Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Since I last posted, I’ve had a lot of fun!

First, I’ve begun my language classes! These are pretty standard procedure for the last few months of a YES abroad year, but I think mine go above and beyond the norm. On my first day, I counted 15 different nationalities. Everyone came to this city for a different reason, and it’s wonderful hearing everyone’s story. Even better, the only language we all have in common is Turkish, so we get to connect and practice as a group.

In addition to the language side of things, the class arranges cultural activities. These have included a weekend trip to Laodecia, as well as weekly clubs. I’ve joined the cultural dance (“zeybek”) and singing groups, both of which have payed off in great ways.

Singing has been wonderful. Every week, 2 guitarists and a Turkish saz player comes in and we get to work one-on-one on both Turkish songs and songs in our native Languages. Listening to others is even better than working myself- my favorite is the Kazaki girls’. And we get to talk. We talk about everything from missing Malian food to what it was like growing up in a Pakistani refugee camp (I’m more of a listener in these things, a position in which I grew up opposed to and have learned to love).

Yesterday, the music teacher took the Kazaki girl, a Kenyan man, and me to work with a band downtown. It was great- the auditions took place in the back of a woman’s clothing boutique. We all made the cut, too!

The dance group is still very new (today was the first practice, but the teacher’s car broke and he never showed up), but it’s provided a lot of time to talk. While waiting, we watched videos of traditional dance from our countries (swing your partner round and round!), and even had a mini break dance show.

In addition to these, I’ve joined a “hat” course. Hat, for those of you who don’t know, is traditional Arabic calligraphy. Right now, we’re just learning the alphabet, but hopefully I’ll be able to read Arabic by the end of my exchange! It’s one of the oldest traditions there is in Turkey -the world?- and being connected to all of that history is breathtaking.

All in all, I’m really, really happy. 3 months left; time has flown! This country has offered me so much already, and I’m having serious issues wrapping my mind around the idea of leaving.

A New Situation, a Brief Apology, and a Very Old Lady

The Saz, or my latest cultural attempt

So, to catch up for a lot of lost ground, I will now give a very thorough description of my new situation.

I live in Turkey, or Asia Minor in Latin. Turkey was previously the Ottoman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Achaemenid Empire, Seleucid Empire, Roman Empire, and was also inhabited by the Ancient Greeks. It’s where The Battle of Troy took place, as well as pretty much every other cool “Greek Myth” you read about in elementary school. It finally became a Republic in 1923, when Mustafa Kemal was appointed Turkey’s first president. His was later given the surname “Ataturk”, or “Father of All Turks”. He is still revered to this day, and his mural can be found in every public building, as well as most family homes.

I am living in Denizli, which is a small city in Southwestern Turkey. The word “Denizli” literally means “with sea”, but we’re a good 2 hours drive from any coast. Instead, the city is surrounded by massive snow capped mountains, old villages, and historical ruins. Most notably of these are Hierapolis (which you can read about here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierapolis) and Laodecia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laodicea_on_the_Lycus). Hierapolis is most famous for it’s location above Pamukkale, and is famed to be the city of Cleopatra. Laodecia has the only stadium in the world where men fought lions. It’s a pretty hefty dose of history. 

Denizli is most commonly known for it’s textiles, dust, and roosters (which are rumored to have the longest crow of any bird on earth. I’m reminded of this every morning at approx. 6:15 AM). It’s also in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of Women’s pilates in history (no joke: http://tinyurl.com/p2n764h).

I live in a family of 4 (now 5) that includes two little sisters, a mom, and a dad. Both parents are teachers, and my sisters Aylin (12) and Julide (17) are both enrolled in local schools. My new home is, as HGTV would put it, conveniently located between the main city street, high school, and shopping mall. I can walk to both the most Westernized area nearby as well as areas where tradition is still alive.

In addition to this, my host mother’s sister is another YES abroad participants aunt, and our families do almost everything together. This means that whatever cultu

IMG_0785

A very old lady who kissed me a lot

ral activity he wants to try (for example, traditional folk dance), I get hooked into as well (and it always turns out well). The same goes for what I’m interested in. So, because of this setup, I have traditional folk dance classes 4 days a week, Saz class once a week, have been spelunking in ancient limestone caves, visited old villages and mausoleums, eaten crazy foods, learned traditional cooking, and had my cheeks kissed by endless ladies telling me they are my “buyukanne” (grandmother) or “teze” (aunt).

I know there’s so much left to say about my life over the last few months. The holidays passed without a hitch, but with just the right amount of heartache. I’ve reached the point in my exchange where, although sometimes made homesick when a George Clooney movie pops up on the TV, I consider this city my home. I am comfortable here in every possible way, and will mourn the day I have to leave these wonderful people and this wonderful way of life.

So, those are some scattered words from across the pond.

making traditional village bread with my host sister and aunt

making traditional village bread with my host sister and aunt

In other news

It’s about time for an update, I think. Unfortunately, I think I have to organize it chronologically, which might be terribly boring. I apologize in advance.

Last week was the extended orientation camp, where all of the YES ers and NSLI-y participants got together in Cappadocia for a debrief and some sight seeing. So, after a nice long bus ride, we were finally all reunited!

It was a wonderful trip. Most of what we went over we’d gone over before we left, but it took on a totally different color within the context of our exchange so far. Things that were merely conceptual in DC were suddenly our lifeboats. If any future YES-ers are reading this, I highly encourage you to take notes. Take them at both at the PDO (I refer to mine all the time) and at the extended orientation camp, and I promise you won’t regret it.

I really want to emphasize how orienting this orientation was (and no, I don’t just mean that as a play on words). One of the downfalls of being an exchange student is that you’re always confused. Whether it’s confusion because you don’t know what anyone is saying to you or confusion because you don’t remember why you wanted to leave behind your entire life to sate a bad case of wanderlust, you spend a lot of time disoriented. This orientation actually served the purpose of it’s name. Seeing everyone, and being reminded why I wanted to do this in the beginning, set me back on track, and refreshed me.

After a few days in Cappadocia, we all left for Ankara. After arriving in Ankara late at night, I spent my first night in over 40 days in a bed where my feet didn’t stick off the end.

In Ankara, we visited an embassy for a security briefing. It, like everything else here, was different than I expected. The presenter didn’t try to scare us, he just told us about what could actually go wrong, and what we should do if something were to happen.

The best part about visiting the embassy was that it was a mini-America. Aside from the political aspects, there were little details that reminded me of home.  For example, they were watching the history channel without subtitles, and there was Heinz ketchup. Beyond all of that, though, the bathrooms were labeled with the classic American icons. I find myself missing the weirdest things.

After the embassy, we went, quite spontaneously, to the biggest mosque in Ankara. It completely blew my mind, and I wish I could put into words what I experienced there. All I can say is that I found myself crying for the sake of all of humanity. I really don’t even know what to say about this.

Since then, I’ve been going to school and living pretty much a normal Turkish life. It’s just had a bit of a new spin, and I’m really liking that.

I’m sorry for the extremely boring format of this post.

AND THEN ALL OF HER DREAMS CAME TRUE

Today was the day where everything I’ve been waiting for actually happened.

First, I finally saw Pamukkale! And it was perfect. No photograph could ever actually show how great it is.

For those of you who don’t know, Pamukkale is a giant white hot springs just outside of Denizli, with the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis at the top; what was once used as Roman baths is now a declared World Heritage site. What I didn’t realize before is that it’s not just a bunch of pools of water, like in Yellowstone. It’s more like a giant, shallow waterfall; the entire thing is covered in warm, gently flowing water. It’s kind of the coolest thing ever, not gonna lie.

Things were fun all the way up, with me leaping from white rock to white rock and Aysel following cautiously behind. Of course I oohed and aahed at the stray dogs, as usual (THERE ARE SO MANY PUPPIES IN THIS COUNTRY).

I had the privilege of meeting an Indian family who spoke perfect English. They were on vacation in Turkey, and were as amazed as I was. I am always astounded at how every other country knows English, and yet the average American knows English and Spanish at most.

Unfortunately, towards the top of the hot springs, Aysel fell in a pool. She was then forced to spend the rest of the day slopping around in wet jeans. I tried to dry them off with paper towels, but I’m pretty sure I just made them colder.

After Pamukkale, I went to my first Turkish bazaar! I even took stalker pictures of all of the spices and stuff. The smells were amazing, the people friendly, (the prices low), and the puppies, as usual, everywhere. It was Turkey at it’s purest. Aysel and I got matching bracelets with the evil eye on them.

Turkish bazaar food is really something else. For example, we ate corn on the cob. But it wasn’t  just ANY corn on the cob, it was corn on the cob from an old man who was just sticking it right on the coals and selling it for a lira (or 50 US cents) to all the passerby. Next, we had something that resembles a Turkish churro, except if you were to replace the cinnamon with honey and made it drip when you bite it. I am going to be very very sisman when I get back.

All in all: good day. I’ll post some pictures, too, for those of you who are interested.

In other news, the last 3 days was Kurban Bayrami. To be completely honest, the sacrifice was hard for me. Still, the point of view I gained will be priceless in time. The other two days were absolute blasts! On the second day, everyone goes to their original villages (pronounced coy’s), and visits their whole family. I found out I have a HUGE host family.

I didn’t realize that on the third day, people were coming to my house to visit. It was like the old Bobby Darin song where he sings,

“Well, I stepped out the tub, put my feet on the floor,
I wrapped the towel around me
And I opened the door, and then
Splish, Splash! I jumped back in the bath
Well how was I to know there was a party going on”

because I walked right into the living room in my bathrobe to find about 10 new family members sitting there looking at me. Oops.

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A few lists

1. Incredibly unhealthy foods I’ve eaten that tasted like love itself

  • sliced meat over a kind of pita bread, then the chief comes over and pours boiling oil over the whole thing
  • homemade french fries wrapped in what looks like a giant home made Turkish tortilla
  • bread. So so so much bread. 
  • straight honeycomb

2. Mistakes I’ve made while trying to communicate

  • I egg really well last night (translation: I didn’t sleep well last night)
  • How many tree? (T: what time is it?)
  • I’m 6 years old
  • My sister is 9 years old.
  • My dad is an avocado

3. Things my classmates have tried to get me to say

  • a song about a small frog, intended for a 6 year old (which I practically am)
  • afyonkarahisarlaştıramadıklarımızdanmisiniz (the longest Turkish word)
  • a whole stack of Turkish tongue twisters

4. Sights that have taken my breath away

  • The mountains on the drive from the airport to my new home
  • the view of the mountains from the front doors of my school
  • Laodicea on the Lycus
  • A mosque surrounded by houses on a hill, with the mountains in the background, that I see on the bus ride home every day
  • I can’t even begin to actually list all of these

5. Dreams come true

  • I eat olives every morning for breakfast
  • there are kittens everywhere
  • when you get home, it is expected that you will change into sweatpants

 

People always want to feed me now

I’ve been incredibly busy. The important thing, however, is that I made it across the planet and am now sitting in my bedroom in Denizli, Turkey, with two of my host sisters.

 

First, I am an awful packer. Really. It’s kind of sad. While packing in the US, I had everything organized to perfection. My carry on had my clothing for NYC and Istanbul, and my big suitcase had everything else. Unfortunately for my perfectly rolled t shirts, we wound up staying in Istanbul for a few days longer than I’d guessed. Thank god the airport checked my then 11 pounds overweight suitcase for free.

 

Istanbul, however, was positively glorious. We stayed in the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to, and the staff was wonderful! One of our waiters learned the words “hello” and “water”, and used them at every possible moment! Oh, and fun fact, people here blink at you instead of smiling. It’s the greatest thing ever. Everyone looks like cheerful cartoons in the morning.

 

Side note: I’m also surprisingly good at Foosball and bat gammon. Any takers?

 

Oh, and I have the perfect host family. I live with a mom, dad, and sister in an apartment above a mini textile factory. In the apartment below ours lives my second sister, who’s five months pregnant, and her husband. Words cannot express how great they are.

 

My third host sister has two little boys (who, by the way, are the greatest things since baklava was invented). She made Turkish Kebaps for dinner last night, and it was the best food I’ve ever eaten.

 

My fourth and final host sister is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met. She and her husband own a pet shop.

 

I will say it again: words cannot express how perfect my host family is. I love them all.

 

School is also wonderful. My class is absolute perfection, and even threw a party for me today. There was enough food to feed all of Portland. Most of my classmates speak English almost perfectly, which is great for the vacation phase I’m in, but will be bad in the long run. I feel bad for the guy who speaks the best English, though, because he is called over every five minutes or so to translate for me.

 

Today at the party, my class gave me a Turkish flag. Apparently, when giving people flags in Turkey, you’re supposed to kiss it and touch it to your forehead three times.

 

I’m in love with the density of culture here. I just can’t seem to get over the beauty of Turkish life. It’s like there’s a thread connecting each and every Turk, pulling them all along in the same elegant sway of Turkish existence.

 

I love everything. I love the view from the cliff on my drive home from school. I love the mosques and the call to prayer that rings out five times a day without fail. I love my host family. I love kebaps. I love the little old ladies wearing more patterns than Kesha. I love how there are pomegranate, pear, and orange trees in everyone’s yards. I love how I live above a mini textile factory. I miss seat belts.

 

This has been a very disjointed blog post. I think my English skills are disintegrating.  

The archaic meaning of “terrific” is “causing terror”

So, Turkey has been delayed. The police now have to review all visas to Turkey, and I guess just haven’t done it yet. So, I’m looking at an extra two weeks. This is both good and bad, and what I feel moment to moment depends on what exactly I’m thinking about right then. Therefore, I give to you the cliched “pro’s and con’s list”.

PROS:

more time to pack

get to visit/see more people before I leave

more family time

get to laugh at people going to school while I sleep

the tension will have built up so much that getting there will be even better than before

I get to be home for my 18th birthday

I get to see my aunt and uncle, who are coming to visit right after I was supposed to leave

I get to sleep in now, instead of waking up super early to get everything done

I can do my college apps in the good ol’ US of A

I can crash my favorite class’s first day

I will probably win the lottery, because I’ll be able to buy a ticket

CONS:

I will only live with my temporary host family for a few weeks, and I like them already even though I have never met them/talked to them/been sure that I’m facebook stalking the right people

I don’t get to see the people going to Ghana before they go

It’s terrifying (or terrific, if you are old) because I’m not really sure why they added a new step to the visa process

I have to wait, and I’m not really good at that

I might have to register for/actually attend school

If I crash a class, people might begin to think that I was lying about the whole thing (and am actually just a dropout and probably a drug addict or something and live under a bridge and stuff and that would be bad) (okay, so that one’s a little overboard)

I can’t escape as many at-home responsibilities now, because I don’t have the excuse of leaving in a few days

I’m bored

We’ve developed a mantra of sorts on the Turkey group’s facebook page, and that mantra is “semper gumby”. It comes from the latin “semper fidelis”, meaning “always faithful”. However, we’ve replaced “fidelis” with “gumby”, the well-loved and slightly creepy children’s show. So, now it means “always flexible”. 

Semper Gumby, everyone. Semper gumby.