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.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Americans are friendly

No really, we are. I never really thought about it before. But I am that Mid-Western girl who loves to strike up a conversation and chat with people. I’ll give directions to anybody, answer most any non-vulgar greeting, and of course share a glass of cay. I met a lot of new people this weekend in Eceabat and Canakkale and each encounter turned out to be a pretty fun little story. I’ll share them if you’re up for it. 
The pier in Canakkale
 Eceabat is essentially a village with a ferry dock and a couple of cheap hotels, a backpacker’s paradise. I wanted to do a little exploring and quickly discovered that your exploring options are pretty limited, because with a population of about 5000 your run out of Eceabat to explore pretty quickly. After meandering down the under-construction waterfront and cutting through a pathway past some very chill dogs, some back gardens with chickens and cows and a drainage ditch, I crossed the highway and took a dirt lane up towards the ridges that crisscross the peninsula. I walked past the plot the first time, seeing a man milking a cow by hand and the little goats munching on some shrubbery as I passed, but feeling like it wasn’t right to take a snapshot if he didn’t know I was. I walked further along, looking out over the Dardanelles and its aqua-blue waters, hillside orchards and a clump of well-tended beehives before turning back. When I came back the goats were still munching away but the little black one was watching me with inquisitive eyes, so I watched back. It slowly advanced towards me but I stayed put, knowing that patience was the best way to encourage it to come closer. Our spell was broken by the farmer coming up from behind his ancient truck, apparently having finished with the cow because he carried a raki (liquor) bottle full of milk with a teat on it. He proceeded to feed the two kids and we struck up a conversation. I started by asking if the goats were babies. I’m full of great opening lines. We ended up chatting about the animals and he asked me what I was doing in Eceabat (translation: what is a city girl like you doing trying to pet the billy goat who is obviously trying to prove his superiority over you but butting you in the back of the knees). I met the farmer’s dog, named Tomas and fed his animals some of the stale bread he had brought along for them. He went about his work, pouring the rest of the milk from the cow into a 10 liter plastic water container and loading it into his truck, bringing the calf over to the cow and walking them over to a field over the dirt track and staking the adult to graze for the day. Tomas barked at me when I stopped paying attention to him for long enough and a barnyard cat (sans barn) eyed me warily. The solitary rooster kicked up a stink. I left feeling like I had left a petting zoo. I don’t know what the farmer thought of the whole thing, but I hope he found it as enjoyable as I did.
The Dardanelles at sunset
 There’s a military museum in Çanakkale staffed by young sailors doing their national service, which is required of all men in Turkey and is typically 2 years long. To the people who run the museum admission policy: don’t put young men in charge. During the off season the museum is supposed to close at 5pm. I got there at about 5:45. I noticed the fortress from the ferry and decided that I wanted a closer look. I walked up and a pair of young men in sailor’s uniforms told me that yes, it was open, but that I needed a ticket. Retracing my steps to the ticket office, another young sailor that the museum was closed and I couldn’t buy a ticket. Not one to take no for an answer I returned to the entrance, put on my best oh-no-what-am-I-possibly-going-to-do face and voice and the sailor looked at me for about 3 seconds and let me in. I looked around for a bit, got caught in the midst of a school tour group and went to the second floor in time to catch my free-entrance-giving sailor giving a performance based upon the experiences of Turkish soldiers at stationed at Gallipoli during the battle. He was doing a pretty good job I had to admit. On the way out, I checked out the rest of the exhibits, and the sailors if I’m brutally honest, leading one to make an exclamation on the lines of “Eyvallah”. Essentially, he was flattered and a little surprised that the American girl was giving him the once over. Also, I think he might have been teasing/flirting back. I chatted with my sailor on the way out, complimenting his acting technique and he told me he had never done any before coming to this post. He was getting out of the navy in four months. I congratulated him and we parted. And that is how you get into the Çanakkale Military Museum for free after it has closed. Discretionary wardrobe recommended. 
The little black goat
 I had my dinner with Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow looking over the black water. It was quiet the whole time I ate but as I was contemplating whether I would get desert on not two Turkish tour groups rolled up and swamped the place. Seeing as I was sitting by myself and a four person table a middle aged Turkish woman came up and asked if the seat across from me was free. I said of course and she called her friends over, but they were too many for the places available. I told her I was finished and on my way out anyway, so they could have my seat as well. She looked down at me with that tilt to the head that indicates that something doesn’t commute and asked me if I was foreign. I told her I was an American and the usual questions of “What are you doing here?” “Where are you studying?” and most crucially “Where did you learn Turkish?” rolled out. At the end of the question and answer portion of our program she reached down and pinched my cheek in an aunt-type fashion as if to say “You’re such a good foreigner, learning our language”. Then she proceeded to tell all of her friends about what I good foreigner I was, learning Turkish. I wasn’t even annoyed that she had invaded my personal space, I found it rather endearing. 
 Sitting on the pier in Eceabat working on my graduate school personal statement (yeah, I do that, don’t judge) I was approached by three young girls. They wanted to know which football team I supported. I told them I didn’t really have one yet, since I hadn’t been here very long. They decided that I was worthy of more conversation and ended up sitting next to me and chatting about what I was studying, where I was from. Then they asked me a terrifying question, could I sing a song for them? I tried to wriggle my way out telling them that I didn’t know any songs and that I can’t sing to save my life. They were persistent though and eventually I gave in and ended up serenading them to the tune of “Jingle Bells” followed by “Feliz Navidad” and “San Fermin”. I would like to give a big shout out to my high school Spanish teacher Mr. Donnelly at this juncture and thank him for making us sing every single day of class because I can still remember the words to those songs thanks to him. The girls found this delightful and rewarded me with offerings of their own, mostly songs that they learned at school, but their final number took me completely by surprise. It was the opening line to Gangnam Style. Sometimes the strangest things happen in this country. 
 I’ve got plenty more where that came from (being the only young female on a battlefield tour tends to attract questioning) but I’ll leave you with those for now. I really am the stereotypical friendly American. Not an adventure seeker or dare-devil but I don’t feel like I need to be. Just by saying hello and learning Turkish I get to have encounters like these, the everyday conversations that you remember, and look back at and laugh about.  Friendly seems to be working out just fine.

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