Reflections

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Super duper jet-lagged baby expats!

Here I am, down to less than a month in this place that has been my home for four years.  Four years goes by fast.

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4 years later, learning to blend in

I have already started packing and downsizing.  My upstairs neighbors (a.k.a the dorm girls) gleefully took several bags of clothes off of my hands.  I am done planning lessons for the year.  My exams are printed and ready.  Not much is left to do here but prepare to say goodbye.

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I know I haven’t written much this year.  I haven’t felt very inspired. The last year and a half or so in Turkey has been a little rough – ever since the economic downturn and resultant chaos at our school took its toll.  We are leaving a little burnt out, but I don’t want what has happened at the end to tarnish four years of amazing memories.

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I’ve been taking all the photos off of our computers and hard drives and organizing them to prepare for the next big move.  Looking through them, I can see how much we have grown.  We haven’t aged much (we both look young for our age), but there is a difference in our eyes.  I came here as a fresh new teacher, naive and ready for adventure; I am leaving this place a wiser, savvier, stronger, braver, more worldly and more confident person than I ever believed I could be when I first stepped off of that plane.

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When I really reflect, all I can feel is gratitude.  I am ten times the teacher I was when I first came thanks to the experiences I had here.  I know I can step into my next position with confidence.  I got to work with incredible students that I love dearly and will keep in touch with for years to come.  I made amazing friends – who are really more like family at this point- without whom I never would have survived as an expat.   I learned how to operate with a new set of rules in a new culture and learned a new language to boot.  I traveled to over 30 countries on three different continents with the love of my life.

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Yes, I am happy to be leaving.  I am ready to move on.  But I will always be grateful we said yes to Turkey, even when many people thought we were crazy.  I could not have asked for a more beautiful country, full of countless treasures and wonders, with amazing food, and more importantly, amazing people to begin this journey I have always dreamed of.

11218870_1660003807547814_8920917322430442324_nThese last few weeks are going to be emotional, if you couldn’t tell.

 

I Will Miss You

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As of today, I have approximately 55 days left in Turkey.  Holy crap.

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The countdown is starting to feel real.  Like, really real.  As excited as I am to start a new life in China, leaving Turkey is going to leave a bit of a simit-shaped hole in my heart.  I have made so many wonderful friends here who have really become like my family and have been by my side through everything from economic crisis and culture shock to Turkish miracles and breathtaking travel moments.  Saying goodbye won’t be easy.

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I have been a bit of a hermit this year.  Our trips have been a little lackluster compared to previous years and more than that, I think we have just gotten a little tired.  Living on a little rock by the sea in the middle of nowhere can make you feel a little burnt out and lethargic after four years, I suppose.  I’ve been venturing into Istanbul less and less, but one of my dearest friends managed to pull me out of my cave this weekend.

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I couldn’t restrain myself from taking a bite before taking a picture.

First up was a delicious Mexican dinner, which is a big deal in Turkey because it is hard to find Mexican food here – especially good Mexican food.  These enchiladas were the real deal.

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This was her first time trying margaritas.  She approved.

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The next day, we ventured all the way out to Beykoz to go to a super hipster BYOB old shoe factory-turned-movie-theatre that plays cool old films and cult classics.  To get there, you have to take a special golf cart with security because the road is lined with active movie sets for Turkish series and films.

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Here is the oh-so-comfy movie theatre.  Not pictured: mulled wine in a coffee cup.  We watched Tokyo Godfathers, which was amazing.

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After our movie and some lunch, we headed over to Beşiktaş to see Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon exhibit, as well as a few other pieces at the Ferriye museum.

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I really liked this CGI interpretation of the Last Supper

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The sunset over Ortaköy was otherworldly.

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The next morning, after brunch, my friend convinced me that it would be awesome if we both got our ears pierced on a whim.  So that happened.

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As I hopped on the bus to head back to my rock by the sea, the thought that kept running through my head was I’ll miss you.  Istanbul, my friends, the seaside, my village home, all of it.

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Springtime in Bodrum

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After a very hectic winter filled with work, grad school, and attempting to wrap my head around my upcoming move, I finally managed to catch up just enough to take a weekend to myself. I had pondered using the time to get ahead on some of my work, but upon further reflection decided that that would only leave me more burnt out and exhausted. So, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and some frequent flyer miles and scored a free ticket and cheap hotel in Bodrum.

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I was instantly greeted with fresh sea air, the scent of blossoming flowers, endless sunshine, and abundant cafes along the pebbled beach. As an added bonus, it is currently off-season, so I didn’t have to deal with any crowds as I wound my way through all the nooks and crannies.

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Today Bodrum is a rather small, unassuming city, but it was once home to one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The ruins can still be visited today for a small fee (or free with a Muzekart). I was surprised at how much of it still remains. We tend to talk about all of the Ancient Wonders (besides the pyramids) as if they have completely vanished, so I was glad to still be able to get a sense of what Halicarnassus once was.

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Aside from my visit to Halicarnassus, my main agenda was to drink wine in the sunshine. There was no shortage of lovely beachside cafe/bars and I spent much of my day Saturday helping from one to the next. Some highlights included fabulous wine and burger bar and a Spanish tapas place which served excellent sangria.

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My time alone in Bodrum was restorative, but also emotional. The arrival of spring has made me viscerally aware that this will be my last season in Turkey, which has been my home for four years. I have come so far in terms of understanding the language and the culture and have gained an independence here that I will have to work to earn once we move to China. Sitting by the water, sipping on wine and türk khavesi, and listening to the waves crash beside me allowed me to be reflective, but also present, and appreciate things as they are in this time of transition.

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We are moving…

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Photo from Wikimedia

…to Chongqing, China!

After a few months of intense job hunting, we found a school that seems like a great fit for us for next year and were offered the jobs a few days before Christmas.  It still feels pretty surreal.

I am already daydreaming about misty green mountains, spicy hot pot, breathtaking temples, and cuddly pandas.

We are super excited to explore Asia, take another step in our careers, and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture.  We are also soaking up our last six months here in Turkey before taking off on this next crazy adventure.

Bring it on, 2019!

A Magical Christmas in Mardin – the edge of Mesopotamia

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At the edge of Southeastern Turkey lies an oasis of diversity and culture, smack-dab in the middle of where many of the oldest cities and civilizations first began.  Hardly anyone outside of Turkey seems to know that this gem even exists – and even those who do are wary of visiting because it is only about 20 miles from the Syrian border.  Let me assure you – Mardin is perfectly safe, full of some of the kindest people I have ever encountered, and stunningly beautiful.

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The architecture of Mardin is very unique.  There is a mix of several Middle Eastern influences as well as a local flair for building everything out of sandstone, which is abundant in the area.  The yellowish-brown structures look all the more stunning contrasted against the bright blue skies.

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Every part of the city offers a different perspective of its own beauty, like a strange sort of kaleidoscope.  The locals know how to take advantage of this with its many rooftop cafes and restaurants and shops in the old tunnels below.

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On the subject of food and coffee, Mardin has both in spades.  Mardin is a true melting pot for all kinds of cultures and ethnic groups, with particularly large groups of Kurdish and Assyrian people.  The people of Mardin are truly proud of their diversity and love to share their local specialties that have been preserved over thousands of years.  There are several Assyrian restaurants which serve delicious mezzes and wine (some of the finest I have ever tasted in Turkey), cafes serving Arabic-style mırra coffee, and all kinds of regional dishes that have developed through the cultural exchange that has taken place in Mardin over the centuries.

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Mardin proper has much to offer any traveler, but there are also many fascinating smaller towns and villages nearby worth a day trip.  Because Mardin is a little off the beaten path, it can be difficult to find an organized tour.  Since I am able to speak Turkish fairly well these days, I managed to negotiate a private tour with a cab driver for a good price.  He took us to Midyat and Hasankeyf, both well worth the visit.

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Hasankeyf, right on the banks of the Tigris River, is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it is over 10,000 years old.  Due to its vulnerable position near many borders and along the Silk Road, Hasankeyf has changed hands among many different civilizations throughout history.  Sadly, due to the development of a hydroelectric dam, it may not be around much longer.

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Historically, the area of Hasankeyf has been valued for its caves, where people have been living for several millennia.  People still live in the caves of Hasankeyf today, with a few modern amenities (note the windows and the power lines).

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Efforts to remove some of the historic architecture to preserve it are under way.

Midyat looks much like Mardin, but with one key difference: the population is mostly Christian rather than Muslim (unusual for Turkey) and is home to many ancient and beautiful monasteries that are still active today.

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I was truly blown away by Mardin.  I have no idea how it took me four years to get there.  Very few tourists from outside of Turkey even know about it – but they should!  The architecture is stunning and one-of-a-kind, the people are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered, the food and wine are amazing, and there is just so much history and culture here to discover.  I hope to see more people adding Mardin (and Turkey!) to their bucket lists in 2019.

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Ankara’da

20181103_134559.jpgI am long overdue for an update, I know.

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I will spare you the boring details and get straight to the good stuff.

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After nearly four years of living in Turkey, I FINALLY made it to the capital city of Ankara.  A good friend of mine invited me to spend the weekend with her there (it’s her hometown) and show me around.  I didn’t have too many expectations, but what I found was a charming city with an abundance of good restaurants (I’m looking at you, Quick China!), cafes, shops, and TREES!

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I started off my trip by stuffing my face with the best Asian cuisine I have ever managed to find in Turkey and tucking in for some much-needed sleep.  I am still dreaming about the körili ramen.

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We started off the morning by heading to Atakule, which is a mall/giant tower from which you can get a pretty nice view of the city.  The orange and yellow leaves were a welcome sight.  We don’t get to see many green spaces in Istanbul, so we often feel homesick for that fall aesthetic.

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We stopped for a quick coffee picnic on a hill overlooking Seğmenler Park, which was gorgeous and peaceful and reminded me of my college days (picnics = cheap food and entertainment).

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My favorite part of the trip was wandering through the alleys in Ulus.  The traditional Anatolian architecture blended with cool vintage vibes and we happily spent a few hours strolling through artisan shops and taking frequent coffee breaks.

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On Sunday, before catching our train back to Istanbul, we stopped for a long, leisurely breakfast where I had a delicious cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing (again – not common in Turkey, which made it extra special).

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Ankara, you were a delight.