Silly little things

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Every news outlet, blog, TV show, and website in town counts down the top news stories/songs/quotes/overused words from the previous year.  My favorite part of living in Turkey are unexpected situations and encounters made even more ridiculous by a monumental language barrier.  So I present to you a sample of my favorite ridiculous situations of Fall 2010:

1) Thumb surgery

You know when your mother tells you never to pick your hang nail?  LISTEN TO HER.  An absent-minded pull led me to the hospital back in October.  Within a week, a small irritation on my thumb got infected and blew up to Uma Thurman as Sissy Hankshaw size.  Though a brilliant study in shades of white and green, it was terrifying to look at and I would often wave it in my students’ faces as a threat.  At night, the throbbing would keep me awake and I’d have to watch soothing documentaries on NKT Japanese News to fall asleep for a few hours.  The accepted medical knowledge in Turkey states that antibiotics cure anything, and while I asked both the university doctor and eventually Mehmet the surgeon at the nearby private hospital to just pop and drain the sucker, I had to go through the prescription ringer first.  Finally Mehmet the surgeon agreed that antibiotics just weren’t going to do it.  Five minutes later my thumb was drained and bandaged and I was good to go.  And while my nail has never quite recovered, I did get to teach my students the word “infection” and “disgusting,” and bonded with a few over Infected Mushroom and trance music.

2) Getting paid

The Fulbright name carries a good deal of weight in academic circles and most unsuspecting people assume their programs run smoothly.  Absolutely nothing has run smoothly since I left the US, including a 2 1/2 hour delay at JFK Airport, an Amazing Race-esque sprint with 2o Fulbrighters through Ataturk Airport to connect from Istanbul to Ankara, and about 1 week of intestinal distress (at least it wasn’t salmonellasorry, Hannah!).  But the real kicker was that I didn’t get paid until December.  That’s a mighty long time and kebab don’t come cheap.  Everything was blamed, from Fulbright to YOK to NKU to my bank account to a nonsensical Turkish foreigner ID number system.  Fulbright did come through and loan us extra money, but it just wasn’t going to cut it.  On one particularly frustrating Monday, I decided my only goal for the week was to get paid.  All efforts and strong emotions were funneled in that direction.

I sat down with Adnan, our vice-rector, a reasonable and accessible man who speaks fluent English and whose lucky son will be studying at SUNY Binghamton next year.  We shot the breeze over bottomless cups of tea and I then calmly informed him that if I wasn’t paid my due salary in cash by the end of the week, I was going on strike.  “You wouldn’t come to work if you weren’t being paid, would you?” I asked as I sipped my tea.  Adnan looked visibly uncomfortable and told me that he would talk to the rector and maybe I would be paid in a couple of weeks.  I am far too well-acquainted with Turkey to take this vague “maybe” for anything and told him I’d be back tomorrow morning expecting a final date.  Adnan came through and after I spelled out verbally and in writing exactly how much I was owed, I was guaranteed payment in 2 days.  Later that week I was summoned to another administrator’s office and handed 4250 Turkish lira, cold hard cash.  My fear of being mugged by Tekirdag’s organ mafia en route to the bank was overcome by the invincibility that only possession of large stacks of bills can bring.  Power to the people!

On my way to filling my Scrooge McDuck money pit

3) Apaci and classroom dancing

IO-C is the night class Alex and I both share and dread.  Our department co-head Dudu calls in ‘the kavehane’ in reference to the horrendously-lit smoke-filled male-only coffee houses you can find in any Turkish town.  IO-C is a kavehane minus the coffee and smoke plus a bunch of young  men who either give you the death eye all class and refuse to speak, or who can’t stop talking–in Turkish to each other.

Our first class back from Kurban Bayrami in late November was doomed from the start.  Despite my best efforts to elicit some simple past sentences about their vacations, discussion just wasn’t going to happen.  So I asked one kavehane-dweller, “Did you dance?  Did you dance apaci?  Did you move at all?”  This got their attention.  I don’t quite know how to explain apaci apart from cocky men with silly hair who think they’re hot shit, but watch this video and be entertained:

Anyway, the kavehane got excited when apaci was mentioned.  “You know apaci, teacher?” they said (or something more caveman-like, probably “You apaci?”)  Yes, I said.  Teach me how to dance apaci.  Someone cued up the music on his phone and two others ran to the front to teach me the steps.  Pretty soon the whole class (ie the 8 students who bothered to show) was up and dancing.  I was even lucky enough to be shown a homemade video of the kavehane apaci dancing in a dorm room.  And they explained the video to me in English!  Major classroom success precipitated by my making more of a fool of myself than usual.  There is also a video of me apaci dancing out there somewhere online.  We actually had a moderately functioning lesson after the dance party, too!

There have been subsequent non-apaci dance parties in other classes to celebrate scholarships or to simply rock out.  One afternoon in early December I led a group of students dancing down the hall, Pied Piper-style, just because it was more fun to exit class that way.  They’re pretty entertained when I do something else with my body besides write on the whiteboard, over-gesticulate, and glare menacingly.

I also blindfold my students sometimes

I guess this last one isn’t that ridiculous, but there are so few in-class teacher/student dance parties in the US, it strikes me as particularly memorable.  Then again there aren’t that many in Turkey either, but I’ve never met students (male and female) so eager to dance I can’t pass up these chances.

More stories to come as I mull over the past semester.  I leave you with my favorite Turkish pop song by the country’s favorite “Is he/isn’t he gay?” superstar, Tarkan.  Play this song on repeat while you read my blog and you’ll know exactly what it’s like to be inside my head.


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