Sunday, June 24, 2007


This week will be sad. For expats, the end of every school year typically brings a turnover. Some years lots of people leave, other years it doesn't seem like many. This year will be tough as I am losing 4 good friends. Ones I saw every day at school, commisserated with over kids issues, discovered Istanbul with, and shared lots of glasses of wine and lots of laughs.

There's Julia, my fellow American and supplier of vanilla extract, boxed cake mix and other American "necessities". We've shared a number of taco dinners with kids while our husbands were traveling. Our kids get along well and they always have fun together. Julia is a mom who "gets it" and we've always been able to rely on our shared experiences to help each other out.

Then there's Liz, one of my British posse who knows the best places to find any odd item you might need, from felt to party supplies to styrofoam food containers. She knows the streets off the Spice Bazaar like the back of her hand and is so much fun to shop with. She throws spectacular parties and we've had some really great girl's nights at her place.

Kris, my good friend from Belgium, cracks me up. We've laughed A LOT. She would also give you the shirt of her back if you asked. She is a master kids party planner and makes the most fantastic invitations and cakes you've ever seen. She's also an amazing cook and we've had some great dinners at her house that usually end late and see a lot of wine consumed.

Sian is another Brit and Matt and I have spent lots of time with her and her husband John. Who knew there were others with such eclectic musical tastes? They've made our time in Istanbul really special and we will miss hanging out with them, whether it was taking the kids to the forest, sitting in their garden with a cup of coffee, or sitting by the water in Ortakoy taking in the view.

Now I'm looking forward to our trip home to the states, but I know when I come back this will be a different place. Don't get me wrong, i still have a lot of friends here, but it will be strange to come to school on that first day back and not see the faces I'm so used to seeing.

It's the one aspect of expat life that never gets any easier. We don't have our families here, so our friends become so close. But we won't say goodbye, we'll say see you soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's the little things...

You know those small details that can make or break your mood. Here's my current annoyance. I have been trying to find file folders here. Manila, third cut, basic folders that you fill with papers and stick in a hanging file in a filing drawer. Not exactly high technology. But do you think I can find them? Office store, high-end stationary store...they all look at me as if I'm nuts. They have the hanging file but not the folders that go in it. When I asked what they use to put inside (using horrifying obscence hand gestures and Tarzan Turkish) they pointed me to the plastic report covers. No No No. The plastic just doesn't work people. It bends, it falls. You can't write on the little thingy that sticks off the top to indicate what's inside!

I finally resorted to having Matt bring pack an Office Depot pack of 18 during his last trip to the US. So now I have my 8 1/2 x 11 file folders stuffed with A4 (European) sized paper - which is just about 1/3 of an inch longer than the folder. My only other option was to have Matt bring a few reams of the paper back to match. Just couldn't do it. My sense of order is not perfect, but it will have to do for now!

If I were Queen of the World for the day, I think one of my first orders would be to have all the nations of the world agree to some standards - weight, height, size of office paper, that kind of thing. Did you know that a North American tablespoon holds 20 ml, but an Australian one holds 15? And Turkish recipes give instructions such as "add one water glass of water." What?! Which water glass? Big one? small one? I'm all for cultural diversity, but c'mon...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Local Flavor

Thursday night, Matt and I were invited to celebrate the birthday of the Queen of England with several hundred of her loyal subjects and other friends. I don't actually think her birthday is in June, but the weather is more predictable in June in England so that's when they celebrate. Good party planning if you ask me. We went to the gardens of the British Consulate in Istanbul, which is a beautiful spot. It's always a little bittersweet to go there as it was the scene of a horrific series of bombings a few years ago that killed the Consul General and a number of staff. Nevertheless, everyone was in a great mood and the champagne was flowing. We went as guests of some friends who work at the consulate. British husband, American wife -- though the husband grew up in MD, is a huge Redskins fan, and doesn't exactly sound British. Such is the life of diplomats.

We had a great time and enjoyed talking to friends we ran into and meeting some new ones as well. There were appetizers being passed around, and at one point there seemed to be a mass movement toward one man who reportedly was carrying pork sausages on little toothpicks. Poor guy, he had no idea what was happening.

Fast forward two hours and we were heading out the door to get to our car. Champagne + wine + not much food=me a little bit buzzed. Matt was driving and still jetlagged so he didn't drink much. But we were both HUNGRY. The kids were at a friends house and, apparently, still up at 9:15. School the next day and I didn't want them up so late. What to do?

We could've stopped by Burger King, or McDonalds, but there were three flights up in the shopping mall and we were feeling lazy. Oh, and did I mention we were hungry? And then, there, next to the escalator down to the parking garage, we saw it....CORN!

Styrofoam cups of yellow corn, slathered with butter, salt, parmesean, red pepper - choose your flavor. We had seen the corn stands before and it had become a bit of a joke since Matt's office is just next door.

"Hey honey, how was work?"

"Great day, sweetheart, I had my CORN!"

But now, slightly tipsy and ravenous, that corn was looking mighty good. We sidled up to the faux country market stand and ordered two large cups. Butter and salt flavored, please. We decided to go for the basics on our first corn venture. Let me tell you, that was some good corn! Maybe it was the subtle buttery texture mixing with the champagne, or maybe it was just that we probably would've eaten just about anything. I still wonder about the corn. Why corn? Why in a mall? I think it's probably the upscale version of the corn on the cob that you can buy out in the market streets in Istanbul, a portable, tasty, not that unhealthy snack that fills you up. We have Cinnabon in the US, Turkey has corn.

So, for any visitors coming this way, you know what will be one of our stops as we tour the city.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sometimes life just takes you in a direction you don't anticipate. And sometimes you just have to give in and enjoy the ride.

I had a flat tire today. My second in 2 weeks. It was pointed out to me by two well-meaning gentlemen in the car next to me. On my way to play tennis. My one "expat wife" thing that I do every Monday. Matt is still away (still...) so I arranged for a friend to take the kids to school. You should know that I'm not good at tennis. I'm a beginner. At our annual tournament, when people asked how i did, I could honestly say, "Someone has to come in last place." And, truly, I don't care. I have fun, like my teammates, and believe it or not, I've improved since the beginning of the year.

I'm 10 minutes away and it is pointed out to me that I have a flat tire. I find an appropriate spot to pull over at the entrance to a park. Not the front entrance, but the back, where all the heavy equipment is and all the park employees roll into work every morning. First of all, I can't believe I have ANOTHER flat tire. What's the deal?

The guvenlik, or security guards, all come to inspect. At first I think, right, I'm not an invalid, I can change a tire. And I COULD, if I could READ the jack instructions in a language I UNDERSTAND. So I begin to think about hailing a cab to pay him to change the tire.

Suddenly a new guard comes up and I recognize him as a guard who used to work at the school. He recognizes me and we say our hellos. Tea is offered, so of course I must accept. Again I try to explain that I have to be somewhere soon and I can take the tire to get repaired in our little village of Zekeriyakoy if I can just get the tire changed. My new best friend, Mert, assures me that he will take care of everything and quickly takes off on a motorbike.

His friend, Tuncay, engages me in conversation and asks where I am from. When I tell him I cam from America, he begins to tell me of his love affair with Manhattan. He LOVES Manhattan, it's beautiful, and he wants to move there. He then proceeds to tell me how much is salary is and asks if he can make that much or more in Manhattan. He has seen movies and knows he would like to live there.

I try to explain that I haven't actually lived in Manhattan since 1993 and I'm not sure what the salaries are like these days. I don't bother trying to explain that everyday life is just a little different than it is on the TV and in the movies. He asks me how hard it is to get a visa into the U.S. I try hard not to laugh.

Back returns Mert, who tells me his "friend" will be there in 10 minutes to repair the tire. Again i try to explain that I just want to change the tire but I realize the situation has moved out of the realm of my control. More tea is served. More discussions about salaries in Manhattan.

Of course this is all being conducted in my poor attempts to speak Turkish. When Tuncay asks me if I have kids, I know I should say "I have two kids", and I actually know how to say this, but it comes out "I my two kids."

Finally "friend" appears and fills my tire up with air and diagnoses the problem as a leaky air valve. Once again I try to explain that if we can just change the tire I can get it repaired. But no, there will be none of that. More tea is served and our little group has grown to four persons; we discuss the beautiful weather.

My tire is pumped up with air and I am told to drive quickly behind "friend" to his shop so he can repair the tire for 20 YTL (about $16). As if I have a choice.

As I drive I can hear the hissing of the air leaving my tire with great speed. We make it to the shop, I am again offered tea, and "friend" repairs the tire in about 10 minutes. It's all about the 10 minutes and the tea.

By the time all is said and done, I have consumer 3 or 4 glasses of tea, my tire is completely repaired and I have missed my hour of tennis. But I have lots of new friends.

And if any of you in Manhattan are looking for an eager, hard-working, very nice Turkish-speaking security guard who makes a mean cup of Turkish tea...

New Turkish Vocabulary
lastik - tire

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I had one of those moments today. One of those moments where I was so proud of one of my kids that I nearly burst. Darcy was in a horse show today. She's been riding for about a year and a half. We've had some good times, and some bad times. She's fallen twice and luckily wasn't hurt, except that her confidence took a bad hit. Several lessons were tear-filled and nerve wracking. The smallest bit of wind scared her. On more than one occasion I told her that she didn't have to keep riding if she wasn't enjoying it, but she insisted on continuing. Slowly but surely, things improved. Recently, she's started riding a new horse and everything has just clicked. She's become so confident and has worked so hard. After the dressage course, there was jumping. She's done a jump or two, but this was a jumping course outside with not one, not two, but 5 jumps. An entire course to ride through. I was flipping out inside.

I purposely didn't go over to her before her jump because I didn't want her to waiver. I decided that she would do it if she wanted to and wouldn't if she wasn't comfortable. I gave her a quick thumbs up and held my breath. Honestly, I don't think I took a breath for the 2 minutes she was going through the course.

At the end, she was, as our British friends say, chuffed. Bouncing. Out of her mind excited. And so was I. Not only did she not hurt herslef, she excelled. Pushed through the fear. It was one of those moments when your heart fills your entire chest and threatens to come right up out of your throat. And she did it all on her own.

Oh my goodness, she's growing up.