Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Before I start writing about where I am at and what I am doing right now, I want to share this small bit of writing, the only thing I even started to write on my blog over the past six months. I think I started it sometime in October and never finished:

It's Saturday and I don't want to leave this warm little spot on my bed. I have been meaning to write on my blog for so long now, it almost seems like an insurmountable task. I have been meaning to do a lot of things for a long time now, but this one I can work on without leaving my cozy little nest.

What is life like in Istanbul? You are all wondering, I am sure...

I just heard the man making his way through my neighborhood with a tray of hoop-shaped bread on his head, yelling: "Simit! Simit!". I remember when Dita and I were visiting in February, we were mystified by this phenomenon. We wondered why every day a man seemed to yell "Jimmy, Jimmy" in an almost tortured voice, as if he were wandering the streets searching for his long-lost companion. It seemed so strange and amusing to us then. But like so many things that at first seem foreign and mysterious, it quickly becomes a facet of everyday life that one fails even to notice most of the time.

Things have moved quickly for me in Istanbul. When I first arrived in August I felt very overwhelmed and intimidated by such a huge city with such an apparent lack of, well, order. I felt like I was being bombarded with all of these names of things and places in a language that still sounded like gobbledegook to me. "Just get a dolmuş from the iskele and tell them you want to go to Sahrayıcedit" - duh. Um, what? What are any of those things you just mentioned, and can you pronounce that place name one more time?

Just getting back to my apartment was a struggle in the beginning. I had a piece of paper with my address and that place name scrawled on it, and for the first couple of weeks I just offered it shyly to the driver, hoping for an expression of comprehension. Before long, though, I was attempting to pronounce Sahrayıcedit, with about a 50% success rate of the driver understanding me. Gradually my place-name vocabulary increased, and I began to understand the names of some foods I might be interested in eating. Now I can ask basic questions and greet people. In my opinion, Turkish is actually a much easier language than Czech, and I think at this point my Turkish (after three months) is as good as my Czech ever was (after more than a year and a half).

My life has quickly become normal to me here. I get up in the morning, I go to work, I come back to my flat and make a cup of coffee, I go off to meet some friends, I go to yoga, I grab a few essentials from the market. It's life, just like anywhere. Of course, life involves things that it didn't involve in Prague, like ferry boats to "the other side" (I live on the Asian side, and go to "Europe" several times a week, mainly for social engagements), countless hourglass shaped glasses of çay, the ezan (call to prayer) echoing at regular intervals, elbowing my way down İstiklal Caddesi, and lots of special days and events involving Atatürk - not to mention being bombarded with images of him and his impressive eyebrows:

I have also experienced the full range of human emotions here, often in rapid succession. I feel lonely, I feel fulfilled, I feel extraordinarily hopeful, I feel disappointed, I feel hurt, I feel validated, I feel strong, I feel empty, I feel defeated, I feel surrounded by possibilities and I feel a profound sense of dejection. I feel angry and I feel chock-full of love. I sit in calm contemplation of the beauty of life and I sit in public on the ferry boat as tears pour down my face and I nurse the pain of being alone surrounded by millions of people. I walk with purpose in the sunshine feeling very alive and I hide in my bedroom wishing for someone to come and hold me and tell me everything is going to be just fine. I love it all and I hate it all, and mostly it's all just OK. I definitely feel like I am alive. And I definitely, definitely, feel. That's the main point of it all, and I cherish it.

It was great when Shan came to visit. We don't get a chance to spend that valuable brother-sister time together all too often. The last time was when I first began this blog over two years ago, when we were on our road trip from Wisconsin to Colorado. It was so great to have him come here and spend almost two weeks with me, especially since he was never able to visit while I was in Prague. We had a lot of fun and really bonded. We also had some really great experiences in Istanbul, going to the Prince's Islands and some different districts and sites I hadn't visited yet. It was a special time. Here are lots of pictures, mostly from Fener/Balat, two areas in Fatih district that are really cool. Old Jewish and Greek neighborhoods:

Of course I need to write about my job. I suppose I saved it until last as I have been tired of even thinking about it. I find it very fulfilling but at times I feel like it's taking over my life. Since we're starting from nothing with the program this year we are building the curriculum from scratch, which is great experience for me. I get to be extremely creative and draw on a lot of my talents which feels really good. My only complaint is the sheer number of hours that go into the work. I have found it hard to have much of a private life.

There you go. That is all I got around to writing over the past six months of my time in Istanbul. Well, scratch that. In reality I have written quite a lot but it has been much more personal in nature. It's all in the leather-bound journal I bought in Florence two summers ago, and while it's not as exciting for those of you who would like me to be writing more on here, it has been very useful and satisfying for me.

I have to say that things did calm down a bit with work, or maybe I simply adjusted to it. I find that with time I can adjust to pretty much anything. I have had a lot of really great times at my school and work with an amazing bunch of women. I have decided that I will be staying in Istanbul for the next school year as well, so it just remains now for me to decide whether I will stay at my current school or sign on somewhere else. My current school has a lot to recommend it, not least of which being its location - a three minute walk from my flat. The only trouble has been with the currency - with all the political uncertainty in Turkey over the past year - beginning with the protests and becoming even more complicated with the recent corruption scandals - the value of the Turkish Lira has plummeted, which is a bummer when you are paid in Turkish Lira. The problem is that the schools that pay in US dollars are not likely to be places I would enjoy working as much - usually larger schools with a more corporate structure. Anyway, we will see what happens with that.

I'll plan on writing/updating more over the next couple of weeks as I am on vacation. Right now I am in Barcelona, awaiting the arrival of family tomorrow morning. I feel like this tiny tidbit doesn't even begin to brush the surface of my life, really, but at least it's a little bit of something, after a long time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

If you want to know where I've been the last few months, I'll tell you. I was sucked up into a whirlwind. I didn't know whether I was coming or going and everything was a little bit of a blur, it was moving so fast. When I finally touched ground again and the dust began to settle, I was in Istanbul. Hello, everyone.

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it? Life goes by so fast. The last few months of the school year zipped by. It was a weird spring weather-wise in Prague. I'm actually not sure we even had one. The winter wore out its welcome but kept dragging on and on. Next there was a long period where it rained every day causing massive flooding, then it was summer. Still, I planted some basil, mint and flowers around my apartment, and enjoyed a lot of time with friends and cooking at home.

From a springtime walk to Petřín with Leila

Flowering tree

More flowering beauty in Poděbrady 

My little balcony with lovely flowers

Basil and African Violets

Daily breakfast medley

Yay for fresh basil!

Roasted veggies and red lentils

Photo series: The Great Prague Flood of 2013

Flood wall, baby.

Pumping water out of the Metro

In May we took a day-trip to Karlovy Vary (known in English as Carlsbad, its German name). It's a beautiful little spa town in the Czech Republic. I had my first sauna there, and we saw a rainbow. We stopped in a cute little village on the way and hike to the castle ruins at the top. It was a beautiful day.

It was a season of "lasts" for me in the Czech Republic. I had many last classes, both with my kids and the adults in Podebrady. Over the next month and a half I did many things for the last time, and said many goodbyes. I know I will be back in Prague to visit before too long, and the goodbyes are only temporary, but the first chapter of my life there has come to a close. Also in May, I secured a job in Istanbul; I will be teaching in a pre-school. In an unexpected twist in my adventure, the last weekend of May brought a wave of anti-government protests to Turkey. In cities throughout the country, protesters gathered to voice their complaints about the prime minister and his increasingly authoritarian attitudes. This prompted me to do a lot of reading about Turkish politics, and I have learned a lot about its recent history and current events as a result. I also got myself a copy of Pimsleur's Turkish (language learning audio program). I am not sure why I keep being drawn to countries with difficult languages. Maybe next time I could end up in a Spanish-speaking country?

Last climb to the top of Vítkov Hill

Last art projects with David and Theo: paper marbling with shaving cream

and collaborative melted wax painting

A selection of "last class" photos:

A message from 1st graders

This summer is extremely busy. As I wrote part of this entry I was at Malpensa Airport in Milan, waiting on a plane to Frankfurt and then back to Prague. I had just spent a week in Malta, which was amazing. I made a bunch of new friends, and have a ton of beautiful pictures from my trip, of which I will post a selection below. The day after I returned to Prague, my sister and grandma arrived for their much anticipated visit. We'd been looking forward to it for a long time, and it was amazing to spend that time together.



Pretty sunset

Popeye's Village

Inland Sea, Gozo

Azure Window

Salt Flats

Life has been so full and I am extremely grateful.

There have been some tougher days of course.

Here is something I wrote a little over a month ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by all of my obligations and upcoming changes:

I find myself feeling like a little girl, a child, awash in a sea of uncertainty. I realize I used to feel like this all of the time; drifting in the waves, tossing and turning with nothing solid to grab ahold of. The difference between then and now is that I know that this is only a feeling, a feeling that will pass. I will trudge ahead through the frustration and doubt and the painting will get done. I will get all of my things packed and sent to Istanbul. I will complete four weeks of summer camps, which will be simultaneously exhausting and full of love. I will say goodbye to my beloved friends in Prague, though not forever, and I will board an airplane for a brand new adventure full of challenges and experiences that I have no way of predicting. The only thing I can be certain of is that they will defy my expectations and change me in ways I can't anticipate.

But I don't have to think about that now. All I need to do is wake up in the morning and meditate with a room full of friends.

All of those things happened. Just as I knew they would. I woke up the next morning and meditated with my friends. I finished the painting (my boss and friend, Jitka, had asked me to paint a large abstract piece for her apartment). I finished the summer camps, which in fact were exhausting but full of love. I got all my things packed and sent and flew to Istanbul. I found myself in a flat with a Turk, a Polish girl and a guy from Kazakhstan who are all really cool and nice. I also found myself in another foreign country where I don't know how to anything all over again.

I wrote my sister at the end of my first day:

Wow, I am in Istanbul. I was just seeing if you were around to Skype. I was feeling pretty emotional. I have been moving so fast the last few months that I didn't really have time to process anything. Yesterday was the first day I was able to just stop, do nothing and spend some time relaxing.

And at the end of the day, I cried. It actually felt good, not a sad cry or a "I wish I hadn't come her" cry. I am where I want to be, absolutely. Just a "I really just left all my friends and my life in Prague and am totally starting over again" cry. Just a "I feel like I haven't had time to feel anything deeply in quite a while" cry.

But I am not alone. I met some of my new friends here and spent some good times with them. My friend Ali even made an appointment for me to get a massage yesterday at a swanky spa he frequents. So I found myself in the middle of this 90 minute Bali treatment in this amazing new city and at times like that I have to wonder if it's really my life. But it is.

Then, I got home and discovered this crazy email from my dad that filled me in on the fact that both of my parents have recently found themselves in ERs with complications that involved inconclusive visits with specialists and an organ removal. It turns out it isn't the best time for them to fly to Greece and meet me for the cruise we had planned on taking together. By early this morning it had become clear that I would suddenly and unexpectedly be hopping on a plane bound not for Athens, Greece but for Columbus, Ohio. The first of I'm sure many plot twists in this new chapter of my life. 

I'm surprised by and grateful for my ability lately to take things in stride and to allow things to be crazy and hectic all around me without internalizing it. Of course I get overwhelmed from time to time but I feel like I have this calm center now to return to during times when everything seems out of control.

I often think of this time a few years ago when I was with my friend Cindy. We were sitting outside her church house and she was telling me something. She said that she used to think that if she could just do all the right things, then she would be happy. If she could just have the right career, if she could just find the right partner or make enough money or somehow arrange everything in the right way, then she would be happy. But what she had realized over the years was that the real thing that she needed to do to be happy was to cultivate an inner space. An inner space where no matter what was going on around her she could reside in and be calm. I took that wisdom to heart and have been working on cultivating this inner space in myself since then. It's so wonderful to have these people in my life who can point me in the right direction, who can help me to walk through the confusion and tumult and become a stronger person, and to continue on this path.

So it's OK when plans change. It's OK when things don't work out exactly the way I thought they might. It's OK when I get off at the wrong bus stop in an enormous city and have to walk for over an hour with a huge suitcase through busy streets. It's OK when I make mistakes. As long as I have this inner space to reside in it doesn't matter so much what's happening around me.

I can't wait to see my family. I'll have been in three homes in one week. In Prague, my home of the last year and a half. Istanbul, my new home. And Ohio, my real home. And everywhere surrounded by love.