The blog has been on the back-burner for a little while, but here’s an update on how some of the more important aspects of life have been going in my first three months…
Sunday is market day in Huriyet, the neighbourhood next to Karaman, where I live and work. Every week, a small carpark is transformed into a bustling fruit and vegetable bazaar selling fresher, cheaper produce than the local supermarkets.
All over the world, market-places have their distinct melodies. I remember the cajoling trills of the Indian merchants and the wry lackadaisy of the Bolivians. In Turkey, the style is a vigorous bellow. Even during the week, hawkers walk or drive lorries through the surbubs, yodelling advertisements for fruit and vegetables, carpet repair, or second-hand goods.
Outside the market, there is a Bulgarian who sells t-shirts. Ever since I met him on my first trip there he has called out ‘Australian!’ whenever I pass. I come over and shake his hand and say hello to whichever of his family members is sitting with him that day and he reminds me, as always:
“Any problems, come to me. You have problem in the market – anything – come to me.”
Of course, the biggest problems I’ve ever encountered at the market have been remembering my Turkish numbers and that one morning my strawberry guy ran out of stock. But the sentiment is appreciated none-the-less.
Appreciated and, also, apparently shared by half the Turkish population. These days, I’ve become used to almost perfect strangers writing down their contact details after only the briefest of interactions and instructing me to call if I ever needed any help. With anything.
An old man I got to chatting with at the café of the pool where I go to swim twice a week, a local government official I went to see for some documents, friends I’ve made and, of course, my colleagues. If I ever did have a problem that required assistance, my difficulties would only be compounded by the question of which of my many contacts to call for help.
Sunday nights see me preparing my meals for the week with the all the produce bought that afternoon. Initially, my only option for cooking was a microwave shared between the four foreign teachers boarding at the school. The first few weeks saw me scouring the local supermarkets for easy vegetarian staples and getting creative with the limited facilities.
I had searched in vain for hummus (of course) and finally settled with reckless ambition on a jar of tahine and some chickpeas. With my only spoon and my only bowl, I mash the chickpeas and mix it with the tahine.
Then comes the spinach. As I don’t have another bowl (or a kitchen sink) I have to hold it in my hand under the bathroom tap to wash. My plan is to slice it and cook it in the microwave, but I make a terrible miscalculation. As I only have the one bowl, I will have to microwave the malformed aspirational hummus, as well.
Still, necessity is the mother of invention, so I give the mix over to destiny and watch as it hums and glows radioactively. After a minute, I realise another omission – I have not glad-wrapped the bowl. Not only necessary to keep the microwave clean, it also ensures the spinach steam-cooks a little – truly gourmet. I make the addition, wait till the gladwrap was ballooning nicely, then add the piece de resistance. On top goes the flatbread, to warm and soften. Now that’s making the most of your equipment.
I look back on those early modest meals fondly, but, of course, I didn’t intend to live of microwaved spinach for my whole time here. Buying a single gas-burner from the local camping store was a the first in the world of fine dining. Though nothing more than a metal fixture fastened atop a small, manually-lit gas canister, it suited my modest bench space nicely, living under the counter when not in use.
With boiling now added to my repertoire, all manner of possibilities emerged. Still there were constraints. One burner and one pot meant that I had to strategically plan my week’s meals. Each night, I would put out beans or chickpeas to soak, and each afternoon I would get back from work and immediately put something on to boil, adding potatoes and broccoli to the mix when time was short.
This could be monitored in the background while I prepared for the evening’s classes and meant that I had a continually evolving tub of pre-cooked vegetables throughout the week, ready to be heated up or packed into a school lunch.
It only took a month for my ambitions to rise again. In my biggest commitment yet, I purchased a portable two-stove electric cooker and a pan. Pasta, weekend breakfast fry-ups, vegetable stir-fries. Suddenly, the world was my oyster.
Currently I’m so busy teaching during the week that most days I don’t have time to make proper lunches, so I prepare a few kilos of rice and vegetable in one go and package them in wraps to be eaten through the week. Sunday nights see them stacked in the fridge like a stockpile of artillery ammunition.
Its just another example of the many adaptions I’ve made settling into life here. Juggling class preparation, diet, exercise, Turkish study, writing and the simple luxury of a social life is a constant challenge. I’m waking up early and regimenting my days, hoping to maximise the benefit of my time.
At times, I drop the ball, particularly at the exhausting end of the term – the second of which I am about to complete. Then, a week can blitz over me and leave me feeling like all I am doing is dragging my myself in and out of bed, stumbling in and out of classrooms and getting tangled up in fathomless grammar concepts like the past perfect causatives in the passive voice. I haven’t been particularly attentive to the blog, to be sure, but I have been writing other things, so I am not too disheartened for that.
I’ve learned how to cook, for one thing. With any luck, I’ll learn how to be a great teacher, too.