Tokatsgiving

IMG_6442

To celebrate Thanksgiving 2014 I visited the central-eastern Turkish city of Tokat, joining a group of Fulbrighters for a potluck dinner. While in Tokat I was able to spend some time sightseeing in the city center while spending plenty of time in fellowship (pun intended) with my fellow grantees and our Turkish guests.

IMG_6400

Before I elaborate on some of the sights I was able to visit while in Tokat, I must address a very Fulbrihgt-esque pun, which is the title of this post and was the name of our celebration. As previous posts have suggested, we Turkey Fulbright ETA’s particularly enjoy combining the names of holidays and the cities in which we celebrate them. Tokatsgiving was no exception, but is in fact an exceptional instance of this type of word-play. Why?

Part of our dual role as English as a Foreign Language instructors and ‘cultural ambassadors’ includes sharing English-speaking countries holidays and cultural traditions with our students, Thanksgiving being a particularly easy and fun opportunity. Many of us have included the instant-classic ‘Slapsgiving’ episode of How I Met Your Mother (a series which for some reason is wildly popular among young Turks) in our lesson plans. Incidentally, in addition to being the name of a city, ‘tokat’ in Turkish is the word for slapping someone. A better holiday-locale combo has never been accomplished…..

In any event, I was blown away by the rich history still visible as we “gezmeked” (my Turklish version of ‘wandered’) the streets and sights of Tokat.

Our trip began as any good weekend rendezvous does, with a long and big Turkish breakfast (kahvalti) in a beautifully restored Ottoman era home.

IMG_6245

Doyduk… clean plates after a massive and delicious breakfast.

IMG_6253We toured an old Ottoman-era home turned museum (free of charge) which explained life for upper class central Anatolian families. The house itself was allegedly designed by a famous Armenian architect.

IMG_6277From the gardens of the restored Tokat Mevlevihane, you can see the city’s stone clock tower. As is generally the case, exploring the Mevlevihane turned museum was a major highlight of my trip.

IMG_6306

The complex has been stunningly restored and, much like the museums in Konya and the Galata district of Istanbul, contained a vast display of manuscripts, daily life objects, musical instruments, physical manifestations of ritual practice like tesbih or prayer beads, clothing, artwork, and especially here, a large collection of antique carpets.

IMG_6310

The former semahan, or room in which the ritual practice of sema (whirling) has beautiful woodwork which has been well maintained, but that isn’t what catches your eye when you enter the space. No, it’s the lit-up mannequin ‘whirling dervises which mechanically spin across the floor.

Tokat has numerous old stone mosques, many dating back to the Selcuk era.

IMG_6392

There are also a number of tombs either standing alone or on mosque complexes. I was more than a little surprised when visiting the tomb of Ali Tursi, which has beautiful turquoise Selcuk-era tilework, to see this posting by the Ministry of Religious Works ‘reminding’ visitors of ‘how to appropriately visit’ a tomb. I’ve never seen a posting like this at any other tomb in Turkey….

IMG_6401In addition we were able to pend time checking out the rich collection at the Tokat City Museum, which had no entrance fee. The museum is an a lovely old stone building, and has everything from archaeological finds from Tokat and the surrounding area to a wide assortment of religious artifacts (both Muslim Christian, iconographic paintings that echoed to a different time), folk costumes, handicrafts, and more. The collection includes pieces of the castle in the nearby town of Zile conquered by Julius Ceasar, who upon victory infamous declared “Vendi, Vidi, Vici!”

IMG_6418 IMG_6432In addition, we stopped into an old caravanseray that is now owned by the state university in Tokat, who uses it to house much of their music daprtment, and one of the historic bazaar areas, where I picked up some of the famed cloth wth painted designs in the forms of a dress and a dual function scarf/vest. The woman I bought them from had painted them herself!

Of course, I’d be remiss without mentioning the meal itself, which was an absolute feast. We enjoyed a fantastic array of ‘tradition Americana’ dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole (my contribution), REAL pumpkin pie from scratch (which was quite an effort), stuffing, etc. as well as some Turkish classics like mercimek koftesi (red lentil meatlessballs?) and stuffed grape leaves. There were many cries of affiyet olsun, and we all went around the table and shared the things for which we are thankful.

IMG_6456

Tokat was a fabulous city that I’m so glad I visited- truly a hidden gem in the hillsides of central Anatolia.

 

 

Advertisements

Come As You Are: Mevlana Seb-I Arus 2013

The week leading up to December 17 is known in Konya, Turkey as the Mevlana Festival, in celebration of the ‘urs of Celaladdin Rumi.

Street Art in Downtown Konya

Street Art in Downtown Konya

‘Urs is an Arabic word which can be translated as “wedding day;” in this context it refers to the death anniversary of a Sufi saint, or revered Islamic mystical figure. The symbolism of “’urs” stems from Sufi symbolism in which marriage is akin to union with God following a long and deep relationship in life. In any event, the death anniversary of the mystic and poet known widely in the ‘West’ as Rumi, and in Turkey simply by the honorific Mevlana (sometimes accompanied by the grander honorific Hazreti, a religious title indicating deep respect, commonly used for prophets) is on December 17, and so a group of Fulbrighters traversed to Konya, located in South Central Anatolia, the site of Rumi’s tomb. (* note: generally, saint’s death anniversary’s are celebrated according to the Islamic (lunar) calendar; however, because it’s Turkey, it is always celebrated here on the evening of the 17th.)

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

A promotional billboard for the Mevlana Festival, displayed by the govt. of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell's billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

Telecommunications megalith Turkcell’s billboard, wishing a blessed celebration to the residents of Konya

The journey was rather easy for the K-Town crew- there is a high speed train from Ankara to Konya that only takes a couple hours. We were fortunate enough to stay with a friend of our Fulbrighter cohorts there. While in Konya, I had a series of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, the most random of which being that I met and shared a meal with a Turkish woman (and former Fulbrighter to the states!) named Tess! To say Tess is a rare name in Turkey would be an understatement; hers is actually a nickname for ‘Teslime,’ (pronounced tes-lee-may), a beautiful Turkish name which means something like ‘striving for God.’

Konya had been at the top of my list of destinations in Turkey from the get-go. I read some of Rumi’s poetry and studied his philosophy and tariqat (Sufi brotherhood, the Mevlevi’s) extensively in my Sufism seminar in college.

Quick side note for those reading with an interest in Rumi and Islam: if you can, read the translations done by Jawid Mojaddedi of Rutgers University. Unlike the more widely known Coleman Barks, J.M.’s translations are richly informed by the tradition from which Rumi is writing, and symbolism and allusions are thoroughly researched and annotated (rather than eliminated). What’s more, Prof. Mojaddedi translates from the original Persian into iambic pentameter, which, besides being an incredible linguistic feat, is the closest in English (culture and literature) to the rhyming couplet ‘mesnevi’ (in Arabic, mathnawi) poetic form.

IMG_1737

one of my pictures from the Sema at the Mevlana Cultural Center in Konya

The activities of our trip were centered on the celebrations of the festival (‘urs) and included two major components: visiting what is now the Mevlana Museum and attending a sema, more popularly known outside Turkey as a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

banners hanging in the lobby of the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya

The Mevlevi Order (tariqa) was established in Konya following Rumi’s death by his son, Sultan Walad. Shortly after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk decreed the disbandment of all Sufi (mystical Islamic) orders in Turkey (in 1925). At this point, all Mevlevi tekkes (‘lodges’) were shut down. Many have since been converted into mosques (as I witnessed in Eskisehir), or into museums which are operated by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (as in Galata in Istanbul, or in Gaziantep). The most notable of these museums, of course, is the Mevlevihane and site of Rumi’s tomb (the center of the Mevlevi order) in Konya, now known officially as the Mevlana Museum.
IMG_1757
The Ministry of Tourism and Culture oversees not only the operations of museums dedicated to the ‘formerly’ active Mevlevi order in Turkey, but they also control what are now performances of the Mevlevi Sema (Whirling Dervish ceremony) (performances, as opposed to ritual practice). Starting in 1953, the government began permitting replications of the ceremony for the purposes of tourism, initially only in Konya during the week of celebrations surrounding Rumi’s urs. This has since exploded into a major sector of tourism in Turkey—every guidebook, pamphlet, and website will tell you that seeing one of these ceremonies is a “must-do,” and many people across the globe are able to watch touring troops who perform the ritual. From the website of the order (which continues operations across the globe):

In sum, the sacred whirling prayer ritual of the Mevlevis has been largely taken over by the Turkish Government for the purpose of promoting tourism. The Government has little interest in lifting restrictions on the Mevlevi tradition: all it has wanted from the Mevlevis during past decades is to provide good musicians and whirlers (semazens) for Sema. At the present time, excellent musicians have been trained at schools and universities in Konya to play classical Mevlevi music, and there have been new generations of trained whirlers as well. As a result, there is a smaller percentage of musicians and whirlers who view themselves as Mevlevi (or who have had any additional Mevlevi training) than in the past. This matters little to the Turkish Government, which regards Sema as a form of “traditional Turkish folk dancing.”

Simply put, what tourists witness when they travel to Konya, Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey is not regarded as an authentic ‘sema’ by practicing Mevlevis.

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

One of my images from the ceremony we attended in Konya

The Mevlana Museum is the site of the former the headquarters of the Mevlevi order, and the tomb of Rumi (along with numerous other influential figures, including his father and son, and many others). The museum is a direct conversion and appropriation of the former lodge, as a museum space. The dervishes quarters are repurposed as viewing rooms for artifacts, organized by type or theme (musical instruments of the Mevlevi Order, paper documents, personal effects of Sultan Veled, ceremonial clothing, etc.) as well as a few rooms (as well as the kitchen) which are arranged “as they were” when the Order was legal. These are posed re-enactments, complete with dervish mannequins posed in ‘typical’ behavior misc-en-scenes— frozen in time.

the museum complex

the museum complex

 

Some of the affects of Shams - i- Tabriz

Some of the effects of Shams – i- Tabriz

 

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

Some of the many manuscripts displayed at the Museum

 

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

one of many mannequin displays in the former lodgings of Mevlevi dervishes

What I’ve described above greatly colored my experience in Konya. Yes, the ceremony was beautiful. The information the museum imparted was thorough and well organized. But (for example) did the ceremony need a state of the art sound system and LED light display?
IMG_1740
What did floating floral images of ebru (the Turkish art form of paper marbling) have to do with the union with God the ceremony represents? I wondered what Sultan Walad would’ve made of the booths full of artwork, jewelry and chotchkies crammed into the Cultural Centre lobby, or the jugs of (alleged) ‘zem-zem’  water available for purchase on the streets of Konya.

IMG_1857

 

For that matter, I especially wondered what my hundreds of fellow audience members thought of it, particularly those who were moved to tears during the ceremony, those weeping and praying at the site of his tomb, those who’d memorized and cherished the verses of a man who has inspired such a rich (and very much living) tradition….

the entrance to Rumi's tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: "ya Hazreti Mevlana"

the entrance to Rumi’s tomb. The large inscription above the door is an invocation: “ya Hazreti Mevlana”

Did any of that have anything to do with the tomb and ceremony I had traveled and paid money to witness? And I was paying money…

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi's tomb. Out of respect for the museum's regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

My photograph of a postcard (purchased at the gift shop of the museum) of Rumi’s tomb. Out of respect for the museum’s regulations, and more importantly, for those praying around me, I obliged the no photography rule.

Postulations about the tension between tradition and modernity are thrown around a lot by scholars in the humanities and social sciences…. My questions following the weekend weren’t quite so black and white. What of spectacle? What of contemplation? What of commercialism, for Christ’s sake?

Many questions from this magnificent weekend persist for me, and I hope to potentially conduct further research to understand the contemporary relationship between the Mevlevi tradition and the Turkish tourism industry. I’ll conclude this post with a short video of a man playing the ney (reed flute, a very special instrument within the tradition) from my visit to the Mevlana Museum, and one of the most famous verses from Rumi’s Mesnevi (taken from The Masnavi: Book One by Jawid Mojaddedi (pg. 4).

Note: The man in the video is a visitor of the museum, not employed or endorsed in any way. In retrospect, this impromptu performance was the most meaningful experience of the entire trip for me. This was not a professional whirler, or a staid and (forgive me) tacky mannequin, but an act of devotion. Disturbingly refreshing, and hauntingly beautiful.

Exordium: the song of the reed (1-4)

Now listen to this reed-flute’s deep lament

About the heartache being apart has meant

‘Since from the reed-bed they uprooted me

My song’s expressed each human’s agony

A breast which separation’s split in two

Is what I seek, to share this pain with you:

When kept from their true origin, all yearn

For union on the day they can return.

 

 

Istanbul (Marathon)’da Sonbahar

The weekend of the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon, a large group of Fulbrighters gathered in Istanbul to participate in the 10k and fun run. The Istanbul Marathon is the only day of the year when the famous Bosphorus Bridge is open to foot traffic, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to boast that we’d crossed continents (from Asia to Europe) by foot! It was an overwhelming weekend- my first time in Istanbul!!—complete with much reunion-ing with Fulbright friends from across Turkey, and coinciding with a visit from a college friend.

Here’s one of the thousands of songs that have been written about Istanbul (my roommate and I spent a  good portion of a night listening to a bunch to inspire me before my trip) that is also the inspiration for the title of this post (“Istanbul in Autumn”).

Because the weekend was so hectic, and I swore I’d be returning to Istanbul many times (always, always inshallah… and I have) sightseeing wasn’t my highest priority. However, I did manage to squeeze in some of the famous sights of Istanbul.

We spent one morning visiting the Istanbul Modern, where I was particularly blown away by the works of Erol Akyavas.

IMG_1427 IMG_1428

Sultan Ahmet Camii (aka the Blue Mosque) was built by grand architect Sedefhar Mehmet Aga between 1603-1617. It features a (potentially controversial) 6 minarets and tens of thousands of (primarily blue) Iznik tiles, hence the mosque’s unofficial namesake. While it is a stunning site (that I unfortunately did a terrible job photographing), its atmosphere is something less than reverential, especially for tourists who are herded through a side entrance en masse and trail their foot odors along with them.

IMG_1443 IMG_1441 IMG_1464 IMG_1467 IMG_1468 IMG_1467 IMG_1468

The Basilica Cistern is enjoying new fame thanks to it’s usage as a sight of intrigue in a recent Dan Brown novel. Known also by its Turkish name Yerebatan Sarnic(h)i, the Sunken Palace), it is essentially an ancient cistern formerly connected to numerous aqueducts; it was built originally to provide water for the Great Palace. It fell into formal disuse i the early Ottoman period, and was “rediscovered” in 1545 by a French academic who noticed the locals acquisition of fresh fish and water from what was then a formally unknown source: the cistern. The site was restored in 1987 and now features dramatic lighting which illuminates the diverse 336 columns, many of which (especially the two featuring the head of Medusa) were clearly sourced from other temples and buildings.

IMG_1445 IMG_1457 IMG_1463 IMG_1447

As I was walking back from Sultan Ahmet to catch the tram back to the Taksim district to meet up with Fulbrighters, I happened to notice the Sublime Porte, (in Ottoman Turkish and for my Arabic readers, باب عالی ) which was the formal entrance to the offices of state affairs in Ottoman times, and thus served as its metonym. The area now houses the governor of Istanbul, so Wikipedia tells me.

IMG_1483

Güzel, değilmi?

Unfortunately my phone (read: camera) was dead so I don’t have many pictures of the marathon itself, however, I’m stealing some from my homegirl, the talented Sophia Yapalater to give you a small glimpse into what we experienced.

1472061_10201324260933432_186891043_n

I participated in what was advertised as the 8k Fun Run… I showed up in tennis shoes, my blue Fulbright Turkey teeshirt gifted by the Commission for the occasion, and athletic gear, prepped for a very long slog, having not done much to prep for the run. Upon arrival though, it became clear that actually running the fun run was very much optional. To be honest, it felt more like participating in a bizarre parade with no clear agenda.

It was as though someone had taken a cross section of civil society in Istanbul, of Turkey, and put (most of) them in tennis shoes, and said, “there will be thousands of people from around Turkey and the world, what do you want them to know or care about? Who wants a weird and un-matchable experience?” We saw lots of groups of schoolchildren walking with their teachers singing nursery rhymes, women’s groups (religiously affiliated and not) in matching scarves or teachers, supporters of environmentalism, swarms of people supporting charities that work with children with disabilities and more…. We also saw expressions like the one pictured below, complete with printed yellow and black R4BIA logos pinned to the backs of mostly younger men. That hand gesture is now in fact illegal in Egypt itself, but I’ve seen the logo stickered all over Turkey- in windows of restaurants or clothing stores, graffiti-ed onto walls, plastered at the entrance to apartment buildings, etc, in places as wide ranging as Istanbul, Konya, Ankara, and Urfa. Even though I’m not sure I can fully articulate why yet, I get a kind of sick and torn feeling in my stomach every time I see it.

1450130_10201324258253365_1009387931_n(Photo cred Sophia Yapalater; an excellent shot of a protester throwing up R4BIA).

1476534_10201324257733352_960293886_n

Walkers waving Turkish flags at the start line. Photo credit: Sophia Yapalater

1457457_10151829772048121_637507098_n (1)

A group shot of all the Fulbrighters participating in marathon events (1/2 marathon, 10k, and fun run) with a representative of the Commission in Taksim Meydani before heading off to the race!

A great first experience of Istanbul, with great memories and the foundation for more to come.

Bambaşka Biri

I’ll get back to posting stories and photos from my travels this winter soon, I promise! I’ve been having some issues trying to figure out cost-effective video sharing on WordPress, and so I’ll be launching a new YouTube channel that’s specifically devoted to videos from my travels across the region. In the meantime, I wanted to share this video clip, filmed by Sophia Yapalater and her i Phone (thanks girl!) at the Turkish Fulbright Commission’s ETA Mid Year Meeting Talent Show.

Bambaşka Biri is a very well known and loved Turkish cover of Gloria Gaynor’s classic “I Will Survive,” popularized by Ajda Pekkan, with many others covering the hit as well. The members of the K-Town crew thought our collective experiences in theater and show choir should come in handy during our year here, so we choreographed and buffed up this little number for our friends. Hope you enjoy!

Dipping My Toes in the Aegean

Representing Kenyon on the Aegean shoreline

Representing Kenyon on the Aegean shoreline

Last weekend my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and I went on our first big adventure away. Two of our colleagues in the English language department were delivering a paper they co-authored at a conference at Muğla Sitman Koç University. It just so happens that we have two fellow Fulbrighters placed there who could put us up. Seizing the opportunity, we loaded onto an 11 p.m. bus from Ankara (which we also reached by bus) and headed to Muğla (pronounced “moo-la”)!

on the road to Muğla

on the road to Muğla

the bus get's a washing at a 3 a.m. stop. buses here don't have bathrooms on them, so the buses stop every few hours for 15-30 minute breaks.

the bus get’s a washing at a 3 a.m. stop. buses here don’t have bathrooms on them, so the buses stop every few hours for 15-30 minute breaks.

The three of us all live with English-speaking Turkish colleagues, and we speak English all day while teaching, so it is too easy to remain in our linguistic comfort zone in K-Town. (Relatively of course… our co-workers are essentially the only English speakers in the whole city. Basic interactions to buy groceries, ride the bus to the university, etc. all require some basic Turkish, but not much.) Traveling is an awesome way for us to get out, practice/ be forced to communicate in Turkish, explore new places, and learn more about ourselves, each other, and this beautiful country, Turkey, in which we now live.

A consequence of what we're calling "linguistic impotency..." handing my ohio id to the bus ticket man to help him spell my name resulted in this new persona: Bayan (Ms.) Tess River.

A consequence of what we’re calling “linguistic impotency…” handing my ohio id to the bus ticket man to help him spell my name resulted in this new persona: Bayan (Ms.) Tess River.

Muğla is a small city in the Southern Aegean region. Actually, we spent most of our time in Akyaka (pronounced ah-key-ah-ka), a small resort enclave on the coast, where our FF (Fulbright friend/s) are living. Though I knew, of course, that the living situation of each Fulbrighter varies widely depending on placement city, I couldn’t help but groan with envy while stretched out in my bathing suit with the sun overhead by the swimming pool at his apartment Friday morning when we arrived. Like many Turkish cities, Akyaka is home to a crazy amount of stay cats and dogs, but we were additionally amused by the maybe 15 chickens one of FF’s neighbors keeps outside the house, where they wander around on the street!

Our Fulbright Friend's placement university

Our Fulbright Friend’s placement university

In the afternoon we hopped on a dolmuş(minibus) to head to Mugla University, where we met up with our K-Town colleagues, explored campus, had a nice lunch together, and attended our colleagues’ presentation.

campus

campus

The conference at which our colleagues spoke

The conference at which our colleagues spoke

Later that evening, the whole K-Town crew and FF enjoyed a lovely waterfront seafood dinner in Akyaka along the Azmak River, where we were entertained by hordes of ducks who strategically float around, hoping for bits of ekmek (bread) to be thrown their way by diners. After parting ways with our colleagues, we set out to indulge in a luxury K-Town doesn’t afford: local watering holes.

The crew "rolls deep" exploring Akyaka

The crew “rolls deep” exploring Akyaka

The Azmak River in Akyaka

The Azmak River in Akyaka

The view from dinner

The view from dinner

my dinner

my dinner

The next morning the K-Town Krew + FF smashed on an amazing Turkish breakfast, a standard meal and cultural practice which warrants its own treatment in a separate blog post. With the sustenance it deliciously and inexpensively afforded (about $4 USD/person, in a resort town on a Saturday morning!), we set off for the beach.

turkish breakfast!

turkish breakfast!

The waterfront at Akyaka is certainly one of, if not the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We hiked up through a nearby park, and were able to get a number of great shots of the water, and the area. There was a kite-surfing competition happening about two miles away, which was cool to watch from a high vantage point. This region is known as “the Turquoise Coast” for a reason! I’ll let these pictures do the talking.

#nofilter

#nofilter

Akyaka

Akyaka

Akyaka

Akyaka

all smiles on the Turquoise Coast!

all smiles on the Turquoise Coast!

kite surfers!

kite surfers!

Later that evening, on invitation from FF’s awesome landlord and a group of friendly ERASMUS (a European university exchange program) students, a crew of us boarded a rented minibus bound for Marmaris, a nearby resort town known, among other things, for its nightlife. We boogied at an open air disco named “Crazy Daisy” (hilarious). In the not so wee hours of the morning we headed back to Akyaka, grabbed a few hours of sleep, and headed to the Mugla bus station for the bus ride back to Ankara, which I thought might never end.

Crazy Daisy

Crazy Daisy

Overall, an awesome weekend in a beautiful place with great people. What more could I ask for?

A new tradition: K-Town Kids pose with Ataturk in every city they visit. Many more to come!

A new tradition: K-Town Kids pose with Ataturk in every city they visit. Many more to come!

Türkiye’ye hoş geldiniz (Welcome to Turkey)

I’ve been in Turkey for almost two weeks now… here’s the recap.

I’m Flying Away

My flight took me from DCA, Reagan National Airport, to JFK in New York City, to Rome, to Istanbul, and finally to Ankara. I met one of my fellow Fulbrighters in JFK while waiting to receive boarding passes, and from there our group kept growing with each flight. BY the time we arrived to Istanbul, there were at least 20 of us all traveling together. It was a bit of an ordeal there: we had to go through customs and collect all of our baggage, then re-check it all on a domestic flight (Istanbul to Ankara). This was my first time attempting to speak Turkish to native speakers. I was able to (somewhat) successfully use basic greetings, numbers, and direction phrases to check and pay for my baggage, find my next flight, and navigate the airport. From the airport in Ankara we took a shuttle bus to a bus station, and then shared taxis to our hotel.

IMG_0337

Orientation 101

view from my hotel room

Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, was the location for our ten day orientation program, arranged by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. Niza Park Otel, in Çankaya district, served as headquarters for our massive group of 77 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). We shared rooms in the hotel, were served fabulous buffet meals consisting primarily of authentic Turkish foods 3 times each day, and had orientation meetings and training sessions from 9-5 in a basement conference room. The sessions were grueling, but very thorough, intensive, and necessary. They spanned a range of topics, including the history and current political climate in Turkey, the structure of the Turkish educational system, intensive Turkish language instruction, and workshops and training related to our purpose here in Turkey, namely, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). We had the opportunity to have frank and enlightening conversations with Turkish educators and political scientists as well as American diplomats about various ongoing geo-political concerns. We were given a number of supplemental teaching materials during orientation, 2 novels about Americans in Turkey, and a beginner’s Turkish textbook and workbook.

a sample of the delicious meals served at orientation

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning Turkish. It is an agglutinating language, meaning that suffixes are attached to words to modify and create new ones, as in German. While the grammar is very straightforward, with very few exceptions, it can be daunting to face down long words with seemingly endless strings of consonants. In addition, Turkish has systems of vowel and consonant harmony which is essentially a formula that determines spelling for suffixes (more to come on that later… I understand the concept but definitely haven’t mastered it in practice yet). It has also been fun for me to discover shared vocabulary and cognates between Arabic and Turkish… though the grammar is quite different, I think it is definitely giving me a leg up on vocabulary in come contexts. For example, the TV show currently on in the background is called Intikam, which I knew to mean “revenge” without having to consult a dictionary. You can expect to read much more about the Turkish language, and its parallels with Arabic as my year here progresses.

Field Trips and Nighttime Escapades

My time in Ankara confirmed the cliché that sometimes the best learning happens outside the classroom. In addition to our daytime “dungeon sessions,” as they came to be known, various excursions were also organized on our behalf. One evening our group walked to the home of an American diplomat, where we had a lovely reception and were able to speak with people with a wide range experiences in the Foreign Service. This reception was followed by a delicious authentic Turkish meal in a restaurant, complete with meze (appetizers), a main course with meat, dessert, and rakı, an aniseseed liquor I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with previously in Lebanon, where it is known as araa’(k).

We also took a trip during the daytime to Anıtkibir, the mausoleum and museum dedicated to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The massive complex is visually stunning, and includes the War of Independence Museum, dedicated to Ataturk and the founding of the Turkish Republic more generally. The museum included items belonging to Atatürk (the jewelry, household items, and clothing were my favorites) and murals and artifacts depicting the battle at Çanakkale, and more. I also loved the intricate mosaics which adorned the ceiling of one portion of the site.

A view of Ankara from Anıtkabir

close-up of mosaic tile ceiling

close-up of mosaic tile ceiling

a child at Anitkabir

a child at Anitkabir

In addition, we visited 2 other museums. One was the private collection of Rahmi M. Koç, who we were told we could think of as something of a Turkish Rockefeller. It is an industrial museum, with various cultural collections related to industrialization, education, home life, pop culture and more. For example, one room consisted entirely of model trains from various eras and places; another began with typewriters and ended with Atari video game sets. At this museum, which was housed in an old, beautiful çengelhan, we also had an elaborate restaurant meal.

the  evolution of typing machines at RMK Museum

the evolution of typing machines at RMK Museum

We also visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. I particularly enjoyed this museum because I spent my time there glued to the side of a fellow Fulbrighter who had studied Hittite language and culture for her major at the University of Chicago. Exploring this museum with her was the dual experience of having a personal tour by an expert, and watching a kid in a candy store… but with 10 times that excitement level. Because we only had a short time there, I intend to go back to the museum again with her when we are all gathered in Ankara this winter for our mid-term session with the Commission.

Hittite Artifacts

Hittite Artifacts

Bronze Tablet

Bronze Tablet

I learned from my time in Beirut that the fastest and most effective way to meet new people and get used to trying out a new language is by hitting the town. Beginning on my very first night, fellow Fulbrighters who’ve spent time in Ankara before helped show me the ropes and take advantage of everything Ankara has to offer, introducing me to local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Ankara is especially known for its live music scene, and I got to hear many different examples of this, including Turkish pop and rock (sing-alongs, maybe the equivalent of the way my family sings along at the Village Idiot in Maumee), something like a funk-soul jam band, covers of American pop by a live band, DJs, and an epic heavy metal band with a badass female vocalist! Hearing all this awesome music must have inspired me, because I even got the nerve up to sing karaoke at a nightclub in the trendy Kızılay district. Turns out that even around 3 a.m., Turks know all the words to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics… I only wish all the Chasers had been there to harmonize the breakdowns with me! Groups of us Americans made some awesome memories exploring Ankara in this way, and I was able to make connections with some people that I hope to strengthen throughout the year (it’s only an hour away).

Re-orienting Myself

Every day has been full of excitement, challenges, epiphanies and memory lapses (they say you need to use new vocabulary 10-15 times in context before it sticks!). Though sometimes things are not always ideal, I am making a concerted effort to view the silver lining in each new circumstance as it arises- not a bad way to approach life no matter where you are. (A gross example: my new apartment has only a Turkish toilet… my legs will be much stronger upon my return!) A few weeks before my departure, when I was very stressed and anxious, my friend, colleague and roommate gave me some very sage advice. He said, in effect, Tess, you can either sit here making yourself sick with worry, or you can start to take measures, however small, to prepare yourself. He was absolutely right, and I’ve needed to make that attitude something of a modus operandi here so far. When that isn’t sufficient, I engage in the Turkish practice of taking a break with a cup of tea or Turkish coffee. My friends here and I keep reminding ourselves how hard we will laugh at ourselves when we look back on these first few weeks at the end of this adventure…
I’ve settled into an apartment with a very sweet Turkish colleague of mine here in Kırıkkale, and as of today I have internet access here at home. (Yay!!!) Expect much more to come (hopefully with more regularity) on the Turkish language, the city of Kırıkkale and its university where I will be teaching (classes start Monday!), music, culture, my travels, and, of course, food. Until then, as we say here, güle güle (bye bye!) and iyi gecelar (good night!)