Monday, May 30, 2016

The Shadowy Reflection – Erich

As we travel the world we find that many places are exactly like the United States. Except different. But there are such similarities, and yet almost like we have gone into the Mirror, Mirror universe where Spock has a beard or a time altered version of Springfield where it rains doughnuts.

If you don't understand my references, don't worry, they aren't important to the post. What is important are some of the many elements we have discovered here in Istanbul that remind us, sort of, of home.

At home, there are urban parks. Some are small, some are large. The same is true in Istanbul. They have playgrounds for the kids to enjoy. Another feature that is super common to the parks of Istanbul is exercise equipment. You see such a thing occasionally in the U.S. But even then it is usually a trail you follow where this station tells you to do sit ups and that station has you do hamstring stretches. Here, it is more fixed equipment, like a stationary bike, or device in which you put your feet on two large platforms and then lift your legs to the sides.

Just like in the States, sometimes you see wildlife in the parks, smaller things like squirrels and rabbits. In New Jersey, we used to see groundhogs a lot too. But I bet you never saw a rabbit so tame it let you come right up and pet it!
Love him and squeeze him and call him George
Istanbul has some level parts, but much of it is hilly. I don't just mean a few hills. I mean incredibly and steeply hilly. So while at home we might have a stoop of five or six steps up to our front door, here you might need to climb 70 steps to get home.

Between one street and the next one parallel to it, there could be over 100 feet change in elevation. So there are stairs all over. Some of the stairs are even labeled with street names, because there are houses along those staircases. The address of that house is there, on the stairs, not on a street. You can't drive to get to that home. You can park above and walk down. You can park below and walk up. But you can't park at the home.
Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Still, we did see a pretty rare sight, even for Istanbul. Check out this staircase used to get down from street level to the main entry of a house. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable using this several times a day. Especially in high wind.
Red, the blood of angry men
Like any city, Istanbul has to be able to fight fires. And so they have fire hydrants. But the hydrants here are like the lanky cousins of ours back home. They are tall and thin. Here are two pictures of a hydrant. I included the kids in the second one to give you an idea of scale, how tall these things actually are. (I should note that if you then ask me how tall the kids are, I can't tell you. One element of traveling with so little is that I have no way to make everyday measurements like heights or weights of people.)
If someone in a movie show yelled "Fire in the second row!" you'd notice him.
The grocery store is always an adventure in any new culture. What foods do they eat? What foods do they lack? As an example, breakfast cereal is not the thing here. You don't find oatmeal or porridge at all. There is a bit of cold cereal, always in bags, not boxes. And you really only have a very few choices. There are some muesli like ones with fruits, chocolate spherical ones, and corn flakes.

But sometimes you find you have many choices. For example, in potato chips, we have several. (Interestingly in corn chips we don't have nearly so many.) We even have familiar brands. But they offer flavors abroad that you never see at home. In South Africa, for example, there were spare ribs flavored chips. They were okay.
When the oceans turn to yogurt
Here in Turkey we see these. They translate as Yogurt and Seasonal Greens. They're good. We better enjoy them while we can, because we probably won't see them in many other places.

Today, we visited the mall. It can't all be palaces and museums. Sometimes your clothing is getting worn out and needs a fresh infusion. We only have three shirts each for example. When you wear the same three shirts over and over, they don't last nearly as long. So today we had to go get some new clothing, some shirts for the girls, and some shorts for the adults. Carver needed nothing and certainly had no strong desire to try on clothing.

The mall had its characteristics that made it like ours at home. Multiple floors, lots of clothing shops, and, of course, a food court. There were some familiar choices like McDonalds, and some specifically Turkish choices.

Now, don't be disappointed, but today for lunch, we all ate American food. Let me explain. First, it's always fun to see how things aren't quite the same. And second, when you are gone for long, long stretches, sometimes a taste that reminds you of home is exactly what you need.
Head for the mountains!
Syarra got fries with her meal, and they came with packets of ketchup and mayonnaise. (Mayonnaise on fries is big here.) Both of these are, as you can see, classic Colorado. I didn't know Colorado has its own classic ketchup, but hey, there it is, written on the packet. So it must be true. This is particularly sad because my brother even lives in Colorado. Any time I have visited him, he must have purposely hidden the Classic Colorado Ketchup from me! The gall! And to think, we he visited me in Pennsylvania, I let him have Heinz Ketchup, a Pennsylvania company, and it has the keystone right on the bottle!
Left turn at Albuquerque
As you might expect, the mall offers its patrons restrooms. But as you go down the hall to the restroom, you can also turn off to the prayer rooms, the mescit. There are two, one for men and one for women. I looked in the one for men, it has a front room with lockers. And then there is a room beyond that I would guess is for laying down your prayer mat and praying. I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to go in, and certainly didn't take any pictures.

I find it is these little difference, but also the little similarities that mean so much. These are the way I understand a people trying to keep its own culture, but also being part of the wider world. And I know that they are just like me. Or at least more like me than they are like bearded Spock.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Second Day of School - Syarra

This is a comparison of three schools on the globe!

Intro

Today, like every other, was a new day. But today was a new day with things planned. I awoke at 5:55 (notice I did not say A.M, because the rest of the world does not), ate breakfast, got dressed, and went to school. It was around 7:10 when we arrived in Göktürk, Eyüp, Türkiye. It was easy to kill time at a local bakery. When it was 7:50 we entered Hisar Egitim Vakfi Okullari. We were in the waiting room and soon the person who had coordinated our visit came. We were led into an office to meet with the  principal of the middle school. We talked for a while and then were led to our class rooms. Once in the classroom, I was assigned a partner who helped me through the day.

Part 1:

This was a math class where we were learning Pre-Algebra. As I entered, the class was finishing a project with trapezoids. We continued on that subject looking at projectors and answering questions and at the end of math the students were asked to use their IPAD'S to get the special question. (This is on a app, and I think they complete the question in class and figure out if they got it correct later.) By this time, five or more friendly students had asked my name, country, and a assortment of the other questions. I answered accordingly and continued to my next class.

In South Africa we were doing multiplication from a more active approach like you might remember from My First Day of School.

In my home town in Pennsylvania we would pull out big books and fill out worksheets, from a new curriculum that the teacher sometimes didn't understand.

Part 2:

Now was English class where a test was scheduled. I was led to the library so I could get a book to read while they took the test, but I was able to see the test. It was three pages of theater script in English, grammar included. About 25 minutes later a fire alarm went off. Everyone came to assure me that this was not a real fire. They continued the lesson and soon that class was over.

Unfortunately I did not have a class like this in South Africa.

I think these tests at Hisar are better than the American language arts tests. I felt that writing a script was a fun way to practice the skill instead of just reading meaningless sentences.

Part 3:

Now was a class of neither English nor Turkish, it was in French. I was greeted in French. I watched a video in French, with Turkish subtitling, no English. Then we wrote a series of "I like..." "I love..." and "I hate..." can you guess? Yes, in French.

These are my french papers of mixed feelings


In South Africa there was an Afrikaans class completely in Afrikaans and the French class was close to only in French, but not quite.

Ending


I hope you have enjoyed this comparison!

Two Tunnels and Three Stops makes a Ratio of 1.5 Stops per Tunnel - Carver

Today we took the bus 47, one of the buses we usually take to Eminönü. But we got off at Karaköy.





Note: Karaköy is not the same as Kadiköy. Karaköy is in Europe. Kadiköy is in Asia. Yesterday we went to Kadiköy. This post discusses Kadiköy: Continental Irony - Erich

At Karaköy, we got the Tünel. It is an underground funicular. We were getting more money on our İstanbulkart when we missed a train. There was a countdown. It was 0:08 when we came in. “We have 8 seconds. Let's hurry.” That's practically what I said. But we had to get more money. And I watched the train leave without us. So we waited 5 minutes. But funiculars work with two trains. Because they are uphill, one goes up as the other comes down. But there was only one track!

More exciting and untrue story: We crashed!

Less exciting and more true story: In the middle the track split and the trains passed each other. Then the track came back together.

In case you were confused, the more true story is what actually happened. But the Tünel (Tunnel in English) is the second oldest underground train in the world. The oldest is in the London Underground. Then we got off and ate at a place called Shake Shack. It was an American style restaurant where we got burgers and shakes and root beer floats. We haven't found root beer floats anywhere since the U.S. My burger was a chicken burger. The chicken was so like KFC chicken that I proposed that Shake Shack gets their chicken from KFC. Then we got on the Nostaljik Tramvay. That means Historic Tramway in English.




This picture of the tram is from the Shake Shack.

We rode the tram to Taksim Square. We walked to Taksim Gezi Parki and then to Dolmabahçe Saray. Saray means Palace. Someone else will have to cover that.





After Dolmabahçe Saray, we went to Inönü Stadi, a bus stop.

(No picture. Google Maps doesn't find bus stops.)

We took the bus 37T to Bilgi Üniversitesi (Bilgi University), the nearest bus stop to our house.

(No picture. Google Maps doesn't find bus stops.)

Do you think the title has something to do with the Tünel? No. On the way back we passed through 2 tunnels. It was an express bus. It was 3 stops home. That is how the title gets its name.

But the tunnels were super fast. It only took us 9 minutes. There was no traffic in them. And these were long distances.

Last thing. As I was writing this, I ate a green plum. Here they have plums that are green and sour. I like them and everyone else hates them. I like sour. But we get them for me. Apparently the way the people eat them is with salt. We learned this from our friend we met in Kadiköy (not Karaköy.) They take a bite out of them and then put salt on them. I tried that with this last green plum we had. I do not have Turkish taste buds because I didn't like it. I will continue to eat them plain now.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Continental Irony – Erich

Four! As of today, the four of us have set foot in four different continents: North America, Africa, Europe, and now, Asia.

We took a ferry from the European side of Istanbul to an area on the Asian side called Kadɩköy. We met a new friend, one who Alrica knew from online, but we had never met in person before today. She lives in the area, and she showed us the sites.

We had a great time, but the irony was that our first trip to Asia was incredibly European. Understand, none of us expected one section of Istanbul to be radically different than the others we have experienced. And Kadɩköy was not radically different, but it was different. And in some ways, it was even more European.

There were streets lined with shops that looked similar to many streets you might see in European cities (and American cities.) One didn't see many women in headscarves of any sort. The clothing was very American. That has generally been true in most of Europe. The number of New York Yankees caps I have seen has rivaled the number I might see in most any city in the United States, except of course, New York.
Pencil thin Atlas perhaps?
People were out picnicking in a park. There was some cool public art. We ate pasta! I mean, come on! Pasta!

From what our friend told us, the people of Kadɩköy very much want to be more like the Europeans and much less like traditional Turks.

So we had a Europeanesque Asian day. But it still counts as continent number four.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Water Ways – Erich

I plan to start out this post with “On cuma” which means “On Friday”. But this brings up an interesting and somewhat mysterious property of the names of the days of the week in Turkish. The names of the days are paired, except for poor lonely Tuesday.

Friday is cuma. (In Turkish, there seems to be no compulsion to capitalize your days of the week.) It comes from the Persian and Arabic words for “reunion.” Then Saturday is cumartesi. This literally means “after Friday.”

Sunday is pazar which means “market.” Maybe Sunday was historically the market day? I don't know. And Monday is pazartesi, which, as you may have guessed means “after Sunday.”

So then we get to lonely Tuesday which is salɩ (that's the dotless 'i'.) I don't know the origin of this name.

Wednesday is called çarşamba which comes from a Persian phrase meaning “four days after the Sabbath.” And then Thursday is perşembe, again from Persian meaning “five days after the Sabbath.”

Now, having told you all of these things you didn't need to know to understand my post, let me begin.

On cuma, which is on Friday, we got together with another family from the United States who are also traveling the world. We first met them in Athens, and as luck would have it, we are both in Istanbul at the same time as well.

We first visited the Basilica Cistern. It is a dark, eerie, and amazing place. It was built by the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th century to hold water for use in the imperial palace of the time. The water came from the Belgrade woods which are about 19 km away. Of course, being Romans, they brought the water to the city (then called Constantinople) by means of aqueducts.
The cistern
The cistern is underground. It is a large chamber held up by 336 columns, each 9 meters tall. Most of the columns were not built for the cistern itself, but were taken from other Roman buildings and brought here. So there is a variety in the materials they are made of, the capitals on them, and even if they are one whole piece of marble or two pieces fused together.

The walls and floor are made of brick and were waterproofed with a thick coating of mortar. The area of the place is about 9,800 square meters and it could hold 100,000 tons of water. Today, there is a lot less water in it, but there is some. And there are fish living within it.
Dark and spooky
The Turkish government has built some walkways that allow you to walk over the water and see the area. Plus, they lead you to a few of the unique features.

One of the columns is not just a plain cylinder, but is carved with teardrop shaped engravings all along its length. It is called the crying column, and is said to always appear to be wet as though it was crying.

But perhaps the most fascinating feature is near the southwestern corner of the cistern. Two of the columns there have unique plinths (or platforms on which their pedestals stand.) These are Medusa heads. Yes, the lady with snakes for hair is here, twice!

Archaeologists believe that, like the columns, these sculptures were not carved in Istanbul. Rather, they were brought here from other sites in the Roman Empire, though no one knows which site or sites these two Medusae (I think that's the plural of Medusa) came from. Another mystery is why are they here? Were they just brought as convenient stands for pillars? Or were they brought to ward off evil spirits? Or is there another reason? No record has been found explaining their presence.

But that's not all. They aren't just in the space. They are placed in an unusual way. One of the Medusa heads is laying on its side, as though her ear were to the ground with the pillar sprouting out of her other ear. Perhaps this was the only way she would fit under the pillar. But the other Medusa head is upside-down. Again, why is a mystery. Maybe they believed that if she were upside-down, no one would be turned to stone.
Does the blood all rush to her head?
It is a dimly lit, somewhat creepy, and incredibly cool place.

Together with our friends, we also took a cruise on the Bosporus. I guess it was a watery day.

The Bosporus is a long strait that connects the Black Sea at its north and higher end to the Sea of Marmara at its lower southern end. From there, the waters flow through the Sea of Marmara to another strait interior to Turkey called the Dardanelles. Through this the waters pass into the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosporus separates the European side of Turkey from the Anatolian or Asian side.
The waters of the Bosporus
The Bosporus means the crossing of the cow and comes from the myth of Io. Zeus fell in love with Io and covered the world in a thick blanket of clouds so no one would see him pursue her. However, his wife, Hera, saw the clouds and immediately suspected something was up. She came to see what he was up to. Zeus turned Io into a heifer and insisted he hadn't been doing anything particularly interesting. He had never seen the white heifer before. Hera, not believing him, asked if she could have the heifer. How could Zeus say no without giving away everything? So he gave it to her.
Waterfront property
Hera imprisoned poor Io, guarded by Argus who had one-hundred arms and one-hundred eyes. Argus never let all of his eyes sleep at the same time, so it was impossible to catch him off guard. Zeus sent Hermes to rescue the heifer. Hermes played such soothing music that all of Argus's eyes fell asleep at the same time. Then Hermes killed Argus and set Io free. (I'm not sure why Zeus didn't just change her back at this point. But he's Zeus. He isn't known for being considerate.)

Hera sent a giant gadfly to chase Io and torment her everywhere she went. And so she ran all around the world. The Ionian Sea was named for her. As so was the Bosporus, the crossing of the cow, which is where she crossed from Europe to Asia.
It's a bit easier to cross these days then in Io's time
The myth does eventually get happier for her. She meets Prometheus, who is chained to a rock and tortured daily. Because he ticked off Zeus. And as we mentioned, Zeus isn't considerate. Anyway, Prometheus tells her she must wander as a cow for many more years, but eventually she will be changed back into a woman. And she will have a family. In fact, she is the beginning of a line of descent that will lead to great heroes, including the one who will eventually free Prometheus.
The Ortakoy Mosque
It all comes true. Eventually she reaches the Nile River and here Zeus turns her back into a woman. She marries, has children. Way down the line is the great hero, Herakles (who has his own problems with Hera, because guess who his father is and who his mother is not.) And Herakles frees Prometheus.

The Turkish name of the strait is Boğaz, which has a less mythic and more anatomical origin. It means throat. And I suppose it is somewhat esophageal.
One of the fortifications for fighting across the strait
We enjoyed seeing the Bosporus, the many mansions and palaces built along its waters, and the immense bridges that span it connecting two continents. I should say we, meaning the four adults in the families, enjoyed this. The children enjoyed running about the ship, up the stairs, down the stairs, hiding, and chasing. I assume they saw the water and the features from time to time, but only occasionally. Still, they were probably happier that way.
The Istanbul Modern (a museum of modern art)
I'm not sure where the official boundary between Europe and Asia is (or if there even is one) but assuming it is in the middle of the Bosporus, then I have officially been in Asia. However, I have not yet set foot on land in Asia.

Don't worry, I plan to do that tomorrow. Monday. Or should I say pazartesi?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hisar - Carver

Back last week, I took two AP tests. We needed a school to administer them. Hisar Eğitim offered that. So I took the tests. But the school let us come and try a day of school there. That was today.

Understand that this school is an English school. Most of the things are done in English.

We started out with Computers. We made an interesting video of three interesting places and Göktürk, where the school is. We would use the Street View on Google Maps. I didn't finish because class ended. But my first was Lancaster and my second was Lagonisi (or in the Greek alphabet, Λαγονησι) and I never got to my third. This was in Turkish. But there was someone assigned to help me and she explained what was going on.

After Computers was English. Everyone had read three books. They were Holes, Diary of Anne Frank, and The Outsiders. Then people made orange posters of the Essential Questions in the books. I have only read Holes although I know the basics of Diary of Anne Frank. Then the teams shared their posters. But during that, there was a planned fire drill. It got rid of the end of that part of English and took seven minutes out of the ten minute break. After that we finished sharing posters and then did work to get ready for the end of year English test. This was all obviously in English.

I was told that fire drills are either planned or when something explodes in the High School Chemistry Labs.

After English was Physical Education. This was again in Turkish and we had known it would be. We played Handball. I have played Handball before but this was a completely different game. I can explain the rules in a different post. They separate boys and girls which is different from the US. While we waited to go onto the field (there were three teams and only two played at a time), the boys wanted to ask me questions and literally wrestled for it. I left them and went somewhere else while they fought.

Then was lunch. They had fried churro like things that were very sweet and full of honey but were so hard to cut. It was as if I was cutting stone with a bread knife, which the second part of is true. But they were so good. And then I left.

Some of the things I noticed are that at school, everyone has iPads which they don't use during class but do during break. It also seems like they aren't as worried about kids talking. In Pennsylvania, when you waited in a hallway for your bus to come, you couldn't talk. And you couldn't talk going through the hallways either. This always seemed ridiculous. Why? And here it seems much more reasonable. And the atmosphere at Hisar seems more fun and less strict. So I thought Hisar was a nice school to visit. I think it was better than the schools in Lancaster and the school in Cape Town.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Haircuts by the Book – Erich

In November, I blogged about the mundane details of getting a haircut in South Africa. I commented on how in many ways it was much the same as getting one's hair done in the States.

Apparently, that was the last time I got a haircut. Now it's May, and I was looking... shall we sugarcoat it and say shaggy? Alrica would certainly say so, if she wouldn't say worse.

So I went out to a barber shop in our neighborhood in Istanbul and got my hair cut. Unlike in South Africa, this was quite different than the haircuts at home. I usually get the back and sides done with the number three clippers, clippers being a sort of electric razor. Now, I do know the Turkish word for three, it's üç (pronounced ooch where the oo is like in book). But that didn't matter. Because there were no clippers, no electric devices used. This was good old fashioned scissors and a straight razor!

My barber, whose name I do not know, again, unlike South Africa, used a straight razor for my side burns, where my hair line meets my neck, and other places where you transition from hair to skin.

First I had to lean forward with my head in a sink to get a wash. That happened again at the end of the haircut.

My barber did not speak English, and I speak little Turkish. But the good news is he had a book full of pictures of men who have just had their haircut. Most of the styles in the book were far too cool for my tastes, or they were the sort that my father would have said when I was a lad, “If you only get half a haircut, I'm only paying for half of it!” No worries there, Dad. My feeling is when I get my hair cut I want it cut short so I don't have to go back and have it done again any time soon.

I found two pictures of styles that would work for me and my barber said, “Okay!” That was as much English as I ever heard from him. But I got to hear him.

You see, this was a men's barbershop. And like in the Andy Griffith show, the men's barbershop is also a collection point for men to chat and hang, whether or not they are getting a trim. There was a TV playing football (by which I mean, of course, soccer). And there were several men in the chairs just chatting and laughing. My barber was having a great time, laughing heartily often. I don't know what was funny (I assume it wasn't me) but it was quite funny.

It was fun to be in a place like that. I didn't know what was being said, but I could feel the camaraderie of the men. At home, I never see a lot of people at the barber's unless they are barbers or clients.

After he was done and I got another wash, he took out a bottle of cologne and sprayed the front color of my shirt. He put on so much I could feel the dampness through the fabric. Then he took two tissues and used them to clean out (or dry) the inside of my ears.

So now I look good, I smell good (or my shirt does), and I hear good. The haircut with tip cost me 30 Turkish Lira, which is about $10. A great price for a cooler collar.

All that's left is to ponder the question: Can I go another six months without a haircut? (I imagine Alrica is hoping the answer is no.)

Nine or Ten - Syarra


Two days ago our host told us that his brother’s daughter was having a birthday party, and that we were invited. I found this weird because we had never met the birthday girl. Also when we asked, “How old is she?” he responded with, “Nine or ten.” Before, we had heard that the Turkish people don’t know there birthday, also that a celebration would be very strange. Though we still decided that a celebration would be held on Carver’s birthday in June.
Our host added that he would pick us up at mid-day, so at noon the following day we sat in his car on the fifty minute drive to his brother’s house. At the time we arrived the birthday girl was with a boy who I would guess was her neighbor. She was shy at first, but soon after, we were throwing balloons in the air as another girl arrived. Then we started filling balloons with water. The balloons got thrown and they popped sending water all over the lawn. As we enjoyed the parents laughed and talked as they watched the spectacular scene. But at some point the supply of balloons were taken away.

Other girls arrived, and they decided to play a game, but they decided in Turkish and they wanted to include Carver and I so they went to the birthday girl’s sister who had taken a class to learn English. She told me that they wanted to play hide and seek. Both of us played, but soon they changed the game to Statue which her sister explained was a game in which there was music, then you dance, and when the music stops you become a statue. Again we played. Our parents wanted to see the black sea and we were informed that that was close but we were also informed that dinner was almost ready so until then I played volleyball even in the absence of a net.

We eat until we could eat nothing. Our plates were filled with beef, chicken, green beans, green peppers, sweet cornbread, and more. At some point we played fireball a game where some people throw the ball and some avoid it.  Then there was two varieties of cake both delicious. The evening was filled with games, including tug of war, crocodile, in which you jump over rope and so much more. In the end we were told that in two weeks there is another birthday so we might be coming back!

The Party of Sad Reminders - Carver


One thing before I say more: In the last post I had a guide to Turkish letters. It is rather misleading. The Ü makes the vowel sound in look. At the butcher, we said Güle Güle, the word(or words I suppose) for goodbye. But we said more of a Goolay Goolay. But he said the oo, like the sound in moon is English not Turkish. And it is the oo in look rather than moon.

Anyway, we were invited to a birthday party two days ago and went yesterday. It was fun. We played games. We had fun. But to me, on the outside it was fun. But it also reminded me of home. Of the birthday parties I had with admittedly fewer friends than here as I generally like smaller parties. But it still reminded me of home.

We played many games. In Crocodile, I didn’t play but once everyone went out in the same round because the mouth got so large, I told everyone that I was certain I could avoid going in its mouth. I ran around the rope. That's a lesson. If you have to get past a crocodile with its mouth open, go around it. Don't try to jump over its mouth.

There was good food though early I found that I liked the potato chips and a cornbread like bread that was very sweet and in a circle like cake(even cut into slices like cake) however the real cake came later. They also served huge leaves of lettuce. Plain lettuce. I like certain lettuces. And I filled up on gargantuan leaves of lettuce that you had to tear apart to eat. I liked this and thought this was interesting. I had never seen this before. I didn't even realize that lettuce leaves were this big. I only eat lettuce in salads or on tacos. But there were other things that I didn't try. Soon though, they brought out meat. It looked like kofta and tasted similar. And then they brought out big red sausages, though they were beef. By now I was full. I went to play volleyball. But soon, they brought chicken wings. And coming back to the table for more of the mixed fruit juice, They put many on my plate. It was good but I was so full. My mistake was in not wanting them to go to waste, I kept eating them and so they figured I was still hungry. Then there were two different cakes. I got one slice of each. At least one of mine went to Syarra who had already had her two. I just left the other one. Who knows where it went? But I was so full. It was good but I had to run from the table or end up being given more food.

As I was sitting on a picnic table, I was noticing a wooden pole that held up a frame for a cover. On it were many flies and occasional ants crawling up and down it. But I don't know what attracted the flies. This I watched for a while, trying to figure it out.

That morning I was looking on Google Maps at Lancaster because I like maps. This was early, before anyone else was awake. I almost always wake up first. I noticed that a frozen yogurt place that we could bike to was Permanently Closed or so Google Maps said. But that made me sad and started the whole missing home thing all day.

So this was fun with a hint of sadness.

Religion in Every Corner - Syarra

In the U. S. there are churches.

In Morocco there are mosques.

In Rome there are churches on every block most of which are worth 3 million dollars, OR MORE!

And here, Istanbul, Anatolia, Republic Of Turkey, has mosques, and all mosques have minarets. That is how I spot a mosque, if I want to find one. Our nearest PTT (Posta Telgraf Teşkilatı or in English, Post and Telegraph Organization) is near a local mosque. Not as wide as the blue mosque, but taller then a church if you include the minarets.

Yesterday I drew a picture of a minaret that I could see in the distance.

And a mosque too.
Speakers included!
Most have domes.

Now look around your neighborhood and see what culture is there!

Making Friends - Alrica


Part of traveling slow is the opportunity to really know a people. To see how they live and to make friends. Turkey has been wonderful for this. Our preference usually has been to live where people live, not just where tourists visit. So our 1+ month stay in Turkey started with a few days in the Old Town – Sultanahmet. We hit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar, among others. But after a few days, we moved uptown to Eyüp. We are still within the Istanbul borders, and on a convenient bus line, but we are no where close to walking distance to the “sights.” Instead, we walk to the local bakery who sells amazing bread and slices it for us after the baker helps us struggle through making our requests in what little Turkish we have learned. We also walk down 131 steep steps to the main street that runs alongside the haliç, their word for estuary. Here we visit with the butcher, who teaches us to make köfte with the help of google translate and lots of pantomiming. And we visit the owner of the café who taught Syarra and I how to best enjoy our tomato, cucumber, and onion salad (with a bit of salt and a drizzle of olive oil).

And everywhere we go, people smile at us and speak kindly to us and go out of their way to help us. This week Carver took two AP exams. For much of the year, he worked very hard in both macroeconomics and statistics to learn college-level material. My job was to find a place for him to actually take the exam. Not many places offer both exams and fit our travel schedule but we found a school in Gökturk, Turkey that met all the requirements. Our new apartment was near a bus line that went directly there. Bonus was the AP coordinator at the school who took extra time out of her week to show us around and make us feel comfortable about how exam days would go. She also invited both kids to come spend a day at the school this coming week to see what a Turkish school is like and to play with other kids their own ages.

Yesterday, our airbnb host invited us to his niece’s birthday party, which was today – she is turning 9. They live about an hour’s drive away so he picked us up. As we drove, we listed to Kurdish music and spoke about Turkish politics, travel, and life. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and invited in. Soon, others arrived. Though English was only a second language to most of them, and unknown to some, everyone spoke to us and made sure to include us. They were fascinated by homeschooling, which is illegal and mostly unheard of in Turkey, and I enjoyed learning about their thoughts on education. They were intelligent and thoughtful and made sure we were enjoying ourselves. They also fed us amazing food and kept refilling our plates if we even began to slow down.

The children were just as welcoming. It is hard to communicate with people who speak a different language, but I was proud that all of the kids made the effort. Carver and Syarra joined in and learned a variety of simple games, some matching our games like tug-o-war which they call “the rope game,” and others that were brand new, like “crocodile” where they reuse the rope to make a crocodile mouth that gets wider each time each person in the group tries to jump from one side to the other until only one person is left. And then there were the games of volleyball played without a net that seemed to spring up over and over if more than two people were together. Play seems to be a universal language.

As the house was less than a mile from the black sea, our host detoured to the beach on the way home and let us walk along the shore. In all, a delightful day filled with new experiences and new friends. As we travel, kindness seems to be a common factor amongst all of the people we interact with, but the Turkish people have, on the whole, raised the bar.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Coffee and the Sea – Erich

In Turkey they like their coffee like they like their seas: black. And Turkish.

Now, in a previous post, I discussed the waltz, The Blue Danube, and the fact that the real Danube River is not blue, it is green.

Today, for the first time, I got to see the Black Sea. And I have news for you (though I suspect you can guess what it will be.) That's right, it's not black!
Look! It's blue! (Unlike the Danube)
Now I suppose someone is going to inform me that the Red Sea isn't red. Nor is the Pacific Ocean particularly pacifistic. And then I will probably learn that for my information the Dead Sea is only mostly dead. And there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

In all fairness, the Black Sea may not have been named as such for its color. Perhaps it got its name for its macabre sense of humor. Or for giving off UV radiation.
Talk about UV radiation
I looked it up, and many scholars believe that the name the Black Sea is a more modern metaphor for the original name given it by the Greek sailors who found it. They called it the Inhospitable Sea because it was large, hard to navigate, and had unfriendly native communities living around it.

So I guess we shouldn't have expected it to be black. And good news, I didn't expect it to be black. This was not a surprise.

There was another first for Alrica and me today. We got to try Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is really strong, intense coffee. You know what it tastes like? Coffee, strong and intense. I don't like coffee, even regular weak American coffee. So I was no more surprised that I didn't like Turkish coffee than I had been that the Black Sea wasn't black.

But I was willing to try it, knowing I was very unlikely to find it palatable, because we are traveling the world to learn about people in other cultures. That includes their special foods and drinks. I don't like tea, but I drank tea in the United Kingdom. I don't like mint (or, as I mentioned, tea) but I ended up drinking Moroccan mint tea several times in Marrakech and Fez. If you spend a month in Morocco and no one offers you mint tea, you're not doing it right.

So even when I fully expect to dislike something, I am trying to try. Because, first, I could be surprised. Maybe I'll like it. Second, I don't want to be rude. This is an important part of the culture. And third, if you set off to experience the world, you better darn well experience it.

You may not like all of it, but that's okay. No one does. Several of the people from Turkey we were with today confided in us that they, too, dislike Turkish Coffee.

So don't fret. Sometimes differences in cultures, like seas, aren't so black after all.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Turkish Intermission – Erich

Nobody expects the Turkish Intermission.

What does that mean? Let me explain.

On Thursday, Syarra, Alrica, and I did something we don't do that often on this trip. We went to a movie. Carver was taking his AP Statistics exam and the three of us had a few hours to kill. So we went to a movie here in Turkey.

We haven't done this much. We did see one movie in the theater in South Africa (where they speak English) and we saw one move in the theater in England (where obviously they speak English since it is named for England.) This is our first movie in a non-English speaking nation.

That being said, the movie was still in English. It was a Hollywood movie and it was shown with no audio dubbing. We heard the real soundtrack in English. There were Turkish subtitles on the screen.

Funny thing, at the beginning of the movie there is a character speaking in Russian. So the movie itself already has subtitles in white letters in English. But here we got to see above those subtitles another set of subtitles in yellow letters in Turkish. Double subtitle, pretty strange? No, it gets stranger.

We are about halfway through the movie. A big scene with an action sequence comes to an end. The next scene begins. Three syllables are spoken and then suddenly the movie cuts out. The lights come up in the theater. Huh?

The other people in the theater seen nonplussed. But we're confused. So I go out to ask about this. The man at the concession stand doesn't speak English, so he points me to the man who sells tickets. I go to him and tell him the movie just stopped. He thinks, trying to remember how to say it in English. Then he tells me “Seven minutes. Break.”

There is a break? They have an intermission in the middle of a movie in Turkey? Apparently so. This is why the other people in the theater thought nothing of it. We were the only ones surprised. So I guess it isn't entirely fair to say “No one expects the Turkish Intermission.” I really should say “No one, except for the Turks, expects the Turkish Intermission.”

So we hit the bathroom and return to the theater. And after the break, you know what happens? They show more previews. We see previews for two other movies (one of the previews is in English the other is in Turkish) and then without warning, the movie picks up mid sentence where it had left off.

This was one of those movies where A) There are opening credits, but they come at the end of the movie then B) there is a short scene after those opening credits then C) the end credits roll and finally D) there is an “extra” teaser thing after the end credits.

So our movie ends, we see the opening credits, we see the short scene, the end credits just barely begin to roll and the movie stops. At this point we are the only ones left in the theater (except for the woman with the broom who is just waiting for us to leave so she can clean up.) I guess the Turkish members of the audience left when the opening credits were rolling.

They don't show the credits in Turkey? Or maybe, they don't show the credits when the credits are all going to be in English. I don't know?

So again, we go out and ask, why did the movie stop. This is a movie where there is always something after the credits. The man who speaks English apparently knew there was something after the credits because he says “You want other sketch.” He tells us to go back into the theater. We do.

Then he has somehow set the credits to show us the last twenty seconds of credits and then it shows us the extra scene.

It was one of those experiences that was similar, but just different enough to be different. At the least, it was unexpected.

And that's part of the fun. So I guess I'm cool with not knowing what is about to happen at times.

Even though the locals knew it was coming, I'm happy that at the least, I didn't expect the Turkish Intermission.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Plumbing and Other Everyday Observations – Erich

I have no doubt my readers have come to depend on my deep and insightful posts that elucidate the human condition around the world. Each new entry is a gem of inspiration and illumination. And it is with bated or otherwise foreshortened breath that the wide audience awaits the next drop of pure truth to precipitate from my virtual inkwell.

Bad news. This post probably won't live up to those standards.

But it is looking at some of the everyday household fixtures and how they compare or contrast with those in the United States.

Let's start with plumbing. In the United States, you flush a toilet with a handle, usually on the side of the tank. Oh, not so in Africa or Europe. At least not as we have seen. They are almost all flushed by means of a button one depresses. (Though we have seen some where you pull up on a short rod, and even a couple with a tank up high and you pull on a chain to flush.)

What's more, most toilets have two buttons or one button with two parts. The larger part makes a larger flush (for your larger waste.) The smaller button saves water with a smaller flush for those times that the waste is only liquid.

Of course, I have seen those rarely in the U.S., but in Africa and Europe, that is the norm.

Showers are also different so far as we have seen. In South Africa we had a shower much like those in the States. By this I mean, the shower head was affixed to a pipe coming out of the wall somewhere above our heads. This was also the case in Namibia, though in Namibia we were not in a home. We were traveling from campsite to campsite.

But in Morocco and in all of Europe, the affixed to the wall above your head shower is not common. Instead, people seem to favor the shower head on a flexible hose that can be moved around your body. There is usually a place you can rest the shower head that is up high, so you can use it as we do as well. Though I rather like the moving the water to me rather than the moving me to be under the water. It is much more efficient.

Another item we don't see in the U.S. is the bidet. In Morocco and in some places in Europe, but not all, this bathroom convenience is all too common. It would hardly be a bathroom without one. (Though in all honesty, this is not a bathroom convenience of which I have as of yet ever availed myself.)

Here in Turkey, there are bidets, but not separate bidets. Rather, the bidet is sort of built into the toilet. There is a nozzle that sticks out from the back side of the porcelain rim of the toilet, just under where the back of the seat would be. And there is a faucet on the wall you can twist (again I have not tried doing so) to make the water spray from that nozzle. Two in one.

Looking at other appliances, while clothes washing machines are common, dryers are almost unseen. Why use a dryer when you can use the sun? This was certainly the case, even in the UK, where there was no guarantee that there would be sun.

Moving to utensils and tools, do you know what common household item is actually completely uncommon, or so it has been in our travels? A can opener. Every place we go we rent self-catering apartments. This means all the normal necessities will be there. There should be plates, bowls, glasses, forks, knives, spoons, and all the things you need to cook. Yeah, good luck. Don't count on measuring spoons or cups, don't count on baking dishes, and definitely don't count on can openers! Nobody seems to have can openers.

We've basically learned not to buy any canned food. Yes, we could buy our own can opener, but every little thing we add to our stuff is some other little thing we have to carry on our backs as we move from one place to another.

Electrical outlets are not consistent around the world. South Africa has its own standard of three round pins, one of which is of greater diameter than the other two. This standard is matched by no one else except Namibia. But even there, many appliances in South Africa and Namibia have plugs designed for European outlets, so converters are common.

All of Europe (but not the U.K.) uses the same two pin outlet as the rest of Europe (but not the U.K.) Both Morocco and Turkey use these same outlets. The U.K. uses a three pin outlet, but the pins are flat rectangular pins.

If you are going on a world trip, buy at least one universal outlet converter. (Though even these are not actually universal. We had to get a separate one for South Africa. And when we go to India, we will need to get one specific to their electrical system as well.)

I'm sure Asia will offer more new experiences when it comes to plumbing and household appliances. Already here in Turkey (and occasionally in Morocco) we have come across the Eastern Style toilet. My understanding is that in Asia these are going to be more common that our Western Style toilets. We'll see.

An Eastern Style toilet is at ground level, there is nothing to sit upon. You straddle the hole, (there are textured sides so as to provide a nice non-slip surface), squat, and do your business. If you are male and you are urinating, this is no big deal, just a matter of aiming differently. But in all other cases, this is a bit harder an adjustment to make.

I know some of these observations are mundane. But it's life. And life is in the everyday as much as it is in the extraordinary. That's a big part of what we are trying to learn about the world, its hardware, and the people who use it. How they live is part of who they are.

See, there's the drop of wisdom. Dripping right into that unfamiliar plumbing.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Coaching Water – Erich

Our host, the owner of the apartment in which we are staying, is a film director. And he asked us for a favor.

In one of the films he recently made, the main character is a young Turkish man who has been raised in Europe and the United States. Some of the movie takes place in New York. The basic story is that his grandmother is dying and he learns that he is not actually Turkish, but in fact, Kurdish. Then he goes on a journey of discovery.

So here was the favor. The director asked if he could bring over the actor who played the young man and record some of the lines spoken in English again for audio dubbing. He wanted those lines to sound more American.

The actor is a talented man who is Turkish and learned his English in the U.K. So naturally, he doesn't sound like an American when he speaks English.

I don't know much about being a dialect coach. But Alrica and I were able to suggest how we would say some of the phrases, how we would pronounce them. Of course, it is a huge challenge for the actor. He has to say the words again, trying to match our pronunciation, and trying to match the tone and emotion that he had when he actually made those scenes.

The single hardest word: “Water”. The way we say water has nothing really to do with the letter 't'. But how to explain that we “swallow our t”?

The short a sound is also one that is very distinctly different in America and Britain. The actor had to say “ma'am” and that was a challenge. And the long i sound in the word “night” sounded very British when he would say it.

It was a fascinating experience. I hope it helped the film. But I wonder if it just made the actor feel he was sinking into the “water”.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mixed Emotions - Syarra

Every time we leave a place we have feelings for the place we may never see again. But with different places comes different feelings. It’s hard to explain what brings the emotions to the surface. Maybe we have stronger emotions for the places that remind us of home. The calm homes that are close but not in the center of the city are a great location for us. They are the houses, apartments, locations that remind me most of home, where I am comfortable. When you step inside a life unlike any you would expect, you need a reminder of a place you know.

When you stay long term in a house, you look at the place you are buying, but when we stay “long term” it means most likely one month, maybe two. When we do stay “long term” we look at the pictures provided, which is whatever the host decides to show.

Although this might be difficult, we have chosen this life style. So we live with it. And learn so much more.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Turkish Delight (on a Moonlit Night) – Erich

Turkish Delight (on a Moonlit Night) – Erich

We are in Turkey. Not just in Turkey, but in the splendidly chaotic city of Istanbul. More properly, I should write İstanbul. In Turkish, there is a dotted “i” and a dotless “ı”. When capitalized the dotted “i” retains the dot, so it looks different than our capital I, which is the same as the capitalized version of the dotless “ı”. And the word İstanbul is spelled with the dotted “i”.
The words mean Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality
My greatest challenge is not continually singing the song “Istanbul Not Constantinople.” This is made even more difficult when every time the fabulous dessert “Turkish delight” is mentioned, Syarra likes to add “on a moonlit night” referencing the song. This gets it started in my head again. Mean daughter!

Please note: I do not feel a similar temptation to hum “Turkey in the Straw”.

In our first days here, we have seen some pretty amazing sites. We visited the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is well named, because it is grand in size and it is a bit bizarre. It's not strange that there are so many shops. It is strange in how it is built.
One of the streets of shops in the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar has shops lining the roads, but then arched roofs have been built over the roads. And there are large television screens hanging from the arched roof at each intersection. These can show ads. So it is almost like being in a mall with very wide halls. Except then you look down at the ground where you still see storm drains and manhole covers and you realize that this is a street. Or at least it was before someone turned it into the indoors.
The floor is an actual city street
At one shop just outside of the Grand Bazaar, we got a long lesson in Turkish carpets. We learned that they come from different regions, they were made to be given as part of a woman's dowry. Nowadays, they aren't being made so much. They can last up to 250 years because they are made with double knots which makes them far superior to the single knotted Persian carpets. (Or so the Turkish carpet merchant believes.) And let's not even get into Berber carpets in Morocco! What can compare to Turkish?

Of course, we were up front about not wanting a carpet, not having a home in which to put a carpet, and not having friends or family to whom a carpet could be shipped. (That last part wasn't actually true, but given the first part, that we didn't want a carpet, it seemed like a reasonable claim for us to make.) But we got the hard sell nonetheless. End result: We did not buy a carpet. Though I'm sure his claim that the price was unbelievably low was true, the bargain value of the price is somewhat irrelevant when you don't want the product. (If only I could get that point across to merchants in general.)

We also visited some of the major religious sites of today and of the past. There is a huge mosque called Sultanahmet Camii. (Camii is the Turkish word for mosque.) Most westerners call it The Blue Mosque, because the inside is decorated in 22,000 tiles with beautiful floral designs on them. The majority of the color of these tiles is blue.

This was a far departure from Morocco where you are not allowed in a mosque unless you are a Muslim. Here, outside of prayer times, Sultanahmet Camii is open to visitors. We did have to remove our shoes. Alrica and Syarra had to have their heads and shoulders covered. And none of us were wearing shorts, as that is not allowed.

Not only does this mosque invite you in, but they have a lot of information about Islam. We learned that Islam would say that anyone who believes in the one God is a Muslim, even if he considers himself a Christian, Jew, or even a Hindu. (It explained that while Hindus believe in many gods, ultimately their many gods are manifestations of one true god.) In fact, what the information presented explained is that there truly is only one divine religion or one religion of Allah. But the religions of humans are varied because none of them are actually the true religion of Allah. We just can't replicate what Allah and the angels can understand.

A few interesting stories about Sultanahmet Camii: It was built by the Sultan Ahmed I (which is where it gets its Turkish name, literally the Sultan Ahmed Mosque). When construction began, the Sultan set the price at which the tiles would be purchased. But it took many years to build. During that time, the price of tiles went up, but the Sultan's set price did not change. So the later (higher) tiles are made at lower and lower qualities.

Also, the mosque was built with six minarets. Minarets are the tall narrow towers with balconies around the structure. In the days before electrical amplification, this is where the call to prayer came from. Someone had to climb the minaret and sing out the call to prayer. Today, they can stay at ground level and let the speakers get the word out.

But when it was built, many prominent Muslims were dismayed that the Sultan had six minarets built. This was the same number of minarets as surrounded the Kaaba in Mecca. They found it presumptuous that he would include the same number of minarets in İstanbul. So the Sultan solved the problem. He didn't make fewer minarets here. He ordered a seventh minaret be built at the Kaaba.

Right across from the Sultanahmet Camii is the Hagia Sophia Museum. In Turkish this is the Ayasofia Müzesi. The Hagia Sophia was a massive Byzantine Catholic Cathedral built between 532 and 537 CE, in the time when Constantinople (as İstanbul was called in those days) was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It has a gigantic dome supported by two half-domes.
The massive dome of the Hagia Sophia
In fact, when the Sultanahmet Camii was built in the 1660s, it was meant to rival the Hagia Sophia. But the engineering of the Byzantines/Romans was difficult to match, and the domes on the Sultanahmet Camii, while more decorative, airy, and lit, are not as big.
This marble jar is from around 400 BCE and was used to distribute water and sherbet. Sherbet? So said the sign.
The Hagia Sophia was a Byzantine Catholic Cathedral for many centuries. Though it did have a stretch of about 80 years in which it became a Roman Catholic Cathedral, when Rome sort of recaptured and occupied Constantinople. But it again became a Byzantine Catholic Cathedral until the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Then it was converted into a mosque. The mosque was used until the Sultanahmet Camii was built. And then the Hagia Sophia fell into some disrepair.
In this area, the Byzantine Emperors were coronated
But in the early 1900s when Turkey became a secular government and the Caliphate was replaced with a more pro-Western democracy, the Hagia Sophia became a museum. Inside, there is a fascinating mix of Christian and Muslim iconography.
This mosaic in the Hagia Sophia shows the Emperor and his wife with Jesus. He is giving money to the church.
Another beautiful stop was the Topkapi Palace. This was the palace of the Sultans until the fall of the Caliphate. Then it too became a museum. It is situated in a perfect location, giving views of Sea of Marmara to the south, the Bosporus to the northeast, the Asian side of Turkey across the Bosporus to the east, and the Golden Horn to the north.
There's me with Asia across the water. I might be able to swim that.
Topkapi is different than El Alcazar, a castle complex we saw in Seville, Spain. Both were built by various rulers who added their own elements. But the Topkapi is on a smaller scale. Why build multistory buildings? Instead, you can build a one story building but decorate it so richly that there is no doubt as to the majesty of the Sultan. It also didn't have the extensive and varied gardens of El Alcazar.
Every column is made from a different kind of marble
But what it did have was treasures. First, in the treasury, one could see some of the riches of the Ottoman Empire. There were huge gems, jeweled daggers and boxes, and bowls so richly decorated in gemstones that you couldn't possibly ever use it as a bowl. In another section called the Privy Chambers were relics. Now, I always thought Privy Chambers were the toilet facilities, but that is not what it meant here. Here they were the rooms with the greatest of treasures.

These were major religious relics of Islam. But since many of Islam's prophets are those mentioned in the Jewish Bible and the New Testament, some of these relics would also be considered relics in Judaism and Christianity.

We saw what was said to be the staff of Moses, the sword of David, many pieces of the beard of the prophet (by which is meant Muhammad), his sword and the sword of some of his closest friends and pupils, gutters from the Kaaba, and more. In one room in the Privy Chambers, there is a man who sits and sings the verses of the Quran all day long. These are amplified and can be heard throughout the Privy Chambers. He had a beautiful voice. In that room, there are two screens showing the verses of the Quran, one in Turkish and one in English.

In addition to the sites, we have enjoyed some wonderful foods. Of course, the most singular is Turkish Delight. It's difficult to describe it. The legend says that when some sultan broke his tooth on a hard candy, he wanted something softer as his treat. And his royal chef invented Turkish Delight.

Turkish Delight is a semi-solid candy. It is more firm than gelatin, but less firm and chewy than a gummy bear for example. It comes in a great variety of colors and flavors. And it is sweet and delicious. Even if you eat it at a time other than a moonlit night.

The people of Turkey, who are a mix of both Turks and Kurds, are incredibly friendly. As an example, we had purchased some dried strawberries and they were in a sealed plastic bag. We were trying to open the bag in the Grand Bazaar and having a difficult time. One jewelry shop owner saw us having trouble, so he rushed into his store and returned with a pair of scissors, cutting the bag for us.

People offer to help us find where we are going. They recommend the best places to eat or to find certain items. They are a generous people. And most of them truly appreciate it if you try to speak some Turkish. Even if you're not that good at it, which describes my abilities in Turkish quite well.

Of course, we have much more to see and do here. We haven't yet been in the Asian part across the Bosporus. We want to see the Basilica Cistern. And we want to experience more of the foods of Turkey. But even in the few days we have spent here, we can certainly say that İstanbul has been a true Turkish delight.

On a moonlit night.