Expat Thanksgiving

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To celebrate Thanksgiving – and to soothe our mounting pumpkin pie cravings after having taught about Thanksgiving for an entire week – Danielle and I headed down to Gaziantep. There are six other Fulbrighters posted down in Antep, and another 5 assorted American and Turkish friends also converged on the city for us all to celebrate our collective first expat Thanksgiving. Danielle and I were also pleasantly surprised by how close the city was – only three and a half hours by bus from Malatya – which is wonderful considering the amount of sights within the ancient city center that we missed out on.

This time around in Antep, we saw nothing of the city itself as we immediately headed down to our friends’ apartments on the outskirts of the city by Gaziantep University. Once we had all assembled, with friends coming in from Osmaniye, Sivas, Malatya and Gaziantep, we made an executive decision to skip Antep cuisine (a horrible crime, I’ve been assured) and instead eat at a local Syrian restaurant opened up by some wealthy refugees. I assure you, I love Middle Eastern food in America; however, this restaurant was truly the first time I have ever been floored by the cuisine. The combination of having it cooked authentically with the intended regional fresh produce made it outstanding. I just wish I remembered what the name of what I ate was… Or what it was, besides chickpeas.

Thanksgiving Prep
I am confused by kitchens

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It’s Thanksgiving! (Belated)

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I apologize for a delayed Friday Refrain, but this weekend I was busy traveling down to Gaziantep (finally!) with Daniel for my first ever expat Thanksgiving. Although I did not manage to see much of Antep at all, seeing a number of my fellow Fulbrighters after so long was truly a blast.

Pictures and stories to follow! In the meantime, enjoy the Thanksgiving hit of my generation!

Feeling Like a Foreigner

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When you travel – even within the same country, for instance from the North East of America to the Deep South or the West of Turkey to the East – it is only natural to at times be self-consciously overwhelmed by feeling like a foreigner. Traveling to a different country, where the language and culture is different, only compounds this feeling. During my first stay in Turkey, a two month intensive language program in Ankara, I suffered a lot from culture shock. I think it was only to be expected.

Luckily, my stay so far in Malatya has really been free of any problems; however, I have noticed something about living abroad that I would never had thought of otherwise. Namely, the difference between being a foreigner and feeling like a foreigner.

For instance, I am a foreigner here in Turkey. The way I hold myself, dress, speak and react are all different enough from the locals for people to realize that I am not from around here and there is very little I can do about that – at least immediately. Turks, by and large though, absolutely love foreigners and try their best to be as hospitable and helpful as possible. I have had random men who I’ve asked for directions go out of their way to ensure that I arrive safely at my destination. Speaking a little bit of Turkish does help to grease the wheels, but people are generally overjoyed to help.

In this way, being a foreigner in Turkey really has very few problems associated with it; people truly strive and welcoming as possible. I am actively encouraged to think of this new country as my new home. Although I am a foreigner here, I am not made to feel like one – the country is incredibly inclusive, at least in my experience. For example, while on my way to Harput last week another passenger on the mini-bus realized I was a foreigner and insisted on sharing his snacks with me. He then went on to lecture me about how I had to visit Izmir, smiling the whole time.

Feeling like a foreigner, on the other hand, can happen anywhere – even if your own country or hometown. This feeling isn’t linked to you nearly as much as it is linked to your circumstances. For example, I am sure everyone has had that one experience of being at a party or a meeting in which you felt unwelcome and excluded; you did not belong, and you felt like a foreigner. Obviously being in a different country, where the language and culture is different, can easily lead to the feeling of being a foreigner.

For the three months that I have been in Turkey so far, I can think of maybe one or two examples at most of when I truly felt I did not belong. The first was in Istanbul, where at a restaurant I was charged five times the normal amount for a cup of tea – the foreigner price – that I begrudgingly had to pay. The second example was when I was having a conversation with a few Turks. When they asked me a question, and I stumbled to respond, they turned to each other and said “Oh, he doesn’t understand!” and then laughed about it.

Overall, though, these are two minor occurrences that I truly had to rack my head about to think of. I am truly lucky to be in a country where, although I an undoubtedly a foreigner, I am almost never made to feel that way. Turkey has, at least for the year that I am here, truly become my new home; as it is Thanksgiving in America as I post this, I can say that I am truly grateful for that.

The Ruins of Harput

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This past weekend, after being completed exhausted from my Istanbul trip, I decided to take it easy and relax in, and around, Malatya for a change; however, I very quickly became antsy – no matter how much Breaking Bad I was watching – and I decided to go check out the old city of Harput in Elazığ, Malatya’s neighboring province and longtime rival. I had thought I would be alone, having only made plans Friday night for Saturday, but my German neighbor Suzanne was also intrigued and volunteered to come along with me.

Harput kalesi

 

So, on Saturday we set out together. After a bus into the city center of Malatya, a mini-bus from Malatya to the center of Elazığ, another mini-bus to a different bus terminal, and then a final short bus ride we had arrived at Harput. Harput reminded me instantly of Battalgazı – b0th are smaller, historic cities that are quickly becoming depopulated and swallowed up by the new city built below it. Whereas Elazığ is a thoroughly modern city, Harput has apparently been the city of dwellings – and castles – since at least the 8th century BC. Pretty intense!

Harput kalesi

 

The original reason that I had set my eyes on visiting Harput was its historical significance. One of the first cities built by the Turks when they arrived in Anatolia, the city remained an important trade-hub and strategic location up through the fall of the Ottoman Empire; today, however, much of the city’s former greatness has been lost following a devastating earthquake a few decades ago. The city is only now truly being restored to it’s former glory. Due to this, the Harput kalesi – which I had hoped to be thoroughly impressed by – was a bit of a let down as only the stronger outer walls survived the devastation.

harput kalesi

The views from the castle’s summit outpost continued to be fantastic, though, especially since modern Elazığ is built in the valley below. I had also been hoping to be able to explore the castle’s dungeons – which one housed Count Baldwin, a crusader king – but they were also unfortunately blocked off. By complete chance, though, Suzanne and I stumbled upon the remains of Mother Mary Church – now just the collapsing outer walls of what was once probably a beautiful structure. This, and the peaceful fall colors of the surrounding hills, made up for any disappointment the castle may have caused.

harput kalesi

harput kalesi

Mother Mary Church

After what we wrongly presumed would be a light lunch – typically – Suzanne and I visited the other famous sight of Harput, Ulu Camii (the Grand Mosque). Although not incredibly interesting or beautiful without context – it is a simple rectangular mosque, which is technically interesting since it follows the Arab design instead of the round design the Turks would later adopt from Orthodox Christians – the mosque is renowned for two reasons: it is one of the first mosques built by the Turks in Anatolia, and it also has a famous leaning minaret which is still in use although it constantly looks ready to topple.

Ulu Camii, Harput

 

On the way back from the mosque we also stumbled upon the shrine, and burial sight, of Mansur Baba – a Sufi saint from the region. Apparently Harput is full of folk heroes and saint shrines, but unfortunately we did not have time to find the rest and we begin our multiple bus trips back to Malatya.

Mansur Baba türbani

 

All in all, Harput may not have been the most amazing place I have seen in Turkey. I did see a beautiful sunset from the mountains there, though, and the historical context of the area certainly made it fascinating in retrospect. There is something about visiting historical sights, especially when they are still living, that truly helps to put give life some sort of, perhaps not perspective, but emphasis.

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Harput

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Harput

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Dream Too Much

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My girlfriend was the first person to really get me into Miike Snow (who has also been featured before on a Friday Refrain), so it really is only fitting that she was also the one to show me this remix. When I first saw it, though, my only emotion was thinking about how funny it is that the DJ who remixed it is Turkish – at least judging by his name, he is Turkish.

Listening to this song again now, it also makes me realize that I dream too much. Specifically, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of starting to daydream and let my thoughts wander in the middle of conversations…

Culture Shock

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It was Friday night, and I was staring at a restaurant menu along with three other Fulbrighters in shock. The prices listed were at best twice as expensive as anything I’d seen. Even more surprising, alcohol – several types of alcohol, to be exact – were listed alongside the food. Quickly, the restaurant that had only a few minutes before sat only us, began to fill up as more and more people came in from the street. I can’t believe this, I thought to myself, I’m going through culture shock. Where am I? 

I was in Istanbul, and I had never felt further from Malatya.

Culture Shock from Malatya
I swear there are more people on Istiklal than I see in Malatya on a normal day.

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You Are the Universe Experiencing Itself

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A few days ago, a friend posted on my Facebook a link to a website full of amazing wallpapers that he said reminded him of me; the picture to the left is from that sight, and is currently my active wallpaper.

At first I was just drawn to the quote because it completely summed up my own world philosophy – it was not until a few minutes ago, when I was reading up on what the name of this philosophy might be so I could share it in this post, that I realized that this is a quote from a Alan Watts, a renowned Western philosopher who tried to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western thinking. So, what drew me into this line of thinking was not Watts himself, but rather the ideas embodied in this quote.

Religion for me is a difficult and intriguing question. I used to be a strident atheist – although never a very good one, I admit, as I was still always terrified of ghosts and other inexplicable phenomenon. In time, however, my positions softened and I ended up becoming a fairly strong believer in God; this in turn then softened to an exclusively personal ever-evolving inclusive spiritualism.

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“Home” for the Holidays

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Last week I had been feeling a little homesick. I’m not really sure why, but it may have been due to the approach of the holidays and students talking of visiting their families, the gradual approach of fall, or the knowledge that this would be my first Autumn and Halloween spent outside of the country. Whatever the case, heading to Amasya helped buck my spirits up, as well as the knowledge that I would be spending Kurban Bayramı in Ankara with my old Turkish host family from last year – the same host family I had tried to visit two months ago.

Home for the Holidays
Ankara has a bad rap amongst Turks of not being beautiful – bah!

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A Map on My Wall

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Sorry for the lack of updates, recently. Everything has been hectic in Turkey between planning classes, teaching, traveling, and making future plans.

These future plans do include a lot of travel – so, it is only fitting to have “Maps” by The Front Bottoms be the song of the week. Yay!

Fairy Tale Amasya

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This past week I’ve been a bit incommunicado as it was a combination of two holidays – Kurban Bayramı and Cumhuriyet Bayramı – so I have been traveling for the past ten days. Cumhuriyet Bayramı is Republic Day in Turkey, and celebrates the founding of the modern Turkish Republic. Worth noting, though, is that Kurban Bayramı is the Feast of Sacrifice Holiday, and it celebrates the moment in Islam when Abraham almost sacrificed his son Ishmael – not Isaac, as in Judaism and Christianity – to God. Just an interesting note.

Anyway, for the holidays I decided to visit my old host family in Ankara with a three day stopover in Amasya on the way, which allowed me to visit my friends Kate and Erin posted there. I already had fairly high expectations of Amasya from what I had read online, as well as the photographs I saw Erin post on Facebook; however, I was not prepared for how blown away by the city I would be.

Fairy Tale Amasya
My “being blown away” face

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I never said this was worthwhile

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