Friday, November 2, 2007

15 k and Ucukum var, ama still no pictures!

The first half of this post's title means "I have a coldsore." It's true. I do. And it sucks. I started catching a cold when I was in Istanbul this last weekend with about 15 of the SSIs (Speaking Skills Instructors). Most of us went to run in 1 of 3 different races that were hosted there; officially known as the Intercontinental Eurasia (or Avrasya in Turkish) Marathon (Maratonu), there was a "Fun Run" of 8km, a 15 km run, and a full-blown, 42 km marathon on offer.

I ran the 15 km, which, considering the fact that I'm not a runner and have only ever run a maximum of 5 or 6 km at once before, was quite a feat! My only vaguely suitable shoes were in a terrible state of disrepair (i.e. the stitching was coming completely apart), so on Saturday, while walking around the historic Sultanahmet area of Istanbul (located on the famous Golden Horn), we stopped at a shoe-lined alley right outside the Grand Bazaar (Carsi Pazar- literally, Covered Market) and I got a pair of cheap trainers for 40 YTL (about 35 USD).

Nighttime view of Istanbul

It wasn't until we had made our way (eventually, after getting lost and taking a 3-hour detour!) back to the Big Apple Hostel where we were staying that it was pointed out to me that the shoes were in fact lacking insoles. Thankfully the person who pointed it out was a new Turkish acquaintance who just happened to have a friend in the insole business (fancy that), so he promised to procure me a pair of insoles by that evening, and true to to his word, he did!

Nonetheless, I did break in a new pair of shoes by running 15 k, which I would not advise anyone to do. Even the beginning of the race was not without mishap, though! I'd taken my backpack with me on the bus to the starting point, having been informed by the Marathon office (erroneously!) that I'd be able to leave it on the bus. This was not the case, however, so for the 15 minutes before the race, I was frantically running up and down the hill where the racers were congregating, trying to find an official who could tell me where to leave my bag. I eventually ran into a helpful group of Korean runners in the same predicament; thankfully, though, one of them not only spoke impeccable English, but impeccable Turkish (I assume her Korean wasn't too bad, either), so she was able to persuade a police guard to drive us back up to near the starting point, and when she couldn't convince them to take our bags, she valiantly volunteered to take them to Dolmabahce (the finish point) herself, effectively forgoing the race. Before she did so, though, we exchanged contact information on the inside of our bibs, otherwise I never would've been able to find her to get my bag back!

Then it was a mad rush to the start point, which turned out to be about 1 or 2 kilometres down the road, and I was already late! On the way I fell into step with a young Turkish boy who introduced himself to me as Hakan, before proceeding to jabber away unintelligibly (for me, anyway), as we jogged to the start point. Finally made it there at 9:10 or 9:15, 10 or 15 minutes after the race had started. No matter--I was off, jogging across the bridge towards the finish line and my destiny! Turns out my destiny felt a bit queasy and dehydrated 4 or 5 km later, so I walked for a while. The beginning of the race was undoubtedly the most rewarding visually, as we immediately crossed the bridge that spans from Europe to Asia, lending its name to the race, the world's only Marathon to span two continents. This was the one day of the year that the bridge was open to the pedestrianized public, and what a view it offers!

View from the Bosporus Bridge (original site here)

Anyway, the race proved quite a challenge, but not an insurmountable one, and it was 1:42 later (actually 1:30 or so, but the clock did not take into account my late start, alas!) that I crossed the finish line, my legs all a-wobble and my heart bursting with joy (not really). Definitely an experience worth repeating, although my legs have only just recovered 5 days later!

As to the delayed effects of the run, well, that brings us back to my ucuk (cold sore), brought about by my exposure to the sun during the run and the cold winds sweeping in off the Bosporus that the Turks and Yabanciler (foreigners) alike have been telling me here, "gecmis olsun!" Get well soon!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What we actually did in Istanbul + Sinop and the Black Sea

Despite both previous posts alluding to Istanbul and our time there, I didn't actually say anything that we did there. Well briefly (because I do after all have a couple of months to cover after the Istanbul trip), we visited the Aya Sofia (or Hagia Sophia), the beautiful cathedral built by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It really was quite phenomenal to see the architecture of the domes considering that a lot of architects and builders couldn't repeat similar designs in much later periods.

As well as that we ate at a riverfront restaurant (it was actually on the lower level of a bridge spanning the Bosporus), where the food and scenery were amazing, but we were completely ripped off! While there we also took a ferry ride on the Bosporus at sunset, and I think that was one of my favourite experiences because it was truly wonderful to sail into port with the skyline of beautiful buildings and famous landmarks that spanned in design and creation from the 6th to the 21st century, to see the Aya Sofia and the 15th century (I think) Sultanahmet 'Blue' Mosque side by side with more modern architecture. Istanbul became, without a doubt, one of my all-time favourite places in the world--it's an amazing city that you must visit if you get a chance!

Since then a lot has happened, much of which has prevented me from blogging (or so I like to tell myself). We met our units, and got to work developing Course Implementation Plans (CIPs) based on the course syllabi--that was in the second week of September. The next week we started teaching, and I have to say that the first two weeks of teaching were easily the most stressful period of my life, and a couple of days before I started, I believe I was the most afraid I've ever been! Since then, things have looked up and it's become a lot easier to plan and teach, although it is certainly still daunting (and depressing) at times...

Just one wise man...
At the Citadel, overlooking Ankara

I've had a bit of an opportunity to see more of the country recently, as a couple of friends (Lindsey and Wendi) and I took advantage of Bayram (the Eid-al-Fitr holiday following the month of Ramadan, or Ramazan as they call it here) to travel to the town of Sinop on the Black Sea coast in the North of Turkey. We caught the overnight bus there to arrive around 7:30 in the morning, and, having found a cafe and secured some Nescafe and Poaca (a Turkish pastry) for our breakfast, we set off to find our Pansiyon (hostel). It was run by a little old man who turned out to be practically deaf, which made for some interesting exchanges during our three days there!

Two of the Speaking Skills Instructors from my Teaching Unit, Alex and Gretchen, were also in Sinop for the break, so we met up with them (turns out they checked into the same hostel), and over the next couple of days explored the town a bit--it has a gorgeous bay, which we enjoyed overlooking from the castle ruins. This included a visit to Sinop's historical, famous prison where (as I've been informed but have yet to confirm) the famous poet Nazim Hikmet was once imprisoned, among other similarly famous characters from Turkey's past.

More than anything though, what I appreciated about the trip was the restfulness of it. I introduced the wonderful game of Tavla (you may know it as Backgammon) to Wendi and Lindsey, having learned it but a few short weeks earlier from another friend here. Thus, for the remainder of our days in Sinop we were frequently to be found playing Backgammon and drinking copious amounts of tea in waterfront cafes. I find myself missing backgammon more and more in the days since, and requiring that fix--so much so that I may have to invest in a set for myself sometime in the near future...

Wendi and me playing Tavla in Ankara's fashionable Bahceli district...
...with a compulsory glass of cay, of course!

Apart from a quick note to say we have finally moved into our new apartments (huzzah), which are quite stunning--pictures to come--that is all from me for now. Iyi geceler (good night)!

P.S. I'll put up pictures for this post when I have the time (and more pictures).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Wind of Change

About three weeks later than promised, but back nonetheless. The trip to Istanbul was phenomenal--the minibus picked us up at 7:30 am on the Friday, after which followed a six-hour trip to the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine (I've always been partial to the name Byzantium), Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Through the ages Istanbul has been known by several names, starting with Byzantium, then progressing to Constantinople following Constantine's adoption of the city as the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire in 330 A.D., and finally taking the name Istanbul sometime around the 10th or 11th centuries, although it didn't become known as Istanbul in the West until the early 20th century.

Cause knowledge is power!

Anyway, if your thirst for historical information, etc. about this amazing city was not sated by this short yet informative blurb, check out the source I stole the information from (although restated in my own inimitable way), the ever wonderful and reliable wikipedia.

On the bus on the way there, I finished a novel I'd been reading for some time; it was called Snow, and it's by Turkey's Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. Kirsty can attest to how long I've been reading it, as I started it sometime last summer in Richmond, and only finished it at the very end of August after a prolonged struggle. It was good in its own way, though very heavy. The book tells of an exiled poet named Ka who travels to the forlorn border town of Kars in Eastern Turkey, ostensibly to report on a wave of "suicide girls", who have been killing themselves over their inability to wear headscarves in the universities, but really to track down a woman who he had strong feelings for from his university days, and who has recently divorced. Pamuk has a way of expressing those feelings that are common to all humans but always seemed very personal and unique to you, and in that sense I liked the book for its insights, but to be honest the writing style was pretty annoying at times (very intrusive narrator, which, I'm sure, served some greater literary purpose the exact nature of which escapes me right now), and the depression that pervades the whole novel is quite overwhelming. Overall, it was a decent book, but I won't be rereading it any time soon (read: ever).

Quite apart from the internal fascinations of Snow, however, the political ramifications of Pamuk's work are such that he has often incurred the wrath of various of the factions that make up Turkey's interesting system. In a nation where held paramount are the tenets of secularism established by the founder and father or modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it is seen as a natural right of the army to step in and take action should it be perceived that this secularism is threatened. Only several weeks ago this scenario was put to the test, as Abdullah Gul of the AKP (a party with strong Muslim leanings) seemed poised to win the Presidential elections by a landslide. Although he made promises to uphold Turkey's secular position and values, his wife wears a headscarf, a point of hot concern among many Republican Turks who fear that there was a hidden agenda at work that would inevitably result in Turkey's regression into a totalitarian, religious law-based state. Turkey's shaky bid to become a member of the EU was also being closely monitored, as it would not sit well with democracy-touting Western countries if Turkey's army were to take a hand in a democratic process. Abdullah Gul did end up winning the election, so the world will have to wait and see what becomes of it. It all reminds me of the Scorpions song, Wind of Change, written about the end of the U.S.S.R., but relevant all the same to this country that seems at a loss regarding its national identity.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's Istanbul, not Constantinople...

I'm back once again with all the latest news from the cradle of civilizations that is the Anatolian peninsula. In the last week or so, the induction programme here at Bilkent has continued for us CELTA folks, so most of our days have involved some form or other of informational sessions on various aspects of BUSEL: the syllabus and its development, the average class, teaching methods, learning theories, etc. I won't bore you all with such drivel.

The evenings have proven much more entertaining and enlightening (?), as some of us made an excursion to a cafe downtown in the Tunus district the other night. It was one of those cafes where you can smoke nargilah (or sheesha, maasl, hookah, hubbly bubbly, or any of the other 1001 names it goes by), so we got three pipes between the eleven of us and had drinks, too, me taking advantage of the opportunity to order Schweppes yet again (how I have missed it!). We thoroughly enjoyed the company of our lively and enthusiastic waiter, Onur, who seemed quite besotted with several of the young ladies in our company!

At the Cafe Kaffa (Picture courtesy of Onur)

Kodak moment at the bus stop: Ted, Wendi, Alex and me
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I'll post again later, as I'm pretty tired right now, and have to be up early tomorrow for the bus ride to Istanbul, where we are spending the weekend. I'm looking forward to the Aya Sofia, a boat ride on the Bosporus, open-air markets, and Istanbul's famous nightlife, not to mention (hopefully) getting to see a friend from high school who is now living and working there. More to come after the weekend...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

From Turkey With Love: The First 4.5 Days

The following is partly regurgitated from a family email, so for those of you who have already read it (if indeed anyone is reading my palaver), apologies.

I got here safely on Friday afternoon. The trip was uneventful, although my guitar didn't come through (apparently it never left Richmond!). It should be arriving tomorrow afternoon, though (emendment 3 days later: It still hasn't arrived; I'll have to see about it tomorrow morning...). Everything seems great, if a bit surreal. I met several interns on the flight, but only one other CELTA instructor. 4 or 5 of us met up in Chicago or on the plane, and by the time we got to Ankara (we went through Istanbul) there were about 12 or 13 of us altogether.

I was really hungry in Istanbul, so another guy and I walked over to a kebab stand there, and ordered a kebab each and a coke and a water, but not before asking if they took dollars, of course (primarily using grunts and gestures along with the word "dollar" in a rising inflection). So she said yes, and we were quite delighted, until she told us that the total was...wait for it (and remember this was American dollars she was quoting us)...$46!! For two kebabs, a coke, and a water. We both gaped, and asked to make sure, but she was adamant, so we said it was too expensive and started walking away. She shrugged her shoulders and said "35?" (As if she was starting negotiations and saying, how does $35 sound to you?)!

We got to the campus by coach (about 30 min. ride), and it was quite amazing on the drive in how much the landscape and outer fringes of the city reminded me of Morocco - the setting sun lighting up dun-coloured hills; dust rising in clouds as little Fiats and Citroens sped along dirt roads passing among highrise buildings that had seen better days...

Well after much ado about relatively little we arrived and were given keys for our temporary rooms in the dormitory. Some temporary rooms! Carpeted, spacious, huge desk, armchair and ottoman, en suite bathroom (also huge), little kitchen. After we'd got settled in, the orientation leader took us out to a little restaurant on campus about 5 min walk from the dorm, and so I experienced what I'm sure will be the first of many (it's already been the first of 3) kebabs. I also tried Ayran, an extremely salty, watery yoghurt drink that's very popular here. Think yoghurt flavoured seawater. Anyway, a few people said they were going to check out the on-campus bar (an upmarket, posh one only for grad students and faculty), so I ventured along and decided to try Raki, Turkey's national liquor, which I'd read about. It was really strong, so I only had a couple of sips, and didn't like it, but I figured I would be grievously at fault if I lived a year in Turkey and didn't try their national drink. It tastes like anise (liquorice) and is clear, but you pour water into it and it turns a milky colour.

The next morning, they took us to a big shopping complex just off campus where they have...Marks and Spencer, Subway and Starbucks. Among other more indigenous things. There was a big grocery store, Real (that's its name), so several of us shopped there and I bought a Sim Card for my cell phone at a nearby cell phoneria, although for made-outside-of-Turkey cell phones, you apparently have to register it for it to work, so I did that when we went in the next day.

Bilkent center, home of "The Real", as we called it

Saturday evening we (several of us CELTA people and a couple of interns) went to the same area again and had supper, and although I've now ordered 3 different kinds of kebab, they've all tasted exactly the same. Maybe I'll have to branch out a little here or else I don't think I'll survive the eating out experience--the food's good, but I know there's more to local fare than kebabs! The food also seems to have done a number on my stomach--hopefully I'll get over it soon.

On Sunday I had hoped to find the church and explore the city a bit, but they had a grocery trip planned for us, so my plans were thwarted almost ere they were born. The best laid schemes, the best laid schemes...

An aerial view of Bilkent (the East campus is on the left of the small reservoir, while the Main and Central Campuses are to the right; Bilkent Center is just to the left of the shot in the foreground)

Monday saw the beginning of the induction process. We chatted for an hour or so with one of the CELTA program coordinators, Martie, and then we headed over to the East Campus (Dogu Kampus), where we will be working, from the Main Campus (Merkez Kampus), where we are currently living in temp. housing. There we had a welcome meeting in which the "team" was introduced, and they presented the schedule for the induction program. Lunch was provided for us downstairs, Green Peppers stuffed with rice, which turned out not to be the main course (!), followed by grilled beef and chicken, with a dessert of various fruits (grapes, melon, figs, etc.)

Then it was upstairs again to meet the head of BUSEL (Bilkent University School of English Language), who introduced the school, people, and the CELTA course. We were done at 3, whereupon (excellent word, much neglected) we took a tour of the campuses, and stopped in at town again for more necessary shopping (I know, it seems like we do a lot of shopping, it's called settling in).

Which brings us to today (my future posts won't be day-to-day descriptions, but these have, after all, been the first 4.5 days which, I hope you will agree, are fairly significant), Tuesday. The morning was reserved for paperwork (bank details, next of kin, residence permits, etc.), but took surprisingly little time, so a few of us (Ian, Phillip, Alexandria, Ted and I) went down to Bilkent Center (just outside the Main Campus) to (surprise, surprise) do some shopping (I just bought a Magnum ice cream bar). We crammed into a taxi to get back, then met up with Martie and the other CELTA people at 1:30 for a bus tour of the city. Finally! Into the city, into Ankara itself, after 4 days here, but it was worth the wait.

I'm sure most Turks would dismiss the notion of there being anything to do in Ankara (the idea being that all the fun is to be had in Istanbul), but after a town of 40,000 it was very refreshing to be in a real city of 3 million or so again (Richmond, I love you, but there's something about foreign cities...). It was mostly a whirlwind tour, as we were running behind schedule, but we paid a visit to the citadel, from which you can see all of Ankara, and which is also the oldest part of the city. There was a cafe upstairs, so we took a break and ordered some cold drinks and a pastry very like baklava (although they assured us it was not baklava). What an awesome view! I won't have a digital camera for a while, I'm afraid, but a lot of the other CELTA people do, so as soon as they post photos I'll steal them and blog them (so be sure to always check further down the page in case I've added any).

The view from the cafe at the top of the citadel

On arriving back at the campus, some of the various directors met us at the Bistro (faculty and grad bar) for drinks and snacks/meals, and I had the chance to chat with a Turkish-English couple on staff, as well as a kindred-spirited linguist (I fear I'm out of my league, though).

I hung out a little in the dorms earlier this evening, before (delightedly) hearing from an Intern that another Turkish intern and his friends were playing football on a caged, astroturfed field nearby and that we were welcome to come along. Of course, I knew the bar would be pretty high, and admittedly I've played with my fair share of Turks, Italians, Brazillians, Argentinians, Mexicans, Spaniards, Moroccans, Brits, French people, Cameroonians, etc. throughout my life, and generally held my own. I'd also played a couple of times a week this summer in Richmond, VA, so I at least felt in pretty good shape. Let me just put it this way: I wasn't in nearly as good shape as I thought and it was, quite frankly, embarrassing. Within five minutes I was tasting blood in my mouth and fighting back a stitch, and to be honest, I played pretty rubbish. What made it worse was that the other Americans on the team outshone me (especially the girl), but by half way through, and after a spell in goal to get my breath back, I started playing a little better. Even set up a goal (weak yay!). A disappointing evening, but it knocked me down several pegs, which is definitely good for me. If I keep playing, which I'd like to, it will also mean that I get in much better shape, and hopefully improve my game, so I'm looking forward to that. And now, my friendly readers, I am going to take a shower and turn in in preparation for an early start to another long (but hopefully just as fantastic as the last 4.5) day. We'll be starting our Turkish Culture and Language classes, another reason to be excited.

Once again, I shall try to post pics as soon as possible, and keep you all abreast of what's going on. And now to leave you with your Turkish lesson of the week:

Evet - Yes
Hayir - No
Lutfen - Please
Tesekkuler - Thank you
Merhaba - Hello
Nasilsiniz? - How are you?
Iyiyim - Fine

Saturday, August 11, 2007

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu...

 As the 17th draws near and I get ready to leave the States for Turkey to start my life as an English teacher there, I'm pretty excited, but fairly nervous, too. My visa came back last week (albeit in the wrong passport--they put it in my American one, although I applied to and was accepted for the job as a British citizen), and that's a relief. I've finished the pre-task for the CELTA course I'll be completing as part of the in-service "probationary" period--all sounds a bit ominous! Most of my things seem to be in order, although of course I know next to none of the language.

It's all a little surreal right now, but by far the strangest and most daunting experience is starting a real job--how odd and ridiculous to be done with all my schooling, out in the real world, grown up. It doesn't seem quite right. And as is always the case, this coming Friday has seemed distant the whole summer, only to become an imminent reality with quite alarming speed.

But enough of my well-worn cliches and extremely exoteric "epiphanies" for now; I shall write again when I have something worth saying, and hopefully a picture or two to show as well, though those might have to wait for a paycheque so I can buy a digital camera. Until then,

Hoşça kalın!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

"The Future" by Matthew Arnold

A WANDERER is man from his birth.
He was born in a ship
On the breast of the river of Time;
Brimming with wonder and joy
He spreads out his arms to the light,
Rivets his gaze on the banks of the stream.

As what he sees is, so have his thoughts been.
Whether he wakes,
Where the snowy mountainous pass,
Echoing the screams of the eagles,
Hems in its gorges the bed
Of the new-born clear-flowing stream;
Whether he first sees light
Where the river in gleaming rings
Sluggishly winds through the plain;
Whether in sound of the swallowing sea -
As is the world on the banks,
So is the mind of the man.

Vainly does each, as he glides,
Fable and dream
Of the lands which the river of Time
Had left ere he woke on its breast,
Or shall reach when his eyes have been closed.
Only the tract where he sails
He wots of; only the thoughts,
Raised by the objects he passes, are his.

Who can see the green earth any more
As she was by the sources of Time?
Who imagines her fields as they lay
In the sunshine, unworn by the plough?
Who thinks as they thought,
The tribes who then roam'd on her breast,
Her vigorous, primitive sons?

What girl
Now reads in her bosom as clear
As Rebekah read, when she sate
At eve by the palm-shaded well?
Who guards in her breast
As deep, as pellucid a spring
Of feeling, as tranquil, as sure?

What bard,
At the height of his vision, can deem
Of God, of the world, of the soul,
With a plainness as near,
As flashing as Moses felt
When he lay in the night by his flock
On the starlit Arabian waste?
Can rise and obey
The beck of the Spirit like him?

This tract which the river of Time
Now flows through with us, is the plain.
Gone is the calm of its earlier shore.
Border'd by cities and hoarse
With a thousand cries is its stream.
And we on its breast, our minds
Are confused as the cries which we hear,
Changing and shot as the sights which we see.

And we say that repose has fled
For ever the course of the river of Time.
That cities will crowd to its edge
In a blacker, incessanter line;
That the din will be more on its banks,
Denser the trade on its stream,
Flatter the plain where it flows,
Fiercer the sun overhead.
That never will those on its breast
See an ennobling sight,
Drink of the feeling of quiet again.

But what was before us we know not,
And we know not what shall succeed.

Haply, the river of Time -
As it grows, as the towns on its marge
Fling their wavering lights
On a wider, statelier stream -
May acquire, if not the calm
Of its early mountainous shore,
Yet a solemn peace of its own.

And the width of the waters, the hush
Of the grey expanse where he floats,
Freshening its current and spotted with foam
As it draws to the Ocean, may strike
Peace to the soul of the man on its breast -
As the pale waste widens around him,
As the banks fade dimmer away,
As the stars come out, and the night-wind
Brings up the stream
Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.