Surprise!

I am still trying to catch up on back posts from Kurban Bayramı.   I have been a bit behind and was a little tired last week, but for a great cause.  I flew home to surprise my mother on her birthday…for the weekend.  Yes. The Weekend.  It was epic.

My mother was throwing herself a birthday party, celebrating her new life and new start.   I really wanted to be there.   As an expat you get used to missing the birthdays and other important events like weddings, reunions and births, but you still wish you were there.   I missed my grandmother’s 100th birthday party last month.  I decided this time it was worth it to make the trip.

My brother was my partner in crime.  We arranged the pickup and the meeting.  I was supposed to fly into Logan at 1:30 pm Friday, take the bus to Concord and meet my mother for dinner.  Timing was crucial because I was going to get there Friday afternoon and fly out Sunday afternoon.   But the Airplane Gods were against me.  I almost didn`t make it.

I got to the Esenboğa airport at 3:30 am.  I was in line at 3:45.  The third in line to be exact.  The Lufthansa employees said they would start checking us in at 4 am.  At 5 they were still unable to boot up the computers.  After a change of computer venue, a race and a blood bath to get in line AGAIN, I was checked in.  Then I waited some more.  We were delayed and I almost missed my flight.  Actually EVERY flight was delayed.  By the time I got to Boston Logan I had missed my bus, but I knew it left Logan and went to South Station before it left for NH.  I ran to a taxi and made my bus with 1 minute to spare!

Once on the bus I was finally able to relax.  I was almost there!  My brother picked me up, and we went to the restaurant he had arranged to meet my mother at for her birthday dinner.    When she came in, she was shocked.  She actually didn’t know what to say.  The first thing she said was, “Why are you here?”  Ouch!  But by the time we had dinner and the shock wore off.  She was really surprised, and really happy.

Saturday was surreal, we went out for a jog and then prepped for her party.  I was given a list and sent to the grocery store, it was just like a normal visit.  I loved every minute of it.  Of course the party was a blast.  Old friends, new friends and neighbors came.  Everyone had a great time, especially my mother.  Sunday we met my brother for lunch and then did some shopping and went to the buys station.  I hate leaving, every time it is very difficult.  The worst time is the couple of hours before you get to the bus station or airport, when you can`t pretend you aren`t leaving anymore but the leaving part is not final.  Waiting in the airport is less sad, plus there is wine there.

It was a whirlwind trip and I was certainly tired when I went to work the morning after flying in at midnight the night before.  But it was absolutely worth it.  To be able to celebrate with my mom, to have that time with her was amazing.  Happy birthday mom!  I hope this year is the first of many that are fantastic, full and exciting!

A 9 Day Bayram!

This year Kurban Bayrami started on a Monday (1/2 day) and ended on a Friday.  Since it connected to the weekends it made a 9 day HOLIDAY!   Bülent and I wanted to take advantage of this time and check out some places we haven’t been before.  Based on the weather we decided to do a northern Aegean road trip.  Our original plan was to leave right after work on Friday and drive straight through to Foça, a 9.5 hour drive.  However, even if we never stopped to use the bathroom  (Like that is possible with my bladder capacity! HA!) we wouldn’t get there until after 2 a.m.  So Friday afternoon we changed the plan. We decided to hit the road, but stop in Uşak, a city on the way, about 400 kilometers from Ankara. 

 

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It is an inner Anatolian city, but part of the Aegean region of Turkey.  Occasionally I find the smaller inner Anatolian cities pretty conservative.  However, Uşak was a really nice city.  Their central street was pedestrian access only with tons of bars and cafes.  It was pretty lively with a wide range of people, even though we arrived at 11 pm.  The next morning the streets were filled with families shopping and young people getting brunch and old men in their Aegean Style hats people watching. 

 

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The next day we hit the road to begin our Aegean tour.  On the trip we stopped by Izmir, Foça, Ayvalık, Alibey Island, Assos, Bozcaada and Bursa.  We had such an amazing time that I will be doing a blog post about each of our main stops.  What was really special was that even though we were busy for the whole trip we got back and felt relaxed and rested. 

Lost and Found

Several times recently I have gotten lost on my way somewhere.  I got the directions confused and ended up having no idea of where I was.  I had two options, go with it or turn around go back and start stressing.  In years past I would have done the latter, however, one of the things I am better at now is the former. 

In Turkey this is important.  Sometimes when you are doing something, whether it is driving, paperwork, trying to get something done, there are obstacles.  But getting tense about it will not help. TRUST ME!  My husband likes to say the F-Word in Turkey is “Flexibility.”  One has to be flexible to get stuff done. 

So when I was lost, I just kept driving.  One of the great things about driving in Turkey is the road signs.  Not the street signs, you could die of old age looking for a particular street.  But the road signs are great, they are all over the place and direct you to different neighborhoods.  Most people know how to get around then they are in a neighborhood, the hard part is getting there. 

In this sign the white signs are to neighborhoods, the blue to a different city.  The blue sign will take you to a highway.  Another thing about Turkey is there is no East/West North/South Highway nonsense.  The highways are designated by the major city they go to.  For example, for this highway, one direction is called Konya Road, the other Samsun Road.  This is helpful for people (me) who get their directions mixed up. 

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So when I get lost, I just keep driving and look for the road signs.  The other day when I was completely lost, I ended up right where I wanted to be.  Funny how that happens. 

Spring?

The weather has been strange this winter in Ankara.  It seems to go back and forth between cold and spring-like weather.   Today, the sun is shining bright, the weather is lovely and it looks like the trees are budding. 

Not that I would know.  I have been trapped inside with a nasty cold.  I am planning to be fully recovered by tomorrow.  I have been hacking and sniffling since Wednesday…Enough is enough!

I am really excited for spring.  I can wait to get flowers for the window boxes on the balcony.  This year I also have some nasturtium seeds to plant to climb on the railings  I have already started basil and thyme inside, as well as cilantro and mustard greens. 

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I started some chives I started a few months ago, but  I  have to say, they have been really struggling.  I am sure they will like going out on the balcony again and having some more sunlight.    On the positive side—my tulip bulbs are blooming which makes the apartment seem  nice and cheery! 

I do not have a green thumb, but am trying to practice, so when we have a yard it does not look like a barren wasteland!

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New Page Under American and Turkish Fusion

SUBSTITUTIONS!

We have all been there.   You are craving a certain dish from home, or want to make some food in your recipe repertoire but are lacking ingredients.  Maybe they are not sold in the local market, or you would have to sell a kidney on the black market to afford it.  I will keep adding substitutions as things I have done in the past occur to me.

 

Phone Debacle

GAHHHHH!  (Insert more inarticulate sounds here!)  I have been having some phone issues lately.   In August I bought a Samsung Galaxy SIII to replace the four year old Apple IPhone 3GS my cousin had given me as a wedding present.  I liked the IPhone but it just wasn’t running very fast which was compounded by the fact for it to work in Turkey it had to be jail broken and I couldn’t update the operating system with out re-jail breaking it each time.  So I decided, as I haven’t bought a new phone since 2008, I would get one I really liked.

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In Turkey you can register a foreign phone every two years.  I thought I had registered my last phone in August of 2010, so no problem.  HAH!  I had forgotten that I had actually registered my IPhone in February of 2011, however, my registration application did not bounce.  If they had told me I couldn’t register it at the time, I could have asked Bülent to register the phone.  Instead one morning in November my phone stopped working.   It had been shut off as “unregistered” even though I had tried to register it and had received no communication that there was a problem in the process. 

I called the government office which does the registration and they told me I could re-register the phone in January of 2013.  I was leaving the country (you need a stamp showing entrance to the country less than 30 prior to register the phone) and coming back on December 26th for my trip to Vienna.  So no smartphone for 2 months, fine.

Well, not so fine.  When I called to double check the registration issues on January 2 it turns out my entrance to the country has to be after January 1, 2013 , as well.  Which means I will not be able to register my phone until after I return to the U.S. in February.

I borrowed a friend’s extra phone for the duration.  It is a basic phone will calling and texting, and it has been interesting.  Did I die without my smartphone? No. Have I been lost and wish I had the Google Map app? Yes. 

While I like smartphones, and will be using one again in February, in some ways I think we are over reliant on them.  While I always was careful not to abuse my phone, I have been more sensitive to the way we use them.  Checking Facebook while talking to each other, using it while at restaurants—keeping on top of what is happing online does not keep us in the present.  Rather it distracts us from the experience we are having, keeping us from fully living in the present, in the now.  When your attention is on your smartphone you are not really there.   I will definitely be careful to stay in the present once I have my smartphone back.  Though it will be nice to have Whatsapp back so I can text my mother and brother again- but that is a kind of in the present thing too. 

 

For the details on phone registration in Turkey, check out Adventures in Ankara’s post. 

Hoşgeldiniz to 2013

Welcome to the New Year!  I hope everyone had safe and happy New Years celebrations.  Bülent and I have been so busy lately that we welcomed the New Year from bed, where we had been snuggling and watching movies.  It worked for me!  Start the New Year as you mean to continue right?  I am sure many people are thinking about New Year Resolutions and how to make changes.  I think I am just going to continue the journey I started several months ago, trying to appreciate the good, and live a more balanced life.

It has been a difficult year.  This day last year I was packing my bags to go back to the U.S.  I  had taken a leave of absence due to my father’s health and was supposed to head back at the end of the semester in late January.  I had spoken to my family a couple of days before and I had decided to change my plane ticket on December 30.  It was expensive to change a ticket two days before the flight, but it was the best decision I ever made.  My father’s funeral was on the original date in January on which I was supposed to arrive. 

I had taken the semester off and my school had hired someone to take my place, so I stayed in N.H., grieving and healing with my family.  It was difficult to be separated from my husband for six months, but has changed our relationship for the better.  We are stronger and more united, we know there is nothing we wouldn’t do to help the other…been there, done that.  We have now had bad and trying times and just love each other more for our individual responses to them. 

My time in the U.S. last year was very precious to me.  It allowed me to spend time with my mother while she needed me, and while I needed her.  I was able to get to know my brother as the man he is now, as opposed to the boy he was when I left.  I was also able to get to know his long time girlfriend, who is as lovely inside as she is out.  I went to my college roommate’s wedding and celebrated her happiness with her, and our college friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in five years.   I drove from Texas to New Hampshire, meeting Bülent’s dearest old friends, and visiting mine along the way.   I also went to BlogHer ‘12!

My oldest and dearest friend made me an Auntie—albeit in a terrifying way.  Due to her daughter’s insistence to make a (extremely early) entrance I was able to meet her in the NICU before I came back to Turkey.  

Health wise: Bülent and I went vegetarian (almost six months now) and I joined a gym a few months ago.  The breast lumps have been vanquished—well not vanquished but at least identified as benign.  To top it all off, our dog, Butterfinger, is not letting cataracts get her down.   

The year has been challenging and rewarding.  I am hoping that this next year will be easier, because we kind of need a break.  But we are starting the year off right.  Last year my dad wanted to take our family on a last vacation, a cruise, due to his limited mobility, but he died before we were able.  

Well, we are taking that fucking cruise.  Come January break, my mom, brother and I are going to go.  We are going to celebrate what was, what is and what is to come, because that is what life is all about.  So 2013—bring it on!

My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps—Check it out!

Fergie says it all.

December is usually a busy month for most people.   It is the holidays, between parties and other things the month seems to fly by.  In addition December is exam month for my students, so there is a lot of prep, as well as grading.  Bülent had a business trip to Prague for a week and then after that we had a trip to Vienna planned for Christmas, WHEE!

So that made the health issue that popped up inconvenient, as well as unwelcome.  Several weeks ago, I found a lump in one of my breasts.  Well, actually, Bülent found it, as he tends to be more vigilant in investigating them.  Considering the history of hormonal cancers in my family, neither one of us was pleased with the development.  I called my gynecologist and she sent me  to the lab for a sonogram.  If the sonogram did show any issues she told me she would refer me to a general surgeon, which is the typical protocol in Turkey.  She was very helpful, she offered to make the lab appointment for me if I was concerned about language barriers.  I also have her cell phone number, since her secretary doesn’t speak English.  If I have questions or concerns or need to make an appointment I am able to call my doctor directly. 

We were eager to get the situation resolved.  However, we did feel relieved when other symptoms popped up, which indicated it was not a serious health risk.  One of my breasts was sore and swollen.  It was twice the size as the other and looked like a lopsided boob job.  It was very uncomfortable.  Poor Bülent, the week before he leaves on a business trip, the playground was closed.  We hurried to arrange all of the appointments and tests to be done before Bülent headed off to Prague, in case I needed support and translation help.   

So the day after we found the lump, Bülent and I headed to the lab. He was great, made the appointment for me, then came in the exam room and translated for me.  Turns out it was not just one lump, but several in both breasts.   They told us most likely they were just cysts, but the lab recommended sending me to the general surgeon since one of the lumps was so large.   The surgeon had a great reputation, and seemed to deserve it.  He reassured me it was  fibrocystic breast syndrome and nothing to worry about, though he did send samples to the lab just to make sure.  Actually I was really impressed.  He aspirated it with a needle, I did research and in the U.S. it says that they numb the area with lidocaine, then guide the needle in with a sonogram.  However, my doctor just covered the whole area in iodine, explored a little bit with his fingers, and slid the needle right in.  I was a little surprised at his nonchalance, but then was more surprised that it didn’t hurt AT ALL!  Clearly the man knew his stuff!  It was a big needle, but no pinch or sting the whole time!

The tests all came back clear, but he wants to see in a few months just to check.  I have to say, I was very pleased with all of the care I received, from the gyno returning my call at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, and the lab, fitting me in after work, and the expertise of the doctor.   We were both relieved that the lump turned out to be nothing.  It made our upcoming vacation seem all the more special, a celebration of Christmas, love and health.  Especially love!

Forget CEOs! Teachers Get Bonuses!

In Turkey, November 24th is Teacher’s Day.

Inside and outside of one of my cards. (We are still practicing articles.  There are none in Turkish. My kids think they are tricky—clearly.)

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  Teacher’s day is a serious business in Turkey.  To understand why, a little history is necessary.     It was only 90 years ago, in 1923,  that five years of primary education became compulsory and publically funded.  It was not until 1951 that middle schools were introduced and eight years of education became available to the public.  It was only in 1997 that it became compulsory to complete 8th grade. 

Comparing it to the U.S., it may seem strange that children have only been required to finish 8th grade for 15 years, however it is a matter of  when and where education began.  In 1923, when Atatürk created the public education system, only 10 % of the population was literate. 

He had big goals and wanted his country to be modern, to do this he knew literacy was needed, at the least.  However by 1926 there were only 200 teachers in Turkey and to accomplish his goal to provide publically funded education to children until the 5th grade he needed about 3000.  There were simply not enough teachers in the country. 

Teacher Education programs were quickly established, though the dearth of teachers  is one of the reasons for the tradition of large class sizes (in recent times about 4o or 50 students in a class in public schools, 30 in private).   For all of the challenges, from 1923 to 1999 the official illiteracy rate lowered from 90% to 14.3%, a tremendous drop in about 75 years (Karakaşoğlu, 2007, p. 790).

Due to the historical context of education in this country, teachers are greatly valued.  The term “Hocam” (my teacher) is an honorific and a very respectful salutation .  There is no difference in terminology for a university professor with a PhD from a primary school teacher—they are all considered equally important and are all “Hocam.”    On Teacher’s Day in Turkey, students present their teachers with chocolates and flowers, sometimes other presents too.  In the past, in addition to the lovely home-made cards and sweet letters, I have received a set of towels, scarves, mugs, and even sweaters!  On Teacher’s Day our school gives bonuses based on how many years you have been at the institution.  For some of the older teachers the bonus is equivalent or exceeds a month’s salary.  For me, it was a meaningful gift ( almost $300).   Some students even visit their former, retired teachers at home on Teacher’s Day.  It is very interesting to me that as a “Developing” country Turkey is able to financially reward teachers to such an extent.   I worked in the U.S. as a teacher and was never even wished a “Happy Teacher’s Day,” let alone a gift from your employer! 

 

P.S.There is a Teacher’s Day in the U.S., it is on Tuesday during Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place in the first full week of May—Who Knew?

Forks Over Knives

So in June Bülent and I watched the documentary Forks over Knives which promotes unprocessed foods and veganism.   It advocates a plant based diet with no refined oils and lower ingestion of oily foods, such as avocados and nuts.  We were quite struck with the documentary.   While Bülent mostly focused on the health benefits, what struck me was the sustainability.  I was amazed how the amount of livestock we require in developed countries affects global warming (10 % of human based carbon dioxide emissions), deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion.  According to a 2006 University of Chicago study, if an average American meat eater reduced their intake of animal produce to 25% of their total calories it would reduce their carbon footprint by approximately one ton.   However, the largest impact on me was that if that if we ate the produce we grew, rather than using it to feed to farm animals that we will eventually eat, almost every one in abject poverty could be provided with more than they need to survive.  When I worked in San Diego it was the first time I dealt with real hunger.  Children who were so hungry they couldn’t concentrate in class.  I used to carry granola bars in my purse, and had an unlocked file cabinet filled with them.  If there is anything I could do to end hunger, I would work towards it, and so have given up meat for the most part.

While we have not adopted a true “plant based” Forks over Knives lifestyle, we have altered our diet.  I love a good raw steak , and though I haven’t mentioned it previously, we have been living a mostly vegetarian lifestyle since July.  Occasionally we slip (mostly when I am hormonally challenged and crave a steak rather than chocolate) , but for the most part we are vegetarians.  We have also cut back our lactose and egg intake by at least 75 percent.  Usually the milk in my coffee is the only milk product I eat each week.  Occasionally I bust out the non-fat yogurt, especially if I have  a funny tummy, but that is an exception.

I love meat, but really haven’t missed it.  I feel lighter, and healthier.  The grocery bill is also significantly lower.  Now that we are eating only veggies and beans, I spend a little more time and energy finding the best and juiciest of whatever I am looking for.  The most expensive organic beans are still way cheaper than meat.    If I do buy eggs or milk I buy from smaller producers, free-range and organic.  Since we are eating less of it, it hasn’t jacked up the bill either.    It has definitely been interesting adapting our normal recipes to a vegetarian style.  However, it is usually pretty easy and Bülent swears that the vegetarian version of Hünkar Beğendi  I made was better than any other he has EVER had.  (Secret: for a rich taste—instead of lamb: lentils and chipotle)  I will have some vegetarian recipes coming to Close to the Kitchen very soon!