On My Way

On My Way
To Turkey, To Turkey, to buy a fat pig

Saturday, August 14, 2010


So I just caught up reading my mom’s blog and now I feel very sheepish and wonder if and why anyone’s even checking my blog anymore. Not that I’ve been posting much lately.  That woman can write! If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, do it. You’ll be laughing out loud sometimes and reaching for a tissue to dry your eyes sometimes, if you’re anything like me. The address is http://windsunexpected.blogspot.com/.

Anyway, I haven’t been posting as much lately I think because the countdown inside of me has begun. As much as I have loved this place and this experience, Dorothy had it right when she so astutely stated (10 times in a row) that “there’s no place like home.” Well, my ruby slippers are on and I’m clicking my heels every day, waiting to open my eyes and find myself surrounded by the people I love most.
But that doesn’t mean life doesn’t continue on in a unique and exciting fashion here in To-furkey. Speaking of To-furkey, I just want to make sure everyone knows that there is in actuality a type of tofu called To-furkey. No, I have never tried it before, but it’s on my bucket list. So, the rest of my time off was cool, but I don’t have much desire to write about it for some reason. So if you want more details, come to my Turkish feast on August 23rd. Or ask me about it next time you see me. It really was so fantastic. I want to get back here as a tourist someday when I can spend more time exploring this fascinating place. My other destinations included Gallipoli (which I accidentally called “Gallopoli”—like Monopoly or the Galapagos Islands--in front of my new Australian friends who went into fits of laughter, said that was “so American of me to say that” and then didn’t let me live it down for 2 days), a festering little hostel where I slept in my clothes overnight and brushed my teeth with water because I had only been planning to take a day trip and ended up staying two days, and Troy. Troy rocked. I want to read a book about the Trojans and Spartans now. And recreate a Trojan horse in my backyard someday for a playhouse for my children.

So after my days off, I flew out Monday night to meet up with the family at Sidika’s father’s home in Bodrum. Bodrum is a HUGE yachting city where many of the wealthy Turkish families go for their holiday get-aways. It’s beautiful there. Sidika’s father’s home is more like a hotel, except he doesn’t rent it out or anything. It consists of a couple villas and 6 or 7 suites (one of which I had to myself). There are three permanent house workers, a driver, a yard worker, and who knows how many other staff that I didn’t see in my one day there. Yes. I did say one day. Funny story.

So I flew in Monday night and was informed upon arrival that we would be staying there for 8 days. That was the plan. We had our plane tickets, some of Chem and Sidika’s friends from work were there with us, we had all unpacked our things. Now Zeynep is a child with a will. And she has decided that she doesn’t like going to bed at a normal time…she doesn’t even like to go to bed at a late time. She wants to go to bed at an utterly insane time…especially for a 7-year-old. That means she usually ends up shutting the eyes at 1:30 or 2:00 am. No joke. That’s how it’s been all summer. So she’s been tired. And poor, sweet Mary Jane has to stay with her until she’s asleep or she’ll scream and cry and won’t go to bed. So Mary Jane hasn’t been getting much sleep. Well, finally Zeynep’s bizarre sleeping schedule caught up with her and she got a little sick my second night there. The next day she was completely better, but told her mom she wanted to go back to Istanbul. And so that’s what we did. We changed the plane tickets to that night, packed up the things, and left. HAHA. I just feel bad they flew me down there for one day, but oh well. I was happy to be there for the one day that I was because Tuesday was the day they went out on the yacht, which was an other-worldy experience. I forget how much I love boating until I get on a boat. I love it SO much. It was a gorgeous day of cruising along on the sea, looking at the breath-taking views, swimming in the crystal clear water, and eating an INCREDIBLE 10-course lunch where Sidika herself chose the huge fresh fish that they cooked up and served to us. About 4 different appetizers, various salads, breads, olives, main course, and three different desserts. It was heavenly. Oh man, my mouth’s watering just thinking about it. I am my father’s daughter.

So, I’m unexpectedly back in Istanbul, but I’m glad. I love it here. And I’m happy to get a little more time here before I leave. Today Sidika took me to the Spice Bazaar because my day tour hadn’t taken me there. It was pretty sweet. It reminded me a lot of Jerusalem’s Old City. I asked Sidika if locals ever shop there and she laughed and said no. It’s a total tourist mirage. They play it up for the tourists hardcore, but it’s still real fun to walk through and peruse all the merchandise. It connects to the Grand Bazaar and between the two you can find more random junk than you thought possible to exist, much less be accumulated in one area. Oh, sweet junk for sale--something that every place in the world has in common. Something I find hilarious is the fact that actual Turks never eat Turkish delight, but of course the tourist areas are CRAWLING with the stuff. It comes in every shape, size, color, flavor imaginable (and unimaginable). So, what do you think I bought at the spice bazaar? You got it. Turkish delight. I’m bringing home 3 boxes for anyone who wants to sink their teeth into something that looks pretty much repulsive to me. But I guess I shouldn’t judge before I try it. I’ll give it a fair chance.
Something I loved about the spice bazaar was all the animals. They sell animals of every breed there. Ducks, chickens, iguanas, puppies, cats, turtles, geese, bunnies, parrots, the list goes on and on…And the funniest thing about it is that every shop sells the same animals and they all have the same pyramids of dozens of different types of cat food/dog food/birdseed in front of their shops. I wonder how they all stay in business…no one specializes! They all sell the exact same stuff. Funny. Anyway, on the way out, Zeynep wanted to buy some chicks. So we packed up three baby chicks in a box, but at the last minute Sidika decided a bunny rabbit would be easier to take care of and asked Zeynep if a bunny would be okay instead, which of course she consented to. So we came home with an actually very cute baby bunny that Zeynep named “Bitsy.” I love it, this family goes to the market and just comes home with a bunny. No biggie. We’ll just buy a bunny today. Cool.

While I’m thinking about animals, here’s something interesting about Turkey: although it’s really modernized and European here, there are stray dogs EVERYWHERE, like in Mexico. The difference with these stray dogs is that the government takes care of them. They get a clip in their ear and then the government takes full responsibility for them, providing food, shots, etc. Isn’t that interesting? I think that it gives people a higher incentive to abandon their animals and not worry about it…but I think it’s interesting all the same. The government is spending money on homeless animals when there are plenty of people in Turkey who live in poverty. Interesting.

Something else that’s funny about this place is the driving. Similar to Israel, the lines on the road are more guidelines or suggestions than concrete lanes. And Turkish drivers can squeeze through openings so small it makes you wet your pants a little…not that I’ve had any personal experience with that or anything…cough, cough. I’ve already written about the honking, which I actually think is great. But I can’t try to start a fad with it in America because I’d get shot or run off the road. The lack of road rage here is very refreshing. I haven’t seen a single person get flipped the birdie or even a driver make an angry you’re-such-an-idiot-and-deserve-to-be-shot face at a fellow roadman. And I haven’t seen a single accident either.

There’s more to tell, but this is long so I guess it’ll have to wait. Cheerio, dear friends. Go eat some To-furkey for me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Istanbul was Constantinople

Oooo, this is as painful as getting behind in my journal writing! So much to say, so little time. I think I’ll keep things brief here and if anyone’s interested in more detail, come to my Turkish feast and slide show when I get back.
So, I said goodbye to Cheshme, hopped on a plane and landed in Istanbul last Wednesday afternoon for my 4 days off. Guys, I fell in love with Turkey. Up until my time off I had really enjoyed Turkey, but I hadn’t quite understood why people had raved about it to me when I told them I was coming here. But now I understand completely. This is my true story.

Wednesday night I hung around at the house and rested, which felt great. Vera, the Moldovian housekeeper who doesn’t speak a word of English came up to my room with her envelope of pictures of her family and we spent half an hour communicating through hand gestures and a little bit of online translation help. It was such a sweet experience. This woman is here for 6 months at a time, away from her family and friends, cooped up in a house working her tail off every day. Her husband and two kids and precious granddaughter are at home in Moldovia and she’s working to hopefully save up enough money to get them out of Moldovia someday. It sounds like Moldovia is a mess. Most of the housekeepers/nannies/maids that I’ve met here who work for wealthy Turkish families are from Moldovia. It’s a whole different life. I feel so, SO blessed when I put the opportunities I have next to theirs. And Moldovia isn’t the only country like that. Mary Jane, the nanny from the Philippines who also works her tail off is a college graduate and certified teacher. Yet here she is doing hard manual labor and watching spoiled rich kids for a living. There’s just no money to be made in her country. I came here for the experience and the fun…they came here for survival. I feel a little sheepish. And mostly blessed, blessed, BLESSED. But I digress…

Thursday I slept in and showered and then Sidika sent me to a mall here…but it wasn’t just a mall. This was like a small planet or star-destroyer community or something. I could not get over how HUGE this shopping center was. You can’t even imagine. It would probably take you 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other going in a straight line at a fairly good pace. It was pretty sickening. Thousands of posh stores, mostly high-class American ones that were all selling the same stuff. Stuff, stuff, stuff. I didn’t stay long…hailed a cab and went home, where I spent the evening figuring out my tours for the next three days. I decided on a day tour of old Istanbul for Friday and a day tour of Troy on Saturday. That was the plan. Here’s what went down:

Friday day tour was RAD. Holy smokes, I love Istanbul. I was on a tour with probably 30 other folks, led by a man named Erol. We started in the Roman Hippodrome where Erol proceeded to tell us the history of Istanbul. It was Constantinople, you know. Anyway, very cool history. In the Hippodrome you can see a legitimate Egyptian obelisk and a wannabe Egyptian obelisk built by a Turkish sultan to try and one-up the Egyptians (didn’t really work), as well as part of a cool bronze sculpture with a really cool story that I can’t remember right now.
After that we walked over the Hagia Sophia. Too. Dang. Cool. This was one of those experiences where you come face to face with something you’ve learned about and heard about your whole life and can’t quite come to terms with the fact that you’re actually seeing it at last. The building is a miracle. The Turks tried to duplicate it many times and successfully built large mosques designed after it, but were never able to build one quite so big, not for lack of trying though. So this mosque was built by the Byzantines under Justinian in 537 and served as a Christian Basilica for nearly 1000 years unitl the Turkish Sultan Mehmed captured Istanbul and converted the church into the Ayasofya mosque in 1453. It served as a mosque for nearly 500 years until the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Christians began to clamor for its return to them. The founder and President of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk (whom I LOVE), decided it should be accessible to all people and so declared it neither a church, nor a mosque, but a museum in 1935. Needless to say, it was a building with loads of history and character…the Muslim aspects and the Christian aspects of it are spectacular and amazing. I’d be happy to tell more to anyone who’s interested, but I think I’ll leave it there for now.

A funny thing at the AyaSofya…a man from India on my tour named Ibriham decided to take it upon himself to become my personal friend and tour guide. He would grab my elbow and pull me around the church, repeating to me every fact that our tour guide had told us in the beginning when we first came in. I think he thought I couldn’t understand Erol’s accent or something, because he literally repeated the ENTIRE tour to me. HAHAHaaaaa. It was so funny and tickled me enormously. I had him take some pictures of me in the church while he was giving me the second tour, none of which even had him in them, and he gave me his business card and asked me to e-mail them to him. Haha. It was so choice.

Next we headed to the Grand Covered Bazaar. Enter Ena and Noreen. Ena, short for Philemena, and Noreen were the two Irish grannies I spent the day with and who I love so, SO much. They just travel the world together because, as they told me, they “don’t have much time left.” On this trip they’re doing Turkey and the Greek islands. They were the best. I had spoken with them a few times during the tour previous to the Grand Bazaar, but when we got to the bazaar and I faced the prospect of entering, by myself for our hour of free time there, this labyrinth of shops and trinkets that one could easily get lost for days in, I shuffled up next to them and asked if I could tag along with them. They graciously accepted me into their party and we headed off. Oh, it was hilarious! These grandmas knew how to work the haggling system and were very quick to tell me that I was no good at haggling at all and showed me how it was done. I just stood back and watched the fun…these ladies had seen the world in all its haggling glory and let me tell you, they were pros. After they took me under their wing at the Bazaar, we were buddies for the rest of the day. They honestly were my favorite part of the day, but seeing the old city was a close second.

The Grand Bazaar concluded our first half of the day and will conclude this entry as well. It’s late and I’m tired after a day of sun on the yacht!!! (More to come!) So stay tuned for the next installment…there’s still so much to tell!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quick pics

It's been a while and I don't have time to write right now, so I'll just post some pictures and hopefully I can get the accounts up soon. The short of it: I flew back to Istanbul for my 5 days off and had a wonderful day tour of the Old City. Then I took a bus down to Gallipoli and Troy for two days of touring there. Everything was FANTASTIC. Can't wait to get some of my adventures up here. I'm flying out to Bodrum in a couple hours and will be there for 5 days (I believe I won't have internet access there, but not positive), then I fly back to Istanbul for 5 more days and then I come home! Hope everyone's doing fabulously!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ohhhhh, we're halfway there

This week has been one of accomplishments for me; I am now halfway done with my time here and I finally feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this place. Below you will find some of things I am proud to have finally figured out:
1) I finally mastered correct flushing of the toilet. The toilets here don’t tidily spiral down with one flush…they flood with water and then drain. However, if you flush incorrectly the water will continue to refill until the toilet is flushed correctly. I have been taught and told by more than one patient teacher on how to flush correctly, but after 3 weeks I was still going to Mary Jane and telling her “I can’t make the toilet stop” or would hear Sidika tell Jane when she came home from a night out and the toilet was still running to “show Heather how to do it.” But after losing battle after battle with the white porcelain beast I finally came off conquerer two days ago and discovered the secret technique that works like a charm every time. Hurrah!
2) Sidika taught me how to make Dolma this afternoon. Oh, it’s so scrumptious. And there are so many different varieties. Before coming here, dolma to me was the Greek rice wrapped in grape leaves, and they do have that here. But there is a whole world of dolma that I had no idea existed. My eyes have been opened, and now I see the rice. The make mixtures of rice and meat and onion and tomato and stuff it in miniature bell peppers, hollowed out squash (my personal favorite), and tomatoes. And they eat plain yogurt on top of the finished product. I can’t tell you how good it is. I’m going to make a Turkish feast when I get back and everyone’s invited.
3) At long last I finished learning how to count to 10 in Turkish. Oguzhan had taught me up to 8 before he left, but that was the extent of my numerical knowledge. I took Zeynep over to a neighbor friend’s house the other day to have a play date and they taught me the last two numbers. Bir, eke, ooch, dart, besh, alta, yede, sikis, dokoos, oun. HA! So glad to finally be a 1-year-old speaking level. I can say yes, no, please, thanks, thank you very much, hello, goodbye, numbers 1-10, hot, water (this was a necessity and I learned it very quickly because they drink tea here ALL THE TIME and I very quickly learned how to say that I just wanted water, thank you), come on, tomatoes, half, apple, and book(s), and I just learned how to ask “how are you?” (But I don’t know how to answer so I guess it doesn’t really matter). The way they make things plural here (like adding our s) is adding “lar.” So “book” is “kitap” and “books” is “kitaplar.” I was so proud of myself when I figured this out on my own. Anyway, my 20-word vocabulary is growing slowly, but it’s enough to get by.
4) I watched Gone With the Wind for the first time in my life. Okay, I know this has nothing to do with Turkey, but I felt rather pleased to have finally watched it. It was good…I was really into it…but the end was so incredibly unsatisfying! Agh! I wanted to pull my hair out! Actually, I wanted to pull Scarlet and Rhett’s hair out. I get so into romances (or lacks thereof)!
5) Last but not least, I think my body has adjusted to the heat here…I know what to do now when it’s hot…try not to move. If you can avoid any form of activity when it’s stifling, you won’t sweat. Or you can just hop in the water when you get hot (but I still don’t want to conform to the Turkish habit of changing my swimsuit every time it gets wet).
Well, keep on keeping on, I guess!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Bowl of Cherries

Well, life here continues on pretty much the same. After all this talk about life being wonderful and all, I decided to watch It’s a Wonderful Life on my computer one night just to unwind, and yes, I bawled as hard as ever at the end. So good. So good. Since nothing very different has happened, I decided I wanted to jot down some things that are different here in Turkey than from in the states, just so I don’t forget these unique little things someday, because they make me happy.

The first thing that was funny to me at first was the swimsuits here. Not the swimsuits themselves, more how the Turkish people use them. So, they go to the beach wearing a swimsuit. They sit in the sun for a while, then get hot and so get in the water for a few minutes, then get back out. But instead of going and drying off while lying in the sun, they go and change their swimsuit and then sit in the sun some more. And when they get hot, they’ll dip in the water and then get out and change their swimsuit again. This goes on all day. Zeynep will often go through 6 or more swimsuits in the course of our 3 or 4 hours at the beach. They change their swimsuits after getting them wet. The classic story in our family has come to my mind many times here that we always laugh so hard about…when Julie was 2 or so she was playing in a little kiddie pool in the backyard and mom went inside to get something really quick. When she came back out, there was Julie standing in the kiddie pool, stark naked. Mom asked, “Julie, why did you take your swimsuit off?” To which Julie replied, “It got wet.” I feel like if I were to ask the Turks why they change swimsuits so often, they’d give the same answer. Just kidding. But seriously. Just a funny little thing they all do that I have not figured out the reason for yet.

Laundry. No drying machines. Everything is hang-dryed…which is probably better for your clothes. But the best part is, after drying, they iron EVERYTHING. From the underwear to the dish rags. No joke. Cracks me up…hard. I don’t iron my need-ironing blouses and skirts, much less my underwear and dish rags. Haha. Oh, I love it.

No microwaves. Anything that needs heating is put on a pan on the stove (or out in the sun as Mary Jane did for the butter she wanted to soften). There are virtually no frozen, prepared foodstuffs and almost no canned goods. Everything is fresh and cooked by hand. The fridge is always packed with ripe, fresh fruits and veggies…large, luscious peaches and nectarines, deep pink, crispy watermelon, and bowls full of freshly rinsed, sweet-beyond-all-belief cherries. I would love to say I’m going to be like that, with no frozen or canned foods when I get back and when I’m a mom someday, but I know I probably won’t. But it’s really cool to live like that for 6 weeks.

Meal “times”. There aren’t really specific mealtimes here, but ther general vicinities of meals are very different than in the U.S. Breakfast is when people wake up…usually around 10 or 11. Lunch is usually between 1 and 3, and dinner is in the 7:30-9:00 arena. No better or worse, just different.

Finally, “vacation” here is different than what I’m used to. But that may just be because my family is AWESOME at vacationing. You see, the wealthy families that fill these seaside summer towns don’t really DO much in the first place. Sure, they have jobs, but beyond that they have hired help for EVERYTHING. People to watch their kids, to clean their house, to cook their food, to pack their luggage (no joke…I woke up the morning before we left for Cheshme to find people in the house packing our luggage while the family entertained guests), people to fix things, to buy things, to drive their cars, really people for everything you can think of. So it’s not like they work super hard in the first place…the things they do for work at home they still do here on their laptops and over the phone, etc. Most of the men fly back and forth between Istanbul or wherever they work and here during the vacation season. Chem has already flown to Italy and Istanbul and come back in between trips. But this is their vacation. And what do they decide to do? Nothing. They go to beaches and eat food all day every day. At night, they go to house parties and fancy restaurants. It’s all just so very interesting to me…very different than the kind of vacationing I’m used to. I’m used to vacations that expand my mind and teach me new things. Exploring new places, seeing new things, meeting new people, all with my family—that’s vacation for me. Learning more about the incredible world I live in while being with the people I love the most. Now don’t get me wrong, our family can definitely appreciate a relaxed day on the beach. But what I’ve learned is that that relaxed day on the beach is so wonderful mostly because we’re there together. Here I am, in this incredible resort town, going to marvelous Mediterranean beaches, being catered to hand and foot, every day. But it doesn’t feel like vacation because I’m not with the people I care about most. Without them, it just feels empty. I’m not complaining though, it is wonderful to be here and to be getting paid to go to these magnificent beaches and be catered to hand and foot. And I do love this family. What I’m getting at is that “vacation” means two very different things to the Ustunberks and to me…they bring hired help to watch their kids so that they don’t have to deal with them and so they literally can do nothing. But that’s kind of the opposite of vacation for me. It’s all just very interesting.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the family scene for these wealthy families here in Turkey, all of whom have nannies and au pairs to raise their children. I can see that the Ustunberks love their children a lot…they really, really do. But I wonder if it isn’t a kind of love different from a mother’s who sacrifices and works hard for her children every day. A mother who reads her child bedtime stories at night, or who giggles with the ticklish child while rubbing sunscreen on them. A mom who doesn’t go shopping with her friends every day, or who gives up going to parties or get-togethers in order to get the laundry done and the meals cooked. I was talking with Sidika right when I got here and we were talking about some of the hired help she has. She said something like, “It’s very different here than in America…in America I think the mom does everything, right? The laundry and cooking and everything. It’s too much. I’m so glad I don’t do all of that,” as she laughed. She thinks American mothers are crazy…but I think they are noble. I am so grateful for my own beautiful mother and her exquisite life of sacrifice and making me and my siblings her first priority. I could go on about this for a while, but this is already too long.

I just want to end with saying that I feel such profound gratitude for God’s plan for families and for the special place that mothers have in that plan. For their nurturing, and patience, and long-suffering, and teaching. I commend and respect those women who choose to make their children their career…it truly is the most selfless, yet influential role anyone can play. I love you, mom. Thanks for being my mom.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wonderful Life

Falling asleep and waking up to singing birds

Sitting down to a tasty lunch after a busy morning at work

Listening to the engine in my car as I change gears

--Bonnie Hepler

Sunday, July 25, 2010

the beautiful

sentinel it stands. hovering oer the earth. steady orbit. comforting and graceful.

the moon has lifted me this week. First was after a long day when it's hazy semi-circle seemed to say: "Welcome home, Allie. I know it's been a long day, but I'm still here and life is good. You can relax."

Friday, at almost 2 am, as I stuttered out of the cannon center, a wannish, nearly full moon seemed to whisper approvingly "Good work, you did it.."

Last night in a stadium full of rioting soccer fans and fireworks, my eye could nowhere match the transcendent beauty of the full moon. Luminescent orb. steady. sure. divine.

in a dark, swallowing universe that overcomes us for half of every day, the moon remains. Reflecting the sun. Reminding us that no matter how engulfing the world may seem, the source of light is never gone. and life all around us reflects that light-- sometimes in slivers, or half filled spheres, and sometimes in radiant, glowing fullness.

--Allie Jacobs