Saturday, 3 July 2010

A Few Things I've Learned

We're packing up. Our suitcases are bulging with clothes, and books and papers are stacked everywhere. Brooms and mops are being plied over the floors, the washing machine is going full-time, and this house we have grown used to is beginning to look as empty and lonely as it did the day we moved in almost two years ago. Dozens of bags have been hauled off to our local charity, and our leftover food and spices have gone to obliging friends, but we're still taking a lot of stuff home with us. How can we throw out framed photos of ourselves and our students? Or the brass Turkish coffee maker we bought last Christmas? Or the nazar boncuğu (evil eye amulet) my husband got last teacher's day?

It's hot, so I've got the windows open. A fierce wind is blowing in from the Mediterranean and it's a chore to keep the piles of paper from flying everywhere. There are lists: of things we have to do, things we have to get rid of, things we have to buy. We've been taking stock of what is ours and what is not -- and I've been taking stock of what I've learned here in the past two years.

Here are just a few things I've learned:

1) A little Turkish. I know greetings, the days of the week, the months of the year, and numbers up to a thousand. I know most of my colors, fruits, vegetables, and greetings. I know how to say You're lazy! and Stop talking! too.

2) How to bargain. I've always been awful about this, but the other day I went shoe shopping with my youngest daughter and bargained the clerk down from 25 Turkish lira to 20 without even batting an eye. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten him down to 15, but I didn't want to embarrass my daughter.

3) How to sing the İstiklâl Marşı, the Turkish national anthem. I learned this last year and it is still my party piece. It's a great song, by the way, with a really bracing, stirring, moving melody. I'm a little shaky on the second stanza, but that doesn't stop me from putting my heart and soul into it whenever there's an occasion to belt out the İstiklâl Marşı. Getting to sing it has been the high point of every long, tedious assembly and school parade.

4) How to get mobile phones out of teenagers' hands fast. I can do this almost effortlessly now, even when the teenagers in question are almost twice my size. The secret is the element of surprise. If you sidle up to them nonchalantly, keeping your eyes elsewhere, you can catch them off guard and easily divest them of their precious phones. A sense of humor is also a great asset; people are much more malleable when they're laughing.

5) How to teach auxiliaries. My Japanese students already knew how to use these, so I never had to teach auxiliaries before and I really didn't know what I was missing. Two years ago if you'd asked me why we say Who did Madonna marry? but Who married Madonna? I'd have been horrified. Ask me now and you'll get an answer.

6) That Turkish is spoken in many countries other than Turkey. Two years ago, I had no idea that a lot of people from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan -- and other central Asian countries -- could speak and understand Turkish.

7) That Turkey is a great melting pot. I had no idea before we came here that there could be Turks with red hair and freckles, Turks almost as dark as Africans, Asian-looking Turks, Turks with blonde hair and blue eyes.

8) How to make Turkish coffee (it's all about timing) and stuffed grape leaves (don't stint on the olive oil). And how to eat kebab without spilling it all over yourself (peel down the paper it's wrapped in, never be tempted to remove it entirely).

9) That C is pronounced like J in Turkish. I wish I'd known this when we first got here. My daughter and I kept asking people in Istanbul Airport where the terminal for Ercan was, pronouncing this as Er-kan. People kindly asked if we wanted the Er-jan terminal, but we insisted that no, we wanted the Er-kan terminal. Our cheeks still flame just remembering.

10) That most Turks, though Muslims, do drink occasionally, and that by no means all Turkish women cover their hair. Before we came here, I pictured a typical Turkish couple as a large headkerchief-wearing woman in a voluminous skirt walking six paces behind her swarthy, mustached husband. Imagine my surprise when the first Turkish woman I met was a savvy, multi-lingual, stylishly dressed ex Army officer.

We're taking far too much back with us. Good thing all the knowledge we've accumulated is light.


Vijaya said...

The experiences and knowledge are the best parts, Mary, but nice that you have a little evil eye to go along to your next destination.

Robin said...

What a wonderful experience! Reading your wonderful blog has taught me so much. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic about Turkey, myself, and I've never been there!

e said...


I don't remember learning the difference between Who did Madonna marry? and Who married Madonna?

Isn't the question, Whom did Madonna marry? also correct?

When I tried looking this up, I got an eye full regarding modal verbs...

e said...

I also wanted to say that I hope all of you have many treasured memories and good luck with the packing and related chores.

Kim Ayres said...

Really looking forward to catching up with you when you get back :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Wow, you have all that useful information about Turkey and you are leaving it behind. So now we are all wondering... what's next??

AnneB said...

Madonna got married? Was it to that Sean Penn guy?

AnneB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charles Gramlich said...

It seems the world is a melting pot these days. Luck with everything.

Mary Witzl said...

Vijaya -- The knowledge is the best part. It wasn't really free, but it's still given us the most pleasure. The nazar boncuğu we got is a big, gaudy amulet with a massive evil eye and a long embroidered strip with (I'm guessing) wise, evil-busting words written in Arabic and gold tassels hanging down. It will add an interesting touch wherever we put it, I'm sure -- and maybe evil keep evil away.

Robin -- Aw, thank you. You'd love it here!

We already feel nostalgic about so much and know we're going to miss it, but whenever our morning rooster starts off on one of his long, addled cock-a-doodle dos, we know we won't miss EVERYthing.

Mary -- "Whom did Madonna marry?" is technically MORE correct than "Who did Madonna marry?" The use of 'whom' shows you that Madonna is the one doing the action of marrying and the person she married is merely the object.

Modal verbs? (-Shiver-) No matter how long you teach English, you can never quite get to the end of articles, modal verbs, or prepositions.

Thanks for the good wishes! We'll need them.

Kim -- Same here! You've got some photographs to look at. And if you're really crazy, I might get you to sit through my reading competition DVD.

Robert -- We're wondering too. First, we've got to get our youngest through her last years of education, then who knows where we'll end up? Wherever it is, I hope we can have a garden and a cat. And that I can still write.

AnneB -- You and me both! I only know about the marriage because it was in Oxford English File's pre-intermediate book. I keep abreast with current events (i.e. things that have happened within the last decade or so) through my kids or teaching.

Charles -- Thank you, we'll need all the luck we can get considering all the stuff we're going to end up taking back.

Anonymous said...

let's hope the luggage isn't too heavy either as I'm picking you up!!!!!! Dina

laura said...

Have you told us where you're going? I have very little time 'on line' since we moved onto our boat and it's just killing me that I can't spend my usual long hours on the computer! Will you and your husband once again get teaching postions?

meredith said...

When my 6th grader came home from her French middle school English class wanting help with modal verbs, all I could say was "Huh?"!

Anne Spollen said...

Moving again! I moved once in twenty years and there are still boxes in my basement waiting...and I've been here nearly four years.

But your life is so much more of an adventure than most. Happy Organizing!

Anonymous said...

Have you told us where you're going exactly? Is it America? You mentioned "home." If so, PLEASE let it be the West Coast. We are also in the midst of moving, although I have not yet announced it on my blog. We'll end up in Oregon in about a month.
And I personally think it's awesome that you can sing the Turkish national anthem. I met a Turkish woman in France once; she was blonde and stylish and hated George Bush in stilted-but-passable English.

Pat said...

It must be great to be returning to a place where there are people like Eryl and Kim et al.

Carole said...

You have learned much more than you probably know, and I look forward to its incorporation in your writing in future posts.

My favorite on your list is the Turkish National Anthem. The only two that I actually can see the words to are Canada's and the U.S.'s.

Anonymous said...

Barış and Ahmet Kemal send their love. You had to see the sorrow in their eyes when I told them you weren't coming back. You have a tendency to believe otherwise but you were much loved Mary.

Postman said...

This is intoxicating. You paint such pictures of the place, the people, and the life you lived there. Entrancing, exotic, but not without a little whimsy. Things are the same all over, I guess...I want to go to Turkey more than ever now. I'm awful at bargaining.

Anonymous said...

You've gained so much in two years. Wherever you end up, you'll come across new adventures and tales. I hope you have a smooth move.

Mary Witzl said...

Dina -- Yay, thanks for picking us up! We do have one monster suitcase, but it's on wheels and we can heft it into your car. But we'll give your dog food a miss this time, okay?

Laura -- We'll probably be in the U.K. for a year or two until our youngest daughter finishes school, but we'll definitely be looking for teaching posts again. We want to go back to Asia, but who knows where we'll end up?

Meredith -- I understand how you must have felt; I'm sure I would really struggle to teach my own kids modals. Modals are things you really have to learn through hard experience -- and embarrassing mistakes.

Anne -- Moving is sheer hell. There's no making it out to be anything different. We had a horrible 24 hours before we left, deciding what to take, what to give away and what to throw out, but it's all behind us now. Until the next time we move. (God, the mere thought! Moving is so much like childbirth...)

Elizabeth -- From Morocco to Oregon -- I can hardly imagine a more dramatic change! We'll probably be in the U.K. for the next year or two, but after that, we'll go back to Asia, though perhaps via America. I envy you: I would love to live in Oregon. Even a year in Wales and seven years in Scotland haven't taken away my love for rain.

Pat -- It will be wonderful to see Kim and Eryl again. And don't forget rain, Earl Grey tea, and scones!

Carole -- I will definitely try to incorporate some of what I've seen and heard into my writing. So much of it is just too good not to use.

I love Canada's national anthem. There's something very sweet about "Oh Canada, my home and native land" -- it doesn't sound jingoistic at all.

P -- Give them my regards and tell them how much we're enjoying Istanbul. Ahmet should never have had to remain to do summer school, but I know he'll do well. And I look forward to hearing what Barış does!

Postman -- You really have to see Turkey. I can hardly do it justice, believe me. If you are bad at bargaining, just come to Istanbul and you will learn. You HAVE to know how to bargain here or you'll never buy anything.

(And God knows why, but the part of Istanbul we're in right now has three Korean restaurants! We're in seventh heaven. Kimchi every day if we feel like it!)

Medeia -- Thank you! We're finally finished with our move and it was horrible. Two months from now, we'll have forgotten the worst details. Two years from now, we'll probably have forgotten everything.

Pat said...

A great eulogy to cherries and Istanbul. I've never been so thank you for the experience.
I remember the euphoria of that first call from an agent. I hope it all works out well.

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