Archive | December, 2012

chestnuts roasting on istiklal street

28 Dec

This year I spent my first Christmas away from home. I had been anticipating that I would be homesick during this particular time of year, but my little Turkish community once again pulled through for me. It was definitely strange not being at home with my family, but spending time with my good friends here and the fact that Turkey doesn’t really do commercial Christmas made it very easy to be away during the holiday season.

The best Christmas moment of this year happened in one of my classes. Since Turkey is a primarily Muslim country, schools are not cancelled on Christmas and I had four hours of class that day. I had contemplated skipping school, but I had an assignment to turn in and nothing else to do with my Christmas morning, so at 8:45 AM, I left my apartment and headed to class. In the hallway, I ran into one of my Turkish classmates and I wished him a “Mutlu Noel!” (“Merry Christmas”). He laughed at my early morning cheerfulness and wished me a merry Christmas too as we walked into the classroom. Halfway through the two-hour lesson, we were given a break and many students left the room to stretch their legs and get fresh air. At the end of the break, Coşkun (my friend from the hallway) and three other guys from the class came back in the classroom and started singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” and they each put a little bar of chocolate on my desk. That in itself was enough to make my Christmas great. I have had so much fun getting to know all my classmates and becoming friends with some of them, and the fact that they made that special gesture on Christmas meant so much to me… I will never forget it.

Other highlights from this Christmas season included: an awkward run-in with a priest at an Italian Christmas Eve mass, eating my first chestnut (they tasted like potatoes, which made me happy), my friend Rachel coming from Georgia to visit for a week, Santa Claus coming to my apartment, my first visit to the Hagia Sophia (I don’t know why I had never gone before), hanging out with the Afghani friend I had met in Cappadocia, and SNOW a few days before Christmas, which I think caught everyone off guard.

As of tomorrow, I have two weeks left in this amazing place, and 2012 is also coming to an end. I’m honestly not sure if I will ever be able to top what has most definitely been the best year of my life. I got to spend one month in India, four and a half in South Africa, two and a half in Louisiana, and four in Istanbul. I have seen natural wonders on three different continents, eaten weird foreign foods, learned new languages, and made friends all over the world. Everyone I have met everywhere has taught me something. Even the time I spent working at the factory was a valuable experience (I see that now in retrospect). 2013 has got a lot of work to do if it’s going to hold a candle to the epic year I’ve just had.

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tick tock

12 Dec

December is already here… The time has passed so quickly, it’s unreal. It feels like just last week that I was trying to navigate Istanbul with zero knowledge of the layout of the city or the Turkish language. But it wasn’t last week, it was three months ago. I now know the average length of a bus ride from Rumeli Hisarüstü (where I live) to Kabataş, Beşiktaş, or Taksim. I can also say things in Turkish like “Boğaziçi Üniversitesi’nde Türkçe öğreniyorum” (“I am learning Turkish at Boğaziçi University”) and “tavla oynamak ister misin?” (“would you like to play backgammon?”) Just this afternoon, the old man who sells me bananas told me that my Turkish is improving. Coming from the old man who sells bananas, it must be true. Silhouetted minarets of mosques against sunset skies and the sounds of car horns and cats and calls to prayer are all familiar to me now. I can even read most menus in Turkish, and I have memorized the wifi password at the Poğaçacı (bakery) near my apartment. I am well on my way to becoming a competent member of Turkish society.

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Another thing that is starting to happen as time passes is that I run into people I know all over the place. For example, on Wednesday I had a really difficult phonology test, and after it was over I went to celebrate the end of suffering with some of my friends from class. Then I went to another friend’s apartment to work on a group presentation for my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class, and then we hung out for a while after we finished preparing for our presentation. Then on my way back to my apartment, I ran into my German friends from Cappadocia, who invited me to their apartment to make pancakes and celebrate the Dutch Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, who comes on December 5th and not on Christmas. After eating some delicious pancakes and having interesting cultural exchanges, I again headed toward my apartment, only to come across three of my good friends at Mutfak. I joined them for dinner, çay, and tavla (backgammon). Eventually I made it home, where I spent some quality bonding time with our new obese cat. That day was particularly full of chance encounters, but the fact that these things are happening to me more and more frequently is proving that this place is really starting to be my home.

Cats on a bench. So. Many. Cats.

Cats on a bench on campus. So. Many. Cats.

However, the time to go back to the US is quickly approaching. One month from now I will have to say goodbye to Istanbul, which is truly starting to feel like home, and I get panicky just thinking about it. Although it will be nice to be back at Baylor after one year of being abroad, I know I will have a hard time giving up the life I have built in what is possibly the most beautiful city in the world. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already can’t wait to come back and all I can say is that it had better be soon.