Thursday, November 26, 2015

Staying Active With Tennis

Starting on Wednesday, November 11th, Alex and I signed up for tennis lessons. Our friend Asli told us about this opportunity, and encouraged us to join her and a few of our other colleagues. Given that we both wanted to stay active and get some exercise into our routines, not to mention how stressful our teaching lives can become, it didn’t take long for us to make our decision. For one month, at a fairly low cost of 130TL, we will be receiving tennis lessons twice a week. Every Monday and Wednesday, for one hour each, we learn the techniques of skillfully playing tennis. So far, we’ve learned the forward and backhand throw. Before beginning practice, we always warm up by jogging, stretches, and playing a tossing game. My tennis Hocam, Orhan, says I am the fastest runner; for those of you who don’t know, I ran track in high school. I’m also a very competitive athlete, so I don’t know which of those two things is at play when I run. The tennis lessons are taught in Turkish, but by gestures and bits and pieces of English such as “very, very good” and “try again,” I am able to make out Orhan Teacher’s directions and encouragement. I can’t wait to become professional, very, very soon! 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Wordly Turkish Class

This post is dedicated to my Turkish class.

Alex and I attend Turkish classes five hours a day, five days a week, for a total of 25 hours per week. We are grateful to Akdeniz University for allowing us to take this “A1 Beginner” course for free. From talking to our Fulbright peers placed in different cities, we know that they are not receiving anywhere near the same amount of instruction as we are, so for this reason alone, we feel very blessed. These classes are in addition to our packed teaching schedule, which sometimes goes until 7:30pm in the evening.

I love being a student and learning new things, and as such, I am very enthusiastic in class. I actively participate in class: I like to raise my hand and answer the Hocam’s questions. I enjoy going to the board and filling out conjugation tables. And I especially enjoy making jokes with my peers and our teachers. I learn best when I recognize patterns and apply my knowledge, which is why I often have high energy in class despite the fact that I skip breakfast every morning. I thrive when I receive positive reinforcement from my Hocams. It’s also nice being a student in the mornings, because it gives me the perspective of my own students when I stand up and teach. Sometimes, the long days do take a toll on us though; after Turkish lessons, we eat lunch, then hold speaking clubs, and are sometimes called to susbstite for classes that go until 6:30pm.

My wordly Turkish class!
Muzaffer Hocam in the front, Burcak Hocam in a white shirt on the right.
Muzaffer Hocam and Burcak Hocam are our two lovely teachers, and they take turns teaching us at different hours and days. Muzaffer Hocam likes to tease me, so arguing with him in class is fun. The classes are taught in Turkish, which is an opportunity and a challenge for obvious reasons; an opportunity because it forces us to use our Turkish and a challenge because it can be hard to understand grammar concepts. This does not discourage me from asking clarifying questions, however, even if I get scolded for using English, ha.

What I love about my Turkish class is that it is truly worldly. There are students from across the globe! Our class is composed of students from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Mexico, United States of America (us, hehe), the Netherlands, Russia, Belarus, Iraq and Afghanistan. What a blessing to be in such a worldly classroom!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Düden Waterfalls & Perge

Saturday, November 7, 2015
On Saturday, we went to Düden Şelalesi with our university rep Meltem and our colleague and good friend, Aslı. Meltem brought her two adorable sons and Aslı brought her boyfriend, Receb, who was very kind. We drove to the waterfall in Meltem’s car. We did get lost a few times on the road, but managed to find the waterfall regardless. When we got there, I was impressed that there was a whole park built around this natural wonder. We walked around on a self-guided tour, stopping every so often to snap some photos. We marveled at the beauty of the waterfall—its gushing and whooshing created an enjoyable mist. It actually reminded me of Niagara Falls in Buffalo, New York and Canada. My family visited Niagara Falls about 10 years ago, and I remember wearing rain jackets because it was so cold being by the water.
Düden Şelalesi (Waterfalls) in Antalya.
We ate lunch at a restaurant near the waterfall. Because it was so chilly, we wrapped ourselves in cozy blankets provided by the restaurant. I ate balık (fish) cooked in a clay pot, with sides of tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, and potatoes.

Later that afternoon, we drove to Perge (pronounced “per-gay”), another Romans ruins site. We crashed a tour being given to elderly American citizens. We walked around the agora (Roman marketplace) and the public baths. Like Side, there were Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic columns everywhere—some columns remained fully in tact, some were cracked, some lied in debris, and some appeared to have been chopped in half. During the tour, I met a woman from Maine and became very excited. We made small talk and I told her I went to college in that state. I love Maine so much!!
At one the public paths at Perge, ancient Roman ruins.
 During the trip, I enjoyed playing with Meltem’s two boys; they are so adorable and mischievous, especially the youngest one, Demir. Demir is a clever yet dramatic little boy. He says the funniest things. For example, when he does not want to go to school, he tells his mother “give me a knife, I will kill myself.” When he does not want to do homework, he says “I wish school was never invented” or “I wish my homework was to burn my homework.” Hilarious! Where does he learn these things?! I sat in the back seat with Oktay and Demir on the ride back home and played games with them. I love little kids. I miss not being able to hold my baby nephew, Azi. I wonder when I will see him again. Maybe he can visit Turkey with his Dada (paternal grandfather).
Oktay consoling Demir after a cat scratch.
Before going home, we made a stop at Metro, a wholesales store. It’s similar to America’s Costo stores. It sells everything in large quantities for low prices, and its target audience is store or restaurant owners. Alex and I bought chocolate, sunflower seeds, çay cups, and a few nar. An embarrassing but funny thing happened to me. When I walked to the fresh produce section, I saw a crate full of pomegranates and when I saw the price—3 TL—I could not believe it. I got excited because Alex and I love nar and if it were actually this cheap, we would buy the whole crate. Meltem, Aslı, and Receb were in disbelief. When they inquired about the price, I learned that the pomegranates were actually 3TL per pound. I felt so embarrassed! But we all laughed in good jest.
Jumbo bag of sunflower seeds at Metro.

Internet! & Kaleiçi Night Life

It’s that time of the season where someone is coming down with a cold and the germs are rapidly replicating. Almost everyone at school is sniffling…even Alex and I have runny noses. While Alex is sicker than I am, we are both exhausted from a long week of work.

This week was eventful. We got our scores back for our Turkish exam (I did well, 85%) and continued to work with our graduate students during speaking clubs. They are all nervous about taking their IELTS exam because their score (from a scale of 1-9) will determine which universities they qualify to study at. We help them by giving them practice speaking exercises and encouraging them to stay calm. Our “MEB” (graduate) students are scheduled to take the IETLS on different days.

With Seval at her Kaleiçi office.
On Wednesday, a friend we had met in Ankara at the Ambassador’s Reception invited us to her office. Seval, who is the head of the Antalya Municipality and works closely with the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, was upset that we did not contact her once we arrived to Antalya. She graciously welcomed us and told us about her work. She even took us to her mother’s house for dinner that evening. It turns out she and her mother live very close to us in Meltem—one block away!

With our beautiful landlord, Sanay.
On Friday, we really wanted to go home and take a long nap but instead, we met our landlord, Sanay, at Mark Antalya mall to buy Internet. She has kindly offered to open the account in her name. Yasir accompanied us on this errand and served as our translator. Before making the transaction, Sanay treated us to Turkish khave as ikram (a treat out of respect). She also read our fortunes.

There is a tradition in Turkey, enjoyed mainly by women, that after drink Turkish coffee, you place the saucer on top of your tiny cup, flip it towards you (so that the cup is upside down), rotate the cup and saucer in circular motion three times in front of you, and wait for the mud-like coffee beans to drain out on the saucer. You can place a coin or a ring on top of the cup to expedite the process of cooling down (since metals absorb heat). After the ‘mud’ has fully drained out on the saucer, you flip your cup in the rightful position, and ask someone to read your fortune based on the remnants of the coffee stains inside the cup. The fortune teller examines the animals and shapes created by the coffee stains, and extrapolates fortunes based on them. On Friday, Sanay speculated the following things about my fortune—I think some of them are quite true!
·      I’ve read a lot of books, but I appear calm
·      I am competitive
·      I will go to Egypt in the near future
·      I learn from other’s lessons and try not to repeat their mistakes

After buying the Internet—finally!—we decided to have dinner together at Ataturk Park. Alex was still feeling sick, but the coffee had completely energized me. We sat at a table overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, all of Kaleiçi, and beautiful sunset over the Toros Mountains. Yasir and I ordered chicken wings, while Sanay and Alex ordered pasta. I was not very hungry so I fed most of my dinner to the hungry cats.
Breathtaking sunset over the Toros Mountains.
Later, at about 9pm, we met some school friends and Konak Kafe friends at the Raven Pub, one of the many nightly hang out spots in Kaleiçi. There were about 10 of us in total, friends of friends. I was really excited to practice my Spanish with the band singer before he performed at 10:30pm. He sang English songs and the pub became very lively. I didn’t realize that Old City was where the night scene was for Antalya. It almost looked like a college town, squirming with students in every corner, town people smoking in the streets, foreigners chattering away, music booming from every restaurant. Not that Alex and I are much of partiers, but now we know where to go. J Anyhow, at about midnight, we taxied home with Azim (Indian) and Milad (Afghan), our two friends from Konak Kafe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Greenery in Alanya

Long Weekend: October 30-31, 2015

On Saturday, we took an excursion to Alanya, also located within Antalya. It was two hours away, so we rented a car. Yasir and Omer took turns driving. We ate fresh fish when driving up the beautiful Alanya mountains, which were both lusciously green and breathtaking. It was so picturesque. Imagine walking into a painter’s masterpiece, and becoming incredulous of the beauty you encounter. Perhaps the photos I am attaching to this blog post can provide you with some idea of what I experienced. I also happened to be wearing green that day—pure coincidence—so I felt especially camouflaged.

In Alanya, we also visited the Dim Cave, which was 400km in total distance: one side was 350km while other side was only 50km. It was spooky and cold in the dimly lit cave. Caves are such an interesting natural wonder—created partly by nature and partly by creatures, including humans and animals. I must admit, the serendipitous visit to the cave one day before Halloween was quite fitting.
Dim Cave in Alanya.

Just when I think we’ve reached the epitome of our adventure, I’m proven wrong. After the cave, Yasir and Omer took us to a castle (whose name escapes me) where we saw a breathtaking view of the Alanya cityscape. When brochures talk about the famous “turquoise coast,” I now know what they mean. Oh it was exquisite. See for yourself.
Cityview of Alanya within Antalya province.

Sunday we spent all day studying for our Turkish exam. We took a break to learn of the Election Results. The Justice and Development Party (AK) won Turkey once again after a five-month break. This means they have regained a parliamentary majority. With these results, AK party now claims 316 seats in the 550-seat parliament, which is enough to win a majority government on its own. Some people were very happy, others were not. Such is politics.

Republic Day & Aşure

Long Weekend: October 28-29, 2015

At Mark Antalya on Republic Day with Lily and Alex.
Another weekend, another adventure. School week was short this week due to Republic Day. October 29th is Turkey’s Independence Day, and in observance, school ended early on Wednesday, and was closed on Thursday and Friday. Election Day was also conveniently scheduled for Sunday, October 31st. Alex and I rejoiced for the long weekend because we needed to hunker down and study for our first Turkish exam scheduled for Monday, November 2nd; however we ended up spending majority of the weekend entertaining our friend Lily from Konya, who came down to visit us for the weekend.

In front of Hadrian's Gate.
On Thursday, we took Lily to Kaleici. Every time we go to Old City, we see another part of it, which is actually quite exciting for me personally because I love being a tour guide. Those who knew me at Bowdoin know how much I love tour guiding. I had been dying to see Hadrian’s Gate, and on this trip, we finally found it! Hadrian’s Gate is a triumphal arch, which was built in the name of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who visited the city in the year 130.
Aşure delight (Noah's Pudding).
On Friday, our lovely university representative Meltem invited us to her house for a tea party. She made aşure (pronounced “ashoo-ray”), which is a dessert cooked especially during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is similar to Noah’s Pudding in that it is a mixture consisting of grains, fruits, dried fruits and nuts, topped with pomegranate seeds and coconut. It was very delicious! Meltem Hanim also baked a yellow cake and scrumptious cookies. Asli brought her mother’s famous mercimek kofte (lentil meatballs), which were also enjoyed by everyone. All our colleagues were at this party and it was nice to relax at a home-style gathering.