Well, I’ve finally visited the famous Gallipoli Peninsula. Lorna, David and I took a taxi to Sultanahmet early Saturday morning to meet the Feztour bus. No traffic at 6 A.M.! There were three others, all Aussies. You’ll see why.

A simitçi stopped at our service bus offering a sesame-encrusted breakfast.

We happened on a Circumcision Procession in a small town. Happy boys—for now!

It was a gorgeous drive down the Peninsula, and after lunch we visited numerous museums, graveyards, and monuments as our tour guide, Perihan, filled us in on the details of the Gallipoli campaign. Here’s what I learned:

During World War I, the Allies wanted an ice-free sea route to Russia, and the only available option was through the Dardanelles Strait, which runs from the Aegean Sea to the Marmara, then the Bosphorus Strait connects the Marmara with the Black Sea—and Russia (as well as Romania and Bulgaria). It was all controlled by the Turks (the Ottoman Empire).

The Gallipoli Peninsula

After a thwarted naval attack in February, 1915, the Allies decided that they couldn’t take the Dardanelles with naval power alone, so they began strategizing to take control of the entire Gallipoli Peninsula, dominating the Ottoman land forces. The British took on the campaign, enlisting Australian and New Zealand troops that had been training in Egypt (ANZAC: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).

A Turkish man pauses at a rough statue outside the museum.

Hence began a bloody 8 ½  months on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The first attacks were made on April 25th, 1915, with the major focus (five landings) on Hellespont, the tip of the peninsula. There was another strategic point where the allies intended to land, straight across the peninsula from the narrows of the strait, with an intent to overtake the high point of the Peninsula (Hill 971, or Chunuk Bair). Unfortunately, as the ships waited through the night to land, they drifted 1½ miles north of their goal. Instead of landing on a smooth beach with low, rolling terrain, they landed on a beach with a high ridge beyond. This one mistake may have cost them this campaign, not to mention the many thousands of lives that were lost on both sides. (Allies: 43,000, Turks: 87,000—That’s over 500 killed per day in hand-to-hand combat for 8 ½ months.)
In the end, the Allies reatreated, pulling out their last soldiers on January 9, 1916.

The most significant thing to the Turks was, of course, that they retained control over the Dardanelles, hence shipping routes to Russia and Eastern Europe.

Our guide Perihan at a cemetery near Anzac Cove

Another significant thing was a young military commander, Mustafa Kemal, who “saved the day” so to speak, and later became the first ruler of the Turkish Republic (8 years later). Because the Turkish general thought the ANZAC landing was merely a feint and that the major attack would occur at the north end of the peninsula, most of the Turkish forces were posted there, leaving only a few smaller battalions to defend the central peninsula. Mustafa Kemal was put in charge of these battalions, and when he realized that thousands of ANZAC soldiers were climbing the bluffs above the beach, he set up a line of defense up in the hills. He established a headquarters on the third ridge, now known as “Kemal’s Hill”.

A monument to Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) on “Kemal’s Hill” where he was wounded in battle.

Kemal’s order to his men is renowned among Turks: “I do not expect you to attack, I order you to die! In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take your place!”

Me at the Anzac Cemetery—facing the Aegean Sea

A grave from the “horseless” Light Horse Brigade that stormed Anzac Cove—age 25

The fighting at Gallipoli lasted over 8 months, well into the winter.

Lone Pine Cemetery, atop the highest hill.

One of many “maybe” markers–“Believed to be buried…”

I was particularly moved by this message on a monument near the ANZAC seaside graveyard:


This is a huge monument, a touching quote—note Ataturk’s head at the upper left.

There are numerous tales of kindness on both sides of the battle lines: soldiers tossing cigarettes, candy, and food across the narrow expanse between the trenches. There are stories of Johnnies (Allied forces) giving water to dying Mehmets (Turks), and Mehmets carrying wounded Johnnies back to the Allied trenches. It’s hard to imagine crouching in narrow, muddy trenches hour after hour, day after day, week after week, starved and waiting for imminent death. Many of the thousands of bodies were never identified, although many mass graves were unearthed to identify and send remains back to their homelands. Some regiments were completely wiped out.

Mehmet carries a wounded Johnny

Every year on Anzak Day (April 25th) many thousands (particularly Aussies and Kiwis) visit the Gallipoli Peninsula to pay homage to those who gave their lives.

If you’re interested in seeing a map of the area, here are two links, one to an Ottoman map (with Ottoman writing) and the other to a satellite photo of the region.

Ottoman map of the Gallipoli Peninsula

An aerial view of the Gallipoli Peninsula

A statue of the oldest living Turkish Gallipoli soldier, who died at age 110.

We finished touring around 5:00, then hopped a ferry over to Çanakkale, where a Trojan horse guards the harbor. It’s not the original, but a very cool one from the 2004 movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt.

Trojan Horse, Çanakkale

We stayed at a lovely resort hotel on the beach, where the cicadas put up quite a ruckus until the evening temperatures cooled.

A cicada that was sojourning on our balcony–imagine 10,000 of them singing at once. ARAUGHHH!!!!!

An evening henna party and another wedding party next door provided live music for our listening pleasure. Really.

David wonders about summer Ottoman wear displayed in our hotel lobby.

There was one downside to our tour, though. Unbeknownst to us, our tour didn’t include return transportation to Istanbul (no WONDER it was such a good deal). We learned on Saturday that we’d have to find our own way back, which was a shock. They offered to include us on a tour of Troy and drive us back to Istanbul (for $60), but the return was very late, and we’d still have to get ourselves back to campus. Sigh… Both Lorna and David were great sports, and the Metro bus was fine. They even have stewards who serve tea and snacks. It took us over 7 hours to get back to Istanbul, nearly two to cross the city, and yet another to get back to campus. Sigh…

Oh, well. I got to Gallipoli, learned a lot, and saw a Trojan horse. Not bad.

Winding Down (and up) in Istanbul

Things are winding down here. Grades are done, tests are bundled for the Exam-collection-in-the-sky, and I’m cleaning out my desk before we face our last flurry of correcting the Lise Prep Exemption Exams. Meredith directed a VERY professional moderation session for us yesterday morning, but we have four more days of thumb-twiddling before the students take the exam. David’s reading, I’m writing, and Celine is writing e-mails. (We have the smallest office).

Neil just popped his head in after delivering all his exams to what we call “The Dark Side” (admin is on that side of the building). It’s down three stories, across the building (about 150 yards) and up a story. We have no carts, so we roll desk chairs piled with packaged exams (luckily, we have an elevator). Neil announced that after humiliating himself rolling an exam-laden chair through the corridors to the other side, he realized that they’re then piled on a cart and rolled back over to be stored on this side of the building. Go figure.

Exams await delivery

David transports our bundled exams.

I have more interesting news, though.
Last Friday I went to the European side to check out an apartment the Robert College director sniffed out for me. I took a teacher service bus to Bebek (which means “baby”), where I hopped off to enjoy the most stunning Starbuck’s on the planet—or so I’ve heard. It’s located right on the Bosphorous, with upstairs windows overlooking the waterway and a downstairs patio right on the water. Oh, my! Does it get better than this?

Bebek Starbuck’s: The best in the world?

After the last few slurps of my frappucino, I moseyed along the water to Arnavutköy and Robert College. I was early, so I took my time climbing the hill to the school (sweat, sweat). Along the way I met former students who had heard I’m returning. What joy to feel appreciated. As I waited for Mr. Chandler outside the main building, more students and staff stopped to chat, again warming my path to yet another year of teaching.
The apartment is sweet, bright, and has a view overlooking the Bosphorous, and it’s only about a 5-minute walk to school. The only drawback is that it has no closets—none. Interesting. The school will furnish it for me, but I’m sure I’ll have to buy something to hang my clothes in. Maybe IKEA? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

My new kitchen (photo: John Chandler)

View from my living room (photo: John Chandler)

That evening I hiked back up to Bebek to join a bunch of Robert College staff celebrating birthdays at TAPS, yet another venue on the Bosphorous. We sat at an upstairs bar-like table overlooking the water, boats skimming by as we sipped our drinks. Ah, does it get better? Well, read on.

View from Bebek TAPS—the Bosphorous

As the sky darkened, we walked the mile back to campus, where we congregated at Phil’s waterside apartment (in Yali) to chat, sip, and enjoy an INCREDIBLE bowl of homemade soup. Yup, it got better. Finally, I hiked up the steep hill with Gaby to her apartment, where I slept on her couch listening to night sounds and waking to yet another incredible view of the Bosphorous. Oh, my! Unfortunately, Gaby is leaving Robert, moving on to Bilkent University in Ankara to train teachers and to continue her turtle trips (see my blog from June 2008).
The next day we woke early, and I headed off to meet my friends David and Nia in Beşiktaş. We hopped a bus to Ortaköy, where we relaxed over breakfast at a water-side restaurant, then shopped the “artsy” street bazaar.

Catnaps at the Ortaköy bazaar

After that we headed to Sultanahmet to meet Dee and visit Musa’s rug studio. I bought two rugs, one for me and one for a friend, and David ordered one.

Musa’s early masterpieces

When we asked for a restaurant recommendation, Musa insisted that we share a BBQ on his 5th story balcony. We refused twice, but the third time was the charm. We were IN! When I protested that we would help buy the food, Musa scowled at me. “Ann Marie! You don’t know about Turkish Hospitality?” Yup, the weekend just kept getting better! Musa yelled to the produce man as he passed by the window, and I chopped veggies for a salad as he mixed the köfte (spiced meatballs).

Musa chooses veggies from the produce truck in the street outside his studio.

Everyone helped carry food and beverages up to the fifth floor, which was soon transformed from an empty balcony to a cozy restaurant. Amazing!
It took us a few hours to get home, but it was well worth the extra time we’d spent chatting, eating, sipping, and reveling in Musa’s incredible view overlooking the Marmara. Istanbul is all about water and views. Well, there’s a little history, too, I guess.

Musa’s fresh grilled köfte, shepherd’s salad, bread, cheese, watermelon, and wine.YUM!!!

Me cluttering up the stunning view from Musa’s terrace

At 8:00 we turned right back around; 21 of us hopped on service buses to the Arkat Restaurant in the Taş Han for dinner, a floor show, and dancing. The highlight of the evening was a phenomenally talented belly-dancer—a MAN! Our French teacher got up with him, and since Jacqueline can bellydance, she was a real hit. The down side was that the traffic was horrid, and it took us 2 ½ hours to get there (about 20 miles). We missed part of the show, but many of us made up for it by dancing, dancing, dancing.

Mr. Belly Dancer at the Arkat (photo: Andrea Ball)

Mr. Belly Dancer joins Jacqueline dancing after the show (photo: Andrea Ball)

Well, that’s it for my big weekend. Sunday I stayed home to recuperate. This weekend I’m headed to Gallipoli to learn about Turkey’s Gallipoli Campaign (which launched Turkey toward independence). More on that later…


I feel compelled to do a bit of ranting about grades. Hope you don’t mind.
Today is the sixth and last day of final exams here at Koç. The kids sit two exams a day, ranging from 40 to 80 minutes. Most students go into an exam knowing exactly what percentage they need to earn the final grade they seek. Weird, huh?

A few weeks before exams—Friday morning blues on the 3rd floor

Grades are the Be-All and End-All of the Turkish educational system. That and the Ö.S.S., the university entrance exam (but that’s another story). Actually, I find the grading system here both unfair and enabling. Hence, my rant:
First of all, 45% is a passing grade in Turkey (in the U.S. it’s 60%). Here’s the curve:

  • 85 to 100%  is a 5, the top grade (no pluses or minuses, thank you)
  • 70 to 84% is a 4
  • 55 to 69% is a 3 (considered average)
  • 45 to 54% is a 2 (still passing, but unimpressive)
  • 25 to 44% is a 1, not passing
  • 0 to 24% is a 0, a dismal failure

Each student has 1-3 oral grades (usually class work) and 2-3 written grades (exams) for each class in a semester, depending on how many times the class meets per week. The system for oral grades is determined individually by each teacher, while the written grades come from uniform common exams. For example, we have about 10 or 11 sections in each grade, and all those sections take exactly the same exams for each course they take. That’s to keep things equitable.

The kids arrived bleary-eyed today after a week of late nights studying.

The other thing we do to make grading fair is moderation—sometimes a struggle. Everyone on the English team grades the same 2 or 3 exams according to the rubric, then we compare the grades we gave. Next we discuss differences and figure out how to adapt our grading to an agreed-on norm. It’s hard. After hours of grading our own students’ papers, we have other teachers re-grade (moderate) some of them, particularly the highest and lowest ones. It’s VERY time-consuming, but it’s important in this culture where parents sue the school over grades. Really.

Few studied this morning, though other days they were more focused.

At least a few of the girls studied…

…as did a few in room 304.

Now, imagine a teacher who feels philosophically opposed to grading in the first place, and plunk her in a situation like this where life is all about grades. I’ve had to rethink my approach to education and move from my preferred  +, √, —  “evaluation system” and go back to a traditional 100-point system. ARAUGHH!!!!
Oh—but there’s MORE!

My own juniors (in another testing room), focused as usual (that’s Nisan waving.)

In the end, the student who squeaks out a low 4 with 70% gets the very same 4 as the student who earned 84%, fourteen percentage points higher. Enter: THE BEGGARS. Yes, folks. We have them. They’re well-intentioned, of course. “Oh, it was so close, can’t you just give me/him/her a few more points?” Grades are so important here that parents get into the act along with their kids. Not only is final exam time stressful, but it sets off a barrage of BEGGING! PLEADING! BARGAINING! (Gosh—I haven’t been offered a bribe yet. Hmmm…)

Hard at work on the history exam–one more to go!

Think that’s enough? Well, there’s even more, my friends. It’s the way the grades are averaged. Within a semester, grade percentages are averaged together to find a numeric percentage, which determines the semester grade. BUT—the two semester grades are averaged in a new and enabling way. If you get the same final grade both semesters, that’s all well and good. A 3 and a 3 average out to a 3. If you do better one term, though, the top grade rules. For instance, a 3 and a 2 make—not 2.5, but 3! (Remember, no pluses or minuses.) So, for instance, a student who finishes the first semester with a low 3 (55%) and does a bit of slacking off the second semester and barely squeaks out a 2 (45%) should have an average of 50%. Right? Well, that 50 magically becomes not a 2 (which it should be) but a 3, just the same as the student who earned 69% both terms for an overall average of 69%, a high 3. There’s nearly a 20% difference over the year for the same grade. Hmmm… Something’s wrong. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Saffet takes every exam seriously. He wants 5’s, and usually gets them.

I figured out that a student who fails with a low 1 first term (25%) and a low 2 the second term (45%) ends up with a passing grade of 2—with a mere 35%, ten percent below the (already low) passing grade of 45%. Such a deal for the low achiever!
And there’s MORE, my friends. If, after a dismal year a student is unhappy with his or her grade, there’s the option of taking a grade-changing exam during the summer. These exams are difficult, but for the intelligent but lazy student, they’re a godsend. I don’t even want to KNOW more about them.

They’re all focused—except Yunus. No surprise.

Zeynep just asked me, “Are you writing about grades in Turkey or grades at Koç?”
“Aren’t they the same?” I wondered.
“I think it’s worse at Koç,” she said. “There’s more pressure here.”
Point taken. Poor kids… No wonder they dragged themselves to school this morning with bleary eyes and collapsed into their desks. Six days of this would undo anyone.
If I sound biased, I am. I hate grades, and it breaks my heart that they’re so important in this country. I also hate it that the system is so unfair yet at the same time so enabling.
The flip side is that it’s been a joy to teach these kids. I love them, and somehow we slog through the grading mire together. We get through it, and my hope is that they learn something in the process.
I always thought education was more about learning anyway. Did I miss something?


There’s an enchanting city in the southeastern corner of Turkey near the Syrian border—Mardin. I’ve heard it’s one of Turkey’s loveliest cities, so when Dee suggested a weekend trip, I said, “Mardin? Oh, yes!”

Rather than bore you with the history of its picturesque churches, museums, monasteries, medreses (Islamic religious schools) and homes—oh, and the most stunning post office on the planet, I want to write about the people we met.

Mardin’s Mar Behnam Kilesi (40 Martyrs Church)

Mardin’s Mar Behnam Kilesi (40 Martyrs Church)

Deyrulzafran Monastery cathedral dome

Şehidiye Medresi Minaret at night

Ann Marie at the Post Office (PTT)

First off, Dee sat next to a Turkish woman (a physicist) on the plane who offered to help us organize a taxi into the city of Dıyarbakır. Once she had negotiated a fair price, she waited as we climbed in, then offered to ride along and help us find the bus to Mardin.

“Oh, heavens! You don’t need to do that,” Dee said.

“We’ll be fine, but thanks anyway,” I added.

She hopped into the cab, assuring us that she had nothing better to do. (Right.) We soon arrived at the “bus station”—a round, low building surrounded by an empty concrete courtyard. Two young boys scurried up to our taxi with a battered wheelbarrow and immediately piled our luggage into it. The taxi driver seemed fine with it, and our friend shrugged. The boys wouldn’t let me take their photo (bummer), but got right down to business leading us to our bus. It turned out that the inside of the semi-circle otogar (bus station) was lined with white mini-busses, like the service busses used in Istanbul. Our friend waited until our bus arrived, then made sure the driver understood where we were going and charged us the right amount. After a flurry of thank-you’s, cheek-kisses, and goodbye’s, we climbed aboard and she headed off. Talk about Turkish hospitality!

We sat with a rural woman and her 10-year-old daughter. They tried to chat with us, but we unfortunately understood little of what they said. (Our conversational Turkish is more than limited.) She proffered a piece of chewing gum, something like a tiny white eraser. We gnawed away at it, smiling  and nodding amiably, unsure how long our jaws could take it. Amazingly, the gum developed a hint of mint flavor after about a half hour. It never softened, though, and I finally saw Dee surreptitiously spit hers into a Kleenex. I swallowed mine.

A decorated window on a back street–probably to a churchyard?

The bus driver stopped near old Mardin (where our hotel was), then waited with us until the city bus arrived. He told the bus attendant the name of our hotel, and we were on our way. A smiling man seated in front of us gave me his card, Sevgi Taksi, offering to take us on a tour of the city the next day. Yesür was a paunchy fellow dressed in denim (both obesity and denim are rare in Turkey). When he picked us up the next day, he presented us each with a map, a guidebook, and a CD on Mardin. All in Turkish, but still helpful. How kind!

our hotel entrance—the Erdoba

Dee in the Erdoba Hotel terrace entrance.

We also met a lovely restauranteur who fawned over us in his pristine little locanta. We enjoyed a lovely meal of fresh hot pita bread, salad (which he replenished twice), chicken shish, ayran (a yogurt drink) in copper cups, and tea. He brought us our bill on a mountain of handmade toothicks—a total of 13 lira. That’s about $4.00 each. Wow.

Our 13 lira bill a la toothpicks

That first evening Dee discovered a striking stone necklace, and as she purchased it, the jeweler asked if we’d like something to drink. “Tea, water, Turkish coffee?” he asked. “We’d actually prefer some wine,” I quipped. We’d watched for a liquor store, but to no avail. Mardin is dry. Amazingly, he reached under the counter and pulled out a bottle of Mardin’s own red wine. Go figure! He happily sold it to us, and we even-more-happily brought it back to our hotel and indulged in our evening vice (with pistachios).

Buying wine from the Jovial Jeweler!

The most interesting person we met was a man who “guided” us through the Deyrulzafaran Monastery (think saffron) just outside of town. There were no English guides available, but this man showed us the ancient Sun Temple, the larger Sun Church, and  an upstairs chapel. He said there’s only one monk in the monastery right now, a Swede; then he shared that he is living there as well. Actually, he’s an Iraqi Christian who’s fled his home because Christians are being persecuted in Iraq. Unfortunately, Christianity is associated with America, and Christians are being summarily executed. He’s found refuge in the monastery with his wife (a PhD in English), his young children, and his parents (retired teachers). He told us that although most Iraqis once loved America, “Now it’s different. 99 percent of Iraqis hate the American government for what it’s done to our country. I can go to America to continue my career as an engineer, but how could I live in the country that has destroyed mine?” He’s hoping to emigrate to Australia, otherwise he will take his family to Canada. Of course, he’d prefer to go back to his beautiful home in Iraq, which he will probably never see again. It broke my heart to hear him say that he doesn’t think Obama will change anything. I like to think he’s wrong.

Ann Marie with the Iranian engineer at the Monastery

Entrance to the Deyrulzafran Monastery

Our favorites, though, were the little boys, our unofficial guides. On our first night exploring the city, a 6-year-old boy led us up to the beautiful Zinciriye (shackle) Medresi which was unfortunately closed. Sigh… Of course, we’d already seen a museum, an ancient church, and many lovely homes with their ornately carved fronts, so we weren’t too upset. All the buildings in old Mardin are made of limestone, and many have ornate Moorish-like designs carved around cornices, doors, and windows. It’s gorgeous.

The little fellow in the middle was our first “boy guide”.

At any rate, another little boy named Yusuf (about 10) befriended us at the medrese. He offered to take us to more mosques, but we were just too darned tired. We ran into him at least four or five more times over the weekend, and he’d always tag along with us, chatting us up as best he could. I think he had tourist radar, but we grew very fond of our little buddy. On Saturday he hauled around a  bathroom scale all day to earn money for his family (like I’d PAY for that bad news—in public, no less).

Yusuf–Saturday morning, second meeting

Saturday afternoon we decided to walk a loop of back streets and were once again befriended by little boys. What is it about older women, I wonder, that we attract these kids? They were excited to show us the sights, though, and they were far more useful than our maps. They led us into mosques, medreses, and hotels—chatting away in Turkish, some of which we could understand. They were very polite, and equally pleased to show off their neighborhood. The quieter, thinner one was named Onur, and the stockier boy had a fascinating name: Savaş Barış (War Peace). I think of him as the Oxymoron Kid.

Tour guides Onur and Savaş Bariş in a Medrese entrance

On our way to dinner that night, we ran into our little friend Yusuf once again, still carrying his scale. He offered to guide us, but we only wanted dinner. Though we refused to get on the scale, we gave him some lira for just being a good kid.

Our favorite soap vendors

And how we loved the “eşek”–donkeys, always working hard!

So—Mardin is, indeed, a magical place. The buildings are incredible, but even more importantly, the people are delightful. Turkey continues to impress me; the generous warmth of its people puts “Minnesota Nice” to shame. Oh—by the way, Yakub found us just as we were waiting for our cab to the airport. What a sweet kid.

A fond farewell to Yusuf, his buddies, and the charms of Mardin, Turkey