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.