Gunaydin! (That’s Good Day in Turkish) I apologize for the delay in this, my first official posting from the Republic of Turkey. So much has been happening the first few weeks that I’ve been overwhelmed with things to do and as more time passed, I became increasingly anxious about trying to determine what aspects to write about. I hope you’ll all find this satisfactory…
As of this moment, I’ve officially ‘settled in’ – for the most part – to my position at an all boys private high school as well as my new two bedroom apartment (we’re currently working out the kinks in the commute via public buses and the potentially hazardous black mold seeping up through the floor tiles). The job is a lot of work, much more so than what I experienced in Korea and so far, I feel Ankara is much more difficult to navigate than Daegu (although, I’m sure if you asked me in my first month last year, I’d disagree).
The Turkish language uses a Romanized alphabet so it’s much easier to read, however, the signs in Korea were almost always doubled in English whereas here, there is naught English to be found. When kids see me on the street, they yell out the only two phrases they remember: Hello, and I love you. Apparently, the kids in Turkey (actually pronounced Turkia by the locals) have nothing but love for foreigners. The adults I speak with seem to as well, though there seems to be plenty of suspicious and angry stares to go around (especially on the buses)!
Ankara is the capital city of this vast nation and is set in the yellowish-brown hills of the quasi-desert. Houses dot the hillsides while the minarets of the mosques – instead of church steeples – can be seen across the city-scape as they point toward the Heavens. I feel both closer to and farther from home than I did in the far east; a fact in and of itself that is difficult to convey.
Turkey is a mixture of a developing nation, such as Korea, and a third world country, like Cambodia. The traffic is a nightmare and I wouldn’t even dream of renting a car or buying a motorcycle as I did in the far east. The air is almost always dusty and it’s impossible to trek into the city for a few hours without bringing much of the dust back inside with you in your clothes, hair, and skin. My eyes burn and my skin on my fingertips is dry and cracked.
While Korea and Japan have state-of-the-art technology, Turkey lags behind. Places have wifi, but it’s not as prevalent, stable, or available as in the US or other first world nations. Most places using wifi, block the general public’s access. So for an expat (though I’m not a true expat in that I am planning to return home) who needs to contact his friends and family across an ocean, the internet situation is somewhat disappointing.
On an individual basis, the people are pleasant enough – particularly my colleagues at the school, who always leap at the chance to assist me with my teaching, cultural understanding, and Turkish language acquisition. In fact, my department head is so generous, he drives me home at the end of the day as much as he can manage and has helped me furnish my apartment with chairs, desks, tables, and rugs the schools had in storage and wasn’t using. I have been very well received.
In Asia, I was one of 12 native English speaking teachers working at the school. We lived in the same building. We walked to work together. We ate lunch together. We spent time on weekends together. Here, I’m one of two and the other is a very friendly chap from Tunisia. Where Korea would only hire teachers from Australia, Canada, the US, or the UK, the demand is so high (and supply so low) for ESL educators here, schools will hire anyone fluent, regardless of their country of origin. In addition to Tunisia, I know of teachers from Trinidad and Spain.
At its best, and most fundamental, this year will be an educational experience as I find myself plopped solidly in the center of a brand new culture. Turkey may have one foot inside the European Union, but overall it is most definitely a Middle Eastern country. 99.8% of the population identify themselves as Muslim, though not all practice. The role of women here is subjugated by men, so much so that I’m not able to even speak to any of them in public. Men and women remain separated in most walks of life, including the mosques.
Stay tuned for more over the next eight months as I write about the history, cuisine, culture, religion, and educational system in this, the oldest civilized country in the world (the first agricultural settlements date back to 9,000 B.C.).
Until Next Time…