Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Konya: Mevlana Rumi & Whirling Dervishes

Alex and I ventured outside of Antalya for the first time this weekend. Our destination? The quiet, chilly, and conservative town of Konya. When we told our friends and colleagues of our weekend plans, they all asked "but why?" Apparently Konya is not a popular destination for many Turks, let alone tourists. So, why did Alex and I take a 6-hour bus to this town? Because we wanted to see another face of Turkey. That, and because I love Rumi.

Since high school, I have read Rumi's poetry. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi is a famous 13th century Muslim saint and theologian, Sufi philosopher and poet. While he was born in Persia, he spent a significant amount of his lifetime in present-day Konya. "Mevlana," as he is famously known here in Konya and Turkey, is a revered Sufi mystic; so much so that some consider him a "hazret" (prophet). To me, Rumi is an inspiration. Anyone who has read his poetry knows that the beauty of his work lies not in the rhymes, but the depth of his words. What makes his poetry and short stories so remarkable is the fact that there are layers of hidden meanings in them. On the surface, Rumi writes about his inexplicable love for God; but beneath the surface, this love extends to his companions, friends, and family. The religious undertone therefore paves the way for everyday love, compassion, and humanity that we ought to be showing each other. It is no surprise that around the world, lovers memorize his stanzas; students study it; theologians and philosophers contemplate it; and academics try to translate it. On so many occasions, Rumi has spiritually inspired me, philosophically enlightened me, and physically motivated me to new heights of life's adventure. My favorite poem by Rumi is "Guest House," which describes human emotions as guests who come and go. Each guest has a purpose and some guests are more pleasant than others. It’s so powerful.

Mevlana Rumi's tomb in Konya.
Mevlana's tomb is buried in Konya, and this weekend Alex and I got to see it in person. His casket is covered in velvet robes which are decorated with intricate Persian designs. Mevlana's big, elevated tomb was surrounded by smaller tombs of his family members and followers. Next to this "indoor graveyard" was a room full of artifacts including books in Arabic, writings in Persian, and clothes Mevlana wore during his lifetime. The walls were adorned with frames of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Allah's names, as well as the Shahada written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Some people prayed at his tomb to pay respects, and others took photos with their phones. I did both. I couldn't believe I was standing three feet from the white-bearded, black-robed, short and hunched-over man I had only seen on the covers of my poetry books.

Alex and I stayed with our Fulbright friends placed by Fulbright in Konya: Lily, Ben, and Casey. All three of them were very hospitable and showed us "their" city. On Saturday, Lily and Ben accompanied us on an excursion to the small yet beautiful village of Sille (pronounced "sea-lay"). There, we saw the former Greek Orthodox church of Agia Eleni and climbed a mountain to an archaeological site where ancient tombs were dug out from the ground. The smell of sheep stool and burned wood reminded me of my childhood growing up the village of Bandi Dhundan in Pakistan. A Turkish man showed me an ancient coin he had found, and after seeing my excitement in speculating the metal, he decided to gift it to me. I couldn't believe it! I can't wait to add this to my coin collection...it even has an Ottoman seal on it!

With Alex, Ben, and Lily inside the Greek Orthodox church.
Later that evening, Casey joined us for a performance of the Whirling Dervishes. At the show, we had a serendipitous encounter with Lizzie and Michelle (the two Fulbright girls from Eskisehir who visited us during Kurban Bayram). They were with their colleague who is originally from Konya. We all enjoyed the beautiful performance of Whirling Dervishes, who spun around and around in a religious tradition known as dhikr. Dhikr (also known as zhikr) is “a form of devotion, associated chiefly with Sufism, in which the worshipper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the name of God or his attributes.” During this process, the worshipper is trying to achieve closeness to Allah. By whirling around, they reach an ecstatic state in which they leave the Earthly world behind and elevate to heaven for a spiritual connection with Allah. 

It is unfortunate that Konya is not on many Fulbrighters' list of places to visit this year. I am glad Alex and I went. I felt a special connection with Konya. It felt like déjà vu when I walked the vintage streets, heard horns of clunky cars, smelled fresh vegetables and fruits being sold in alleys, and saw Muslims dressed in sweaters, jackets, and scarves. I smiled every time I saw a man in a white topi (hat) and tasbih (prayer beads). It's hard to describe the feeling that overcame me this weekend. Imagine the air thick and heavy with whispers of prayers. It's hard to escape the religiosity of this atmosphere when you are in Konya. It's hard not to submit yourself to Allah. Just by being in Konya, I felt spiritually closer to Allah.

Pakistan Meets Italy Meets Turkey

"Pakistan Meets Italy" themed dinner for our friends.
On Monday, October 19th, we hosted all our graduate students for a meal at our apartment. We quickly prepared dinner for a party of about 10 people. It was a lot of fun to cook under time pressure. Alex made pasta and tomato sauce and I made curried potatoes with all sorts of spices. Through the Italian and Pakistani cuisine, we wanted to showcase America’s diversity to our Turkish friends, because America truly is a melting pot of many cultures. Luckily, our guests were hungry and the food disappeared quickly. Later that evening, we played backgammon at Konak Kafe and drank warm cay.

Our graduate students have become our friends. They are all so kind and caring. They look after us, and are always ready to help us. It’s such a joy getting to know them, each unique in their own way. We are so appreciative of their generosity and hospitality, and it would be an understatement to say we value their friendship. They are our community and family here in Antalya, and we will miss them very much when they leave to the UK or the USA in December to pursue higher degrees.

With our graduate students--friends--at Konak Kafe after dinner.

Kemer Weekend

October 19, 2015  
On Sunday, we took Sarah to Kemer, also located within the province of Antalya. (Note: Antalya is both a city and a province; it’s a bit confusing, but bear with me. Whenever I leave Antalya, I will make a special note of it.) Two of our graduate students Yasir and Omer accompanied us on this adventure.

At Kemer, we enjoyed good weather and the beach one last time before summer officially escaped Antalya. Everyone swam except me. Nothing exciting to report except for the beach worker who told me he was single. I congratulated him, as he is a free man, but he proceeded to tell ask me if I would have dinner with him. “I am married,” I told him, hoping that the lie would make him go away. “He is a very lucky man,” the worker replied and walked away. I was flattered but most definitely not interested.

Alex, Omer, Sarah, myself, and Yasir in Kemer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Side & Temple of Apollo

Saturday, October 18, 2015

Touched a camel!
It was such a joy to host our Fulbright friend, Sarah Khalbie, this weekend. She has so much energy; she’s charismatic; and she’s such a lively spirit. She is not afraid of befriending strangers, making new friends, and taking risks. We needed a little bit of Sarah this weekend, and we are so glad she was able to visit Antalya before weather starts to cool down.

On Saturday, Sarah, Elizabeth, Alex and I visited the historical city of Side (pronounced “sea day”), which is the ancient name for the fruit pomegranate. After 1.5 hours on the bus, we reached the ancient ruins. First thing we did was drink freshly squeezed nar juice (Turkish for pomegranate).

Selfie in front of the ancient ruins.
There were broken Ionic, Corinthian, and Doric columns everywhere. I felt like I was walking inside a world history book. In high school, when I took AP World History, I never thought I would “live through” the Greek and Roman empires. It was so special to walk through the ruins and realize that ancient rulers occupied this very land. It is said that Alexander the Great occupied this city-state and introduced the people of Side to the Hellenistic culture, which flourished in arts and sciences from the 4th to the 1st century BC.

After some really great model-esque shots in the ruins, we relaxed at the beach. Sarah, Elizabeth, and Alex spent a lot of time in the water; I read a good book on the sand, as I cannot swim (hope to learn one day). At the beach, we ran into an American guy named Russ who recommended we eat at the Apollonic restaurant. So we packed up and marched towards the touristy area for food. 

Modeling in the ancient ruins.
We walked through the bazaar filled with shopkeepers luring us to buy their goods or check out their menus, just like the streets of Kaleiçi The sun was almost setting, so we picked up our pace and walked to the end of the Side peninsula, where we were taken aback by the gorgeous Temple of Apollo. Oh, it was a magnificent sight! Lights shone directly on the columns as it got dark, and tourist continued to snap photos with their Nikons and Cannons. I admired the beauty from afar: a deep blue sky served as the backdrop, a moon smiled from above, and the pillars stood still like models posing for paparazzi. The structure was so perfect with its cracks and brokenness, debris surrounding it, large stones casually lying around. It was picture perfect...see for yourself!

Elizabeth, Sarah, Alex, and myself at Side, an ancient city in Antalya.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Gül döktüm yollarına" by Tarkan

One of our graduate students, Omer, Introduced me to a song whose tune has been stuck in my head all week. The song was written and sung by Tarkan Tevetoğlu, a World Music Award-winning Turkish pop singer. The chorus of the song is my favorite part. I thought I would share it with you, so that you, too, can enjoy this beautiful song.

I like learning new languages ​​because they reveal so much about a society's history, culture, and value system. Songs are one of the most powerful forms of art that give audiences insight into a specific culture. For centuries, singers have used music as an avenue to not only express themselves and inspire millions of people, but also to capture the zeitgeist of time they are in. 

I hope you like the song!

Link to YouTube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g36smj4s8sı&list=rdg36smj4s8s the 

Gül Döktüm Yollarına (Turkish)

Gözlerinden okunuyor
Beni seviyorsun
Sözlerin seni ele veriyor
Sen de istiyorsun
Eninde sonunda benim olacaksın
Hadi naz yapma
Sevgiyi, aşkı bende bulacaksın
Yabana atma
Bıktırma, usandırma
Yeter beni kızdırma
Gel artık kollarıma


Gel gündüzle gece olalalım
Gel gökyüzünde yıldız olalım
Seninle mutlu yarınlara koşalım
Gel beraber mesut olalım

Geçmiyor ki sensiz geceler
Rüyalar yetmiyor
İsyan ediyor içimde sevgiler
Sabrım tükeniyor

I left roses on your way (English translation)

I can see it from your eyes
you love me
in your eyes telling it
you want it too
you will be
mine, pls no coquerty
you will find love and peace in me
do not give off
Door not make me tired, bored
enough, do not make me angry
come to my arms anymore
I left roses on the way you come

come and let us be day'n night
come and let us be the stars in the
sky, let's run together to the happy tomorrows
come and we'll be happy

nights you are not passing without
dreams are not enough
and the love in me is getting crazy
and my Patience is going down

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Combobulated Schedule

Week of October 4-11, 2015

This week felt like someone had slowed the time. It was painfully long. Because we still do not have our formal teaching schedules (we are promised we will have them on Monday the 12th), everything felt like a mumble jumble this week.

On Monday, we arrived to school at our usual 10am start time, were told that there is nothing for us to teach that morning, and that we should check back in at 1:30p. The administrator had forgotten he scheduled a meeting with us, so when he arrived at 1:45p, he apologized and told us we were free for the rest of the day. We were disappointed and decided to make good use of our time anyway; we held a speaking club with our graduate students while drinking cay.

On Tuesday, we proctored a two-hour English placement exam and watched university students nervously bubble in answers on a scantron sheet. This experience reminded me of the time I took the SAT college entrance exam—if I must be honest, it is much better to be on the other side of the table.

On Wednesday, Alex and I co-taught level 1 English students for three consecutive hours. We taught them prepositions; allowed them to practice speaking English (“My favorite subject is ____ because____”); and played the adjective-name game while standing in a circle (marvelous Mariya, amazing Alex, hardworking Hamza, awesome Ayesha). We checked in with the administration that afternoon to ask if they had another task for us, and what we should expect for Thursday. “Also, do you know when we can start our Turkish lessons,” I asked. The assistant director made a phone call, and then turned to us and said: “Tomorrow, 8:30am. For five hours.” Ask and you shall receive!

Turkish 'alfabe' has 29 letters.
As such, on Thursday and Friday, we had Turkish lessons from 8:30am to 1:30pm, with 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes. We learned the alfabe and sayılar (numbers). There are 29 letters in the Turkish alphabet—instead of “Q,” “W,” or “X,” it has “Ç” (ch), Ğ (silent g, elongates the vowel preceding it), I (without the dot), Ö, Ş (sh), an Ü. We also learned how to introduce ourselves and how to turn singular nouns into plural tense.

One of the things that make Turkish a beautiful language is vowel harmony, the concept that front vowels (a, ı, o, u) and back vowels (e, i, ö, ü) must go with certain sounds, which in turn dictates spelling. What’s more, Turkish truly is a blend of many cultures—it has loanwords from French, English, Farsi, Arabic, and more. My ears perk up every time I hear a word that is the same in Urdu, such as ayna (mirror), kismat (fate), and nokta (dot, period). My list of “Turkish Words Same in Urdu” has already grown to 20.

One of the most important skills I am practicing here in Turkey is patience. I am trying to ask the school administration to end my Fulbright contract two weeks earlier than the slated date (June 15th) so that I can come back to the States in time to start my internship with the U.S. State Department. While I have received verbal permission, I am still waiting for a written confirmation. It has been three weeks, and still no sight of the document I need. I am getting a bit anxious but like I said, I am staying patient.

Last but not least, on Friday, there were two bombings in Ankara at a Kurdish peace rally that killed nearly 100 people. I was overwhelmed by the text messages, Facebook messages, and emails I received from family and friends asking about my safety. Alhamdulillah Alex and I are safe, and so are our peers who are placed in Ankara. This incident was an important reminder that dangerous things can happen anywhere, and the advice from our State Department officials at Orientation rang true: avoid all public demonstrations and rallies. Personally, the incident gave me renewed perspective. In Boston, I used to read about these world events every morning on my 40-minute commute to work every morning. The headlines about bombings and people dying appeared to be “far away” and “over there in the Middle East.” Now that I am on the other side of the world, these events feel closer to me. And that is a scary thought. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Lara Beach & Sandland

Saturday, October 3, 2015

At Lara Beach, reading "Inside a U.S. Embassy."
This post will be less words, more photos. On Saturday, October 3rd, Elizabeth, Alex, and I ventured out to the famous Lara Beach shoreline, about an hour away by bus. Elizabeth swam in the cool waters, Alex sunbathed and slept, and I read my book called “Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work.” The book provides an insight into a career in the U.S. Foreign Service by profiling officers in various posts around the world. The more I read about the fulfilling work that these servants do, the more I am excited to embark on the journey myself.

With a brochure in hand, we asked strangers on the street for how to get to “Sandland,” the annual sand sculpture international festival. I was so, so, so excited to see these sand sculptures! When we finally got there—Sand ho!—my heart leaped with joy and my mouth dropped in awe. We admired the beauty and the hard work of artists from 9 different countries who built sculptures to this year’s theme of “7 Wonders of the World & Mythology”. With that, I leave you with ‘sandastic’ memories as captured by these photos:

In front of Poseidon, Greek god of sea.

Panorama - Lights cast a rainbow over the sculptures at nighttime.

First Real Week of School

September 25 – October 2, 2015

Alex and I stayed home for the weekend after Bayram. I completed my domestic internship applications for the U.S. Department of State for summer 2016. This entailed updating my resume with the Fulbright experience and writing personal statements for why I am interested in two regional bureaus.

After a restorative week, Alex and I were looking forward to our first day of school of Monday, September 28th. When we got to the School of Foreign Languages, however, we met the two assistant directors and learned that our schedules were not yet created. Throughout the week, we went to school every day at 10am and spent time at our desks preparing lessons and taking care of other logistics such as getting our school-issued laptops.

Thursday was our first “real” day of teaching, as we were asked to serve as substitute teachers for level 1 English students. We were asked to teach three hours in the morning, but due to English placement testing, we taught for only one hour and instead helped administer examinations. After lunch, we were asked to hold a “speaking club” for our graduate students—some of whom we had met during our settling-in period. We are told that our primary task at Akdeniz University will be to facilitate after-school speaking clubs to help graduate students improve their speaking abilities before they go the United States or United Kingdom for master’s programs funded by the Turkish government. Just as we finished the speaking club on Thursday, we got a call from our administrator once again with a new task: to teach for another three hours (3:30-6:30) to a new class of level 1 English students. This was both exciting and stressful. Exciting because we were finally interacting with students, and stressful because we had to come up with activities on the spot. We engaged the students by having them play a game in which they had to list as many English verbs as they knew, and conjugate them in present and past tenses within 10 minutes. Not surprisingly, common mistakes included irregular verbs such as eat, grow, and hurry – our students conjugated their past tenses as eated, growed, and hurryed and learned that the proper conjugations are ate, grew, and hurried. As with every classroom, there were some students serious about learning English while others created distractions. Teaching with Alex was a great experience because she entertained the dedicated students while I disciplined the class clowns.

Another highlight of our first week at school was Elizabeth Bear, who arrived from the United States on Tuesday and has been staying with us as a guest. She was placed at Akdeniz University through another State Department-sponsored program called the “English  Language Fellow (ELF)” program. She is a sweet young woman, a few years older than Alex and me. She taught in Korea for six years so she brings a unique international and comparative perspective to teaching.

Saving the worst for the last: my medical emergency, part two. I believe in sharing the good, bad, and ugly from my Fulbright experience to demonstrate that living abroad is not always rainbows and sunshine (actually, Antalya gets quite a bit of torrential rainfall, so that alone proves my point). Anyway, my skin infection returned and I went to the hospital designated for staff and faculty—which, by comparison to the public university hospital where I went the first time around, was much cleaner and less crowded. Despite the better facility, I had a dissatisfactory experience with the nurse who was assigned to draw my blood for a blood test. Disclaimer: I have always been afraid of needles (hence my dreams of becoming a doctor ended quite early in my childhood), but I am brave enough to handle blood tests. After the nurse cleaned my left arm with alcohol, I felt a sharp poke in my vein and I could tell something was wrong. I gave her the benefit of doubt and patiently waited for a few seconds. When no blood was being drawn into the syringe despite her efforts, I asked the lady nurse to take the needle out. Ouch! It hurt so much! Then, with the help of another nurse, they were able to properly draw blood from my right arm and it was not nearly as painful as my left arm. I walked away feeling sad because my left arm was in pain, upset because the nurse wouldn’t give me a band-aid, and worried in case the results came back with bad news. I now have a lovely, big, purple bruise on my left arm to remind me of the terrible needle-poking experience.

When I described this week’s events to my family, my Dad—who was an economics professor in Pakistan and Qatar for a good majority of his early career—wrote back to me the following words of encouragement. They cheered me up and reminded me to be patient and flexible. After all, those are some of the most important traits of a good diplomat. I love Baba.

“Mariya Baita,
Sorry to hear about your arm. Hopefully you will be better soon. Don’t overreact to the day-to-day issues. Such things happen in third world countries. University life is always be like that as you are facing. Don’t compare their system with US. Try your best to adjust in that environment. Here, everything is ok. You have to take care of yourself and be extra careful in conversation.
God bless you,