Friday, October 30, 2009

In Which I Attempt to Not Gush About Austria

This is how awesome Tim happens to be: he bought (yes, purchased) access to the website so that we would have the ability to buy tickets to the U2 show next September in Istanbul before tickets open up to the public. This is a man who pretty much just goes to punk shows and events that sell for $20 a pop, don't sell out, and are not huge productions requiring a year of work in advance. We just bought said tickets and, yes, they are way more fabulous than anywhere I have ever sat for a U2 show. And that's how much he loves me. Wow.

In other news, we have just ended week 2 of the "thank-God-we-don't-actually-eat-pig-because-THEN-how-bad-would-the-flu-outbreak-be-here?" freak-a-thon. And that IS a reason why Turkey is more prepared and will not suffer from the swine-flu as badly as so many other countries. But if you do happen to eat pork, make sure you cook it to above 40 degrees, okay? This comes from the Ministry of Health and our school doctors. Thank goodness we're in such capable hands!

I do worry a bit for our summer. Sure we were supposed to deliver curriculum online and yes we did. Did the students access it? Eh...maybe 60%. Will that count? Will I lose any Saturdays? 2 weeks off my Greek paradise cruise and stay? A day or two off school is fun for everyone. 2 weeks? Not good! Not good at all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Some Things

*The car is ours--officially. Bought and paid for, and this weekend we took her climbing. Well, she took us climbing and provided a nice, comfy ride on the way there and back. I've named her Buda in honor of her one owner before us--the Hungarian ambassador. Get it? Buda? Short for Budapest, but also much like Buddha, taking us along on our path? It makes sense to me at least, and that's all that matters.

*All her life, Bali has had cardboard scratchy things. If you don't have a cat and don't know what this is, it's just corrugated cardboard turned on it's side, so the corrugations face up. Cat's like to scratch it. And you can put kitty-nip in it and it makes the cat especially happy. This week, Tim found her a double-wide. She's laying on it regularly, loves to launch off it while being chased, and generally rolls all over it. She loves it. This is one happy kitty.

*This week, we booked my Austrian ski vacation. We are going to St. Aton for Christmas and we'll be there in the Alps for 8 days. I'm so freaking excited I could pee. Plane tickets to Munich are booked and our bed and breakfast is booked. We arrive Christmas Eve and leave the 2nd of January.

*Tim is making me an omelet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eurasia Marathon! (okay, 15k)

This is not a picture from our race. Maybe it came from last year? I don't know. I stole it off the internets. But I did not run with a camera. And Tim did not run with a camera, so I'm reduced to stealing photos. But this is how our run across the Bosphorus looked. Before we ran across the bridge, from Asia to Europe, we stood around in the rain for an hour. That's not really the best way to start a race. It does very little for morale, it's cold, and it's uncomfortable. Yours truly, however, was able to recover as soon as she warmed up--10 minutes or so into the race.

I actually ran quite well and took 10 minutes off my 15k time! Yes, I've only run 15k once, but I think I'm about in the same shape. And yes, that last one was at 10,000 feet. But I ran hard for me and that was nice. My only real problem is that I was out of energy. I wasn't able to eat breakfast that morning. So I had a pack of shot bloks before the run and two gels during the run. Not enough fuel for 9 miles of go. I was totally out of mojo by the last mile, but still pulled it through.

The differences in experiences between racing here--Turkey (it's almost Europe for crying outloud)--and there--South America (the shit-show) are stark. I will take a Quito race over an Istanbul race ANYDAY! I was blown away by the lack of organization this past weekend. There were barely any kilometer markers, aid stations had only water and they were tiny and understaffed, and I couldn't get my finishers medal at the end because I couldn't deal with 50 pushy sweaty bodies trying to get finish bags from ONE volunteer. Freaking Quito can do this better, people! Tim got a medal, but turns out it's the marathon medal.

I also really missed the Quiteno enthusiasm. People there would line the sidewalks and shout and cheer and sweetly offer you anything they had. Random runners would lead off into a motivational cheer or two. All that enthusiasm was sorely missing and missed. There were hardly any spectators. The one time I was cheered for during the race was when I passed by a Spanish family. Go figure. Oh, and at the end, because I was the only chick surrounded by men. And anytime there are few women, you gets lots of encouragement.

But all that being said, it's quite cool to run from one continent to another....and I'll take any excuse to hang out in Istanbul for a weekend. Maybe next year I'll run the marathon?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flu Vacation

Yes, this is a media circus outside of our school today. All day. They were out there, filming the closed school. Exciting!

I guess Ankara is currently freaking out. It's here, people--swine flu! Arrgghhh!!!!! While I think the whole flu thing is completely sensationalistic, I do get a vacation, which is awesome. Last night, school was called off for today. Then today we got word that there are several confirmed cases and so the ministry of health has shut us down till next Wednesday.

We're still planning on heading to Istanbul this weekend for the Eurasia marathon (we're running the 15k), but now it's looking like we get leisurely long weekend there. Darn!

Here's the link to the news craze:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On the Frontpage of

Turkey isn't a country I thought you'd see much of on the news in the States. But this afternoon, upon opening up the national (as in, your national--the States) edition of CNN online, the number one story was all about a cab driver in Istanbul. Perhaps you all are tired of updates on the health care debate and the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps we all need a little Istanbul sometimes.

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Sevket Sahintas works the night shift driving his taxi around Istanbul, Turkey, from midnight until dawn.

Sahintas says he wants Turkey's "happy people" to see how less-fortunate Istanbul residents live.

Sahintas says he wants Turkey's "happy people" to see how less-fortunate Istanbul residents live.

His route takes him past symbols of wealth old and new: the ornate carved stone gates of a 19th-century Ottoman sultan's palace, the gleaming high-rises in the city's rapidly growing financial district.

Periodically, Sahintas stops his yellow cab not for customers, but for photos.

Under a roaring overpass, he steps out of his vehicle and walks across the street to two homeless men who sleep huddled on the concrete under a blanket next to a half-finished plastic bottle of water.

Sahintas pauses for a moment and presses a button on his small camera. A flash erupts, then he turns and walks slowly back to the car.

In addition to being a cabbie, Sahintas is a self-taught photographer. He focuses his lens on the poorest segments of Istanbul's society. Sahintas, who began driving a taxi when he was 19, said he started taking photos five years ago when he began working the night shift. Video Watch Sahintas as he photographs street scenes »

"I saw people on the street in winter. They were cold at night," he said. "To make their voices heard, I wanted to buy a camera and show that these people are living in difficult conditions. That's how it started."

Sahintas takes photos of homeless people, who often sleep barefoot in bus stops next to billboards where smiling models advertise everything from ice cream bars to credit cards. Photo See the streets through Sahintas' lens »

"I like to capture those contradictions," he said. "Happy smiling people on the ad boards beside that unhappy person who is trying to sleep. I want the happy people to see that minority and do something about it."

Sahintas also takes black-and-white portraits of the other characters who roam Istanbul's streets at night: dirty street children, garbage pickers, transvestite prostitutes.

Eventually, Sahintas' nocturnal perspective on Turkey's largest city began attracting attention, both at home and overseas. This month, an exhibit of his photos titled "The Other Side of the Night," is on display in an Istanbul gallery.

"Basically, we were amazed by his photos," said Anna Heidenhain, one of the directors of Manzara Perspectives, the art program displaying Sahintas' work. She compares his photographs to the social documentary form of photography that rose to prominence in the 1930s.

But Sahintas is the first to acknowledge he approached photography as an amateur.

"I didn't know anything about photography," he said. "I didn't know any technical terms, just an on and an off button."

He keeps an eye out for subjects while driving Istanbul's winding streets.

At 2 a.m., he spotted a freelance garbage-picker patrolling Istanbul and hauling giant rolling carts through traffic.

Sahintas stopped and met with the man, named Yasar, and offered him a cigarette. Yasar told Sahintas he scavenges packing paper and cardboard boxes from garbage bins for resale to private recycling companies. Working until dawn, he can make the equivalent of $7 a night to feed his family of six.

"We are struggling to earn enough money to buy bread," Yasar said, before trundling off into the night with his cargo of paper, a lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

This week Turkey, one of the world's 20 wealthiest economies, is holding an annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The delegates are expected to discuss ways to battle poverty and strategies to prevent a repeat of last year's global economic crisis.

But Sahintas disagrees with experts who rate economies based on gross domestic product.

A country's wealth "should be related to how that money is distributed," he said. "If all the money is controlled by a few monopolies, I believe it shows a country's poverty, not its wealth."

Sahintas' work highlights the huge income gap in Turkish society. Even though the Turkish economy enjoyed steady growth for much of the past decade, the latest government statistics show that nearly one in five Turks live below the poverty line. During the past year, the economic crisis pummeled Turkey's export-driven industries, pushing unemployment to record highs.

The downturn has hit many Turks -- from Istanbul's garbage-pickers, who say there is less useful trash to scavenge, to the city's cabbies, who complain that fewer customers can afford their services.

Still, at the station from where Sahintas operates his cab, taxi drivers are quick to heap praise on their colleague.

We're proud of our friend. We like his pictures, as well," Tolga Donmez said between glasses of steaming hot Turkish tea. "He makes us want to learn new skills, as well."

Despite the attention, Sahintas doesn't make enough money from his photos to earn a living. For that, the photographer has to work the night shift in his yellow cab.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Kitties of Istanbul

The Turks immediately endeared themselves to me when I realized we had a very special something in common: the love of kitties. Turks love kitties. There are stray cats everywhere in the cities, but they aren't really stray because they belong to everyone and everyone takes care of them and then shares the kitty-love. Seriously, big tough dudes will play with the cats on the street-corners, giggling and smiling the whole time. More often than not, there are kitties in restaurants, kitties under outdoor tables, and kitties that know how to break into the first floor apartments of our staff housing.

During my time here, I've developed a new game: spot the kitty. It's a pretty easy and obvious game but you'd be surprised by how much better at it I am than you could ever hope to be. But, of course, with this game, everyone is a winner.

So that brings us to Istanbul (NOT Constantinople). Istanbul is a beautiful city; it has loads of old-world, European charm, thrown in with all the Islam and mosques and calls to prayer. Everyone loves Istanbul. We'll be heading back in another 2 weeks for the Eurasia marathon (though we're only running the 15k) where we'll run from Asia to Europe. I imagine, rather than focusing on my race, I'll be spotting kitties, much like I was the last trip. It's such a great game. Here, join along with me:

I spotted the guy in the above photo from a balcony where we shared a late-night meal with some friends. Actually, I spotted 3 kitties from this higher vantage point.

Here's another kitty being bad. He's crossing a second story light-fixture. There are people eating dinner below him.

Here's a kitty checking out the fire-escape. Must be sure it's kitty-approved!

Here we are taking a break from kitty spotting and touristy places to stock up on house stuff.

This little guy belonged in the bar that apparently serves the only Guinness in Turkey. Thank goodness we found it. I guess it was our only chance. This little baby had a twin brother but they were darting all over the place instead of posing for my camera.

You get double points when you spot two kitties at once, and you win for like, a year, if a kitty gets in your lap. This is out side the Topkapi palace.

Here's a kitty with his big, pink tongue sticking out for some water.

I guess what's supposed to be great about this photo is that, first off, it's taken in the Hagia Sofia, and secondly, that thing I'm in front of is a vase carved out of one piece of marble. I clearly only have eyes and time for one thing....

This little baby was outside on the steps of the Blue Mosque. The Japanese tourists loved him too. He's totally posing right now.

I think this kitty must be some decedent of the Sultan's kitties. Look how regal!

Here's two little guys playing in the street below our hostel.

No kitties in this shot. It's just a cool Istanbul-ish pic. I imagine after our second trip, or when Tim gets his blog up, you can see a post about all the cool stuff in the city. I imagine my promise of excellent kitty-sightings will not be enough to convince you to come visit. So we'll be sure to show the stuff everyone gushes about. For now, though, it's just about the kitties.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The House Tour

Before the tour begins....this is how cute my cat is. She takes baths and forgets her tongue is still hanging out. How perfect is that????

Okay, here it is--the long awaited house-tour (Hi Mom!)

We are pretty stoked on where we live. It's a five minute walk to work, which means we also get an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Quite the change from the last two years of a 45 minute morning bus commute, landing at school that began at 7:20. That's right. You do the math.

The house is nothing special, but since our recent visit to the Istanbul IKEA, it sure feels like home. And Bali loves it, so that's affirmation enough for me.

Here's what our building looks like, even though this particular building is the one across the way from us. No matter--all 8 staff apartment buildings on east campus look the same: 3 stories, 4 apartments on each floor. We live on the third floor, which somehow means our place is a little bigger than the lower floors and for some reason, means we are also blessed with 3 whole porches. 1st floor has none!

Here's my favorite feature: miles and miles and miles of lovely rolling hills full of trails!

Here's our front porch. We drink a lot of beer here. It's a great spot for watching the sun set and the moon rise.

And here you can see our living room and most-used porch off the front. In the book case, there's a fold-out desk on which we sit the big laptop and watch My Name is Earl, movies, and other such things. Bali loves the armchairs and spends 8 hours of daylight in them everyday. Then there's the nighttime. Oh what to do? If you're Bali, you're in an armchair.

Here's Tim's massive, gourmet kitchen. See the island and the pot racks and all the utensils he could ever need? See the massive industrial stove, stainless steel fridge and granite counters?

This used to be a bedroom. Now it's where we have our office, where the kitty goes to poo, and is our gear storage/ski locker.

Here's our bedroom and the newly installed wall-decal. Thank you, IKEA, for your affordable down bedding and big things to put on walls that make my house look better.

Sure, the place lacks some decoration and what-not, but we've only been here a month! Give us 2 seconds to track down attractive wall-hangings!

And here's the car we're trying to buy. It's a Nissan, Toureno or something. I don't know. All I know is, it's in great condition, is diesel, and has only been owned by the Hungarian ambassador. The Hungarian embassy isn't returning phone calls at the moment, so we're having problems getting it released to us, which is also why I'm not giving you more pictures now. What if it doesn't work out? We'll save the car post for when it's officially ours.

And because you should never be left without a gratuitous Bali-shot: