Tuesday, February 19, 2008


It's been snowing here in the 'bul. A furious flurry shower last Wednesday prompted administrators to cancel school for the day (of course, by 11:15 the sun was shining). We got the call that school was going to close at 7:55 a.m. School starts at 9:00. Anyone who comes by bus usually leaves around, oh, 8:00. As I quickly scanned my first of two Emergency Phone Chains, I realized the person I had to call lives nearby and drives her kids as I do. We leave around 8:35. Another friend, however, lives further away and her kids go by bus. I made the executive decision to call her so her kids wouldn't get on the bus, only to be brought home 40 minutes later.

My friend, a new parent to the school and also an American, gasped in mock horror upon answering, "Are you calling me out of order? Are you breaking THE EMERGENCY PHONE CHAIN?!" Yes, I admit it, I broke the Emergency Phone Chain. Deviant, troublemaker, rabble-rouser. No wonder kids today have no respect for authority! Just look at the examples that are being set at home! Do you think they have support groups for people like me?

On the very same day, I realized that we were out of just about any food that would a)allow me to make a decent breakfast or lunch at home, and b)make for a more bearable day at home with 2 children. Since Matt usually goes to work a bit later to avoid the legendary Istanbul traffic, I quickly threw on a pair of jeans and ran to the local market to avoid making the trip with 2 bored children which is about as fun for me as pulling my toenails out one at a time.

I see a sweet parking spot near the front door, and begin maneuvering in. Plenty of room, the only obstacle is a small sign for the compound across the street warning patrons not to block the driveway. No problem, I have left plenty of room. Plenty of room if the sign wasn't tipped over on its side, sharp pointy metal corner ready to graze any unsuspecting cars. I tap against said sharp pointy metal corner and inspect the miniscule damage before shopping. Eh, it's hardly noticable. I continue on my merry way.

When I get home, I mention this insignificant little event to Matt, who takes a look. We'll have to get that fixed, he warns, and because of where it is they will probably have to replace the entire back half of the car (ok maybe he said rear bumper, when it comes to cars I am truly clueless). I go out to see what he is talking about and see that the tiny insignificant scratch seems to have grown since I left the store. "You'll need a police report"--the phrase that strikes fear in the heart of many. It's true, our lease (and most insurance here) stipulates that no matter who is at fault, you can't move your cars and you definately need a police report. And since we lease our cars, if we don't get said report we have to pay, no matter who is at fault.

I call my British friend who is married to a Turk and studying to be a lawyer while at the same time working at her husband's law firm (Geez, what a slacker). Well, the thing is, she says, you can't get a police report once you've left the scene. "What can I do?," I implore. And then, she certainly doesn't tell me to go back to the scene of the accident and park the car again and call the police. Noooooo. Still in my PJ top, no bra and jeans, I bundle the kids in the car, throw some crayons, notebooks, and reading material at them, and pray that the parking spot is still empty. Of course, just as I am driving up, someone parks there. I mutter a stream of obscenities under my breath and drive around for a bit. I ignore the children's rapid-fire questioning: where are we going? what are we doing? why do you keep driving around? and promise chocolate bars once we get to the store.

Finally, my spot is free! I park again (it is the same spot after all. it's not REALLY that immoral. It's not as if I faked the accident somewhere where it didn't even happen. Please!) and "bump" the same sign. I call the Jandarma and after 6 or 7 more calls in increasingly frustrated Turkish, finally get someone to agree to come. The penance for my crime? Have to endure a Laurel and Hardy-type conversation between the Jandarma, the local military police, and the Polis, Istanbul's finest. It's kind of complicated, but while in Istanbul you call the Jandarma for certain problems and the Polis for others, out by us in the hinterlands it's all Jandarma all the time. After what seeemed like endless conversations like this:

Jandarma office: "Call the Polis"
Polis office 1: "Call the Jandarma"
Jandarma office: "Call the Polis"
Me: "I did call the Polis"
Polis office 2: "Call the Jandarma"
Me: "I did call the Jandarma"

someone finally showed up. I think the bitter cold, half-rain, half-snow showers may have had something to do with their reluctance. 40 minutes, 2 chocolate bars, 2 drinks, 3 episodes of me hissing "just stay quiet until we get home!" and as much Turkish as I can muster, I am on my way with the golden ticket, aka a Polis report.

No worries about me suddenly switching to a life of crime. I'm clearly not cut out for it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I love the sound of my children's voices...usually. But when they practice their song, or more specifically, their three lines of the song, for the school assembly OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER, at the top of their lungs, (Mom! I'm projecting!) I want to take a spike and drive it into my skull. Calgon, take me away! (anybody else remember that commercial from the 70s?)

OK, I'm back from the ledge.

It's February in Turkey, grey and cold. The only thing this winter weather is good for is skiing if there's snow. Luckily, for Darcy, she leaves on Sunday to go skiing with the school. Skiing. With her school. But not her parents. For four days. Without her parents. And she's not yet turned 9. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I am fighting the urge to lock her in her room until she's 16 and have not openly expressed any of the internal angst I am feeling.

The kids are, as you can imagine, about to burst out of their skin with excitement. Of course, we don't HAVE to let her go, but we can't think of a compelling reason not to. I always feel sad for the dozen or so kids left behind, feigning excitement about the "special projects" they are working on and the movies they get to watch in school.

Did I mention that we have to drop the kids off at 5:45 A.M.??? Guess it's good that they get on the bus early. And so I have the full, entire day to obsess about them getting to the destination safely.

I know it's good for them to develop independence, to grow up, and am thrilled that they get the opportunity to go. This chance to live overseas, to meet friends from all over the world, to go places they might not get to otherwise, it's all good. And they are growing up. Sometimes it goes by quickly, sometimes so achingly slow.

Darcy did show great maturity over the weekend when she was seated on both flights to and from London next to what must have been the smelliest people on the plane. You know the type, every slight body movement releases a fresh burst of not-so-freshness. Let's hope she can show the same maturity when it comes to brushing her teeth, changing underwear, and going to bed at a decent hour.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Over the years, I've worked in a number of offices, and I've managed various staff members. Some were good, some were great, and some were, well, they gave me lots of practice in writing performance reviews. These days, my "staff" is limited to a cleaning lady who helps me out two days a week. Luxurious according to US standards, I know.

And, honestly, I think sometimes she manages me more than I manage her, teaching me how to make various Turkish recipes, tsk-tsking me when I go out the door without my hair being perfectly dry, zipping up the kids coats and they bolt out the door to school, and instructing me on what we should do about the ants in the kitchen.

I like to think that I was a fair boss, sympathetic to work/life balance issues and reasonable in my expectations. I understood the need to leave early for a doctor's appointment, catch a child's school performance, or even take the occasional mental health day, as long as there was no abuse of the system. So when Nurcan, my cleaner, explained yesterday that she might need to leave early, it was OK with me. In my Tarzan Turkish, I asked if everything was OK, if her daughter was fine, and she gave me a reason that I can honestly say I've never heard before:

Our cow is going to give birth.

A rapid exchange of Q&A: Inek var mi??!! You have a cow? Evet, inek var. Yes, I have a cow. She uses the international sign for pregnant - hands together outlining a large balloon shape from one's belly. You have a COW? Yes, a cow. And the COW is pregnant. I surmise that it is indeed the cow that's pregnant, and I haven't misunderstood her need for a obstetrician visit of some sort. Don't ask me where the bull is in the scenario. My Turkish doesn't extend to reproductive processes or IVF vocabulary.

She doesn't live on a farm. She lives in a nearby village on a street with other houses next door. Not exactly center city but not exactly country, either. I ask Darcy, who has been to her house for a birthday party that Lucas and I had to miss because of the flu. Yeah, she confirms the existence of a cow. Nurcan's father-in-law offered for the kids to come over sometime and visit the cow.

So now I'm planning on a visit to the non-farm that's in the middle of the suburbs to see the baby calf next week. I can't even begin to imagine what we will find.

On a side note, Nurcan covers her head (except when she's cleaning), though her sisters-in-law who live with and nearby her, do not. We had a interesting conversation the other day about the whole head scarves in university debate that's currently the hot topic in Turkey. When I asked why she did and her sisters-in-law didn't, she simply said, "I'm Muslim." She explained that her family wore headscarves and she started when she was nineteen. She had some problems with her hair being dry and a doctor told her it was better to keep it covered to prevent it from falling out. Interesting. That and the fact that her father told her to cover it. It's times like that when I wish my Turkish was far better than it is.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tight Races, Turbans, Tiny Pieces and Tariffs

Don't you just love alliterations. I am into the news alot these days. Watching CNN, checking out the headlines on the Turkish press, reading online. The US presidential primaries are heating up and it looks to be a good match in the Democratic primary. Hillary? Barack? A woman and a black man. FINALLY!!!

And in Turkey the big news is the debate over whether women should be allowed to wear headscarves, or turbans as they are called in the politically correct media world, in universities. Currently, they are not allowed. It was a decision made in the 80s that goes back to the foundation of the Turkish Republic and their determination to maintain a politically secular nation while remaining overwhelmingly Muslim. Some see it as an attempt by the conservative government to slowly impose stricter Muslim laws on the population; others see it as nothing more than a personal choice. It is dominating conversation at the water cooler and providing stirring up lots of controversy.

What else? Ah, yes, January in Turkey means it's time for the annual hike in utility prices. Natural gas (for heat), water, electric - everything has gone up 15-25%. Gulp! Makes me long for my American utility bills in the double digits. Istanbul continues to be a very expensive place to live. Filling up our Ford Sedan now costs $130. Kids, grab a sweater and light the candles!

Other news is that Lucas turned 6 this week and has adopted an all-Lego-all-the-time attitude. Specifically Star Wars Legos. "Life savers" aka light sabers, and Anakin, Luke, Darth Maul (Maul? Mole? I never saw the last 3 movies), Yoda, and much, much more. He spent a good two hours putting together the kit he dubbed "star fighter." "Can I get just one more help, Mom?" was the most often-heard phrase of the week. Most of the help involved looking for the latest miniscule Lego piece to drop to the floor and become camouflaged in one of our intricately designed Turkish carpets.

Any reason those darn pieces have to be so small? Why can't they be magnetized? Would make finding wayward pieces easier. And keeping the finished product together easier too. Hmmm, will have to start drafting the letter to Lego, Inc. "Dear Lego People, please make your pieces magnetized. My 41-year-old eyes are having trouble finding them. Best regards, etc. etc."