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Someday I’ll be an expert at this

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I’m leaving for post in the next several days, which means that I am now in my Predeparture Whirlwind. By turns I’m overwhelmed by everything I need to get done and confident that I’ve got pretty much everything under control. We’ll see how it goes when I get to packing out and then flying out…
While I’m no stranger to international moves, I’m finding that because my life circumstances have changed so much since my last Big Move, the experiences are not very similar at all. Nearly four years ago I packed as much as I could into my 2 blue pieces of checked luggage, one overstuffed carryon, and one heavy shoulder bag to fly to Istanbul for what I thought would be one year in Turkey doing my Fulbright research. That luggage held primarily clothing, but also a cooking pot, kitchen knife, some silverware and plastic plates, academic books and peanut butter. I moved into the Bogazici University dorms for my summer program when I arrived, and had to immediately run out and buy bedsheets, a pillow, and an electric fan after I checked in to my room. Later, after I had settled in to Ankara, my parents had to ship me a dress after I bought my Marine Ball ticket.
Now, my two suitcases, one carryon and one shoulder bag (the same luggage and shoulder bag, I should note, have seen me through Turkey, West Africa, Turkey again, DC, and now once more to Turkey. High Sierra and Timbuk2, folks; they are nothing if not durable) will only hold the necessities I’ll need for the first month or so. I’ll have several hundred pounds of belongings arrive after a month or two, and even more of my belongings will meander their way to Turkey by boat, arriving some time later.
My carryon and checked luggage will still have to be packed with military precision: whatever I pack in that will have to get me through meetings en route to Turkey, my traveling itself, a friend’s wedding, vacation and visiting in Istanbul, starting work in Ankara, exercise togs, gifts for people at post, and of course the five flights I have scheduled over the next two weeks. But I don’t need to pack cooking supplies or peanut butter – I’ll receive a Welcome Kit on arrival with basic household necessities for me to use until my first shipment gets to Ankara, and my fridge will be stocked with basics. That certainly makes my decisions on what to bring a little easier, and the packing process a little less stressful (it also makes it easier to arrive at post and immediately get to work, which is generally what we do).
This packing process is also a bit less stressful for me because I already know Turkey pretty well, so I’m fairly familiar with what I can get on-the-ground (and I’m lucky in that I’ll have some time right away to grab some of those things – at the top of the list is an electric kettle and a blender that runs on European power). And if for some reason I absolutely must have something I can’t find locally, I can get things shipped without having to worry quite so much about whether or not I’ll ever see a package delivered.

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I wrote the preceding post about a week ago, pre-packout and before my departure from DC. I’m now partway through my journey, leaving the States quite soon. Packing out was stressful, but I think it went well overall. We’ll just see whether my belongings show up in Turkey in the next few months! So far, I’m thinking I overpacked work attire and underpacked dressy casual clothes in my checked luggage.

The days are just packed

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I’ve started to feel a little guilty about the amount of traffic this blog is getting compared to the number of posts I have up. Truth be told, there’s only so much one can write about language training and other classes, and others have already done so much better than I could. I’ll mention though, I just recently finished my brush-up Turkish and totally rocked my exam. Apparently, I can speak this language!
Let’s just not think about how much my English has deteriorated in the meanwhile.

My A-100 class is a pretty social group, so I’m fairly busy outside of class as well. Here’s a snapshot of what I’m up to when I’m not at school:

Trivia! I lucked out in that there are quite a few casually nerdy folks in my A-100 class. Almost every week we compete for glory (or at the very least for entertainment!) at a varying selection of pub trivia nights. We’ve won several times, and I never cease to be amazed at what esoteric or completely random trivia my friends know. I’m also really glad they didn’t judge me too much for my knowledge of Three6Mafia lyrics.

Soccer! Or, of course, football. I last played soccer when I was 11; my short but illustrious career was known principally for my avoidance of the ball after getting my first-ever black eye 5 minutes into my first-ever soccer game when I took a soccer ball to the face. My intramural soccer team may not be at the top of the league, but we have a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. I think my contribution to the team is mainly comic relief, although I did get an assist on a goal in our first win last week.

Foodieness! With nearly 100 classmates, many of whom also were coming in from out-of-town for training, there’s a surplus of restaurant outings around. Thanks to both a city-centered and a suburb-centered dinner group, as well as a more-organized-than-me classmate coordinating Restaurant Week reservations, I’ve checked out DC’s restaurant options from Dupont to Falls Church and back. One great bonus of having so many new friends from such a wide variety of backgrounds is that everyone has a new ethnic food to share, either at a restaurant or by bringing in goodies. So far, I’ve sampled Central Asian, Ethiopian, Turkish, French, Indian, Russian, Brazilian and Korean cuisine, among others (I brought a dozen classmates over to Cafe Divan for mezes, of course). Delicious! And great incentive to not fully use my kitchen!

MST3K and American TV! I can’t be out and about all the time – the introvert in me would get exhausted. I’ve taken advantage of my US-based IP address and my new Netflix subscription to catch up on quite a few American and British television shows that I missed out on by being abroad. Cultural literacy can be difficult to keep up with when you’re not in the States. I am generally more up to speed than most, because of my mild GoogleReader obsession (most helpful in terms of keeping up on American culture, etc. are, I’d say, Gawker, Jezebel, The Hairpin, Boing Boing), but knowing of a cultural phenomenon isn’t always the same as having seen it. I recently saw my first-ever episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, for example. Yikes.
Anyway, in addition to recent shows, I’ve been getting into Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can’t believe I’ve never watched it before. For those unaware, it’s snarky, comic, and involves terrible 1950s (…and later) science fiction movies. But it’s even better than that: the series was filmed in Minnesota, and there are so many fabulous Minnesota references that I often end up laughing so hard I can’t breathe. If you’ve not seen a few MST3K shows, I highly recommend checking them out.

Exercise! I guess I could lump this in with soccer above, but, well, I’m not going to. I find it difficult to get into a habit of working out regularly in Turkey, for a variety of reasons that I’ll sum up as: the lack of an exercise culture (it’s getting better, but slowly), those darn hills, and unwanted attention while jogging. DC is an athletic city. I don’t think I’ve ever set foot outside and not seen at least half a dozen joggers. Then there’s the bikers, the yoga enthusiasts, and the zumba aficionados (side note – I don’t think I “get” zumba yet. It looks crazyawesome though.). My apartment building has great, shiny new exercise facilities, and my apartment itself has enough room for me to flail about uncoordinatedly to all the Jillian Michaels videos I want.

Book club! Because my time in the US is relatively limited this time around, and because I’ve been abroad for a while now, I really wanted to throw myself in to American life as much as possible while I’m here. Joining my intramural soccer team was a big step in that direction, as was joining my book club. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and we had a fascinating in-depth discussion on conceptions of happiness in response to our first book, The Geography of Bliss (I quite enjoyed the book, check it out if you have time!). The women in my book club are all A-100 classmates of mine or spouses of classmates, so we have a lot of diverse perspectives and life experiences to draw on, which makes for great conversation and an interesting sharing of ideas.

DC vs. Istanbul, Round 3: Memes

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Usually my Istanbul, DC and Internet worlds don’t overlap a whole lot, so when they do it’s a bit of a shock. Such is the case with Internet-meme-of-the-moment “Shit ________ Say.” Somehow, both Istanbul and DC have versions of this meme up on YouTube already. I wouldn’t place either version in my top-five, but they’re not too bad.

Washington, D.C.:


Personally resonant? “Where are you from originally?”, ridiculous prices for tiny apartments, H street and its metro-inconvenience. I don’t think I’ve been here long enough for some of the other bits, though. Maybe next time I’m in training…

Istanbul:


Unbelievably familiar: “Ohmigod I haven’t seen you in ages!”, parties for all reasons, random and frequent couchsurfers. I would’ve appreciated a bit more Turkishness or Istanbulness though; some of the bits were more pan-Istanbul-expat but quite a few seemed somewhat group-specific. And I have to mute every time it flashes back to the girl asking, “Ne? Ne?”

Winner: Everyone. It’s hard to single out one of these as “better.” I will say though that I recognized me/friends of mine/acquaintances in a lot more of the Istanbul bits than the DC bits.

Maalesef there seems to be no “Shit Ankaralilar Say” as of yet.

Indecent Santa, or why I love Turkish Christmas

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Sometimes you only have to read the headline of an article to know it’s going to be amazing. Such is the case with Hurriyet Daily News’ recent religion story, “Santa would come through door if he were decent, mufti says.”

I highly recommend you stop over at HDN and read that article. I’ll wait. I think this is my favorite part of the article:
“Santa Claus enters homes through chimneys and windows, but he would have entered homes through the door if he was a decent person,” Yeniçeri said. “We enter homes through doors. The Quran tells us to enter homes through doors. Why would he enter through the chimney?”

Turkey’s newspapers have a wonderful tradition of odd Santa stories. Last year, it was a group of nationalist students who held a press conference and smeared boot polish on an inflatable Santa before stabbing him with a pocketknife. Key quote: “Muslims must resist this corrupting and seducing Western cultural imperialism that tries to distance Muslims from their true values and estrange us from ourselves.” Even better quote: “New Year’s celebrations are the West’s attempt to establish cultural imperialism over Muslims.”

The year before, I remember having to spike a story scheduled to run December 31 that explained in detail all about the Western, Christian tradition of Christmas, which occurs on January 1. That writer had clearly done his research…

This year has been good for Santa articles in Turkey. In addition to the aforementioned Keşan mufti and his views on the decency or lack thereof in Santa, Istanbul police used Santa as part of their efforts to curb the sadly rampant New Years Eve “sexual harassment” (they mean groping) in and around Taksim Square. How embarrassing to be arrested by Santa. I mean, he’s not even decent!

Of course, one should keep in mind that the original Santa, Saint Nicholas himself, hailed from Turkey back in the day. He was from the Demre area. Ama burası Türkiye, ya?

DC vs. Istanbul, Round 2: Cupcakes

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Exhibit A: Cupcakes are adorable. These ones are from Minnesota

Whoever decided cupcakes were in is a genius. Seriously, what on earth is better than a cupcake (unless they’ve invented a pie version, because I am firmly on Team Pie)? It’s a miniature, individual cake! With extra frosting! While I was overseas, cable television even started airing multiple TV shows focused on the cupcake industry. Burası America.

Washington, D.C.
: Not only home to Georgetown Cupcakes annnnnd DC Cupcakes, both featured on their own TV shows, DC is home to a multitude of cupcake shops. And they are open late. And they cater to a wide variety of flavor preferences and food restrictions. Oh yes, it is possible to get a vegan, gluten-free white velvet cupcake at 10 p.m. on a Sunday. And that cupcake will be delicious, even if you don’t happen to be vegan or gluten-free. What a city.

Istanbul: I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the conception of sweets in Turkey is just not quite the same as the conception of sweets in the US. Cupcake options in the ‘bul are pretty limited. They include mini cupcakes at Starbucks (something chocolate-caramelly and a second option I can’t remember) as well as an expat-helmed cupcake-of-the-month club. I’d file the latter under “brilliant ideas,” because who on earth doesn’t want 4 cupcakes to show up at their house once a month?

Winner: DC. Cupcake-of-the-month and all, Istanbul is kind of a cupcake desert. I’d rather have a cupcake dessert, which I can get in almost any neighborhood of DC. Plus the variety is crazy amounts better Stateside. For cupcakes, it’s got to be Washington, D.C.

DC vs. Istanbul, Round 1: Lions

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This lion will haunt your dreams
Lion. Specifically, Swedish King Frederick I’s lion.

So I was catching up on a week’s worth of DCist, because most of my Saturday mornings are spent getting my GoogleReader count under 1000, when I saw a post that stuck out a bit. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, it was about lions.

Washington, D.C.: According to DCist, citing DC law, the only animals one can legally keep as a pet in DC are domesticated dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, birds, nonpoisonous snakes, fish, turtles and racing pigeons.

So, no lions within city limits. Unless you are by some chance a zoo or a circus. And that also means the probability of being able to purchase a lion within DC city limits is pretty darn low.

Istanbul: Different country, different rules in the ‘bul. You want a lion? You can buy a lion. Downtown, no less. For Istanbul non-residents and people who didn’t click through to read about the lion found in a van during a routine traffic stop, the lion in the article was bought in Kadıköy, the main central district on the Asian side of the city.

On the one hand, I appreciate that I can be reasonably confident my neighbors aren’t harboring giant felines. On the other hand, I kind of love that you can just casually pick up a lion cub in the middle of a city of 20 million people, no big deal, just part of the daily shopping.

Winner: Istanbul

So of course the big news…

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now that I’m done with orientation, is my first assignment. Next spring, I’ll pack up my Washingtonian life, make sure my suits are ironed, and head on out for two years in

Ankara, Turkey!

Yup, I just left Turkey in September and will be back after an eight-month stint Stateside to stock up on Target goodies and brush up on American culture. And of course to learn how to be a diplomat.

I’m pretty darn happy with my post; it was my top choice and will fulfill several of my entry-level requirements. I love living in Turkey, and moving back to Ankara will be a nice shift after the last few years in Istanbul. Plus, I already know the city pretty well — I still have friends in Ankara and I still have my restaurants, bars, clubs and activities. I won’t need to figure out yoga studios in my neighborhood, or stumble upon ARIT, or not find the football-watching group til halfway through my tenure, as I’ve got all those sorted. So from a logistical/infrastructure perspective, I’ll have a bit of a leg up. This may make my second posting more difficult of an adjustment, but I’m looking forward to that as well.

Until the move, I’ll be in training in DC, using my spare time to develop a to-be-determined hobby and stock up on small furniture items — my belongings don’t currently weigh enough for a full household effects shipment. I blame living the Istanbullu expat life.

Ankara, dönüm gelecek. Hazırlan!