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.