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Posts from the ‘languages’ Category

This Is How I Spent the Summer

Instead of exploring more lost civilizations and sampling the foods and drinks of offbeat destinations, I spent the summer, here, in my home office, writing my Master’s thesis.   Of course, I occasionally made trips to the library and to meet with my advisor, but it was all for the thesis.  Although I didn’t leave the city of Ankara, Turkey, I did learn a whole lot about the predecessors of this country, the Ottomans, the old-fashioned way – reading.

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where I spent my summer

My thesis attempts to answer this question: Why did the Ottoman Navy wait more than a hundred years to develop and implement advanced technology, like sailing ships, during the sixteenth century age of exploration? Unfortunately the thesis is written in Turkish, and this blog is in English, so I won’t just paste the 100 pages in here – consider yourselves lucky! If anybody wants to read it in Turkish, please contact me, and I’ll happily forward it to you. For the rest of you, here’s a quick summary.

Basically, the Ottomans didn’t need to develop sailing ships or the accompanying technology.  The major development impetus for the Atlantic fleets was their desire to bypass Ottoman lands on the spice route.  Exploration came later, after they bumped into the “New World” on their quest to find a better way to India and realized the world of wealth it offered.  For the Ottomans, India and its spices could easily be reached via the ancient caravan routes – they weren’t trying to bypass themselves, obviously.  Furthermore, in terms of expansion of the empire, the Ottomans were always more concerned with gaining more land territory, while their major European competitors worked toward maritime domination.  In terms of military competition, the Ottoman Army almost always got priority over the Navy, including allocation of resources and attention.  And in their primary waters, the Mediterranean Sea, the Ottoman’s enemies were also using oar-powered vessels, so there was no drive for technology improvements fueled by competition there.  In the frontier, the Indian Ocean region, the Ottomans managed to compete with the Portuguese by controlling the routes close to the land while the Portuguese stayed in the open oceans.  Although they had several skirmishes and port attacks, neither ever gained much ground from the other during the sixteenth century.

Somewhere in these reasons fits the Ottoman practice of hiring corsairs to run the Navy, which can be considered either encouraging technological innovation or retarding it, depending on the individual and the day.  Even when they were running the fleet, the corsairs continued to operate like pirates on their off-time, and possibly even when they were on the Ottoman’s clock.  I didn’t delve too deeply into the Ottoman psychology as I think it would take way more than six month’s study to apply any understanding of it to an argument like mine.  So, although the Ottomans didn’t need to adapt to sailing ships in the sixteenth century, eventually they did, and by the time they realized it, it was too late, as England and Holland had already established their Indian trading companies and gradually dominated the entire trade.

If you find any of this interesting, I recommend reading The Ottoman Age of Exploration, by Giancarlo Casale. Although it doesn’t answer the question I researched, the book explains how the Ottomans managed to hold their own against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean for the better part of the sixteenth century while relying on older, out-dated technology, and tells great stories of the palace intrigue and political manipulations by every side while trying to gain or hold on to positions.


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Earlier this week I defended my thesis. It was mostly successful, although I have to make a few additions and revisions in order for my university to finally accept it.  Like me, the professors were all impressed with the fact that I wrote it in Turkish!  I have to admit, however, that it wasn’t my first choice to write it in Turkish, as I thought that a thesis in English would be more helpful if I chose to pursue an academic career in the future.  When I picked up the bound work at the print shop and held a fat 110 page document in my hands, I almost couldn’t believe that I had made this thing. I was so proud that I temporarily forgot about all of the run-on sentences and not-quite complete arguments that I knew it contained.  Still, I’m happy with the final results, and making the required corrections won’t be a major effort.
So, this Olmsted project of learning a new language and then completing a graduate program in that language is nearly complete. I started learning Turkish in November of 2011, and here I am in September of 2014, weeks away from getting my degree!  Honestly, when I started the program I wasn’t really sure I could get to this point.

Of course, now that I’m almost done, this traveling girl is aching to get back on the road.  We have a huge trip planned for next month, and I’m thinking we may take some short trips around Turkey between now and then.  In the meantime, I plan on writing about observations of daily life in Turkey and catching up on some of the trips that didn’t make it into the blog.  Stay tuned!

Speaking Non-Stop English in Spain

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Last summer I took a break from a road trip from Turkey to Spain and back by booking a week of volunteer service at Pueblo Ingles (English Town) in La Alberca, a town outside of Salamance in Spain.

the whole group in the town square of La Alberca.  I'm in a the middle of the top row, in a hat.

the whole group in the town square of La Alberca. I’m in a the middle of the top row, in a hat.

Last week I did the program again, but this time in the mountains outside of La Corzola, in the northern part of Jaen, another region in Spain. Even though you do a lot of talking, and in English, participating in the program provides for a relaxing week and builds great friendships with incredibly interesting Spaniards and Anglos from around the world.

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the teachers group at a pajama party. Sadly, I’m the one with the devil eyes on the bottom right.

The program is designed to provide an immersion experience where Spaniards can improve their English. As a volunteer, or Anglo, you’re expected to speak English for hours on end, in exchange for room and board and wine! It’s a pretty good exchange, and I suspect a lot of people would do it for the wine alone, even though it’s the kind you have to drink a lot of to really enjoy. The real benefit of the program, besides language, however, is the fellowship and friendship that emerges in just a few days. When you spend nearly every waking hour with a small group of people, and incessant talking is enforced, you’ll either get very close to each other or quickly run out of things to say. Luckily, I’m a talker, so even after a week of this, I feel like I could keep going.
We spend the day in one-to-ones or two-to-twos, and depending on what type of program it is (i.e. for businesspeople or teachers), helping the Spaniards prepare presentations or classes. Lots of other activities are scheduled in so it never gets boring. Each night, there’s an entertainment hour, which includes presentations on all kinds of things by the Anglos, jokes by the MC, and theater presented by a mixed cast of Anglos and Spaniards. Generally, there’s an activity after dinner or some simple hanging out, where the level and quality of English becomes more social. Because everybody is so interesting, it’s really hard to break away and go to bed, even though you know you have hours with them again the next day.
Since everyone must attend all three meals, the Spanish schedule can be hard to adopt for some Anglos. Breakfast at 9, Lunch at 2 and Dinner at 9 is late for most English-speaker’s schedules, but I adapted quickly. After a night or two or partying into the dawn hours, I was happy to sleep in until just before breakfast. We also got a siesta every day, from the conclusion of lunch until 5 p.m.
In La Alberca last summer, I either went to the hotel pool, napped, or took an excursion to a mountaintop monastery during siesta.


One of my favorite activities was the queimada, which is an ancient tradition of unknown origins (although it’s believed to be Celtic) of banishing evil spirits and welcoming good spirits from and to a place. It is performed by burning some spirits (the drinking kind) with sugar and spices while reading an incantation. I won’t say more about it, because I think each time the players lend a different sense of drama to the event.

me and a queimada witch

me and a queimada witch

I also learned a lot about my own language, English. First of all, we all have different ideas of what constitutes proper English, especially between the American and UK versions. The slang is interesting all the way around the world, as are the idioms. Each hour of talking, you’re supposed to review an idiom and a phrasal verb. First I had to figure out what a phrasal verb was, then sometimes ask around to find their meanings. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s a verb with an adverb or preposition that when combined provide a new meaning to the phrase. Here are some examples: ask out, give up, look into, etc.

If this sounds interesting, or you’re looking for a cheap week in Spain where you really get to meet some Spaniards, I strongly recommend applying for the program.  You provide your own transportation to Madrid and the program takes care of the rest.  They have kids, teens, and adult programs all over Spain, and a couple of programs in Germany as well.

Here’s the link to apply: http://www.diverbo.com/en/volunteer-abroad

If I can swing it, I’ll be back for another round!

It’s my Turkiversary – do I speak Turkish yet?

On June 19th, I celebrated my Turkiversary.  In Istanbul, I took my mom and Kim on a walk in search of a fish restaurant I had read about in the Sultanahmet area.  Since we couldn’t find it, and my phone battery was dying due to excessive use of google maps, we finally surrendered ourselves to one of the restaurant hawkers and climbed up to a sixth floor terrace restaurant in the Sultanahmet area.  I can’t remember its name, but the food was decent for such an obvious tourist racket and the views were impressive.  We looked one way to the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the other way to the domes of Hagia Sofia during sunset, moonrise, and somebody’s wedding firecrackers that I decided to claim as my own for celebration of my Turkiversary.  Like all fireworks show that we enjoy surreptitiously, we didn’t exactly get the camera focused in time, so pardon the blur.

Now that I’ve lived in Turkey for a year, I feel obliged to examine the question – do I speak Turkish yet?

The optimist side says definitely, of course I speak Turkish, silly.  I’ve been studying it for a year and a half – it would be a shame not to be able to communicate by now.  And indeed, for basic interactions, I can hold my own.  I can even execute merchant-tricking bargaining in Turkish, such as when I bargained the prices for three separate carpets at the same time and got a lower price for each, probably because the guy was tired of dealing with me and my antics.  I can tell jokes, and earn genuine laughter (I hope) and smiles in return.  Telephone conversations are no big deal.  When I meet new people, it’s easy to explain what I do, and it’s easy to understand what they feel like telling me.

My Turkish studies exaltation came several times in Ankara when some random on the sidewalk asked me for directions, and in addition to understanding them, I was able to direct them to their desired location without ever betraying my identity as an American studying Turkish.

Of course, I have to burst my own bubble.  Although I’m positively somewhere on the line of survival Turkish, and even feel comfortably intermediate, I’m not fluent, and definitely not yet at an academic level, which is my desired destination.  When helping me “fix up” a paper in Turkish, a friend probably corrected 90% of every page!  I still feel like a ten or eleven year old when I speak in grad school classes.

To get there, to fluency, I have a whole summer to read some Turkish novels, at my own pace, and hopefully that will help me with the language studies while I’m hanging out in Romantic language speaking destinations like France, Italy, and Spain.  I also have the sometimes enjoyable task of deciphering all of my Turkish friends’ Facebook posts, which, for me, fall somewhere between good writing and reading “ttyl” or “lmao” before I was hip to how the kids texted these days.

We Were on TV!!!

On Thursday as my conversation group was starting, Bilge came in chuckling and said, “Sarah, I saw you on TV this morning!”  Wow – I felt like a celebrity, even though I just was part of a group of woman who sang on a morning program here.  It was fun to be on a real TV set, with the lights and cameras and microphones and random TV people everywhere.  Here’s the story, and the link, if you want to jump directly to the show:

http://kanalb.com.tr/arsivliste.php?Program=34&L=KanalBProgramlar/bizbize%2B07032013bizbize

Last fall I joined a choir, called Dostluk Korosu (Friendship Chorus), a group of international women living in Ankara who mostly sing Turkish folk songs. It’s a fun way to learn more about the Turkish language and culture, as well as meet really great people from all over the world. The choir is linked to the Turkish American Association, which also provides English classes and conversation groups and sponsors various charities and scholarships in Ankara. I’m also the leader of one of the conversation groups.

At a lot of traditional Turkish restaurants, a band will go around the table and sing on request, a lot like the mariachi bands in Mexico. The difference is that here the diners at the table, and sometimes the whole restaurant, will join in the singing! Laurence Bridges, a Belgian living in Ankara, wanted to learn some of the songs so she could sing along as well. I met her on a trip to the Black Sea Region this summer, and was impressed with her ability to sing along with the Turks at the campfire. She told me about the choir and eventually I joined – now I just need to go back to a folk restaurant to test my spontaneous Turkish singing skills!

There are two kinds of Turkish traditional music – halk (folk) and sanat (art). Actually, there are probably way more, as the Turkish population includes thousands of tribes of people with unique traditions. Over time, though, most traditional music was divided into folk or art categories. We sing a mixture and occasionally throw in western songs for holidays like Christmas. I like the folk music better, as it’s usually fun and upbeat. Almost all of the Ottoman music is about love, or lost loves, and has a slightly sad tone. In fact, the majority of all the songs are love songs.

So, on Thursday, we did a concert on a Turkish women’s show, called Biz Bize, which translates to We Us, or something like that. The link is below. The show starts out with a psychiatrist (the lady with the fun blond hair), then a Turkish girl who sings American songs, and then us. In between the songs are some directors from the Turkish American Association talking about the organization’s program. The soloist is Suzey, another American who studied voice at Brigham Young and, apart from our director/pianist Hamde, is the singing strength of the choir. We have 3 Americans, a Turk, a Belgian, a Danish, a Bosnian, and an Italian women, along with our Turkish director, Hamde, who is a professional musician. There are a few more women from other countries in the choir who couldn’t make it on Thursday.

To watch us on the show, click the link below, then click on 07 Mart 2013.  You’ll have to scroll to about halfway through (there’s no timer). And if you’re a mac user like me, you’ll have to download a plug-in to watch wmv files. Your browser should walk you through it.

I’m in the back on the left, near the piano. Amazingly, I wasn’t at all nervous to do the show. I think it’s due to the Navy training – once you have to explain complex physics principles to people who obviously know way more than you do, I guess singing a few songs is no big deal. Thanks, Navy.

http://kanalb.com.tr/arsivliste.php?Program=34&L=KanalBProgramlar/bizbize%2B07032013bizbize

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Here’s the choir, waiting for our segment.

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Some choir members talk with the host on the set.

Grad School in Turkey, Take 2

Last week I finally started my second semester of grad school in Turkey.  I’ve been on break for almost two months, so it’s nice to get back to work.

In the process of registering, I found out that I’m a solid C student here.  Although I’m relieved that I passed, these aren’t the grades I’m used to and I hope that I can improve to at least a B average.  I don’t think blaming my grades on the second language will work for the duration of an entire degree.

Registering was much easier this semester.  My university is moving to doing everything online.  Last semester, we had to go to the department, pick our classes, and get various people to sign some forms before our classes were confirmed.  This time, we just had to log on to our student accounts, take an EU survey about last semester’s classes, pick the ones for this semester, send it to an advisor for approval, and show up.

Of course, I had never logged onto my student account, so I had to go to school to get my password.  Every time I go there, I run into other classmates, and wonder what they’re doing there.  The actual university campus is outside of town, in an area on the way to Eskisehir with all the other universities.  Graduate classes are held at the institute, located inside the city.  The professors’ offices are all at the university, so if registration is all online, why is everyone always at school?  I kept thinking I was missing something, something that was obvious to every Turk but somehow unclear to a foreigner like me.  Is my email confirmation not enough?  Am I really registered for classes? It turned out some guys were contesting the university’s requirement for a 3.0  GPA in order to write a thesis, and others were just nervous about the online process and wanted to make sure they got their classes.

My classes this semester are more interesting: Political Theory II (required, and the least-exciting), Politics in the Balkans and Caucasus, and Turkey’s Accession Negotiations with the EU.  Last semester I only took required classes, and since I’m not a big fan of discussing either theory or ideology, this term’s focus on less esoteric political science topics is a relief!

In a curious shift from last semester, two of the classes are in English.  I didn’t realize this when I signed up for them, but since I picked classes based on interest level, I’m sticking with them.   So far one class is entirely in English, probably because I am the only student, and the other is a hodgepodge of both languages.  It’s interesting and a good challenge for me to flip back and forth.

My schedule doesn’t quite lend itself to travel as well as last semester either – no more five-day weekends! Obviously that wasn’t going to last, so I’m glad I got all that crazy travelling in while I had the chance.  Now that I’m down to normal weekends like everybody else, I plan to take some day trips around Ankara and the middle Anatolia region on days off.  Last semester I found all the time stuck on planes and trains while traveling was excellent for reading and studying for class.  Now I’ll have to be a bit more disciplined.  Wish me luck!

Christmas in Turkey – Expat Style!

After an amazing blowout Christmas where the whole family was together last year, this year I felt a little lonely and out of the Christmas spirit.  So, throughout the month of December, I did little things to mimic our family traditions as best as I could with limited resources and people in a non-Christmas country.

I spent an afternoon decorating my house, baking chocolate chip cookies, and listening to Christmas music via the christmasradio.net (it also has a collection of Paul Harvey stories).

I started collecting Christmas decorations when I lived in a cold, modern apartment in Bahrain, another Muslim country, and it’s grown over the years.  Unfortunately, although I have a couple of small, decorative trees, I don’t have anything sized like I think “the tree” should be.  Even after I gave up the hope of finding a live tree in Ankara, I couldn’t even find a decent fake one this year and settled for a sad Charlie Brown “living room pine” that unfortunately was too weak to hold much in the way of ornamentation.  So to use the rest of the ornaments, I hung some kitchen twine on the dining room wall and tied a bunch of strings to it.  Now I realize that it would have been a lot more festive with colored ribbon, but I enjoy seeing the ornaments anyhow, and the wall looks so much better than it did empty.

Cookie baking wasn’t successful.  I’m still getting to know my oven, which reads temperature in Celsius.  In between each 50 degrees are 3 hashmarks, making choosing a temperature all the more challenging: 400 F is 204 C, so I turn the knob to slightly over the “2” and hope for the best.  I also discovered that American sized cookie sheets don’t fit into my European sized oven, and thereby learned forever more to check a pan or sheet for oven clearance before I load it with food!  I only have one rack in my oven – the other levels are basically pans that fit into the shelf tracks.  I used the couple half-sheets that I have, as well as a silpat liner right on the rack, which resulted in different types of cookies from each oven level.  Some cookies were so burnt that they went right into the trash, and others were so undercooked that they stayed in the oven almost twice as long.  In the end, I had about half as many cookies as the recipe intended.  I brought most of the good ones to share with my classmates.

This month I also joined an international women’s choir.  They mostly sing Turkish folk songs, so I thought it would be another way to learn the language and get to know the culture.  In December the choir had a couple of performances scheduled, though, so we added in some Christmas carols.  I can’t really sing, but nobody seems to care.  There’s a rumor that we might be on TV next month – I’ll definitely let you know how that goes!

I spent most of Christmas Eve practicing a presentation I had to give in class on Tuesday night, but I did take breaks to watch my two favorite Christmas movies: White Christmas and A Christmas Story, and to get a little religious.  Since my family always goes to Midnight Mass together, I came as close to this tradition as possible by attending the only Christmas Eve mass in Ankara at the Vatican Embassy’s chapel, which is right in my neighborhood.   This was a true expat celebration.  Starting with the carols before mass, everything was multilingual.  Although I couldn’t keep up with the Latin, French, and Tagalog verses of O Come All Ye Faithful, I joined the choir in the final verse for a strong English finish.  Everybody prayed the Our Father aloud in his or her native tongue; and each reading was in a different language.  Even for a Chreaster like me, the great thing about Catholic mass is that regardless of the language, the program and even the cadences are the same all over the world, so even if you don’t know what’s being said you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on – when you’re homesick it can be very comforting.  My favorite part of the mass was the offering procession: accompanied by an energetic, uplifting Kenyan song, the procession danced down to the altar instead of the normal grave advance.

On Christmas Day, I went to a friend’s home for a traditional Danish Christmas lunch with some Turks and a Mexican.  We all shared a few of our country’s holiday traditions, and although I’ve mastered Merry Christmas in Spanish (Feliz Navidad) and Turkish (Mutlu Noel), even one day later I can’t remember how to say it in Danish.  Some of the spread: chicken liver pate with bacon (a rare treat here) on top, traditional Danish rye bread, pork salami, pickled asparagus on smoked salmon, broccoli salad and a cabbage noodle dish.  After lunch, we played a Christmas gift game where you throw dice and keep stealing each other’s presents – kind of like the Yankee Swap but a little less fair.  I managed to hold on to one gift at the end – it’s a Danish Christmas craft kit.  Luckily there are pictures on the package to go along with the instructions in Danish.

For me, the biggest part of December 25th had nothing to do with Christmas at all.  I had to give a presentation in Turkish to my classmates on Masculinity and Power in two ancient books: Nizamülmülk’s Siyasetname (Political Treatises) and Narayan’s Hitopadeşa (I just realized that I never learned what that title means in English).  I think drinking a few glasses of wine at the Danish lunch put me in the right spirit to give the presentation, and then when a classmate who read my blog entry about milk gave me a tetra-pak of Turkish UHT milk as a Christmas present, I was so happy that I wasn’t nervous anymore.  Although I tripped over a few words, the presentation went a lot better than I thought it would.  I think my professor’s and classmates’ expectations are low, however, as I got a lot of applause and very few questions.  With the exception of robotically looking up from my script occasionally, I basically just read the class a ten-page paper.  Hopefully in the upcoming semester I’ll be a little more nuanced with my presentations.

On the way home from class, I saw a lot of New Year’s Trees standing proud in apartment windows, which I equated with my family’s post-mass Christmas-light viewing drive.  I was so happy to get home and start what turned into a marathon skyping session with my family – by the time I talked to everybody it was nearly 5 a.m.  Since this year we’re all over the world, however, it was worth it!

The Queen’s English as a Second Language (for American-English speakers)

When visiting another English-speaking country, I love to listen to the differences in dialect  between American English and the local speakers.

An ad for Skyfall, with a London cab and the Waterloo station in the background

A few weeks ago when visiting friends in the UK I practically learned a new vocabulary.

For instance:

Pikey: the slacker kids who hang out in the park across the street

Curry: apparently, this means Indian food in general.  I always thought it only referred to actual curries.  But when your friends say, let’s get curry, they mean let’s order a whole lot of Indian food.

ha ha: the line on the park green that marks the separation between the area for commoners and landowners.  I think my friend might be pulling my leg on this one, but there it is in the picture.

You can see how the bride and groom are staying on the common side of the line.

Scrum, Grubber, Hooker, and Ruck: terms used at the rugby game.  I learned how to be a spectator and cheered for the right team most of the time, I think.

Nappy and Dummy: a diaper and pacifier, respectively.

Creme tea: this is a snack including a tea or coffee, a scone, and a huge dollop of clotted cream.

Whoopi Goldberg: how to order tea with no milk and sugar.

Julie Andrews: how to order tea with milk but sans sugar.

Brilliant: awesome, good, amazing, pretty much any positive superlative you want to add.  Or a negative one, if you’re feeling ironic.  It works for everything, and describes the great long weekend I had visiting London and Bath.

Leave no space

This morning as I waited in the Immigration line, I relearned, for the umpteenth time, an essential lesson for living in Turkey: leave no space. For whatever reason, Turks have a natural repulsion to order. You won’t find them neatly standing in a line. Instead, where there’s an obvious checkpoint, they will rush it and every man will subtly push to the front.
As a strong proponent of social obedience in the areas of traffic and queuing, I take secret pleasure when a system is in place to force Turks into a proper queue. Usually this is done by forming queues where only 1 person can comfortably stand across, and usually occurs at more modern places, like western hotels and airports.
Even though Ankara’s airport is a pretty small, not-busy airport, everybody is still in a rush. Wile waiting to pass through immigration today I was behind a guy with a nervous tick and a weird roller bag that kept hitting my feet every time he shuffled his feet. So, the next time the line shuffled forward, I left a little space between the bag and me to protect my feet. The guy behind me saw the open space and slipped right ahead of me, which of course involved actually jostling me – way beyond a violation of my personal space (a concept non-existent in Turkey, by the way). Since we probably had about two more minutes to wait and plenty of time to make the flight, I didn’t really care. Obviously, I thought, this guy is in a big hurry, and I had my iTunes and headphones to keep me entertained while waiting for another person to get through.
But then I felt like somebody was rubbing up against me, again. I half-turned, and realized that the line-cutter’s wife now also felt entitled to cut too, because she should be with her husband in line. For some reason, the best Turkish rolls off my tongue when I’m fighting queue-cheats – maybe I should spend more time queuing. So, I confronted this lady in Turkish. She acted incredibly offended that I would dare to challenge her line-cutting. It’s just one more person – what’s my problem? But I held my ground, and eventually her husband (properly shamed) joined her, behind me, in their rightful place in the queue.
I had the last laugh while answering the Immigration Officer’s questions about my unique “soldier residence status” and life in the American Navy as long-windedly as possible. I’ve never shared so many sea stories at the border before and don’t regret a minute of it. After all, I need to practice my Turkish every chance I get. I should be thanking those line-cutters for giving me an extra chance today!

Days in Antalya: tea – breakfast – tea – beach – tea – dinner – tea – raki – tea?

I just got back from a long weekend in Antalya with my Turkish teacher’s family, the Gürşens.  Although originally from Ankara, most of the extended family has relocated to the beach city of Antalya and all meet up regularly.

This was a true Turkish immersion weekend for me.  Riza’s family was super welcoming, warm, and funny – I immediately felt like one of the family.  When everybody was together, the language was obviously Turkish. Although I had been doing well in classes in Ankara and survival Turkish, I had a hard time keeping up with the language when everybody was talking at once and there was a lot of background noise at cafes and restaurants.  Still, I was able to get some of the jokes and tell a few of my own!

Both of his parents are nearly 90 but still going strong.  Ismail, the dad, has Alzheimer’s and behaves like a 13-year old – perfect for my sense of humor and language skills!  Although he doesn’t talk much, he is usually joking or dancing – everybody tries hard to be serious with him but he quickly refutes them with laughter.  The couple argues all the over time over silly things, like where on the table the napkins should be placed – it’s sweet and hilarious at the same time.


Right before I took this picture, they had fought about how to arrange the flower covering on the footstool. Eventually the Mrs. Gürşen gave in, then, while winking at me, put it back when he wasn’t looking.
We started every morning with Turkish breakfast, either at the parent’s flat or by the sea.  Here’s my view from one our tables.

clear water, looking down from our breakfast table

I think I’ve talked about Turkish breakfast before.  It’s huge!!!  The spread always includes breads, cheeses, jams, olives, butter, nuts, some kind of eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, some kind of non-pork charcuterie, fruit, and coffee or tea.  Sometimes there’s something special, like börek, which is a tower of filo sheets with cheese, nuts or meat inside.  When you go for breakfast, everyone eats and eats and eats while drinking more and more tea.

example of the Turkish breakfast table

Although I still prefer coffee, I’ve gotten used to drinking huge amounts of Turkish tea.  It’s served in tiny glasses in the shape of tulips (lale in Turkish) and drunk with lemon or sugar.  Some Turkish guys have actually told me that without sugar it can cause cancer – although I haven’t researched it, I’m chalking this one up to yet another Turkish superstition.  I’m trying to get by with a tiny amount of sugar in each glass – I haven’t counted, but I think it’s possible to have 20 or so glasses of tea throughout the day in Turkey, which would be a lot of sugar!

Each day after breakfast we went back to the flat and had tea and chatted, then eventually Riza and I would go explore a beach for a few hours.  Then it was back to the flat, for more tea of course, while the family got organized for dinner.


Dinners were out, either along the sea or in the old town, Kaleici, which is a neighborhood inside the old castle with winding streets, shops and cafes.

After dinner one night, Murat, Riza’s brother, taught me how professional raki drinkers enjoy their beverage.  Raki is the national liquor, made of grapes with anis flavoring.  Most of the grape harvest in Turkey goes to raki.  It’s similar to Greek ouzo or Italian grappa, but in my opinion much better.  It’s usually mixed with water and sometimes with ice.  Turks call it lion’s milk since the color gets a milky when you mix in the water and provides the same liquid courage as all alcoholic beverages.

So, back to “professional” drinking.  You take a sip or raki and keep it under your tongue.  Then you take a swig of water and swallow it all together.   I was skeptical but tried the method.  It does actually make the drink a little sweeter and mellows the sting a bit.

Although the weather was perfect for our time in Antalya, on Sunday morning the sky was crying, as Riza’s dad said, since Riza was headed back to the States.  Thunder, lightning, heavy rain and crazy winds made for a challenging drive back to Ankara for me, but I made it in 6 hours with no problems.

Rainbows and Grad School in Turkey

I’m taking a break from reading Aristotle’s Politika to write this blog entry and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, which is one of the things I really miss from the States.  As I typed, I heard a small, rustling sound.  I immediately grabbed the broom and started hunting for the small animal or large insect that must have invaded my apartment.  When I crossed into the dining room, I happened to look out the window, and realized that instead of a rodent in my flat, hail was falling from the sky while the sun was still shining!  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my phone to take video before the hail became rain, but when I finally found my real camera, there was a rainbow! In Ankara!

I love rainbows.  My brother, who lives in Hawaii, used to joke that I came to visit the rainbows and saw my family on the side.   I assure you this isn’t the case, but now whenever I do see a rainbow, I’m reminded of all the great times with family in Hawaii.

Ankara is much prettier in the rain, at least from the elevated vista of my flat.  On the street, instead of getting dusty you get muddy, and the rate of car and pedestrian accidents goes up.  As I look out my window, though, all of the ugly concrete buildings look almost golden, and I almost let myself believe that a shiny wet road in the distance was a river lined with trees.   I opened the window to get a pleasant whiff of rain but can’t drown out the horns, brakes, sirens and shouts – it’s no idyllic paradise.

 

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I really meant to write this post about graduate school in Turkey.  Now that I’ve got a few classes under my belt, here’s my take so far.:

After about seven months of formal Turkish lessons and another few months of fitful self-study, I am taking two graduate classes at Cankaya University.  The Master’s is in Political Science with a focus on International Relations.  My first two classes are required courses, however, so right now I’m taking Political Theory and the Modern Political State.

This means that I read a lot of boring old stuff. So far, I’ve been reading mostly in English, since we have yet to encounter any Turkish writers and I figure a translation is a translation.  For instance, we read Plato’s Apology and are in the middle of his State in the Political Theory Class.  The Modern State professor is a huge fan of Terry Eagleton, who writes about the lost art of literary theory.  I absolutely hated literary theory in high school and college, and talking about it in Turkish doesn’t make it any more interesting.  I’m really looking forward to next semester when I can take classes that hold a little more interest for me.

Instead of a classroom, we sit around a conference table.  The professor talks/teaches about half the time and the rest is mostly discussion.  I’m amazed that I can understand as much as I do – I’d say about 80% right now.  My weakness is during the discussion, especially when students talk over each other.  I have an advantage in that I studied all this stuff my freshman year of college, and usually I can manage to remember the key points that a professor is trying to lead the discussion to; unfortunately my Turkish speaking isn’t as good as my listening, and sometimes I feel like a 10 year old explaining Plato’s problems with democracy.

We have no syllabus.  At some point in the class the professors give our reading assignments for the next class.  Throughout the week, one of the professors emails additional books or articles that he wants us to read and it really piles us.  I’ve spent a lot of time at the kindle store and elsewhere online looking for pdfs, and visited several used book stores looking for obscure titles.  I’m not sure how the guys who work full-time are going to read everything.

One professor gave us the point breakdown for a grade.  We have a final paper due at the end of the semester and a presentation due sometime in December, topics TBD.  I have no idea how we’ll be graded in the other class.

Despite my bitching about the all the dry reading, I’m actually enjoying the classes.  Both professors are dynamic and engaging, and my classmates are all pretty interesting.  The one other girl has a major crush on our professor and isn’t shy about flirting – this provides for lots of laughter.  We also have a kid who got into a lot of trouble for internet piracy and has pretty much taken the role of the class criminal.  He’s always willing to copy books or find assigned movies online and share them with everybody.  The other night while we were discussing Kafka’s father complex, this kid’s dad showed up to make sure his son was actually going to class every night!

Besides a Russian in one class, I’m the only other foreigner.  I am now the expert on American politics, history, and culture although I can’t vouch for the truthiness of my information.  When they asked me where Shirley Temple Black served as an ambassador, I assumed France.  I was corrected by google on somebody’s phone; she was ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.  Who knew?

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