Meeting People is Easy

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Watching Meeting People is Easy is easier than meeting people.  Moving to a new city is difficult; moving to a new country and attempting to make friends is more difficult.  Moving around a lot has forced me to be more outgoing, more independent, more resourceful, and more content with myself.  I spend most of my free time alone; sometimes it gets to me, but I like the freedom.

But I’m not kidding anyone or myself, I much prefer to be meeting, talking, sharing, and dancing with people.  In Istanbul I met a great friend and her wide circle through an open discussion night on Jezebel.  Here in Vienna I had a great Thursday night drinking with a friend of a friend of a friend from France (we met by e-mail introduction).  But the easiest way, for me, to meet people in foreign countries is through Couchsurfing, generally a website for free travel accommodations but also a way for all sorts of people to connect and explore new cities and countries together—natives included.  I had some great experiences last week with folks from Spain, Greece, Romania, and Austria.  I go to the weekly German conversation hour, and last week some new friends up and carried me off to another bar for an Austrian version of Quizzo.  I played ping-pong on a public table with some Austrian students.

I even found my roommate on Couchsurfing.

This is Georg. He’s one of the tallest people I’ve ever met and he makes a mean palatschinken (crepes or pancakes filled, in his version, with chestnut cream and baked with a topping of sweetened marscapone cheese.)  He’s also a top-notch meteorologist and was on the team which modeled weather systems for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver!  Unfortunately he’s traveling for the next month (in Mallorca and Nepal—jealous?), so in the apartment is just me and FM4, a really great alternative radio station which broadcasts in German and English and plays the best Euro indie and electronica.

For various reasons I don’t have internet at home so last Sunday I hoofed it over to Museumsquartier, probably my favorite spot in Vienna right now.  It’s a huge trapezoid-like space enclosed by a bunch of museums and bars, and the center is full of funky colorful benches where people hang out, drink, laugh, love, and who knows what else.  On weekend nights it’s full of young people drinking cheap booze.  They also have free wireless.  I was making some Skype calls and catching up on e-mail when a Spanish guy at the next bench started talking to me.  Most people in Museumsquartier are in groups so as two people riding solo, we hit it off, and I could relax in a foreign language I actually understood.  But what guts this guy had!  This is what I need to do, I told myself.  I will be this person!  I have been this person before.  I will be this person again!  Without the mediating influence of the Internet.

Museumsquartier during nice weather

The past week was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, some heavy-hitting holidays on the Jewish calendar.  Everyone ever comes out of the woodwork to go to synagogue and I was happy to be one of them.  After Yom Kippur services last night everyone poured out into the street, whipping out containers of breads and desserts, sharing and shaking hands.  I had spoken with a few people during services but nothing much came of the conversations, just pleasantries.  I spotted some people my age, including one guy who was pretty easy on the eyes.  “Go talk to him, Sherri, just do it, just go talk.  Go,” I said to myself (I really do talk to myself like this).  “Go.  Go.  Go now, his friend just walked away.”  Hesitate 10 seconds, a new one walks up to him, “Ah, it’s too late, I’ll go when he’s free next.”  He’s free.  “Go, go go, go now!” Nope.  More friends.  The last one walks away, he pauses 20 seconds, then heads back into the synagogue and disappears.  My feet remained planted on the ground the entire time.   It felt like this:

The street cleared.  I left alone and inhaled, within the next hour, a bratwurst, a box of lo mein, a pistachio ice cream cone, and a Turkish coffee.

I don’t know why it can be so tough to approach people sometimes.  You’ve got nothing to lose in doing so; either they’re open and you’ve made a new acquaintance, or they’re not interested and at least you’ve given it a shot and know.  It’s better than mental games.  And Garth ultimately got his dream girl.

Language is, of course, an issue.  Everyone speaks English here, but all their group conversations take place in German.  It feels strange to approach a new person in English and my German, while improving, only goes so far.  I think also the nature of a tight-knit community like Vienna’s Jewish one exacerbates the situation.  Everyone has known each other for years.  Those people my age, they’ve grown up together in some pretty unique circumstances.  How can I just insert myself into their lives? If I were in the States at my family’s congregation, how would I feel about some random foreigner sticking her hand in my face?

Actually, I’d probably really like it.  I’ve never been disappointed with the random folks I’ve met in the US and abroad through spontaneous conversation; either they become friends or hilarious memories.  Even the painfully awkward dates I had in Turkey were worth it for the anecdotes.

I ended the night on a high note, meeting up with Centropa’s Czech intern Martina and her American boyfriend, Clayton.  We drank wine and talked about everything in the world.  And it made me feel better, that I wasn’t a total social misfit and that there is hope.  It had also been the most I’d spoken to anyone in a while.

It’s a new year and a new week and I have no idea what it’ll bring.  It’s exciting.  And I hope to be a little more active in shaping where and how it goes.

The German ambassador and I are close

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

because he lives across the street and I didn’t close my curtains the other day.  Oops.

That also explains the high security fence and German flag flying outside.   Around the corner lives the Turkish ambassador, and the American ambassador lives nearby as well.  Posh living!

And this is where I live.  It’s not as beautiful but it’s still a really nice building inside.  And the neighborhood is just so quaint

Hietzing center at dawn. Jet lag's a bitch.

I’ve spent the past few days touring around at a really leisurely pace.  I am here for a while so no need to rush anything.

This is the Vienna State Opera.  Tickets are way too expensive but on Wednesday nights they broadcast the opera on a large screen outside and you can watch and listen for free.

The weather here has also been unseasonably great: warm, sunny, and in the mid-70’s.  I’ve done as much outdoors things as possible because first, they’re free, and second, the weather will not last.

On Wednesday I met up with a bunch of Couchsurfers to walk along the Danube canal and photograph the graffiti art, which the Viennese government sponsors.

It's true, the canal is pretty gross.

Today I registered with the Vienna’s CityBike program.  It’s 1 euro to sign up and you can ride a bike around the city for free for an hour; second hour is 1 euro, third hour is 2 euros and so on.  I took a spin around the Prater, an amusement park and wooded park area.

That repeating logo is from the program’s sponsor, Raiffeisen Bank.  Honestly, it looks a bit too close to the fascist crossed hammer logo from Pink Floyd’s The Wall for my liking:

But that’s reading too much into things.  Gonna get my last tourist kicks in this weekend before work starts on Monday.  Centropa’s taking me to Budapest, Hungary for the day.

Ich bin hier

September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Isn’t German great?

I took a great walk around my new neighborhood of Hietzing .  This product was definitely the best part

FAT

I know you can buy schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) in America, but wow, that is some shelf.

Ready!

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

I kind of left you hanging there with that last post back in June, didn’t I?  Here’s what might have been running through your head:

How did she make it home from Turkey?
A: My dad came, I somehow had enough things to fill 5 suitcases, we took a taxi to Istanbul, Delta gave me a seat with extra leg room,  I saw Newt Gingrich, we arrived at JFK.

How is her leg?
A: Significantly better!  We found a great orthopedist in my town who, contrary to various Turkish doctors, insisted I didn’t need surgery.  I broke my tibia plateau in the best possible least-weight-bearing part of the bone and just needed to wait it out.  That popliteal capsule tear?  NBD.  Calf muscle tear?  It’ll get better.  And it did.  Thanks to a tough physical therapist, her gossipy assistant, a JCC membership, and hours of walking back and forth in the pool, I’m mostly back to normal.  It’ll take a few more months for my quad muscles to be at full strength again (kneeling and crouching are tough), but I can do pretty much everything I used to do.

What did she do all summer?
A: Everything except earn a lot of money.

My cousin Shep got married in Virginia

Shep on the left, my mom in the middle, my uncle playing my crutch like a guitar

I shared a room with my impossibly cute nephew Ari

and he survived!

I spent a good amount of time in New York City, with trips to Philadelphia and Providence

My Turkish friend Elif visited NYC just to make this face

I took the GRE and visited some graduate programs in History

I baked a lot of cookies

and I started to learn German because I’m moving to Austria today.

Back in March I sent an internship application to Centropa, a Jewish history NGO based in Vienna that works to preserve and disseminate Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Jewish history.  They work with all age groups but primarily schoolchildren across the world to link them to engaging primary resources about 20th century European Jewish life–and, most importantly, people.  Centropa partnered with Istanbul’s Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Cultural Resource Center (where I volunteered last year) back in 2005 to record extensive oral histories of the community.  You can read more about the partnership and view the resulting exhibit on the blog I created for the center.

One of the coolest tools Centropa produces is videos of subjects’ lives.   Guler Orgun, the Turkish dynamo behind the Ladino newspaper El Amaneser, got the video treatment and you can watch her story here, in Ladino with English subtitles (I tried to embed it, it won’t work, I know you probably won’t click the link but it’s really worth your while!)

So I sent them my resume and they said, “Come!”  Then I broke my leg.  But they waited; it’s almost 4 months later now and my suitcase (only one this time, thanks compression bags!) is packed, I’ve got an apartment lined up, and Air Berlin flies out this afternoon.

Though I’m certainly more prepared this time abroad for language and culture shock, there’ll still be a lot to surprise me in my personal and professional life.  I hope to write in this blog not just about my adventures but also about my experiences confronting a country which has remained fairly verboten in my house.

I leave you with Austria’s greatest contribution to popular music, the indomitable Falco.  See you in a few months, America!

You know that feeling?

June 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

Although there’s still technically one more day of classes left, most of the hazirlik students have stopped coming to lessons.  Of course, today is the day I returned to say goodbye to them.  Communication breakdown?

It felt great to return.  A friend dropped me off outside the NKU hotel, where it all began, and where I sipped a glass of tea, ate some cheese, tomato, and hot pepper tost, and felt the cool breeze blow off the Marmara and through my hair.  All the hazirlik teachers came to have tea/coffee/a smoke at the hotel after lunch, and I was back.  Just like that.

After Suzan finished her Turkish coffee (without sugar, please), Ezgi turned her cup over, let the grounds dry, and read her fortune.  There is an actual art to reading Turkish coffee grinds but we just make it up.

As Ezgi told Suzan wild things about what was to come, I couldn’t help remembering Pinar reading my fortune back in October (it might seem I’m just remembering this to create a cohesive narrative of my time here, but it’s true, I swear it).  She looked at the patterns in the grinds, looked at me, and told me there were many things in life I was worried about but none of them were important and I really needed to stop worrying about them.

It was incredibly true.  I spent the entire fall semester wavering between sanity and breakdown, the effect of a major life adjustment and sincere and unproductive navel-gazing.  And, well, moving abroad is tough, not gonna lie.  But I made it a lot worse for myself than it needed to be.  All I wanted was nothing more than to leave this town and never come back, students be damned.

Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  Though I certainly don’t want to stay in Tekirdag another year (I’m a city girl at heart, I’m convinced), it’s become a true home.  My home.  It took until February for it to become this way, but it’s my place, these are my students, this is my lojman, and to hell with Anatolia.

Each of the hazirlik classes took their turns this week having barbecues in the forest bordering the university (forest’s name?  Ataturk.  Of course.)  While I couldn’t make it to most of the picnics, thanks to a Facebook group message I was able to hitch a ride in Gizem’s car and head to A-1’s end of the year celebration.  A-1 is the top class in hazirlik, which means they generally understand what I’m saying.  It’s amazing what that can do for teacher-student relationships!  As the sun went down:

As fits with the traditional division of labor, the women prepared the salad while the men roasted chicken, kofte (meatballs), and sucuk (sausage).  I swear I have never had better kofte, though when asked they admitted it was already mixed by the butcher, not homemade.  Still, I love them.

The students played volleyball and yelled at each other in Turkish while I ate at the grown-ups table with Gizem, their main teacher, Gizem’s husband Cemal, Elif, a specialist, and Elif’s boyfriend Mehmet.  Since I couldn’t get up and join the volleyball game, I did the next best thing.  I spotted a tavla (backgammon) board across the way and challenged Gizem to a game.

I beat her, 2 game to 0.  Beginner’s luck?  The students thought they could take me for a ride.  Serkan challenged me.  He won by one roll.  Burak challenged me.  I killed him.  Then Nurtekin, another teacher came along.  He buried me.

Most of the students were surprised I knew how to play.  I told them of my ill-fated relationship with Caner, a local guy who a friend set me up with.  We got along just fine, but his limited English and my limited Turkish left us with little to discuss.  After conversation stopped about 2 hours into our first date, I suggested he teach me to play tavla (most bars and cafes here have boards hanging around).  Over the span of 2 dates, we played about 4 or 5  hours of tavla.  I know how to play.  I think only one of my students accurately understood this story because he burst out laughing.

During my game with Nurtekin, Cemal pulled out his guitar and a hefty Turkish songbook and he and the students started singing.  One of the things I loved most about Turkey is a great willingness to enthusiastically sing and dance in public.  As dusk settled, I felt a distinct end-of-summer-camp pang, the end of a wonderful shared experience with people you come to love after seeing them day in, day out, who have formed such a part of your being, but you may never see again.  I almost cried.  Yep.  I held in in, Nurtekin destroyed my tavla high, and a pang in my knee reminded me it was time to go home.

I’ll miss you, A-1!  From your hatred of the EU and your unwavering love of Ataturk, to hilarious desert island survival soap opera skits and unintentionally ridiculous Halloween stories, to your steadfast disapproval of America’s love of study drugs, constant interest in my personal relationships in great attempts to derail my lesson, and apparently extremely accurate imitations of my mannerisms, you’ve wormed your way into my heart.  How could you not love a student who shows up to class beaming, with Ataturk’s signature tattooed on his arm?  And who then wants extra Spanish lessons?

I hope we’ll meet again, A-1.

Censorship

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday’s post?  Happened a couple of weeks before “the accident.”  My life definitely doesn’t involve traipsing around graveyards anymore.  Though when I can walk again, just try and stop me!

During the first week of my lojman-based convalescence, I was pretty productive.  I limited myself to 2, maybe 3 hours of TV followed by 2-3 hours of Ladino interview transcription, reading, harmonica playing, and napping.  Use this opportunity, I told myself.  Set a schedule, have goals, be productive.

Then weeks 2 and 3 rolled around and my motivation ebbed as I became hypnotized by E2’s daily cycle of Ellen, Martha Stewart, and Gossip Girl.  It repeats thrice (great word) and so did I.  I’m admitting it, without shame: at some points during the past 3 weeks I watched 9 straight hours of Ellen, Martha, and my favorite Scandalous Upper East Siders.

My expression was as vacant as Nate's--but he's prettier

After a Saturday night chocolate cake and Mad Men binge (the 3-episode cycle from 8-11 pm repeated again at 1 am!), I put my one good foot down and said, “Sherri, pull yourself together.”  I threw out what remained of the cake, turned off the TV, and resolved to, well, get shit done.  After a good night’s sleep.  Sloth makes you tired.

Monday was fantastic.  I can be a pretty good taskmaster when I need to be.  So I rewarded myself with some late-night lounging.  CNBC-E, my favorite American TV channel in Turkey, was showing Bobby, the much-maligned 2006 docudrama of RFK’s assassination, the only movie to unite such disparate stars as Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, and Lindsay Lohan.  Dressed to the nines in their 60’s finest?  Great!  I began to willingly suspend my disbelief and actually enjoy the movie–and then this came on the screen:

No, Demi Moore’s not sporting the biggest orange flower ring EVER.  It’s a cigarette.  In an effort to dissuade viewers from smoking, no one on Turkish television is allowed to be shown smoking or holding a cigarette.  So instead, network censors replace cigarettes with neon-colored flowers.  This is utterly ridiculous and has the complete opposite effect of drawing the viewers’ eyes even more to what they already know is a cigarette.  A cigarette made prettier!  I want to smoke psychedelic flowers, too!  The ban completely ruined Control, the Joy Division film I watched back in October.  Do you know how many flowers Ian Curtis smoked during the 70’s?

This isn’t to say I don’t greatly appreciate the same 2009 law which banned smoking in indoor bars, restaurants, and cafes (though many slyly get around that by simply installing temporary windows in the winter and continuing to claim open-air status).  There’s enough real smoke (and smoke blown up people’s asses) in Turkey to go around.  But if anyone in the Turkish government thinks this act of TV censorship is preventing anything, they’re wrong.

Of course they’re wrong!  Remember when Turkey banned YouTube and every criticism of Ataturk went away?  Or when, instead of simply shutting down one person’s site, Turkey banned Blogger?  It was like that one time in kindergarten when some kid stole something and wouldn’t admit it so the teacher punished the entire class.  I am not your child, Turkish government!  And then here’s a whole list of other sites Turkey has recently banned.

It gets worse.  In August, the country’s Information Technology Board (BTK) will require that all Turkish households with Internet access choose a content filter.  You can’t not choose a filter.  They come in different levels: family, children, domestic, and standard.  Let’s play “choose your own repression!”  But I’m being selfish.  It’s to protect the conservative children, won’t somebody think of the children?! says BTK chairman Tayfun Acarer.  Of course!  In the words of Ersu Ablak, I want freedom, I must be a sick porno freak.

It doesn’t end there.  The Telecommunications Directorate issued a list of 138 words that are now banned from Turkish domain names, among them the English words beat, hot, homemade, and, winner of the Overwhelming Irony Award, free.  Also forbidden are the Turkish words for breath and, winner of the *Facepalm* Award, forbidden.

The opposition CHP party is ridiculing this which deserves to be ridiculed in TV ads for the upcoming June 12 election. This is my favorite:

I wish I could provide a translated transcript for you, but I don’t understand everything they’re saying.  What I do know is that they’re talking plainly about the sheer inanity of the ban, including the forbidden ban.  The ad is basically one big partywide *facepalm*.

It’s easy enough to get around the ban by using a service like HotSpot Shield, which encrypts your internet connection.  But we shouldn’t need to.  Turkey’s been widely criticized by the western world not only for censoring the Internet but for arresting and silencing journalists on trumped-up or false charges. And the Turkish people aren’t taking this laying down either.  There have been numerous protests around the country to challenge the government’s continual impinging of freedom.  But nothing seems to change, and as CHP stands little chance of upsetting AKP next month, expect plenty more viewings of shiny fluorescent flower inhalation in the coming years.

Istanbul Seyahat

May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

**Note: there are many pictures that accompany this post, but unfortunately my continually fickle Internet connection won’t allow me to upload my personal ones…I’ll try later**

After the university and the lojman, the place I spend most of my time in Tekirdag is the bus station, or, in the Turkish take on French, otogar.  Located right outside of the city center and behind the harbor, the otogar is home to intercity private coach lines traveling long distances to bigger destinations (2 hours or more), intracity public/private buses, and small private vans which travel short distances to regional towns and cities (2 hours or less).  But the Tekirdag otogar is so much more than place to embark or arrive; it’s a self-sufficient world.

The ground floor of the semi-circle otogar is full of small private coach offices selling tickets.  The coach line names and logos are prominently displayed, along with their most common destinations (which sometimes make you wonder why anyone would possibly want to go to Luleburgaz, but it’s Turkey).  Small means small; while some of the offices have room for 10 or more seats, a few are nothing more than a man at a desk.    In the middle of the semi-circle are a couple of convenience stores, and to the far left is fully-stocked lokanta (a quick-service restaurant with already-prepared foods kept hot in steamer trays).  In between the lokanta and the offices are the pay WC and the Roma family selling chestnuts in the winter and simit all other times.

The second floor (first floor in Turkish terms, but second to all you Americans–let’s just say the floor above the ground floor) is still a mystery to me.  There’s a male-only kiraathanesi (coffee/tea house), which for obvious reasons (death glares) I don’t enter.  Then there’s the family tea house, which also seems to be solely filled with men.  NOTHING MAKES SENSE.  Throw in some empty offices, some occupied unlabeled offices (shady!), a mosque, and there you have it: the Tekirdag otogar.

Catch Malkara Yildirim, Metro, Istanbul Seyahat, Kesan, Canakkale Truva headed east and you’ll wind up at Esenler Otogar, Istanbul’s central bus station.  This is the otogar to crush all other otogars, the uber-otogar, a seething literal hive of nonstop international transit.

Doesn’t it look like a hive?  If not in outward appearance, then at least in the constant buzz of activity.  The outside of the hexagon is lined with hundreds of multi-colored signs advertising private coach lines hitting every town and city in Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Syria, Iran, Romania, even Germany.  THERE ARE BUSES THAT GO FROM TURKEY TO GERMANY.  My god.  Intermingled at the corners of the hexagon are competing lokantas and convenience stores are selling the exact same foods and products, differing only in salt content and price.  Above the ground level are offices, more restaurants (which, when you try to find them, are mysteriously closed or boarded up), hotels, political party headquarters, barbers, internet cafes, dry cleaners, etc. Overwhelming, no?

Then take a look at the central rectangle in the hive.  I know I have.  After being too late to catch an evening bus to T.dag and having several hours to kill, I’ve eaten, slept, boarded the metro, and made friends in that rectangle.  Not only are there more (like, 20) restaurants offering food from most regions of Turkey (their Tekirdag kofte’s got nothing on our Tekirdag kofte), there are kiraathanes, internet cafes, clothing store, shoe stores, convenience stores, unmarked offices, and lord knows what else.  Oh yes, a kuruyemis.  During the height of my leblebi addiction, I made friends with the 18 year-old scooping dried fruits and nuts behind the counter.  I promised him I’d come back and we’d have lunch together in the rectangle.  I never did.  I’m sorry.  But his prices were so good!

You might think the hexagon and the rectangle provide enough geometrical diversion for the travel-weary.  But you’d be wrong.

Underneath Esenler lurks a dark, murky, damp subterranean world offering the EXACT SAME services available on the surface level: countless restaurants, hairdressers, dry cleaners, pay toilets and showers, clothing and shoe stores, tailors, mechanics, and a mysterious internet cafe that I swear doesn’t exist.  I descended into the abyss to look for this cafe once and followed the trail of arrowed signs like a modern-day Hansel and/or Gretel.  As the trail led me further into the dark and progressively creepier labyrinth, I gave up and backtracked to where the sun shone, thoroughly skeeved out.  Another friend confided that she had indeed found the cafe but would never recommend that anyone else search for it.  I’ll let that one be.

So what keeps these transportation hubs humming?  People, obviously.  But not just passengers.  Bus travel is popular in Turkey because it’s cheap, easy, and networks are extensive.  Gas is pretty expensive here (US, you’ve got it easy) and passengers pay by how many seats they’ll take up, not by how many people are actually traveling.  So if you can squeeze your family of 4 into 2 seats from Istanbul to Ankara, you’ve saved yourselves quite a bit of money.  And anywhere you’re looking to go, the bus will take you.  And if the bus doesn’t take you there, you can find a van at the local otogar to drive you there.  Cheap, convenient, and quick.

But that’s not all.  What keeps the bus stations humming are the coach line personnel.  Not only do you have drivers, who, after schlepping impossibly long distances have only a few hours at most to freshen up and get a haircut before their next drive; you’ve got ticket selling agents who preside over pretty brisk business; touts who stand outside each coach line’s office and yell destinations in their loudest convincing voices (the bus station sounds like this: “AnkaraankaraankarankaraTekirdagTekirdaaaaagAnkaraankaraankaraSamsumankara”–why are so many people going to Ankara?); and bus attendants.  This is where Turkey tops all.  Each bus has a man (rarely a woman, only had one brusque lady on a trip to Bulgaria) dressed in uniform (tuxedo bowtie on Metro!) who check the passenger manifest, serve your choice of soda, juice, water, or hot coffee/tea (on a bus!), and prepackaged corn-syrup laden Turkish cake.  On some lines, the attendants will come around with lemon-scented kolonya and dump far too much of the alcohol-laden liquid on your hands, soaking you, your clothes, and your bags with the unmistakeable scent of fake lemon bordering on Pine-Sol.

All of this (the extensive network, the personal service, the self-contained station worlds) add up to make a more pleasant and generally more interesting bus travel experience than the grimy Greyhound station, though not nearly as colorful or terrifying as the Chinatown bus network.  Before “the accident” (refer to it in hushed tones, please), I was a frequent otogar-goer.  I was a presence at Esenler at least twice a week, and while I often chose to wait for my bus in the Metro waiting room (cleaner, quieter, less crowded, and with TVs!), my loyalties firmly lie with Istanbul Seyahat (literally, Istanbul Travel).  I can’t explain why–it’s the most expensive from Tekirdag to Istanbul (15 lira) and not the most luxurious, but something about the bright orange logo, in-seat TV entertainment system, and past consistent service of the prized Tutku cookie won me over early.

Do you see how good this cookie is?  The chocolate-hazelnut cream can actually bring Turks and Greeks together.  Amazing.  I’m more inclined to believe the Turk would grab that pack and run, but dreaming is nice

I digress.  Since I generally travel at the same times each week, I see the same drivers, ticket sellers, porters, and attendants each week.  Each week they butcher my name on my ticket.  Each week they can’t understand why I live in Tekirdag.  Each week they laugh that I live in my neighborhood.  Each week they urge me with imploring eyes to please, take some kolonya.  Each week I respond with a smile and broken Turkish.  But we never really bridged the gap between spoken niceties.

This all changed after “the accident.”  I travel to Istanbul now only to visit my adorably English-challenged orthopedist at the Amerikan Hastanesi, scoot on my butt across Tarlabasi Bulvari and up staircases that somehow count as streets in this city, and generally provide comic relief for Turks, especially Turkish children.  But my new condition has brought the bus personnel and me together like nothing before.  First, I need to buy two seats so I can stick my immobilized leg straight out in the back row.  This involves pointing to my leg, repetition of memorized Turkish phrases, and an ‘aw shucks’ smile.  The ticket sellers smile sympathetically (sometimes) and happily charge me 30 lira.  Next, I need to get up the steep steps to board the bus.  This involves handing my crutches and backpack to the attendant, turning around, doing the butt scoot up the stairs, and grabbing the seats to hop down the aisle.  The attendant follows me and places my bag and crutches beside me.  At first this step involved the attendant holding the foot of my injured leg straight out while I ascended the steps, but luckily I can hold it on my own strength now (it was awkward for everyone involved, trust me).  Then, after two hours of the bus seat arm jamming me in the back, I have to get off the bus.  Repeat the butt scoot.  Then the attendant flags me a taxi and wishes me, again and again, ‘Geçmiş Olsun’ (get well soon).  Some of the porters at Esenler will run over and ask me what happened, why the crazy yabanci who always goes to Tekirdag now has a Darth Vader leg brace and wears bright orange shorts.  One man in particular helped me recover a jacket I left on a bus back in November and because he never forgot me, was genuinely concerned about my new lack of mobility.  I love you, anonymous porter who wouldn’t accept a thank-you chocolate bar.  I ate it and thought of you.

Yesterday on the half-empty bus back to Tekirdag (thank you, Esenler ticket seller for not charging me for two tickets with a wink), the attendant plopped himself down next to me and proceeded to tell me his life story, of which I understand about 10%, but I nod and repeat certain words and it looks like I understand.  What I got was that he used to be a cook in Finland.  This I am sure about. Now he serves cupcakes on the Istanbul Seyahat bus and looks wistfully out windows.  I like him.

It was difficult to realize that yesterday’s trip from Esenler to Tekirdag will be my last.  When my dad comes next week to help me pack up and ungracefully exit Turkey, we’ll be renting a taxi to take us.  This recourse to private transportation is new to me.  The public nature of the bus meant that I met everyone: vomiting teyzes who grabbed my knee, engineers learning Spanish, Bulgarian workers, gawking children, Moroccan tour guides, my students.  I don’t know how I’ll feel not making the journey on the barreling white coach.  The crowded, polluted, and dangerous (those buses pull out like no one’s business to shouts of ‘Gelgelgelgelgelgelgel’–‘comecomecomecomecomecomecome) Esenler has seen my best and worst moments: injuries, farewells and breakups, fear loathing and dread of the ending weeknd, reunions, meals, and more.  But I know I’ll be back.  I have to come back.  And I’ll walk into Istanbul Seyahat’s office, they’ll butcher my name, a teyze will shove me, and I’ll smile.

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