Musings on my adventures around the world and my ties back in Texas as well as some of the the ideas I have to adapt and create to keep those places close to home.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Riding the Ferry

The sun is starting to shine daily, and I’m down to just a light jacket when I go out for the day. How happy am I that it is finally spring? With the start of the warmer spring season I am also pleased to be able to enjoy one of my favorite parts of exploring the city: ferry rides. The ferry is, in my mind at least, the best form of public transportation there is in Istanbul. Not only do you get to avoid all of the traffic and get to your location faster, but you can soak up the sun while traveling. Bored? Throw the sea gulls a bit of your simit (basically like a large bread pretzel). Thirsty, there is sure to be a man walking by soon chanting “chai” or “Nescafe.” And don’t forget the sights. The best view of the Sultanahmet skyline is from the ferry from Kadikoy to Eminonu or Kerikoy. It always reminds me that I am in another country, as I sit and count the number of minarets I can see poking up from the buildings. Not interesting enough for the 20 minute ride? Start to people watch. I guarantee you that you’ll see something entertaining there. Whether it’s a group of Fenerbache football fans (say that three times fast) chanting or a cluster of small kids enjoying the ride the people watching on the ferry is fabulous. And with your sunglasses on (yet one more benefit of sitting in the sun) they can’t even tell if you’re staring at them. Yes, I’m happy spring is back and I can go back to fully enjoying the entire experience of riding the ferry instead of just thinking of it as a way to get across the Bosphorus.

Translation Fun

Received an e-mail today from the person in charge of keeping up with our lojman repairs and such... "The lojman flyswatters will be restored next days.If you have a problem with your lojman’s flyswatters, please inform us." Made me stop for a minute. My flyswatter? Hey, I didn't get one of those at the beginning of the year, it might have come in handy...My mind picturing the plastic handle with a square on the end. Or do they mean an electrical bug zapper? That would be cool (not likely). The next e-mail from another international teacher shed a bit of light "flyswatter = flyscreen (on windows/doors) ... not the plastic on the end of a stick used to squash annoying pests" Of course. That's cool too. I'll be happy to not have bugs flying in and out of my lojman anymore.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Children's Day

It’s always nice to get an extra day off of from school, which is exactly what has happened today for Children’s Day. Now I’m not entirely sure what this holiday is about, except celebrating children. As far as I can tell from what I picked up at our assembly on Friday (Woohoo! We didn’t have to come in for just an hour on Monday for an assembly.) this is sort of a dual holiday. Today has something to do with the first meeting of the Turkish National Assembly. Okay, according to a small description I’ve found from my new teacher’s guide “Ataturk was elected president of the new National Assembly on April 23, 1920. This date is honored as ‘National Sovereignty and Children’s Day.’ Ataturk presented this day to the children of Turkey only. He believed in children as tomorrow’s young men and women: the hope for the future.” Since then I believe that the day has gotten tied in with the UN’s Children’s Day (there is a big celebration going on in Antalya this year with kids from around the world). All I know is that I’m happy to celebrate it and what feels like the real start to spring. Of course our assembly on Friday had some kids in it. A couple of groups from the elementary school came over and we watched them perform a Vienna waltz, some dance with tambourines and a couple of songs. The least you can say is that at least they’re cute at that age.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Calling Home

It's humbling when you realize how much a phone call can mean. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy and need my calls home every week and sometimes talking to my parents is all that ground me for the week ahead. But today I realized just how much my calls mean to my parents. I was a bit later then normal calling (the whole 8 hour time difference makes it hard sometimes) this evening, and when I did finally call mom said she'd been waiting. They don't even have to ask who it is anymore on a Sunday morning, I guess I've become part of their routine (and really who else is going to call before 9 on a Sunday?). Our phone calls are just part of their weekend morning. But something mom said today made me realize just how much a part of their weekend it is. Dad apparently got dressed and was ready to go to the shop when mom asked "where are you going?" "To work." "But it's Sunday." So after about a minute of thought Dad reflected that indeed it was and he sat back down in the living room. And they waited, happily both there when I called so that we could chat for an hour. It was humbling though. I never realized how much my calls home meant to my parents. But to learn that they put off their schedule just to wait for the phone ring is pretty impressive. One thing for sure - I'm going to have to make sure that I don't miss a weekend call (unless of course we've already discussed that one of us will be incommunicado). Thank you Skype for making it so reasonable to stay in touch. And for all of you sons and daughters out there - pick up the phone and call home. You never know how much your parents would love to hear from you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It's all Greek to me

Its funny how even on the most calm of days when you're traveling something always seems to happen that is worth writing about. That was true on one of our last days in Crete. We'd had a pretty straightforward day. Quite a bit of driving, a little bit of sightseeing. It was easy to tell we were winding down the vacation. We arrived in the town of Agia about 5:00. I wasn't that impressed with the town at first look (or really after we'd been there a while - although I will say the people were really nice). We decided to stay the night anyways, didn't feel much like driving on and it would definitely be cheaper then go on into Iraklion.

We stopped at a hotel mentioned in our guide book and spent about 5 minutes trying to figure out where to go to see if they had a room available. Rang the door bell a few times and were standing there looking lost when a little old lady came up and asked "rooms?" (I think that was all of her English) A stream of Greek followed our "yes" and she proceeded to ring the bell a few times, knock on the door and yell "Magaurite." When she didn't get an answer to proceeded to give what I thought were directions to another place, only it turns out that she wanted to get in the car and show us. Now getting directions from someone who only speaks Greek, even when she's sitting in the front seat (I squashed myself into the back because it just seemed easier) is not that easy. But we managed and ended up parked where she wanted. At which point she led us inside, exchanged a patter of Greek with another little old woman, who yelled upstairs to her husband to show us the room. Never mind that the couple only spoke Greek as well, we ended up with a room for the night. Tiny but clean, at this point I was just happy to have a bed.

Sadly this wasn't it for my Greek-English in-communication for the night. When we came back from dinner we realized that our radiator was not working and our room was cold! We dithered back and forth over whether the blankets would be enough to keep us warm but finally Dee convinced me to go back downstairs and try to talk to our landlady (since she was already tucked up under said blankets). Right. How do you tell someone that can't speak your language that you have no heat? You tell them you're pretending to shiver and then pointing upstairs to the room. Spurt of Greek...which I think was her repeating what I pantomimed in actually words, and if it wasn't I agreed anyways. It got her to come upstairs at least, where she felt the radiator and agreed there was no heat then shrugged her shoulders as if to say "I don't know why." She went back down to get her glasses, came back up, yelled for her husband again. When he came up some long interaction in Greek took place, which also involved them tramping in and out of the room several times (never mind that there was hardly room for two people to stand up at the same time, much less walk past each other). Judging by touch, they exclaimed in happiness when the pipes begin to heat up. As did I. My bumbling attempts to communicate without a common language were over. I am a little amazed at how much you can get done without being able to exchange a common word. I will say that living and traveling abroad has made me much better at listening for a general idea instead of listening for words that I can recognize.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hidden treasures of Crete

I arrived in Crete without too many expectations. I really didn’t know much about this Greek island, I just knew that for some reason I’ve wanted to visit it after looking at a map of this area. Spring break provided me that chance. After getting into our rental car we realized that the Crete really isn’t all that big. Only about 40 km from the north side to the south coast. It is a lot longer east to west, but still in four days we were able to see quite a bit of this island.

My favorite ended up being one of the unexpected stops we made when we thought something looked interesting. After driving through a canyon that I had hoped to do a little hiking in (no such luck, no access to get down at all) we came to a stone arch with a sign for St. Nicolas the Kourtaliotis of Asomatos and some steps leading down. Now I’m not really sure why there are quite so many little churches on this island. I suspect that families build them for certain reasons – either as thanks, or in memory of an individual. I am sure there are more little churches then would be needed to hold the entire population of the island several times over. This is my favorite of the ones I saw though. After descending 152 steps you come to a small chapel wedged up against the face of the cliff. To the right is a continuation of the canyon wall with several small waterfalls cascading over and a steady stream flowing along at the bottom. The setting just had a way of impressing a person with how small and insignificant individuals may be in the grand scheme of things, while highlighting the grandeur of our created world. I have no idea who built this small church, but it was worth the extra work they put into it to build on this magnificent site. I will say one thing for the Cretans; they have a way of picking absolutely stunning settings for their churches, although it’s not that difficult in the rugged beauty of the island.

Easter in Greece

The amplified sound of priests chanting (a nice change from the call to prayer) drew me out of my hotel room on Good Friday. It had been a full day, and we’d arrived less than an hour ago, but I couldn’t resist getting out into the middle of part of the Greek Easter celebration. It was easy to find my way to the church closest to the hotel. I just had to follow the chants, and the stream of people carrying candles, stopping of course to admire the view of the Acropolis lit up at night. Soon my attention was turned back to the Easter celebration. We came across hoards of people on one of the walkways through the section of Athens where the ancient sites are centered. I was able to slowly wind my way closer to the tiny church whose chants had drawn me out. But mostly I was drawn to the sight of all of these people standing around outside with lit candles. There must have been several hundred people, and I could only imagine that something similar was going on all over the city. Suddenly there was a more concentrated movement, and to my surprise I saw a flower covered dome being carried out of the church. What? This definitely isn’t part of Catholic Good Friday services. We turned to follow along as all of the other people were doing. Walking for about 15 minutes in the park until everyone stopped and parted to the sides opening up the sidewalk for the formal procession to return. The altar boy carrying candles, a candle decked cross, the priests flinging holy water, and then the flower covered form being carried by 4 men. (My guidebook later mentioned that it was common to process through the streets with an effigy of Christ). Okay, it’s Easter week.

Easter Sunday, or rather the vigil mass which began at 11 pm and continued until about 1 am did not make nearly as large of an impression on me as the Good Friday service did. Candles were still in abundance. The church bells ringing over the city brought a smile to my face. The view of another tradition – whole roasted lamb being turned over a fire on the sidewalk – was not quite as appealing (yet fascinating in its own way). I had to wait until two days after Easter before I actually was given a red egg (another tradition in Greece) but was happy to have a real Easter egg this year, no matter how late it came. Easter was a fascinating way to experience the beginning of my trip to Greece providing me with a different look at some of the customs of this country I would have otherwise missed.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday

Next week is Easter, which means just one week until my Spring Break. I’m looking forward to heading to Greece (Athens and the island of Crete) especially since Easter is their biggest religious holiday. It will be nice to be somewhere where the holiday is actually celebrated, rather than having to construct some semblance of a celebration myself. Being the Sunday before Easter today I went to mass to celebrate Palm Sunday. Now, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After all, my experiences in foreign countries around Easter have been quite varied. But I did expect palms. I at least know that parts of Turkey have palm trees. Silly me. As soon as I go making assumptions I’m sure to be proven wrong.

I arrived at church just in time to be told to proceed outside for the start of the service. Ok, that’s fairly typical. Only instead of blessing palms, our priest was praying to “bless these branches.” That’s because we didn’t have palms. Instead we had a very large clump of olive branches. Why not? After all, the story of the agony in the garden occurs on the Mount of Olives. Olive branches have some significance, especially if you can’t have palm fronds. So after the branches are blessed and we had all received our branch of varying size (I saw a kid with a branch that was at least half as tall as him, while my companion received what basically amounts to a sprig) we turned to process back into the church. Only here I recognized the West African influence brought into the congregation by our Nigerian priest and participants. We didn’t just sedately walk in as I would normally do in the states. No, to accompany the choir we were singing and (some of us were) waving the olive branches enthusiastically above our heads. It reminded me of the 2 km procession I did in Koundara the first year I was in Guinea which could have definitely been considered a celebration of Palm Sunday. The rest of mass was “normal,” but today has definitely made me wonder what I’ll experience when I try to celebrate Easter next week.