NaNoWriMo

I’m at it again. Two years ago I attempted National Novel Writing Month and failed miserably. I got to about 4,000 words before I was distracted by something that I don’t really remember.

This year I’m trying to be more productive and dedicated to things, so I’m determined to make it work. So far, one week in, I’m at 8,000 words. Not too bad. I’m writing stories based off of my experiences here in Istanbul, so there’s lots of constant inspiration around me. What a silly person I would be if I didn’t take advantage of it. I’ll post more updates as the month continues. Maybe once it ends and I’ve done a bit of editing, I’ll even post some excerpts.

Out of my comfort zone

Well, it’s my second year here in Turkey now. I’ve moved closer to the city, to the hutsle and bustle, and got my own apartment. Of course there is still an adjustment period. After coming back from a month in the States, I started work quickly (the day after I got back). There was nothing in my apartment–and when I saw nothing, I don’t mean just furniture. No, there was no oven or stove, no drapes or blinds, not even a light bulb anywhere. My school helped me set up my utilities (which is a longer and more stressful story for another day) and my friends helped me find deals to set up my apartment. Two months later, I have a cozy little place in a great location and am really enjoying my last year here.

However, it is now the time of year that I love most in the States. The tall buildings and polluted air don’t really allow for that crisp feeling of fall. And while I can get a hot chocolate at Starbucks, it just isn’t the same. And finding an actual pumpkin somewhere? Perhaps if I were Nancy Drew. That means no pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin patches, or pumpkin carving. They do have, strangely enough, pumpkin seeds available as snacks year round, but that just doesn’t cut it. There’s also a lone, beautful tree, outside my window and it’s starting to change colors and drop it’s leaves. But the street cleaners sweep up any leaves before I can get a pile big enough to jump in.

What can I do to fill this void? Well one of the things I love about fall is the food.  So I started baking. While I love cooking and am actually quite good at it (thank you chicken noodle soup on a cold day), I have about three recipes that I can fall back on when it comes to baking. All the measuring and accuracy is too much. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with baking. In the States, I had boxes for cakes and brownies and tubs for frosting. But the cakes here don’t taste the same and that’s assuming that I can even read and comprehend the instructions on the box to make anything. But it’s fall and I want my house filled with some kind of pleasant aroma, so I’ll just have to suck it up and literally start from scratch. Here are some pictures of my vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cake (complete with homemade icing).

IMG_0033 IMG_0036

(Find the recipe I used, here for the cake here, and the frosting here)

IMG_0016(Find the recipe I used for the cupcakes here)

Now I need to look up how to take better pictures of food…

Look out HGTV: My own experience with International House Hunters

Once I made the decision to stay in Istanbul another year, I had to dive into immediate changes: adjusting the dates of my ticket home, readjusting my budget, stop buying so many souveniers, and most of all, finding a new apartment. My current roommate and I have now lived together for two years–one in the States and one here. We’ve had some great times together and I will miss our late night chats and shopping outings, but I figured it was time to venture out on my own. So the hunt began.

In Turkey there are two options (at least that I now of) for renting an apartment: you can either rent directly from an owner, or rent from an emlak (a realtor). I was warned against renting from an owner as they did not always hold themselves to the same standards as an emlak did, but I’d also heard stories about horrible emlaks, so I just kept both options open. My friend showed me a site to look up what was available and even went with me to a couple emlaks to translate for me. When walking around one day, we found a lovely little street (lots of colored buildings and greenery, quiet, really, just adorable)which happened to have a “for rent” sign hanging on the windows of a basement apartment. We called the owner and he said the rent was 750TL and to come down to his store by the water so he could talk to us about it. After looking at other places in my price range (I was looking to spend no more than 1000TL a month), I was super excited by the possiblity of such a place.

We went to his store where he took down a bunch of my information and tole me more about the apartment: it was a basement with a bache (yard), an American-style kitchen (one that is open and has a lot of counter space), and a 2+1 (two bedroom, 1 family room). He even said he could furnish it for me for a bit more. And the best part was that the building was only 4 years old. Most buildings in the area are much older and so a basement apartment in an older building is not always the best deal. I showed him my work permit, but he said he wanted a copy of my contract from the shocol, showing how much I made. He told my friend that he would call us on Friday to set up a time to come see the apartment and that I could bring a copy of my contract at that time. This seemed to be much easier than I’d thought.

Except he didn’t call. My friend texted him that night, but he didn’t respond. We went in on Saturday with a copy of my contract, but he told us he didn’t want to see us.

“I didn’t call you,” he informed us.

“Yes, I know,” my friend responded, frustrated. “I texted you. Why didn’t you call?”

“There is no why. I get 100 calls a day. I don’t need a why.”

At that point my friend proceeded to tell him how rude he was and we left in a huff. He didn’t seem to care, though, as he told us to have a nice day. (Of course most of this was translated to me after we left the store, although I knew things weren’t going well.) This obviously did not leave a great taste in my mouth about renting from owners and after buying some ice cream to cool our tempers, we ran into an emlak that my friend knew. He agreed to show me some apartments (he spoke English with a Turkish-Australian accent) and was very nice an patient with me. Thought he did show me a couple nice apartments, I was a huge fan of the areas they were in. And he wasn’t sure if the owner of one apartment (with a wonderful terrace) would rent to a foreigner. He said this apologetically and I smiled because I knew that this was just the case sometimes.

My friend and I also went to look at one more apartment through an emlak that was listed online. It was in a great area, a large space and nice kitchen, but 200TL over my budget. He was also very nice, though his English was about as good as my Turkish. But after a day with the crazy man, it was refreshing to have two pleasant experiences.

I decided to take the apartment that was slightly above my budget and went in to pay the deposit and sign the contract. (In Turkey, you also have to pay a fee to the emlak for finding the place. It’s usually about 10% of the yearly rent total. Mine was 1500TL.) No one was able to come with me to translate, but I figured I’d make it work somehow. I was told that the owner wanted to meet me and I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t end up horribly, putting me back at the starting line. She and her granddaughter came in and thank heavens, they were both lovely. The granddaughter, who is in the sixth grade, translated the whole thing for us and they gave me receipts for everything. The owner even invited me to lunch with her. I took a raincheck, but told her that the offer was much appreciated.

The apartment is officially available the 5th of August, but I am glad to have everything in order now. Though I had a lot of help in the process, something for which I can’t be too grateful, it’s nice to feel like I now have done something kind of on my own. I have a good feeling about this apartment (the owner told me it was “lucky,” whatever that means) and I’m hoping that I can keep just keep it up.

Four things Turkey has taught me about myself

In the fall I applied for graduate school programs, but did not get in. In January, I told my current job that I wouldn’t be returning next year. In the spring, I began to apply for jobs back in the States—39 in all, but I did not get an offer. In fact, some schools did not even send an acknowledgment that they had received my application at all. I signed up with a teaching agency; they are incredibly helpful, but told me that prime hiring time had passed. Although, they did help me figure out how to make a video resume.

Then, just a couple weeks after school ended, my boss called and offered me a position with the high school. Another teacher had decided not to stay and they wanted me back and were willing to negotiate with me. After talking with my family and the agency, I have decided to stay. I like Turkey, but was ready to go home and still do miss the States in a lot of ways and I plan to return after this next school year (with more experience, skills, and money). I have a new apartment, I’ll take Turkish lessons, and I’ll get to travel a bit more. This decision was not easy, however, and made me really reflect on the past year. So here are some of the things Turkey has made me realize:

  1. Somehow I’ve done something right in the friend department. I’ve had so many friends take the time to Skype, put together care packages, send post cards or letters, or even fly thousands of miles to visit. When you’re that far from home, something as simple as a letter or a few minutes on Skype, or even an email, is incredibly rewarding.
  2. Believe it or not, I’m fairly good at getting context clues and reading certain situations. I have managed to learn a bit of basic Turkish, but there are still instances almost every day where I have no idea what people are saying to me. And telling them that I only speak a little bit of Turkish either makes them try their limited English or just speak more Turkish, but also use more hand gestures. When the latter occurs, all I can do is guess. And it turns out that my guesses are right 90% of the time. And 80% of the time my broken Turkish responses seem to be enough of a response. I thought this has to be something that everyone can do, but then I started dating my boyfriend and let’s just say that he’s much better at memorizing the vocabulary than I am. I keep him around for reading things, but he lets me do the talking.
  3. I take a lot of things for granted. Here are just a few: shower stalls, trees and scenery, internet freedoms, ranch dressing (and a variety of other foods), being able to express myself to anyone (ie doctors, parents of students, hairdressers, the clerk at the clothing store), having a car and the freedoms that come with it, being able to find books in English, all the difficulties foreigners have to deal with in the States.
  4. I can be more diligent that I have been. I’m working on it, but I’ve been getting a lot better about writing more regularly, taking initiative to continue learning, reading more, etc. Of course I’m not where I’d like to be, but being in Turkey has forced me to think about what I want and not waste my time. I watched two episodes of The Office before writing this blog post, though, so I’m still working on it.

Of course this isn’t everything, but it’s just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of this previous year.

If only my smart phone made me smarter

When I travel somewhere for just a short time, I often don’t take out my camera when I should because I’m too busy looking at cool new things or I’m too afraid of looking like a tourist. But now that I’m living somewhere, I often don’t take my camera places because I’m too busy going to work or I’m too afraid of looking like a tourist. Thank God for smart phones. Though the camera on my Nokia is a bit iffy. Perhaps I should just get over the tourist thing. Despite everyone telling me I look like a Turk, I’m pretty sure they know I’m a fake as soon as I try to talk to them.

In the meantime, here are some smart phone pics.

Street cats around here like to hang out in the shops.

Street cats around here like to hang out in the shops.

Some of the local art in Kadikoy.

Some of the local art in Kadikoy.

Some more of the local art.

Some more of the local art.

Taking the ferry home.

Taking the ferry home.

Sunset on the Bosphorus.

Sunset on the Bosphorus.

The Big Turkish Balloon at the Kadkikoy Iskele (ferry station)

The Big Turkish Balloon at the Kadkikoy Iskele (ferry station)

More of the Kadikoy Iskele

More of the Kadikoy Iskele

Oof Ya

I apologize (yet again) for my lack of recent posting. There has certainly been enough to talk about. Perhaps that was the problem–too many distractions. Well I would like to update you on the past couple of months and I suppose the best place to start would be March. I apologize in advance if my next few posts seem rushed as I’m trying to catch up.

Ok, March. the biggest adventure of March was Passover. My goodness, what an ordeal.

When I first moved to Turkey, I was unsure of the level of anti-Semitism, so I was careful with what I said or did. But as I became more comfortable and opened up to people, I received nothing but acceptance and support. So far I haven’t experienced any more problems than I did living in the South. A friend of a coworker even lended me a menorah for Channukah and there are plenty of other teachers who take off for holidays, which leads me to Passover. I decided that this would be my first venture into a foreign synagogue. I looked up temples online and found a couple on the Asian side, but when I called to find out service times, my limited Turkish was about as helpful as the other person’s limited English. After finding someone to help me translate (I was at least able to provide the Turkish word for Passover; apparently they also just say Pesach), I was told that I needed to fax all my information to the high rabbi of Istanbul.

Apparently there were bombings at a couple temples years back, so they are very serious about the security. That made me feel both safer and more nervous at the same time, but I went ahead anyway. I sent in a copy of my passport, address, phone number, and which temple I wanted to go to. Then the one lady in all of the Istanbul temple workers  who could speak English called me back to let me know I’d been approved. I talked to the same woman who lent me the menorah and asked her how conservatively I should dress. She told me that what I was wearing at the time (a short-sleeved dress and boots) would be fine. So I asked off work, washed that exact outfit, made sure to write down the address of the temple, and had my roommate order a taxi for the morning.

I woke up very nervous and excited (perhaps anxious would be a better word?). I dressed in my dress, boots, and a cardigan and made sure to grab a scarf in case I’d need to cover my head. I then met the cab driver outside the apartment and I was on my way. The cab driver was chatty (they’re usually very chatty or very impatient) and I spoke what I could with him, but was trying to pay attention to where we were going. I was only vaguley familiar with the area. He turned off the main road and we started to pass a lot of apartment buildings. I looked at the address again–this was the street where the synagogue was, so I started matching the numbers. Finally, he pulled up across from number 3, which was the correct address, but it was an apartment building. I looked desperately at the sheet again and back at him. He pointed to the sheet and explained that this was number three. This was  where I’d asked to go. I wanted to tell him, “well, yes, I can see that, but this isn’t where I want to go.” Instead, I just said thank you, paid him, and stepped out of the car. We were close to an intersection, so I walked to the corner and checked the street signs. Again, this was where I was supposed to be. Service started in 20 minutes and I had no idea where the temple was. I walked back to number three, but it was still just an apartment building. I was Harry looking for 9 3/4.

So I called my roommate. She tried to help, but the address she looked up was the same I had and she needed to go to work. So I decided to use my Turkish to try to ask for directions. I probably asked about five people. They each seemed to know what I was talking about and all pointed me back in the direction from which I’d come. It was frustrating not being able to tell them that I’d already been there and there was, in fact, no synagogue. They could obviously see the confusion on my face and always started talking more and faster, which was no help at all. So I just (again) thanked them and walked away. Finally I called my friend from work. I explained the situation and she said to go into the apartments. After the bombings, a lot of synagogues made it harder for people to find them, so it was quite possible that I was actually in the right place. So I went inside with her still on the phone. A guard came up to greet me and I understood “Kim,” which means who. So I thought he was asking who I was. I showed him my passport (as I was told I would have to do) and he took me to an elevator and up to an apartment room. The whole time I’m on the phone, narrating, and inwardly wondering how small this synagogue must be. The guard knocked a few times and said something to me. I nodded. A woman answered the door in her robe and I knew that we’d had a miscommunication. I handed him the phone, resigned that I was failing at communicating.

It turns out that he thought I was looking for the other foreigner in the building. My friend explained the situation to him and he also tried to tell me where it was, but even my friend didn’t understand. She called the synagogue and called me back. Apparently, thank you Google, the online adress was wrong. I was off by about 30 and needed to walk further down the road. She said that the guard at the synagogue was now expecting me and would be outside the security box waiting for me. I thanked the guard at the apartment building and again walked down the street. I saw the white security box and nervously went up to the man standing next to it.

“Synagogue?”

“Amerika?”

“Evet.”

“Pasaport?”

Thank God. I handed him my passport and he smiled. He spoke into a little microphone and another guard came out to escort me. At this point I still did not see a synagogue. And at this point, service has already started. The new guard led me past an apartment building and through a locked fence. He opened another locked door and I went into a hallway. (Mind you, I still have no idea what the outside of this place looks like. It was behind buildings and shrubbery.) I then had to go through a metal detector before we were buzzed through another door at the end of the hallway. Once through the door, it beautiful. Huge, marble, bright, colorful, and full of singing. I followed the guard, but wasn’t really paying attention to him. I was taking in my surroundings, happy that I’d finally made it. We walked toward the back of the building where he talked to an older man and pointed to me. The man then led me to a staircase, which brought me back to reality. This could not possibly be a staircase to…

A women’s section.

When I reached the top of the stairs, there was only one other woman–an elderly lady. She was sitting right in front of what appeared to be a balcony looking down on all the men. I was suddenly much more conscious of my skirt with no leggings or hose. I buttoned my dress up all the way, took my scarf off my neck, loosely wrapped it around my head, and sat down next to the woman. She smiled at me and wished my happy Passover. I smiled back and wished her the same. I managed to find a prayer-book, but had no idea what page we were on. My Hebrew is about as good as my Turkish and while I can recognize and recite prayers when I hear them, I certainly can’t read them or the Turkish transliterations. I looked down into what I like to call the “man pit” and watched as the men moved freely, greeting each other, kissing both cheeks, adjusting their shawls. A few more women trickled in over the next few hours and we just watched as the men sang, stood, sat, kissed the Torah. All things I was used to doing, not viewing.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had during this experience. It was nice to hear familiar prayers and songs (even if the melodies weren’t the same). It was nice to be with other Jewish people, excuse me, women, even if we couldn’t really speak to each other. And it was nice to be in a place of worship on a holiday. But I was removed and upset and fighting these feelings the whole time. I was not really allowed to participate and I resented it. I didn’t feel free or comfortable. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t celebrate the way I wanted to and as much as I shouldn’t have, I felt sorry for the other women there. They were all modern looking women. Some didn’t even cover their heads while they were there. But I would hate to teach my daughters that they need to be seperated from what’s going on and I fully disagreed, but I knew it wasn’t my place to do so.  After all the work I put in to get there, I was too distracted and distraught to enjoy it. I made it three hours before I left.

I don’t think I will do it again, but I can say that I appreciate the experience. I was hoping for something familiar, but I have never been so out of my element.

Christmas in Istanbul

Well I woke up today, which is good news. I can call my family back home and let them know that we’re seven hours ahead here and the world is still fine. So don’t worry–I will be able to celebrate my Christmas in Istanbul.

I have been told many many times that Turkey is a secular country and I’m starting to believe it. Because even though there are mosques abound and some women choose to cover their heads or wear a burka, I have been surprised by the amount of Christmas spirit I’ve experienced in Istanbul. Little Christmas trees and lights have popped up in stores and in homes all around the city. Even our school placed a large, beautiful tree in the entryway. We’re having a Christmas party at work, secret Santa and all. We even get Christmas Eve and Christmas off. The most interesting part to all of this, though, is that most of our children aren’t even Christian.

Let me back track a minute. Perhaps I should have prefaced this with the fact that I am not Christian either. I am Jewish and even celebrated Hanukkah this year with a borrowed menorah. But I still love and celebrate Christmas (just a more secular version). I love the trees, the lights, the songs, the food, the company, the spirit, the stories and yes, the presents. So maybe some of Turkey feels the same way I do.

And as if determined to prove my point, it snowed yesterday. All day yesterday. The school let us go early and canceled classes for today.  That means that I have a mini-Christmas break. So yes, I woke up today, despite the Mayans predictions and planets colliding or whatever. But what I want to stress is that I woke up to a snowy day in Istanbul on my first day of Christmas break. I think I’ll go out for some tea and do some Christmas shopping at the Grand Bazaar…just because I can.

Happy holidays.

More updates

So all the last pictures were from the Bayram, but I saw a few more things after the Bayram and I forgot to add the pictures. Here you go:

I went on a trip with some of the kids from school to the Monet exhibit on the European side. I’ll have to go back when I’m not chasing a bunch of fifth graders.

Hanging out at the Hagia Sophia

Checking out the Blue Mosque and not at all looking like an American tourist with my tie-dye t-shirt.

Again with the tie-dye t-shirt

Inside the courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque. If you don’t bring a scarf to cover your head, they will provide you with one, as well as a bag to carry your shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

Updates

Yet again I have fallen behind on my updates and I apologize. I know that from my last post it probably seems that I am sitting around, homesick for Oreos and Mexican food. And while I do constantly crave enchiladas, I am enjoying Istanbul. In fact, since my last post, I’ve managed to discover more of the city. Since my last post, I’ve experienced my first Bayram (or holiday) and got to enjoy the Historical District. I’ve managed to hang out with more expats, which can be helpful because as a foreigner you can sometimes appreciate the local attractions more. (For example, I really only went to the Washington Monument when taking friends who came to visit.) But instead of writing long, descriptive paragraphs about the sights I’ve seen and things I’ve done in the past week, I thought I would finally post some pictures.

Eating ice cream and enjoying the view of the Boshporus.

This is seriously only a PORTION of a mall I went to. I was so dumbstruck at the ridiculousness of it that I had to stop and take a picture.

Why yes, this is an ashtray in the bathroom.

Getting ready for Bayram!

Enjoying my fun Halloween socks sent from a friend and post cards and pictures from back home.

My friends brought their adorable pugs along on some of our adventures.

They have some fantastic street art here in Istanbul.

The delicious Bayram meal my roommate’s mom made for us. I don’t normally like lamb, but it was fantastic. Short Turkish lesson: pilav=rice, et=meat, ekmek=break, and coke=cola

We went up to this cool old abandoned orphanage. According to the sign, it was both “dangerous and forbidden.”

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10 Things I miss about the States

Okay, so I have not kept up on my promise of posting from Turkey at least once a week. Things have been hectic lately with my kids taking exams and all, so I apologize. In other news, I have been here almost two months now (November 3 will make it official) and have started to keep track of things I miss most, you know, in case anyone feels like sending me a package. 🙂 It turns out that most of the things are food related, which is not surprising, though a couple are consumer related, which is a little disappointing.

1. Oreos

I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I love love love Oreos. They are the perfect boxed cookie and are like childhood happiness in a blue package. I’m expecting some from a package my mom sent and I’m afraid they won’t last very long.

2. Pandora

Whenever I’m writing, getting ready, cleaning, cooking, whatever, I like to listen to music and Pandora knew me so well. We had a good thing going; I had all of my favorite stations set up and they usually knew just what songs to play. Apparently though, this relationship is strictly for the US, as the website refuses to go abroad (refuses, faces legal issues, whatever). So now I have to find a new station and it’s not that easy when I was so comfortable with the old. I’ve been told to try Spotify or Grooveshark, but I’ve mainly just been using Youtube until I can bring myself to actually find a real replacement.

3. Netflix

I didn’t have Netflix before I left the States, but conveniently enough, almost all of my friends did. It was a good system I had going and I’d become so attached to Netflix that I thought I would break down and go ahead and get my own account once I moved to Turkey. That was a fail, because yet again, there is another website that does not want to join me on international adventures. I’m disappointed, Netflix.

4. York Peppermint Patties

Like Oreos, they’re pretty much perfect.

5. Gatorade

Particularly red and blue Gatorade. I don’t mind water and brought my Tervis with me to make sure I was drinking plenty, but if I had my choice of re-hydrating sports drinks, it would be Gatorade any day. Unfortunately, Turkey disagrees with me on this.

6. An abundance of people who speak English

Yes, I am learning the language quickly and sure I can handle day to day tasks with my minimal vocabulary, but it is so much work. It is draining, mentally and emotionally draining. And if I have to do anything outside of the spectrum of ordering food or buying school supplies, I have to get my roommate or another fluent friend to help me. I’m not a fan of being so dependent on other people and miss being able to call the cell phone company on my own to figure out why my data isn’t working.

7. An Autumn that I recognize

Part of this is because I’m in a big city. We’re not really surrounded by trees so much as towering buildings and pavement. But I miss the trees and how they turn and it’s only recently started to cool down here, so it just doesn’t feel like fall. And more importantly, it doesn’t smell like it. And there are no pumpkin patches or corn mazes or flannel shirts or decorative little scarecrows. Fall is my favorite and while I guess it’s technically fall here, I don’t recognize it as such.

8. Pumpkins and all that they entail

Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin patches. Carving pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds. Hot pumpkin beverages.

9. Target

If I were living on the European side, Target probably would not have made it on the list. However, on the Asian side, you will not find as many large, all-encompassing stores like Target. Instead, you have a lot of little, independent markets that sell the same thing, just for slightly varying prices. Which is nice and fine and all, until you need something specific or different and have to go to ten different places to find it (and again, remember the language barrier). As much as I hate myself for saying it, I miss being able to go into one store and find everything, yes everything, that I need.

10. Mexican food

Dear Jesus, do I miss Mexican food. Fajitas, tostadas, chimichangas, enchiladas, rice, beans, avocados, chips and salsa, guacamole, burritos. Just all of it. I miss all of it. All the Mexican-ish food I’ve had here has been homemade from whatever similar ingredients I could find and frankly, it’s just not the same.