Friday, May 28, 2010

The Memories, or Part 3 of my Final Post

I really want to remember my address (FB 1-9) and my phone number (+974 783 7494), so I'll put them here for posterity.

But beyond that, here are a few of my favorite memories:

My best New Year's ever, in Istanbul.

The first night I hung out with the people that would become my closest friends. Also one of the first times I had karak. Also, the day that I got my nickname, Corniche.

My walk with some of the other exchange students along the Corniche
, and how uncomfortable we were bargaining. Not any more, my friend! Best price?

Constantly going to Bandar and getting karak. Or going out and getting shawarma.

My roadtrip around Qatar

Going to Maya's for the first time. (Also the day that Hillary Clinton came to CMU-Q!)

Those are the memories that stick out, but even as I was going through the posts and trying to find the links, I saw other days that I loved and am so glad I blogged about so I can remember them.

Because, while I love all of you, my dear readers... this blog was for me. I learned to say "yes!" to activities when I thought I didn't have enough time, just to get some fodder for this blog. I analysed and reflected more on my experiences when I went to write about them. Yes, this blog will be a time capsule of my time in and around Qatar.

I have become slightly addicted to blogging, and, while I doubt it will be daily, I'll start another one. Here is your link to continue checking me out:

The Good, or Part 2 of my Final Post

With all of the critiques I had of Middle Eastern societies in my last blog post, I would have to say I admire Qatar and other countries for many reasons as well.

Qatar, especially, has impressed me with their initiative and forward-thinking. They are reinvesting their oil money, not in big buildings or mosques, but in education, medicine, the arts, and culture; it is the spirit and mentality of Qatar that they are improving.

In addition to the country's investments, I think that CMU-Q has a lot of money, staff, and desire that help it put together better programs, more popular speakers, and well-funded events that I appreciated.

I was much more likely to go to events as well. I didn't have many commitments (besides uni and TAing), so I could be flexible with my free time. I also could nearly guarantee that, even if I didn't know anyone that was going, when I got there, there were always familiar faces.

Which leads me to one of the things I loved about CMU-Q: the size and connectedness. I was able, in my short time there, to meet a lot of people and staff and faculty and connet with them. I think, because the campus is so small, people are a lot more friendly with newcomers than in Pittsburgh because it is almost guaranteed that you will run into them again. The class sizes are small, so the teaching and pace are tailored to the class. A question is always thoroughly investigated and taken seriously in the classroom, and due dates are slightly more flexible.

In the larger culture, the trend is for families to be extremely close. I rarely heard of the typical mother-daughter spats that I've heard in the US; instead, girls would say that their mothers are their best friends. Brothers would watch out for their sisters (for better or for worse), and there was a support structure that made earlier marriages permissible and well-supported.

In a culture like that, friendships also grow strong. While I guess that the small size of the campus had something to do with it, it is also how people view friendships. They are investing in your life, so they give you advice, check up on you, and do really great favors. A different flavor of friendship than what I am used to.

While travelling, I did appreciate how friendly people were toward me, especially when it came to advice and directions. Sometimes, things got a bit carried away (and you can never trust a taxi driver), but for the most part, anyone who spoke English was willing to help me.

I think there is a saying about food and good company, but that is truly what I had in Qatar. (A little too much food... but never enough good company!) I would encourage anyone to study abroad, push their boundaries, especially in a place with so many myths and misconceptions, and get to know that the world is bigger than they think.

The Different, or Part 1 of my Final Post

I've done some other reflection pieces, but just talking to my family last night over dinner (at Outback Steakhouse... welcome back to America with Australian chain food), I came to some other realizations, especially reasons why I was so excited to come back home.

This past week alone in Turkey has been very trying because being a girl travelling alone means you are a bit of a target for men (if you couldn't tell by my repeated blog posts about my interactions with them). It was also hard not knowing when your next conversation would be, and for me, being a social person, I hated thinking I wouldn't get a chance to talk to someone about my day or what I thought. The internet and instant messaging helped immensely, but it's not quite like face-to-face interaction.

Another reason that I am happy to be back in the US is the culture, especially the culture related to women. In the Middle East, in the Gulf region definitely, there is a prevalent thought that a women's sphere is the home and that the men's sphere is outside it. This leads to a wonderfully family-centric society where you only see women out and about (1) with their families or (2) shopping with their servants or friends. Arab women travelling are nearly unheard of, unless they are with their families. Women travelling (the way I did, at least, with a lot of contact with the locals) in the Middle East are another rarity. So I always stuck out.

Beside just sticking out for my actions and attitude, I stuck out in my dress. As a Western, I never had to cover my head except for inside mosques. But I still had often have my shoulders and knees covered. On hot days, it wasn't always nice. And, while dress is a personal choice, I felt like I often had to second guess what was appropriate or not: something I'm not used to doing here in the US!

Speaking of appropriate, what appropriate physical touch was vastly different too! Here, I wouldn't hesitate hugging male or female friends and shaking hands with everyone. There are couples making out in public here, so no one is going to notice a hug. Around the Middle East (with the exception of Turkey, where there was some PDA), some women didn't even want to shake hands with men. Men would walk hand in hand, as would couples, but patrolmen would find it suspicious if a couple was sitting too close, and kissing in public was out of the question. I never knew how guys interpreted the hugs I accidentally gave them either. In America, a hug pretty much means nothing but that you are friends. But in a culture where a handshake might not be allowed, a hug could get misinterpreted.

It was nice getting back to a country where I understood the language, too. In all of the countries, it was pretty easy getting around with English (or with someone who knew the language), however, I missed being able to strike up a random conversation with someone I was standing in line with. I also missed being able to listen in on conversations, understanding signs, and reading advertisements and newspapers.

However, the prevalence of English was nice, but the prevalence of American fast-food restaurants was not. I've heard that obesity and diabetes are increasing in the Middle East. They have a less active lifestyle (lots of driving and elevators) since a few months of the year it is very hot. (I still think this shouldn't affect the rest of the year when it is a wonderful time to be outside and being active!) But I think the change in diet to the new, fast, evil food that is available for delivery might have something to do with it too. I mean, really, delivery for McDonald's? And KFC, and Burger King, and every pizza place...

My final reason for wanting to go home was the difference in the culture in terms of hired labor. In Qatar, and many other Middle Eastern countries, the "haves" employ the "have-nots" as servants: nannies, drivers, cooks, maids, security guards. It is both a way to alleviate the pressures on a large household (since many have quite a handful of children) and a way to "give back" by providing people with jobs. This spreads, however, and I think has created a mentality I don't agree with. I heard from other exchange students in the dorms that their roommates didn't know how to clean. Or possibly they just felt that it was beneath them or that someone else was going to do it or they didn't want to bother themselves? Whatever the reason, many had roommates that didn't clean up after themselves to the point of neglect, with rotting food, bugs, and scummy bathrooms.

This continues into the public sector. Littering is just giving the garbage men something to clean; busing your tray in the mall is denying the workmen a job. For me, clearing your tray doesn't mean that you've taken a job. They still must empty the trash, clean the tray, wipe down the table, mop, and a million other little things. It is simply polite for me to do my small part.

Since I've listed some of the "bad" (different) things about the Middle East and its attitudes, I'll have to redeem myself (and prove that I had a wonderful time!) with another post on what I loved and wished I had back here in the States.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet Dreams, or Day 20 of the Epic May Adventure

I almost can't believe it.

I'm home. I'm safe. And the jet-lag is catching up to me, which I why I'm exhausted.

It'll have to be tomorrow, when I post that last of my pictures, edit the last of my posts, and say goodbye to this blog.

Sweet dreams until then.


So yesterday, when I posted this, I had fallen asleep on my bed with my laptop open, trying to write the post. That was as far as I got after I woke up enough to type it, then brush my teeth and sleep.

But what really happened during my 34-hour-long day was this.

It started at 6am, Turkish time, when I woke up at the five-star hotel, jumped in the shower, then had a cup of tea before taxi-ing to the airport.

On the first flight, I read a book (yay, book trades in hostels), did some sudoku, and watched the world go by for four hours.

We landed at Heathrow, and I had four hours before my next flight. But I was determined to see my friend studying abroad there, Audra. She had clued me in about some filming they were doing at King's Cross, so, when I got to downtown London after an hour on the tube, I was a bit early for our meeting so I stopped by.

There wasn't much to see, just a small crowd with Harry Potter books and cameras. I stayed for ten minutes, just in case Daniel Radcliffe showed his face, but no beans.

So I hopped back a few stations to meet up with Audra! We got to see each other for just over ten minutes while I waited for the right train back to Heathrow. It worked out, just barely, and I made it back for my flight with minutes to spare, but it was great seeing a high school friend for the first time in months!

The ten-hour flight next to a couple from northern England was pretty good. A few movies, a two-hour catnap, and a good meal equals a good flight.

So with a two-hour time difference to London, than an eight-hour time difference to Seattle, when I landed around five, it was more like 3am. I got through dinner just fine, made it home to unpack a bit and chat, but at 10pm (8am Turkish time), as you could tell from the beginning of this post, I was done for the day. My last day. My final day. My first day of being home.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Surprise!, or Day 19 of the Epic May Adventure

Whoever decided to call this the "Epic May Adventure" (*cough* Abdalla *cough*) cursed me with endless excitements to my trip.

This morning started off nice enough. I got up in time to spend an hour at the Turkish Islamic Arts Museum, staring at rugs and porcelain.

I get to the airport at 11:30 or so, 2.5 hours early for the flight I'm supposed to be on. Last night I looked at the strike details, checked my e-mail, and looked to see the status of the flight number I had for the Istanbul-London flight, and it was still running just fine.

I didn't check the London-Seattle flight... the fact that it was canceled might have tipped me off.

So I get to the airport, pick up my bag, try to check in... and the guy at the counter says that I'm not on this flight. That I missed my flight. That my flight was 8am this morning.

No way, I say. I have this piece of paper that shows my flight as being at 2pm. I wasn't notified of anything!

Well, he says. Let's get this fixed.

So, with me close to tears (what is it about airports and me crying these days?), I go over and they booked me a flight for tomorrow morning. That will get into Seattle (insh'Allah) at 16:45.

Meanwhile, another lady who also got screwed by them and I are spending the day at a nice 5-star hotel. We ate at the lunch buffet, then I decided to chill for a while before trying to hit the pool. (The hotel is pretty darn far from the rest of Istanbul, so I'm not going to even try to do any sight-seeing, which is for the best.)

I get to the pool, and they charge me $3.50 (5 TL) for a swim cap that I'm required to wear but that doesn't fit on my head. I just took a long bath instead and moped.

Yes. I am not in a good mood. I posted on Facebook that I'd rather be traveling stuck between the fattest, sweatiest people than be here. And after five months of being away from home (and only having a handful of days back in Washington before jetting off to Pittsburgh), one day does make a difference.

But I'll keep looking on the bright side, if I must. We had a lovely dinner on the top floor, looking at the sunset and finishing with a delicious fried banana dessert. I might get a chance to see a friend in London now that my stopover is four hours instead of two.

And I get a huge room and bathroom all to myself. It could be much worse... but I would rather be home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dyslexia, or Day 18 of the Epic May Adventure

Arrived in İstanbul early this morning on a night train. Still loving the transportation and sleeping accommodations (though an upright chair isn't the best bed...)

Found a hostel for a little more than I wanted to pay, but I get this free internet, so life is still good.

I spent quite a while this morning updating the blog, then went to say hi to the Blue Mosque. Afterward, I needed to make my way to Beşiktaş to try to meet a friend from Cappadocia at the Dolmabahçe Palace. In the guidebook, it mentioned that there was a route from Eminönü (a pretty close ferry doc) to Ortaköy (on the Asian side) and a route from Ortaköy to Beşiktaş. So I decided to pop over to Asia for lunch.

It was a bustling shopping district, and I found a lokantası, or cafeteria-type restaurant, to eat at. The good thing is that they are much classier than cafeterias, with bread on the table and tableclothes and stuff. So I went up to the display part with my waiter (since I couldn't understand anything on the menu) and got some eggplant, mutton, and cheese dish and a green salad. Set me back $10, but it kept me going for quite a while.

So I took the ferry from Ortaköy to Beşiktaş, and walked to Dolmabahçe Palace. Where I waited. And napped. And never did meet up with my friend (he was stuck in traffic, as I learned later.)

The palace was elaborate, and huge. We saw only half in our one-hour guided tour, and I probably saw another quarter by myself. It was commissioned in 1854 and finished in 13 years. During that period, the oil and pastel paintings were being done by the Europeans, so most of the artwork was from Europe. The whole palace was very European, with 'elements of Roccoco, Baroque, and Neo-Classical' (as the guide said) mixed in with a bit of Turkish flavor.

It's layout was very Turkish. The 'harem', or family chambers, were separated by guards from the public spaces. Just like at the Topkapı Palace, the queen-mother's apartment was between the sultan's and his wives' and concubines'. Always the mother with control...

As I was walking out from the gardens (after some dondurma, of course), and all of a sudden, a guy starts talking to me in frantic English. He is Yugoslavian (I think) but loves İstanbul ('İstanbul, I love you'). He has gotten offers from around the world to dance, but had a day off today. And apparently thought I had 'charisma' (one of his favorite English words to throw around... that and 'big boys', meaning people with lots of power or money).

He entices me with talk of a beach, and I follow. Pretty soon, I'm on his arm... then holding his hand... but he assures me, 'Friends! No I love you. No husband.'

We end up at Ortaköy, a little preppy section of İstanbul, and he leds me around for a bit, then insisting on taking a picture. At this point, I've resolved to dump the guy at the first chance, and when he starts walking again, I say no and stay.

(He went on this rant that had 'bayan' in it a lot. Bayan means women, so I think he was cursing my whole gender... at least he left after that.)

So, I wander, shop, get a waffle loaded with chocolate and friuts, then slowly attempt to get back to the hostel. The roads were so crowded that I walked to the first ferry dock, then hopped on a boat for 'Kadaköy.'

I read it as Karaköy. Well, I ended up at Kadaköy, wherever that is. When I got there, and couldn't find the light rail, I hopped on another ferry to Eminünö, which I did read correctly. So eventually I got back to the hostel safe and sound... with only one other Turkish guy deciding that my 'heels were nice' and plucking at my jean cuffs as I went up some stairs.

I love you, foreign men, but I'm excited to not have to deal with you... back to America tomorrow!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Updated and No Longer Quick, or Day 17 of the Epic May Adventure

Thıs ıs fast because I had a dınner to get and a
bus to catch back to Istanbul but I'll update you all tomorrow

That's what I wrote yesterday as I was racing out the 'door.' (I was at a beach bar, so there really wasn't a door, persay.) I guess I have all of yesterday (Day 17) and the end of Day 16 to update you all on.

Well, Day 16. I was in Izmır and already having an interesting time of it, what with old men and random ferries. After a bit of pushing from friends I was chatting online with at the internet cafe (basically saying, don't waste your short time in Turkey!) and the fact that it was still light out when I emerged from the net cafe, I headed back to the waterfront.

And I was walking along, deciding which seaside cafe or bar to sit down at when, hark!, the lovely tones of English drifted by.

It was a tall black guy with a short Turkish girl. And I acted super creepily. I was walking faster than them, so passed them, but turned around to look back once before finally turning around and introducing myself.

He said I 'looked American' and when I turned around, he figured I was. So, the three of us meadered, got some dondurma (ice cream... of course I would know the Turkish word for ice cream), then watched sunset. We ended up at the same cafe where early I had been doted on by the waiter. He was still around, and after a great conversation with the two of them until pretty late, I hung around and got another cup of free tea. (I had managed to pay for one when I was with the couple, and I left him a tip to 'pay' for this one as well. Which means, of my five cups of tea, I paid for one.) I took a cab back to my hotel and read a bit before bed.

Ok, so Day 17. I wake up and head to the otogar (bus station, which is a bit out of town, so I end up taking another taksı) and catch the first bus to Çeşme.

Çeşme is this pretty port town with one beach (because most people take boat trips along the coast). So I walk to that one beach, am greeted by the attendant(s) and grab this pillowed beachside sitting area. I read, tan, hop in the water, have an Efes beer (the local one), then nap.

When I wake up, I start my book again, but one of the beach attendant guys comes over. He points to one of the other attendant guys. 'He thinks you are pretty. He is 18.' Oh boy.
Well, he comes over then, with the older guy to translate. His name is 'Jimmy' (though spelled differently, with a 'c' for the 'j' sound). Turns out he is actually 20 (as his ID card showed) and he is from Batman, Turkey. (I know, right? There is a city in Turkey named Batman!)
Well, that is about as far as the conversation gets when our translator leaves. So I do whatever I do when faced with a Turkish man who doesn't know English... propose a game of tavla!
So the backgammon board comes out, and first we play this children's game where you basically just have to roll all of the numbers to win. I understand why when we finally play real backgammon... he's not very good (and doesn't quite know the rules).
So then the bartender comes over, and he knows a bit of English. So he asks the usual questions... 'What's your name?', 'Where are you from?', 'Do you have a boyfriend?'
Sigh. Those Turkish guys. He then asked something along the lines of 'Do you need love?' then propositioned me for sex. I'm so glad his limited vocabulary includes those words (in addition to some English curses, too). (What are they teaching at English schools these days?!)
Anyway, I play some tavla with the bartender guy. He was better, but let's just say, I haven't lost a backgammon game since I came back into Turkey.
Well, ready for the dramatic portion of the day? I walk over to the bar, attendant-who-fancies-me gives me a dondurma, and bartender is called over by a British photographer.
The photographer works for some Swedish (I think) magazine called 'Near and Far-flenzueng' or something, and wants to take pictures of me and bartender being a cute couple in one of the houses on the beach (look in the background of the picture of me, and you'll see the house-things I'm talking about).
So he has his arm around me, we stare off at the sea, and the photographer chats with me about economic policy and the volcano. A-w-f-m is in the background, getting jealous.
So after the photo shoot, bartender and attendant have a bit of a spat. Probably something like:

Attendant: You had your arm around her! And you were holding her hand! I saw her first!

Bartender: Dude, it was just a photo. Though she is pretty cute.

Attendant: No! Not okay! (stomps off)

So at this point, what's a girl to do? So I give the attendant a little attention, he invites me to dinner and to walk me to my bus, and we have a very interesting time trying to spend 45 minutes having a conversation when we don't know each other's language.
He does know 'I love you' and used it a few times, as well as drawing hearts on the pad of paper I pulled out. Another broken heart I'm going to leave in my wake...
(Just a note about the first post of this: On a Turkish keyboard, the 'ı' is where the 'i' is on an English keyboard, which makes it hard to type fast. We were online at the outdoor bar, becoming Facebook friends and I decided to let the world know that I was alive. Also, I've added pictures to a few of my previous posts. You can look at all of my blog pictures here.)