Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Driving TEST!

Last week ten years after getting my first provisional licence I finally got my full driving licence. It's been a real learning experience.

First there was a month of classes in the three topics covered in the written exam: Traffic, Motor and First Aid. I attended all the classes, something only two other people in the class did. The exam was a centralised so about four hundred people from the state of Canakkale descended on a primary school one Saturday. We crammed into tiny desks and answered 120 multiple choice questions on the three topics.

Then came the driving lessons themselves. These were an hour and a half of driving on consecutive days, totalling fifteen hours of driving. My teacher was relaxed and calm and managed to allow me to feel in control from the very start of the lessons. She refused to keep to the designated routes for teaching students, arguing that as they were both relatively simple (not too many traffic lights or tight maneovering needed) they don't prepare students to drive in traffic. Our lessons would begin with a run on the test route, which ran from the Sanayii to Tansas and back; 3km straight road, a turn and back along the same road with several lights, two roundabouts and no maneovres. Then we'd either work on reversing, parking, or turning and then drive through the town. By the end of nine lessons I was comfortable in the Toyota Yaris and reasonably happy with my progress.

Now came the trouble. My final lesson was with a different teacher, the one who would accompany me during the test. She opened the glove compartment, blocking the view of her feet and then used the pedals continuously. It made for a very nerve-wrecking experience. I didn't feel in control. At one point I began to slow down, as I could see the lights were about to change. But she hit the accelerator and sped us up through the changing lights!

So I was quite nervous coming up to the test. I sat in and said hello to the two testers in the back of the car I could see the glove compartment was open. I adjusted the seat, checked the mirrors and put on my seatbelt. Turned the ignition, took off the handbrake, signalled and hit the accelerator while gradually raising the clutch. The engine began to roar. And we went nowhere. Then the instructor finally began to raise the clutch to allow us to move. It was probably an instant but it felt like a lifetime. The rest of the test is a mercifully short blur of nerves. She accelerated along one stretch and then when I finally felt the accelerator in my control she warned me about driving too fast! I went through an orange light (not a problem in itself, but I would have prefered to stop) because I was afraid I'd ended up cut out in the middle of the junction if she tried to speed up as I tried to stop.

I came out a nervous wreck with a severe dent in my driving confidence. When I rang to get the results a day or two later the secretary joked that I'd failed and I nearly believed her. I got the licence last week having paid the money and been fingerprinted. Last weekend I started on our own truck, a rather bigger car than the little Yaris. It'll be a while before I'm confident enough to drive on my own without the Handyman's guidance but that's a matter of time and experience.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New and Improved!!

Several years ago I wrote a piece that was published in the anthology 'Tales from the Expat Harem-Foreign Women in Modern Turkey' edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen. The anthology was published around the world and touched a lot of people globally. Anastasia and Jennifer got a huge feedback through the website that accompanied it.

Now Anastasia has redesigned the website as expat+HAREM, a niche for global citizens, identity adventurers, Turkophiles, intentional travellers and culturati. So far we've had posters writing from Turkey, Dubai and the Hague about writing, domestic/artistic life and bringing children home to the land of their fathers. My first post has just gone up 'It takes a Virtual Village', about the importance of virtual friends in raising my children.

So pop over and join the conversation!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Opportunity knocks

It is a time of opportunities. They peek out, shyly, then tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear. They make tremendous promises, paint a future of terrific brightness in your mind and leave you smiling in a wonderful dream. For a while you stay in the dream, seeing the possibilities, the positivity of life.

Then reality comes calling. It exposes some opportunities for the sham that they are, reveals their promises to be empty and their future to be bleak. It’s hard to let go of that bright dream, hard to admit you were fooled by the pretty pictures. Reality sternly points to the obstacles along the road, the many tasks that must be completed before even setting foot on the road. Slowly the dream recedes.

The trick is not to wait for opportunities to come and find you but instead to go and create them yourself. Why wait for them to arrive with a heap of other peoples conditions attached. Create the opportunities and give them shape and meaning, knowing the obstacles and overcoming them on your own terms.

Have I succeeded in this? Not yet. But I will…

One opportunity has arisen and is turning out to be a very good one indeed. I’m not going to say anything yet, all will be revealed next week. So check back on Monday for more.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Similar celebrations...

One of the things World Blog Surf Day does is show how cultures have lots of things in common holidays are no different. First there is the cooking and baking that must be done. Some things prepared in advance, others closer to the time but all according to secrets passed through the generations. Second is the cleaning. Everything must be cleaned, dusted, polished; ready for the next step. This is the visiting. Aunts, uncles, grandparents or parents must be visited and visitors must be welcomed into shining houses smelling of baking and delicious food.

In Ireland Christmas is the biggest celebration. Pudding, cake, trifle and mince pies prepared in advance; turkey, ham and roast potatoes on the day. My mother washing the kitchen floor at 1am when everyone else is in bed waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. Visiting my aunt and then on St Stephen’s Day the whole of my mother’s family coming for dinner. My mother spent both days in a panic of cooking and only rested by leaving my father to do the washing up!

In Turkey there are two celebrations that require similar preparation; Ramazan Bayram and Kurban Bayram. Ramazan Bayram marks the end of Ramazan, the Muslim month of fasting and is an orgy of food and sweets. Children must kiss the hands of their elders to celebrate the day and receive their allotment of sweets. Family visits are mandatory and can take up all three days of the holiday. My daughter was born on the first morning of Ramazan and as I struggled to keep some dignity the hospital board visited the ward giving chocolates to all the new mothers. I think it was the only time I ever turned down chocolate. There is Turkish delight, lokum, chocolate, boiled sweets, and of course baklava, layers of paper-thin pastry brushed with butter, sprinkled with nuts and drenched in syrup. The days beforehand involve terrific cleaning and preparing stuffed grape or cabbage leaves, borek a savoury pastry, and lots of dishes that can be served with tea.

Kurban Bayram is the sacrifice festival when animals are slaughtered and the meat divided between family, neighbours and poor people. Accompanying the sweets neighbours drop in with plates of fresh meat. While the councils set up special slaughter houses, some people prefer to do it themselves, killing animals on roadside verges, roundabouts and any other common ground. Inevitably some animal makes a break for it, causing havoc as it runs through crowded city streets.

Now on to Martin at Bulgarian Silvatree for the next stop on the World Blog Surf Day.

Thanks to Karen, an American expat blogger last seen in Prague, for being the World Blog Surf Day reporter. The Wall Street Journal said, "Her blog, Empty Nest Expat, makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing--and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.

And of course a big, big thank you to Sher at Czech Off the Beaten Path for arranging the World Blog Surf Day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Now the Good News!

Sharon and Hilda have been freed!

Yesterday in the early hours of the morning they were finally released. They have been given medical attention, but are in good health, and Sharon will be flown home today on the government jet arriving in Dublin tonight.

It is such a tremendous relief for everyone. In an interview with the Irish Times Sharon is calm and eloquent as ever.

So happy for Sharon, Hilda and their families!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Friend in Need...

A few months back we went on holidays and other than checking Facebook and Twitter occasionally I didn't keep up with any news at all. It was nice to be ignorant for a while. I did notice my friend Claire kept refering to 'Sharon' and hoping she was well. For some unknown reason I figured that Sharon must be a cousin of Claire's and must be sick. A few weeks went by and still there was the odd referral to Sharon and hoping for good news. Oh dear, I thought, Sharon must be pretty unwell. And that was it, the full extent of my concern.

Back at home I spent a bit more time online and through some random surfing ended up at Random Irish News about to read an article about an Irish charity worker kidnapped in Darfur. I nearly fell off the chair before I got through the headline as I knew the girl in the picture. She'd been in school with me and her name is Sharon. Suddenly all of Claire's references to Sharon made sense. It was three weeks after the kidnapping.

Sharon was working for GOAL, a development agency set up by a former sports journalist, John O'Shea. Sharon had been in Darfur for eighteen months when the GOAL compound was raided and she and co-worker Hilda Kawuki from Uganda were kidnapped at gunpoint on the 3rd of July.

Since then over a hundred days have passed and Sharon has celebrated her birthday in captivity. The kidnappers demanded a ransom and the Sudanese government have refused to pay as it would endanger the lives of other aid workers in the region. There were rumours that Sharon and Hilda would be released at the end of Ramadan but they were false. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has travelled to Sudan and there is an Irish delegation in the region trying to secure the release of the two women. Sharon has been allowed to phone her family a few times. School friends have set up the Facebook page Freedom for Sharon.

This week a mass was celebrated in Sharon's parish church of St Gabriel's in Clontarf and an ecumenical service was held in the ProCathedral in Dublin. But there is still no sign of the women being released. And as time goes on, it becomes easier for people to forget.

I think about Sharon a lot these days, far more than in the intervening ten years since school finished I'll be honest. I keep wondering what I can do and I can't come up with any answers. But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying to find something more I can do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Break in Service...

It's been a while I know but life has been busy lately. I've been going to driving school in the mornings and have had several school meetings in the afternoons. We had Ramadan and the holiday at the end of it too. My written driving exam is coming up toward the end of the month and my parents are coming for a visit after that. I'm also participating in another World Blog Surf Day on the 31 October.

Anyway I'll be posting more regularly from now on so keep tuning in!

Friday, September 11, 2009


This has been a momentous week; Little Boy Blue started in preschool! Day One was fine, very happy to be there, no tears at drop off or pick up. Day Two we had tears at drop off, and Day Three was the same. Day Four and Five were grand. You see, Baba aka the Handyman dropped him to school the last two days so there was no traumatic 'my Mammy's leaving me' moments. Little Boy Blue seems to be enjoying it so far, though he is not eating his lunch. Also his bedtime routine is a little out, but that will adjust. The Brown-Eyed Girl is being a great big sister, checking up on him from her classroom and giving him lots of helpful advice!

This means I'm home alone for the day now! And that would be wonderful except I haven't really had a chance to enjoy it and won't for a while either. I start driving school on Monday and will spend a few hours each weekday for the next four weeks learning all I need to know for a written test at the end of October. If I pass that there's a practical test at the end of November. This week has been spent running around trying to get all the paperwork required which included health report, criminal record (or rather proof of not having one), translation of degree and proof of address. Now the Handyman must take some wonderful, flattering photos of me over the weekend and I'll be ready to start.

In other news I've just started another blog! This time it's a wordpress one and will be an effort to stretch my writing muscles before getting started on my daily novel-writing stint. My only guideline is that it should be fiction. So pop over for A Little Diversion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making Progress

I've been a little stuck for inspiration lately. Or maybe there's actually too much, and it's focus that I really lack. Or maybe it's just procrastination leading me to wander the web at the expense of getting anything done. Or maybe there are too many decisions to make. Or maybe those decisions could be expensive and risky. Or maybe they won't lead me where I want to go. Or maybe I don't know what I want. Or maybe I do know but don't know how to achieve it.

Does every parent face this kind of dilemma when their children reach that terrifying point of entering full-time education? Within the next two weeks both the Brown-eyed Girl and Little Boy Blue will set out every morning and won't be back until dinnertime. What an expanse of time to fill! And it would be very easy to fill it with pointless procrastination, temptingly so.

I do have a plan, I'm going to join a driving school and work to finally get a driving license. So that will fill mornings. But that will last a month and then what? What do I want to do? What do I want to be when I grow up?

I do have the answer to those questions but I lack a method to achieve them, hence all the wavering indecision. And of course there is the fear of the unknown, the worry about the risks, the courage I need to gather to progress.

One thing is certain, the spinning in circles really has to stop. It's time to take a step in any direction. I can always turn back if it's not the direction I want to be going in, can't I, can't I?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Budding Artists

When I wrote a month or so ago about visiting the sculpture exhibition in Cimenlik Castle I really didn't imagine the next exhibition there would be my daughters! We got a phone call last week to invite us to the opening of the Cocuklar Evi Troy Project in the Muavenet-i Milliye Exhibition Hall in the castle grounds. The mayor strolled around a walking tour of Canakkale opening exhibitions as he went.The Troy Festival in Canakkale this year is mainly centred on several exhibitions like this in various locations around town. Previous years involved a lot of folk dancing from Eastern Europe but a reduction in funding meant that there isn't so much dancing at the crossroads this year.

For the last year the whole preschool has been involved in this project, learning about Troy and its myths. The story was watered down a little, the gods were sidelined, the violence reduced and the sex left out completely. We had to read a book where the site as it is was explained from the point of view of two hedgehogs. Then we visited Troy with the author. The trip mainly involved a huge queue to get into the reconstructed horse by the gate and some of the outspoken kids told the story from the stage of the theatre. Then we sat, ate our lunch and the kids drew pictures. Back at the school they constructed a horse from their artwork and drew or constructed lots of little projects to do with Troy. The end-of-year show was a play of the story by the 5/6 year olds, with the 4/5 year olds on darbuka and the 3/4 year olds with bells on their wrists, held in the Korfmann Library downtown.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

That which we call a rose...

There’s a few things about living in Turkey that I don’t like; the habit of ‘turkifying’ names being one of them. So Catherine is sometimes changed to Kadriye, a completely different name. I don’t understand why anyone would want to change a perfectly good name to another one, isn’t changing countries/cultures/languages enough?

Plus there was more than enough name-changing when I was growing up. In school for Irish class all our names were translated into Irish. I became Caitriona, a very nice name; it just wasn’t mine. Calling into my Dad’s office was nerve-wracking.

Dad’s office was right outside the wall of the university in the centre of Dublin, but I’d never had any reason to visit. I have a vague recollection of going to a Christmas party there many years before but it’s very hazy. On this particular day I had some good news to share. I knew my Mam wouldn’t be home so I couldn’t ring her and this was before mobile phones were so widespread. So I thought I’d pop in to Dad and share it with him.

I walked in through the revolving door and was confronted by two security guards behind a desk. One looked at me expectantly as I muttered something about my Dad working there.“Alright, what’s his name?”

A perfectly reasonable question in the circumstances.

I gave the name my mother called him, the one most of his close friends use.The security guard looked at the computer screen in front of him “Sorry, nobody of that name works here.”

I probably stared at the man for about thirty seconds. Then I remembered that Dad’s brother and sisters translate his first name to Irish. It’s a hangover from a time when an English name on a birth cert was an advantage if someone emigrated, but a family would use the Irish version in daily life. I tried that.

Another glance at the computer screen. “Sorry. No one of that name here.” By now the second security guard was taking a keen interest.

Stumped again, I had visions of being frogmarched out of the building for wasting time. It would be embarrassing to be tossed out by the Revenue Commissioners before I’d even had a chance to defraud them. The penny dropped. Dad joined the Irish civil service at a time when all names were translated completely into Irish. Our surname jumped from the very end to the beginning of the alphabet. I tried both first and surname in Irish.
“Ah we have one of them, he’s on the second floor.”

I climbed the stairs a little shakily. I may have just gotten a scholarship but I didn’t even know my own father’s name!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The whole truth

I took some photos recently and was criticised for it. An example: a man sits on a tree stump in front of a cobbled wall. Beside him on another tree stump is a glass of tea. He has grey hair, a weathered face and is dressed in well-used work clothes. The knees of his trousers are dirty and his rolled-up sleeves are grubby. His expression is a little bemused, there may even be a hint of mischief in his eye. The criticism: 'That doesn't reflect his social status.'

You see he looked like a villager. He didn't look like an apartment owner and landlord, or a shopkeeper, or father to teachers and other educated children.

Being seen as a villager in Turkey is the highest of praise according to Ataturk but more likely it's a dismissal in modern Turkey. It could mean someone hardworking or lazy, crafty or slow, noble or not. It can refer to a mindset that is superstitious, introverted and traditionalist. As Turkey has urbanised so quickly this divide is seen more in the cities than in the villages themselves. Virtual ghettos form, where people from neighbouring villages live close to each other and bring the village with them to the city. Any patch of land is used to grow vegetables, clothes are shaken over balconies without regard for the fancy cafe below and the village network takes over shops and businesses. This may clash with the established order in the city, an order created by people only a generation or so from the village themselves.

To judge a person based on a single photo may indicate there are self-esteem issues linked to this divide that Turkey will have to face.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A visitor

Having not heard footsteps the voice surprised me with it's closeness. 'Komşu?' Neighbour.
When I appeared at the top of the steps the stooped old lady asked if I accepted visitors. She used her walking stick to climb the steps, leaning heavily on my arm, plastic bag swinging as she lurched upward. I guided her into the house, sat her on the couch and supported her with multiple cushions. Her stooped back was emphasised by a towel and several scarves around her neck, to protect from the breeze.

I offered coffee and biscuits and we chatted. She admired the house, congratulated us on the garden and explained that she was staying with her daughter in the houses behind us. She asked my name and tried to come up with a Turkish alternative. Mishearing my nationality she thought I was Dutch and launched into a story about her 17 years in Germany. She had to have a kidney operation and the nurses were kind, gentle and allowed her to pray before the operation. She ended with the moral that the heart counts, not religion, not nationality.
With her tight white curls and black-dyed eyebrows she looked a little strange, but her eyes were sharp and bright behind her bifocals. As I made more coffee she observed the room. When the children came in from playing she admired them both, but warned them against knocking the table.

She talked about being born in Erzincan, moving to Istanbul at four years of age and living in sight of the Jewish Graveyard, of her love for Edirnekapı. She nearly shed tears at her father's death at 48 years old, describing her parents loving marriage and her mother widowed at 32 years old. She talked and talked and all stories ended with the importance of the heart and of character. By now drinking sugary boiled water she proclaimed the greatness of Ataturk, his love for Turkey and its people, and of the civility of his divorce from Latife Hanim.
She asked me to fill her water bottle, put the remaining biscuits into her plastic carrier bag. She was polite, encouraged me to make the dinner while she sat there 'Don't think of me as a stranger'. Her daughter hadn't married and she asked if I could find a suitable husband for her. She told a story of a doctor who had been a suitor many years before.

Then she mentioned her husband, the tall man I would have seen him. 'Köpek, hayvan, şerefsiz.' Dog, animal, dishonourable. A triade of abuse followed; she didn't want to marry, her father gave her away. Her husband beat her father, still fights with her daughter; lazy, useless moron. May Allah curse him, may Allah punish him. He is older and healthier than she is, he doesn't have kidney, heart and back problems, he is waiting for her to die.

When the Handyman arrived home she recovered somewhat, echoing her desire to find a husband for her daughter 'Don't tell her though.' She rose awkwardly and I helped her as far as the gate, feeling her to be far older than her 68 years.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Troy and Hittites

I decided to take the kids downtown to Cimenlik Kalesi yesterday. The castle is at the narrowest point of the Dardanelles and has a lovely park outside with various remnants from WWI dotted about the grass. We went because there was an exhibition of sculptures by Erdinc Bakla on show. The Hittite portion was out on the grass. The pieces were mainly marble and bronze. I liked the one above most of all, but it seemed very familiar somehow.The fertility goddess seemed a little vulnerable standing in the centre of a military establishment without a stitch on her. The castle is run by the navy and even the tours are conducted with proper military precision.So that was the Hittites where were the Trojans hiding? They were in the exhibition hall and didn't make the impression they should have as pale marble against white walls didn't stand out.

This was the nicest piece, I really like the way he thinned the marble to make the soldiers inside the horse. The mane was made of stone, and made it all a little top heavy.Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, possibly trying to escape her hair! The Brown-eyed Girl got a great kick out of recognising the characters, having spent the last year doing a project on Troy in preschool. She took over the camera too.Homer, the man behind the legend. All the pieces compliment Bakla's piece on the Kordon next to the Trojan Horse (the one from the movie!). It shows the walls of Troy with the horse inside being stormed by the Greeks all contained in a glass pyramid. The opposing soldiers are all blocks of white marble against black/green serpentinite.
This was the most spectacular piece, the head and mane of the horse is glass (sorry the photo's not better). Little Boy Blue was wandering around having gotten a little bored. And as the Brown-eyed Girl and I were looking at this he made a run for me, missed my legs which is what he was grabbing for, slipped, knocked over the guide rope and slid to the base of the sculpture. Thankfully he didn't hit it but I had flashes of it falling and smashing into thousands of pieces over his head for the rest of the afternoon. Took icecreams for all of us on the seafront before I was calm again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A scone, a goat and the Conor Pass

Food has memory. Each mouthful transfers those memories directly to the sense centres in the brain, allowing the entire body to engage with the taste. As an expat I started to build these memories of Turkish food later in life, and initially looked on in amazement as my friends went wild for a dish that may not be appetizing to look at or eat. It happens in the opposite direction too.

Now there should be a picture of a scone here, but it being a hectic week I didn't have time to make any. So use your imagination and picture a golden brown bun studded with raisins, the firm crust masks a butter-yellow, springy inside. It smells of warmth and tastes of comfort. The mouths of anyone from Ireland or the British Isles should be watering.

Handing a plate of these to a Turk, smiling proudly at how close they resemble my mother's scones, there is a moment of anticipation before they take one. It's obviously not like baklava, the layers of buttered filo pastry and nuts, so soaked in syrup it melts in the mouth. It's not like simit, the teatime standard, a ring of twisted bread covered in sesame seeds. Perhaps it's a little more like poğaca, soft pastry enclosing cheese or olives. The closest would be kuru pasta; sweet or salty bite-size pastries. So they bite the dry scone and nod faint approval, though it's hard to know do they approve of the scone or the fact that I baked them myself.

I cut my scone in two, lather on butter generously, spread strawberry jam and then, to amazed stares, I top it all with a dollop of sugary whipped cream. As the butter melts I bite and am eleven or twelve years old again. We are in a hotel, sitting down to afternoon tea by a large bay window overlooking Dingle Bay in the southwest of Ireland.

We have been driving past corry lakes and green cliffs on a steep mountain road. In spite of the remoteness of the area there is traffic, slowed further by the narrowness of the road. We have made our way from Tralee, I think, past Castlegregory and Mount Brandon to climb over the Conor Pass. We stopped cautiously at the top of the pass looking south towards Dingle Bay and north to Mount Brandon. Our caution had nothing to do with the many cars and caravans constantly pulling over without regard for pedestrians. It was to do with goats. Years before we stopped here just as a herd of goats was roaming by. My mother decided to take a photo of myself and my sister beside one of the goats. We posed, two skinny-legged kids in shorts. And as the camera shutter clicked our goat friend turned and butted my little sister squarely on her hip. The scene is re-enacted with my little brother as the goat, much to my sister's disgust.

And finally my father asks are we hungry. He has been talking about these scones all day; it will be a big treat, the hotel is famous for them. And in spite of our pre-teen skepticism, he is right: they are the most delicious scones, served at just the right temperature with homemade strawberry jam and magnificent whipped cream. We devour the lot and possibly even order more.

I look up to find my Turkish guests with quizzical looks on their faces. I choose not to tell them my recollections, let them make their own memory of scones - eaten with cream by the foreigner with a wistful grin.


Here's Corinne, the next post in the World Blog Surf Day list. And the WBSD link list, just in case.

Thanks to Sher for arranging World Blog Surf Day and to Anastasia as offical Twitterer for WBSD. Anastasia Ashman (Thandelike) is an American cultural producer based in Instanbul, and is a creator of Expat Harem, the anthology by foreign women about modern Turkey. Her Tweetstream focuses on women, travel and history, and she shares resources for writers/travelers, expats, Turkophiles and culturati of all stripes.
Twitter Home Page: Thandelike

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Attention, please..

I had great plans to write a wonderful post today but after a night of interrupted sleep and a child with a rash to think about my mind is not fully focused. Instead I'll just get to the point!
Photo credit: NASA, public domain

I'll be participating in World Blog Surf Day on Saturday. Thirty-one expat bloggers will blog about 'Food', linking to each other in a chain. All organised by Sher. Thank you very much. Anastasia Ashman will be tweeting about the posts.
So check in here and you can travel around the world from your armchair!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

I didn't plan my kids to match school timing so the Brown-eyed Girl and Little Boy Blue miss out. The Brown-eyed Girl misses starting primary school proper by being born in November. That's not a definite rule, if we met the teacher and the principal I'm sure they'd agree that she's ready to start (no, I'm not biased, she really is a smart girl!). In order to do that we have to choose a school though, and fast, as registration has already started.

When we moved here I was delighted to find there was a school on the doorstep. Alas it is a private school and the most expensive one in Canakkale at that! Looking up the Private Education General Directorate (Özel Öğretim Kurumları Genel Müdürlüğü) under the Raports (Raporlar) tab I found the list of private primary schools for the whole country. By going to the Primary Education General Directorate (İlköğretim Genel Müdürlüğü) I searched by state and county to get a list of primary schools for the county. So narrowing down the list by location leaves me still with a long list. And the best way to judge each school is by visiting them one by one.

This could be avoided as a new system has just come into effect where based on address, a school will be assigned for your child. However we live outside town, and don't intend to send the kids to the village school. There could be debate about which village school would count as local as we don't live within village limits, so our post goes to one village, we vote in another, and the local public health clinic is in yet another village.

In the face of so many choices we'll probably just put off making a decision! Currently she's in the Children's House (Cocuklar Evi), the creche/preschool in the university. The facilities are good, she loves her teachers, and gets on well with her classmates (see if you can spot her in the pictures on the website). Next year they'll work on reading and writing, and Little Boy Blue will join the 3/4 class. With the two of them occupied, it will leave me time to traipse around every school in the area...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tweet, tweet!

I joined Twitter the other day out of curiosity. I don't really understand the concept, why limit yourself to 140 characters while trying to have a conversation. But it's not really about talking, it's about texting on a computer, and I have to admit I only ever manage short texted conversations, time delays and other things always seem to get in the way.

The Twitter website is a little obtuse to use. Setting up the account was easy enough, though living in the 'Rest of the World' meant I could sign up to send tweets from my phone, but couldn't receive any updates so I skipped that step. It's not easy to find people and it won't allow me to import any contacts from Outlook, though it will from web-based email providers. I started following Maryb without realising I had. And was pleasantly surprised to find that I gained a follower (thanks, Deborah!) without ever having tweeted.

Having browsed a bit it seems that most people use another application, either web-based or downloaded to your computer, to keep track of Twitter such as TweetDeck or TweetChat. Some make it easier to follow chats, where everyone puts a hashtag in their tweets so they are grouped together (as in #xxxchat); and replies, where you address your tweet to a particular person (as in @username). Perhaps it all becomes second nature but I'm not convinced. Still I'll take a gander at #litchat tomorrow as Anastasia is hosting a discussion about expat literature.

So between forums and email and Facebook and now Twitter I spend my time rattling around cyberspace trying to communicate, yet I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people. I miss face-to-face interaction in English and find all the substitutes lacking in some way. Skype or MSN should be better but unfortunately in this house they result in an authority vacuum, so as I try to have a serious conversation, my mother watches as the children cut their doll's hair, raid the kitchen presses and finally climb on my head. It's a little distracting to say the least.

Perhaps I should admit I'm looking for the impossible and accept the substitutes with their failings or maybe I should just get out more....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Season change

We were away last week for a mere five days and in that time we missed the change from spring to summer. We left with a northerly wind and chilly rain, and arrived to 24 degrees heat at six in the evening. Our peas had fallen over with the weight of pods, the ground was cracked and the blossom on the apple trees was gone.

In the last week the lawn (euphemism for all the weeds we cut weekly) is looking parched, the poppies are out and the grass in the field is over the top of our wall. Daily the maximum temperature is about 28 degrees. Yesterday the shiny new fire helicopter was doing practice runs overhead. Passing by the beach in the bus, the water looked inviting (not the beach; too much litter).

I haven't adapted to the change and feel the need to grab a jacket when I leave the house. And I scan for rain clouds when there isn't a cloud in the sky. Old habits die hard...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Simple Things

Sometimes it's the simple things about living away from Ireland that trip me up. I just filled in an application form to be sent to Ireland and the last thing on the list of necessary items was a self-addressed stamped envelope. This presented a slight problem but being busy with the more important items to arrange I didn't think much about it.

I can't send an envelope with Turkish stamps on it, so I looked for an alternative.

Could I order stamps from An Post, the Irish post office? It can't be done online, but I could print a form, post it over with the credit card details, and wait patiently for them to send my stamps over. Apart from the fact that I'd have to order a large batch of stamps, it sounded good. Except the closing date for my application may have come and gone by the time they arrived. Postage time to and from Ireland is good (most of the time) but it would too much of a risk.

International Reply Coupons sounded like they'd fit the bill. Issued by the Universal Postal Union since 1906, they can be exchanged in any member country for stamps. Perfect. I checked with An Post, and each one can be exchanged for 82 c of stamps (interestingly you can't buy IRC's in Ireland). I checked the PTT, the Turkish post office, online and they were listed for sale for about 2 tl. I asked my Mam, who has access to a franking machine, what the postage would be and worked out how many IRC's I'd need. Great I was all set.

Until I went to my local post office, who looked at me with wonder and bewilderment as I explained what an IRC was. There was an exchange of glances among the staff before they said they'd never heard of them and didn't sell them. Typical....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Foreign Festivities

Take any holiday of whatever persuasion;
Turkish, Irish, religious or not,
Even birthdays or weddings inclusive,
Consider all as available.

First is the food; there are norms,
Unmissable treats for each day,
Turkey or trifle, helva or sarma,
Make each with whatever’s available.

Second is tradition; what should be done,
Each holiday has its demands.
Parades or prayers, family visits or rituals,
Each observed with whatever’s available.

Third is enjoyment: these are celebrations!
And each has a special appeal.
Decorations or dances, playacting or music,
Each played with whatever’s available.

Fourth is the atmosphere; that elusive goal.
It grows best with numbers of revelers.
Solemn or silly, formal or fun,
It relies not on whatever’s available.

The result is soon over, with little regard
For the effort of all those involved.
Tradition true, or hollow pretense?
That depends on whoever’s available.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

From the Ashes

Last week we visited the scene of last July's forest fire. Here's the view from Karanlik Limani at the southern end of Guzelyali. The slope used to be covered with pines.

Here's the view from above Turgutreis Tabyasi, the WWI cannons that used to be hidden in forest. The road is the Izmir road as it rises on the way to Intepe and used to be hidden among the trees as the whole area was forested.

Here's the lower cannon, looking exposed.

A wider view shows the edge of the fire damage.

Looking up to the wind turbines at the top of the ridge.

Logs stacked for transport.

The newly exposed view over Guzelyali, across the Dardanelles to the Abide monument at the tip of the Gallipolli Peninsula.
And a newly-planted sapling...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

I had plans to dress up as a cheerleader or perhaps a bagpiper and march down the main street, around the roundabout at the pier and back up to the main square where I'd get atrociously drunk on green Guinness and throw up. Alas it's not to be, the trials of celebrating Patrick's Day as an expat.

There are several flaws in this almost-perfect plan; no bagpipes or short skirt, no Guinness (makes me wish I'd bought those out-of-date cans I found in the local supermarket at Christmas), no green food colouring, no other paraders and a three-year old likely to be none to happy with the whole process. But I could perhaps have worked around these minor problems.

It's the thunder clouds, rising wind and steady rain that transformed a wonderful spring morning into a dull afternoon and killed the perfect plan dead. It must be all these years of living in a warm climate that's made me a Paddy's Day wimp...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Son, be a de-entist..."

Many, many years ago I spent a summer visiting my dentist, having made an initial appointment about a month in advance. Every Wednesday, my day off, I would bus or walk into Fairview and usually walk home afterwards. His waiting room would have maybe one other person there, usually waiting for the patient he was with rather than the dentist. I'd be brought into the room quickly and then the ordeal began.

He was a severe, older man, probably nearing retirement and he did everything slowly, deliberately. The anasthetic would take an age to work and then he'd prod, push and drill into my poor teeth. At times I thought he was drilling directly into my brain. One root canal took about four weeks and three temporary fills. I don't know how long each session was but it felt like about three years.

On Tuesday I rang the dentist to make an appointment for myself and the Handyman. It took three repeats for the girl to catch either name. Somehow when people hear 'Catherine' it throws them, and they lose it completely when it's followed by a Turkish surname. Anyway eventually she says 'We're very busy. Come whenever you like.' This time I had to ask her to repeat what she said. It may sound like an oxymoron but it neatly sums up the Turkish Way of Doing Things.

So we arrived that afternoon to a cramped waiting room, filled completely. You could tell by the blank stares directed at the Chinese historical soap opera on the television that they'd been waiting for a long time. Again the girl took several repeats to figure out that I had called and what our names were.

After waiting about an hour we were called in. When we first went to this dentist many years ago he'd newly set up the practice and was young, enthusiastic and chatty. Now his eyes were sunken in great grey hollows, his hair had receded to his collar and his feeble attempt at welcoming us was grim. You would swear he had spent years only exposed to misery, pain and strife, forced to witness the most horrific sights, the most gruesome rot and terrible decay.

Within two minutes of sitting in the chair he'd X-ray'ed and numbed my jaw. What followed was a quick succession of drilling and cleaning with a variety of implements. He began filling the cavity at once, filling, moulding and hardening with a neat UV light several times before declaring that I could now chew with abandon. It was all over in about ten minutes and the most painful part was that the suction stuck to the inside of my cheek for the length of it.

Sometimes the Turkish Way is the way to go!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative...

Coming across a discussion about positive thinking, I thought it was exactly what I needed (you don’t say!). I really believe positive thinking can be very powerful and that changing our attitude can create real effects in our lives so when ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne was recommended, I managed to get my hands on a copy and thought I’d increase my positivity by reading it.

How wrong I was!

The Secret is the Law of Attraction that like attracts like. The idea is that if you think good thoughts, good things come to you. So far so good. And to be fair the book does mention things like becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings, gratitude for what you have, loving yourself, visualization of goals, all standard ways to change your attitude; the problem is that they are hidden deep in a web of pseudo-science and tenuous logic.

You see the reason good things come to you is that your thoughts are send out into the ‘Universe’ which very kindly reflects you positive things back. If you think negative thoughts, you will get negative things back. You may think your feelings are your own but they’re not, that’s the ‘Universe’ affirming whether your thoughts are positive or negative. If you feel good, the ‘Universe’ is confirming that you’re sending out good thoughts and vice versa.

The Secret is the reason for success. If you are successful you must know the Secret. Therefore Plato, Galileo, Beethoven, Edison, Carnegie, Einstein and Henry Ford all knew the Secret. QED.

Here are a few choice quotes:

The explanation:
“You are a human transmission tower, and you are more powerful than any television tower created on earth. You are the most powerful transmission tower in the Universe. Your transmission creates your life and it creates the world. The frequency you transmit reaches beyond cities, beyond countries, beyond the world. It reverberates throughout the entire Universe. And you are transmitting that frequency with your thoughts!”

The ‘scientific’:
“The law of attraction is the law of creation. Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought!”

“I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them.”

The obvious:
“If you're not sure how you're feeling, just ask yourself, "How am I feeling?"”

The bizarre:
“So when you think a sustained thought it is immediately sent out into the Universe. That thought magnetically attaches itself to the like frequency and then within seconds sends the reading of that frequency back to you through your feelings. Put another way, your feelings are communication back to you from the Universe, telling you what frequency you are currently on.”

The downright wishful:
“Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts.”

“The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”

I would have hurled ‘The Secret’ across the room several times if I wasn’t reading it on my phone. Positive thinking surely shouldn’t mean that I should lie to myself! Another thing that’s repeated is that you can’t think positive things and feel bad at the same time. So what about me? I’m writing a negative review and feeling very good about it! I guess the ‘Universe’ will come and get me for it at some stage.

They never revealed the real secret. I should probably write it as an e-book and sell it for a packet but I’ll let you in on it.

The real secret is……

Are you ready?…..


You can think all the positive thoughts you want, but if you’re not prepared to get off your behind and work to make them reality, those thoughts are in vain. But I guess it’s easier to just imagine large cheques arriving in the mail…

Thursday, February 26, 2009


A window on the tv; dark wood panelling, tall, Georgian;
A background row of semi-d's with neat gardens;
Familiarity a dagger, sending me slicing back,
On a blank-eyed trip to youth and freedom.

Creeping silent and subversive, sowing resentment and discontent,
The everyday moans screech like nails on a blackboard.
Housework - a curse; cooking - a torture;
Children - wild; no matter how well-behaved.

Spare me the daily effort of understanding.
Spare me the loneliness of a second culture.
Let me home to no need for translation.
Let me home to a break from being different.

Olive trees and hot sunshine, stuffed vine leaves and baklava,
Exotic to the girl I used to be,
The norm for the woman I have become.
Hard to renounce even for a brief hiatus.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's arrived!

I've spent the last few months in a swelter of Rudalls, Roses, Prattens, Cotters, Doyles, Cronnollys, McGees, Burns, and a list of other names. These are not in fact a list of pubs I frequented in my youth, but flutemakers.

Sometime in the last six months or so, I realised how much I miss music. I don't listen to much, or rather don't pay attention to the music that's played around me. Himself generally listens to Turkish folk music, Turkish pop is played as background music everywhere and the occasional English pop song pops up now and again.

As a kid I played piano, not very well, but I enjoyed it. Actually I enjoyed it more once I gave up lessons and began to play from sheet music I bought myself. I had a tin whistle too, bought after hearing a concert given in the Old Head Hotel in Louisburgh, Co Mayo (unless my memory is playing tricks, always a possibility). I'm not sure who the player was but I was fascinated. In school I learned recorder.

When the idea of playing again came up, the instrument had to be portable. It would be preferable to be something I could play Irish music on, remembering sessions in Falcarragh and also thinking of introducing the kids to Irish music. The Irish flute seemed to fit the bill. The sound is terrific, haunting or lively as you wish. I could use it for trad, or for songs, or even possibly for Turkish folk music.

So after researching for months I finally bought an anonymous flute off ebay. It's not made in Pakistan which is a plus. And I have to wait a little longer. It has arrived...in my parents house, so I'll wait and research until they visit in a month's time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Something to do in your spare time

Hobbies have always been important in my family. They’ve always been something worth the effort. So Dad played tennis, and now plays golf too. He also volunteered in the tennis club as a barman for years. He gave up Sunday mornings for league matches, played in the evenings with friends and took part in table quizzes in the club. Apart from helping keep him fit, he also amassed a range of Waterford Crystal, pewter mugs, tennis balls, golf balls, sport socks and the odd bottle of wine from various competitions and raffles. Mam didn’t do much when we were young but then started playing tennis again, took up golf and bridge, and joined two choirs. As kids we played tennis, then took up hockey in secondary school, were in the brigeens and guides, and also played the piano and tin whistle. The whole family also went swimming once a week. Being social and active was something encouraged.

But while my sister and brother took up kayaking and climbing in college, I gave up hockey after my second year. And since then I haven’t had any hobbies. It’s not to say I haven’t been busy but between moving to Turkey, learning the language, being pregnant and raising young kids I haven’t had much time to devote to myself. I did start yoga when I was pregnant and have continued it to an extent, but it’s all self-taught with books and DVD’s (much like my Turkish actually!). And now I’m going to learn to play the Irish flute (more on that soon).

There’s another factor at play here though. My in-laws don’t have hobbies either, unless you count crocheting trousseau for themselves or their daughters. Any hobby would have to be done in the slivers of time allowed by the hazelnut farm and running the shop. Some of them are hunt occasionally, my nieces and nephews did some sports in school and some learned instruments but I don’t think any have continued past school. There is a sense that in general hobbies are for kids, not for adults, which could be generalized to Turkey in general. Hobbies require money and time, both of which have been in scarce supply for a lot of the population in the past. When every hour must be worked to put food on the table, when you don't have any spare time, hobbies tend to be neglected. That is slowly changing now, but the proportion of adults with hobbies is still lower than Ireland by a long shot.

This all leads to a slightly skewed view of hobbies and their value. A hobby which produces something useful is valued far higher than one that ‘just’ makes an individual happy. The end product has a definite value which makes it easier to justify spending money and time on doing it. A set of shelves is more worth than a flute in that regard.

I have slipped into this mindset sometimes, even though I don’t agree with it. Any activity that increases a person’s peace of mind is worth it. Whether that’s meditation, playing music, skiing, tennis, golf, hunting, blogging or building something, doesn’t matter.

A hobby’s greatest value is the fact that it helps us cope with stress and that is definitely worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year Blues

Well, the New Year is nearly a week old and it seems like a century! I've been struck by the sense of anticlimax that comes with the New Year. It leaves me feeling bored in spite of all the work to do, overwhelmed by the incredible distance between effort and reward. That distance may be as much as the ten minutes between putting on the kettle and drinking the cup of coffee, an unspeakably long time.

It hasn't been helped by the antics in Israel. I seem to find myself stuck on Al Jazeera watching rockets and explosions against the night sky, hypnotized by the pointlessness of it all.

The fact that we have all been hit by a persistent cold doesn't improve my frame of mind. The ache in my head and pain in my face cast a negative filter on everything. The weather is cold and damp, which makes me alternately homesick or SAD. And the bare house, stripped of it's cheerful tree, is just the icing on the cake.

Rereading the above makes me seem like a miserable old grouch. Perhaps I am...