Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Temperature in Turkey

Not even the weather in New England changes this quickly.

We left Ankara last Friday, in shorts and T-shirts and enjoying the 70-75 degree weather, to travel down to Side, a town on the southern coast of Turkey for a couple of days. Now granted, the Ankara locals were saying that this constant warm, sunny weather through October was not usual. But who listens? The weather was typically lovely and Mediterranean in Side, sunny and in the low 80s with occasional thunderstorms. Indeed we left Side on Monday in the blazing hot sun. But the temperatures dropped the closer we got to Ankara, and by the time we arrived home, it was 35 degrees. Yikes.

It was rather embarrassing on the way home to hop out of the car for gas and facilities in shorts and flip flops. I endured the stares of more than a few people as I walked my son to the gas station bathroom in his shorts and sandals while the two of us shivered. My Turkish phrasebook doesn’t list “But it wasn’t this cold when we left!” and really, would it have helped if it did? I was a bad mother. Two of the gas station attendants took one look at our outfits and then checked out our license plate, as in, “What country are these idiots from?” The plate might say Turkey but we’re from the land of Denial, my friends.

But nothing like driving to get a feel for the geography of a place, and it really was a gorgeous trip. The land around Ankara is almost lunar, with nary a tree to be seen. The land is parched and brown and windswept. But as you drive south past Konya (home of the whirling dervishes, a subject for another blog posting) you go over a high mountain range of green coniferous slopes that is reminiscent of California. The summit is at 6000 ft. (No snickering from the western corner, please, that’s high for those of us raised in the east) and from there you coast all the way down to sea level in Side, with palm trees, banana plantations and balmy blue ocean water. I can highly recommend it as a vacation spot. To hearken back to a previous posting regarding the history of Turkey, did you know that Mark Antony and Cleopatra once canoodled in the ancient roman city of Side? Bet you didn’t. Neither did I, not to beat a dead (Trojan) horse. I thought about asking for the room they slept in, but I refrained.

As for temperatures of a different sort…I have not personally felt any change in attitude towards us as Americans since the Armenian Genocide resolution passed last week. There was a small demonstration outside the embassy, and many public statements from Turkish officials promising dire consequences for U.S.-Turkey relations, but so far my daily interactions with Turks feels no different. The newspapers here, which are famously inflammatory, printed the headline “27 Stupid Americans” after the committee voted 27-21 in favor of the resolution. I think most Turks are extremely upset, but are too polite to express it to me. Although if the resolution passes in the House, as they are expecting in November, I think things could change rather quickly and unpleasantly. What can I say? We are all extremely disappointed here and hope that the resolution doesn’t pass. I’ll leave it at that. For those of you that know me personally, you can email me if you are interested and I’ll go into more than I can in a public space.

Friday, October 5, 2007


We are in the middle of Ramadan, known as Ramazan here in Turkey, the Muslim holy month. While the world recognizes Ramadan as a time for fasting, it is also an opportunity to refrain from envy, anger, greed, backbiting and gossip. The fasting is a time to turn away from worldly concerns and concentrate on a deeper spiritual relationship to God, as well as a reminder of the hunger of the less fortunate of this world.

For observant folks, nothing can be ingested between sunrise and sunset. Eating, drinking, smoking and sex are all prohibited during this time. Indeed for the most pious of Ramadan observers, the ban can extend to the licking of stamps.

Each morning drummers circulate through the towns and cities to awaken everyone an hour or two before Sahur, the large meal before dawn. This of course is helpful for those Ramadan observers who have a long hungry day in front of them and don’t want to oversleep (drummers have no snooze button), but pure hell on non-observant light sleepers. It just all depends on where you sleep and where the drummer walks. One of my friends has a bedroom that sits right above the alley of the drummer’s path, so she was awakened every day around 3:30 AM until she got used to the noise. She was so excited when after 2 ½ weeks she finally managed to sleep through the drummer. Her husband, however, swears that the drummer was actually IN their bedroom the other night. We have been fortunate (or culturally deprived?) as to not hear a drummer in our part of town – I don’t know whether we are heavier sleepers, have better sealed windows or perhaps just a weaker-armed drummer.

The dates of the holy month are based on the lunar calendar, which is about 11-12 days shorter than the solar calendar, so Ramadan drifts backwards year to year. This of course presents serious ramifications as Ramadan slowly backs down into summer. Sunrise materializes about 5:30 AM during the summer months, which means those drummers will be wandering around a lot earlier to remind you to eat. And the sun doesn’t go down until after eight PM. A long hungry day. That’s not even taking into account the heat. Can you imagine going the whole day without any water? This summer we had weeks of 95 degree + weather. The day during winter is a little over 9 hours long. The day during summer is 15 hours long. That’s 360 more minutes without water, and I’m sure you count every one. Next year Ramadan starts on 9/1 and it will be another ten years before Ramadan arrives in the cool increasing darkness of early spring.

To help manage the times of each day, different businesses will print out a chart with each day of Ramadan, and a column for the exact time that day of Imsak (the hour that fasting begins), Gűneş (sunrise), Őğle (noon prayers), Ikindi (midafternoon prayers), Akşam (evening/sundown) and Yatsı (night prayer). I picked one up at the Armada mall here in Ankara and it reminds me of the tide charts I see around my father’s Florida home.

So after the long day of fasting, many people go out with family and friends for IFTAR, the evening meal during Ramadan that breaks the fast. Often you will find that restaurants are crowded and neighborhoods deserted during the month’s evenings. This of course has no bearing on the everyday expatriate life except in rare circumstances like if, oh, say, for example, one Sunday night during Ramadan THE RADIATOR PIPE IN YOUR BATHROOM BURSTS and starts gushing coal-black sooty water at an alarming rate, and the Titanic comes to mind and there’s no one to help because your building manager is at an IFTAR dinner and all your neighbors are at IFTAR dinners and the whereabouts of the water shut-off for the apartment (which unfortunately you didn’t know was bizarrely hidden in an obscure closet) is unknown, and there’s not a single plumbing business open on a Sunday night during Ramadan and oh, hey, I have a brainteaser for you:

Question: If a pipe gushes X number of gallons of sooty black water per minute, how many minutes does it take to reach Y number of inches of water in the bathroom before it spills out all over beautiful hallway hardwood floors and bedroom carpet?

Answer: Fewer than 30 minutes, which is how long it takes someone to come to the house to shut off the water.

Those rare circumstances can be killers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Dolmuş

Finally, a brief blog entry so you don’t have to spend your entire lunch hour reading one of my postings…

There are, I’m happy to report, other transportation options in Turkey besides driving to your own death in a car or braving the seatbelt-less, albeit clean and efficient, taxis. There is a uniquely Turkish mode of transportation called a dolmuş, which means stuffed in Turkish. A dolmuş is a small minibus, and it might run within a city, or between cities and small towns.

A city dolmuş runs a prescribed route through the city - unpublished, but fixed. The sign in the window gives a general destination, but the only way to figure out the specific route is to get on and ride it to the end. There usually aren’t any prescribed stops, so you can pick it up anywhere along this route simply by waving your hand. You get on and ride it for as long as you want for a fixed sum (equivalent to about $1) and get off wherever you want.

For such an informal transportation method, there are some rules to be followed. When you get on, you immediately sit down. Do not, under any circumstances, approach the driver. You hand your money to the person in front of you, who passes the money through each passenger up to the driver and then the driver passes the change all the way back to you. Now, the driver does all this while navigating the city streets. You’re lucky if he keeps one hand on the wheel, so I figure by giving him exact change I decrease our chances of hitting something.

At the beginning of a route, the driver will wait until the bus is full (ah, that’s why they call it a dolmuş!) before he starts. You may not, under any circumstance, wait around until the next empty one leaves. You will be yelled at.

And there are advantages to riding the dolmuş - it’s cheap, easy and you finally get to be the in the vehicle that stops without warning, instead of the idiot driving behind him.