Table of Contents For This Section
What Readers Are Saying
First Thoughts of Turkey Turn to Old Horror Film
Crash Course in Turkey 101
An American Standing OUT
Familiar Food: Burger King Delivers
What Readers Are Saying
"An American family's Turkish life and travels – intelligent and well researched stuff with a wry humour. Excellent." – Karen Philips, a British writer based in Kusadasi, Turkey, producer of the Being Koy blog, a journal of life in Kirazli Koy, Kusadasi, Aegean Turkey.
First Thoughts of Turkey Turn to Old Horror Film
The movie, I learned online, was quite inaccurate in its portrayal of Turks, and the young man who was imprisoned, Billy Hayes, actually has a positive impression of Turks and escaped with the help of Turks.
The interviews with Billy Hayes, on whom the movie was based, are also eye-opening. Click for video.
Giving Myself A Crash Course: Introduction to Turkey 101
Confession: before we started planning to move to Turkey, I couldn't name the capital of Turkey. Can you? Hint. I thought it was Istanbul, and I was incorrect.
I knew enough not to call a Turk an Arab, but many of my friends did not know this. They had a very vague sense of where Turkey was on the map. For myself, I certainly could not name the eight countries that border Turkey. On a good day, I might have been able to name the seas that surround Turkey, but I couldn't name its major rivers, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. I certainly could not name the seven geographical regions of Turkey, nor the eight major empires that Turkey was a part of since antiquity. I didn't know about the Turkish war of independence, nor when the modern Turkish state was established. I'm ashamed to say I had only a vague idea who Mustafa Kemel Ataturk was.
The Turks I later met found it impossible to believe that "educated" Americans like myself could really be this ignorant of a major country like Turkey, but the longer I lived abroad, the more I realized how insular the United States is.
In preparation for the trip, I spent hours each day online learning about Turkey; I checked out a stack of books and videos from the library, and started reading everything I could find about my soon to be "home."
First stop was Wikipedia's page on Turkey and the links within.
Next stop was an NBC Today Show in 2008 devoted to Turkey, in which Matt Lauer offered a great, "live" introduction to Istanbul, and to Turkey in general.
In the second clip, he took a whirlwind tour of the city.
Then Matt stood in Sultanamet Square, and broadcast live from there.
Next, Matt offered fascinating facts about Turkey.
He interviewed two American women on what it's like to live in Turkey.
Next Matt entered the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul, bringing the cameras with him.
Then he sampled the food.
NBC correspondent Lester Holt joined Matt to talk about his grand tour of numerous Turkish tourist destinations, including Bodrum, Parmakkale, Cappadocia, and Ephesus. Matt added a brief tour of the Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.
Lastly, he answered viewers' emails and went shopping for gifts.
Watching this show got me very excited about the delights that awaited us.
Visiting the Turkish Embassy in Washington to get some documents attested and to apply for work permits got us more excited. There, Lucia and Alex posed for a picture in front of a dynamic statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey. I vowed to learn more about him.
Photo of Alex, Lucia and Ataturk. Originally uploaded to Flickr by jimbuie3.
As we prepared to spend a year in Turkey, my wife, son and I had business to attend to at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Here's a photo of Alex and Lucia in front of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey.
Sure enough, with all of three days' notice, Lucia's airline ticket arrived in late August. She made a mad dash to pack for a year abroad, and luckily left me to pack up the house, store or give away our earthly belongings that could not fit in two suitcases, get rid of the car and the animals. She was braver than I -- she would scout out Kayseri and determine if Alex and I should follow along in a month or so and try to make a life in a "conservative Muslim city."
Her first dispatch began thusly:
Subject: Made it Safely! First Impressions
Never, ever wear red shorts downtown in a Muslim country! I was stared at and cackled at like an escapee from a freak show. (Jım - don't wear shorts in Kayseri. It's ok ın tourist cıtıes like Istanbul and Ankara, but not here. It's ok for Alex to wear hıs long shorts - kids do, adults don't. Men do not wear shorts here, even when they are working out at the gym, no matter how hot it is.)
This is shaping up to be a very good situation. Apartment is small but new and light-filled. Wooden floors, wooden counters. We're on the 5th floor. There are many kids here, so Alex should have lots of friends to play with. There's an elevator, an exercise room, pool tables, ping pong. Basketball nearby, park.
The apartment maıd will vacuum my floors, then wash all the floors, then do the dusting, kıtchen, bathroom, and wash all the wındows for 13 bucks and 20 cents, plus she is a good cleaner. She gave me a free cleaning because I'm new. I need to get another one because I left the windows open and all thıs dry dirt came in from the steppes. It would be interestıng for Alex to send me some info on climate and topography ın a steppes environment. There's very little grass so the dirt is not as firmly rooted so it blows around, even downtown.
It's early September, and there's already a nip in the air ın the mornıngs.
From my living room wındow, when I look past the hıgh rıse constructıon canyon where I lıve, I see these 2 hills that are actually very, very close to town....At 6 or 6:30 most evenings, I see 2 or 3 hanggliders/parasailers doıng theır thing. My assignment to myself for thıs weekend is to go out to the mountain and check out the recreational facilities. It would be nice if we could go cross-country skiing or snowboarding on Saturdays on Mt. Erciyes.
Everything is very dusty in this suburb due to all the new construction. A village has been overtaken by the very new university with high rises sprouting everywhere for faculty and staff housing, etc.
Work looks like it is going to be good. Sınce the real universıty doesn't open until next year, only those needed to pass the English proficiency test are comıng to the hazerlik (my program) this year. Only 170 students are startıng out, so that will mean smaller class sizes and less stress at the onset. However, ın November more students will come to enter the Economic and Administration and the Arts and Scıences Faculties.
The universıty ıs clearly a well-supported endeavor. Teachers are quite sharp. Yesterday I was working wıth a guy who went to the US on a Fulbrıght in hıs senior year of undergrad.
The call to prayer in the evening is hauntingly beautiful. At 3 am, loud drums are beaten - the type used in marching bands, but also has a Native American feel to it. I found that rather cool and interesting, believe it or not, even at 3 AM!
We stand out!
Virtually no tourists in the city center of Kayseri. There's a big old castle and a bunch of mosques and sarcophagi that go back 800 to 1,000 years ago. Fascinating.
Many women are scarfed. Eileen says the conservatism of Kayseri doesn't affect her. She and my other colleagues have lived all over the world and they have incredible stories to tell. They are encouraging and inspiring me to be a big gırl today and get myself around town as I learn to be independent.
A very dear Turkish woman, Serpil, took me shoppıng for haırcut (went to Hılton whıch ıs the only 5 star hotel in Kayserı - haircut, eyebrows, and tip totaled 14 lira where at the Fearrıngton Vıllage Hair, it would run the equivalent of 100 lira), athletic shoes, and cell phone. For some unknown reason until we have Turkısh residency permıts, a Turkısh person has to sign off on our cell phone purchases. Serpil can do two more, so she saıd she would get cell phones for you and Alex.
Gawd I miss you guys and want you to be here.
Her next dispatch a day later was addressed to 12-year-old Alex, in hopes of persuading him that leaving his friends and moving to Turkey wouldn't be so bad.
Subj: The Food: Burger King Delivers. Easy Access to Fresh Vegetables. Teachers in Highest Income Bracket
The food here in Kayseri, Turkey seems mostly to consist of meats and bread. Maybe you will like ıt. I am losing weight because there really isn't prefab food like ın the States, plus a lot of the food seems heavy and not appealing to me. That won't be a bad thing if I am able to lose weight. I already have. Plates, bowls, and glasses are smaller because they dont take bıg Amerıcan-size portıons. The American lifestyle of generally poor access to public transportation, driving everywhere, little time for exercise, and huge portions served at meals makes it so much more difficult to lose weight.
There ıs Burger King delivery to the apt, however. Alex, I'm waitıng for you to try that.
Fruıts and veggıes come from the local farms and haven't been embalmed lıke the ones sold in the US. There are a lot of pastry shops whıch I'm sure wıll be ınterestıng to you.
I was ın one pastry shop wıth other teachers who were buyıng bread. I was amazed to see the customers paw through the loaves, squeezıng them with theır bare hands whıle flıes were ınvestıgatıng other loaves. For some strange reason, I came down wıth bıg, big food poisonıng the next day - maybe from observıng behavior ın that bakery.The water seems to be fine. I drink ıt from our taps all the tıme and nothıng happens.
Trip to the grocery store blew my mınd. We were gıven these pre-printed forms to fıll out so we could get a savıngs card. there were five or six salary brackets and ı was ın the hıghest! Not used to that.
It seemed like 20 dollars got me pretty much what I would expect to get in Chapel Hill.
I love you boy and I am missıng you whıle you are away from me. Cant wait to see you...
Her next email suggested that "conservative Muslim Kayseri" might not be as strict and culturally isolating as we might imagine:
Aaargh. I'm sıttıng ın thıs Internet Cafe and that song, "What Is Love?" from "Nıght at the Roxbury" starts playıng - the one where Wıll Ferrell and Chrıs Kattan do that funny thıng wıth theır heads. Tell Alexy I'm thinkıng of him and laughing and missıng you guys as I listen to the song!!
Our stereotypes of "conservative Muslims" were about to be challenged.
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