Getting Ready!

Oh my!  We have been paring down our belongings.  What we are going to ship is already packed! And minimal!  We have sold many of the things we will not be taking with us, the rest we will give to friends and family, or donate.  My balcony is looking bare, since the flowers have been sold or given away, but I did keep keep the mesclun and chard plants.  While Incek is far out of town, it is beautiful in the spring.  We have been taking walks and enjoying our bucolic life while it lasts. 

 

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We have bought our plane tickets, which was more complicated than it sounds, as we bought our tickets so we could be together, but I am going to be reimbursed by my work for my ticket.  It included several trips to HR, many calls to the purchasing office, and formal written requests.  We have also started training Butterfinger to not completely loathe the carry bag she will be squished into and then in which she will be shoved under a seat.  Poor baby.  We have already given her her summer haircut so that she can recover from the embarrassment before she is completely demoralized from the bag. 

 

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Our next step is to get ourselves ready for the trip.  We are going to get complete health and dental check ups before we leave.  We have really comprehensive health insurance here, and procedures are pretty inexpensive.  Wheeeeeee!    I am so excited!

Changes

I talked about the reasons I had not been blogging, and part of it was that I could not fully express myself.  We have had plans in the works, but they have been tenuous and uncertain.  Bülent and I have been incredibly happy in Turkey.  We have had so many adventures, travelled to so many places, and met so many people.  When I first came, I was 24, young and excited.  Everyday was an adventure.  After six years in Turkey, everyday still brings joy and appreciation.  Just last week I was stopped by strangers on the street while walking in my neighborhood, invited in for coffee and had a tour of their garden. 

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I have learned the language, and developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the nuances of the culture—my original goals.  In the six years we have been in Turkey we have made friends, embarked on our careers, gotten married, moved twice, received a Masters and (almost) a PhD, and celebrated a decade of being partners.  We have lost parents and grandparents, and we have loved.  We have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. 

 

Turkey will always have our hearts, and will always be home, we have so many friends and so much family here.  We have loved our time in Turkey, but thinking about the future and our careers, we have decided it is time to move on. It is time for a new adventure.  The next couple of months will be filled with packing, details, saying goodbye and excitement.  We are moving back to the United States.

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Wait for us Austin!  We’ll be there soon!

Alive?

As you may have noticed, I have not been blogging as frequently.  Or at all.  Over the last year or so I had slowed down my pace. Partially because I was busy and partially because the main bulk of my blog was travel and exploration, and after living in Turkey for five years, the adventures had slowed down.  I want to start writing again. I really appreciate being able to express myself and have a connection with my readers.  I have been thinking about it for a while, and have put off writing until I think I could make a commitment again.

My last post was about moving.  Our move had ben a big change for us.  I am now in the “sticks” again.  incek2

The herd of sheep that regularly pass in front of our building.

I can no longer walk to the grocery store, have easy access to the town center or have my community of friends.  I do have a new community of friends, but many of the friends I used to visit with on a day to day basis are back in the old neighborhood.    Day to day life has changed, basic things like cooking and errands are more difficult due to sharing a car, and not being able to walk to neighborhood shops and the pazar. 

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However, there are many benefits to living on the edge of town.   The air was clean all winter, the smell of coal smoke does not infiltrate our hair and clothes and the accompanying smog did not disturb us.  Our view is lovely, and faces south west, so we have had lovely sun all year, and the floor to ceiling windows have allowed enough light into our home to keep our plants alive inside since the frost hit. We have also hosted and been hosted at many more intimate gatherings with friends.  Since the restaurants and shops are more distant, we meet at friends’ homes rather than restaurants to visit. 

Things have happened, which I will tell about.

Places have been visited, which I will share.

And adventures may be coming…I will keep you posted!

Moving. Is. Torture.

The weekend after the first week of school I had to move.  I didn’t schedule it, a change in corporate housing mandated the move.  While I was trying to cement my classroom management and learn 200 students names, I was also making lists of what to pack each night.  The move was quite daunting as we could not get the key to the apartment before we moved, and we had never seen it in person. 

The apartment turned out to very nice.  Farther out than I would like, compared to my last easy to get around neighborhood, but has the benefits of the boondocks. The air is cleaner, we will not have issues with coal smoke here during the winter, there are no traffic problems, and we have a great view of undeveloped Anatolian hills. 

However, while the apartment is beautiful, it is a new building and there are some issues.  Last night, after the 7th visit from a plumber in two weeks, the toilet FIANALLY stopped leaking onto the floor  YAY!  They also turned the heat on last night, which is great because it was REALLY cold.  But now we have to turn it off because it is leaking. 

However, to put it in perspective, my friend just found out that internet is UN-INSTALLABLE in her apartment.  The pipes that lead into her apartment to allow the fiber optic to be snaked in was crushed and so there is no way to bring in the cable. 

Packing was horrendous.  I just hated it.  It feels like I just did it.  I did help my mother move our home last year.   It was a lot of work.  Even though out house is smaller, it still was a lot of work.  Unpacking is a little better.  Though at one point I got so visibly overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead, Bulent broke down all the boxes we had unpacked and removed them from the apartment. It helped significantly.  Actually he turned Defcon 1 to something more like mild craziness.   A miracle worker. 

As of now, we are mostly all set.  There are some paintings I have been unable to hang because the walls are made of concrete.  But that is just a challenge.  It is coming!

UPDATE: I just served coffee to a few men in my house.  They have been working for over an hour on the heating.  Things are looking up.  

UPDATE 2: The man, who says that my eyes are like those of the people he met in Kosovo when he was a soldier in NATO, fixed my heaters and bleed out the air from the system.

Bulent’s Take on Airbnb.com

This summer my husband used Airbnb.com to arrange for his lodging while he was participating in a program at the London School of Economics.  Unfortunately he was extremely disappointed and felt exploited by the business. He asked me to post this because, as our friends and family know, he does not use social media, including Facebook or Twitter.

I recommend everyone to not use Airbnb.com. They exploit you like it is their business.

· Bulent rented an apartment in London for 6 weeks to attend a program at LSE.

· He completed the program at the end of the 3rd week, and asked the landlord to leave 3 weeks earlier than planned.

· She said “no problem”. Bulent notified Airbnb about the change, and came back to Turkey.

· After he came back, he realized that Airbnb charged his credit card as if he stayed the whole time.

· Because a chunk of the overcharge went to the landlord’s bank account, he asked the landlord to remind the Airbnb that his stay was only 3 weeks, and to ask for a refund of over a thousand dollars.

· Landlord said that she would “accept Bulent’s offer only if he agrees to pay her nearly twice the daily rate that they had originally agreed.”

· Bulent told her that this offer nearly a month after the whole thing was over was outrageous as she did not mention to him that she would want a higher rate when she accepted his offer to leave the place early.

· Landlord insisted on her condition.

· Bulent entered the case to Airbnb’s “dispute resolution” for Airbnb to resolve it.

· Dispute Resolution required him to accept their condition that “their decision will be final”

· Can’t possibly knowing what is behind that condition, and having no other choice; Bulent accepted it.

· Dispute Resolution reviewed the case, and “ruled” that they would refund $30 to him! (The amount Bulent was overcharged was little over a thousand dollars!!!)

· When Bulent asked how in the world they came up with that figure, they said that “stays shorter than 28 days are subject to weekly rates (his original agreement with the landlord was a monthly rate) and the weekly rate that applied to his case was such that they would only refund $30!”

· Bulent asked for a copy of the contract that shows this “policy”, and how they determine weekly rates.

· They sent him a webpage in their site that only talks about landlords’ options when they receive a request for early leaves (which are either to have Airbnb charge the guest for only the duration of his stay, or for the entire term). The site includes no information about this supposed policy to bump monthly rates down to weekly rates when stays are fewer than 28 days. Nor did it include any formula as to how they determine this weekly rate.

· Bulent pointed out these nonsense, and renewed his request for the 1,000+ Dollar refund.

· Airbnb answered by saying “as you accepted when you submitted the case to our Dispute Resolution Department, our decision is final!

· Next week, Bulent will sue the company for violation of consumer rights to be protected against arbitrary and exploitative practices. He will also file a complaint to the Better Business Bureau in California where this company is registered. But as importantly, he asked me to disseminate this message to all my friends and family so they do not use Airbnb.com.

Tennessee

This summer while I was home in the US, I was incredibly busy, scheduled to go here or there almost every day.  One of the things I squeezed into my travels was a trip to Tennessee.  I am very lucky to have two of my best college friends living in the same state. 

I flew down on a Friday, and was supposed to arrive in Nashville at about 4:30 pm, when my friend would be getting off from work.  After a hellish bout of “How long will that delay be?” with U.S. airways I arrived just at 8:30 (EST).  My friend was very patient with the whole situation and entertained with the fun texts from me.

“We are boarding the plane.”  “We are de-boarding the plane”  “We  boarded the plane!”  “We are leaving!” “Just kidding, we are missing paperwork”  “We landed!”   “We have to wait for a gate” “We are going to get off….oh wait…still no gate.”

 

  After all the delays and waiting on the plane for what seemed like forever (for a gate), we ended up just going down the stairs of the plane and walking across the tarmac to a lower level door to the airport.  Which we could have done when we first landed.  Mmmph.

Despite the inauspicious beginning, the trip was fantastic!  My friend Kate lives in Nashville, the plan was to visit with her, then we would drive down to Memphis to visit our very pregnant friend Katie, or depending on the fates, Katie and her new baby.  

After Kate picked me up from the airport, we stopped by her home to drop my things off before we went out for dinner.  Waiting for us was a package from our other friend friend from college, Katie, who lives in Colorado.  She had sent us a gift basket filled with treats for our visit!  Can you feel the Wellesley love?

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The next day we left for Memphis. Memphis is a three hour drive, so we were able to chat the whole way and had a great time.  Katie politely stayed pregnant while we were in town, so that we could catch-up.  I haven’t been able to see my Wellesley friends as often as I would like.  We are scattered all over the US, and living in Turkey complicates visiting even more.  However, when we do get together, it is as if no time has passed.  I am hoping that soon they will plan a trip to visit me!  In Memphis we relaxed, visited, played with Katie’s dogs and took turns feeling her belly when she was having contractions.  Kate started to time them, but then Katie pulled out her phone to do it.  Apparently there is an app for that!  She didn’t have the baby for another week, but we didn’t let that keep us from getting some snuggle time with the baby.  Katie and I were room mates, so she knows I am pretty hands on. 

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We drove back to Nashville and the next day we played tourists.  Kate took me downtown to the Honky Tonk bars and the tourist areas.  We wandered around for a while, listening to the country singers preforming on the street.  We went to the Johnny Cash museum as well.  Nashville is fun city, with beautiful green spaces, navigable, a vibrant downtown and nightlife and great food. 

Now when in Tennessee, it is best to stick to local cuisine. BBQ.  Kate knows I love barbeque and went out of her way to create a culinary experience.  They have some of the best barbeque I have tasted, very different from other regions such as New England or Texas.  Here, the pork is cooked slowly until it falls apart, and is served dry.  You can then add BBQ sauce (here with a vinegar base) if you would like. 

Pulled pork dinner from the iconic Loveless Café in Nashville, served with fried green tomatoes.

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Pulled pork tacos with roasted corn from the Acme Feed & Seed in downtown Nashville.

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OHHHHH.  The best BBQ I have ever had is from B&C (full name: Bacon and Caviar). 

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It is not a fancy place, but you wouldn’t want it to be.  They have several locations throughout Nashville.    I loved it, the food was fresh and delicious and the people behind the counter friendly and personable.  I am not that familiar with southern food, and they were very patient with all my food questions, some even unrelated to what they were serving.  At B&C you choose your meat (pulled pork sandwich above) and then your sides.  They had many sides, but I asked the girl behind the counter to serve me what she would have chosen herself.  The sides are squash casserole, a sweet corn and summer squash bake topped with a little cheese, and the grits of the day.  Yes, that is right, grits of the day! They have a different one each day of the week, in addition to the regular cheesy grits.  These were buffalo chicken grits, slightly spicy, with vinegar and bits of chicken.   DELICIOUS!

My trip to Tennessee was one of the highlights of my visit home.  Not only did I get to see TWO of my dearest friends for the first time in years, but I also got to be a tourist in my own country and take in a bit of Southern culture.   I would highly recommend visiting Nashville if you have a chance, even if you are just driving though. 

Wellesley Mini-Reunion! Three 2006ers and a future 2032er!

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Back to NH and Blogging

I flew back to NH in the beginning of July.  I was really looking forward to this summer, I had many visits with friends and family scheduled.  Actually, I had only 4 days unscheduled for the whole five weeks I am here!  So many fun things to do, so little time!

My mother has been getting really active and adventurous.  Once I had made it from Turkey to Boston, then Boston to New Hampshire, she asked me if I wanted to do something fun that weekend.  My brother was away on a cruise to Alaska with all of my cousins, so it would just be the two of us.  I was game, so we went up to North Conway on an outdoorsy adventure. 2014-07-11 14.17.10

Pumpkin, the family dog, came too. First we went mountain biking at the trails at Echo Lake Park. It was great, there were these narrow trails all through the woods.  At the end, we went down to the beach to relax. 

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The next day we drove up to Jackson to visit my mom’s “God Parents”.  They are always fun, and we love spending time with them.  Freddy, the God Father, is this incredible diminutive man, who until he broke his hip last winter, could probably out-hike or out-ski you, even though he is in his early eighties.   On the way to our visit we stopped at Black Cap Mountain, and did a quick hike. 

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For a short hike, Black Cap has some beautiful views. 

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After our visit, we went up to Cathedral ledge, a beautiful spot, and one very popular with rock climbers.  There were men and women scattered all over the rock face that day. 

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The view of Echo Lake from Cathedral ledge.

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After our visit,  we stopped for the short hike to Diana’s Bath, a series of waterfalls and a popular swimming hole

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The last day we went to the bike paths that run along the old rail tracks from Northern NH into Maine.  We biked along the rails into Maine, and then came back and did a bit of shopping in North Conway. 

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Our visit to North Conway was very fun.  I love Turkey but I do miss New England quite a bit, with the hiking,and biking and kayaking and skiing and snow-shoeing.  I have been able to do everything but the winter sports since I have gotten here.   There will be more belated posts coming on that soon!   The summer has been beautiful here so far, and I am working on enjoying every minute I can until I leave. 

Turkey during Ramadan

Ramadan or Ramazan started today.  It is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar where observant Muslims observe a month of fasting from sun up to sun set as one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Not to say that all Muslims fast, it is the same as every religion, some people are more observant than others, just like during Lent.  It is based on the lunar calendar and so it moves through out the year.  This year it has fallen during summer, which makes it more difficult because it is hot and the days are longer.  There are of course exceptions, if you are ill, traveling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or menstruating you are exempt.  Those who are fasting refrain from eating, drinking liquids, smoking and sex during those hours.

During this time people get up before dawn and east their pre-fast meal called sahur, and at sunset people usually break their fast with a date, and then eat a large meal  called Iftar.

How does this affect your vacation or non-fasting residents?  It won’t. But…

For one I try to be more patient and less reactive with people.  When people are fasting they have not eaten or drunk for hours, and may have given up smoking cold turkey (pun not intended).  This would make anyone cranky.  So if I run into people who are a little brusque, I just go with it.  I also let my cleaning lady off early because she worked all day without drinking anything and has to get home and prepare dinner before she can break her fast.

My husband and I try to be discreet about food as well.  We will still eat in restaurants, but we try not to sit in street view parts of the dining areas.  We do not eat or drink on the street during this time either.  I am also more discreet about alcohol as well.  Alcohol consumption is forbidden in the Quran, and I know some Muslims give up alcohol for Ramazan, even if they do not fast.

In tourist areas with large amounts of foreigners, not too much changes.  Restaurants are still crowded, alcohol sold, etc.  They understand they you are not fasting, do not expect you to, and honestly tourism is their livelihood. They need you to buy food and alcohol.  However it is polite to be sensitive and eat mostly in restaurants or defined eating areas, not in the street.  You make want to make a reservation for dinner, as restaurants may be crowded during iftar.  Also, do not be alarmed if you hear drumming at 2 or 3 in the morning.  It is to wake up people for sahur.

So welcome to Turkey, enjoy your vacation.  The people here are still incredibly hospitable and warm, just give your hosts a break if they are moving a little slow…they may not have eaten or drunk all day and are still trying to serve you yours with a smile.

 

*Idea from Adventures in Ankara hold off your grilling until after iftar, even though it is prime grilling season.

Lojman (Corporate Housing)

One of the benefits about working at my school is lojman or corporate housing.  This concept is not uncommon in Turkey, actually we live pretty close to the Belediyesi or public works corporate housing.  What I really love about living in the lojman is the company and community.  Getting together with friends can be so difficult.  Going out after work can be exhausting, you are tired and often times have to get up early the next day for work.  If your friends have kids it can be complicated, they need a sitter, or plans change and their husband has to work late and can’t take them for the night, etc. 

In the lojman it is easy to have an hour of two of company.  My friend often watches her kids play at the apartment complex’s park.  Getting together for a chat is as easy as peeking out the balcony to see if she is there, and then going downstairs.  If you need help, a potato or a cup of sugar, there are at least 30 apartments in the building you could probably pop in to ask. 

We all help each other out.  When a co-worker had to go on bed rest during her pregnancy, we organized a schedule to drop off food.  I have stayed at the complex’s park with toddlers while their mothers’ ran up to their house to use the bathroom. The other day I called in sick to work, and several co-workers called to see if I needed anything.  In the past when Bülent was away and I was really ill, my co-worker sent her teenage son to walk my dog.

It is such a luxury to be able to pop upstairs for for a coffee for a hour and talk with a friend.  We are able to get together so much more often because we do not need to  arrange our schedule and a time and place to meet.  Just send a text, are you there?  It also works really well before formal events.  I had a wedding last week and needed accessory advice.  My friend popped down and consulted on belt, purse and jewelry.  What was funny was after all that I forgot to put my second earring in, and rocked an asymmetrical look all night. 

It is also great for people with children, there are always lots of kids playing in the apartment complex playground.  The older boys organize football tournaments, and some neighbors live close enough to tuck their babies in, go to dinner at a friends and still be able to listen to their child via baby monitor.  

Now that I have experienced the lojman -if I ever move out of it, or back to the US- I would search out an intentional community or a communal neighborhood.  There are some amazing benefits to living in an area close to others and cooperating with them!

Shows!

We have had some awesome luck lately when it comes to shows.  We took Bülent’s parents to an interactive show called “Dövüs Gecesi” or “Fight Night”.  It was an interactive political piece to get people thinking about why people vote for their chosen candidates.  It was very illuminating.

At the end, one of the most charismatic candidates called for a change to the system and for people to not vote, to abstain from voting.  In the US it is called apathy, in Turkey it is ILLEGAL to not vote.  It was a call to conscious progress.  The show was fun and interesting and a political call for change.  A great show!

The second show we went to recently was the Ankara Jazz festival. We went to see Karsu, ethnically Turkish, raised in the Netherlands, named after her father’s village in Hatay.   Bülent has been following her for a while, and really loves her music, so when he found out she was coming to Ankara, he could not wait for the concert.  I have to say, her sound is great.  Her voice is amazing, her band really strong, but on top of that her choice of songs are eclectic, Türkü, English and Turkish jazz, Blues, 60s rock, and Ottoman songs.  Her whole set was dynamic due to her interesting set and her charming on stage personality.  She was really endearing, not too polished, with semi-fluent Turkish with a strong Hatay accent (adorable)!

This week we are going to Cer Modern for open air Turkish independent/art movies.  They have English subtitles, which is great, because I haven’t really been able to watch any before now.  We watched one last night and it was really fun!  It was Şarkı Söyleyen Kadınlar, or the Singing Women, slightly depressing but really interesting.  It was my first Turkish movie because usually they do not have English subtitles.  We are going to another tomorrow.  I can’t wait!