|5. You also spent a significant amount of time in Turkey. Please
tell us where and how did that come about?
The first time I visited Turkey was July of 1978. My travel
companions were two gay friends, one from Jordan and one from
Britain. We took various buses to Jordan from Athens and stopped
in Turkey and Syria on the way. What a trip! It was the year
"Midnight Express" came out, a movie that didn't show Turkey in
a favourable light at all, and Turkey did not seem the most
desirable country to go to.
I knew nothing of Turkey, and imagined a country of "swarthy
mustached barbarians", the typical stereotype. How wrong I was!
Back in Canada I eventually became a highschool math teacher.
After 4 years I had enough and quit. I wanted to work in Greece
for a year, but there was a problem with work permits. A friend
phoned me in March of 1989 and told me he saw an ad in the Globe
and Mail for English and Math teachers in Istanbul. I applied
because I figured it was close to Greece. I was hired and off I
went to Istanbul with 13 other Canadians to work in a private
high school. Little did I know that it was in the far suburbs of
We were given apartments by the sea, with a view of the Princes'
Islands. But we were isolated, no TV, no telephone, no English
newspapers in our suburb. Work was difficult: 38 students in
each of our 6 classes. And nothing to do at night.
I almost came home in March of 1990. But I started to be
enamored with Istanbul during that summer and decided to come
back and work in the center of the city. After one year back in
Canada I did just that and stayed until December of 1998.
6. What was it like living and working in Turkey?
Living in Turkey was hard at first because of the language
barrier. It became easier once we found our way around and
learned some Turkish. I discovered many of the teenagers did
speak English. And then it became very easy, because the Turks
were so helpful. I never worried about finding my way. If I
asked there was always a Turk to show me or take me where I
wanted to go. Even when I didn't ask and looked lost. Turks
really like foreigners. My neighbour sometimes looked at me as
if I were from outer space. But my last neighbours were the best
I ever had, so generous and kind.
Because I couldn't afford expensive apartments I lived many
times without central heat. I wasn't used to being so cold in
the winter. Now though many apartments have gas heating. Also in
1993, there was a water shortage for 400 days! More than a year!
Our water was shut off most of the time, except every second
evening and morning, and was never on during the weekend. We had
to save water in containers. I had a lot of watermelon, hot dogs
Electricity cuts were also quite common. One day we went for 3
days straight without any electricity. All the food in the
freezers got spoiled.
A lot of things didn't work right, but a lot things did. It was
easy to get anything fixed, for example. There were repair shops
everywhere since the poor couldn't afford to buy new things.
Istanbul had a few malls, and lots of stores, but I bought many
things from the vendors on the streets, trains and ferries.
There was action everywhere. There were few beggars, the very
poor held shoe-shining jobs, sold tissues, balloons, chicklets,
lemonade, cold water, cucumber pieces, watermelon - anything to
make a buck. I especially liked the pickle vendors.
You could also shop from your home, on the street a different
vendor would walk by and utter a special call announcing his
arrival, for example the plumber, the guys who collected old
metal, the yoghurt man, the tomato and vegetable man, the used
furniture man, the potato and onion man who came in a horse and
cart, a man who sold a special millet drink in the winter. His
call sounded like the word "boze", which he sang in a special
melody, which I loved.
Another thing I loved were the movers. If you needed a pick-up
truck, you just went to the intersection where they congregated
and bargained a price, no booking ahead required.
Teaching in Turkey was a bit different than teaching in Canada,
for the first years we only taught 3 ½ days of the week. This
was fantastic. Then the Turks got "smart" and realized no other
country did this.
I found teenagers to be the same everywhere. The students were
no different really than here. The 11 year olds - my favourite
group - were "younger" in maturity than here, which was nice to
see. They seemed to grow up more slowly there. No drugs in high
school. Many schools had a system where the students did an
extra year after Grade 6 to learn English intensively for a
year. Now they learn from kindergarten.
The system of testing was a bit different and more bureaucratic.
Each class had 6 big common tests per course, which were taken
during the regular school time. One thing I thought was very
strange, was that the foreign teachers had to go to the general
meetings which were held in Turkish.
I taught in 3 different high schools, my second was a
charity-funded boarding school for children without fathers -
wonderful kids. My last school was in the center of Istanbul and
I had the privilege of working with an excellent team of English
teachers, both foreign and Turkish, of which many have become
friends. I was there 4 years, it was hard to leave then, but I
visit now every year.
7. What can you tell us about the mentality of people in Turkey?
The mentality of the Turks is a whole topic within itself. Most
Turks are poor, although there is a slowly rising middle class.
They must work hard to survive, there is not much time for play.
Turks tend to live for the moment because of this. When they are
asked to do something, they tend to say what they think will
make you happy, whether it is true or not. That took me a long
time to get used to. Eventually they do get things done, but not
at "your" time.
They are not a country to protest, I guess because of their
politics. They are a quiet people who spend a lot of time
waiting or lining up for things. It seems they have resigned
themselves that if they are vocal still nothing will happen. One
exception to this is their love of honking when driving. But
still nothing much happens. My head of department waited 14
years for his home telephone. Now that's patience! That was a
long time ago though and the world of technology has changed.
Ironically Istanbul had way more bank machines than Toronto in
1989. And now everyone has a cell phone.
Because it is a poor country, my wallet was stolen 4 times and
my TV and pay-TV decoder were stolen once from my house while I
was sleeping. If you plan on visiting, watch your wallet.
About the author:
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of
http://www.travelandtransitions.com. It deals with travel to
foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life
travel experiences, interviews with travellers, insights,
cross-cultural issues, and many other features. Participate in
our travel story contest
http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm and win great
prizes, a fabulous cruise to the Amazon. Life is a Journey -
Explore New Horizons.
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