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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Turkey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Magical Musicians

Compelling. Evocative. Toe-tapping. Those are my lasting impressions from this afternoon. What was I doing, you wonder? I took advantage of some discount tickets and went to listen to the Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra that was on tour in Istanbul. It was a lovely concert. The sort that makes you forget about everything that has gone on before during that day . Music that places you in another world that has nothing to do with the one you normally inhabit. Music that has the power to take you away from everything is why music is such a part of our lives. I have to admit though, that it has been a long time since I’ve been that carried away by it. At times I felt as if their fingers were flying faster than my ears could even hear! And the dulcimer player was simply amazing - I couldn't even see the sticks they were moving so fast over his instrument. I highly recommend seizing the opportunity if you ever get a chance to see them. These musicians are also magicians, able to take you away for a brief hour or two. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

Sadly no pictures, as cameras were confiscated and checked at the door. Although you can check out a youtube video of them here:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Never uneventful

I don't think that I have every managed to take a trip by public transportation anywhere in Africa and have it be uneventful. It doesn't seem to matter where I am or what form of transportation I take: bush taxi, bus, train, bike (wait, is that public transportation?)...This held true last week when I was in Morocco too. Of the three forms of public transportation we took not a one seemed ordinary.

The day we arrived we flew into Casablanca but decided to go directly to Marrakesh by train. The trip started out easy enough. I was actually pleased at how easy it was to get to the trains and buy tickets. My french was still good enough to cause no problems in that way. Then we had to transfer...and after the expected 2 hour wait, the train was another hour late. Ok, so that wasn't really a big deal. However I was not expecting the train to be quite so...stuffed...shall I say. Standing room only. What I really mean is that I got pushed into a hallway, did a face plant against the wall and required 15 minutes to figure out how to get both feet on the ground so that I had a chance of not falling over (except we were so packed I didn't have space to fall either). Then came the man who insisted on getting the food cart through the packed area, which resulted in me balancing back on one foot while somehow suspending myself over the baggage. No! Don't touch that's the only thing that is keeping me upright! Thankfully we did arrive just fine in Marrakesh, and we even got to sit down for the last hour of the four hour trip. Which worked out just fine until our taxi dumped us on the street and said he couldn't take us any farther. Too bad we didn't have any idea where we were, or where our hotel was! Thankfully the men there seemed to be willing to do just about anything for a bit of money so I finally bargained one down to a reasonable price (??) to take us to the hotel. After winding down narrow alleys and through dark passageways I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever arrive, if he actually knew where we were going, or if we were going to get even more lost. Seeing the hotel had never felt better!

I guess I'd be a bit incorrect to say that the second trip was eventful. It was more what happened just before and just after, which felt like part of the trip. We arrived at the bus station thinking that we were a good 20 minutes early, only to find that as soon as we boarded the bus it pulled away. Phew! Close call. Then when we arrived in Essaouira we discovered that the entire town had lost its electricity. Now you might think, big deal. You're in Africa. Unfortunately our hotel entrance was in the middle of a very dark alley. The sort where you can't see anything, much less the door. Thank goodness again for the people. Someone turned us around, and pointed to a specific spot in the darkness, and what do you know - there was a glimmer of candle light just there. Hurrah. Now if only they had sent us to find our room with a candle. Ended up making do with the flash of a camera until I could dig out my headlamp (never leave home without it).

The most unexpected moment occurred during the six hour bus trip from Essaouira to Casablanca. When we were about half way there (roughly 120 km from both of the marked towns on the map) we were going through a small town whose name started with a Z (but couldn't be found in the guidebook). Suddenly there was a bit of clunk sound. The type that sounded like some of the luggage below falling over, or even perhaps out of the bus. Sadly it wasn't that easy. No, it turns out we had just hit a horse! I still can't figure out how that happened. But I did figure that we were in for a long pause. Sure enough all of the men piled out of the bus, and pretty soon there was a fairly large group of people clustered around the bus. Some of them seemed quite upset. A bit of a relief when someone returned to the bus to say that the horse was alive! That definitely made things a bit easier. Frankly I was surprised when the bus filled up again and we were moving on in just 20 minutes. Of course we did stop again about 2 minutes down the road at the gendarmerie, where 3 people went back off the bus (the driver included) to file a report (I suspect). Ten minutes later we were finally off for good. Only a 30 minute delay!

As I sad traveling in Africa is never uneventful. But it does provide some of the best stories I have from my time there. Morocco was no exception.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beautiful, enchanting, colorful seductress

Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I’m talking about Morocco. It is a beautiful, enchanting, colorful and yes, sometimes a bit of a seductress. I’m not sure what it was exactly about the country, but it seemed a bit like coming home while at the same time an exotic new adventure. Beautiful…from a natural landscape that seems to be extremes – mountains overlooking dry rocky flat land, palm trees and the Saharan desert. Beauty also found in old buildings with amazing detail that had my mouth dropping open in awe as I wandered around them. Enchanting…as at times it seemed as if I were stepping into the pages of a fairytale. Snake charmers playing music in Djemaa el-Fna (the main square in Marrakesh). The bubbling laughter of our chef teaching us the secrets of cooking traditional Moroccan food. Familiar images of sheep being hauled on shoulders and by cart for the festival of Eid. Colorful…mostly dressed out in warm orange, pink and yellow shades, welcoming one and making one seem at home. Brightly clad women. Orange stands stacked high. Souks with displays in every shade of the rainbow. A seductress…encouraging one to stand to watch the sunset spill bright shades across the ocean. Warm individuals going out of their way to make your way easier, offering a sweet mandarin as they appreciated an unexpected use of French. Morocco is a land that will remain in my imagination long after this vacation has passed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Capsul Wardrobe Challenge

So my sister challenged me to participate in this (and then backed out!?!) challenge. The mix and match 10 major wardrobe pieces and 5 accessories for a workweek wardrobe. Its a bit rough to start when you don't find out about it until after day 1, so I was stuck with 4 of my pieces. Pretty happy with how it turned out, although I realized it's quite a bit easier when you are a simple dresser as I am. What I learned...I should definitely exploit belts a bit more.

The breakdown:
Day 1: Pink corduroy skirt from Collezione in Turkey(15 ytl at the end of the fall)
White top from a friend's rejects
Red cardigan - thrifted in Austin
Brown maryjane shoes - thrifted in Austin
Necklace from the Ortakoy jewelry market in Istanbul

Day 2: Dress thrifted (somewhere in Texas)
Red Cardigan (repeat)
Leather belt thrifted in Houston
Black boots thrifted in Austin (although actually a Christmas gift from my sister)
Same jewelry

Day 3: Black skirt (from way long ago)
White top (repeat)
Red belt (repeat)
Black boots (repeat)
Same jewelry

Day 4: Black skirt (repeat)
Black shirt one of the many things my mother brought me the last time she came, surely thrifted from Austin
Silver butterfly belt - not sure who gave this to me, mom probably, again thrifted
Black maryjane's thrifted in Austin (couldn't handle another day in the same shoes)

Day 5: Pink corduroy skirt (repeat)
Black shirt (repeat)
Red belt (repeat)
Black boots (repeat)
Same jewelry

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quote of the week

"There are no enemies in sport; just opponents. There's no hate; we take to the field to play hoping we're going to win. In no way are our opponents enemies,wherever they come from. Whether they're from Africa or Asia, it makes no difference. We're all the same."

Miroslav Soukup, U20 men's Czech Republic coach


(My father at about age 5 - I hope he's having as much fun now)
Curiosity is a good thing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey treats teachers terrific

One of the things I really appreciate about this country is the amount of respect that exists for teachers. It is a profession that is truly appreciated here. To show that appreciation every year there is a Teacher’s Day (November 24) set aside to recognize the contributions that teachers make to the future of the country by educating its children. As Ataturk said the "new generation will be created by teachers."

This year I received one carnation, two roses, a television (!?! Special gift from the school) and enjoyed myself at a special dinner. Another advantage of being a teacher here is that you get reduced admission or free admission to many of the sites. I’ve heard this might be changing across the country but it is still true in Istanbul. I have to admit I really appreciate being able to explore what the country has to offer without having to pay for it all (and I especially appreciate it the third time I go somewhere because I have to take my guests there). Mostly though, I just appreciate the recognition and thanks that the day brings.

I highly encourage any of you who have children, or who have teachers to thank them for the job they do. It doesn’t take much, but it will make their day just a little bit brighter.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Natural bounty
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I'm always thankful to have the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving, even when it has to occur on the weekend and not exactly on the day (After all we will have school on Thursday). Today went over quite well. We had about 60 people show up to celebrate thanksgiving which means that we had an amazing spread of food. And I have to admit I did a good job decorating using all the color I could find walking around campus. What an lovely evening! One more thing to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why it pays

Today I realized again why it pays to develop relationships with certain sellers in Turkey. When you consistently take people to them to buy things, not only do they like you and refrain from harassing you. They also give you good deals, and make sure your friends don't get ripped off. But better than that, sometimes you get free goodies! Today I managed to get my (second) free salt bag :) Isn't it pretty?

Salt Bag

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Ultimate Color Test

When you are at peace, you are:
Energized and innovative
When you are moved to act, you are:
Giving and warm
When you are inspired, you are:
Spiritual and humble
When your life is perfectly balanced, you are:
Light hearted and funny
Your life's purpose is:
To live a passionate life

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In honor of Veteran's Day

I give you my great-grandfather as a cook in the army. (I know, I'm a day late, but Veteran's Day isn't exactly recognized here in Turkey)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ataturk Remembrance Day

At 9:05 on November 10, 1938 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died (from cirrhosis of the liver). The founder of modern Turkey made an enormous impact on the shape and development of Turkey as a nation. It is in great part due to his ideals that Turkey currently bridges a bit of the gap between the west and the Middle East. There is no denying that he is a man whose legacy is clearly visible.

What amazes me is that 70 years after his death the country not only remembers him but publicly mourns him in unison (in unison!!)on the anniversary of his death. At 9:05 in the morning sirens and bells go off around the country and everyone (and I mean pretty much everyone) stops and stands still and silent for a minute. Cars on the road pull over and park and people emerge to stand on the shoulder. Classes stop and silence descends upon a normally roudy school. I haven't been in the countryside on this day, but from what I've heard the same happens there. The whole country holds its breath and remembers this man.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Success is

Success is
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
going to the local market, finding a computer store, being able to explain that you need a new end put onto your internet cable in Turkish, and getting it home to find that it actually works! Yes, I had a good trip to Kurtkoy today. Living abroad has taught me to redefine what makes a day or a trip successful. It is the little things that really do count.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Today when we arrived in Taksim square it became clear pretty clear that *something* was going on. The question was what? There was an tank right in front of where our bus stopped. Half of the lanes of traffic we blocked. There were more police buses then I had every seen before. As I continued to walk along I noticed police on top of building with their guns (we laughingly referred to it as the police fashion show), there were two to three times as many police out as would be normal for the typical Sunday protest, and the police were holding their guns in such a way that implied an eminent shooting. Despite all of this I never did see anything that warranted such a large show of force. There was rumor that there had been a bomb threat (turned out to be just that, a rumor) but things weren't blocked off that much. Turns out (at least as far as I can tell) that the opposition party to the ruling party had requested a protest, been turned down by the government, and claimed they would hold the protest anyways. The police show was to keep them from being able to do so. I have to say that if they had shown up, I'm pretty sure the police would have been fairly successful. They were stationed at the top of every side street, periodically along Istiklal, armed with gas and guns. It could have turned ugly. Thankfully it didn't. Just another peaceful day with a large show of force.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Weekly Quote

Silence is essential to being human.
-LeVar Burton

*you can download a lecture he gave at Wellesley College from iTunes U for free. Entitled Reading Rainbow, Roots and Star Trek.*

Donate water by playing

I just found a new online game which donates water for your correct answers, and seeing how it is a geography game I have a feeling I will be hooked quite soon. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Running or Swimming?

This past weekend I completed my third 15k as part of the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon. It is something that I've done every year I've been in Istanbul partly because it is just really cool to be able to say that I have (1) run across the Bosphorus bridge and (2) run from the Asian continent to the European continent. I can't think of many places where you would have that opportunity. I have to admit though, that this year was a bit of a downer. I didn't even marvel and smile at the signs that say "you are now entering Europe/Asia." All because it was raining the entire run. And I don't mean a nice drizzle that just keeps you cool. No, we had so much rain that some of the stairs we passed looked like waterfalls, I splashed into numerous puddles that were ankle deep, and the whole view was greatly missed due to the heavy clouds and dark weather. So the best that I can say is that I finished the run this year with a slight improvement to my time (not as much as I had hoped, but that too I will blame on the weather). In the three years that I have run this race I've gone through snow, rain and sun. I hate to think what I could face if I do it again next year. Perhaps a wind storm strong enough to blow me off the bridge? As for this year, I am still deciding if I was really running or more like swimming.

*I do have to give kudos to the marathon organizers, who despite some of the normal nonsense did manage to give us dry t-shirts and cheap rain ponchos when we finished running. That is the only reason that I didn't freeze on my way back across to catch the bus back to my land of a hot shower.*

Friday, October 24, 2008

Succes in a long day

Some things are the same...
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I went into town today to run two, just two, errands. And while I did manage to get them both accomplished it also took me close to 7 hours to do. And not because the errands were that hard. Because of the joy of 9 forms of public transportation and a bit of waiting in between. Lets just say I'm glad to finally be home.

So what did I do? I went to drop of my pictures for the Istanbul Photo Contest at Les Arts Turcs and ended up having a really nice conversation with Nurdogan about his project and the competition. It turns out that this is the first year they are doing the contest and he has some pretty lofty goals for the competition. He expressed that part of why he had chosen to only hold the competition for foreign photographers is because there is a fair amount of photos out there by Turks, but he hopes that consolidating a collection of foreign pictures will give some insight into how foreigners view the same places differently an open a dialogue of understanding. He seems to have gotten quite a bit done with just three people and not much money (it is a non-profit organization). I'm curious to see how everything turns out. He does seem to have some hope for future years: there is a chance of the city putting up a display of the photos outside of Hagia Sophia for the 2010 "European City of Culture", he has plans to extend the competition to include Turkish photographers and lead to dialogues between photographers of many nationalities, he even has Turkish celebrities clamoring to be judges next year (a testament to how much coverage he's gotten by the press). When you combine it all together with his graciousness, energy and conviction you get a combination that is bound to succeed. (If you've ever been to Istanbul and taken some photos I encourage you to make a submission to help this man on his mission).

My second stop of the afternoon was in Fershane to pick up my race number. That's right, it is time for the Istanbul Intercontinental Marathon (ok, 15 km for me). Sunday I will take advantage of the one time of year that we're allowed to cross the Bosphorus bridge on foot. Even though I had to go a bit farther out of the city center to pick up my number and chip I have to admit that they were much better organized this year. I'm pleased at least to have my stuff, including a t-shirt and the bonus bag this year. They seem to be going all out for the 20th race. I just hope the new route goes as well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Quote of the week

Inside, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams.
-Antwan L (?)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It is Blog Action Day 2008, and this year's theme is poverty. Now sometimes I think, what do I really know about poverty? And then I remember that (1) this is something that affects all of us and (2) not to long ago I was living in a country that was ranked in the bottom five of the world. Right now Guinea seems a long way away from my current life in Turkey, but I know that my experience there not only opened up my eyes but also changed how I look at the world. So I'll share a few observations.

Often times the reason that people live in poverty is something that is almost beyond their control. Relocation due to war, being born in a country where it takes 18 hours a day to cultivate enough food to exist on, a lack of infrastructure and incorruptible public officials. Despite all this, do not ever think that this means that these people are somehow worse than you. Often times they are putting in more energy into subsisting then you would ever dream of putting into your job. I had students who would get up early to go draw water for the family, cook breakfast, wake up their siblings and get them ready for the day only then could they think about getting ready for school. After 4 hours in class they returned home to fix lunch/dinner for the family (very time consuming when your tools are 1 knife, 2 pots and a wood fire), go to the market, take care of the siblings, clean the house, wash the clothes, and just maybe get to their homework. All of this had to be done before the sun set, as there was no electricity and candles were to expensive to use. The only light came from the moon on a clear evening. And some of them were only 12. They were doing all of this for the chance to possible get out of the village and be the first to go to college. I must emphasis chance, because in my two years in Koundara at most 4 of the 70 students who graduated earned places at a university. Why were youth responsible for all of this? Because parents needed to be working full time all day in order to earn enough to buy food, or in order to grow enough to feed the family. Times were not easy. Yet these individuals always had a smile and could find joy in their life. Cooking became a game. Families sat and talked once the sun set. Poor, perhaps. To be pitied, definitely not.

As I finished up my two years in the Peace Corps in Guinea I realized that I was leaving a country that I had actually seen go more downhill in the years I was there. Things were not improving in the country. The price or rice, and thus the cost of feeding a family, was increasing. Roads got worse. Fewer students were managing to stay in school through the end of high school. What to do? As a teacher I firmly believe that education is the key, and I don't necessarily mean the education you get in school. This is why I trained a group of my students to talk to others in their villages about how to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. Why I lend money to struggling entrepreneurs through Kiva (a microlending company). It's not enough to give things away, no, we must help people to learn how to improve their own lives. When they have responsibility for it, then that is when the true changes can occur. The sad thing is that even though I watched Guinea deteriorate it has gone up in the rankings. How misleading is this? What it really means is that now there are just more countries,and thus populations, that are in a worse situation then Guinea. We need to do what we can to address this.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making a calendar

I've been looking around at getting a calendar printed using some of my photos. Not quite sure if I want to do this or not, but I thought I might as well look at what my best options would be. It looks like the cheapest way to go online would be either with Vista Print which runs $12 a calendar + shipping and handling (but seem to have a 25% off sale going on right now) or Lulu which would run $12.33 for the number I'm looking at (not sure about shipping and handling). Of course who knows if they'll ship internationally, or how much that would add on to the price. I'll have to think a bit more about this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

National Breast Cancer Month

October is National Breast Cancer Month, and while I'm not big on donating money to companies or charities when I'm not sure how they use it, I have two ways that those of you who have a bit of time can help out. Your click at this site will help to fund mammograms for needy women. Also for every pink themed photo submitted to the flickr Pink 2008 group this month, yahoo will donate a euro to breast cancer charities. Two ways you can make a difference without it costing you a cent.

An odd surprise

Returning anywhere when you've been gone for a while always brings its own surprises. Whenever I head home to Texas I am always shocked by the development that has sprouted up in our small town. I'm not sure it can be called a suburb anymore, more like a suburb of Austin. I may have to call it quits the time when I go back to find houses in the field that faces our house and has always been full of steers and sunflowers in the past. A time I suspect will be quite soon.

Coming back to Istanbul was no different. Only I would have never been able to anticipate the surprise that awaited me at school. It seems that we have acquired our very own Trojan horse. Yes, that's right. They redid the elementary school playground and we now have an extremely large wooden horse (taller than either of the two story wings of the elementary school)in our side garden. I'm just not quite sure why it is necessary. It's cool, in an unexpected sort of way. Although I have to admit the red slides coming off the two sides spoil the look a bit. I wonder if teachers will take their students inside of it when they are discussing the Trojan war?

Excursion Day

Despite having just gotten back from vacation, and there being no class on Monday due to it being Istanbul Liberation Day, on Wednesday we took off for excursion day. This is one of those things that is mandated by the Turkish Ministry of Education, which while a great idea does not always achieve the goal. "The goal?" you ask. Well that would be to take students outside of school and show them how what they learn in school is related to real life. This year we took our set of students (about a third of the 10th graders) to Buyukada, the largest of the Prince's Islands. In the past we've attempted to do a navigation activity which has been somewhat loosely organized and never ends up working out to well. This year we actually paid a company to run an orienting course (at least that is what they called it - not quite what I expected). Basically it was a treasure hunt for information that required students to plan a course, read a map (no compass needed), and participate in some activities (like donkey riding, bike riding, rappelling and darts). What I can say is that this year at least our students seemed to actually participate (which is more than I can say for previous years). I had a good time, as we entered one teacher team so that we could analyze the course and see how it worked and if we liked it. Along the way I did get to go a down small cliff, and was pleased to see a side of island that I had missed in my previous three trips there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Recent Reads

I read two books while I was on vacation and highly recommend both of them. Was thrilled to have packed two (!two!) good ones by chance.

The first was When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin. A somewhat serious novel about a heart transplant doctor and his return to practice. Has also made me reaffirm my decision to be an organ donor if it ever comes down to that.

The second was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. A lighthearted futuristic detective novel that takes place partly guessed it Jane Eyre.

Quote of the week

Our dreams in Action

Dreams give us hope.
Hope ignite passion.
Passion lead us to envision success.
Visions of success open our minds to recognize opportunity.
Recognition of opportunities inspires far-reaching possibilities.
Far-reaching possibilities help us enlist support from others.
Support from others keeps us focused and comitted.
Focus and commitment foster action.
Aciton results in progress.
Progress leads to achievement.
Achievement inspires dreams.
Dreams give us hope.

-Debbe Kennedy

And a bonus quote for the week (you have my grad school readings to thank for these).

It isn't the time you put in, but what you put into the time that really counts.


Help me please

Lanterns in the Grand Bazaar
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I've been invited to submit photos for a contest. The theme is photos of Istanbul (taken by a foreigner). I need to pick five to submit. I've gathered my options (about 30) in a set on flickr, and would love for you to help me by commenting on the five that you think are the best. Thanks!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Through my window

Last week I had to introduce myself to my on-line learning community by describing my view through one of my windows. I thought this was an interesting exercise, although I must admit I took a fair amount of poetic license with it...all the things could have been true, just not all out of the same window.

As I perch in the bay window of my apartment in the morning I stare out over the field that abuts the school property. In the slight reflection I catch a glimpse of the photos that hang on my wall. Pictures of people and places that have shaped the person I am - family at home in Texas, images of Guinea in West Africa, the magical moment in the desert in Mauritania, exploring in Australia, some of the many excursions I’ve managed to take here in Turkey…Through the open window I can see and hear the sheep grazing in the field. At that moment I hear the call to prayer, which reminds me that even though it may look as if I live in the country I am actually just on the (far) outskirts of Istanbul. Part of my life takes place in the dynamic sprawling European/Asian city, the rest in the more peaceful area where the school is located. As I sit and think my eyes keep drifting to the road, and the call to prayer serves as my call to leave the window and take off for a run.

Then I added more, as people actually wanted to hear *something* about the school, after all we are in an education program.

Luckily (at least I feel that it is a good thing) I don't see the school from the window. When you are living on campus, I think that being able to have your house completely separate from the school is a definite luxury. I do look out over our creche (the preschool for on campus children) and the accompanying playground which is often filled with shrieks and laughter in the afternoon. When I do finally take off on my run I manage to circle the entire campus in about a mile. I laugh whenever I pass the elementary school for it now has a trojan horse in the playground which is taller than any of the two story wings that make up the school. Past the caged fields and the gravel soccer field/track I hit the student dormitories (very pink!) and then circle around the high school building. I marvel at the imposing entrance to the x-shaped structure and know that I'll soon be returning as the halls fill with students to teach my first math class of the day, and hope that I'll soon have the names of my 98 students sorted out before the end of the third week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Iftar in Sultanahmet

One of the things I enjoy about the Ramadan season is having the chance to head into the old part of the city to explore the Ramadan festival that is always held in the hippodrome. Last night I got my chance to experience the atmosphere. The reason I actually like Sultanahmet this time of year is that it is much more focused on Turks then it is on visitors. There is a more friendly, town fair type of feeling to the whole area. Yes there are plenty of tourists in the area still, but the whole set up is for residents. A way to celebrate the holy month and enjoy the breaking of the fast at sunset. Happily for those of us not fasting we arrived in Sultanahmet just minutes before the mosque call signaled that it was time to eat. We didn't have to wait! Instead we could go straight to a gozleme stand and enjoy our first warm treat of the night. Tucked up on the grass happily eating we were free to imagine that we were no different from any others sitting on the green space of the hippodrome - to imagine that for once, we were just one more resident of Istanbul enjoying what the city has to offer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Saturday I got the chance to explore another area of Istanbul with one of my Turkish colleagues. Technically we said we were going to take photos, but instead we ended up spending more time sitting, talking, and enjoying the cooler region of Istanbul. Beykoz is pretty far up the Bosphorus - what seems more like a smaller town then a part of the big Istanbul city. It is apparently a region which draws many of the immigrants from the Black Sea region because of its cooler temperatures and extra greenery. The houses are in that style (according to M - I wouldn't really know) and the streets were a lot of fun to wander. However, I enjoyed sitting along the side of the Bosphorus in a city run cafe the most. It probably didn't hurt that it is the middle of Ramazan either, as it means there weren't nearly as many people out at the cafe mid-day.

Public Exercise Machines

There is a new trend in Istanbul to install exercise equipment in some of the public parks. I find it a bit odd. I'll run in public, but I'm not so sure how comfortable I would be on a glider, back press or side swinger (ok, so I don't know the technical names for most of the machines I checked out the other day - but you should get an idea of what they do from my made up names) where anyone who was passing by could see me. Talking with a Turkish friend the point was made that most of your everyday Turks would never be able to experience these machines if they weren't in the public areas. They don't have enough money to join a gym, and Turks don't seem to be nearly as obsessed with exercising as many Americans I know. So perhaps the easy access to these machines will help them to exercise a bit more. I just don't know if I'll get used to seeing fully covered, head-scarved women exercising on machines in the park. I think I'll stick to running, myself.


Somehow it doesn't seem quite fair that classes haven't even started (students arrive tomorrow) and yet I have already had to give several different sets of exams. I came back to school a week early to help give the grade 10 transfer exams - which is exactly what it sounds like, an exam that gives interested students a chance to transfer into our school from an exam at the end of the summer. We did have to be a bit careful for some borderline grades as students have to earn at least a 55 in either math or science in order to enter the school - and as always these students still have the right to appeal a score in court (it's better for us not to even give a grade which may result in an appeal). This past week students had a second chance to take the grade-raising exams and the responsibility exams. Their first attempt was in June just after school ended. The grade-raising exam is again what it sounds like, a single exam which will get averaged with their end of year grade. It is a bit deceptive to call it a grade-raising exam as quite often it ends up lowering their average (a result the students never seem to anticipate). Responsibility exams are for those students who have failed a class during the normal school year (either for the just finished year or a previous year). They get a one exam shot (which will continue to get repeated semester after semester until they manage to pass or finally give up) to pass. All it takes is passing the single exam to retroactively pass them for the year. I still have my doubts about the educational value of these exams, but I do realize it is something that I have no control over. Its a Turkish Education Ministry decision.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quote of the week

Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.

- Marquis de Condorcet

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another photo being used

I got a message the today that another one of my photos is being used. This time in some sort of travel guide that has been modified for the iphone. The cool thing is that they sent a link that will let me (and you) see what it would look like.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New favorites

I've finally taken the time to search out two of my new favorite artists that I've discovered recently. Pierneef is a South African artist that I discovered at one of the museums while I was there. This I think is my all time favorite painting of his.

The other is a Turkish artist, Mustafa Ata, who falls more into the modern/geometrical category. Istanbul Modern always has one of his paintings hanging in their permanent exhibition. I just love the lines in his people.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Things I hate

Foreign Office
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
While I quite enjoy living in Turkey there are certain things that drive me crazy here. The first few backs at the end of the summer always highlights what those things are. I guess once I"m back and in the grove, they don't bother me as much....although some of it is things I only have deal with once a year - which just makes me that less patient. Almost done with those at least.

Things I hate here:
1. The entire ordeal of going in person to renew my residence permit. It was bad enough Tuesday when it took us 7 hours to go apply for the extension. Today's 4 hour trip just to pick up the darn things just about drove me crazy. The ridiculous part is that really todays trip was 3 hours in of driving and around 40 minutes to actually pick up the residence permits. This is what happens when the foreign office clear on the other side of town.

2. Sitting in traffic. Although that isn't so bad. I'm just not used to again yet. It reminds me I'm in one of the largest cities in the world. What did throw me for a loop today was watching a line of traffic back up on the shoulder of the highway. Excuse me? You're supposed to be going forward. They just decided backwards was the quickest way out of the traffic. Of course there was one person who just turned completely around and drove forward amidst all those people who were backing up. There is a reason I don't drive here. I'll get used to it again once I've been back awhile. Its amazing your ability to ignore the things you really don't want to be seeing.

3. Transfer exams, Responsibility exams and Average Raising exams. Transfer exams actually weren't too bad. At least they only lasted 40 minutes. But I still don't understand why we have to give students a chance to increase their average if they didn't do the work during the course of the actual school year. Basically says it doesn't matter if they work during school or not. That goes double for the chance they have to pass a class they failed by passing a single exam (of course most won't succeed at that - still they shouldn't have the chance). It wouldn't even be so bad if it weren't for all the forms that have to be correctly filled out at the right time (before, during and after exam). Of course its all in Turkish. Sometimes I think I could be signing my life away and would never know it until its to late. You want my signature? Okay...

At this rate I'm quite looking forward to having students again. At least then I'll be immersed in the craziness I'm familiar with and should theoretically be able to control.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One of my photos

Rugs for sale
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
My day was made today when someone contacted me and let me know that one of my photos was used on a New York Times page (Freakonomics on buying a carpet). You can see it here. This seems like such a bigger use/accomplishment then when one of my photos just gets used on a random blog.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Turkish Wedding

Civil wedding ceremony
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Last night I went to my second wedding since coming to Turkey. This was for a fellow Wellesley alum that has moved to Turkey to marry her (now) husband. As she didn’t have anyone coming to represent her side I thought a trip off campus to attend was the least I could do to help make her day. The nice ting was that I at least now had a much better idea of what actually goes on during a civil wedding. Let me tell you one thing – it is quick! The entire process basically consists of the bride answering the following three questions: What is your full name? What is your father’s name? What is your mother’s name? Then the groom answers the same three questions. The bride then answering yes to is she wishes to become Mrs. so and so and the groom answering yes to if he wishes to take so and so as a Mrs. Sign your name here and “You are now married.” The entire thing takes maybe 7 minutes. Of course it was a tad slower last night since the government official was actually asking Helen her questions in English but there is not much to the exchange. Of course just because the ceremony is over doesn’t mean that the celebration has even begun. Food (salad, kofte and various meats, rice) is shared, a bit of dancing and then the cutting of the cake. All in all a low key but lovely celebration of one couple’s start for a life together.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quote of the Week

In the end,
We will conserve
only what we love,
We will love
only what we understand,
We will understand
only what we are taught.

-Baba Dieum
Sengalese conservationist

Monday, July 14, 2008

Feeding time

Me too!
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Do you ever have those experiences where you don't really want to be watching, but you can't really look away? That's what I felt like Sunday. A friend took pity on me (since I was the last one out of the boarding house by a full 24 hours) and came and got me and we went to the Lion Camp. Turns out that they feed the lions at noon on Sundays. So we got to see the lions gnawing down, each with their own piece - although an occasional fight erupted over exactly whose piece of meat it was. It was disturbing and fascinating all at the same time. Made me realize just how powerful and wild these animals really are. There is a reason they had signs posted about not getting out of your car! Still, I feel like I was privileged to see a rare moment (rare meat at least) and while the veggie in me was more than a little squeamish I just couldn't stop taking pictures. The lions that were carrying a full leg where probably the most captivating - perhaps because their meal was easily identifiable. Oh, lucky me to catch feeding time at the park.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quote of the week

...the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. If one is free at heart, no man-made chains can bind one to servitude, but if one's mind is so manipulated and controlled by the oppressor as to make the oppressed believe that he is a liability to the white man, then there will be nothing the oppressed can do to scare his powerful masters.
-Steve Biko

Thoughts from J'burg

Separate Entrances
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I've been tucked away on the campus of the American International School for two weeks now, which is not exactly in a city - or really by much of anything at all. I have been focused on my classes (6 hours a day) and assignments and so have not really seen much of the area at all. We did have a "field trip" (I feel like I'm back in elementary school when I say that) last weekend that took us to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. It really gave a fabulous impression of what went on in this country as they fought to eliminate apartheid. From the moment you walk in - either through a whites only door or a non-whites entrance...which lead to two different approaches into one of the exhibition halls. The visual impact of the museum is striking, and I have to admit it really made me stop and think. Think about how a community that makes up only 10% of the population was able to dictate the laws that oppressed so many. Think about how liberal their bill of rights is. Think about the promise that we were asked to make the end, our own personal vow to combat inequality in the world today. Think about how while we've been driving down the streets it isn't uncommon to see a group of black workers with a white supervisor. Think about how almost everyone I've seen in a service position (working cash registers, cleaning, cooking) are black. It gives you a lot to think about, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

South Africa's Bill of Rights

...may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientations, age, disability, religion,conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

A pretty strong statement you must admit for a bill of rights...although you do have to realize it was written in 1996 after years of struggle to end apartheid and introduce equality for all the various people in the country. Just think what would happen if all people would apply this to their life.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not really experiencing a new country

Fenced in
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
While it is true that I'm in South Africa, I can't really say that I feel like I'm experiencing much of a new country. I have ridden in a car from the airport to the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ) where my program is taking place, gone to the mall for supplies, and wandered around campus. That is pretty much it. The majority of my time is going to be taken up with coursework and reading (gosh it has been a long time since I was a student). The few things I have noticed have mostly been from out of the window of the bus. The country is dry and brown right now, although I can see how it could turn quite lush during the wet season. I'm glad I'm not having to deal with the rain, although it is a bit odd to be in the middle of winter. Everything is fenced in. And much of the fencing seems to be electric. I can't figure out why this is. If they just feel like they need to make it that imposing, or if the fencing is also to keep out some sort of wildlife (really, I have no clue). I'm also struggling to adjust to being a country where everyone speaks English. I didn't realize how much that effected my daily interactions, but it does. I find myself having to hold back Turkish daily phrases and am working to make sure that I actually greet everyone I come across.

It looks like my program is going to be pretty intense. What can I expect for only 3 weeks? There is an interesting group of fellow students. Among them a Brit living in Uganda, various Americans living in China, Japan, and Cameroon, a woman from Nigeria, a Cameroonian, A Ugandan who is on the Olympic (national) swim team (500m freestyle), and a man from Zimbabwe, as well a few people that are working at the school here in Johannesburg. Its a good mix and makes for some interesting conversations. I think we'll be going out on some field trips this weekend, so hopefully I'll get to see a bit of what Johannesburg has to offer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Euro 2008

Last night when I finally made it back to my lojman I flipped my television on because I knew that Turkey was playing in the quarterfinals of the European Cup against Croatia. I thought that as it was nearing midnight I might just be able to catch the final score before I headed off to bed. It turns out that while I did miss the first 89 minutes of the game, I did manage to watch the most exciting 40 minutes of the game. Yes, it was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation play and so went on to overtime. During the overtime period Croatia scored and I almost turned of the TV, but there was only 2 minutes left so I thought I might as well hang on a few more minutes. Good thing I did, as Turkey managed to pull of yet another late game score (their pattern all tournament) to tie up the game again. So on to penalty kicks and a win for Turkey! I hadn’t realized that I was that invested in the spirit of football here, but I guess I have been caught up in some of the nationalistic pride that is accompanying the Turkish national football team on their tournament play. A unifying force that is sorely needed in the country right now as a counterpart to all the other political tensions that exist. I had to laugh as I headed to bed and heard car horns blaring and shots being fired in the air. Yep, Turkey is celebrating their win loudly!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Erase it!

Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
I’ve spent a lot of time the past two weeks watching my students take exams. During my time staring at them I came to realize that they use an eraser a lot. It’s not unusual to see them groping on someone else’s desk for an eraser (groping because they want to make it clear that they’re not trying to cheat) or tossing an eraser back and forth. It’s really quite interesting to me. In the US I had to force my students to use a pencil for math and even then it was just as likely that they’d cross something out instead of erasing it. Here I seldom even see a pen and students want to do scratch work on their desk so they don’t mess up their paper. During their English exam they would go back a paragraph and carefully erase a few words to rephrase it. I’m not sure I ever took that much care during a timed written exam (although perhaps I should have). It’s just an interesting cultural difference that seems to be the half way point between crossing out in the US and the re-writing of a completely clean copy that happened in Guinea.


6 June 2007
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
This past week has been all about exams. We finished up our last few days of normal exams on Wednesday. Today the moment our 12th graders have been stressing about for the last 12months has finally arrived – they took the OSS – the university entrance exam that will determine their future for at least the next several years – this morning (I look forward to actually seeing them a bit relaxed and free on Friday). The education ministry has also decided to change the system for grade raising exams (exactly what it sounds like – an exam that gives students a chance to increase their year average) and responsibility exams (for those who have failed courses and now get a one test chance to reverse that). The only real effect for me is that we’ll no longer have any kids showing up Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (not that many would have come anyway now that exams are finished). I’m afraid it may mean a shorter summer holiday for many of my colleagues who will have to stay to proctor these exams (right now I’m glad I have a plane ticket out next Saturday).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 like a game of whac-a-mole

Proctoring exams is like a game of whac-a-mole. At least thats what comes to my mind as I sit and stare at my students for 80 minutes. I'm always scanning the room looking for the next head that is going to pop up. The trick is to make eye-contact with a student as soon as their eyes come up from their exam so that they know you're watching them. I figure that prevention is so much better than having to actually deal with cheating. And if you're looking at you most of them will think three times before trying to sneak a peak at some else's exam. Really it is like a game of whac-a-mole in the quick reflexes it takes to catch them as soon as they pop up. Now if only they'd give me a nice rubber covered mallet proctoring would be so much more entertaining.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A trip to the grand bazaar

My weakness
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Anyone who knows me well will realize that the Grand Bazaar is not my idea of the best time to be had in Istanbul. It’s not that I don’t like to shop – but I’m much more interested in getting a deal and I am often overwhelmed by all the shopkeepers trying to get my attention. With the right person, and for the right amount of time, the bazaar can actually be fun though. Yesterday I had a good experience their. Not only was I in a mood to sort of float through the crowded streets and admire the riot of colors on offer but I managed to combine the three things that I find necessary for any fun trip to the market. The first element is to be with someone whose company you enjoy. Since I wouldn’t venture into the market except for someone I like, that is pretty much guaranteed for any of my trips there. The second element is feeling like I have found a new corner or been introduced to yet one more of the long list of vendors that have a “Koç connection.” This happened in one part by chance – the place where Jessica ended up buying her tavla (backgammon) boards ended up being the store co-workers had told her about…we just happened to stop in there and find what she wanted – and one part by introduction – when we went to a vendor I do know Jessica asked if we could be taken back to the storeroom to see the rest of his stock. Wait, you can do that? I never knew that they had storerooms around these five corners and back in the small courtyard. It just made it seem like I was discovering a new element of the Grand Bazaar. The third element is, of course, feeling like I managed to bargain to a good deal. Even
though I wasn’t *planning* on buying anything when we went in I still managed to do this as well. I actually think that sometimes it is easier as tourism season starts up. That is the time when it helps to spend
some time with the vendors, to attempt to use the bit of Turkish I have to establish a connection and of course play the Koç card. In the end I’m never really sure if I’ve gotten a good deal, but as long as I’m happy with the price I pay I guess it doesn’t really matter…and I know I paid less then some as I watched a tourist pay more for the exact same thing while I was there.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brooks Williams

Brooks Williams
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Tuesday I had an amazing evening. An intimate concert in my school director's back yard. I went imagining I'd just be there for half and hour or so. I stayed, absorbed by the music for two hours. Brooks Williams, a well known (to some) acoustic guitar player, was here and he played a session for us. I love how music has the ability to transport you to another place. His blues and bluegrass (complete with steel guitar) made me homesick. Lovely and magical.

Our new auditorium

Our new auditorium
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
At the beginning of the school year they promised that the auditorium that was gutted and being rebuilt would be finished by November. Today (yes, at the end of May) they officially opened that same auditorium with our student talent show. It was fitting to have the opening be a student event, especially as the students have been suffering along with us teachers through the construction noises and distractions all school year. I can’t say I really expected the thing to be done in November but I was starting to lose hope that we’d actually see it before the end of the year. I am always s amazed by the talents our students have. I only stopped in for an hour of the talent show, about a quarter of the whole thing, but during that time I heard several bands, a girl play the harp, another student on the violin and enjoyed a Latin dance. A variety that proved quite entertaining.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 3 of my vacation

Day 1 found me at the archaeological museum. Day 2 I painted the labyrinth. Day 3 I met with a colleague and he took me to a couple of areas of Istanbul that I had never wandered around before. We both had our cameras and we just looked for some of those shots that beg to be taken. It was amusing to me that he was surprised I was able to keep up walking with him for 5 hours...especially when we took at least 3 sit down breaks for refreshments. Not that I'm complaining about that, but it would take a lot more than that to tire me out. It was so nice to have someone to explore with, especially one who actually speaks Turkish. It just opens up so many more opportunities. We could go places that I would hesitate to wander around on my own. My two favorite pictures I shot, are of course, of people...

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Finished labrynth
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
Since we have a long weekend and I was unable to organize transportation outside of the city I decided it was time to have some projects get done. Yesterday was a trip to the archaeological museum. Today I finished up a scrapblog from last summer but the real accomplishment was painting a labyrinth. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. My resolution now is to actually walk it every day. If you're interested there is step by step photos here.

exploring the archaeological museum

set in stone
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
After being encouraged several times to go to the Archaeological Museum by my brother-in-law after I had sent him there alone during his visit I finally decided to take advantage of some of the time in my four day weekend to do just that. Little did I realize that it would take up almost all of my time in town yesterday. Somehow, Turkey has acquired quite a collection, and not just from the treasures that can be found in Turkey. One thing for sure, I didn’t expect to see nearly so many sarcophagi in one place. They were amazing though. I have to admit that. The whole place was pretty amazing. Even the garden was a lovely tranquil oasis, with a good selection of ruined columns amidst the greenery. Although I have to admit my favorite exhibit was one they put together about what they’ve uncovered while trying to build a train tunnel underneath the Bosphorus. I guess one of the difficulties in a city that has such a history is that it is almost impossible to dig anywhere without unearthing some sort of archaeological remains. It’s just neat to see what was in places I frequent thousands of years ago. Really helps to put the modern world into perspective. While I don’t think it could ever be a quick trip I do recommend you take the time to visit if you ever get the chance.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Race Fever

Decked out for race day
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead
About a week ago I was very confused as to why I couldn’t find a hotel room in the city for a night. Yes it’s nearing tourist time in Istanbul, but its still a bit early for everything to be full. It turns out that the city was full this weekend because of the Turkish Grand Prix. Racing fans flocked to Istanbul to watch the race, and since school is located so close to the race track, Istanbul Park, I couldn’t very well avoid the realization that it was going on. Saturday morning when I opened my door I could hear a faint drone in the background – the race was already on, and yes – we’re close enough to hear it. My mom got a glimpse of the track on Friday when a colleague’s wife took her out to a road that overlooks the park. As she said, “we were still pretty far away, the cars looked more like ants – but it gives an idea of the course.” Of course, if you’re really interested in the race course I discovered that there is a website all about Istanbul Park. Other than the background noise and a definite increase in traffic (thank goodness we were always going the opposite way this weekend) the only thing I noticed was that all the gas stations out by school were well decorated with checkered flags and one even had a giant helmet on top of its roof. For those of you interested the Brazilian Felipe Massa won the race.