Sunday, October 31, 2010

İstanbul'a hoş geldiniz!

So I have epic tales of awesome from my weekend in Helsinki, but it's worthwhile to start with the end of the weekend: the fifteen missed calls and text messages my phone accumulated during my flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul this morning.  While we were still waiting for the cabin doors to open, I found out that there had been a suicide bombing in Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, a few hours earlier.  Once I checked in with our security people at work, who wanted to make sure that we were all accounted for, I just continued home normally to watch the news, like everyone else.  No official word yet on who did it; from all accounts it looks like it could have been much, much worse - it appears at least one device didn't detonate.

What can you do.  After I got the message back to the States that I was fine (knowing that someone would wake up, see the news on CNN, and flip out), all I can really do is try not to let this impact my everyday life too much, because that's the point of terrorism - making people change their lives so much that in the end they defeat themselves.  My heart goes out to the injured police officers and civilians, as well as their families, yet I'm so glad this wasn't worse that it already was.

With my morbid sense of humor, I found this guide to appropriate levels of panic for various crises in Turkey to be entirely valid.  This was written a few weeks after our consulate was attacked in 2008.  You'll note that today's event falls under panic level 5...  really, unless the Marmara does split open in a  catastrophic earthquake of Biblical proportions, a moderate level of concern until told otherwise is the best way to go for pretty much any event in Turkey.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Güler Yüzlü

In the past week I've gotten two similar compliments from two very different men - one the chief rabbi of Turkey, the other a cab driver from one of the faceless suburbs of Istanbul.  Both of them called me güler yüzlü, "smiling-faced."  The rabbi mentioned that every time he sees me, I have a huge smile on my face; the cab driver told me that he could tell from a few moments of "empty chatting" during my five-minute trip that I'm a happy person and that I like to laugh.

It's true.  I am happy.  The worry lines on my face have eased a bit, and I'm getting my laugh lines back again.  Trading in one set for another doesn't mean I'm getting older, does it?  It just means I'm staying the same age, right?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FREEDOM!

Oh frabjous day, my car James Brown is finally mine again!!  Only 5.5 months after I left the States, and a mere 4 months after he departed my friend's driveway for the port in Baltimore, JB has come home to his parking space in the basement of my building!  It's been a rough process, fraught with incompetent people in Transportation, shipping delays, customs delays, registration delays, and a few more registration delays, but at 5 PM on Friday, I grabbed my keys and set off into the sunset, with the winds of freedom at my back and a massive, ten-mile-long traffic jam in front of me.  (Istanbul is like DC in this way...  the slightest bit of rain causes everyone and their mom to break down in COMPLETE AND UTTER PANIC on the roadways.)  Luckily, in May I left my CD changer fully loaded with good music, so I had plenty of time to get through all six CDs in the two hours and change it took to get home.

The best part is that our belabored customs expeditor was so anxious to release JB to me that there wasn't time to exchange my original license plate for my diplomatic tags.  So right now, I'm be-bopping around the city with Arkansas tags!  I love it.

I got JB right before I left DC, so I didn't really get to know him all that well.  Friday I had to reacquaint myself with turning his headlights on, adjusting the seat, etc.  I also found sand in his floorboards and cupholders - a pleasant reminder of the trip to the beach at Chincoteague I took the day that I bought him.  (It was amusing, when we got to our hotel that night, I had to register my license plate with the hotel owner, and I had absolutely no idea what it was.  It didn't look suspicious at all.)

I finally feel like I'm fully settled in.  I have my books, my things, my art, and my car.  Road trips await, the American dream!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things I Heart About Turkey

In no particular order.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables.  A kilo of tomatoes for about 90 cents?  Oh, if you insist...
  • Dessert, although this explains why my Marine Ball dress doesn't fit anymore.
  • Cafe culture.  Sitting at a place for three hours, sipping your tea and reading a book.  Why not?
  • Location.  I hate to refer to the trope of "a bridge between East and West," but if nothing else, Istanbul's close to everything interesting - like a three-hour flight close.
  • People.  Very friendly and open.  There's some element of sketch with some men, but where in the world is that not the case?
  • Diversity.  There's not the range of skin colors that you see in the US, but Turkey is incredibly diverse, and everyone knows from where their forefathers came.  My cab driver the other day told me about how his grandparents fled Macedonia during a war and came to Turkey.  Other of my friends talk casually about their home town in Spain - which their family left 500+ years ago.
  • Visitors.  Any time one of my friends manages to end up within two time zones of me, I can expect a visit.  I love it!
  • Politics.  Turkey is crucial to US foreign policy in a lot of ways, which makes my job interesting.  Moreover, Turkish society energetically discusses its own internal politics, and every issue has at least three sides to it here.  It keeps my mind hopping.
  • Conspiracy theories.  God, I love them.  There ought to be a prize for the craziest one each month.
  • Turkish fashion.  Okay, it's really just broader European fashion, but I am continually amazed at what I see walking by me on the street or in the Metro.  Really, ladies?
  • Makeout Alley - the sidewalk from the Metro to my apartment building, which is always crammed with couples snuggling, smoking, fighting, drinking, making out, and texting.  Usually simultaneously.
  • Turkish drivers.  Okay, traffic is insane here, and traffic laws are more suggestions than diktats, but I kind of enjoy seeing the rules that emerge organically in this barely controlled chaos of taxis, minibusses, and scooters.  
  • Expat get-togethers.  Strange to say, but I do enjoy meeting up with other yabancılar and kvetching.  It's a little bit of home, although home normally isn't quite so chock-full of Aussies and Brits.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away

Found this hiding in my drafts page - it's from 31 August.
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With apologies to Al Green for expropriating his song titles for completely unrelated topics...

Two years ago today I arrived in Saudi Arabia - hung over, with no sleep and less luggage - for a year's tour that changed me in ways I'm still trying to understand.  I am still a little shocked when I look back at my time there - it seems so long ago.  So many things had gone wrong in my life at about that time, and when I was thrown into a situation like Riyadh, I didn't handle the isolation and the stress well.  I came out of it a much stronger, more confident person, it's true, but I still have moments where I don't recognize the person I've become.

This is a series of thoughts I've tried to write many times.  It's hard to explain what Riyadh was like for me without getting into drama and unnecessary details.  Thirteen months after leaving Saudi, and three months after arriving here, I think I've finally found my new center - the new balance point of my life.  I am happy.