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Home Again (Explained)

July 30, 2011

I am home.  Not quite as easy as it may seem.

So I realize that I just stopped writing sometime in June.  I do not feel the need to justify my actions (meaning not writing on my blog).  I was very busy the last few weeks in Samsun.  It was emotion packed and full of other events such as last meetings, tests, packing, goodbyes, laughs with friends, and, during the final week in Turkey, a big trip that took us to Istanbul, Izmir, Ephesus, and Pamukkale.  It was a ton of fun and a great way to end out the year.

But I don’t wish to fill this post with details about the ‘old rocks’ at Ephesus or exactly why the season final of ‘Öyle bir Geçer Zaman Ki’ was so exciting (just know I am anxiously awaiting the next season to start).  I want to address the fact that I am sitting at the computer in my house in America and am typing a blog post on an English keyboard…something I have not done since August 28, 2010.  Actually there are a lot of things I haven’t done since the last days of August 2010 that now I am able to indulge in on a daily basis if I desire.  Some examples:

  • Eating pork.  Yeah, that just doesn’t really exist in Turkey.
  • Listen to English on the radio or TV.  Finding a random American show in Turkey that wasn’t dubbed doesn’t exactly count.
  • Rediscover and use all the clothes I didn’t bring to Turkey.  I forgot how many clothes I have.
  • Talk to my family without the use of Skype.
However there are also a lot of things I no longer have.  It is strange to not have aspects of life I had grown so accustomed to.  Examples:
  • The Muslim Call to Prayer.  I actually thought I woke up to it the first morning home.  Turns out it was the TV downstairs.  Talk about strange realization.
  • Speaking Turkish.  This ranks way toward the top of the list.  I dream bilingually much more now than when in Turkey.  Probably because I think in Turkish a lot more now than when I was there.  It’s strange, but I decide to think in Turkish now because I miss using it in daily life.
  • Çay/Tea.  We drank it all the time and even though I brought a tea pot home, I don’t make it all the time.
  • The other exchangers.  I miss them a lot.  The best way to explain it is that before I went to Turkey, my main support system was my family.  Then they were gone (when I left) and my best friends (read: the other students) became my support system.  It was hard because I had to adjust to living with and relaying on new people.  I am in that same process now, though it is easier than the first time.
Those are the main thoughts I have been dealing with lately.  I am so glad I went to Turkey and saw what I did.  I have no regrets.  Until later my dear readers.   Thanks for following.

Why I Came

June 8, 2011

This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions of my year (both here and the summer before I came).  Why did you come to Turkey?  Why did you want to learn Turkish?  Why did you choose to leave your high school in the USA and come to a place you had never seen? 

The answer is usually: Why not?

Then I go on to actually talk about a few reasons I decided to be ‘foolish’ and leave America to live in a country where I spoke none of the language.  I use the word foolish because, if you look at the concept of exchange long enough, that is what you realize.  It is a completely foolish and risk-taking thing to do.  Go abroad to a place to live with a family and learn a language and try to build an entire life from nothing.  Without knowing anything.  The process involves an indescribable amount of trust and confidence from everyone: the exchanger, the student´s family, the host family, the program (AFS).  It is amazing that the whole thing works at all.   

So why do thousands of teenagers every year choose to go on this foolish adventure?  We have heard every reason in the book why not to go.  You´ll miss prom (that was three weeks ago).  Graduation (last week).  Christmas.  Football games.  Sports (good thing I don´t play :P).  Classes.  Then there is the strategy of ‘questions’.  What if you don´t like the food?  What is your host family are murderers (actually heard this a lot)?  What if the language is too hard?  What if you make no friends?  What if you miss out on something important?  Please note that every single one starts with ‘what if…’  Nothing is guaranteed.

So what if I did miss something important?  There are things I missed this year.   That is certain. But here is the other side of the saying.  If I have not come, I would have missed something here.  Now with such little time left, I want to make sure every day is full of Turkishness.  At the same time I have reached the point where the end is in sight and I just want to see my family and country again.  I can´t explain it with words (making it hard to explain at all). 

I came because I needed to.  I wanted to see the world past my small town.  Not through the eyes of someone else´s, but through my own.  I wanted to stretch my limits (totally succeeded here).  I wanted to change.  I wanted to speak Turkish. 

I have done that.  Now I have 11 days left in Samsun.  17 in Turkey.  Then I am back home.

Public Transportation

May 27, 2011

I come from a very small town were public transportation does not exist (unless you count the school buses from the public school).  I was very aware of this fact before coming to Turkey.  Surprisingly, my use of public transportation has not increased all that much since coming here.  However, there are a few types of transportation here in Turkey that I am pretty sure don´t exsist in America.  Mainly dolmuş (dool-mush).

First let me mention the transportation modes we do have in the USA.  Buses, taxi (rode my first in Ankara this year), train, walking (very popular), planes.  Basically the same in the USA and in Turkey.  Taxis tend to be a lot cheaper than the USA; the price was often under 10 lira (about 6 or 7 USD).   There is a new train in Samsun that is just used for commuting throughout the city.  Planes are about the same…just that everything is said in Turkish and English on the flight.  Another note about long ride buses and probably planes as well: men and women who are not married or related can not sit next to one another.  Well, it is not exactly against the rules, but the reservation system won´t allow a man and a women to be seated next to one another.  I don´t think this happens in the States.  Even though I don´t use public transportation a lot, the people who do are satisfied.  But the point of the blog is not to tell about transportation you can find in America.  Let´s talk about dolmuş.

Today I was sitting in the middle seat of a minivan as it swerved throughout the traffic of the streets of Samsun.  There were three older men and a woman wearing a headscarf also in the van.  I am sitting next to the covered women.  When I got on I sat down next to a man, but he had to move when she got on.  One of the unwritten, but very well known rules of dolumş: covered women do not sit next to men.  Like, ever.  I look over to the side door that opens every time we stop.  It is not closed all the way, it just doesn´t close for some reason.  This is not for all dolmuş, just unique to this particular van.  As we make the way along the already known dolmuş route, the driver honks (twice) at every person who could possibly want a ride…this is about everyone.  Drivers either honk (twice) or flash their lights if their is room in the van.  This driver is a honker.

When I started thinking about dolmuş rides, I realized that dolmuş is probably the safest way to travel in Turkey…if you know where you are going.  Then I thought that maybe that could be wrong; dolmuş drivers are very helpful when you don´t know where you are going.  Then I changed my whole thought around and realized that maybe dolmuş are just not safe at all unless you really know what you are doing.* After this thought process, I realized that dolmuş are dolmuş and I don´t really know what I think of them as far as safety goes.  I know how to ride a dolmuş and that is all that matters to me at the moment.   I also concluded that a lot of un-Turkified Americans are not riding dolmuş.  Therefore there is no need to worry about them getting lost.

For me, the Samsun dolmuş system is one of the easiest to understand.  That is because I know where the white dolmuş goes and that the red dolmuş drives on 100. Bulvar.  Those are the only dolmuş I every have needed to use on my own.  In most cities the dolmuş will have a sign in the front window telling where the van will go.  In Samsun, they are color-coded.  Easy if you know what color you need to ride…you don´t need to look at a sign.  Hard if you don´t know…explanation nessasary?

I have a feeling that this post is going to be a bit anti-climatic.  Therefore, I will just bring it to a close here.  Interesting note about something that doesn´t have anything to do with my life here: my American school´s last day was today.  Well, right as I type this.  Our school ends June 17th.   I guess the fact I started in the middle of October evens it out a bit. Have a great summer break everyone.  I´m coming home soon. 😀


May 17, 2011

Everyone smiles in the same language.  ~Author Unknown

There is something really cool about smiles.  Yes, a smile can say a lot.  Sometimes, it is all that is needed.  Words can´t explain what needs to be said, but a smile does the trick.  And, as the quote states, there really is no difference between the smiles in America and the smiles in Turkey.  I can´t say this a lot (there is no difference).

I have this thing on my camera where it can detect people´s smiles.  I think it actually detects teeth, so just making a scary face will set it off as well.  Anyway, when a smile is detected, a picture is taken.  As you may imagine, this can be the source of a lot entertainment.  I mean, sometimes you have to smile really big.  Then there are other times that someone smiles, is detected, then changes his face right as the picture is taken, there fore resulting in no smiles at all.

The point of bringing out the smile camera is to make people laugh.  (Another note: while smiling is great, laughing is a whole lot more fun!) A smile can be contagious…so can a laugh.

Hope at least a few of these smiles cause you to smile.  The people are my host family, Turkish friends at school, and the Americans at TÖMER.


May 13, 2011

I have a confession.  I don´t know a lot of names.  I know a lot of faces.  But I don´t know the name that goes with the face.  This is partially due to the fact that I learned most of the names my first few weeks here.  At that time Turkish names were still very foreign to my ears and were incredibly hard to remember.  Sometimes it is still hard to remember a name, but nothing like the first few weeks.

However, knowing names is not always a requirement when you talk to someone, especially in Turkey.  The goal now is to try to introduce you to common ‘nicknames’ in Turkish.  Since we don´t have the equivalent in English (other than the literally translation– not the literally meaning), this may be a bit hard.  Please note that I have been called all (or most) of these things.  The literal translation is in parentheses.

Canım (My soul) Please note this is not under the sweetheart section.  It is probably one of the most commonly used words in Turkish daily language.  You use it to address anyone who you have a relationship with- siblings, family, friends.  Usually you must know the person before you use this word, but really it is not that important.  If you see a cute little kid on the street, you could easily address him/her as canım.  I haven´t payed close attention, but I don´t think you address people older than you using ‘canım’.  Same age or younger and you´re set to go.

Tatlım (My sweet) Again, not as common as canım but used in the same way.  I´ve noticed it more common among family members than friends.  But, it is totally okay to use if you want. 

Kardeşim (My sibling-brother and sister are the same word unless clarified) Surprisingly, not as common in families.  Much more around friends and classmates.  It is a term of endearment, but the same amount as if an American were to hug a classmate.  Not big.  But also not said to anyone; you have to know the person.

Teyze/Amca (Aunt/Uncle) Used ALL the time for people who aren´t related to you.  If you don´t know an older person´s name (older as in the age range of a possible aunt/uncle), you can call them teyze/amca and you are set.  If some guy is begging on the street, this name works.

Abla/Ağabey (Abi) (Older sister/Older brother) Same as the aunt/uncle thing, but for younger people who are older than you.  Guys also use it when talking to their guy friends.  Without having to say, used a lot both in and out of the family.  Almost as popular as canım.

Kanka (Good friend) Short of Kan Kardeş (Blood brother).  Used for close friends but all the time between guys.  Only for friends though, I have never heard it between family members.  But hey, they are already blood related.

Arkadaşım (My friend) Same as kardeşim.  Just a different literal meaning.

Hocam (My master) The name of every teacher at the high school.  I don´t know all my teachers´ names because we only use hocam.  If you do talk about a teacher, you say their first name followed by ‘hoca’ (master).  For example: my math teacher is Osman Hoca.  Osman is the first name.  Completely opposite of the USA (Mr. Aydın).

For Sweethearts

Just used among boyfriend/girlfriend.  They all seemed a bit much the first time I learned the translations.  We just don´t use the same words in the USA.  These are used much much more than one´s name.  

Hayatım (My life)

Sevgilim (My sweet)

Bir Tanem (My one [thing])

Heyşeyim (My everything)

Aşkım (My love)

How romantic. 


May 12, 2011

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to visit Sinop for the day.  Sinop is a couple hour drive from Samsun and is the most northern point Turkey.  In other words, I made it as close as I ever will (this year anyway) to Russia that I could be.  Yeah, the entire Black Sea was there, but that is past the point.

It really was just a day trip.  We left around 9 am and were home again at 5 pm (I think…).  About an hour into the trip we stopped on some beach to get out of the car for a few minutes.   We all skipped rocks (or tried to) on the Black Sea.  Then. since it was Mother´s Day, we called my host mom (who was in İstanbul last weekend).  I am proud to say that I can confidently communicate in Turkish on the telephone.  Telephone talk is so so much harder than talking to someone face to face.  You only have the words.  There are no facial expressions or hand gestures.  I never realized what skill it takes to be talk on the phone before this year. 

Mother´s Day.  It is the same day as in the USA.  There it seem as though we usually celebrate with your own mother.  Here, you call every single mother you can think of and wish them a happy Mother´s Day.  I think I talked to 8 or 10 different family members who are mothers on the way to Sinop.  And that is not counting my host mom.

As we arrived in Sinop, in was about 12.30 or so.  We walked around the city for a while, drank our tea at one of the very common outdoor cafes and walked around some more.  One thing I noticed about the Black Sea in Sinop compared to Samsun was how blue it looks (now is the time Brian says the name ‘Black Sea’ is false advertising).  From the top of the bluff (?) overlooking the sea, it seemed to stretch forever and I had never seen such a blue color before. 

We went to eat mantı (Turkish ravioli).  apparently it is supposed to be really good in Sinop.  I usually don´t eat a lot of mantı.  It is covered in yogurt…a very very commonly eaten food in Turkey.  I don´t like it.  But in Sinop you can get the mantı without the yogurt.  Instead I ate my mantı covered in walnuts.  Although I would have never put the two together on my own, it actually tasted really good. 

Before leaving, we went over by the sea again.  The fact that the weather was wonderful really helped the day go over well.  My host dad said that there are a lot of tourists in the summer, but we missed that.  There are a few more photos of the day.  Yes, those things in the water are little jellyfish (at least, I think they are).

TÖMER Picnic

May 4, 2011

Last week, all the Turkish language students at TÖMER (a.k.a. foreigners) had the chance to go on a picnic together for a day.  TÖMER organizes about one or two cultural activities a month for the students learning Turkish.  There are activities for the Turks too, but language activities, not picnics or skiing.

Anyway, Tuesday morning we all met on three big buses and went to a grassy park/forest area a little ways out of the city.  The weather wasn´t great, but it didn´t rain.  I mean, it rained that night after the picnic was over; a complete day without rain is a rare thing in Samsun.

Something different about picnics in the US and in Turkey: it is a much bigger affair here.  It is literally a whole day affair.  It would be better described as a day outside goofing around than as a picnic where you eat food.  I mean, there was food, but that wasn´t the main part.  There was also dancing, card playing, hookah smoking, and leaf throwing among other things. 

The dancing was interesting.  Because we are all foreigners, we don´t feel the need to dance only to Turkish music.  There was a nice mix of American (English), Turkish, Palestinian, and Azerbaijani music.  And the dancing.  Turkish dancing is best described as belly dancing without the outfit.  People keep telling me I have to move more like a snake in order to do it.  Let me say something: I am not a snake therefore I find this a very hard task.  But some people do not and can dance in ways I never saw before coming to Turkey.  Palestinian and Azerbaijani dancing is very similar.  American dancing…well, isn´t quite the same.  Another aspect of dancing is that there are big line dances (where you don´t move like a snake…more fancy foot work).  Everyone does the same moves at the same time and generally moves around in a circle.  A lot of these dances are done just by the guys, though girls are welcome to join.  I love the fact that a big group of guys are willing to dance.  We just don´t have that in America.

Card playing.  Not much to say about it.  The big game in Turkey is batak.  It is similar to ‘hearts’ in a way.  I have played a lot of batak since coming to Turkey, but not with TÖMER people.  It happens to be the game of choice in classroom 11-E at Samsun Anadolu Lisesi.  In fact, it was the first thing my class taught me. 

Hookah is a very common sight in Turkey.  It was no surprise that a couple hookah showed up at the picnic.  It has a really interesting smell to it and seems to fit right in with the culture.  At the TÖMER picnic I got to see hookah being set up for the first time (from start to finish).  It is a long process. 

Then there were the leaves.  I was told that this experience would cause me to mature greatly.  Maybe I have matured (along with all the other students at TÖMER), but that doesn´t change the fact that throwing dry leaves at one another can be fun.  There was quite the fight going of for several minutes that resulted in leaves being rubbed (can´t think of a better word) into girls´s hair and stuffed into guys´s shirts.  All I can say was that is was a lot of fun.  Also proved we have a bit of child left inside of us.