This is approximately my fifth try at this blog entry. I've already said, I want to respect the privacy of the family I am staying with and since I am working with kids it is rather difficult to write much about my work. When I am not looking after naughty kids, I work at my computer mainly, which is not so exciting either, so you don't want to read about it. Of course, you want to read about life in Turkey. I guess, the truth is: I find it so hard to write because I don't feel like I have arrived in Turkey. Just like I wouldn't consider Miami America, Cancún Mexico or Vienna Austria, you cannot assume that Izmir is Turkey. Of course, Izmir is a city in Turkey, but then, I don't even live in Izmir really. I live on the outskirts in a constructed residential landscape. And I have literally not been anywhere else the whole time. I feel a little bit ashamed about that but not too much.
Where I live looks like this: there is a boulevard along the coast with a walking and a biking path (separated) lined by parks and sports fields that are open and free to use for everyone. All of this is bordered by a very busy road and behind that there is the residential area where I live. It all looks the same really: there are high-rise apartment buildings and between them there are a lot of green spaces with planted trees, irrigated grass and a playing ground for kids. All of this is kept very clean and manicured. Each of the complexes is fenced in. You need a chip to get in and out. Well, you can also just duck under the boom gate, which people regularly do. Or you use one of the two entrances where a guard is stationed 24 hours. Then you need the code word, which I found out is simply "good evening" (or whatever time of day it is) in Turkish, obviously, and they will happily open the gate for you, no questions asked. So, it is a gated community but whyever they build fences in the first place and then let everybody in anyway, is a riddle to me. Right outside of this is a primary school (where I have to take the boy every day and pick him up from there), on the other side there is a shopping center with a supermarket (basically the only store I care about). Now, clearly the whole concept is beautiful, it all looks pretty and not much different from what you would expect Miami Beach or some other rich residential area to look like. It isn't different either (well, maybe in other places you couldn't get in and out so easily but still.). The looks are the same. If it were this I had come for, I might as well have gone to any other rich place on this planet. I am quite sure they all look literally the same. Which is also, why I am a tiny little bit disappointed. Which is also why, in an earlier post, I said I felt like living in a movie. Because I had only known these kind of places from movies and I had no clue they really existed. I thought they were just made up and that no one actually lives like that. I must admit now that, probably, millions of people all over the wolrd live like this and I never knew. So, one thing for sure: I learned to get over my naïve few that people don't actually live in these movie scene places. They do. Which hurts. But, I am over it by now.
Okay, so while I understand that it all looks very pretty and probably a lot of people dream of living like that, clearly I have two very different reasons to like it here: both are about 2 kilometres away, one to the east, one to the west. To the east is where my football training is. Considering Izmir is a huge town, the fact that it is within walking distance makes my life a lot easier and helps a lot. To the west there is a bird reserve. And it is also fenced in. The Turks seem to just love fences. At first I thought that they have so many military zones but by now I understand that they just randomly fence in everything and it doesn't mean much. There are also holes in the fence, through which you can still enter. Basically it is a huge area of salt marshes. Actually it only starts right next to where I live but it is huge and stretches the whole shore for maybe about 50 kilometres to the west of Izmir. It is a river delta, but the delta itself is about 30 kilometres from here. I have not yet gone all the way there. It is also difficult to get there - also because on the way I have a tendency to stop every ten metres to look at birds because there are so many. If you are not interested in birds, jump to the next paragraph here. So, of course, birds are part of the reason why I came here in the first place. And it is almost like Miami in this respect as well: there are several species that winter here, that breed in central Europe. For example starlings, stonechats and black redstarts arrived just a couple weeks ago. This is something I love about this place. What I love more than that are clearly the many shorebirds that are everywhere and they are not really shy. Since shorebirds are my favourite birds, the mere fact that I can literally just walk out my house and go look at several different species very close up is probably the single best thing about my new home. And I dare say it is very me that I get to live in a fancy apartment in a beautifully manicured residential complex with all conveniences and the thing I care most about are the birds in the wild areas beyond the manicured places, but secretly I am also proud about this specific trait of mine. Well, and then, of course there are the flamingos and pelicans. I don't want to sound like I don't appreciate them. I do, I really do. Every single time I look at them. But there are just so many flamingos that they have quickly become normal and so I go back to my favourites which are the shore birds. And the pelicans, there are not so many, but they just swim around next to the boulevard and right next to the people so the fact that they are actually special birds and an endangered species doesn't quite come across so easily.
I have slightly less positive things to say about the football. For those of you who didn't figure it out yet: clearly the one and only reason why I decided to stay in a city like Izmir for my first months in Turkey is the fact that women's football is not very popular in Turkey (yet) and is not played outside the bigger cities. So if I wanted to play football I needed to stay in a city. So here I am. I found a team. A very nice team at that, not quite as high level as I am used to but not bad. And then I am here and I learn that I am not allowed to play in the competition. At all. Because foreigners are only allowed to play in the highest league in Turkey. Which was quite a disappointment for me. On the other hand, the team is really nice to me - even though we can barely communicate - and let me train there anyway, and in the weekends (when the first team has their matches) I train with the youth team. So I have four trainings a week which is more than I bargained for. Everybody loves me, which is most likely not because they like me as a person so much but entirely due to the fact that I am one of the best players in the first team and for the young girls I train with on the weekends I am positively a superstar. Which, in a way, is fun. It was also a new experience for me to attend trainings where I barely understand a word that is being said. I was scared before the first training but it was easy enough to just do what everybody else was doing, even without understanding the instructions. After 6 weeks I can say that learning football vocabulary is much easier than the rest of the language. By now most of the time I even understand the verbal instructions and I can even talk to people in a game. Which comes quite handy. When the coach gets angry about a tactical thing they do wrong I just stand by and let her talk. I can't say I understand more than a few words when she is talking and since I can't play in the matches it doesn't really apply to me anyway. I do not know, by the way, if she never criticizes me because I can't play anyway or because I don't make mistakes in her eyes (or maybe because she thinks - correctly - that I don't understand her anyway). When the girls talk in the change room I literally don't understand a word. I wish I did but I don't. Their English is worse than my Turkish so we can't really talk to each other, so I literally just go there to play football and then I go home again. Which is fine with me, football is what I come for, but it is a little bit sad. I would like to know the girls better, that I train with. But then, I still have time...
So, these are the two most important things in my life. Birds and football. Not really so much different from when I am somewhere else, obviously. I am glad I have both here and it makes being here absolutely worthwhile. Next to that, I can report: it is slowly getting cooler but during the day you can still walk around in short sleeves and I train in shorts and shirt. The temperature is still very agreeable. It is very dry here too. That is, initially, judging from the vegetation, which, of course is also influenced by the salt from the sea. But also from the fact that everywhere where they create beautiful looking parks with grass and trees all of this is irrigated daily. The vegetation of the places that are not irrigated is highly salt and draught tolerant. After 6 weeks here I can also say that I haven't had much rain in this time even though, as a Mediterranean climate, the winter months (i.e. now) should bring quite some rain too. So far I didn't notice much of that. Although the forecast looks rather rainy and I really hope that that is true. Remember what I wrote about sunsets in the Po valley in Italy? Well, the same is true here too now. There is a mountain/hill rang right behind Izmir. A few days ago when I looked at them it was like I needed (new) glasses, they were slowly starting to disappear. And yesterday I did not see them at all any more. That was rather scary! The blood red sun then disappeared in the smog long before it reached the horizon. I really hope the rain will come soon!
Well, so this much for the weather and smog situation. The sad truth is that, since my Turkish is not good enough to communicate more than the basic needs and I haven't really met anyone who speaks English any better than that (apart from the family I live with, of course), I can't really tell you much about Turkish culture. I can tell you one thing for sure: Starting the first day that I arrived I have come to prefer the muezzin over central European church bells. As for religion, of course, I am a strongly believing atheist (I believe that there is no such thing as a god and we'd do better not waiting for Him to come to our rescue). So this is my religion, and I happily accept every person to have their own believes and act according to their religion so long as they leave others in peace doing so. Clearly most of our religions are not really great in doing so, which is the only reason why I care about religion in the first place and why I have a rather negative view of each of the common religions in Europe. However, I do prefer the muezzin over church bells, for sure (he is just much less interrupting, just a song breaking out rather than the bang of the church bells). But the very best thing about Islam I have come about so far is that prayer times are depending on the sun. So you do get woken up by the muezzin before sunrise, however, you don't get woken up at 6 or 7 am every day (which does happen in Christian countries) but simply at dawn every day, whenever that is. Which is a lovely concept. I must also admit that I notice literally nothing of religion other than the muezzin's song. I see few women with headscarf (of any kind) and I have never seen anybody leaving work or anything for prayer. So basically religion is not a thing you notice in daily life. Which was a little bit surprising to me, but probably shouldn't have been. Clearly, differences between Turkey and the rest of Europe are not as big as you might think. Which, I think, is the other reason why I don't really know what to write (which, obviously doesn't stop me from writing several pages again ;) ). But the truth is: the more I travel and the more I get to know different countries, the less important small differences seem to become and the main lesson learned for me is simply that: wherever you go people are just people. They get up in the morning, eat, work, have fun, eat more and go back to sleep. I think I have written this before too. Well, this is so, and as such it kind of makes my blog a little lost and searching for a new meaning. So I am just scribbling thoughts as they appear in my head and hope you find it interesting to read... Again, feel free to let me know what you think or what you'd rather read.
Now, as for the family I am living in, I have come to a different conclusion: that rich people everywhere are even more similar than average people. Which is also why I find rich people rather boring. Just like I find the life of rich people rather boring. So, if you ever thought that you wanted to be rich: don't! It is boring to be rich. Being poor is much more fun and interesting. Clearly, in order to be rich you have to work more which means you have less time to have fun. And then I am not sure if it is because they worked so much they are just too tired to do something else or because they try to follow the trends so much (so they can also show off that they are rich), but really most of the time in this home is spent watching TV or playing iPad. Which is really boring. We went to the zoo once. That was a very interesting and very sad experience: the animals they have there are just the normal (lions, elephants, lynx, etc.) but they also have lots of birds, many of which are native to this very place. For example the pelican. And the kids, in the zoo, look at the pelicans with big eyes and want to have feathers and go all crazy about those pelicans. A few days later we take a walk by the sea and there are five pelicans swimming there. I point them out to them but the kids couldn't care less. There is a kind of reverse logic here: while every normal person should realize that seeing a certain bird in the wild (especially when it is such a cool bird as a pelican and endangered at the same time) should be much more exciting that seeing it in a cage in the zoo. But clearly, the kids here have grown to come to an understanding that everything that is cool is also presented in such a way. So the most boring thing can be presented in a theme park and suddenly people will find it exciting and the most exciting things observed outside these parks are boring. Mind you, I am telling you this story because I think all of us are guilty of this to a certain extent: we tend to not see the beauty of every-day life and how special things really are that we have or see every day. I am guilty of this too, of course, but I think I reduced this a lot because quite simply I do not have an every-day life. My life is so that every day is special. But the truth is that, in order to celebrate every day as something special you do not need to move to a different country every few months and change job as often. I have not really succeeded in this, of course, which is why I don't stay in one place for longer but I encourage all of you to try. I do think though, that I have finally found the main ingredients for this. Which is probably one of the reasons why I did not really go out to do any sightseeing here yet. Because I feel I don't need to as my "normal" life is already special. But then maybe this is just an excuse...
I cannot really write anything about politics, even though I realize this is what you want to know. First of all, my Turkish is not good enough to understand what people here think, but people here don't talk about politics anyway. All I can report is that I feel perfectly safe here and my feeling is that Turkish people generally take good care of each other too. They are very helpful when help is needed, and for the rest they tend to mind their own business. Of course, the problem regions are very far away from here. I might report something different when I move further east.
Okay, I have written more than 3 pages again without knowing what to write. I will leave you with this foe now so I still have something left to write over the next few months. Maybe I can collect my thoughts a little more before I post again. Happy winter to everyone in the north! And happy Christmas to everyone who cares about it, in case I do not write again before. I certainly am glad that I am in a country where Christmas is not such a big issue (which does not stop shops from using it to make money...)