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, March 25, 2013

Since the last time we spoke

Me at Sumela Monastery again

I was feeling down today. Not sad, not depressed, not homesick, just, down. Before you all freak out, it’s fine. I just wasn’t feeling as optimistic as usual. Class didn’t go awesome. I hadn’t done well with the writing assignment, despite the fact that I really liked what I written. It was hitting me hard because, well, it was. I went for a swim, which usually cheers me up but it was just a so-so swim. Not terrible, where you swear you’ll never go near water again, not great where you feel like you could swim to France—tomorrow.  And I started my walk home through the park where I’ve been keeping my eye out for the cat that scratched me a couple of weeks ago, checking for signs of disease. I was lost in my own mind when a woman in the long-sleeved, long skirted black coat that matched her black headscarf went past. She was also wearing black sneakers and was power walking. The incongruity roused me from my ruminations. I looked up. And I was struck yet again with the realization that I’m living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Istanbul isn’t all romance and poetry—but a whole damn lot of it is. The city was getting dark, not a magnificent sunset, on the contrary a gray one and it was just dark enough that the lights were starting to be visible. I was looking out over the Bosporus to the Asian side, hills beyond hills, some swathed in apartment blocks, others a wall of green, as far as the eye can see. The Rumeli fortress was beneath me, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge to my left. I was seeing the same view for the hundredth first time, because it’s always new and awe-inspiring and breath-taking. Every time someone tells me I’m doing well, or is surprised that I speak Turkish (with any degree of fluency), or I understand something said around me )or to me) or a stranger is kind to me, I’m reminded of why it is that I’m here and why it is that I do what I do. And why I love. A few anecdotes to prove my point:
The Black Sea in Trabzon

a)      My weekend in Trabzon. This town on way to the East on the Black Sea doesn’t get a lot of tourists. It doesn’t get a lot of Western tourists. It doesn’t get a lot of women travelers. It doesn’t get a lot of tourists in March. So surprise that a group of 6 young American women a few weeks ago attracted some attention. We were invited in everywhere we went. Within half an hour of arriving in town we had struck up a conversation with a fruit seller who then invited his friend over and his friend invited us to his tea shop for conversation and as much chay as we could drink. He took a picture with us before we left. This was to set the theme for the weekend. Every store that we walked into was surprised to see us, every restaurant was thrilled by our appearance. At a newly opened Pide (a Turkish version of pizza, except long and thin) shop run by a man and his children and perhaps nephews, the proprietor brought us chay on the house, apologized for not having a menu and again took a photo with us before we left. He was so proud of having Americans in his place of business. A friend bought a hair straightener and the man who sold it to her recorded her name, nationality occupation the date and item sold so that he would have proof for posterity that he had an American customer. At every museum guards and guides seemed surprised to see us and then made sure that we got to see whatever we wanted and generally helped us get around, because they were so proud of what they had. Buying postcards, the men in the shop chatted with each other about who we could possibly be and when I replied to their non-question in Turkish they started violently and then we had a terrible time leaving because they wanted to keep talking. I think the thing that I most enjoyed was that everything in Trabzon took place in Turkish. Every time we ordered a meal, every time we asked for directions, every tour, every entrance fee, every hotel issue, every taxi ride, every flight check in, every interaction with anyone outside of the group, Turkish was the language of communication. And I was the only member of the group who could speak Turkish so I got to take charge from the moment we left the dorm. This was a lot of responsibility, but it was also a chance to just speak Turkish and to prove to myself that I could function. We never got lost, we never got into a bad situation or a bad neighborhood, we never got brought the wrong thing, or charged the wrong amount. I was a perfectly function Turk. I wasn’t going to fool anyone that I wasn’t some crazy female yabancı (foreigner) but I was one that you could have a conversation with and understand, could question about her motives, education and seemingly silent friends. We decided to visit a mosque in town that had been converted from a Byzantine church and on the way out I was putting my shoes back on as men started to come in for evening prayer. One stopped, bent over me and asked what we were doing there. It ended up that he was a retired chemist who lived in Trabzon and he was pretty surprised to find visitors at the neighborhood mosque, but he also seemed incredibly pleased that they understood the cultural regulations regarding our visit, and that at least one of these nutters spoke Turkish. I so enjoyed being the conduit through which the town became understandable to my peers, and relished the opportunity to represent America and the West for the people that we met. I’ve been told that cultural representation is not a form of leadership, but I couldn’t care less, because nothing makes me so proud in the entire world. And that’s why I love Trabzon.
A street in Istanbul near Dolmabahce Palace

b)      On Friday I went to Karaköy, down on the Golden Horn, to get my student bus pass. When I got on the bus here in Etiler, I didn’t have enough on my card for the fare. So someone paid for me. I didn’t get the chance to pay him back. When I got to the office what felt like forever later, I was able to easily navigate the system, and I didn’t have any trouble understanding the clerk behind the desk. He tried to ask me a couple of questions in English, but quickly discovered that it was faster to work in Turkish with me, so he did. A few minutes later I had my last piece of ID that proved I was an Istanbullu, a resident of Istanbul. I was legit. And I get to pay half price for all public transport in the city, so overall life was looking pretty good.
c)       The other day, I was the first one to class and when my teacher walked into class, she said hello to me in Turkish. I responded to her in Turkish and she was surprised. We ended up having a short conversation about how and why I decided to learn Turkish and about my home university. As the crowning achievement of this whole interaction, she complimented my accent, which always makes me ridiculously pleased because I’m fairly certain that my only actual language-related talent is my ability to hear and replicate native accents faster than my peers. So I was very pleased to say the least and now she doesn’t feel the need to translate everything into English for me in class. The other American doesn’t always follow the questions and jokes in class, but I can and it makes me feel like I’m part of a special club. Maybe someday I will really be able to speak Turkish and it will be beautiful. I’m on my way at least.
The Aya Sofya Museum in Trabzon

That’s probably enough random stories for today, I will spare you all the strange details of my life, things that make me laugh, like the dogs that walk you home, the conversations you have with Turks at the grocery store, or my physical chemistry teacher. But I hope that you have enjoyed this and that you remember to see the beauty in the everyday places in your life. It’s easier to do when you’re traveling and constantly in new neighborhoods and situations, but I hope that when I get back to East Lansing I will be jarred into seeing by the unexpected happenstances and that I will look up and see beauty. Because I know that it’s there. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Hello again friends! I’m back with another adventure story to tell you all. I’m realizing that I’ve just been telling my stories as chronological lists of things with occasional stream of consciousness meanderings about the aura of the place etc. I want to switch that up a bit. Trabzon isn’t going to be explained chronologically. I’m going to tell you about things as they strike me. So let’s see where this takes us and if you and or I don’t like it, I will happily return to the old school version of storytelling.
I will however explain a little about Trabzon. It’s a city of about 750,000 people on the Eastern Black Sea coast. It’s only a few hours from the Georgian border by bus, as compared to 18 hours from Istanbul on said bus. The Black Sea coast has a different culture and cuisine from Istanbul, there is an ethnic minority in the region, the Laz, giving it some cultural diversity and the accent is entirely different from what I’m used to. I have been wanting to go to Trabzon ever since I knew I was coming back to Turkey. I can’t tell you exactly why. I knew that it would be interesting to get far away from Istanbul and try something completely knew. I thought it would be interesting to see what cultures in the foothills and edges of the Caucasus were like. There is supposed to be some amazing scenery around Trabzon and a couple of great sights. The shopping is amazing (this I will happily confirm). But I can’t put a finger on why exactly I wanted to go to Trabzon. I think I just wanted to. I knew the name, the approximate location and I’ve got the wanderlust pretty bad. So I went. My traveling companions were 5 American exchange students from Bogazici: Melissa, Maria, Sarah, Elaina and Hannah. This is the first time in Turkey for all of them and all of them are starting Turkish this semester. I was the mom for the weekend: organizing, head counting and translating. 
The highlight of the weekend was Sumela Monastery, about 45 kilometers away from the city. Its situated in a national forest, though I would feel comfortable calling it a rain forest because when we went it was very rainy and seemed like it was always that way. We wound through the roads of Trabzon, such as they are and starting cutting through villages surrounded by tea fields, though plantations seems like a strong word since these were pretty small. A lot of homes were under construction, there were small businesses lining the side of the road and the hills of Trabzon quickly became larger and larger mountains, some of them dotted with mining roads and heavy machinery others with holiday homes and gardens. It reminded me that much of Turkey still looks like the regions in Azerbaijan. I spend my time in Istanbul and begin to think of the bustling metropolis as the face of Turkey. And it is, don’t get me wrong. But to assume that a nation has a single aspect is a mistake. It doesn’t. It can’t. Turkey is a chameleon undergoing modernization and urbanization, two ways in which our modern landscape can most drastically change its spots. The bus driver was playing a mix between pop and arabesque, bringing me back to mugham and last summer. I was struck by what I can only describe as a sort of homesickness for a place that became my own through the intense concentration of my entire life on it. I never would have thought that I would become homesick for Azerbaijan. It is a place of incredible natural beauty and splendor and the people are wonderful, but when I was there it was hot and often dusty, I was stressed out and sleep deprived and often frustrated by my mind’s inability to wrap itself around the language. And yet on those roads to Sumela my mouth formed into a smile and I felt the urge to speak in Azeri, not Turkish or English or German. I wanted to be back. 
We climbed and the air got colder, the mist rose and then coalesced into first a drizzle, then rain and then a downpour. We drove on and up into pine forests covered in moss, winding our way along cliffs, catching occasional views of a white block structure clinging to the side of the mountain in a manner almost as precarious as we were.  The bus released us and the last few hundred meters were on foot, the trails of mix of stone pathway and the soft matting of soil with layers of dead pine needles on top. The whine of an instrument like a violin but a couple hundred miles east of Vienna was faint at first, leading me to think that it was my imagination providing some theme music for the trip. Yet it grew louder and around a corner beneath an outcrop of rock sat an elderly gentleman, playing away. The frescoes that covered the once-holy walls remained vibrant; none of them with any type of explanation other than what our eyes could tell us. That scene there, the Last Supper deduced from the collection of men around a table. That one there must be later than those, look at the use of perspective in it. The painters followed the school of thought that celebrates nature’s form rather than trying to dominate it and followed the curvature of the stone in their work. An area that once must have been an altar was now a handy platform for photo taking. Most of the frescoes lacked faces, worn away not by wind or weather but by bored young individuals with a slingshot to hand. So too was the graffiti on the lower pieces overwhelming, leaving scars of natural gray cutting across the forms at every angle. An almost physical pain came over me at the destruction of art, and not only art but sacred art. Art that was meant to celebrate God, no matter the manner in which it was to be done. The urge to caress the figures, to soothe their pain and bandage their wounds successfully fought, outside I greeted a vista of proportions unknown to mankind. The mountains sang in their glory, something I have no doubt was on the minds of the original builders and many of the monks throughout the centuries who spent time and perhaps lifetimes in this place. The frailty of humankind was put on magnificent display as opposed to the wonder of something we could never hope to create, much less to conquer. 

I was struck by the darkness of the forest. Growing up watching Disney movies forests might occasionally be frightening but this is only a passing impression followed closely by bright sunlit clearings and singing animals eagerly awaiting a human companion to translate for their new-found audience. This forest was dark. It wasn’t menacing, but it was unremitting. The trees were dark, the earth was dark, the stone was dark, the sky was gray as were the clouds and the rain and the mist. I reminded myself that people don’t live in fairy tales, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was one. I couldn’t decide which one exactly but the components had all come together. A large, secure and out of the way fortress. Check. The almost hidden path up to it. Check. The driving rain. In buckets. Swirling mist. Got you covered. Slight feeling of being watched from just beyond the path. Mood music. Cold wind. Raging river and waterfalls. Nature at its finest and most impressive. Band of adventurers. Only the feeling of isolation was missing, though in a way we were since I think there were perhaps 4 other foreign tourists there on the day we visited. Yet I was not isolated, for the words of others, though shrouded in a tongue that might have been unknown to me only 3 years ago was no longer mysterious. 

And that my friends was Sumela. I’ll be back with Trabzon later.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Fatherland

That's my residency permit on the right, with my Passport for scale
So. Guess what? This is the very last piece of the serial Hannah’s Residency Permit! I know that you will miss it terrible but please control your emotions. I had tickets to leave Istanbul on the first of March and my appointment to pick up the residency permit was the 28th of February. I kept my appointment slip in my wallet so that I couldn’t possibly forget it. I planned out if someone tried to mug me I would beg them to give me the appointment slip and I’d let them keep the credit cards. I got a little melodramatic about the whole thing if I’m honest. I went right after my chemistry class was over at 11am. I had my next class at 2pm so I knew that I’d be a little late since it’s pretty much an hour and a half each way to the building, but I figured it wouldn’t take real long to pick the thing up. Oh, so wrong. So so wrong. I showed them my appointment slip and they directed me to a room that contained at least 50 chairs and double that many people. This should have been my first intimation that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. I got there right after the lunch break, which was supposed to end at 1pm. By about 20 past some of the employees started rolling in again. The system went like this. Next to the door to the room was a small table. Everyone put their slips on this table. One employee took them. There was a long counter at one end of the room where 2-3 employees sat (depending on who was on chai break). The person who took the slips carried them to a file cabinet that covered an entire wall up to his shoulders. He went through it to find the permits that corresponded to the slips. The permits were still attached to all the paperwork that went with them. Once he had collected a stack he took them up to the front counter and they read off the first name and nation of the person whose permit it was. One guy read loudly, but the other two mumbled into their desks, which made it rather difficult to hear especially since there were already a hundred people waiting in this room and some of them were complaining pretty darn loudly, including one super pissed off American woman.  Some of the permits weren’t ready yet (all of those seemed to be for either Syrians or Somalis so I got the sense that there is a clear hierarchy of whose paperwork gets priority).  These people had their names off by the employee who looked for the permits and he gave them new appointments to pick them up, usually 2 weeks later. Again, none of the employees seem to speak any English. My heart is going about 3000 beats a minute at this point and I am fervently praying that my permit is ready. After waiting for about an hour one of the guys calls “Hannah America” and I vault myself over the chair in front of me and end up kind of sliding/skidding into the desk. I sign the original paperwork again, the employee makes some small conversation with me about studying Turkish and I have it. I dance my way out of the building, smiling like a maniac. But I never have to go back again! And I was only one and a half hours late to my class.

The next morning I woke up at 4:45 to get a taxi to Taksim, where I could catch a bus to Ataturk Airport for my Turkish airlines flight to Nurnberg. First of all, my taxi driver was super nice and didn’t try to rip me off at all, which was really kind of him since I don’t function well at 5am. Second of all, every good thing that you have ever heard about Turkish airlines is true. My flight was an hour and a half and I got a full, tasty breakfast. And I had three seats to myself so I slept after watching their excellent promotional video for Kyrgyzstan, which was listed under “documentary”.  My father’s friend Schippy met me at the airport and we took the metro to the train station and had some lunch (leberkase, or Bavarian meatloaf in my case, I have missed pork). We then caught the train to Kitzingen and Schippy drove us the 10km or so from there to Winterhausen, my father’s hometown. My Dad and I went to the bank to get my new German debit card and everyone recognized my dad, despite the fact that he has been living in the US since 1984. It was pretty impressive. My Aunt Marlena and Uncle George from Austria were already there so I got to catch up with them and then in the afternoon we went to see my Patin. The reason for the trip was that Saturday was my Patin’s 75th birthday so as much of the family as was available was getting together to celebrate with her. My coming was to be the surprise present of the event. She lives in a small senior’s home now, and likes it much better than she ever did living by herself. I walked into her room and she was confused for a moment before realizing who I was and then she was exceptionally pleased. My Uncle was so proud of himself for keeping my visit a secret and we all chatted for quite a while.
View of Winterhausen
Let me interject here to say that I didn’t do all that much talking because everything up to this point and really for the rest of the weekend was in German. I speak some German, but I haven’t spoken for quite a while or studied it since high school. Also the whole ‘Living in Turkey’ thing means that I have forgotten a pretty good bit of my German and mostly wanted to speak Turkish. However, due to having spent lots of time in countries where I don’t speak the language very well I am very good at picking up on social cues. I can tell when people are getting to the punch line of a joke and so I laugh at the right moment. This is a very useful skill and I suggest to everyone that you cultivate it. People think you are so much smarter than you actually are, it’s awesome.
After a few hours, Patin went to dinner and we went to Aldi’s to purchase real food (Aunt Marlena) and chocolate (me). I also bought beer and wasn’t even carded. I didn’t realize it till I got home and then I felt half grown up and half old. We had dinner and chatted before Dad and I went back to my grandparent’s old home to sleep. (To clarify, my Patin owns a home right next door that is rented out but the top floor is an apartment that the family uses when we visit, Georg and Marlena were staying there and so we ate and chatted there). I went to bed early and the next morning got to go to the local bakery down the street and get myself Schinkenstange, which are the best invention known to man and consist of smoked ham inside of croissants. Like I said, best thing ever. That was Saturday, my Patin’s birthday, so we had breakfast, read the paper, got ready and then my Dad and I walked across the river to Sommerhausen to rendezvous with Georg and Marlena, who were picking up Patin in the car. It was a pretty walk with the sun out and I was happy to be in Germany with my family. We had a very nice lunch with the next door neighbors. Next on the agenda was coffee and cake in the next town over, Eibelstadt. My dad and I decided to walk through the vineyards to get there since it was only a few kilometers, it was sunny and nice out, and we had just consumed massive amounts of meat and potatoes in the form of sauerbraten and croquettes. So we walked. There were a ton of people out walking and enjoying the sun. Germans don’t just walk though. They were Nordic walking, they were exercising, they were being very serious. You cannot just meander, you are walking! I found the whole thing quite amusing and such a perfect example of the German personality. Nothing is without purpose or schedule. I have my German moments, but I think that overall, I’m a bit more of a meanderer.
The path in the vineyards
The coffee and cake was delicious and helped me to top out at approximalty 30,000 calories for the day and my father and I walked home. We chatted first with each other, then with Georg and Marlena when they got home and then with Andrea, the woman who rents my Patin’s house and has done so for years. It was again all in German but I followed most of what was going on and it was nice to sit and have a nice glass of wine and listen to the ebb and flow of conversation going on around me.
Sunday was quiet too, with another trip to the bakery, breakfast, going through old photos in my grandparent’s house and a visit to Maria im Weingarten, a mediaeval church in the area with a stunning view of the Main river. We visited my Patin again and I said goodbye until this summer when I plan on flitting around Europe, using Winterhausen as my home base. I poked around the house some more, picking out some handwritten cookbooks and cookie cutters as mementos. I had to be up early the next morning to reverse the travel process and get back to Istanbul. My Dad slept through my departure but Marlena made breakfast for me and Georg went down to the bakery to get me a few more Schinkenstange before I have to say goodbye to them for quite a while. Everything was massively organized until I got back to Istanbul and the half of me that is German silently cried out in anguish at the inability to plan ahead. No matter. I got home, unpacked and chatted with my roommates before falling asleep in a bed that is starting to feel like my own.
View from Maria im Weingarten
It was strange saying goodbye in Germany. I’ve never spent hugely extensive amounts of time there. I don’t speak the language all that well. Yet I still can’t help but feel at home there, in the picturesque villages of winding medieval streets and minuscule gardens. Winterhausen isn’t just my father’s hometown. It was his mother’s hometown, and before that her parent’s and so on and so forth for at least 500 years. As ridiculous as it sounds I’m fairly sure that a place can almost be bred into you, that your genetics recognize it as home even though your eyes and tongue don’t. Perhaps I’m just being fanciful, and it’s just the beauty of the place that draws me to it. But I’ve had the great good fortune to be in many beautiful places in this world and none of them are quite the same sensation. Make of it what you will. Until my next adventure, Aufwiedersehen!

Everyday life

So I am currently suffering from a new condition that I will call Bad Blogger Guilt. I am trying desperately to shift the blame elsewhere, but I am pretty sure that it is just my fault that I did not post on my blog and not the universe’s. I have been much busier these last few weeks though, I will sue that excuse. My teachers have actually been holding class, it’s really very inconvenient of them. A little about my two weeks and then I will backtrack to last weekend, which might be another reason that I am desperately behind in my blogging. I had to go to class on Monday, gasp shock. The teacher was extremely kind though and there are actually quite a few Turkish students in the class so I think it will be a really cool chance to hear their perspectives on the issues. It turns out the class is about Material Culture, which I might not have guessed from the title, Contemporary Issues in Anthropology. Somehow I’m just not making the connection. Wait for it, wait for it…no. They are not the same thing. A significant amount of our reading workload was removed though, when we agreed to do a 300-500 word piece of writing every week. I will write whatever you want to reduce the reading workload. For this weekend I have more than a hundred pages for that class and it goes extremely light on the reading assignments as opposed to some of the poly-sci or history classes that my friends are in. Their course packs and enormous.
At Boğaziçi, no one buys the book for the class. Most classes don’t have books anyway, just massive course packs that you buy at one of the many copy-shops in the streets near the school. These are extremely cheap. I spent a total of 17 TL on the course packs that I needed for my classes. I bought a couple of others, which came to another 40 TL. Total splashed out on “books” for the semester? $32. For those classes which do have books, the teachers put them on reserve at the library and students then take them to the copy shops and make maybe-not-super-copyright-legal copies of the entire book for themselves and their friends. I know that the American in me should be upset about this clear violation of important privacy laws. But the college student inside of me is too busy saying, “The books, they are so cheap, I will buy them ALL!”. I think I’m done with buying books now though. For those of you considering studying abroad in Turkey, they will tell you to budget $500 for books. Don’t. There is no way you can spend that. Even at the book store huge science textbooks don’t cost more than 80 TL brand new ($45). I know that the GDP is much lower in Turkey so that these prices are higher for Turks than they seem for Americans, but still. Every step of the education process here is so strongly subsidized, most students pay for their housing and food, but housing on campus is dirt cheap and meals are less than a dollar each in the cafeteria. Might I point out that far from the stagnating economy that it might be assumed to have, Turkey has one of the fastest and most consistently growing economies in the world right now, comfortably putting up 7% growth a year. For the economics buffs out there, there are the BRICS and then there are the NEXT 11, the countries who investment buffs should keep their eyes on. Turkey’s on the list and it’s in the G-20. I guess what I’m saying is that investing steeply in education can pay off for a country. Turkey seems to have done ok out of the whole process. The best students go to public schools here; the ones who can’t get in to the public schools go to the private expensive ones. I find this inversion of American standards fascinating. And kind of exciting. This is by no means to say that the system is not flawed, but it does make me wonder what would happen in the US if students didn’t have to worry about money when it came to college. If they knew that the funding to pay for school would be there and they just needed to focus on school. And if low-income students knew that they would get in if they had the talent, and that the crucial factor is their potential.
This is completely unrelated to this post. This is just Istanbul.
Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now. Sorry, that was a much longer sojourn than I thought it was going to be. On Tuesday I had my first chemistry class. I’m taking a graduate level physical chemistry course and I don’t think I realized quite what I was getting myself into. The lectures are about 2 hours long, with a ten minute break in between the lectures to try and stop your brain from exploding. We’re covering quantum mechanics right now and most of the students have had 1 or 2 more classes of physical chemistry than I have. They are all master’s students except for one doctoral student. Oh and that’s right, me. The Professor is wonderful though and she came and had a chat with me. Her daughter actually teaches at MSU so it was fun to have that little connection right off the bat. She talked to me in Turkish for a little bit before going, “Wait, Hannah, you’re that American who emailed me. You speak Turkish?!”. This is a fairly typical reaction and it still makes me happy every single time because people are so inevitably pleased that I speak Turkish. The first few lectures moved super-fast and left me feeling slightly like I was drowning. I got the book for the class at the library despite the fact that I don’t have a student ID (like I said, the Turks are the most obliging people in the entire world) and spent all of this Wednesday studying my butt off for a quiz that I had yesterday. It didn’t go exceptionally well, but it also went much much better than the first week of class would suggest. I think that the class is going to be extremely intense and I will have to work hard, but I also am sure that I can pass it, which is all I need to get credit back at State.  
In other developments, I got a 3-month pass to the campus pool, which is gorgeous, but a bit of a hike from the dorm so you get to work out on the way there, there, and on the way back, which is good. My classes are coming right along and I’m starting to settle into the groove of the semester. I’m taking the weekend off from traveling to recoup and get ahead in classes since I’ve bought tickets for next weekend to Trabzon already. I’m making friends among my fellow students, both Turkish and foreign and I’m feeling at ease in my surroundings again. I’ve also made friends among the campus dogs by feeding them treats whenever I see them. This is useful though, because on Monday when I got back late and had to walk home from the bus station, a couple of neighborhood dogs walked with me. They have to be the friendliest and healthiest street dogs in the entire world. One came over to me while I was writing postcards yesterday; flopped down next to me in that attitude that clearly says “Give me a tummy rub”. So I did. The sun was out, and it was finally warm enough to feel comfortable outside.  I finished my postcards and took out a book about medicine in the Medieval Islamic world. What more could you want as a school or just plain life experience?