Friday, 29 February 2008

Old Ruins

Turkey is neat.

Something you may not know about Turkey is that it has approximately 546,378,002 more historical sites than the United States. Take, for instance the amazing cave churches and networks of underground cities of Cappadocia, or the Hittite ruins about a 20 minute drive from our house (of course, that's not so old. Just the 18th century B.C.). I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is impressive old stuff all over the place around here. And I don't mean old as in Laura Ingles Wilder's house is old, and impressive as in the California Missions are impressive. I mean ancient history, miles of marble columns and walkways, looking at the things you just read about in the Bible (Old and New Testament!) old and impressive.

So, we get lots of chances to bum around and look at old stuff. Every time we do it I wish I could remember the things I learned in history classes growing up a bit better. This week we went on a quick trip to ancient Ephesus with some friends.

I like ruins.
I like messing with archeologists. I take big chunks of marble and move them all around. It makes it harder to reconstruct things. Hee hee hee.

This is the stadium mentioned in Acts 19. Can't you almost see it filled with people angry at Paul and shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" You can't tell from this picture, but it's HUGE, it can seat something like 20,000 people! And it's in great condition. Elton John did a concert in it a few years ago.

Can you believe the houses in this town had running water and flush toilets 2000 years ago! Wow those guys were smart back then!

So, who's ready to come visit us?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Speaking English!!!

So, as I mentioned a few days ago, we went to Ankara.  Actually we're still here.  We're heading back home later today but as I'm awake well before anyone else due to a little rooster who was up with the sun, crowing and ready to eat (Marie), I' thought I'd take the time to reflect on one of my favorite things I've done here.

That favorite thing is seeing some of my fellow Americans and speaking English.  Friday night I went to a bridal shower for an American woman here who recently got married (to another American she met here).  Let me tell you, I walked into that shower and my heart leapt for joy seeing somewhere around 25 (TWENTY-FIVE!!!!!!!) women mingling and chatting. Mingling and chatting in English!  Just going around and saying "Hi, how are you?" over and over thrilled my English-conversation-starved-self to the bones.  Picture this bridal shower in your minds.  First, it was a very crowded room.  Second it was crowded with women.  Third (and most significantly), several of these women aren't around a lot of other English speakers much of the time and so have a lot of catching up to do.  Fourth, the responsibilities of taking care of kids, cooking, etc are all behind them.  There is nothing left for them to do but talk.  As talking seems to be one of the favorite past times of women everywhere you can only imagine the number of mouths moving at one time, and the speed they were moving (granted, much of that moving was due to all of us stuffing our faces around the snack table).  I realize that the picture I'm describing may make some of you men cringe or even run screaming from your computer, but for me it was heaven... sheer heaven.  

It's not that I don't normally have anyone to talk to.  James is great about chatting with me.  I also have Cindy and Andrea, who I love dearly and talk with regularly.  But there is something to be said for variety and options.  Did I talk with all 25 of those women?  No.  But I could have, and that's part of what made it so much fun for me. 

Saturday, 23 February 2008

I'm a horrible mother.

Here's a picture I took of Elise a few days ago.  This picture highlights all, well, two of the reasons I am a bad mother.  Do you know why?  I am doing two things that no Turkish mother would ever ever never not-in-one-million-years do.  Never.  
Do you have any idea what those two things are?  Make your best guess and I'll fill you in on the answer later.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

A weighty issue...

Americans generally avoid talking to one another about weight.  Its a touchy subject for us.  We don't want to make people feel bad by telling them they've gained weight, and we often don't even tell people when we've noticed they've lost weight because that would be insinuating that they used to be fat, which is quite a backhanded compliment.  Turks, on the other hand, LOVE to talk about weight.  It's one of their favorite subjects.  This is one place our cultures clash.

Take, for instance, the nine months I was pregnant with Marie.  First of all, you have to understand that I'm not one of those pregnant people (like my sister in law Sara) who look like a supermodel the entire nine months, having nothing but a cute little pregnant belly on their small frame.  No, the second I find out I'm pregnant I gain 10 pounds.  I then continue to swell and gain weight from my water retaining toes to my fat face.  When I'm pregnant, I am not just carrying the baby in my belly, it's as if my entire body is carrying another body inside of it.  And Turks notice.  They don't just notice, they let me know they notice.  Here is a small smattering of the MANY comments people made to me during my pregnancy.
It starts off small, "Wow Jamie! You're really gaining weight! It's obvious that you're pregnant."Have you ever felt like crying over a little thing?  Because I have...

As the months progress so do the comments, "Jamie, you've gained a lot of weight.  You're HUGE!  Do you think you'll be able to lose that after the baby comes?" Have you ever wanted to crawl into a little hole and hide?  Because I have... o wait, did I say little hole, because according to my friend who made that comment I would need a very large hole to crawl into...

But wait, it gets worse.  As the months progressed my size did too.  James, who never seems to gain or lose weight at all, would stand beside me and just look thinner than usual.  It's not that he actually got thinner, it's just that being next to me made him look thinner.  People noticed this as well, "James, you're wife isn't feeding you anymore.  You're wasting away!  Look at her... she should stop eating all the food and look after her husband a little bit!"  Have you ever really really wanted to punch someone in the face?  Because I have...

I could go on, but just know that these three comments represent the types of things I heard every time I went out of the house.  And its not just pregnancy.  This is a subject that people bring up all the time.  It didn't end after I had the baby.  Just a couple days ago my friend commented, "Jamie, you've lost a lot of weight.  Wow!  You look so much better when you're not fat."  Then to another friend, "Don't you think Jamie looks better when she's not fat?"  Ah, they sure do know how to give a compliment around here, don't they?  

While writing this I realized that I've always been on this side of the ocean while I've been pregnant.  I am tempted to show you all a picture of me pregnant, but I'm not sure I can do it... yes... no, I can't... yes... no..well...okay, here it goes (covering eyes with my hand)...

I'm such a chicken that I only gave you a picture of me from the front... I might as well show you what I really looked like...

Here it is... Or most of it.  This is half of pregnant me just a few days before I delivered Marie.  I can't believe I'm showing it to you.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Goin' to the city!

Have I mentioned yet that we’re  going to the big city, Ankara, this weekend?   Ankara is the capital of Turkey.  We lived there for one year.  It’s crowded and busy and dirty and full.  We took hour long bus rides regularly to get from one place to another (this is really frustrating when those destinations would only take 5-10 minutes by car.) After only that one year, we were sick of the smog and the business, and ready to leave, but now that we’ve been away for almost 3 years, well I don’t know... maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder?  Here’s a list of the things I hope I get to do while we’re in Ankara.  These are things that I can’t normally do.

1.  Go to Starbucks.  This is always on the top of my list.  I (like thousands and thousands of other Americans) LOVE Starbucks.  I don't drink coffee but I do drink the creamy sweet deliciousness that seems to only come in Starbucks cups.  There is a very special reason why I like Starbucks, and why my love for it has grown exponentially since we've been to Turkey, and here it is: everywhere in the entire world Starbucks is the same.  It’s decorated the same, has the same yummy drinks, plays the same music.  Starbucks feels like America. Starbucks smells like America.  Starbucks tastes like America.  And that makes me LOVE it.   And no matter what country I'm in, if I go to Starbucks when I'm about half way through my caramel macciato I end up standing up in the middle of the restaurant and belting out God Bless America... but I digress, as well as grossly exaggerate.  

2. Talk with my fellow Americans.  There is an international church in Ankara and it is just chalk full of people who speak English!  Do you know how amazingly fun it is to have conversations in your first language? Oh the depth and the breadth in communicating I can have that I just don’t get in Turkish!  Oh, to understand - fully - what the people around me are saying!  

The end.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Turkish Cooking: Lesson 1 - the Turkish Omelet

I'm hoping to use this website to provide you not only with lots and lots of useless information about my life, but also with interesting and educational content.  Things that you can use, things you can do.  Things that might just change your life... or at least your day a little bit. 
So today I thought I'd share some of the delicious foods I make here in Turkey, that way you can surprise your family by making them in your own kitchen.   Kind of like "Turkish cuisine for the American" or "Cooking Turkish Food for Dummies"  Not that I think anyone is a dummy. 

The first recipe I'd like to share is a Turkish Omelet.  Let's get started, shall we?

Step 1.   Wash your eggs.

No, I don't have chickens nesting on my balcony, and I didn't go visit a farm to get these eggs.  These are straight from the supermarket down the street.  This is how they come around here.  Beauties, aren't they?  Sometimes I'm lucky and get a batch with feathers stuck all over them too.

Step 2.  Proceed with your omelet preparation as you normally would in America....  

The End.

Snowed In

Turkey was hit by a big snow storm, dropping around a foot of fresh snow on top of the snow that was already here. 

 I think that the country is lacking a bit in snow removal equipment, and so the roads out of our city are all closed, as is the airport.  We're able to get around the city just fine in our truck, but there's just something about knowing that we can't leave.  Not that we were planning on leaving today, but it's just that we CAN'T.  If I think about it, I get a little stir crazy. Not that I really know what that term means, but I think it has something to do with how I feel. 

It's kind of like the feeling I get when I'm flying.  Knowing that I'm trapped with a whole bunch of strangers inside a giant tin can with wings, high above the earth, going who knows how many hundreds of miles an hour and I can't get out...not even if I really really want to... not even if I try really really hard.  It kind of freaks me out.  I do my best to avoid thinking about it, because if I think about it, especially while flying, it freaks me out even more.  I mean, I don't want to freak out to the point that I end up having some sort of a break down and then have to be pinned down by a stewardess while they call for an emergency landing.  People would probably film me on their cell phones and I'd end up being a crazy lady on the 11:00 news.  And that would be really embarrassing, ya know.  So I try to avoid thinking too deeply on these things.  It's not that I'm afraid the plane will crash, it's just that I'm afraid I'll look really really stupid in front of a lot of people.  But I digress....

Yesterday morning, in an effort to avoid stir craziness, before the snow had piled too high, I put on boots and went for a walk.  I took a few shots of our neighborhood in the falling snow...

Here’s the cars outside our building buried in the snow.  Yeah, I know it’s not that exciting but it shows just how much snow there was, and if just kept right on snowin' the whole day.

You see that grey building?  The one beside the green and yellow one?  That’s ours!  We live right smack dab in the middle of it.  Sure, from the outside it’s not too pretty, but it’s home.

Here’s the mosque on the corner.  This little gazebo thing in front of it is where people do their ritual washings of their hands, feet and faces before they go in for prayers.  Brrrr.... hope they find somewhere else to wash in the winter time.  Just imagining that makes me shiver...

Oh look!  Here’s a handsome man in a truck.  I bet he’s nice too.... oh wait!  That’s James, the corner of my liver!  He’s picking me up to take me to lunch.  Apparently he wants to avoid the embarrassment of seeing me going stir crazy too!  

Monday, 18 February 2008

Maybe I should take a lesson from Chevy Chase!

Maybe if I serve Cola Turka (especially to myself) I'll stop making cultural blunders.

More to come later about my growing love for the potato and onion guy (he's really really great... think 1950s milk man with a mustache and bushy eyebrows.)

Friday, 15 February 2008

Valentines Day: Western Culture comes to Turkey Part 2

Click on "older post" at the bottom of the page for part one.

So, how did these middle aged Turks first Valentines Day experience go?

Yunus' wife called us while we ate our Valentines Day dinner to say thanks for the cd of love songs. She was sooooo happy. Apparently Yunus followed through with buying and cooking some fish. He and his son made salad, set the table, and even lit candles while his wife relaxed. I think this may have been the first time (aside from when she's been ill) that Yunus has made dinner for his wife. I wish you could have seen Yunus' eyes sparkle as he explained to us step by step how he made dinner and how much his wife enjoyed it.

Neriman has two teenaged daughters. On Valentines Day, one of them came over to my house to walk home with her mom. She was bursting with excitement and couldn't keep her secret in. Every day Neriman gives her daughters a little bit of money to buy a snack or drink with. Apparently they've secretly been saving that up and decided to put it together to buy their mom the ring she's been wanting as a Valentines Day present. I wish you could have seen the glowing smile on my friends face when her daughter told her the news. Doesn't that kind of sweetness just make you want to cry? Because it makes me want to cry, and if it makes me want to cry I can't imagine the pride and happiness Neriman must feel.

It was fun to watch Neriman, Yunus, and their families experience Valentines Day for the first time. And as much as I want to be sad and mad about Western culture invading Turkey, right now I don't really feel that way. I guess I'm just a sucker for a good love story. I think I'll go watch a chick flick now. . . I just can't get enough this love and happiness stuff.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentines Day: Western Culture comes to Turkey. Part 1

Capitalism.  Do I know what that word really means?  No, but I think it has something to do with what's going on around here.  If I'm wrong and it's something else, don't tell me because I don't like to be wrong.  Not so many years ago, Valentines Day was unheard of here in Turkey.  Then slowly the younger generation, especially in big cities, began catching on and celebrating it.  And now it's even reaching the middle aged group.  

James' friend Yunus told James the other day that he had just found out about Valentines Day.  James asked him what he was going to do for his wife.  "Well," he replied, stalling and thinking about it, "I'm going to get her a flower." Since he had only just discovered Valentines Day, it hadn't occurred to him that he could do something nice for his wife until James mentioned it.  James told him a flower is good, but suggested he take his wife out to dinner too. "No way!  We don't have that kind of money!" was his reply. 

James: Well, you could make her a special dinner. 
Yunus: That's a good idea.  I'll have her cook me a special dinner.
James:  No, YOU should cook HER dinner.
Yunus:  Um, I don't think so.
James:  She cooks you dinner every night.  You should give her a break and make her dinner.
Yunus: Well, yeah, I guess I could make a salad, go buy some fish and cook it up, and some bread....
James:  She'll love it.
Yunus:  Yeah, maybe I can do that... 

Since James is well practiced in doing special things for his wife, he decided to help Yunus out a bit by making a cd of love songs to play during dinner. 
My friend Neriman was at my house on Valentines Day and was almost giddy with excitement wondering what her husband was going to do for her.  I asked what he normally does and she said, "Nothing.  This is the first year we've known about it!" She has always wanted a diamond ring.  I think cubic zirconium or any sparkly clear stone would work just as well.  She just wants a gold ring with a stone in it.  Apparently they're all the rage and if you have one everyone notices.  She's been asking her husband for one ever since she found out about this whole Valentines Day business.   

How did our friends suddenly find out?  Well we didn't tell them.  The answer lies here.

Do you see all those hearts hanging from the ceiling of our city's mall?  This is the second year we've had this big mall.  I think last year people were just in awe of the lights, the mirrors, the endless shopping possibilities.  By now people are used to the mall and are noticing the finer details, like the Valentines Day advertisements in all the windows.  

The world is changing.  Western culture is being brought into Turkey by the truckload.  The stores say "It's Valentines Day - go buy something for the one you love." And people listen.  By the way, not long ago the mall was all decorated for Christmas.  Or actually New Years (Christmas isn't celebrated, but people are starting to do the western Christmas thing as a way to bring in the new year).  The stores said "It's the New Year!  Put up a tree and buy your kids presents!" And people have started to listen. 

 Oh wait!  Look behind those hanging hearts... the Christmas decorations are still up!  I wonder when they're thinking of taking those down.  Oh well, you can never celebrate too much, ya know? And in case you're wondering, yes, that is McDonalds, the den of sin you're seeing.

So am I a fan of capitalism changing the world? No.  Am I a fan of people slowly losing their own culture and taking on Western traditions?  No.  But, you know what? I can't do anything about it.  And I am a fan of love, and of taking time out to show appreciation to people who are important to us, which brings me back to Yunus and Neriman.    How did these middle aged Turks' first Valentines Day experience go?

I'll let you know tomorrow....  

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Reunited, and it feels so good!

James and I have had a long sweet relationship with each other.  James and I have also had a long and sweet relationship with doughnuts.  December 2000 James showed up at my house for a Christmas party.  That's when our eyes first met and our hearts first went pitter pat pat.  My roommates and I had plans of going to a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop after our party.  We invited James and his friends to go with us, but alas the party lasted until the wee hours of the morning and the trip never happened.   But I remember it clearly,  doughnuts were discussed that first time we met.

James and I started dating. A few months later while sitting and eating that melt in your mouth goodness that is a Krispy Kreme doughnut, James asked me to be his girlfriend. Doughnuts made that beautiful memory possible for us.

Our first year of marriage we celebrated what we affectionately call "doughnut day."  The apartment complex we lived in provided doughnuts for everyone on the first Saturday of the month, the day rent was due.  I think the intention was that all the tenants could gather in the common area then mingle over doughnuts.  That first Saturday James and I got up early and sat around that common area ready to meet our neighbors but we found that the other tenants, mostly college students, wandered in with sleepy eyes, dropped off their checks, grabbed a half full box of doughnuts, and went back home.  So we thought, "Hey, when in Rome..."  After that we would drop off our rent check and come home with a box filled with delicious sugar coated rings of goodness.  We'd eat a few, go back to sleep, wake up, eat more doughnuts, then go to sleep again, or sit and read, or sometimes wander down to the Farmer's Market.  And after that... we'd eat more doughnuts!  I think sometimes we ate nothing but doughnuts the whole day, because when you're 25, have Saturdays off, and have no children you can do that! 

On September 29, 2004 we kissed our families and our doughnuts goodbye, got on a plane and headed off to Turkey.  Turkey does not have doughnuts.  I repeat, Turkey does not have doughnuts.   Do you feel sorry for me yet??  Because I feel sorry for me.  And I miss doughnuts.
So why am I dredging up all this sad history?  Yesterday we went to Andrea's house and found that she had been busy.  Very very busy.

Making doughnuts!!!  

People, let me tell you, making doughnuts from scratch is no simple thing.  But desperate times call for desperate measures and we're desperate around here!  Desperate for doughnuts
 Hello Gorgeous, good to see you again.  How about you and I get re-acquainted?

James and I have been singing Andrea's praises ever since.  We are soooo happy to have been reunited with our old friend, the doughnut. Andrea even wrapped some up for us to take home.  Can you believe she didn't keep them all for herself?!  Now that's the true measure of friendship.

Monday, 11 February 2008

What do you call that?

When we first came to Turkey we were kind of like new babies being born into a different culture.  We couldn't talk to people, we didn't know anything about the public transportation system so we couldn't really get around.  People looked at us and could easily categorize who we were: American foreigners.  Slowly, like a baby, we began talking, or more accurately, we began using a mixture of words and motions to make our desires known to people.  I think we probably sounded kind of like Tarzan, "I Jamie.  I Turkish learn. You me talk."  We looked stupid, we felt silly, but we got our points across.  Then after much time and effort we've gotten to where we are now.  We hold conversations with people, but we make lots of language mistakes.  We get everywhere we want to go, but along the way we make cultural blunders like eating while walking.  People certainly don't think of us as Turks.   They also don't think of us as Americans.  Afterall, Americans don't know Turkish.  Americans don't cook Turkish food, watch Turkish sit-coms, or play soccer.  I think now many people look at us and say to themselves, "That's certainly not Turkish, but it's not exactly American either.  What do you call that?"  

It's kind of like... it's kind of like... well, it's kind of like this:

After months of sending Marie to a prestigious crawling academy, just yesterday she finally showed us what she's got!  And I have to say we're a bit confused by the results.  It's not crawling.  Crawling involves two hands and two knees.  What Marie is demonstrating involves two hands, one knee, and one foot.  Just like Turks probably ask themselves about James and I, we're asking ourselves, "What is that?"  The best I can come up with is "Three limbed scootch."  Can you come up with anything?  Leave us a comment and tell us what you think Marie is doing (and if you think the money we spent on the crawling academy was worth the result). If you have any idea, you can also let us know what you think we are (Americish? Turkican?)   Because we really want to know.

Being mistaken for a basketball player

Turks can be so much fun.  They are so curious.  Unlike your average American, your average Turk has no problem talking to perfect strangers and asking them about their life.  It's pretty easy to meet lots and lots of people and get to know them a bit even while you're just minding your own business.  Because we are foreigners, James and I get stopped all the time and end up explaining who we are, where we came from, where we live, what we do, how long we've been in Turkey, why we don't dress our children warm enough, if we eat pork, what we think of President Bush, and approximately 13.4 billion other things that people want to know about us. 

Yesterday at the market a sweet woman asked me if Elise and Marie were twins.  I explained that Marie is 7 months old and Elise is 3 years (but let's not go there).  Noticing my accent she said, "You're not from around here are you?"  She then went on to ask 67,489 other questions, and finally asked if I live in the building next door to the market.  

When I told her I didn't live there she responded, "Oh, I think I mistook you for another American who lives there.  You're a lot like her.  She's black and plays for a women's basketball team."

Say what? I mean, my skin color is no where near black and I certainly don't look like I'm in any kind of shape to play basketball for more than 5 minutes without falling over dead.  I guess sometimes it's just hard to tell foreigners apart?

And about this basketball player girl, ever since I first heard about her I've really wanted to meet her.  I've been told she lives nearby and I even ended up a basketball game that she was playing in once.  Here is why I want to meet her:  1.  It's just fun to talk to my fellow Americans face to face once in awhile.  2.  Apparently she looks like me : )  So basketball girl, are you out there?  Are you reading this?  I'm your identical twin, separated at birth!  Let's be reunited after all these years!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

I Love this about Turkey...

Bread is super important to Turks.  They eat it at every meal.  On a few occasions I haven't had any bread in my house.  When I've offered a friend something to eat (salad, soup, or some other bread-free food), they've given me a confused look and responded, "Jamie, how can I eat if there's no bread?"  It's that important.  Almost every neighborhood around here has at least one bakery or "bread oven" as the Turks would say.  They keep everyone supplied with fresh loaves for breakfast and dinner. 

 Having a bread oven nearby is a wonderful thing.   Last night for dinner we made pide (pronounced pee-day).  Pide is kind of like pizza but with no sauce.   The pide we ate last night started with me making the topping at home.   This time it was a mixture of hamburger meat, onion, pepper, tomato and some spices (really, you can put almost anything on it and it tastes great - cheese, chicken and mushrooms, sausage, spinach...).  Then we took a little family walk down to the bread oven, which is just around the corner from our house. 
This is the bread dough.  See how they have it all ready to bake into loaves?  They'll let you just buy this dough if you want, which leads to all sorts of wonderful possibilities - pizza dough, apple strudle (James told me to write that, and I guess it is a possibility for some people but I don't actually know how to make apple strudle), and our most frequently enjoyed choice... cinnamon rolls.  We asked them to use some of their dough to make us some pide.  
Here's one of the baker guys.  He flattened out some dough and is pileing some pide topping on it.  He'll spread it all out then hand it to the oven guy.

Now the oven guy is putting our raw pide on a long stick with a paddle at the end and getting it ready to pop into that big oven.

See how long and skinny our pide is?  Isn't that fun!  We made 4 pides last night and ended up paying about $1.50 for them (the price of 4 pieces of bread dough - plus about 5 cents per pide for the labor.)

Then we brought it home and ate it.  Mmmmmm!  We even have enough left over for lunch today, and you can't beat that!

We also bought some dough to take home to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast this morning.  Not really, but that was our plan.  Once we saw that delicious pide come out of the oven we forgot all our other plans and ran home to eat it.  James ended up getting up and going to the bread oven again this morning to get our cinnamon roll dough.
I love the bread oven!!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Sins I've Committed... part 3

I was telling my friend Neriman about the time I had Elif over for tea, explaining how embarrassed I was when Elif jumped to the floor to pick up Elise's bread crumbs.  I expected Neriman to try to make me feel better, or to tell me that bread crumbs on the floor are not that big of a deal.  I wanted her to be on my side and say that Elif was just being wierd.   But I got a completely different response...

Neriman: Yeah, stepping on bread crumbs is very serious Jamie.
Me: Right, but sometimes we just can't help but spill some on the floor, ya know?
Neriman: Well, you just need to be more careful.  Allah gave us bread so we could live. When we step on it or throw it on the floor its really really bad.
I felt pretty stupid by this point...  
Neriman: You know another thing you do that's bad?
Me: What? (Why don't you just kick me while I'm down...)
Neriman: When your trash gets full you put the bags in the Turkish toilet.
Me: I don't understand.
Neriman: Your trash has pieces of food in it.  You shouldn't ever put any food, especially bread  in a bathroom.  Even if it's trash, it's disrespectful to Allah to put it in the bathroom.
Me:  Oh, I didn't know that. (And I'm regretting ever bringing this bread crumb topic up with you.)
Neriman: Every time I come over here I pray (holding hands up in the air and raising her face heavenward)  "Allah, please forgive Jamie.  Don't hold this against her."  
Me: Oh.  (and I'm ready to end this conversation now.)

We live in a 12 story building, with 36 separate flats in it.  One man, Cuma Bey (translated means Mr. Friday) comes around every night and gathers the trash that everyone puts outside their door.  It's shameful to put it out too early because you would stink up the hallway.  When our trash can fills up, I throw the full bags into the corner of the bathroom as it's right by the front door.  At the end of the day before we go to bed James puts it into the hallway.  I guess I'll have to come up with a different place to store my stinky trash bags until evening...

You know, this whole "food in a bathroom is sin" thing makes me think about how horrified all my friends and neighbors would be if they knew to what extent I've sinned in this area.  I'm pretty sure that if food in a trash bag being near a toilet is bad then actually eating food in a bathroom is even worse.  Don't tell anybody, but sometimes I eat ice cream while I take a bath!  And even worse than that, while I was attempting to potty train Elise, I stayed all day in the bathroom with her and we both ate all our meals in there... I repeat... don't tell, I need to maintain a little dignity around here. 

Squatty Potty

So, this is a Turkish toilet (aka squatty potty).  This particular one is in our home.  Please take note of a few things about our Turkish toilet...
1.  The bathroom slippers.  Every home has a Turkish toilet and every Turkish toilet has a pair of plastic slippers that you wear upon entering.  You don't want your bare feet to stand on that toilet edge, and you don't want your regular house slippers to accidently get wet.  
2.  The plastic blue pitcher.  Every Turkish toilet also has a little pitcher beside it.  The idea is that you fill up the pitcher with water then use that to wash yourself off after you do your business (now those plastic slippers are starting to make sense).
3.  A lack of toilet paper... actually ours has toilet paper, you just can't see it.  But many don't.  Why?  Because of that blue bucket... and your left hand.  That's how you clean yourself up.  A friend told me a statistic - the average Turkish home goes through only 7 rolls of toilet paper a year.  Most of those are used to dry off hands after hands wipe... um ... you know. 

Once an American friend here told me about a Turk he knew who went to America.  When he was asked what the hardest thing about living in America was, his honest answer was the bathroom system.  Americans just have toilet paper, there is no way to get your hands all wet and get that squeaky clean feeling that only a good wash gives you.  

I'd say the same about living in Turkey.  The bathroom system is quite an adjustment.  I've learned to tuck some kleenex into my pocket whenever I go anywhere because I don't want to be stuck doing what it takes to get that squeaky clean feeling (believe me, that's no fun... but that's another story!)

"Sins I've Committed... Part 3" is coming soon.  Check back to find out the sin I committed in the Turkish toilet!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Sins I've Committed... part 2

Bread crumbs... they seem to be my downfall.  

Before we had a car we would do a combination of walking and taking a bus to the office we met in for church.  It worked out pretty well except that we would be all ready to go home around 1:30, Elise's nap time, and we'd always have to figure out how to feed her (and ourselves) and keep her awake until we got home.  So on the way to the bus stop we usually grabbed a durum (a chicken sandwich that is wrapped in flat bread) and ate it as we walked/rode the bus home.  Sometimes people would give us strange looks but we always assumed those strange looks were because we were foreigners.  Being Americans in a sea of Turks, we're pretty used to all sorts of looks.  Anyway, eventually we'd get home and put Elise into bed, her tummy full of durum.

One day James' friend Serkan was telling James about fast food being sin.  

James: I don't understand. 
Serkan: The only reason for fast food is so that you can eat it fast, like while you're walking. 
James: Okay, but I still don't understand.
Serkan:  Eating food while you're walking is sin.
James: I don't understand
Serkan: If you eat food while walking, a little piece might fall on the ground.  And then if someone steps on that little piece, especially if it's bread, that's sin. 

So, fastfood restraunts promote eating while walking.  Serkan boycotts them.  They are basically dens of sin. 

Aha!  So that explains those bad looks we would get while eating on the bus rides home!  We've obviously got a lot to learn. 

P.S.  I'm not the only one I've ever seen eating while walking.  Sometimes Turks do it too.   So while it's sin, and there is a chance you might spill a crumb which might eventually get stepped on, some people just don't care and even those who do occasionally take the risk when they're hungry.

Sins I've Committed...

Being an American, many of my neighbors just assume a lot of things about me.  Everything they see on TV from America they assume is true of me.  One day a neighbor asked me if  James and I were married.  I guess this particular woman thought that no Americans actually get married.  They all live in adultery.  Another time when I served a woman a glass of apple juice, she asked if I put beer in it.  Apparently she thought that I not only constantly drink alcohol myself (a sin in Islam), I was also trying to trick her into it. When people see my life they are usually pretty surprised that I'm not constantly having a wild house party, that I dress modestly, and that both of my children are also James' children.  I used to think that I was doing a pretty good job of living a "clean" life in my neighbors eyes but I've since come to realize that no matter how hard I try I just can't live up to their standards.  

One day I had an aquaintance named Elif over for tea.  Having tea doesn't just mean having tea.  It means you are drinking tea and eating a variety of sweet and savory treats alongside it.  On this particular day I was serving a biscuit type thing filled with cheese.  Elise was about a year and a half old at the time and she toddled over to me to take a bite of the biscuit on my plate.  A few crumbs fell to the floor as she toddled away.  Elif was suddenly out of her seat and kneeling at my feet.  I sat with a shocked look on my face while the woman carefully picked up the crumbs one by one muttering something about sin. 

Me: What are you doing?
Elif: I'm just so uncomfortable with the sight of bread crumbs on your floor.  I had to do something about it.
Me:  I don't understand.
Elif:  This is sin!  
Me: I don't understand.
Elif: You have breadcrumbs on your floor!
Me: I don't understand.   
(Are you seeing a theme here??  Obviously my language abilities weren't very good at the time.)
Elif:  If bread is on the floor someone might step on it.  And if someone steps on it that's really bad.  Really really bad.  It's a sin.  I just can't stand to look at bread crumbs on the floor.
Me: Oh.

After explaining to me the ins and outs of sinning through allowing bread to be on the floor or by accidently stepping on it, Elif lit a cigarette up  and proceeded to smoke it in my living room, beside my one and a half year old daughter, allowing some of the ashes to drop onto the carpet and not bothering to try to pick them up.

Me: I don't understand. 

Monday, 4 February 2008

Superbowl Monday

Since we're 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, we can't exactly have a regular Sunday afternoon Superbowl party.  If you subscribe to the right TV channel (which our friends do), you can watch the game live at 1 am Monday morning or you can watch a re-run later that day.  All of us (except Cindy) chose the latter.  We went to Henry and Cindy's around 10 am Monday morning for a day of fun, food, and of course football.
While James and Henry were glued to the screen and making all those football watching noises (OOOOH! NOOOOO! AY! YAPMA, YA!!) that you'd expect to hear coming from guys enjoying a good game (or at least American guys in Turkey watching a good game), Cindy, Andrea, and I were in the kitchen cooking up a delicious bountiful American Superbowl feast. Since I can care less about football and can care more (is that even an expression?!) about yummy food, Superbowl Monday for me was just an excuse to be together with friends and make and eat treats.  And boy did we!!!
Along with these delicious hogie sandwiches we had spinach and artichoke dip, chips and fresh salsa, veggies with blue cheese(!) dressing, and buffalo wings!  Mmmmm-mmmm good!

We interrupt Superbowl Monday to bring you...
As I was making the blue cheese dressing, I had to chuckle at the labels on the mayo bottles.  This Mayonaise bottle says "Eat lots and lots of mayonaise." Does that seem strange to anyone but me?  Well thanks, mayonaise bottle, I intend to do just that.... hmmmm, if only I had more ideas for how to use mayonaise.

Oh look!  This other mayo bottle has a picture of someone dipping their french fries in mayo.  Thanks mayonaise bottle for the serving suggestion!  

These are the little things about living here that bring a smile to my face.  But what I really smile about is...
Yummy Superbowl Monday!!!!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Happy Birthday Elise

Happy Birthday Elise!!

You came out of my womb and into the world three years ago.  You were born 10 time zones away from the place your parents still call home.   The first language you heard was Turkish from the doctors and nurses, followed quickly by English.  Even though you're an American citizen, you have yet to actually live in the United States.  You've flown internationally more times in your short life than I had by the time I was 25!  You live in a tall building and ride an elevator to and from your home daily.  You usually speak English but throw Turkish in now and then too.  The things that we think are crazy about life overseas are simply normalcy to you.  You've seen some amazing things in your 3 years... I think you'll turn out to be a very special woman.  You're already a unique and special little girl.  I'm glad you surprised us by coming when we weren't planning you!   Happy Birthday Elise!!!
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