Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Aspendos Theater

Thursday, September 24, 2015

While our guests ventured out to other parts of Antalya such as Side and Kemer, Alex and I decided to stay in and catch up on sleep on Thursday. Once our bodies were recovered from exhaustion, we made plans to go to a ballet and opera show at the famous Aspendos Theater, which was built by the Romans and is remarkably preserved in Sevik, which is about an hour away from Antalya.

Per usual, getting to the Aspendos Theater via public transportation was quite an adventure. Jesse, Alex, and I left the house at 18.45 for our 21.00 show. We waited 40 minutes for Bus 03, which we were advised goes to Aspendos. However, after a short 20-minute ride, we were dropped off at Aspendos Boulevard. My friends, Aspendos Boulevard, as lovely as it is, is a random road in the middle of a shopping center—not the grand Aspendos Theater that we were looking for.

Exercising our limited Turkish once again, we asked bystanders for directions to Sevik, with no success. When the clock struck 20.00, we turned to our last resort: taxi. We knew it would be much, much more expensive than the bus, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and keep moving. I think that’s probably why the Romans were so successful; they strode on.

Time was not on our side and the taxi driver did not know where Sevik was. After multiple stops at gas stations, driving through narrow dirt roads and large highways, and some 58 minutes past the 20th hour, we reached our final destination just in time for the show to start.

Aspendos Theater in Sivek was built by Romans.
I felt as if I had traveled through a time machine and landed in the Roman Empire when I entered the stone-carved amphitheater. It was a magnificent structure, with its creative designs and calculated engineering. The same-sized seats formed parallel rings that circled the ground stage while the upside down U-shaped doors created by Corinthian columns gave way for light and wind. What made the theater so beautiful is that it was built with stone. Stone! I am a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, but I cannot even begin to comprehend the geometry and science that the Romans knew. Moments like these fascinate me; they ignite in me a blazing fire, which can only be extinguished by a greater depth of knowledge.

Opera singers from around the world.
Lights quickly dimmed and the show started on the dot at 21.00. As I watched couples perform ballet and individuals sing opera, all I could think about was how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to be here. Witnessing these amazing artists from around the world, taking in the sound of music, feeling the cool breeze under a moonlit sky. It was so special to get lost in my thoughts, mainly from my past, as I watched the performances. I thought about my childhood in Pakistan and how unmotivated I was as a student. I thought about growing up in Alexandria, VA, the struggles of learning English and adapting to a new culture. I missed my family as I remembered my mom’s cooking, Baba’s disciplining lessons, and quarrels with my siblings. Episodes from my years at Bowdoin played through my head; I recalled special memories I made with my friends, with my host parents, and my professors. I smiled when I thought about my two years in Boston, navigating the ruthless snowstorms, producing insurance analyses, and coming home to fresh cookies baked by my roommates Carly and Abi. When the live orchestra picked up its pace, I thought about my best friend Emily Rapavi who is an incredible violinist. When the audience clapped for opera singers, I thought about my host mother Wanda and my college friend Katarina because they, too, have beautiful voices.

Beautiful ballet performance.
Watching the ballet and opera show at the Aspendos Theater was a powerful experience. Even though I was present in the moment—fully engaged with the music I heard, the dances I saw, the breeze I felt, the clapping I participated in—I was also lost in my past. This must be a dream, I kept thinking to myself, this must be a dream. Thank you Allah for Your blessing.

With gratitude, I leave you with a video.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kaleiçi – The Old City


September 20-22th, 2015

Other Fulbrighters visit us in Antalya.
Because of the Kurban Bayram week-long vacation, Fulbrighters are traveling to all corners of Turkey and hitting as many cities as they possibly can before schools open. Given that Antalya is a hub spot for tourists, Alex and I drew a few visitors this past week. Having guests encouraged us to explore our own city and was a great excuse to start becoming accustomed to the complicated bus system.
A total view of Kaleiçi.
This post is dedicated to a beautiful part of Antalya known as “Kaleiçi” (c is pronounced as “ch”). Kaleiçi is the “Old City” with narrow streets leading to a grand harbor, smell of kebabs and fresh seafood following you everywhere you go, and shopkeepers using their scripted English to lure you in.

Here is a description of Kaleiçi from one of my brochures that describes the Old City better than I can:
“Kaleiçi (Citadel), the old city center of Antalya, combines the aesthetics of old and new, its charms surrounded inside and out by fortified walls. These walls, some of which have survived to this day, were built by the various civilizations that inhabited the city over a 2000-year period and there are 80 towers rising on them. Within the walls, the narrow streets that lead to the port, perfectly reflect the atmosphere of old Antalya. The ancient port of Kaleiçi is now used as a modern yacht harbor. The yacht harbor and old city together make a splendid view which has inspired numerous painters, writers, and poets.”

I was so happy to find spices at a Kaleiçi shop!
My favorite parts of exploring Kaleiçi were finding spice shops (the Pakistani in me!) and marveling at souvenirs ranging from beautiful scarves to intricate carpets to ceramic magnets to shiny key chains. I love shopping for gifts for friends and family, so the shopkeepers are lucky to have an eager tourist such as myself. I must admit, though, I do appreciate the times when Alex nudges me away from these shops because they can sometimes be a waste of time. We have already experienced shopkeepers trying to make conversation with us as we walk by and cajoling us into wandering into their shops. Alex and I scheduled a boat tour for our friends on Tuesday evening, and although it rained, it was a lot of fun.

I’ll end with just one other noteworthy experience. I call it “The Mysterious South Asian Beauty.” I have been asked the following question countless times at stores, restaurants, buses, and even in the streets: Are you Indian? Saying no would be letting them off the hook too easily; saying yes is just a lie. More often than not, I entertain the conversation and flip a question back to them: Where do you think I am from? This is hilarious but I kid you not, they reply with “India.” I shake my head in disapproval, with a smirk on my face, and ask them to try again. They squint their eyes, raise an eyebrow, and scratch their heads as if they have stumbled upon something so extraordinary that their eyes cannot believe it. I stare back at them, smiling and puzzled, thinking to myself: they are smart enough to know what an Indian woman looks like, but they cannot guess another country in all of South Asia? Unbelievable. When I finally put them out of their agony and reveal the mystery by saying “Pakistani,” a huge smile emerges on their faces, with what I think is both approval and awe. Çok güzel, they say, çok güzel. Very beautiful.

I have not seen any public butchering of goats yet, but if I do, I’ll be sure to provide the juicy details. Just kidding, I won’t be writing about any of that. I once witnessed a butchering of a goat as a child, and it was not a pleasant experience to say the least. I was unable to eat meat for a month or so. On that note, preemptive Eid Mubarak to those observing!

Historical Yivli Minaret and Clock Tower in the background.
At the famous Umbrella Street.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Konyaaltı Beach

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Today, Alex and I went to the Konyaaltı Beach, a famous resort in Antalya. We left the house at 2pm and waited for the bus on the opposite side of the street...but the buses never stopped for us! Were we doing something wrong? Aren't all buses supposed to stop at a bus station? It was later that we learned that you have to wave at a bus for it to stop. Oh, the things we have yet to learn!

View of Konyaaltı Beach upon arrival.
We decided to walk to Migros Mall and catch a bus from there -- it was a 15-minute walk in the sweltering heat. We got on the right bus, paid a fare of 2TL each, and got off at Konyaaltı Beach. The tourists that we were, we didn't realize there were two sections of the beach: one where you pay for shaded area and pads to sit on, and the other, open to the public like a normal beach. We ended up paying 10TL to enter the shaded area, and enjoyed just lying down and talking. We saw families having fun, people swimming in the Sea, and people parasailing. It was interesting to note that the beach had pebbles, not sand. Pebbles were very rough to walk on! We ate dinner at a nice little restaurant serving delicious kibap sandwiches near our apartment and got home at 6pm.

Enjoy the photos!
Alex and me at the Konyaaltı Beach in Antalya.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Settling In

September 13-18th, 2015

Merhaba from Antalya!

Today marks the one-week anniversary of being in Antalya! In celebration, this post summarizes this past week that Alex and I have spent settling into what will soon feel like home, inshallah.

Alex and I spent our first two nights at the Social Facilities Hotel, which is located on the Akdeniz University campus. The hotel looks pretty from the outside with its luring pool and grand lobby, but by no means was it a luxury resort. The room accommodations were basic but survivable. It is fair to say that the Niza Park Otel’s pampering had spoiled us. When we checked out of the Social Facilities Hotel on Monday afternoon, the clerk charged us for three nights (even though we spent two nights) at the rate of 110TL/night (even though we anticipated 80TL/night). Despite our room not being cleaned for the two days we spent there, Alex and I decided not to fight this battle.

View of Med. Sea from our apt.
Apartment
The first thing on our to-do list was find housing. We spent all day Sunday looking at apartments in the districts close to the university. Our wonderful university rep, Meltem Hanim, drove and accompanied us to four different flat options, which we had looked up from a popular rental site (similar to Craigslist in the USA). A young man named Samet Bey showed us the first apartment, which was by far the best option: it was located in the Meltem district (yes that's the name of our uni rep and the name of a safe residential district closest our university); came fully furnished, a 3+1 (which means 3 bedrooms, plus 1 living room) and 2 bathrooms; was on the 10th floor of a 15-floor building; had a beautiful view of the Toros Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea; included elevator service; had lots of sunlight and breeze throughout the apartment; and the rent was reasonable (1,250 TL/month). It also included a dishwasher, clothes washer, AC unit in the living room, as well as pots and silverware in the kitchen. The furniture was kind of old, but we don't mind that. The commute to university is 20 minutes by walking, which was an important factor to Alex and me. This was definitely our first choice, but we did look at other apartments to make an informed decision. The other three apartments, while spacious and also fully furnished, were located in a run-down district and appeared to be very far from the university. This made our decision very easy: we called Samet Bey that afternoon and told him we wanted to sigh the lease.

And sign the lease we did. Little did we know that the process would leave us penniless—figuratively and literally. The very next day, on Monday, Alex and I signed two original copies of our rental contract for 9 months. We paid in cash the first month’s rent (1,250TL), a security deposit of equal amount (1,250TL), and a “service fee” which we were not aware of. Samet Bey, who had originally told us that he was showing the house on behalf of his friend, was actually working for a rental company and demanded a commission of equal amount. The sad reality was that that neither Alex nor I had that much money in our wallets. With Meltem as our translator, we negotiated the commission to 1,000TL instead of 1,250TL. Needless to say, we were liquidated of our monetary assets that day.

Meeting Meltem's family at her mom's dinner invitation.
Dinner at Meltem’s Mom’s house
On our second day in Antalya, Sunday evening, our uni rep Meltem invited us to a dinner hosted by her mother. Before going to Meltem’s Mom’s house, we went to Meltem’s house where we met her husband and two lovely boys, Aktur and Dirmir. Meltem served us a pita-like homemade bread and cake with tea. We watched a TV show where girls were judged for their fashion selections for the theme of “retro”. It was a reality TV show, similar to America’s Next Top Model in America.

At about 7p, we drove to Meltem’s Mom’s house. Alex and I brought baklava because we did not want to go empty-handed. We met Meltem’s mother and father as well as her brother and sister-in-law. The family was very kind and generous. The Mom had cooked a feast for us—there was so much food that after trying a little bit of everything upon insistence, Alex and I were full. My favorite dish was curried okra because okra is my favorite vegetable and I love the okra dish in Pakistani cuisine. Although our bellies had given us a final warning, we had to make room for dessert (coconut -dough and baklava), cay, and watermelon that followed the meal. We all sat in the living room and conversed about politics, history, and current events. Hasan (the brother) is passionate about history and I enjoyed hearing a fresh perspective on topics such as American foreign policy and fall of the Ottoman Empire. For example, I was enlightened to learn that nationalism was dogma of World War I, and because the diverse Ottoman Empire lacked a nationalistic identity, it crumbled to pieces. Conversation shifted to places to visit in Turkey, and before we knew it, it was already 10pm. We bid farewell to our generous hosts and promised to invite them to dinner.

Old school phones--at least they work.
Mobile Phones
Alex and I also now have functioning Turkish phone numbers! We had to purchase outdated phones (Hiking brand) and a Turkish SIM card through Avea phone service. People at the phone store were hasty, and I feared they would mix up my phone number with Alex’s or vice versa. The clerks made photocopies of our passports in no particular order, which made me very nervous. I’m a stickler when it comes to these things. And of course, my worst fear came true: in my SIM card, I got a promo SMS with Alex’s name on it, and Alex got a similar SMS with her name on it. So I’m assuming both phones are registered to her? Did the clerk forget to put my name in the system? Ughh, these things bother me so much. *breathe in, breathe out* I decided to drop this battle.

We don’t use our phones much except to communicate with Meltem and the landlord. We don’t have any Turkish friends yet, haha. Our battery is still half full, and it’s been a week already. Texting on these phones is very difficult; we have come a long way with smart phones. Alas, these phones may not be fancy, but they get the job done.

Bank Account
We have opened bank accounts with TEB Bank, which is conveniently located on the university campus. Even though there is no money in the accounts, it’s still a victory to say that the accounts are up and running. Alex and I are counting down to October 15th because that is when we receive our first salaried payment from the university. Woohoo! Maybe we won’t be penniless after all…thank you, Allah!

Groceries
For groceries, there is a small market located under our apartment building, which is very, very convenient. We buy fresh bread and vegetables from there daily. We’ve also done some grocery shopping at the Migros Mall (yes, it’s kind of odd that there is a grocery store inside a big shopping mall). We typically eat lunch out at various university restaurants and grub spots, which means breakfast and dinner are made at home. We are continuously discovering delicious little nooks of food spots around our neighborhood. Perhaps in the future I’ll post a restaurant review for one of my blog posts. Stay tuned if you’re a foodie! 

Walking around on Akdeniz University.
School Registration
Registration at the school took forever. We went to school every day to fill out paperwork, talk to the right people in the hierarchy, and follow the rules of the bureaucracy. Things move very slowly here, and we are seeing it in practice. Although this is little frustrating at times, it is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just different than what we are used to in America. After much walking in the hot weather, numerous consultations with the “right” people, and 100 signatures on various forms, we finally received our university cards on Friday the 18th. Even then, there was a small blooper. They misspelled Alex’s last name as “Pasavalone” instead of “Pasqualone”. Turkish alphabet does not have the letter “Q” but the keyboard does…so we are not quite sure what went wrong. One speculation is that the person producing the card must have misread lower case “q” for an “a” and the “u” for a “v”. In either case, Alex has to wait another two weeks to receive a new card.

Meeting Our Students
During the course of filling out paperwork and walking around the Akdeniz University campus, Alex and I got to interact with some students and conduct a mock “speaking club.” So instead of teaching classes, we learned that our responsibility at Akdeniz University will be to conduct speaking clubs during which we speak English with our students to help them develop confidence in their speaking ability. This is great news because it means less pressure to prepare for a graded class. Our students are university kids who are studying to take entrance exams for master’s programs abroad (which require English) or preparing for a good job. It was so much fun learning about our students—they are a mischievous bunch. 

We spend a lot of time with Asli (L) and Meltem (R).
Kurban Bayram
Good thing we are off all of next week for Kurban Bayram, which is more commonly known as Eid-al-Adha (side note: Eid after Ramadan is called Eid-al-Fitr). Eid-al-Adha holiday commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as an act of submission to God’s command. It is very important to Muslims around the world because it teaches us about the importance of sacrifice for the greater good. On Eid-al-Adha, families typically sacrifice a goat or a cow and divide the meat into three parts; they keep one third for themselves, give one-third to friends and neighbors, and distribute the remaining third to the poor and needy. I’m excited to celebrate “Big Eid” (as children often call it because of the more grand festivities) in a Muslim country with a unique culture.
 
Nightly scene at Konak Kafe.

Konak Kafe
Konak Kafe has become our late-night hang out spot. It’s a neat little café located only two minutes from our apartment building. Alex and I go there every evening to sip on cay and use the free wifi. The café is typically attended by men who smoke hookah and watch football while munching on pub food like grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries, although we have seen university students playing board games and cards as well. Until we learn to play backgammon, Alex and I have been challenging each other at chess—the winner is yours truly.


Miscellaneous
On a not-so-high note, I encountered my first medical emergency in Turkey. I contracted a skin infection on my right thigh. I visited the hospital and got proper treatment, and I am doing much better now. The pain is gone and the wound is healing. My biggest fear of living abroad is getting a disease that would cripple me from fulfilling my responsibilities and goals. I must be careful! I also got a cold this past week, probably from the change in weather, and Alex offered me allergy relief medicine. As partners in crime, we must take care of each other.

Note to Readers
Teşekkür ederim for your loyalty in reading and following my blog. Going forward, my posts will be short, irregular, and sporadic. I will post whenever time, wifi, and energy allows. Güle Güle!
Palm trees everywhere!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Journey to Antalya

Sunday, September 12, 2015

The Journey to Antalya deserved its own post.

For the most part, the journey was smooth, unlike the hustle and bustle of my journey to Ankara. Alex and I had a hearty lunch and departed the hotel at 1:30p to catch our 4p flight, which was booked by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. We said goodbye to our peers as  we passed them, and it was impossible to track everyone down. We hugged Mevlude Hanim goodbye, jam-packed our luggage and our bodies into one taxi, and off we went. Our driver was a young 20-something man who tried to teach us some Turkish words in exchange for English words. I was sweating buckets that day because of a stomachache and dizziness; but the driver made the 45-minute ride to the airport enjoyable through up-beat Turkish music and good conversation.

One thing that is repeatedly happening to Alex and me is that Turkish people are trying to guess our ethnicities/backgrounds/origins. When we tell them we are from New Jersey and Virginia, respectively, they do not believe us. They politely rephrase the question to “where are your ancestors from?” I proudly tell them I’m Pakistani, because it is true, I was in fact born in Pakistan so part of me is Pakistani and then I’m American. But for Alex, who is of Italian heritage from generations ago, it feels weird to call herself Italian because she was not born or raised in that country. She says she doesn’t mind owning the Italian part of her background, but she and her parents were born and raised in America. For convenience-sake, however, we now just tell everyone our 'true' origins so they don’t have to scratch their heads and ask a follow-up question. We were definitely warned of this at one of the renewal grantee sessions during orientation: Turkish people’s curiosity stems from ignorance, not malice. That said, it is our responsibility as a Fulbrighter to showcase America’s diversity, so we shouldn’t shy away from owning our American identity and educating the Turkish people that America truly is a melting pot.

A nice bell-hop helped Alex and me push our luggage to the check-in counter, where we encountered—wait for it—yes, more baggage fees! Can you believe that only 15 kilo is allowed per person to travel domestically? Ridiculous. Alex and I each had two bags of 23 kilo each, because our understanding was that 23 kilos (50 pounds) is a normal baggage allowance. Anyway, we got a receipt with our luggage weight printed on it, and just like the Istanbul Airport, the ladies at the counter withheld our passports until we went to the sales office (half way across the airport) to pay the fees. I think I’m becoming a professional at Turkish airport travel, if I must say so myself. To those coming to visit, please, please be weary of this concept: they will make you weigh your checked luggage (pack lightly!), and they will withhold your passport at the desk until you pay overweight baggage fees (again, pack lightly!). Enough on that—the horse has been beaten to death, right? Moving on.

Security was miserable; they made us open our carry-on items only to discover beautiful jewelry and not harmful weapons. We waited at our gate for a good hour before boarding, and my nausea had calmed although I was still at unease. And then, out of nowhere, we spotted Casey at the airport! He was traveling to Malatya with a few other Fulbrighters. A selfie bayram.

View of Toros Mountains from our flight.
The flight to Antalya was short, about an hour or so. I had zero appetite so I skipped the white cheese sandwich and snacks that were offered, and instead, drank water. The view outside the window was amazing—the majestic Toros Mountains and the glistening Mediterranean Sea screamed “Hoşgeldiniz!” (Welcome!) to us.

We retrieved our luggage at the domestic section of the airport. You know what they say; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Proud to say, ladies and gentlemen, we were not fooled. Outside the arrival gate, our university representative, Meltem, (whom we had met earlier at orientation) and her friend picked us up and drove us to the campus’ Social Facilities Hotel, where we had pizza for dinner and spent the night.

Orientation Day 13: Survey & Final Words

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Today is the last day of orientation! Woo!

I enjoyed the my last breakfast at the Niza Park Otel, knowing that this luxury would soon be taken from me. Everyone hurried to the final 9am call—the waiters actually rang a bell every day at 9am sharp to remind us to go downstairs to the conference room. Some waiters were more effective than others.

There was already a sad tone to the day. Something was coming to an end. As exhausting as orientation was, it was a really great bonding activity for all of us, and in many ways, brought us closer together. We are the 2015-2016 Fulbright Turkey cohort, and there’s something special about affiliation to a common experience. Everyone’s experience in their host city will be unique, but we will all leave a mark in Turkey during these next 9 months as the 2015-2016 Fulbright Turkey cohort.

Mevlude Hanim ("Hanim" means "Ms." while "Bey" means "Mr."), the woman behind the entire orientation program, and our beloved “Mama”, kicked off the last day of orientation with a “Past Experiences: Things You Should Do and Not Do”. The presentation was quite entertaining. There were anecdotes of real stories, good and bad, that happened to Fulbrighters in the past. The anecdotes were written out like a story on a slide, followed by another slide with a Do and Do Not commentary. Mevlude Hanim showcased that the Fulbright experience has brought out the best and the worst in grantees. While some have taken advantage of the program by organizing theatrical plays at their schools, becoming fluent in Turkish, getting involved in the community, and breaking down stereotypes about America, others spoiled their experience by not following school rules and Commission regulations especially regarding travel, skipping classes to travel, conducting malicious acts towards their roommates, and getting involved with the legal system.

After our last coffee break, we took a survey and provided feedback on speakers and the presentations. They wanted honest feedback to improve the program for future years. There was Turkish folk music playing so as grantees completed their survey, they joined the crowd in the front and participated in celebratory dancing.

With Prof. Dr. Ersel and Ms. Seher
My favorite part of the last day was “Final Words” by Professor Dr. Ersel Aydini. Dr. Ersel’s academic background combined with his life experiences make him a wise and humble human being. This was apparent in his speech.

Dr. Ersel wore his executive director of the Turkish Fulbright Commission hat for the first of the speech, noting that preparation was critical for our experiences and that the Commission has given us that through the intense orientation program. Orientation was critical to help connect all the actors behind the program—Turkish Fulbright Commission, U.S. State Department, ETAs, participating universities—so that there is a network of support always there for us. “Now it’s up to you,” he said, “to make or break your experiences.” He reminded us that this is “development program”, that the universities where we will be teaching are developing state/public schools. “You’ll see imperfections,” he said. The Fulbright program is giving a little push to the large Turkish government initiative to build universities across the country. Be gentle with your criticism and propose constructive feedback, he said.

Dr. Ersel, who has taught at the Harvard Kennedy School, then wore his academic hat and advised us to keep in perspective that Turkey is undergoing a huge transformation, that it’s a huge opportunity for us to be here during this critical time. “Most things are in metamorphosis,” he said. “Everything is in hybrid form—civil society, education system, democratic process.” Turkey’s rich history makes it an interesting place to be, and we should make real observations about what’s happening around us. In that sense, “don’t waste your year,” he advised. “Don’t go back the way you came in. Because maybe in 20-35 years, you won’t be able to find this type of country, not even in Turkey.”

He warned us against a small trap: The White Man’s Burden. “It’s fake and looks ridiculous,” he said. Don’t fall victim to the trap that it is your job to come in and “save Turkey” because people will notice it. This is not a place for that type of colonialism. “Problems are universal,” he said, “but they come in different clothes and faces.” They look different because of the different geography and culture. We are all familiar with radicalism, racism, police brutality—we have seen these things in the United States and we shouldn’t be shocked if we see them in Turkey.

Dr. Ersel ended his speech by saying that we should view our experience as a supermarket in which we are entering as a shopper. “Make the most of it, and don’t waste it,” he said. All actors are ready to help and support us 24/7. We should leave Turkey by experiencing to the common values of humanity. “Add to the bucket, fill it with your pebble, so that when the pebbles are dropped in an ocean, the ripple effect is larger,” he said. “Be a part of something bigger.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Orientation Day 12: Sexual Harassment & Kocatepe Mosque

Friday, September 11, 2015

Orientation is winding down and I’m getting excited to finally move to Antalya tomorrow (Saturday). The past two weeks have been memorable and very informative, but also so exhausting—waking up at 7am every day and participating in non-stop activities for 9 hours straight.

The morning began with two hours of Turkish lessons. My hocam (pronounced ‘hojam’ - “my teacher”) was not present so we merged with another class. We were supposed to write a skit and perform it; however I was unaware of this assignment so I quickly slapped something together with two other girls. We performed a dialogue at the market, in which Lily and I were the customers bargaining for a dress and shoes with Alexis, the storekeeper. Çok pahali! (Very expensive!) was repeated quite often in our dialogue. Our Turkish was definitely not perfect, but at least the assignment was done.

We then had a lady present to us about the “Turkish Education System: Issues and Challenges.” While the content was really interesting, the presenter was not very engaging. The slides were heavy with text and my fellow peers were falling asleep. Despite this, I was able to scribble a few notes in my notebook. I learned that it was only recently, in 2012, that Turkish government expanded compulsory education to 12th grade. Prior to this, education was required up to 8th grade. As of 2015, there are 109 public, 76 non-profit (private), and 8 vocational universities in Turkey. As Professor Ayturk had mentioned earlier in the week, Turkey has taken a huge initiative to expand access to higher education and universities are popping up like mushrooms in every town. As a result, many of these institutions are in their developmental stages. The other cool fact I learned is that women outnumber men in higher educational institutions. Yay for women power!


Sexual Harassment
After lunch, Asistant Professor Yonca Toker of Middle East Technical University spoke to us about “Sexual Harassment in Turkey.” I really liked that she started her presentation with sharing her research methodology with us; from my perspective, it gave her even more credibility as a researcher and a professor. She specializes in sexual harassment in the workplace. She interviewed 353 subjects from different occupations to learn about the different faces of sexual harassment. She asked her subjects to rank their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “definitely sexual harassment.” There were four major categories that emerged as conclusions of her research:

  • sexual physical advances (mean 4.5)
  • quid-pro-quo – bribery, power dynamics, blackmail (mean 4.0)
  • sexual hostility – unwanted exposure (mean 3.8)
  • insinuation of interest – frequent compliments, affectionate terms (mean 3.1)
  • sexist hostility – often comes in the form of gender discrimination (mean 3.0)

Women cope with sexual harassment through advocacy seeking (filing a formal legal compliant) or negotiation/confrontation (preferred strategy). Like the United States and most other counties, sexual harassment is outlawed, and definitely taken very seriously in the workplace.

What was the most thought-provoking during Professor Toker’s presentation, however, was the cultural context of sexual harassment in Turkey. For example, Turkish hospitality and willingness to help others can often blur the lines of incidents. Similarly, the contact culture (physically touching people to comfort and support them) can complicate relations. Waiting until marriage to have sex can lead to higher incidents of sexual harassment. Lastly, the concept “benevolent sexism”—protecting women because they are fragile—was both puzzling and frustrating to me. Puzzling because sexism in any form is never benevolent, and frustrating because it inherently perpetuates gender inequality by promoting men as powerful and superior than women. I believe there are definitely biological differences between men and women, and chivalry can be a romantic, but I refuse to conform to social norms in which my agency as an individual is compromised or diminished simply because I am a female.

This lecture ended with strategies of how to avoid sexual harassment. We were advised to not make eye contact (doing so encourages men), to walk away, don’t tell the time if asked, dress modestly, and scream for help if you are in trouble.

Renewal Grantee Panel
Another panel of renewal grantees spoke to us about teaching and administrative issues they encountered in their first year teaching. There was a lot of good advice; I won’t bore you with all of it, but some of the more resonating wisdom is listed below:
  • Don’t marginalize others’ experience by glamorizing your city.
  • Be aware of what your contract permits and forbids.
  • Don’t talk about the power of dollar and how “cheap” things are.
  • Be sensitive to your colleagues’ financial situations – don’t talk about salary or your weekend travels. If you travel, bring gifts as a kind gesture.
  • As a Fulbrighter, you are privileged and are being paid quite well compared to locals.
  • Don’t gossip.
  • Always have games to play on hand in the classroom.
  • Names are important, take the effort to learn your students’ names.
  • Be realistic. Lower your expectations.

The day ended with one final activity with renewal grantees. A few of them rotated through our tables and we got to ask some more specific questions.

Kocatepe Mosque
Kocatepe Mosque, outside view.
I really wanted to see the famous Kocatepe Mosque before leaving Ankara so my hotel roommate Erika, Alex, and I cabbed to the masjid. It was a 10-minute ride, costing 12TL. Upon arriving, we gaped at the magnificence of the Kocatepe Mosque—pronounced “Kojatepe” because “c” in Turkish sounds like an English “j”.  It was so beautiful. The exterior was light blue and gold, and I could see architectural traces of the Byzantine Empire (from my recollection of photos in history books, of course). The four minarets towered the massive dome and the intricate patterns encompassed the beauty of a masjid.
 
I lent scarves to Erika and Alex so that when we went inside, they can cover their hair. We took off our shoes and left them on a shelf before entering the Kocatepe Mosque. I was awe-struck at the interior beauty of the mosque; calligraphy, geometric shapes, Arabic scriptures, blue and floral Izmit tile designs, and golden sheer everywhere. There was a gigantic, golden, crystal chandelier dangling from the center of the dome and captivated any tourist upon entrance. Even though I knew nothing about the Kocatepe Mosque in specific, I served as a tour guide to Alex and Erika and educated them about mosques in general: where the imam stands, how the Friday is conducted, how prayers are performed, how the Quran is read on a crisscross book stand, the positions of praying, and do’s and don’ts inside a mosque. We walked in the upper levels of the mosque quietly and cautiously, every so often taking a picture or glancing over the edge of what appeared to be a balcony. The higher we went, the bigger the view.
 
Inside the Kocatepe Mosque.
Another view from inside the Kocatepe Mosque.

Then, when the imam recited the azan, I decided to participate in the prayer. It was so uplifting to pray with the company of others. It was so peaceful, and I felt closer to Allah. I am not very religious, but I do take my faith Islam seriously. I enjoy being spiritual—connecting with something bigger and better than myself. I have always enjoyed going to church with my host family in college because religion, no matter which it is, helps keep us humble, hopeful, and loving. The girls and I left the mosque after the prayer, and it was already nightfall. The Mosque looked equally beautiful at nighttime, under the moonlit sky and the additional lights. We taxied back to the hotel, ate dinner, and called it a night.
Alex, Erika, and me outside the Kocatepe Mosque at night.