It's been about a month since our last (first) TurkeyReport. It's
been a very busy month. To simply say that Mark and Meredith have
each started work, their apartment is looking a trifle more like
home, and that Ankara isn't as foreign a city is leaving out the
million and one (milyon ve bir) details that make up daily life.
Let's get the hard stuff out of the way...
Work is all too consuming. The computer environment at BUPS is
suffering from 3 years of unplanned growth and no maintenance,
and teaching even a very small group of students is very demanding.
More than the current problems at BUPS, the biggest change, and one
that can be applied to almost every aspect of living here, is the
Turkey Factor. Things we might take for granted in the US in terms
of the business of doing business--ordering things, finding out who
manages a particular task, contacting vendors, etc.--all undergo
a mysterious force which randomly twists and spins the results in
unexpected directions. Sometimes the force takes the guise of great
attentitiveness and consideration, so you suddenly get a call from
someone saying you need to arrange a driver to pick up the load of
"something" that you don't need for two weeks, because it's ready
right now. The force may manifest itself by making staples as common
as raindrops, but staplers unobtainable.
For the last few weeks I've also been undergoing a much more
"personal" adjustment, as the local micro-flora and fauna battle
over my body. I hope that a permanent DMZ has been declared, with
the help of a multi-pharmaceutical peace-keeping force. [Anyone want
to do a long term epidemiological study on the affect of powerful,
broad spectrum antibiotics available as common over-the-counter
While fortunately not ill, I've too been battling with something
of a plague. My students came back from their summer vacations
two weeks ago, and they are just beginning to emerge from a sun-
and relaxation-induced haze. I left the first week approaching a
migraine. To backpedal a bit, my departmental chair had encouraged all
the new faculty not to push the students (i.e., to teach them) in the
first week. Armed with my American optimism, I went into classes ready
to roll. To make a long story short, I've never faced such complete
passivity in my life. In addition, there were discipline problems
galore--ringing cell phones, giggling-behind-the-notebook stuff,
showing pictures of what-I-did-over-my-vacation. The second week
was much improved, but I'm still struggling over how to integrate
my teaching style (based on a highly participatory, democratic
classroom) with these students' learning style (based largely,
it seems, on rote memorization, spoon-feeding, and minimal analysis).
Now onto the more interesting things....
I've started to make rock climbing a more regular activity. For
about 7 months before leaving NYC I had been going to an indoor
climbing gym in NYC or going climbing at the 'Gunks (one of the
premier climbing locations in the US, near Poughkeepsie, about 1
1/2 hrs from NYC). When I was (endlessly) researching moving
here to Turkey, I contacted someone via the Internet who was
writing on the rec.climbing newsgroup from a Turkish address.
For the past 3 weeks, Ender Batur has taken me to some of the
local climbing spots. He's Turkish, but his English is terrific.
Ender is quite safety-conscious (he said that he's a bit extreme in
his usual group) and I was comfortable with the way he climbs. We
took it quite easy the first weekend, but as we've gotten used to
each other's style we have tried some more interesting routes.
We've been going to a popular local spot, about 1/2 hour's drive from
the center of Ankara. To put that into perspective, 20 minutes out
of the city any you're on 1 1/2 lane paved roads snaking their way
through tiny villages (still part of the city of Ankara), avoiding
goats, sheep, and on-coming trucks. In another 5 minutes, you're
off the pavement. Finally, the road rises and twists it's way up the
small valley between two broad hills. The hills are a dun tan color,
with swathes of black from recent grass fires. The crag faces Ankara,
about 10km to the beginning of the city smog, and you've got about
a 270 degree view from the ground. Closer to you, the only things
to see are a single farmer's house (nothing cultivated in sight)
and the road with occasional produce trucks. It's not particularly
beautiful landscape, but the location and scope are impressive.
There's a steep hillside covered with thin knee-high grass and plants
with burrs (all a uniform tan color). Boulders that have broken off
the larger formation lay scattered, poking up from the grass like
miniature Easter Island heads. The actual climbing is a group of
volcanic rocks jutting up from the hillside.
It felt very good to actually get outside again. I'd completely stopped
climbing, or any other kind of exercise except packing and moving boxes
for the last few weeks before flying out, and it was nice to see that
I vaguely remembered what to do. There's nothing like hearing the call
to prayer echoing from dozens of mosques while you're halfway up a route!
High Holiday Services in the Old City (conservative Muslim) of Ankara:
A narrow maze of streets. Lost cab drivers. A dozen stops for
directions--most of them wrong. Driving backwards up steep hills
at night. Loud American disco music in the cab arguing with the
tune of copper-workers beating out bowls. A well hidden, well
guarded synagauge--we had to show passports upon entry. Two clocks
on the walls, neither one working. Three impressive, mismatched
chandeliers. Seating for about 250, occupied by 19. A bright room
with marble floors, Turkish rugs, water-stained painted walls and a
ceiling that dips in a suspicious way. Prayer books in Hebrew and a
Turkish transliteration. Which is easier to follow? Which is harder?
Familiar words, unfamiliar tunes, new pronunciations. Spanish and
Ladino verses in the customary songs. A five pointed star over the
building and a Turkish crescent-and-star on the torah crown.
A population of mostly 40s/50s, a few couples with children. The last
Bar Mitzvah was held in 1992; there is currently no Hebrew school.
The rabbi came imported from Istanbul for the weekend. Separate
seating for men and women; women don't use prayerbooks because none
of the female members of the synagogue reads Hebrew well enough to
follow along. Warm, friendly people. Dinner at a stranger's house,
yet very familiar. Tea and pastry the next day with the synagogue
members; the temple ladies play a mean game of Scrabble! Suddenly
Ankara has become a much smaller city.
Turkey is the only country I've ever been in where cab drivers
routinely dress better than doctors. In Mark's medical experiences
over the past week, the doctors have been routinely clad in jeans
and T-shirts. Taxi drivers, however, wear ties, button-downs, dress
pants, and loafers. Construction workers wear loafers too. Informality
seems to reign among leisure-class women as well: at the synagogue,
I was the only woman not wearing pants.
Concepts of physical space appear to be different from what we're
used to in the US. People simply walk much closer together, frequently
looking as if they're holding hands. In addition, male-male friends
and female-female friends typically walk arm in arm. Eye contact
is more intense. We're getting used to kissing strangers on the
Cab Drivers (a fascinating topic, I know):
Cab drivers treat their customers with extreme courtesy and good
manners. On the way to the synagogue, after the dozen stops, backing
up hills, stripping the poor cab's gears, etc., many a New York
cab driver would have tossed us out. In particular, since Ankara
cab drivers charge for distance rather than for time, this driver
wasn't making much money on us. Instead, he chatted with us as best
as possible about our location, discussed the restaurants we passed
by. Discussed the situation (our lost status) with other cabdrivers
and the many, many people who gave us directions. Frequently cab
drivers will offer you a cigarette. And finally, when Mark was
under the weather earlier in the week, the cab driver wished us
"Gec mis olsun" ("May it soon pass") repeatedly as he took us to
the campus health center.
My (Meredith's) Turkish is improving fairly swiftly, though I would
still like some verbs and prepositions to accompany my nouns.
I'm constantly struck by the effectiveness of immersion, if also
by its disturbing qualities. I simply understand so much more
than I did a few weeks ago, and I feel my vocabulary growing
day by day. Today we bought Turkish Scrabble to help us practice.
Despite the improvements, I've made some good stupid/funny mistakes:
I told someone I'd been in Turkey for "dort hasta" instead of
"dort hafta" (5 medical patients vs. 5 weeks), and, embarrassingly,
proudly told a crowd of Turkish elementary-school teachers that I'd
learned left- vs. right-handed ("solak" is left-handed, "saglak"
is right-handed. However, "salak," pronounced almost identically,
means fool, clown, idiot, dolt, etc. Guess which one I said!).
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