Ankara’daki bayramlar (Holidays in Ankara)

aka: The best time to be in Ankara.

Eid Mubarak/iyi bayramlar/happy holidays!  For those not in the know, this holiday is the Sacrifice holiday.  It marks and celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of submission to God.  At the last possible moment, God intervened and gave Abraham a lamb to sacrifice instead of his first born.  If none of this sounds familiar, then you know, google it… or something.  Needless to say in the Islamic world it’s a big deal kind of day because they have calculated the exact date this happened and celebrate on that day every year.  Even here in Turkey which maintains a (quasi these days) secular style, there is a week holiday around Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Holiday).  Of course being secular (and über capitalist), most things are only closed for the actual day of sacrifice but people take the time to visit family or go on vacation.  Which means Ankara is left empty.  Blissfully, beautifully, wonderfully empty.

Up until this year I had never spent a Kurban Bayramı in Ankara — I also took advantage of the opportunity to travel or get away from the city.  Usually to a place that would definitely not involve accidentally running into ritual sacrifices (lambs, goats, cows these days… no first-born sons that I’ve heard of).  Technically it’s not allowed in the cities, but I’ve heard of people happening upon such sightings while out around different (more conservative) parts of towns or local villages.  So I bail far.  Like America or Western Europe far.  However this year we’re stuck and had to stay in town.  It was a combination of Mr. Awesome having to get some projects finished up and me being beyond the point of traveling around the second (if I’m generous) world without access to a good hospital or doctor in this whole baby cooking process.  I thought staying here would not only be boring (as per usual Ankara), but also a little miserable since we’re actually stuck.  Boy, was I wrong!

Not only is Ankara empty — which if you live in Ankara you know to be a good thing — but it’s also peaceful in a way it rarely is when the Ankaralılar are here.  First, driving has been a lovely experience this past week.  Which is to say normal by my American standards with a few impressive exceptions.  Second, lines have been manageable or non-existent.  My theory?  Mostly foreigners left in town (and frequenting the Starbucks) so it’s people who actually know how to queue!  (Except that girl that stole my coffee the other day even after the barista told her the cup said my name, or a close approximation of it, and tried to then argue she could just keep my decaf nonfat latte and I her full caf, full fat latte… Borcu Hanım, I’m looking at you.  Don’t mess with a pregnant lady’s coffee order, people.)  Third, the people left in town have been in freakishly pleasant moods for the most part.  Maybe because they’re taking to heart the spirit of this bayram and being thoughtful, or maybe just because they too have had to deal with fewer than normal frustrations around town.  What ever the reason, I’m loving it.  I think this might be my favorite time to be in Ankara.

Araba Sorun (Car Trouble)

I posted a while back about trying to find a car to buy for a reasonable price and how difficult that was, but I don’t think I ever discussed my eventual purchase of the very first car at which I looked.  It is half my age and wasn’t in great shape, but I didn’t need a nice new car.  Nor am I afraid of older, less shiny cars having owned only one nice, new (to me) car in my lifetime.  I just wanted something that was safe and would get me through the short few years we have left here in Turkey.  Also, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it.  So I settled on Ole’ Rover, a big (read: safe and not easy to intimidate) old Land Rover.  He earned his name when we had our second issue and I decided that much like Ole’ Yeller, he meant well, but at some point it would be in everyone’s best interest if we just had him put down.  I didn’t think that eventuality would happen anytime in the foreseeable future and ideally would wait until I had sold him for Starbucks funds (yeah, I’m not looking to make money on the deal unlike the crazies I dealt with until eventually finding my wonderful car dealer) upon leaving Turkey.

Alas, I fear Ole’ Yeller may have decided to put himself out of his misery…

I was on my way back to Ankara with a friend after dropping her dog off at a lovely doggy hotel out past Golbasi (about 20 km from home — 12.5 miles, non-metric savvy friends) when it happened.  I could tell something was a bit off with the car so had fortunately begun to slow down when moments later I heard a loud, metallic banging sound, and felt something loosen and then hit the bottom of my car.  Sure enough when I looked back I saw I had left behind a little something on the highway.  So I did what anyone would do and put on the flashers and tried to get the car in park.  When getting it into park was difficult I knew I was screwed.  So I put on the parking break and turned off the car in neutral and my lovely passenger went to remove the object from the middle of the road.  When there was a clearing in traffic I went back to pick it up from the side of the road knowing all too well that I’d probably want that piece of my car if not to be reused in the repairs then to at least simplify the diagnosis process.

Walking back to the car with the drive shaft in hand – damn, damn, damn! U-joints are freaking expensive! — I saw that a car stopped in front on my busted Ole’ Rover.  Apparently an 8+ month pregnant woman walking down the side of the highway with a smoking drive shaft in her hands isn’t a usual sight around these parts and sends a “help me” flare up quite quickly.  Needless to say the two men in the car were very kind and tried to help thinking they might be able to reattach the shaft (hahahaha) or at least help me start the car to move it from the side of the highway (ha).  Once they gave up those valiant efforts, and after I had called my friendly car dealer and explained the issue (as Mr. Awesome was fortunately not at his desk when I tried him first) at which point he said he was on his way to come get us, they told us to get in their car and they’d bring us to their office to wait for my car dealer.  Luckily, he had talked to them so I figured we’d be okay because they knew someone was coming for us — and a Turkish man no less — plus their office was just about 100 meters off the highway from where I could still see my car.

So I told my friend who was with me (and speaks very little Turkish) to get in the car.  She looked at me like I was crazy and I explained that while it is usually a bad idea to get in cars with strange men, I thought we’d be okay.  So we did.  And we were.  In fact, once getting to the office we had Turkish coffee brought to us and some kind small talk, but mostly were left alone to discuss the annoyingness of the situation and for me to reassure her that something like this wasn’t avoidable and didn’t happen because I was doing her a favor so she shouldn’t feel at all bad.  In fact, I was glad I wasn’t alone when it happened so it worked out well (-ish).

In record time, my car dealer guy came with a tow truck for the useless hunk of metal formerly known as Ole’ Rover.  The tow truck took my car straight to the mechanic and my wonderful car dealer drove us home.  All and all a pretty impressive break-down story.  I mean, I can’t tell you how many times past cars I’ve owned have broken down back home and I definitely never had such an easy time of getting it picked up/taken to the mechanic (save when my transmission busted right in front of a mechanic that one time and I just had to reverse into their parking lot… you know, because none of the forward drives were working anymore)/getting home after abandoning ship.  Let alone such kind people to run to my rescue in the process of accomplishing those tasks.  Was it Turkish hospitality or the pregnant belly?  Or maybe both?

Of course, now we have to wait and see how painful (financially) this will be, but Mr. Awesome is threatening to just take the plates and run… He suggested we revisit my learning to drive the perfectly lovely (manual-transmissioned) Jetta we have sitting the the garage.  Which means we’re potentially back at square one where I have to face my fears of stalling in Ankara traffic… on a hill.  Only this time with the added anxiety that all these helpful pregnancy hormones bring.  So what I’m saying is, please say a prayer that my Ole’ Rover can be fixed easily and cheaply.  Or that my dealer was serious about just trading me cars for something more reliable…

Son bahar geldi mi? (Has fall come?)

As I type this posting I have a cool, crisp breeze coming in through my windows/doors to remind me that the temperature here in Ankara has dropped significantly this past week.  I’m not complaining.  I love it.  I’ve always loved fall — sweaters, hats, boots, what’s not to love? — it’s just that fall rarely lives up to the picture I have in my mind.  I expect this fall to be the same, but appreciate the change in temperature nonetheless.  And yes, before you point out what Mr. Awesome keeps repeating, I know that fall doesn’t technically begin until the 22nd of September.  That isn’t going to keep me from pretending and enjoying.

The real prompting for me to write this post was an email in my inbox this morning from Starbucks reminding us that fall is coming and announcing the return of the great pumpkin spice latte (and scones, and bread, muffins).  Last year a few people complained that there were no pumpkin-flavored goodies at the local Starbucks here and I was just so overjoyed to be back in a country with Starbucks that I wasn’t going to complain.  Well folks, it’s been over a year now and I’m jaded by the mere existence of Starbucks.  I want pumpkin treats on demand.  Why doesn’t Starbucks Turkey do pumpkin goodness?  It isn’t as though they don’t have pumpkins or even pumpkin-based desserts (kabak tatlısı, I’m looking at you).  Clearly the Turkish people recognize the deliciousness of pumpkin… why then Starbucks are you so hesitant to export that portion of your amazingness?  And is it just Turkey?  Does Starbucks in other places have pumpkin goodness in the fall?  (I started to google this question but then sort of stopped caring that much when I kept seeing pictures of pumpkin goodness and my mouth started watering so if you know, please share.)

I’m not opposed to complaining for the sake of complaining, but today I’ve decided to instead make this rant a rant towards action.  Here’s the plan: I’m making pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting this weekend.  Maybe pumpkin bread for the week too.  Then I’m researching scone recipes and homemade pumpkin spice latte syrup.  I tried to make a syrup the year before last while we were living in Sarajevo… it left much to be desired so I’m also thinking I might order a jug of pumpkin spice syrup from Starbucks online and then put it in a little flask to take with me to Starbucks.  Will it look sketchy? Sure.  Will it be worth it? I think so.

 

Yabancı (n.: foreigner, stranger, unknown, unfamiliar)

While yabancı could be a reference to my not blogging lately, it is not.  I’ll get to the real point of this post in a moment, but first a bit of explanation of my absence.  I will start by saying it is not because I’m pregnant.  I refuse to be one of those people that blames my having a baby for everything I let slip in my life (at least for now).  I have friends who tell me that they’d love to keep up on this or that but can’t because they have a baby and I won’t understand until I do, but it will happen.  I refuse.  I think it’s an issue of prioritizing and nothing more.  Sure, prioritizing your child over other things is a good thing… just stop blaming your child for your inability to read more books, go to the spa, do yoga, write blog posts, etc.  The blunt reason I haven’t blogged is because I haven’t prioritized it plain and simple.  Though the good excuse version is that Mr. Awesome and I took a vacation back to the States for a few weeks.  Could I have blogged about it?  Sure.  But it wouldn’t really be part of our adventures in Turkish, now would it?

So yabancı. It is a word used quite often in Turkey.  Maybe because it also means stranger and unfamiliar and unknown… maybe because there isn’t always a bad connotation to the word foreigner.  In fact, why do I think there’s a bad connotation?  Is it my American sensitivity that makes me think it’s rude to call someone a foreigner?  Is it because it makes me feel like an outsider to be called a foreigner?  Or is it my backpacking experience which made me equate people knowing I’m a foreigner with ripping me off/trying to swipe my passport and credit card (which is also sort of a strange American thought process by the way)?  Whatever the reason, I always think being called a “foreigner” is a bad thing.  And it happens a lot here.  A lot.  A LOT.

Whether it’s after ordering my coffee in perfect Turkish with no questions about my nationality until I specify that I want a “venti” sized coffee or when I mispronounce a word slightly (‘vanilya’ vs. ‘vanilla’ was once my nemesis), I get called a yabancı at least three times a week.  And ironically, it’s never to my face… it’s always to the other barista or someone near by as though I won’t understand it or notice despite our having just had a three minute conversation in Turkish.  It is often also used as a way to say, “she’s not very bright… she’s a yabancı” or “she won’t understand, she’s a yabancı” or “I’d rather not be the one to file her paperwork, she’s a yabancı”.  Or at least that’s how I take it: as a condescending rebuke.  And it drives me mad!

Is it just me?  Am I reading too much into a simple noun or is it as insulting as I think it is?

İbretler Alındı (idiom: Lessons Learned)

The past 17 days of protests have taught me quite a bit about my usual habits around town.  Yes, I know the Gezi protests started  well before then, but they hadn’t really spread to Ankara and thus affected my life until about 17 days ago.  The below list is really short and all very selfishly based so if you’re looking for life lessons this probably isn’t the place.  I hope…

Lesson 1: I base far too much happiness on how easily and quickly I can get to Starbucks.  See, there are three — yes three! — Starbucks in what I now see as my “no-go” zone.  Perhaps I should take a step back and explain that?  I have always had a general rule about avoiding protests and large gatherings that could turn violent especially when overseas or when riot police are present (riot police are just scary).  So the past few weeks I’ve taken to just avoiding the area from Kuğulu Park to Kızılay — which is also the main drag between my house and the old part of town.  Now that I’ve explained that I’ve taken to just avoiding the whole area I can go back to my original sad rant about my three most convenient Starbucks.  See there is a bus that goes right past might house and conveniently past all three of these magical Starbucks (okay, not right past but within a 100 meter walk or so).  I haven’t been able to enjoy any of those three and have taken to much longer and more tiring Starbucks trips.  Yeah, I’ll go ahead and add a quick #firstworldproblems right here.

Lesson 2: Under proper conditions, I could very easily turn into Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window.  That should be self explanatory and if you don’t get the reference you either don’t realize that I have great views of the action from my windows (with binoculars of course) or you’ve never seen Rear Window.  If it’s the later, we can’t be friends anymore.

Lesson 3: I am not easy to scare.  Apparently these protests are really freaking some people out.  Mostly foreigners, of course.  Me?  I’m kinda loving them.  Not only do I love the whole idea of democracy and the ability to tell your leaders you don’t like what they’re doing or disagree with them (ahem, Dubya, I’m still looking at you) in public forums, but I’m a bit of a social media geek.  What’s that you say?  I’m a lazy blogger, mostly just retweet, Instagram photos of my food, and FaceBook silly updates?  Yes, that’s all true… but… you’re missing a whole half of the equation.  Sure, that’s all I put out there on social media, but I take a whole lot more in.  I’m a pretty sophisticated online stalker.  Just saying.  So I’m loving watching all the action (from the comfort of my own couch with a handy iPhone).

Lesson 4: Thousands of dollars of Turkish classes were in fact worth it.  Now I just have to get better at twitter Turkish. (See lesson 3).

Lesson 5:  I have a big mouth.  I’m also perhaps annoyingly opinionated.  My being opinionated isn’t the annoying thing, but the fact that I share (over share?) those opinions probably is… Okay, definitely is.  I even annoy myself with it sometimes.  Sorry about that family and friends that have been around me lately (or ever).  Just because I have an opinion (and it’s most likely right and/or the most awesome opinion ever) doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.  I’ll try to work on this one.

Lesson 6: I take my freedoms as an American for granted.  Most specifically my first amendment rights.  I often forget that just because I am an American doesn’t mean my rights to free speech and expression are extended to other countries.  I’m a bit of a smart ass when I’m on my A-game and I forget that despite the fact that I strongly think people everywhere should also have those rights, they don’t.  And nor do I when I am in countries that don’t grant those rights to their citizens.  An important lesson to remember when I live in a country that is now looking to prosecute people for their twitter comments.  #oops.

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