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The Plague

March 25, 2011

There is this sickness in Turkey and I feel the need to tell the world.  It is very widespread and can be caused by, well, anything.  If any exchanger to Turkey is reading this, I can guarantee he or she already knows what sickness I am referring to and may just be laughing about it just a bit.

That is because the ‘sickness’ is so catch-able, it isn´t really a sickness at all.

In fact, if you are careful, you can avoid this sickness by just thinking you won´t become sick.  Rather, knowing things like wet hair, wind, bare feet, or leaning against a wall are not going to cause you to get terribly ill and die.  (Well, maybe the dying part is a bit dramatic.)  However, the fact of the matter is, the Turks truly believe that such things as mentioned above will make you ill and therefore become quite horrified when I walk around the house…barefoot/with just socks on.

I don´t know what the symptoms are for this particular ‘Turkish plague’.  Whenever I have been told ‘hasta olacaksın’ (you are going to be sick), it has never amounted to anything.  I guess I have never actually gotten the plague.  However, to prevent you all back home from having the slightest chance of catching this awfully dangerous illness, I wish to provide you with a condensed list of what could be a cause.

  • Not wearing slippers in the house.  This is a big one.  Having cold feet can cause a lot of problems, both immediately (such as a stomach ache) or in the long run (such as not being able to have children).  To prevent this horror, we must always wear both socks and slippers. 
  • Having a cold stomach.  This may or may not come from not wearing your slippers, but either way it is VERY bad.  If this happens, immediately put on many more clothes and, if necessary, go to bed with a lot of blankets. 
  • Wet hair/not blow-drying your hair after a shower.  This is just plain dangerous.  Is there even need for explanation?   I think not (mostly because the Turks can´t provide me with one other than ‘you´ll be sick’).
  • Sitting/leaning against something cold such as a wall or the floor.  Another reason to wear your slippers!  DOn´t want your feet touching the cold floor.  You may be getting the idea that most illness comes from coldness.
  • Wind.  Yeah, ya know it may blow on you or something and possible bring a illness from that person down the street who coughed just three minutes ago when the wind wasn´t blowing but now that the wind is blowing all the breath from the people you have never met before may be blown onto you therefore it is just not a good idea to mess with the wind.  (That possibly was a run on sentence.)

Those are a few examples.  Really, anything you want can cause this, just as long as you believe it will. 

So next time you are a bit under the weather, think of all the possible causes.  And please don´t say you haven´t been warned.


Sports (kinda)

March 20, 2011

First off, let me tell all my readers I am not a very athletic person and was not involved in sports in America.  Therefore, do not hold very high expectations in this regard.

In Turkey, sports are definitely not as big of a deal as in America.  Correction: playing on high school teams are not as important.  Mostly because so much time out of school is spent at, well…more school and/or studying.  The fact I have language class and I am a female human being also prevents me from participating.  However, I am not complaining.  I have had the opportunity to witness a few sporting events and even play soccer a couple times. 

First was the high school basketball game.  My school team was in the playoffs (for their division), so it was ‘kinda a big deal’.  The biggest (and last game) we played was on my birthday and against MPAL (the school of Lena and Lucas and SAL’s big rival).  I have never see such a game before and never expect to see one again. 

The biggest difference about sport matches here and in the US is that here the cheers are much more important.  In the US, we all watch the game and carefully follow who is scoring points and what not.  Here, ‘carefully watching’ are not the words I would use to describe the games I have attended.  I think ‘crazy cheering’ and ‘very loud’ and maybe ‘a bit dangerous’ would be more appropriate.  For Turks, cheering (even when the other team may be scoring) is the best part of the game.  In fact, sitting down is just not an option.  It is only allowed when it is part of a cheer. 

Anyway, back to the game.  There had been rumors before about how there was going to be a big fight afterward so everyone should be careful.  I was surprised the fight never actually happened.  It may have been prevented by the twenty or so police officers carefully watching the students throughout the game.  But, even the police couldn´t prevent the eggs, water bottles, and the lemon that were throw across the court when 4o seconds remained in the game.  I guess they couldn´t prevent the colored fire sparkler things either.  Yeah, it was a big scary.  But like I said, there was no real fight, so everything was calmer than expected.  🙂

Next comes the SamsunSpor match I went to with my host dad, host sisters, Abigail, and her host sisters.  SamsunSpor is the (surprise!) Samsun soccer team.  My host dad is absolutely crazy for them as is my youngest host sister.  It was a lot of fun.  In the US, I feel like sport matches are both for men and women.  Here, the stadium was full and I saw (besides our group) less than 5 other girls the entire night. Much more of a ‘guy’ thing here.  It was a lot of fun anyway; Samsun even won!  It took them 82 minutes to score the first goal, but that was enough.  Again the cheering was a big deal.  But here, there were a lot more people and therefore the noise level was much, much higher. 

Finally comes the best part of all.  The time we played soccer.  TÖMER had a soccer match for all the Turkish students in Samsun.  There are about 150 (?) students learning Turkish this year from Palestine, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and the 4 from America.  It was a lot of fun.  Really.  The biggest lesson learned from the two games we played was that winning isn´t everything.  May be no surprise, but we lost both matches.  The first was close, 5-7.  The second didn´t turn out so well with a final score of 2-11.  But it was a great time with a bunch of memories.  Both about the match and how sore we were afterward.  The guys in the last photos are Palestinians who played with us/refereed in our favor.

Forever Yabancı

March 12, 2011

A few months ago, when I encountered a situation where I found myself again realizing I wasn´t in America, I would mutter ‘forever yabancı’ under my breath.  (Yabancı-foreigner/ailen)  In other words, I had resigned to the fact I would not fit into this culture and I could not become Turkish.  I tried to take pride in the fact I was yabancı.  After all, there aren´t many teenagers that come from another country to live in Turkey for a year.  I was doing something not many in my generation took interest in or were willing to do.  But still, being yabancı is hard.  You are stared at.  You mess up culturally (a hard concept to explain since we rarely do it in out our culture).  You have to realize you are probably going to do something wrong and have to learn to accept you are wrong (often).  You realize you are different.

I could go on about being different, but that is not the point I am trying to reach right now.  The point is, my motto has changed.  I don´t say ‘forever yabancı’ anymore, because I am no longer yabancı. 

Allow me to repeat.

I. Am. No. Longer. Yabancı.

That is a huge statement.  Though the reasons this is amazing are obvious to me, I may just as well elaborate a bit.  First off, my new motto is ‘Forever American’.  I like it much more.  One because I am proud of the fact I am American and two because being American is something I was born with and therefore cannot change (so I´m not going to try).  But how was I promoted from ‘yabancı’ to ‘American’?

I don´t mess up culturally as often.   Coming from American culture to Turkish culture is huge.  There are so many differences.  When I talk to people at home, I ask them ‘Where should I start?  Give me any topic and I will be able to talk about how it isn´t like America.’  And it´s true.  Everything is different.  However, after six months of constant learning (of the culture), it has started to come naturally.  I am waiting to go back to America to see how many times I greet someone by kissing their cheek or take my shoes off before entering a home. 

Also on the cultural differences, I have started to forget them.  I find it hard to remember what exactly was so strange when I arrived.  The big things then are so small and normal now.  The best example of this driving and traffic.  In September, I was scared for my life every time I left the apartment building.  I didn´t like crossing the road without walking behind a Turkish person (who knew when it was safe).  People will ask, ‘What is the biggest difference?’  I have forgotten the answer.  I still know it is different, but what exactly those differences are…that is what I am beginning to forget.

Language skills have also helped with this transition.  I understand Turkish.  Not everything, but most.  Enough to talk to anyone and work with any situation thrown at me.  I can speak Turkish.  Speaking it harder than understanding, but I can do it.  People understand me.  It is amazing how much more fun life is when you are able to communicate with those around you.  I never thought about how I took that skill for granted before.  Sometimes, Turks (I have not met before) will ask me a question and when I don´t know the answer they become surprised.  For example, about a week ago, a woman asked me if Mr. So-and-So lived in my apartment building (we were in the elevator together).   I told her I didn´t know.  I had to then explain I did live in this building, but was had just moved here a few months ago. I was American.  Her response: ‘American?  But you speak Turkish.’  Yeah, that´s right.

The final big event that has happened to me to encourage this the fact I have been accepted by Turks and that they no longer look at me like a yabancı.  I am not talking about people who I am meeting for the first time and have never seen an American before.  Not the people who hold so many stereotypes to be true just because I was born in a different country.  I am talking about the people I see every classmates, my teachers, my family.  The people who have learned what I have learned: we are all people and we aren´t that different after all.  We have also learned there are huge differences that we may never agree on.  Regardless, we can still live together and laugh together.
How do I know this change has occurred in someone else´s mind?  A few weeks ago, about 30 students and teachers from 5 European countries came to visit Samsun for the week.  My school hosted them (so to speak).  On Friday, the Italians and Spaniards came to my school for the day.  What I saw was amazing.  I saw myself…in October.  I saw my classmates…in October.  These students knew no Turkish.  They didn´t know the culture.  They knew people were talking about them, but had no idea what was being said.  The Turkish students flocked to them, trying to communicate with basic English (on both sides).  The Turkish students stared without realizing they were possibly causing discomfort.  But what was I doing? 
Watching from a distance.
I was seeing my first days at SAL repeat themselves with these new yabancı.  I was talking with my classmates about how I used to be just like that.  Then talking about life in general, just as I would with my classmates in America.  occasionally, someone would ask me to translate a word or sentence.  I was able to do that.  But I wasn´t being treated like our guests.  Why?  Because I am not a guest at my school any longer.  People know me.  I know them.  I am not a circus attraction any longer.  I am Samantha.  I real person with a name and personality and feelings.  I just happen to have been born in America.
I had just one more example.  Last week I left school during lunch (my language class time has been changed so I leave school early now).  I saw two boys in my class coming out of the same restaurant/cafe across the street from SAL.  They were eating so (of course) I said ‘afiyet olsun’ (a phrase said basically whenever you see someone eating).  How did they respond?  Not just ‘thanks’. 
‘Sağol, kardeşim.’
Thanks, my sister. 
Calling someone by something other than his/her real name is normal in Turkey.  It really has no deep or emotional meaning.  Therefore. I wasn´t surprised when I heard this.  However, the fact he said it, without thinking, shows I am not yabancı in his eyes.  Though the actual phrase may not mean much, the fact it was said means I am equal with him.  It wouldn´t be said to someone he doesn´t feel comfortable around.  I am his friend.  He does not see me as foreign or as an alien.  I am kardeş.
Some feelings, such as acceptance, can not be described in words. 


March 10, 2011

When there is nothing else to say, you are suppose to talk about the weather, right?  Well, that is the rule in Minnesota (or so I´ve been told).  I find myself in that exact situation now; there is´t a lot to say, so why not bring up the weather?  However, due to a few particular events occurring in the last few days, there is more than enough to say about the weather of Samsun, Turkey. 

Let me first say it is not as cold as Minnesota (even southern Minnesota).  However, I have grown used to the weather and now 10 degrees is about as cold as I like it.  Twenty would be amazing right now.  Oh, wait!  Why is that?  I thought twenty was below freezing?  Because now I am in a county that uses celsius, not farenheit.  For those of us that are not totally familiar with this new and strange system (but don´t have the desire to convert it to farenheit), enter the phrase: 30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cold, 0 is ice.  Or something like that.  It is very helpful for getting an idea of what the weather is and I find it a bit amusing too. 
First, allow me to give you a bit of background information.  Minnesota is cold.  We have snow in the winter.  It has snowed before Halloween and there has been snow on the ground after April 1st.  I am used to the snow and the cold.  I am proud of the fact I live in a place with real winter.  Therefore, when a Turk says something about the weather, my first reaction is to think ‘it isn´t really like that and I can probably make it without a hat/gloves’.  Maybe a bit risky, but, hey, this whole year is about going out of your comfort zone, right?
The weather when I arrived in September was hot.  It stayed that way for a long time.  It was a very nice fall and around Thanksgiving I was wondering if I should have left my winter coat at home.  One December 1st, I stood outside eating ice cream and thinking, ‘I´m not in Minnesota anymore.’  It did get a bit cold later in December and throughout January.  I did use my winter coat.  I wore a hat.  However, it did not snow.  Not once.  On the very last day in January, my host family took me way out of the city to see and touch snow.  Imagine, I almost made it through January without touching snow.  
One morning in February,  I got a text from Abigail saying, ‘It´s SNOWING!!!’  I looked out the window and saw nothing.  Five minutes later it came.  It was snowing, but as soon as it hit the ground, it melted.  It snowed a few times in February, but never enough to stick.  When a couple days of beautiful weather hit us just two-ish weeks ago, I thought that was all the snow I would see this year and that spring was about to come.  I was ready to put away the winter coat.
March.  I was so ready for spring.  I didn´t care that in was snowing back home or that they were having school cancellations.  I wanted to wear my light jacket, not my heavy black coat.  unfortunately, according to the Turks, March is the coldest month in Samsun and winter is now.  Ugh.  True, the month started out with snow (that stuck, even if just for a few hours) and cooler temps than those wonderful days a few weeks ago. 
However, today brought considerable hope.  It was cool this morning, but as I left school around 12.30, the weather was that of perfect spring.  It made me very happy.  So even though the Turks say that March is cold, I still can hope.  After all, they said it was going to be cold many a time before.  They aren´t always right.  🙂


March 9, 2011

In response to one of Dr. Kay´s questions awhile back.  What are clothes like here?  To say it really quickly, not way, way different, but definitely not the same.  Especially when it comes to English.  haha

First off, I wear my school uniform most of the time.  Well, about one third of the time.  Every school in Turkey has a uniform.  I like it.  Before I came, some of my classmates were appalled at the idea of wearing a school uniform (What if it´s ugly????).  But, even if it was ugly, everyone would be ugly together, right?  Thankfully, I don´t find my school uniform all that disgusting.  (There are disgusting uniforms out there….some colors just should not be used together in plaid.)  I tried to find a couple pictures of my uniform and of the other Americans´ to give you an idea what my school looks like.  A lot of the school pictures you aren´t able to see the uniform because everyone wears more clothes anyway.  In my opinion, this is for two reasons, first to show some personal style and individuality and second because my school is literally like a giant refrigerator.  It is so cold.

Outside of school, I mostly wear normal American clothes (no surprise there).  Of course there are weird things you see on the streets relating to style and such, but you can see that anywhere.  The funny thing is here, people wear shirts or sweatshirts with English writing on them.  unfortunately, they don´t know English.  This can result in rather humorous sayings.  For example, ‘Chase Me’ with a big magnifying glass.  Or ‘Honey is Sweet’ with a fuzzy bear.  Maybe ‘They wanted it too’ would better satisfy your taste or possibly the classic ‘What it means to me’.  There are also a lot of copies of brands such as Converse, Abercrombie and Finch, Gap and what not.  I realized I don´t have many good photos of just clothes, but maybe I´ll go people watching one day and sneakily document Turk´s clothing choices. 

A weather post is soon to come.  It snowed this week.  What?

Four Months to Go

March 1, 2011

Yeah, that´s just what it sounds like.  I officially have less than four months left before I get on a plane and return to the USA.  Crazy. 

Now, four months is still a good length of time.  But when you consider I have been gone six months and that it hasn´t been that long since I left, four months isn´t that long at all.  Allow me to put it into perspective.  Four months is shorter than:

  • My summer break last year.  Granted there was a bit of trouble starting school due to lot papers, still.
  • The time the semester NSLI-Yers spent in Turkey.
  • A full term pregnancy (slightly random, but my cousin just had a baby)

I am sure there are more examples out there.  But the point is, I don´t have all the time left in my exchange year.  My ‘year’ is now four months.  That is a lot to think about.

There is another question that goes along with this interesting bit of information.  What did I want to do before I leave for the homeland?  I feel like some exchangers arrive in their respective countries with a list of all the activities they want to accomplish before their departure.  I didn´t have that.  I still don´t.  However, I know I don´t want to be on the plane looking over İstanbul and think, ‘Ohhhhhh!  I was just in Turkey for ten months but never …’  That is almost like a nightmare. 

I tried adding a couple pictures, but it wasn´t working.  Maybe next time.


February 23, 2011

Where are you from?

Basically the most commonly asked question of me when I first meet someone.  I answer that I am American.  In fact, this is how the conversation usually goes:

Setting: Rus Pazar (a big building in Samsun with a lot of small shops inside.  You can find anything there.  Really.)  Take note that the conversation is actually in Turkish.  About a week ago when Abigail needed to buy an unbrella.

Abigail: How much does this cost?

Seller: Fifteen lira.

Abigail: Hmmm.

Me (in English): Too much.  Let´s walk.

Seller: It is a very good deal.  You can buy two packs of cigarettes for that price.

Abigail: I don´t smoke, so I wouldn´t know.

-slight pause as Abigail considers-

Seller: Nerelisiniz? (Where are you (plural) from?)

WHAM!  The question has been asked.  The curiosity has gotten the best of the seller and he can no longer ignore the fact we have accents, can´t pronounce ‘r’ correctly, and were speaking in a foreign language.  However, we have experienced this curiosity almost daily the last 5 and a half months and know the reply be heart:

‘Amerikalıyız.’ (Please don´t make me translate this one.)

America.  Amerika.  USA.  Los Estados Unidos de América.  ABD.  My home country.

Without saying, some people don´t always look upon the US as a country without fault.  I don´t look at the US as a country without fault.  But, there are a lot of people with much stronger feelings than my own.  And when I tell someone I am American, though the reaction is usually positive, there are cases when people are apprehensive and aren´t quite overjoyed by some actions by the US government.  However, this is not the case with our friendly seller are the Rus Pazar.  He just says ‘Ohhhh…’ and continues to ask us why we are here, if we like Obama, and do we live in NYC. 

Well, on the same aforementioned day at the Rus Pazar, I decided I didn´t want to be American.  Because, like I said, people assume a lot about me when I say I am American.  I am rich.  I eat at fast food joints all the time.  I am obese…because all Americans are, I saw it on Facebook.  Anyway, I was tired of the stereotypes and decided I wasn´t going to be American for the next person who asked. 

I was going to be Canadian. 

I figured I could pull it off.  Canadians and Americans aren´t that different as far as looks go.  Both countries have native English speakers.  I live relatively close to Canada already.  So, why not? 

Abigail agrees and we stroll a bit farther looking for another umbrella seller (fifteen was too expensive).  The target is spotted.  The sign says five lira for one of those cute umbrellas that can collapse.  We approach.  The seller comes over and the conversation starts again.

Abigail: Are these really 5 lira?

Seller: Yes, the umbrellas on these hooks are five.  These (pointing to others) are 10. 

-Abigail turns to me for my opinion.-

Seller: Where are you from?

Me: Kanadalıyız.

Seller: Wow!  That is so cool!  I heard Canada is really beautiful.

Me: Yeah, we are here in Samsun this year learning Turkish.  (Abigail is laughing hard enough to possibly give away our cover.)

The conversation goes on for a bit while I explain we go to high school, live with Turkish families, have language class etc.

Seller: Is Canada cold?

Me: Yeah, it is very cold.  For us, Samsun is really warm even though right now is winter.

Seller: Wow.  I want to go to Canada.  Either that, or Dubai.

What?  How are Canada and Dubai even related?  How do you have two places you really want to go and those places be Canada and Dubai?  As soon as we bought the 5 lira umbrella and had walked away, we burst into laughter.  One, the Dubai comment.  Two, we had successfully pulled ourselves off as Canadian and the seller was totally intrigued by us. 

Just another day in the life of a teenage American girl in Samsun, Turkey.