Tag Archives: Turkey

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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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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Head in the Clouds

headerThe land of beautiful horses

When my new friend asked me what my plans were for our October school break, I replied, “I’d like to go to Cappedocia, Turkey.” She looked at me and said, “I’ve always wanted to go there. Let’s just do it!” So we did! – along with several other friends from my school.

In the days prior to departure, I read as much as I could on the odd geographical formations called fairy chimneys. As our tour guide explained, three nearby volcanic mountains erupted over time, centuries ago. Each “spewed” different kinds of lava containing different kinds of minerals. Earthquakes happened. There was ice, next a flood and this area was covered in water. Then rivers and tide pools formed. When all the water went away, a bizarre landscape was left. There are a variety of these odd phallic, stone towers, but many of them are made from minerals that are soft on the inside and hard on the outside. Thousands of years ago, communities were formed as people scraped out the inside of these caves to live in.

There are thousands of these caves dotting the mountainous landscape and inside some of them are marvelous Christian frescoes that are centuries old!! It’s hard to imagine how these people had thriving neighborhoods on the face of a mountain, but they did. They didn’t have the advantage of helpful wood and steel staircases up the mountain.

After arriving and finding our cave hotel, we rested a bit before going to a performance called Turkish Nights! Food and drink was provided, as well as a live band. We watched all kinds of traditional Turkish dances performed in stunning, traditional costumes. I’m guessing because our group was all women we got a lot of attention from the wait staff. Two members of our group were selected to participate in a few of the evening’s performances! Afterwards we went back to the hotel to sleep in our cave.

The next morning our group booked a private shuttle van with a driver and tour guide. We spent the next nine hours (!) exploring the Cappedocia region. We parked at beautiful lookout spots that allowed us to step onto the edge of panoramic views that looked a bit like the Grand Canyon, with the added delight of fairy chimneys. We went on a tour of a fascinating onyx factory and learned about this unique, transparent stone, as well as learning the meaning of Cappadocia: land of beautiful horses. We had a lovely lunch next to a bucolic creek, saw the geographical area that was the inspiration behind some of the Star Wars scenes, climbed up rocky paths and peered into caves that ignite imaginations. We also went to Derinkuyu, an enormous underground city.

The following day was a holy day for Muslims. It is called Kurban Bayram. This is the day of sacrifice and all over the world, Muslims will sacrifice a sheep or a goat and share the meat with people in need. Although this holiday has special significance to them, I had to be careful as we walked past little stone homes in quaint, rocky villages, not to see the remains of the slaughter. After a long day of traveling and exploring, we ate dinner and went to bed promptly because the following morning we had to be up at 5:00 am to catch our shuttle to Butterfly Balloons!

There are hundreds of hot air balloon companies in this area, but my favorite travel guru, Rick Steves, used this company last year when he toured this area so this was the company I wanted to use. Everyone here in Turkey knows that you simply MUST go up in a hot air balloon if you find yourself in this part of Turkey. I was a bit frightened to think about it, but because of the insistence of everyone who’d been here I decided that I would do it. Once we arrived at the take off point, next to the gigantic canyon, it was dark but we could begin to see the silhouettes of balloons starting to fill up. After shooting some pictures and wiping the sleep out of our eyes, we were loaded in the basket and off we went. It was not what I had imagined. This balloon ride was the most peaceful, slow and relaxing ride I have ever been on. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Our basket was large, holding about 16 people. Our pilot, Mustafa, has been written up in Trip Advisor as simply one of the BEST pilots, and he proved to be very cautious and experienced. He was able to maneuver the gigantic balloon down into the cavern right next to the chimneys and rock formations. He was also proud to tell us that we were the highest balloon in the sky at 6300 meters! As we peered over the edge, we could see colorful dots beneath us. These dots were the TOP of other balloons.

We stayed up in the sky for over an hour, Mustafa gently guiding our balloon to all different parts of the canyon. What an amazing experience! It is customary to be served champagne upon landing, but Butterfly Balloons had more planned. I still don’t know how they knew this, no one took any credit, but as a complete surprise to me, they knew it was my birthday on that day and I was presented a beautiful chocolate cake, and flowers, to be shared by everyone in our basket! One man on the ground crew threw me across his shoulders like a sack of potatoes and then all the ground crew gathered around while he tossed me into the deflated balloon for pictures. It was amazing; a birthday like no other.

When we arrived back at the hotel, it was just 9:00 a.m. so we ate a quick breakfast and then went back to bed for a few hours. When we got up for the second time, all us girls decided to go to a Turkish Bath (hamam). I hadn’t yet been to a Turkish bath, although they are very popular here in Istanbul. Baths have been a part of this culture for centuries and many hamams are very old. We enjoyed a sauna, a swim in a mineral pool, and then a scrub down. It was quite an experience and we were left invigorated afterward. After lunch and a little shopping, we relaxed until the evening. Several of us went to a Sufi worship center and watched a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

whirlderPrior to arrival we read about the symbolism of the performance. On the website called The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi we learned about the dress, the hand movements and the sounds played by the musicians. I really loved watching this trancelike, harmonious, worshipful dance. The Mevlevi Sufi order was founded to follow the teachings of Rumi, one of the great spiritual masters, and poets, of the 13th century. If you are interested in learning more, I’ve just finished reading a novel by Elif Shafak called, The Forty Rules of Love, and through this story, Rumi’s biographical story is told. It is fascinating and I highly recommend it. The colors, sounds and textures of Cappedocia are totally worth exploring if you find yourself in this part of the world.

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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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Changing Spaces

SleepingGnomeGifts of friends.

This was my last week at “temporary housing #1” and my friends and I spent our time laughing, commiserating about the last days of school, dining out and drinking watermelon margaritas. We also watched a movie called, Bernie, which is based on a fact-is-stranger-than-fiction true story of love and murder. We both chimed in when Jack Black sang old Baptist hymns, familiar to both of us from our childhood years spent in east Texas and southern Missouri. All through the film I was reminded of my Missouri heritage and what it was like to grow up in the country.

A few days after watching the movie, my friend came to me and said she had a gift to offer. I’d barely lifted my head from my computer when she flipped open her worn copy of an old Baptist Hymnal and started singing Love Lifted Me:

Laughing, I immediately joined in. Then we took turns looking in the Index and singing the first verses of hymns such as, Just As I Am and The Old Rugged Cross. It’s been a wonderful gift to live with these dear friends and I will always be grateful for the time we’ve spent together.

Over the weekend, I touched down, for two nights, at another friend’s home. This lovely home will be my “home base” until I move to Turkey. However, until school officially ends in three weeks, I will primarily live with yet another friend and her family. This friend, also an artist, has a home alive with color and textures! It is only because of the generous gifts of my friends that I am able to take the steps necessary to achieve my dreams.

My former next-door neighbors, who I miss very much, emailed me this fabulous short film from the Viking Cruise website. Every time I watch it I get goose bumps. Please watch it! This is the Istanbul I remember from my summer visit in 2011! This is where I’m going to live in a few short months!!

This week I want to give you the gift of encouragement.  Don’t be afraid to dream a dream and begin walking toward that dream. It can be anything! You can be anything and do anything. Everything is possible! Make one choice today that will get you headed in the right direction. Give yourself this gift.

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Nobody’s Business But The Turks

The_Ecumenical_Council_by_Salvador_Dali.jpg ‎(400 × 490 pixels, file size: 87 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

The_Ecumenical_Council_by_Salvador_Dali.jpg ‎(400 × 490 pixels, file size: 87 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

Trying to grasp.

Although the packing continues, it’s slower and demands attention to detail. I’ve uncovered papers of all sorts that document my existence on planet Earth since 1982, the year of my college graduation. In the quiet stillness of late afternoons that turn to evening dusk, the pathways of memories seem endless. From that day in May, almost thirty-one years ago, I’ve found evidence of noted accomplishments and jottings from others who were instrumental to my having lived a life of joy and curiosity. In my discoveries of myself, a pattern emerges: I visualize a goal, I research and create challenges for myself and then I reach my goal. Then the cycle starts all over again.

One of my current curiosities is trying to get a basic understanding of the enormity of the history of Constantinople, or Istanbul, my soon-to-be home. This city, established by Greek colonists around 657 BC, became the capital city of the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman Empires. Even if I start in the “modern” times of AD 330, when Constantine the Great made it the new capital of the Roman Empire, it is almost too much for my brain to absorb, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

The religious history of Istanbul is wide and long and high and deep. It will be fascinating to live there and share the streets with these western-influenced people inside the diptych of where Islam and Christian beliefs meet. In no way do I claim to be a historian or expert in church history but from my reading it seems that Roman Emperor, Constantine, along with colleague and co-Emperor, Licinius, issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313, which proclaimed tolerance of all religions throughout the Empire. Constantine likely witnessed forms of Christian persecution in Rome, but eventually he became the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. After restoring the unity of the Empire, through both governmental reforms and consolidation of the Christian church, he chose Constantinople to be the new capital.

In AD 325, Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea, a council of Christian bishops brought together to attain consensus in the church on several hot topics. One of the main accomplishments was settling the Christological issue of the nature of The Son (Jesus) and his relationship to God the Father, which resulted in the Nicene Creed. The intent of this was to unify the beliefs for all of Christendom. Another result of this council was an agreement on when to celebrate Easter.

In her delightful blog about all-things-Paris, Theodora Brack, wrote a recent article, Paris Tête-à-Tête: Arts Update Teaser, that showcases new exhibitions in La Cille-Lumiére, the City of Light. Currently at the Centre Pompidou is an exhibition I wish I could attend which highlights one of my fav’s, Salvador Dali. After reading her article and doing this ecumenical council research, I found that Dali was inspired to produce an enormous painting called The Ecumenical Council, in 1960, after the 1958 election of Pope John XXIII. According to Wikipedia, this painting expresses Dali’s renewed hope in religious leadership following the devastation of World War II, as the Pope had extended communication to Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Communication between the Roman Catholic Pope and the principal leader of the Church of England had not happened in more than four centuries.

This history of the sieges and battles, emperors and sultans seem to go on and on and on. Istanbul’s history is a long one and I’ve just started. Eventually, in 1453, the city and the Empire fall to the Ottomans. Although that’s nobody’s business but the Turks, I hope to start uncovering that piece of history, as well, as I work my way to Istanbul. A few weeks ago, when I announced my employment with an international school in Istanbul, a sweet friend of mine posted this video as a gift of congratulations to me. We met on top of a mountain in Austria, and that’s the real gift. Enjoy.

*Note on above painting:

Description: The Ecumenical Council by Salvador Dali, 1960
Source: dalinet.com
Article: The Ecumenical Council (painting)
Portion used: It represents the complete work.
Low resolution: It is a low resolution image.
Purpose of use: It illustrates an educational article about the painting that this image represents.
Replaceable: It is not replaceable with an uncopyrighted or freely copyrighted image of comparable educational value.

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