Monday, December 27, 2010

Lost in Translation 2

Except for the absence of snow, there have been thankfully few reminders that I’ll be “missing” Christmas in Canada with my parents, brothers, nieces and nephews. Especially in Istanbul Christmas trees, Santas, reindeer and carols are everywhere; I even saw panettone for sale at the supermarket.

Except it’s all for New Year’s. It seems the Turkish have appropriated several Christmas traditions for celebrating New Year’s Eve, where children receive gifts and sit around a decorated “New Year’s tree.”

And in that context, I’d like you to consider three dissatisfyingly strange conversations I had with a dinner guest last night.

Puzzling Conversation #1:

Dinner Guest: Seeing as you have a New Year’s tree all set up and decorated, I assume you’re staying in town for New Year’s Eve?

Me: Actually, that’s our Christams tree. We celebrated Christmas yesterday. We’re going to Adana for New Year’s.

Dinner Guest: Huh?!

Puzzling Conversation #2:

Dinner Guest: Aren’t Christmas and New Year’s on the same day?

Me: No, Christmas is on December 25th.

Dinner Guest: Isn’t Christmas when Jesus was born?

Me: Yes.

Dinner Guest: ??!!

Puzzling Conversation #3:

Dinner Guest: Why are Christmas and New Year’s so close together, like a week apart?

Me: Huh??!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Not to worry, this isn't a rant; the hypocrisy I'm going to talk about is all mine.

After four years of "surviving" in Tarsus, imagine my surprise and delight at discovering Istanbul's Macro Center, an upscale affiliate of the Migros supermarket chain. As I strolled its aisles, I couldn't help asking myself whether I was still in the same country. Sweet potatoes and limes in the produce section, bacon in the deli, and nachos and salsa in the snacks aisle. Not to mention the things I hadn't even really missed -- Ben and Jerry's ice cream, Pepperidge Farm cookies, and Weetabix!

Nachos y salsaImage via WikipediaBut at prices more than three times what I'd pay in Canada, I left without buying anything, and didn't go back. The valet-parked Porsches and luxury SUVs out front were a further turnoff, as the whole place began to represent the opposite of what I'd come to love about life in Tarsus.

Well, that self-righteousness of mine lasted about two months. And while I still buy 99% of my groceries from more "Turkish" markets and have adapted my family's cuisine to work with what's available at the pazar (farmer's market) and in the aisles of my local supermarket, I have started to indulge in what Macro Center has to offer every once in a while. This weekend I spent the equivalent of almost $15 on a bag of nachos and a jar of salsa, but it was worth every kuruş.

However, I should add that while I'll buy nachos again, I'm determined to start making my own salsa. I'm going to try an adaptation of the Pioneer Woman's recipe, substituting the canned tomatoes and peppers for fresh.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Take Out

Other big cities likely have a similar service, but Istanbul is where I first came across this brilliant business idea. (which translates as my food basket) is a website allowing you to order in from hundreds of fast food chains and restaurants. No phone numbers to store, no take-out menus to save, no having to explain how to get to your difficult-to-find home. In fact, you don't have to speak to anyone -- no waiting on hold, no miscommunication.

You can narrow down your options by cuisine and location. Restaurants are rated on speed, service and taste, and you can even choose to be environmentally friendly and tick a box so that plastic cutlery, napkins and other such items aren't brought. The website remembers you, so ordering is quick and easy. And all deliveries are made on mopeds, so traffic is never a concern!

Since I love to cook and am considerably health conscious, we rarely eat out; hence my being so slow to discover this great service. But I'll still go ahead and recommend it to others, making sure to tell expats there's an English version!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Turkish Dozen

I've decided the Turkish equivalent to a dozen is one kilogram. Not only does one usually buy a kilogram of baklava, börek (Turkish blintz) or poğaça at the bakery, where a North American would probably buy a dozen, eggs come in cartons of ten.

No Turk I've ever asked, including my husband, has been able to give me a Turkish word for dozen, although my dictionary tells me there is one. It's just clearly never used!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

GPS Navigation System

I'd always written off GPS navigation systems as cool toys for people who love to play with technology, and had certainly never thought of buying one. But a friend lent me one recently, and I don't want to give it back! I would not be overstating things if I told you this tiny little black device has changed my life.

You see, moving to Istanbul has in many ways been like moving to a new country; except for the language, there is almost nothing else to connect it to Adana/Tarsus, where I'd been living for the past four years. And whereas four years ago I was afraid to venture out into the city because I didn't speak the language, I now find myself apprehensive about leaving the safety of our campus because I will get lost.

And I must clarify -- there is getting lost, and then there is getting lost in Istanbul, where one wrong turn can take you half an hour to correct. I have gotten lost half a dozen times since moving here, and each occasion has had me almost in tears. Indeed, navigating my way around this new city of ours is an emotional rollercoaster; I've enjoyed absolute euphoria, as I did when I drove across the Bosphorus Bridge for the first time and when I made it to the Ataturk Airport in under half an hour; and utter despair, as I did when it took me over two hours to get back, baby crying in the backseat. And that two hours was not because I was stuck in traffic; it was because I backtracked and criss-crossed my way across the city three or four times trying to find my way home.

I've been known to be indecisive when it comes to purchases, but I knew in an instant I had to buy a GPS navigator; although my friend and I had both thought I'd use his for a week or so and get to learn my way around so I wouldn't need it anymore, I now can't imagine life without one. It's even shown me better routes than the ones I already thought I knew!

I love you, TomTom!

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Old School

Because returning anything is never easy in this country and traffic is a nightmare in Istanbul, this morning I did something I think my Turkish mother-in-law would be proud of.

I had just opened a fresh package of brown rice to make my son's breakfast cereal, but as I rinsed it, little black specks of ... BEETLE floated to the surface! Dozens of them!

Horrified, my mind immediately raced through all the possible courses of action:
  • return the rice to the store and demand they check all the other bags of the same brand's rice for bugs;
  • write to the manufacturer;
  • throw out the rice.
But the calmer, more realistic, more Turkish me soon took over. None of the above would make Baby's breakfast happen; and I didn't have the time or energy to take on a problem that is simply a reality of the pre-packaged food industry.

So I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed that rice, even picking a few of the beetles out by hand, and then I cooked it.

As for the rest of the bag, I poured the remaining rice onto a large cookie sheet and put it out on the terrace; within minutes, beetles were crawling out of the rice, off the tray, and across the table! Bye bye beetles!

The rice is now safely stored away in an airtight container in the dark, cool fridge.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Reading Update

I never did finish the Orhan Pamuk essays (click here for that hopeful post); am I crazy to still plan on reading his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence? Anyway, that's still a long way off.

Am reading at a snail's pace these days. I've been toting around The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, another author I've been lukewarm about in the past, for over a month now. But unlike the Pamuk book, I'm really enjoying this one! The only problem is I can't manage to read more than two or three pages a night. Thankfully, the chapters are about that long!

I should mention that since the semester started, I've read about fifteen young adult novels ... Trying to keep up with my students! The most notable: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Even though the C. Sweeper comes by every so often to remove the garbage floating along the European bank of the Bosphorus, sights like this are common:

There is no doubt that a better approach would be an educational campaign against littering. Garbage and recycling bins are everywhere, and admittedly often full to overflowing; but perhaps that's more indicative of how often they're emptied rather than how many people are using them?

I don't have the answers, but sure would like to see a change.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Car Colours

Why are so many cars in Turkey grey or silver? I'm not sure whether supply is following demand or vice versa, but most dealerships only offer white, black or grey as options.

Case in point: all six of the cars parked below are silver or grey!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fun While On Duty

Am deep into Nanowrimo, so haven't been blogging much. But we did get out yesterday to stroll along the Bosphorus, where I noticed that even those who normally have to work on Sundays were enjoying the afternoon.

This parking attendant clearly wasn't too worried about letting a car or two leave without paying:

And although I wasn't quick enough to catch this street cleaner as he emptied his dustbin into a nearby garbage bin ...

... he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and was dancing to the music of this guy:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Turkish Directions

This is nothing new, but I thought you might get a kick out of this. Let me start with some background and a valuable lesson learned early on.

Four years ago, when I was still new in Turkey, a fellow expat and I made plans to go out to dinner with our respective boyfriends. She and I made all the plans; the men just had to show up. C picked me up from work, and we started to drive. "So, where are we going?" he asked me.

"I've got the address right here." I proudly produced my Palm Pilot, pulled up the address and read it out to him.

"What's that? Where's that?" he asked.

"What do you mean, where's that? This is your city!"

Well, who knew, but in Turkey things don't work that way. Addresses, streets, directions don't work that way.

Anyway, to make a long story short, C got on the phone with my friend's boyfriend and we figured out how to get to their place. But not without the two of them having a good laugh over us girls and our western assumptions!

So this is how it works when you want to give directions: first, you state the neighbourhood. If it's Istanbul, district first, then neighbourhood. Then you state the closest main street, and a landmark, such as a restaurant or a school. Then you might get more specific with the colour of the building, or which business is on the ground floor of the apartment. But don't bother with an actual street address, since apparently only the postal service uses or understands that system.

I was reminded of all this when I received directions to an event on raising bilingual kids I'm attending on Saturday. Can you make sense of this?

"Dumlupınar 17, Caferaga mah Kadiköy Istanbul. Near MUHURDAR Cad. and Burger King on corner of Muhurdar Cad. and Dumlupınar Sok. close to SIFA Hastanesi and next to Gümüş Cafe and opposite Sahaf Cafe. See you at Greenhouse!"


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

E-Books -- An Expat's Necessity?

A Picture of a eBookImage via WikipediaFor a few months now, I've seen colleagues, friends and even traveling relatives carry around either a Kindle or an iPad, and I can no longer ignore what seems to be a growing trend. I need to decide: do I buy into it? (And is it a trend, or will e-books indeed become what MP3 players now are to music?)

If I still lived in Toronto, if I weren't an expat, there's no way I would even be considering this. But an expat I am, so here goes:

  • an immediate expense (especially if I choose the iPad, which is way more than an e-book)
  • new technology = being replaced by improved new technology ... so would my Kindle quickly become 'old' the way the first iPods quickly did?
  • being unable to borrow from and lend books to friends, which is just plain fun
  • guilt: my school's library has a lot of books and magazines, and I should take advantage!
  • Never again having to pack, move and unpack books, as I already have so many times in my life, as I did this summer, and as I undoubtedly will again.
  • Being able to 'buy' a book and start reading it instantly (or so I'm told). This is especially key as English books are not easy to come by in Turkey. Or at least they weren't in Tarsus or Adana. Although they are in Istanbul, as I discovered much to my delight yesterday when I walked into Remzi Kitabevi and the first thing I saw, opposite the entrance, was a huge shelf of recently published English books, including several by Malcolm Gladwell and Elif Shafak's latest novel. Not your standard 'bestseller' fare. So anyway, perhaps this particular point is moot now that we live in Istanbul.
  • English books in Turkey are expensive; e-books cost the same everywhere (I would think! Please let me be right!)
  • Ordering books from to Turkey has just gotten more complicated and it has nothing to do with the bookseller.
  • E-book readers really aren't expensive at all, averaging around $150. If I buy 5 English books from a Turkish bookstore, I've spent around that much. 10 if I buy them on a trip home to Canada. But then of course I've got to lug them back with me ...
With all the 'pro' arguments, why haven't I just gone ahead and bought a Kindle? None of the items on my 'con' list are enough to dissuade me. What it comes down to, then, is this: I'm afraid I'd miss the feel of a book in my hand; would miss the smell of books; would miss holding one page between my thumb and forefinger as I read the previous page, anticipating the next; that I wouldn't be able to underline or otherwise mark up passages I find particularly inspiring. And most of all, that I'd miss seeing my collection grow on my shelves, grow until the next big heart-breaking purge.
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Monday, October 18, 2010

An Argument Against Owning Pets

Let me preface by saying I grew up with cats and have also been a dog owner. Let me also add that I absolutely love animals. I stop on the street to pet anything that'll accept a little cuddle, and have no qualms about Baby getting up close to the stray cats that come around to our terrace and beg for food. I really, really love animals.

But I've been firm with myself over the past few years, and while I cannot imagine having a pet-free household forever, I do not want any now. We travel too much, for one thing; and it's just too much responsibility.

That said, lately my resolve has been waning. Baby loves pets too, but until recently, I was
happy to let him play with our friends' dogs and cats. Then a young grey tabby started coming round. I estimate he was about six months old, so past the worst of the kitten stage, but young enough to train. (Assuming one can train a cat. We'll talk about that another day.) He was incredibly sweet, and would put up with Baby's tugs and pokes; he would head-butt Baby lovingly, and purr; he wasn't scared by Baby's squeals of delight. Once, he snuck into the
house and I found him sleeping curled up in a corner of Baby's room.

My resolve was in serious jeopardy.

Then I got the following email from my brother, who has two cats.

I have a cat flap, and my beasts regularly drag half-dead (which means half-alive) RATS into the house!

Once, the first time, the damned thing got away from them ... The next day, while watching TV, I saw the very much alive rat hiding on top of the curtains! Since that fiasco, the cats drag in vermin that can't get away. Often I just find headless rodents, or worse, just the entrails.

That's yuck. Had to clean up that the other day.

My resolve has returned.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Yesterday while walking along Istiklal Caddesi, I saw this sign outside a Starbucks:

"Ring bell for assistance," it reads in Turkish.

The small step was no challenge for me and my stroller, but someone in a wheelchair would have definitely needed help. Seeing this sign made me happy -- I have faced more difficult entrances than this with my stroller, where not a ramp or elevator was in sight.

I love when it is obvious that someone has thought of such details. It tells me that someone not only recognized a problem, but did something about it. And that in turn inspires confidence that the employee or business is a good one.

Except I'm not sure how the fact that said Starbucks is three-storeys high but has only one washroom fits with that theory.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reading - an Update

Am having mixed feelings about the book of Pamuk's essays ... don't know how much further I'll push on.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Other Colors: Essays and a Story

I've just ordered books by several of who may very well turn out to be among my new favourite writers. Earlier this year I took a creative non-fiction writing course with Liz Boltz Ranfeld, who introduced me to several marvelous authors. Hungry for more of their work, I've been carrying their names with me on a list for months now, and finally got around to buying their books last week.

I think I'll keep their names a secret for now, posting about them one by one as I read them. In the meantime, I'll tell you how excited I am to have gotten my hands on a collection of essays by Orhan Pamuk. Controversial in Turkey and perhaps therefore so well-known in other countries, I'll admit I've left more of his novels unfinished than finished. But the ones I loved, I really loved; and I'm always a sucker for the essays of novelists.

I found out about "Other Colors: Essays and a Story" by accident about a month ago, and was delighted to learn that the school where I work has it in its library. I was even more thrilled to discover how FAT it is when I picked it up today. Turning from the table of contents to get to the first page, I was surprised to find two and a half more pages of table of contents!

I just hope that this book won't end up as so many Pamuk books before it -- abandoned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's that time of year again ...

NaNoWriMo is back! And even though I don't have nearly the time I did living in Tarsus, where my hobbies were vital to my mental well-being, I am determined to do it again -- I will write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

And while I may have more distractions here in Istanbul, I also have loads of cafes in which to write, writing buddies galore, and inspiration everywhere I look!

Let's just hope the nine-day holiday in the middle of the month helps rather than hurts me!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


To pick up on my recent post about cross-cultural linguistic misinterpretations, I'd like to share with you one of the many puzzles I cannot solve. Perhaps I'll start a semantics series ...

But in the meantime, I'd love to get to the bottom of why Turkish fathers call their babies "daddy" and Turkish mothers call their daughters "mummy?" Used as a term of endearment similar to sweetheart or honey, I once asked my husband why on earth babacığım and anneciğim are so commonly used? He admitted to being as baffled as I, and we agreed on the spot never to use either term with our own children.

Of course, he now often addresses Baby as baba, and when I remind him of his promise and point out the ridiculousness of it, he just shrugs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Musings ...

A group of Turkish women, wearing different co...Image via WikipediaThis is probably the closest I'll ever come to writing about politics, so bear with me.

The other day, after taking my nanny, who happens to wear a headscarf, to an informal afternoon school function, she asked me whether I thought she'd made anyone uncomfortable with her headscarf. Her question was beside the point, as I realized that she herself had been uncomfortable as the only covered woman.

The irony wasn't lost on me -- walking around Istanbul in my t-shirt and jeans and my long hair blowing in the wind, I often feel slightly uneasy, as if I'm being judged by the covered women I see around me. Am I just imagining scowls of disapproval? In my mind, they're holding their breath for the day when all women in Turkey will by law be required to hide their hair under headscarves and cover their arms and legs.

The reasonable part of my brain tells me that's not at all how they feel; indeed, the covered women I've met have only ever been warm and friendly towards me. Yet I suspect this divide, based primarily on misunderstanding and lack of communication, exists not just in my mind, but in the minds of others as well.

I wonder if the two 'sides' spoke openly, whether we'd be able to trump any higher powers that might be pitting us against each other?
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Less Can Be More

Back in Tarsus, spending a cozy evening at home in your pajamas with a glass of wine and a book was guilt-free. (Unless you were trying to cut back on your alcohol consumption, of course.) Here in Istanbul, nights in mean you're missing stuff out there.

But if you resolve, like I have, to make the most of the city and visit its museums, go to its concerts, explore its back streets and unique shops, eat its food ... Where do you start? The choices are unending, and one might easily become so overwhelmed that one does nothing.

Back in my former Toronto life, with so much at my finger tips, I admit I took the city for granted; I can count on one hand the times I visited a museum or art gallery, and tended to go to the same restaurants and cafes whenever I went out with friends. But nothing shakes you out of that better than four years in a provincial outpost!

The reality of my new Istanbul existence includes a full-time job and a family of three, and so I'm happy if I get out into the city once a week. As long as I do something fun and interesting in this incredible city each week, I don't feel guilty. Last weekend included brunch at a cafe on the Bosphorus with a group of ten interesting people; we walked forty minutes to and from the restaurant, thus getting a good dose of warm autumn sunshine (and a little rain!).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lost in Translation

I'm sure we Canadians are guilty of it too -- what we call pizza is apparently nothing like the real Italian pie; and I have to assume that we are misusing some of the many foreign words in our English language.

But I've never been more aware of the way things get lost in translation as I am here in Turkey. I'll leave the linguistic examples for another day, but want to tell you about a new "valet" service now available in Istanbul. The advertisement caught my eye right away because of what it was 'selling' -- an alternative to drinking and driving. I get excited whenever I see social education programs here for things I grew up with as givens -- recycling and car seats for children being two examples dear to my heart. Although I have heard of many people lose their licenses for a year for drinking and driving, this was the first time I saw an attempt to tackle the problem closer to the root -- instead of punishing offenders, here was an attempt to prevent drunk driving. And I was thrilled.

The only puzzling thing is the way the ad opens: At last, the 'designated driver' system so popular in Europe and America is here. It then goes on to explain its service: Just call this number and one of our experienced chauffeurs will immediately hop on his collapsible scooter and come meet you; he will then drive you home in your own car.

Obviously, the 'designated driver' concept has been modified to suit Turkish party-goers, who are far more spontaneous than us North Americans; whereas we designate our drivers before starting to drink, here, there is an 'out' for anyone who suddenly finds themselves too drunk to drive home. I guess one needs to know one's clientele.

Monday, September 20, 2010


On the weekends we explore the city. On Saturday we spent a beautiful afternoon in Ortaköy, strolling leisurely among the locals and tourists, browsing the endless stands of handicrafts and secondhand books. We ate kumpir at one of the dozens of kumpir stands, and I was reminded of the way vendors in Turkey are not afraid of competition the way they are in Canada -- whereas one would be ill-advised to open a pizzeria in a neighbourhood that already has one in Toronto, I'm not sure one can get this baked potato stuffed with every topping imaginable anywhere else in Istanbul!

We strolled and stopped for tea, strolled some more and stopped to let Baby watch the pigeons, strolled some more and stopped to watch the Cunard's Queen Victoria pass by, not believing what a coincidence it was for us to be there at that moment. We watched a boat called "C. Sweeper" suck up garbage floating in the water. We eavesdropped on a tour guide explain something to a group of German tourists. We people watched. It was one of those afternoons where we just let ourselves be guided by whatever came up. Which is why, I believe, we were able to take notice of the following scene:

two little tartici, young boys who sit with a beat-up and no doubt unreliable bathroom scale and allow you to weigh yourself for a fee, were stripping down to their underwear and leaving their clothes on their scales in preparation for an icy swim in the Bosphorus. Onlookers whispered to each other in horror when they saw the filth the boys were about to dive into. The two boys teased and cajoled each other, as if they were aware of the suspense they were creating, until the smaller one finally jumped in. As he splashed and flapped his way back to the wall, we realized he couldn't swim! He hoisted himself back up onto land, sputtering and looking quite pitiful; but when an onlooker remarked that he'd surely swallowed quite a bit of water, the boy replied he'd been thirsty anyway.

He rearranged a thick rope that was tied to a post so that it reached out from shore; the boys would jump onto the rope, which they would then use to pull themselves back to land. In addition to the potential for drowning, there were jellyfish in the water, and the boys would hastily pull them off themselves once back on land and throw them to the ground. As a new mother and as a Canadian, I admit I am perhaps a little too safety-conscious, to the extent that I sometimes tell myself to just relax and let something go once in a while; I couldn't help but notice that these boys were having fun nobody should spoil.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing Turkey's urchins plying their trade with the confidence of adults. I usually look away and keep walking, trying to put them out of my mind. But seeing these two boys shed their professional faces and follow their boyish instincts was beautiful. This was by far the highlight of my day. My husband and I each had our own reasons for lingering at the scene for as long as we did; he was worried one of the boys might need rescuing, and I was basking in their happiness. At that moment, they didn't have a care in the world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Bosphorus Bridge

I admit I was more than just a little apprehensive at the thought of moving to Istanbul with its staggering population of 19 million. But I was determined to tackle the city head-on and become as comfortable navigating its roads as I had been in Adana and Tarsus.

I just didn't think I'd start so soon!

Within a week or two of arriving, I had to drop my husband off at the airport. He drove while I carefully made mental notes, occasionally checking the map to see the corresponding 'bigger picture.' Still, I was extremely nervous about the return trip.

I gave myself a stern pep talk: what's the worst thing that could happen? What exactly was I afraid of?

Getting lost.

And what will happen if I get lost?

I'll eventually find my way again. Or ask for directions. Or call my brother-in-law, who knows the city inside and out.

I was a little surprised when I actually did get lost, but I corrected my mistake and was one step closer to knowing Istanbul.

A successful trip to to the supermarket and another airport run a few days later further boosted my confidence.

Then came the real challenge: unable to resist a cheap flight to Adana in and out of Sabiha Gökçen, Istanbul's other airport, I now had to figure out how to get myself and Baby there after work one Friday, but before rush hour. Which allowed no room for error. The slightest mistake could set me back just enough to get me caught in traffic and turn a 45-minute drive into a two-hour one. Or so I was warned.

I enlisted the help of experienced Istanbul expat friends, who were torn between recommending the simplest, most straightforward routes and the quickest, most efficient. The problem, it seemed, was getting to the bridge. I was to cross the Bosphorus Bridge, after which my journey would apparently be extremely easy. But there were dozens of ways to get to the bridge.

Bosphorus BridgeImage via WikipediaI became increasingly nervous, until one kind friend said he'd lead me in his car to the bridge. Within ten minutes he was pulling over to the shoulder and waving me past, and I was merging with the cuing traffic at the bottleneck that is the entrance to the bridge. I couldn't believe how easy it had been! The route he'd taken had been roundabout to say the least, and it might be years before I would be able to navigate the roads of Ortaköy and Beşiktaş as expertly as he did, but at that moment, I didn't care. All I could think about was that I was driving myself and Baby across the Bosphorus Bridge. It was a beautiful day, and I dared to take my eyes off the road a few times to admire the view. Stunning. I am not ashamed to say that I was overcome with emotion and my tears welled up with tears. It was a beautiful moment.

Reality set back in once we parked at the airport and I had to face the difficulties of travelling alone with an eight-month-old. But I'll save that story for another day; suffice to say that the exploding water bottle incident, which you can read about here if you missed it, was only a small part of it.
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Big City Girl

Istanbul Birds in Flight (Color)Image by Oberazzi via FlickrIf I have to choose between being a city girl or a country girl, I'm afraid I have to choose the former. Yes, I miss Tarsus and its friendly neighbourhood vendors, inexpensive fresh produce and spices, and its simplicity. But in the month since we've moved to Istanbul, I've already been enjoying several aspects of cosmopolitan life that I just don't want to give up again -- at least not until I retire!
  • Sweet potatoes. Yes, they cost 12TL per kilogram; but I can now buy them if I want to!
  • Mommy groups -- they exist! Haven't found one of my own yet, but in the meantime am enjoying ...
  • ... the company of the dozen or so other foreign mothers married to Turkish men I've already met.
  • Other English speaking children for Baby to socialize with and connect him to his non-Turkish side.
  • Organizations such as Professional American Women of Istanbul (PAWI); I won't even go into why this is wonderful! (I know I'm not American, but they welcome Canadians too.)
  • Resources for expats, such as Professor Anna Lia Proietti’s seminar on raising bilingual children I'll be attending next month.
  • Real pedicures.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Big City Girl Turned Small Town Girl?

Although I'm loving Istanbul, must admit to several 'rural migrant' behaviours and attitudes, most of which revolve around food:
  • I've had my husband bring back huge amounts of pul biber, homemade salça and tomato conserve from his visits to Adana;
  • I jealously hoard the homemade jams and wild honeys my in-laws send;
  • I've taken to complaining that the coffee isn't as fresh here and speaking fondly of the way I used to be able to do x, get y, and go to z back in Tarsus;
  • I timed a trip back to Adana to coincide with a monthly trip to the kuaför and put off finding a new one here for a few more weeks;
  • I am repeatedly surprised by the gruffness of the local Istanbullu.
Could four years away from Toronto in the middle of Turkey have turned me into a small town girl?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Secret (Flawed) Weapon or Flying with Baby

A few months ago I wrote about the security guards at my school melting as they cooed and even kissed my son; policemen have changed their minds about giving me a ticket, anxious about me getting Baby home. This weekend I unexpectedly but gratefully accepted the assistance of airport employees, from security guards to grounds crew, as I traveled alone with Baby for the first time.

X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to...Image via WikipediaOne passes through a security check just to enter a Turkish airport, meaning I had to take Baby out of his stroller and fold it up to put it through the x-ray machine several times. On each occasion, security personnel enthusiastically offered to hold Baby while I dealt with his paraphernalia. Ditto for the people who take the stroller at the entrance to the plane and deliver it again when you land. No one was interested in helping with the pram; they just wanted to hold Baby!

Until it came to the flight crew. In my darkest moment of need, when I actually had to ask for help, I was warned that they weren't allowed to take care of the baby. A steward reluctantly sat with my son while I ducked into the plane's tiny washroom to change my sopping wet clothes after baby's razor-sharp tooth burst through the water bottle he'd been gumming and somehow managed to empty within one second all over me; I was as suddenly and thoroughly soaked as I would have been in a dunk tank.

I think I know what Baby's Secret Weapon is!

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Nanny Update

Today was day two with our new nanny, and I will here (apprehensively) say everything's going really well so far. (Am a little shell-shocked and have lost faith in my ability to judge character; am resolved to from now on reserve all judgement until a good chunk of time has elapsed.)

The last nanny went out with a bang and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Autumn in Istanbul

It's September 1st, the day I start looking for autumn each year. And this year, I've found it!

I woke up this morning, thinking Baby was up way too early, and was surprised to see it was almost 7! The blue summer sky we've been enjoying is covered with grey clouds and there's rain in the air. Baby and I went out for a walk, but I backtracked and got him a sweater, so nippy was it out!


I'm sure it's scorching hot and sunny in Adana.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Adventures in Nanny Searching

I assume any nanny can change and feed a baby; the challenge is finding someone whose personality doesn't offend me. For long before a nanny's character flaws will influence my son, she will start to drive me crazy.

Here are just a few of the unbelievable things our new nanny did in her first three days:
  • She emptied out the fridge -- but only of my favourite things; this included an unopened box of Stroopwafels we'd picked up in Amsterdam.
  • She started taking the multivitamins I'd brought back from Canada, since good quality ones are hard to find here and expensive. (And in case there's any doubt in your mind right now, she told me, in her off-handed way, that she'd started taking them.)
  • While it is standard for employers in Turkey to provide lunch, Nanny is also preparing herself breakfasts.
  • Nanny throws her laundry in my laundry hamper at the end of each workday so I can wash it for her. And while presumably her previous employer offered her this convenience, I never have, nor has she ever mentioned it.
  • She suggested I tell our agent I'd decreased her hours and therefore her pay, so that I could save a few hundred dollars in commission fees; she reassurs me she'll corroborate my story. (Oops, sorry -- that was on day four, the penultimate day, of her employment).
  • After proving herself a real shark during salary negotiations and at one point even saying she wasn't interested in the job after all because it was a little far from her home, she's since revealed that a) she actually lives quite nearby; b) that she enjoys luxury haircare products; and c) that her husband's upper level management position pays 2500TL a month. A fortune in this country.
Needless to say, I've resumed my nanny search and am hoping to replace her as soon as possible.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Visitor at Home

It's nothing new for an expat to feel she no longer fits in at home, that her adopted country has changed her; I've felt the change slowly happening over the past four years.

My first visit home, four months after moving here, I over-identified with everything Canadian; ditto the following year. But at one point, I started to see things I'd never noticed before -- how cold Torontonians are compared to Turkish people, or how stingy they appear compared to Turks.

And then I started forgetting to re-adapt on trips back to Canada, standing too close to the person ahead of me at the bank machine, or rushing to get onto a bus instead of patiently hanging back until everyone else had gotten on.

But this summer I was truly amazed at the 'Turkishness' of my cultural observations:
  • I couldn't get over how dog crazy everyone was, and found myself slightly appalled at the sight of dogs on furniture (note: I used to have 2 Labs who slept with me on more than one occasion -- no judgement, dear Canadian friends!);
  • I couldn't keep up with everyone's punctuality, nor did I understand their impatience when dinner wasn't ready before 8pm;
  • I was surprised by the casualness of men's and the skimpiness of women's summer attire!
As lovely as it was to be 'home' again, I seem to have lost the ability to just step off the plane and right back into the culture I grew up in; it seems if I ever move back to Toronto, I'd have to go through a process of acclimatization not unlike what I went through when I moved to Turkey.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A few faithful readers have gently reminded me that I haven't written for a while; since July 7th, to be exact (thank you, Lorraine!). So here's a quick and haphazard list of what I've been up to with some thoughts interspersed.
  • We moved house. It literally took weeks to pack. Movers came and took away 34 boxes; 6hurç, or fabric bag-boxes, 3 suitcases, and my cauldron, full of stuff. It's all in storage now and will be delivered to our new place in Istanbul mid-August. Tons more is at my mother-in-law's in Adana.
  • We flew to Toronto, where we are now. It was a long journey; Adana-Istanbul-Paris-Toronto. Knowing there's a direct Istanbul-Toronto flight made it all the more painful. Eventful only because it was Baby's first flight.
  • In Toronto, I haven't called anyone; I haven't made dates to see anyone; I've just been enjoying being here. We wake up in the morning and decide what to do that day. We've been taking lots of walks out here in the Beaches.
  • Am enjoying all the fresh Ontario produce that's in season. Makes me think about how lucky we are in Tarsus with all the farmer's markets and local produce year round.
  • My lovely friend Lisa, who's now officially the family photographer, did another photo shoot of us. She's way ahead of me and has already posted about the shoot; you can see some of the photos here.
  • We spent the day at Ward's Island yesterday. If we ever move back to Toronto, where will I want to live? The Beaches? The Island? Every part of Toronto has its own charm!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Luggage Limits

luggage-airport seriesImage by j.cliss via Flickr

I'm going to make a comparison I never thought I'd make: the millions of Turkish people who travel between Germany and Turkey each year and myself, preparing to travel to Toronto this summer. And the particular focus of my comparison centers on luggage.

For the trip to Toronto, I not only need to bring clothes for all types of weather, but I'm packing all the paraphernalia that comes with babies -- diapers, changes of clothes, toys to occupy during the flight, food mill for making fruit and vegetable purees, bottles ... In my defense, there is a lot I'm not bringing; I've made arrangements to borrow a stroller, car seat, crib, high chair, and toys in Toronto. But still, I was dismayed to learn that Air France's baggage allowance is pretty meagre: 1 bag per person; and that my son's allowed baggage weight is half of mine.

You see, there are also all the Turkish delights I want to bring to Toronto. Several litres of pomegranate syrup, for one thing; and of course freshly ground Turkish coffee and baklava; plus a few trinkets to give as gifts -- some copper ware, a small woven rug.

And returning to Turkey, I'm going to want to bring back all kinds of things, mostly foodstuffs. Cilantro, yellow tomato and sweet potato seeds (I'm determined to grow some veggies this year), celery salt and all-spice, quinoa, spelt, kamut and teff, and maple syrup. Oh, and hard honey. And so much more; I just know that as soon as I start roaming the isles at Loblaws, that I'll buy a suitcase's worth!

I suppose the bane of expat life is that you're forever straddling two worlds, always painfully aware of the one or two things that you can't have in one place or the other, unable to take the best of each culture and create your own utopia.

Turks travelling to Germany bring a season's worth of homemade salça and cheese, or else a favourite cookie; those travelling in the opposite direction bring uniquely German candies or herbal remedies, or else a brilliantly engineered piece of household equipment that one just can't find in Turkey.

Which brings me back to luggage. A few years ago, I was outraged at the audacity of three separate women in two different airports who asked me to check in some of their luggage under my name. I was travelling between Adana and Dusseldorf, Berlin and Adana, and I had painstakingly reduced my luggage to just one small carry-on bag. I was an instant target. Caught off guard, and unable to just say no, my stomach twisted into knots and my weak knees threatened to buckle under me as I waited in line at the check-in desk. Each woman had given me perfectly sound explanations for her need to travel with excess baggage; one was pregnant and had brought with her everything she'd need after the birth. But I hate breaking rules, and I knew airline luggage policies were strict for good reason. What if one of the bags contained a bomb?!! Or, more realistically, citrus or meat or some other banned food item?

In each case I told the woman at the check-in counter that the people behind me were welcome to piggyback on my unused luggage allowance; grabbed my boarding pass and ran through customs. I didn't see any of those people again.

Now I look back at those incidents with an ironic smile; how much I've changed, how much I've grown to be quite similar to those travelers who offended me so much a few years ago. Of course I will never, not in even the most desperate of circumstances, ask anyone to check in my luggage for them. But I wouldn't take offense to their request.

Too bad I'm no longer a target, though.
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nar Recipes

For all the things I stock up on and bring back to Turkey with me each time I travel, nar ekşisi is the one thing I always pack to bring with me on trips back home. I've written before about this thick, syrupy pomegranate syrup that is sweet and sour at the same time and has the power to transform a dish from ordinary into extraordinary; but my friends keep asking me what they should do with it. Here are two simple ways to incorporate nar ekşisi into your diet.

Arugula Salad:
  • Wash and dry fresh arugula (roka) leaves; chop leaves into one-inch lengths and discard stems.
  • Chop heirloom (yerli) tomatoes and crush garlic (crush, do not chop!).
  • Toss the vegetables with olive oil, nar ekşisi, salt, black pepper and isot (a dark sun dried pepper) and serve.

Turkish Tabouleh:
  • Measure and pour fine bulgur into a pot or other sealable container; a good rule of thumb is one Turkish tea glass of dry bulgur per person. You want to use köftelik bulgur as opposed to one of the coarser grinds.
  • Pour boiling water over it just to cover, and immediately drain off excess water; cover and let stand.
  • Finely chop parsley, fresh mint, and any or all of the following: green onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, bulb onion, red cabbage, carrot. The key is that everything should be chopped extremely finely. If for the same volume of veggies as you have bulgur. Set aside the veggies.
  • Uncover your bulgur; it should be soft and plump. Add a tablespoon or two of salça, or red pepper paste (or, if you can't find it, tomato paste) and begin to work it into the bulgur with your fingertips. Add black pepper, salt and cumin to taste; add the juice of at least one lemon and some olive oil and drizzle nar ekşisi all over. Add the reserved vegetables and stir it all together.
  • Can be served with whole leaves of Romaine lettuce, which you fill with tabbouleh and bite into!

"Kısır" is a couscous salad from Tur...Image via Wikipedia

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Ocean Upart - Mid-Project Update

Today is day 21 of our 30-day project, taking one photo each morning. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read about the project here or on Lisa's blog.) We've had a few difficulties (my camera broke; Lisa's laptop power cord fizzled) and I'm surprised to find the project challenging in all kinds of ways. But we're both enjoying it tremendously, and would like to do it again in a few months.

We've changed the rules along the way; we are no longer limiting ourselves to mornings, and we've added the occasional list. But I don't see these deviations from our original mandate as 'breaking the rules,' but rather as examples of how the project is evolving. After all, we never planned on including captions with each picture, but I realized on the very first day of the project that my picture seemed incomplete without one. And now I can't imagine the project without daily blurbs! I'd like to do this again sometime with evening pictures, or no time restrictions at all; and I'd even love to try it with three people!

I was thrilled to hear that just as we were inspired by someone else's project, my friend Carole has been inspired by ours and is going to try a similar one this fall with her twin sister, Kathy -- from Tarsus to Tokyo!

And now a few of my favourite side-by-sides to date:

Day 9:
Lisa: Morning coffee. In the background, our paper-covered floor criss-crossed with green painter's tape.

Day 10:
Cecile: "Letting Daddy Sleep in on Father's Day."
Lisa: "Daddy opening his gift. He wasn't sure about the light blue shirt."

Day 13:
Cecile: "Our morning walk in the park; a forest on a mount underneath which is an ancient city."
Lisa: "Me (and Lily's head) in the rearview mirror of the Zoo Mobile, parked in front of the giraffes."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Temporary Expats

The sad part of my expat life is that many of my foreign friends here in Turkey are not expats; rather, they are just passing through Turkey on their way from Taiwan to Mexico, or from Colombia to Sweden. They are true international teachers, making their way around the world, and they just happened to land in Tarsus for a few years.

Two years ago, it seemed as if all the people I'd just spent a year getting to know suddenly left. Thankfully, a wonderful group of new people arrived; and when they returned for a second year, it seemed a real expat community had been formed. But their two years are up and most of them have decided not to stay, so once again I've had to face the reality that my expat life is not shared with other expats.

However, I don't feel too entitled to complain, since this year we too are leaving, even if we're just relocating to another part of the country. I've heard that many of the foreigners in Istanbul really are expats, even if they never intended to stay, and so I am heartened by the prospect of friendships that won't lead to heartache.

And on another positive note: there's nothing like knowing you're about to say goodbye forever to push you to tie up loose ends -- I finished my painting!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Goodbye Tarsus

We're leaving Tarsus and moving to Istanbul. Four years ago, when I was new in Turkey and frustrated by how provincial Adana was, I would have given anything to have my husband announce we were relocating west; I dreamed of life in Istanbul, Izmir or Ankara, and traveled there whenever I could for a dose of cosmopolitanism.

But something happened over the past four years, and not only do I now appreciate Adana for its lack of traffic, its lovely climate (at least for the nine non-summer months of the year), its reasonable cost of living, and its safety, but I've fallen in love with Tarsus.

And so instead of tackling the logistics of packing and transporting our belongings, deciding what essentials we'll need for the month we spend "homeless" this summer, and finding a new nanny, I've been indulging in pre-departure nostalgia. Our Sunday morning walks have become pilgrimages, as we revisit our favourite parts of Tarsus. We inevitably discover new places, and are briefly consumed by the irony of not having known a place sooner.

I've also started bringing my camera with us on these walks, trying to capture what I know we can't take with us. Surprisingly few of my photos, however, are of typical Tarsus scenes, such as the mini lahmacun famous here.
Instead, I've found myself capturing Tarsus's quirks, such as this rooster tied to a sign post in the middle of the sidewalk;
or the way the city's once-beautiful architecture has been ruined by misguided attempts at renovation, such as this 'modern' second storey addition to a historical building:

I found this remnant of a balcony with its two well-tended flower pots absolutely lovely:

I've also become obsessed with buying unusual Tarsus 'souvenirs.' The first thing I bought was an old oxen's yoke I had seen hanging on the wall of a local carpenter's shop. I'd seen it months earlier and thought it would be an interesting feature in a home, but months passed and I didn't go back and buy it. But as soon as I found out we'd be moving to Istanbul, I decided I couldn't leave Tarsus without buying the yoke.

And then there is the cauldron. Like the yoke, the cauldron spent some time on my 'to-buy-one-day' list. I first came across the little corner shop with the polite older Armenian gentleman selling all things metal a few years ago, and immediately saw the artistry in the cauldrons he had lined up outside. But once again, it wasn't until I realized I might lose the chance to buy one, that I was overcome with anxiety and just knew I had to have one. Closed on Sundays and only open until 7pm on Saturdays, though, weeks passed between my decision to buy one and actually making it to the store with my husband, whom I always take along to do the bargaining.

We finally made it one Saturday afternoon. My husband chatted with the proprietor while I considered which kazan to buy, settling on a handmade copper-coloured one with excellent craftsmanship and a thick grade of copper. Unfortunately, it was also large, much larger than either of us had originally envisioned. But I stubbornly refused to settle for any other, more reasonably-sized cauldron, since they weren't as beautiful.
And now it's time to start packing.