Wednesday, January 30, 2008

sorry, road closed due to snow

Eğirdir, Turkey

Monday night Ingo (my roommate) and I set out for a week long adventure in Turkey. Our plan was to take the night train to Konya, and from there to go to Kapadokya. We got to the train about five minutes before it left, and for the first couple of hours had the compartment to ourselves. Then, a couple of Turkish guys got on. For about the first hour it was really quiet, and then they got out their food and we got out our food, and the eating and talking began. The two guys go to a two year school in Isparta. Cihan, the older one with a ponytail, is learning the leather trade. The younger, Beyhan, is studying textiles. They were both really nice guys. Beyhan knew a bit of English, which only came out after he had drunk Vodka, and Cihan didn't speak any. So it was a good chance for me to practice my Turkish. The sleeping part of the journey, however, was not as good as the company. The seats folded down, but the heating was right under the bottom beds. So the bottom beds were really hot, but if we opened the window, then the people on the top froze. In the middle of the night Cihan was nice enough to trade beds with me so I could get out of my boiling bed.

The next morning we arrived in Konya two hours late at around 10. Our first order of buisiness was to find cigarettes and coffee for Ingo, and then the internet. Our internet directions were bad - Turks have this need to tell you how to get somewhere, even if they really don't know where it is, but at least the hunt lead us close to the center. Unlike in most cities, Konya's train station is not in the center of town. With no word from anyone on Hospitality Club or Couchsurfing, we decided to go straight to Göröme. So we boarded the tram to the bus station. And then, on the way, the tram hit a guy. So naturally, everyone had to go look at what was going on. Then the televison guys, polis, and ambulance arrived. After waiting about 20 minutes, the tram was allowed to leave. The bus station is really way out of town. By the time we got there it was snowing really hard. We found a counter advertising busses to Göröme, and they told us they were closed. Not understanding, we went to the next counter, where they explained that the roads were closed to snow. So we can't go today, I asked (in Turkish). No. When can we go? Tomorrow there is a big chance. Allah Bilir (God knows).

Needing a new plan we headed to the station cafeteria for tea and coffee. Looked at the book. Had some soup. Pondered taking a bus to Van. Then I went back to ask when they thought the busses would go. Or where else we could go. You can go to beyşehir lake or eğirdir lake they told me. You speak turkish very well. Your boyfriend (meaning Ingo) is lucky to have you. We don't know when the roads to Kapadokya will be open. Turns out, Ingo had been to eğirdir before and really loved it. Then, while talking to mom on the phone, she reminded me that we had been to eğirdir before. And so we decided to go.

Considering how snowy the road to Eğirdir was, and the fact that it was still open, I find it hard to imagine how snowy the other road must have been. At one point we stoped because there were cars in the oncoming lane, as well as a truck that had pulled over into our lane. And naturally, all the Turkish men on the bus needed to stand up, see what was going on, and give advice.

As we drove through the hills, the sky was the same color as the snow, making it sometimes impossible to tell where the land ended and the sky began. And it also began to snow. We arrived 4 hours later at Eğirdir, in the dark.

It was only this morning when I woke up that I got to see what was on the other side of the lake. It's absolutely beautiful. The lake is surrounded by mountains, that, at this time of year, have snow on them. From the town on the shore, it is a 2km walk to the island. Yes, they have made a walkway to the island, I guess making it not really an island anymore, but we were not walking on water. And on the way we found the most amazing icicles ever. Eğirdir is really windy, and on the windy side of this sort of land bridge, the waves were very strong. And probably since the beginning of winter the ice has been accumulating on the ground, trees, rocks, and table and chair. The chair really looked like it had teeth.

The island is really cute. As Ingo put it, if this was Germany, the island would have been totally cleaned up for the tourists. But it hasn't been, and so there are still old houses and dirt paths, and well, it has not been sterilized.

There isn't really much on the island though besides cafes, pensiyons, a playground, and lots of very nice views.

We found a place we wanted to stay, and after some tea, headed back to the shore.

At the bus station we discovered that there is a direct night bus to Göreme, and being poor, decided to skip paying for a hotel and to take the night bus. Sorry to the lady in the pensiyon!

While eating lunch, we got to witness the beginning of the doner making process. The donercu sliced the meat into very thin slices, and then put them all into a mixture of yogurt, milk, onion and other stuff and mixed it all around. He then put the meat back in a pan, and told me it would sit overnight like that. Then, the next day they would stack it up, and put it on the spit and cook it.

We decided it was much too cold to walk back to the island, and so instead walked along the lake, finding more giant iceicles. After wasting more time in a pastane and at the internet cafe, we boarded our night bus to Göreme.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Last Sunday, Ingo, Cat and I took a field trip to Şile. Şile used to be a small fishing village, but as it is only 70 km from Kadıköy, it is now a summer vacation spot for people from Istanbul. Because it was January, it was pretty dead (a good thing) and a bit cold, but it was sunny and really really beautiful. The photograph on wikipedia does not do it justice!

This is what it looks like:

The bus to Şile was a cross between a city bus and a nice long distance bus, and after some confusion finding it, the ride took about an hour and a half. After arriving in Şile we had lunch in this little place in the center. They had amazing bread right out of the oven. After lunch Ingo wanted Turkish coffee, and, by this point we were already the amusement of the day. But the coffee made us the amusement of the week. The guy said he would check if they had Turkish coffee, went digging in this cabinet and found some (who knows how long it had been there) and then he had to go ask another guy how to make it. The whole process happened a bit fast for real Turkish coffee, but Ingo said it wasn't too bad. We didn't really think much of the town, so we went in search of the sea.

We first found the harbor

and a bunch of boats that had been pulled up on land for the winter

We then walked around the harbor and I decided to see how cold the water was. Within two seconds I couldn't feel my feet. After putting on my shoes while balancing and trying not to fall in the water, we had our first "off roading" experience climbing up a hill to get a view of this.

Once again, I have concluded that the hardest thing is not going up, but the getting back down.

After we got down Ingo and I both came to the conclusion that ice cream was necessary and Cat was very easily convinced. The problem was finding ice cream. The Turks thing that it is bad to eat ice cream in the winter - it will make you sick or something - and so all the small stores with little freezers that sell ice cream in the summer unplug them, making ice cream very hard to find.

Failing to find ice cream at all the cafes near the harbor we walked up and around for the next view.

At this point we saw a cave, and decided we needed to go explore. So we went off the path again, went buy a bunch of guys smoking and drinking and doing whatever else in a crack in the rock, and had everyone staring at us. Eventually we decided we couldn't get down to the cave and so walked back up to the road and climbed over the fence. Walking back up on the road we found some stairs and climbed down them and did get to the cave. Victory for us!

The second victory came later, when after trying at least 3 grocery stores we found a small selection of ice cream, and then sat on a bench on the street eating our ice cream and having every person that passed stop and stare at us. One guy went so far as to stand across the street smoking, and not very subtly glancing over at us. I maintain that ice cream in the winter is a great thing.

As the sun was setting we got on a bus back to Istanbul. We took a different route though, one that went through lots of villages on a road that might have been well paved twenty years ago. For a large section of the trip we were driving on the left side of the road because it was more well paved. Nothing like a bit of pretending to be in the UK.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kadıköy Kazı

In the Kadıköy fish market there lives a goose (Kaz). He (or maybe she) is a bit dirty at the moment, but every time I see him waddling through the market it makes my day. So I thought the Kadıköy kazı deserved its own blog entry.

You can see some of the fish market in the background

I love the Kadıköy goose!
Kadıköy kazını seviyorum!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who are you?

We now interupt the normal happy narrative for a bit of a pondering about the meaning of life

About a week ago I was sitting in the main teachers room drinking tea and eating my dessert from lunch, when the third grade class teacher decided that she wanted to talk with me. I have exchanged very few words with most of the non-english teachers, because I have to keep up the perception that I know no Turkish at all. And most of the other teachers don't know English, or more likely, are too shy to use it. So anyways, she asked me where I was from, how old I was, the usual. And then she asked me a question that I was completely unprepaired to answer - who are you? I still remember it because I think it is the first time in 23 years that I have ever been directly asked that question.

I remember sitting in the orientation the critical language program had put together before we departed for Istanbul and two months of intensive language study in summer 2005. In one of the presentation the guy made this observation - in the american language the most frequently used verb (in questions at least) is to do. Do being most oftenly used in the question - what do you do? In every other language, he pointed out, the most frequently used verb is not to do, but to be. In other cultures, who you are is more important than what you do. Perhaps he was wrong, or I am remembering incorectly, but I think the gist of it is interesting

And so I sat there and could not think of a thing to say. I went to this university, studied this, now I live here, etc. But those are all things I do, or did. I was saved from having to answer as she went off to do something else and then the bell wrang. And I have yet to think of an answer. Who am I? I'd like to think I am not alone in not knowing.

On a related note, it has been brought to my attention that I may not know what I am doing with my life, be uncommited, and not be living in the real world. The first is true - I do not know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know that I do not want to be a lab scientist, nor do I want to spend my life doing only data entry, nor do I want to be in the army, nor do I want to work for a huge corporation selling anything, nor...

I am not, however, uncommited. For the vast majority of my life, the opposite has been true. I have been completely overcommitted. When I say I will do something, I do it. And so I got good grades, did math club and science club and theater and wrote a thesis and had a job and etc. Now I do not have a contract, only a verbal committment that I will stay til June, and even though I have found private lessons pay better, I have not broken that committment. Instead, I am thinking of staying at the same school for next year.

On the subject of the real world. I am living over the ocean from my family, and am not being supported by them. I am living on money that I have earned while here. I am living in a different culture, in a different language that I am trying to learn, I managed to find a job, a flat, get a bank account, and find friends in a place on the other side of the ocean. I live in a flat with no central heating and no hot water in the kitchen. We have to boil water to wash the dishes. So I'm not sure how it gets any more real world than that. Perhaps because I love my job and the place I am living, perhaps because I am happy, then it is not the real world?

So who am I - I am daughter of Sarah and Tom, sister of Ian, adopted daughter of William, step-daughter of Shannon, step-sister of Christi and Cari, friend to many, lover of life, happy where I am.

winter festivities

I guess I left off with Istanbul Wintercamp. Wintercamp was a couchsurfing event. If you haven't heard of couchsurfing, it is an amazing organization to meet other people, sleep on their couches, and learn more about other cultures, while also making it cheaper to travel. A great majority of my friends in Istanbul are couchsurfers or friends of couchsurfers.

Anyways, for wintercamp, 650 people from Istanbul, Turkey, Europe, and places even farther away gathered together to tour istanbul, go on a boat ride, learn various kinds of dancing (greek, latin and belly dancing among them), see a fire dance show, dance to two live concerts, share stories, laugh, eat new foods, have a great time, and bring in the new year together.

I didn't attend all the events, but did learn some greek dancing, a latin dance called the borchata(?), watched the fire dance show, went to one of the concerts, went on a boat tour, and met some amazing people! I plan to go visit two of them in Serbia for the second week of my winter break at the beginning of February.

For New Years Eve, I decided not to go to wintercamp because my roommates had decided to have a party at our house. Fransizka, Orçun's girlfriend was around most of December and into January, and she had two German friends visiting - Dani and Eli, making a total of four Germans in our house. Then, down the street, Amy was gone, but Dilek, Dilek's sister and Ivonna were around, as well as Fransizka's friend Maija and Ivonna's boyfriend Patrick (thus adding 3 more germans to the mix). I invited my friend Kelsey, and then Tuğberk. Other Turks also came whose names I have forgotten. We made a lot of food - cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, yoğurt dip, tomato butter, pudding cake thing, and then Dilek et. al. brought more food and then a turkish family brought more food, and soon we had two full tables. There was also punch (beware the strong punch), hot wine, normal wine, and beer. Perhaps we got a little too excited about the food and drink.

As we have no central heat, we mostly all sat in Orçun's room, as it is the largest. We played games, ate, drank, talked, usual party stuff. Fransizka's birthday is the first, so at midnight there were two cakes for her and presents and everything. We were getting a bit sleepy, and then Fatma and her friend showed up with a bottle of tequilla at maybe 2. Dangerous stuff, tequilla. And then things got a bit crazy, with some funny photos to prove it. Kelsey fell asleep in my bed around 2, and then I went to sleep at around 6. Tuğberk slept on my floor. That night there were 8 of us in my flat.

The next morning the house was an absolute mess. It's the time when you really want a dishwashing machine. But instead, we all got to do lots of dishes. Fortunately there were 6 of us cleaning, and by about 3 it was starting to be okay. Lisa, a fellow american couchsurfer in Istanbul called me up in the evening to see if I wanted to go find something resembling black-eyed peas and greens. So I drug myself to europe to meet her. We did not find the exact new years food, but we did eat some beans, and some greens in the form of lettuce to wrap çiğ kofte (not cooked very spicy meat) in. And then we went and got some mussels. In the fish bazaar we saw some black cabbage that looked like proper greens, so I tried to explain to him about eating greens on new years for money. He looked at me a bit strangely.

Happy New Year to one and all!!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

the return journey

Thursday morning, after breakfast and packing up their lives in Syria, mom and William took me to the Dolmuş lot before going to get a bus to Beruit. From Beruit they flew to Casablanca, and then Bamako, Mali where it is 90 degrees. I, on the other hand, waited for almost 2 hours for enough people to fill the dolmuş so we could leave for Antakya. The ride back to the border was uneventful. When I went to get stamped out of Syria the guys there recognized me and waved. As we were going through customs back into Turkey we got stuck behind a bus carrying a huge amount of stuff. Everyone in line ended up backing up and then went on the sidewalk around the bus. There was a moment when I was worried about getting back into Turkey, but the guy was only confused because he thought I had a one month visa instead of a three month visa. In the dolmuş was an older woman with only some of her face showing, a Turkish man who knew arabic and had lived in the Netherlands for 20 years, and then the driver, who spoke Turkish and Arabic, but I am not sure where he was from. As someone told mom, around here everyone speaks Turkish and Arabic. I think the woman in back with me paid for two seats so she wouldn't have to sit next to a guy.

From the dolmuş lot, I went into a bus office, and got a ticket on the 3 o'clock bus to Adana. I was really worried because they said the ride would take 3 hours and I thought the train I had a ticket for was at 7. There was a service to the bus and fortunately I got a bit of bread to eat before I got on the bus and fell asleep. They showed a movie which I guess was one of a series with these 5 guys, this time in Iraq. But as I kept falling asleep I can't give a better description.

In Adana, I got the service to somewhere downtown, and then a helpful guy took me to a dolmuş to take me to the train station. By this point I had realized that my train was actually at 9 and not 7. Whew. Got to the train station and met the guy who worked there. I had talked to him on the phone the day before when I tried to make a reservation (in Turkish). But I couldn't pay over the phone and the ticket had to be bought that day, so he paid for it and now I was going to get the ticket and pay him back. He was wearing sunglasses and I think could not see well, if at all, and was with a guy missing one eye. After going with them to the ATM and paying, they both got on a motorcycle and drove off. Over the phone the guy did not let me spell out my name for him, and this is how it looked on the ticket - Kentrin Siltsin. Wow.

I went to the nearby kebab place and had some Adana kebab - the thing to do when you are in Adana right. And then waited an hour and a half for my train. I was taking the Toros Express, which turned out not to be very express as it stopped everywhere. On the bright side I had my own compartment in the sleeping car, and the compartment had a sink and heater. On the down side, I thought there was a restaurant car because the train that mom and william took had one. But, for the second time on a long train ride, there was no restaurant car. I folded down my seats and went right to sleep. At 10 in the morning the train stopped for 10 minutes, and everyone rushed the bufe in a chaotic attempt to get something to eat. I ended up with a couple of simit, some cheese, and water. It was enough to get me through the day. We were supposed to get in at 6 but got in at 7. I still maintain though, that if I can have a sleeping car I would rather have a 22 hour train ride than a 15 hour bus ride any day. And going on a train you often are away from the roads and the ride is really beautiful.

After arriving in Haydarpaşa station, I lugged all my stuff up the hill to building, only managing to get the suitcase up half the stairs. Fortunately, Ingo came to my rescue. Door to door, it was a 35 hour trip. And then, being crazy, I stayed home for a couple of hours and went out for the first night of Istanbul Winter Camp.

Christmas in Syria

The santa that comes to Syria does leave presents, but he does not fill Christmas stockings. We had a little paper tree with little fiber optic lights in it that kept changing color. The tree was made in the UAE. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of Christians in Syria, belonging to many different churches - Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maranite, and more that I have forgotten. So finding a Christmas tree wasn't hard. The only thing is that real trees are forbidden because there are so few trees around.

Christmas felt a bit empty without Ian and christmas music and traditional christmas breakfast and everything. But it was still christmas and there were still good presents. For dinner William made camel stew because there were no geese, turkeys or hams to be found. And as he put it, what else would the wise man do with their extra camel after delivering all the presents it was carrying to baby Jesus? It was delicious. The taste of camel is somewhere between lamb and beef, in case you were wondering.

The problem with not writing about things right away is that I am now a bit hazy on what I did each day, but no matter. Other highlights - lots of walking in the souks and eating fuul. In Egypt fuul resembles refried beans and can be eaten in a sandwich. In syria it is more like a soup that is eaten with bread. It has fava beans, some of which are whole and some of which are mashed, tahini, spices and olive oil, and will keep you full for hours. And the whole bowl and bread is only 50 cents. The guy in the souk also sells the best humus in the world.

I bought presents and then mom and william were sending me back with things, and so I decided that it would be good to get a small daypack that I could also use later on for weekend trips. I thought it would be easy to find, but similar to Istanbul, you have to find the right souk. So after getting advice from Mattey, or however you might spell his name, William and I set off. We walked through clothing and through leather bags, and through the back streets all along the length of the souk unsucessfully. After that we went to Samer a bit discouraged, and he suggested that we go to the toy souk. Going through the toy souk ment that we also had to go through the housewares souk. And sure enough, in the toy souk we found backpacks. I was very tempted to get a teenage mutant ninja turtles bag, but didn't. The guy spoke some Turkish, so we ended up doing the transaction in Turkish. I also got some olive oil soap - Aleppo is famous for it, as well as scarves and a table cloth, as they are also famous for their textiles. The scarves in Muhammed Salah's shop were amazing, and all stacked very neatly until I tried to start looking at them and managed to dump them all over the ground. They told me mom did the same thing when she was looking at scarves.

We had two other amazing dinners, both of them with Samer. The first was home food, with mezze and then one stew with Ayva, or quince, and meat and the other with sumac and meat. Facinating. We also went to another really really nice resturant that is in a restored courtyard house with a fountain in the courtyard. They had covered the couryard for winter. We had muhamara, a spicy paste thing, kibbi, eggplant something, and then I had kofte (meatballs) in cherry sauce - mmmm. In typical turkish fasion we had a waiter take a photo of us all at the table.

I went with William one day to visit Muhammed video (not his real last name). He just happens to sell pirated DVDs. I guess William bought a lot of DVDs there, but then they learned that you cannot ship DVDs or CDs out of Syria because the government is afraid that you are smuggling out military secrets, and because they don't want to check every CD or DVD, the just put a ban on them. The ones that remained I carried out in my suitcase.

All of us went to visit Hala and her mother the last day to take her the printer, coffee pot and christmas tree. Mom had never met her mother before and so we were invited up for tea, and then Hala's mother gave us some cold meat thing she had made and then sat there and insisted we eat, bordering on force feeding. She even did it to mom. Mom tried her arabic and Hala helped as needed. William and I sat there and watched.

We also visited the brother of the Ahmet, the man that owns and lives in the house where mom and William were also living. They are living in a run down house, as they renovate the large courtyard house next door. The husband was out, so mom and I were taken up to the family's room. William was taken into the house that was being renovated. We met the wife's parents and her children who were gathered around a heater. Mom gave them the things she had for the family. Then we too went into the rennovated house to look around. The wife was married when she was 15, and did not know how to read or write, so her husband, 15 years older, taught her. She too gave us some dessert and then insisted that we eat it.

It was really interesting to get a glimse of the position of women in Syria. I would be past my prime in terms of getting married at the age of 23. Many women marry around the age of 15. In the area where mom and William lived, the most conservative part of the most conservative city in Syria, there are few women out on the streets or doing shopping, and when they go out it is sometimes in groups but most often with their husbands. They wear all black, most of them covering even their eyes. Men work in the stores, men do the shopping. In other muslim neighborhoods women wear western clothes and cover just their heads with bright scarves. In christian neighbhorhoods women have their heads uncovered. In other areas there are more women on the streets, but still less than in Turkey. Mom said that living in Syria helped her understand how women can be a part of their own oppression. She felt uncomfortable going out on the streets full of men, and so William did most of the shopping and such. As an extremely independent woman, even she gave up some of that independence without being explicitly asked to.

But not wanting to end on that note, I think that everyone I met in Syria was really nice. They are very welcoming and hospitable and curious about other places. The food is amazing, the old restored houses are beautiful. The government, for all the faults it may have, is subsidizing a huge number of iraqi refugees with its subsidized transportation, food, educating etc that no other country will take. And after being shut off from the world for so many years they are fairly self sufficient in industry. Especially in America Syria does not get enough credit for what it is doing to stabalize the region and most of all for the wonderful people that live there.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Leaving the house the next morning after breakfast I felt like I had walked onto a movie set. The old city of Aleppo is a world heratige site, and it definetly deserves the title. The neighborhood they live in is all courtyard style houses which open inward, so walking down the streets is a bit like a maze. All the walls are made of the same whiteish stone, and periodically there are doors, but there are no real windows on the first floor and the only breaks in the walls are for other streets. One has no idea of what lies behind the door. Leaving the neighborhood, we came out into an open space that is dominated by a hill, on top of which sits the citadel. We tried to go inside, but the enterance was mobbed by turks, all wanting tickets at the same time, and unwilling to form any sort of orderly line. So we decided to wait.

We first visited a shop called Sebastians, owned by Muhammed and his brother, andwhere Samer works. This is the store where mom and William bought my Syrian textile. It's a beautiful shop, with jewlery, textiles, lamps and more. On the wall hangs a poster of Oscar Wilde quotes. Samer is one of the people William has spent the most time with in Syria, and he is a really nice guy. Of course we had to drink some tea. It's different from Turkish tea though - made with only one pot instead of two, and as I discovered later, often already sweetened before they offer to put even more sugar in it for you.

That day we also visited Muhammed Salah, who has another store selling much the same things that Sebastians does. The store is in another amazingly redone Arab house, this one with a spectacularly huge bathroom with the biggest showerhead I have ever seen. We walked in the souks (market) - William tells me that Syria has the longest souks in the arab world. The souks were completely full of Turks though. I have to say, that first day I heard way more Turkish than I did Arabic. We walked by the fruit and vegetable market area and though the dead things souk, where you can find the entire inards of a sheep still conected. It is a great anatomy lesson.

That night we had the most amazing dinner. We went to a place called Sisi, in the christian quarter, a very nice resturant. First we had mezze - real baba ganouj, another eggplant salad, Kibbi, hummus, and olive salad. Then, mom and I shared some kebab Halep - the special kofte that they make in Halep (aleppo). And William had wine and it came out to less than 8 dollars a person. If only eating out in Istanbul could be that cheap. Unfortunatly, I got the cold that I had been trying to keep away to weeks. Everyone at my school has been sick, and not sleeping on the bus did me in.

Sunday we took the bus an hour to the town of Idlib. Some friends of the family that used to live in Salsbury, NC (but who are from Syria) live in Idlib. Nabeg and Rema have a large number of olive trees. William and mom had already been to see Nabeg's new olive press in action, and so now we went to see the olive harvest. They had had to delay for a while because of rain. The fields were still pretty muddy. We watched a number of mostly teenage boys and girls stripping the olives off the trees onto blankets. I decided I needed to try a raw olive - I wouldn't suggest it to anyone. After watching the harvest and collecting an enourmous amount of mud on our shoes, we visited their summer house and the horses and puppies and then went to their flat in town. They have four children, whose names I have now forgotten. We had a huge and amazing lunch, although Nabeg kept saying that Rima hadn't really cooked. And then, trying not to burst, we took the bus back to Halep.

The next day we got inside the Citadel. It's amazing! There is a walkway up to the top, and then the gate makes a few turns to make it even harder to storm. Inside the walls it is like a small city. I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings or Kingdom of Heaven. The citadel is made of the same white stone as the old city and the new city. Inside there are two mosques, a hamam, and numerous other buidings. Half of it has been excavated and half is still being excavated. There is also a large amiptheater where they have concerts in the summer. Wow

After the citadel, Mom and I went to meet Hala, her Arabic teacher. Hala is a small woman with a large presence. She is christian and lives in the christian quarter, and wears only black in memory of her father who died last year. She was there to go shopping with us. For christmas mom had decided that she was buying me clothes as they are so much cheaper in Syria than in Turkey. Our shopping took place in the christian quarter, where the clothes are all western style, and there are women working in the stores. It was a very sucessful shopping trip I would have to say. We also got half a kilo of william's favorite cookies (mmm) and some Sahlep - a hot thick milky drink that reminds me vaguely of oatmeal. After shopping we got our hair cut. Apparently last time, the women working had blown mom's hair straight. I saw the picture and I have to say it looks better curly. So this time they didn't blow it dry. It's interesting - one guy does all the hair cuts, and then there are a number of women who decend upon you afterward to blow dry your hair and do other things. Another good haircut with a language barier. Funny how two out of my three haircuts with a language barrier have been really good.

the road to Syria

My blog has been blocked in Syria. The ride here was very long. i left my house at 6:15 on friday and walked down to the bus station office stopping to get some simit. My servis left at quarter to eight. While waiting for the service i was watching tv in the office. After a program about a soldier who had died the first day of bayram there was news on the bulls that had escaped. The current holiday is called Kurban bayram in Turkish. It's the sacrafice holiday, where people usually kill sheep, and apparently sometimes bulls. I had actually witnessed it earlier in the day in fatih, a more traditional neighborhood. Anyways, not wanting to die, some of the bulls had escaped. There was footage of them running into cars, running at people and in one case running into a resturant. Atone point i couldnt help it and i burst out laughing.

From the asian bus station I got on the Jet bus that was to carry me to Antakya, also known as Hatay. I was sitting next to a 32 year old physics teacher. over the course of the journey i learned that she is engaged to another physicist, a friend from school and a good guy, but not the guy she likes. She showed me a photo of the guy she likes. She has also invited me over for food when i return to istanbul.

It was a very long 15 hour bus ride. I slept some, but not enough. Twice during the night we stopped at places built for buses to stop and I had some soup. At these places they sell food, but also toys and other souveneers. They are major operations. The big bus companies all have their own, but since Jet is not a major company, we stopped at a stop for all the small companies. And of course, there is (or nescafe or coke) on the bus. After the tea, an attendant comes by and pours lemon cologne on everyone's hands. The smell of lemon cologne will always remind me of Turkish buses.

We arrived in Antakya at about 11 in the morning. The last bit of the ride was over some very impressive mountains. One woman sat there and prayed as we drove very close to the edge. She reminded me of mom. I took the service into the center and then walked with my stuff to the main bridge in town. On one side of the bridge is a large statue and the other side is the old town, lined with Kunefe shops. I found mom and we went to eat the best iskender kebab (meat, yogurt, bread and a tomato sauce) ever and then had some kunefe. Kunefe is a desert that has cheese in it and is soaked in syrup. It sounds very weird I know, but is actually very good. Antakya is famous for its Kunefe.

And then it was time to continue on to the Syrian border. There was just one problem. There were no vehicles going! It turns out there is a holiday exchange between Syria and Turkey. So for Seker bayram at the end of ramadan, all the Syrians come to Turkey and for the current bayram lots of Turks go to Syria. So earlier in the day they had taken every vehicle that could be spared including school buss es. We got on a bus and waited, but they kept delaying the departure, so 5 of us went off in search of a dolmuş (shared taxi) to Reyhanli, the town right at the border. After about an hour we found a dolmuş. Then, at the border we had to get on a bus that was going across, as the first guard laughed at me when I said we could walk. Apparently it's 5 km.

Getting stamped out of Turkey was no real problem, except once again the guy stamped my passport wrong the first time, making a total of two cancelled stamps on one page. The syrian side was a bit more challenging. We went into the back office and after some discussion, the guy in charge said he would send a fax to Damascus to see if they would issue me a visa. To cut a long story short, we stayed there for 6 hours in that cold office. Not that I can really complain. They were very nice and gave us tea and tried to talk with mom. And I know that it takes much more than that for a Syrian to get a visa for the US. And finally, at 10, after I was investigated by the special branch, we got permission to buy the visa stamps. Mom swears that she heard the guy in Damascus tell the guy in the office "But we sent that an hour and a half ago". Fortunately there was a guy hanging around and he gave us a ride to the place mom and William have been living in Aleppo.

Unfortunately, the goodbye party for mom and william started at 7:30 and we missed almost all of it. Everyone was very nice and waited until we got there to leave, but about 5 minutes later they all left. And I ate some amazing french food that was leftover from the party and then crashed in my very cute room up some very steep stairs in a beautifully restored Arab courtyard house. Door to door it was a 29 hour trip.