Have you ever walked into a bathroom at work and it has absolutely reeked like someone has explosive diarrhea? And you go in and take the quickest wee ever to escape only to see that another colleague is waiting to use that stall. And you can tell that they think it was you. It’s the worst.
This past weekend our dinner guests came with a very large bag. When R put the bag in the fridge my heart did a little jump. It haddd to be dessert. A BIG dessert. I rushed through dinner excited by what might be waiting in my fridge. When the moment finally came, I went to take out the box. It was so heavy! I was afraid that I would drop it for a minute.
I opened the top as slowly as I could manage, trying to maintain some air of dignity. But then I saw the cake. What an amazing, beautiful cake it was! Feraz quickly commented that R knew the way to my heart. Indeed.
The cake did not disappoint. It was filled with nuts and berries. There was a beautiful layer of mousse in the middle. Every piece, every bite was amazing. Needless to say I have been having it for every meal since then. I am especially worried that it is going to go stale, so I am eating it as fast as I can.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I have an intensely dangerous sweet tooth. Istanbul makes it so much harder because everything is so new. In the U.S. there may be a hundred cookie options at the grocery store but at least the years there have taught me what I like and what I don't like. In the grocery stores here I spend hours walking up and down the aisles, putting in packet after packet of cookies and sweets. One week I pick up the Magnum Minis, another there is the Vienetta ice cream.
My favorite cookies so far have been Tuktus. They don't look impressive at all. They actually kind of look like something that has been sitting in your senile grandma's cupboard for months. And at the low price of .80 lira, they don't seem too promising. But once you have one, you are hooked! There is a nice crispy exterior, followed by a surprising, but welcome nutella center. Dipped in a Nescafe 3in1, they are pure magic.
Another grocery store wonder are mini brownies. Feraz and I found them on our very first trip to the grocery store. The shop was literally a hole in a corner and I wasn't expecting much, even though they were in a lovely red package. But my God, I have no idea how SO MUCH moisture can be packed in such a little brownie! I know that brownies are one of those things that you feel are always best freshly baked, preferably by a kind friend or mom, but for those lonely fat souls out there, these are perfect! Dare I say, even better than home baked??
I have already gone way too far into this entry without talking about the mother of all desserts in Turkey. Some might say it is the bakhlava. Others might profess it is the profiteroles but my heart belongs to kunefe. It is a beautiful pastry filled with cheese, dripping with syrup, topped with pistachios. It is usually served warm with a dollop of cream on top. To have a full experience, I take it with a scoop of cold ice cream. Sweet, sweet heaven.
Already, I am becoming increasingly concerned about what I will do without all these sweets when I go back to the U.S. Obviously, there is only one solution. Never leave Turkey.
When I was younger, so much younger than today I read a book called the Celestine Prophecy. In it the author discussed the various energies of the world and the importance of being in tune with these energies. By being conscience of the signals the universe is giving around us, it is possible to live the best possible life. In a very simplified version, the idea is to go with the flow. In the Alchemist, the author promotes the concept that if you really want something, then the whole universe will conspire to help you attain it.
As human beings, I think we all have a simple base desire to be happy. We strive to reach happiness in love, in our friendships, in our accomplishments, and in our families. But we do not honor love, we do not surround ourselves with the people that make us better, we do not strive for accomplishments that fulfill us and we cut ties and create distance with our families.
Although we know what we want, and the universe is easily capable of giving it to us, we take the paths that lead to stress and unhappiness. We complain about friends that don’t give us the time and attention we need. We go to jobs that aren’t fulfilling, or go to school for programs that we aren’t interested in. We create castles built on unhappy foundations and then we feel trapped within those walls. Of course all of us don’t do all of these things but most of us do some of these things and then we plead helplessness when confronted with the consequences of our choices.
My coming to Istanbul coincided with losing my best friend and I can easily say it was one of the hardest things I have gone through in my life. I was so angry and hurt. I felt I would never get past the bad feelings and pain. I literally thought I would never stop crying.
In the Quran, God says: "We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere- who say, when afflicted with calamity: 'To Allah we belong, and to Him we shall return" … "So verily, with every hardship there is relief. Verily, with every hardship there is relief."
When we are going through something extremely painful it can be hard to believe that the universe is conspiring to help us. It can be hard to be in tune with the energies of the world because every part of our being is trying to go against them. And it can especially be hard to patiently preserve when we do not understand the nature and virtue of the test.
It is at this time more than ever that we need to do those things though. At the beginning I fought the urge to feel better. I wanted to feel sad and I would lay in bed refusing to do anything other than mope. But somewhere along the way something in me said, enough is enough and I began to re-emerge. Since then I have become a bit of a yes-woman. If anyone asks me to go out or to do something, I say yes. If there is an opportunity to apply for something, I fill out the form. If there are new people around, I talk to them and I try to give myself as openly as I can.
I feel I have not been this open to life since I was very, very young and the rewards for this rediscovered perspective have been ten-fold. In these last two months I have met some of the most amazing people. We have made friends from Denmark, Palestine, Dubai, Canada, Slovakia, Romania and so many other places. We opened ourselves to Turkey and in return she has showered us with so many amazing experiences and has filled our lives with Turkish people who truly live up to the great reputation that precedes them. And when I go to bed at night, it is with a body tired from adventures and a mind already excited for the prospects of the next day.
I understand that life will not always stay this wonderful and feel so good but I am also convinced that God did not put us on Earth to be miserable and that the universe is not out to get us. Happiness is in our reach but to grab onto it, we must first have the courage to let go of the negative things that we have been holding on to.
A few weeks ago I started talking about starting yoga while here in Istanbul. And I talked about it and talked about it and talked about it...
It became a running joke at work that I would leave Istanbul without going to a single yoga class.
One day when I came home from work, I mentioned to Feraz that it was a yoga night at the studio by our house. Then I got cozy on the couch. Usually this is the first step to a doomed evening. The couch is soo comfy. Once you are on it, there is no point of ever leaving. Then, Feraz and I ate the delicious okra and potatoes we had made. We set up the latest Gossip Girl and settled in for some good home cooked food and a side of that saucy serena and her bestie blair. It was such a great episode! It was such a tasty meal!
And then the clock crept closer to the hour that I quietly let pass every evening there is a yoga class. But Feraz wasn't going to let me weasel out of this one. "It's almost time for yoga!" he said. I scrunched my face and said, "Should we go?" as if this was a brand new idea.
Go we did.
My first impression of the studio was good. There were huge photographs of theatre students all over the walls. Incidentally, the yoga studio is connected to a film school. (Hena, come move in with us!) So, up, up we went past all the photos. One floor. Two floors. Three floors. The higher we climber the hotter the rooms got. Four floors. Almost there...Five floors... Six floors! Finally, we arrived to the reception area. As we paid for our class we came to realize that the teacher for our class didn't know English and the class would be taught in Turkish.
How about the Thursday night teacher, does she speak English? Yes. How about the Saturday and Sunday teachers, do they speak English? Yes. This was the only night the teacher didn't speak English. I turned to Feraz and helpfully suggested that we walk along the Bosporus for exercise. No go. The receptionist suggested that we try the class and if we couldn't follow along we could leave early and she would give us our money back. Even my lawyerly brain couldn't argue with that so up we went, one more flight of stairs, to our class.
For the first fifteen minutes, I used all my energy and discipline to not laugh and fall over. Even though I like yoga and its effect on my body and mind, hearing someone instruct you in Turkish while there are loud ahhhhhhs as the room exhales ands hearing lots of funny words at the same time can set off a serious case of the giggles. The best part was looking over at Feraz who is totally new to yoga. His face always had a look of intense concentration or extreme confusion so that was pretty comical in itself.
Eventually my body started to feel the various positions and I had to start concentrating. Every now and then the teacher would come up to me and adjust me a little bit and whisper "I am so sorry I don't know English." I wanted to hug her she was so nice! At the very end we laid down in our cool down mode. We had large round pillows under our knees and it felt amazing. But it wasn't over! The teacher brought out a blanket and laid it over me. Then she brought a scented eye pillow and put that on. Ahhhhhh. So amazing. In those last five minutes as I laid there I felt perfect.
So I thought I'd tell you all about what I think of teaching in Istanbul. I'm happy to say that right now at least, I LOVE IT!
One of my objectives for coming to Istanbul was to try my hand and teaching and see if I liked it enough to make a career out of it. Alhumdulillah after a lot of help and preparation, I managed to find a teaching position a week after arriving in Istanbul. Right now I'm teaching an intermediate-level English class at Fatih University. Now, this isn't an English class like the ones that you probably took at university or secondary school. This is a class on learning how to speak and read English properly. The students that I teach are all adults - either teachers themselves or university graduates. This is because, from what I understand, learning English in Turkey is a very common thing and is a must if you want to get ahead in the business world, or get paid more, or get that promotion that you want. Usually students take a TOEFL test after learning English, and based on the score that they receive on that, they'll have more opportunities or the chance for advancement in their careers. Of course many students also want to learn English because they want to move out of Turkey to an English-speaking country, usually America. So for them to be taught English by someone like me, who lives in America, can be a real learning (funny, I know) experience. Not only do they get the chance to test their language skills, but they can also ask me whatever they want about what it's actually like to live in the country they want to immigrate to.
I get a real buzz out of teaching. I feel like a performer on a stage with the students as my audience. I'm sure it's similar to the feeling that musicians get when they play in a concert. It's also not a bad thing if my students actually learn something from me! I don't know if they have yet actually, as there's been no tests since I've been their teacher, but it'll make me happy if I discover that their scores have improved. I think another reason that I like teaching so much is b/c right now at least, there isn't much for me to do outside of class for my class. The lesson plans are taken straight from a book and I just have to help the students get through them, and answer any questions that they might have.
Having adult students that are actually paying money to attend class also must make a difference. In fact, I remember that when I was a substitute teacher in Dearborn this was a real problem. The students just didn't want to be at school and some of them would do whatever they could to mess with you and get out of class. It's not like that here. If you don't want to be in class, don't turn up. It's ultimately the students' responsibility to do their homework and make an effort so that their English skills improve. I just need to help that process in whatever way that I can, and make my classes interesting and engaging so that my students want to learn and actually look forward to coming to class at 9:30 in the morning.
PSA to everyone who can even maybe afford it: Get a cleaning lady!
Having a cleaning lady is magical. This morning as I left the apartment. I eyed things scattered everywhere. And like a typical desi I wanted to clean the apartment before the cleaning lady got there. But I was committed to getting to work early to finish a project so away I went.
Then there was that moment when I came home. I had forgotten she was coming. First I noticed the shoe rack. All the shoes were lined up and put away in their cubby holes. Then there was the kitchen. The glorious shine of the counter, the crumb free stove, and not a dish in sight. Then I saw the laundry all hung washed and hung, the clothes i left to be ironed were all crisp and hanging in the closet. She goes through all the drawers and closets and folds everything. As an extra nice touch, she lays a white summery dress on the bed, almost as to say, it is a beautiful day! Wear this and have a fabulous night!
Another amazing thing about our cleaning lady is that her name is Roza so in my head I call her Daroza... All you Gossip Girl fans, be jealous. Be very, very jealous.
After a great day at work and then coming home to this sparkling apartment I was happy to call it a day. But I had promised some friends from work that I would meet them up for dinner and nargeelah.
Even though Feraz was having a bit of a headache and I wanted to just stay cozy and lazy on the sofa, we headed out to meet my friends. What a good move that was!! There is something so amazing about a new group of friends that you care for. There is the freshness of everyone's jokes, the newness of all the stories and the wonder of discovering people. I laughed so much. I loved how everyone in the group is just so open, and kind and not putting on a facade or acting or trying to be something. We all loved the cheesy eighties, and later nineties music that came on. I think I lost my voice from karaokeing when I shouldn't have been. I found another person who likes to sing to the songs as much as I do! And as we walked down Istikal street late into the night, we sang A Whole New World and every now and then I yelled Istanbul!!
All this business about Swine Flu is a little annoying. What's the worst that can happen? We all die. The world comes to a screeching halt. And that's it.
Someone recently said to me, "It's only life, Sumeera." But I think that is wrong, It's LIFE! and then, it's only death.
The older I get, the lower tolerance I have for scaredy-cats. Of people who don't discover the world because there is a terrorist or a disease or a goblin behind every door. I am sick of politicians and opportunists preying on this fear.
This past Friday it was May Day and work was cancelled and we were advised not to venture out. Since I still had my conference to attend I had to go out and look for a taxi to take me to the conference hotel because the metro had been shut down in fear of terrorist attacks. I could not make it out of my neighborhood because there were police blockades everywhere. After trying to talk to a few of the taxi drivers who were stranded on the side-streets I decided it would just be easier to walk the 5kms to the hotel. As I started my walk I saw more and more police. They were standing on the sidewalks, leaning against cars, sitting on their motorbikes, they were everywhere! One street was completely lined with huge travel buses. Inside them waited hundreds of riot police who would be ready to respond in case things got messy. At the end of the street were two huge tanks facing the Bosporus.
That night I decided to stay in and now I wonder if I regret it. The next day I read that there had been riots right by our apartment and police had used tear gas and water cannons to calm the crowds. Out there life was happening and instead I was holed up in my apartment. I already have forgotten whatever it was I was doing but I am sure if I had gone out into Taksim square I would not have quickly forgotten what I saw.
I am not saying that we should live our life with complete abandon, without concern for life or limb but I am saying that at the end of the day if I am to die, I would rather have lived first. I don't want to be the person wishing they had said something, had been somewhere, had done something.
While Feraz and I were in the Liverpool Museum there was a quote: "History will be kind to me, for I shall write it." I can't say with certainty that this will be true for me but I can say that in my history I will not live in fear of swine flu, of monsters, of words or of judgment. And, for me, it will never be only life. If anything, that is something to fear.