linked to drug smuggling and other crimes.

Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, the mayor of Mardin, told Turkey's Channel 24 that he spoke to two survivors, both girls, who said at least two masked men stormed a house where the ceremony took place. Other reports put the number of assailants at four.

"'They raided the house, we were in two rooms, they opened fire on everyone, they were wearing masks,'" Ayanoglu quoted the girls as saying. The girls said they lay underneath the bodies of friends until the attack was over.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay said 45 people were killed and six were wounded, and ruled out involvement of Kurdish rebels. He said he, along with the justice and agriculture ministers, would travel to the village early Tuesday.

Anatolia news agency said the attack lasted 15 minutes. All initial reports said the assault happened during a wedding, though CNN-Turk television later said it took place during an engagement ceremony.

One survivor, a 19-year-old woman, said the assailants ordered people to huddle in one room and opened fire, NTV reported. Another report said the attack occurred when people were praying at the house. Some guards responded to the attack but the assailants fled, NTV said.

Ahmet Can, a relative who took the body of his nephew to a hospital, said the site of the attack was horrifying.

"You could not believe your eyes, it is unbelievable," he told Channel 24.

The attack occurred during the ceremony for the daughter of Cemil Celebi, a former village official who was among the wounded.

An Islamic cleric who was presiding over the marriage died at a hospital, NTV said. The fate of the bride and groom was not immediately known. The attack killed an entire family, including the parents and their six children, aged between three and 12.

Ambulances took at least 17 bodies to the morgue of a hospital in Mardin, said Aytac Akgul, a local official. Hundreds of relatives of the victims gathered there, wailing. Several people offered to donate blood.

State television said soldiers surrounded the village and cut off all roads leading to it. It said there was no power there, and the village could not be reached by telephone. Journalists were barred from traveling to Bilge.

For years, Turkey has struggled over how to trim the 70,000-strong village guard force without releasing masses of trained fighters onto the streets of the southeast, where unemployment in some areas reaches 50 percent. The system is one of the few lucrative sources of employment in the region.

The military has purged thousands of village guards suspected of favoring Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in the southeast. Several hundred guards have also faced criminal charges that include drug and weapons smuggling.

Many rebels and guardsmen are from the same villages or clans. Most guardsmen are poor villagers, and local residents and activists say some were forced to join against their will. Others were signed up by politically powerful clan leaders allied with the state.

The conflict between Kurdish guerrillas and government forces has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

Solidarity Day in Küre Mountains National Park

For the first time since 1978, one year after the 1977 May Day in which 37 people were killed, Turkish labor was allowed to demonstrate in Taksim Square with a "reasonable number" and mark the International Day of Solidarity of Labor, or May Day, which was re-instituted as a public holiday almost three decades after it was banned by the 1980 military coup administration.

May Day wasn't entirely peaceful this year. By using teargas, bombs, and pressurized water, police forces kept demonstrators from reaching Taksim from certain districts. In the end, however, around 4,000 demonstrators reached Taksim Square. (

We found out last minute that our school was giving us the day off for Solidarity Day, but instead of heading to the city, seven of us rented a van and drove north to Küre Mountains National Park in the Black Sea region.

On our drive there, we stopped at World Heritage sight, Safranbolu. As I was the only first-year teacher on the team, we didn't stop long in this place that most had frequented more than once over their two years. Just long enough to take some pics of the Ottoman architecture, decide I am going to take my mom there when she visits in August, and enjoy extremely slow/poor service at a little touristy restaurant.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has listed the Küre Mountains as one of a hundred forest 'Hot Spots' in Europe deserving priority conservation. The Park covers an area of 34,000 hectares and receives high rainfall which accounts for the surprising-to-see-in-Turkey, lush vegetation. The most impressive sight was Valla Gorge, 700 meter karst limestone walls rising 700 meters which begins at the confluence of two rivers, the Devrekâni and its tributary the Kanliçay.

The biodiversity within the plant life was pretty impressive, too. We went at the perfect time, for the meadows were carpeted with colourful flowers. Supposedly, the mountains are home to numerous wild animals. Of Turkey's total of 130 species of mammal, 40 are to be found here, including the brown bear, otter, wolf, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, fox, marten, badger and hare. (We only saw a wild dog, a giant purple beetle, and a golden eagle).

There wasn't much to the national park as far as interpretive signs, trails, ranger stations, etc., and not much tourism surrounding the park in the town we stayed in. Honestly, I am impressed that a country with just an emerging economy can afford to even set aside land for national parks, put up a few signs, and make a couple trails. In the U.S., when times are hard, the first thing cut are National Park funds. So even though it was dinky, it was nice to see that it was preserved. I guess in this case, the WWF probably contributed financially.
A few old villages have been grandfathered into the national park. Note the wooden houses (not the concrete of most towns- Turkey loved concrete).

We stayed in a town called Pinarbasi, a few kilometers outside the park. It was no West Yellowstone or Jackson Hole, but our pansyon was out in the country and quite cute. I slept like a rock, and the provided breakfast and dinner was great. Turkish breakfasts typically consist of cheese, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and bread. It is the same wherever you stay, sometimes fresher than other places. We were in farm country, so everything was delicious- like the fresh *warm* milk offered to us at breakfast.

On our way home, we stopped at another Ottoman town near Safranbolu. Less touristy. Cute family gardens, and traditionally dressed crooked women selling homemade sauces, fruit leather, and produce.