I lived in Istanbul for almost two years as a Teacher of English as a foreign language – what follows are notes from a journal I kept during my time there:
First Impressions / Year One:
At The Language Academy Ranch:
It’s interesting being judged by students who don’t speak the language I’m teaching, and who wouldn’t know whether or not I’m a good teacher who’s fluent in my language or not, if their lives depended on it. Many times their epiphanies of learning were simply answers copied from the answer key and when that answer is no longer in reach there is withdrawal with big smiles and “I don’t understand”. How can that be when you just said you did?
Students in general, but especially beginners, should not be given answer keys; it’s just bad business. This school uses the availability of answer keys with the text as a marketing ploy. That’s a wrong approach. It makes being stuck in the back with a double-edge sword as encouragement to walk the plank preferable. Pick a killer whale with its mouth already open.
A universal aside: Toilet paper as tissue, the wrong end but suit yourself. There’s always tissue as toilet paper but in that case you’re doing your backside a favor or is it considered prestigious because the tissues cost more?
A Relaxing Cup Of Joe:
It just doesn’t feel right. There’s music on the balcony at Starbucks but the traffic is so loud I can’t hear. At least they are consistent with their coffee, something that Dunkin’ Donuts fails at here. I’ve never tasted anything so bad.
Sublime Thought: Existentialist and mystical fast food lunches leave one as empty as the places of origin. It’s right to dump on the bad and jeans aren’t too tight but I’d rather live than contemplate what is existence.
The sun almost shone bright today. It did happen.
Observations and Tastes: Olive oil is good, chocolate – eh, dried fruits and nuts abundant. Hamburgers are lamb Joe’s (as opposed to sloppy) and lamb’s throats are slit in the streets in celebration of the slaughter; the streets can be rather messy. Cheeses are the bomb; what a wondrous variety. Yogurt is outstanding. My son has friends in Italy who ask him to bring them yogurt when he comes to visit and Italy is the place to go for great food.
The Police Here Carry Automatic Weaponry: I am not particularly inspired by the police station. It went very smoothly with someone who speaks Turkish.
As I Venture Out On My Own: A ride on the Bosphorus and did I almost get picked up? It’s hard to tell in Turkish. He asked if I was Italian, I think, or was it Anatolian, Cappadocian, that’s the other place. He said, “English, no Turkish” when he saw my book and I said “yeah, Italian-American”. I don’t speak Italian. He wanted to go to the shady part of the boat but I was there for the sun. Then he made sign language for ‘give me your phone number”. I said, “What for? You can’t speak English.” I’d rather get a tan if I can.
The guy at Starbucks who wants to practice his English wanted to take me to the Islands on a tour so he could talk. “Can I have your phone number?” Well, no actually and after he brought me my white chocolate mocha latte. Now I’ll probably never get good service. Meanwhile: the crew back at Starbucks in Bakırköy were stumped when I asked them to ice my macchiato. I deprived them of talking about me in front of me in a foreign language I didn’t speak yet by walking away in a samba after telling them to forget it. Now whom is he going to roll his eyes about? I sure don’t know.
Afterthought: Did the young guy want to stab me and take my wallet on the shady side of the boat, which takes away from cool shade and throws a diabolical light on it? Now I have to wonder: Do they ask for your phone number when they want to stab you in Turkey?
Someone spoke English to me tonight. Nice neighbors.
Grandma as the con in her pretty purple print dress, I just don’t need that many tissues, but when I see her I’ll buy them. She’s one of the people that lends that special character to the town.
A Mayor’s Wife Who Sends A Car: My private S. takes her test so I’ll write I guess. It’s not the same as Starbucks but those guys aggravated me anyway. I’ll get back there sooner or later. I wonder if should check schedules to avoid people of course. I want to meet up with you – not. S. does so well with understanding innuendo lately although she can’t get it out of her mouth sometimes. We’ll keep working on that.
Practicing English: My beginner class decided to take me out to dinner. We went to this place by the shore and I was impressed by how noisy it was. They weren’t the least bit disturbed by it, in fact to them, it was as if there weren’t noise at all. I got a phone call and had difficulty hearing my son who wanted to ensure I was ok. The PKK, an in-house terrorist group, had blown up a few shops in the square near to where he lives, and he was concerned the students had taken me to one of the local restaurants. I assured him we were a safe distance away. The next day I took a walk through the square. The PKK wanted to make a statement only so there wasn’t as much damage as could have been, but there was just enough.
Don’t Mention It: My roommate who deserves no mention has stooped to new lows. Peeping through bedroom keyholes wasn’t enough, now it’s the bathroom and wiping his backside with the toilet brush. All I can come up with is what a tool (a word that wasn’t popular then when I was writing this but it is now). Major L for LOSER, give me an L, give me an O, give me an SER – what’s that spell? Believe it or not, the name of someone that contains only 3 letters. (And as I sit here reading this over remembering that guy, I can’t remember his name, which stood for something beautiful like sea or dolphin, but he wasn’t.)
After reflecting, thinking, and giving up, his name came to me as I was waking from sleep this morning, Ido, which in Istanbul is the name of the sea bus company that uses the image of a dolphin as its logo: Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri.
I feel happy today, an epiphany, breakthrough, coming together or am I dying of a rare fatal disease? Some days nothing’s good enough. Anyway, my student will have a good holiday because he scored high and the others will do well. I can feel it.
Stay tuned if you care to. I’m just getting started.
Here’s an addendum: In a word, Rakı (spelled with the “funny” i, the one that’s not dotted, so it has an “ih” sound.)
Rakı is a traditional liquor, similar to Ouzo or Sambuca, that can be drunk two ways: one straight up of course and the other diluted with water. When water is added it turns the liquid a cloudy white and is referred to as “bulls milk”. I tried it both ways and prefer it straight. The one quality, I noticed, about Rakı that stands out is similar to how alcohols relax the body, this one dulls the mind. I’ve described it to my students as ‘it makes you stupid’. (I’d never drink Rakı on a school night, let me tell you.) They’ve laughed out loud at that knowing too well its effects. I also have a cool person, unusual woman reputation because I drink it straight, (I think the water spoils the taste) which makes me… I don’t know… like I’m tough because I can handle it. Really, I’m just trying to blend and pay my respects to the culture.
One evening a bunch of us were out, or it was the night I turned everyone on to an international food fest at the house (see what I mean) and the Rakı was flowing. I didn’t have to teach the next day – good thing – anyway, I tried to put a wash on and couldn’t get the machine to start. I checked the outlet, reset the dials, made sure the door was shut and was completely baffled. I ran across the street to the school (convenient right) and grabbed the guy in the office for assistance. He looked at the machine, reached out, pushed the machine door, it clicked closed and the wash cycle started. We looked at each other and I said, “no more Rakı”. He thought that was the greatest; needless to say everyone knew about it and my cool reputation got even cooler, but I might find another way to blend and stay alert.
Copyright © 2013 Margaret Prezioso-Frye