Yes, that's correct, home. You would think it such a simple thing, move to a new country, your workplace provides you with housing, you live with colleagues and work helps out if things go wrong in the house. Hmmmm, weeelllll.......
First, it took us approximately 2 months to have the internet connected at home. Inital we were advised that there were no wireless modems in all of Istanbul, a city of 16 million people! Later reports suggested that paperwork had been incorrectly filled in and so we resolved to wait. These things can take time. As the phone was connected, then the modem delivered and the cabling set up, our hopes began to rise, but not too high you understand, we had waited a long time and didn;t wish to be disappointed. Just as well really, because once all the paraphanalia arrived, was set up and switched on, we waited another 3 days for the connection to initiate, but it's here now and we're happily online.
Post-setup, curious probing of the delay was undertaken back at B headquarters by one of my flatmates, whereupon it was revealed that there had always been modems in Istanbul (surprise!!) and the paperwork had always been correctly completed. Why then, the delay? Well, the person who was supposed to submit the paperwork had misplaced it and was too scared of the powers-that-be to let them know and ask for it to be done again. So, 2 months of waiting could have been 3 weeks if he wasn't so scared. Just as well I didn't know that at the time!
So you've all read about the stove disaster, you know, the leaking gas, the week it took for work to tale it seriously, then the 3 days to get in fixed and then the 15 days it took to set the stove up on a stable platform rather than perched atop 2 doors that shoud have been covering the radiator. It's fixed, it's fine and we're cooking.
The fridge, however, was also cooking, which is not an ideal situation in 40 degree heat! On a Sunday, it panted its last and leaked it's innards to the kitchen floor. An immediate house meeting was called with a quorum present (3 out of 4 ain't bad, to misquote Meatloaf) and the decision was taken that, given the B history of contemplation prior to action, we would take matters into our own hands and get the fridge repaired, asking for reimbursement from work at a later date. A risky financial strategy, but definitely worth it of the beers and yoghurt were to be kept cold!
At no great inconvenience to us, on Monday morning we descended to the fridge repair man located, wait for it, in the bottom corner of our building. Within minutes he had come up to assess the damage (motor burned out and beeds replacing, fridge/freezer must be re-gassed), given a price estimate (less than 400YTL) and was awaiting instructions. Having been given the go ahead he told us all would be well by Thursday and sent a man upstairs to pick the fridge up.
Now, for all those who are offended by tales of Occupational Health and Safety nightmares, avert your eyes and skip directly to the (almost) happy ending. A man, yes, 1 man came up 6 flights of stairs to our apartment, armed with: a trolley? NO, a friend to assist? NO, some kind of lever device or pulley system to lower the fridge from the balcony? NO. He came armed with a rope, hoisted the fridge onto his back and made his way downstairs. I know he made it safely, because on Wednesday morning, when the fridge was fixed and ready to be returned, he did it all over again, though it costs more to have things taken up stairs, than down them. I'm still waiting for reimbursement from work, but so far it's only been 2 weeks.......
Did I mention that at some point during the heat our marble benchtop has cracked form front to back and now water can leak into the cupboard below, or that tomorrow someone's coming to fix our dripping tap.... I hope.
Don't get me wrong, for all that this sounds a litany of disasters, I'm happy here, we're safe now and we have cool breezes through our top floor flat, which is making the summer heat bearable. Makes for a good story though, I think.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
So, I thought that writing by topic, rather than date would be more appropriate now that it's been such a long time since my last update.
As I've mentionned previously, I've been volunteering with a refugee group here in Istanbul. I say, with complete honesty, that it is the highlight of my week. It's called the Mums and Tots groupand it's focus, unsurprisingly, is on women and children. They come to us, a safe haven, the kids have some educucation and play time, they can access simple medical advice and assistance and we share a meal together. At the end of the day they go home with some simple food for the week.
We host up to 50 women and children each week and are reliant on volunteers to help with running the kids programme as well as the clinic. It's been a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know some of the women and their kids.
Most of the families that we see come from Africa, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Paktistan. We also have some people coming to us from Afghanistan, but not so many. Those of you aware of geography may be surprised not to see Iraq in that list. Here in Istanbul, where (almost) of the refugee services are provided by external, non-gevernment agencies, there is one group, Caritas, that specialises in caring for Iraqi refugees. They have a great programme, including a more regular school for some of the primary aged children. If any Iraqis come to us we gladly point them in that direction, knowung that the skills and experience of those in Caritas will benefit them.
Princess, that you can see in the photos, is a delightful child, always ready for hugs, not to mention falling asleep in my arms while I'm doing some consulting in the clinic. Other children are just as fun, with a young Senegalese woman and her daughter very patient with me as I try to communicate with them in French, discovering their needs and trying to entertain the little girl so that adult conversations can be had. The kids are becoming really good at playing with each other, learning how to share and learning, or re-learning what it's like to be in a classroom.
As many of you will be aware, one of my goals in leaving Australia was to find part-time work and volunteering role that would allow me to use my skills gained in my Masters degree. It may sound like this programme is it. Well, it is, but more than that, in the wonders of timing and planning, I have arrived in Istanbul at a time when the current Programme Coordinator is having to leave. She'll still be in Istanbul, teaching, but won't be available on Mondays. So, you guessed it, yours truly will be coordinating the programme for the next (school) year - September 07 to July 08! Yes, I've committed myself to staying here for at least another year and I couldn't be happier or more at peace. It's the answer to prayers, soul searching and the end of a year of (mostly) patient waiting for things to come together. That leaves plenty of time for you all to come and visit.......
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Contrasts, my life is a series of contrasts. The good, the bad, the frustrating and the hopeful. Arrgh! I know it's the same everywhere, but right now......
So, the good news comes in the form of things like finding a cafe where I can use their wi-fi connection and drink beer, coffee etc while chatting to family and friends. Of course, the downside to that is the reason. 9 weeks after first requesting internet for the apartment we still don't have it. It's not that I don't love the cafe, but I'd love to not HAVE to go there.
At least we have a working cooktop now. It may be completely unstable and propped up on 2 doors that are supposed to cover the radiator, but it's not leaking gas in large quantities as it was last week. The stability is an issue, slightly addressed by my flatmates boyfriend with a small piece of wood and some nails. Further, more permanent measures should be being taken soon.
To top off the house issues, we had the first instance of water being shut off today. I (by pure chance) had got up early, showered and headed out. By the time I got back the water had been switched off and remains off now - 11:11pm. I'm assured that it will come back on at some point, probably overnight, but there's no telling exactly when. Other of my flatmates were not so lucky and I can see that we're going to have to do some careful water conservation in the near future. It's just like being at home, only there's no running water here.
On the really bright side of things, I'm completely enjoying my Mondays with the Mums & Tots refugee group. There are a few women and kids who come regularly and others that come and go as different things arise in their life. Last Monday we had a visit from a Brazilian performance troupe, juggling, drama and good fun. It was a great chance for us all to see something a little different.
I'm also really enjoying church. There's a buch of great people from all over the world. Sunday was Pentecost, so we had songs in Korean, Chinese and Turkish, as well as the regular English. We also have lunch after church, down in the garden which is absolutely lovely. It's a little oasis in the city and you can almost forget how busy the street outside is.
So, that's my life so far, I love your updates so keep them coming.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
I walk through the back streets along cobbled lanes to work, past countless cats, men drinking tea and antique shops with their goods on display. As I walk, on the road because there is no footpath, I hear the sounds of a taxi tooting at me in the assumption that I need a lift, a scooter whizzing past me on the way to deliver water and the sound of men calling out as they trail their laden cart behind them. This cart will have anything from fruit and veg to antiques, shoes or various bits and pieces collected from around about and ready to be cleaned up for sale. Occasionally there's even a horse and cart with fresh garlic, strawberries or other such delights.
I pass bakeries selling all manner of things, one of which never seems to be shut. Simit, bagels, meringue, fresh rolls stuffed with cheese and spinach, the list goes on. There are antique stores a plenty, dim little cafes patronised only by men, various shops selling goods for plumbing, home storage and gas repair. A couple of fruit and veg stands, a place to buy cheaper cosmetics and several corner stores.
I walk past the Greek consulate with hopeful emigrants lined up outside, just next to the diplomatic Mercedes, the Italian school where children are delivered each day by minibus, past the hamami and then down to Istiklal Caddesi where, as the day progresses into night, people gather, walk, shop and duck off into side streets to the myriad bars, cafes and restaurants that they contain. If it's the weekend there will invariably be a group of people outside Galatasarayi Lisesi holding banners and vocally declaring their cause. If they are there, the police stand patiently to the side, unused riot shields resting on the ground in front of them.
That's my small world from home to school. On a relaxed day I can take 15 minutes to do this stroll, enjoying the variations around me, the smell of roasting chestnuts and chargrilled corn wafting up as I walk along the street. It's a vibrant place, always active and nearly always full of people. During the day it's men, women and children of all shapes and sizes, but as day turns to night and night to the wee hours, there is a definite change to the mix.
As we walked along at 3am last week, a mixed group of (mostly) foreigners, we passed single men, groups of men, men with their girlfriends and the occasional mixed group of friends. No single women, no groups of girls on a girls night out, never a woman alone in a bar and rarely just 2 of them having a quiet drink somewhere. I'm learning to really enjoy this place, but there are still some things that I find very different and sometimes difficult. More on that later. For now, I'm happy enough to be here and looking forward to the challenges that are inevitably coming my way.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Sorry that it's been a while between entries, but life has been moving along for me here. I'm getting settled into my life and trying (largely unsuccessfully) to find some kind of routine.
In the category of boring but important to me, I've finally sorted my room out and now have a very comfortable space complete with double bed, armchair, bedside table and wardrobe. It might not sound like much, but initially it was just a singe bed and the wardrobe. I'm happy now and actually like being in my room, which is nice.
At the moment I have a cool breeze blowing through my window. It usually comes through in the evenings just after sunset and blows the heat of the day away. After my time in Edinburgh, where the sun shone, but only ever weakly, my skin has had a bit of a shock with all that I've been exposing it to! I mananged to get my arms sunburned yesterday as I sat outside at the Dohlmabace Palace. I was trying to use some of my free time to see one of the Istanbul sites, the seat of power for the Ottomans from 1853 (I think), but no, yesterday was a holiday of some kind so no palace. No complaints from me though. In an effort to while away the time (hours and hours) between classes I sat and marvelled at the view. There I was, sitting, sipping Turkish coffee in Europe, with a bridge in front of me that spans two continents and Asia right there on the other side.
It's one of those things that takes me aback every now and then, just how strategically placed Istanbul, and indeed Turkey, is in the world. The city is a mass of contrasts, with malls and thousands of shops familiar to people all across the world, the call to prayer sounding out throughout the day, the cobbled streets that threaten to ruin my shoes, the ancient monuments that are just a part of the city and the cats that are everywhere on the streets. For all that it is modern, there is definitely a certain level of modesty expected of women and I wouldn't go a bar alone here in the way that I am comfortable doing in many other parts of the world. I never feel in danger, just aware of some differences in expectation.
And now for my job. What can I say..... Well, it leaves me plenty of time to look around the city. My classes are usually either early in the morning or late in the evening which leaves the sunny part of the day free for wandering. I know it sounds good, but unfortunately classes are cancelled or rescheduled fairly frequently, which is frustrating. Also, my pay is not what you'd call princely, which leaves me calculating the cost of many activities, including my beloved coffee drinking! The Turkish coffee is great though and I am very thankful for it on sleepy days.
I'm learning a very few words of Turkish, mostly the polite ones and the ones to order food and drink. I have my pririties sorted!! I'm also trying to get my head around the politics of the place, their desire to enter the EU and the influence that the election of Nicholas Sarkozy in France will have here. All good fun.
We've just had a new roommate arrive (a couple of hours ago) after one of the girls moved out on her resignation from Berlitz. The newbie is Maryanne, seems nice, will keep you posted.
Love to all, Tal
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
I don't know whether May 1 is usually like this, but I haven't left my house all day. Both my morning and evening classes were cancelled, they closed the bridges across the river to Sultanahmet and Taksim was a crazy place to be. The looming elections have put cities on edge across the country.
Today, another demonstration, not so peacful as yesterday's and, I am lead to believe, one that the organisers had been asked to hold elsewhere. However, Taksim Square was the place to avoid today, with roads closed, taxis refusing to take clients and teachers anywhere near Taksim or Istiklal Caddesi (where the school is). Roads around the apartment were blocked off and we were mercifully free from traffic noise for most of the day. I had planned to use my free time to head across the river to the Topkapi Palace to see the tulips, but with the bridge closed......
So I stayed in the house, quickly revising my decision to at least go to school to check email when one of my flatmates walked in, still suffering the after effects of a mild dose of tear gas. I don't feel unsafe, I don't think the city's unsafe at the moment, really, as long as you stay away from the places where demonstrations are occurring.
My flatmate was walking back to school down Istiklal after an early class at a company when she noticed a burning rubber smell and her eyes tearing up. She says that she didn't notice any unruly behaviour, but also that she was at the very back of the crowd and so not in a position to see much. She (and many others, civilians and police) were cared for by a local restaurant owner in a typical display of hospitality.
So, don't be worried when you see the news reports. I am safe, my friends and colleagues are safe. All I need to be is sensible and I'm doing my best to do that. Be concerned for the Turkish people though. They hold their democracy very dearly and are concerned that events may be moving them away from that.