As my friends back home struggled with yet another snowstorm, I sat in the Istanbul airport reminiscing about our last three (sunny) days in the city. Though I lived here for years and know the city well, each day brought new experiences, new history, new insights.
It was Ramadan, so a good percentage of the population fast from sunrise to sunset. We’d arranged to enjoy an iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner on our first night, so we strolled down to the Matbah restaurant eager to see what lay ahead. Our table for six was set with mouth-watering mezes (appetizers), a traditional fruit juice, and water. We sat salivating over a feast of eggplant salad, humus, tapenade, pickled beets, vegetables, fresh, crusty bread, and other delicacies as we waited for the sunset call to prayer.At the first strains from nearby minarets, we loaded our plates with mezes as waiters swept in with steaming bowls of soup. Food never tasted so good.
We visited the usual Istanbul sites—the Hippodrome (from Roman times), the Blue Mosque (closed for renovation), Topkapi Palace, and the Hagia Sophia, which has gone from a Christian Church (532-1453) to a mosque (1453-1931) to a museum (1931-2020) and now, sadly, back to a mosque.
We also had some surprises. As we strolled along the imposing Byzantine walls that encircle the old city, we encountered men gingerly toting boxes, bags, and cages. What? Our guide Elif explained that many Turkish men are passionate about pigeons, and the Sunday Pigeon Market was up the hill. Well, why not? She paid our admission (about 50¢) to a fenced-in market, a menagerie of pigeons and purchasers.
Though we were the only women among scores of men, they hardly noticed us as they inspected birds, prodding and turning them as they decided whether they were worth the price ($5 to $100). It was fascinating.
A soccer game was in progress between the pigeon market and the imposing city wall. Few paid attention, though. They were all about pigeons.
Our next stop was the newly-restored Tekfur Palace, a Byzantine palace where artists once created colorful ceramic tiles for the Ottomans through the Renaissance and beyond.
Who knew? I’d never even heard of it. From the ramparts we saw the city wall marching down to the Marmara Sea.
Our big treat on the third day was a cooking class at Cooking Alaturka. We were welcomed by a Sicilian chef, Roco, who offered us drinks and conversation before explaining our menu—five mezes (appetizers) and what they called the most lethal of Turkish desserts, künefe. I couldn’t have been happier, as mezes are my favorite part of every Turkish meal.
Roco’s assistant chef Nazlı handed out aprons and had us wash our hands before she led us through the intricacies of making sarma (grape leaves wrapped tightly around a mixture of rice, currants, and spices).
We also prepared grilled eggplant salad (my long-time favorite), spiced lentil “meatballs,” Circassian chicken, and baked hummus. The künefe was a cheesy, creamy, buttery dessert that crunched with every bite. It’s shredded pasta (a little like shredded wheat, only finer and white), a quarter pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a quarter pound of string cheese, lemon and water. Jerry said it was delicious. I had to pass on that because of a milk allergy. They baked stuffed figs for me, so I did get some dessert.
Let me tell you, my greatest challenge was wrapping softened grape leaves around a tiny dab of spiced rice.
The next worst was peeling hot eggplant straight off the grill. Wait—maybe it was peeling a big bowl of cooked chickpeas. Well, whatever was worst, it was well worth the effort. The payoff for all our work was a fabulous meal—with wine. YUM!!!
We’ve just finished a few weeks in a new world, at least for us. A world of no final s’s—the morning greeting in Puerto Rico is not “Buenos dias” but “Bueno dia.”
A ROCKY START
After an easy few flights, Jerry and I landed in San Juan at 10 PM, enveloped by muggy heat and eager to pick up our air-conditioned car. My son Ross and his girlfriend Shanna offered to meet us at the airport, but since they were a half hour away, we decided to just use my phone’s google maps to find them. Big mistake. There are numerous streets called Calle Coral, and we navigated to the wrong one, miles from Shanna’s apartment. My phone died as Ross tried to orient us, so there we sat, lost in a strange city at midnight. I finally discovered a usb port in the car and had Jerry pull over so I could jump out to get the charging cable from the trunk. Whew! Communication restored.
We finally met Ross and Shanna, only to discover that my wallet was gone. Probably dropped on the side of the road when I hopped out for the charger. At 1:00 AM we all backtracked to cruise the side of the highway for my lost wallet. Nothing. Shanna prompted, “You need to think like a Puerto Rican. We will find it. Let’s try a second pass.” Ross and I scoured the roadside with our cell phone flashlights, and at long last—there it lay! HOORAY!!! Disaster averted.
Ross and Shanna, the reasons for our visit.
Thanksgiving felt odd in San Juan’s 85-degree, 95% humidity, but I was with my son and his Puerto Rican loved ones. The company was delightful and the food fabulous. Shanna stuffed a turkey with tantalizing yucca root mashed with garlic and herbs. YUM! The turkey fell apart in the pan, so we served ourselves from there. Sweet potatoes, a cold bean and vegetable salad, and the most delicious beans and rice I’ve ever tasted filled out our Thanksgiving repast. These people know how to do garlic. In fact, you can buy peeled garlic cloves in the store. Heaven!
And of course, there was football.
I braved the heat with multiple trips to the pool, thanks to Shanna’s son Bayoan, a 10-year old charmer who worships water. Me, too. That evening we piled into Shanna’s new car for a beach sunset, where Bayoan romped in the waves, launching himself into each swell as it crashed on the beach.
OUR AGUADILLA BEACH APARTMENT
The next morning Ross led us to our home for the next few weeks, a beach apartment he’d rented a few years earlier in Aguadilla Pueblo. Our dreams of air conditioning and wi-fi were dashed. We did, though, have huge open windows overlooking the Caribbean. The waves served as our lullaby, both for daytime naps and nighttime snoozes.
Ross mopped the floors and headed off to get us more fans, dishes, linens and a coffee pot while we came to terms with our humble abode. It had electricity, a nice couch and chairs, running water (cold only), a functioning microwave, and a few electrical outlets. We were welcomed by a resident cat, Mira (Spanish for “Look!”), because she meows incessantly. “Look at me! Look at me!” She marched in and made herself right at home, and she got lots of love from Jerry. Even though I’m allergic to cats, I found her amusing.
We grew accustomed to our humble dwelling (a cold shower is easier if you wet your head first), and enjoyed exploring the area. One evening we happened on a community celebration with live bands and free food at a local restaurant. Though we’d already eaten, we shared a plate of tantalizingly spiced pork with beans and rice as we sipped on yet another beer and enjoyed the scene.
Everyone in PR talks about Hurricane Maria. It’s deeply etched into everyone’s psyche and there’s evidence everywhere of devastated buildings. One woman we met at Jobos (pronounced Hobo), Ross’s favorite surfing beach, said that she hadn’t liked the U.S. until after the hurricane. A massage therapist, Christina said she was literally starving for weeks until U.S. organizations brought in food and water. She didn’t have much to say for Trump (everyone in PR seemed to despise him), but she was thankful for the generosity of Americans who donated to help PR. Sadly, too many corrupt officials stockpiled donations of food, water, and building supplies in warehouses to sell later at a profit. At a time when every Puerto Rican was scrambling to survive and to help each other, that behavior was unconscionable. Shanna said that in order to get water, her friend was required to sign off on getting 16 bottles when she was only given seven. If she didn’t sign, she got nothing. We seldom talked with anyone who didn’t need to share their Maria experiences. Heartbreaking.
Many private homes and businesses have been or are being repaired, while government buildings still sit in disrepair, some deserted. Just blocks from our apartment was an abandoned beachfront school and an abandoned government building. A park and sports arena at the south end of the town, once beautiful, look like a dumping ground of broken equipment, overgrown weeds, and piles of trash and leaves.
On the other hand, the entire country is brightened with street art—murals everywhere!
We spent our week visiting beach after beach, snorkeling, swimming, and exploring—and learning about currents. Beware the rip tide.
The second weekend we ferried over to Vieques (fare a mere $1 for seniors), a small island east of Puerto Rico, where we’d rented a lovely airbnb. Our host picked us up at the ferry pier in a dented-up old jeep. Michael was a delightful guide, an Irish/American/Puerto Rican who’s lived on Vieques for fifteen years. Our upstairs apartment, Casa Mama, was gorgeous—tastefully decorated and stocked with fresh baked bread, a pitcher of cold mango and papaya juice, eggs, fresh milk, coffee, and jam. Definitely a step up.
Ross and Shanna joined us Saturday morning, and after a hearty breakfast we explored the island, discovering a 375-year-old ceiba tree. We also visited a sacred Taino aboriginal site and marveled at the scores of horses that roam the island. (2000, according to the internet.) Michael had warned us to beware of horses on the roads at night.
Ann Marie and Jerry pose under the 375+ Ceiba Tree.
Horses, horses everywhere on Vieques
The highlight of our weekend was a bioluminescent tour on Mosquito Bay. Twenty of us boarded a rickety school bus in downtown Esperanza (a three-block beach metropolis on the south side of the island) and bounced our way through the jungle to Mosquito Bay, the world’s finest bioluminescent site. It was totally dark as we hopped on kayaks and proceeded to paddle out into the bay, mesmerized by the glowing water when we dipped our paddles. Soon we spotted luminescent figures darting through the water—fish. Mosquito Bay is replete with dinoflagellates, tiny plankton that protect themselves from predators by enlarging themselves and emitting a blue-green light whenever they’re disturbed. We giggled and screeched at each new discovery. When we sat still without paddling, the water was filled with tiny star-like dots. Then when fish swam by, their disturbance lit the water around them. Ross loved the glow of huge tarpon swimming low in the bay, but my favorite was the needlefish that skimmed the water, creating a stroke of lightning across its surface. My camera didn’t capture the action, but I found this little video, just in case you’re curious. Mosquito Bay has the highest level of dinoflagellates in the world, according to our guide
We’re on our way home now, bracing ourselves for snow shoveling, skiing and snowshoeing. In the words of Johnnie Walker, “KEEP WALKING, PUERTO RICO.”
A note: There are NO plastic bags in Puerto Rico (as of December 30, 2016)
I’ve been in Norway a week now, though it seems longer—so much activity, so much beauty, so much information!
I came for a family reunion of the descendants of Johannes Olsen, my great-great-great grandfather. Not just me, but my brother Steve and sister Laura (and their spouses) as well as my niece Cortney came as well. Sadly, my husband Jerry had to cancel at the last minute because of a serious back problem. It broke both our hearts, as the second week was a planned kayak trip around one of the Lofoten islands. Sigh…
After a lonesome night at a Bodø B&B, I hit the road for Bø i Vesterålen, a 6 1-2 hour drive including a ferry ride. I got up at 5 AM to be sure I caught the ferry, then sat in the ferry line playing sudoku on my phone as I waited. Another sigh…
I found my way to the village of Bø (in the kommune of Bø), and turned in to Bøhallen, the community center. You can probably figure out the meaning. In spite of a light rain, the parking lot was packed with LOTS of people who look like me (and my uncles and aunts) grilling hot dogs and speaking Norwegian. I found my way to the registration table and picked up our t-shirts and a schedule.
Marit, one of the organizers, made a big fuss over me, hugging me like an old friend. She hunted around for her brother Øyvind, who had instigated and planned the whole event, and he welcomed me with a brilliant smile and another hug. It wasn’t long before Laura and Rob found me. Whew! English.
After milling the crowd a bit, they drove me to see their sweet little room in a boathouse B & B down the road. Then we found our way to the afternoon event, a fishing boat ride out to the island of Gaukværøya, which used to be a fishing village. We asked our captain (a fisherman named Tom, also a relative) to wait for our niece Cortney, who was minutes away. Since it was a small group, he agreed. Lucky Cortney. Lucky us.
Arne, a local historian, shared the history of Gaukværøya, settlement that began in the middle ages and lasted until the early fifties, when hundreds of residents had to dismantle their homes and move them to the mainland (also an island). Everything in Vesterålen is an island. Go figure. The entire area is an archipelago, I guess. The government wasn’t willing to run electricity or offer government services to such remote residents, so they offered them a payment in exchange for giving up their rights to return to their little island, which is now littered with foundations, both ancient and modern (stone and concrete).
Anyway, it was fascinating to learn about life on Gaukværøya. In addition to Arne’s descriptions, Tom’s father Arne shared stories about growing up there. Luckily, Ingor sat beside me and translated; most everything was in Norwegian. The island is rugged— all rocks and bumpy ground, so apparently the children had a heyday while their parents worked. They attended school on the island when it was convenient, because they often had to help with fishing and household responsibilities.
My brother’s family and I were hosted by my fourth cousin, Sonja Klaussen, and once we finally got home after dinner, we sat up until the wee hours talking. It was light all night, and it’s energizing. The whole time I was with family I was up until 2 AM. (At home I start yawning around 9:00.)
Saturday morning we woke to see four moose grazing in Sonja’s back yard. They’re smaller than our Minnesota moose, but delightful to watch nonetheless.
The day was filled with reunion events—an orientation, a coffee hour, a presentation on the lineage from our great-great-great grandfather, then photos outdoors.
They organized a group photo for the descendants of each of Johann’s twelve children, then we had a mass photo of all 300 relatives. Shocking. It was fun, though, to see who had descended from my great-great grandmother Johanna Sophie (1818-1889).
Too much information, I know.
The day ended with a catered buffet banquet and a dance at the community center. Pretty much the kind of music my grandparents liked dancing to, but we did our best. I needed the exercise.
On Sunday my sister Laura, Rob and I skipped out to go on a whale watching tour in Andenes, at the north end of Vesterålen. The drive was spectacular, and the event started with a museum tour that astonished and enlightened us. We learned how the whales use sonar, and that only male whales come up north. The ladies stay behind in the mid-Atlantic raising their young and waiting for the next round of mating.
Oh, I nearly lost my finger on the boat, too. After we got on we were standing along the side of the boat, and I had my hand over the edge. Little did I know there were huge plastic bumpers that meet the edge of the boat at low tide. ARAUGHHH!!! I screamed when I felt my fingers squeezed, then yelled for everyone to PUSH! People came to my rescue, and I was able to extricate a very smushed finger. By the end of the ride it had recovered.
The captain of the ship wears headphones to pick up the clicks of the whale’s sonar system, then he follows them until the whale surfaces for air. Amazing.
We got to see a whale surface twice. He’s a local resident sperm whale, and they call him Glenn. Imagine a boat with 60 people who’ve waited hours to see a whale, everyone with their cameras at the ready.“People at the railing bend down so everyone can see!” (in Norwegian, German and English) This old lady ended up sitting on the deck with my camera, snapping, snapping, snapping photos of Glenn as he spouted over and over and finally dove. So who got the best photos? My sister Laura, who pulled out her iPhone at the last minute and got spectacular shots of the flukes as Glenn headed down. Go figure!
We rented a stunning 3-bedroom airbnb on a peninsula between mini-fjords, just down the road from Bøhallen.
It was a joy to have time with my siblings to process the information about our ancestors. Our second cousin AnnBjorg invited us to her house for a reindeer feast on Monday, and it ended up being an eight-hour affair, including a delectable meal, a visit to my great-grandparents’ graves, and a long drive to Nyksund, a restored fishing village about an hour from AnnBjorg’s house.
We also learned that AnnBjorg’s house stands beside the one where my grandfather grew up. Who knew?
The next day Laura and Rob left, and Steve, Ann and I walked to the Bø historical and outdoor museum. Fascinating. It included a famous statue of a man holding a crystal that catches the light from the midnight sun and the northern lights.
After that we rented kayaks to paddle along the coast by our house.
That night we were treated to a brilliant sunset, and here in the land of the midnight sun, it lasted about three hours. What a show it was! Once again, I got to bed around 2 AM. Oh, well.
On Wednesday morning we parted ways after a walk to the end of the road. Steve and Ann were heading to Trømsø, and I was heading for Reine on Lofoten. My drive was supposed to take about 4 1-2 hours, but I’d decided that I would stop at some of the waysides to take photos. I did it a lot. So much that my drive took seven hours, especially since it was the first totally sunny day since I’d arrived.
I stayed in the Lofoten Bed and Breakfast, which wasn’t as nice as I’d expected—and it cost nearly as much as our beautiful rental in Bø. It was just a room with a few chairs and little hot pot. Luckily, there was a refrigerator outside my door to store all the food I’d purchased for my week alone.
It was a long, lonesome day. After I checked in I walked through the town of Reine, which is lovely but a bit too congested and commercialized for my tastes. They’ve stuck with the red boathouse theme, so it’s cute, but a little too busy.
I was thankful that the rest of my stay would be in Å, the town at the far end of Lofoten. More about that later.
Here is yet another post from my (understandably) anonymous friends in Turkey. I appreciate their understanding of this disturbing result. Measured optimism? See for yourself.
A Pyrrhic Victory
Pyrrhic victory: a victory that is not worth winning because the winner has lost so much in winning it. (Cambridge Dictionary)
The Turkish referendum of 2017 is over and, according to semi-official figures, the ‘Yes’ vote to giving unprecedented powers to the office of the President squeaked out a narrow victory of 51.4% to 48.6%. Lest our readers, especially those of you viewing these events from afar, think that Turkey has now entered definitively onto the road to dictatorship, we will argue that the referendum results should not be read in this fashion. In our opinion, the razor-thin margin of victory should be seen as a Pyrrhic victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party. What do we mean by this?
First, let us remind our readers of the conditions under which this referendum was held: the shameless and scandalous use of state resources and services for the ‘Yes’ campaign; the total domination of the media, print and broadcast, by the government with no equal time for ‘No’ campaigners; the jailing of leaders of the opposition Kurdish-based HDP party which made it impossible for them to mobilize support for ‘No’; the slandering of ‘No’ supporters as traitors and terrorists; thug attacks on ‘No’ events and cancellation of their venues for spurious reasons; and the conducting of the referendum while Turkey is under a State of Emergency where intimidation and fear has put a damper on freedom of speech, the press and assembly. These were the obstacles facing ‘No’ supporters. RTE, the AK Party leadership and the allied nationalist MHP leadership threw everything they had at ‘No’ supporters and still only managed to win by a mere 1%, a true Pyrrhic victory.
The ‘Yes’ camp was hoping for a minimum of 55% in their column. Not only did they not reach that goal, they managed to lose Turkey’s three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as well as such major urban centers as Adana, Antalya, Mersin and Diyarbakır. (RTE even saw his Istanbul home district of Üsküdar go ‘No’ and then the entire city, where he had been a popular mayor.) In other words, most of Turkey’s financial, industrial, political, educational and cultural centers opted for ‘No’ in the referendum. These results can scarcely be read as a resounding victory for the President and the ‘Yes’ camp. The weak and divided ‘No’ supporters faced off against the ‘Yes’ Goliath and fared well. The HDP showed via the strong ‘No’ vote in the largely Kurdish southeast and in the major cities that, in spite of government pressure and dirty tricks and even though it was not able to wage an effective ‘No’ campaign, it retained the support of its voter base. No small achievement when the government has been clearly out to demonize and destroy it.
The one big loser in this referendum is the nationalist MHP, whose leadership entered into an alliance with RTE and the AK Party for the ‘Yes’ vote. They simply did not deliver. It is estimated that some 80% of MHP supporters voted ‘No’, following the lead of a group of dissidents who had been expelled for opposing the ‘Yes’ alliance. The MHP’s fate is now uncertain as it may soon face the emergence of a new nationalist party.
In the aftermath of the vote we can now expect a number of legal challenges to the results, based on how the referendum was conducted, major irregularities in the vote tabulation process and allegations of outright voter fraud. In the past, senior dogs have always been comfortable with what we saw as the overall fairness of Turkish elections and we’ve always had confidence in their results. Unfortunately, we don’t think that this is any longer the case. The widespread instances of manipulation, pressure and outright vote-stealing being reported must now be added to the litany of reasons why the results must be considered illegitimate. Since the ruling party controls the appeals process, it is, however, hard to be optimistic that the results will be overturned.
Be that as it may, in our opinion, the referendum’s results were a Pyrrhic victory for Erdoğan, highlighting not his unbeatable power, but rather his weakening grip on Turkish politics. If he cannot deliver – i.e., reinvigorate Turkey’s ailing economy, show something positive for his intervention in Syria, put a stop to the attacks which have crippled tourism and foreign investment, and offer more than a military solution to the ‘Kurdish question’ – we suspect we will see more erosion of his popularity in the period ahead, as the new executive super-presidential system takes shape and he prepares for his run for president in 2019.
In the meantime, we are hopeful that the post-referendum period will see more self-confident opposition forces emerge, raring for a fight back, a result of RTE’s ‘victory’ he didn’t count on. On the evening of the election, he uttered an antiquated Turkish saying, Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti (He who grabbed the horse has passed Üsküdar, roughly meaning ‘I won, and everyone will just have to learn to live with it.’). But then again, we saw that in fact, he didn’t even get past Üsküdar.
Once again, I’m compelled to post a missive from my dear—albeit anonymous— friends in Turkey. They remain anonymous with good reason.
As you may know, Turkey faces a referendum that will strengthen the power of the president, effectively weakening the country’s parliamentary system and the government’s checks and balances. President Erdoğan, now in his fourteenth year in office, could remain in power another 13 years. He has already used the coup attempt as reason to close down liberal newspapers and television stations and jail hundreds of military and education personnel. He has unabashedly used government funds to promote his move toward dictatorship for Turkey. Frightening.
Here’s the news from my friends on the inside:
No! No! A Thousand Times No!
The cruise missile attack by the Trump administration on a Syrian army base this week, in addition to further delaying an end to the slaughter and destruction in our neighbor Syria, has added another layer of anxiety here in Turkey as we head toward next Sunday’s referendum. The attack has put more wind in the sails of our President, who has been militating for the overthrow of the Syrian government since 2011.
We suspect that our readers by this time have heard about as much as they can take about the Turkish referendum. The authors of this newsletter have certainly had enough and can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Fortunately for our sanity all campaigning has been banned during the coming week leading up to the vote. We’ve been suffering from a form of political bi-polar disorder – one day hopeful, next day down in the dumps. So we will not belabor the point. Our final appraisal is this: Should ‘Yes’ win, the results can have no legitimacy in the eyes of any impartial observer. Why?
1. The referendum is being conducted while Turkey is being ruled under a State of Emergency, giving authorities limitless powers to intimidate and crack down on free speech, the media and the right to assembly.
2. The third largest party in Parliament, the Kurdish-based HDP is under severe attack, its leadership in jail, and the municipalities it administered seized and placed under receivership. Even their ‘No’ campaign song in Kurdish has been banned. (Probably because it’s cute and catchy, anathema to most Turkish politicians. Plus, you don’t need to know Kurdish to get the message.)
3. The President and Prime Minister have unabashedly used the resources of the state, paid for by the taxpayers, to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote.
4. The media, and especially the TV networks, have shamelessly favored the ‘Yes’ campaign in their news coverage, and this in a country that has the highest level of TV viewing in the world.
5. Thug attacks on ‘No’ proponents and their meetings have placed serious restraints on the ability of the naysayers to campaign. No wonder so many people say they are undecided in poll surveys.
6. And finally, the yea-saying government has total control over the entire referendum process, including ballot counting and handling of any challenge to the results that might arise.
In spite of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s apparent total dominance, most opinion polls say it’s still too close to call. Whatever the official results on April 17th, Turkey will remain a deeply divided country with an uncertain future. However, should a ‘No’ vote prevail against all odds, it would mean a humiliating defeat for those who have been curtailing the most basic democratic rights and closing down political space for those struggling for social justice.
We say No! No! A thousand times No! in the referendum and No! to the continuation of the war in Syria.
* * *
As a follow up to our ‘Turkish Hairlines’ newsletter posting, we can’t hold ourselves back from reporting that the Turkish President, during a ‘Yes’ campaign rally at the presidential palace entitled “‘Yes’, of course, for a beautiful Turkey”, signed a decree under the State of Emergency (!) authorizing beauticians at beauty salons to do laser hair removal. This is an extremely popular procedure among Turkish women which was formerly restricted, for safety and health reasons, to dermatologists in government-approved hospitals and clinics. Was this an indication of the kind of Presidential decrees we can expect if ‘Yes’ prevails on April 16? Another reason to vote ‘No’.
It’s the truth, according to my friend Uygar. To control Turkish students “you must only to love them.” He was right, and his ungrammatical advice is the title of a new memoir about my years in Turkey—finally, finally, finally finished! Complete! Finito! Bitmiş!
I must admit, I wore rose-colored glasses much of the time, but this book does explore some of the darker sides of my experience, too, like being caught in a big demonstration with riot police:
And then there was the disastrous soccer match–Oh, my!
And believe me, it’s honest. You’ll see when you read it. No holds barred on this one.
If you followed my escapades over the years you might find this account a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t, perhaps it will pique your interest in Turkey, a country I grew to love—deeply.
Turkey has a wealth of history, amazing edifices and artifacts, and astounding terrain, but the true beauty of the country is its people. I hope I’ve shown that in my stories.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. In fact, I’d love for you to read it. The e-book is under four dollars, and it’s also available as a paperback. Reviews so far have been excellent, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Click on the book below to transport yourself to Amazon:
And if you’d like to try something new, there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for the book through May 16th. Here’s the link for that.
As I sit writing in the overstuffed brown leather chair with my feet propped on its matching ottoman, I wonder why my footstool has the same name as Turkey’s centuries-long empire. In a quick hunt for the word’s etymology, and I find an unsatisfying explanation that the Ottomans liked reclining on long couches, so the name was attached to couches and eventually footstools. Hmph!
Enjoying the comfy chair and OTTOMAN
It’s been a busy week here, starting Monday evening with a Paul Anka concert. Four of us 50+ female teachers trekked across the city for this concert, wondering what we were thinking, not quite sure what to expect. Anka is no longer the wavy-haired pouty-mouthed fellow I remember, but a trim 70-year-old Tony Bennet look-alike.
He played his audience like a Las Vegas night club crowd, and we reveled in it. People shook his hand, danced with him, and we sang gleefully along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love.” Enthusiasm abounded in the packed auditorium of Turkish Paul Anka fans—an amazing concert.
I never realized Paul Anka wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, as well as numerous other hits. Apparently he kept writing after he left the limelight, developing deep friendships with stars like Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr.
My biggest thrill this week, though, was Thursday evening when I hosted my thirteen resident students (students from across Turkey who live on campus) for dinner. I’d given them all maps to my apartment, and they began straggling in just as I was ordering pizza after racing home from an after-school meeting. I was on Yemek Sepeti.com (meaning: food basket), an amazing Turkish food delivery web site. There are nearly 200 restaurants that will deliver to my apartment in Arnavutköy, and there’s no extra charge for the service.
Many have a minimum delivery amount of about $5, but McDonald’s will deliver anything—even an order of fries. Amazing. Each of these restaurants has an online menu on the site, and every kind of food is available, from fast food to traditional Turkish foods to high-end fish dinners. Food delivery motorcycles toot up and down the hills of Istanbul day and night, let me tell you.
McDonald’s delivery scooters at the ready… (photo by Norma B.)
Anyway, three boys arrived early and helped me finish choosing the pizzas from Little Caesars (yes, we have it here). I ordered five large pizzas, which I thought would be plenty. Most of my guests were boys, though—teenaged boys. Had I forgotten about the bottomless teenaged stomach? I threw together a big salad, and everyone said they got enough to eat, though I wonder. Next time I’ll make a huge pot of stew or something.
A few of my guests arrived bearing lavish bouquets, which have brightened my apartment all week—how incredibly sweet!
One of my stunning bouquets
One joy of this spacious apartment is that there’s room to entertain a crowd, and we had space for everyone to sit together around the living room. I taught them to play charades, and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Remember, lots of these kids have pretty shaky English, so there were plenty of mistakes and long Thinking Pauses. Ege had us all in stitches with his expressive gestures and facial expressions, mostly just while contemplating. Tuna was laughing so hard he had to leave the room.
Libby and I walked everyone back up to campus (she’d been cheated of her early evening walk), and I felt a bit tearful as I bid them farewell. They all had homework, though—the never ending plague of the Robert College student. Many of them work 3-4 hours every night. They’re serious about education here; they see it as their job.
That, my friends, was the highlight of my week, and I forgot to take photos. I was just too darned busy reveling in the warmth of these kids. Gosh, I love them.
I did take the camera on my morning walk with Libby, and I have a few photos to share from the area around our home here. Enjoy.
One of my favorite streets in town–The Antik Locanda restaurant.
The facade of our local Greek Orthodox Church, with services every week.
A local metal-polisher outside his shop.
And a photo of a produce truck that sells on a city street on Saturdays.
I’m in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, volunteering at an orphanage for the Children’s Home Society. It’s been a real eye-opener, let me tell you.
I don’t have any photos of the children in the Care Center because they don’t allow photos for confidentiality and security reasons. It makes me a little sad, as I’ve already grown more than fond of these little people and would love photos to remember them by. Many of them will be adopted soon, but others have been in the orphanage for years. It’s hard to find families that will adopt siblings or children with disabilities, sweet as they are.
Me with the Children’s Home Ethiopia Care Center in the background–nice digs!
I’m enjoying my mornings with the children–I teach ages 5-10 (16 kids), and about a third of them can write their names. Most know the alphabet, so I’m trying to find ways to stimulate the ones who are ahead yet not leave the others behind. I taught them the “Hokey Pokey”, and they love it. The oldest boy, Samuel, always says, “One more time, please.” They’re supposed to call me Miss Ann, but they always call me Mama. What’s THAT about? A ploy to get me to bring one of them home? Tempting, but I’m a little old to dive into parenthood again. I’m working on learning their names–a real challenge with only a few that are familiar. Asnakech, Konjit, Sintayehu, Tadiows, Ashenafi…guess which are girls. (at the end of the post)
My little darlings hard at work (photo OK because no kids are recognizable)
The other day after my class I sat in on an interesting session. A laughter therapist visits every week to lead laughter play with the older children–all 29 of them. He gets them all giggling and laughing within minutes, then has them tell repeated stories, go through familiar physical antics, etc. It was amazing to watch. He told me that this particular orphanage has the best facility and the best care of all the orphanages he visits–which are many. I’m amazed at how happy and well-adjusted these children appear to be. Their nannies are warm and caring women, yet they manage the behaviors effectively. The older children help out a lot, too—apparently a cultural thing.
Some kids posing for me on the street–typical boys!
The orphanage and the guest housing where I stay are in the embassy district. The contrast between the wealth of the embassy homes and the poverty surrounding it is shocking at best. I walk less than ten minutes to the orphanage each day, then back to guest house for lunch. Then I walk to the Children’s Home Society offices in the afternoon, where I’m mostly editing extensive reports on each child (written by the social workers). I’ll also be working on scripts for DVD’s about the country and each child’s personal background. A unique DVD is prepared and sent home with each adoptee. I’m truly impressed with all they do here.
This is the Children’s Home office building–7 floors. I had a small office on the sixth floor-92 steps up.
Children’s Home Society has done a phenomenal job of giving back to this country for sharing their children through adoptions. They established the orphanage in 2003, and with the help of these adoption funds they’ve founded a clinic/hospital for mothers and children (a 50-bed facility), they’ve established three tuition-free schools for poor children, and they also monitor the care and nutrition at rural orphanages from which they pull adoptees. CHSFS employs over 400 Ethiopians.
A small street market near the Care Center. Can you see why it seemed out of place for me to take a morning walk with my water bottle and ipod? I couldn’t face all the beggars.
Me and my friend Matt posing with tej, the local honey wine. Tasted a little musty to me.
There’s one other volunteer here, a doctor from the U of M. We get along well, and it’s nice to have a buddy. Matt left a wife and 15-month-old son back home, so he’s particularly distressed about the exorbitant cost of internet here. It’s quite slow and very expensive, so we won’t be skyping or blogging. We paid $108 for just two hours of internet, though most of that cost was the usb satellite connection. They have dial-up here in the guest house, but it seldom works. The internet is a government-owned monopoly, and it seems unfair that such an impoverished population should have to pay so dearly for internet–and slow service at that. It’s only for the wealthy.
An elder sitting against an embassy wall
The last thing I need to say is that I’m really struggling with the poverty here. Though it’s not pervasive, I see it every time I go out. Yesterday I was approached by about 12 beggars. It’s hard to walk by and ignore them, so I’ve done two things. I decided to keep small amounts of money handy to give those who ask for it, and I’ve found an alternate route to the office so I don’t have to walk by the clusters of beggars outside the church. I’m told that I shouldn’t give money where there are many beggars because I’ll be deluged. I just feel so badly for them when I have so much and they have virtually nothing. One person advised that I give to service agencies rather than to individuals, and another gave me a phrase to say that means “God protect you.”
A beggar on my daily walk home–I gave her a small bill every day (very small–6 cents), and she was always appreciative.
Names: Ashenafi and Tadiows are boys–the others are girls (all wonderful).
Australia is known for kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, and …the didgeridoo. Although not an animal, the didgeridoo as unique to Australia as its marsupials. After a week in New Zealand, I returned to Melbourne to spend a day with my sister-in-law Angela and my nephew Josh. They treated me to delicious meals (including ice cream with watermelon and raspberry topping—YUM!) and an enlightening open poetry reading at a downtown pub.
An outstanding poet, reading straight from her mac
A number of the poems were quite funny—some even hilarious. A serious piece read by an elderly Scottish poet brought me to tears. Shades of Dylan Thomas. I have to admit, though, there were a few poems that wouldn’t have even survived in my 9th grade classes. Oh, well. It’s all about expression and what each of us has to offer. Josh and I had a heated conversation afterwards about “giftedness.” But I digress.
Back to the didgeridoo.
After dinner, we decided to take in a film (Invictus, a stunning film about Nelson Mandela and the South African soccer team). Just outside the theater we stopped to listen to a grizzled Aboriginal playing his didgeridoo with abandon as he perched on an overturned milk carton.
Mr. Didgeredoo a la sidewalk concert
I pulled out my camera, shooting photos of him as he played his six-foot instrument, the wide end of which rested on the ground. The sound was deep and haunting, yet captivating. He also marked rhythm by tapping a stick on its side. After we dropped a few coins into his hat, he stopped playing to chat with us.
Our Aboriginal musician
He explained that he’d fashioned his instrument from a small eucalyptus tree he’d found rolling in a river. Apparently it takes years of searching to find a eucalyptus sapling of the right size that has been hollowed out by termites—not too much, and not too little. He lifted the wide end of his crudely-decorated didgeredoo so we could see the termite imprints inside its “trunk.” It was pretty amazing, almost like fossilized images in stone.
Showing Angela the interior of his instrument
…and a close-up of the inside
He held his instrument as though it were an extra limb—an extension of himself, then sat down to play again. He told us to stand still, and he held the end of the didgeredoo near each of our chests as he played. The vibrations of the lengthy tones emanating from the opening were physically palapable. Quite moving, actually.
Josh “feeling the vibrations”.
I later learned that accomplished didgeridoo players master circular breathing to maintain a continuous tone on their instrument; this means they breathe in their nose and blow out their mouth at the same time. To do this, they use their cheeks almost like a bellows to keep the air moving as they inhale. Apparently an accomplished didgeridoo player can play continuously for over a half hour. Unbelievable.
This happenstance meeting offered another fascinating glimpse into Australian culture. Lucky me.