Saturday, September 22, 2012

Black Sea - I Love Thee

The weather in Istanbul has been a bit unpredictable lately, as weather is, everywhere this time of autumnal shift in the northern hemisphere.  Last week saw a bit of rain and chill.  I wondered if it would stay.  Talked with a friend about weekend plans... and decided that sun would lead us to the Black Sea, and rain would take us to Dolmabahce Palace. 

I love sleeping in on Saturdays.  I always have.  I think Saturday is my favorite day of the week.  Friday is over, and Monday is still a day away.  Saturday is just for doing whatever comes to mind.  It doesn't have to busy and I can take as long as I want to leave the house. 

I had just gotten up and made my coffee when I got a call...."What are we doing?"  I hadn't yet been outside, but I could see sunshine on the buildings.... The sea it would be.  It took a while to depart.  I sipped coffee, ate my toast, read my devotionals, checked Facebook.  Lazy daze. 

                                            This beast greeted us upon leaving the apartments.

I think the cat had the same idea... take your time, enjoy the sun, and don't move through the day too quickly
We sauntered slowly down the hill, stopping to add credit to our bus passes and to pick up a little eggplant meze from the neighborhood deli.  We dodged traffic poorly, but managed to stay alive and hopped on a bus heading to Sariyer for a transfer to the Black Sea.  The bus was not too crowded and we were able to sit watching the crowds fall away.  The little coastal areas surprised me as we made our way up the Bosphorous.  Another friend had given us instructions as to how to get to the beach.  We needed to hop off in Sariyer and transfer to a dolmus.  For me that word has always been associated with the little finger appetizers I am so fond of... grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb.  Well, in the transportation world, there is a similarity,  in that the meaning of the word does indeed come from the root meaning "stuffed".  And we were.  A dolmus is a short bus or a large taxi depending on where you are.  We found one quickly, mainly because there was a funny man standing on the street calling out to all of us... something incomprehensible to me, but clearly he meant... CHEAP RIDE ON A SHORT BUS GET ON NOW FOR BLACK SEA.

We did and we were indeed stuffed.  I wish I could tilt this picture just so you could see my vantage point  In actuality, perhaps the perspective is perfect.  This was before several others joined us.  The ride careens around corners, up hills, through narrow passageways at breakneck speed.  Who needs amusement parks?  I stood the entire time because I wanted to see the passing scenery... What magnificent country.  Shrubs and low cedar filled the hills.  At one point there were two cows munching happily on a hillside.  All along the ride, people got on, and people got off, handing their lira up to the driver via passing the coins through the crowd.
I've lived near enough beach towns to know when we had reached our destination.  Seaside is the same almost everywhere.  We got off our dolmus and suddenly were taken aback by the magnificent colors of the sea stretching out before us.  A clear demarcation, (natural) between deep waters and the shallower but dangerous water near the shore was nevertheless, stunning in color.  I have been told that almost in a day, the sea does indeed change to a blackish color.  For now, this day between summer and fall... the water remained azure and inviting.

  I hadn't eaten since breakfast and had agreed to buy lunch.  We headed toward the water hoping for a restaurant that overlooked the sea.  We made a choice, (though later on wished we had kept going as there was a closer spot).  The staff were very happy to have us.  Summer was departing quickly and I suspect income is difficult to come by in this small resort town in the off months.  Our waiter, whom I think was perhaps also the owner, insisted I come inside to see the fresh fish laid out for display.  He kept saying over and over in English.... "Fish very good!".  We made our choices, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of bread, meze, salad, sea bass, shrimp casserole and a crisp bottle of not so bad white while overlooking the Black Sea.  I feel so unbelievably grateful and sometimes.... often.... have to remember this is not  a dream.  I am here.  These experiences are part of my life. 

As I said, our waiter was very attentive.  There was a woman lurking about throughout our dining experience.  I suspect she was his wife, as she once gave me the evil eye, and had some words with him.  Really, I had no intention of running off with him.

 Ali, our waiter who allowed me to take a photo of him.  Perhaps this was why his wife was upset?

After lunch, we took a walk down to the quay to watch the men cleaning and storing their fishing nets.  I didn't manage to get the shot I wanted of them... but you can see that fishing is an industry in this small village, and that they manage to stay quite busy.  I love the Turkish flag flying over them as they go about their work.
 You can see the demarcation of water color in this photo.  There is evidently an extremely dangerous undertow at this beach and people are cautioned not to venture out too far.  In spite of this knowledge, there are numerous cabanas and entertainment areas all along the beachfront.  I imagine it is quite crowded during the hot days of summer when people can flock to cooler spots.  I found a bottle of perfume on the beach with two small barnacles still attached.  I thought it was a good statement about the temporary nature of "things" and "stuff".  I also was wooed by a horseman who desperately wanted me to pay for a short ride on his horse.  I declined but snapped his photo.  Isabel, my granddaughter would have LOVED the beautiful horse blanket he had under the saddle.  We watched a group of women jumping joyously in the surf, and I picked up shells while my friend snapped a picture of me to prove I walked the shores of this sea.

The day was shifting.  I needed some tea after the split of wine, and in spite of my words about stuff and things... I was on the hunt for a particular pair of shoes.  We had spotted a few shoe stores back in Sariyrer, and if we were going to make it home before dark, it was time to leave the seashore. 

It's very late (or early depending on your perspective) as I write this entry.  Tomorrow is Sunday and I will tell about the trip back to Ortakoy.  What a lovely and grand day.

 May all of your weekends be as glorious.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friendly Times

I have made a lot of new friends here.  I've been thinking about the word "friend" lately.  There are some implied connotations that come with that designation.  Of course there are different depths of friendship.  For most of us, I would assume we have 1 - 3 people with whom we are particularly close.  These are our intimate friends.  The ones with whom we are absolutely safe.  We can share deeply with these people, and know they will never betray our trust.  These are the one's you can call at 2 AM in a crisis, and they will listen to your needs.   I have a couple of these, one of whom is my sister, (see pic), another also my sister, but by virtue of years and experience and tears and genuine understanding of one another.  My soul sister, Kim.  The others should know who they are.   Nothing will ever change with these friends.  Distance cannot alter our love and camaraderie, nor can circumstances.  These women would do anything for me.  I would hope they know the same is true of me. 

Which one is the assistant principal?
I was wondering if I would find new friends here.  If I would be lonely.  If I would find love.  If I would fit in.  Some of these wonderings have been answered.  I have made new friends here.  Some of them quite surprising to me.  People I would have never sought out or known had it not been for my move to Istanbul.  People whose paths simply would NOT have crossed mine had I not stepped out on this road.

I won't tell you these people's background stories.  That is not my place to share.  Suffice it to say... anyone who would trek from their home country to work in Istanbul must have some common personality traits, including, (of course) a sense of adventure.  Some of these people work at the school, like the
deputy principal of our high school.

The teachers here are interesting and intelligent people.  We are all here for our own reasons.  But we also share the common circumstance of being away from our families and our familiar lands.  That in and of itself makes for the kind of glue that binds people together in our shared recognition that we need human contact beyond the day to day interactions at work.  So we find ways to recreate together.  To explore the new place we live in.  To socialize and to eat and drink together.  I was missing this in Idaho.  I had 2 lovely friends with whom I would go out once or perhaps twice a month with.  Both were married, and both had other things going on in their lives.  Our social interactions were meaningful, but certainly not plentiful.  I also had a friend who was my spiritual mirror and my accountability partner.  I could always call her in any circumstance, but she too was married with kids and very busy with her own life.  I loved her dearly, but she was not in a position to take off on day to day adventures with me. 

Here in Istanbul, there is ALWAYS something to do with others.  Word goes out and there you are... venturing with friends to a palace, museum, beach, bar, or hamam.  A what?   A hamam, the traditional Turkish bath house where you can be scrubbed clean of the dirt of the day and the street.

 There is nothing like stripping to your best birthday suit and being pummeled, loofahed, scrubbed, soaped, rinsed, kneaded, oiled, rolled, and rinsed again in a large bathhouse full of others just like yourself.  Something about the intimacy of this ritual creates a bond with both your masseuse and the friend you happen to go with, in this instance... Susan the librarian, who led me to this place that I have now visited before I die.  I will return.

After this refreshing and relaxing experience, we jump on a tram PACKED with people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and odors.  Just when it seemed no more could possibly fit on... we stopped again and another mass of bodies pushed and shoved their way into the car.  Well, I had already been in my altogether in a room full of complete strangers, so this didn't seem too bad.  At least we all had our clothes on and we were standing up.

We met up with some other friends at a place called "My House" in Taksim, party central for all of Istanbul.  This restaurant had an open air rooftop and non-Turkish food on the menu.  It also featured a fantastic view of the city and the Bosphorous.... so we dined and drank and listened to wonderful stories about lecherous inn operators and secret Moroccan restaurants.  I asked these friends permission to post their pictures.  Oddly enough, one of them was born 45 miles north of my home town.   Later this group moved on to a nargile bar where you can select your music from you tube and play whatever your heart desires while smoking a hookah pipe in whatever flavor your taste buds desire.  ( I did not indulge mom... honest.)

I really would like to post pictures of other friends here.   I could name them one by one... but I did not ask their permission to write about them, so I will refrain for now.  One of my best chums here... is Prags.  A more unlikely friend for me is not to be found I think anywhere in the world, however... we have become fast friends.  I think GOD put him into my life for a variety of reasons.  He is a very patient and funny man.  We differ in many ways, but also we have some things in common.  He makes me go on long walks when I don't feel like walking.  He challenges me to think about things in new ways.  He goes with me to the dreaded bank, (though he does always go first in front of me, and takes up most of our limited time there).  The people in the neighborhood always stare at us when we go for walks... We work together at the school and he is "damn good" at his job of supporting struggling students.  I like him a lot.

I am learning many things in this place so far away from home.  I am challenged almost daily to closely examine my life and my beliefs.  I will always cling dearly to my faith.  Even in a time when the world believes that religion and love of GOD are the same thing, and that one of these is very bad, I will stand faithful to Jesus Christ.  He is and always has been, my dearest and closest friend.  I will however also stand in solidarity with my friends of other beliefs and support their right to live out their lives in freedom from extremes and from dictation.  I don't have all the answers.  I just have more questions.  I think that's ok.  Some things I don't question, because I have tested them over time and find them to be reliable and true.  But that is my walk.  The world is imperfect and so am I.  I yearn for that time when we are all free and loved and full.  I desire to be part of the building of this thing, but I cannot force holiness, and I cannot control many things about this life.  I can choose to be at peace and to love others better.  I will do this with the help of my friends and my GOD.  I am at peace with my life.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Daily Things

 I snapped this shot on the way back from the police station.  There were so many things about this day... and this scene captured much of it.

A small number of new teachers had been scheduled to make our appearance at the large institutional police station in order to apply for, and be issued our residency cards.  We were driven to the site in a service bus.  Buses have become a significant part of my life.  The trip was long and hot. The experience of passing though a series of security checks was a bit harrowing as was the chaos of humanity waiting for exactly the same thing we were there for.  There was a crush of people streaming into the hall that led to a small and dilapidated waiting room.  The system was neither expedient nor systematic.  Picture a stairway leading up to another security checkpoint, the walls were light yellow with patches crumbling here and there, and at one point, a poor man came up the stairs dragging a steep at a time, a wheelbarrow full of mortar for some repair somewhere.  People were crowding and surging mainly towards an old wooden door that periodically opened.  When it did, people came tumbling out of it, and a new group of applicants were called in by name.  At one point, a young woman burst out of the door weeping loudly at some obvious halt in her processing.  That gave us all a bit of a fright.  In the end, we were also called in, and then one at a time...
"Andrew America!, Matthew America!  Connie America!"...  a brief albeit very serious interview with yet another person who made sure we were here for good reasons.   As we left, there were literally hundreds of extremely stoic police swat members in black uniforms and VERY BIG GUNS standing around the streets in front of the station.  One of the teachers (from Canada) desperately wanted her picture taken with one of them, and asked quite politely if she could do so... and was quite unpolitely told NO and to move on post haste.  Well.....

In the end... we got our cards.  Such an old old place with such deep levels of bureaucracy... and yet, the Valens aquaduct, built several hundred years ago in the Byzantine era to water a city from the melting snows of faraway mountains... still stands in part.

 Istanbul manages to effectively and quickly transport 18 million people to and from various places round about these seven hills.  Turks give up their seats on buses to women with children, and the aged.  They are polite and sometimes helpful.  They are bright and cheerful, passionate and romantic.  They are my neighbors. May GOD bless their country.

This is my neighborhood.  The entire city is for the most part covered with similar blocks of apartments.  Not all are as nice as ours, and not all are as simple as ours.  With the exceptions of palaces, mansions, and a few lovely enclaves of single family dwellings... most of the population (us) live in places like this.  I used to hate the though of apartment dwelling.  But it makes maximum use of the land and is less wasteful of resources in the long run.  I do miss the wilderness of my old neighborhood, which after all was a very large wood and all of a few houses scattered over many square miles.  I have however become quite used to this kind of life.  I do not drive and that also has its benefits, as my health and stamina have significantly improved now that I am so mobile and active.  Though the school is only a 2 or 3 minute walk from my apartment, even that is a hike.

Most of us make this trek several times a day.  The markets are located either below or above... so one must exert oneself if groceries are to be procured.   The water here (as in most of Europe) is not drinkable from the tap.  We have to order our water or buy it from the store.  I prefer ordering.  My water delivery man is quite nice and I enjoy his sense of humor and his happy nature as well.  He is quite forgiving of my terrible Turkish .
I want to take a picture of him, but I don't know how to ask without embarrassing him (also I just don't know how to ask.)

If I am not too tired, I trek down to Ortakoy district to shop.  I shopped in both of the large western style (sort of) grocery stores at first, but have come to realize that it is much better to buy from the small businesses that supply specialty items.  I can still get my tp and detergent from Migros.  But there is nothing like fresh peppers, chiles, eggplant, bread, flowers, chicken, lamb, etc.  In turn, it seems to be a custom, that once you are a return customer, better deals are to be had, and every now and then a lovely little token of gratitude may find its way into your bag.  Tonight, I am having... before I go to bed... a small little cookie made of wheat and nuts, soaked in honey and sprinkled with crushed pistachio dust.  They melt in your mouth and are highly addictive and somewhat euphoria inducing.  These are some of the daily things that make up my life at this point in time.  Tomorrow I will work with children who come from all over this world.  I am so grateful.

 I love my family and my friends, and miss them much, but I also know that these are eternal bonds, and distance or circumstance cannot break those ties.  For now... I am forging new ties in a new land, and everyday brings adventure.  Even the simplest of tasks. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Treking the Island - Superstitions & Peace

 The Monastery - Superstition & Peace

We are nearing the foot of yet another hill.  This next path will take us to the highest point on the island... and the St. George Monastery.

I had done some research on this Monastery.  My guide book was limited in the scope of it's storytelling about the venerated spot.  According to DK's Istanbul.... many make the climb to the monastery barefoot, believing their prayers will be answered if they sacrifice in this way.  I had full intentions of doing so myself, as I had a couple of prayers in mind.  Another book informed me that for those who were not able to make the climb barefoot, they could tie a thread at the bottom of the hill and if they managed to string it all the way to the church unbroken, the prayers also would be answered.

 There were other tales too, not found in the guide books.  One of the women in our group told us that she had heard women flocked to this particular monastery because the priest was so handsome.  According to the legend, women would fall in love with him and on their way back down the mountain, inform women on the climb up that the priest was "not there", so they should turn around and go home.  Love it.  Also I am now further motivated to make the climb!

The trail head is a plethora of commerce.  The carriages deposit their human cargo here and wait for return passengers.  Sometimes the horses are unbridled to feed and drink and rest.  We noticed that many of these were quite reluctant to be re-hitched.  No wonder.  I didn't mention it before, but these guys sometimes get up that hill very fast!  I watched in amazement as many of them passed slower carts on the road.  I would guess, the quicker one makes the trip, the more money one can earn.

Speaking of money, there were many vendors present as well as a restaurant and drink stand.  I tried to buy a fan, because the days can be quite hot, and I had noticed my Spanish friends all had nice little hand fans that they would produce in stifling staff meetings.  I had been looking for a fan, so I asked in my best Turkish, how much?  20 TL!  No way.  I could see they were mass produced and most likely from China.  I offered 5 TL, and was roundly refused.  She came back at 15, and I responded by tching and lifting my head back (as I had been told to do to show displeasure and to indicate and unwillingness to pay such a price).  This offended her to no end and she walked away from me.  I will have to practice my skills a bit more.  I did not purchase the fan.

We had been forewarned that the trek was arduous and difficult to make.  We had already been walking for over an hour on the same route the carriages were taking.  "It can't be worse than Shorty Peak" I thought to myself.  Idaho residents will know the trail I am referring to.  It wasn't.  However, I did not have the courage to remove my shoes for the hike.  In the company of the expat group, it didn't seem appropriate, besides... prayers are answered without benefit of superstitious actions.  These may benefit the believer, but I do not think they necessarily boost a pure and honest petition to the GOD who made all things.  As we started up the steep cobbled incline, we noticed the threads lining the side of the trail.  So the stories were true about the threads at least.  Maybe I should take my shoes off...

The irony of this place can only be understood by reading it's history.  This is an excellent link to a most fascinating story about the origins of the church, and the anomaly it has become.  It explains the throngs of Muslims that I saw making the climb alongside us.  There were two lovely freshwater springs along the path.  I soaked my scarf in one and was grateful later.  Upon arriving at the top, dusty, thirsty, and out of breath... I looked back at the world below, commenting to the woman next to me about how fitting it was that a Christian church would be so high above the world.  Literally.  The sea of water and the sea of humanity stretched out below us.

They grounds were magnificent and I spotted an old woman and a young child just below the church, in a yard that was inaccessible to tourists.
I did not take pictures of the church itself, nor did I snap photos inside.  For me, the place seemed too holy to intrude with technology.  The faithful were inside praying, weeping in front of icons, lighting candles, depositing prayer requests, kneeling below magnificent portraits of Christ Jesus.  I sat for a while and worshiped and I too cried for a world that for the most part... still doesn't understand how much it is loved.

I had brought along a small split of Turkish wine, and departed the church with a small group of new found acquaintances.  We sipped and talked on the way down, and met up with everyone back near the carriage stop.  The organizers of the trip had arranged for us to dine al fresco at a lovely country hotel just a short walk away from the hubub of the trail head.  We were handsomely rewarded for all our walking, with a most delightful meal of mezes and shish's and wine and beer and tea and conversation and a view that took my breath away.

I did not want to leave.  I saw myself owning the hotel and creating the meals and serving travelers on that island.  Nice dream, and for a few moments, I simply sat and listened and breathed, and prayed in gratitude.
But ...  all good things come full circle and it was time to depart the island.  Now here is another funny little serendipitous irony ... one of many that have taken me by surprise since arriving here.
On our way back to the ferry docks, I kept thinking... oh I wish I could share this with my friends.  I wish....... were here, and ........ , and .........  and ......... would just love this.  You know how it goes.  We round a corner and a woman steps across our path, walking her St. Bernard.  One of my very best friends seemed to suddenly be there... not really, but it seemed so, and I snapped the shot just for her.  To show her that anyone can be a part of Turkey and Turkey can be a part of anyone.

So you see... all things are possible.  Here I am in a world I have only dreamed of.  Safe and at peace.  I did not need to walk barefoot.  I was not required to string any threads over a long distance.  I was too shy to procure the bells (see the web link) though I did light some candles and say some intentional prayers.
I will let you know how those are answered.

GOD is good.
Turkey is lovely.
Eat, Drink, Pray has been done already, I am just expanding on the concepts.  Further on up... Further on in!