Öğrenciler A-Punk yapiyor.

Sometimes, when I’m coming back to the ‘dag after a weekend of blissful metropolitan immersion, I run into a student or two. My students are university level, but some of them really give me a run for my money when it comes to a contest of who has poorer foreign language skills: me or them.

After nearly eight months here, my Turkish is okay. I speak competent survival Turkish. My vocabulary is typically restricted to food, transportation, and the general language necessary to explain who I am and what I do. Turkish is simply too different from English for me to pick it up the way one does a romance language (I did learn French in about 4 months.)

Sometimes I feel bad laughing (to myself of course) at my students’ maiming of my mother tongue. Most still struggle to string a full sentence together, and they speak in fits and bursts of English peppered with the Turkish place holders şey and yani (think words like, like or well). When newbies come to visit (my sister and my colleague’s friend from NY) I realize the depth of this mutual dialect that has formed between us.

Sometimes Turkey is fun, sometimes its funny. Most of my students can’t keep these two words straight so our classes tend to be both. I constantly feel like Turkey is putting the finishing touches of the master bedroom skylight when the concrete of the basement is still wet. That is, they dream big. What they lack in followthrough they certainly possess in grandiose dreams. Where the US can’t imagine a university without internet, we’ve got internet, but what we don’t have is a constant flow of electricity.

We give exams four times a year, and on the last exam, there were several truly disheartening essays. I tend to laugh, thinking of my own idiocy in Turkish, but then I realize, I don’t attend 26 hours, per week, for two whole university semesters entirely dedicated to the learning of this foreign language. I speak about as much as my students and its all street Turkish.

Here are a few gems, they were responses to the question, “Please discuss the differences between home cooked food and fast food.”

There are several differences fast food firstly its make a food at night. My don’t home make food. Secontly I like fast food. Thrtly Burger King is a very delicious and opened servis at night finally my favorite burger is King Chicken.

This contains the common half-thoughts, disordered sentences, and replacement of the English word (take out) with the Turkish word servis.

I think discuss the differences between home-made food. Because. My mother beautiful home-made, first of all differences between delicious home-made, secondly, I eat vegetables diet because “sağlıklı”. Thirdly, discuss the differences between fast food fry (yağlı.) After, Home-made is cook funny and very good, finally home-made is health cook.

Turkish doesn’t distinguish between good, well, lovely, or beautiful, they typically employ the word güzel, hence the “beautiful home-made.” They also seem to have the perpetual problem of not distinguishing between “fun” and “funny” which turns out to be both fun and funny for me.

There are several discuss the differences between fast food and home-made food. First, fast food is fat, similarly home-made food likewise. Secondly, fast food and home-made food is very health. Because they are very fat. Thirdly, fast food and home-made are very special. Finally.

They love, love, love, love to begin sentences with “Because”, alas I am but one person attempting to hold back the deluge of fragmented sentences, but I guess when looking at all the other problems they have, fragmented sentences is only the beginning.

These are the real gems of hilarity, their style (unintentionally) creates a bit of a good time for the grader, and what other students lack in style, they typically make up in grammatical errors.So imagine my surprise when, this morning, grading the homework, a student, exasperated asked me to please explain what the reading was about. I flipped to the page and saw the following passage:

GENETIC MANIPULATION

Ever since man the hunter and gatherer gave up his nomadic way of life

and began to tend stock and grow crops, he has been involved with genetic

manipulation. Firstly, in ignorance, simply by choosing to rear particular

animals or plants which were in some way advantageous to his developing

lifestyle, and then much later, since the science of genetics began to

develop, man has been engaged in breeding programmes designed to

produce varieties of plants and animals exhibiting the specific

characteristics which fit them to his various needs.

As man’s exploitation of natural resources has continued and industries

have developed based on the synthetic ability of micro-organisms,

particularly the bacteria and fungi, his need for knowledge of the

fundamental principles of the genetics of these organisms has increased and

the new science of molecular genetics has emerged. The discipline seeks to

understand the molecular base of inheritance and the way in which the

information encoded by deoxy-ribonucleic acid (DNA) is utilized by the

living cell.

Advances in the field of recombinant DNA research over the past decade

have given the geneticist the techniques required to mobilize individual

genes, that is, specific sequences of DNA which code the amino acid

structure of single proteins, and then transfer these genes from a donor to a

recipient organism, thus conferring on the recipient the ability to synthesize

the gene product. This is the practice of genetic manipulation as we

understand the term today and which has become a cornerstone of the new

Biotechnology. Now, in addition to searching in nature for wild

micro-organisms capable of producing specific products, a process which is

often long and tedious and sometimes unrewarding, microbial hosts can be

tailored for specific purposes by introducing foreign genes into them. The

source of this foreign DNA can be microbial, animal, or plant and thus

microbial hosts can be converted into biosynthetic factories capable of

making a wide diversity of materials needed in every aspect of our lives

from food and fuel to agriculture and medicine.

What the hell?

I shrugged my shoulders, told my students that I studied French and International Politics, not biology (if that’s even what this falls under) and explained that they shouldn’t worry about not understanding since I, too, did not understand. It’s another case of building a skylight before the building’s foundation is completed.

Now, all that said, my better-performing students have been writing and acting out dialogues this week. The prompt? “You are meeting your girl/boyfriend’s parents.” I wish I had brought a video camera, it was amazing. Common themes? The crazy father who threatens the life of his daughter’s boyfriend and the nutty mother-in-law who demands her new daughter-in-law quit her job and spend the rest of her life pregnant. An unexpected one? A group of three who decided to act out two lesbians meeting one of the girlfriend’s father. The father was attempting to stay calm and understanding but after hearing his daughter’s girlfriend “doesn’t drink water, and only drinks alcohol” and that she “smokes all day” and that she’s an “artist” he finally declared, “If I had 100 daughters I wouldn’t give one of them to you.”

I still have no idea if my students enjoy my classes or if they loathe them. I make them draw mutant animals, write and act out love scenes, I force them to pantomime verbs for which they can’t find synonyms, and I myself act out some comically embarrassing situations (to give birth, to have diarrhea, to beg.) The more they learn, the more fun we can have.

They have started understanding my jokes, they have also started firing back some pretty good retorts. For example, one student looks like he has been picked off a ranchero somewhere in the desert between the US and Mexico, he’s got the pony tail, the skin color and the cool attitude of a rancher. One student called him Juan the Mexican to which the young man laughed, saying yes, he agrees he looks Mexican. We started talking about the diversity of skin color, since my students are quite diverse. Another student, F. we’ll call him, walks in late. He looks like an Irish farmer (mutton chops and all) and I said so to him. He paused for a second and said, “Well teacher, you’re right. My great-great-great-grandfather is come from Ireland”, to which I answered, “Mine too! We must be family!”

My students make me nuts more often than not, but they can be pretty damn funny. This morning I heard Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk coming from my colleague’s office. A bunch of teachers were crowded around his desk watching this:

I’m thinking we might have to organize something equally awesome. Ideas?

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The Curious Case of the Missing Wallet

Cell phones in Europe have a little security setting that I really am not fond of. They require a pin code each time you power up, and since I am highly forgetful and automatically misplace everything important, my phone is often out of commission.

In the US, I can’t imagine not having my phone on me at all times, but here I will leave it turned off for four or five days at a time, all without realizing it. The only three people entities that routinely call/message me are:

  1. My American colleague Sherri, but since we share an office and an apartment and a social circle, its rarely a problem
  2. My former boss who incessantly, almost obsessively wants to feed me
  3. My network provider Turkcell who sends along savings packages for their Gnctrkcll (if it looks like an intimidating word, its hip turk lingo for Genç Turkcell meaning Young Turkcell) that I don’t understand.

The other day, though, I needed my phone and when I found it, the thing was dead. I went to power it up, but of course, that required the pin code. I took to keeping my pin code in my wallet, since it seems like a safe place for important things. I went hunting for it (a nearly daily activity) but was unable to figure out where I had put it.

I sat there on the couch, running through the day, thinking about the last time I had definitely used my wallet. It was that evening when I bought wine for a friend’s party. I had put it down while I packed my groceries and, well, I thought I had picked it up, but maybe not?

It was too late to go back to the market that night, but I figured, meh tomorrow I’ll go. I have actually only lost my wallet twice, which may sound like a lot, but let me reiterate how comically scatterbrained I am. The first time I was 17 and it fell out of my bag while I was in a restaurant, and the second was in college, I didn’t care so much about my wallet as I did my car keys, which I needed to drive five friends to a John Mayer concert that night.

I wasn’t worried at all about finding my wallet, really. I figured it would work out. Which, makes me think of the 30 Rock skit with Kenneth:

I’d like to think that I’m not as naive as Kenneth, since in NYC I would be a basket case if I had lost my wallet, but there’s something about Turks and Turkey that made me far less worried:

  • My net worth is not enough that I fear someone stealing my credit cards.
  • My bank freezes the card every time I use it, even though I continually reassure them that I live in Turkey, I’m sure no crazy Turk could buy much of anything before Bank of America put the kibosh on their spending spree.
  • My name is absolutely not Turkish, at all. There is no way someone could pass as me.
  • But, perhaps most importantly: Turks are outrageously honest when it comes to money.

For example, the second time I came to Turkey, I took a city bus alone to meet up with my friend who was taking classes during the morning. The bus was so packed that people couldn’t enter from the front, but rather stepped on in the middle and at the back. The driver seemed highly unfazed by this. Why? Because people pass forward their money.

Let me repeat that: People pass forward their money. To strangers. Who return their change.

If ever a time to ask, Where the hell am I, this is one.

So, there I was, wedged next to the driver, which meant I was the recipient of the cash, some people were passing forward 20 million TL notes (sounds like a ton, it was roughly $17 at the time.) I had no trouble passing money back to its owner, but something in me would never, ever trust a stranger with $16.25 in change.

Since 2008, the system has been updated, but the system is still, at its core, the same. First, the government eliminated six zeroes off the end of the lira, reducing the price of a beer from five million TL to five. Second, people now have a little fob that they can add credit to, so most commuters pay digitally for their public transportation. This means that while some pass forward cash, others pass forward their house/car/work keys that are all attached to their fob, to strangers.

Wha whaa?

So, I went to the market the next morning, when I walked in, the cashier immediately told me she had my wallet. She handed it back to me, and as I walked through the store, picking up a few things, I discreetly checked the contents. Yup, it was all there, including the cash. As I went through the checkout line, I put my wallet down as I packed the groceries into my bag. The cashier picked up the wallet, and with a smirk on her face, she handed it to me, saying, “Don’t forget this.”

Kötü Kuaförü or The Centennial Haircut

Back in October, my colleague and partner in crime, Sherri and I decided to go on a hunt for the elusive Lojman. The Lojman was rumored to be our future home, and after about six weeks in mediocre hotels, we were ready to move out. The problem was, nobody would give us a straight answer, “Oh, yes yes, you will go to your lojman in two or three weeks.” And, after a month and a half of this, we decided to do some digging ourselves. Unfortunately, nobody could give us a straight answer as to where the building could be located. The only information we could obtain was that it was located somewhere in the neighborhood of 100. Yıl, a comical name meaning literally “100 years”, though we later discovered it also means “Centennial.” Really though, what a kooky name. I guess a neighborhood like this only crops up once in a hundred years (it would be a lot funnier if you had any idea what this neighborhood was like…)

We waited at the central bus station for a bus to take us to this 100 years locale, and we randomly got off in what we guessed to be the middle of the neighborhood. We walked around for a good hour and were never able to find the Lojman, but today, I revisited the location.

But first the back story.

I have short hair. Back in February, I decided that enough was enough, and that it was time to get my hair cut. After about five months with no cut (when I typically cut it every four to six weeks) I was looking less than stellar. I asked around and was recommended to hit a place off of famed İstiklal Sk. We agreed on a bob, after reviewing photographs in a magazine.

About 45 minutes later, the Kuaför had cut a spiraling design into my hair. Starting at the base of my shoulder on the right side of my head, he worked his way around on an incline, finally chopping the hair on the left side to a length of barely two inches.

Loud protestations, curse words and physical threats ensued.

Eventually, his boss was able to compel him to level out the cruel mess, but I was left resembling teenage heart-throb Justin Beiber (pre-haircut).

As a twenty-something woman, this was not a welcome physical transformation.

Two months on, and I have finally replenished enough of my hair to have a go again. So, this afternoon, we found ourselves in the same place we had been back in October, a good half-mile from the Lojman’s actual location, standing outside of the Bayan Kuaförü.

Unfortunately, my luck the second time around was not much better than the first.

After the poor hairdresser looked my head over, muttering to my (phenomenal and patient) colleague Suzan about the horrid cut I currently had, we attempted to salvage the ‘do. Unfortunately, I am still not able to advocate for myself in the hairdresser’s, which allowed two of the three cardinal rules of haircutting to be broken

  1. No shaving my neck. If you need to shave my neck, it’s too short. Don’t do it.
  2. No bangs. Ever. Under any circumstances.
  3. No color. I will stab you with your own scissors and leave you to die in a pool of your own blood.

The razor came out before I realized what was happening and the bangs, well, the bangs slowly emerged over the hour she widdled away all the hair I have spent the last two months growing.

So now, rather than Justin Beiber, I look like Dorothy Hammil. I have a glorified bowl cut, though I do have the promises of the hairdresser that once the hair grows out a tad more, she’ll style it better.

So, the question is, is the third time a charm, or should I cut my losses (quite literally) and wait ‘til I’m back home where I can verbally abuse my hair dresser until she damn well does something correctly. It’s a Centennial Haircut really, a haircut that should only occur once in 100. Yıl(s).

Here for your viewing pleasure is my former doppelganger Justin Beiber featuring Usher in Somebody to Love.

Efendim?

Note: “Efendim?” meaning literally “My lord?” is the question asked on the following occasions:

1. When answering the phone.
2. When you didn’t hear what someone has said.
3. When a truly absurd thing has been done/said.


Istanbul is only a two-hour bus ride away from me. This is both essential and detrimental to my mental health and overall well-being.

I’m not a hard and fast ex-pat, thrusting myself into the culture; there is no risk of me going native. But, I like to think that I offer my new acquaintances a better view of Americans. We don’t all go around sporting teevas and tube socks, some of us are aware of the differences between the MHP and the AKP, some of us know to cover our heads and remove our shoes in a place of worship. Some of us can navigate the dolmus. These are my badges of honor, and they are the recognized social currency here.

This past weekend, it was a friend’s birthday in Istanbul. This always offers me the chance to escape the ‘dağ, if for a night, and to make the acquaintance of ex-pats who enjoy patting themselves on the back for living full time in Turkey. When they cast me a commiserative glance, offering a hand of friendship in the midst of this perceived insanity and foreignness, I balk at the gesture.

Now don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is not New York, Paris or London, to be sure, but it’s fun to remind these ex-pats that they do not in fact live in Turkey.

I should also say that Tekirdağ is not Yozgat, it is not Bayburt, it is not Iğdir. I do not live in Batman or Diyarbakir. I do not live in Kirklareli. What makes Tekirdağ so comical is that it is almost near Istanbul, but it is still so far.

Case and point: the current yardstick used in the measurement of Tekirdağ’s modernity? Burger King. Upon arriving, my new friends and colleagues pointed out the two (count ‘em: TWO!) Burger Kings to prove I had chosen my location well. They aren’t backwards villagers—they have Burger King.

My point being, while I may refrain from gorging myself on fast food, I am not roughing it.

Whenever speaking to a new acquaintance, my job and location in Turkey are bound to come up. Because I spend the day talking in some pidgin language with my beginner Turkish students, my social skills have suffered. When I speak with someone who doesn’t require the grand pantomime and song and dance I typically must employ to make myself understood, the flood gates open and the little glimpses of my life come tumbling out tend to shock and horrify

On Saturday it all started well, I spoke about our flat, which by the good graces of my university comes rent-free. It is perched on a hill overlooking the Marmara. The downside is that the enormous and active international shipping port obscures our view. There isn’t a morning where I am not awoken by the sounds of chains lifting cargo, trucks carting supplies and foghorns tooting hello/goodbye.

Quaint, my new friend thought, but then the story took a turn for the Turkish: This past week we had the good fortune of playing host to a cruise ship. A cruise ship of cows. A cruise ship of cows whose stench descended on the city and refused to dissipate. So rather than smelling of coal or the local spirit known as raki, we had the putrid stench of bovine refuse wafting through the cracks in the windows and seeping into my hair and clothes. While my new friend’s eyes widened and he gulped down the wine remaining in his glass, I carried on unabated.

On Saturday morning, while I sipped my coffee in the living room, I heard the familiar sound of the local simitci, the simit seller who happens to be a 13/14 year-old gypsy boy. What makes him particularly interesting is that he sounds like a goat. He comes bleating down the hill “Simiiiiiiiiiiit! Simiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” For months we thought he was in fact a goat, which in a city of 130,000 should be relatively unexpected, except that this is Tekirdağ. Up the street we have a rooster that sounds sunrise well after the sun has risen, we have horse-drawn carts driven down the highway by 10 year-old boys, we have old men who sell, kill and pluck chickens on the street corner.

My new friend mumbled something about getting a refill, and never came back. But I wasn’t finished

Yesterday my (American) colleague and I braved the gray weather and headed to a tea garden. While sipping tea out of our miniature, curved tea glasses, we noticed two cats eyeing a large black trash bag. Moments later, a man opened the bag and pulled out a three-foot long shark. He showed it off to his friends, gripping it by the tail fin wriggling it back and forth, mocking its demise as it dangled limp and lifeless. The other patrons continued to sip their tea. We sat there, aghast.

Sometimes we benefit from these little oddities: yesterday we met a neighbor for the first time and, thirty minutes later he appeared in our doorway with two plates of food: lahana sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and ground meat) and ispanak böreği (spinach rolled pastry with cheese) both still piping hot.

Most of the comical things I experience are those so small and so subtle that they’re hard to explain. Like, today the toilets in our wing of the building aren’t working. “Eh, you know” our boss told me, “it’s a new building.” Yes, I am aware. So shouldn’t the toilets work?

There’s also the daily standoff between my colleague, whose desk is less than organized, and our cleaning lady, whose very existence is predicated upon her ability to create and maintain a spotless Yabanci Diller Yuksekokulu (Foreign Language School). Every day the kindly lady picks through my colleague’s desk like an overbearing parent, peppering my colleague with questions, Is this trash? Is this? How about this? Do you need this? And, like clockwork, my colleague fends off the woman’s attempts at orderliness.

These are the things that make up my life here; these are the things that leave me in stitches.

Efendim? I ask myself rhetorically.