Due to an increasing demand for pictures, we’ve added an amazing photo gallery to the site. A big thank you to webmaster Andy Rota who made the photo gallery possible! As of right now, you can see some of the photos from my last trip to Istanbul among others. I will try to upload some new photos each day. If you’ve been interested in getting an idea of what I’ve been doing, the photo gallery is definitely a good place to check out.
In other news, I promise I will be writing about some of the sites I’ve been visiting. I’ve been taking very good notes, but I have not had as much time to put them into an organized from because I’m still getting my routine down. I’ve mentioned that I’m living with an absolutely amazing family, but I’m not necessarily having as much time to write as I would hope at the moment. However, its only because I’m having some great conversations with the family. Plus, still getting some logistical things done as well. But have no fear, more news will be coming soon. You can expect some good stories next week.
In Turkey, you can find many ways to get around without a car, even when traveling between cities miles and miles apart from each other. One of my new Turkish friends, Murat, said to me, “In America, everyone drives a car. You need it to get around. When I first arrived, I ended up having to constantly call friends to get around.” He ended up buying a car in order to get around while studying in the US.
Luckily, I have no such problem in Turkey! Turkey has a prolific number of ways to get around. In Ankara, you’ll find a modern mass transit system with clean and fast subway cars. If there isn’t a “metro” stop, inner city buses come almost every 5 or 10 minutes going all over the city. Not much need for schedules because they run so often. Taxis are also plentiful and cabbies incredibly helpful. Thanks to a strong dollar, cabs are also not as expensive as the US. However, today’s story is about one of Turkey’s more “adventurous” ways of getting around.
It’s called the Dolmus (pronounced Dole-Moosh). The name comes from the Turkish word Dolma that refers to a variety of stuffed vegetable dishes served in Turkey. The Dolmus definitely lives up to its “stuffed” namesake. Although the Dolmus is a little larger than a normal van, they can become very cramped, especially during rush hours. On the way back to my apartment in Oran, I counted 26 people in my Dolmus at one point! Dolmus vans are like buses because they have a specific route, but unlike buses, you can hail them down from anywhere they pass and be dropped off anywhere on the route. I do mean anywhere. On the way back, my Dolmus stopped just off a rotary!
Still, the Dolmus might not be for everyone. As I mentioned, it can get a little crowded. Also, some Americans might be steered away by the flagrant cell phone usage by the driver, or the Dolmus drivers penchant for aggressive driving. However, if you like an adventure, this is certainly a cheap and quick way to get semi long distances in Turkey.
Already, I’ve mentioned a few instances that illustrate how giving Turks have been of their time to help me while in Turkey. Well, I couldn’t believe what happened during my first day in Ankara while looking for a map. I walked into a small Turkish bookstore down a narrow side street in the busy downtown of Kizilay. I walked in and took a quick moment to check my guidebook for the phrase, “I’m looking for a map of Ankara.” I walked up to the shop owner, Ercan (pronounced Air-jan) Bey, and asked about maps. He clearly recognized me as a foreigner, smiled, and instructed another man using very fast Turkish to find a map.
While this was playing out, Ercan Bey asked me where I was from, why I had come, and how long I’d be in the city. His eyes lit up with pride when I mentioned I’d be staying in Turkey for a year. After introducing me to his 16-year-old daughter Zeynep, he asked me to have some tea, like any good Turk would do. An offer I decided to turn down mostly because I really intended to just make a quick stop. I should have realized there are very few “quick stops” in Turkey.
After about 10 minutes went by, the “map scout” came back with no results. At this point, I expected to thank Erjan Bey, Zeynep, and the trusty map scout for their efforts and then be on my way, but Erjan Bey would not see my needs go unmet. Instead, he turned to his daughter and again, in lighting quick Turkish, he instructed her to take me to another store further in Kizilay that might have a map.
So under the hot afternoon sun, I followed Zeynep down into the heart of Ankara’s downtown. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Zeynep pushed through the crowds, and helped me cross the busy streets while looking for a map. We walked around for about 10 minutes before I got the feeling Zeynep may have been a little lost also. She must have noticed what I was thinking because she looked at me quickly and said, “One minute,” and asked a store owner in Turkish about the location of our much sought after map. We did this three or four times as Zeynep continued to get her bearings. At one point, I tried to explain, “It’s okay, I don’t really need the map. Let’s forget it.” Zeynep was determined not to disappoint me. She again said, “One minute,” and asked another vendor. This time, she seemed to get some good information because she smiled and her pace quickened down the street.
On the way, I noticed a man selling maps! “Perfect”, I thought, “now I can do something.” I stopped Zeynep and motioned to the merchant in front of the Post Office. We looked at the maps. I asked her in Turkish, “Do these look good?” She said, “Yes, but come first.” Zeynep would not be deterred from bringing me to our final destination. A few stores later we came to a photo and electronics store where Zeynep asked about maps. Unfortunately he was also out of maps, but luckily we just went back to the P.O. for our prized possession.
After the journey, Zeynep smiled and asked, “You’ll be all set now?” After I answered in the affirmative, we said goodbye and wished each other well. I hoped she would take a little something from me for being so helpful.
As I expected, not a chance.
Last Monday was my first venture into Kizilay, Ankara’s downtown. As you enter the area, the first thing you’ll notice is the rapid pace of traffic whirring by you and other pedestrians with sometimes only a dime’s distance apart. Any American used to streets laden with traffic signals and cars giving pedestrians the right of way will have some major adjusting to do. Thankfully that day, my friend and generous host, Mehmet, guided me to the
building where my class was located.
We made our way swiftly through downtown, dodging cabs, buses, and fast moving mini buses known as dolmus. We passed vendors that peddled everything from a donut-like pastry known as Simit to hand crafted wares made of bronze. After 10 minutes of walking from where we got off, we found a large gray building with a small “American themed” cafe below called Happy Days. The cafe looked like a Turkish interpretation of 1960s American Americana. Retro tile floors, a jukebox, and classic Pepsi and Coca-Cola logos adorned the walls. Still, the menu was distinctly Turkish as I stopped in on my second day for a small pastry.
After tripping up a crowded and difficult to navigate spiral staircase, we entered a reception area teeming with people of all sorts of nationalities waiting to hear their number called. The room felt more like an immigration office than a school. “You’re all set, right??,” asked Mehmet amidst all the languages being spoken, the frantic fluttering of papers, and dinging of bells.
I nodded to Mehmet, thanking him for all the help. I won’t bore you with the details of registering, but needless to say I had to come back the next day to “finish my registration.” However, while waiting to be called, I was connected with three siblings, TJ and her two brothers, Erol and Kevin, from Seattle. They live in the US with their Turkish father and American mother. They described how they have spent each summer in Turkey, but still do not have a complete understanding of Turkish. This time, their father registered them for classes, but unfortunately they were put into such a high level course, no one spoke any English, period. Erol explained how the teacher knew very little English herself and that, “Even the people that knew English, wouldn’t speak it because they were so dedicated to speaking Turkish.” That dedication was too much for the three of them, and they were hoping to switch to a lower level.
In a room echoing with voices speaking several different languages and people rushing back and fourth, we were four Americans, lost in translations, just trying to figure out where to go next. By Wednesday, thanks to the extreme patience of our Turkish counterparts, we all found our way to the same beginner class.
Bound for adventure into a land I have never seen with my own eyes, I left the United States at 4:30 EST Friday. After a long good bye with my parents, I actually got to climb up the stairway of a small jet (Casablanca
style) that would take me to New York City, the last place I would see in the United States for many months.
On my three plane, 27-hour journey to Ankara, I met several people. While heading to New York, I played chess with Adam, a smart and articulate high school senior on his way to visit friends in France. While playing, I mean, while losing the game, I also noticed a gray haired woman who looked to be in her 70s, reading a book marked up with the Turkish flag. Gretel, as she explained, was reading Stephen Kinzer’s Crescent and Star, a very good book for those interested in learning more about Modern Turkey according to newspapers across the US and Turkey.
Later in the JFK terminal, I spoke to Gretel as we were taking the same 9-hour flight to Istanbul about what she was doing in Turkey. Gretel was to attend a conference about Uranium based weapons used particularly in tank shells. She explained that the shells spread a noxious gas into the air and due to their radioactivity; the weapons were creating severe problems for exposed civilians in war zones like Iraq. Of course, she was also excited to see Turkey and experience the culture first hand as she had never been to the country either.
I also met a father and son headed to Iran for a visit. The father came to the United States 30 years ago when he was only 19, and ended up marrying an American woman in Atlanta. I ended up sitting next to another man from Georgia who had recently left journalism to pursue government work. He reminded me of the grim outlook of my career path, but for now I’ll move forward and try to ignore any foreshadowing.
By far, the best leg of the trip was with Turkish Airlines who served me a complete meal and tea for a 40-MINUTE trip. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was almost fed more on that trip than on my trip overseas. The entire trip took me through four different airports: Logan in Boston, JFK in New York, Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, and the Ankara airport.
Istanbul did not give me a great first impression either with its airport. It was actually a very harrowing experience as I dragged my checked luggage for what seemed like two miles. Almost everything in the airport seemed broken as I past two or three inoperable “people mover” walkways, a few of the public phones didn’t work right even when I got some very friendly Turks involved, and if there was air conditioning, it didn’t seem to be working. Alas, Istanbul will have another chance when I visit my friend Emily who has been there for nearly a year. Emily Neumeier graduated from Boston College last year and has been working at art museums in Istanbul on her Fulbright. Definitely check out her blog “The Orientalism Express”, she weaves together some amazing stories about her different experiences trips in Turkey.
In the end, I arrived in Ankara at 2:10pm (Turkey Time). After what seemed like a month, I caught a glimpse of
the great family I will get to know over the next two months. My friend Mehmet, his wife, and two amazingly cute children have already generously welcomed me into their home and opened their lives to me. I know Mehmet only from a few months of English-Turkish tutoring we did back in Boston. For just that, I’ve earned a place in his apartment.
It is that generosity and hospitality of spirit that Turks have shown since I first began looking into Turkey for the Fulbright. Already, so many of my Turkish friends have offered any help they can give to me. I had multiple offers to pick me up from the airport in Ankara, one from someone I hadn’t even met and was only a friend of a friend in Boston. I already have many more stories to tell including more about Mehmet and his family and some “not so strange” sights in Turkey.
The real story begins now.
Some of you have asked about when more content will be posted on the blog. I’m happy to say within 16 hours I will be flying over the Atlantic to begin my journey in Turkey. I will be flying out of Boston this Friday and landing in Turkey on Saturday. You can certainly expect some initial posts and images to be posted pretty quickly after arriving in Ankara, Turkey.
Ankara, the “new capital” of Turkey, is the second largest city next to Istanbul. Still, Istanbul is nearly three times larger. Although the city has played host to many of the world’s great civilizations from the Hittites, Byzantines, Greeks, Galatians, and Romans. The Turks have rebuilt and redeveloped the city since they named it the capital in 1923. Before then, Ankara was a very small and underdeveloped community in contrast to Istanbul, but the movement of political delegations, government offices, and foreign embassies brought in thousands of Turks and spurred rapid development. Today, Ankara is not only the center for Turkey’s government agencies, but its position in central Turkey allows it to serve as a hub for buses to almost every major city in the country.
With the countdown officially on, I welcome those dropping in on this site to sign up for email updates or to look at our forum section. Our biggest hope is that users like you will help spur discussions and drive content on the Turk Film project. If you’re clueless about Turkey, ask us your questions. Tell us what you want to know. If you’re Turkish, tell us what you think we should look into, or what we must absolutely check out to illustrate Turkey in its fullest light.
See you on the other side of the Atlantic.