July 23, 2010

Here is a quick drunk post, which seems very sacrilegious because I havent posted anything in over a month. And also because I obviously take myself too seriously. But after chugging on whiskey for a few hours I am feeling oh so wise, and a comment someone just made (now forgotten or I would share it) made me realize that after over four months in this foreign land I am indeed a changed girl. Maybe not for the better. How does Aerosmith call it? Jaded. Fuck.
Last night I went out with two guests from the hostel to smoke some water pipe and have a beer down by the Golden Horn. The air was very humid, and since air conditioning does not exist here and you can never cool off, you can count on having less sympathy for, well, everything.
The people I went out with were two guys from the States who are living in Albania and were on short travels while on a break from teaching English there, which made for lots of the “…..which is so totally different than at home, right?” kind of conversation. And since they were new to Turkey and the hostel, they were sharing their observations of where I work.
One of the dudes: “Soooooo, I was noticing one of your coworkers (read:young horny Turkish guy) was like, hugging ALL of the girls. And watching them I noticed they totally were uncomfortable because like. He was hugging them tightly and kissing them on the cheek and they were NOT hugging back. And it just seems weird but, is it normal? Do you get complaints?”
Sidenote: This observation is completely correct. But this is also a coworker I consider a twin brother and know is heartbroken over losing his girlfriend and is truly harmless and Turkish touching does seem over the top for many not used to it. But I am also a girl and can look at the situation with fresh eyes because I used to have those fresh eyes. Anyway I am in an interesting position sometimes of feeling obligated to say things like “stop holding her because she is clearly uncomfortable” and knowing that the true intentions of my coworkers are innocent (usually anyway). And before you roll your eyes about me defending INAPPROPRIATE TOUCHING, please hear my response.
Me: “Ya know, people don’t really complain. But that doesn’t mean anything actually, because I know some girls would like to. And this is the problem. Because in western society we are taught to be polite at the expense of our own feelings. So on one hand I see these girls feeling a bit violated and uncomfortable and the part of me that wholly belongs to the sisterhood wants to say “you motherfucking handsy piece of shit I will strangle you if you don’t stop touching her.” And I did at first, although less aggressively. Generally something like “wow man STOP. She is not enjoying that,” while she would giggle and be like “no haha, it’s fine” but then would give me the “thank you” face and eyes. But now, day b’day, I start realizing that people must learn the skill to say ‘no’ by themselves when they need to. If a person is holding you and you don’t like it? Don’t say “hehe, ooooh wow that’s a, that’s a strong hug you have there.” It is okay to say “Stop!” You don’t have to feel like a prude or that you will hurt someones feelings. Be comfortable making yourself comfortable. And maybe it is a good lesson.”
Which is the gist of what I said, and then after felt very bitter and used, like “soooo super sorry girls if you can’t handle it. But please stop talking to me, I’m far too busy smoking Virginia Slims and laughing at the cruel world, *hack cough*. ” But then even after that I felt again like I made a valid point. And that it is one that Turkey has taught me well, with the pushy vendors and pushy men and demanding guests and complete lack of solitude. But it is one we can all drink from, because who hasn’t comprised their own comfort for the sake of someone who isn’t important enough? I just want to say this: respect yourself first. Always. It is okay to say no to people. It is even okay to say “fuck off” because sometimes nothing else will work. It is also okay to give yourself completely to something you believe in and make sacrifices for the important ones. That is also respecting yourself. But remember what Nancy Reagan said–“Just say no.” Or wait. Was that about drugs? Shit that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is when someone is rude, offer to share your drugs, just like Jesus said about turning the other cheek. Okay I might be misquoting some folks here but anyway. Sometimes whiskey makes you wise and sometimes it just makes you an asshole. Either way though, treat yourself right. Someone has to, eh?

UPDATE I have sobered up since speeding through writing this post last night, and am now feeling like a total wanker. Maybe you can figure this kind of thing out on your own, but those sentiments in my head were really meant to apply a little more globally, and not only to women being touched in a way they didn’t enjoy. Like, apply that shit to your working relationship with your boss, or your mountain climbing relationship with your sherpa. Whatever it is you’re up to. It’s just that I am not good at writing metaphorically when I’m drunk. Similes though, ‘nother story. I can write those like….Turkish men can grab tits. See? And it really drives the point home. Brilliant.


Whoa! Hey there old friend, blog. Long time eh? We barely got to know each other before I went absent for a month. Sorry to play deadbeat boyfriend to your loyal, shining face, but I have been busy, ya know? For starters, I am illegally employed, so I spend A LOT of time running from the Polis while wearing a comical hat and sexy sunglasses. I have also had some visitors, of the mother and “friend from previous travels” variety. On top of that, I’m pretty sure I have a tapeworm because my appetite has become insatiable (fingers crossed for tapeworm and not pregnancy) which means I have to spend a good deal of time consuming food, and not to mention….we just found a frisbee at the hostel. It took many hours but I have perfected a move where I throw the frisbee in between my legs and straight into Honeybear’s face.
So excuses aside, I came to work today thinking about all that has happened in this month and thought how my fingers were aching for some typing. Seems like a nice morning for blogging. And since I do not feel like making grand observations about things like gender relations in a muslim country or how to combat the forced child labor of toddler panhandling, I will simply get anecdotal. So here is some sugary storytelling, served up hot and sticky like the pistachio baklava I had for breakfast.

On Making Others Less Cultured by Proximity:
A few weeks ago I was invited to dine in a Turkish home—the kind of thing backpackers creme themselves over, with the homemade food, feeling of inclusion in a foreign land, and of course the idea that we can go home and say something like “well traditionally in Turkey, they would all eat from the same plate. How do I know? Oh yeah did I mention I got really close with some locals in my extensive travels?”
The evening was pretty great actually, enhanced by three rounds of dessert and face and back massages given to everyone at the end of the meal (hostess with most mostess). The night would have gone down in my blurry memory books as one of delightful gluttony and the warm feeling of “human bonds break borders” blah blah. And then they had to go and ruin it with their mean spirited singing.
Here is some important information: the couple who was hosting us (myself and two others) are both classical Turkish musicians. With nothing but crazy finger snaps and their voices, they can produce a full-on show. The other two in attendance weren’t too shabby themselves, one guy from France, a professional musician as well who was in Istanbul to study under our host, and the other an outgoing German guy who was not a musician, but was big and smiley and could do nothing but light up a room. And then there was me, the girl whose musical experience is limited to drunk, poorly executed renditions of Billy Joel songs during Karaoke. But in a joyful, culture-sharing manner, everyone decided to start taking turns singing a traditional song from their country, A Capella. Dear god no.
Naturally my turn came up, and my initial resistance was ignored–I knew I was going to have to sing. After everyone else belted out their beautiful old folk songs, all eyes turned towards me. As they sat, four unblinking sets of eyes trained on my red face, I smiled too widely while panicking on the inside. What the fuck traditional American song was I to sing? Not the anthem for chrissakes. Um, Amazing Grace? A little too much to tackle for my first live performance. Itsy Bitsy Spider? Ah shit this is not good. After I could stall no more, I finally opened my mouth, and much to my chagrin, out spilled the words “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son and when his daddy would visit he’d come along……” Are you serious brain? Dusty Springfield? She’s not even from the States! I choked through it, voice wavering the whole way, feeling like an amateur stand-up comedian–you know the kind that are so bad it is almost more uncomfortable for the audience to watch than it is for the performer? I finished without a bang, never really finding that “I’m so bad it has become fun” kind of thing. And afterwards we moved along quickly to the next singer, everyone ignoring the fact that we all felt very awkard for a looong minute and a half when the only sound in the room was my strangled-kitten wailing. Needless to say I was not asked for a repeat performance.
So next time I am sitting in a house full of singers and I am asked to perform, I will be armed with a fabulous and meaningful song that expresses the pain of my ancestors and conveys hardships through metaphoric storytelling.
‘Billie Jean’ anyone?

On Wanting What You Can’t Have
Here is a twist I didn’t see coming: I have recently developed a huge crush on a devout Muslim boy that looks just like Enrique Iglesias (yes the reference is a bit dated but minus his queer style and voice, Enrique is a good lucking piece). The main problem with this is that he spends a lot of time studying religion (while wearing cute cardigans) and not hanging out with me. How many ice cream cones can you buy someone before they realize you want to marry them and convert them to the dark side of hedonism? The answer I am unsure of because I have yet to buy him enough ice cream cones to get him to start drinking or giving me hugs. But that is fair since he can’t even wear cologne that has alcohol in it–he probably shouldn’t be touching a girl whose veins are pumping with beer. Anyway I’m two seconds away from buying a headscarf and an ‘Islam for dummies’ type instructional manual. I don’t know if he would buy it though, he is pretty smart (yes that’s right. He is also very smart even though he makes the most darling pronunciation errors in English). Because underneath it all I would still be the same sleazy American girl trying to prey on poor, good-smelling, doe-eyed Muslims. A little guidance please, Allah?

Okay actually feeling a little lazy now and might end the quick bout of storytelling. Look for later postings covering more interesting things, like ass beatings, fire jumping, political rallying, inter-hostel fighting, new roommates, more crazy street perverts and cops who don’t give a shit, expiring visas, fooooooood, and how if you don’t speak the language properly, the hairdresser will think you wanted your hair dyed explosive red and not normal, golden brown. But that is for a different day.
But it was really good seeing you blog. Maybe we can go for breakfast soon or something. I don’t know, I’ll call you.

Hayır means Hayır!

April 24, 2010

First off, let me say I am not writing this to make anyone worried (MomBrennaPennyRon), I am writing this simply because it happened and I want it chronicled, and ultimately it is an experience in my stay here. So with that being said…
Two days ago, as happens every year, the city was overtaken with Aussies and Kiwis. Thousands stream in at the end of April to gather for a commemorative holiday (Google ANZAC and Gallipoli if you are interested, but really what is of importance here is how you deal with them). I haven’t been drinking very much these past two weeks, but when surrounded by hundreds of Aussies and Kiwis, what else do you do? You drink beers and laugh with them. Sometimes you give them high fives for no reason, and if you are lucky, you pelvic thrust on a few. It was good fun, but after two nights of debauchery in a row, I, in my tolerance-weakened state, went home last night before everyone else to get some sleep. Tired and warm, I set off alone into the night.
The walk to my house from where we were is only about 10 minutes, and is a walk I do each morning and night. I walk between two giant, dramatically lit mosques, down a cobblestone street, past the old prison in Midnight Express (which is now, disappointingly, a Four Seasons Hotel), through a street of carpet dealers, past a busy street of bars and restaurants, down some huge marble steps, straight to my wrought-iron door. I usually enjoy these twice daily walks; they are the only minutes I have for myself, and last night should have been no exception. But after spending the entire day telling girls over and over how safe this city is, it seems irony decided to take me for a little ride.
It was our first truly warm night last night, and strolling home I was feeling very happy, holding my jacket instead of wearing it and looking up at the dark sky. Then behind me, I heard what has become the soundtrack to my life here, “Excuse me where are you from?” I ignored it like I always do and kept walking, until I heard the patter of trotting feet and turned to my left to see a Turkish guy, about my age, adjusting to my pace and walking alongside me. Continuing to ignore him and whatever poor English he was speaking, I walked on sleepily. That is, until he grabbed my arm and linked it tightly with his. Unphased, I tried to wriggle free, and when he wouldn’t let me, I yelled in my loudest and meanest voice, “Fuck off!” in Turkish. He did immediately, cursed me back and then indeed, fucked off. Not thinking much of this, I kept walking the remaining 3 minutes home, thinking about my marshmallow bed and a big glass of water.
The entrance to my place is, I guess you would say, a courtyard, but do not let that conjure up any romantic images. It is a broken tile landing surrounded by a tall, orange cement wall and is filled with junk, tepid puddles of water, a small shed, and a dark curved staircase that leads up to the front door. The wrought iron door I was speaking of is the entrance to the courtyard, although it is almost redundant as anyone with functioning legs could just hop the wall.
Pushing the key into the lock, I realized the jagged tooth side was pointing up, which meant my key was upside down. Had I inserted it correctly, I would have been inside a full five seconds earlier, but since I didn’t, my night took a drastic turn. As I corrected my mistake, flipped the key over, and pushed the door open, I felt him behind me. I had only enough time to turn around before he had me pinned against the exterior wall of the courtyard and forced his tongue in my mouth.
Let’s stop for a moment, because I think this gentleman needs a code name—I was thinking about this earlier, and the best thing I can come up with is “THE MAN I WILL KILL IF I SEE AGAIN” However, that is completely impractical. Thought next to shorten it to TMIWKIISA , but that is just as tiresome. (Sidenote: This actually anagrams into “A Kiwi Mist,” but that is far too beautiful and was quickly removed from consideration). So after not too much thought, I am dubbing him “Fuckhead.”
Anyway Fuckhead had me pinned pretty good. Having never been in a situation like this, my brain surprised me with the following actions: since I could not move my arms or body, my thought was to open my mouth wider in an inviting way, so that his tongue could go in farther, hopefully allowing me to bite it clean off. I wasn’t able to chomp down as hard as I wanted to, but I did get it enough to make him wriggle away from me for half of a second. Still not able to move much, I turned my wrist to grab his ballsac as hard as I could, and twisted sharply. He pulled his mouth away from mine, but I was shocked this didn’t accomplish more. It did make him mad though, and he pushed me down the stairs into the courtyard. I knew if he got that iron door shut I was completely screwed. Like, literally. I jumped to my feet in an instant, but it didn’t matter too much since he was already on me, tearing at my clothes with his nasty writhing-worm tongue in my mouth again. As he squeezed and grabbed and tore at me, I realized my keys were by my feet. I let my body weight drop to the ground, scooped them up, held them tightly in my fist, and punched his face, slicing his cheek open. He stumbled back enough to give me time to start shouting “Hayır Hayır!!” (“No, no!”), and that was really all it took. My street is quite close to the very busy restaurant and bar street, but is still one block down and is usually abandoned. He was right thinking no one would see this, but with my shouts there was bound to be someone with in ear shot. So he started scrambling away down the street. I again surprised myself, because although he was disappearing down the street, which means he was no longer trying to force himself on me, I started running after him. I chased him screaming “YOU FUCKER I WILL KILL YOU!! GODDAMN YOU, YOU PIECE OF SHIT COME BACK HERE!!!” Brilliant, self. I wasn’t really thinking, I was just so pissed off. Anyway, he obeyed, and quickly turned to come back. This time he began charging me, pointing at his face where I had made it bleed. He too, was pissed. Knowing he could easily over power me, I started screaming “HELP!” He got pretty close, and right as he was about to strike me, he saw two big blokes running down the stairs towards us, praise be to Allah. That pretty much ended it. These guys were much bigger than him, so he took off again, this time permanently. They chased him for a bit, but once it became clear he was gone for good, they both turned to me, and I started crying. A gush of tears sprang forth because this was, like I said, the first time something like this has ever happened to me and it was scary. Looking back on it today though, I realize it could have been much worse. He could have had a knife, I could have been wearing a skirt, he could have beat the shit out of me, he could have gotten that door shut, etc.
The story has a happy ending though, as the guys who came to my aid were wonderful; one English guy and one Aussie. They wiped my tears, gave supportive hugs and bought me beers and chocolate cake for the next four hours, until I felt like I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. They walked me home of course, and this time I made it in safely all the way to my bed, where I slept through my alarm clock and came in two hours late for work in the morning. When I told my Turk guys at work what happened, they were livid, offered to buy me pepper spray, and all asked the same question: “If you see him again, will you remember him?” They want to have a little chat with Fuckhead.
So, there it is. I asked myself today what lesson I learned from this, and while part of me thinks it is something like “stay on your toes, don’t get too comfortable anywhere, the world is dangerous,” another bigger part thinks that is too cynical, and not a way I want to view life. I think when I boil it down, the thing I learned most is “for every bad person that is out there, two more good ones are standing near.” And that friends, to me, is worth something.

White Skin, Black Heart

April 11, 2010

Here is the tale of my first real football game overseas. I attended last night with Fistpump, as I mentioned I would be doing in the previous posting. I don’t know if all European games are like this, but I am told that the team we went to see, Beşiktaş, has particularly rowdy and passionate fans. After last night, I can confirm this. Read on, but realize I cannot capture the true feeling with words. I would need many days, lots of props, and I would have to be far more acrobatic to convey the experience as it should be conveyed. So reader, here is but a taste:
Fistpump arrives on time at the hostel to pick me up, and is drunk as promised. I am popping parasetamol to stave off a headache and scrounging through the hostel lost and found to find a black and white something to wear–team colors. I find a nice monochromatic scarf and am ready to go. Excellent.
We hop out onto the tram to get to the stadium, and Fistpump can see I am tired and not fully energized as I really should be.
“Okay no problem. One Red Bull and two beers. You will feel great.”
And he is right. We exit the tram into a sea of fans bumping around the streets, grab some Efes and Red Bull at the gas station, and proceed to some street drinking. Fistpump is in his element, his mouth loosening into a smile as he starts screaming low octave chants, and then turns to me and says “before the game, NO RULES!” To demonstrate this, he crushes his can in his hand, throws it in the air and kicks it at the people in front of us. And so begins a stream of what I now consider, the funniest shit ever. After he litters his can, he pushes his hand towards it on the ground to flip it off and says “Fuck you, can. You are killing the Earth!”
It is about six in the evening at this point, so we have an hour before the game begins. We are hungry, so we stop to buy some flat Turkish meatballs that short boys are flipping on makeshift grills situated on top of their homemade carts that they wheel around the streets. They are wrapped up in paper, and as we open the happy package, orange grease and spices pooling in the bottom, Fistpump makes a bold declaration. “Oh sexy, look at these meatballs. I love my mother but I like meatballs more than my mom.” Keep’em coming brother.
Pushing through the black and white clad fans, we walk over to the window to pick up our tickets. After finishing our meatballs and beers, we line up for the pat down to get inside the stadium. Security is very tight—you cannot have loose change, lighters, or any other small object that you, as an angry fan, might throw onto the field or at opposing team fans, which tonight is Trapzonspor (the sons of bitches). We make it through the first line, then go through some spinning metal gates, get patted down again inside, and then we are in. My headache is dissipating and my excitement is growing.
Fistpump and I have two tickets for behind the goal, kind of shit seats, but he had told me a few days ago that his best friend from highschool is a stadium manager and we simply “go through a hole” and can get to the nice 100 Lira seats, no problem. I was unsure what he meant at the time, but we did indeed go into a storage area and belly crawl through a hole in the wall, to emerge on the other side, into another dark room, to open a big sliding door, and voila! Primo seats to stand, yell and jump on.
The game still won’t start for half an hour, but already the stands are packed and everyone is yelling chants. This will never stop, and will only accelerate in speed and intensity as time goes on.
Right about the time the sun sinks behind the stands, the game starts and so then, does the drumming. I don’t know where it comes from, but somewhere in the stands there is a huge bass drum that keeps things moving at a nice pace; 32,000 fans sing songs in unison, directing special insults at the Trapzon fans who are isolated in a small area without access to food or water, but who yell just as loud and long.
We stand on the chairs; I crush long white sunflower seed shells between the gap in my front teeth and suck out the seed, clapping along and yelling out the occasional “ole” when it comes up since I can’t say the chants (yet!). Fistpump is next to me with fire in his throat, fist-pumping his little heart out, grabbing the backs of the men in front of us and jumping up and down, occassionally swearing in English for my benefit, things like “I am your father!” and “I fuck all of your sisters you sardine eaters!” And then he gets real sweet and throws in some American stuff in between the Turkish ranting.
“Michael Jackson you are dead but your spirit is here right now!”
“We love you Montana, we love you Colorado, NEBRASKA NEBRASKA, we love holes!” (??)
And then as if to contradict his apparent love of the states, he throws in
“If I meet you Mickey Mouse, I will punch you twice!”
“Twice?” I ask.
“Yes twice. I went to Disneyland in Japan and I hate Mickey Mouse.”
Good enough for me.
Anyway, the first half proceeds more or less like this until halftime, and still neither team has scored.
Stepping out of the stands and into a back room with some stadium employees, we chug some tea (beer is forbidden in the stadium FOR GOOD REASON), sit down, take a breather for a few minutes and then go back out into what has crescendo’ed into a second half fury. Things are hot now. The players are really going for it, making bigger plays, and bigger mistakes. And this means bigger chants and bigger swears. Fistpump is almost bleeding from his eyes he is yelling so hard, and at one point, after a scuffle around the goal in which BJK players miss four shots or so, I think everyone is going to have a seizure. They squat down, hold their heads in their hands, and then bam! All start smoking at the same time. Its a collective reach to the jacket pocket for their packs, and those who have none pinch one out of any box in sight. Fistpump grabs his parliaments, biting down on the end like he is firing a machine gun, both hands punching the sky and both feet hopping madly on his chair.
But apparently all of the yelling and cheering isn’t enough. The final score is 0-0, but this was a big game and it means they have lost the championship. I didn’t realize this last bit until Fistpump grabs his heart, bows his head, and sadly informs me. I am unsure of what to expect next, but the fans don’t leave me wondering long. Within seconds, everyone turns at once to the small slice of the stadium that contains the Trapzon fans, sticks out their middle fingers high and proud, and starts yelling in Turkish a chant that is roughly translated like this: “We will fuck your moms and all of you are bitches.”
Over. And over. And over.
After several minutes the crowd finally clears out and takes to the streets. Fistpump claims that his child has died, and that he would commit suicide himself except that he is already dead as well. We encounter a cluster of Trapzon fans on the sidewalk and he turns and yells at them in English “your mother is here and we are walking on the highway!” I have no idea what it means, but he makes it sound very offensive. Then he turns to me and smiles, saying “Beşiktaş fans never care about the score, we just like the game.” Yes clearly.
Anyway, we decide to grab a last beer at the gas station, this time some MGD, naturally, because his grandfather founded the company (“His name was Miller. This is the beer he gave to the world and it is really gross.”), and then head over to the Bosphoros where we dangle our feet over the water, sitting in Europe and looking across the strait at the lights that twinkle in Asia (fun fact for the uninformed–Istanbul is the only metropolis that exists on two continents, separated by the Bosphoros strait–I live on the European side but am keen on going to Asia for cheap lunch). We end our evening by yelling at the water taxi drivers in the tune of Beşiktaş chants, things like “we are super rich, we are super rich” or “we think your boat is nice, we think your boat is nice.”
Sipping from our bottles, feeling the wind off the water, and each allowing the other a moment to think, we smile at each other. Our skin is white, our hearts are black, and because of this, WE BLEED FOR BEŞİKTAŞ!

Day. B’day.

April 9, 2010

Good god where to start?
Yes I have been slacking on this a bit, but not because of lack of material. Many new cast members have popped up, lots of new suspicious behavior on part of The Coyote (considering making a special page on this blog in which to note this….look for in upcoming days), good guests have provided high amounts of entertainment (special mention to “The Cowboys”), bad guests have taken me to the edge of my patience. Lilu, my only form of female companionship, in the form of a skinny white Golden mix, has run away (RIP girl, I am missing you daily). A building across the street has become an extension of the hostel in the form of private rooms, thank god, since they have been fully booked for many days before they were completed. A crush of tourists have taken hold of Istanbul like Lilu’s mouth used to around a chicken bone, splintering off into the various intestines of the city and causing the same types of annoyances–or wait I think those annoyances are internal bleeding, but you get the picture. The weather has been unpredicatable, but on the other hand, the hours in my days are trickling into a mold that more or less goes like this:

–Wake up at the same time I am to be at work.
–Saunter in, change the music, make some coffee (umm I mean Nescafe) and say hello to Jesus on his way out.
–Hop behind desk and look at reservations. Try and guess by names and nationalities if there are any potentially good looking guys.
–Welcome morning check-ins with a sleepy smile and shitty maps, stupid jokes and towels.
–Q and A session with guests gathering in clumps around the desk, unofficial but occurs quite reliably.
–Try and scrounge up breakfast after morning hustle. Attempt creativity with the same ingredients every day–any ideas of what to make out of eggs, cuc’s, tomato, cheese, bread and olives? Oh an omelette? No more please. Egg salad sandwich? Heading in the right direction.
–Gooood long ‘net surfing session with music cranked to 11.
–Go outside and chat with the neighbors. At this point, allow me to indroduce a few new folks.

Fistpump–Works in the hotel next door and looks like a man from Wisconsin, wearing a black jacket zipped tight around his beer belly, skinny legs, forward facing cap, and a serious expression, which he betrays completely with the bizarre and hilarious shit he says . After a few (or even one) beers, he becomes Turkey’s biggest Beşiktaş fan (football team). Fistpumping with his left arm up and down hills, he bellows LOUDLY one of their million chants. This means that I am now a Beşiktaş fan because I am a fan of Fistpump. I am going with him to a game on Saturday. Beers are on him. I will keep you posted.
Word Jumble–Another favorite neighbor, aptly named for his favorite activity besides drinking tea. To my understanding, he has been contracted by an American couple to renovate the house that stands on the corner 10 feet from us. That was 13 months ago. After a few noontime teas in this far-from renovated building with him, I can see his grandest accomplishment so far has been to complete every puzzle possible in the papers. Sudoku, jumble, crossword, all of ’em. Quite impressive really. We also share no common language, but this does not stop him from speaking to me loudly, in Turkish, and at high speeds. He is perhaps the happiest man I have ever met.
Sveet Mama–Large chested Romanian woman who cooks for the hotel up the street. Calls me her sweet Baby and smokes from a 40 pack of ‘Rocket’ cigarettes. Sings for long stretches with almost no prompting.

Plenty more to meet, but that is a good for now.

–Come back inside, clean kitchen, show Honeybear which beds to clean, practice my Turkish while he laughs at me.
–Tea break
–Round about this time Snaggletooth comes in, generally four hours earlier than he has to. I am confused on why this is, but you do not question the Turkish ways!
–Proceed to question the Turkish ways, all of them, and with increasing persistence. Escalates into argument with Snaggs.
–Resolve nothing, turn up the music, decide together what to eat for lunch.
–Order sandwiches (or as it is anti-climatically called, toast).
–Post meal neighbor chatting and tea
–Say hello to “The Coyote” as he comes in for the day, look at our Hostelworld standing (number one as of this writing, high excitement!)
–Go for a walk, get some ice cream, say hello to the usual vendors and drink tea when offered on the way back.
–Listen to various arguments between the Turks while speaking to guests who have returned from their day out in a manner that suggests “this yelling is perfectly normal, please continue with your story.”
–Drink a tea and/or beer, depending on how the arguments went
–Do the evening check-ins as they stream in with much more gusto than the morning ones
–Wind down into evening atmosphere which means generally more beer, possibly cooking up dinner (read: eating what Snaggs cooks and contributing nothing except for the occasional “that smells good in there”) and deciding if it is a ‘going-out’ night or ‘staying-in’ night. This depends heavily on who is around.
–Wait for Jesus to come take over for the night shift. Get the requisite lecture on Christ and the Prophets. Avoid the topic of homosexuality as this almost led to fisticuffs last time on both of our parts. Apparently it is even less accepted in Turkey than in Nebraska? Says Jesus “I am for equal rights–if someone was trying to kill a gay, I would say that is bad. But I just hate dirty and nasty things.” Umm, interesting perspective on ‘equal rights’. A little more severe than the NE take that is “gay dudes are fine so long as they don’t hit on me.” But I digress.
–Finally, let the night turn into whatever it will, be it Rakı in town, beers upstairs, or a nice dark and dreamy sleep.

Things my days don’t include: television, ice cubes, wheat bread, driving, GOOD beer, supermarkets, designated crosswalks, to-go food, shitty american pop music, washing machines, filtered coffee or interaction with my friends and family. The only bad one to be missing is the last one of course. Oh and peanut butter. And maybe the good beer bit as well. But otherwise the things that seemed picture worthy and strange at first, now seem common place and normal; be it the thousands of stray cats, GIGANTIC mosques blaring the call to prayer 5X daily or the Kalashnikov toting guards around the palace that I greet morning and evening on my walks to and from the hostel.
So I think that is enough for now. I will let myself back to my mundane Istanbul existence, and you dear friend, to yours.

Wow hostels. Yes I suppose I am spending more time in one than ever now that I work in one, but I was waking up today and feeling so happy, stretching in between sheets I didn’t have to strip off the bed upon waking and turn into a linen bag. I climbed out of bed to dress and pulled a skirt out of a drawer and not from a colorful heap all around my backpack. I walked over and opened my big wide windows, not worried about a roommate getting cold and upset. I walked into the kitchen, boiled water on the stove for coffee and oh wait not that last part. That’s what I would have done if the stove worked, which it probably would if we had gas. Or electric for that matter. Or drinkable water. But who needs that rubbish when you have your own room and some candles?
My “new” house is tucked behind a busy street in an area that five years ago was completely residential, but is now lined with restaurants full of laughing people practicing their best hookah smoke rings and drinking the only beer you can find here–Efes. Three of us live there now, those three being Jesus, Snaggletooth and myself. The only common area is the kitchen, so there is a big table under a bright window with a bench that has been transformed with blankets and pillows into a couch and even a television, which leads me to believe that there was electricity at one point. The walls are the thick lumpy plaster kind and are painted bright orange, tacked over with Pink Floyd and nudie girl posters. The Tile floors are covered with those lovely threadbare turkish rugs, and the whole place smells like the hash-tobacco roll-ups that are smoked every night in the dark kitchen. And the best part–my balcony, overlooking a backlot with tall grass, huge chunks of concrete and various pieces of furniture, but also the walls of the palace and even a little slice of the Bosphorous further down. After living in 10 bed dormroom hostels for the last few months, it can basically be described as heaven.
Hostel times, good lord. You can always plan on someone being weird. I woke up one morning about 5 weeks ago on a bottom bunk in Transylvania to find a Brazilian sleeping underneath it on the floor. Actually that was pretty funny, as a few of you might remember. He had been drinking homemade Czech moonshine the previous night and they called the ambulance due to his lack of movement. Or once in Belgrade at 6am to a group of 20 Croatians singing something loudly at the top of their lungs. For an hour. After a night on the town, I was less than pleased. Or maybe that other time in Krakow when a Canadian came back to the room completely drunk, unzipped his pants, and flooded his own backpack. His aim wasn’t too good though–Ben’s woolen coat was never the same after that. There was also the unreasonable woman who ran a small hostel I stayed at in Mostar, Bosnia. Coming home that night quietly at 1am with two others and a bottle of wine to celebrate someones birthday completely infuriated her. She snatched the bottle, recorked it, scolded us hard and literally sent us to bed like we were 15 at summer camp and sneaking cigarettes. There are also the bothers like having to repack your bag and switch rooms four times, being woken up by cleaners when trying to sleep in, getting your clothes mixed in to others bags and never seeing your favorite hat again, waiting in line for the showers, and my favorite–the symphony of 8 people snoring at the same time.
Bitching aside, I genuinely love the hostel experience; staying up playing cards with people who were strangers in the morning, but after one day exploring a new city together feel like best friends (awww). Comparing cultures with the onslaugt of people you meet every day from all over the world, cooking up horrible food with unfamiliar ingredients and swapping travel stories. The beds range from a piece of foam on a metal bunk to first rate mattresses with down comforters, the commons areas from stools in an empty room to cozy couches with plasma screens and full surround sound. Some will wash your clothes, others feed you breakfast (and the Polish ones give you vodka), and all come equipped with a hard drinking staff, save for Mostar of course. And the most memorable thing, naturally, are the wonderful people you meet, travel with for a while and then have to learn to say goodbye to as your journeys take you in opposite directions. Quite fulfilling really.
Still though. Nothing can top going home at night–even if that home is with shared with drunk Turkish men.

Talkin’ Turkey

March 27, 2010

Walking to work this morning I noticed how now that I am technically (albeit illegaly) employed, the city took on an entirely new face. I am still a tourist, the only difference being that now I am paid to do it, but even so, it is almost like a veil was lifted, and instead of just trying to walk past the other people and get to my destination, I was able to look around the streets with the eye of someone who will be here for a while, who isn’t having to cram in all of the sights in two days. My route from house to work is a ten minute walk or so, and I get here early enough that the streets are just taking their first morning breaths–vendors are sweeping patios, bread is being delivered and only the eldery tennis-shoe clad tourists are out. I saw a man who sells jewelry being asked to take a picture of a woman in a big wide hat and her husband in one of the better poses I have seen; perched on the middle of an incline, she was pretending to be greatly struggling with pushing him uphill in his wheelchair while he was laughing his ass off. I saw a blond woman hurrying away from a pushy tour guide while simultaneously trying to seem polite; a parade of bored teens on a class trip from England making fun or their teacher who was sashaying along at the front of the group; the guards at Topkapi palace having morning coffee, and the best one–the mild morning sun curling its fingers around the minarets of the Blue Mosque.
Once I got here though, it was a lot less observation and a lot more questions. “How do I book bus tickets to Cappadocia,” “Where is an ATM,” “How do you get to here/there/a fucking street I’ve never heard of,” etc, though the two weeks I spent here as a guest allowed me to get a really good feel for the city and I can answer most questions quite competently. But besides that, I am seeing by the hour what an asset I am here. And for these reasons: 1. I am a native English speaker, 2. I am a female and 3. I am a fellow traveler and therefore understand other travelers needs. My four coworkers have none of those things going for them, and as plainly as I can say it, I see the relief on people’s faces when they see they have me to talk to. Girls especially. It is funny because at one point I was standing next to Jesus (as mentioned in previous post) who is not only obviously Turkish, but also a licensed tour guide. A British girl walked up, saw us both standing there and blatantly turned to me and started asking all of these questions about the history of the area, best places to eat and so on. Jesus actually waved his hand in her face to say, “hello, I am definitely the one you should be speaking to” as she didn’t even make eye contact with him. It wasn’t intentional, but I think the ladies especially appreciate my being here.
When I was taken on though, I was told by The Coyote that my main job would be as a schmoozer, more or less. Lay on the charm, make sure people are having fun–be a female version of him, in his words. Firstly, holy jesus am I the wrong girl for that job. I can be genuinly welcoming and helpful, say fun things like “don’t drink the tap water” and “the wifi code is XXXXX.” I can make people feel comfortable knowing they can communicate to me in English. But I can’t schmooze. Never could. It’s the reason that although I almost never messed up orders while serving or tending bar, I never made great tips. I just don’t have the dazzle. I do however have mad administration skills after being mentored by one of the greats (that’s you Pen) and have already whipped this little operation into shape, whether it is what they wanted or not.
I’m also busy working on my Turkish education, everything from the Ottoman empire and Sultan rule, to the moderate Sunni Islam that is top dog around here. And! Turkish itself. I have already learned my requisite four words today, and taught Honeybear his in English. We do an intercambio over our now all-too-familiar breakfast of scrambled eggs, tomatoes in olive oil, heaps of white bread, several belly glasses of turkish tea, crumbly cheese and olives. Yesterday I learned both “welcome” and “fuck-off” (and hope to find an occasion to use in the same sentence). Today I learned a full phrase, useful for when answering the phone: “One moment please, let me get (whatever random Turk is hanging around). So all in all, feeling productive.
Anyway getting a craving for some sticky Turkish ice cream…going to slip out while no one is watching a run for a cone. We’ll talk soon. Güle güle!

Not Constantinople Indeed

March 26, 2010

The weight is already lifting….I am typing words that I know within the depths of my loins will actually make the long journey to the internet. The journey that thousands of their brothers and sisters have failed to make in months past, instead locked in the virtual prison that is my document folder. And with these new words comes a shift in my intentions. After traipsing (that sounds entirely too graceful–I think I mean tromping) around bits of Europe the last six months, I have gone stationary. Yes, I am now employed abroad. Specifically in Istanbul; pushy, lively, Muslimy, chaotic and colorful Istanbul. So instead of chronicling my day-to-day adventures in mini-scale globe-trotting (that ship has sailed hard and fast), I will be documenting my day-to-day life as a working gal in a land where a woman’s value is measured by her weight in tea and the mighty Lira is king. Well and anything else I tangent off on I suppose. And in an effort to be current, today is day one of both job and blog. So that does it–blogging commence!

I arrived here a mere two weeks ago with a Canadian travel mate I met in Romania. After four months of communist concrete in wintertime Eastern Europe, we were both giddy over seeing grass, flowers, PALM TREES and more importantly–no snow. There was a strange paradox I could fee instantly once we stepped out of the metro and onto the street, one I can still feel, that dabbles somewhere between chaos and stillness. There is movement–ten people will be yelling for your attention at the same time–over and over they chant their mantra “Excuse me where are you from?”–old men selling tissues or socks on benches, children skipping around their parents legs, enormous stray dogs panting about purses and trams screeching down the street, seemingly out of nowhere. A new smell lies around each corner, either roasted chestnuts, fresh fish, fruity hookah or the crush of people themselves. And then five times daily, the blaring of the call to prayer. Walk down any street and see more things for sale then you knew existed; beautiful rugs, ceramics and lamps alongside loud plastic toys and gardening tools, and then wonder how it all still feels calm. Maybe when I find out, I can move on. But until then, I am working here, in this hostel, with a gang of Turkish men. And this is where the interesting part begins.

First of all, this is not a hostel. Yes there are backpackers lazing around, looking at maps and slurping tea and deciding whether its better to ship home all of the shit they were talked into buying, or continue carrying it around for three months. Yes there are bunk beds and a book exchange and community showers and people washing socks in the sinks. But also there are other, stranger things. Like a dishwasher (ha). Or stranger still, the endless stream of Turkish men that come in for no apparent reason besides to chain smoke, insist on free coffee and eventually raise their voices. Today this even led to an eight man brawl that they literally, dragging each other by the shirts, took outside. Idly by sat myself, laughing into my shirt, and the Japanese girl who had been glued to the computer, but quickly left to her room in a horrified shuffle. There is also the owner himself, a character worthy of a little description who we shall dub…how about “The Coyote” (he is wiley beyond all get out); for his own protection of course. The Coyote glides around this city like grease on hot marble, short and fast talking and incorporating every manner of English slang into his speech. He is very in-tune with western mentality, and very groomed–not in the slicked-back hair and reflective sunglasses Turkish way, but the spiky hair, goatee, sweater and cologne way. His short stature, playful manner and wide chesire grin seem to work to his advantage as well, as he is not intimidating, but I’m quite sure he is a pretty brutal business man, and a well connected one at that. He seems to be very good at what he does, but at the same time you can’t help but get the feeling that there is something else going on below the surface, something beyond the fluffy linens and hand-feeding hospitality. I’m telling you, he’s a mob boss. It needs further investigation, but I will keep an eye on it and post all suspicious behavior.
Other frequenting Turkish characters will include Snaggletooth, the lanky, squinty-eyed day manager who is simultaneously creepy and genuine; Jesus, the philosophical stoner who speaks with a wise voice and a sly grin, and then gets a little “trust in no one but God” by the end of all conversations; Honeybear, the quiet and doe-eyed cook/cleaner who doesn’t speak English and seems to be all sugar, except for his quick-to-boil temper (he was a major player in today’s brawl); and then of course, Lilu, the resident dog who is overly excited about eating tomatoes and is currently sleeping under my chair.
Okay I am now being summoned to go work the bar, so might just be the perfect time to wrap this up. Have to say though, it is BIZARRE being on the otherside again after 6 months devoid of alarm clocks and the responsibility they announce. I can see the novelty wearing off quickly in that aspect. Let’s see what tomorrow brings, shall we?