From Istanbul to Hamburg via Oldenburg

Sometimes I wonder if my life will EVER settle down. It’s bound to happen some day—just not today. Here’s my most recent adventure: After hugging Laura and Yvette farewell, I cast one last glance over the sparkling Bosphorus before I clambered into the car for the airport, bags and Libby in tow. The driver helped me in, and at check-in I arranged for wheelchair transport to the gate, which was slow coming, but well worth the wait. The flight was fine—I had three seats to myself, so I could prop my broken foot up beside me.

Wheelchair service bypasses lines, so although I was last off the plane, I was one of the first to the baggage claim. I heard Libby barking in her crate as we approached. Hops, wags, and hugs. Once my suitcase arrived, I used my crutches. Jana was waiting for me outside customs, and she had parked close. What a sweetie! We had three hours to enjoy hamburgers and marvel at little Max, who has grown since I saw him a month ago; his little hands have finally mastered grasping.

Jana and Max wait with me for the train to Oldenburg

Jana and Olaf helped me on the train, recruiting passengers to assist with my luggage at Bremen, where I was to meet my friend Deidre. But—no Deidre. I waited until the last minute, and a young disabled man helped get my luggage on the train. (Maybe he understood my dilemma better than most?) He called Deidre on his cell, but she didn’t answer. Could she have missed the train? I thought she might be waiting for me in Oldenburg, but no Deidre there, either. I hobbled to a taxi and took it to her apartment, which was dark. We must have miscommunicated. Could she be in Bremen waiting for me? I knew we’d been clear about which train I’d be on. I tried the doorbell. No answer. It was nearly midnight. What to do? Libby and I sat out by the road waiting, to no avail. There was still a light on next door, so I went over and knocked.
Fortunately, they spoke English. Whew! Walter helped me get into Deidre’s building, and we discovered a VERY ill Deidre. Oh, my goodness! He called the ambulance, and I joined her, leaving a confused Libby behind. How could this be? I was supposed to be the invalid, not HER! The long and short of it is that after spending a night together in emergency rooms, Deidre was admitted to the hospital. I went back to her apartment to e-mail her partner and her son, then collapsed into a long-awaited sleep.

Deidre’s partner Laurie had immediately found a flight from London, so he and I got to know each other quite well. He’s definitely a “keeper”—kinder than the average dude. Her son also flew down to visit, and over the week she gradually improved. We shared only one day together at her apartment before I had to leave for Hamburg again—meeting my sister and her family for Jana’s wedding, the main reason for our trip to Germany.


My friend Deidre~feeling a bit better

No hospital photos, I’m afraid. Too stressful, although I enjoyed watching the bicycle traffic as it whizzed by the apartment balcony. Actually, I was more than a little jealous—DARNED broken foot!


A walking and bike path across from Deidre’s apartment (note the sign)

biker group

Teens heading off for a night on the town…or whatever.

I rode the train back to Hamburg with Deidre’s friend, who helped me find a taxi for our hotel, and my brother-in-law met me in the parking lot. It was hot in Hamburg, but we were all excited about the wedding. I had my own room in this hotel—on the second floor. Sigh… I never really balked at stairs before, but I’m coming to appreciate the trials of the disabled.

Jana and Olaf’s wedding was at the Schloss Ahrensburg, a lovely castle near Olaf’s family home. 10:30 Friday morning—amazing! Friday is wedding day at the castle.

Gillunds and castleMy sisters family pose in front of the castle

It was held in a baroque top-floor chapel (no elevator)—quite different from American weddings. We were a small group, and the bride and groom sat at a table across from the officiator. He chatted with them amiably, then their two sponsors joined them. My niece Erin sat off at the side, waiting to hand over the rings. Little Max was good, nearly the whole time. What can you expect of a 5-month-old?

weddingOlaf and Jana were seated for this casual ceremony.

Jana and Olaf coming outThe newlyweds are greeted by bubbles.

Jana and Erin

Erin gets a big hug from Jana, who was her nanny 12 years ago.

Tonns kissing

Jana, Max, and Olaf–the newly-joined Tonn family

Afterwards we drove to Olaf’s family home, where festivities were held for our group of close family and friends. First, Jana and Olaf had to cut their way through hearts painted on a banner across the entry to the yard, then climb through it.

cutting hearts

Olaf and Jana cut through a heart (“Jana + Olaf”), then step through

Next they were confronted with a log on a sawhorse blocking their way under a floral arbor. On went the gloves, and in spite of the heat, they sawed through their log amid cheers from all of us.

cutting log-erin

Sawing away in the heat–only Jana has work gloves.

We toasted their success with champagne, then went to the back yard to chat, nibble, and swim (at least the kids). The yard at the Tonn house was incredible—lovingly landscaped by Olaf. The huge fish pond doubled as a swimming pool for everyone under about 35.

erin matt poolCheck out the fish in the pool…

pool jump…which was well utilized for heat management activities.

The weather was HOT! The rest of us sweated and sipped beer or lemonade in the shade. At one point revelers appeared with scores of heart-shaped balloons, which were ceremoniously released into the atmosphere (a few were nabbed by children or caught in tree boughs).

balloon release

Here’s to LOVE!!!!

At 6:00 the caterers arrived with a spectacular meal, which we all enjoyed inside the glass-enclosed family room as we toasted Jana and Olaf. It might have been a hot day, but we were thrilled to see them so much in love—with each other as well as with their little Max. We guests all received ginko bilboa seedlings to plant in honor of the event. (No hope for getting THAT through customs. I’ll buy one in Minnesota.) Even their cake was decorated with ginko bilboa—these two are DEFINITELY tree people (in fact, they met at a tree convention).

ginko cakeA truly unique wedding cake, a la ginko

After a full, fulfilling day, we collapsed into bed soon after returning to our hotel.

Saturday morning we woke early for a harbor tour with Jana’s parents and cousin. Hamburg is the third largest harbor in Europe, in spite of the fact that it lies 100 kilometers from the North Sea. (Rotterdam and Antwerp are ahead.) The harbor is a maze, but we were duly impressed with its many huge docks and ships.

container dock

A container dock–the ship carries 10,000 containers.

cruise shipA rather cheerful-looking cruise ship in the harbor

Particularly notable was a private cruiser being built for a wealthy Russian, Roman Abramovich. This ship, supposedly costing about 1.2 billion dollars, is reputedly the world’s largest private yacht. Let’s see. Am I impressed? I wonder how that money could have been put to better use, especially since he already had five huge yachts. Hmmm…


The Eclipse, Abramavich’s yacht–the biggest in the world.

dock singersMusicians entertained us on the Hamburg Harbor docks.

We had a “wurst and weissen” lunch, then headed back to Olaf’s parents’ house to watch the world cup quarterfinal game, which Germany won handily over Argentina. That definitely created a happy crowd of revelers for the party. There were more fun activities, including a painter’s canvas covered with penciled hearts and ginko leaves—for everyone to paint at their leisure. Very cool.

paint projectA group gift to remember the wedding weekend

Dancing started around 9:00, and we enjoyed a few dances before droopy eyelids dragged us back to our motel again. I tried to dance on one leg, but one song was enough. Sigh… Not long after we left, the party really got rocking.

dancingErin and Matt danced with Jana

True to German form, Olaf, Jana and their friends celebrated long into the night. Bless their young hearts


Changes. Yes, many changes. A new president, for one. (We DID it!!!!) This new year has brought smaller changes, too. I’ve grown a titch bulkier and developed a few more wrinkles (I’m nearly 60, you know). I also acquired a new car, which compelled me to pursue another stint of teaching overseas. Where? Well, where else? Back in Istanbul, of course.  I said goodbye to family and friends, skis and snowshoes, and…

Goodbye Libby, Erin, Matthew, and Mitsy!

Goodbye Libby, Erin, Matthew, and Mitzy!

Goodbye, snowshoes!

Goodbye, snowshoes (and snow)!

I just arrived at the Koç School campus on Saturday—a drizzly, sopping afternoon. I was detained FAR too long at customs (an expired residence permit necessitated much discussion among the police and a hunt for the official stamp to CANCEL it). I was greatly relieved to find that my driver had waited the extra half hour for me. I dozed through most of the hour-long drive to campus, waking for a few moments just as we crossed the Bosphorus. It’s always a joy to gaze up and down that incredible waterway and marvel at the the Rumile Castle just beneath the bridge. Ah, Istanbul!

After settling into my lojman, a cozy little two- bedroom just like I had before, the sun peeked out. Hooray! I tried to shake myself awake with a walk around campus (about 3K). Things are pretty green here, with iris shoots pushing up and rosebushes leafing out. Everything looked pretty much the same as before, except for a recent addition to the high school. As I continued around toward the elementary, though, I wondered about the huge wooden structure looming ahead. My goodness—A HORSE! I kid you not. There’s a monstrous Trojan horse planted on the elementary playground overlooking the tennis courts. It has a wooden mane and tail, and its body is a vast room with barred windows (apparently to prevent accidental falls), easily large enough to hide a hundred soldiers.

The HORSE by moonlight

I assume you realize that Troy is located in Turkey, southwest of Istanbul where the Aegean Sea meets the Dardanelles Strait. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my list. Previously thought to be a mythical city, Troy first appeared in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (these works date somewhere between 600 and 900 B.C.). You know, Helen of Troy and Odysseus and all that? Well, the actual remains of 4,000-year-old Troy were discovered in the 19th century, and many of its treasures now reside in Russia and Germany. Yes, my friends, Troy is right here in Turkey. AND—on the Koç campus.

The HORSE by day

I’m not sure who masterminded this structure, but I understand it’s been rather controversial. Can’t imagine why! They had to install lights and a closed-circuit camera in the beast’s belly to prevent untoward evening dalliances by students living on campus. Maybe teachers, too, huh? Who knows?

I can’t help but chuckle as I think of the shenanigans that may have ensued before the camera was installed. Here in Turkey we tend to react to situations in a knee-jerk fashion, so I assume there was some impetus for the expense of a surveillance camera. Ah, Istanbul!

Big Brother is watching you—Troy or 1984?

There’s one more notable change here at Koç. We have security systems for every lojman (apartment) with a blinking red light above the door. Apparently in spite of our much-appreciated 24/7 guards cruising campus, someone discovered a prowler in their house one night. We’ve been warned to keep all our doors locked, there are new motion sensors on the chain-link fence that surrounds the campus, and every lojman has an alarm system, complete with a blinking red light over the front door.

Our added security…

I haven’t done too much walking yet, as it’s been raining most of the week. My friend Ileyn joked that she expects to see pairs of animals queuing up on a nearby hillside. Did you know, by the way, that Turkey is also where Noah supposedly built the ark? Mount Ararat is in Eastern Turkey, and I hear that’s the place. Check your National Geographic archives. I just hope this rain doesn’t continue another 35 days and 35 nights. I mean, enough is enough!

I’ve noticed a few other changes here, too, thanks to our new high school director, Koray Özsaraç. He’s improved the climate of the school: the kids are in uniform, the teachers seem happier, and the halls are quieter. He’s also put an end to students butting in the lunch lines (though I’m still waiting for the day that teachers get to step ahead of the kids).

Well, it’s good to be back with people I know and love. My classes are rolling along, and I look forward to my first trip into the city this weekend. Ah, Istanbul!

The Good Life?

Here I sit, on my comfortable couch, slightly full after wine and pistachios with Marnie and her daughter Jen, then a few pieces of leftover pizza and a dish of sutlac pudding at home. My lojman is toasty warm, my exams are all corrected, my paycheck has been deposited, and life is good.
In the minute it took me to write that, 21 children died of hunger, most of them in Africa, not far from my warm, cozy Istanbul home.
A third of the exams I read were essays by my seniors, who just completed a global issues unit with a focus on poverty. I told them when we began the unit that they would become experts on world poverty, and they have. After reading their exams, I can think of little else.
Most of us know that there are 6.5 million people in the world, but did you realize that one-fifth of them (over a billion) live on less than a dollar a day? Or that half of them live on less than $2 a day.? That’s scary.
According to UNICEF, nearly 11 million children die each year as a result of hunger. That’s 900,000 a month, 225,000 a week, 30,000 a day, 1250 an hour, and 21 a minute—one every three seconds. That’s scary.
One in five children in the U.S. lives in poverty, and one of every two children in the world lives in poverty. That’s scary, too.
Which will destroy us first, global warming or the inequities in our world? Think about why 9/11 happened—really.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots grows wider every year.
I took a quick survey on the Earth Day web site (, and I realized how much more of our world’s resources I use than my share. It would take 3.3 planets to support everyone in the world at my Istanbul lifestyle (no car, small home), and 9.1 planets to support them at my U.S. lifestyle (a bigger home and a car). That’s also scary.
Do you know about the United Nations’ Millennium Goals? The richest countries in the world pledged in 2000 to donate .7% of their annual budgets (yes, less than one percent) to aid developing countries. Of the 22 wealthiest countries, only five have met that goal: Norway (.9%), Denmark (.87%), Luxembourg (.82%), the Netherlands (.8%), and Sweden (.79%). The U. S. came out at the bottom (.16%), which is pretty embarrassing. It helps to know that we are so rich that even .16% of our GNP puts us at the top in the amount we donated.
To put the inequality of our world into perspective, imagine yourself in a room of 100 people. Now distribute 100 pounds of potatoes. Give 25 pounds of potatoes to each of two “privileged” people, then give 1/2 pound (two small potatoes) each to 18 more people. Now distribute the other 14 pounds of potatoes (about 28 small potatoes) unequally among the remaining 80, making sure that the last 20 share one potato among them.
How would you feel if you were the “lucky one”? How would you feel if you were one of the 20 who received only a taste? We haven’t even looked at things like water, shelter, and medical care, but they all follow the same pattern. The reality is that the richest two percent of the world’s population hold over half of the world’s wealth. The richest 20 percent (that would be us) consume 86 percent of the world’s goods. What’s wrong with this picture?
For some reason I thought the war on poverty was being won, but I was wrong.
So why is poverty getting worse rather than better? One of the culprits is globalization. Multinational firms have found cheap labor markets overseas, where they don’t have the expense of benefit packages. One example is Nike, which pays Indonesian workers about $2 a day to produce sporting equipment and shoes. Most of those workers are women and children who work long hours under unsafe conditions. If they complain, there are others who would happily take their places. Because of the low wages, parents don’t earn enough to feed their families, so their children work as well. The children can’t attend school because they work, so they’re not getting the education they need to break this cycle of poverty. If these firms would pay a decent wage, more adults could work, their children could attend school, and their incomes would help to support their communities. Of course, Nike doesn’t want to eat into their profit margin, so it “ain’t gonna happen.” These people were better off before the factory moved in.
Of course, Nike isn’t the only culprit, and there are many other factors involved in this cycle of poverty. Developing countries are often the victims of corrupt governments that misuse aid, leaving the people no better off but deeper in debt. Trade tariffs favor some countries over others, and less developed countries are unable to compete on the global market. Wealthy countries buy up huge amounts of produce from poorer countries, leaving little to feed their residents. Undeveloped countries are drowning in loan payments when they need to put all their resources into their own infrastructures. A lack of education and medical care contribute to unconscionable loss of life to illnesses that could be prevented (like AIDS). There are many reasons for world poverty, but we need to look to its cure.
I remember as a child saying, “Well, you can send my lima beans to those starving children in China. I don’t want them.” I feel differently now. I need to find ways to get lima beans to those starving children.
The two most impressive programs I’ve come across are quite similar in their focus. The first, The Heifer Project, is an organization that provides livestock to families in developing countries so that they can support themselves. A $500 donation will purchase a heifer for someone, for $120 you can purchase a goat, and $20 provides someone with a starter set of chicks. When my boys were young, our Sunday School offerings went to purchase a cow for a family in Africa. We had a great time coloring in sections of a huge cow poster as we accumulated money toward our goal. (
The other project is even more impressive. You may have heard of Professor Muhammad Yunus, of Bangladesh, who just received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Microfinance program. He started his project in 1974 with a $27 loan to local women who bought materials to make bamboo furniture. Since then, he was the major founder of the Grameen Bank, which has made micro-loans totaling over $5 billion to over 5.3 million borrowers to get small businesses going. Over 96% of the loans have been given to women, because “women suffer disproportionately from poverty and are more likely than men to devote their earnings to their families.” (ABC Online) If each loan impacts five people, over 25 million people’s lives have been improved through Yunus’s Grameen Bank. (
My seniors, through their research, presentations, writing, and exams, have opened my eyes. After break we’ve scheduled a planning session to take collective action. Coming to Istanbul has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I see how fortunate I am, yet I also see the desperate need most of the world lives in. I have a totally different view of myself, my country, and our role in the world. It’s not a pretty picture, but I have hope. One must have hope.