Cappadocia, Ataturk, and Iskender

Oh, my—it’s been an interesting few weeks! My friends Norma and Arvid just left for Minneapolis after a full schedule in Istanbul. During the Kurban Bayramı we trekked to Cappadocia, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It has amazing geological formations (fairy chimneys), warm people, and my favorite hotel, The Kelebek.

Ah, beautiful Cappadocia!

The lovely Kelebek Hotel in Göreme

The first day we explored Göreme and its fascinating Open Air Museum of ancient churches carved into the rock.

Me with the Open Air Museum behind me–no photos allowed inside the churches.

Part of a carved stone church with the walls broken away.

My friend Arvid atop a camel–Ride ’em Cowboy!

The next day we took a fascinating tour of more hidden churches, an archeological dig, and the underground city (with a delicious Turkish repast at noon). Sadly, neither Norma nor I was successful at managing the claustrophobic underground tunnels, but Arvid braved his emotional storm and made it eight stories down. Kudos to Arvid!

A carved stone church along our hike, this one with a dome–hence, it’s called the Domed Church.

An interior wall of one of the churches we visited.

The underground city–photo by Arvid, the only successful descender (of the three of us).

A woman we spotted along our hike, kneading or mixing something outside her home.

I have a little update on the Kurban Bayram. Although people are expected to use experienced butchers for the sacrifice, many attempt to slaughter animals on their own. My office compatriots informed me Thursday morning that several people had died during the sacrifice. One man was sacrificing a cow on a platform, and the platform collapsed , crushing him under the animal. Two more men suffered heart attacks while trying to control animals they were intending to sacrifice. Apparently 1000 people across the country were injured in the first two days of the bayram while trying to slaughter animals. Over 500 in Istanbul sought medical attention after either cutting themselves or being injured by their unruly victims. Apparently this is the darker side of the celebration.
Thursday (November 10) was Ataturk Day, the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death in 1938. It’s a big deal here in Istanbul, as he is the greatly revered founder of their country. At 9:05 everything stopped for a moment of silence in his memory. I was in class at the time, and as soon as we heard the sirens, we stopped what we were doing and everyone stood at silent attention until the sirens ended a few minutes later. Apparently it’s even more impressive in the streets. All traffic stops and people step out of their cars to stand at silent attention. I discovered a short video of that moment on an Istanbul street–check it out:

I have to admit, watching it brought tears to my eyes, probably because of how strongly it evidences this country’s reverence for the father of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I wonder if we Americans could ever come up with that kind of collective devotion to our country or its heroes. Doubtful. Maybe to the almighty dollar, though.
The only other thing I’m going to share today is the incredible dinner Arvid, Norma, and I shared on Friday evening. It was a cold, rainy day, but we still met at Eminönü to ferry across to Kadiköy for the original Iskender, a favorite dish in Turkey. It’s delightfully decadent.

Arvid and I eagerly anticipate a delicious platter of Iskender.

Start with crusty pide bread cut into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter. Cover that with a generous few layers of thinly-sliced döner, spiced layers of lamb roasted on a vertical spit. It’s like the Greek version used in gyro sandwiches, but the Turks insist it’s far better (like comparing steak to hamburger, according to Arvid’s Turkish friend Harun). That layer is slathered with a spicy tomato sauce and surrounded with sliced tomatoes, grilled peppers, and a hearty dollop of yogurt. It’s brought to the table on a hot platter, then  a waiter drizzles the entire plate with butter from a sizzling frying pan. Oh, my goodness! It’s the pinnacle of delicious.

Norma cheerfully dives in. (She couldn’t finish it all, but I had no problem.)

See the butter swimming under the bread and meat? Oh, yum!

Though Norma and Arvid had experienced a wide variety of delectable Turkish cuisine, this was by far their favorite. By the way, Iskender is named after Alexander the Great, who conquered Turkey for the Macedonian Empire around 300 BC. What a tribute, huh?
Thus ends yet another chapter of sharing Turkey—with my friends and with you. I have a quiet week ahead, but I’ll think of something to write about. I promise. I’m having my fourteen resident students for dinner this week. That will be an adventure in itself.

Kurban Bayramı 101

In a few days Turkey will celebrate Kurban Bayramı—a holiday I’d always found horrifying—riddled with roadside animal carcasses. I really didn’t get it. İrem Eren, my office mate, opened my eyes to the generous traditions of this holiday, and later I discussed  it with senior Özdemir Vayisoğlu, our Bosphorus Chronicle Editor. I think I’m starting to get it. It’s all about sacrifice and generosity.

My lovely colleague, İrem


İrem and Özdemir come from smaller cities and fascinated me with tales of what their families do. When I talked with my other students I learned that about a third of their families follow the traditions of bayram. İrem generously invited me to spend Kurban Bayramı with her family, which I would have loved if I hadn’t already made plans to travel to Cappadocia with my friends from the States.

A little research revealed that Kurban Bayramı is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year. Celebrating Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, the head of each Turkish household sacrifices a sheep on the morning of the first day of the holiday. Though common all over Turkey, it’s less typical in the cities than in rural areas.

Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, offers a 100 lira discount on livestock shipments for bayram.

Özdemir explained that early on the first morning of the four-day bayram everyone goes to the mosque for a short prayer called bayramnamazı. After the prayer they gather to chat in the courtyard before heading home to prepare for the kurban—the sacrifice of an animal.

Wealthier families hire someone to do the kurban. He recites something from the Koran, then (a-hem) slits the sheep’s throat. I noticed that neither Özdemir nor İrem chose to speak in those terms. They seemed sensitive about the slaughter, but it is what it is. İrem’s family has a butcher perform the kurban, which might be done on a sheep, a goat, or a cow (which might be purchased together by a few families).


Özdemir explained that the hired man would cut up the meat into large pieces and and put into huge flat trays, which men carried into the house. There the women would divide the meat into smaller pieces and package it. In İrem’s family, her job is to make the labels for each package based on a long list they have compiled of people who they want to help.

Özdemir , Chief Editor of our school newspaper

Each sheep is divided into fifteen to twenty packets, a good deal of meat. Once the meat is packaged, it is immediately piled into the trunk of a car and delivered to the homes of the needy. Of course, some meat is kept behind for serving guests.


Guests and visits. The rest of the holiday is spent visiting family, friends, and business associates. The women of the household have been baking and cooking for weeks to prepare for all the visitors. “We make a list of everyone we want to visit,” İrem explained. “It includes all the relatives and also friends and business associates. We usually have a list of about 100 people to visit in the three or four days of Kurban Bayramı. You just have about fifteen minutes to eat a little and have some tea. We usually have sweets at people’s houses, and you get so SICK of eating all the sweets. But you know Turkish hospitality. There’s no way you can say no, so you just eat some more,” Irem said with a smile.

She went on to explain that when the people they are visiting aren’t home,  they leave a note to let them know you stopped by. She said her father cleverly hurries to the home of anyone he sees out visiting because then he can get by with just leaving  a note. With 100 people to visit, I can certainly understand.
Özdemir’s grandfather was a community and political leader, so his family often slaughtered two or three sheep. Until his grandfather died at 101, they stayed at home and let other people visit them. “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you 100 people visited my grandfather every day. We had to have a lot of food ready for everyone. I sometimes went out to visit my relatives, but there was always someone home with my grandparents.”

I had to chuckle when my friend sent me a flyer from Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, advertising prices for sheep and cows, which varied according to the amount of meat and whether it was delivered or picked up at a store. The sheep looked so sweet that I couldn’t help but name them. “You can choose Irma or Edna or Eunice, or perhaps you’d prefer Bossy the cow.”

Yes, it’s a different world than most of us live in, but how often are we westerners so generous to strangers? Food for thought—pardon the pun.

Aqueducts and Charcoal

Last Sunday I touched a remnant of the longest aqueduct system in ancient history, and it’s in—Ta-Da! Turkey! Over 250 kilometers long, this aqueduct once supplied the city of Constantinople with water from the Istranja Mountains near the Black Sea, 65 kilometers away. So why was it 250 kilometers long, you wonder? (I did.) It’s because it snaked through the mountains, tunneling through and winding around them. It was reputedly the most outstanding surveying achievement of the pre-industrial world. Impressive.

A portion of the Anastasian Long Wall–impressive, huh?

We left sunny Istanbul in high spirits, but clouds gathered as we rode the bus a few hours. We’d been promised views of the Anastasian Wall (Long Wall of Thrace), a defense that extended 64 kilometers between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. We saw small sections of this massive wall through woodsy brambles and undertgrowth, a bit of a disappointment. The wall was once over 9 feet thick and 16 feet high, but we never saw more than about a six-foot span. Our stalwart group of 30 (including our Ottoman historian guide) braved glucky mud and a light drizzle to see more, but our best sightings were actually from the bus.

Ah, the spectacular Black Sea

We drove all the way to the Black Sea and climbed to a high pinnacle where the wall once stood. No trace today. There were remains of a sweet ancient chapel, though, and Libby did her best to glean as many pricklers as she could from the underbrush.

Wandering around the chapel remains

A close-up of one of the chapel’s arched windows

After scraping pounds of muck off our shoes, we boarded the bus again (the driver had spread newspapers on his carpeted floors) and headed for lunch.

The mud caked our boots, heavier with each step.

Ah, lunch! Long tables were set with artfully arranged salads, mezes, and breads. Once we’d filled up on these vegetable, cheese, and yogurt dishes, we were each brought a well-stewed piece of lamb atop a mountain of buttery pilaf. I’m generally not crazy about either, but these were divine. Libby sat under my chair eager to glean whatever she could of the meat scraps provided by a few of us.

This was the loveliest shepherd’s salad I’ve ever been served.

The meal had lifted our spirits, and as we drove up to view a part of the aqueduct system, my seat-mate exclaimed, “Look! This is how they make charcoal!” as he clambored for his camera. “I have to get a picture of this. It’s what they did hundreds of years ago in Pennsylvania!” A visiting  architect and design professor, he was thrilled to see the massive mounds of wood. After passing a few of these strange structures, the bus pulled over.


We were all fascinated to learn that the charcoal-making process is quite an art. Logs and sticks are cut into about 2-foot lengths and piled in a circle around a 30-foot clearing.

You can see how the logs are piled around the circumference of the mound.

This man will arrange the loose logs that have been tossed up to him.

 These are stacked vertically around a small cavity to make a mound, leaving a vertical space like a chimney up the center as the mound grows. Wood is carefully stacked to leave minimal space between logs and sticks, finally resulting in an artful firewood mound about 12-15 feet high.

This charcoal mound is nearly complete.

It’s then covered with a layer of straw and a second layer of mud. Lit charcoal is dropped down the chimney to start a smoldering fire inside the structure, and the pile smolders until all the moisture has been smoked out of the wood, about two weeks.

A smoldering charcoal mound

According to the worker explaining the process, seven tons of wood produce about one ton of charcoal for barbecuing, a necessity in Turkish cuisine.

There were about six mounds ready for covering, and probably five more smoldering in this complex, located deep in the forest.

A few more mounds await straw and mud coverings.

We thanked the men for interrupting their work, then piled back into the bus, which bounced along three more minutes before getting dismally mired in the mucky roadway. We tried pushing, but the bus just slid sideways into the mucky ditch. It meant a longer hike to our aqueduct, so we headed off, leaving the bus driver to find a tow. Thank goodness for cell phones.

As these stalwart warriors pushed, the bus just slid sidways into the ditch.


The long hike to the aqueduct was well worth the work. We hopped stones across a river, then discovered a bevy of wild purple autumn crocuses peering through the woods.


Wild autumn crocuses


Though they were lovely, nothing was as impressive as the stunning stone towers that met us we turned the right at the bottom of a hill. The ancient bridge’s towers were spectacular, dominating the mountainous countryside with their venerable splendor. Apparently this was one of sixty arched stone bridges in the 250 kilometers of the aqueduct system, and 18 more are still intact.

The amazing aqueduct bridge towers as late sunlight slants down across the mountain

We sat at the foot of these mammoth structures, marveling that the architectural genius that kept these structures standing for 1600 years. I couldn’t help but think of the laborers who’d given their lives to constructing these towers, part of someone’s dream to carry mountain water to Constantinople.

Along the Bosphorus

After a week of blustery, cold weather, the sun god has returned to the Bosphorus. We’ve had some large double slightly opaque white jellyfish hanging out near the yachts, though they are fast being replaced by the more common saucer-like moon jellyfish. I always enjoy watching them squirt and stream through the water, though sadly they choose to congregate with the refuse that collects in the lee of the ships. UGH!

Fisherman along the Bosphorus:

The fishermen lining the shore along the walkway have abated, partly because of the recent cold weather, but more likely because the hamsi (anchovy) season is waning. Some of the fishermen are pulling in larger fish, which pleases Libby to no end. The quais also teems with tea, simit (a round sesame-covered bread like a large bagel), and sandwich sellers as well as mobile tackle shops ranging from crude boxes to large vans replete with hooks, lures, bait, and even fishing poles and reels. It’s fun to see these vendors bask in the sun as they await business. I don’t think it really matters whether it’s profitable—location, location, location.

An Arnavutköy simitci (simit seller)

One of the more humble tackle shops:

Something more of a production–artistic, to boot!

And the proud peddler poses with his wares:

This tackle-seller has succumbed to the warmth of the afternoon sun:


Last Saturday Kaptan Mustafa invited me for kahvaltı (breakfast) on his yat (figure it out) moored near Arnavutköy. He’d invited his English-speaking friend Haydar to join us, which was actually quite helpful, as Mustafa’s English is even worse than my Turkish. I’m getting better at conversing, but there’s a lot of repeating and backing up. It works, though.

Kaptan Mustafa makes friends with Miss Libby:

Haydar is a pilot who steers large ships through the dangerous curves and currents on the Bosphorus. When they enter the Bosphorus, a small boat sidles up with a pilot to take over the wheel on the way up this waterway, the busiest in the world. The currents are particularly difficult because a heavier current of salt water flows upstream from the Sea of Marmara, while the less saline water from the Black Sea flows downstream above it. Actually, how do you know which is upstream and which is down when the water flows both ways. Imagine, though, what happens to these opposing currents at each sharp turn of the Bosphorus (and there are at least a dozen in its 17 miles). Haydar said that it takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours to go up the Bosphorus, while it takes just 1 1/2 hours to come back down.

At 5 lira a kilo, these hamsi cost about $1.50 a pound.

I learned this week that Turkey’s Prime Minister has proposed digging a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara to accommodate some of these larger vessels, purportedly to ease the heavy Bosphorus traffic. It seems an impossible task, but the Turks can do just about anything when they put their minds to it.
It’s been a crazy-busy week for me with events after school every day and something going on each evening as well. It seems I overbook myself no matter where I live. Tonight I came straight home from school to meet friends of my apartment owner for a pleasant visit over wine and snacks. After bidding them goodbye I threw in a load of laundry and took Libby for her evening walk. When I’m done with this blog I have to press a few pairs of slacks so I don’t look like a vagabond all week. Onward and upward!

Black Sea at Şile and Music at Aya Irini (Haghia Eirene)

Talk about a busy week! My friend Sally  just left after a fun, eventful week. Some people are just darned easy to have around, and Sally is one of them. She revels in every detail of life here, making friends at every turn.

Sally with Çoşkın, one of her many Istanbul friends.

Our friend David and I planned a short trip for Thursday’s Liberation of Istanbul Holiday. David and I worked all day Wednesday at our respective schools while Sally visited Camile (another common friend) in town, then we three met up at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport that evening. I caught a bus at 5:05 here on the European side and arrived at the airport (Asian side) at about 8:15. Over three hours to travel about 20 miles—Istanbul traffic. David was there waiting, and we hunted around for Sally, who’d been there the longest, wandering around wondering where we might be. Poor dear.

We stopped for dinner, then drove just over an hour north to Şile (SHE-lay) on the Black Sea. I’d scoped out a nice seaside resort, but when we finally found it, the entire complex was dark. What??? It was only 10:00! I’d talked to a receptionist the night before, so I tentatively pushed through the revolving door. A clerk materialized from the dark lobby, flipping lights on at the reception desk. Whew!  “Are there any other people here?” I asked in Turkish. He laughed and assured me there were. I didn’t exactly believe him. He certainly had space for us, giving us a corner seaside suite that he said cost twice what we paid. Did we mind?


Imagine waking to this view!

We woke to a stunning seascape, and imagine our surprise when scores of Turks were already enjoying the sumptuous breakfast buffet. Apparently the Şile Resort Hotel teems with people all summer, but in October things get a little lean. After breakfast Sally and I donned our suits for a walk up the beach. David, uninterested in swimming, brought his Kindle.


We picked shells and marveled at the pristine water as we strolled along the deserted beach.


Gorgeous shells–but small

Sally and David strolling on ahead…

after we all snapped  photos of the unique beach litter.

We chuckled at a discarded computer that had washed up on shore–what was THAT about? Though the Black Sea water was cool, it was warmer than most of our northern Minnesota lakes. Finally Sally and I found the perfect place for a swim, which we did. Well, first we waded out for what felt like about a mile Finally Sally dove in, and I joined her in water so shallow we couldn’t frog-kick without scraping our knees.

The water was still shallow quite a distance out from David–camera and Kindle in hand.

Finally the bottom dropped off and we headed out to a small rocky island, feeling a bit like sea nymphs cavorting in the sun. The water was so clear we could see ripples in the sand 20 feet below us.

We spent the afternoon wandering Şile, relaxing over a fish lunch in a seaside cafe, and strolling along the breakwater. At 5:00 scores of boats left their crowded moorings to head out for the evening’s catch—probably the most action the Şile harbor sees.

Sally, David, and I in front of the Şile Harbor fortress.

Şile’s fishing boats moored three deep.

A fisherman mending his nets.

A fishing boat off for the evening catch.

 Friday Sally and David trekked over to Üsküdar to see the stunning Şakırın Camii, the only mosque in Turkey designed by a woman (see my blog for May 25, 2009). As they were leaving, the mosque was stormed by armed bodyguards making way for a visit by Prime Minister Erdoğan. His mother had just died, and he was looking for an appropriate grave site. Apparently that kind of security is common here.

On Saturday evening we joined friends for a concert at the Aya Irini, a Byzantine church inside the walls of Topkapi Palace. The church is renowned for its incredible acoustics, and there are unfortunately only a few concerts there each year. We entered the church through an arched stone entrance and down a long, wide stone ramp. The 1500-year-old structure supposedly stands on the site of Constantinople’s first Christian church. The main sanctuary was flanked by collonnades with a high gold semi-dome at the front, painted with a huge cross.

The Aya Irini in all its splendor before the performance

Already awed at the splendor of the sanctuary, my spine tingled as the orchestra’s first notes reverberated across the centuries. I felt that same excitement when a costumed chorus filled the ancient cathedral with the booming strains of “Carmina Burana” (Carl Orff). Oh, my goodness!

To hear the magic of “Carmina Burana”, click this link:

Monday afternoon a group of students in my English class presented a reenactment of the myth of Pandora. Their chosen accompaniment? ”Carmina Burana.”
Small world.

Sunday trials in Arnavutköy

The weather is cooling off for us here in Istanbul, and I’ve just welcomed my first guest into my spacious Arnavutköy home—Sally Nankivell from Grand Marais. She’d visited the last time I was at Robert College and couldn’t resist the temptation of another trip (lucky me).

Sally arrived on Sunday morning, and I was committed to a parent’s open house at school.

Students chatting outside the building before school.


My friend David (who knew Sally from her last visit) offered to meet her at the airport, a godsend. I sent him off with a set of keys, then took Libby on her morning walk, planning to do some editing and writing before I headed up to school for the open house (my writing has taken a back seat lately). Just as I reached our  building, I was hit with a devastating realization: My keys were still in the apartment. ARAUGHHH!!! This had been my greatest fear since moving in, as I had no landlord.


Libby and I had enjoyed our FLAT walk along the Bosphorous.

All was not lost, though, since I’d anticipated this very dilemma. I’d had an extra set of keys made to leave with the guards up at the school. I’d explained to them in my shaky Turkish that I might need them if I got locked out. Thankful that for once I’d thought ahead, I forged on. It meant a serious uphill climb and a wasted hour, but at least I’d have time to change for the open house. Heck, I told myself, it was good exercise and a gorgeous morning.

No hope of climbing to my fourth floor balcony (the white one)

I huffed and puffed up the final stairway to the guard station, where I explained my plight as best I could. The two guards on duty hunted high and low for the key I’d left there, but it to no avail. “Anahtar yok.” No key. Didn’t they understand? I reminded them that I  had left my key there, and I had to meet with parents in less than two hours. I was looking mighty scruffy in dirty jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers, and bed hair. Would I dare appear to parents like this? Would they balk at trusting their teens to such an airhead? I found someone to translate for me and learned that the guards had passed the key along to the housing supervisor. Unfortunately, she wasn’t on campus, and she wasn’t answering her phone. Sigh…

I decided to climb up to my office to get a little work done (another 99 stairs), but I couldn’t find my reading glasses. This was NOT my day.

I finally got through to Elvan (the housing supervisor), who found someone to retreive the key from her office. My compatriot Reagan took pity on me and kindly drove me home to change. Though there was no time for a shower, at least I was able to don nicer clothes and sort out my hair.

Open house went fine, thanks to my charming translator Irmak—less than half of the parents spoke English.

When I returned home, David and Sally were already lounging in the living room. It felt great to collapse and chat with them for a while and leave the morning’s trials behind.

My living room, where David and Sally awaited me.

My upstairs neighbor, Füsün, had invited us all up for coffee, so we shook ourselves awake to head up. We’d had no idea what a treat we were in for. Füsün’s apartment is two stories—both with breathtaking views of the Bosphorous. We chatted on her rooftop terrace over Turkish coffee, prepared by her charming mother Şukran (from Izmir). I was tickled to meet my new neighbors and look forward to good times with them.

Oh—my doorbell just rang: Füsün’s mother had come down with a tray of three dishes of walnut-sprinkled vanilla pudding. Sadly, David is back at Koç and Sally is visiting our friend Cemile. Guess I’ll have to eat them all myself…


A neighborhood cat supervising the neighborhood from the safety of a car roof..

Oh, those Turks!

I continue to be amazed at the kindness of the Turkish people. “Good morning, Ms. Mershon. How are you today?” echoes from numerous students as I enter the building. Except for Erol, who teasingly salutes as I pass.

My precious and diligent 10-hour English class—what’s not to love?

My face is growing familiar to people in my little community of Arnavutköy, so I receive many greetings as I walk Libby down its cobbled streets morning and evening on our way to the Bosphorus. “Merhaba. Naszilsınız?” (Hello. How are you?) I have to admit, it warms my heart. There are dogs on every street that have come to know Libby, whether they sniff, bark, or just stare through windows…

One of Libby’s 2nd-story Arnavutköy fans.

I was significantly touched at the warmth of the Turks with a couple I guided through Sultanahmet a few weekends ago. I brought them up a stone stairway to the top of the Sair Han for a stunning panorama of the city. After oohing and ahhing a bit, I commented that there used to be a little shop up there where they made baseball caps. Gary said he’d read there were 40,000 textile factories in Turkey and wondered if many were small ones. I peeked through the doorway and discovered two people working at sewing machines while a few others stacked and organized hats a la Bartholmew Cubbins—and smoked.

This shop brought Bartholmew Cubbins to mind.

I asked (in my most polite Turkish) if we might come in to see, and they welcomed us warmly. My friends marveled at the quality of the felted woolen caps (with earflaps), which we learned were destined for Russia. Gary tried one on, then asked if it would be possible to purchase one. “Bir şapka ne kadar? Bir tane alabilir miyiz?” I translated.

The shop manager with Gary and his new “hediye” hat.

Hayir,” (no) the older gentleman said, then handed a cap to Gary. “Hediye.” It was a gift. He offered us tea, and while it steeped he guided us to a second room tho show us how they cut piles of fabric pieces and molded each stitched cap on a steamer. Though it was a small operation, he said they produced 500 caps a day.

You can’t see the steam, but it’s emanating through that cap.

We sipped our tea outdoors, happy to be away from their cigarette smoke, yet even happier to have met them.
Later we visited the Buyuk Valide Han where a young man named Serkan crafts glass lamps and “antiques” for the Grand Bazaar. I asked if he would solder a piece of my brass and copper bracelet back together, and he cheerfully agreed to. He suggested we look at the view from the han’s roof, and he found former weaver Mehdi Bey, who also brought us to see an ancient loom that has long since been hushed.

Mehdi Bey tells us (in Turkish) about this old loom that now rusts away in an abandoned shop.

When we returned Serkan handed me my bracelet, now beautifully buffed and polished. I was astonished. I pulled out a bill and handed it to him, but he refused, saying it was for his friend. Blush. I promised myself I’d return to buy more hanging lamps for my porch, and I was relieved that my friends bought a few items for themselves.
Back in Arnavutköy my kitchen cabinet knob kept coming loose. After repeatedly screwing it in tighter only to have it fall off, I decided to look for a longer screw. I’d purchased an umbrella the other day from a tiny nearby hardware store that spills out onto the sidewalk, so I decided to start there (not hoping for much).

One of Arnavutköy’s less welcoming inhabitants–I think we interrupted his nap.

The proprieter welcomed me into his shop, cutting short his cell phone call to greet me and offer his service. Try to imagine my pathetic Turkish request, which must have sounded a bit like, “I longer need for like this please?” The proprieter nodded, then walked back through a narrow aisle and pulled out a few drawers of assorted screws. He held my knob and screw in one hand as he rummaged through the drawer and compared it to one screw after another. He finally found one that matched my screw in width, but it was far too long.

My kitchen, now brighter and happier with its new retr0-fitted knob.

I thanked him for his time, but he reassured me. “Problem yok, Kesebilirim,” or something like that. “No problem. I can cut it.”
He pulled out a mammoth pincers and worked at that screw, turning and twisting it as he squeezed on the pincer. He ended up bending the screw, so I assumed we were both screwed. “Problem yok.”  He grabbed a pliers to straighten it, then used a small nut to make sure the threads were true. He spend about fifteen minutes with me, and I was both amazed and relieved to have found a solution to my problem without a trip to the city. Whew!
I pulled out my embroidered Turkish money purse to pay him, and he waved me away. “Hayir. Hayir. Çok küçük. Hediye,” he said. Again, a gift. I pressed him to take payment, and he refused a second time, then offered me a cup of tea.
Oh, those Turks!

Young neighbors who took a real shine to Libby.



CH-CH-CH-Changes (apologies to David Bowie)

A few days ago I had an appointment with Edith, our community’s holistic healer—acupuncture, massage, pressure points, etc. She welcomed me with a warm smile, and though I think she may be nearly my age, she looked even younger than I remembered her. As she massaged my weary legs (thanks to the hills of Istanbul), we talked at length about all the recent changes in our precious village of Arnavutköy.

These fishing boats sit along the quais at Arnavutköy.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that the Abracadbra, my favorite seaside restaurant, had closed. The neighboring fish restaurant has taken over the building, and I mourn the loss of that funky restaurant that once adpated classic Turkish foods into gourmet delights. Rumor has it that licensure was a problem, and the bribes were \too expensive. Hmmm…

This corner used to be the deep-red Abracadabra Restaurant, now annexed by Sur Balık.



Happily, a plethora of Ottoman houses have been refurbished, and others that were beyond repair have been torn down and rebuilt. I watched one being torn down a few years ago, and it’s now a towering Victorian-looking mansion ready for new inhabitants.

One of Arnavutköy’s stunning refurbished Ottoman homes.

This one is across the street from my apartment building…

Who could help but be charmed by this entrance?

Many Ottoman houses await their turn—hope it’s not too late for this one!

Another nice change is a few pet stores, one just three blocks from my apartment. Libby is thrilled. She’s also pleased that the cat population remains unchanged—unless it’s increased a bit. There’s no lack of cats to chase as we walk up and down the cobbled streets of Arnavutköy each morning and evening. A few Toms have the guts to stand up to Libby, who knows when to turn tail and skulk off.

A surprise awaits Libby around every corner.

The newly cobbled streets were completed before my last departure, and I continue to find them immensely charming.

I wrote a few years ago about a gecekondu near my old apartment that had been demolished one night; the remains remain. A second one just below it has also been destroyed. What I wouldn’t give to know the real story behind all that destruction. It infuriates me. Why them, when the city’s entire hillside is rife with gecekondus (hastily built homes)?

There were three small grocery stores on the north side of the village, and the largest of the three is closing down as I write. The other two are franchises, obviously hard to compete with. Edith told me a bank will be moving in. That’s a little scary, because of course we fear that this sweet village is going to become a high-end tourist destination like Bebek, the next community up the Bosphorous. What can one do?

Farewell to this super market that was open just yesterday–these bins filled with produce.

Robert College feels much the same to me, though of course many of the staff have moved on to other schools. Turnover is inevitable in schools that employ foreigners, and its always hard to see good friends go. I’ve returned to the same attic office with three of my former office mates as well as four new ones. With eight of us, it’s a busy office. Oh–and the step-climbing hasn’t changed, either. I climb 99 steps to our attic each morning and add something between 200 and 400 more steps each day—and that’s just going UP! (Hence, the visit to Edith.)

An early morning shot of Robert College–prompted by the Morning Glories.

One change that makes me a bit sad is our night view. They finally finished cleaning the facade of the picturesque Kuleli MIlitary School across the water, and it looks gorgeous during the day. Unfortunately, the night lighting is bizarre–white towers with gold lighting between them. Some changes just don’t work for all of us.

Another thing that’s still the same is an ancient ruin just below my balcony. I look out on ancient brick-and-stone arches from who-knows-what kind of structure. It’s reassuring to know that some of these relics are being preserved in spite of the escalating property values in this picturesque Bosphorous community.

This ruin still stands just below my balcony.

Hooray for Heritage!

Back in Istanbul yet again!

One week down and twenty-three to go. Actually, that’s not the way one really looks at time in Istanbul. It’s more like, “Oh, dear! I only have twenty-three weeks left!” Really.


Having been stateside for over a year, returning to Istanbul was like coming back home. Libby and I were met at the airport by Adem, our kindly driver who delivered us to a spacious, bright, and breezy apartment—the best digs I’ve had in my years over here. I’m sub-letting it from a Robert College trustee who lives here in the summer, and she’s been more than kind in sharing her world as well as the name of her precious cleaner.

A neighborhood fixer-upper in Arnavutköy

I arrived in time for the third day of workshop, as I’d stayed behind for my nephew’s wedding in Boulder, Colorado. Since I missed his sister’s wedding a few years before,  I enjoyed catching up with both of them and meeting their incredible partners. Ah, new beginnings!

It’s taken me a week to catch up with the time difference (9 hours from Boulder), and I finally feel human as I enjoy the evening breezes wafting through the apartment. I just downed a delicious tomato sandwich, thanks to Arnavutköy’s Tuesday Street Market. The tomatoes were incredible—like the homegrown beefsteak tomatoes I remember from years ago. Each vegetable stand featured tomatoes sliced open to showcase their solid, red interiors, tomatoes you’d never find in a store (even here). I paid 1,5 TL a kilo, which comes out to about 40¢ a pound. Yup. Amazing, huh? And let me tell you, that tomato sandwich was DELICIOUS!

Some incredible tomatoes at an enviable price (40¢ a pound)

Last weekend Libby and I trekked to Burgazada with my friends Sandra and David and Sandra’s friend-of-a-friend from New York. Burgazada is one of the Princes Islands, located in the Sea of Marmara not far from Istanbul’s shore. It’s about an hour-long ferry ride, and we sat on outside benches to enjoy the warm air and stunning views of the city. Cars aren’t allowed on the Prince’s islands, which makes for an idyllic setting. Horse carriages and wagons provide the only transportation, both taxis and delivery vehicles.

We hiked up to Sandra’s apartment and relaxed on her balcony overlooking the sea as we sipped coffee and indulged in a variety of local pastries. My favorite was a sesame paste roll, much like a cinnamon bun. After that we trekked to the height of the island to visit an ancient “KILISE”—church, as well as a very sweet Greek Orthodox graveyard nearby. The big bonus on our hike, though, was a massive fig tree heavy with sweet, ripe figs, ours for the taking. Oh, my!

A rough sign below the church (kilise) on Burgazada’s hilltop.  

The interior of the Monastery of the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ.


These ancient (and recent) graves overlook the Princes Islands and Istanbul in the distance.

We hiked back down the island to the pier, where we sat in a shaded seaside cafe to spend two hours feasting on mezes (hors d’oeuvres), salad, and fresh-caught fish. YUM! Libby got only skin, which she didn’t mind a bit.

Doug, Sandra, me and David revel in our fresh fish lunches.

Of course, I’ve been working, too. School started Monday, and I love all three of my classes. Of course, most RC kids are incredible, which is probably why I keep agreeing to come back. They’re respectful, quiet, and diligent. Unfortunately, many are also sensitive. I’ve seen my share of tears, especially from a few who know very little English. This prep year is daunting for them, but they’ll all be on the same page by December. I often wonder how I’d react to being thrown into a classroom where we only spoke Turkish. ARAUGHHH!!!!

Opening Ceremony at Robert College–in their outdoor arena/maze

It’s been a busy week, settling in, learning about our new ThinkPad computers, planning for my classes, and walking Libby a few times a day. I just stopped to get copies of my apartment keys, and I’m proud to say that I was able to communicate clearly with the anhatarçı (key maker) in Turkish.

Harika! (Super!)


I’ve been here a week and a half now, and I’m settling into a routine, though never without adventure. The food here is sensational (though I’ve had one intestinal blip—fresh tomatoes in a potato salad, I think), but other than that I’m happy and healthy.

Last weekend Matt and I explored the city—miles of it—on foot. We took a mini-bus to Mexico (a central square) for about 12 cents, then hoofed it. Our first stop was for macchiato (see photo) for about 35 cents each, then we hiked about an hour to another spot where we stopped for lunch of injera, which is a huge thin pancake (about 18 inches across) made from tef, a highly nutritious grain grown only in Ethiopia. It’s spread on a large tray and dolloped with different dishes and sauces. You rip off a bit of injera with your right hand, then scoop a bit of a dish or two into it, then enjoy it. My favorites are the vegetable dishes, but there are some mighty delicious meat stews and lentil dishes that I’ve tasted as well.


The 12¢ macchiato.

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A delectable meal of injera with numerous toppings. YUM!

Many Ethiopians eat injera for every meal, but unfortunately many of them survive on one meager meal a day (if that). The poverty here continues to affect me deeply.

At any rate, our lunch of injera, beer, and a machiatto cost us a whopping $2 each (or was it $3?) We spent the rest of the day touring some fascinating churches and exploring new areas of the city, finally landing at the Addis Ababa Restaurant, where we indulged in a meal of injera with tej (the local honey wine—tasted a little musty to me, but we choked it down, stalwart drinkers that we are).

Matt and I were joined by two women on Saturday—Bea, a pediatrician from Madison, and Beth, a public health nurse from Minneapolis. They’ve both been very involved with international adoptions, and Bea has volunteered here in the past, so she’s been a great Addis guide. She’s introduced us to some fine restaurants and other sites. Today she’s taking us shopping before she and Beth return home escorting a baby for someone in Iowa. We’ll miss them.

Our past few days have been an incredible adventure. We took a Children’s Home Society bus to Hosanna to visit the their orphanage and school in that very poor city. Hosanna has a population of 100,000, most of whom are incredibly poor. The drive down was beautiful, and it gave us a true picture of Africa. Most of the traffic we encountered was foot traffic—both people and animals.

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Though most of the street traffic was human, we saw the occasional herd of four-footed creatures.

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A city street in Hosanna—foot traffic predominates everywhere, as there is 1 car per 1000 people in Ethiopia.

We left at 6 A.M., and along the way we saw hundreds of school children walking to school, many barefoot with dirty ragged clothes, but all dressed in a colored vest or sweater, their school uniform. Many walk miles to school each day, so tardiness is overlooked. Just getting there is a huge accomplishment. Statistically, only 33% of boys and less than 20% of the girls in Ethiopia attend school, one of the lowest rates of enrollment in the world. When I saw what they go through to attend, I can understand why. Many are kept home to work.

We stopped often along the way for numerous cows, goats, burrows and sheep on the road, many being driven to market or traveling to find water, a scarce commodity in the area. We saw a few trickling, muddy rivers, and I assume there were occasional wells. Water has to be transported long distances to the orphanage and school in Hosanna.

Boy transporting water by wagon

Though carts were a rare sight, this one carried numerous water jugs, managed only by a small boy.

Most of the homes we passed were mud huts built with eucalyptus poles. We saw a number of “lumber yards” along our route, but none had lumber—just piles of eucalyptus poles. Many of the mud huts were rectangular (averaging about 12 X 16 feet) with corrugated metal roofs, but we saw hundreds of more traditional round huts with thatched roofs. In the city, most of the homes were square huts with corrugated roofs.

African mud hut

A country house–rather nice, mud over eucalyptus poles (you can see them on the outside)

mud hut-2

A city house–mud over eucalyptus poles, with the orphanage up the road.

After checking into our hotel (the nicest one in Hosanna—quite new and very clean for $11 a night), we headed to the orphanage. While the doctors and social workers did check-ups and met with the staff about water and nutrition issues, I stepped into the room for 6 month to 18-month-olds. There were eight beautiful babies in there with two very loving nannies who welcomed me with broad smiles. Each baby has his/her own little wooden bed sitting on the floor, except for the oldest (about 15 months, I think), who was toddling around and slept in a crib with high sides.

Lemma International Hotel

The exclusive Lemma International Hotel in Hosanna–$11 a night

Hosanna street scene

The view across the street from the hotel—note the man on the left gesturing to me not to take photos.

Most of the babies were very responsive and enjoyed being played with and loved. These children are well cared for, let me tell you. Oh, how I wished I could take photos, but it was not to be. 10-month-old Bereket laughed and laughed yesterday as I pulled her to her feet, and she cried her little heart out when I left her. Oh, my goodness. I learned all of their names, and watched as one little girl took some of her first steps. These are some lucky children.

Mussi Children's Home--Hosanna-2

The new Mussi Children’s Home Orphanage in Hosanna, for babies up to 18 months.

This morning I met the parents of one little girl I’d played with. Unfortunately, They’ll only get to meet her and go to court to be interviewed, then they go back to LA to wait until all the paperwork is done. At that point (probably six months from now), they’ll return to bring her home. She’ll be walking by then, I’m sure.

Nearly all of these orphans are developmentally delayed, as they’ve come from incredibly difficult circumstances. Most arrive malnourished, and many have been neglected. Their stories are harsh—I’m editing their background reports as a part of my work here in Addis, and it’s not pretty. The good news is that they’re now cared for and loved.

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These children asked me to take their photo. I wondered if the little girl attended school with the baby on her back, though she isn’t wearing the red sweater/uniform, so probably doesn’t attend school.

In the afternoon we visited the “sister” orphanage for children from 18 months up, and that was a little more chaotic. I managed to organize “Ring Around the Rosie” with them, did activities like “hands up, hands down,” etc, and a few more songs, but mostly they wanted to hang on me, turn on my indiglo watch, and hold my hands. They had lots of toys, but I could see they were a real handful for their three nannies—I think there were probably 20+ children there, and more supervision would have been great for them. Of course, I think I made things more chaotic just by being there. I tend to do that. Someone has been teaching them gymnastics, because many of them called out “Mama!” so I would watch them as they performed somersaults, handstands, headstands, and cartwheels. One younger girl went to the wall and walked her feet up the wall with her hands on the floor—too sweet. I was there about an hour, and by the time I was done, I was BUSHED!

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No photos of the children, but these happily-employed ladies were hanging the children’s laundry in the yard of the orphanage.

The second day I visited the Hosanna School, which is funded by adoptive parents from the U.S. It is a tuition-free school exclusively for children from food-insecure homes (one meal a day or less), many of whom are orphans living with relatives or at the orphanage. It’s a lovely little school in the outskirts of Hosanna, and presently 215 children ages 4-15 constitute 7 classes. They’re divided by academic skills rather than age, so there can be a 5-year range in one classroom. Each year they’ll add another class of students.

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Teacher! I know the answer!—the Hosanna School for children of food-insecure families

grade 3, Hosanna schoolA young boy quite pleased with his exam score

The behavior of the students was impeccable, and each class stood when I entered to welcome me. “Welcome to our school, Guest. We are happy to meet you.” I interacted with them a little, then just observed and took photos. The bright classrooms and caring teachers were truly impressive. The students tend a huge vegetable garden that supplements their daily lunch with fresh produce.

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One of the younger classes just after greeting me. The little girl on the left had a sore on her neck and wanted to hide it.

library, Hosanna School

The Hosanna School is proud of this library, which is in dire need of books.

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This precious lunchroom poster says it all. These children get two meals each day as well as an education.

Again, I have to finish by saying that I’m incredibly impressed with the service of the Children’s Home Society in Ethiopia. They’ve impacted thousands of children and created hundreds of jobs for Ethiopians. I’ve been told by many that they are the best adoption/service organization operating in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because the government is clamping down on adoptions and because of the state of the economy, their income flow is greatly compromised, so they’re forced to make some cuts. We all hope more volunteers and more donations will help them through this crisis.

boy minding the herd
This little boy doesn’t get to attend school—too much work to do. Note his oversized boots.