Trips before Barcelona

I’m typing this one-handed, and while I’ll proofread it, I ask that you please excuse any typos.

One of the largest difficulties in moving to Turkey has been the language barrier. This is something I’ve blogged about quite often and while I’ve graduated from “I don’t speak Turkish,” to “I speak a little Turkish,” there are some things that still require a translator–namely the doctor’s office. Talking about your body in a foreign language often requires more than “this doesn’t work” or “this is very difficult,”which brings me to today’s story.

The last month has been quite stressful, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go to Barcelona for Christmas, it was an obvious choice. It’s been a motivator at work and something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks now. So of course, while walking from the bakery to school today, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed quite ungracefully onto my left hand and tailbone. Sitting on the cold ground, confused and short-winded, I looked up to see people looking at me, but not moving to help at all. I tied to push myself up, but my left wrist didn’t want to support my weight. A sharp pain shooting through my wrist and hand brought tears to my eyes and made me sit down again. Still, no one budged to help. “Stupid Turkey,” I murmured to myself as I slowly gathered my things and leaned onto my right hand. I walked to school, cradling my left wrist in my right hand, head down and near tears in pain. I could move my fingers, but moving my wrist was a no-go. After throwing my bag onto my desk, next to my uneaten muffin from the bakery, I went off in search of ice, which is not necessarily an easy thing to find in Europe.

At this point, I was mad at Turkey and Turkish people on the sidewalk and the irony of trying to find ice for my injury and the stupid timing of my injury (I leave for Spain in two days), when I ran into my friend Julide. She could tell I was in pain and immediately took over. She searched the school for ice and walked me to the nurses office. Later, another Turkish coworker volunteered to take me to the hospital to translate for me and even kept me from slipping on another patch of ice on the way there. The wonderful women in HR made sure the hospital knew I was coming ands arranged a taxi for me, even though I didn’t have any cash. Other teachers at school volunteered to take my classes so I could go to the first hospital near school for the x-ray and then later when I decided to go to the American hospital for a second opinion. My Turkish/Canadian friend who is going to Spain withe me also joined me at th American hospital and has been taking great care of me since.

And after the doctor diagnosed my sprain, gave me a brace, a sling, and some pain meds, at least five other people have called to check on me. And the good news is it isn’t broken. So I guess, in all, things aren’t so stupid after all. In fact, they are çok güzel.  Look out Barcelona!


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

Packages from home

I don’t care what technological advances the world makes, there will be nothing like getting snail mail. It always makes you feel good to make you know someone is thinking of you and turning those thoughts tangible. Right before the Bayram I got a package from mom and although my friend called it “diabetes in a box,” I was pretty stoked about it:

And recently I received this package from a friend from college:

True, this one is also mostly food, but I love that people are responding to my longing for Oreos. If only they could send me an enchilada. And in addition to packages, I’ve received cards, postcards, and even handwritten letters. When I got home from work today, there was a notice on the door for yet another package to pick up. I cannot believe how supportive and thoughtful people have been. Living in Turkey is an incredible experience, which is never short of adventures and learning opportunities, but it’s always nice to know that people are still thinking of you back home.

I’ve only managed to send out a handful of postcards and one birthday present so far. The post office is often closed by the time I get home from work. Hopefully I’ll be able to send out more soon. To those who have sent something (or more than one thing in some cases), even if it’s just a handwritten letter, it means the world and always puts a smile on my face.

**As a quick side note, one of my best friends from the States told me today that she can visit in April. I’m super excited! Maybe by then I’ll be fluent in Turkish and can show off my amazing skills. Or you know, at least be able to order her lunch.


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.







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.

One of the many reasons I love David Sedaris

Before I moved to Turkey I broke down and bought a Nook. My aversion to E-Readers didn’t outweigh my desire to constantly have books with me and since bringing my library of several hundreds books to Turkey was nixed by my limitation of suitcase space, a Nook seemed the second best option. (I ended up actually only bringing 15 physical books, which is impressive for me.) Of course I picked the simplest, cheapest one I could find and even that one (the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, in case you were wondering) is fancier than I really need it to be. If only they would sell them with that used book smell…

I’m still on my kick of reading 30 books this year, though I’ve only just reached the halfway point nine months in. I’m in love with David Sedaris and one of the books I downloaded to my fancy new digital, black magic library was Me Talk Pretty One Day. Somehow I’d managed to overlook this classic when going through my Sedaris binge a few years ago. But I’m glad of it, because it fits perfectly with my current situation.

The book is essentially a collection of short stories based on various events in Sedaris’ life. Quite a few of the stories are based on his life in Paris and that’s where our situations connect. He moved to Paris with his partner, but knew only two words of French when he first moved there: “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” When I moved to Turkey, I knew maybe eight Turkish words, granted a bit more helpful than “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” But the point is that as he lived there longer, he began to write words on note cards and expand his vocabulary. He went from two to 200 to 600 to 1000. I cannot tell you how many words I know in English or German, but I can literally count up the words and phrases I know in Turkish and as Sedaris says, “It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands.” Imagine that your day to day life is based off of less than 30 words!

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