Sunday, 30 November 2003

A Wonderful Bayram (Feast)

On Tuesday the 25th Bengali and Celine, two French friends, drove to Mersin from Aleppo for the end of Ramazan holiday. They left yesterday morning. Bengali and Celine are to blame for both a fantastic time and a lack of blog posts!


The View of Mersin
On Wednesday morning we ate a great Turkish breakfast. In the afternoon, with AIESEC friend Ozge, the 4 of us in B+C's Taurus drove up a road to the mountains northwest of Mersin. We saw a ridge suggesting of a great view of Mersin. Bengali parked the car near a small cemetery and we walked up a road towards the ridge. The road led past vineyards to an unfinished concrete building with a barking dog. My 3 companions were afraid of the dog and the vote stood at 3-1 in favour of abandoning the walk. I was having none of this and continued onwards. Once it was obvious that the dog was chained, Bengali, Celine and Ozge followed tentatively.

We reached a hillside decorated with trees and moderately dense scrub. I was to scout up the hill to see the view and if the view was worth it, my friends would follow. Half of Mersin, including the Taxim International skyscraper (link) was postcard material but the rest was blocked by the hill continuation.

I scrambled up through the scrub, past the pine trees near the top to an opening. This time the whole of Mersin was an absolute picture in the soft light of the receding afternoon sun. I took several photos.

Bengali, Celine and Ozge had not followed and were unsure where I was. I hope the future gift of 'the view' photos will lead to their forgiveness.

Afterwoods, at the invitation of Ozge, we visited her Grandmother's house for Turkish coffee and Kadayif Dolmasi (recipe in English). Kadayif Dolmasi is the specialty sweet of Erzurum where Ozge's Grandmother comes from. As usual during Bayram, several other friends and relatives of Ozge's family came whilst we were there to chat and pay their respects to her Grandmother.


Cappadocia
On Thursday morning Bengali, Celine and I woke up at 5 am to drive to Cappadocia, 250 km to the north for the day. Cappadocia in a day is a major assignment and we were exhausted by the time we arrived back to Mersin at 8:30 pm.

Weather-wise, like Wednesday, it was perfect day. Cappadocia is much colder than Mersin and on the way there there was snow covering the top of many mountains. When we were near Nigde, we even saw snow on the side of the road! The proper winter hasn't actually started yet.

The places in this amazing region we visited included Derinkuyu's underground city (10,000,000 TL entry), the castle at Uchisar (2,000,000 entry), Goreme and the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys. This was my third visit to Cappadocia but my first by private vehicle. The flexibility of having one's own transport greatly opened up the region.


The Neighbours
Twice, B, C and I visited my wonderful neighbours Hanifi, Medine, Handan and Taner (back from studying in Adapazari for Bayram). Both times we played Okey. Okey (pronounced 'Okay') is a tile-based rummy game and, from observation, is the second most popular game after Tavla (Backgammon) in Turkey. I am really beginning to like this Okey.

Food
Fitting the French stereotype of good food, Celine is a brilliant cook. The baby snapper and other fish she cooked were exceptional. Bengali's lamb on the first night was awesome, too. My culinary role largely consisted of buying the supplies beforehand.

Saturday, 22 November 2003

Holidays!

Today is the last day of work before 8 days of holidays!

I look forward to relaxing, seeing friends and catching up on emails and blog posts, but most of all, I look forward to welcoming Celine and Bengali when they visit from Aleppo, Syria!

I also look forward to seeing Taner, my neighbour, and some other friends who are returning to their families in Mersin for the end of Ramazan (Ramadan) holiday.

Did you know?
Turkey has the sweetest name for the end of Ramazan feast: 'Bayram Sekeri'. The direct translation is 'Festival of Sugar'. A more colloquial meaning is Sweets Festival or Candy Festival. One of the traditions of this feast is for children to kiss the hand of older people (normally relatives or family friends) and then touch their forehead with the older person's hand. In return, they are given sweets.

Bayram Sekeri feast begins with the 'iftar' (fast-breaking meal) after sunset on the last day of Ramazan and continues for 3 further days. This year, the last day of Ramazan is on Monday the 24th and the feast ends on Thursday the 27th.

Thursday, 20 November 2003

National Tragedies

The Soccer
Last night Latvia drew 2-2 against Turkey in Istanbul. Following their 1-0 win on Wednesday, Latvia are through to the 2004 European Soccer Championships, knocking Turkey out in the process. This is a shock result as it is the 1st time that Latvia have made it to a major competition and Turkey was 3rd at last year's World Cup!

The Bombings
However, the tragedy of last night matters nothing compared to Saturday's and today's sequences of bombings in Istanbul. Today's bombings were aimed at the HSBC headquarters in Levent and the British Consulate in Beyoglu. As well as the loss of life and physical damage, these incidents will cause huge economic and social damage to the whole of Turkey. Tourists are less likely to visit and economic confidence will be shaken. Trading on the Istanbul Stock Exchange was suspended today.
I am extremely satisfied with my safety and have no qualms whatsoever about remaining in Turkey. Istanbul and Turkey are very safe and the biggest danger for any foreigner is still the traffic!

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

Grasshopper Part 3: The Final Chapter

After weeks of hanging around, the grasshopper seems to have disappeared.
Several days back he moved from the yellow clothes peg to my khaki green shorts after I put out a load of washing. However, before I picked in the washing he had left the shorts and was nowhere to be seen.
I have not seen him since and believe he has vanished!

The drama!

Thanks

Many thanks to my Mum, Dad and family and to Marga and Poppop for sending cards. Apparently I have a package coming but I haven't received it. Hopefully a Turkish postal worker does not find the contents attractive!

Thank you also to Mary, Ronnie, Shannon, Bill, Cigdem, Gizem, work colleagues and others I may have forgotten for the personal, email, or SMS greetings.


Unique thanks to Jane from Sydney and Onur in Germany who found my blog via random searches!

Jane searched on the Lonely Planet Thorntree for 'Mersin'. She is an Aussie who lived in Karaduvar just east of Mersin with her Turkish boyfriend (now husband). Jane arrived in Mersin on 11 September 2001!
I did not know she was in Mersin then (I was also there at that time). I find out now she is in Sydney!

Onur searched the internet for 'cennet meyvesi' and 'English' as he wanted to know what 'cennet meyvesi' meant in English (persimmon). See it for yourself! He is studying his Masters degree in Germany but comes from Mersin and previously visited in late October!

The web is an amazing place!

Cake

The fresh banana cream cake did come to work, although a little late. And, most of the workers were surprised!

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today is my 26th birthday.

As it is still the Muslim holy month of Ramazan I will not worry about holding any parties or whatnot until after the end of Ramazan holiday at the end of November/early December.

This afternoon at iftar (the fast-breaking meal) there will be a surprise cake from Istanbul Pastanesi (the local place around the corner). Most people at work do not know it is my birthday - I really hope it is a surprise.

Monday, 17 November 2003

Ex-Pat Central - well, for Mersin

On Friday night I ventured to Marino and Jeanette's for dinner. Marino is originally from Italy, Jeanette from Honduras. They lived in many places around the world before coming to Mersin 3 or 4 years ago. Marino is involved in the fruit industry. His specialty is bananas, although in Mersin he deals in citrus. The oldest of their 3 children is about 13 years old and he can speak Italian, Spanish, Turkish and English. Guess who is envious?

Also there for the spaghetti dinner were Natalie from Ukraine and her son. Natalie is also in the fruit industry and works to send fruit back for her Ukrainian company.

With all of us together in the apartment, we definitely were the Ex-pat Central in Mersin this night!

Being with fellow expatriates is great for a change. There are perspectives, experiences and topics of conversation that one cannot share with locals. Mersin is not very accessible for foreigners. The novelty of being a foreigner here is great, sometimes. At other times, more anonymity would be appreciated. With the friendliness of the locals I can't complain too much though.

The Bombings

The bombings in Istanbul on Saturday were an example of how stupidly brainwashed some people can become. The bombers and their cohorts are pathetic losers of the lowest kind.

Sympathies to the victims and their relatives.

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Grasshopper News

He has moved from the grey wooden clothes peg to the adjacent yellow plastic peg.

Stay tuned for the next exciting update...

The Mersin Free Trade Zone

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I visited the Mersin Free Trade Zone. The free trade zone is located to the west of the port and consists largely of warehouses and offices where many companies do their trading. The advantage of a free trade zone is that companies can import product into the zone and re-export it without paying import duties or taxes.

Yesterday the entry to the zone was blocked by many cars and trucks. Ahmet (boss) said it was the busiest he seen in 200 visits!
Let's hope it is a sign of the improving local economy - Inshallah!

Fresh snow could be seen on the 2nd row of hills in the northern background. I was excited to see snow again - even from a distance. I don't really know why though.

An interesting night

My pre-awakening hours this morning were very unusual and entertaining, although for the wrong reasons.

As well as hearing the drumming (even after putting my earplugs on), I also felt the chill of the coldest night since summer. Tonight I will remove the heavy blanket from its summer hibernation in the wardrobe.

Mixed in with the cold and the drumming were a dream I can't remember and a separate, rather tortuous nightmare involving the torture of slaves and the like. This was my first real nightmare for a long time, although I did not wake up from it.

Monday, 10 November 2003

Today is the Anniversary of Ataturk's Death

I know this because a few minutes ago Asli turned off the radio and opened the front door even though it is cold today. At 9:05 am on November 10 1938 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk passed away. His cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.

At 9:05 am today, many people in Turkey stood still for one minute's silence in rememberance. Apparently, even the Istanbul ferries turn off their motors and float unassisted for 1 minute!

The moment has passed and now the music is back on!

The freeloader at my place

For at least the past week, I have had an uninvited guest. He did not notify me he was coming beforehand, nor did he knock on the door. Having said that, he has been very quiet and virtually maintanance-free, although I have had to be more careful when hanging out the washing. Almost lifeless, I have sometimes worried about his future and what is he to do with it. Some are very fortunate, not him. Then, life could be worse - he could be on the street or crushed alive long ago by a vehicle. I am not sure what I should do - leave him be, report him to the authorities or put him out of any worries he may have. I have chosen the first option of the three.


The Grasshopper
The week before last I saw this 5-6 cm grey (or gray, for the illiterate), camouflage-like grasshopper clinging to the top of a hand towel drying on my balcony' washing line. For days he stayed there, hardly moving. I picked in the rest of the laundry, however I left his home, the hand towel, still hanging. After another washing load was dry I decided to finally pick in the towel and banish the grasshopper from the line. I thought I had seen the end...then later I notice him wearing my clothes on the bed - out again he was compulsorally placed. I did not want to harm him but I also did not want him checking out my wardrobe.
After a day or two of nonexistance I again believed he had vanished and was banished. Lo and behold, 2 days ago he turns up again. This time he is clinging onto a peg. Today, when hanging further load of washing, I deliberately did not modify his peg for, as long he likes, the grasshopper can stay.

A big shout out to Tom G...

...for giving me a plug on his An Irish Experience blog. Tom, originally from Adelaide, is now on the Irish AIESEC national committee and having a ball from the look of it. His blog is a touch more controversial than so go there for cause-bashing but not warm and fuzzy stories like mine.

Sunday, 9 November 2003

Been Busy Lately

The lack of recent postings is a reflection of my recent busyness - if that is a word.

The main tasks at work keeping me busy have been:

-Finalising the workshop details and appointment schedule for IES's Director of Education, Sevil. She arrived in Berlin today for the ICEF Berlin Workshop. On Monday and Tuesday she will meet with many education providers from around the world in the hope of forming partnerships with providers that meet the needs of Turkish students. This is the 4th consecutive ICEF Berlin Workshop IES has attended.

-Filling the Santa Monica College application forms for two studentts, a brother and sister, who are currently already in Los Angeles. Documents were couriered back and forth across the world, academic transcripts were translated, financial statements taken and a whole lot more.

-Searching out sesame seed suppliers from Burkina Faso and other parts of the world. International trade is a risky business and obtaining a good offer is only a fraction of the work. The supplier not having the product, the product differing from the offer and an unreliable supplier are some of the countless risks.

-Completing and uploading the 'Intervega Marine & Trade' website: marineandtrade.com. The website is very basic at the moment and is sure to be updated soon.

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

Photo of the Moment

Every now and then I will post a favourite photo of mine and accompany it with a description.



This photo is from the Northern Cyprus side of the only remaining divided capital in the world: Lefkosa/Nicosia. Berlin was the other previously divided capital.
I took the photo in July 2002 when I visited Northern Cyprus with friends Umut and Beysun and cousin Cara. The political history and current situation on Cyprus is very complex involving Britain, the UN, the US, Greece and Turkey as well as the Cypriots from both sides! When I visited we could not cross the border to the south. One day I would like to visit the south and hear their side of the story. Looking across the border from the north, the south looks far more developed and richer.

As well as the politics, there are many cultural, historical and geographical highlights of the island. Cyprus is an extremely fascinating place and well worth the visit. Hopefully, soon the political leaders will stop playing politics and become mature enough to get on with life and let Cyprus become the place it deserves to be. Signs like the one illustrated in the photo will then become a relic of the past.

Presentation time

Last night at 9pm I received a call from Kadriye from AIESEC Adana to help help her at lunchtime today. AIESEC members Kadriye, Murat and Deniz were visiting Mersin University's Ciflikkoy campus to recruit new trainees for their outgoing exchange program. For a presentation they required a trainee to speak. As all of the 6 current trainees in Adana were either unavailable or sick (3 had stomach problems!) I was called in to rescue the situation. I enjoyed having the opportunity once again to speak about my experiences and to inspire (I hope) new leaders.

No Drumming Heard this Morning!!!! :-)

Tuesday, 4 November 2003

Snakes and Castles

Early this morning was another wonderful exhibition of drum banging. Several times the drummers went past. I say drummers because I heard 2 in cahoots at least once during my partial conciousness. I will buy earplugs very soon! Enough complaining.

Saturday
After finishing the Adana work office on Saturday afternoon I visited Ebru, a friend who had previously served on AIESEC Turkey's national committee. Her house was in the middle of renovations. Then, it was on to Toygun's place for dinner and to fall asleep in front of the NBA basketball on TV.

The expedition to Anazarbus (Anavarza)
On Sunday morning Toygun and I ate a good Turkish breakfast, filled his family's Skoda with LPG and headed east to Yilankale (Snake Castle) and Anarvarza (Anazarbus). The day was warmer than expected. I was sweated in my Port Adelaide Football Club polo top. We didn't actually get to Yilankale, a castle visible from the highways to Antakya (Antioch) and Gaziantep. Yilankale will have to wait until next time.

After skirting the town of Ceyhan we headed north, following the directions of the Lonely Planet guidebook. After 90 minutes of driving we successfully made it to our destination. Anazarbus (Anavarza in Turkish) is a historical place, most famous during Roman times. It has a castle on top of a hill as well as a ruined aqueduct, arches, tombs and other ruins. In my post-trip research I find that Anazarbus is also famous for saints a, b, c, d, e, and coins.

We drove the ancient town's entrance gate with the castle on the hill standing guard in the distance. Turning left we headed to the aqueduct. Some of the aqueduct's arches were still complete, amazing for something so old. We turned into a field and followed a road towards the hill on which the castle is situated. In the corner of my eye I saw a rock face with what looked like a cave. Upon stopping the car and walking to the sight, the cave had pictures and words inscripted above it. We were looking at this tomb.

All around, farmers were busy pulverising or burning their dead corn fields oblivious to the history of the area.

Toygun then drove the car back past the entrance gate, through the nearby village and narrow pass and around to the back of the hill. From this side, the caste looked closer. I wasn't planning to climb to the top and I told Toygun I would go a little way up the rocky hillside. Well, the castle kept coming nearer but still remained intangibly far away. I made it through the spiny plants up to the castle. My shoelaces and cargo pants not appreciate the journey greatly, particularly the spines!

The Top
At the top, Toygun and the vehicle were mere specs. In the middle of Turkey, next to the walls of an ancient fort, overlooking the forever-tended fields, what did I do? I called Toygun via mobile phone!

All around the hill there were many lizards. I also saw two turtles and, in the castle, a tiny 30cm snake. My first ever snake sighting in Turkey!

Several of the castle walls were intact with the stairs built into the side still climbable. The castle stretched all along the top of the hill and I did not have time to see all of it. There was a ruined church with frescos barely visible inside. Above the entrance to the church writing in a language unknown to myself was etched. The views on both sides were stunning. To the west were the village and the outline of ancient city walls with various columns and ruins. The northern view contained a water channel and many fields, several of which had smoke rising from them. In the distance, minarets marked the location of tiny villages.

The descent
On my way down I passed two Turkish men and an American woman. I mischievously told them, I had seen a snake. I don’t know why people have such fears about snakes or other supposedly dangerous animals. Further down the side, many rock-cut tombs laid around, a few with still visible patterns on their sides. There were even staircases cut into the side of the hill.

At the base, Toygun had been chatting to some of the local men. One of them came over and showed me some ancient coins found around the area. They were good, however, I was not interested in their purchase. Back in the nearby village we marvelled at an archway, the most intricate ruin but one in the area. At the small open-air museum locals had uncovered an ancient pool with a near-perfect mosaic of the goddess Thetis, reminiscent of the mosaics in Antioch.

On the road home
Back on the main road to Adana, we stopped at Misis for some of the town’s renowned ayran (yoghurt drink) and sikma (a type of savoury pancake). The drink was very refreshing after a hard day. In Adana Toygun dropped me off at the train station before he went home for the iftar (fast-breaking) meal. At the train station I met Didar, a first year medical student from Adana studying in Mersin. On the train back to Mersin we chatted about many issues. I enjoyed listening to a person with a different perspective.

After arriving in Mersin, walking home, cooking and eating an omelette and having a bath, it was time for bed.

Saturday, 1 November 2003

Hi from Adana

Today is a beautiful, sunny day, although still relatively cold. At 12:45 pm I caught the train (1.9 million TL) 70 km east to Adana, Turkey's 4th biggest city.
I came here to visit IES's Adana office to see how it works. Buket and Sebiha work at the office which was established 1 year ago.

Tonight I will stay at Toygun's place and tomorrow we plan to visit Yilankale (Snake Castle) east of Adana. I have seen this castle from the highway many times when on the way to either Gaziantep, Antakya or Sanliurfa.

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