I am illiterate

I currently live with two friends from grad school: a Turkish girl, Esra, and an American guy, Stephen, both of whom were in the English department with me. The Turkish girl and I lived together in the States as well and we all now live together in Istanbul. While Esra’s English is almost native, neither Stephen nor I knew Turkish before we moved here.

This past weekend, we all went out with friends of Esra’s and a friend of mine from work. Though my friend is Canadian, her family is Turkish and therefore she speaks the language fluently. She asked me and Stephen what it was like to move to a foreign country and not know the language. Stephen said he’s had a difficult time articulating exactly how it feels or what it’s like. Together, we decided that it is frustrating, exciting, alienating, and rewarding. All those words are fitting, yes, but still do not accurately describe the sensation. I stopped listening to the conversation for a minute and looked around the restaurant we were in. There were signs and menus and containers and lots of people talking or messing with their phones and that’s when it hit me and I rejoined the conversation:

“It’s like being illiterate, well, because technically we are.”

I cannot read the signs. Sure, I can recognize certain things: thank you, good morning, hello, one, three, fish sandwich. But the rest is a mystery. I can’t read the newspapers or books. I don’t understand many of my colleagues, the baker, the cashier, the tailor, the hairdresser, the nurse, the radio DJ. I can’t ask directions, discuss the news, or tell my waiter that I didn’t order the cheeseburger. I wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation with a kindergartener. And even worse, that kindergartener would have a much better language acquisition than me. Imagine that you are living where you do currently and suddenly you can no longer do any of these things. As I said, it is incredibly frustrating and alienating.

But once you catch on, it’s also incredibly rewarding and exciting. Continue reading


Dog days of fall

This morning my coworker came to the office in tears. If you have read earlier posts, you know that Istanbul has stray dogs, packs of them in fact, all over the city. While closer to my house you’ll find more stray cats, the dogs tend overwhelm the area by my school.  And unfornately as a result, my coworker’s bus was forced to hit a dog this morning. The dog was crossing the street and started to backtrack. But when it turned around, the bus was coming and if the bus went around the dog, it would hit other cars and apparently the bus didn’t have time to stop to see if the dog was alright. (Though how that’s possible, I’m not sure.)  From the way my coworker described it, chances are that the dog was not ok.

Yet what seemed to upset her, and me, even more was that only one other person on her bus was visibly upset about not only hitting the dog, but leaving it on the side of the road to fend for itself. She was told by some Turkish coworkers that she should just get used to it because this is how things work here. But she absolutely refused to resign herself to that idea.

Though the dogs are strays, and often do travel in packs, they are tame. I’ve never had a problem with them. They lie next to store fronts and lazily look up at passersby. The occasional person may take a moment to pet one and the dog wags its tail before waiting for the the next person to pay attention to it. If anything, these dogs starve for attention and human contact. They see hundreds of people every day, but are often ignored.

But the silver lining to this already depressing story is that not everyone is so dismissive. You’ll see many dogs with tags in their ears. These are dogs who have been taken in by vets (for free) and treated or given shots. When my coworker came in this morning, crying because an animal was in need and no one seemed to care, she was encouraged to call a local vet. But there was no need. The one other person on her bus who was visibly upset –a Turkish woman, mind you– had called one already and they were on their way to try to find the dog.

I’m sure this was an experience my coworker will always remember, but it was nice to know that when she got upset and wanted to do something about what she thought was wrong, she was not alone.

10 Turkish phrases to get me through the day

I’ve been here 2 1/2 weeks now and I am slowly (emphasis on slowly) improving my daily conversation skills. Though my miming skills might actually be getting better than my language skills. However, I get by and have learned some key phrases to help me do so. So for anyone visiting Turkey, I found these ten things help me get through the day (they are in no particular order of importance):

1. One _______, please.

Bir, _________ lütfen. (Beer _______ loot-von)

Bir means one and lütfen means please. So as long as you are only asking for one of something, this will get you through a lot. For example: Bir Cola lütfen = one cola, please.

2. Thank you.

Teşekkürler. (Tesh-ik-you-lar)

3. Good morning, Good evening, Good night

Günaydın (Gu-nye-done)

Iyi akşamlar (Yok-shom-lar)

Iyi geceler (EE-gej-e-ler)

4. How much does this cost?

Bu ne kadar? (Boo nay ka-dar)

I mastered this one pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I haven’t learned all my numbers yet, so more often than not, I can’t understand a spoken answer to the question. Usually, I will carry a small notebook with me to have them write down an answer, in case I cannot understand it.

5. Excuse me.

Pardon. (The o at the end is a long o and stressed. PardOne)

6. What is that?

Bu ne? (Boo nay)

7. Have a good meal.

Afıyet olsun. (a-fee-et all-soon)

Turkish people are extremely polite and they place a lot of emphasis on customs, especially polite customs. You are supposed to say this if someone is about to eat, currently eating, or just finished eating. For example, when I am in the cafeteria with other teachers, I may say this when I sit down and when I get up. If I don’t say it at least once, I might be considered rude.

8. Yes

Evet (ev-et. Stress the et)

9. No

Hayır. (Hi-ur)

10. Sorry, I do not speak Turkish.

Üzgünım, Türkçe bılmıyorum. (ooz-gu-noom, Turk-che bill-muh-your-um)

This will be your life saver. If you try to say it in Turkish, they love it and are way more likely to help you than if you went straight to English. They will likely help you anyway, but who doesn’t love a good effort? But get ready to act things out in case they don’t speak English either.

I can hear the bells: Turkish wedding, Part II

Now to continue the story. After the ceremony, we went to lunch and met with friends to carpool to the reception. The reception was at a beautiful venue on the outskirts of Istanbul. If you went outside and upstairs to the top, you could see the bridge between the European and Asian sides. Downstairs, we walked in to where dinner was going to be. (I felt quite special, because they were checking names of guests–not just everyone gets to go to to these things.) We walked into a large, square room lined with decorative mirrors. The tables were set with gold chargers and silverware and white plates and napkins, with pink and white flower centerpieces. Towards the front of the room was a dance floor, which seemed to be set in an intricate, tile pattern. Much to our pleasure, we were placed at the table closest to the dance floor. Everything was beautiful, and so far, not too unlike the Western weddings I’d attended.

But then the food came. We were served a five course meal. The appetizer was a sampler of a sort of bean soup, cheeses, various meat salads, a potato salad I was told is called “American” or “Russian” salad, and bread. We were then given a light greens salad, an entree of lamb and rice, a fruit platter, and then slices from the wedding cake for dessert. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of lamb, but everything else was delicious. It wasn’t until we were served the entree that the bride and groom showed up and immediately went into their first dance together. After they finished dancing, they went around to all the tables to greet their guests. In the meantime, photographers went around each table, taking pictures and later printing and placing them in cardboard foldouts and selling them for about 10 or 20 Liras.

And then there was the dancing. Traditional dancing, modern dancing, group dancing, couple dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. They had a dj most of the night, but for a while, a band came in and joined the fun as well. I danced little while, always making sure to make my way back to my plate when a new course was served. Towards the end of the night, I was beginning to get tired (I had to get up for work at 5:30 the next morning). But this is not exactly the place where people let you rest. The groom dragged me to the floor for the bouquet toss–a tradition I don’t even participate in at Western weddings–and then there was more dancing.

All in all, it was an enriching experience and a great way to spend my first weekend in Istanbul.

I can hear the bells: Turkish wedding, Part I

Wanting to fully and quickly immerse myself in Turkish culture, I attended a Turkish wedding this past weekend. The wedding was for a college friend of my roommate’s and she was nice enough to invit me as well.  I’ve only attended American weddings until this point and was excited to see how things were different.

We went to the henna night on Friday, which my roommate explained is similar to a Bachelorette party, though slightly less risque. It was in an upstairs event room of a swanky hotel about 15 minutes from us. Though I’d never met any of the people before, everyone was incredibly nice and welcoming. I tried my limited Turkish and if I didn’t speak too much, most people assumed I was Turkish. The first, and most major difference, I noticed, was that while there were mostly just women there (friends and family members), the groom and the bride’s father were there as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me rewind.

We took the minibus to a nearby neighborhood and were one of the first ones to arrive. After greeting the groom, the bride, and the bride’s sister, we picked a table and sat down while other guests trickled in. And though I shook most people’s hands when first meeting them, I had to get used to kissing them on each cheek. My British grandmother always does this, but it’s not something I’ve grown to expect from strangers.  Kiss, kiss, “Merhaba.” Yes, nice to meet you too. Handshake, kiss, kiss, “Merhaba.”

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Six things I’ve learned about Turkey so far

Today is the last day of my first week of work in Turkey and below are some things I’ve noticed in my week here:

1. Cats are the new squirrels

I haven’t seen a single squirrel roaming the sidewalks since I’ve been here, but I feel like T.S. Eliot because there are cats everywhere. You’ll find them on the sidewalks, lounging by buildings or under trees, playing on the side fo the street. And often, people will leave open jugs of water and food for them–almost like feeding the brids. They’re the city pets.

By the school where I work, I’ve also seen many stray dogs. I’ve learned that the ones with tags in their ears have seen the vet and had their immunizations. Personally, I’m more partial to the dogs, but unfortunately, the cats seem more abundant. I have yet to pet either.

2. Tea is essential to making it through the day

There is a tea room on almost every floor, in every building at my school. People drink tea in the morning, they drink it at breakfast, they drink it after meals and before bed. You’d think there would be a bigger British influence here with all the tea they drink, but perhaps the Turks started that trend before the Brits…

3. Traffic laws are arbitrary

I learned to drive outside of DC, which isn’t an easy task within itself, but I also learned to drive in DC in a Durango. If you know anything of DC driving, you know that you have to drive like you’re always running late and no one else on the road matters. If you don’t, you are run over by assholes who are running late and think they’re the only ones on the whole Beltway who matter. And you must go at least 10 miles over the speed limit when you aren’t stuck in a traffic jam.

Thank God I learned to drive in that environment so that I’m not completely scared riding the bus to and from work every day, because these people don’t care anything about traffic laws. A one lane road may contain a few lanes of traffic, and brakes are not necessary unless you are one foot from the driver in front of you or about one foot from hitting a pedestrian. Also, though seatbelts are a fantastic idea in this country, you hardly ever see people wearing them. And I’ve often seen children or babies just sitting on parent’s laps, without a seatbelt. It’s an eye opener, for sure.

Oh, and red lights? Those don’t necessarily mean stop. When I hit the crossing button and it says I can walk, I always make sure to check twice, because while most cars will stop at a red light, some will simply drive around the line and straight through the light. Other things such as turn signals and automatic transmissions are also not commonly used or found here. But horns, well those are used plenty.

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Making the transition

Over the past three weeks, I’ve taken six flights between four states, two countries, been in three continents, and stayed at five different houses. But I made it. I arrived in Istanbul around five yesterday evening and started work at eight this morning. I’m a bit jet lagged and actually quite exhausted, but I love it. I’ve only been here a day and I can already tell that Istanbul is going to be amazing. Ok, so recap of the last day or so.

After staying with friends in North Carolina, I boarded my plane to DC and was able to meet up with a couple more friends in the airport. After realizing I’d read my ticket wrong and almost missed my flight, I was able to see how fantastic Turkish Arilines really is. Despite the fact that I flew economy, they fed me like I was a starving child and tended to my every need. Not to mention that I was lucky enough to get an aisle seat and had plenty of leg room and free movies. They also handed out toiletry bags containing a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, eye cover, lip balm, socks, and earplugs. I was dreading my 10 hour flight, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a pleasant flight (and I’ve flown more than I care to remember).

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Not necessarily new, but always improved

I’ve always had mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. Until March they seem like such a good idea, and then they are forgotten again until December. In leadership training, they teach you about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals and I try to keep that in mind when making plans for a new year or new beginning. The problem is that when I sit down to make new year’s resolutions, I am determined to keep them as they are throughout the entire year, but they usually end up adjusted to lack of time or dedication. So two years ago, I made two absolute resolutions: 1. I would no longer call them resolutions, but goals or life changes and 2. I would make ones that were well thought out so that I could ABSOLUTELY stick to them. Two years later, I have stuck to 95% of the goals I’ve made and though I’m still aiming for that 100%, it’s better than I was doing before.

And now the time has come, my friends, to talk of new beginnings. Though I have kept some for myself, I thought I could share some goals for 2012. I would wish all of you luck in your goals and changes for the future, but I’ve realized it takes a lot more than that. So instead, I wish you constant determination and may you not lose sight of what you really want, or in most cases, what you really need.

Goals for 2012:

Read at least 30 books

When I was younger, I was that kid with a book behind my textbook at school. I was grounded from reading because my chores wouldn’t get done and my books were confiscated before my video games or tv privileges, because those simply didn’t mean as much. When I was in school, obviously I read plenty for class, but between class and work and researching, I was lucky to read ten books for pleasure. Younger Tessa would be disappointed. I’ve always been the girl with an extra book in her bag, but this year those books will be rotated more, no matter what’s going on in my life. No excuses, play like a champion.

Write at least 10 short stories

As with the reading goal, I’ve allowed myself to let excuses of little time or other priorities to take over and my reading and writing have fallen to the back burner. No more, I say. Now that I’m not in class, it’s time learn how to motivate myself. And after the fail of NaNoWriMo, I really need to step up my game.

Submit at least three things for publishing

This is simply for an adventure. I’ve only submitted a few things—partially because of fear of rejection and partially because I wasn’t really sure how to. It’s time to get over that.

Move to Istanbul

I’ve been trying to move abroad for three years now and each time has fallen through because of something, but I feel good about this year. I’ve ordered the Turkish Rosetta Stone, done my research of schools and jobs, made my connections, and am determined to go somewhere. Maybe one day I’ll get to Germany or back to London, but for now I want to step outside of my box. By September, I plan to be updating y’all on my Turkish adventures!

Get up to at least 200 blog posts

The first time I tried blogging, it did not go so well. Perhaps that’s the wrong pronoun. I did not do so well. However, that has changed. I’ve finally gotten into the swing of things and since October have hit about 50 posts. Goal attained? Check. Now it’s time to set the bar higher. I have 365 days to get in 200 blog posts. Done and done.

Challenge myself more

Part of this process is realizing what things I need to change and I have noticed recently that while I set the bar high for many aspects of my life, I will allow myself to stop once I reach that bar instead of going beyond it. Whether it is learning a certain skill, exercising, doing tasks at work, traveling, or what have you, I want to go beyond not only the expectations of others, but what I expect of myself. I want to feel challenged and I shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to challenge me.

Have adventures and try new things

This is a constant with me. There are so many things in this world that it is impossible to go and try all of them in one lifetime. However, it is possible to try something new every day (or at least every week). It can be something little, like trying new foods, or something big, like climbing a 14’er. Whatever it is, I need to not only improve on what I’ve already done, but continue to try things I haven’t done.

Take advantage of what’s available to me

I just moved to Colorado in August and since I plan on moving to Turkey this coming August or September, I need to have as many Coloradan adventures while I can. While I’m here, I might as well try snowboarding, hiking in the Rockies, going to a Baseball game, trying the local breweries, etc. I’m close to CA and have never been, so why not take a road trip? Growing up an Army brat, I learned that you have to make the best of wherever you are, because it always has something to offer.

Happy New Year!!!

No matter the troubles or struggles you might encounter in the new year (for there will always be some), my hope is that you make the most of every situation in order to not only overcome, but enjoy what life has to offer.