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.