About the Blog

I recently accepted a position from Teach and Learn with Georgia, a Georgian Ministry of Education program designed to bring native speakers of English into classrooms around the country. I will be moving to Georgia in August of 2014 to begin my assignment.

Before this latest adventure, I studied at Bogazici University in Istanbul Turkey and at Azerbaijan University of Languages. I speak English German Spanish, Turkish Azerbaijani and Uzbek and am currently trying my hand at Georgian.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bureaucracy and Bazaars

Hello again friends. It has been a couple of crazy days here in Istanbul but overall a good crazy I think. I left off on Wednesday I believe, with my arrival and insane quantities of jet lag. The jet lag is lessening but is not quite gone yet. As a result I am still a bit of a brain dead zombie, but I can at least speak some Turkish, so it could be worse. Friday was required orientation and the welcome dinner. I went running on the track next to the dorm, which felt good, if cold and then I prepared for the stunning boredom that was orientation. I shouldn’t knock it too badly; some of the information was useful. However, it did start quite late and lasted more than 2 hours which is a very long time to learn how to register for classes and get a residency permit. This latter was quite complex and I actually listened to most of it. Let me explicate. Turkey requires all foreigners who live in the country for more than 3 months to register with the police and be given a small booklet called a residency permit which allows them not only to stay but also to exit and reenter the country. I want one quite fast because I have been planning a trip to Germany to visit my family at the beginning of March. The information about this whole process has been very confusing and incomplete which is extremely frustrating for a Type A personality like myself. It turns out that to apply for a residency permit on a student visa (like me) you need a form from the university called an öğrenci belgesi, which confirms that you are an enrolled student at a Turkish University or institution of higher learning. This was not actually communicated to us at any time. Minor details, you know how it is. I needed to register and have my schedule confirmed to get this form, which I was told could take 2 weeks, plus another week after my appointment at the police station to get the permit. Doing the math, my heart sunk. So, like any other high-strung overachiever I did the only logical thing. I had a major meltdown. After a hysterical skype call to my parents at 1am (here not in Michigan) I sent a slightly more coherent email to the director of International Studies that consisted of me groveling and begging for her to rush the process for me. I registered for some of my classes this morning, using perhaps the most ridiculous registration system in the entire world to do so, but I am still waiting for consents from professors to take some of the courses. However, the director did say she would help me rush the paperwork through. So we’ll see. This is an ongoing saga. Hopefully my readers enjoy serials.
In any case, back to Friday, I then went to the welcome dinner and met some lovely people and came home for a quiet night watching FRIENDS and chatting with my Turkish roommate Katre. Saturday was exploring time. I slept extremely late and just made it out the door to meet up with Hannah and Bobbie (who is also from MSU) to go into the old town. We took the bus and the tram, both of which were packed to the gills and got off at the Grand Bazaar or Kapalı Çarşı. We wandered and wondered for a couple of hours, both inside the bazaar, where we were yelled at in English by vendors wishing to sell us their wares, and then in the surrounding streets, where we were yelled at in Turkish, which means that there is at least a 50% discount on the previous English language prices. We didn’t end up buying anything but a couple of pieces of Turkish Delight, or lokum, in the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) next to the New Mosque. Then we tucked out scarves over our heads, removed our shoes, and went in. The New Mosque is neither the most beautiful nor the most magnificent of Istanbul’s mosques but it does have worshipers. As opposed to many of the mosques on the tourist trail, New Mosque is still frequently used by those who live in the neighborhood as a place of worship. And I like that it feels more like an active center for prayer than a museum for tourists to come to and gawk at both the architecture and the few Muslims in the place, acting like they are in a well-manicured zoo, observing a foreign species. We took some pictures and then just sat and enjoyed the spectacular beauty of the place, and it’s quiet but purposeful calm as opposed to the chaos and noise of the streets outside. We reluctantly left, grabbed some çay and got dinner in Taksim, a neighborhood across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet and the old town. I spent the evening chatting with older sister, talking about the amazing amount of crazy that traveling abroad creates in even the most controlled and logical people (which may or may not be me, I’m taking a poll). I also played Turkish trivial pursuit with Katre, which was great vocabulary practice and a good way to illustrate my poor knowledge of Turkish trivia. I can work on that though.
Sunday was a quiet day, I went to the little Lutheran Church in Taksim, much to the delight of everyone there and simply listened to the service in Turkish rather than sitting at the back with the English translator. I had some trouble keeping up with the songs, prayer s and call and response parts of the service (I never realized how quickly we say the confession of faith, but man when you are trying to read it in a foreign language for the first time that skips right along). When it came to the sermon though, I followed every word, which was a great reassurance that my Turkish has improved in the year and half since I was last here. The church is a beautiful little place, tucked away from the street and quite unobtrusive. It needs a couple of repairs, but they’re waiting for permission from the Turkish authorities. It was an RC church before a Lutheran one, so it’s pretty ornate, but I like that. I also really appreciated that the service was in Turkish. It felt like it wasn’t a service for expats, it was a service for Istanbul and Turkey and that the church wants to be a part of the landscape, not a foreign implant like it could very easily be. Most of the members were either Turks, or long-term residents who were perfectly comfortable using the national language for worship. I think the one pastor might even have been Turkish, though I’m not sure, since his accent was a little strange.  I’ll have to investigate. The rest of Sunday was quiet and today all I’ve done is registered for some courses and walked down to Bebek and explored Rumeli Hısarı, a fortress built in 1452 and full of frightening slippery stones on this slightly dreary, rainy day. But the company of my companions and the incredible sweeping views from the towers more than made up for the weather.
The call to prayer is echoing over this city again, bringing in the dusk of yet another day in the mega city, where things are never as they seem and insanity or jubilation could be just around the corner. You just have to be willing to walk into the unknown. Goodbye for now my friends and I cannot wait to be speaking to you again very soon. Until then, hoşçcakal and güle güle!

The New Mosque at Dusk    Photo Credit Hannah Franke

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