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Gaziantep, Home of the Pistachio

Hello again. On Monday I relayed the happenings that got me to and from Gaziantep, today, we’re talking about the real deal, the 6th oldest city in the world (supposed) with the best museum in Turkey (again, supposedly) and the largest Fulbright Turkey population known to man. I couldn’t be more excited.

Gaziantep is in the south east of Turkey, real close to the Syrian border. As a result, the city feels a lot like I’d imagine a Syrian city would feel like. It’s way different from the other regions of Turkey that I’ve been to. There are flat roofs. There’s lots of dust and in the summer it can get real warm. There are very few sidewalks, but lots of rubble strewn “paths” along the roadsides. Oh, and there’s huge amount of pistachios. I don’t know how you fine people feel about pistachios, but I’m pretty fond of them. Every Christmas my grandpa used to send me a box of them from a catologue. Good times. In Turkey I have come to appreciate the pistachio (fıstık) not just as a nut, but as an ingredient. There’s pistachio icecream, which before I did not like, has kind of become one of my favorites. There’s pistachio baklava, which is almost an entirely different dessert from the walnut baklava I generally prefer. There’s this think called katmer, which is ground pistachios mixed with clotted cream, which is then used as a filling for a really oily pastry dough–oh, yeah, and then it’s kind of fried on a skillet with butter (yes, I did eat it, and no, I don’t regret it). You get the point, pistachios abound in G’tep.

So I spent a really nice weekend amidst dust, pistachio products, and Fulbright friends. I bought more souvenirs than I have in a good long while, including some copper products from Gaziantep’s copper bazar. I also bought a small piece of Gaziantep silk because it was just so pretty (it’s not actually pure silk, it’s half cotton and half silk, usually woven into very colorful, striped cloth). I also bought a pair of elephant-printed shalwar pants, which are clearly from India, but I like ’em, so why not buy?!

But I did not only eat and shop. I also visited a really old archeological site, called Göbekli Tepe, which is close to Urfa, another city in the south east. The weather was kind of rainy, so it wasn’t the best for picture-taking, but I definitely enjoyed the seeing site.  Here’s a pic of the land around the site.Image

Also, there’s apparently a wishing tree. I saw a bunch of people tying on pieces of white “cloth.” Well, upon closer inspection it turns out they were just ripping up wet wipes and tying those on the tree. I had some wet wipes with me, too, so I just made a wish and tied one on. Image

After seeing Göbekli Tepe we made our way into Urfa and hung out for a while. We had a great lunch, saw the main sites, and made our way back to Gaziantep, playing kind of cerebral, dorky car games all the way. Good times. Good times.

The last day in Gaziantep we went to the Zeugma museum, which is a very nice mozaic museum, with the mozaic’s taken from Greek ruins near Gaziantep. The museum actually sits on the old silk road. Here I am under a statue of a camel. Don’t ask, it seemed like the right pose in the moment.Image

That’s all for now. The next two weeks are going to be BUSY, so stay tuned!


There are no words

Dear Friends,

I just experienced the most physically and socially uncomfortable 10 hour and 55 minute bus ride of my life. But to really tell this story, I’ve got to go back to the beginnging of the weekend. Please bear with me.

On Thursday evening I boarded a bus to Gaziantep, a city in the south east of Turkey where I planned to spend my weekend with some American friends. An hour after I boarded the bus, a woman came on with two young boys. She glanced at the seat next to me, and then casually walked on. A minute later two other women got on the bus and told her she and her children were seating in their seats. The woman, to my horror, got up with the kids and came back to seat in the seat next to me–a woman and two children (boys, ages 6 and 3). My heart sunk within me. The 6-year-old was having none of it and went to hang out in another empty seat for a while, though he would periodically come back to hang with us and try and commandeer my seat. The 3-year-old smelled like poop.

I was so freaking furious at this woman for knowingly booking one seat for three people that I couldn’t even make eye contact for a while. What freaking nerve! thought. (I actually thought something more along the lines of, what a f**king b*tch, but that is neither here nor there).

In the course of our ride together, we began talking some. She has me if I was married. I said no. She told me that I should never get married or have children because it just complicates life. She spoke nostalgically of her life before having children. Then she asked me if I had a Turkish boyfriend, in that cute, confiding, teasing way that some women have. I said no. She was shocked. It was a very strange conversation that in my opinion realied very heavily on some weird, circular logic. Whatever.

I also discovered that the reason she was on the bus that night was that her husband had ordered her home from her visit to her sister, who’d just had a baby. Normally she would also be travelling with her mother, but the mother decided to stay. She said they were supposed to have gone home the night before, but her 3-year-old had busted his head open and needed stitches. I saw the stitches. She was telling a pretty convincing sob story. I began to fell a little sorry for her.

Did I mention it smelled like poop on that bus? Yeah, that was definitely her 3-year-old. At one point she had him stand up, one foot on my seat and one foot on hers, so that she could change his poopy diaper right there. Yep. Up close and personal. After this changing process, which didn’t involve actually disposing of the diaper, he sat down and began to complain of stomach discomfort. The reason for the earlier diaper change turned out to be act 1 of a 2 act play. In short, there was more poop coming. I hate to be crass, but I also feel like I have a responsibility to report this horrible experience with as much detail as I can muster.

Let’s talk about discomfort. So, Turkish bus seats are hardly built for the larger people among us. It’s quite common that you will get stuck next to some one who tries to take up precious leg or elbow room. When you have a mother and child(dren) next to you, you’re absolutely screwed. You’re just in purgatory. Your hips start to hurt. Your legs get stiff faster. The child decides to sleep (which is better than crying) and so you turn off your reading light, let their legs rest on your lap (making you hot) and just pray for the haze of sleep to deliver you. It rarely does. Especially when said child’s mother is breaking out into tears everyone once in a while. Did I say it was like Purgatory earlier? Yeah, I meant Hell. Just straight up hell.

Well, the end of that particular bus story was that after about 4.5 hours I was able to switch to another seat and get some kind of sleep for the remaining part of the bus ride. I proceeded to spend a great weekend with friends, which I’ll blog about later. And then, last night, I got on a bus to come home…

On Saturday I went to buy my bus ticket home. The man I bought it from sold it to me without a problem. Is there space, said I. Yes, there’s space, said he. I gave money. He accepted money. Ok. Finished. Great!

Not great. I arrived at the bus station to discover that said idiot man had booked me a seat next to a man. In Turkey that just don’t fly. Men and women can’t sit next to each other unless they know each other and book their tickets together. The bus attendants flipped out. I was ready to punch a wall. They asked this woman travelling with her grown son to switch seats the the man, but she wouldn’t. So, to my utter horror, a woman with two children (3 and 4) volunteered and came to sit next to me.

I don’t know what I’ve done in life to deserve such punishment, but it must have been real bad. Real real bad. This made the previous bus trip look like a walk in the park.

My seat partner was definitely poor and had very little education, from the looks of it. She was 21 and already had a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old. She wore a headscarf and was dressed modestly, like many women you’d find in a village (remember this point). At one point she asked to call a friend on my phone and was not so good with large numbers and spelling. She was nice enough, except when she was slapping her kids in the face when they cried. She was very pretty (also worth remembering). Basically, lady didn’t have it easy, by the looks of it.

So, we were uncomfortable. I mean, really uncomfortable. She made her 4-year-old lie down on the floor at our feet, essentially taking away all leg room. Her 3-year-old (who she kept referring to as ‘the idiot’) cried every time one of his sandals fell off, which was often. She was not shy about taking up at least half of my seat, leaving me with uncomfortable remnants and back pain.

Here’s the kicker: at our first rest stop I get off to use the restroom and eat a snack. When I get back on she is sitting in another seat with this handsome man who came by to talk to her earlier. I thought they must know each from previously. Nope. Strangers. But they decided they were strangers who wanted to do it in the woods on our next break. Friends, I’m not even kidding you. She comes back to our seat and makes a handgesture that is unmistakable in meaning and asks me if I think that she looks beautiful. Then she asks me when our next break will be and explains that she and Mr. Rando are planning on meeting at the next rest stop. WHAT THE FREAK? Girlfriend had some nerve. She was travelling with an older male relative, her two young children, and she’s going to go have an assignation in the woods of Sivas with some random guy with a charming smile? Honey, pull yourself together. I should also mention that she’s married, but her husband is currently in jail. Woah.

We left our rest stop and went on for another 3 or 4 hours, during which time handsome man and my seat partner were making eyes at each other across the bus. Well, fate, in the form of a toddler stepped in. Just as we pulled in to the rest stop the 3-year-old woke up in a tizzy about something. She sat and calmed him for a while. I left the bus, and when I came back on she asked if I would sit with him, which just felt like the ickiest reason to babysit in the world, but I said yes. She, who I had watched unpin her headscarf and untuck it, though the folds stayed in place well enough, I guess while she walked into the woods, got off the bus and walked away. The two boys, who I realized were speaking Kurdish to each other (Kurdish baby talk, at least) were having none of it. After about 3 minutes (with Mr. Charming still on the bus, obviously plotting his own disappearance, at least from the looks of it) the kids were having none of it. The 4-year-old charged off the bus and his little brother waddled behind, with me running to catch up before they tumbled down the bus stairs. The 4-year-old went up to the man, who I assume was his uncle or something, and asked where his mother was. I was just this random foreigner, standing and holding a child whose name I didn’t even know. The situation was quickly devolving. Tears were forming and then, thank God!, the mother emerged from the trees and came back on the bus with us. She was pretty disappointed, as she expressed to me that their plans hadn’t worked out and I was just like: yeah, she sucks. dumb kids!

Soon after that–very very soon–I was able to switch to another seat. All things considered it was one of the worst ways I could imagine spending a night. But I realized that had this happend 5 months ago, it would have come damn near close to just breaking me. As it was, it sucked, but at least I could communicate and understand everything that was going on. I mean, it would be hard for anyone with a pulse to miss the signs that the two love-bird-strangers wanted to get it on, but the finer details definitely would have escaped me had I not understood the Turkish. Olsun, yani.

It’s also nice to have proof that Turkish men are skeasy with Turkish women, just as they are with foreign women. And it goes to show that people can treat you like you’re easy no matter what you’re wearing–headscarf, long skirt, etc. It just doesn’t really seem to matter.

Anyway, that’s my last overnight bus for a while. I’m strong, but not strong enough to handle another such situation with anything approaching poise or equanimity for a good long while. Peace Out!


Bits and Pieces

Well, I haven’t updated in a while, mostly because I’m always torn as to where the line between bloggable and boring actually lies. I’ve decided that today was bloggable enough, so here I go:

-I was asked for the third time in the last few months if my nose was real. Why, yes, it is real, in fact. Thanks for asking! I can’t say I thought much of my nose before, but I may be developing some nose vanity. I’ll try to tone it down by the time I get back to America. BUT, if you find me gazing into a mirror, you’ll know what I’m admiring…

-There are HONEYSUCKLES IN AMASYA. Honeysuckles are the smell of my childhood. My mother freaking loves honeysuckles and growing up I knew that they smelled good before I even was sure what they smelled like. I was walking to work today, hoofing it up a mild incline, and all of a sudden stopped in my tracks because I smelled honeysuckles in the air. I turned around and there, climbing all over a run-of-the-mill fence was a sea of honeysuckle vines. Quite delightful.

-I went to a Turkish folk music concert at the University tonight and it was absolutely delightful. The students sang different folk songs from all over Turkey. I recognized one song I have heard sung before (a friend who is from Sivas, a province to the south east of Amasya). They played some Sivas songs tonight, and I was reminded of how hauntingly beautiful they are. They are very much like the scenery in Sivas–striking, a little melancholy, definitely ethereal. Here’s a pic from a trip I took there a few weeks ago: Image

This was taken in Divriği, a city with a very beautiful mosque/hospital complex from the Selçuk period. It took forever to get there, but was worth the journey. Here’s a picture of one of the entrance ways: Image

-I only have six more classes to teach, one test to give, and two offices to clean up and then…I’m done. It’s crazy that time has flown by so quickly. I mean, it hasn’t always felt like it’s been flying by, but now it sure does. It feels like I’ve lived in Amasya for a long time and that I’m going to continue to live in Amasya for a long time, but the reality is that my contract is up in exactly one month and after that I’m mostly going to be traveling. Things are coming to an end and there’s still SO much that I need to do!

-I’m considering issuing myself a 1-month David Foster Wallace challenge. Read Infinite Jest in one month. Can I do it? I don’t know. I’m mentioning it here so that I’ll ultimately be shamed into doing it (because it would be shameful to talk about it and then not do it). I’ll keep you updated as the situation progresses.

-I’m very close to finishing a blanket and I’m scared that I made it look tacky by adding too many colors. I’ll post pictures when it’s done, but I’m not sanguine about the results…

-This weekend I’m going to the home of Turkish Baklava. There will be pictures. Stay tuned!

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Before things start getting away from me…

I’ve made several small trips in the last few weeks that I’ve neglected to blog about. These excursions resulted in some good pictures, so I figured I’ll dumb them all in one post and clear my mind for upcoming adventures. 

1. Kayaköy

When I went to Muğla I also took a day-trip to a place called Kayaköy, a village that was emptied of “Greeks” (Aka, orthodox christians living in Turkey before the Republic was founded). They were traded with “Turks” (aka, muslims living in Greece) in a population exchange where many many people were sent from Kayaköy and very few came in to replace them. Anyway, there are about 2000 abandoned stone houses, a big church, some schools, and…lots of weeds and wildflowers. The overall effect is beautiful, if not a little mournful. 


2. Divriği

Divriği is a smallish city in the large-ish province of Sivas. Sivas is big, but doesn’t have a whole lot of people from the looks of it. It definitely has a lot of sheep, though. I went to Sivas last Friday to see the old hospital/mosque there. We drove for about 6 hours with a friend. Got to Divriği and spent about 1.5 hours there. Then we got in the car, turned around, and came back, driving another 6 hours. It was a long long long day. I’m happy to have seen the hospital/mosque, a world heritage site as it happens, because it was very grand. Not many people get out that way, and I can’t blame them. BUT! The few the proud. I am now part of the few and boy am I proud! Here’s a picture of one of three doorways. It’s pretty freaking ornate: Image

The structure was commissioned by a woman and some of the symbolism on the facade is supposed to represent the equality between men and women. It’s a remnant of Selcuk-era feminism. One of the symbols of equality between the sexes was the positioning of the head of a man and the head of a woman on opposite sides of the door. We read that the head carvings were there, but despite the 15 or so minutes I spent looking and trying to find them, I just couldn’t. Finally, on my 4th round of examinations, I found the man (whose face has been completely rubbed off and can only be distinguished by the general shape of his head), and the woman, also faceless, who can only be distinguished by her still-intact braids. I’d post pictures, but they’re not really that interesting, so I won’t. 

3. Samsun

I FINALLY took the train to Samsun. FINALLY. I have been wanting to take the train for months and I finally did. It was a great ride.

1st, it’s cheap–about 5TL (2.50USD).

2nd, it’s beautiful. The train runs through villages and fields and other beautiful things. There are small waterfalls, fields with home-made scarecrows (who knew people still used those). It was just so pleasant. The train was not terribly fast, but the journey was pretty enough to make up for it. It was also shockingly punctual. The board at the station said the train would depart at 2:21 and arrive at 5:37, and you won’t believe this–it was precise to the minute. Unbelievable. That kind of precise timing just doesn’t happen that often here. Anyway, once I got to Samsun I made my way to the neighborhood where my friends live and waited for them to get home from work. I walked along the beach and collected pieces of glass that had been sanded smooth by the…sand. Here’s a particularly large piece I found:  Image

I also found a crab, and took a picture of it. And then I took another picture of it because the first picture was blurry. And then I realized that it was weird that the crab was being so still for all the picture taking. And then I realized that the crab was dead. And then I felt strange and morbid because I’d just taken 10 photos of a dead crab.

4. Ziyare

There is a village just a little ways from Amasya called Ziyare. On Tuesday, which was a holiday here, I went on a casual picnic there with some friends. There is a lake, created by a dam, which we walked around at sunset. It was very beautiful, and the air smelled quite nice thanks to this white blossomed tree whose name I don’t know in Turkish or English. I wish I had a horticulture book. And here I am with a friend standing by the water. So scenic!Image

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Traveling some more this weekend, so we’ll see what kind of update Monday brings. Toodle loo for now!

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A Trip to the Dentist

Last Friday I was sitting munching on something at home, can’t remember what, and I noticed some sensitivity in one of my teeth. Damn, a cavity! So I went to the window with a mirror and looked and there in fact was what appeared to be a cavity. Damn.

Yesterday, after putting it off and putting it off again, I mentioned to a colleague, an old Amasyan who knows EVERYONE in this town, that I needed to find a good dentist. Without a pause, the man whips out his cellphone and is calling to make me an appointment–do I want it today? What time? I wanted some time to mentally prepare for this Turkish dental experience, so we set the appointment for today.

I have had international dental experiences before. Honestly, the last one was pretty bad. It involved Dr. Daisy (I’m not kidding), who drilled on a cavity without x-raying first, and almost drilled into my pulp cavity–the part with the nerve. Oh, and all of this was without novacane, but with constant assurances that I wasn’t experiencing “pain” so much as “extreme sensitivity.” Novacane is apparently only used for “pain,” never for “extreme sensitivity. Bite me, Dr. Daisy. It took a year and a number of dental visits in America for that tooth to go back to normal (knock on wood it stays that way!).

Anyway, I woke up this morning and prepped for my visit. I knew that the dentist probably had some knowledge of English, but no idea how much. As such, I sat down at my computer and thought of all the things I would need to say:

-“That hurts.”

-“Yes, that is sensitive.”

-“I have extra-large pulp cavities and am really going to need you to take an xray before you come near me with a drill bit.”

-“Yes, I know I’m uptight”

In addition to noting down special words that I haven’t learned till now (translations for nerve, root canal, xray, cavity), I also printed out a picture of a tooth, just in case.

I left work at 11:00, got on the bus and made my way into the city center (what we would normally call downtown). My co-worker had given me directions in Turkish, which was great, except that I sometimes have trouble keeping all of the directional words straight in my head. Whatever. I knew the general vicinity and started walking around and looking for 2nd or 3rd floor balconies with signs. After very little searching I found the right place and walked up two very dark flights of concrete stairs. I reached the door of the office, which looked pretty much like the door of a house, and started flipping switches outside, looking for the one that was the doorbell, hoping that I wasn’t turning lights off and on somewhere besides the deserted hallway.

A woman silently answered the door for me and ushered me into a nice little waiting room with bright green upholstered chairs. There were brochures for tooth implants. Those made me a little nervous. I had this weird fear that the dentist was going to right of the bat recommend getting rid of the tooth–it appears that removal is a common dental treatment my neck of the woods.

A few minutes later the dentist came in. He was very nice and (praise be to everything good in the world) spoke passable English. He saw my notebook and picture of the tooth and laughed amiably. He was charmed. He said he had never seen someone come to an appointment so prepared. I said yes, and then thought: it’s my own special tick, let’s just smile and move on. We were off to a great start.

The rest of the appointment was pretty standard. I got to explain in English what I wanted. He was a little confused by why I was pressing for an xray. I tried to explain. Didn’t need to because when my xrays came back he was almost mesmerized by my oddly shaped pulp cavities. We all have our crosses to bear, one of mine is my pulp cavities. Anyway, he filled my cavity, which he kept describing as “so small.” It was all good. Another Turkish victory. Up next, a trip to the doctor…