Tuesday, December 16, 2008


This is the third part of a weekly blogging exercise in which I'm participating. Go here to find out more or join in.

I was once a California driver. I was in love with my silver Honda (and before that my unreliable Jeep Cher, which frequently left me stranded on deserted desert roads), speeding down the I15 to return to my High Desert home from the "real" parts of Cali, 11-hour road trips down to New Mexico, trips to anywhere with friends or mountains to climb or rivers to raft. I'd been hooked on cars since the age of 7, when my father first put me on his lap and let me steer our Chevy. I learned to drive long before I could get my permit and this came in handy one night when my mom woke me in the wee hours and said she was experiencing severe abdominal pain. I speeded her off to the emergency department and the doctors quickly determined that she had appendicitis.

In my 20s I became more of a rager, or to use the '90s term -- road rage(r) -- swearing up and down at drivers who cut me off or otherwise offended on the road. I also perfected my glare of death. But outside of Cali freeway traffic I still enjoyed driving.

Fast forward to before our move to Istanbul from Bursa almost a year and a half ago. I'd visited Istanbul enough times (though 1 was probably enough to realize this) to know that the traffic situation was sheer madness -- a create your own lane, break every rule free-for-all. Thus I made the decision to quit, resign my place behind the wheel for the length of my stay, however long that may prove to be. And thus my driving career came to an abrupt end...

And now? I've found that, surprisingly, I really don't miss it. Public transport offers up an endless supply of one of my favorite pastimes -- people-watching. Not being behind the wheel means a relaxing commute on the bus when I can prepare my mind for the day ahead, and in the evenings wind down and destress with my music. I also realize that if I hadn't quit driving, I would be a much more wired, stressed and angry person right now. So here's to quitting the steel and wheel habit -- for now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turning into my parents

Photo by Teresa Prendusi

This is part two of a blogger writing exercise. If you're interested in taking part, go here to get the down low.

My mom was cleaning out the drawers and closets of her bedroom when she found a small notebook that had belonged to my father. I was a junior in university at the time and had recently returned from summer break working in Kamas, Utah, for the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the USDA Forest Service. During that summer I had explored much of the wilderness area of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, sometimes going on backpacking trips with my fellow SCAers and other times going solo to listen to the whispering trees and wildlife.

I returned home from classes one day and my mom said she had something that would interest me, handing me the notebook. I went to my room and opened the worn green cover and there was my father’s familiar handwriting. After reading the first page I realized this was a travel journal from my dad’s cross-country trip to his ultimate destination of San Francisco, a trip he had taken long before he had met my mom.

My dad died when I was 11 and much of his earlier life was a mystery to me. He had never talked much about the years before my mom, though he had had another wife who had died young, which to me represented a whole other lifetime. So this notebook was a direct insight into the places he had traveled and what he had experienced at each of them.

As I read on I found a section about Utah, and then, a section on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, which is part of the ranger district where I had worked that past summer. He talked about feeling lightheaded in the high altitude and taking in the fresh air; he mentioned his time at Provo Falls, a spot I had frequented that summer, and the soaring peaks of the Wasatch-Cache range.

Reading further, I found myself wowed by the idea that we had driven the same roads and found beauty in the same spots, perhaps even sat on the same rock looking at the same waterfall. I felt a new connection to my dad, who by that time I had lived more years without than with.

Discovering that we shared this wanderlust, this joy in exploring new places opened up a sense of wonder and possibility in me. If we shared this, I thought, what other ways had I begun turning into my father, carrying on parts of his essence?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's call the whole thing off

This post is for a blogger writing exercise started by a friend of mine. All are welcome to join. Check out the rules here.

What happens when you ignore that little voice in your head that says "STOP, this is a bad idea, if you forge ahead with this, it will only end in disaster." The predicted disaster comes to pass, whether it be sooner or later, and you realize for the 22,001st time that the little voice is always right and that perhaps you should listen to it next time it tells you to call the whole thing off.

It was only a few months into my Peace Corps experience in The Gambia that I began to hear that little voice. I had been living in a family compound of 33 people, which included 5 brothers, their wives, children, and grandmother. Most of the family members were great and we got to know each other quickly. The exception was the oldest brother, Baccari Bah. As the oldest, he was considered the head of the family. I contributed some money each month toward food, and this money was given to him. However, a few months into my time with the Bahs, I started hearing rumors from both within and outside of the family that the money was not going to food at all, but that Baccari was using it for his own entertainment, part of which included gambling over the border in Senegal.

Our meals we're eaten in the traditional way -- large communal food bowls. Since the family I lived with was so large there were normally 2 bowls for the women and children and 1 for the men. As the months went by I noticed the portions of food becoming smaller and smaller. I finally went to some of the younger brothers and asked them straight out if the rumors about where the food money was going were true. They confirmed that they were and said that they were concerned about the food situation but were afraid to confront Baccari about it. After discussing it further they promised to talk to him about it. But after they did, the situation didn't change. Thus I decided to start buying food myself, though it was a pain to lug back every week, since the weekly market was held in another village.

This solved the food problem for awhile, but in the meantime several other problems arose. Perhaps I should have taken the green mamba that appeared on my bed one day as a sign to get out of that compound once and for all. But I continued to tell myself that things would get better, that I needed to give this family more of a chance. (Yeah, I'm pretty stubborn). My Peace Corps buds had long been telling me to get out of there and request a new family, but I would respond that I thought things could improve. Once after a trip to the city to pick up my stipend, I returned to find that a large chunk of the baobab tree in my backyard had broken off and destroyed my stick fence. The brothers said they would have it repaired soon. In the small space that made up my backyard was a concrete slab with a latrine dug under it and which also served as the place where I would take my bucket baths. For the time being I propped what was left of my fence up as best I could, but it was still leaning over so that I had to squat somewhat beneath it for my baths. And with the fence still deeply angled, little boys (and sometimes men, too) of the village would come by on donkeys almost every evening to catch glimpses of my bathing.

After close to a year with this family, the final straw came for me. Baccari had 2 wives and in the final months before my departure he had been treating his second wife, Fatma, worse and worse. One day I returned from working on my reforestation demonstration site to find him chasing her -- a woman of small build who stood over a foot shorter than him -- around the village with a whip that he had fashioned from a tree branch. Men from the village finally restrained him, but he had already hit her several times. His qualms with her were always petty things, such as not cooking the food the way he liked it. Though his brothers did talk to him about striking her, this scene was repeated. And then one night we were eating dinner and I noticed that Fatma and her 2 small children were absent. When I inquired from the other women as to her whereabouts, I found out that Baccari had told her that she and her children were banned from eating with the family and had to go beg for food from the other compounds. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, though by now I should've known that Baccari had no shame.

Following this, I wrote up a report on the situation in the compound, requesting a transfer to another family from my sector director. He agreed that the situation was intolerable and inquired as to why I hadn't requested a change earlier. During my second year I moved to another village and lived with a great family who was related to the first family. It was a wholly different experience and I was able to focus more on work without any of the crazy family drama.

I ignored the voice that first year. The situation wore on me, chipping away at my soul, tearing at my spirit -- and I allowed it. When the voice said, "Get out now," I thought, "I'm not a quitter. Things can improve. I want to give them a chance..." But deep down I knew the voice was right.

At the end

A sunny Sunday in Şile
This afternoon we took my mum to Atatürk Airport for her trip back to Cali. My Auntie Espie flew back to Vancouver on Wednesday. The flat seems strangely quiet without their chatter and laughter, yummy Filipino cooking, and all the gossip about Espie's German-Canuck boyfriend -- yes, you can find new love at 73! It was cute to see her talking about him and emailing him so much.

Tomorrow, it's back to work at the paper for me. I'm kicking myself for making my return a Sunday. What was I thinking? I've fallen so out of work/scheduled mode. Hopefully my brain will snap quickly back into shape and hasn't deleted all the stylebook info. But just in case, don't bother picking up the Monday edition of TZ.

OK, don't want to think about that anymore. Let's rewind to earlier this week when we took a trip up to Şile, a little town on the Black Sea about 100km from Istanbul. I have to disagree that Black Sea towns are only for the summer season. Though you may not want to take a dip in the frigid waters, unless you're a member of the Polar Bear Club, there are still the beautiful beaches to stroll along and the great fish restaurants by the water. The town itself is very chill and the cobbled main street has many boutique shops with handmade items. We stayed at the Dedemen Şile, where we still got in plenty of swimming in their indoor pool, also taking advantage of the hamam and sauna that are part of the hotel's lifestyle center. My mum and auntie also got massages.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Mum, Auntie Es and I arrived back in the Bul earlier this week after our two week trip southward, with the last stop being in Pamukkale. The travertines, which form from the calcium carbonate in the spring water at the site, provide a surreal view. On approach, it appears as a mountain covered in snow, but as you come nearer and then start the climb upwards you can see water cascading down and forming these pools of a pure aqua tone.

It's mandatory to do the walk in your bare feet. Those who refuse to comply are promptly whistled at by the guard below and then chased after if they continue in obstinance (as with one couple we observed on our way down).

Today, we made the one-hour trip to my mother-in-law's place in Cerkezkoy. I must admit that I showed up here with the thought that this wouldn't feel like part of my vacation at all, that I'd constantly be pressed to translate things (since Ev couldn't come due to work), which with my level of Turkish often feels like an unpleasant chore.

And there's also, well, I guess the closest I can come to describing it is a sort of power struggle between my MIL and I, though that doesn't fully capture it. For instance, while we were on the trip, my MIL visited our apartment and decided to do some ultra-cleaning, along with her friend. This cleaning included ripping down the screens that I had painstakingly put up at the beginning of the summer to keep out the mosquitoes. The screens were deemed too dirty and were tossed into the trash. I worked at not being infuriated when I learned about this. Decided this was not something I was willing to battle over and almost let it go.

But this time, things feel different. I've been able to relax, not over-analyze things. And mostly relations have just flowed. Perhaps it's because we're on her turf and she's more comfortable too. Who knows. I just wish that things could be like this between us all the time. Tranquility. This does feel like vacation -- good times with family, yummy food and relaxation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Storming the castle

The weather since we arrived Sunday in Bodrum has been ideal, close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the sea water is now a bit cool, probably in the 60s, it's still comfortable for swimming. We've been staying in Turgutreis, where the beaches are better than in central Bodrum, but took a day trip to see the castle and wander the waterfront of the latter. Also booked a private boat trip for tomorrow from the marina in central Bodrum, since none of the boats in Turgutreis were offering trips during the off-season.

Flags of the Ottoman Empire (L) and Knights Hospitaller

Mom and Espie

Gothic chapel of Bodrum Castle

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Priene, Miletus and Didim

Today was by far my favorite of the trip thus far. We hired a car from our hotel to visit the sites of Priene, Miletus and Didyma. These sites are much less frequented by tourists as they are somewhat farther from the main attractions in this area. Thus we were left to explore the ruins at our leisure, running into only a few others, outside of a group of kids from an American school in Abu Dhabi who were visiting Priene as part of their history class.

Stage at ampitheater in Priene

Must give props to my Tita Espie (left in picture above), who at 73 was navigating the steep stone steps and making her way down the switchbacks in Priene like a pro, barely breaking a sweat.

Theater of Miletus, ca. 300 B.C.

Archways at the Great Hall of Miletus

Temple of Apollo in Didim (Didyma)

Stone-carved Medusa in Didim

Closeup of column carvings

Friday, October 31, 2008

Random thoughts from Selçuk

The DRC is descending into chaos once more.

The elections that once seemed so distant are coming up on Tuesday.

I miss Ev. Hope we'll be able to go to Amsterdam for the next bayram.

Mum and A. Es are shopaholics. I need to get them into a program ASAP.

Need to add new music to my Creative player.

My eyes itch. This hotel room is aggravating my allergies.

Did Idaho turn my brother into a Republican or did my brother turn Idaho into a Republican state?

Paul Simon songs remind me of Alexia and time in The Gambia.

Ran into one little Turkish girl here that had dressed up as a cat for Halloween. Where was the party and why wasn't I invited?

Blackalicious, Sky is Falling

Random play mode is not at all random.

Wending through Şirince

House in Şirince


St. John the Baptist Church, f. 1832

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the road

It's a week into my month-long vacation and the main feeling here is mmmmmmmyes! My mum and her oldest sister arrived last week and after a few days in the Bul and visiting the Princes' Islands we headed south to Çanakkale, where we spent two days wandering the Gallipoli battlefields and Troy. Finally being able to see the Dardanelles strait and surroundings has added to/cemented the vivid mental map in my mind, something that only an in-person visit can do.

It's surprising to me how quickly I can forget about the routine of work and strict schedules and fall into vacation-time ease. The thought of work, that life, that chronic tiredness, is abhorrent right now. Why return to it?

Currently staying in Selçuk, where I lived for a month back in '06 while attending language school in Izmir. I had a great experience here then and not much seems to have changed.

This town just gives me the ultimate feeling of calm. I stroll the cobbled roads without a worry on my mind. And it has been a pleasure to share this place and the surrounding sites -- Efes, Meryemana, St. John's Basilica -- with my mom (my aunt had been here before). Tomorrow we'll wander the streets of Şirince and taste every variety of fruit wine imagineable. Though my mum does not usually partake of alcoholic beverages, I think we'll be able to convince her into making an exception, or several.

Mum & Tita Espie at Efes (Ephesus)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Please explain yourselves

I'm perplexed. I'm feeling quite similar to how I did 8 years ago when I was in The Gambia and listening to the results of pre-election polls on shortwave radio. What are my fellow Americans thinking? And I don't know if this would be any clearer to me if I were living in the US right now; in fact, I think I might be even more confused. I've read numerous commentaries flowing out of American publications during this final countdown to the elections, but few have made me think "Yes, that's at least a piece of the puzzle!"

The following are some excerpts from Professor Jeffrey Sachs that I found particularly insightful. Read the full commentary here.

"While many factors contributed to America’s destabilizing actions, a powerful one is anti-intellectualism, exemplified recently by Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s surging popularity.

"By anti-intellectualism, I mean especially an aggressively anti-scientific perspective, backed by disdain for those who adhere to science and evidence. The challenges faced by a major power like the US require rigorous analysis of information according to the best scientific principles."

"In the US, however, the attitudes of President Bush, leading Republicans, and now Sarah Palin, have been the opposite of scientific. The White House did all it could for eight years to hide the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change. It tried to prevent government scientists from speaking honestly to the public. The Wall Street Journal has similarly peddled anti-science and pseudo-science to oppose policies to fight human-induced climate change.

"These anti-scientific approaches affected not only climate policy, but also foreign policy. The US went to war in Iraq on the basis of Bush’s gut instincts and religious convictions, not rigorous evidence. Likewise, Palin has called the Iraq War 'a task from God'.

"These are not isolated albeit powerful individuals out of touch with reality. They reflect the fact that a significant portion of American society, which currently votes mainly Republican, rejects or is simply unaware of basic scientific evidence regarding climate change, biological evolution, human health and other fields. These voters generally do not reject the benefits of technologies that result from modern science, but they do reject the evidence and advice of scientists regarding public policies."

"In many statements, Palin seems intent on invoking God in her judgments about war, an ominous sign for the future if she is elected. She would certainly stoke many enemies who will look to their own brands of fundamentalism to strike back at the US. Extremists on both sides end up putting at risk the vast majority of humans who are neither extremists nor anti-science fundamentalists."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Scotty, beam me out of September

This week I will find out if my running days, at least for the next several months, are over due to a stress fracture in my left tibia, meaning no Eurasia Marathon for me. Needless to say, I'm pretty bummed about this prospect as I've been training for this event for most of the year.

Seems like it's just been that kind of month, starting with the 3am drumming sessions for Ramadan. I don't deal well with chronic sleep deprivation and I just can't seem to sleep through the morning rhythms, another thing that I envy Ev for -- he can sleep through virtually anything. I'm sure when the 9.0 magnitude quake hits the Bul, he'll snooze right through that too. Work is bordering on harrowing as we're understaffed right now and have to meet an early deadline for Ramadan.

Please evacuate me from this month!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Farewell to August

This month has been a really hectic one for me and also one that marked several important dates in my life. Evren and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary at a cosy Mexican restaurant on the Bosporus. This month also marks our first year in Istanbul and the end of my first year with the newspaper. As well, I got a promotion earlier this month, along with a very nice raise (woo hoo!).

Tomorrow is the beginning of Ramadan, at least here in Turkey. I've found that different countries figure out the date by different means, so the start date can vary up to three days in the Muslim world. Normally I would just fast along with everyone at work, mostly because I'm lazy and don't want to leave the building for lunch as the cafeteria is closed during the day for the month. But since I'm training for a marathon this year, not eating during the day is simply not an option -- unless I have some sort of death wish.

The company issues cards with money loaded on them for the non-fasters, but the options nearby are limited -- McDonald's, Sbarro or Sultanahmet Koftecesi (where one of my co-workers once got food poisoning). There are some other places but most of them don't accept the mutinet card from the company. I suppose I could always fix a lunch and bring it, but that would then require finding some place to hide away and eat it so I don't offend fasters (or have them looking at me with ravenous, animal eyes). Besides, I just don't have time for such endeavors in the morning, which is my normal running time. So yes, I will be able to create my own fast food documentary about eating at McDonald's for a full month.

Hobbling after the 17

I finished a run of 17 miles about an hour ago. My thigh muscles are incredibly sore but outside of that I don't feel exhausted like I thought I would. This is the end of my 10th week of intensive marathon training. A week ago I was really questioning whether I was going to make it through after suffering from some injuries and having to cut back my mileage. But tonight's run felt pretty strong all the way through and I was able to keep a steady pace. It was just the confidence builder and reassurance that I needed at this point. Thank you body for coming through for me!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The other side of the story and trusting intuition

I have some amazing friends, some of whom I met while in Peace Corps The Gambia between 2000 and 2002. One of those friends is a girl named A., who was my nearest PC neighbor in The Gambia. After reading this email from her, I asked if I could share it on my blog. Without further ado:

This is an email to share an experience I am going through right now that has shaken my world and the world of countless of others. Many of you probably have read today about the killings of four International Rescue Committee (IRC) workers in Afghanistan. If you haven't, three international aid workers with the IRC and one Afghan worker were ambushed by the Taliban. They were in a marked IRC vehicle driving back to Kabul after visiting a school when they were chased and gunned down. There are stories all over the net including CNN and BBC if you want to read more. Many of you know that I was interviewing for a position with IRC Afghanistan back in March. I was moving through the interview process with a few people who would have been my supervisors in Afghanistan. I had a feeling then that they were going to offer me the position (this feeling was confirmed just two weeks ago when an IRC worker informed me) and I decided I would accept. I started to plan out the details. My brother was going to buy my car and I knew when my last day of work in Zuni would be.

I was filled with anticipation, questions, and of course some fear. But I was certain that I was right for the position (it was a management position for an inclusive education project around the country) and this would be my entry back into international development. I was also so excited to have the opportunity to work with the IRC! It was a Monday when I made the decision I would accept and I knew they would offer it by the end of the week. What many of you don't know is that Monday night (the same day I made up my mind) I had a dream. I dreamt that I was sitting on my living room floor (in the log cabin) with papers all around me, working, when a voice said, "Don't go. You need to stay to write the book. Don't go to Afghanistan." The dream stayed with me throughout the following day. I had no idea what the book was about. Writing a book wasn't in my thoughts of plans, but I was uneasy about the message of Afghanistan.

Later that night I attended a meeting at Western New Mexico University. A group of us started a research project on Teacher Action Research. Our plan was to write/publish a paper. That night at the meeting, one of the professors (J.) said that a colleague was encouraging us to write a book instead of a paper and she asked us what we thought. The group was excited and decided to write a book. At that moment I felt like the world stopped. I couldn't quite feel the floor under my feet and tears filled my eyes. I looked at J., (she was sitting next to me) and I softly said, "I'm not going." She was confused and asked, "What?" I said again, "I'm not going. I'm not going to Afghanistan. I will go to school instead and continue our research." Later that night I burst into tears, unexpectedly, when I told my mom my decision, my final decision. I cried because I wanted to go so badly, but I made a promise to myself years ago that I would never ignore my intuition.

When I heard of the news today that the IRC workers were killed, I called a friend who had worked there until 2006 to see how she was doing. It was then (the papers hadn't released names at this point) when I was told by K. that one of the workers that was killed was a woman, Jackie Kirk, who had interviewed me. K. also told me that the woman they hired for the position I applied for was also killed. The third woman would have been my immediate supervisor. The three of them were doing a site visit at a school that was part of the project. The driver, a 25 year old Afghan male, was killed too.

Since I arrived here in Amherst, I have been thinking that I made a mistake. That I should have gone to Afghanistan and then started this doct. program a few years down the road. Just last night I was regretting my decision and wondered how the project was going. I felt the world stop again today. When I saw the picture on BBC of the wooden coffins that held their bodies, all I could think of was, "One of those coffins holds Jackie. One of those coffins could have been for me." And then I was angry at BBC. Angry that they published that horrible picture. Their parents and loved ones should never have to see (on the internet) a wooden box in the dirt of a foreign country knowing that it held their loved one. And then I thought about my parents. I'm sad that I will never get to meet Jackie. Just last week I was reading something that she wrote and thought how excited I was that I would probably one day get to work with her. I will use some of the manuals and other educational tools that she has developed over the years as I begin this education program and work thereafter. Jackie has worked in numerous countries within the post-conflict and emergency education sector. She was part of a group that developed the INEE standards for International Education which is used around the world. It is odd to know that I will never see the green checkmark next to her name in my skype account again.

In the bigger picture, one needs to step back to see what this means for the country of Afghanistan and of course the rest of the world. The Taliban has proudly accepted the responsibility of their murders. Claiming that they don't support the work of the international community. And of course they wouldn't. The Taliban doesn't want all people to be educated and/or employed. Who would they recruit then? The IRC is suspending their work in Afghanistan. Around 40,000 child will no longer have educational services, even more since others will pull out. Due to an increase of violence around the Kabul area in these past few months, several agencies had begun to pull out. With this attack on the IRC, others will follow suit and leave. I would like to mention that the IRC Afganistan was there since in the 60s, through the Soviet invasion and the rise and fall of the Taliban. They were considered the most respected aid agency in the country and thus sheltered from attacks until now. Several people said to me as I was going through the application process, "It is too dangerous, don't go." My response was, "There are over 10,000 aid workers in Kabul. Only 9 have been killed this year, what are the chances?" Unfortunately, my question was answered and I have learned to never think of the odds as in my favor again.

I suppose I wrote this to you all to give a human element to this news so it wasn't just another depressing headliner that you saw when your BBC homepage opened up today. Or a runner on the bottom of your tv screen when you watched CNN. Or to bring your attention to news you may not have heard today. Sometimes we need moments like this to remind ourselves of the important work that needs to be done and to address the issues that need attention. To stop for a moment and realize how connected we are to one another. To be reminded to never ignore our gut. To change something if we feel like we aren't doing the work that needs to be done. To move in the direction that we feel pulled towards and to act.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Try this for an adrenaline rush

I headed into a new area on my morning run yesterday and quickly decided that I would never be running down that particular street again because of the combined smells of various factory pollutants and sewage. On my way out of the area, I spotted three pretty large dogs on the other side of a ditch from me. They apparently noticed me too and began loping down the ditch and up the other side toward me.

I've encountered quite a few strays on my runs here and none of them has ever seemed very threatening, some, in fact, are so friendly and cute that I am attempted to take them home with me. But as these three got closer, I could see that they were ferocious looking pit bull mixes that wanted a piece of me. They were soon within feet of me when I bent down to pick up an imaginary rock, though there was nothing at my feet but dirty asphalt, and somehow this action alone had them fleeing in the opposite direction, to my surprise and relief.

This brief andrenaline-inducing incident was enough to power me up the next hill and home, resolved to stay off this street for the rest of my running days.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I know what comes next (or drama on public transport part 2 1/2)

So here's the scenario: The 9:40 a.m. bus that I take to work had not appeared at its usual time of 9:50. It was soon 10 and 10:10 and the 5 other people waiting with me at the stop were all visibly annoyed. Some of them had been waiting since 9:30 as they did not realize the schedule had changed for summer in June. The next scheduled bus showed up around 10:25, and before I boarded I knew there was going to be some drama.

Sure enough, the short, wiry, middle-aged woman who boarded behind me, as soon as she hit the steps of the bus, started in on the driver.

Woman, frantic high-pitched voice: What happened to the 9:30 bus? We've been waiting for so long. What's going on here?

Driver: That's not my problem. I don't drive the 9:30 bus.

Woman, now standing near the rear of the bus: We waited for almost an hour! What do you mean it's not your problem? I want an explanation!

Driver, stepping out of his little safety door: If you don't sit down and be quiet this bus isn't going anywhere! I've had enough!

Woman: You tell us what happened and I'll sit down!

Driver: Quiet! I've had enough of you!

This went on for a while longer and I really thought the driver might just get off the bus in a huff and walk away. But they finallly both shut up and we were on our way. If it had been a man yelling at the driver I'm sure they would've been up in each other's faces within seconds and other men would've jumped up to try and pull them away from each other. As she was a woman, the driver satisfied himself with just yelling down the length of the bus.

The term road rage has taken on a whole new meaning here in Turkey. OK, so the previous incident doesn't exactly fit the category, but is somewhat related: rage over not being able to hit the road on time, I suppose.

In another incident, I was heading to the bus station in Yenibosna when I saw a man crossing an onramp almost get hit by a car. The car grazed the man's backside and in the same moment the man whirled about and banged the car's hood with his fist. The car then screeched to a halt, the driver hopped out and the men began flailing at one another. The driver had the man on the ground when passers-by ran up to pull them apart, all the while with the two yelling at each other.

My theory is that Turks, particularly Turkish men, save up all their suppressed anger for the road. While they can be perfectly sane the rest of the time, behind the wheel they become raging madmen, ready to purposefully rear end the car in front of them if it has cut them off or otherwise offended. Almost daily I'll witness men yelling out of car windows at other drivers that have performed some maneuver to bring out the rage or even pulling over to argue and do violence to one another.

This is one of the many reasons that I've chosen not to drive here in Istanbul. In this case I think avoidance is a great coping mechanism. As well, it feels much safer to be riding around in the large rectangular metal cage that is a bus than a tiny passenger vehicle. I can be fairly sure that the bus will win in any clash of the metal deathtraps.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shell shocked

1. Suffering from shell shock.
2. Stunned, distressed, or exhausted from a prolonged trauma or an unexpected difficulty.
--The American Heritage Dictionary

While I realize this is a term derived from combat, I think it is entirely fitting to describe how I, and much of Turkey, feel about the events of this past month. Let me first recap what events I'm referring to, in case you've been hiding from the chaos of the world, avoid the news altogether, or have some other legitimate excuse for not knowing:

July 9, Wednesday: Shooting attack outside of US Consulate General, Istanbul
Death toll: 6 (3 policemen, 3 perpetrators)

July 14, Monday: Ergenekon indictment made public
Brief: 2,455-page document charging the Ergenekon crime network of attempting to overthrow the current and former governments through various illegal activities, including assassinations of high-level officials, grenade attacks and social engineering

July 27, Sunday: Dual bombings on shopping street, Istanbul
Death toll: 17, including 5 children
Injuries: 150

July 30, Wednesday: Constitutional Court gives verdict in closure case on ruling party
Brief: The case was filed against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) back in March by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals on charges that the party had become a focal point of anti-secular activities, leaving the political and economic arenas in limbo. While the court agreed that the party had engaged in anti-secular activities, it decided that the actions were not serious enough to justify closure, instead ruling that half of the party's Treasury funding be cut.

I don't feel as if I'm absorbing these events anymore, processing them. I have this sense of detachment in which everything has taken on a surreal tinge. The conspiracy theories and counter-conspiracy theories, the scapegoating. . . It exhausts the mind. In seeking to understand the inner workings of this country, I find myself more and more confused, not knowing what or who to believe.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Running inspiration

So I'm in the fourth week of my training program for the Eurasia Marathon. And thus far, it's been going fairly well. I've been caught in one rainstorm, which actually felt quite good since the temps were still pretty warm and had one morning in which I was heading straight into driving winds, but, of course, on the return trip I had the wind blowing me all the way home, almost felt like flying. The days I do my longer runs can leave me quite tired at work, but I think my co-workers have adjusted to my yawning every 5 seconds.

There are some mornings, though, that I really need that extra bit of inspiration to get me out of bed at 5:30 and to keep my legs moving up the all-to-frequent hills of my neighborhood. And this is what does it:

*Rise (actually, every song from Into the Wild)

Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
And suddenly swallowed by signs
Lo and behold

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up
Throw down my ace in the hole

*The Middle, by Jimmy Eat World
*Everything is Everything, by Lauryn Hill
*Try Again, by Aliyah (was also our warm up song for jazz dance class)
*Make You Feel That Way, by Blackalicious
*Real Wild Child, by Christopher Otcasek

. . .And a whole lot more. Some people, who consider themselves purists, run without music all the time, saying that you should enjoy the experience for what it is and tune into the things around you. I've gone with and without. Without music, it's just you, the road, and your mind (and the annoying minibus drivers that slow next to you and honk, the policemen who yell "Why are you running?" the men at the bus station who gawk, etc.). Lately, I haven't been able to shut off my mind and the sometimes self-defeating messages it sends. When I can "zen it" and tune into things around me and the calm of the morning, those are my best runs. However, music gives me another medium to focus on, and beyond that, to provide motivation when it is lacking or waning.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mini-trail at the ranch and pets in Turkey

On Saturday, a friend and I headed to Göçmen's Ranch in Zekeriyaköy in Sariyer, the northernmost district of Istanbul, to do some horseback riding. The drive to get there took us through some lush forest and I was surprised at how little traffic there was. Though neither of us was sure how to get there, we asked a gas station worker for some directions and for once they were actually accurate!

We brought along my friend's dog, Haydut (Bandit), since he had never seen horses before. Upon his first look at these creatures multiple times his size, he just gawked but didn't bark at all. The ranch had a little cafe, where they claimed to make great breakfasts and said we had to come back earlier next time to partake. The horses were very healthy looking, shiny manes and all. We hopped on and headed down the trail with our guide, Boris. Disappointingly, the trail was pretty short and as we had come in the heat of the day, the horses were rather sluggish. After circling a small pond we doubled back toward the stables. Boris then let us do some rounds in the arena.

Hanging out with Haydut reminded me of how much I want a dog. But I'm really not comfortable with keeping a mid-size dog in our small flat, or really any sized flat for that matter. My friend seems to do fine with Haydut in a flat, but some of her neighbors are really not cool with her having a dog. I think a lot of Turks are just coming around to the idea of keeping cats and dogs as pets, but enough still find the idea distasteful.

I want my future dog to have a yard to run around in. Perhaps this is just an American idea of space and freedom that's been ingrained in me. But is it really fair to a dog to keep it boxed up in a flat for the majority of the day? So this means I will likely never own a pet while in Turkey, at least not one that lives outside of an aquarium.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Morphing back into a morning person

The early morning runs in order to beat the heat began last week. And of course dragging my ass out of bed at 5:20 a.m. wasn't the easiest thing the first few days. My body and mind were just screaming, "Noooooooooooooooooo." However, once I made it outside, the comfortable cool of the morn, the blessed quiet and the sunrise made it feel much better. I'm rediscovering the neighborhood in these early hours and finding streets/areas that I'd never seen before. After getting back and taking an icy cold shower I have an extra few hours before leaving for work. This means I can return e-mails, do laundry, have time for breakfast . . . I'm remembering what it is like to be a morning person and I like the perks.

On Sunday, the day I do my long training runs, I picked up an impromptu running partner on the last third of my 13K run. I heard someone running behind me and this small, stocky guy passed me. I headed down another street and for awhile thought I had lost him, but then when passing by the police station I heard someone coming up behind me again. When I hit the lower road the guy came up beside me and started asking questions. I thought I could easily get rid of him by announcing first that I am married, but that proved not to be a deterrent. The guy wouldn't shut up and if I had had the energy to sprint away at that point I would have. Anyways, he eventually asked where I lived and I told him in no uncertain terms that I don't give out that information. I turned into a block of apartments that wasn't mine and said this was where I lived and he thankfully continued up the hill. I don't know what the best approach is in situations like this. Perhaps just a "go the f**** away." But I really dislike rudeness and unless someone poses a real threat I don't think I would say that. There's also the consideration that I'm bigger than a lot of men here so I feel like if I were ever attacked I could hold my own. I've also taken self defense classes, but it's still hard to gauge how I would react in the actual situation.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Counting down, ramping up

This week is not only the first week of summer, but also the start of my 18-week countdown and intensive training program for the Eurasia Marathon. I took up running again back in February, but the training I will begin this week will require 6-day-a-week workouts. My long runs are scheduled for Sundays and speedwork on Saturdays.

The Eurasia will have a new course this year. According to runner/writer John Crofoot:

The new course increases the scenic and historical appeal of the marathon, crossing, as usual, the Bosporus, then passing through Beşiktaş and Karaköy and following the Golden Horn to Eyüp. Eventually running along the sea coast to Gülhane Park, the 42.2-kilometer marathon will end in Sultanahmet, at the Hippodrome, one of the oldest race tracks in the world. (Today's Zaman, June 10, 2008)

Training in Istanbul presents some special problems and the biggest one for me is the poor air quality. I have allergies and asthma, which means I'll be doing a lot of my running indoors as the air grows increasingly worse, with the compounding factor of photochemical smog this summer. Of course, I would much rather be outdoors, so I'll also be trying to shift some runs to the early morning, when the air is slightly better. My neighborhood does at least offer wide sidewalks that are mostly free of the undulations and holes just waiting to wank your ankle in much of Istanbul. As well it's a pretty safe area.

Did I mention that I tend toward laziness and I've never been naturally attracted to running, which to me are both reasons driving my marathon goal. I do like to be fit, but I also need something to work toward so it's not just exercising for the sake of it. I love that fully relaxed but energized feeling after a run, and pounding the pavement or the treadmill has been a good way to sweat off the stressors of the day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The vampires are breeding

The bane of my existence made its first seasonal appearance in my home last night. I woke up around 3 am feeling somewhat disoriented. My arms were itching uncontrollably, and then I heard it -- the all too familiar buzz of the mosquito. I thought, no, it can't be, it's too early yet. But then I recalled the rains of the last few days and daytime temperatures in the 70s (F). Perfect breeding conditions. Regardless of the fact that we live in a ninth-storey flat, they had found their way up and through my slightly cracked windows.

Though in my lifetime I've come into contact with all manner of insects that would strike fear into many -- flying cockroaches and white scorpions in The Gambia, to name just a few -- the mosquito is the only one that has burrowed into my psyche, driven me to extreme measures, and brought out my irrational side.

And perhaps this is all because the mosquito factors into my very earliest memories at the age of 3 on my first trip to my mother's homeland, the Philippines. Though we all slept under nets, somehow they still managed to invade the inner sanctum and suck our blood. And I always seemed to get the brunt of their attacks. I have an allergy to these bites and get large welts. So as a 3-year-old I had these all over my limbs and they eventually turned into dark spots. I returned to the States, to the horror of my father who had not joined us on the trip, with my own personal leopard skin.

I don't understand why the majority of flats here lack any sort of screening on the windows or even the track structure so one can install them on their own. Seems like a pretty basic consideration in constructing any sort of building in a metropolis with an out of control bug problem. So this weekend I will be sure to be found at Koçtaş -- Turkey's equivalent to Home Depot -- purchasing screening material. One of my co-workers tells me this comes in the form of rolls that you must cut down to size and an insufficient amount of velcro to attach them to the window frame -- which he has supplemented with double-sided tape.

Meanwhile, I'll be sleeping in the mosquito-free environs of my living room.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I've faced periods of depression since I was a child, sometimes for months at a time. The peak, or what I'm hoping was the peak, was during my first 2 years at university at WWC. One particular quarter, I didn't have a roommate and thus my mind was left to its own devices. I would skip classes because I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. People would knock on my dorm room and I would pretend I wasn't there because I just couldn't face anyone. I would take long walks in the middle of the night contemplating ways to die.

Things improved through my twenties. I learned to recognize the beginning of a spiral and sometimes turn the tide before things descended further into darkness. I've never taken any of the wide array of "happy drugs" on the market, though I've considered it. I figure this is this mind I was given, and though it may not be flawlessly designed, I don't really want to alter it with chemicals if at all possible and perhaps become someone I no longer recognize.

So, that is the background of my more than melancholy disposition and here we are in the present, where Devi isn't doing so well. A wave of sadness is chasing me down, and I'm not sure how to get away this time. I wouldn't normally share this type of thing here, but perhaps that's part of my problem. Until my mid-twenties I wouldn't even share this with my closest friends, thus allowing it build, and getting so caught up in my own head that there seemed to be nothing else in existence.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stoney encounter at Breakfast World

I was picking up a few items today at my local Mis Kahvalti Dunyasi (Super Breakfast World), a store that claims to have everything you could ever want for breakfast, and was quite pleased with the selection, especially of the cheeses.

I brought my purchases to the counter, where a young woman wearing the hijab stood at the cash register. She didn't say a word to me as she was scanning my items, which I, at first, didn't think as strange. But when she bagged the items and I took them and thanked her, again there was only silence. I looked at her and saw a face of stone, with eyes refusing to meet mine. I decided to try again and wished her an "iyi gunler" (good day), which most shopkeepers will usually be the first to offer the customer on their way out. Again I received only silence.

I have to note, though I am on the receiving end of plenty of rudeness in my neighborhood because I am different (non-Muslim, non-Turkish, non-hijab or carsaf-wearing), it usually doesn't come from people working at the local shops. In fact, the pharmacists and bakers have been some of the friendliest people I've encountered in the neighborhood. So this behavior was unexpected and I was again taken aback, just as in the elevator encounter. I'm tempted to return to this store and try talking to the woman until I get some form of response. The build-up of these experiences is making me feel like I need to be some type of diversity crusader. I need to believe that things can change and that I can be apart of that change.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend at Abant Lake

Evren surprised me with a weekend at Abant Lake in Bolu Province -- halfway between Istanbul and Ankara. Abant is a lovely freshwater lake tucked away up in the mountains among dense stands of pine. There is a trail that wraps all the way around the lake and several trails that can take you up to the surrounding peaks. If you don't feel like hiking you can also take a horse carriage or rent a horse to take you around the lake.

Evren on the walkway over the bog.

A rickety bridge spanning a creek near Abant.

Water wheel on the edge of town.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Let's start with sharing an elevator

This morning I was heading to the first floor in my building's elevator when it came to a stop at the 3rd floor. The door opened and a woman in a çarşaf (the outfıt pictured below, literally translates as sheet) glanced in, shot me a look of disdain and quickly shut the door again while mumbling something uuntelligible.

Photo: Charles Fred

Well neighbor, though I may not fit into the mould of what you think someone in our apartment, our neighborhood, or even the entire country of Turkey should look like, would it kill you to ride three floors in an elevator with me? Do you really despise my very existence that much?

I received your very clear answer with a look and the slamming of an elevator door. I don't think we all need to just get along, let's start with being able to ride in one elevator together.

The following excerpt comes from an article by Burak Kiliç:

The research was done under the supervision of Dr. Yılmaz Esmer from Bahçeşehir University, who is responsible for the Turkish branch of the World Values Survey. The survey shows that the Turkish public holds positive views about the headscarf. Only nine percent of the respondents indicated that they did not want to have a covered neighbor. However, 88 percent said they did not want gays, atheists or unmarried couples as neighbors and 33 percent said they do not want neighbors from a different religion. Esmer notes that Turks appreciate diversity as an abstraction but that they do not want to have neighbors with different identities. Turks are the most opposed to having neighbors of different religions among the 15 other countries surveyed.

Turks can no longer afford to merely "appreciate diversity as an abstraction." Diversity is here my friends, a tangible reality. Not coming to a neighborhood near you, but already living there and waiting to be treated as human.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why I won't be celebrating tomorrow

Tomorrow, April 23, is National Sovereignty and Children's Day here in Turkey. The front of my workplace has already been draped with a massive Turkish flag and a gigantic picture of Atatürk, but I'm afraid this gesture hasn't exactly gotten me into a celebratory mood. While this is a national holiday, the newspaper of course doesn't give us the day, or even half a day, off.

Nonetheless our bus service, which normally offers morning and evening transport, will have the day off so we will be left to find our own way here and home, definitely something to celebrate, don't you agree. And yes, children are being shipped here from all ends of the earth to perform and join in the festivities, but really, don't we have enough here already? I just can't seem to escape them on the buses, ferries or metros, but let me get in the spirit and celebrate their presence anyhow. No need to send hate mail, I don't hate children. And no need to file an Article 301 case against me, either, I think Ataturk and this nation are great on the whole. I just question all the hype over this day; perhaps we also need a National Overpopulation Day to balance things out.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My first futbol match

This evening I escaped work a bit early to head to my first futbol match with Evren, Hakan and Cuneyt. The game was at the Ataturk Olimpiyat Stadyum between my team, Galatasaray, and Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyespor. First off, traffic was mad on the freeway and looking around at the other cars, I realized that I was surrounded by other G.saray fans and that we were all headed to the same place. When we finally got there we had to pass through 3 levels of security, including 2 pat downs, for which I was swiftly directed to the one police woman standing in each line.

I found out that though seat numbers are printed on each ticket, no one really pays attention to that and unless you get there super early you're left to really crap seats or standing in the aisles. But then I looked around and realized that no one uses their seats anyways, at least not the G.Saray side, so it doesn't really matter. The fans seemed so caught up in chants and singing that many seemed to be missing the game altogether, which is ashame cause G.Saray played really well and scored in the third minute, this despite the fact that their head coach deserted them a few weeks ago.

A security officer came by during the first half to clear the aisles, but ended up being swooped up by several fans, including Evren, and chanting right along with them. Instead of hot dogs at the concession stands, there are what I deemed kofte dogs -- buns with pointy ends filled with little log-like koftes, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. The meat was a bit suspect but they were tasty nonetheless and part of my first Turkish futbol experience.
We cut out a early to avoid being caught in a second wave of traffic (and because we were triple parked). Final score G.Saray 3, I.B.B. zippo. oooooh aaaaay oh ay oh ay oh ooooh

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Exploring opportunities

My last boss in the States, who I considered a mentor, once advised me to secure and go to job interviews every now and then to keep my interview skills primed. I followed her advice and ended up being offered almost every job I interviewed for, and subsequently turning down the offers since I was happy with my position at the time.

Recently I was informed about a position at a news agency by one of my co-workers and decided to apply since the 6-day work week is getting kind of old. I was called up for an interview this morning and set up a time for this weekend. The job is only part-time and is not far from my current workplace so transport would be easy. So we'll see what happens. . .

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Public transport enlightenment

I've taken to pondering parts of the Tao during my morning bus commute, especially when I've forgotten to charge my mp3 player. Here is a brief passage that I was struck by this morn:

Give birth to it and nourish it.

Produce it but don't possess it.

Act without expectation.

Excel, but don't take charge.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

First wedding of spring '08

Photo: M. Jakirlic

Congratulations to J and R who tied the knot last weekend here in the Bul!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Back in the Bul, reluctantly

It's a bittersweet feeling to be back in the Bul after two and a half weeks spending time with friends and family in the States. Got back late Thursday and was immediately thrown back into the grind, working a 14-hour day on Friday. Actually, it's not as if I was ever free of the grind, as I was working the entire time in the States -- which meant getting up at 2 am while I was in Idaho and 1 am in CA (then 12 am when the time changed in Turkey).

To say my bodily clock is completely warped is an understatement. I am pleased, however, that I managed not to get sick.

I arrived in Istanbul to an empty flat as Evren had left Tuesday for a business trip to Switzerland and Italy. Then there was the water heater, which refused to work when the only thing I craved that night was a hot shower and to fall into bed.

The sky is a morose shade of gray and instead of being able to sleep in today (after a night of waking up at multiple odd hours) like most people, I had to throw my resistant body out of bed and make my way to work. I miss my niece, little rocketgirl, and feel like I could use several more weeks of Cali sunshine.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cruising the Greenbelt

This afternoon my brother and I took a 20-mile bike ride along the Boise River Greenbelt. Though the weather was constantly changing (hmm, that does remind of Istanbul), it was a beautiful ride. We even came across three deer that were hanging out right by the path. There's more to the potato state than it gets credit for.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not quite like riding a bike

There are certain activities that if you don't engage in for awhile and then return to, you can jump right back in the saddle with no problem. I now know that skiing is, almost, one of them for me, but not quite. I am far from being an expert, my only real experience coming in a few jaunts to the San Bernardino slopes in high school. So when my brother suggested a trip up to Bogus Basin, one of the main resorts above Boise, I thought, "Why not try it again, over a decade later." Last winter I had tried snow boarding and felt I was really starting to get the hang of it by the end of the day and I recalled skiing as being a lot easier to pick up.

So yesterday I found myself decked out in an amusing hodge podge of my sister-in-law's ski apparel, long-johns, puffy socks and all. I was outfitted with the equipment at a rental shop and was soon doing the robot walk in my boots up the metal mesh stairs to the bottom of the slope. My feet tend to cramp easily and were already doing so in the strange new environment of the plastic boot. I stamped into my bindings and my brother and I made our way to the lift for the bunny slope for a test run. On the chair lift my brother provided several pointers and after hopping off the lift I was able to swish my way down without a hitch and stop at the bottom. We went down the easy slope a few more times so I could get my wits about me, then headed for higher runs.

I had gone about half-way down the next run when on a fast turn I found myself heading out of control and in the next second my body was flying forward and my face was firmly planted in a snow bank. I slowly extracted myself from the snow and my brother helped me gather my skis and get them back on. After this we practiced stopping and small S turns on steeper grades. We went on several more runs, and though I ate it twice more, it was a great time. The scenery was amazing and the weather not to cold. Good powdery conditions unlike the icy, dangerous runs of SoCal. I'm ready to hit the slopes again, but next time on Mt. Uludag.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sleepless in Star

Flew into Cali on the 17th after a horrendous 8 hour layover in Munich after which I was a complete zombie and not at all ready to do 11 1/2 more hours. Surprisingly good service on United. I always expect rudeness from American carriers but the staff was all quite good. And another point for them -- the food was above average.

Cousin Ron, mom and I went to dinner at Elephant Bar after escaping from LAX. We got to the house at around 11pm so there was no time to sleep. I went online and started work at around midnight and worked through till 8am. For the first few days on this schedule I wasn't feeling lagged but then I flew up to Idaho to see my bro and his fam and the lack of sleep is beginning to catch up with me. I can stay awake during the day, but my brain stays in this floaty state in which everything seems a bit surreal. Luckily not working on the weekends so got my first 2 almost full nights of sleep.

Spent the weekend in Twin Falls at my sister-in-law's parent's house. Adi went on her first 2 easter egg hunts. The first was a wild rampage of kids at a plant nursery. Though the kids were divided by age groups there really wasn't enough room so when the officiator yelled GO there was a stampede of kids and parents. I hopped up on a bench to get out of the way but wasn't able to get any good photos with the crowd.

This morning my bro and headed over to the actual Twin Falls (which is now actually only single falls because the other side has been dammed for hydropower) and then to Shoshone Falls, also used for hydropower but with open turbines. We took a short hike and of course because the hard way is always the funnest, did a bit of rock scrambling along the way. It was still cold enough for there to be some icicles hanging down from the cliffsides, though many had already melted.

If there was one thing I could change about living in Istanbul it would be the addition of open natural spaces (and I don't mean just city parks) where I could escape from the rat race, if just for a little while. I'm still in love with the outdoors even though I live in megalopolis, when I'm back in nature I realize how much I really miss it. It's in my bones. I can't feel fully myself without it.

Anyways, that was a tangent. I'm enjoying my little niece and just trying to squeeze the most out of every minute, cause who knows when I'll be back. Heading back down to Cali on Thursday, but up here will be skiing (or maybe trying boarding again) and shopping, shopping, shopping.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I am not a terrorist

The following are excerpts from a poem and a letter by two young Kurdish students who attend a boarding school in the southeastern city of Muş in Turkey. The work originally appeared in a column by Bulent Korucu.

You know I am not a terrorist

That I am only aware of the pain associated with terror

This city, this country is mine; I am aware of it

Nobody may label me a terrorist; I am not a terrorist; I am aware of it.

People usually think we, the people of the East, are thieves and terrorists; but we are not terrorists. When I hear these remarks, I wilt like a flower; if we were terrorists, then why did we send our brothers to become soldiers in defense of this country. Is it possible to believe that we became thieves and terrorists while our brothers are fighting there to defend this country? Finally, please speak up if someone says the Anatolian people are terrorists because we are tired of hearing this.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Navigating the in-law waters

Families are a package deal, so along with my Turkish husband, Evren, I got my Turkish mother-in-law, Gülcan. Of course I had heard all the stories, even from my best friend, and they all came down to one thing -- the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can't be a good one. Yet I showed up two years ago ready to be the exception, after all when I had first visited before moving here we had gotten along great.

But then in the first week after my move, I realized that things were already gettin' strange. While I knew that many Turkish women, especially in her age range, were extreme clean freaks, her level of clean was something completely different. Our washing machine was going 24/7; when she ran out of clothes, she moved on to curtains (that already seemed quite clean to me), rugs, basically any textile that could fit in the washing machine. And if it couldn't fit in the machine then it was washed in the tub. I was relaxing with Ev at around 1am when Gül summoned me out to one of the balconies to help wash windows.

I wanted to understand where this behavior was coming from. I keep my house pretty clean by American standards, and I was feeling pretty insulted by that point. So I plied Ev for background info. He explained that she is O-C with cleaning and that she does this even at her friends' homes. I was over at one of her closest friend's homes in Bursa, Sevil Teyze (Auntie), when I found out that this was absolutely true. Sevil told me she does this pretty much everywhere she goes and as her friends, they've mostly given in to it.

Over the last few years I've learned more that has made me understand her better, and she has eased off the cleaning frenzy while visiting us, at least a bit. She is a naturally energetic, or more accurately a WIRED person that needs to be moving almost constantly. Added to that, she retired from her primary school teaching job when she was only 35 (don't wonder why the Turkish social security/retirement system is collapsing), so has had to occupy herself for almost 20 years now with. . .

She came over last week and while the washing machine was still running quite a lot, it wasn't running at unreasonable hours that would make our neighbors consider doing voodoo on us. Oh yes, and the bleaching of the floors that used to go on (inciting asthma attacks in me) no longer happens, thankfully. She apparently saves that for the two elevators in her apartment building.

In an incident unrelated to cleaning that simply amused me after pissing me off briefly, she tried to plug an American adapter for my mp3 player directly into the universal power strip without the necessary converter to charge her cell phone (despite the fact that we had 4 Nokia chargers around the house that would've fit the bill perfectly). Result: the adapter blew and is now unusable, leaving my mp3 player powerless. The thought of being without music on the bus commute was almost unbearable, but then I'll be heading to the states in a week and will get to gift myself with an upgraded player.

Turks have two words for mother-in-law. One for if you don't like her -- kaynana (even sounds bad doesn't it) -- and one for if you do -- kayınvalide (rather unwieldly). But I haven't really used either, perhaps because of my dislike for such black and white labels. We are just navigating the waters of this relationship as best we can, quirks and all, trying to understand and be understood, trying to find our commonalities and accept our differences.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pivotal moments

On the bus to work this morning, a moment in my childhood that really changed my perspective came to mind, reminding me of the huge impact that words can have, especially on children. I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA), a conservative Protestant religion that worships on Saturday rather than Sunday. I could expound but religion is not my point today.

I was 11 when this occurred and my father had died only a few months before. My family and I attended a medium-sized church called the Loma Linda Filipino SDA Church. One Saturday after services we were all waiting around for the church potluck to begin. The youth pastor approached me and pulled me aside, a bit suprising since he'd never spoken more than a greeting to me before. He then said in no uncertain words, "You're becoming a real recluse," adding a few more sentences along the same lines. I don't remember giving a response, just walking away in state of shock. Later that day (and many times after that) when I had some time to ponder the comment, I wondered how he could have said such a thing when he knew so little about me and when the one fact that he did know (since the funeral had been held at his church) was that my father had died recently and that I was a child in deep grieving. As well, even before his death, my difference as the only Black-Filipino besides my brother among the several hundred members had been keenly felt. I was a pretty quiet as a kid and this feeling of difference did nothing to help things.

This incident was the beginning of my questioning of organized religion. In my childhood mind I wondered how I could believe the things this man was preaching if he could be so thoughtless and blind on a personal level. Alhough this was a childhood simplification of the matter, it still led me down a path of questioning every aspect of religion and my own world view, and for that I am thankful.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Two more seats please

This past weekend, Evren and I headed out to see the Turkish comedy "Recep İvedik." This movie has been sold out here since it came out and I was curious to see what kind of movie had gained such popularity. We got to the theater, found our seats (assigned instead of first-come first-serve) and watched as the seats quickly filled up. When the movie was about to start a couple came in walked up the far aisle, looked at their tickets and then started chatting with the another couple who were apparently in their seats. They found that they had been assigned the same seats -- the theater had double-booked (gee, and I thought it was only airlines that did this). An attendant appeared and the couple had some words with her. A few minutes later a male attendant came in lugging an oversized stuffed chair and placed it about half-way-up right smack in the aisle. He left and returned with another chair which he plopped down right next to it, fully blocking the aisle (earthquake, fire safety, no problem, stampede down the remaining aisle of course). Problem solved, gotta love this place.

Oh, the movie, typical slapstick comedy, bottle-shattering farts and all. Though I prefer dark comedies I did get a few laughs out of Recep. How can you not laugh at a giant, big-bellied man doing leg lifts in pink spandex or getting locked out of his hotel room wrapped in a towel with bubble bath foam all over his body. And anyways, one of the reasons I like Turkish comedies is that the dialogue is pretty light and easy to understand and its a pretty painless way to learn some more language.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

They say it's your birthday!!


Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Türkiye Anniversary to Me!

Two years ago on this date my Turkish Airlines flight cruised into the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul and though in quite a groggy state after over 17 hours of transit, my heart was pumping with the excitement of finally being back in Turkiye and starting my life with Ev. In these last few years I've experienced a little bit of everything, from treatment at a Turkish state hospital to my first dive off the coast of Marmaris. I took the language up, speedily got the basics, and then put it down in frustration, only to come back to it and slowly plug away, this time without putting so much pressure on myself. I've been on the good and bad side of my mother-in-law. I quickly learned to love and then just as quickly lost Ev's grandmother. I got to have my family over to see my life in Turkiye and to witness my marriage. I've been through three jobs and also experienced a period of joblessness. I've tried and loved a wide variety of Turkish dishes (except for the liver). I can even stomach the stomach. I received perfect vision from laser surgery in Istanbul after going my whole life with goggly glasses or annoying contacts. I've lived in three different flats, 2 in Bursa and our current in Istanbul. I've witnessed Islamic ritual sacrifice and the pulsing drums at 4am on Ramadan mornings. I've watched my life flash before my eyes on Istanbul freeways. I've learned the tricks of public transport. I've hurled myself down Uludag slopes on a snowboard for the first time and landed on my ass more than a dozen, ready to get up and do it all over again.

It's been a wild ride and I can only wonder what's next. Thank you, my dear Ev, for taking this journey with me; your love and laughter have gotten me through the toughest days and made the blissful days even brighter.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A rainbow of scarves

This past Saturday Evren and I headed to the engagement ceremony/dinner for my friends/co-workers James and Rumeysa (hailing from Cali and Istanbul, respectively). They met last year here at Zaman -- where else, we pretty much all live at work. Anyways, when we got there none of the rest of the paper crew had shown up yet and as I scanned the room I quickly realized that I was the only adult woman without a headscarf and in a sleeveless gown. Funny how this doesn't really phase me anymore. I've become so used to being the odd-one-out in pretty much every situation that the oddness has become my normal. Finally the Zamanites showed up and we found a table together. Evren was visibly bored since he was seated across from one of our less talkative columnists and he's more used to somewhat livelier events. I started studying the many scarf styles to entertain myself, my eyes drawn toward one that looked like watercolor paint splashes in one corner and another that looked like a really intricate tattoo in another. Then I moved on to observing the tulip patterned ceiling and walls. This was my first engagement ceremony here in Turkey, although I've been to many weddings. J and R exchanged rings and R's father kissed her hand at one point. There was a full dinner and afterward a multi-tiered cake, appearing very much like a wedding cake.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Booked in, reverse culture shock

I pledged to myself at the end of last year that I would finally make time to go see my first niece, Adilynn, who turned 1 this past Christmas Eve and whom I, sadly, have never met. This month I will have been in Turkey for two years, and in that time I've never traveled back to the States. I booked my ticket recently (and was rather pissed that the ticket went up 100 bucks in a week and kicking myself for not booking the previous week) for March.

When I think about visiting, I feel rather apprehensive. I remember how it was returning after more than two years living in The Gambia. I felt like a complete stranger in California. I'd lived without electricity, running water and pretty much all the other trappings of the Western world for that period and I found out that I was okay without those things. Of course, this is not quite the same. I have all the modern amenities here in Turkey; yet, I've also become quite accustomed to the way of life here. I feel very much anchored here and I know more about the PKK and Ergenekon than how the US presidential primaries are going.

It seems likely that by the time I start to get my bearings over there, I'll be heading for the headache that is LAX and on my way back here.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The dancer

My friend Ayhan is coming to visit this weekend from Ankara. It's been a long time since we've seen him. Ayhan is a professional dancer. He teaches ballet classes and also competes internationally. Last time he visited the three of us stayed up almost all night sharing favorites from our music collections and dancing the night away. Though I've never been to one of his classes, I imagine he must be a great teacher because he's the type of person that you don't feel at all self-conscious around. The fluidity of his movements draws you in, mesmerizes you. I remember when he and one of Evren's aunts got up at our wedding and danced. They took over the dance floor and had everyone's attention with their beautiful twirls and dips. (I had no idea Fatos Teyze was such a talented dancer).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eurasian Marathon

I'm putting this in writing so I won't back out. I am going to run the Eurasian Marathon this fall on Oct. 26. I haven't determined a time goal yet and am just starting to devise a training schedule.

I have only run one marathon previously, the LA Marathon in 2000. I was a senior in university at the time and decided on a whim only three months beforehand to do it. I remember the mariachi bands playing on the side of the road, everyone slipping on banana peels (poor judgement on whichever group had decided to hand those out to runners!), and most of all the pouring rain and cold temperatures. OK, this may not sound like a good time, but I loved it.

There's certainly a strong feeling of comraderie (esp. when you're all soaking wet and your shoes are making squidging noises as you run, not that I'm hoping it rains for the Eurasian), you get to run down the middle of the street and in this case across the Bosporus Bridge, all kinds of festivities are going on around you and people from all walks of life come out to cheer you on. But the draw for me is also in the journey, the hours of training put in from week to week. Before my first marathon I was taking 27 units and working part time, so working in my runs was a real task. Yet it worked because the runs were also major stress relief and became the part of my day that I looked forward to the most.

Fast forward to 2008, another packed schedule that now also includes relationship time, exercise and allergy induced asthma, and Devi in not-so-great winter shape. I'm ready to run! Anybody with me?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Remembering Hrant

Tomorrow is the 1st anniversary of the death of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Much controversy surrounds the investigation into his murder, which many, including Dink's family, say has been obstructed at every turn by police and the judicial system.
Instead of focusing on the controversy, I would like to remember the man. He was someone who promoted tolerance, dialogue and understanding among ethnic groups in Turkey. He was unafraid to voice his opinions on events in Turkish history, even if it meant being prosecuted under an archaic law, Article 301 of the Turkish constitution, multiple times. He recognized the progress that Turkey has made in human rights and tolerance of different groups, while also realizing that it has a long way to go in these areas.
I know that Dink's death was not in vain. His killing was a wake up call to many in this country and elsewhere, not just in realizing that dark forces are "out there," but in looking within and finding that it is also oneself harboring the hate and intolerance that can lead to such violence.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Where I'd rather be

I've been restless lately. It seems that everyone I know has been traveling. My mom is on a trip to the Philippines and Singapore for a month. Even Evren is away this week in Barcelona, though his trip is for business. Nonetheless, what a great city to be in.

I shot this pic last summer while hiking the cliffsides of southern Crete. I remember the feeling of freedom of walking miles and miles without seeing another soul. The only sound was the crashing waves and when I walked slightly inland, I noticed the utter silence.

I need a change of scene. All this cement and pavement is getting to me. I need a break in the routine, the 6-day staring into a screen blandness of it all. I feel disconnected. I peruse the faces on the bus and they all look sad or angry and I know that I am them, getting by, slogging through the day.