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.