Wednesday, December 23, 2009

At Long Last...



Hi all,
As some as you know, in the beginning of January I will be moving to Copake, NY in order to start a year-long Americorps posting. I'm pretty excited - except for the packing. Between Graduation, Turkey and this I've packed WAAAAAY too much in the last 6 months. So you can believe me when I say I'm definitely going to be staying for a year! (Well, except for my vacation times...planning on a trip to Germany and at least once back home for a wedding...). At any rate, excitement is mounting and naturally I'm starting to get stressed, which manifests it through strange dreams. Good deal. Anyhow, as someone put it - and several others agreed - "abroad" can be defined as anything outside of Minnesota. Which is sad, but funny. So, I'm not sure about how much posting I'll get done but I'll give it a whirl. So look forward to a new blog title (wracking my brains for puns, lucky yous!) and updates sometime in January!
Hope all is well and a very Merry Christmas to all!
Steph

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Steph Plays Tourist

Hi all,
Today got off to a leisurely start. HM said I could catch a ride into work with her, and she was tired so we didn't get going until about 9:45. However, she said I could take whatever shuttle back that I wanted, so I wasn't concerned.

The first thing I did (after buying my last Scimit : ( - sesame coated circular pretzel thingy) was run over to my Turkish class building. Luckily, I planned it perfectly. They had just got out on break and I immediately found who I was looking for. A very nice Italian girl from my course (who's living in Istanbul as permanently as possible). A few days previous she had had contact issues, and had noted how painful it is to buy eye solution in Istanbul. I commiserated, as in Germany I had to go to a pharmacy and pay major euros for a small bottle. Guess who didn't want to lug the extra weight of a full contact solution bottle home?

So, anyhow, she was relieved to see me (the class thought I had maybe gotten sick?) and I filled her in over the tea she insisted we have. She really was a nice girl and I gave her my e-mail and asked her to tell the class and teacher that I'd be gone permanently. So it was nice to tie up that loose end.

Onward and Downwards
I started my trip by taking the funicular (it's going to be sad not having that in my vocabulary when I get home) and the the "historic tram" to where the the Egyptian Spice Market is. I had a little trouble with the signs, and after back tracking once I tried the tried and true: I followed the other group of obvious tourists.

Yeah, so they might have been tourists, but they definitely didn't go to the market. So I tried the other guaranteed method: I turned around and started again. This time, I got it right. I passed the New Mosque (which I didn't go into, I'm over the whole covering my head and not taking pictures thing already...) and hung a left past the Mary Poppins "Feed the Birds" woman. Actually, there were several old women and one old man, but I still hummed to myself.

I have to say, I impressed myself. Even if I got completely walked over by the bargaining system, with some cordiality (I was invited to share tea) and perhaps some flirting (!?!) and a little lie about my finances, I think I may have wrangled a deal. At any rate, a better deal than most people typically get. If nothing else, I at least got the feeling that I did, so I'm happy.
I found a few little things and continued my trek. I decided that I should walk over the golden horn (about 4 minutes of walking, so not at all as impressive as it sounds) and then caught the tram to continue to the tourist trap, um, cultural center.


I MIGHT be Famous
At least, I might have an appearance on one of the Turkish serials. I was perplexed (while realizing that what I thought at first was the palace was the Blue Mosque...which, again, I didn't go in, but this time due to prayer time), when I saw a man running after two kids. Though I'd seen the enormous film hook and camera, I didn't put it together that they were related. The man was almost comical as he chased after the kids, as they split up and he fell on the grass (though I think that part actually WASN'T intentional) and was trying to figure out if it was for fun, or he was actually mad. Then I realized it was being filmed, and I was in the back drop. Unfortunately, since Turkey blocks youtube, (plus the fact I have no idea what all the serials are...) I may never find out if I got to be an unintentional extra...


Sultan Ahmet: Beware of Creepy Men
Now, in their defense, they might be totally nice guys. However, when I am walking around and obviously a young, alone, tourist and western woman, the last thing I really want is to be approached. The first guy came up and almost pounced on me. We were on a crowded street and he just ambled up and said "Hello! Don't worry! I'm not a tour guide". Not sure how I'm supposed to feel about that, he continued...
"Are you from America?"
Deciding to be polite (and ready to kick his ass, or at least scream police loudly in all the languages I know (3, although I think I get some overlaps...) I answered that yes, I was. He continued on and said he was learning English and it was nice to talk with someone who was. Then he started to ask where I was going, and asked what I'd seen.

Then he got weird...
"Oh, I could tell you are not a tourist! You are not dressed like one...you look like...a TRAVELER!" And then he beamed at me.
This was the "Um, this could get bad" moment.
Before I had a chance to answer he bounced in with:
"Your eyes, are they your natural eyes?"
Understanding that he meant color, and knowing that lighter colored eyes are not as typical here, I answered
"Um, yes...yes they are..."
He immediately said that lots of girls wear colored lenses to make their eyes like mine.

Now, I was playing it completely nonchalantly while wracking my brain to figure out how I could politely slip away from him. Luckily we were right by the gate to the palace....
"Oh, I will leave you here. Perhaps we can talk after you are done? Maybe we could go have a cup of tea! Or we could do something this evening!" he declared.
Think fast think fast think fast...bing!
"Oh, um, (Lie, Steph, Lie...) I have only an hour before my shuttle, so I have to go then. But thank you!"
And then I speed walked away. With no resort to violence or undignified screaming that I am well capable of.

Tokapi Palace
I was moderately impressed with the palace (I know, that sounds SOOO snobbish of me, but by now I consider myself to be a little seasoned...I did take a class on them you know. Although it was in German and I didn't understand much, I still saw them!). Anyhow, it was impressive for three reasons for me. One, the artifacts were actually precious (none of the glass crap), two, they had lots of periodical goodies, and three, it was ENORMOUS. I got bored with reading and shuffling through the crowds, and it still took me a good 3 hours. I did, however, seem some truly god-awful examples of bezel-setting. In gold. I could have done better. However, there were also some truly spectacular works (especially one throne stolen from India) that had truly intricate and stupendous workmanship dedicated to it. So that was nice.

Uneventful
Is really what I'd consider the rest of the day to be. I did get followed, briefly and once again in full public, by another English-speaking man, but this time was fortunate enough to be walking fast enough to completely avoid him. I hopped the tram, spent some time back in Taxsim and then caught the shuttle home. I wound up the night playing indoor soccer, Zombie Attack and of course: UNO. At some point in the day I realized what it felt like to be completely and relaxed and comfortable, and how much I'd missed that feeling the last few weeks.
And now I'm ready to come home.

Hope all is well,
Steph

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Last Day in Turkey

Hi all,
Tomorrow will be my last official day in Turkey, I will be flying out on Thursday. I plan to do some final sightseeing tomorrow, as I did all my packing today. No problem there, so that was nice.
Anyhow, I will be up early tomorrow and so I think I'm turning in early tonight.
Hope all is well,
Steph

Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm Coming Home

Hi all,
I consider myself to be a pretty rounded and down to earth person. I'm sure I surprised a lot of people when I decided to come to Turkey, I surprised myself also. But it seemed as though it was too good of an opportunity to let go to waste. However, things are always more complicated than they first appear, aren't they?

The first major bump was finding out that it would be impossible to get a work permit. I tried to reconcile that with the fact that NO ONE gets a work permit here. It's a very long and nearly impossible business if you're just trying to stay for a year. The Host Parents assured me we could find another way, and then we hit the money snag. I have my whole life in front of me, financial legal troubles are the last thing I want or need.

Finally, there's the isolation/homesickness factor. I will allow that I am homesick. It's natural, and it's something I experienced before in Germany. However, there I had a solid support system of friends to lean on. I'd hoped to make friends in my course, but this presented problems as well. A lot spoke English, but also already had other friends. The majority are only staying for the length of the language course. Not to mention, I have no time outside of class to socialize - all my evenings and weekends are booked.

I can deal with the language barrier and the kids at home all right, and if that was the only issue, I think I would try to tough it out. But realizing that it could be a good 4-6 months before I could speak enough Turkish to try to really cultivate friendships around home was a very scary thought. I know I would feel as miserable as I do now, with no support system around to help balance my life. This would also effect the kids, and is not fair to my employers.

Essentially, it's all turned out to be, for me, a very difficult situation. Those who know me well, know that I consider myself to be a hard worker and not one who gives up easily. (My mother prefers to shorten that to "stubborn"). It's hard not to feel like a bit of a failure by conceding defeat, especially when I had such hopes. It also leaves me without a plan, something I'm not fond of. However, I know that once I'm home I can regroup and find something that will not make me miserable.

And, hey, now you won't have to feel guilty for missing posts...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm Thinking of Not Posting on Weekends...

Hi all,
I've noticed that a lot of people are getting overwhelmed with daily posts, and really, my weekends aren't that thrilling. So, let's not waste our mutual time, ok? If anything thrilling (with the exception to the countless games of UNO...) DOES happen to happen, I will recap it on Monday. There, now you don't feel guilty about missing days. Ha. Good one right?

Hope all is well,
Steph

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I Wouldn't Recommend...



Hi all,
Today was very long, but not terrible. However, it was rather quirky...

Yup, That's a Toilet
And, I might add, it's about 100x nicer than the public toilets here (think lots of rust, prior use goodies and overflowing water from the corner of the filthy floor : ). I mean, I wish I would've had my camera. First of all, it was pouring, so the floor was wet, and covered with newspaper. I gave the man in the box my 75 cents (I was desperate, ok?!?) and got my two little cocktail napkins. I walked into the "stall" and froze. I mean, it's harder than it looks, ok? But I did survive it. Somehow. And hopefully never again...I will wait the half an hour that it takes to find a free and unlocked bathroom at the school or work on a world record...

When it Rains, it Pours!
Today Istanbul issued me a very big "Welcome to fall!" I'd known that it might rain, but I was unwilling to make the effort of finding and buying an umbrella. Plus, they don't like it when you use big bills. So I had to break one buying a (much needed!) dictionary and a couple of fiction books by a Turkish author. Anyhow, as soon as I was done I noticed that it was raining. Nothing insane, but more than just a cute little sprinkle. So I ran to the nearest small shop and overpaid for a flimsy umbrella. However, I was surrounded by tons of fellow Istanbulites egaged in a similar scramble. So it was nice to fit in. I also managed to get absolutely soaked running to the front door from the shuttle, as it decided to then downpour. But I at least made the shuttle! However, it was a bit of a bummer - and my last recommendation of things not to do is wear leather shoes...I hope they'll recover!

Things That Made Me Smile
It's the little things, right?
The first thing was while I was waiting for the shuttle. The street is at a slight incline, but nothing major. However, as I was watching the sidewalk I saw a 40 year old man (at least..) "pushing" a grocery cart laden with fruit down along the street. Perfectly normal, except when he suddenly sped up and lifted his feet off the cart - and started cruising! He kept it controlled, but I had to laugh as he whizzed by with a small expression of joy on his face.

Second, amongst the small crowd going to my community, there was a man with a bottle of lemonade and some cups. After chatting with an older lady, he proffered her some and then myself and the other guy waiting. Now, he seemed like a very friendly guy (the others seemed to know him), and so I didn't have any worries about it, but I just wasn't thirsty so I declined. But it was nice to see that little show of friendliness. Also, I'd checked with the older woman to make sure I was at the right tree (I was) and she worked up her courage to repeat "Four O'clock!" at least 6 times until I understood. A little feeling of belonging.

Lastly, as we were waiting, I noticed a man in line for what turned out to be a taxi. He was wearing the standard nice pants and button-down shirt, and was approximately 60. That and the fact he was carring a rolling suitcase was completely normal. The tree/large-leaved branch that he was carring in a big canvas bag on his back, was not. It was even funnier when he ducked into a taxi with it! Saving the world, one tree at at time???

Hope all is well,
Steph

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Depressing Reads and Quirky Randoms


Hi all,
I forgot to mention with all the drama mentioned yesterday about the cherry atop my ---- sundae.

Oh, Jodi...
Now, I like a good love story just as much as anyone else. Ok, probably less, but occasionally. At any rate, this summer I borrowed "Message in Bottle" by Nicholas Sparks and was severely disappointed. What a weenie! He totally ditched out of making hard plot decisions by offing a main character in a freak of nature death. I finished the book, wagging my head in disbelief and thinking I could probably never top it. Well, move on over. Jodi Picoult has come to take your place!

Now, I went and saw "My Sister's Keeper" this summer with KT. She even brought tissues, and we went through them. So, when HM handed me her English book collection I decided to read it near the end of the pile. I was pleasantly surprised to find there were lots more twists and depth to the book, but absolutely appalled at the ending. There's actually a Q&A at the end asking her why she ended like she did. She replied some crap about the continuity of the theme of the plot. I, however, think the movie did a much better job of wrapping it up in a realistic way. So, the terribly depressing ending didn't help my mood either.

Nadeem Aslam
"The Wasted Vigil" is also a huge story about loss, but it speaks to the culture in Afghanistan in a very realist way, for an act of fiction. It's actually a book I had to put down at times - and that's a rarity for me. It was so intense that it just was an emotional rollercoaster. It was well written though, and if you're looking for an intense read (though not necessarily easy at times), I would recommend it.

Random Discovery
Yesterday I got a HUGE kick out of a word in Turkish. I'm a HUGE Narnia fan (I've read the whole series at least 5 times) and my absolute favorite is "A Horse and His Boy". Though this shouldn't surprise anyone...At any rate, once I was old enough to realize the Christian symbolism present (though I try to ignore it), I realized when they talk about the "savages" outside of Narnia that they mean Islam and the middle east. Possibly even Turkey. The word for "Lion" is "aslan". Now, how neat is that? Interesting to think about their brutal god (who they also got to heaven by worshipping faithfully, btw) and yet having a name for the Christian's god (one the 100?). Anyhow, I thought it was neat.

Finally, flyer?
I've been to several places now (Germany, Las Vegas, Istanbul) where they commonly have people distributing little pieces of paper to passerbys. At all places - and definitely in Vegas! - I manage to avoid taking them. Although it occured to me today...someone is getting paid to do this. And so I got curious. Do they get paid for how many they distribute (flat-rate, 50 bucks for 300?) or for how long they stand there? And who checks up on them? If they're paying them so little, would it be even economical? I realized that either way I should probably start taking them. Maybe I'll start a collection!
(Oh, and Merriam-webster claims that either flyer/flier is correct!)

Hope all is well,
Steph

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Went Right?

Hi all,
So here's a run down on yesterday...although the crappiness started the night before...

I was all stressed out about taking the alternate way home, so eventually it started getting way too late and so I popped a benadryl. I know, hardcore Steph, right? Anyhow, I knew it'd give me crappy sleep, and so I was pretty groggy waking up. I managed to get everything together and was outside for the shuttle on time, meeting up as usual, with my HD's friend/co-worker. However, the shuttle was out of seats when it arrived. Last time this happened, when we stopped at the gate they brought the bigger shuttle around and we switched, remember?

Not so.

We got off, and then proceeded to do what I can only call by its true nature: "hitchhiking". We waited 1...5...10...15 LONG minutes until a guard at the gate finally flagged down a random guy for us. Great. I hate being late. I was also taught not to take rides with strangers. Had I been by myself, I would've walked straight home. However, I was in good hands (thank God!) and the man dropped us at the farthest Metro station possible. So we had to go one extra transfer for me to get to class. Which I was 15 minutes late for.

Now, it was only the third day of class and it's a big class. So this means two things. One, I disrupted class coming in (still thankfully working on reviewing the homework), and two, there was only one seat left. It was pretty much flush with the wall, making 2/3s of the whiteboard impossible to see. The other 1/3 of the time the teacher was standing off to the side, obscuring my view. Not to mention she lectures with her back to the wall. So I had no helpful lipreading, facial expressions or gestures to use. Oh. And because she cancelled class on Monday, we had a whole extra hour. Luckily we switched rooms at that point, and I got a better seat, though displaced some classmates. I frankly didn't care at this point, which probably makes me a bad person.

One would think I would be exhilarated at this point. I survived (barely) class and had some extra time before I got home. However, I still had to find WHERE I had to be. I took the correct Metro/subway and got off at the same stop as Dolmabahce palace. Then I just kept walking...and walking. Pretty soon I was fairly sure that I was at the right place. Especially after I walked around the entire naval museum looking for it, only to find out that it's under construction. So it's mostly obscured by a temporary wall, which only has the Turkish version of the name. I also scouted out where I thought the stop would be. HM said it wasn't the seaside street, and that I had to cross the road. It would stop by where the Taxi's going in a certain direction would be stopped. So I burned the 45 minutes I had left looking over homework. With a half an hour to wait, I strode confidently to the spot. Only to read on the Taxi's the wrong name.

Oh, shit.

So I crossed the road, checking the other ones, which seemed to be at least going in the correct direction. I called HM and she couldn't really locate where I was in regards to the stop.

Even better.

She said "Blahblahblah is the road you need to find! Just find someone young and ask them!"
Sure, as I'm frantically trying to find the street on the map, and avoiding being swept away in the bustling crowd. Wait, aren't I supposed to NOT talk to strangers? Ok, just kidding on that one. But it was very overwhelming - I hate being lost more than I do being late! HM was getting impatient after I was hemming and hawing, and finally just said that if I couldn't find someone or the spot, to just come to the office. Determined, and armed with the fact that the road should be 100 meters PAST the museum, I trudged up the street, crossed an intersection and approached another Taxi/Bus area. I strode over to a non-threatening girl sitting on a bench and jumped right in.

Now, of course I'm a fast talker and being nervous doesn't help, but I tried to be mindful. God was smiling at me at that moment, because after a few moments of miscommunication the girl looked at the address (that HM so nicely provided for me!) and it turns out she was going there too! So, I got on the shuttle no problem and off as well.

During the day my anxiety level was through the roof and I was at tears of frustration on several occasions. I didn't lose it though, and today was much better. Maybe it doesn't seem too bad, but mix in some cultural shock/homesickeness and you get a better dimension. At any rate, I'm doing ok now, and really I'm ok with that!

Hope all is well,
Steph

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Hi all,
For reasons I'm not going into today, I will not be posting about my horrible day. It will cause a self-pity fest and I don't feel like crying.
Hope all is well,
Steph

Monday, October 12, 2009

Juicy



Hi all,
I realized I forgot to tell a funny story about last Friday. So here you go.

Fruit Lovers
This may be one of those "I guess you had to be there" stories, but maybe you'll find it humorous anyway. It was during the long break for for Friday (a whopping 20 minutes). The British/Turkish girl, N., had asked if I wanted to come along with her as she was going to buy an apple around the corner. I had a banana in my bag, but figured it'd be nice to chat and stretch my legs, so I agreed. Once there, the bananas enticed her more, so she asked for one. She then started to dig around in her wallet - only to realize that her smallest bill was a 20. Now, I've already noticed that the small vendors (and some larger ones) really hate to make change. I happened to have a 1 TLY coin (about 75 cents) at hand, so I insisted she take it.

"Oh, really...well, thank you! I'll pay you back of course - maybe I can buy you a tea sometime?? It's very nice of you!"

I assured her it was no big deal, and she laughed when I pulled out my banana to eat as well on the walk back. She laughed and said:
"I've only known you a day, and already you're paying for my food!"
Quite seriously and completely deadpan I replied:
"Oh, I'm not gay."
N. was struck dumbfounded for a second and started to stammer:
"OH! Oh, no, I've a boyfriend and, and...oh."
She suddenly noticed my small grin and started laughing. Some banter then ensued along the lines of how of course we couldn't be lesbians - just look at the bananas we were eating! And that we should definitely spend some quality, non-lesbian time together.

So, perhaps a friendship in the making? We've e-mailed once exchanging cell numbers and I think we may get tea after class, since I'll have time before I hunt down the location of the 4:30 shuttle!

One More Interesting Tidbit
We also covered months/seasons in class on Friday. I thus learned that the month of January had a literal interpretation of the meaning of "stove". I'm not sure if that's because they had to typically huddle around one for warmth, or what, but I'm going to try to find out! Also, their "winter" is only considered to be in December and January. Coming from a Northern Minnesota/ North Dakota standpoint, that's at least 4 months too little. It's going to be real rough this "winter"... : p

Hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, October 11, 2009

FFF: Forced Family Fun

Hi all,
Today was all about family. Which means I've now met approximately all the "close" extended family, minus HD's father. This means that I got some good Steph time in today.

Beautiful Day For It
As with the last several days, it was a gorgeous 70 degree day outside. HM's brother/wife/child came so K was quite busy with him. They spent the night and then HD's brother/wife/children ended up calling out of the blue and showing up an hour or so later. So there were kids running all over the place. Luckily, they were all pretty well behaved and so only the normal little spats occurred.

We ended up grilling out for lunch/early dinner. There were "koefte" which are a kind of "meatball" though they're more like little hamburgers, more shiskabobs, chicken wings and some lamb thing. Plus numerous side dishes and salads and the ever present bread. I was hoping that it'd be like Germany here, but my family only buys white bread. Usually every day or every other, so it's always yummy, but I'm more a fan of grains!

Anyhow, that's really it. I may go into the city tomorrow for kicks, and may not...we will see!
Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Elementary, My Dear...

Hi all,
Just a quickie, as it was a typical weekend.

6 Degrees of Separation!
So, the host parents didn't get home until extremely late/obscenely early last night/this morning. They went out to dinner with a friend, who brought another lawyer friend. Apparently in casual conversation it was mentioned that this certain gentleman had a daughter of some import. Like, Hermione Granger...so the inner dork in me flipped out a little bit. Naturally, it would've much cooler if he and his lovely daughter had actually come to dinner at the house, but let's be a little realistic here, shall we? At any rate, welcome to my 6 degrees of separation from JK Rowling. Here goes: You: Me: HM/HD: Mr. Watson: Emma/Hermione: JK ROWLING! How fanflippingtastic is that? Ok, moving on.

Oh, Silly Winter.
Dear America. Shape up. Here in Istanbul we had another lovely 70 degree day. Sunny, lightly clouded with a nice breeze. I also picked and ate a pomegranate from one of the trees in the yard. It's quite a mouthful after the Turkish word "Nar". It was scrumptious.

You may now all be utterly jealous,
Hope all is well!
Steph

Friday, October 9, 2009

Choosing Wisely

Hi all,
Today was another long day. While waiting for the shuttle with HD's friend, the neighbor husband came out and struck up a conversation, and before I knew it we were ensconced in his car. We got to the Metro about 10 minutes earlier than normal and so I made it to class a little early even! I was just feeling confident today about my commute when the teacher dropped a little news. She'd be out of the city on Monday...so we'd have an extra hour on Tuesday (and presumably through Friday, as we're missing 4 hours!). Guess what that means? Sigh. Transportation nightmares, begin!

Boys Being Boys
Can drive me up the wall. G will pounce on K, who will melt into tears. Moments later K will decide to engage in horseplay with G. However, K is big for his age, but doesn't realize his strength. G will be patient until K knocks him one too hard and then loses any sort of inhibition. Though he's old enough to know better, he rarely holds himself back. Worst of all, he can't drop it. He just picks and picks and picks at K. It's a vicious and frustrating circle. ARG!

Hellllllllllllloooooooooooooooo?
It's starting to feel a bit like isolation here. It's nice to see the people in my class and even get to start to know them a bit, but the breaks aren't very long and the teacher hasn't really done anything to promote building friendships. Luckily, most of my friends are being pretty good with keeping in touch! ; p

Hope all is well,
Steph
PS I just realized this post was slightly depressing. However, I am genuinely happy here, even if I feel out of place occasionally. I still find plenty of reasons to smile everyday.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Benim adim Steph...

Merhaba!
Yup, so my language course kicked off today. I hopped the 7:45 (35...) shuttle no problem with a family friend and with a bit of speed walking, made it right on time for my class at 9am. I was the only American there, though there were two British people. In addition, there were people from: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Switzerland (I guess? I didn't know until I just translated it now...), Israel, Cyprus (guessing the Greek side, as it is a Turkish class...), Greece, Spain, China, Italy and Syria. Ok, so that's 10 countries for 12 people, and at least three were Greek/Cyprian. Crazy, no?

So, Steph, How did it Go?
Painfully. Lol. The teacher started with introductions, but didn't write down the stages until we passed it. This is unfortunate for visual learners, like myself. I followed to a point, but some of the students have rudimentary Turkish and switched some of the dialog up. So, when it got to me the third time around, I just had to give her a blank face and we stumbled through it. Won't be the last!

We also worked through the alphabet (Alfabe) which was standard. Letter, pronunciation, and then some words. Guess who didn't volunteer any? However, I did recognize a few, and several were identifiable. Other than the easy ones (like "radyo"), I got a kick out of jilet. I was just thinking...hey, that's the razor brand...yes, yes it is. However, as the hours ticked by, I missed a few that people already knew and so the teacher didn't do a thorough job explaining. So, I looked them up tonight. I got a kick out of the fact hastane means either hospital, or butcher. Which, looking at the history of medicine, certainly makes sense. Still, a tad bit gruesome for my taste!

Anyhow, I've decided that the key to learning languages is to be good at charades. Because even if people are frustrated with not being able to get their point across, at least you can have a good laugh doing it! I bumped into a random British girl waiting for my shuttle (she lives on the Asian side- a 1.5 hour trip for her, at least) and it was nice to chat with another au pair. The Brits in my class were nice enough, and we had chatted a bit earlier. It's harder to mingle with such rudimentary language skills. Although English proved to be the common language for the class with the charades/alphabet. I'm salvaging my ego by saying that I could've done a decent job if it would've been German instead. Nyah.

Anyhow, I got home with minimum fuss. There was a bit of confusion on the bus driver's side trying to figure out where I got dropped off, but a nice man helped. I'd brought the address, but apparently the bus driver wasn't exactly sure where it was still. So, one long back up and a few turns later I made it home safely!

Crying Children
I'm definitely not a fan of crying children. K fakes his most of the time, a habit he is sure to grow out of as a boy here, and it's distressing me less as I pick up on clues to whether or not they're real. However, K decided to visit the neighbor girl (his age and schoolmate, they're good friends). E. went to open the gate (it's the other side of the duplex, but they have separate walled gardens), and their big golden retriever came bounding out and took off. The little girl immediately ran after him. Her mother was inside...So I left K with E. and ran after the little girl. By the time I caught up, a block later or so, she'd turned around - dog out of sight. She was sobbing as if her little heart was broken. Her mom met us about halfway home, carrying a leash and not looking concerned. She comforted the girl a little and told her to go home. The girl beckoned K to follow her, and since the mom was gone, I tagged along as well.

The little girl proceeded to quietly sob until her mom came home, rambunctious dog in tow. Her mom (who speaks decent English) explained that last year the dog ran away, but was missing for about 5 days. The little girl thought he might not be found this time. The dog is MUCH bigger than Tekila, probably around 70 pounds. The kids decided to play with a type of jumbo legos and the dog immediately decided to snatch one up. Not knowing the temperament of the dog (with the mom upstairs for something), I was a little hesitant to dig around in his mouth. However, fearing that he'd try to swallow it and painfully convulse, I snapped my fingers and firmly repeated "NO! Hayir" until he finally lost a grip on it. He thought this was GREAT fun, and decided he'd made a new best friend. So when K asked me to hold his tower for him and I sat down, the dog promptly sat on me. If I tried to reach around him, he took that as his cue to cover any possible exposed inch with lots of happy dog kisses and copious amounts of drool. Yum.
Good thing he's a total sweetheart...

Hope all is well,
Steph

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Green House Number 85...duh

Hi all,
Today, I entered the wild and wubulous world of Istanbul public transportation, native edition. And my e key is sticking a lot, so forgive me any lacking es.


Nothing Was Easy
First, the shuttle bus that conveniently picks me up in front of the house was actually 5 minutes early. U. had to stand, giving me the last seat. However, once we were at the gate, a stop occured and our tickets were checked. After some heated dialog, our entire minibus was emptied and put into a bigger bus behind it. The only logical explanation I could find was that maybe they were strict on seating...although I find it funny to be sticklers when there are clasps, but no seatbelts. So you just have to ignore the admonitions. We got off at the Metro, and took the underpass to the opposite side where U told me the shuttle picks people up. Mind you, there's no sign. Then he showed me the "alternate" (ie, no way in hell will I ever take it...) route. You walk to a random line of minibuses, and go to the front one. Then you ride it for quite a while - it did have a gorgeous view of the Bosphorous - and then have to get near the door for an unmarked spot that I could only mark as "Across from Green House Number 85". There I will find (?) another bus, this one with the community name on it and it will deliver me to the gate for a 20 minute walk home. Oh, and U paid for the first bus, and I for the second, which was 2 Lira each. However, his involved small coins, so I also don't know how much it will cost.
=Steph will never, ever, take this way. Ever.


Thinking Positively
When we finally made it back, both of the housekeepers were waiting. A while later I came up for lunch. The very part-time Housekeeper, (who has a name, I assume...) was trying to communicate and asking E to help. We all should know how this went. At one point, after noticing my dismay of eating this rather gross green stuff (think cooked spinach mixed with a little hamburger...but a LOT of spinach...) she chattered at E. E the pantomined for me two symbols:

(must)
I i I
( put )

and then, after pointing at me (ignore the formatting text!):

I a I
I a I
( Text )

While I really think I might have been insulted, I'm going to think positively and give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was complimenting my child-bearing hips. Yeah.

Hope all is well,
Steph
PS: First day at Language school tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors - Turkey Style!

Hi all,
K decided he would teach me a new game today, only to be delighted to find out I already knew what it was! So, other than a dozen rounds of UNO (which ended badly...he had 2 mini-tantrums so I said no more for the day), we also played some rousing rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Tekila
Tekila is certainly a funny dog. She reminds me of a mixture of the dogs that my family has had. She has Rio's foot-fetish, Poochie's craving for attention (they're both Golden Retrievers) and Charlie's steady personality. Although I did catch her blinking quickly as she almost got clobbered by a ball today... She'll also be a much happier dog when she loses the 40 or so extra pounds she appears to be carrying around. They've cut out all the scraps and she's been getting longer walks now.

Russian, Actually
I found out that E.'s native tongue is actually Russian tonight. As we were doing our walking/jogging we were comparing our lack of common languages. We listed off the handful of words that we knew in English/Turkish. Mine seemed quite pathetic, but then I triumphantly topped mine off with the dirty word that K's taught me. She literally doubled over in laughter. Unfortunately, it's very close to their word for "look", so I may be shouting out "Shit over there!"

I also learned the word for run/jog. I'll remember it by thinking of E as my "co-schmuck" - a phonetical eqivalent in English. I'm sure she'd be flattered.

Finally, Transportation
Well, I got a month pass for the shuttle system that leaves to and from the community. It put me back some serious Lira, but I'll end up saving money with it in the long run. U took me to the office (where I got my photo taken) and then upstairs to where they pasted my photo in (and stretched it, my face is practically a perfect circle - I was going to show a pic of it, until I saw that!) and ran it through a laminator. Seriously hi-tech, no?

Anyhow, a big day tomorrow with more transportation how-to.
Hope all is well,
Steph

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'll Kill Her

I´ll kill her from Joerg Barton on Vimeo.



Hi all,
Appreciate my flair for the dramatic? I find the graphics on this to be pretty fun, though I'm less than enamored of "I'll kheel-er!" Win some, lose some, huh?

Music Scene
Since I've been in Turkey for a while (and read some books on it as well, like the Expat Harem) I've noticed some things about the music. Like Germany, there's an awful lot of American pop music. However, apparently in the 80's it was popular to take the lyrics and redo them in Turkish by native singers. Hence the ayran (salty yogurt drink) commercial to the tune of "When the Saints Come Marching In". Granted, it's not exactly pop music, but the same point stands. I would've have lied to have known what lyrics they were using, however, as they sashayed around flinging the ayran in swoops...

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Not so well, actually. I made the chocolate chip cookies today (well, half of the dough) and they pretty much flattened the way I was dreading they might. Also, it very clearly states to just bake until the edges are golden brown = delicious chewy centers! However, E tried to convey her extreme misgivings and had I not emphatically gesticulated that they were SUPPOSED to be soft in the middle I think she would've thrown them in the oven for me! Sigh. So I shall bake them SLIGHTLY more tomorrow, but I really am going to have to be quite firm about this. Don't mess with my cookies!

Hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Language Discombobulation



Hi all,
During the 7th grade I made use of a new word I'd learned over the summer "Discombobulated" (confused/mixed up). I used it casually (and with the correct pronunciation, Nate) in conversation and endured a day of hell from a classmate who at first thought I'd insulted him, and then couldn't find it in the dictionary and then accused me of both making it up and (?) reading the dictionary. Ahh, junior high. However, I have digressed...

I Dreamed a Dream...
Last night where I found myself back in Regensburg. It was confusing with people dropping randomly, and going to random events. I think my poor brain is so overloaded in hearing all this Turkish, that it's sending me back to Bayern, where I couldn't understand Bavarian. Or, it could be that I'm so excited to go and visit Regensburg that I'm escaping to it in my dreams! Could be a long time until December...!

Language Abuse
Today I was working with K with some flashcards. His mom told me they're learning about school things, so she weeded through a flash card set they have and gave me about 15 to work on with him. He didn't really want to at first, but gained interest when I told him he could teach me the Turkish word equivalent. His eyes lit up and for the first 10 minutes he was hooked. However, one time, after failing again to correctly pronounce the Turkish word, he got an evil gleam in his eye. On the next word, he couldn't keep a straight face as he told me the Turkish word...and then he told me a different one. I said "I don't think so..." and he collapsed giggling. His mother agreed that I should probably double check words with G from now on...lol.

As American As...
Chocolate chip cookies! HM managed to find the ingredients (or as close to as possible...their chocolate chips are shaped a bit differently and they use vanilla sugar instead of extract, and a dry brown sugar...) except the baking soda. Never fear, I brought my own! I did forget measuring cups, but I'm on that. Anyhow, I made the dough today, and so they're ready to bake tomorrow. (It's a trick I learned from a great nytimes article. Using butter gives it the best taste, but usually causes them to be really runny. Refridgerating them at least 24 hours - though 36 is optimal I think - causes them to absorb the butter better and gives a better texture!)

Anyhow, that's about it for now...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another Saturday

Hi all,
I always feel a little lost on the weekends. The boys are allowed to play Playstation, and so for the several hours throughout the day I'm left to my own devices. Sometimes I'm tempted to go down to my room to do some work on the chain maille, but I want to be able to hear when the occasional squabble breaks out. Likewise, the rents like to spend quality time with the boys, so try not to hover. I mostly end up doing some reading but sometimes feel like I should feel guilty for not doing something. At the same time, the days can get awfully long after my 30th game of UNO.

G is getting ready for a big test on some English tenses and so I'm supposed to have him asking me questions in order to prepare for it. Anybody know how hard it is to get an (almost) 12 year old boy who's not particularly social - except with a limited friend group, where he is popular... - to talk? So far we've had some sports conversations, but let's be honest here about my knowlege in that area...
So, it's going to take some brainstorming!

Hope all is well,
Steph

Friday, October 2, 2009

One By One

Hi all,
E has finally figured out that I'm doing something at my desk when I'm in my room. As you can see the rings are both numerous and extremely tiny:


They come unopened (but pre-made, as I cut that corner...and about 3 steps worth about 4 hours of work!)


Today I figured out why I'd been denting my rings (despite taping my rounded pliers). Thank goodness for the internet. When I saw I should be using "chain mail" pliers I was relieved to see that I have them (shown above). You grab the sides of the rings and essentially wiggle them together to close:


I'm attempting a very "simple" weave, the European 4 in 1, but it's my first time doing it, and the rings were a poor decision. After closing four, you put them on to another ring (hence the 4 in 1) and close that, making a "5-let" :


Nice scale, right? When I started this morning I had about 50 rings semi-closed (wrong pliers, so I'd been attempting to close them by hand - not always successfully!) which I re-did, plus some 5-lets. However, I had this much done from before:


And after another 3 hours of re-closing and doing lots of rings in the other steps, I ended up with this so far:
Now, I will have to expand each side still, so it will be approximately doubled in width. Also, I'm estimating that it'll have to be about 17 inches long (though I'll split the bottom...). Not to mention attaching all the glass pearls and beads I've yet to order, and it's going to be a big project. Oh, I'm also making 4 of them...yeah. Oh well, I have a year and it's fun. I'll keep you posted...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Represent!

Hi all,
I'm bound for superstardom...at least in the neighborhood!

Futbol!
Yes, yes, we Americans are truly messed up. Why on earth did we name a game: 1. where we only use our hands (except the kicker thingy) for a game that 2. The rest of the world has a name for already? At any rate, K and I trundled off to the soccer "field" (an astroturf mini-field with netting above and two smaller goals). We started playing at the far goal, taking turn shooting. However, soon we/I attracted the attention of some other kids - who seemed to be around the age of 10-12. One was bold enough to approach and asked "Where are you from?" - when I answered "USA" he launched into Turkish...and then seemed not at all surprised when K informed him (I assume??) that I didn't speak any Turkish. So, daunted, but determined he forged ahead "You play...futbol much?" Apparently some of the tricks I'd pulled (juggling mostly) had attracted their attention. I said yes but indicated some. He nodded, satisfied that an American girl could play. Soon he introduced himself and he and K set up a "scrimmage". The field was WAY too big for K (as I was in goal) and so it was rather one sided. The rather cheeky other kid placed a nice shot as I ran out, passing it through my legs. Quited tickled with his success, I soon really had him laughing as I launched the ball directly into his own goal - completely airborne! We all got very tired, and I think a good time was had by all!

E: Friend?
I'm having a little trouble getting used to E. She has made multiple attempts to call me into doing the housework with her (although they do things much differently and nothing I do seems to meet her approval = frustrating!) and really, I've been doing things too. When I stay home I do some reading, started brushing up on some rudimentary German (had a whole facebook conversation yesterday with a French friend!) and worked on some chain mail work...which is mindnumbingly painstaking. Good thing I have a year!

Anyhow, today E needed some help with some marbled cookies she was making - her hands got all sticky so I helped with flour then mixing. While I would've rolled a ball using both chocolate and the plain dough, she decided to painstakingly roll them out in layers and then mix them. Then we had to bake them. I asked how long and she indicated that I should take them out in 25 minutes! WHAT? I don't know of any cookies that take that long! So, I checked them at 20 minutes: definitely done! So I turned off the oven and let them sit. I tried one with E, and thought they were even a bit too dry, but she said to put them in for 5 more minutes. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I've had my times of baking woes (Choc Peanutbutter "Rocks" (muffins), and my last tomato soup chocolate cake, for example) but honestly, another 5 minutes would've totally killed the cookies. And the last two cakes she made had been dry dry dry. So, I didn't. Never fear though, because when I came to eat a half an hour later, she had just put them in for another 15 (!) minutes. Guess what? They're rock hard and bone dry. Yum.

However, tonight after dinner I volunteered to take Tekila out for her walk/pottying. HM said E was going to join me. Great, another thing I wasn't deemed competent enough for! Sure enough, E comandeered the leash and then started to run with Tekila! She indicated that we would run the loop 5 times! Now, it's not that long (perhaps a mile total with all the laps?) - but I'd already done a fair bit of running with soccer. Plus, Tekila's about 40 pounds overweight, I'd guess, and there's no way she could make it. Sure enough, we dropped Tekila off after 2 laps, half ran one more and then walked for a fourth. However, during this time we actually kind of had fun with our limited gestures. As we walked towards the gate I asked "Yarin?" and she nodded. So now I have an after dinner jogging partner! We may end up friends after all. We'll see...

Hope all is well,
Steph

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If You Are What You Eat...



...Then I'm full of guts!


Hi all,
Sorry, couldn't help myself. If you inspect the reddish picture very carefully (and I wouldn't...) you may get to see little squigglies of the sheep intestine I ingested today. In fact, I probably have intestines in my intestines. Oh. I'm sorry, I should warn you, this post probably isn't for the weak of stomach. Better late than never, right?

My Second Eating Victory
Actually, it only involves me because now it doesn't. Clear, right? Well, let me back up. When I came here, I was surprised (shocked?) to find out that HM still feeds K, one spoonful at a time. I mean, 5 years of cold meals? Is that normal by American standards? However, she admits that it's a bad habit, and he obviously eats by himself at school, but she couldn't seem to break him of it. However, 2 weeks in, and I'm a little tired of it already. So, yesterday during his snack I did a little experiment. (My future child(ren?..urg) will thank God that I'm not actually a psychologist...) I loaded the spoon up (he was watching TV) and simply left it on the plate. After some goldfish impressions, he caught on that the spoon wasn't appearing. He looked down, picked up the spoon and fed himself! I did several more spoonfuls, and then let him take over the scooping part. Sure, he's a bit slower and a bit messier but he ate it all himself. I, in return got to gloat tonight when E. pantomined that she would feed K first tonight. After some awkward gesturing, I got her to just watch. Pretty soon we were waggling eyebrows like crazy.

I Finally Got a Bag:

HM took me to find the language school today. (After which I went and got the sheepwich - 2, as they cut one in half to see if I'd eat it. It was really spicy and so I concentrated on that and managed both halves. I think it bothers me more that it didn't really bother me...). It's rather simple: I'll take a minibus (HM will have U show me once or twice, since it finally sunk in today that I've lived in piddling towns in comparison to Istanbul my entire life), then the Metro to Taksim (15 minutes?) and then it's a 5-10 minute walk from the station. Go straight, hang a left from the mosque, another left across from the police station and then the first right. I also picked up my books:

And so yeah, that was pretty much my day (Just Hitit! : ).
Hope all is well,
Steph

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crabby McCrabster



Hi all,
As you may have already guessed, today was a rough one. Despite HM's best efforts to get the kids to go to bed earlier, it's turning into a nightly battle. Today both K and G were extremely crabby.

Special K
Couldn't help myself...Anyhow, K managed to "hurt" himself not once, not twice, but a grand total of three times. The first time we were having his afternoon snack and he told me "Wait...wait!" and walked off, around the corner towards the kitchen. 5 seconds later, wails. Both E and I came running, and though he obviously wasn't hurt he made a lot of noise. I later had him reenact what he'd done, and he'd walked into the door frame. Next he was rolling around on his bed and very gently bopped himself on the head...again with the waterworks. The 3rd incident is so minor that I don't even remember it. Plus there were a few random screaming fits. He was a real joy today.

Drama G.
Of course, this would've been a lot more manageable if G would've helped out in any way. However, he is also sleep deprived and so likes to aggravate any type of situation by being oh so helpful and pummeling his brother. K likes to goad him, and then immediately bursts into tears. Of course, G doesn't hold himself back much. You'd think with about 7 years between them he would. Oh well.

So, that was pretty much my day. To make it absolutely perfect, HM wasn't able to come home when she usually does (around 8:30) so the challenge of getting at least K to bed fell to us. Our communication of eyebrow action and facial expressions were pretty great.
Anyhow, hope your day went better than mine!
Steph

Monday, September 28, 2009

Strays



(Image not mine)
Hi all,
There's a pretty interesting stray animal/human dynamic here. I noticed right away that there were a large amount of dogs that stay on the sides on the roads (or sometimes in the middle of them, which scares the crap out of me). They all are usually a dirty of-white color, large dog of an indeterminate breed - although something related to a German shepherd would be my guess - and a large percentage have what seems to be a plastic tag stuck through their ears.

I also noticed several running around in the gated community, and so I asked HM about it. She said that there has been a huge controversy over their presence, because several attacks have taken place (them attacking people's pets as they walk them, as no one uses a leash here). However, people are very attached to the dogs (several like to feed them and most are rather affectionate) so an alternative was found - one that is used many other places here. There is a center which collects the stray animals and gets them updated on their shots, and then puts the plastic chips on their ears so people know that they aren't rabid. (Although I've noticed several different colors, so I'm not sure if this indicates a year or not?)

So it's a rather interesting dynamic. The dogs that live along side the road I often see getting fed or watered by people who stop at vegetable stands or by the parks. There's also some little structures, doghouses or stands that are covered (for water or food?) alongside the road as well. So, though it's sad to see the dogs, it's also reassuring that they are being treated relatively kindly and that people genuinely like them. I suppose they prefer their lives (I haven't seen any that look like they're starving or terribly diseased) than to the USA's kill centers. Food for thought.

Hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Well, Hot Dog



Hi all,
Just a silly short post today as I spent a lot of the day trying not to be underfoot with older relatives around visiting.

Why a "Hot Dog"?
Is exactly the question HD put to me as he handed me what they like to call "sausages" after G's basketball training session today. Granted, this hotdog was topped not only with ketchup, but also with french fries and mayo (urg?), but was most definitely a hot dog. I proffered several explanations, my top two being perhaps that they were rumored to be made out of dog meat, or that they looked like Wiener dogs (with Wiener coming from Vienna just like frankfurters coming from Frankfurt!). But I honestly told him that I didn't know. So, I did what every post graduate knows will unduly aggravate their English teachers do: I looked it up on Wikipedia. (I have one Prof who is a Chaucer Goddess and likes to go on and mess around with facts about him, she despises the open domain format and the reliability that people assume comes from it!) It pretty much corresponded with my thought Wikipedia states that meat grinders were suspected of/ rumored to be putting dog meat into their sausages as early as 1845. Apparently there were also links to show the use of the phrase "hot dog" as early as the 1890's. So, there you have it! Maybe.

Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Poor Ovaries



Hi all,
I've learned some nice Turkish traditions/customs that I've enjoyed finding out about, so I thought I'd share!

Not Only Good for Running With...
Yes, it's scissors. While watching a Turkish soap opera (or mini-drama, whichever you prefer) that seem to abound here, I noticed a funny scene. Seemingly reminiscent of the Princess and the Pea, two old ladies asked the young girl to have a seat - gesturing her over to an empty couch. She sat down, yelped, and immediately jumped up again. The ladies ran over and crowed, ho. Throwing their heads back and sticking their thumb in between their teeth. (Shakespeare style...). Confused, I asked G what had just happened. Apparently there is an old belief that if a pregnant women takes the test, whichever she sits on indicates the gender of the baby. I believe that scissors stood for a girl, and the knife for a boy. As for the thumb....

The Only Appropriate Place for a Thumb
The biting thumb gesture indicates fear (much like we would hold a hand over our mouths, I suppose). Now, if you hold your thumb poking out between your first two fingers, it's the equivalent of our middle finger. So, not recommended! And finally...

Yes, I Said Ovaries
In Germany it was customary to have "houseshoes" - essentially slippers that you wore at all times. So I was not surprised to find that they are also common here. Each house usually has a few extra pairs for guests, but not usually for women with my sized feet. It seemed to agitate my HM a lot, and her mother even more. Hm said that she used to walk around everywhere barefoot, which drove her mother up the wall. Apparently there's an old belief that walking around barefoot will cause you to somehow freeze your ovaries and become infertile. I get a kick out of this, as I always have cold feet, socks/slippers or not. However, as soon as she gets around to it, I'm sure another pair of crocs (I know, I know....sigh) will probably be parked by the door for me!

Anyhow, that's about all I have. There were many visitors and neighbors running in and out today, but nothing really too exciting happened. However, tomorrow is sure to be another long day (with perhaps more compliments from neighbor boys about my amazing goalkeeping skills?)...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vengeance is Sweet



Hi all,
Today wasn't a very interesting day. I got up a little later than yesterday, and came up to find that E. the new housekeeper, had covered breakfast stuff for me. Well, this won't do at all - I don't want her feeling resentful, especially if I decide to just have bread with butter and honey like this morning. I spent a good part of the day in my room reading up on various things, and whenever I attempted to come upstairs something prevented me: strangers ringing the doorbell (which it makes no sense for me to answer!) or a freshly wet landing. About an hour before the boys came home though, I managed to get upstairs!

Let the Games Begin
HM wants me to spend at least a half an hour speaking with G in English. However, he's 11 (almost 12) and doesn't consider me to be the coolest person. So this forced attempt is hard to do. To make matters worse, K needs an eye on him if he's not parked in front of the TV. So after about 20 minutes I went to take K outside for some much needed exercise. Basketball, a made up game and a game of tag later (well over an hour) and we were both tuckered out. I took him inside for a bit to recover (it was starting to get dark, around 7) and he switched the TV on. I thought, ok, let him watch a cartoon or two and I'll draw him into UNO. However, E. ran into the room and started talking to K, and I could make out "No" and "Television" in her diatribe. Now, I know that kids shouldn't have a lot of TV time, but 30 minutes isn't going to kill the kid.

So, I went up to talk to G, (to doublecheck that their mother hadn't said anything to E that she forgot to tell me...) and assured me that I was correct. He went and talked to E. and came back and said that K could watch one show and then had to color. Now, I agree that this is a better plan (especially now that I know they have art supplies at home and know where they are now!) but I slightly resented this intrusion. We have very clearly delineated jobs, as HM has made sure to tell me, and I hope she will respect me enough not to do that again. Sigh. I need to learn Turkish.

Tambala
The kids have a game that they like to play called Tambala. It's kind of like Bingo, but there's 3 winners (the first to get one row across the long card, then two rows then a blackout) and always a "prize". Last time we played with smallish chocolate bars, and so K and I did for the game today. However, there weren't any smaller ones left for the second game that K wanted to play, so I brought up some of the smaller Wonka candy that I'd brought with me. K got bored pretty quickly and proceeded to start flicking his markers under the couch. When I said "No." he promptly took the first prize, a banana laffy taffy. I smiled. Those small ones are pretty tough to open. So I cracked open the mini box of nerds and watched him struggle with it while I cleaned up. 5 minutes later, I poured out some Nerds and said "Mmmmm". We made eye contact and both immediately cracked up. I let him struggle for another minute and then offered to help. Relieved, K carried it over to me, and his eyes grew wide as it took me less than 5 seconds to open it. I think he got the picture.

Anyhow, like I said, a not very exciting day. Tomorrow is the weekend, and hopefully I can introduce and play Apples to Apples Jr with G, HM and HD. We will see...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mmm...Brains!

Hi All,
Today I kept relatively busy rearranging my room (G got a new bedroom set as he's outgrown his, and so I get to use his "small" desk : ). They also brought up another table...so it's shoved underneath for now. The new housekeeper arrived, and she seems very nice but of course a bit nervous. I'm put in the awkward position of letting her know that she doesn't have to do anything for me and so I'm looking forward to some Turkish conversation as she doesn't speak any English.
Anyhow, back to Brains!

Play Time
K and I went outside to play soccer (Football! Football!) but I soon noticed that one of my "goalposts" (really an olive tree) was teeming with hornets. So I shooed K inside and though I'd pantomimed the problem, made sure that G told him why we couldn't play soccer anymore today. So we switched to basketball for a bit. But eventually he starts to get silly and start throwing ridiculous shots. Sensing a need to find a new distraction, I turned into a Zombie. (Although I managed a good transformation, I think you'd have to be there to appreciate my talent.) Slowly staggering around I moaned "I'm going to eat your Braaaains". Delighted, K ran around, until I eventually caught him in a corner of the garden. I promptly made a slurping noise and announced he was a Zombie too. We staggered our way into the house (arms stiffly held in front of us) while we attacked an unwary G and U. We went to find HM, but she was unavailable. It was a good time and when I told her about it she said "Oh, Zombies? Good!"

Hope all is well,
Steph

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Palace Feet



Hi All,
How do you all like my rockin' bright pink protective booties? In an effort to preserve the Dolmabahce Palace complex they require EVERYONE to wear them. Despite the fact you walk on carpets the entire time. They were especially annoying at the doors, where they'd put wedges up. A nice gesture, but it made for absolutely no grip and I almost fell 2-3 times. Also slightly ridiculous was the strict no-photography policy. Now, No Flash, sure. However, it's not exactly the Sistine Chapel (and that's only because some stupid Japanese company has exclusive rights... but I digress...) and with all the security around I think they could manage to keep a no flash policy and still preserve the building.

The Dolmabahce Palace...
...was easy to find, though a bit misleading (since they label the mosque nearby the same...so I made a small detour!). It was relatively easy to get to - only one switch between the Metro and the Funicular and a 10 minute walk by foot, parallel to the Bosphorous. It also seemed to serve as a military post (we had to go through a security stand before we even got to buy tickets, same as Hagia Sophia) and had soldiers here and there. As I came to reflect on it, the palace reminded me of a sort of combination between the Danish palace in Copenhagen and Neuschwanstein in Germany.

Denmark had the frozen guards as well (think Buckingham palace style...lots of photo ops, apparently!) but had more a feel of the 19th century than Neuschwanstein. However, the opulence of the palace was also huge - and the man who built it greatly resembles Ludwig the II. Though I'm not sure if they murdered (drowned?) Sultan Abduelmecid. The 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, A. (for simplicity) built the palace between 1843 to 1856 - as a sort of last ditch effort to proclaim the strength of the empire. It caused significant economic stress on the Empire and was inhabited for less than 100 years. Ataturk used it as a presidential summer residence (the view of the Bosporus is breathtaking) and I even saw the bed he died in.

The furnishings in the palace were quite ornate, and more genuine than Neuschwanstein. The floors were wood - and had beautifully intricate patterns made from Beech, Rosewood and Mahogany. One of my highlights was the Murano glass chandelier - ironically in the prayer room not sure the Pope would've approved... - which was huge, green and slightly gaudy. But it gave me a scale of the worth. There were beautiful rugs everywhere, of course, but a lot of the crystal (including the famed crystal staircase) was from England. Also on display were gift sets (because one was never good enough?). Russia sent matching bearskin rugs, while large urns seemed to be a favorite of others. I laughed when everyone was fascinated by the rugs - they weren't very big by Minnesota standards!

The harem was very similar, although that tour was in Turkish. However, the first tour guide was so soft-spoken that I mostly read the information pamphlet anyway. Then came the Crystal Pavilion, which only had a few sculptures of note (including a crystal piano) but overlooked the aviary. Which now mostly consists of chickens and few peacocks.

The Call to Prayer


Now, the full prayer takes at least 5 minutes, but I managed to catch a clip or two (the other one I'll put up in my online album). It's coming from the closest Mosque. I asked my HM how they did it and got the basic explanation. The voice is not a recording, and the holy men have a rotation for who does it when. So, some have wonderful voices and others...not. Also, there's one per minaret (oh my goodness...there must be literally hundreds...there's even one by HM and HD's office!) and the sound quality differs a lot. It's a nice sound to hear (as I haven't heard any bad ones yet...) and I suspect it will soon become like the trains in Grand Forks, although blessedly unable to wake me at one in the morning until I become accustomed!

Why I Don't Shop
Well, the US malls don't usally require one to step through security measures (including a bag scan and metal detector) so that threw me a bit after my morning out. I was at the mall close to HM/D's office and was going to find "Electroworld" so I could buy a microphone headset. I was flushed with my transportation prowess, and was feeling good. I even found a map right away, and confidently pushed the -2 button on the elevator...only to go up. Huh. Someone boarded, and pushed the ground floor, so I tried again. I held the button, and pushed again when it didn't work. The young woman said something to me, saw my incomprehension and tried again: "English? This elevator is...special...it only goes floor one and 3."
Well duh, Steph, how could you not know that? What kind of elevators don't only go to highly selective floors? Honestly.

Somewhat subdued, I rode the escalators and managed to find (and then avoid the personnel) in Electroworld. Purchase managed, I got upstairs no problem...to be daunted at the exit. Fortunately I watched others walk through the gap in security, so I did the same. When no yelling ensued, I felt safe. I walked back to the business office building and sat down to read some Istanbul history while waiting for U. After a particularily confusing conversation I was able to discern that he was parked across from me and managed to get home. A safe end to a good day!

Hope all is well,
Steph
PS See the sesame sticks in the photos above...they were homemade!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Family Family Family



Hi all,
That was the theme for Bayram. HM's brother, sister and nephew stayed the night at HM's Mother's house just 2 blocks away. We'd had a large feast of lasagna (ala Turk), which sported mushrooms, a white sauce, meat, peppers and lasagna noodles. Interesting, but very good. Before I went to bed I was "warned" that we'd be grilling today: "The best grilling you've ever eaten!" my HD boasted...

Ah, the Food
Breakfast was traditional and later today, with a cooked semi-basted egg, cheeses, bread and sliced sausage that looks like thick pepperoni. Yesterday, after I'd eaten a similar breakfast, HD leaned over and said - with a twinkle in his eye - "Do you want to know what you just ate?". Rewinding to the conversation about intestines, I thought it over and said "Well, I'm pretty sure it's not intestine...oh god, tell me it's not horse?"
"Horse?! No...it is cow...but a male cow...so not beef. What would you call it?"
"Um, I'm pretty sure we'd still call it beef..."
This inexactness chafed a little, it seems. Later, when we sat down to eat the grilled feast HD jokingly said that it could be horse - or dog! (Apparently horse isn't eaten in Turkey, but really, it was a fair question on my part, because it IS eaten as a sausage in some places in Germany. So I meant no disrespect when I suggested it...so it somewhat comforted me for him to compare it to dog!)

But..the grilling was fantastic. It was all mutton, little bone pieces, little steaks, and shishkabobs. Not to mention Kofte the Turkish equivalent of meatballs, but those were made of hamburger. There was also a "salad" made of chunked tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, green onion, and spice green peppers. However, the highlight of the meal for me was when D, HM's best friend and neighbor asked if I wanted a certain dish. It was fried spice peppers covered in yogurt. When D smiles her whole face lights up, and so I decided to try it. She spooned some onto my plate and I made a sound in the back of my throat. She froze, while I haltingly said "Teşekkür ederim" - Thank You. She was so excited and please that she planted an impromptu kiss on my cheek! (I'd made HM help me practice in the kitchen before dinner...)
Turtles and Bubbles
For the kids, the highlight was probably finding the adorably miniature land turtle (tortoise?) living near the back yard. The scooped him up and gave him grass to eat. If he's around tomorrow I'll snap a picture. He's about 2 inches max, and his shell is a good 1.5 inches tall. I was glad to see that the moms made sure the kids went to clean up after handling him though. As I went inside to check something, I noticed that K was happily splashing in the sink. Or what you could still see of it...it was almost overflowing with bubbles! I rushed in and turned off the water (which was a good 6 inches below the lip of the sink, even the bubbles towered a good 6 inches upward from the top edge...) - just as I heard a cell go off. I told K "No more water...ok?" and ran to get the phone. HM had also come in and we walked back to the bathroom at the same time...and what should we see?

Surprisingly, K had left the water off...but had taken bubble removal into his own hands. Since the water had drained leaving a sink full of bubbles...he decided on the natural solution for bubble disposal - the toilet! HM got him rinsed off and I worked on splashing the bubbles down the sink (though they kept re-surfacing through the emergency drain hole on the side for a while...) and we both chuckled as she flushed the offending bubbles away. "He loves his bubbles!"

Tomorrow...Grand Exploration
HM decided I should go out again tomorrow (as she'll be staying home Thursday) and I readily agreed. Since U seemed so unhappy last time we went (I think it was due to excessive time in public transportation...) I decided to pick somewhere closer. I found a palace (Dolmabahce) and the Galeri Nev (free! with important collections and there are 2 special exhibits "Strange Fruit" and "Harem"). When I'd finally decided on my plan, HM asked me if I'd go by myself (ride into town with her, take the subway and funicular) as both are within 10 minutes of a stop and each other. I have my cell after all. So, I'm a little excited and a little scared, though since it's a tourist area I should be just fine. I have a pretty good internal map (for which I thank Speech in High School...learning to navigate all the other HSs) so I should be just fine. I'll be sure to bring my camera.

At any rate, I should go to bed at decent time tonight to be fresh for tomorrow.
Hope all is well,
Steph
PS The picture is off my bedroom in the morning light!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lazy Day

Hi all,
The boys managed to pretty much amuse themselves today, along with the help by one of their cousins (who's pretty much right between them in age) - with a minimum tussling. So I spent a good amount of time being able to relax with the adults or just read. But I have a little funny observation that I've made.

In Which I Abuse My Power
HM noted to me the other day that K has started to pick up on my mannerisms, speech wise. I didn't realize the extent until we were in the middle of playing UNO and I slapped down a draw 4 wild. "Oh dear..." he sighed. Which, I suppose it's a good thing that I don't have a problem with swearing, because I'm sure HM and HD would find that far less endearing. However, I decided to have a little fun. Midway through an intense game, I softly sang "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" and three seconds later K (with absolutely no indication that he'd been paying attention...rapt on his current play) parroted "...hot like meeee". Power is a dangerous thing, my friends...
Anyhow, hope your Monday was nice as well...
Steph

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Steph Goes to Asia



Hi all,
So, today I went to Asia, but it was only a minor (ha ha) part of my day. Today marked the beginning of the 3 day celebration of the end of Ramadan, called Bayram (pronounced Bye-rum) - which is what you'd think people would do after a month of fasting. Alas, since there's a tenet against drinking alcohol, that would not be the case. Ok. Enough Puns.

HD's Family Visits
So, when I went to bed last night, HM hadn't told me anything about what to expect today. I was upstairs and showered by 9:45, catching HM in the kitchen. "Oh!" she said, "I forgot to tell you that today we will go to HD's great aunt's house for a Turkish breakfast because of Bayram...I'm glad you're ready - we leave in 10 minutes!". Ok. I can go with that. We swing by HM's Mother's house (she doesn't drive) and drive into the city - without my camera. After about 45 minutes we enter the great aunt (and uncle's) apartment. It's very much what I now imagine the classic view of a Turkish apparent to be like. It had the beautiful carpets (guess who will be lugging one home..?), family pictures galore, heavy and ornate wood furniture, and crystal chandeliers (albeit now electrified). I was, for the first time so far, given the full-blown Turkish welcome: the double kiss. I discovered I have a lot less problems kissing old people (and trust me, I got plenty of practice today!) than I did in Germany whenever I met young guys from Spain!

Breakfast was a very nice treat, the full-blown traditional breakfast, plus delicious baklava and Boerek (a new favorite...). Nevermind the plentiful cups of tea. As custom, I was offered food continuously, but managed to balance the line between politeness and being stuffed. K was rather impatient, as his mother had thought to bring along UNO. A great idea, as kids have no love of 3 hour long visitation sessions. However, the people behind Bayram were geniuses and even thought of a way to bribe -erm-reward the kids for visiting: it's traditional to slip money to them near the end of the visit. It was very interesting to find out that the great aunt was like a second mother and that the great uncle was a colonel in the Turkish army (a lifer) who had his decorations in a large cabinet and he also apparently spent a year stationed in the US in CA. He was very sweet, and gave me a grand tour. But all good times must come to an end. So, several hours and kisses later (with many hands of UNO), we continued with what was decided on as an impromptu trip to visit HD's mother. She, however, is dead. So I got to see my first Turkish cemetery. It was gorgeous. The graves are actually more like marble boxes that double as flowerbeds, with the name plaques behind them. There were degrees to the opulence, but all were white marble and cultivated in some way. It was also a very popular destination today, and parking was scarce.

HM's Family Visit
So, unbeknownst to me, at some point a discussion happened that decided that all the family visiting should take place today. So we set off to see HM's great aunt. She apparently is a fascinating woman - never married and independent - although it was a much shorter visit. I discovered that it's definitely a tradition to have a well-stocked chocolate candy dish (much to K's delight), and of course there's always a beverage offered. Afterwards we went to the family's old neighborhood (a lot of families buy whole apartment buildings -smaller ones- and my family still rents theirs out) restaurant for a traditional Turkish meal. It was very good, with exceptional service (I wore the poor waiter out refilling my water glass, I'm afraid).

After lunch we struck off to HM's Grandmother's house. She lives on the Asian side of the Bosphorous, so I got to visit a whole new continent! It wasn't very exciting. However, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge - think near copy of Golden Gate Bridge - which spans the Bosphorous, charged no fee today because of Bayram. So naturally it was a mess. The news ran a special showing all the drivers that tried to insist on trying to pay anyways, which was amusing.

However, we finally arrived at the Great Grandmother's apartment. She is a tiny thing (HD calls her a dwarf in an affectionate (?) manner) who also brought out the tea and baklava. (Quick point to ponder...if I manage to eat my body weight in both yogurt and baklava will they balance out? I'm thinking no...unfortunately!). The visit took about 2 hours, and I spent a good chunk of time playing UNO. Luckily we headed back after that (at around 7:30pm) and the traffic caused the normally non-rush hour 40 minute-long trip to take 1.5 hours. So, a very long day ending with K crashing in the car.

Tomorrow we will stay home (or that's the plan, anyway) and I'm looking forward to that!
Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Survived Saturday

Hi all,
My title sounds a little dramatic, but in all fairness I did spend most of my day running around with K. We played what felt like a million rounds of UNO (although I managed to briefly teach him Slap Jack...) and whenever it wasn't raining outside, HM and I shooed K outside. G had basketball training/a game today and apparently he was named player of the game. Other than running around outside a lot and playing cards (with a new real of no TV - K gets too distracted and games last FOREVER...), my day was pretty normal:

Food
I know, I know...but as my father will gleefully recount to anyone who'd like to hear, he once asked me what my favorite class was in school - and I responded "LUNCH!". Not that school lunches necessarily rocked my world (although I would still eat off of partitioned trays if I could...), but I was able to never have to hear "Inside Voice Steph!" or otherwise be shushed. Anyhow, I digress.
Today I had my first "typical" Mediterranean/Turkish breakfast: bread with olives (green and black), cheese, cut up tomatoes and "jam" (which was more like apricots in a thick syrup). Plus the ever-present black tea of course, which is mixed half with water. Apparently on the Asian side of Istanbul they're more likely to drink green tea instead, which really doesn't surprise me!
For dinner I had a soup made out of lentils (plus pureed vegetables) that was a rather bright yellow/orange color...with fresh lemon juice. This somehow worked for me. HM is very proud and bragged to the neighbors that I eat everything. Works for me.

Corrections/Knowledge Update
As much as this will thrill my father...remember the fireworks yesterday? Definitely weren't fireworks. Apparently it was gunfire from a slightly distant village (though not the nearest one). HM said they were shotguns, and I'm pretty sure people don't normally hunt in the dark here...

Anyhow, remember when I said I walked by the front of a very busy courthouse? I found out the back story today. Apparently about 198 days ago the son of a very prominent business family murdered his girlfriend. It's a very morbid case, including a decapitation when he tried to fit her into a cello case. He then managed to be on the lam for about 197 days. He then turned up at the police station 2-3 days ago with his lawyers. Apparently he's 17 and wants to be tried as a juvenile, and he's getting much closer to 18. Although there's been rumors that his parents messed with his documents, falsifying his age. This raises few questions for me. 1. If you've been missing for that long, why bother to show up? 2. Why would he bother to show up if his documents had been falsified - surely if he's actually 18 he'd rather leave the country for good, and 3. Even if he's 18 now, if he was younger at the time...wouldn't he still be tried as a juvenile? Unless he was actually 18+ at the time, in which case my question goes back to 2.

Anyhow, that's really all I have for right now. My host parents are visiting outside with several neighbors and the kids are playing video games or watching TV. Which is great, as I'm quite exhausted!
Hope all is well,
Steph