||: work travel :||

Thank you for your patience. It has taken me a little longer to get back to my languishing blog than I anticipated, but my grueling work/travel cycle left me just enough time to tend to my lower-maslowian needs (e.g. cooking food, cleaning clothes, watching Netflix). Luckily for you, I have taken my last weekend trip for a while, which means I will have time to catch you up on all of the Places I’ve Been and Things I’ve Done (which seem both more exotic and more important when I use capitals and italics).

Unfortunately for me, my last weekend trip ended T.S. Eliot-style, meaning more of a whimper than a bang. After 259 days of more or less successfully living in Turkey, I contracted typhoid and died. Or was that my last game of Oregon Trail? In all seriousness, on Monday I got food poisoning in Mardin, a 14-hour bus ride from Nevsehir. I was incapable of attempting the return bus ride until Tuesday night, and incapable of recovering from it until… well, I am still feeling pretty terrible, so I’ll get back to you on that one. I’ve spent most of the centuries between now and Monday wishing I could hit re-set and start my quest for the promise of Oregon where I’d last saved it. Anyway, you’ll get to hear All About It (the italics seem more ominous now, yes?) as soon as I finish (fine, start) grading student portfolios and plan my final lessons.

Until then, here’s a list of Places I’ve Been Since We Last Spoke:

  • Istanbul (twice!)
  • Van
  • Gallapoli
  • Canakkale
  • Konya
  • Kars
  • Ani
  • Urfa
  • Mardin


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End of Spree

My seventeen day posting spree was abruptly brought to a halt by the first in a mini-marathon of new exploits, namely the arrival of my lovely guest B.M., who is soon to be followed by mi hermano. But fear not, the posting will return once I finish grading a slowly dwindling pile of essays, prepare my lessons for next week, plan a trip to Georgia, and go to (and return from) Van/Istanbul/Canakkale/Gallipoli/Konya.

Thank you for your patıence.

<insert hold music here>

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After returning to the hotel, M.K. and I drugged up (on aspirin, relax) and rolled out. The bus ride from Mersin to Kizkalesi was gorgeous. To our left was the Mediterranean; to our right, rolling hills, small towns, and Roman ruins.

It was immediately apparent that Kizkalesi is a huge tourist destination; we saw a density of hotels that would be completely unsustainable without hordes of tourists for them to feed on. It was equally apparent that we had arrived before the start of the season as everything was closed. The unfulfilled promises of jet ski rental and in-room jacuzzis lent the air of a failing theme park to the town. Because everything was closed, it took us a while to find a suitable restaurant for a snack (all I had eaten to that point in the day was a bag of slightly stale almonds from a bus stop near Adana). I couldn’t help but think that in a month or two it would be equally difficult to find a place, but for the opposite reason; everything would be too crowded. As it was, we were able to board a boat to the castle without delay after our snack.

Boat to Kizkalesi

On board with us was a tour group from the Ukraine and an American couple from the base in Adana. We were met on the island by a group of teyzeler, which literally means aunt, but also refers to older Turkish women who wear traditional clothing and headscarves. They were delighted by one Ukrainian woman’s grasp of fundamental Turkish; she could answer the key questions, naslilsiniz (how are you) and nerelsiniz (where are you from). I was proud to understand both sides of the exchange, which I will take as a small sign that my Turkish is improving, though yavas, yavas (slowly).


In the legend of Kizkalesi, a king is told that his daughter will die from a snake bite, so he builds her this castle on a snake-less island. Fate, however, is not to be cheated of its snake-induced princess death, and when provisions are brought to the island, a snake lurks in a basket of grapes. It bites and kills the princess.


Just as the inevitably of fate is a common theme in ancient tales, the story of the snake and the princess is also associated with many ruins in Turkey. The castle was actually constructed by the Byzantine Empire following the First Crusade, around 1099. It appears that many of the stones in the castle were reused from a previous structure that had been on the same sight. Significant repairs were made to the castle around 1199 by the Armenian King Leo I, and again more recently by someone who thought that a castle just isn’t a castle without flood lights.

Lights at Kizkalesi

Lots and lots of floodlights.

We climbed the castle walls, examined the fading mosaics, listened to the crashing waves, and admired the views of the beach and the neighboring castle.


Flowers with mosaic.


Flowers with the sea.


The top of the castle’s Northwest turret.


Really old stairs.


Really old gate.











The other castle.

This is Korkos Castle.

Back at the beach, we found a Turkish bride having her wedding photos taken in front of Kizkalesi. She was carrying on what M.K. refers to as Turkey’s grand tradition of choosing a wedding dress so stiff and elaborate that it can stay standing without a bride inside.

Bride at Kizkalesi

After exploring the beach and considering the possibility of raiding Korkos castle by sea, we set off along the shoreline in search of a fish restaurant.

Other Castle

Korkos is right on the beach.

The other castle.

The secret sea entrance.

Mosque at sunset

The sunset.


A toy boat.




















Much to our surprise, none of the places we passed listed balik (fish) on their menu. I had begun to hope that their proximity to the sea meant that fish was implied and did not need to be explicitly stated when we came across the fantastic Arif Balik Restaurant. M.K. and I sat in the open air part of the restaurant and looked out over the sea and castle as we dined on delicious shrimp and fish. There was even a man nearby playing guitar and singing. Sure, as the sun set mosquitoes emerged, and when our meals arrived we were surrounded by mewling cats, but these minor annoyances did little to detract from the excellent meal.

The beach at sunset.

The end.

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Paranoia and Pharmacy Hunting

Our bus from Nevsehir to Mersin seemed to be both bouncier, smoggier, and hotter than usual, and as a result I got the kind of carsick that is usually reserved for my father’s Evel-Knievel-esque careening through North Carolina’s mountain highways. M.K. was in even worse shape than I was, and was not able to find respite in a will-induced nap like I was. When we arrived in Mersin, we were relived to discover a row of hotels across from the otogar. Without bothering to shop around, we made a beeline for a classy-ish looking hotel and asked for a room for the night and directions to the nearest pharmacy. The Lonely Planet describes Turkey as having a wide network of easily accessible pharmacies, or eczane in Turkish. The Lonley Planet is correct, as long as you don’t happen to need drugs on the weekend or during major holidays. If you do, don’t panic, there is definitely an eczane open somewhere. But good luck finding it. The lady at the front desk gave me directions to a nearby hospital that she said was surrounded by a slew of eczaneler, one of which was sure to (probably) be open.

I rushed off to the hospital, which was surrounded by closed eczaneler. One had a closed sign, but had a few men were fixing the sign outside. Taped to the door was a list of eczaneler that were open on Saturday and Sunday. The sign was completely in Turkish but I was able to get the gist of it. Paired with the name of each open pharmacy was a phone number and address, but these were about as useful to me as snow shoes in August. The addresses were useless since I was completely mapless (and street signs are a rarity in Turkey anyway). My Turkish is still largely contingent on a combination of words and gestures to convey meaning and since I was holding a phone and not a hologram projector, I couldn’t call and ask for walking directions from where I was.

I explained to the nearest sign-fixer that I was foreign (as if the pale skin, red hair, terrible accent, and confused look weren’t already dead giveaways) and that I needed directions to an eczane on the list. A panicked look crossed his face, and he ducked inside the store, emerging with a woman who obviously worked there. I re-explained the situation to her, she asked (in English!) what kind of medicine I was looking for. I told her, and she said that she would like to sell it to me herself, but because there were some many people around, she couldn’t.

Turks are big on conspiracy theories: all American “English Teachers” are spies for the CIA; the latest corruption scandal is a product of a hidden and malevolent “deep state” acting within the larger, legitimate (and incorruptible) government; Lady Gaga is a member of the illuminati, etc. Perhaps I have been in Turkey too long because when the woman said she couldn’t sell me medicine with so many witnesses, I immediately grew suspicious. You work here. Why can’t you just sell it to me? Who would care? Are the big pharmacies strong-arming the little guys into closing on the weekends so they can have all of your business? Have they kidnapped your lover Mehmet? Will they kill him if they catch you selling me aspirin? Will he loose a finger just because you talked to me?

“That’s fine,” I said. “Can you give me directions to an open pharmacy?” She obliged, and after another 10 minutes of walking (in which time I passed three more closed pharmacies -all those poor kidnapped Mehmets), I arrived at an open store. The store was crowded, and the proprietor had little interest in assisting a yanbanci who couldn’t even explain herself. After waiting for the crowd to dissipate, I dove into a marathon of one-woman party games. I started with buzzword (where the person tries to guess the word or phrase based on your description): “gibi ibuprofen” (like ibuprofen). Nothing. Then charades. I was offered an antacid (close, but not quite), and then cold medicine (come on, you’re not even trying to understand). Finally, Ispy. In the corner of the very top shelf, I saw what I was looking for. “Su. Sol. Sol. Tamam.” (This. Left. Left. Okay.). Having won the gold in the procuring medicine triathlon (the three parts being getting directions, walking great distances, and purchasing appropriate medicine), I returned to the hotel victorious.

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Bus, Bus, Bus, Castle

Faced with a curtailed weekend due to M.K.’s exam schedule, we weighed the drawbacks of a short trip against the drawbacks of another weekend in Nevsehir. We inevitably concluded to opt for the shortened excursion. We examined our Turkish bucket list and compared direct buses from Nevsehir and settled on Mersin, a humdrum city on the eastern Mediterranean which serves as a convenient transit point to Kizkalesi, or the Maiden’s Castle. Here’s a breakdown of our itinerary:

  • 8:15-8:50: Bus from apartment to otogar (bus station)
  • 9:00-2:00: Bus from Nevsehir to Mersin
  • 2:00-3:00: Pause for hotel check in/pharmacy hunt
  • 3:00-4:50: Bus from Mersin to Kizkalesi
  • 4:50-8:20: Enjoy Kizkalesi
  • 8:20-10:00: Bus from Kizkalesi to Mersin
  • 10:05: Sleep

We spent four times as long on buses to see the sights as we did sightseeing, but, ultimately, it was worth the hassle.


The castle looks like it is floating because the sky and the sea were the same shade of blue at dusk.

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The Arts and Crafts of Teaching Hazirlik

Over the last 6 months, I have become jaded. I have finally embraced the fact that for five hours a week my role is more like that of an unwilling warden than an English teacher. My students range from unmotivated to overly affectionate, and I can clearly track a shift in my attitude toward these students over time. I’ve outlined this (d)evolution below. Words that are italicized are my “inside thoughts” and words in quotes are what I will typically say to a student.

Group 1: The Unmotivated.
Distinguished by the key phrase: “Teacher, kitap yok.” (I don’t have my book.)

  • September: What? “I don’t speak Turkish. Can you tell me in English? Also, where’s your book?”
  • November: Seriously, you didn’t think about bringing your English book to your English class? What did you think we’d be doing for the next 6 hours? “Find a friend to share with.”
  • April: “Fine.” Don’t learn today. I hope you like repeating this class next year.

Group 2: The Overly Affectionate
Distinguished by the key phrase: “Teacher, I love you.”

  • September: “Thank you?” That’s awkward.
  • November: I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.
  • April: “Really? Then do the work I’ve asked you to do three times.”

Group 3: The Totally Unwilling
Distinguished by the key phrase: “Teacher, I’m tired. Can we go home now?”

  • September: Am I allowed to let them go early? Do other teachers do that? “We have a lot to do today class, so I don’t think we can.”
  • November: “Let’s get through this chapter, and then we’ll see.” I came all the way from America to teach you English, so no.
  • April: You’ve been here for thirty minutes. I’ve taught six hours already. You really think I want to be here any more than you do? “Today, class will go until midnight. Saka Saka (kidding).”

The Revised Official Class Rules:

Cell phones:

  • Then: Well, I’ll allow them and see how it goes. They will need it to use the dictionary, after all.
  • Now: Don’t text/play candy crush/talk on the phone when I’m staring straight at you. Seriously, don’t. I’ll take out the phone jail if I have to, and no one wants that.
Phone Jail

Yup, I made a little paper phone jail. I might be a little sadistic.


  • Then: In accordance with the official program policy, you cannot sign in if you’re even one minute late, but I have no idea who any of you are, so you can really get away with anything.
  • Now: Sure, you can sign in for the hour when you arrive five minutes before the class ends, but know that I will use my awesome purple marker to cross out your signature.


  • Then: Class starts promptly at 15 after, with or without students.
  • Now: Ha! We’ll start playing hangman or something from twenty after until half-past. Then, I’ll teach for thirty minutes while you astutely (and quietly, please) ignore me until you hear the magic phrase “break time.”

Staying in the classroom:

  • Then: No, you cannot leave class. You have a fifteen minute break every 45 minutes. Plan accordingly.
  • Now: Don’t lie to me about your mom calling you or about your desperate need to blow your nose in private; I don’t care. Just go.

And my personal favorite, Cheating:

  • Then: What? My students cheat?
  • Now: If you’re going to share answers to the exercises, at least do it in English. None of this “bir was running, iki is running” nonsense, I want “one, was running, two, is running,” please.

These new rules might make it seem like I no longer care. I suppose it’s true that I don’t care if my students don’t want to learn; I have accepted that I cannot cajole, inspire, trick, or entice the unwilling into learning. How does that old expression go, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it conjugate verbs?

Regardless, I have learned to appreciate the difference between my students’ dislike of English and a dislike of me. Even my most recalcitrant students will smile and greet me when we see each other outside of the classroom, and during break time, students will often pull out their phone and use Google translate to ask me questions, albeit in very broken English.

In short, I remain eager to teach those few students who are willing to learn. As for the others, I will respect their choice not to learn and not think any less of them or care any less about them.


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Cooking in Cappadocia

I spend a lot of my free time cooking, and as an extension, grocery shopping, since no one store offers me all that my heart (or more accurately, stomach) desires. I am making an effort to replicate Turkish recipes to increase the likelihood that my local corner store will have all of the ingredients, but sometimes a girl just needs fajitas.

I’ve started ranking recipes by the number of stores I will have to go to to procure the necessary ingredients. One of my favorite recipes, homemade cranberry nut granola, is a two-store endeavor since only Begendik has the dried cranberries and only Migros has the oatmeal. Since discovering that the nearby city of Kayseri has a 5M Migros that stocks international cheeses (Gouda! Parmesan!), I might have to change my ranking to the number of cities I must travel to.

There are a few things that I just cannot find in stores anywhere, and this lack of certain ingredients has led me to not only improvise (No vanilla extract? I’ll use vanilla sugar instead) but also to make from scratch; I’ve now successfully created homemade Italian bread crumbs and ricotta cheese. While this is not as “from scratch” as some of my Fulbright associates (one of whom is known for grinding her own cornflour to make cornbread), I do derive a great sense of accomplishment when I bite into a meatball filled with breadcrumbs that I purchased as a loaf of bread just a few hours before.

There have been great successes, like my lemon-peppered kiwi-salsa chicken, and mild disappointments, like my tomato-bulgar balls, but regardless of the result, I enjoy spending time bustling around my kitchen.

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