Weeks 8 and 9: Belly Dancing Lessons, Bayram, and a Fancy Concert
Monday- I rejuvenated at home from the night before (and took off my fake nails, which is easier said than done). I got hungry from not eating lunch, so I told Hannah and she agreed to eat with me in Alsancak (downtown). I got ready relatively quickly and caught the bus there. It’s nice to have a one-on-one conversation sometimes instead of constantly having a group around to make decisions for and try to keep happy. We had a really good, deep conversation, and then I made my way back home.
Tuesday- Michelle and I sat through one Spanish class together, but the one with the second 9th grade class was cancelled for some reason. So we went to the library and looked at kids books for the rest of the period. We attempted to translate the books, but we quickly gave up when we realized we didn’t know enough Turkish to succeed at that. We had our semi-regular meeting with Susan, the British teacher at our school, and she mentioned courses we might be able to take in things like carpet weaving or water painting, both of which would be really fun. When I got home from school, I met up with Emily and Hannah, had dinner, then we went shopping at a few different stores. Eventually it was time to call it a night, so we walked Hannah to the bus stop and I took a taxi home.
Wednesday- 1st period, we had Spanish with the 10th graders, but we didn’t do anything much outside of what the other classes have already learned. When we walked back to our room, though, we saw they were taking a test, so we didn’t go in. 3rd period was music with the 7th graders, which was hectic and noisy, but we got to sing a little. The teacher had the guitar in his hands most of the class, but towards the end, he handed it to me and asked me to play/sing “Hallelujah”. So I did... to gain a small fan base if nothing else!! The class joined in on the chorus, which was very cute. 4th period took us outside for Biology as the teacher examined different plants around the school and explained the leaves. Not that Michelle or myself understood much of what was being said, it was nice to get out of the classroom and walk around a bit. At night, I had the regular routine with my host mom of eating dinner and watching TV.
Thursday- In art class, Michelle and I made an outline of one of the boys on a big piece of paper. Our plan was to color it a bit and label all the body parts to help us learn them faster. Then, we had gym. Michelle forced me to have a pretty good workout actually. First we were just bumping a volleyball around, but then we asked the gym teacher if we could go somewhere away from the boys’ intense soccer game to run. She took us through a strange series of stairways until we ended up in the playground/ courtyard for the younger kids. Let’s just hope we can make it a semi-regular thing... lord knows I need it! 5th period was Drama club with the young ones. This week, the kids were assigned their roles. Then, Michelle and I read through the first couple pages so they could hear the pronunciation of things. The all did very well for their first run-thorough. But no one was assigned the role of the Fairies. They asked for volunteers who would be interested, and Michelle and I decided we’d put our names in for consideration. Well now we’re fairies, along with one other girl who didn’t have a part. After school, I headed to Alsancak over to Hannah’s neighborhood. We ate some dinner and when her host mom got home, she walked us the block and a half to belly dancing lessons. The class was great, but quite the muscle workout. We did a lot of stretches and exercises to tone our muscles in our arms, legs, and core. Then we learned some basic steps, a short routine, and other stuff. There was a tiring amount of repetition to everything, but it was good to help us train. Hannah and I were the only young girls, the rest were all women in at least their 40s. The class was 2 hours long, which was enough for me. So afterwards, Hannah and I wasted a bit more time talking before I went home on the bus.
Friday- When I woke up in the morning, I was sore... ALL over. My legs and butt hurt the most, but I couldn’t move without a muscle somewhere hurting. That mix of working out with Michelle (her rugby squats were probably what did me in) and belly dancing was just too much. At night, Maggie and I were invited to the Interact club’s meeting (we’re hosted by the same Rotary club here, as is Mariana). For those who don’t know, Interact is like a Rotary Jr... it’s for kids up to age 18, then they can become Rotaract if they choose, until they hit a certain age and they make it to the top of the Rotary ladder. Anyways, the Interact club associated with our Rotary club was celebrating their first anniversary of existence, so Maggie and I went and introduced ourselves... and got some free cake. Always a plus!
Saturday- Turkish lessons were cancelled, but those of us that were still in the city for Bayram met up in the afternoon and celebrated Mariana, Cristina, and Vitoria’s birthdays. A group of about 10 of us met at what we call the “ugly horse statue” along the sea, then we walked to our usual neighborhood to get some lunch. We spent the rest of the evening together as well, which is always a fun time no matter where we are or what we do.
Sunday- This was when Bayram really started for most people. Just for a little background on the holiday, November’s Bayram, which means “vacation” or “holiday”, is a holiday that Muslims celebrate that is connected to the bible story depicting the sacrifice Abraham was told to make by God. God told him to take his oldest son, Isaac, to a mountain and sacrifice him, but instead of making him kill his son, God tells Abraham to kill a goat instead. Therefore, a lot of sheep and goats are sacrificed on this particular Bayram to commend this act of dedication to God. It’s a time to visit family members and friends as well, and apparently eat... a lot. So apparently there are several “Bayrams” every year. So anyways, Sunday, my host mom and I went to her ex-husband's parent’s house, which was as awkward for me as it was for my host mom. They forced too many pieces of baklava in me... little did I know it was only the beginning. We went to 2 different houses that day. I actually don’t know how I was connected to the second family, but they gave me more baklava and Turkish coffee.
Monday- I went to Agora (the big shopping mall) and met up with Morgan, Annie, Cristina, Mariana and Maggie. We spent most of our time talking in the food court, but we went to a store or two where I bought some pants. Demet picked me up along with her uncle, who was quite comical may I add, and we went to my host grandma’s house. I watched Demet and her mom chat and bicker as they prepared dinner, then we ate and I watched the Turkish version of Dancing With The Stars with my host great-uncle. That was very interesting, considering most of the professionals were Russian. I started to feel kind of sick for some reason, and one of the strange remedies people have here when someone is sick is to give them fruit to eat. So I was given a bowl full of mandarine oranges.... whatever! One plus about Bayram for the kids thought is getting money from your family members. If you kiss the hands of the older members of your family and wish them a Happy Bayram, they’ll give you some money. I ended up with 250 TL at the end of that night, which is DEFINITELY not something to complain about!
Tuesday- I woke up feeling even worse than the day before, but we had more Bayram to celebrate, so I sucked it up and we were off to my host grandma’s house again before I knew it. We picked her up, along with her brother and sister, and drove to a city called Şefirihasir where we meta random Turkish couple at their home for a late lunch. Well, i’m sure for the people I was with, the couple wasn’t random, but I didn’t know who they were, nor did anyone explain it to me. But as is the life of of an exchange student!! After we left there, we went to a nearby city called Salğıcık (I won’t even try to pronounce that), which seemed to have a strange love for snails, because there were snail statues and memorabilia all over the place. First, we visited the grave of my host mom's father, who died only a few weeks before I arrived here. His grave still had no headstone and there were just rocks covering the top, but nevertheless, I watched as the family poured water on the grave and said prayers for him. It was a sad moment, and I thought back to my Grandpa and Grandma Drozdowicz. Few tears were shed, seeing as the Muslim religion believes it's disrespectful to cry over death because the person is taken to a better place away from this world, so they should be happy. Afterwards, we went close to the seaside where usually there’s a bazaar, but I guess there wasn’t that day. After looking around at some of the old buildings and a few stores that were open, Demet and I rejoined her mom, aunt and uncle, and by then, I really wasn’t feeling too good. With a spinning head and an upset stomach, I walked to the car, only to find out that before going home, we were going to my host grandma’s summer house in a city close by. At first I thought she meant we’d be staying and eating there or something, but turns out they just needed to grab a few things before we left. When we finally came back home, I changed my clothes and curled up on the couch under a blanket. We ate soup and watched TV for a while as Demet worked on her computer. Eventually, I got up and went to my room. Here's a picture of the snail city and the cemetery:
Wednesday- I felt a bit better when I woke up, but still not great. So when Demet said she was off to her friend’s house, I declined the invitation to come with. I rested for a few hours, not expecting her back for quite a while. But all of a sudden, she called and said, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes, meet me at the corner.” I was caught a bit off guard, but I went anyways. We didn’t stay at her other friend’s house long, and afterwards we walked home. That night, we decided that Thursday I needed to get my passport and residence permit from the police department. I made plans to meet Hannah in Alsancak on Thursday and boy, did we have an adventure that day!
Thursday- November 10th was the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death. In honor of him, they have a big ceremony and a moment of silence in the whole city. I was at the bank with my host mom when the moment of silence happened. Demet ran to the door with me and showed me one of the strangest sights I’ve seen here yet. Everything and everyone seemed frozen in time. People stood outside their cars, engines still running. The man at the ATM abandoned his transaction and turned to the middle of the street to join the rest of the crowd. It was almost eerie to see. A high frequency buzz could be heard, and I’m guessing it rang through the whole city, and maybe the country, I don’t know. When it stopped, people climbed back in their cars and went back to their lives as if it had never stopped. WWe finished up at the bank and then Demet dropped me off to meet Hannah. There was a group of people in the plaza she left me at with flags. Not long after I arrived, an entire parade of people came stampeding from Kordon (the street running along the sea) and filled the plaza with activity almost instantly. Hannah and I decided to stay and watch for a while. We bought a flag for each of us and observed the people singing the national anthem and a trumpet playing a salute to Ataturk, and as we left, a video of Ataturk started playing on a big screen. We walked to the police station to get my residence permit and passport. We waited for our number to be called once inside. Afterwards, we wanted to eat something, but instead of taking the bus, we decided to walk. We got back to the plaza, but instead of going around to use the crosswalks, we decided to go through the small opening between the trees that separated the two streets. We ran across the first one to beat the traffic, but Hannah didn’t slow down fast enough and tripped on something in the dirt. She stumbled forward and landed in the next street in almost a breakdancing position. My immediate instinct was to get her out of the street before a car came, so I fell down beside her and pulled her up to the curb. Within 30 seconds, 4 or 5 men were surrounding us, asking questions in Turkish. I asked Hannah vital questions to make sure she hadn’t broken anything and that she wasn’t bleeding, and just to keep her conscious. One guy brought her a glass of water, and after a minute or two, we stood her up and I helped her across the street. She sat on a stool and held her head while I dusted us off a bit. We walked to the Sandwich sStore, which was relatively close, and got her some ice, and after 15 minutes there, we continued on our quest for food. We made up an “alternative story” as to how things happened, which involved us fighting a man who had kicked a stray cat on the street (which really did happen, but we didn’t fight him.) Anyways, after we ate, we found our way to Diana’s house and told her our stories. When Alfonso arrived, we told him the stories too, but the “alternative one” first, which he believed. We made quesadillas while we chatted and then decided to watch a movie. At some point, Alfonso, Hannah and I took off and decided to get Starbucks. Then we walked Hannah home, and Alfonso was sweet enough to wait at the bus stop with me. By the way, Hannah’s fine. She didn’t really even bruise, so don’t worry, it’s just another story now. Anyway, here's some pictures of the ceremony in Alsancak:
Friday- I went to school and wrote about the week before and all of Bayram’s festivities. After school, I went home and dressed myself up real snazzy-like for an orchestra concert later on that night. I met Diana and Hannah at the bus stop near my house around 6 and we went to a waffle place right across from my house that I didn’t know was there until that night. We went back to my house and Emily ended up coming to my house too. My host mom said she would drive us to the opera house, even though it ‘s fairly close to my home. At the concert, we met up with Cristina her host mom, Morgan, and Maggie. After some confusion with our tickets, we got in and watched a pretty cool concert. The first few songs were quite depressing, but well done. I guess the whole thing was a tribute to Ataturk and his favorite music. After the break, they switched the huge 4-part choir for one woman and a grand piano before proceeding to do another set of songs. Demet picked up the four of us when it ended and we took the girls to the bus stop and waited in the cold with them.
Saturday- Turkish lessons were moved to Sunday morning, so I slept in on Saturday. Finally, after too many weeks of no plans being made, someone made an appointment for a few of us to get our legs waxed. So at 2:45-3:00, I met up with Emily, hannah and Maggie. We walked around for a while trying to find Hannah’s mom’s printing store, seeing as Hannah forgot where it was, and once we got there, her mom led us to the salon. Emily went first, then Maggie went next. She wanted someone to come with her, this being her first time, so I went with her into the little room. She screamed and winced after every single rip of the paper, not to mention clenched my hand as hard as she could. Hannah went 3rd, and I sat with her too and told her stories about my senior year to keep her mind off the wax. Emily came in with me and we talked while I got waxed. Once and a while a bad one came and I exclaimed a thing or two, but I never screamed! We then walked to our regular meeting spot to meet Alfonso, Zoe, Annie, Diana and Mariana. We ate a little something at Hannah’s parent’s new restaurant, then we left for a karaoke place we’d never been to before. The had great music playing when we got there, so naturally, I started dancing like crazy. A lot of us did actually, and we had quite a good time even before the karaoke started! We left fairly early in the night and Emily and I took the bus home together.
Sunday- I left the house before my host mom even got out of bed. Emily and I had planned to take the bus together, so, as planned, I texted her when I got on the bus. It took me a while to find my bus card, though, and that’s all the time it took to delay the message until right as the bus passed by Emily. She looked up from her phone as it passed and a look of utter confusion crossed her face. She ended up catching a taxi and we met up by the bus stop in Alsancak anyway. We walked to Turkish lessons, and we were the first ones there. The teacher started with only a few of us there, and we learned adjectives as people trickled in. Then we attempted to learn prepositions and articles, but that was just a disaster, so eventually the teacher gave up and taught us the future tense conjugation rules. And yet again, Turkish got harder. We wrote dialogues, acted out sentences, and whatever other activities the teacher thought of until the clock struck 1pm. We ate lunch at Kekik, a restaurant we like to frequent because of the low prices and good food, then some of us got waffles nearby. We did a bit of shopping, then went to Sir Winston’s Tea House where I tried salep for the first time. Salep is made from a powder that comes from orchid roots, but since those are becoming rarer, they usually use artificial flavors. It’s mixed with milk, sugar, and spices and tastes kind of like eggnog or liquid tapioca. Anyways, it’s good. After the salep, the group split a bit when we did some more shop grazing. I bought some black boots for 30 TL, which is SUPER cheap and I love them. At the end of the day, Morgan, Emily and I took the 986 bus home, and after I ate dinner with my host mom, I talked with my sister Chelsea for a while on Skype.
Haley Drozdowicz is a Craig High School student who's visiting Turkey. She's studying there as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Haley is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.