Saturday, October 31, 2015

Turkish Superstitions

I think it's important for my students to be able to speak and understand English, but to also know about American culture.  So, I have tried to explain to them tidbits of culture throughout lessons.  This week, I described Halloween and the traditions that surround it.  Most of them had heard of it and knew the basics.  Some of the bars here will have Halloween themed nights and people will dress up, but nobody trick or treats or anything extravagant. I read them a ghost story and we talked about some of the superstitions (big word!) in the United States and in Turkey.  A lot of them were similar, like the black cat crossing your path, but Turkey definitely has a few of their own and Turkish people are VERY superstitious.

So, in honor of Halloween, here are some Turkish superstitions!

It's bad luck to walk under a stair case

It's bad luck for women to cut their nails at night

If you make a clucking sound with your tongue (like a chicken sound), your parents will die!!

You must step with your right leg first when you go outside

When you are eating a bowl of rice, the remaining number of pieces of rice on your plate when you done indicates how many children you will have!

They had never heard of saying "break a leg!" before going on stage or that stepping on a crack would break your mother's back, so it was interesting to compare the two countries' superstitions. 

Happy Halloween! I hope you all are having fun celebrating!  I can't wait to see pictures of everyone's costumes!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes about this week.  We haven't done a ton, but there are lots of little random things that have been going on, so here's the run down of our week.

1.  Mike basically had the week off, so he was home all day every day (except Monday).  One of his professors was at a conference and his other class fell on Republic Day, plus his Turkish classes were between sessions, so he only had one class Monday morning. I think he enjoyed having a lot of time to lounge around, since he's usually running around for most of the day.

2. It was Republic Day yesterday, so both Mike and I had the day off.  We didn't do much to celebrate, but we were able to watch all of the festivities from our balcony, which was fun.  There were at least five different people selling Turkish flags and at least half of the people walking around had on Turkish flag tshirts.   It reminded me a lot of 4th of July in the United States, minus the hot dogs. Mike celebrated by wearing American flag shorts. As if we didn't stand out enough already.....
Flags on flags on flags! 

I don't know if you can see, but there was like a full on drum corps out there 

3. Probably the most exciting part of this whole week was....WE HUNG OUT WITH FRIENDS! Mike has a guy from his class (Murat) who is also playing football with him and we went out with Murat and his girlfriend.  Guys, this was so exciting! It's like the first interaction with potential friends since we've moved here!  Murat's parents are Turkish but he grew up in Holland, so he's new to Turkey, just like us.  His girlfriend is from Albania, but moved to Belgium in the early 2000s.  They both go to Yashar with Mike and were really nice.

4. My classes this week were a lot of fun.  We talked a lot about Halloween, trick or treating and superstitions, as well as the elections in both Turkey (which is this Sunday!) and the United States.  It was pretty interesting to hear the different superstitions of Turkey.

5.  I finished my book that I was reading and am kind of glad it's over.  I saw "The Last Train to Istanbul" displayed in a bunch of gift shops in Istanbul and decided to read it.  The history about Turkey's role in World War II was interesting, but the plot wasn't the best.   It wasn't terrible, but not going to be on my must read list.

6. Oh, the time change.  It's got everyone in Turkey confused.  Usually, Turkey changes clocks with Europe, which was last weekend, but "because of the election" (don't ask me what time changes have to do with elections), we aren't changing clocks until November 8th.  So, for two weeks, we're an hour ahead of Europe and for one week we'll be eight hours ahead of the United States. Plus, a lot of cell phones and computers changed times with Europe, so everyone is confused.

7.  It's started to really feel like fall and I am LOVING it!! It's been in the 70s during the day and 50s at night.  We've finally stopped sleeping with the air conditioning on and my feet keep getting cold because I forget to put socks on in the morning.  After the 100 degree weather of this summer, it's a refreshing change.  I'm curious to see what the winter weather will be like and when things will start to get even colder.

I think that's all that we've really been up to this week.  Nothing too exciting, but next week will be back to normal for Mike and I'll finally start Turkish lessons, so we'll be busy busy!!  Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Refugee Crisis

Mike and I are constantly getting asked about the refugee crisis in Europe because we live in Turkey, which is the bridge for most refugees leaving the Middle East trying to get to Europe.  I think one news source labeled Izmir as the Life Jacket Capital of the World because they are selling so many life jackets to refugees.  There are news stories, such as this one and this one that have gone viral about refugees trying to cross the Agean into Greece.

I have thought a lot about this crisis and have really struggled to figure out what to say.  We have had a taste of it here and there and it has been heartbreaking each time, but it wasn't until we went to Chios last weekend and saw the refugee camps firsthand that I really saw what these people were enduring in order to escape the dangers of the Middle East and achieve their dream of a safe and prosperous life.

I don't know a lot about the politics behind the refugee crisis, but what I do know is that these refugees are people, just like you and me.

They are the mom and dad who have three kids and have the look of shame on their face as they sit on the street in Istanbul begging us to give them money so they can feed their children.

They are the little girl who watched us play cards at the bar and counted the cards in Arabic instead of asking us for money.

They are the families who cried in Chios as the rain flooded their tents right before they went to bed as we were walking off the ferry to our hotel.

They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and brothers and sisters, just like you and me.  As we walked along the road in Chios last weekend in the rain, I couldn't help but cry as people tried to drain their tents of rainwater so they could sleep.  
The refugee tent next to the ferry port in Chios.  Many of the refugees are able to sleep here, but we also saw tons who had their own tents along the road as we walked to our hotel.  When we arrived the first night, there were children playing in the rain with a deflated basketball.  It looked like they were playing a version of foursquare, which immediately brought flashbacks to the hours of foursquare I played both as a kid and as a Corps Member in Boston.

As I said before, I don't claim to be that knowledgeable about the politics behind the refugee crisis. It is complicated and there are so many factors to be considered when looking at this issue at a macro level. I do, however, think that we need to remember to look at this issue on a micro level, as well.  We need to think of these people as people and not just a group of refugees.  I am constantly reminded of the Golden Rule in situations like this, which calls on us to treat other people as we would like to be treated.  I am lucky enough to have never experienced anything remotely close to something like what these people are experiencing, but if I did, I would want to be treated with respect.  I would want people to remember that I am a person, just like them, who wants nothing but the best for their family. 

There are TONS of great non-profits out there, both big and small that are trying to help these people migrate to safety.  One of the non-profits that has made a huge impact, despite it's small size is Carry the Future.  They are asking for used or new baby carriers to hand out to these people as they walk across Europe. I can't imagine walking across Europe, much less having to do it carry a small child.  Even if you cannot give a baby carrier, like their page on Facebook to hear all of their inspiring stories.  Reading their stories is my favorite way to start a morning.

I don't know what the answer to this crisis is.  I understand the issues of letting tons and tons of people into Europe, but I also understand the issue with letting them stay where they are. I may not be able to solve the political issues surrounding this crisis, but I can try to help the people who have been affected and, most importantly remember that, despite their circumstances, they are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers, just like you and me.

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.  They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all, for being more. 
-Pope Francis

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chios Day Two

Our second day in Chios marked the four month-versary of us (well, me because of my passport troubles) living in Turkey!  What a four months it has been!  It's kind of funny that we weren't in Turkey to celebrate, but we had quite the day in Greece.

We woke up to the sun shining, which was a nice change from the previous day filled with rain.  Since it was so nice out, we wanted to go to the ancient town of Mesta, but weren't sure what the most economical way to get there was.  We figured the receptionist at our hotel would be our best resource and we were right.  She knew of a tour group that goes to Mesta and provides a bus for transportation.  It sounded perfect, except for the fact that it was in Turkish!  

Everywhere we went in Chios, we were surrounded by Turkish writing and Turkish people.  It wasn't surprising, given how close Chios is to Turkey, but it definitely made us laugh.  We opted for the tour, knowing that I wouldn't be able to understand anything and Mike might not understand everything.  We really didn't care about The tour guide was nice enough to give us a discounted price of 15 euros each instead of 20 euros.  

After a late start (we were on a Turkish tour, so I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised), we boarded the bus.  Mike was able to fill me in on a few bits and pieces of information throughout the bus ride, but even without the translation, it was an enjoyable ride.  I always enjoy looking out the window as we're driving and taking in the geography of whatever region we're in. 

After a few stops, we made it to Mesta, which was our desired destination.  It was definitely worth the trip down there because it is exactly what I imagined an ancient Greek town looking like. 

As we walked through the town, we were greeted by the townspeople who stood outside of their houses to greet us.  It was so charming and added to the ambiance of the little town.  About halfway through our stop, we reached a church.  From the outside, it didn't look like too much, but the inside was beautiful.  

Once we left the church, we boarded the bus and headed to lunch.  This entire trip, both Mike and I were craving gyros.  We thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to find them, but we were once again disappointed.  Instead, we found a lot of the same food that we would find in Izmir, which makes sense given their proximity, but we were still disappointed.  This view from our table made up for it, though.

We were quickly greeted by the waiter who was extremely impatient with us.  The menu was in Greek and Turkish, so it took us a little while to figure out what we wanted to eat.  He began to suggest things and I finally just started to say yes because I could tell he was getting irritated.  This was definitely not the right move because our bill was pretty high and our food was not what we really wanted. 

For appetizers, we had calamari and....


I like calamari and even picky eater Mike will eat them, but neither of us were fans of the octopus.  It was way too chewy and tough and didn't have that much flavor.  I think we'll opt out the next time.  For lunch, we got the Greek version of kofte and chicken kebap.  Overall, it was a disappointing meal and we left feeling frustrated that we got taken advantage of as tourists. 

To rejuvenate ourselves for the second half our tour, we walked along the water and took in the beautiful scenery.  I think Mike summed it up best when he said "I'm trying to think how much a property like this would cost in the states, but I don't know a number big enough."

Our last stop on the tour was back in the Mesta town square for a cup of tea.  This is one part of Turkish culture I've grown to love.  I think tea after dinner is such great way to digest all of your food, while still enjoying the company of your friends of family.

Tea in the town square

This sign reminded me so much of my grandmother and how she was such a big proponent of people volunteering their time and talents for their city.  She would have been proud!

And this little guy reminded me so much of my furry guy back at home.  I can't count how many times I've seen Scout in this exact position enjoying a morning, afternoon, or evening nap.  

Some sort of memorial.....Mike's Turkish is pretty good, but even he couldn't understand what the tour guide was saying.

We boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel.  We only had about an hour before our ferry left, so we grabbed our bags and made the trek to the ferry.  Luckily, this time it was sunny out, so we could enjoy the walk.

Not a bad view...

Overall, we thought Chios was a nice place to go, but I don't know if we'd go again.  It was extremely similar to Turkey, so we didn't feel as though we were in another country.  We both agreed that we would go back for a festival or event, but probably not for a weekend escape.  There are a few other Greek islands that we want to check out before we repeat Chios. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chios, Greece

I wrote this blogpost once already, but the text got deleted when I went to upload another photo.  Happy Monday?

One of the great things about living in Europe/Asia is how close other countries are. This is especially true for Turkey and Greece.  The Greek Island of Chios is so close to Turkey that you can take a ferry there.

The island with the blue dot is Chios and the big land mass is Turkey

Chios is one of those places that we knew we wanted to go, but had put it off because it was so easy that we knew we would do it eventually.  This weekend, we had nothing else planned and figured it was the perfect time to go.

Friday afternoon, we got in the car and drove to Cesme, which is a little less than an hour from downtown Izmir.  It was raining and the traffic was bad, so we barely made our ferry!  The ferry was actually pretty nice, with tables and chairs to sit at under a covered area, which was nice since it was raining on and off.  When we arrived in Chios, we cleared customs and decided that we would just walk to our hotel since it was supposedly close by.

As soon as we got off the ferry, we were greeted by our first refugee sighting since we left the United States. Izmir supposedly has tons of refugees, but they don't seem to be where we are, so we haven't seen any camps or been able to distinguish refugees from anyone else.  As soon as we walked into Chios, though, the first thing we saw was a huge refugee tent set up by the Red Cross.  As we walked along the water to our hotel, there were tents set up everywhere.  This was heartbreaking and brought tears to my eyes.  Since it was raining, all of these tents had flooded and people were constantly trying to scoop out the water so they could sleep.  It definitely put our walk to the hotel in perspective.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed back downtown for a late dinner.  At this point, it was 8:00 and we were both starving. We chose the first restaurant we saw, which just happened to be a burger and pizza restaurant.  Typical Americans.  It was actually really good, although I don't think we needed a huge pizza AND a burger, but you only Greece once, amirite?  After dinner and a few drinks, we returned back to our hotel.

Let me just take this opportunity to rave about our hotel, the Grecian Castle Hotel.  We almost always go with one of the cheapest hotels on   We don't spend a ton of time in our hotel rooms and would rather spend the money on an excursion or food.  This usually means that we get decent hotel rooms, but nothing special.  While we went with our same strategy on Booking this time, we were pleasantly surprised with our hotel.  Not only did we get free breakfast, we also had a large bedroom and bathroom, plus a decent view (when the sun was out). Definitely recommend it!

The view from our room
Anyways, I digress.  The next day, we woke up to rain and lots of it. This was a major bummer because we had planned to walk everywhere.  On top of that, we found out there was no public transportation on the island, so we would have to take a taxi.  That was probably poor planning on our part, but still, a major bummer.

The hotel called us a taxi and within a few minutes (after a delicious free breakfast!), our driver arrived. Our first stop was Nea Moni Monastery.   It's a working monastery, but it dates back to the Byzantine Empire and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (we love those things!).
cracks me up!

First, we went into the sanctuary, which was gorgeous.  It was gawdy, but in a tasteful way.

After the sanctuary, we went into the museum.  It was interesting because, although I'm used to the Roman Catholic and Episcopal church garments, seeing Greek Orthodox garments from hundreds of years ago was very cool. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures.  Before we left, we wandered around the grounds of the monastery.

Our last stop was the little chapel at the entrance to the monastery. 

Looks nice right?

Oh wait, those are real.....

Our next stop was going to be Mesta, which is a small town in the southern part of Chios, but since it was raining, we decided against that (we ended up going the next day) and headed straight to Chios Microbrewery.  I can't say enough about how much we enjoyed this little stop.  I don't think it's meant for guests since they don't have a bar or even beer glasses, but the owner was so nice and gladly showed us his set up, all while drinking some of his beer.  I'm not even a beer drinker, but this lager was actually good (I would order it in a restaurant) and the beer expert agreed with me.  He even let us try his porter, which wasn't usually for tasting and Mike was in Heaven! We stayed for about an hour just chatting with the owner about everything from beer to the Greek economy.  When we asked why he doesn't distribute to Turkey, we were not surprised when he said the taxes were too high.  We called our taxi driver and made our way back to the hotel with six beers in hand.

A little taste of Turkey in Greece...gotta have the Evil Eye!

We had the taxi driver drop us off at our hotel so we could put our beer in the room and regroup before heading to Chios Town, which is the little town along the water. 

We spotted these guys along our walk into town

We found an "authentic" Greek restaurant and settled in out of the rain for some lunch/dinner.
Greek salad anyone?

After lunch/dinner, it was late enough in the evening that we didn't have time to do any other sightseeing, so we found a wine bar and settled in there. 

and gold for my favorite university

While we were there, I was stalking all forms of social media for any sort of update on College GameDay at JMU! My parents, Ben and countless friends and classmates were there to help welcome the broadcast.  
I don't think I've ever seen a bad picture of this place

After tasting a few glasses of Greek wine, we called it a relatively early night and headed back to the hotel to rest up for day two of our Greek Island adventure.