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Posts tagged ‘Ankara’

Happy Bayram!

This weekend is Kurban Bayram, or Eid Al-Adha, or the Great Sacrifice Holiday, in the Muslim world.  This is based on the biblical and Koran accounts of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.  In the tradition of Abraham, each head of household sacrifices an animal.  One third of the meat is for eating during the holiday, one third is given to friends and family, and the last third is given to charity.  This ratio and what to do with the meat varies by tradition, but rest assured that the meat is generally eaten and not just killed. I guess it’s not much different than every American family eating a turkey or two for Thanksgiving, and there the meaning is a little more obscure.

Before the holiday, we saw a lot of signs advertising animal shares, where a bunch of brothers or friends go in together to get a bigger, fancier animal, like a cow.  As you can tell by the cartoons below, all of which basically say Happy Sacrifice Holiday, the common animals are either sheep or goat.



Ankara’s authorized killing fields are outside of the city.  Last night on the news I learned that the fee for killing an animal yourself, outside of the approved sanitary facilities, is 169 TL, which is about $73.  So, depending on your financial situation, it might be worthwhile to take the risk and just DIY.  A friend on facebook reported seeing lots of roadside sacrifices as she was touring the outskirts of the city today.  Thankfully I haven’t seen anything in my pleasant corner of Ankara.  I still remember the nauseating smell of the sheep being brought into Antalya, a resort town, days before the holiday two years ago.

Since the main purpose of the holiday has become charity, a lot of people choose to donate money instead of sacrificing an animal.

The other tradition of the holiday is to visit friends and family.  Today, this means take a vacation back to your hometown, or just take a vacation if you’re not so religious.  Like major holidays back in the States,  roads are busy and public transportation is both booked and more expensive over the holiday period.  From the news reporting on the country’s road situation, I also learned that police doing standard traffic stops are first offering chocolate, then getting to the business of discussing the fines.  It’s festive, right?

Bayram vacations

Bayram vacations

Since I have very few religious friends, I don’t have any personal experience with the holiday.  Last year I almost went to one of the sacrifice facilities with a friend’s dad, but decided on a vacation to a beach in the south instead.  Somehow I think I’ll always make the choice for sun over sacrifice.

Ironically, this year’s Kurban Bayram falls on the same day as World Animal Day.


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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.


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.



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!

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 (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!

Arguing is a way of life here.

Moving to a new place always requires adjustments.  No matter whether it’s a new neighborhood in your city, a new city in your state, a new state in your own country, or a different country altogether, there are simple systems that you’ve got to work out.  Thanks to the preponderance of national corporations and institutions, moving around America throughout the last 12 years has been pretty easy for me.  My biggest concerns are usually pretty trivial – where to get my hair cut, and where to buy fresh organic produce.   Most people would definitely consider these to be first world problems.

For everything else, in America getting something is as simple as visiting a website or making a phone call.  If I want to find out when a store is open, or how to order, I go to their website and get the information.  It’s that easy.  Most of the time, I can do it all via some app on my phone.

In Turkey, it’s not that easy.  Since my last post about paying the water bill, everything this week involved arguing.  When you don’t know how the system works, it’s much harder to navigate.  My brother in Hawaii just got his Internet turned on, and we were able to skype tonight (which was awesome!!!).  It reminded me of getting Internet activated at my current apartment in Ankara, which wasn’t hard, but required a whole lot of verbal fighting on my part.  First, I kept going to the wrong TurkSat branch offices (just like dealing with the banks).  I think each manager gets to decide which services they provide, or which customers they help.  Just like the banks, I finally found somebody to help me at Branch #3.  When they evaluated all of my documents, they determined that even though I had internet at my first apartment, it was illegally obtained, and they could not transfer it to my new location (this is due to my unique resident status as a NATO soldier in Turkey – that alone always requires at least an extra forty-five minutes).  As a stranger in a strange land, there is probably nothing more important than the internet.  Sure, I can go to a cafe and use the wifi, but reaching out to friends, family, and creditors in the comfort of your own home is key.   While typing this, I’m watching the Army-Navy game, chatting on facebook, researching a paper, and playing Scrabble with some guy in Minnesota.  Although feasible, simultaneously conducting all of these activities would be awkward at any cafe in Ankara.

At the TurkSat office, the clerk typed thousands of things into his computer program and determined that there was no legal way he could transfer my service (that I already paid for).  So I decided to go to Level 2 and raised my voice while threatening to cancel my account.  This would require a refund of the previously paid-for services, which I knew no one was about to give me (in my experience, refunds don’t happen in Turkey).  The guy asked his supervisor for help.  Then the supervisor had to call his supervisors, and so on, until finally, everybody agreed that I could indeed transfer my Internet service to my new address.   It’s amazing how this process always takes forty-five minutes and just about all of my patience.  Wow, thanks Turksat.

The following week, the techs showed up at my apartment and after a cursory look at my utility cabinet insisted that I had to get an electrician to pull the wire up to my floor, and then call them back to install the cable.  Luckily my neighbor happened to pop out of his door when they were trying to explain this to me, and came to my rescue by digging into my cabinet until he found the cable.  (Now I’m forever indebted, and paying off my indenture by constantly conversing with his son in English).  After the cable technicians were shown the cable, it took about 5 minutes to finish the job and provide me with cable and internet – yay!!!!

The good thing about having to argue with everything is that it improves your language skills.  The bad thing is that once you realize that only an argument will get you there, you’ve got to brace yourself for every transaction.  And you get really used to arguing.

Professionally, I used to accomplish a lot more by consensus building than by picking fights, but when I return to the naval community, who knows what I’ll do.  After six months of living in Turkey, I’ve probably become too accustomed to arguing on a regular basis.   Half the time, I don’t even realize it’s happening until I’ve been yelling for a few minutes.  Wow – how did that happen?

My most recent argument involves exercise.  Although I’ve occasionally gotten into running, I’ve never been a huge fitness nut.  But in order to enjoy all the Turkish food and keep anything like a figure, I’ve got to run.  Right across my street is this beautiful track in a Turkish Army housing area.


It’s pretty rare to see people running on the streets of Ankara.  Standby for a future post on driving in Turkey, but I’m pretty sure that it’s just as unsafe to run on the streets as it is to drive on them.

It seems that in Eastern Europe, and maybe all of Europe, working out in public is odd and unseemly.  As a friend in Romania described, running on the streets is akin to someone coming up to your cafe table and doing jumping jacks in front of you and all the other diners, nonstop.  So you have to go to a track, or a gym, to get your sweat on.

I thought since this place is across the street, and I’m military, it would be no problem to run there.  So I ran over there.  Even though you can go right up to all the housing units, the commissary, and the restaurant, two guards are posted at the track.  Closely resembling MWR employees in America (generally not the best and the brightest) they intervened when I tried just walking in.  I showed them my American and Turkish military cards but again was met with no success, no entry.  To run on this track, I need an “entry card.”  At least I think that’s what he said.  When I asked how to get one, he said to ask my Turkish boss.  Who else could I ask?  Well, I don’t know, he replies.  So I ask the other guy.  He has no idea either.  Then I try for the sympathy vote, and ask if they’ll let me on, just this one time.  Absolutely not…not without the mysterious but absolutely necessary “entry card.”  I kept asking, in as many different ways as I could think of, how to get a card, with pretty much the same answer – these guys really weren’t sure.   Now I know how it feels to be a civilian living near military bases in America.  I briefly considered hanging out at the entrance, and stalking people who do have access, to find out how to get my own.  Maybe another day – I couldn’t waste the mid-afternoon warmth.

When I finally gave up on the track, I ran over to the Presidential Complex and ran around it instead.  Once you cross the street, there are no stops, so it’s around 3.5 miles and hilly, making it a better workout than the track anyway.

The gray area is the presidential complex - easier to run than on regular, traffic-ridden streets.

The gray area is the presidential complex – easier to run than on regular, traffic-ridden streets.  The blue dot is where I live – no big deal.

I’m going to have to find some active duty Army friends to figure out how I can run on that track though – I don’t care about the fitness benefits anymore – now I just hate being told “No.”

A much-needed weekend in Ankara

Can you travel too much? Before I started the Olmsted experience, I would have responded with a definitive “No way!”  Now I’m not so sure.  Since arriving in Turkey I’ve been away from home (Ankara) more often than I’ve been in town.  I think was so excited by the travel trifecta of time, money, and friends to see that I went wherever I could as often as I could.

When somebody asked me where I liked to hang out in Ankara, my first thought was the airport.  I realized that instead of the desire to return that I feel about most places I visit, Ankara is a city that I truly enjoy leaving!  On Thanksgiving morning, however, when I woke up four hours after my plane took off, I realized that maybe I had gone overboard with all the travel.  After a string of international trips in August, I resolved to limit myself to one international trip a month, which I thought was still being very generous with myself.  But things came up, and I ended up doubling down on big trips each month.  So on Thanksgiving, mostly because I had some kind of flu, but also because I think the flu was probably aided by exhaustion, (I did get the flu shot), I cancelled my highly anticipated trip to Paris.   And then this weekend, when some friends missed their flight to Istanbul, I decided not to go as well.  I was almost relieved to spend a healthy weekend at home!

Since I’ve barely moved into my place, and haven’t had a normal weekend in Ankara, I decided this would be the weekend to do all those normal weekend things, and maybe get to know my city a little better.  So I organized, cleaned, worked out, read, and shopped.

Yesterday I had plans to go to an art exhibit and holiday bazaar, but I was a little late getting going, got lost, and then got stuck in hellacious traffic and missed everything.  In the process of driving all over the city trying to find the museum I did discover some new neighborhoods and pretty streets, so it wasn’t a total loss.  I also learned that driving through the city’s main drag on a Saturday afternoon is no quick feat.

Ayranci Market

Ayranci Market

Today I managed to find the farmer’s market, which is also an antiques (but really just used stuff) market once a month.  Since I’m still trying to get the place together, I didn’t buy any stuff, but enjoyed browsing the tables and furniture stands.  After a really hilarious transvestite lectured me on what produce to buy from what vendor I did manage to buy some groceries.

I also hit up the hardware store to buy a fake Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, although they had trees on display, they’re only to show lights and ornaments – you can’t actually buy a fake tree.  Apparently I could have if I had come in November, but they sold out, and nobody was sure if they were going to order more this year or not.  They absolutely would not sell me a display.  Although I left with a sad “living room pine” asking about all the possibilities was a great chance to practice my Turkish.

Finally I got home and decided to try and cook ayva, a Turkish fruit that I eventually learned is quince.  We bought some in Goreme when we thought we were going to miss breakfast.  It’s a good thing the innkeeper fed us early, because after biting into one fruit as if it was an apple I threw it out!  The first flavor that came to mind was crabapple, which we used to eat on dares as kids.  It’s not sweet, pretty sour, and really fibrous.  Since I still had two pieces left, I found a Turkish recipe for ayva tatlısı, or Quince Sweet/Quince Dessert.  Turkish food names are sometimes really lame.  Basically, you peel and core the quince, throw some spices and sugar in the hollow, put them in a pan with a little water, and cook them all day on very low heat.  I used a 100C oven, which I think is like 220F.  The transformation is really amazing – they go from nearly inedible yellow orbs to something like apple pie filling, but less sweet.  I ate mine with vanilla ice cream, but traditionally they’re served with kaymak, which is clotted cream from raw buffalo milk and frequently used as whipped cream in Turkey.

Hopefully I get similar results with the other unidentified vegetables that I bought today.

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.



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?

Househunting Take 2

In the Navy we have a saying – Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.  I sometimes told that to junior officers when they became immobilized by the overwhelming requirements and regulations that we face in the modern Navy.    Here in Turkey, through sheer ignorance, I ended up in the same situation.

I won’t bore you with all the details, so to summarize, I used the wrong American office to evaluate the safety and security of my apartment.  When the correct office was informed that I had rented an apartment, they originally tried to do a post-leasing inspection and then make any required upgrades.  Unfortunately my apartment building is lacking some major safety requirements, like a fire escape, so back fitting would be too expensive.  Most of the other items on this hit list were, to me, laughable – it seems that my apartment just isn’t American enough.

So, I’m back to square one on the housing front.  I will start looking at places again on Monday and hopefully find something soon.  After this headache I’m dropping all of my personal requirements, like a decent balcony with view and a walkable area, and now just want to find a place that everybody agrees is safe enough for me to live in so I can finally settle down.


I am a little sad because I really came to love this apartment and neighborhood. Hopefully I will find things to love about the new place, wherever it is.

Street Food in Turkey

I am constantly amazed by the food here!

In Ankara, the street food is pretty standard – grilled corn (made to order) and bread stands, which is generally a guy selling simit.  Simit is a thick bread, shaped like a large flat bagel and then rolled in sesame seeds.  It’s decent, costs very little (about 25 cents) and is especially good when it’s hot and served off a tray on some guy’s head.  Sometimes, I find an old man sitting on a stool on the sidewalk with a crate of cherries or watermelons for sale.  I have yet to see a pile of cherries here that I could resist buying – they’re amazing!!!

In Istanbul the selection was even better.  Along with all the outdoor markets, near the tourist attractions and late night venues great food was all over the street.  After walking around all day in the hot sun, wouldn’t you like some fresh-cut watermelon?  While finding a bar on Istiklal Street, why not stop and have a few mussels?  And after a night of smoking nargile (sheesha or bubble pipe) and drinking Efes (Turkish beer) the best thing going is a freshly peeled cucumber with a sprinkle of salt!  If I had had one of these cucumbers after our all-night drinking/dancing session, my bus ride back to Ankara would have been slightly more bearable.

First day in Ankara

As I’m suffering from jet lag at 3 a.m. I decided to record a few thoughts from my first ever day in Ankara, which will soon be my home for the next couple of years.
Somehow some mosquitoes were riding stowaway on my Lufthansa flight from Dulles to Munich and with my perfume drenched scarf I was quite the picnic for them. Now along with fretting about not sleeping, I’m furiously scratching all these bites. Ugh!
But, back to Ankara. The airport is something like 20 miles north of the city and since I was exhausted I decided to spring for a cab instead of navigating through the several bus transfers that are required to get into town. I gave my taxi driver the name and address of the hotel, and after about an hour he dropped me off at at the wrong Hotel Divan. Since we had just spent 20 minutes driving around the same few blocks, I was ready to try my luck with another driver. About 15 minutes later we got to the right hotel, and the front desk guy asked me if I was “the Sarah Thomas.” Apparently the driver, which the hotel provides free of charge, had been waiting for me for almost 2 hrs at the airport. Oops! Guess I should read those confirmation emails a little more closely.
Even though I never missed the call to prayer after leaving Bahrain, I found it a welcome sound while checking out the sunset from my hotel window.

As any tired traveller would do, I took a shower, and then a nap instead of fighting the jet lag in exchange for a little more sleep at the appropriate time. When I finally woke up, I ventured out into a very empty neighborhood. After getting some more cash at the ATM and walking a few blocks, I got the creepy feeling of being alone in a strange place with curiously empty streets and headed back into the hotel for some delicious meze room service. I also tried Turkish wine for the first time. Is it any surprise that I loved it?
This morning, or should I say this afternoon, when I finally got up I had some correspondence from the Embassy contact which is more progress than I’ve made in some time and a pleasant change. I set up dinner for the evening.
Since I was so close, I walked down to the Anatolian Civilization Museum. Once I bought my ticket and entered the building, it was immediately clear that I should have paid the extra 5 lira for an audio tour. The museum is full of beautiful antiquities from all the peoples who have lived in Turkey, dating all the way back to the Stone Age. The organization isn’t immediately clear, though, and you can unknowingly turn around and jump thousands of years in history. I did learn a lot and will definitely revisit the museum. Did you know there were hieroglyphics in ancient Turkey? It seemed that they’re still behind Egypt, however, as I’d say about half the items were decoded. The museum was very similar to those in Egypt, actually. Both were full of amazing things from the past with little information and minimum protection of their valuables. The guards were very quick, however, to shout “no flash” at virtually every visitor whether they had a camera or not.
After the museum I headed back up the hill to walk around the old Citadel, also known as Ankara Kale (kale means castle). The entrance, the Finger Gate, is right across from my hotel – I’ll have to remember to take a pic tomorrow. There aren’t any signs leading the way to the top – you just kind of meander through the streets, admire the shops, doors and randoms along the way and feel your way up. I was tempted to buy something at nearly every shop but kept reminding myself that I’ll be back for good in no time. The winding streets and ancient walls were as impressive as the fort itself. When I got to the top, I was amazed at how big Ankara seems. The city stretched in every direction, but there were still snow-capped mountaintops in most of the vistas.
For dinner I met my sponsor at her place, which is Embassy Pool housing about 5 minutes outside of the city. It was a really nice modern apartment with every convenience except a real balcony. After reviewing the requirements it looks like I’ll have to get Embassy housing too, and it’s luck of the draw for what you get. It’s still unclear whether I’ll get furniture from the embassy or bring my own. I plan a trip tomorrow to figure out what I can.
Also on tomorrows agenda are trips to the language school and maybe a university or two. The most nerve-wracking part of the Olmsted experience is convincing professors to let me into their programs. I hope to make some progress tomorrow.





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