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Archive for the ‘Ruminations’ Category

Roots

I have re-worked this post a number of times.  It has transformed from a post about missing Nova Scotia, to loving Seattle, to loving both, to a “hey, here is what we did this summer” post, all the while life carries on here in Istanbul, my home of 11 years.  It dawned on me that  while this post reads like a re-cap of our summer, its spirit is about roots, and how being an international teacher allows me to have roots in more than one place, which can be a good, but also unsettling feeling.  I have posted about being an expat before, about how you never really fit in completely and compactly anywhere anymore.  At a recent wine night out with other expats, some of whom were Turks who grew up in the US and have now found themselves here in Turkey, the discussion eventually found its way to the rootlessness you sometimes feel as an expat. While we were all from different walks of life, this was the one thing we all shared.   People often ask me if I would ever move back to North America and if I miss it.  My answer of late is that we have a good life here and that while I do miss North America, if I were to move back there, I would then pine for things that are here, like I do now for things that are there; once you enter the world of expatriation, you are forever changed and home is never in one place anymore.

So I will just get on with this post, it is sort of here an there, the transitions are abrupt, the ideas disjointed, but that was kind of how my mind was this summer anyway. I was lucky enough to spend it in two of the three places I consider myself to be rooted. While this reality can sometimes feel lonely it can also be pretty amazing because you get to enjoy the best of what each destination has to offer before you jaunt off to the other one. *****

So, we hit Seattle again  this year.  This lush, green oasis has lots to do, and we did it.  Not only is Seattle a respite from the heat of summer in Istanbul, Seattle is uber cool in its coffee shops and small neighborhood restaurants with tons of locally brewed beer and tasty food.  I finally got the chance to dine at Delancey’s, a pizza joint in Ballard that is run by one of my favorite bloggers.  We feasted on crisp, thin crust pizza topped with fresh local ingredients after downing a roasted fennel and goat cheese starter, and washed it all down with a chocolatey, earthy glass of red wine. Heaven.  Over the span of our time there we dined on fresh and smoked salmon from the fish mongers at Pike Street Market, scarfed down mussels and clams, sipped drinks on the veranda of a fancy Victoria hotel, savored squares of handmade salted caramels,  fried up plenty of bacon, sipped gallons of coffee, gobbled down copious amounts of Red Mill and Dick’s burgers, nibbled on taco truck tacos that will make you swoon with happiness, and scarfed down wood smoked beef  tenderloin at Uncle Dave’s.  It was a festival for the taste buds.

However, the best culinary experience happened just shortly after dropping the boys at summer camp.  We tracked down a Cuban sandwich joint that promised to deliver the tastiest sandwich ever, which also meant long lines.  So we got there as early as possible and already there was a line of 6 people spilling out of  this tiny establishment.  But it was the BBQ pork-laden smoke wafting  out that  convinced us that we had made the right choice for lunch that day. Being a small joint, there was no where to sit so we took our order to the car where we delivered ourselves into culinary magic.  After minutes of breathless eating, Koray stopped and said, “I think this is the best f-ing sandwich I have ever eaten.”  Mouth brimming with pulled pork and cilantro sauce, I giggled and nodded in agreement; it was a damn good sandwich.

The most memorable eating experience was at an ice cream shop called The Fainting Goat.  Owned by two Turks from Izmir, I couldn’t resist popping into this neighborhood establishment situated just up the road from us.  The ice cream was creamy in flavors like pistachio, rose vanilla and mastik.  Not only was the ice cream good, but it seemed to have an added ingredient that caused  giggling/hysterical laughter  on the car ride home on more than one hilarious, scar-your-child occasion  (one of those “you had to be there stories”). And there is such a thing as a fainting goat, just youtube it.

But it wasn’t all about food.  Visiting friends and family as well as just living like pseudo-Seattleites was also high on the priority list. We hiked to a beautiful alpine lake that still had snow around it, kayaked on the cusp of the straight of Juan de Fuca, and combed the beach overlooking the Sound.  There were many great moments and one of the best things I loved to do was to get up at the break of day and head into a yoga class, afterwards picking up a coffee at the local coffee house. I was tickled one morning when the barista eyed me in the line of regulars and said, “12 ounce filter coffee, room for cream, right?”  My plan of becoming a pseudo- local for the summer had come to fruition.

Three weeks and a bit might seem like a lot of time to get everything done and see everybody, but in fact it isn’t and we missed a couple of people. One person we did see was my childhood friend Tracy who, as expected, has brought herself back.  She looked as she did last year, she just sounded like she had a cold and walked as if she had sprained her ankle.  Truly amazing she is.

Through all of this wonderful, hectic business, my mind continuously wandered back up and over to Nova Scotia where good friends situated in grey green Atlantic landscape carried on with their lives.  Where sweet, red lobster with salted butter and Pino Grigio and fish chowder and sunsets and good chats live.  On the airplane over and back, when the flight map showed us the east coast my eyes focused often on that lobster claw that claimed my heart and I sent down as many good vibes as I could from way up in the sky.  We felt the absence of Nova Scotia in our spirit and bones this summer. The boys too miss it. They annotated our time in Seattle with comments of missing NS, and those that live there.

I remember the first time Nova Scotia entered my radar.  It was a St. Patrick’s Day party at a neighbors and our friend R. had brought fish cakes to share.  “L. brought salt cod from Halifax” he said and I thought to myself, “now that sounds like a place I want to go.”  So when the aforementioned friend invited us to his home in Nova Scotia my response was, “hell ya.”  Flights were booked and off we went. We spent six wonderful summers in a row there, five with the boys.  Dad’s death yanked me back to the west coast of the US, reacquainting me with all that is there. This coupled with the birth of my adorable little niece has made us Seattle bound for these past two summers and on this last trip we struggled with what to do next summer.  But hey,  having to pick between Seattle and Halifax for a summer locale, well, let’s just say it could be a heck of a lot worse.

And this weekend on my way back from a yoga class, I drove over the Bosphorous bridge just early enough that traffic was flowing,but late enough to see the much sought after skyline of old Istanbul bathed in golden light perched atop the glittery waters coursing rapidly down the Bosphorous. With iced coffee in hand, I thought to myself, “well, this sure ain’t bad.”

Today driving home from school thinking about a Skype conversation I had had earlier in  the day, I was stopped by twin 1 so he could quickly  jump in the car.  As I looked back at him nervously sitting there, surmising why he wanted a ride home instead of playing with his friends  he said to me, “just drive the car.”  Feeling very cloak and dagger, I hit the gas and  listened as he confessed to an incident involving a Nerf gun. Kids have a way of rooting us to the here and now, moving us along this twisty turny path of life, which sometimes goes on just a little too quickly.

School starts tomorrow, my 12th new year at Koc and a new crop of students will pass the threshold of my classroom, new lessons will begin, for them and me, and life will indeed, go on.

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An Ode to Istiklal

Istiklal Caddesi.  What a street it is.    This past weekend, whilst strolling down the street, giddy on a couple of glasses of Pino Grigio and  full to the brim with Thai food, it struck me that in ten years, it has been the setting for some pretty significant  phases of my life.  In each of those phases, my perspective of it changed  though the street remained constant in its’ lively indifference towards me.

My first memory of this grand street is from my first trip to Turkey, the trip that set everything in motion.  I remember walking down the busy street, marveling at its’  European feel.  I remember thinking, “Ya, I could live here.”

Fast forward 10 months after a move half way across the world, to the night my friends and I met up with this guy named Koray for dinner.  We met at a cool wine bar (now a trendy shoe shop) just next to the balik pazari.  Nervous and electrically charged, we meandered down the busy street to the meyhane meal that sealed the deal.  My next trip to the street was arm in arm with Koray as he showed me his favorite places in and around Istiklal.  One of them which happens to be the islak burger, a small burger doused in garlicky tomato sauce, something Koray indulges in whenever we find ourselves there.

Our wedding dinner was here as well.  Giddy and newly married with childhood friend in tow, we ambled down the busy street just past Starbucks where a restaurant full of guests, candle light, bubbles, music and applause welcomed us.

For a couple of years after that we strolled Istiklal whenever the mood struck us, not bothered by the teeming crowds of people and noise.  But the arrival of our baby boys put a stop to our Istiklal excursions for a good solid year. When we finally crawled out of the intense and sometimes dark cave of twin parenthood, Istiklal looked different to us.  Our cool, urban hipster days were over and the street seemed overwhelming and overstimulating to us.  With little ones and lots of little-one paraphernalia, the place we once frequented regularly had became something we avoided like the plague. So Istiklal was put on the back burner  for a couple of years while we took refuge in the calm, safe, green surroundings of the school’s campus.

Then one New Year’s Day morning, we were up bright and early while the rest of Istanbul slept.  Missing our old haunt,  we decided to  venture in to the grand avenue hoping it would be quiet and peaceful in the aftermath of December 31st party goers. Empty and somehow bigger and wider, we were able to look up and drink in the towering, beautiful architecture dating from the Pera era.  With baby boys strapped to our backs, we enjoyed the quiet and calmness that eventually faded into noise and chaos, our signal to escape for our home in the suburbs.

And now we enter a new phase.  Equipped with six-year- old boys on their own feet, navigating the crowds has become much easier and Istiklal is now back in vogue at the Ozsarac house.  Ali and Omer enjoy the sights and people watching. They are also quite keen on the various buskers that dot the avenue who draw crowds of onlookers and other music aficionados. Urban hipster revival?  Not quite, but we are back out there and it feels good to share this part of the city with the boys.

Last Saturday back on said street, sitting alone with a book and coffee in a cafe with a view of the Galata Tower, I enjoyed the sights the played out before me. Even when the skies opened up and drenched Istanbul with an unforgiving rain shower, the ambiance and charm of Istiklal remained. In fact, the cafe became just a little bit cozier.  I gathered my things, bundled up and ran for the Metro on to my next adventure. But I know I will be back.

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Lady Birds

I love it when the mind’s eye offers up a gift from the past in the form of an evanescent glimpse into a life gone away forever.  I especially love it when the flash is accompanied by a palpable sensation of the soft feel of summer air fluttering across your body.

Reading and lounging one evening after a long day, a single word transported me back 32 years to my dad’s ranch. It was literally a two second flash, but the sensations were thick and heavy, nesting me into their warm embrace. The bright afternoon sunlight warmed my skin while the gentle summer breeze  gently rustled the vast, emerald green alfalfa field, filling my nose with the sweet scent of rich grass. Upon each plant sat what seemed to be tens of ladybugs, teeming and bustling in their polka-dotted splendor.  Intoxicated by the copious amounts of red that surrounded me, I hurriedly tucked as many creatures as I could into my emptied jam jar.

And poof, it was gone, sucked back into the abyss of the memory but leaving me with a feeling of fleeting –but definite– warmth and joy.

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Birthdays

I turned 37 yesterday.  I am one of those people who does not fear getting older. Really, I am not.  Each year I am on this earth, I learn so much more about how to live comfortably in my skin that I wouldn’t trade the experience for the chutzpah and ignorance of my youth.  However, I do have a weird hang-up about odd numbered birthdays.  28, 32, 34, 36…all good.  29, 33, 35 and 37, not so much.  To say I am thirty seven makes me feel all cold inside, like a back room in the winter, with no heat, bad lighting and reeking of stale cigarette smoke. I know, weird.  But it is what it is.

Even though I cringe at the odd number of 37, this year was a pretty good birthday.  The boys made me precious little cards; I received calls and messages from most of the people I know and love, and I got two birthday cakes.  Oh, and this computer I am currently typing on.  After lunch today I was serenaded  by some of my students. This was accompanied by a chocolate muffin perched upon a sweetly hilarious paper plate/card that thanked god that I was their teacher (love the dramatics) topped off with a straw and paper candle (love the creativity). This was followed by chocolate cake number two which I scarfed down alongside my fab colleagues in the LP department.

Can’t complain about that, no indeedy I cannot.

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Istanbul by Morning

Living in a bustling city of 13.26 million with two kids can be challenging at times.  Getting stuck in traffic with squirrelly five-year-olds is no fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, nor is dodging the sea of people that walk down each sidewalk of this magnificent city. Being a small town-rural girl, the city life really doesn’t do it for me.  Even when we lived in the super cool neighborhood of Arnavutkoy, a cozy place where we had everything at our fingertips, including a view of the Bosphorus,  I was more than happy to move onto the relatively quiet and green school campus, with a five minute commute by foot.

Fast forward six years, and I am still happy to be here on campus, where the boys can frolic and thrive in a rural-type setting. They play in the dirt, make mud soup, climb trees, ride bikes, roll around in the grass, collect pine nuts and wild flowers and know every neighbor by name. As the sun goes down, all it takes  is a whistle  and they come running from whichever activity they were involved in.  Hands dirty and hair sweaty, they wash up for dinner, we eat, then off on a family bike ride, then crash into bed.

The neat thing about where we live is that in 20 minutes or so, we can be in the city center with all kinds of things to do. This includes museums, art galleries, cool malls, parks, historical places, urban farmer’s markets, trendy bohemian neighborhoods and tasty restaurants. But it isn’t all glitter and gold .  Sharing the city with the aforementioned 13 million  people means that it gets very crowded, something we really don’t enjoy or prefer. One of the good things about the boys getting up so early (usually 6 am) is that we can be breakfasted, dressed and out the door by 8:00, which means we get the beautiful city of Istanbul mostly to ourselves. Our usual routine is breakfast somewhere, followed by an activity (most places open at 10:00 a.m.), then we head out of dodge by 12 or 1 o’clock and we are good as gold: no traffic on the way in and little traffic on the way out. This strategy has worked for 5 years and running.  For a person who loathes crowded cities, people often wonder how I can live in a big, overcrowded city like Istanbul.  Well, now you know.

This past Sunday was a perfect example of the beauty of this strategy.  Missing the great outdoors of North America, we decided to go for a hike at the Balli Kayalar (Honey Rocks) which can get overcrowded making it really hard to hop from rock to rock across the gurgling and bubbling canyon stream.  We were in by 10:00, had a lovely hike up the canyon with only frogs and fish to accompany us, topped it off with a drink by the small lake back down at the bottom and we were literally heading out just as the droves of picnickers and hikers were making their noisy way into the park. Perfect.

This weekend is a four-day weekend, and we will be snorkeling and swimming down on the shores of the Mediterranean and hiking to a spot where natural gas fed flames come out of rocks at our favorite getaway (nod to R and N), so the early Istanbul morning adventure will have to wait until next weekend. But be assured that come 8:00, the O family will be up and ready to enjoy the quiet sprawling splendor of Istanbul while the rest of the city sleeps.

A lovely fall Sunday

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My life for the month of August has been living amongst the English teaching world of the British Side in Besiktas, a city on the other side of the Bosphorous. The course starts at 9:30 and finishes at 6:30, which means for me, I have to leave the house at 7:15 am each day to catch the ferry. It also means that I don’t get back on the ferry until 6:45 pm, which means I get home, spent, each night at 8:00.

Constantinople

The commute isn’t the hard part though.  In fact, it is quite pleasant.  For the first time in 13 years, everyday I get to drive alone in my car and listen to whatever music I want at any volume I want.  On the ferry, I get to see the magnificent view of old Istanbul each day and the 20-minute ride offers me a chance to read a book uninterrupted. I have already finished two. The grueling part is the course itself. Because I am changing directions in my teaching career, I needed to take a course to prepare me for that switch.

And  this course is delivering the goods. One day three they had us in the classroom with a group of eager students ready to learn English.While teaching is my territory, I am a literature teacher, so teaching the English language, with a panel of observers in the back, hurriedly scribbling notes on every move I make, is definitely out of my comfort zone ,which is their entire purpose.

After teaching or watching our team members teach, we have feedback sessions, where our teaching partners and tutor comment on the good and bad parts of the lesson, followed by daily written  self-reflection. So each day we are either  teaching or observing our teaching partners and taking ample notes so we can participate in the feedback sessions, which we are also graded on. This is all before lunch. After lunch we have time to work on lesson plans, which take on average about two hours to write and prepare followed by three hours of input lessons to learn all of the things we should be doing in the classroom each day. On top of that we have assignments that we are supposed to complete in our  “free time.” Everything we we do, from working with our teaching partners to implementing a lesson is graded. I quickly realized that I was pretty much useless when I rolled into the house each night at 8 pm, so I pack my lunch and work through the lunch hour. Not even the cajoling and teasing of my classmates can tear me away; I would rather work through lunch and be deemed a nerd then have to try and rouse my vegetative brain to think after such a long day.

Even though it is hard work, I am learning an enormous amount and after only two weeks I am feeling more equipped to take on the new challenge that awaits me in September. Luckily for me, the end of the course coincides with the Seker bayram, a week holiday to commemorate the end of Ramadan. So instead of heading into the beginning of the school year, we will pack up the car and head for the Aegean coast where sea views, icy golden beer and calamari await us.

So that is what I am up to for the month of August and why there probably won’t be a post here until school gets rolling in September.

Istanbul Ferry

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T.S. Eliot was apt when he coined that April is the cruelest month, but for those of us around here in Koc land, June can be the cruelest month.  Working at a school with an expat population is always interesting because many wonderful people come into your life. Along with this though comes the end of the year when people move on.  Some Junes are easier than  others. The June of 2002 was a tough one; all of the friends I made when I first arrived, bright eyed and bushy tailed, left en masse. Each year after that, a colleague or friend would leave, which usually meant teary good byes.

This June is no different; people I have come to know, respect and love, both colleagues and friends, will be leaving.  This is the hardest June since 2008, when two of our favorite people in the world  headed back to the land of lobster and Superstore.  It is a bittersweet experience to know people in such an intense way because the expat lifestyle draws all sorts of people together into circumstances that are quite unique. But it is the expat lifestyle that serves as a siren who draws people away to other adventures.  This June, not only will we feel the sting of departure, our boys will too; their cherished play mate and her cherubic sister will move with their parents, who have come to be our friends from respected colleagues, back to their homeland.

I will also miss other colleagues who will no longer grace and embellish the landscape of my life, and look forward to hearing of their new adventures and continued happiness in this world we share together.

Today, when the house was quiet, my eyes fixated on something that summed up and represented what a certain  family of individuals means to me and the loss that their absence represents. It has been a good run.

It began, two lojmans side by side–green, green grass.
As time wore on, friendships blossomed, children grew,
the green grass flourished into a brown hue.

First noticeable in fall, the worn earthy patch that represented the connection;
in spring, the grass struggled to grow under the trampling of feet, to and fro.

Back and forth between the blossoming flowers, the children ran and skipped,
played and argued, making their mark on the  green grass.

Summer arrives, neighbors turned into friends depart, and the brown mark amongst the green, green grass stays
as an homage to the time that was–and will forever be–in their hearts and memories.

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