Archive | November, 2012

arkadaşlar

24 Nov

Yet again, I have been reminded of how blessed I am to be able to live this dream life. On Wednesday of last week, I set out to Göreme, a tiny town in central Turkey which is located in the region of Cappadocia, a land of crazy rock formations (where some of the early Christians lived) and hot air balloons. I planned my trip with several friends from my university, but I ended up going by myself two days earlier since my classes on Thursday and Friday had been cancelled. I thought that during the two extra days I would just sit in a hostel and do some homework, maybe do a little walking around the town and practicing my Turkish. But from the moment my overnight bus dropped me off amid the bizarre landscape of Göreme at 7 AM on Thursday morning, I began to realize that this little town had other plans for me.

Within my first 24 hours in Cappadocia, I had made several new international friends: the Turkish hostel manager with whom I played multiple hours of backgammon, a Pakistani banker, a Canadian backpacker, a Brazilian med student, an Afghani refugee/barista at a coffee shop, a Mexican architect, and multiple Turkish gift shop employees. My first two days were full of cultural and linguistic exploration, and I was able to speak in Turkish, Hindi, and Spanish with various people I met. If I had only met a Xhosa speaker there, I would have been able to practice every language I know.

Other than speaking foreign languages, during the first days my activities included exploring an underground city, bicycling through a valley, going to an open air museum where I was photographed (ambushed, actually) by multiple Japanese tourists, and eating a free traditional Turkish meal prepared for me by the awesome staff of my hostel (Cappadocia Rock Valley Pension, I highly recommend it). One of the best things about my trip is that I was never alone except for when I wanted to be (Parental Disclaimer: during the daylight hours and in populated places, of course). On Friday, I walked a Canadian friend to the bus stop just as my school friends were arriving from the airport… Perfect timing. Over Saturday and Sunday, we went hot air ballooning, hiking and exploring some ancient ruins, and I made a return trip with them to the underground city. Then on Sunday night I hopped on a bus back to Istanbul, where I arrived just in time for my Monday morning class. My Cappadocia weekend was easily one of the best experiences I have had in Turkey so far.

Biking in Love Valley

Sunrise from a hot air balloon

Balloons in a valley

A few days later, on Thursday night, several of my arkadaşlar (it’s Turkish for friends) and I had a Thanksgiving feast at my apartment. Although we weren’t able to find a turkey or even an oven big enough in which to cook one, KFC made a delicious substitute, and we had other food as well (I really missed my Aunt Jeanne’s green bean casserole though). Overall, it was a great night and I was still able to feel that warm holiday feeling despite being thousands of miles away from home. And better still, Thanksgiving Round 2 (complete with a real Turkish turkey) will begin in a few short hours.

Two delightful Thanksgiving friends

Basically, the best thing about Turkey is the people I have been able to meet during my time here. During the past week, I have made many new friends in both Cappadocia and Istanbul, became better friends with many acquaintances, and had a perfect Thanksgiving made epic by the people who were there. So thank you, my arkadaşlar, for this wonderful experience. I love everything.

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georgia on my mind

1 Nov

Last week was Bayram, a Muslim religious holiday, during which school was cancelled and all the students went home to be with their families (much like Thanksgiving). Since I was obviously unable to go all the way to Louisiana for my five-day weekend, I took my friend Rachel up on an offer to come visit her in Tbilisi, Georgia, where she is teaching English with an NGO. I knew little to nothing about the country of Georgia– not even how to pronounce the name of Tbilisi, its capital city. Nevertheless, I booked my plane ticket and left Istanbul on a cold and rainy Wednesday night to catch the 1 AM flight to Tbilisi. When my plane landed and I went through customs, it was 4 AM, meaning I had three hours to sit in the airport and wait for the buses to start running, when I would go meet Rachel.

During those three hours in the airport, one of the highlights of my weekend occurred. While I sat in Burger King, drinking my coffee, a Georgian guy sat down at the table next to me. He looked like he spoke English so I asked him where I could find the buses. He then became my best friend for the next few hours, as he sat with me and gave me a basic itinerary of things to do in Tbilisi, as well as Batumi (his hometown, which is six hours away). He also told me what foods to eat (even giving me the prices of these foods) and made me a little Georgian-English dictionary, which came in handy over the next few days. When 7 o’clock came, he brought me out to my bus and paid for my ticket. I will probably never see him again, but I am so grateful to that stranger (whose name was the Georgian translation of ‘Hercules’) because he gave me a wonderful first impression of Georgia and of the hospitality of the people there.

Over the next few days, I experienced Georgian culture as I explored the city and met Georgian people. One of the most striking differences I encountered is that Georgia has its own alphabet for its language. Although the alphabet is very cool looking, it was very difficult for me to function, as I couldn’t read anything. Thankfully, many signs also had an English translation but much of the time I felt powerless not to be able to read any of the words around me. In the Georgian alphabet, there are 35 letters, and each makes the same sound, with no variations in pronunciation– it makes a lot of sense, in some ways I think it’s better than the Roman alphabet, in which the letter “C” can make a variety of different sounds. However, the Georgian language isn’t necessarily better or easier. They enjoy putting many consonants together and creating impossible words. For example, one day I visited the old capital of Georgia, a city called “Mtskheta.” Words like this are very common in Georgian. I was linguistically fascinated with the language the whole time I was there, especially since I’m taking a phonology class this semester which opened my eyes to the impossibilities of the language. For example, the word “Tbilisi” has two oral plosives side-by-side in word-initial position… What’s up with that?

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Georgian movie theater. That alphabet…

Some of the other highlights from my trip were visiting multiple castles and churches (Georgia is a primarily Orthodox country, as opposed to Turkey which is mostly Muslim) built many centuries ago, taking a road trip through the Caucasus Mountains to visit Vardzia, an ancient cave city, trying several different Georgian foods, visiting the main tourist attractions in Tbilisi and Mtskheta, and completing the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (the extended versions). By the time I left to come back to Turkey, I had seen a good deal of the city and countryside, both of which have many uncanny similarities to Middle Earth.

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From a ferris wheel on a mountain overlooking Tbilisi

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Vardzia, the ancient cave city

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A fortress with a church inside on a hill right behind Old Town in Tbilisi

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Georgian food. This particular one is Adjaruli Khachapuri, which consists of bread, cheese, butter, and raw eggs. A little too much for me.

My trip to Georgia was an eye-opening experience in the sense that it made me realize that there are so many places in the world that I have never heard of in my life, and languages I will never learn, and amazing things, both natural and manmade, that I may never see. The Georgians I met were so proud and knowledgeable about their country and its history, of which I knew literally nothing about. I hope that in my life I will be able to have many more experiences like the one I had in Tbilisi, which surprised me and allowed me to learn as much about a totally foreign language, culture, and country as was possible in five days. I’m really thankful to my friend Rachel for inviting me over and showing me such a wonderful time, because if it weren’t for her, I doubt I ever would have visited Georgia. However, now that I’ve spent a few days in this fascinating country, I know that I will definitely be making a return trip someday.

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From a castle somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains. Georgia is BEAUTIFUL.