Week Three: A Beach, A Fight, and a Whole Lotta Waffles
Welcome to week three of my crazy adventures in Izmir, Turkey. Actually, I’m writing this during my fourth week here, but.. well you follow. As always, a LOT has happened since I last blogged, so I’m going to try to keep things as brief as possible while still keeping it interesting. As my 8th grade English teacher said whenever we asked how long an assignment had to be, “Like a bikini. Enough to cover the subject, but short enough to still keep it interesting.”
Beginning with Saturday, September 24th, which was the day of our first orientation with (almost) all of the exchange students that will be living in Izmir this year. (The Canadian who’s supposed to be in my school still hasn’t received a visa.) Although there’s almost 20 of us, there are currently only three countries represented: Brazil, Mexico, and the US. So, if you look at it internationally, there are almost 20 Americans here. Oh, and there are only two boys, both from Mexico... poor things. But may I just say, I am extremely excited to have Brazilians to practice my Portuguese with, because you wouldn’t believe the battle my brain is having to not replace that language with Turkish. Anyways, there are ‘Americans’ from Indiana, New York, Missouri, Kentucky, Oregon, and Washington. It never ceases to amaze me how fast exchange students are able to strike up friendships between each other. I knew next to nothing about the other US girls on that bus, but somehow we talked like we’d been friends for years. We rode a small bus to Çeşme (pronounced “chesh-meh”) which was about a 40 minute drive. It’s basically a beach town on the coast of the Aegean Sea. As we pulled up to the beach, we all stopped and looked out at the beautiful view before us. Not only was it one of the most perfect, secluded beaches I’ve ever seen, but you could see the gorgeous blue sea and the mountains all around, and in the distance we could see one of the Greek islands. So I guess if Sarah Palin lived in Çeşme, she would be able to say she could see Greece from her house. (sorry, the temptation was too great) Before sitting us all down for the official introductions, the adults gave us a chance to swim. After the Americans had smothered themselves in sunscreen, we raced to the water. Well, we stopped pretty quickly once we realized how cold the water was. True, it felt good against the hot sun, but WOW. It took some time before we got used to the temperature; either that or we just went numb eventually. After the introductions, we went over the Rules of the Rotary Exchange Program, better known as the “4 D’s”. Most Rotary districts have 4 D’s, but here, we have 6. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain myself!! The 4 universal D’s are: No Drinking, No Driving, No Drugs, and No Dating. Here, we also have No Downloading and No Dialing. Mostly they’re just courtesy things for our host families, being careful on the internet and not using the home phone for expensive calls, things like that. So we discussed the D’s in depth, had an overview of the trips Rotary will be taking us on (more on those as they occur), then had a teamwork-building activity where we had to construct something out of sand that symbolized something about Izmir or Turkey. My group made a traditional bread from Izmir called “simit,” which is basically a skinny sesame seed-covered bagel, but they’re really good. The rest of the afternoon and early evening, after another group discussion about our new/different experiences, was spent in the sand, in the water, and taking pictures on the beach with our respective country flags. It was, in short, a wonderful, relieving day for all of us. I can tell we’re all going to get along quite well and have lots of fun this year.
On Sunday, the only thing I think will be of interest to the general public is my interesting food encounter at the grocery store with my host mom. We were walking by the meat section and she pointed out something and asked if I knew what it was. She tried to tell me it was bacon, (because the night before we saw something on TV when a guy was frying bacon and I kinda freaked out... I swear I could almost smell it) but I was skeptical. Well then she asked the butcher guy to shave off a thin piece to try. Now immediately my mind went on red alert and said “DUDE! That meat is red! It’s not cooked! You’re gonna die if you eat that!!!” But my host mom assured me it was okay and chomped on a piece herself. I shut off the red alert and thought, “I’ll try anything once” as I took a bite. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t completely raw, but it didn’t taste cooked either. As I understand it, the meat is cooked extremely slow (perhaps smoked?) for a long period of time... which I didn’t know was possible... and is very expensive. I told her she didn’t have to worry about spending money on it while I was here and we walked on to finish our shopping.
Jumping over Monday into Tuesday morning at school, I was faced with two situations that shocked/surprised me. The first one happened while sitting in the hall waiting for my class to come back from a presentation (I had a meeting with the English teacher). I was sitting next to my classmate, Sarhat, and we were talking about Turkey, school, things like that, when he told me that when he was younger, the yearly tuition for him to attend our school (Çamlaraltı, pronounced “cham-luh-rahl-tuh”) was 5000 Turkish lira, which is roughly US $2700. However, this year, he said his parents are paying 15,000 Turkish lira, or about US $7700, for him to go there. My jaw dropped, and I asked why his parents are willing to spend so much money on a private school when the public schools seem to be just as good. I never got a straight answer out of him, but he did say that he wants to be an engineer, and he has to pass the huge exam at the end of senior year (which is horribly difficult), and if he went to a public school, he doesn’t think he would pass so he couldn’t become an engineer. I’m not sure how that logic works, whether the social classes have anything to do with it or if the education is, in fact, better, but either way, that’s a LOT of money for just one year of schooling. The other shocker for me happened in Phy. Ed. class. I wasn’t told we had PE, so obviously I didn’t have the proper attire to participate. There were a few others without PE clothes, but they lined us up anyway. At first, I thought they were just lining us up girls on one end of the court, boys on the other, so I took my place at the end of the line. But as I looked at the boys’ line, I noticed they were lined up according to height, and shortly after, I realized I was at the wrong end of the girls’ line. Someone pulled me down to the other end and I ended up being 2nd tallest. Then, the gym teacher yelled something, and all the students snapped into an “at ease” stance (feet shoulder width apart, hands behind their backs). Then she yelled something else and they snapped their feet together and put their hands at their sides. I followed along, but in my head I was thinking, “Oh my god, is THIS Gym class?? I feel like I’m in the military!” Little did I know, it was about to get even more interesting. The teacher yelled a few more commands, and eventually the 2 lines turned into groups of 4 people per line facing a different direction than we were before. Then, we began to march. The teacher blew the whistle to keep us in step as the girls marched around the court to join the boys. At this point, I was 100% in shock and confused and really not wanting to participate anymore. My face must have said all that, because the girls around me pointed me out to the teacher and, thankfully, she said I could sit down and watch. I watched from the sidelines as my classmates, which had joined with another class, marched around the court twice, tried different patterns of turning around, spreading out, stopping and starting. I thought that that was all they did in Phy Ed, but after they were done marching, they started playing with volleyballs, basketballs, and badminton stuff in groups of 2 or 3. The other people without gym clothes sat in the “bleachers” while everyone else played. I chatted with one of my classmates whose English is quite good (her mom is an english teacher apparently) and she explained that the marching was for the Independence Day celebration in late October when several students would be selected from the school to march downtown by the sea in a parade. Well I was relieved to know that this wasn’t the usual routine, but I was still very surprised that it happened at all.
The next day at school was a bit of a sigh of relief for me. Apparently, every Wednesday, the students are allowed to wear “regular clothes” to school. I was thankfully warned of this beforehand, so I got to go to school here like I would go to school in the US. It was strange to see everyone in their own clothes when all I’d been used to was seeing uniforms, but it was nice to see everyone looking the way they wanted to, instead of how they were forced to. Uniforms, in my opinion, have a lot of pros and cons, but I won’t get into that. Anyways, the last 2 periods of school were spent in the clubs we had signed up for when school started. I really wanted to be in Theater, but realized that my lack of ability to speak Turkish wouldn’t allow me very many opportunities at this stage in the game. However, they told me that perhaps later in the year, I could have a “guest star role” or something, which would be wonderful. The club I signed up for was the Photography club, because you don’t really need to know any language to make art. It would have been nice to understand what the guy was saying, but Deniz, who is also in the club, told me the important bits. They made us complete 2 tests: one was a vision test that dealt with identifying rotated shapes and things, the other was to use their camera to take a picture of our instructor’s assistant. Most kids took the picture at eye level, like you would take a normal picture, but since they were testing to see how creative we could get, I decided to do something different. When my turn came to snap a picture, I squatted down on the ground to take the picture looking up at the guy instead of looking right at him. Apparently that was interesting for everyone else, and I guess several kids commented on my unique style or something. I just did what they asked me to!! I ended up passing both of the tests, which apparently if you didn’t pass, you had to join a different club, which doesn’t seem quite right to me, but whatever, not my rules! All in all, I think I’m going to love Wednesdays here.
I’ve explained where the beach in the title came from already, and now is where the fight comes in. Before you start wondering, NO I did not have anything to do with the fight. My host mom and I went to her friend’s house for dinner, and as we walked back to the apartment afterwards, we heard a woman screaming and several men yelling. And I don’t mean little screams, I mean like horror movie guy-chasing-after-the-main-character-with-a-bloody-weapon scream. I asked my host mom what was going on, but we couldn’t see anything, so she didn’t know. She seemed pretty worried about it though, so she hurried me inside the building. We saw people peeking over their balconies to see what was going on, so we joined them when we got upstairs. I saw a group of people bustling around on the other side of the main street. Someone threw a glass bottle at the wall, and at some point three men were restraining another from something. I asked my host mom to translate what they were screaming, but even she couldn’t really understand. She understood the woman swearing and saying, “Why did you come here?!” but that’s it. I asked what the fight was about ,and she thought i twas a girlfriend-boyfriend / husband-wife fighting. Then it hit me... a crime of passion. Just like the ones Zeynep told Diana, Maggie and I about. She said the 3rd page of the paper is filled with accounts of reports of stalking, harassment, and even murder, all between lovers or ex-lovers. Maybe that’s why the “No Dating” rule exists for us here... to keep us alive!
Moving on to Thursday, there are three things that happened during school that I’ll fill you in on. I’m going to subject myself to embarrassment with this one, but it’s part of my exchange, so here goes. In between classes, we can go down to the canteen and buy a little something to eat or drink if we want. I recently discovered their hot chocolate is really good, so I got myself some and was heading up the stairs (I bet you can see what’s coming here)... when I tripped on the stairs. Not all of the hot chocolate spilled, but it got on my hand, my skirt, and the steps. As I said, it was HOT chocolate, so it stung pretty bad, but I was too embarrassed to care at the moment. There was a teacher walking behind me, so she got someone to clean it up and asked if I was alright. I said I was fine and ran up to the bathroom. I’ve got some nice bruises on my knees and my arm, but that’s all. No one in my class knew about it, and they still don’t. I feel like that could come back to haunt me someday. But it wasn’t the end of the world, and my day continued! Which is good, because it got a lot better when 5th period came around. Susan, the teacher that’s “in charge” of me at school, pulled me out of class and took me to the younger kid’s section of the school. She led me to the room where the younger kids have their drama club, where I would be helping them put on their play. They are doing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in English, so it’s right up my alley. Apparently there will be songs incorporated into the performance as well, which they either want me to teach or to perform, I didn’t fully understand that part. Either way, I think I’m gonna love Thursdays. The third thing that happened on Thursday occurred throughout the day. I brought scissors, colored pencils, and blank pieces of paper with me and made flashcards of several different things in Turkish for me to practice. I made a few for some verbs, a few for opposites (ex. large, small, hot, cold, etc.) and other things I deemed important enough. I’ve gone through them several times every day, and even been quizzed by my classmates. I need to make more now that I’ve pretty much got these memorized, but so far it seems like a pretty effective way to at least get used to the words. Plus, my host mom wants to keep them after I’m gone so she can practice her English, so it’s a win-win!!
On Friday, I had a second unpleasant encounter with hot chocolate. Deniz got some during a break and came back upstairs into the classroom. Our classmate Sarhat was throwing around a water bottle, and somehow caused Deniz to spill his hot chocolate on his hand, the floor, and me. It got on my hand and arm, just like the day before, and he got some on the side of my skirt, too. I didn’t want to exclaim that the same thing had happened the day before for fear of further embarrassment. But it stung my hand pretty bad, considering this was the second time in two days that steaming hot chocolate had been dumped on it. I managed to clean it off my skirt though so my host mom wouldn’t have to wash it again, thankfully. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing of real interest that happened on Friday.
Saturday marked the beginning of my Turkish lessons. Our Rotary district provides us with weekly lessons until New Year’s, and boy, do we need them. The teacher was very nice and you could tell she wanted us to learn correctly, but I don’t think she knew exactly how to teach us. She’s normally an English teacher at a school here in Izmir. She made us repeat everything more times than I could count, which felt a bit tedious and unnecessary after a while. One of the other students requested that she taught us some grammar, instead of continuing with greetings, which most of us had figured out just from living day-to-day here. After the class, all 18 or 19 of us trekked over to Maggie’s parent’s cafe for a Surprise Birthday party for Diana (from Mexico) and Guilia (from Brazil). After some latin dancing and delicious chocolate and banana cake, we decided to go to the bazaar, which was a first for several of the students. We paired off so we didn’t get TOO lost, and my partner was Emily, from New York. I still refrained from buying anything other than a keychain for my Rotary blazer, for fear of finding something better later on, or just for the simple fact that I have at least 9 more months here to buy stuff. After the bazaar, our number dropped to 3: Maggie, Hannah (from Indiana), and me. We decided to walk along the sea (the area is named Kordon) and find something to eat, but I’m pretty sure all three of us knew exactly what we would end up eating: waffles. Now I know it sounds American and breakfast-y, but just look at the picture below and you’ll see why we all wanted them. These are literally one of the best things I have EVER eaten, and I’m not sure why I’ve had to wait 18 years to have them halfway across the world... but oh well! Now that I’ve found them, I’m hooked. So Maggie, Hannah and I all indulged ourselves in these delectable Nutella and fruit-covered waffles before calling it a night.
Which brings us to Sunday, or Pazar if you want to speak Turkish. When I woke up, my host mom made us crepes for breakfast, which were delicious, as one would expect. Then, we tackled the city bus route from our neighborhood to downtown, which is where my host mom works, where my Turkish lessons take place, and where all the interesting stuff is. It was an unnerving first experience on a city bus here; it was unbelievably crowded when we got on, and yet, at every stop as more people pushed their way in, we found places for everyone to stand and hold on to something. I parked myself in one spot and held on tight. We got off and my host mom helped me figure out where I was in relation to places I already knew, and she showed me where my lessons were and how to get to the important places. That was pretty much all we did there, because then we went to another bus stop and hopped another one home. The return trip was much more pleasant. We got on when there weren’t a lot of people, so we actually got to sit down. When we got back home, we made our bi-monthly visit to a small salon near to our apartment, where both me and my host mom got our hair dyed. She just got her roots touched up, while I went to a dark auburn red (I don’t like to keep it the same for too long.)
Well there’s much more to say, and I know I’m a bit behind, but I will continue with week 4 soon enough. Until then, I hope all is well with Wisconsin. As I hear, our sports teams aren’t half bad this year, so here’s to hopin’!!
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.