Kareteci Kız

This got posted by a friend on Facebook and I nearly died laughing.


I enjoy the title because it sounds quite like the “Karate Kid” and I love me some Mr. Miyagi. I prefer the one with Hilary Swank, which works here since she’s a Kareteci Kız. Also, the thought of a Turkish version of the Karate Kid would probably be spectacular. It would also likely be very sad, and would end with the brutal murder of every main character.There would be  a lot of shots of Ataturk, who would be revealed at some pivotal point to have been an excellent Karate master, freshly inspiring the main character to follow through and prevail. But, like I said, he will die a cold death anyway.

After watching the clip above I was curious, so I googled the film and was brought to the IMDB page which reveals the following:

Zeynep lives with his old father. She has lost her ability to speak because of an accident. She needs an operation in order to be able to talk again. One day, five prison fugitives come to their house and kill Zeynep’s father. The fugitives take their money and attack Due to the shock, Zeynep regains her ability to speak. The fugitives are arrested but Zeynep wants to take revenge, therefore she says that the fugitives are not the ones who have attacked them. The police appoints Murat to make her give a statement. Murat teaches her how to use a gun and some karate, but she still doesn’t know he is a cop. They fall in love and decide to get married. On their wedding, the prisoners kill Murat. Nothing can stop Zeynep now from taking revenge. She becomes a policewoman and traces the fugitives one by one.

Gender confusion and comically short/incomplete sentences aside, this description is interesting. I have the following comments:

  1. Why does she need to lose the ability to speak?
  2. Under what circumstances would a presumably psychosomatic speech problem be curable through surgery?
  3. Yay extra-judicial justice!
  4. Why is a police officer teaching a crime victim how to use a gun?
  5. Why does he know karate?
  6. Of course they want to get married. Of course.
  7. What is on that guy’s face? Is this like that horrible shaved eyebrow craze? It kind of reminds me of Seneca Crane in the Hunger Games:


Right? Right?


Mişmiş or A case of double hearsay

Lately there has been one hell of a disturbance in my napping. I get home from work at 6, and I typically sprawl out on my couch after a day of sitting and staring at the wall, and pass out for a half hour to an hour while I listen to Martha Stewart explain how to butcher a pig or make a home-made leather apron for gardening (you can wipe them clean!)

Because its been hotter than hell, I like to crack the window, especially before the bugs get going. But, for the last month or so, my napping has been rudely interrupted by the incessant blaring music coming out of giant vans with huge speakers mounted on the roof: Electionmobiles. Shoot me. Please?

There is a national election here in Turkey on June 12, so now in addition to the call to prayer, I have the slogans of the AKP, CHP, MHP, BDP, HAS, the SDP, a marginalized socialist-leaning party with a blue flag with a dove–more like a girl-scout logo than a political slogan. All this campaigning is making me grouchy.

While discussing this yesterday with my friend Sasha, who worked in Bartin (near Zonguldak, though that’s probably not helpful either) she told me of this AKP ad with a super traditional song. She loved the music, and has been humming it to herself as she strolls around Istanbul. No, that’s normal, I told her.

The AKP is the ruling party that is expected to decimate the rest of the field, possibly giving them a 2/3 majority needed to push through any legislation desired. And, while this happens from time to time in the good ‘ole USA, its quite a rarity here, in a country with so many parties. And, it kind of sucks when one party tyrannizes another. The words translate roughly to: “In the same way we are history, we drank the same water, one part of a summer, we are the same mountain breeze. Got to give Erdo some credit, even if he is a loony toon (please don’t sue me?)

The CHP is the former ruling party, its a the slightly more liberal, and significantly less religious party. The Economist recently wrote an article that called on the CHP to get their shit together to protect a number of social freedoms currently being cut by the AKP. It slammed the AKP for their recent attack on journalists, and restored my faith in western perceptions of Turkey, especially after having read this vomit-inducing cotton candy piece from the NY Times. In the ad, you hear the word “yasak” which means forbidden. The government just passed legislation that forbids a number of names in internet website domain names which include both the words yasak (forbidden) and nefes (breath), which coincidentally is part of the CHP’s slogan “Rahat bir nefes alacak” Take a fresh breath.

The MHP is the party I least understand, and their election song does nothing to help me understand them better. They’re the nationalist party, and were recently hit with a sex scandal (yes, they have those here too–though not as aptly named as Wienergate.) There is all kinds of speculation over who is responsible, but the fact of the matter is, the MHP was hit hard. And, while I am loath to support an ultra-nationalist party (especially as a foreign resident in this country), here’s an interesting article that makes a case for some support for the party if only to prevent said expected 2/3 majority that would be held by the AKP if MHP fails to secure the requisite 10% vote to keep their seats in parliament (their voters are most likely to swing to the AKP rather than other parties.)

What I love about the song though, is that its a mix of bad metal with rap. It sounds more like the background music to some summer thrasher movie than a campaign song for this guy:

No he's not at an Ozzie show, the devil horns are actually for his elite group within the MHP called the Grey Wolves.

In any case, Sasha and I were talking about this whole mess, and she sent me an article, where she was misquoted, after double hearsay brought news of her love for the AKP song to a less-than-thorough journalist (c’mon Turkey, its just sad really.) This is not the first time that Fulbrighters have ended up in the Turkish paper.

Back in November, a local lunatic in Karabuk published an article claiming that the 54 Fulbright teachers were actually… wait for it… CIA! She based this information on nothing more than the knowledge that there were 54 of us in small cities. The two Fulbrighters in Karabuk were hounded by locals who, in true Turkish fashion, latched onto the absurd conspiracy theory, and socially alienated them. Things only got worse when Milliyet, a national daily, picked up the story, and ran it. And, while the story was slightly better weighted, asking at least for the Rector’s input, it was a stupid, stupid article.

With the help of google translate (plus my own Turkish) this is more or less what the second half of the article said:

“Turkish people are hospitible, warm, loving and tolerant, I knew that, I also discovered that by living here. The 8th International Turkish Olypics official song “New World” song fascinated me. The emphasis on a new world based on love and peace was appealing. The AK Part’s fascinated and integrated advertisements said it again, “Love, unity and togetherness, nothing else. If I could vote in Turkey, this message would compel me to vote for AKP.”

Then there was something about slogans that I couldn’t figure out. I just love that she was quoted in this article, and while she may have said those thoughts about Turks for the paper, she specifically told her colleague that she would not like to be quoted in anything regarding politics, but as it turned out, it was too late. Since there doesn’t seem to be any kind of fact-checking department, Sasha officially supports the AKP…

Ode to T-dag.

Most people take care when choosing where to live, we’re inclined to take several issues into account: the size of the city, the city’s reputation, the cultural scene, any current acquaintances we could rely on. For expats, perhaps this list is a little longer and would include the language barrier, the presence/absence of war, the presence/absence of domestic terrorism, the new nation’s level of like/dislike of foreigners.

For me, however, I had no choice of home when I came to Turkey.

This creates an awkward situation whenever I meet new people, particularly Turks.

“Why Tekirdağ?”

“Well”, I stumble, “uh, see I work for YÖK [the Turkish Ministry of Higher Education], and, well, they chose Tekirdağ for me.”

To distract my new acquaintance from this less than flattering explanation, I typically start rattling off a litany of frightening cities throughout the nation where my less-fortunate colleagues were placed: a Jewish man who lives in Bayburt, home to the MHP (nationalist party); or Iğdır, a tiny village nestled up against the closed border with Armenia and the wide-open border with Iran; Ağrı, whose name literally means “pain” in Turkish; or the number of blonde ladies situated on the Black Sea coast who are frequently propositioned as Nataşa or hookers (one actually took a harasser to court and got him jail time.)

After this, I typically explain that, despite the fetid air (blackened by a city heated entirely with coal), the polluted waters (where Istanbul, the city of over 20 million, flushes its filth), the constant smell of fermenting rakı that hangs over our neighborhood, that despite the little roma children who cruise around on their horse drawn carriages, the feral dogs, the cats in heat, the burning trash, that Tekirdağ, really, in the grand scheme of things, is not so bad.

Perhaps I should say, I’m currently afflicted with a sense of nostalgia. One week from today, gidiyorum. I’m out. And, while my current plans have me hopping between the US and Turkey through the fall, it is certainly the end of an era.

My roommate moved out this morning. She packed her Turkish life in to five bags (yes, FIVE) wedged herself into a taxi and set off with her father for Istanbul.

I can’t say I’ll miss the apartment terribly. Our university, I should say, made every effort to make us feel at home. We have satellite TV with over 800 channels, though so far, I’ve only found five with consistant English language programming: Al-Jazeera English, BBC, E2, CNBC-e, and a creepy though soothing English-language Japanese culture channel. I did find ARTE, my favorite French/German culture channel which I use to keep my French from disintegrating. Then there’s the internet, without a proxy server we couldn’t access gmail, Facebook, twitter, or any site that required a form submission (airline websites, bus websites, etc.) There’s the light in the bathroom which blew sometime in January when we discovered the light fixture had been plastered onto the ceiling, so we’ve peed in the dark since then. About a month ago the hot water was cut, leaving us with icy showers. Though I have mastered the bucket shower: with the help of my electric kettle, I’ve got the whole thing down to 10 minutes and only about 5 liters of water. In the kitchen you can’t have the oven, refrigerator and TV going at once. And, the vacuum can be the only appliance running or it trips the fuse.

At work, things are only marginally better. Despite the fact that our building is only several months old (or perhaps because of it) things don’t work well. Apparently the plan was to include A/C, a revelation here in Turkey only very rarely experienced. It seems this plan was scrapped, but our floor-to-ceiling windows that don’t open were never redesigned. The eastern-facing classrooms roast the students in the morning sun, while the afternoon and evening classes gasp for air in the western-facing rooms. It would be nice if we could open a door at least, into the hall, but the whole building is made of uninsulated and exposed concrete (surprise surprise) which naturally causes sound to bounce and clamor from one room to the next, multiplying in strength as it travels. Our offices were hastily built with something that looks like an office do-it-yourself kit. The walls don’t reach the ceiling which makes for next-to-no privacy, leaving us all at the mercy of a poorly chosen ring tone, a professional spat, or for me, a complaining Skype date with a friend from home. Ultimately we’re all reduced to talking in code, whispering or not talking at all.

I was going to say I won’t miss my students terribly, but then this happened the other day:

IO-A, the best class ever, showed up to our last class wearing these.

And, a close up of a photo of me they sniped from Facebook.

So, perhaps this nostalgia got its start here. With a t-shirt with my face on it.

Then I went into the city yesterday to get some food for dinner. I missed the Thursday market, so I decided to wander down the main stretch and see what struck my fancy. In the end, and about 7 kilos of produce later, I had picked up strawberries from the district next to ours, fresh cherries being harvested for next week’s cherry festival (!!!!), apricots, a bundle of mint the size of my head, scallions, parsley, Israeli couscous, homemade beyaz peynir (white cheese, like feta), and a rotisserie chicken. In the piliç market, where I got the chicken, the vendor remembered me from November when I came in trying to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving. My Turkish was significantly less-developed and he understood that I was trying to sell a turkey, after which hilarity ensued. He genially chatted me up as he prepared the succulent little bird in paper for me to cart it home. Come back sooner, he said as I left.

And, after weeks of sifting through idiotic taxi drivers in Tekirdağ, Sherri stumbled upon a kindly old man who is based out of the bus station. The dear man chatted genially as he drove us around the city this week. And, on Tuesday when we went to a café across town, as he waited for us to come out and meet him, he plucked two roses from a nearby bush and offered them to us with a flourish and a bow. She enlisted his help for her epic trek to Istanbul. This morning as he hurled suitcase after suitcase into his compact car, securing the trunk with several bungee cords, and as he helped Sherri wedge herself in between a duffel and a little black Samsonite, I realized it was the end of something.

Perhaps its only when leaving a place that we give thought to the idea of home. I haven’t felt attached to Tekirdağ until recently. It was a place I needed to be during the week, and it was a place to be left behind when the weekend came. As the weather has gotten nicer, as my Turkish has improved, and as I have cemented friendships, I’m not sure what comes next.

I’m not overly sentimental, like I said, the coal-filled air will be of no loss to me, the stench of burning trash, the peeing in the dark, the cold showers, I will not miss these things. But, the human connections have been lovely and will be greatly and deeply missed. I’m not sure I would ever choose to live here again, but its been a good run Tekirdağ, and despite all your flaws, you’ll be missed.

Mangal me.

Mangal, its the hip new thing sweeping the ‘dağ. Rather than holding classes, my colleagues and our students have made dates to meet in the forest next to the university for mangal, or BBQ. With the temps up around 25 (75F) outside, our jail-cell classrooms are sweltering, and students have resolved to halt any and all learning until after the summer break. With only a few days left before exams, us teachers are at least as wiped as the kids, and we’re weak in the face of a class full of students promising charcoal-grilled chicken and fresh çoban salata.

I first fell victim to B-6’s scheming, and with my colleague Seda, we decided to cancel afternoon classes to provide ample time to relax under the shade of the trees, play jumprope and build fires. We met the students outside of the Maxi supermarket where our students had procured the worlds creepiest, if not largest van. 14 of us piled in.

Yes, 14.

We barreled down the highway, pulling a u-ey in the middle to dart down into the forest entrance. Smushed up against my students, with one (luckily female) wedged up against my chest, I felt my credibility collapsing around me. My fragile façade of serious-teacherness was totally abandoned, not that any of them had fallen for it before…

We piled out and the gender roles took over. The girls started chopping up the cucumbers, tomatos and onions for salad. Another whipped up a maranade for the chicken wings. While yet others laid out the various snacks meant to hold us over until the meat could be prepared. The boys set out for kindling for the grill, a little concrete box in the ground. They swept out the old ashes and piled up little sticks, dry pine needles, picking thicker branches and breaking them for later.

Seda and I, the guests of honor sat and watched the scene snacking: her on leblebi and I on roasted peanuts.

The girls had their task down and were quickly finished. They set up jumprope (yes, my students are 20.) The boys were having a significantly more difficult time with their gender-assigned task. Each time the fire began burning, they would dump enormous amounts of branches and leaves on the mess, hoping to build it up, but each and every time they smothered the smoldering pile. After watching this happen 2 times, with my stomach growling in anger, I finally stepped in.

Having grown up on Massachusetts’s South Shore, spending my summers BBQ-ing with friends and family, and in a house with three fireplaces yet no central heating I’m a bit of a fire-building champ. Whether in a firepit, in a fireplace, in an old-fashioned stove I can get one going.

One thing I have learned about a BBQ fire from my father is that the coals must be hot. The quality of the fire has little to do with its size, but everything to do with the heat it throws. Eying the raw chicken wings sitting in the sun, heat was exactly what we all needed if we hoped to escape the day without a serious case of salmonella.

After building a teepee with branches and slowly adding wood, I kept the overzealous pyros away from the pile until the larger wood had caught. In about 20 minutes the coals were hot enough to cook the food. The guys seemed little interested in learning about building a proper fire, especially from their lunatic foreign langauge teacher, but who knows, maybe one or two paid attention.

In any case we chowed like champs, and I got my first taste of the oft lauded Turkish mangal. I’ve got a date this evening with one last class to char some chicken on my last day as an instructor here at NKU. Bittersweet? Nah, smoke-infused meat is just what I want to celebrate the end to what has been an… interesting year.

Afiyet olsun!

Yabanci, just like me.

Kars is a city in North-Eastern Turkey, skirting the border with Armenia. It is the site of Orhan Pamuk’s book Snow, though after torturing myself with both Istanbul and My Name is Red only to abandon both works entirely (certifying forever the pretentiousness of literary critics everywhere)  I have yet to read what I am certain is a thrilling interesting read.

When I told friends and colleagues of my plans to head out East, they responded with a mix of curiosity and disgust. Why would you voluntarily go to Kars? There is a great divide between Western Turks and Eastern Turks, with this again divided into city and village Turks. Out East, they’re not like us. They’re backwards people. Out in the villages, they’re not like us, they’re backwards people. It seems everyone needs someone to feel superior to. And, being American, I’m all too familiar with this notion of being a real citizen.

I live in a part of Turkey that was “exchanged” (read: bloodily and savagely ripped) from one country to another for thousands of years. Where Thrace once housed Greeks, Jews, Bulgarians, and countless others, it is now home to Turks. The East had a similarly vicious history that I was excited to explore. Where once home to Armenians, Circassians, Laz, Kurd and Turk, today it has made great strides towards ethnic homogeneity.

People out West where I live constantly warn me that people from the East are crazy, they aren’t real Turks. They’re backwards, like the Iraqis or the crazy Saudis, they make their women cover, they don’t have proper schools. People out East liken Westerners to the heathens of Europe, they’re materialistic and snooty. (Sound like the American North/South divide to anyone?)

The more I’m warned about a place in Turkey, the more excited I am to visit it. And, Kars was no exception. The ride had been an adventure. Even before leaving Istanbul, I had encountered a little of the local culture. A pushy multi-generational family of village people (literal ones, not the YMCA guys) had caught my attention in Ankara when entering the plane when they were

  1. Gaping at me openly, saying yabanci (foreigner) over and over (its an international airport guys, get over it)
  2. Surprised that you needed photo ID (really? really? you need photo ID to buy a cell phone)
  3. Carrying all their things in tarpaulin bags (sigh)
  4. Extremely concerned that they were entering the incorrect plane (no really there is a system in place for this)

The family consisted of two incredibly elderly men, one of whom resembled the chess-playing man in that Pixar short (especially after he dons the glasses):

With them was a thick, heavy set elderly woman, a cross middle-aged couple, their teenage daughter who seemed to have taken her style tips from Miley Cyrus, a grown daughter, a man who I assume is the husband of the elder daughter, and a screaming baby. Plus their baggage.

My Anglo-Saxon/Nordic coloring tends to set me out from the rest, and as we were shuttled to our plane, the elderly lady, clearly curious about my nationality, asked me for help with her ticket, then praised my glorious Turkish (I can pronounce 18A like a champ!) During this little interaction, they announced that those with seat numbers 1-15 enter from the front of the plane, and those with seats 16-30-something enter at the back. This announcement was only in Turkish, and I sat there basking in the glory of understanding my first-ever loudspeaker announcement.

Perhaps the family was too engrossed in keeping track of their  tarpaulin bags or attempting to read the numbers on their tickets (do they have optometrists in Kars?) to hear said announcement. They all entered from the wrong end and spent the next 10 minutes running over other passengers who were attempting to situate themselves.

The family was seated only one row in front of me, and as they arrived, an attendant asked that they please put their baggage in the over head bin. The elderly man without the glasses reached up to check the sturdiness of the compartments. He began to explain to the flight attendant that he was worried the bags would fall out and things would be broken. The flight attendant looked at him for only a split second (God bless him and his patience) whereafter he reached up and calmly explained to the elderly man and his entire family that in fact, the overhead compartments close. Ahh, the elderly man said, this seems to be a safe place for our things.

They sat themselves down, got up, rearranged, sat down, passed the screaming baby back and forth, and grumbled when the attendant explained they must wear their seat belts. The other passengers watched this scene with equal amusement, though their sentiments seemed tinged with shame whereas I enjoyed this interplay of culture diversity.

Upon arrival in Kars, as we continued to barrel down the runway at the speed of a racecar, they unhooked their seatbelts and stood up to gather their things. The flight attendants, still dutifully strapped in, were helpless to stop them. By the time we began taxing to the arrival gate, they had their bags in hand and had lined up at the back exit door.

“Where do they think they’re going?” Quietly commented the woman seated next to me, clicking her tongue in disapproval. I love seeing the interaction of Turks from various backgrounds, the village and city folk have about as much as common as I do with pretty much any Turk. But, unlike in my “native” Tekirdağ, in Kars, its the village folk who win out in normalcy.

After arriving on the tarmac of the Kars airport, I relaxed in the dingy cafe of the departures gate while waiting for Hannah and Sasha to arrive from Ankara. Once they had arrived we made quick friends with a taxi driver who would take us to Ani for the better part of the afternoon (if you’re wondering, we got him to 30TL per person for a 3 1/2 hour trip total.)

I love visiting historical landmarks in Turkey, they’re one of the nation’s great gifts to the tourists of the world. Unfortunately, those sites which do not immediately demonstrate the glory of the Ottoman history, and the Turks in specific, tend to be less-well preserved.

Ani is an abandoned Armenian city that sits on a cliff right up against the Turkish-Armenian border. It once housed 100,000 people but today its been reduced to rubble save the handful of semi-standing structures. Its always interesting to see what Turks make of other culture’s historical places. These places are always lauded as part of the “Glory of Turkey” even while the Turks themselves reinforce the yabanci-ness of the site’s original residents.

The plaque at Ani’s entrance had some phenomenal statements/translations that illustrate this Turk-centric ideology.

First is this, lest anyone forget who the most important party in Ani’s history is…

In Ani even though the foreground of the Christian Management, Turk and Islamic Governments were the ones who had the city for the longest period.

And this garbled mess of English that tells of Ani’s importance, what it has to give to science I’m not sure…

Ani city today as being a Ruin Pace (Open Air Museum), which is now in lands of Turkish Republic Government, services to science and culture, and with the excavations and researches it’s secrets are coming to light day by day.

We traipsed through the rubble, narrowly avoiding the enormous magpies left by grazing cows. Though the site is a historical monument, local cows are allowed to graze here. Hannah, discovered this for us when she stepped smack in the middle of a giant magpie, her foot covered in green-brown goo.

After making our way back to Kars, we set off to find our friend who was joining us from his placement in Ağrı. He has not fared so well this year, and who can blame him after eight months of isolation in a city whose name literally means “pain.”

We weren’t sure what we would find, and we searched for the hotel he was napping in with more than a little trepidation. After ducking into a place called Bizim Hotel, we inquired of the staff as to whether an American man had stopped in. Yes, he said, he’s upstairs.

Up the stairs, huh? The “stairs” were built into a nearly vertical wall, and we used our hands and feet to climb them, much like a ladder. On the second floor, which was called the first but really located on the european third, the man knocked on a door. We heard some English inside, but when the door opened, it wasn’t him.

We said our hellos to a blond, germanic-looking man who looked at us groggily with confusion. As we stood there, the receptionist started to make his way downstairs. As Hannah and I tried to explain who we were to the germanic-man, Sasha caught the receptionist and explained that this was not our friend.

“Sorry” Hannah and I explained to the confused and bleary-eyed tourist, “We said we were looking for our friend, and they must have assumed it was you… you know, there aren’t many tourists here, and well… sorry… go back to sleep. Have a nice trip though!”

Sasha’s conversation was a little less successful. As we left the tourist in peace, the receptionist made his way back to the man’s door, “No, no, of course this is your friend” he told us.

“No, really, we don’t know him,” we countered.

His boss, who had heard the commotion, made his way upstairs. His employee explained that we were looking for an American man who had made a reservation for four. “Oh” the man said, as he crossed over to the tourist’s door, “He’s in here.”

“No!” We yelled as he was about to knock on the poor man’s door. “That’s not him!”

“Of course it is” he countered, “He’s foreign, just like you.”

F*ing clueless

Nothing is predictable. This is something I should know by now. I used to marvel at people’s ability to navigate the seemingly impenetrable public transportation system. How did they know? How did they learn?

I used to think that this knowledge was something written into the Turkish DNA code. Kind of like Turkish women’s ability to wear towering heels day in and day out with no clear impact on their feet’s wellbeing. Or perhaps, the Turkish male’s genetic predisposition to çay. I swear their bladders have, over millennia, grown to accommodate pots of black çay.

Maybe not. The more Turkish I learn, the more I realize that people are as confused as I am. Elderly women ask the dolmus driver if his route will take them to their destination. They’re occasionally surprised (as am I) by a diversion from a normal route, to which the driver shrugs and says something vaguely translating to “Tough shit.”

At work, I used to think that I was the only one who spent her days wandering like an overmedicated mental patient through the labyrinth of rules, paperwork and unwritten understanding.

I have just come to realize: I am not alone.

I don’t know what to make of this revelation. I have a deep pity for my friends here, who like me, spend day after day, clueless. We wait in vain for shreds of information that inevitably trickle down the rumor mill. And, while their command of Turkish gives them the opportunity to obtain bits of information that I simply can’t access alone, they are rarely better informed than I.

Because I always assumed my obliviousness was due to my (poor) Turkish, I constantly asked questions. I dug through emails and spent hours on google translate attempting to piece together the fragments of office policy/politics that sat idly in the bowels of my spam box.

This past month there was an election at my university. Every five years or so, the administration changes. The incumbent must run a campaign and defend his/her position from potential usurpers. And, the time has come here at my university for a changing of the guard.

From top to bottom, the old are out and the new are in.

The former director of my department is a comical, lighthearted man who, quite interestingly, decided to leave his lucrative job at a respected university a few years ago and backpack around Iran and later South America. When funds ran out, he came back and was appointed into a vacant spot in our university. That was in January.

He’s been ousted. I have not personally spoken with this new director, so perhaps its a bit early for me to say, but his initial impact has me wondering.A few days ago a meeting was called to announce his “resignation” and to introduce us to his replacement.

The new director sat stoically as our former director graciously and animatedly greeted him. He made no eye contact with any of the twenty-or-so employees, mumbled a greeting, shook hands half-heartedly and awkwardly kissed the former director, and made a bee-line out of the meeting room.

Not a good first impression.

I soon found out that the friendly Vice Rector who had advocated for me and my colleague upon our arrival here, has been ousted. As has the Rector who heavily promoted a stronger English program.

This all would have been frustrating enough, but I am in the middle of a paperwork nightmare. My American colleague, the Patient, ripped a tendon in the back of her knee, and possibly also ripped her calf muscle in addition to a hairline fracture on her knee, all in a freak poolside accident. She has been on medical leave, but there is a problem.

In Turkey, with a note from the doctor, you can take 10 days leave on an injury. After 10 days, a second report can be issued to extend the home rest. The Patient’s second leave was written as 20 days, but regulations stipulate that a second leave report can only be 10 days long. After 10 days, the Patient must submit yet another report, this time by a panel of doctors, who explain her condition and recommend her for 30 days of home rest. The problem is, our contracts end June 31 (no that’s not a typo, I know there are only 30 days in June…) Back in February, we made an effort to change the contract to reflect the end of our Fulbright grant period (and our health insurance) which is June 15.

“Yes, yes” I was told, “yes, yes we will change the date, it is not a problem.” Well, our contract currently stands at June 31, 2011. The Patient has plans to leave in just over a week, but her second 10-day leave expires tomorrow. There is no point in summoning a panel of doctors to get her 4 more days of sick leave rather than just resign and leave.

The resignation request has been met with discussions of the length of the contract. Circular discussions in broken Turkish follow a path something like this:

Me: “Yes, but getting a panel of doctors together for this is difficult and tiring. We don’t want to do it.”
Staff member: “Yes, but this is required.”
Me: “But, its not happening.”
Staff member: “But, it is required.”
Me: “What if she resigns?”
Staff member: Looks at me confused for a moment. “But the contract goes to June 31.”
Me: “Not if she resigns.”
Staff member: “She needs a 30- day medical leave report.”

Repeat loop.

It may seem I’m pretty on top of this, but it is solely due to an amazing colleague who sat down with me and the department secretary (a dear woman who has a coronary every time I break protocol… who knew leaving the country required a letter of consent from the Univeristy’s Rector…?) and the kind woman explained the situation. The one question nobody, not the department secretary, English department director, personel staff, or director of personel and payroll, could answer was: What if we just ignore the contract.

I realize that this screams unprofessionalism, and perhaps its not the best idea for me to be advertising this, but what if we just ignore the paperwork?

I was met with blank stares.

Ignore the protocol? But the rules! The rules!

A Cripple Travels Turkey

The Journey: 560 miles, 900kilometers... with a busted knee

One busted knee, two foreign travelers, four forms of transportation, 900 kilometers: A story told in eleven parts.

Part 1: An Ambulance, an Apaçi nurse, and Health Care in Turkey

Ambulances are not typically thought of as funny modes of transportation, but any ambulance ride is made funnier (its a word) by the fact that most Turks couldn’t care less when there is an ambulance honking behind them. As we cruised along, we frequently came upon absent-minded drivers who refused to switch lanes or speed up. The driver clicked his tongue at their idiocy and swerved around them. We pulled up to the hospital where my friend and I somehow became responsible for moving the Patient in and out of the gurney. The nurses looked at us. Paused. Waited. Made a half-assed attempt to move the Patient, who would inevitable shriek in pain. They would back off, we would have to swoop in and catch her before she fell, then ease her into her wheelchair. This happened no less than three times.

The Doctor was dressed in distressed jeans, a neon pink polo shirt adorned with a vibrant argyle design. He sported the standard man-purse, and in delightful English, explained to us our options. The surly Apaçi Nurse begrudgingly obeyed the various orders of the doctor, but left us to do the (not so) heavy lifting.

Part 2: The Taxi Driver/Philosopher with the Russian Wife Named Olga

After getting the okay from the doctor, we made our way to the airport. The taxi driver told us the story of his recent romance with a Russian tourist, who he met in his taxi. She came for a holiday and he got her number. They met up one night, he cooked for her and her friend.. Both women were impressed with his domestic skills. They stayed in touch, and after her mother died, she decided to move to Turkey to be with him. They are now married and he glowed with happiness. A bit of a philosopher, Hamid explained to the Patient that she must send forth good vibes to the Universe, “If you send out good things and happiness,” he cajoled her, “good things will happen, but” he cautioned, “if you send out bad thoughts and ideas, you shall only receive bad things in return.”

Part 3: The Patient is Fondled by a Security Guard, Advice is Sought from the Gun Exchange Bureau

Upon arrival at the airport, the first round of security was attempted. The traveler was ushered to a seat where her immobilized knee was inspected with a bomb-sniffing device, and then her body fondled by a slightly over-zealous female security guard.

The Antalya airport doesn’t possess its own set of wheelchairs (surprised? No.) After inquiring at the “Gun Exchange Bureau” (I’m not kidding, and no I have no explanation to offer) where I could obtain a wheelchair, I was told to find our air carrier and ask there.

Because we wanted to avoid the nightmare of rushing through security, we arrived extremely early. So early, in fact, that the staff to check us in had not yet arrived. I found a man who worked for our airline that in turn found three other men who worked for someone else who eventually demanded that a young man who worked for yet another carrier produce a wheelchair; he begrudgingly gave in and arrived about ten minutes later with a chair.

Part 4: The Guy Entrused with the Patient’s Care

After obtaining the wheelchair, the Patient was parked in the waiting area. She happily people watched as sunburnt tourists lugged their bags about, as a family of hippies searched for their flight with their enormous backpacks perched on their shoulders, as a father cooed his two small children while his wife checked the family in. The Guy Entrusted with the Patient’s Care clearly counted down the seconds until his departure, and slinked off with promises that a “friend” would be coming by to take care of us.

Part 5: The Stabbing of the Patient

Two hours before the flight we went to the medical center so they could administer a shot to prevent deep vein thrombosis. The doctor had suggested that I administer it, but I don’t stab people I must spend the next 6 hours with, with needles.

Arriving at the medical center, we pantomimed with a nurse who then produced a man in scrubs, who walked up inches from the Patient’s wheelchair and stared, open-mouthed. He stood there gaping, like a small child. All my patience gone, I started yelling at him in English, “[Expletive]! We’re not a [expletive] sideshow! What the [expletive] is wrong with you!? Can you [expletive] help us or not?!” To which he stood, unfazed, while my outburst provoked the nurse who quickly ushered us into a room where she promptly stabbed my friend with the syringe. The Man in Scrubs continued to stare, remaining useless.

Part 6: The Kapitan

After the shot was administered, we made our way to the ticket booth, which had finally opened. As I waited to get our ticket, I was accosted by an airport employee who rattled of something unintelligible in the fastest Turkish I have ever encountered, to which I responded “Hiçbir şey anlamadım”, I don’t understand anything. He sped up the speech and raised his voice to a low shout, to which I responded “Hiçbir şey anlamadım.” The sole word I took away from his tirade of Turkish was “beklen,” wait. Wait for who? For the “kap-ee-tahn”, ohh wait for the pilot? Uh, okay.

Part 7: Ice Ice Baby

The knee was calling for ice, and ice it got. Our airport attendant, the phenomenal Mehmet Sadi, suggested that I might have better luck than he procuring free ice from the nearby Burger King. I can’t remember his exact words but his explanation was something along the lines of, “You’re a blonde foreigner, I am not. You will have better luck with this.”

At Burger King I explained in my pseudo-Turkish what I wanted. The girl tried to offer me a paper bag full of ice (hmm… is this why she works at BK?), I grabbed a plastic one from a cleaning lady and a young man filled the 10 gallon trash bag half way with ice. I didn’t need it to preserve a dead body, I wanted to say, but I took the ice and thanked him for his enthusiasm. I emptied out half in a nearby trash bin, wrapped it in a thicker bag and brought it back to the Patient.

Part 8: Bir Saat Sonra (An Hour Later)

After waiting for this fabled pilot to arrive to give us unknown information and allegedly treat us like VIPs (Mehmet’s words, not mine) we were fed up. 45 minutes from takeoff and we still didn’t have tickets, still hadn’t gone through the second wave of security, and still had no idea where the gate was. I put up a fuss with the man who had started this whole pilot nonsense who then decided we needed to pay for an extra seat if we wanted on the plane.

Repeat after me: BULL. SHIT.

Part 9: The Much Nicer Old Man that I Wanted to Hug

Going to the ticketing office, the elderly man who had originally helped us procure the wheelchair, said something along the lines of “Nonsense, you don’t need to pay for anything.” He directed us back to the check in booth where a much sweeter woman gave us our tickets.

We never met the pilot, and we were certainly never treated like VIPs.

Part 10: The Super Bitchy Not Cool Off-Duty Flight Attendant

I have never understood what makes people act irrationally rude. But, alas, it happens, I guess. As we arrived on the plane, and the Patient took her seat, leaving her long, immobilized leg sticking into the aisle. It was a painful angle to hold, and we tried wedging something underneath the foot to prop it up, if only for the jostling of takeoff.

An off-duty flight attendant who was seated behind me and across from the Patient quickly yelled at her. “This is forbidden”, she said, “you can’t do that” rudely pointing her perfectly manicured finger at the Patient’s propped foot. The best part was that the on-duty flight attendants couldn’t have cared less. But this woman was on a mission: Suck every bit of pleasantness out of our flight.

She took out her plastic-sealed Vogue magazine, tossed back her perfectly coiffed hair, she snidely translated our conversation to her colleagues. And, as the refreshment cart made its way through the plane, she began her assault on my seat.

Had I not known better, I would have assumed a rowdy five-year-old had taken up residence behind me. After take off, she started banging on the back of my seat, rocking me back and forward, beating my back like a burly Russian masseur. Then, to my horror, she reaches around the front of my seat, pushes in the little button and hurls my seat forward. Now, mind you, my seat was already in the upright position. The little lass had wedged her purse in under my seat, instead of her own, and couldn’t get it out. Somehow it had become my fault.

Part 11: Otogar

After our cab ride to the Otogar, we delved into the chaos that is the Istanbul Seyahat ticket office on a Sunday night. We  had purchased two tickets for the 9pm bus, not having planned for the busted knee. We were able to exchange them with the Extraordinarily Miserable Sales Man (he’s there every day, he’s my favorite, no nonsense about where I’m from, he just scowls at me like he does to everyone else) for the 10pm bus and we got one additional ticket so the Patient could stretch out her knee in comfort.

The greatest source of fear this entire odyssey was the ascent onto the bus. The steps are steep and the Patient is stopped up by an ascent the hight of the curb. She spun around on her rear end; I held her leg and crutches and she pushed herself up each step with her arms. After finding the seat, we both zonked out until the Tekirdağ busstation, grabbed a taxi and collapsed into our beds.

*And, our experience with crippledness (its a word) isn’t unique, Sasha had as hellish a time as we.