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.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I hate packing!

It really doesn't matter what it's for, I hate packing. Whether its just for a week vacation, or packing up to move. I don't want to do it and usually procrastinate for as long as I can. When I'm in Texas C always comes over and sits with me for those big packings - we get one last chance to talk and she keeps me working. No such luck today. This stinks! Not only do I have to pack for my trip (yeah!!! leaving for 10 days to go to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey) but I have to pack up my lojman. They've (the powers that be) decided that they are going to re-floor our lojmans over the summer. I've asked for mine to be done in the next week and a half (since I'll be gone and it will let me unpack again before my family arrives). Who knows if I'll actually come back to new floors - they couldn't seem to predict when flooring work will begin but in between packing for my trip, preparing my house for a two week leave (refrigerator/trash/laundry etc) I've also got to box up anything that is in/on furniture in all the carpet covered rooms so that they can "easily move the furniture." Grrr!!! It does make me realize that I really don't have a ton of stuff (especially if you don't count the clothes) about 4 boxes not counting kitchen stuff and pictures (neither of which is getting packed up). Almost done....I think. Unless I find some more things randomly. Sigh.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Patience is the key

My day today was all about patience. I spent 4 hours in the doctor's office waiting for the next blood sample in a series of tests (don't worry!) and then and another 2 hours making my way home. While I was sitting in the doctor's office I had an amusing hour or so with an older Turkish man (about my father's age). He didn't speak a work of English so you can imagine how slow going our conversation was. Being bored and stuck in one place is a great motivator for struggling on with patience. After two hours of reading I was getting bored an needed a new distraction so I pulled out my game of SET. If you don't know the game it looks like a person is just randomly picking up cards that have odd shapes on them. It was enough to engage the interest of this man and so I asked him if he would like to learn how to play. Right. What did I just get myself into? How to explain that there are four different characteristics and that you have to have all the same or all different? And how do you say stripes in Turkish anyways? But with some patience on both of our parts and a lot of pointing and examples he picked up on the idea. And we played. Or rather I helped him learn throughout one game. I'll give him credit - he didn't give up, and by then bottom of the deck was learning how to put together a set of three cards. It's just unfortunate he'll probably never see the game again. But it sure was a great way to interact with him - and made a lot of people in the office smile to see/hear me try to explain the rules to him. That real interaction is exactly why it pays to take my i-pod off every once in a while and truly mingle.

Travelling Turkish Style

I spent over two hours making my way back home on public transportation today. I will say that there is something about public transportation that makes me feel like I'm really living in Turkey. Maybe it is just because I'm using the same method of transport that the natives do - one that once you get outside of the old city you don't see many foreigners on. Maybe it is because I am finally comfortable navigating myself around the 5 or so forms of public transportation that run around the city. Whatever it is, when I'm sitting sweating on a train, minibus, or dolmush I can't help but feel like I'm really in Turkey. And when I successfully tell a driver where I want to get out I know that at least I'm using some part of the Turkish I've struggled to learn and that I must be getting to know the city better since I can at least recognize where I need to go. Progress, of any form, is positive.

Quote of the Week

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
-Kahlil Gibran

(suitable for the week of graduation, I think.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Responsibility Exams"

"Responsibility Exams" (Sorumluluk) - n. The exam a student who has failed a class a previous year takes in order to get credit for the course. Each exam can be up to 80 minutes in length, and a person can try as many times as necessary to pass this exam.

So why are they called responsibility exams anyways? (Although who knows if that is an accurate translation from the Turkish.) Perhaps because it is the student's responsibility to show up to take the exam. Or because it is their responsibility to actually study and pass this test. Or maybe because it is one of the responsibilities of the teachers to provide this last shot chance to make up for a year of slacking off. I don't really get it. All I know is that it requires A LOT of running around and signing official forms. Turns out that all our work this week to prepare an exam, make sure it was in proper form, and getting all the necessary signatures was for 1 student (ONE!) who in the end never turned up to take the exam. (I guess he didn't follow up on his responsibility) I can't be to upset, although I am annoyed that we had to even prepare the thing, at least I'm saved the hassle of grading the thing (a huge improvement over the 17 we had to deal with in February). This means I am now officially done with all of my work for school. Woo hoo summer here I come!

I have to admit that this system is a bit bizarre. How is it that a single 80 minute exam can make up for a semester or a year worth of under par work? The rules also say that if you fail grade 10 but pass grade 11 (in a single subject - not the entire year) then the pass you earned in the following year negates the failure the previous year. I believe it remains on the report card as a failure, but the students do not need to take a test to pass out of it. When I start to think about I get really confused....better to leave it alone and just do what I'm told is necessary.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where have all the teachers gone?

Saying good-bye to people is always difficult. This past week has made me realize that if I chose to continue teaching internationally it is going to become a regular part of my life. I've chosen to surround myself by people who are interested in travel, and in challenging their boundaries. For many of us that means moving on to new locations almost as soon as we become familiar with where we are. I started thinking this morning about where all people will be next year. The short list:
United States
That's quite a few new places for me. One definite benefit is that I'm building up a great list of places to visit with the excuse of visiting people. Of course we're also getting new teachers in next year, and the three coming into our department are from almost as varied of locations: Scotland, Brazil and the Netherlands. I have a feeling sometimes that if you colored in a map of everywhere I had been, that people I knew had been and that their acquaintances had been we would be able to color in almost the entire world. That's a pretty cool realization.

A night on the Bosphorus

25 June 2007
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
We had our end of year school party last night. Spent four hours on a boat going up and down the Bosphorus. Not that I noticed the scenery for most of the evening - only when we were going past the bridges (especially pretty when they began to light up with different colors once it got dark) and once we got past the area of the Bosphorus that I had previously travelled. D was nice enough to point out sites of interest and give us a bit of history. It's so nice to have someone who can double as a tour guide as a friend. She always makes sure she points out things that might be of interest to those of us who are still learning the city. It was a hot night, but as I flitted from group to group I forgot about the sticky weather and just enjoyed being outside and socializing. After dinner the music got cranked up and we started dancing like crazy. You should have seen some of the guards! Turks love to dance! And I have to admit that I think two years of dancing with them will teach me how to move my body better. The night unfortunately had to end on a sad note as I said good-bye to several friends who are off on their new adventures. They may be leaving but won't be forgotten (after all these are the people that will make great travel destinations for me in the future!)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Visiting a weaver artist

23 June 2007
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Saturday I had the chance to go to the workshop of a weaver that Ann Marie had met earlier in the year. He wanted to give a bar-b-que for whichever Koç teachers were interested in coming over to see his workshop (he is normally only open during the week so was doing this special for us on the weekend). I am so glad that I went! (Not for the food – I basically ate watermelon, although the others had some good meat.) Moussa does amazing work! He is really an artist, who has chosen weaving as his medium. In fact, he’s one of the few people in Istanbul I’ve ever heard say “That’s not for sale, it’s too pretty.” He is about creating first, and selling third or fourth. That said his work is bright, colorful and detailed. I’m not even sure that I can explain it. Several pieces had geometric designs to them (ok, yes it appeals to the mathematician in me who likes organized patterns) and when you held them up against the wall they almost looked like quilts. Sadly I’m inadequate in expressing the beauty of his work in words.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Quote of the week

He found that a traveller's life is one that includes much pain amidst its enjoyments. His feelings are forever on the stretch; and when he begins to sink into repose, he finds himself obliged to quit that on which he rests in pleasure for something new, which again engages his attention, and which also he forsakes for other novelties.
from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Recent Reads

I've been reading quite a bit since students left school...My three most recent reads are 1, 2 and 3.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting quiet

The students are gone (since Wednesday) and teachers have started leaving as of this morning. School is definitely getting quiet. I saw three other people (besides the cleaning staff) as I walked in this morning around 9. I have to admit it is odd to realize just how many people are leaving for good. I guess the transition of teaching staff is one of those things that is a regular part of any school, but especially at an international school. It's sad, humbling, and energizing to realize that there will be a whole new of group of people around next year. Sad to be saying good-bye when it seems like I just got here. Humbling to realize that although people make an impact on your life, a single year just barely gives you enough time to really get to know a person. Energizing to know that the dynamic will be changing and you'll have a whole new group of people to work with, and there is no telling what it will bring. Of course I'll still be here until the official last day of school for teachers (next Friday) but I have a feeling I won't be seeing to many more people come next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oh Guinea

New rankings came out this week, and Guinea is now 9th on the Failed State Rankings (as in the 9th worst country in the world) which rates countries according to political and social factors. I think this still might be better then the ranking they had in 2001 when I went over, but not so good (especially when you realize what is happening in some of the countries ranked worse). You can check it out here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Scrapbooking Online

So I'm becoming quite fond of the online scrapbooking program my sister S pointed me to called Scrapblog. Mostly I like it because it's free and all online so I can easily use it from Turkey but still have access to it anywhere. Also a bit of a relief to find that I'm getting quicker at using the program. It took me about 3 hours Saturday morning to create a scrapblog for my volleyball season. Pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Now I'm just trying to figure out how much effort I'm willing to go through to get it printed out.

Another Busy Day

Another busy day at work. Yeah right! The sum total of my activity today consisted of writing in all of the grades my students received this semester into the little red books, numbering all of those pages (don't ask - ministry requirement), and signing my name about another 50 times. Happily though I only have two more signatures to get before I'm done with my end of year check list. And yes, classes are still (technically) in session. I think I had a grand total of 6 students at school today (out of the 48 I would normally teach on Monday) while school is technically in session I think my students spent the day in the library or playing cards in the pyramid. It did mean I was free to spend 2 1/2 hours trying to decide on hotels for mom and my trip to Budapest (and a day in Vienna) this August. I finally made a choice just because I couldn't handle the thought of spending any more time on it. We're staying at the Hotel Turotel Mariahilf and the Korona Hotel Panzio. That's all I've done this afternoon, but now we have places to sleep - always important in the travel plan (I figure the only necessities are plane tickets and hotel reservations, all else can be figured out once you arrive). The exciting bit is that I think I have just one more reservation left to make for the summer (period!). Now I just have to decide when I'm going to take mom and dad to the thermal springs in Termal so that I can book that hotel. I slightly more difficult proposition as the owner only speaks Turkish.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cross dressers

As I was wandering around Taksim today waiting for a friend I was meeting for lunch I ended up on a couple of streets I'd never ventured down before. About half way through my maze of walking back to Istiklal I passed a woman (?) wait, that's just a man dressed as a woman. As my mind registered that another cross dresser left a building to join her. Definitely a side of Istanbul I hadn't seen until today. I wonder where exactly I was....

Street Shopping

It always amazes me the sort of things you can buy on the street in this country. A (perhaps not so) short list of what I’ve seen people selling this weekend in Istanbul: electric keyboard, binoculars, cell phone charger, nuts, scarves, bookmarks, pins, shawls, cold water (thank god! It’s getting hot!), watches, children’s pajamas, shirts, fish sandwiches, prayer beads, socks, electronic toy robot, duckling (alive!), perfume, sunglasses, books, balloons, evil eye bracelets, purses, muscles (cooked), gum, tissues, tea, street food (that could be a whole separate list – perhaps some other time), shoes, toys, headbands, cell phone sim cards, lottery tickets, flowers, underwear, pens, alarm clocks, lighters, jewelry, wallets, skirts,…I could keep going but this gives you a good idea of the variety of objects that are available. With street vendors like these why do you need a shopping center? The only trick is finding a vendor that is actually selling what you are looking for (or else you can just discover you actually do need that pair of rainbow striped kneed high socks – OK so it’s not so good for impulse shoppers). It definitely makes walking down the street a lot more interesting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's the point?

Today I got very fed up trying to fill out one of the necessary hard copies of things that is required of us. We do all of our grade entry on the computer, use the program to print out report cards, even allow students to access their past grades via the program. Yet we still have to fill our a little red book which lists the main grades (3-4 per semester) for each student to satisfy ministry requirements. What's the point of using the computer if we still have to hand write copies as well??? Really I'm just annoyed because about half way through completing my books (I have to many students/classes to fit all my grades into a single book) I realized I was writing down geometry grades for math grades. So I had to go get two new books, tear out all the pictures of my students, paste them into the new book and start all over again. (white out is not acceptable!). Grrr!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Just two more points....please!

One of the things I hate about the time coming around for calculating the final semester grades is that it never fails, I always have a handful of kids come begging for 1 more, 2 more, 3 more points on their grade. In some ways I understand, they're close - but I refuse to just give it to them! Arbitrarily I decided this year that I wouldn't even talk to anyone who needed more then three points (seemed like a reasonable cut off to me). I've made a couple of kids take a make-up exam to prove to me that they can pass an exam before I'll even consider the possibility of them passing for the semester. The others, who just want a few points to make a difference between a 3 and a 4 or a 4 and a 5 (ultimately about their overall gpa) I required them to complete a few math puzzles (found on-line). If you're bored, see if you can solve them:

1) Use the digits in the year 2007 and the operations +, -, x, /, sqrt (square root), ^ (raise to a power) and ! (factorial) along with grouping symbols to write expressions for the counting numbers 1 through 30. All four digits must be used in the expression. Only the digits 2, 0, 0, 7 may be used, and every digit must be used for each number. Multi-digit numbers such as 20, 207, or .02 may be used.

2) Your challenge in this puzzle is to move exactly 3 toothpicks in the following arrangement to make 5 triangles:

3) The challenge in this puzzle is to place the numbers 1-8 in the rectangles below so that no two consecutive numbers are next to each other horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. For example, if the 5 is placed in the far left box, then the 4 or 6 can't be placed in the box directly to the right of the 5 or the two boxes that are diagonally above and below the 5.

4) You are going to mix up some concrete, and in order to get it just right you need exactly 6 liters. But you only have a 4-liter and a 9-liter bucket. How can you do this? Assume you have an unlimited supply of water and that you are putting the water into a third, un-measured container.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Acquiring things

In the past two days I've managed to acquire 9 new house plants, several bags of books, and some new baking supplies. I've also been told by another two or three people that I'll be receiving either their houseplants or baking supplies soon. It's kind of fun to see what you end up with when people are moving our of the country. Plenty of things that they can't take with them...I have to admit I'm enjoying the added greenery in my house. Also not to surprised that they think of me when they think of baking supplies since I seem to always supply the cookies or brownies for almost any gathering on campus. Kind of nice to know that at least I'll be acquiring things that I will actually use instead of just random junk. It's amazing how much stuff people end up getting rid of when they move.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Choices in writing utensils highlight cultural differences

Sometimes I find myself noticing and focusing on really small differences. Case in point: this past week I keep going back to the idea of how many of my students here use pencils. I find it interesting that in the three countries I’ve taught in the preference for a writing utensil has been unique to each place. In Guinea every one of my students came to class with a red pen and a blue pen. The majority of the writing was done in blue ink with the red used to highlight new entries in the outline form, or to highlight important information. I could never use more then two colors on the board because then my students didn’t know what to do in their notes. Blue and red pens were the only choice they had. I’m not even sure if they sold pencils in the market. I know that I switched to using pens almost exclusively while I was there (unusual for a math teacher). In the US I had to take pens as collateral for pencils whenever I gave a quiz or test. Since there was a greater variety of writing tools available I could be more demanding about what my students used on material they turned in. Pencils were required for any material I collected. However the majority of the time (not for every student) pens were more common. But these came in so many forms and colors that sometimes I felt like I could tell whose work I was looking at just by the ink color. Writing utensils in Savannah could best be attributed to a wide selection or options. In Turkey my students are most attached to pencils. Every single student has a pencil case in which you can usually find at least 2 pencils (usually mechanical), a separate eraser and lead for the pencils. All exams, no matter the subject are done in pencil. In fact I’ve had minor crises when my students couldn’t find a pencil for a quiz. While pens and available and used, it has become clear to me that pencils are their preferred choice. I also find it interesting to think about what these choices mean in terms of neatness. In Guinea, students were fanatical about their paper being clean. What this usually meant is that anything they did they wrote twice. One copy would include all of the mess ups and work; the final copy had to be almost pristine in appearance. In the US we tend to encourage our students to work steadily, simply crossing out anything that they don’t want considered. Sometimes this results in a rather messy final product, but I think actually gives a student more time to think about what they are putting down. In Turkey, like in Guinea, they really don’t like to include work that is not correct. Oftentimes I receive problems which show two little work, where I can tell that some of it has been erased. The benefit of the pencil is that Turkish students don’t have to completely start over if they make a mistake, but they definitely make liberal use of the eraser to end up with a copy that is neat enough and accurate enough in their mind.

An end to Volleyball

Finally, we're done. After a game that started three hours after it's scheduled time (yikes! that's a lot of time sitting in a gym before playing) our volleyball season came to a fairly quick and somewhat sad end. Yep, we lost. In fact we lost in only three sets, to a team we had beaten two weeks ago in five sets. However several good things came out of the evening. (1) We, or perhaps I should say Mollie our bench cheerleader extraordinaire, made the really serious ref crack a smile at the start of the second set when she was on her knees yelling her heart out. (2) After the game the "smiley ref" (as we affectionately refer to the only female ref) was overheard complementing our coach on how we have a good solid team (I take this as a real compliment since she didn't have to say anything). (3) We still managed to be in high spirits after the game, giving our coach a proper thank you via chants, gifts and pictures. With cookies passed around to everyone in the vicinity including fans and refs (what can I say I had three hours in my apartment before getting picked up for the game and had to do something to curb the nervousness). I will say this - we may not be a spectacular team, but we definitely have a good team spirit. It's the kind of team I prefer most to be on - hard working and fun. (4) While this might not exactly be a good thing, I have to say I'm happy our season is finally over. It's been a great chance for me to interact with some of the Turkish teachers at my school, but I'm glad we're done with practice and games. It ends up eating up a lot of time once you include travel time.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


"It is almost impossible to send a message that does not have at least some cultural content, whether it's in the words themselves, in the way they are said, or in the nonverbal signals that accompany them. and even is it were possible to send a message without any cultural content, it's not possible to receive one without passing it through the filter of one's own cultural conditioning." -??

This past week I've had interesting conversations with two separate people. The topics themselves were not so staggering or amazing, but it was what taking these two conversations together made me consider. They were both quite similar discussions about what a specific e-mail we had received meant. Discussions that revealed we had interpreted fairly simple sentences in completely different ways. And we were two North Americans coming from fairly similar backgrounds. It made me start to see how things between us and some of the Turks can get so confusing. If two people coming from similar places can't read three sentences while getting the same impression what chance do a lot of cross country interactions have? I'm hoping that this reminder will give me a bit more patience and understanding when I have trouble getting my point across in the future (which happens should of seen me trying to explain what I meant by the word "hiss" to my office mates last week). It's a good reminder, one that I was made aware of during my peace corps years, but one that as I continue to move around needs to be refreshed in my mind.


So I caught a student cheating during an exam yesterday. Great. Just what I wanted. It resulted in twice as much work for me, a giant interruption for the other kids trying to take their exam in the same room and a huge amount of stress for the kid that got caught. What I don't get is why he thought it would be worthwhile to cheat on about 12 words (I picked up a small square of paper, maybe 2cm wide, with a list of about 12 words on it). Really, it couldn't have helped him with more then about 5 points on the exam, and now instead he will probably get a zero (unless there is some loophole that I left open by not knowing the necessary process). I guess I really am an optimist because the entire time I was going to see if what I saw was real I just kept thinking, "no, he wouldn't be cheating that obviously. He's a good kid, why would he cheat?" Although when I picked up a piece of paper he tried to cover up with German words on it I felt it became pretty obvious. The question is what makes a good kid (one who is normally in my top 5 in this particular class for math) get to the point where it was worth damaging his integrity? Admittedly exams are not the easiest time of year, and grades here seem to possess and even greater importance then they do at home. It's just sad that this kid is now going to have to live with the knowledge that he didn't trust in himself enough to take an exam on his own. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I survived!

There's always something satisfying about finishing up your last class for the school year. I know I'm not completely done working but I am finished teaching. The best part is that it means I've survived my first year of teaching in Turkey. Really, having to grade exams and then babysitting the few students who actually show up the last week will be nothing compared to what I've been through the rest of the year. It always amazes me though how few students want to spend their time the last couple of periods reviewing. I'm here, I'm willing to answer questions, but they just don't want to work anymore. I had more questions today then the past week combined, and I think that is just because the math exam is actually they're running out of time to prepare (although they weren't ready to work yesterday). Whatever. It's time for me to CELEBRATE I've survived another school year!

Killing time

As we move into exams I am faced with hours that I'm supposed to be at school with out much to do. Ok, yes, I'll have to grade exams but there's only so long you can do that before you go cross eyed (or before you get depressed). My current procrastination/killing time site is which is a site that lets you test your knowledge of geography (or other topics, but geography is my favorite). It's been a great tool for teaching me where some countries are that I had only heard of before. Proud to say I'm usually correct on at least 50 out of 53 African countries and am golden with the middle east. I think I'll move on to Central/South America next.

Monday, June 4, 2007

How old am I?

How old am I? Now you wouldn’t think that would be a difficult question. Only it turns out that Turks don’t calculate age the same way that we do. According to us I’m 27 because I haven’t had my birthday yet this year and I was born in 1979. According to them, that makes me 28. As far as I can tell they don’t care when you’re born in a year, you count the present year no matter what. What this means is that there is no way to differentiate between someone born January 1, 2007 and someone born December 30, 2007. When you’re born you are a year old. As soon as it turns to 2008 both of these people will be 2. Is it a life shattering idea? No. Is it an interesting twist to what you always thought was a straight forward question? Definitely. It does make it a bit more difficult to figure out how our department members compare to each other age-wise – turns out there’s not as big of a gap between me and some of the younger Turkish teachers…it only took me 8 months to figure out we weren’t starting from the same assumptions.

Birthday Presents

So what do you get someone who is getting ready to move countries is a few sheet weeks, to Bangladesh much less? Clearly it needs to be something useful, and small...small perhaps being even more important than useful. I racked my brain for a couple of days and finally decided I was just going to have to make something. I knew my friend was nervous about her forthcoming move, after all Bangladesh is more intimidating than Turkey, and she didn't know anyone where she was going. I thought that maybe she would need something that could work as a pick-me-up in those harder times. So I took a used gum tin (the gum I like here comes in a metal box sort of like some of the mint tins in the US) and covered it so that it bore the words "A little box of Positive Thoughts" (instead of saying first gum). Then I cut out about 100 rectangles from decent paper and proceeded to write quotes, thoughts and aspirations on them. I'm hoping that when she needs a reminder that all is good and she can persevere these ideas will help her. At the very least it shouldn't take up much space as the box is only 8 x 2 x 3 1/2 cm.