Monday, November 30, 2009

On Kasım and AFS camp in Antakya- Kürban Bayram

On Kasım, or in English November 10th, is the day in Turkey that marks the death of Atatürk. Atatürk in Turkey, can be compared to Moa Zedong of China, or Gandhi of İndia. The savoir and light of Turkey- no sarcasm intended. From what was a rubble after the fall of the Ottoman empire, he formed a country that has developed extremely well and fast. In the beginning he was a revolutionist, later a war hero. He stood for equal rights for everyone,and a government that supports them, and is now known for founding 'kemalist ideaology' and the nation that follows it. In the beginning years of establishing Turkey he was even able to establish voting rights for women- just ten or so years after the USA. Today in sprit Atatürk still runs this country. Photos of him are found everywhere, and his beliefs live on. Not to mention he is completely worshiped by the Turkish people. Far more than any Prime Minister or President of present day.
At 9 o'clock we went out side and stood in our daily morning lines,everyone wearing the complete school uniform unlike usual and little Atatürk photos pinned to our hearts. Different students took turns reading Atatürk quotes in this majestic voice they always use involving Atatürk. We were ordered to prepare to show our respects when the horns when off. All around Turkey, at exactly 9:10 AM, the exact time he died, everyone stands with their arms at their sides, head straight, silently, while horns go off. After a few minutes we sang the national anthem- everyone more loud than most mornings as they put the flag at half and put flowers on our Atatürk statue. In National security class we closed our eyes for the entire period and imagined different photos of Atatürk and discussed his legacy.
My favorite Atatürk quote for you guys- 'When walking, it is not enough to be able to see the horizon; What is beyond the horizon must be seen and understood too.'
After that me and Sadie (the other American exchange student in Çanakkale) jumped on midnight bus to Istanbul and then later off to Atakya. Antakya is in southern Turkey, near the border of Syria,on the Med. Sea. There was the location of our 1\4 stay AFS camp. The first day of our adventure we landed in Adana, greeted all our friends from other cities, and began on a 2 hour drive to our hotel. I fell in love with Turkey once again as we watch through the windows the country side of cotton fields and what looked like rice patties, extremely green in color fly by. Sometimes the sea would even poke out between the rakity little villages. I wish I could describe the landscape here in Turkey better. Its one of a kind- not quite like anything ive seen before. When we arrived at the hotel (the only building in sight, right on the sea) there we little boys playing soccer outside on a dirt patch. The excitement rose as me and the girls I consider sisters got pumped for yet another adventure!
For the next few days we had sleepless nights full of non-stop laughter as well as helpful sessions discussing what we had experience on our exchanges so far. It was a lot less formal than the AFS USA camps, and even with the staff we laughed and cried. One night at sunset we went out and skipped on the beach, later put our feet in the water, later tried to jump over the waves, and finally ended up tripping and falling into the water still fully clothed. The water of the Med. was so warm, our AFS advisors really didn't need to warn that we were going to get sick. Thats just turks for you! :P Another night we got up in the middle of the dinner we got up, and with the hotel staff danced traditional turkish dance.
3 days later and our meetings were done an we were ready to go into Antakya to play tourists. Our liaisons prepared a scavenger hunt leading us to cultural places around the city, requiring us to ask people on the street directions in Turkish frequently. We ended up wandering the only a few feet wide, much more arab streets than Çanakkale for hours,in between colored buildings with big wooden colored doors (or cloth at times)leading into the lives of the wonderful Turkish people. On our scavenger hunt we tried lots of INCREDIBLE new foods, like a hot pink desert made from roses only found in Antakya, hummoses, and spicy sauces to dip hot fresh bread in. We also many saw many sights. Antakya was a really interesting city because it is a lot more middle eastern than Çanakkale, but at the same time is a city visited by St.Paul, with more Christian influences than most of Turkey. At one point along our scavenger hunt we climbed a Cathothic bell tower, only to get a few the big columns found on mosques just a few buildings away. The contrast of the two religions so close was so interesting.
After a few more great days of learning to read Turkish coffee, trying new foods, and touring Antakya it was time to say goodbye to speaking English and the comfort you create when you stick a bunch of exchange students in the same room. After a long night of flight delays and missing buses, Sadie and I watched the sea and the towns dotting by as we winded along the road that we couldn't see on the night time bus. As we drove into the sunset, dropping below the water, we braced ourselves once again return to a world we dont quite yet have a grasp on. Continue learning and practicing a new language. Making friends. And knocking down that 'host' part of 'host family'.

What a wonderful world it is.

This next part gets a little graphic. Sorry guys.

Now its a couple weeks later. Life is continually steadily getting better and better as I adapt more and more to Turkey. I managed to somewhat answer 7 or the 10 questions on a health exam the other day which was a huge success. My teachers say 'We have 24 students in the class, plus Amber. Shes speical.' hahaha. Each day is wonderful and challenging at the same time. I love Turkey. I adore the people and the culture. Still each day I can barely make it through, and I keep waiting for it to get easier. I hate to think of it as an endurance test- but thats kind of what it has become. An endurance test I am capable of enduring though. My Turkish is improving, friends I am making, and the adventures keep coming.
This week was Kürban Bayram. This is the Islamic holiday where animals are sacrificed to symbolize Abraham being willing to sacrifice his own son but instead killing a goat when god's angel stopped him. Then meet is then to be given to the poor, and the animals killed are given a get in free ticket to heaven. So as you can guess, this weekend on our agenda was to kill a sheep in Grandmas yard. A great activity for an x-vegetarian like myself I might add. We arrived at grandmas and my host dad changed his clothes. Then out of the car came our sheep. Gizem ran into the house so she couldnt see, but I stayed long enough to catch a glimpse of the poor little guy. He fought as much as he could from his bound legs, and looking back I think he knew his fate.
My family kept telling me I shouldnt watch. 'Bad show' is what my host mom kept warning me, but I decided to poke my head out the window occasionally below at my host dad with his knife anyways. It was going to happen if I saw it or not, So I mine as well try to learn from it. Im still pretty in shock. Im not sure how I managed to watch the little that I did, and then somehow sit and eat sheep for dinner later. I now know that to kill an animal you cut at the throat, which kills it as fast as possible. But the truth is, its still taking life,a breathing, thinking creature. Fast and humane doesnt exactly equal right. I managed to poke my head out the window at the right time to see sheep legs stilling fighting, although its head was almost completely removed, blood pouring into a hole in the ground. I may also add that the really red color of blood from the neck that we all think is fake in the movie 'Sweeny Todd' is in fact the true color of blood when sliced at the neck. At least for a sheep anyways. Again. Im still a little in shock. Because this holiday, its really not a bad thing. Its an important thing dating far back in Turkish culture, and I need to remember to look past my judgements. Killing an animal for the sake of feeding the poor is a acceptable thing to do, and it wasnt any less unhumane than a slaughter house. Still, my host mom couldnt have been more right- 'bad show'. Later, as I stood in the kitchen staring at different whole peices of a once living thing- the legs, the ribs, the heart and other organs in a blue bucket, and the full head abandoned on the sidewalk outside I caught myself counting down the days until I could return home, and at last be a vegetarian again...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What It Means to be an American.

This weeks was Cumheriyet Bayram. This means republic holiday, a national holiday to celebrate the forming of the Republic of Turkey. To celebrate we went to a parade. At the parade I was outstanded with the sprit of nationalism that Turkey has. They all share the same extreme love for their nation. You could sense their pride as you walked down the street and almost every single house had a huge flag hung from their balcony. At the parade most people had miniature flags in hand and a sea of flags was in the stadium below us. The rich red of the blood of soldiers and the white moon and star reflected from the sky displayed on the numerous flags made even me, the American, feel pride for a nation that isn't my own. But,at the same time, I couldn't help wish it were a red white and blue flag swaying instead, and the Turkish flags presence, in actuality just made me love my flag even more. At that moment I wanted to wrap my arms around our glorious star spangled banner. It makes me sad that to love America usually also labels you as a conservitive Republican. I thought back to when, before I left, Steph told me upon my return to America I would kiss the ground out of firey passion for the USA. I scoffed at that then. But as I watched the Turkish parade, I truly loved my country. The United States of America.
As soldiers marched past us, A car full of old men also drove by. Gizem explained to me that those men were the soldiers who had in fact actually seen war. That hit home. It hadn't even occurred to me that Turkey was not currently at war, and that the young men standing in front of me never have and probably never will go to battle. I cant actually personally remember a time when America was NOT at war somewhere.
Later, It was an Interesting experience celebrating an American holiday abroad. I was my first, and as I stepped out of the door dressed in all orange and black (including underwear) and felt so proud. So proud to be different, to be an American, and to flaunt that fact. What a better country to belong to than the one that liberates us by granting us freedoms and equality.
Of course, I could not stay on this Uncle sam hugging, apple pie eating, baseball watching streak for long. That night we seemed to have an interesting selection of movies at Gizems sleepover party. All of them ended up in some way showing the terrible things, the reasons why previous to coming on this exchange made me hate America, that our country has done. Scenes of cruelty from Vietnam war, to beating of homosexuals by police in San Fran. filled me with anger and hate. How could something built on such good standards as the declaration of Independence, act in such unjustly ways!? Sitting in a room full of Turks, I could not help but feel ashamed for my heritage,lost, and confused. I love my country. Just that morning I could have been caught singing the star spangled banner. But fact is fact, and history is inerasable. I simply could not deny or excuse its actions. I could not even say that things are different now, because still, we have soldiers killing over seas.
Music videos here continue to disgust me. American videos are played everywhere here. No wonder people think so badly of America. All they see of us in the media is half naked women botty dropping and films such as the ones I watched with Gizem and her friends. Come on guys, seriously? Not the best images we could convey. Sadie and I discussed how we wished America could control what music videos went out to other countries. Then we realized that would violate exactly what makes us so proud to be Americans.
So what exactly does it mean to be an American? I still don't know. I find myself at a cross roads between loving this nation, and loathing it. Maybe that's what its all about. Being an American means loving our nation because our nation allows us to hate it. Loving it for the freedoms it grants us, but hating it because sometimes these freedoms are misused and abused.

culture note- At the parade I noticed there was no woman soliders. I asked Gizem about it and she told me women never serve in the military in Turkey.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In case you happen to not spend 7 hours a day studying Turkish...

...I will fill you in here on what its all about.

The Turkish alphabet has 8 vowels (A E I İ O Ö U Ü ) and 21 consonants. The letters Q,W and X do not exist in Turkish. Most letters are pronounced pretty much as you would expect, but some are not. Once you know the pronouciation of all letters though, it is pretty easy to pronounce any word you see or to spell (yay!) any word one hears -unless it is of an unworldly length. The following letters require explanation:

Cc = "J" as in "judge" ( can= life, soul, pronounced like "John" )

Çç = "ch" as in "church"( çay= tea, pronounced "chay", rhymes with "buy" )

Ğ ( yumuşak ge [soft g] Never appears as the first letter in a word; essentially silent; sometimes lengthens preceding vowel; (dag =mountain, pronounced daa)

lı( undotted "i" ) "u" as in "radium" or "i" as in "cousin" (ışık =ligth, ırmak = river )

İi( dotted "i" ) ="i" as in "sit" ( bir = one, pronounced like "beer" )

Öö German "ö" as in "König" or French "eu" as in "peur"( göl = lake, rhymes with furl)

Şş="sh"as in "ship" (şey = thing, pronounced "shey" , rhymes with "hay")

Üü German "ü" as in "für" or French "u" as in "tu" (gül = rose)

The Ö and Ü I am always getting wrong, and along with the ğ are probably the hardest letters in this language. I have yet to be understood when I try to say the word çöp, meaning trash.

Turkish belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. Turkish, the language of modern Turkey, is spoken by about 60 million people. Turkish formerly used the same alphabet as Arabic, but has been written in the Latin alphabet since 1928.
As an Altaic language, Turkish has virtually nothing in common with English or other Indo-European languages except for some loan words.

Turkish grammar is extremely complex- but has rare exceptions. It has multiple tenses, I believe this is all of them- past, reported past, present progressive, future, past present, and geniş zamana (english name, I dont know). The word order is SOV- subject, object, verb. In English 'I went to the sea' but in turkish it would be 'I sea to went' or 'Ben denize gittim'.

Two Identifying features of Turkish : (1) vowel harmony (vowels within a word follow certain patterns, matching each others sounds in a rythmn) and (2) agglutination (addition suffixes to words.)

So in Turkish often instead of saying a phrase, you have one root with multiple suffixes attached to create one word saying the same thing it would take multiple words in English to say.
For example- hatırlayacaksam means 'İf I can remember later'.
With the use of suffixes, also often, extremely long words are created. For example- the longest word in Turkish-
Yeah. THATS A WORD. It means Like you are from those we could not make easily a maker of unsuccessful ones.

Some basic words in Turkish are-

Merhaba\selam- Hello

nasılsın(ız)\iyi misin(iz)\ne yapıyorsun(uz)\naber- How are you

iyiyim\iyilik\fena değil- response to how are you

evet\hayır- Yes\no. ( No can also be said by flicking your head up and clicking quickly).

teşekkür ederim\sağol- thank you

anladım\anlamadım- I understand\I dont understand- one of my favorites.

var\yok- there is\ there isnt- I have\ I dont have.

ne kadar- how much.

çok güzel- very beautiful, used to describe anything you think is good.

allaha allah- probably the most common word used, meaning god.

Afiyet Olsun- the 2nd most common word said in Turkish- which does not have a direct english translation, but along the lines of enjoy your food.

doğru mu- is this true? I use this all the time after saying something very complicated in turkish and I want to know if I spoke correctly or not.

Right now I spend all my time at school and evenings studying grammar, learning new words, practicing by holding conversations, or attempting to read childrens books. Becoming fluent in this language has evolved in a mission for me, that I attack with the determination as if it were a matter of life or death. Good news- if you speak slowly and use a fairly regular vocabulary, I can pretty much understand what your saying!!

I am hoping one day (soon!) I can master this difficult language...ama, tabi, inşallah. (but, of course, god willing).

xoxo, Amber.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Turkish life in an American body- an update of the past 3 weeks.

After I posted my last blog, my school, determined to make adapting as hard as possible, moved me into a different class than the one I had been attending for the first week. It was like the first day all over again- extreme amounts of attention I didnt want. But now, I have been going to school for three weeks. Hard to believe I know. Ive adapted to my class and I am now thankful for that miserable attention in the beggining, because now I know many people, from all different classes and grades. I go out with a different group of kids every weekend, to cafes or movies or the sea.
As far as class goes- I have maths (advanced algerbra and geometry) as well as Turkish lit., Turkish language, Otoman history, German, English, Art, Religion, Health, National security, and a whole 7 hours of geograghy. Because I cant understand the teachers lectures though, I generally study turkish. Right now I am reading chidrens books. One of my teachers gave me homework to write an essay on Turk-America and Nato and why its important. Im lucky he gave me three months to complete it!
School culture note- At the begining of class when the teacher walks in we all stand. Like a lioness, proud and powerful, they say good morning no matter the time of day. We then all together say thank you. When speaking to the teacher during class you stand unless the teacher says you may sit. But, even with these formalities the atmosphere is a friendly one-much more friendly than schools in the US. The teachers call us 'friends' instead of students and sometimes they come sit next to you on the small wooden benches.

At home, I have reached the home sweet home phase. Although sometimes school is still new and strange, at home I couldnt be happier.I look forward to coming home every night and enjoying a family dinner and then tea time. Sometimes we get a little off task- one night ended in a sing and dance a-thon. Birsen and Ali were singing traditional and gypsy songs from different regions in Turkey- real music. The sounds of people and generations- music that is never recorded or downloaded onto an ipod. Other times we begin talking discussing Turkish or American politics over some delicious Turkish delight. Other times religion. Its facinating to learn the simularity of beliefs between us although we come from two different worlds.

There are some things about Turkey I am falling in love with. The old man with a small radio on top of his cart of simits every morning, trying to make a living. The steep, narrow cobble stone streets and the way they flood when it rains. A kiss on each cheek and a hug on each side when saying hello or departing. The exhilirating feeling of having a conversation completely in Turkish, the words just coming out of your mouth without thought,feeling like they arent your own words, but something completely new. It all feels a little like a dream. The surrealness of being here has yet to leave me. I dont think I will ever be able to travel to a country, and be just a visitor again. You cant see the country until you see it from its peoples balconys, from their dinner tables, in their language.
During one of the past weeks we also took a spontaneous day trip tp Ephesus. Ephesus is an accient city, its history mixed and confussed in Greek myths, which biblical charchters such as Paul taught at, and many wars have changed its owners over and over. The cream colored buildings against the blue blue sky was stunning. I could almost see its long gone people, walking through the streets, on their way to the temples, the library, or the hamam. When I found ancient Greek writing carved into the walls,I think my hand may have begun to shake.The history of that place was alive, and the stories those words tell, I can only imagine. Later, we went to the final home of the Virgin Mary.

Life continues in Turkey.
Yes- Life. I learn a little more Turkish each day, figure out how to get to a new place by myself, make friends, I am even picking up Turkish body language and a Çanakkale accent- plainly, Im adapting. Im working through each days problems,and maybe one day, Ill even be able to function like a normal person. A life is begining to form, and along with it a person. The Amber that lived in America is a completely different from this half developed person who lives in Turkey. Its weird to think these two people, citizens of two different worlds, inhabited\inhabit the same body.

Lots of love,

Culture note-
İve been noticing the amount of consumption of products in America. An example- I have a package of hair elastics that I bought in America. Last night Sude would not stop questioning me on why I had so many, why I would need so many etc. Here I think you buy them individually. Another example is when I bought three pens at the store, Sude had the same reaction.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Back To School

This week I have began school. With the school year, a whole new set of problems is presented. The first day was something else. Awful really, actually. They had the national news there and I was shoved around with officals, forced to pose for photos, and even was interveiwed IN TUKISH! haha. The school put on a dance show for us and everything. Im a pretty big deal here because I am the 2nd exchange student they have ever had. If there wasnt a big sign around my head saying new kid already- there was certianly by the end of the day. It was all terribly mortifying. Up there with some of my worst moments. The next day I plainly did not want to go. I found myself doing something I never thought I would- missing East High!
In my desperation I talked to my brother, and he said something that really stuck. Being here is my chance to not only learn about Turkish culture, learn a new language etc, but to learn what is most important to me. A oppurtunity for personal revelation. He also said it is a chance to learn who I am really am. When you remove your school, your friends, and your family, all things we rely on to define us, you are left with you, in the purest form. Im looking forward to these lessons- and have actually already experienced a good amount of them. He ended the conversation with go get the world. Thats exactly what Im going to do- go get the world!
Each day I go to school and it gets a little better. Im actually begining to really enjoy it. I already have a great group of friends. Everyone has been extremely nice and welcoming. They love helping me with my turkish, and Ive even gone out with them a few times. We go to cafes along the sea and have coffee and play scrabble. hahah, it really helps me learn more Turkish vocabulary.
As far as education in Turkey compared to in America- First of all you chose a focus. If you chose forgien language, you take almost all forgien language classes. Same goes for math, science, etc. Then you have a class that have your same focus. Your class has one room, and your teachers come to you. You stay together all through high school. This week I do not have a class, so I have just been going to the forgien language one. 11-H. We only have 7 students, but most classes have about 30. The teachers teach in a very lecture style. They just come in- talk for 40 minutes, and then leave. No homework as far as I can tell, your just expected to go home and study on your own until you understand. At the end of high school there is an exam called the ÖSS. This decides what and if you go to college. Its pretty much like dooms day, and the older you get, the more you study. Most 12th graders go to school after school and on saturdays and sundays too, to prepare. On Mondays and Tuesdays we have schooll until 430, but the rest of the days 330. Our lunch is an hour long. Unlike the US, where if your teacher cant come, you have a sub, here you have free lesson. Or basicly time to go or do whatever you want. This week our teachers have been really busy with this European Union school sharing project that I was a part of on the first day, so we almost never have lessons. Maybe 2 out of the 8 or 9 you would usually have. Today we went down town for lunch and shopping because we had no lessons. Also when I have a free lesson I can go to the art room. One thing I love about this school,in comparision to East, is the Art program. The art teacher here is GREAT, and is allowing me to come work in the room on oil paintings etc, whenever I want.
Im adapting and finally getting moved in and making friends and improving with Turkish, still I miss you all like crazy.
You are all in my thoughts, Amber.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Turkish wedding and Bayram.

For all of you who dont know, I am currently in İstanbul for a wedding of one of my aunts, and also for Bayram.
Bayram is a 3 day Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of Ramazan. Its kind of like a mix between Halloween and Christmas. In Turkey, respect is very important. When you meet a elderly person, to show great respect you kiss their hand and place it to your forehead. They will LOVE you if you do this. During Bayram though, you kiss everyones hand that is older than you, not just elderly. When you do this, they give you money!! Easiest 50 bucks I have ever made!! haha. Kids also come to your door and trick or treat. During Bayram you visit all your loved ones. Its all about spending time with family and enjoying eachothers company. And eating! Since Ramazan has just ended everyone wants to eat eat eat. We had A TON of baklava!
On the first night of Bayram we also had the pre-wedding party. We had all of the Grooms family over and served them food. Then it was time for traditional dance. I was quickly pulled into a side room and taught the most basic form. Basicly, its 3 steps to the side, kick, 3 steps to the back, kick. While doing this you hold pinkies with the person next to you and sort of shake your hand in a complicated way I couldnt figure out. The end person waves a little scarf, and at what seemed to be random times to me, we hissed. I stumbled my way through this dance, but am now informing you that I will not join the traditional dance club at school as I was intending. As we danced, the lights were turned off, and the bride and groom came out in traditional dress. The bride was wearing a red dress with gold embroidery, and a read veil to match. Behind her was a woman carrying a bowl of henna with candles in it. The bride sat and opened her hands, where large circles of henna were placed on her palms. They then placed gold in the henna, she closed her hands, and they were put inside little red baggies. Later we all got henna circles on one of our palms.
The next day was wedding day. We all went and got our hair done. After my hair was done, Ezgi and I were looking through a bridal hairstyle book. In the back there were bridal turbans too. I never thought about what a Muslim bride wears.
The wedding was very different from an American wedding. No vows or anything. Because Turkey is a secular country, no preist or Muslim religious man (?) is needed. I was wondering- even in non-relgious families in the US usually have a preist for vows. Is that required? As far as sealing the deal, the bride and groom just signed some papers in privite. The wedding was really more of an excuse to have a big dance party. Most of the night was danced away in traditional dances I didnt even dare to try. They, of course, also had a very dramatic enterance (with fireworks and humorous glatatior music) that made us all laugh. For a long time the bride and groom stood up front wearing read scarves that people would come pin gold and money to. This money was to help them begin family.
Last night we went to dinner at a more conservative families home. This may sound weird, but everything in their home seemed to say muslim, right down to the lilac colored walls. My family is not practicing the muslim religion so it was different for me. THey were very kind and enjoyable. Although some of the time we spent there was divided between sexes, it oddly didnt bother me, and it didnt seem to bother anyone else either. They seemed plenty happy with their lifestyle, so who am I to say it is wrong? You kind of just have to leave your judgements at the door.
It been really great being surronded by all my host families family. It is very large- 7 girls and 1 boy.You add in grandpa and all the spouses and children and you get a pretty big party. They are all pretty young, and very turkish- loud, expressive, and extremely friendly. Each night we have one big sleepover, and sometimes even enjoy a meal on the floor. One day we were on the way to a mall when a little boy came to our car window and tried to sell us kleenex. My Amca turned up the music, pulled out the exact same kleenex the boy was selling, and began to crazily dance with it. The little boy sure didnt know what to think, but it really made me smile.
Something right now that I am really struggling with is trying to find a balance between the Ambers. How to be an American here, and be true to my beliefs, while trying to be Turkish and fit in with them, and be open minded about their beliefs is a challenge. Hopefully that is something that will work itself out in time.
Much and best wishes to all of you, Amber

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life is picking up

Life here is quickly and suddenly going to take a turn for the crazy, stressfull, busy life I thrive for. Yay! Already life has begun to pick up. This past week has mostly been a good one. Sunday was probably my favorite day of my exchange so far.
It began when we went for coffee at a friends house. These people are the people who told my host family about YES, and currently have a daughter on exchange. I really enjoy them, and am glad when we get to spend time with them. The mom (I feel silly because I cant remember their names) taught me how to make Turkish coffee! Its known to be an art, and I was learning from the best. They used to own a coffee shop! Following that we went to a local village. I was already in a good mood from the coffee lesson, but driving to the village- through the rolling golden hills of Turkey, above the sea- made me feel so giddy. At the village I was pleased to be welcomed with the double kiss and treated like family! This village had the same feel as the ones in China, only this time I wasnt a unwelcome tourist, but family. They took us to their garden where we picked fruit and visited. One villager even gave me a beautiful flower. After they served us tasty fried cheese things, even though they were fasting. The day continued as we went to pick up Granny and take her to dinner and ice cream. She was the exact image of how a grandmother is depicted on TV!! The poor woman- Sude kept pulling off her headscarf and jumping on her- quite overwhelming for granny. At the little Ice cream place, It was pretty funny because they were playing very obscene English music. Everyone was completely oblivious except me.

The next few days I spent a lot of time just sitting on the hammok, relaxing, trying to enjoy the out doors before we move to the winter house and high paced life begins. Twice Ezgi, 'family' of ours, invited me out with her. Once just her and me, once with her friends. She is only a few years older than me- It was veryyy nice to be around some teenage energy. She showed me all the best cafes and hang outs around the city. She went to the school I will be attending, so she told me all the about the uniform, and how to break it. She also showed me this food called Midye that is sold on the streets of Çanakkale late at night, after the fishermen come in. It is basiclly calm with rice and lemon juice served in the shell. Ohhhh so tasty!!

Culture note- Turks are always weirdly scared of getting cold and always worrying that you may be cold. AFS had mentioned we would see this, and it is proving true with every person I meet here. ' No, Sude, I promise I will not catch a cold if my hair is wet while I watch TV.' Or the importance that I wear a jacket in 70 degree weather, but also zip it all the way up. After all, I may catch a cold ;)

Missing you all lotsss, Amber

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ramazan and Dardanos

Before Ramazan ends, I had to try it one more time- even if I was doing it all by myself. And guess what? It was harder than the first time, but just as rewarding. Have you ever noticed, in our high paced lives, how eating is just something we do? We shove the food in without really tasting it and then move to the next activity of the day. All day, I dreamt of just simple fresh bread dipped in peynir. How have I been eating that every morning and not crying from its incredible flavor?? I made a pact then to never just eat- but to savor my food. We really forget how lucky we are to have it.
Another thing that came to my attention as I broke my fast is we are slaves to this earth. Us, in our foolish ways, think we can out smart our planet with our science and cars and money. But when it comes down to it- We need this earth. I know, duh. But really, We (the human race) think we rule the world, when really, the world rules us. Just something to chew on there.
I would really encourage you all to try fasting for Ramazan. It can be a religious thing if you want, or you can do it like me, just to bring your thoughts down to earth. All you need to do is find the time of sunrise on the internet and make sure you are up a half hour or so before that. Wash your face, then your hands, then serve your food on white table cloth. At sundown you can have your first drink of water, and then continue to eat a very big, tasty dinner. But here is the important part- break your fast with loved ones and savor each flavor. The feeling of gratitude for these people, and the food you have gone without, but now have, will knock you off your feet. I really love this holiday. Flan and I are going to celebrate it back home next year too, If any of you would like to take part.

This week has been a roller coaster. At first I had a really hard time adapting to gender roles in my host family. I came to understand though, that I was looking at it from an outside perspective, but also, I am not here to judge and or 'set things right'. As I entered viewing my host family from a Turkish point of view, I noticed I had misjudged many things as the gender roles the were once bothering me, were hardly there. I can now happily say- 'Its not good, Its not bad, Just different'. I am starting to feel really at home here. Every once in a while a thought roles into my head that says 'hey! I really do love this place.'

Im going to try to give you guys a mental idea of what Dardanos kind of looks like, since I feel it cant really be captured in photos. As you know, We are in the country. In this area there are two little markets, two bars/discos on the beach (which are always completely empty), a mosque, two playgrounds, and houses of course. The houses are all different colored cement. Red, pink, green, yellow, and white pealing paint are the most common. It feels almost like a forest outside- dirt winding roads, big trees, and feilds of plants- Until it opens up onto the beach. Our beach is right on the end of the strait going to the sea of Marama. Turks have a real sense of nationalism so all the little boats, bobbing in the water, have Turkish flags waving on them.
Here, Its pretty empty most of the time. Usually walking around the area, the only company you'll find is older men and women wandering alone and a lot of stray cats.Everyone here grows their own fruit, so not only are there gardens every where, but fresh fruit is always tasty and abundant. But most importantly- there is just something about Dardanos. Time has a rythmn here. Or a lack of one. I cant really explain it, except that it feels like time has paused to take a breath, and wrap this place in it warm embrace.

'hey! I really do love this place.'

xoxoxo- Amber

Oh and- Cultural note:
Last night we had friends (or family?) over for dinner. They explained to me in old Turkish belief, It is said, for every grain of rice you dont eat, you will have that many kids. haha!
I say family? because I am always left unsure who Im actually 'related' to and who Im not. In Turkish culture you should call everyone slightly older than you abla or abi (big sister/big brother). Anyone of maybe 15 years older than you, and above the age of maybe 30, you call Teyze or Amca (aunt/uncle). It is to show respect, which is a HUGE deal here. If they are actually family or not, I am unsure, because everyone I meet is my 'aunt' etc. Its so puzzling. :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Turkish Food!

As I have mentioned before, my anne is a very good cook. The food here is wonderful!! Sooo tasty. Our eating schedule is a little different than most in Turkey, I think though. Since my family does not practice the muslim religion, we eat during sunlight. Usually, we wake up at elevenish. Then anne prepares the food while I take all the food to the porch where we eat. The same goes with dinner,which is eaten at about eightish. I am rarely allowed to help in the cooking or cleaning, although everyday I say multiple times 'Yardim istiyor musun?' (do you want any help?) Breakfast is the most different from America. These are basic rules for a Turkish breakfast-

1. Never cook your boiled egg all the way. Half raw is preferred and actually tastes pretty good, although probably not very safe.

2.Bread. Bread.Bread. would you like another loaf to eat? haha

3. Olives are a very common breakfest food. Yogurt is to only be eaten at dinner.

4. Four glasses of Turkish tea is the average. I probably have about ten glasses of tea per day. Most people have more.

5. Fındıck- a like nutella type stuff, except it is 70 percent hazlenut. 70 percent. They tell me that most days. I dont really get the big deal but...okay. 70 percent. Got it? P.s. Its only found in Turkey.

6.HELVA! This is my favorite breakfast food. probably because it really is more of a desert. I believe it is a soy/sugar compound. mmmmm. Tasty! and yesterday I discovered it comes in flavors! Also, only in Turkey.

7.Grape molasas and sesame paste goop stuff mixed makes a chocolate like dipping sause for your loaf of bread you get every breakfast. It tastes just like chocolate!! And its super healthy too?? Only in Turkey is chocolate sause healthy.

8. A big bowl of fruit including İngirs. This fruit also found only in Turkey looks like a bright colored mini pear. Its not sweet like most fruit here but more salty I guess? Only it doesnt actually taste like salty fruit. I dont know.Its a very different flavor. I wish all of you could try one.

9.Meat is never served for breakfast. NO BACON especially. As far as I know, Pork isnt sold any where around here. Nobody, nobody eats pork.

10. Mom- CHEESE. all the time. Eating just pure cheese is normal for breakfest.

Some other things I have noticed about food etc. here are-

1.No Microwave

2. No one drinks tap water. Its very unhealthy. Water from the hose is a even bigger no no.

3. You dont have anything to drink with dinner. Instead you have tea time about a half hour after dinner.

4. We dont have a trash can or recylcling. If you have trash you put it in a little baggie and it is taken outside shortly.

5. And finally- Baklava. Yummmm. The stuff in the US is nothing compared to this amazing desert. p.s. We never have desert here unless its baklava. Although, There may be some ice cream in the freezer, you get too full from the meals to ever want any.

We usually have some kind of vegetable or bean cooked in olive oil and spices.The flavors are so rich and delicious, but also very healthy. Sometimes meat, but not too much thankfully. Yogurt is mixed in to everything. So far my favorite is salma (or something like that) which we had the first day. It is richly flavored rice with vegetables wrapped and cooked in grape leaves from the garden.

How am I? I am great. So far my week of boredom have been totally bearable. Yesterday I got to go grocery shopping! hahahaha.I have certianly found the humor, because the fact that I looked forward to that all day is extremely funny. Oh! And Sude and I built a real life birds nest. It took seriously an hour but hey...Ive never built a birds nest before! Then we got eggs from the fridge and put them in it with our chickens. hahaha.
I am not extremely homesick thankfully,although Id like to say I love all of you lots. The weather has been rainy but is starting to clear up so I can go to the sea soon, and maybe a bike ride. Dardanous is very rural and peaceful, a bike ride would be wonderful in the cool rainy air. Our pet chicks are getting older and starting to escape their box.

Turkish soaps have also proven to be a good time passer, while helping my Turkish. Currently I am teaching Sude basic household objects names in English. Its fun teaching her English and she learns VERY quickly. After I get out of college,I have been wanting to join the peace corps and teach HIV/AIDS prevention. But now after enjoying teaching Sude English so much, maybe I should look into the English teaching department of the peace corps. Anyways...Now I am just ranting.

Lots of loves always, Amber

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Things are looking upward

Today, my family and I decided we would try to fast for Ramadan. I was looking at it as a cultural experience when I agreed to make a pact not to eat today, but that quickly changed.I prayed to my undefıned god that I may fınd Strength as I make my way through this challenging but rewarding journey. I also prayed that I would end the experience with all my goals completed and to hold the strong relationships I have at home. As far as my understanding goes, which may be wrong, for Ramadan you fast from sun up to sun down for 30 days. This is to help you understand your blessing and show submission to Allah. I really enjoyed this day of fasting. There was not one time I wished to give in and eat, although I felt a lıttle faint and tired because we couldnt even have water in this heat! Anyways, so the morning began at three or so when we all got up to eat. We had to wash our faces and hands. Then we set up a white table cloth on the floor and began eating. Ill cover what we eat here another day. We laughed and even took some photos. Then once the singing man came, we stoped eating and went back to sleep. The singing man is one of my favorite parts of Turkey. Five times a day a man gets on a loud speaker all through town and sings in Arabic. This works as a notifıcation for when it is time to pray and or eat. The day passed and we listened to the singing man knowing each time he came,It was a little closer to food and water. When the time finally came, the food was like heaven. My anne is such a good cook, but tonight the food tasted better than ever. But even more than that, was the feeling that came with the food. I was over come by a rush of gratitude for all my blessings. My life is a lucky one.Not only was I born into a loving wonderful family who was blessed with everything to provıde for me, but now I have recived this experience too. I get to have two amzing families, and two countries to call home. The best part of this night came next. Sitting the porch listeningto the rustle of the night and the waves of the sea, my host mother and I sat and sipped Turkish tea. In broken English, she told me she loved me. Wow. I am so happy to be here. To be invited into such a loving home. They have taught me so much already. About family. I will never take family for granted again. I love both of my families. The end.

What else has been happening? Many great adventures and personal growth. Gizem and I have had lots of fun this week since my last post. I have hardly felt the intense pain of home sickness, but instead fondness for happy memories with loved ones accross the ocean. We went to a Turkish bath, had a fun filled day of swimming, and many late night walks on the beach. Today she went off to school, leaving me to what is probably going to be the hardest ten days of my exchange. I will have nothing to do and no english until we meet her again for the wedding in Istanbul. Other news- We will visit my annes village in Eastern Turkey in February and she has already begun teaching me the dilect over there. School starts on the 24th, of which I am very excited for, but also dreading. Summer time by the sea in the country side of Dardanos has been swell. But city life will bring new adventures also. My turkish improves daily. Oh and today and the market anne bought Sude and I both pet chicks. Some how they are dyed blue and orange! haha Im just really hoping they dont become dinner in a few weeks!!

Some cultural notes- Did you know in Turkey you tube is blocked?? and that there is an intermission for movies at the Cinema??

Thats all for now, xoxoxo from across the ocean, Amber.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ten Months Is a Long Time.

Today has been kind of a rough day. Sude broke her foot (poor thing) so I have just been sitting around the house. I guess I started wıth worrying about a friend back home who is having some hard times. If I were there I could maybe help this friend but over seas I am so useless. This worry and frustration pushed me into the hostility phase I suppose. I started to get really frustrated.I am still frustrated but have calmed down a little. Being away has really made me love some everyday things we have at home, for example anti itch cream or English key boards. Im slowly finding the humor but still every day is such a challenge because I am so out of my comfort zone. I cant even remember what it is like to understand what people around me are saying or to have someone who understands exactly where im coming from. I am an alien alone on a unknown planet. I suppose without these challenges, there wouldnt really be a point to going.
I am also feeling a lot of really uncomfortable anxiety. Im stuck in between two worlds- not quite fitting into the Turkish world, but wanting to, but not wanting to give up and completely forget people back home. Im scared after these ten months the people I love and I will fall apart and break away. That thought kills me.
This same friend made a comment also that I have already changed so much. I didnt see how that was possible but it is, and i am already a whole other person. So you could say my goal of growing as a person has already been met.
So, because i know these goals are possible and worth while and that this experience could only amount to good, i will continue on my treck, standing tall and strong. But let me say this- Ten months is a long time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Turkey so far.

If you have not heard alreay, yes, ı am now ın Turkey. At fırst ı arrıved ın ıstanbul where we had orıentatıon camp. ı was always worrıed ıstanbul would be so western and dıd not want to be placed there because of that.Let me tell you that ıs unture. ıt ıs a very ınterestıng cıty. Probably my favorıte cıty of my all travels. The balance of Asıan,Islam, and European, each pullıng and fıghtıng wıth each other just blowsmy mınd. The orıentatıon ıtself though was kınd of lame. After a few days ı had to say goodbye to my new frıends who madethe journey wıth me. ıt was sad, and ı mıss them so much. Anyways, ı went on my way to Çanakkaleto meet my famıly. I really lıke the famıly.Bırsen, my anne, ıs a very kınd woman and you can tell by lookıng ın her eyes how much love she has ınsıde her. Gızem, my host sıster ıs also very nıce. Its good to have someone around my age who also has such good englısh. She leaves thıs sundayfor school- ı dont know what ı wıll do wıthout her here. And the lıfe of the home ıs my lıttle sıster Sude. She ıs SO SO cute. Everyone here ıs always sıngıng, but especıally Sude. She ıs teachıng me Turkısh, lıkes to hold my hand, drew me a pıcture, and even made a song 'amber abla çok güzel'.That means amber elder (ın the culture she must say that because ı am older) ıs so beautıful. Rıght now she ıs dancıng aroung sıngıng about zombıes. haha. Thepast few days here have been busy and emotıonally crazy. Other than Gızem, they do not speak very much Englısh whıch has been extremely overwhemıng andchallengıng for me. We are ın the summer house rıght now, whıch remınds of what would be ın a lıttle Italıan vıllage by the Med. Sea. They even have a hammok that we all sat and played on for hours last nıght. I have also been swımmıng ın the sea twıce. It ıs just as blue as they say, so goregous.I cant get enough of ıt. Yesterday I trıed to get a ball ın the water for Sude toplay wıth, but when ı touched ıt, ı dıscoved ıt was a jelly fısh!!! I dıdnt get stung thank god, and now ı have an epıc story to tell. Today I went out wıth Gızem and her frıends and although ıt made me mıss my frıends, they were all so nıce, and we had a really good tıme. Although, ıt was challengıng because of the ever always language problem. My Turkısh ıs comıng along pretty quıckly though, thankfully.
Probablymy most major culture shock moment ıs when ı was ın ıstanbul.We were on the way to get on the bus to go to Çanakkale and a lıttle kıd came up to me and dıd thıs fancy hand snappy arm hıt thıng that means F you. I assume thıs was because ı am an Amerıcan, but ı am not sure.

Probably the most ınterestıng thıng ı have learned ıs how the Turkısh flag came to be. Fırst off the call the north star the çobam yıldız.Thıs means the shepard star. When the moon ıs ın cresent and ıt ıs the rıght tıme of the year, the çobam yıldız makes the star moon symbol on the flag. Durıng war tıme ınthe 1900s, there was blood on the ground and the çobam yıldız and the moon reflected ınto the blood. Thıs ıs how the Turkısh flag came to be.
thats all for now.
Güle Güle-Amber (sorry for mısspellıngs etc, I dont know where spell check ıs. haha)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodbye America, Merhaba Turkiye!

Yesterday, at very early in the morning I left Salt Lake City, and began my journey. I'll admit that when I was getting out of the shower at 3:30 am or so, I was thinking "what the hell I was thinking leaving for ten months??!". it was hard to say goodbye to all my friends and family and I'm going to miss you guys a lot. I cried off and on during my flights, but I found a group of other exchange kids and kept conversation with people sitting next to me to ease my mind. By the time I was in DC I was feeling good and ready to go! Things here have been great! I love orientations because the kids here are so much fun, but also very intelligent, and interested in the world culture and religion like me. Even the officials are really fun. We all sit around and talk and they treat us like regular people (adults) not just ignorant teenagers.
Yesterday in some of our sessions we learned the expected cycle of culture shock. It goes from honeymoon, to hostility ("If I have to eat one more eggplant I'm going to kill someone!"), to humor (" When I get home I'm going to make the whole town eat only eggplant for a month straight! mohaha!") to home sweet home. It can take 6 weeks to 8 months to finish the cycle on average. I am very impressed with how much of a science they have this exchange down too. They have so many good exercises to help us learn how to cope, how to be an ambassador, etc.
Today, after getting 5 hours of sleep, we went to meet with the Dept. of State who are funding YES. I liked being there because it was all serious and formal.Made me feel like I was important, haha. We had to get all dressed up and go through security.I ended up really learning a lot. I learned even more next, at the Turkish Embassy. We got to talk to a man who I think was an ambassador about Turkish issues suck as the PKK, the Armenian "genocide", and American- Turkish relations. After we went for Yummy Turkish food and went to the Islamic center, which was basically a mosque. It was beautiful and very peaceful inside, and we all had a lot of fun learning how to tie the head scarves. I'll post pictures later.
So, tonight is my last night in the USA. Its still very surreal. Darin, the head of AFS-YES, keeps asking us "Does it feel real yet?" haha, It surely doesn't. But I can't wait until it is. I can't wait to get on that plane tomorrow and really begin my exchange.
Oh, on the plane we are having a big Turkish study party. I'm excited because we all know different areas of the language and are going to help each other. I am really happy I spent so much time studying this summer. What I have learned is already helping me so much. Note to self- send Ercument a thank you email.
Lots of love from DC, Amber.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alie! (family)

Today, at Graces, where I happen to always receive information from AFS oddly enough, I was notified I now have a host family!! Finally right? I only leave in a week! But, the wait was by far worth it, because i feel this family is a really good match.
They live in a city called Çanakkale (pop. 81,000) which is right on the Sea of Marma, located very close to ancient Troy. It looks extremely beautiful and you should all do a google image search right now. :) I will be staying with Ali, Birsen, and Sude Pehlivan. Ali is a business man and likes philosophy, Birsen loves to cook and is a food engineer (whatever that is...haha) and Sude is 8, and likes to swim. They also have a daughter named Gizem who is my age, but will be going to school in another city, sadly. They speak elementary to Intermediate English, non-smoker, no pets, and I get my own room! For all those of you worrying about my safety, It says they live in a safe area. They like to travel and see the historic sites of their city.
I just sent them an email in some hopefully understandable Turkish!
Only 6 days to gooooo!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Winding down.

Tonight I said farewell to Flan. She is one of my good friends and her and I journeyed through the whole process of becoming YES scholars together. And by some miracle both got accepted. Tomorrow she is headed off to Indonesia with many of the other YES kids.I'm going to miss that chick, but I couldn't be more excited for her. I've been waiting to tell her I'll see you in DC July 2010 almost all summer. Haha, Tonight I got to!! To think the day we have been hoping for since February 1st (when we first began the application process) is finally coming is the most surreal feeling...
I think Its finally starting to hit that new life is just around the corner. Things here are winding down as the world I'm part of now begins to plans events and activities I won't be here to take part in. Its almost painful in a sense. But in a totally unexpected way. I'm not sad because I'm going to be missing these activities (I'll be doing something much more enriching). It's painful because I have to sit on my hands waiting for these next weeks to pass, while my head is already over a thousand miles overseas.I don't think I'm freaking out, although I've been told otherwise. But freaking out or not, I have two and half weeks left in the states. Until then, all I can do is keep plowing my way through my long list of to dos, and hold my loved ones tighter,tighter, tighter.
Güle Güle, Amber