Tag Archives: Istanbul

Two short years

may2015blogGrateful.

Weeks away from moving across the world, I’m trying to savor each moment I have left in Istanbul. Each time I go to a favorite neighborhood I realize it may be the last time I’ll be there. This place is now one of my homes, and although it is not possible to fully discover this city of almost twenty million people, I do know how to find my favorite markets, cultural and historical sights. I’ve learned how to maneuver the busy, crooked streets by foot or using public transportation and find any destination I’m searching for. I’ve learned just enough Turkish to make the locals comfortable with me and I treasure the friendships I’ve made. As I look out over the cityscape with a heart of gratitude, I hope it won’t be long until I visit again.

I’ve spent the weekend packing up my belongings. I was surprised to realize that I’ll likely need to purchase another piece of luggage to get my things back to the States. When I arrived here two years ago, I brought the fewest of necessity items, but since then I’ve discovered Turkish towels, Afghanistan pottery and Uzbekistan textiles. Who can resist this city that spans 700-square miles? There are so many Turkish delights! And since I was home last summer, I’ve visited seven more countries, buying small tokens of remembrance in each.

What an adventure I’ve been on! My mind has expanded in all directions through the conversations I’ve had and the books I’ve read. But, I’m weary. I’m longing for calm. I miss my family and friends. I’m eager to be home, on the other side. I am looking forward to being taken care of by people who know and love me well.

Istanbul, I love you. You’ve changed me and you’ve educated me beyond what I thought was possible. Be well, my friend.

 

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Looking forward

tulipsAfter the rain.

Spring arrived in 48 hours. After months of grey skies, rain, sleet, snow, hail and wind, the sun came out and the tulips bloomed last weekend. Texas skies take the cake for showcasing the wide expanse but Istanbul skies win the prize for the showcasing the color blue.

I made the decision to leave my international teaching post and return to the States at the end of this 2015 school year. At this point, I’m unsure if this move will be permanent or if I’ll cast my net again next spring. Since making my decision to leave, some days have been melancholy; others joyful. School days in the spring are hectic, but when I pause and reflect, I am grateful for these months and years of living and serving here. My life will never be the same. Istanbul, I love you.

When I think about all I’ve seen and experienced I become fatigued. Not only have I traveled to eleven countries over the past two years, I’ve made countless friends from all corners of the earth. I’ve learned a great deal on how to be a global citizen and nothing could make me more proud.

The first time I documented leaving a job without the certainty of a new job (The Net Will Appear) I was full of anxiety. This time I’m as cool as a cucumber. I’ve learned so much since I started writing this blog in 2012. Several readers got in touch with me this winter and asked for advice during the recent international hiring season job fairs. I gave honest answers to their questions and now I’ve received exciting letters from them explaining that they attended the fairs and have been offered international jobs! Congratulations! International teachers need each other. It’s a hard job and the luxury of having your family and best friends available for advice is gone. We rely on one another for encouragement and love.

I recently read a book by Anna Badhken and became interested in her new book, Walking With Able. Her voice perfectly captures my feelings about the privilege I’ve felt about living in Turkey:

 To enter such a culture. Not an imperiled life nor a life enchanted but an altogether different method to life’s meaning, a divergent sense of the world. To tap into a slower knowledge that could come only from taking a very, very long walk with a people who have been walking always. To join a walk that spans seasons, years, a history; to synchronize my own pace with a meter fine-tuned over millennia.

I’m counting my blessings and looking ahead to my new future.

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Time flies

OctBlogPhotoWhen you’re having fun.

It’s been just over six months since I’ve paid any attention to my blog. Lately a few people have asked about it and I felt a tug on my heart to write a short post. I never know what to say; there’s always so much to tell. How do I choose?

Over the summer I went home to Texas and also traveled to California to see my daughter. I was eager to gauge my feelings and emotions – both of being back in the States and also returning to Istanbul. All that’s worth noting is that I loved seeing my family and friends but I was super excited to come back. This is an amazing, energy-filled city and it continues to have my full attention. I am grateful for how much I’ve changed and how much I’ve learned about the world through my students, my travels and my new international friends.

November is around the corner. I am now involved in decisions that will guide my future. Should I stay or should I go? It is already time to decide if I will extend my contract or move on. I love Istanbul. I love living overseas but also wonder what it would be like to live in other distant lands. I miss my family too. It is a constant tug of war. Words that my mother always told me come to mind, “It’s always good to have options. Many people do not have any. Even when the decisions are hard to make, it is still better to have options.”

I challenge you to carefully observe your life and your options.

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Wrapping Up The Year

treeimageDreams realized.

Sometimes I get paralyzed and can’t write. I have a hard time distinguishing what would be the best thing to share because I experience so much in this amazing city every week. I’m continuing to meet new people and I’m deepening relationships with friends I’ve met over the last four months. I’m witnessing wonderful, learning experiences in my classroom and I’ve (almost) memorized the names of my 240 students. I’m getting involved with organizations and continuing to explore art galleries, museums and the many little streets and shops in Istanbul.

Time is moving at an incredible pace. The end of another year will be here shortly and when I reflect on my Annual Review this year, it will show the satisfaction of a goal realized; a goal that began 7 years ago with a free trip I won to Paris and London.

PortaxeI am entirely grateful. My life is rich beyond measure. Somehow I was fortunate enough to get a job at a great school in a culturally rich city. Recently my school gave us an evening at Portaxe, a beautiful restaurant, on the shores of the Bosphorus. This was in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Day, an actual day on the Turkish calendar, in which teachers are given gifts of love. It is so nice to be in a country that actually appreciates its teachers! As we entered Portaxe, we were greeted with trays of cocktails and the evening was celebrated with an open bar, delicious food, live band and lots of dancing! This past week we were given a beautifully wrapped box containing a personalized bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and deliciously rich Christmas fruit cake.

PAWI11.9.13Two of the very best discoveries of moving to Istanbul are two organizations I’ve joined called FWI (Foreign Women of Istanbul) and PAWI (Professional American Women of Istanbul). FWI operates with a Facebook presence and these remarkable women can answer any question about Istanbul that is put before them, including, “Where can I find marshmallows in Istanbul?” and my recent question of “Are banks open on Sunday?” PAWI meetings are monthly and rotate between Asia Istanbul and Europe Istanbul. Their meetings always include guest speakers. Since I’ve been here, our speakers have included a psychologist, who shared her experiences of working with people on the residual effects of the Gezi protests, a historian-artist-writer who just published her second book, Drawing on Istanbul 2,  and the Adahan Hotel and Restaurant owner who spoke to us about the years of sacrifice she and her husband gave to an 1874 building, bringing it back from the dead and turning it into a thriving business.  The discussions and knowledge base of these women is broad. Some are attorneys, others writers. Some work in marketing, others as translators. Some are owners of restaurants and hotels and some work in banking and education. Within these groups I’m finding many new friends, each with her own unique story of how it is she lives in Istanbul.

I’m happy to report that I’ve also experienced my first snowfall in Istanbul. It was gorgeous! It not only snowed in Istanbul, it snowed all over the Middle East and we quickly learned how Cairo, Egypt got snow for the first time in 122 years! After easing myself down the hill that morning, and into my warm classroom, I was shocked at the beauty outside my wall of windows. The sight continued to amaze my students and I all day long as nature painted a frozen picture across the landscape. Although we were graciously given two days of early release, I was hoping for a snow day so I could somehow get to Aya Sophia, lay down in its courtyard and make a snow angel, as I’d heard of some teachers doing last year.

MiroThe availability of world-class art continues to amaze me. Last week I went with a Turkish friend to the Miro Exhibition. I found it difficult to concentrate on the beautiful artwork because I was distracted by the amazing architecture. The exhibition building was a canon factory during the Ottoman Empire and I could not keep my eyes from wandering to the domes of the brick ceiling. After leaving, we wandered down antique-filled streets, twisting and turning, as all Istanbul streets do, and walked by Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. We made a quick decision to view that collection another day.

choirThat evening I was able to listen to a friend sing in a choral concert at the British Consulate. Because of the bombing at this British Consulate in 2003, its grounds are heavily guarded and security is ever-present. Walking past photos of Queen Elizabeth and ancient looking framed documents, I noticed how elegantly the Christmas decorations were placed; fully regal, yet understated and charming. The singing was beautiful and transported me to thoughts of peace.

This week I will be flying to another distant, far-away place. I will spend the Christmas holiday with a friend that I met at the SEARCH Associates Boston International Job Fair last year! She got a job, that wretched, blizzard weekend, at an IB school in Switzerland, and she now lives there with her daughter. We’ve deepened our friendship over the months over Skype calls and we are eager to see each other again and share stories of the first half of our school year.

In these last few days of 2013, I want to challenge you to set your own plan in place. Kick the rock to start its tumble down the hill. Don’t be afraid to make your dream happen. This beautiful place I live- this dream that I’m living- did not happen overnight. I started planning it in 2006-almost eight years ago! Time goes quickly and life is such a gift. As we quietly pass into 2014, I wish you love, peace, health and inspiration. Be well!

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Zor Who?

Swanky.

The Jersey Boys billboardAs I understand it, construction started about six years ago. Four sleek, contemporary high rises are just around the corner, and up the hill, from me. All I have to say is “Zorlu Center” and taxi drivers can get me close to the neighborhood I live in from anywhere in the city. When I arrived in Istanbul in August, I was told that this building complex would house offices, a hotel, residences, an upscale designer mall, top restaurants, a performing arts theater and cinema. It has looked finished from the outside for the past few months, but, at night, while passing by in taxi, I’ve seen workers feverishly constructing on the interior. It looked marvelous!—and it is! The Zorlu Center opened about a month ago and soon after, a friend at school organized a group event, for those interested, to see The Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. This is one of the first productions to be performed on this new stage.

Of course I bought a ticket! Who could resist? As the event date approached, several of us decided to make a night of it and dine at the new Jamie Oliver restaurant, located in the Zorlu Center! I’m not much of a cook, but I’d heard of the famous British chef from one of my friends in the UK. Chef Jamie is not only known from TV shows and cookbooks, he has been a voice in the campaign against the use of processed foods in national schools. He is most interested in improving unhealthy diets in the UK and the USA and he made a believer out of me last night! The food was DELICIOUS and so beautifully prepared! As a vegetarian, I’ve not had the best of luck in menu selections here in the city, but that is not the case at this eatery. The atmosphere was trendy casual, not stuffy formal. Afterwards, we made our way to Gloria Jean’s for a coffee and then on to the show!

I didn’t realize all the songs that the Four Seasons made famous! The entire night we were chair dancing and singing along. In some ways, it made me wish for home, as I watched the life stories unfold of these young men, from poor backgrounds, who became successes. Their stories are like many people who find riches and fame; poor choices can ruin a life that has so much potential.

outsideescThe songs were stuck in my head all night. Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, Oh, What A Night, My Eyes Adored You, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Working My Way Back To You and Rag Doll to name a few. I typically wander the ancient streets and neighborhoods of Istanbul. This experience showed an affluent and contemporary side of Istanbul. East meets West; Old meets New.

Istanbul has the best of both worlds.

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The Republic

anitabillboardTo be remembered . . .

In Istanbul, you don’t have to step far, in any direction, before you see a flag, a banner, a poster, a sign, a magazine cover, a sticker, a billboard adorned with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s photo. There’s so much I don’t know about Atatürk, but I do know he is revered and loved, still to this day. Today, November 10, commemorates the day of his death in 1938, seventy-five years ago. Because the Turkish Republic is so new, the memory of this country’s first president is fresh. As an American, we learn about George Washington, but I’m not convinced that we have such a love affair with his memory as the Turks have with Atatürk.

Taken directly from Wikipedia: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish army officer in the Ottoman military during World War 1, revolutionary statesman, and the first President of Turkey. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish national movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular, and democratic nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey and his surname, Atatürk, means Father of the Turks.

October 29 was Republic Day and I got a day off from school. This is the day Atatürk commemorated on the calendar as the remembrance day of the forming of the Turkish Republic in 1923. A school friend and I spent the morning hours of Republic Day at the Dolmabahce Palace. We saw the room where Ataturk died. Every clock around the palace, including the beautiful clock-tower on the grounds, is stopped at 9:05, the time of his death. Today is Sunday, November 10, and a ceremony is planned at the National School part of MEF, where I work, and I’d love to go and learn about Ataturk, but it will be presented in Turkish and I wouldn’t be able to understand.

There are a multitude of books written about this great leader and to learn about him is a part of every school child’s Turkish history class here in Istanbul. An understanding of Atatürk and the former Ottoman Empire would have to be included to fully understand our current world, its countries, its boundaries and its wars and its victories. There is no escape from learning about history when you live in Istanbul. It is all around you. It is on the sweet faces of the people in the markets, it is on dusty, cobbled streets, it is up the steep hills surrounded by rock walls, it is down the deep alleys surrounded by architecture and it flows down the river. It is vast, this world history of ours. I’m left with the understanding that the global problems we see in 2013, are the same problems that have always been. All of us, no matter what country, are a part of each other’s history, the history of the human race.

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Shipwrecked

Into the depths.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hidden_Harbor_Mystery, Author: Franklin W. Dixon, Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The_Hidden_Harbor_Mystery,
Author: Franklin W. Dixon,
Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap

Noticing that I would soon be accompanying Grade 5 students to the Istanbul Archeological Museum during their Ancient Civilizations Unit of Inquiry, I invited a friend from Ireland to go with me and check it out. I wanted to get my bearings before taking the students and I’m so glad I did! Although we only made it into two of the three vast buildings, our eyes and minds were full from the experience. The museum houses artifacts from the centuries and it would be nearly impossible to see everything in one day. As in many ancient cities, there is scaffolding and renovations happening all around the grounds. I can’t imagine the expense of taking care of an ancient city! One could easily start digging in a grassy garden and unearth an ancient arch, pottery or who knows what! This modern city has been built on top of many cities that came before it. Although the treasures of this fine museum are remarkable, I was most captivated by a special exhibition called Stories From The Harbor, Shipwrecks of Yenikapi.

Just south of Sultanahmet, the popular tourist part of the city, where many famous Istanbul mosques and shopping bazaars are located, lays the Sea of Marmara and the Theodosian harbour. In 2004, during a transportation project that was underway, a great discovery was made. Under the sea, in an area called Yenikapi, a total of 37 shipwrecks were found, unbelievably preserved in a water grave. The Yenikapi wrecks constitute the largest collection of shipwrecks ever found in one place. These thrity-seven boats vary from long warships (galleys) to sea-going traders and even include small, local trading vessels. The boats date from the 5th-11th centuries and included a surprising artifact inventory. This amazing archeological find sheds light not only on the trade business of the harbor city, and Byzantine capital, Constantinople, but on vessels of the period and everyday life during the Ottoman and Byzantine periods.

The special exhibition was of the highest caliber. Multimedia video and interactive displays delighted and mesmerized me as I pushed buttons to see how a thunderstorm at sea could easily set a ship off course and lead to its demise. Other videos showed the common trade routes through this area of the world and gave information on what was carried on the ships. Not only did they carry a plethora of vessels but also coins, jewelry, candles, leather sandals and rigging equipment, to include ropes and anchors. I was most surprised to see nuts and seeds, like peach seeds and walnut shells, on display. Skeletons are also a part of the findings and provide a frightening reminder about all the lives that have been lost at sea. Another video, with the speed of a factory, showed how these beautiful, old ships were crafted.

As we were leaving we stopped by a beautiful, outdoor café on the grounds for a cup of tea. The tables were placed amongst the many ruins and helped to provide a lovely time of reflection.

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Pioneer Teachers

Turkish Tea with FriendsI’ve been thinking about American teachers of the past, who traveled for days, by stagecoach, or on horseback, across miles of dusty trails, to fulfill a longing to move to a new place, meet a new community and to teach young children. Over the past two weeks I have likely experienced many similar feelings and adjustments. After arriving in Istanbul on August 12, I have begun to explore my new city, I have met an ever-increasing new community of lovely people and I have started to adjust to a new teaching pedagogy in hopes that I will be able to ensure a lifetime love of learning to my young students. It’s been so completely overwhelming to all of my senses, my head’s been spinning since I got here!

Istanbul is all (and more!) that I remember it to be from my travels here in 2011. I live in the neighborhood of Ulus, in Ortakoy, a beautiful, historically rich environment full of new sights, new tastes and smells, new sounds and new textures. My legs are getting stronger every day from walking up miles of marble stairs and down long, winding, brick roadways. This host country is fascinating beyond belief and I’m guessing the two years of my contract will pass quickly. I fear there won’t be enough time to see it all.

Upon my brisk arrival, and clearance through customs, at the Ataturk Airport at 7:00 pm, I was wisked away to deliver my belongings into my lovely, furnished apartment. After dumping my containers inside the door and having a quick look around, a small group of us set off on an excursion that took us to the edge of the Bosphorus. It was dreamlike. Bouncing lights off the bridge, rushing taxis on the narrow streets, wafting fragrances from street vendors and hearing strange dialects all around me caused a swarming, full force, into my sleep-starved head.

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The quick motion never stopped. I was transported through various experiences, in full sensory overload for days, meeting people of many nations, testing my tongue to this new language, and adopting a new style of teaching art to a group of children outside my experience realm.

I am happy. I’ve been dreaming of this experience for years, never quite understanding how dramatically new and exciting it would be. I had to experience it, and now I’m living it. These are things I’ve already learned that I want to share:

  • Fill your days with happiness.
  • Go so far out of your comfort zone that you have no choice but to become dependent on others.
  • Have an open heart and an open mind to endless possibilities.
  • Consider opinions that are very different from your own and that you previously hadn’t.
  • Listen to people’s stories.
  • Let people help you.
  • Learn to be friends with people very different from you.
  • Learn what people from other countries think of your country.

I’m learning about all these things. Thanks for traveling with me.

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Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

alliswellFly away.

A friend compared it to living inside a hair dryer, and it’s true. The blissful temperatures of San Diego made for a rude awakening when I arrived in Dallas this week. 105-degree temperatures help me let go of this place I’ve called home for 28 years.

I’ve been able to see some folks, but mostly I’ve been packing and re-packing and making difficult decisions on what to take with me, and what to leave, for the hundredth time. My school gave me a generous excess baggage allowance, but my international teacher friends reminded me to be ruthless and to only bring absolute necessities. They told me that whatever I heaved over, I’d have to hoist back. Meditating on this thought caused me to clear out the contents of one more container.

Three international teacher friends I’ve made this year have already departed to their new countries: one to Switzerland, one to China and one to Ethiopia. During the stressful days of interviewing at recruitment fairs, the connections you make with people are emotional and friendships can develop quickly. I look forward to staying in touch with these friends and comparing their new experiences to mine.

My favorite hours spent this week were with my Mom. We went out to breakfast two times, talked non-stop and watched a special TV series on Istanbul called, “A Short History of the World.” She is excited for me and I hope she can come visit one day and see the great, preserved histories of the Byzantine, Ottoman and Roman empires. She recently sent me a newspaper article about a young, mid-western man who has been living in Istanbul. Within the article, this quote, from Missouri native, Mark Twain, resonated with me:

Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one’s lifetime.

This is one of the truest things I have ever read and describes my feelings exactly. I started dreaming of teaching overseas when I first visited Europe in 2006. Since then, I’ve been unraveling a big tangle of ideas and possibilities to make this dream come true. And here I am today, a few hours from arriving at the DFW Airport, about to fly 6,278 miles (think of the mileage points!!) to Istanbul. And yet, I’m already starting to dream about the next thing. I’ve learned to never stop dreaming, and casting your net, for all things are possible!

Please be patient with me as I begin to assimilate all that I’ll be involved with during the next few weeks. Two caring teachers, who remember what it’s like to be a newbie, have been organizing social outings for the next couple of weeks and I’m grateful. I’m sure I’ll be gathering many ideas to blog about!

The last few days I’ve been remembering back to all that I’ve done in the past two years, to make this dream a reality. It seemed overwhelming at first: finding ways to earn extra money, going through all my possessions and determining what to keep, store or sell, sorting through all my art supplies and artwork, and re-examining every area of my life, but I took baby steps, one day at a time, and it happened.  I’m not special. I’m not doing anything that isn’t available to everyone. What’s your dream? You can make it happen.

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Protests, Goodbyes and California Dreaming

BalboaParkFlying the coop.

About a week before I left Dallas to spend the summer on the west coast, the people of Istanbul began a revolution and everyone I knew was asking me about it. By the time the protests started, I’d relocated to the home of another friend who has family members in Istanbul. Speaking to them about the history of Turkey did give me great insight into what was happening in Istanbul and other cities. Several weeks before the protests began I signed up with the U.S. Department of State’s STEP Program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) as a soon-to-be expat. This free service not only informs the Department of State of my whereabouts when I move, but also gives me information about the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate offices and emails me any travel warnings for the countries I select. I also joined two online groups: Professional American Women of Istanbul and Foreign Women of Istanbul. Moreover, my new school has connected all the new teachers through email and I’ve been assigned a buddy! Through these groups of people I’ve been able to stay very informed and I can assure you that I’m not worried, but still excited, about my upcoming move to Istanbul!

There were many going away lunches, happy hours and coffees during the last week of school. One can never have too many friends and because I am fortunate to have many, I was out late every night before I left. I was showered with attention and my art department even sang a song to me! The re-written song lyrics followed the tune of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (which is also the name of one of my previous articles) but was called 50 Ways To Make a New Life.

When I arrived in California, I was worn out but seeing my daughter’s cool new apartment totally revived me! This historic building was likely built between 1920-1930 and has such charm! She is within walking distance to Balboa Park, which not only houses the famous San Diego Zoo but also many museums, gardens and historic buildings. We’ve spent time catching up after living apart for four years while she attended college. I realize that it is sometimes necessary for newly graduated college students to move back in with their parents, but I don’t often hear about parents who move in with their new graduates!

We’ve already started filling our calendars. This is going to be a summer of fun! On Saturday we’re going to the Annual Surf Dog Competition and on Sunday we’re going to the Grunion Run. I’ve discovered the Balboa Tennis Club and have signed up for a series of clinics. There are home tours, organic farmers’ markets, ball games, concerts, museum installations and tours and tastes of Stone Brewing. A summer of fun awaits!

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