Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Natural Disasters and the News

When you live overseas one of the first things that you may notice (I did) was how inaccurate or ego-centric North American media can be.

When I lived in Korea, I got worried emails and calls almost weekly about the riots (I worked directly across from the National Assembly my first year there and the worst their riots ever did was cause me a delay in getting home, no worse than the spring Cherry Blossom Festival) or the constant threat of kidnapping or bombing from North Korea (which was mostly posturing by one side or the other to look meaner than the other). News reports made it seem to most North Americans that Korea was a place of serious unrest and that it was just a matter of time before I died from it all as a lone white face in the crowd (there are multitudes of foreigners living happily and safely in South Korea, by the way).

When I moved to the Middle Eastern country of Oman, I also got regular calls and emails worrying about the imminent invasion or danger (this was right around the time of the second Gulf War... please excuse my ignorance in not knowing which Operation it was... I'm Canadian, not American and not all that interested in the technicalities of battles etc, instead I simply worry about the folks involved and am grateful for their sacrifices) from the anti-air firing of one kind or another. Sure, times were more precarious and I was in the Gulf region, but I was way down in the south of it and my sweet lifestyle wasn't altered a bit. I wasn't treated less for being North American or white... I was respected as a woman and a foreigner and I loved being there (would move back in a heart beat if the opportunity arose). Media in North America planted a seed though that ALL the Middle East was oppressive and dangerous. It just wasn't true and I STILL find myself defending the beautiful people I met there.

Now I live in Turkey and some of the attitudes about the people are similar to that of Middle Eastern people (which Turks are not, by the way. They do not consider themselves Middle Eastern and, in fact, they are much more aligned with Eastern Europe than the Middle East). But that is not the biggest misconception. The biggest so far is that Turkey is a small place. It's not. Turkey is a HUGE country. Just the past Sunday, a massive but shallow earthquake struck the Van region in the east of Turkey (most news agencies led with the headline that a massive and destructive earthquake hit Turkey and my inbox got flooded with concerns. I know, I know... the public is also responsible to educate themselves and should have looked a little more deeply, but it wouldn't hurt the media to at least mention that it was in the far east of the country). Van is more than 1,000 km from where I live and I didn't feel the slightest tremor. I also didn't feel last year's closer earthquake in Sivas (I was in the air on my way to Antalya at the time). Nor did the bombing that happened in Ankara (my actual city) hurt anyone I knew nor was it heard or felt anywhere near me (although, that did shake me up more as it was closer to home for sure).

I guess what I am saying, folks, is that when the news throws some scandalous headline your way, PLEASE read a little deeper, find out a little more before you panic. Also, I'd like you to think about how you can help the victims of the earthquake in Van. Connect to the Turkish Embassy or Consulate in your country and see if you can do something, donate money or find out if international organizations are helping out. Turkey is mobilizing wonderfully, starting blood drives, clothing drives, medical drives, food drives and so on. The area that was affected is very close to the Iranian border and it is VERY cold in the winter. Winter seems to be coming early this year and tens of thousands of people are currently without homes, clothes and basic survival needs. Even my students are pitching in, we are helping to spear-head a drive for basic needs at school with the fifth grade. We need more help than just this country and her loyal foreigners can give. Please send aid if you have the means or the time at all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Struggle to Survive

That's the title of the first Unit of Inquiry that my students study at BLIS. They learn about needs and wants, how those look different depending on climate and location and how some don't have their needs met equally and what happens as a result. It's a pretty amazing thing for kids to gain a more global understanding of basic needs for survival and to see them grasp it and to become more socially responsible is simply a thrill. Not all the kids get it and not all of them take action, but some do and hopefully more will in the future.
To help the kids understand the consequences of not having our basic needs met, we took them to an animal shelter here in Ankara. It was eye-opening for all of us and left many of the adults heart broken. The shelter we went to see houses over 2,700 (yes, TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED) dogs alone. We weren't able to ascertain if they had a spaying/neutering program but it didn't seem like it as puppies were abundant. These dogs aren't tame and can't be adopted and the government seems to give minimal support as many of the animals looked to be on the brink of starvation. It was sad but it did drive home the point with many of our students about having our basic needs met and helping others meet theirs.
Here are some photos of what we saw:

The cage where some of the cats are kept. One climbed the cage door to try and get the kids to touch her.

The kids carrying the food they brought to give the animals. They were walking through a corridor of cages filled with malnourished nursing moms and puppies.

One of the cages filled with both female and male dogs.

More dogs. And this was the nicest of the cages... most were dirt and row after row of dog houses (thankfully the dogs can get out of the weather somewhat).

The cats...

My Seker (Sugar) Bayram (Holiday)

*this post is super late... sorry folks*

Here in Turkey, they mark the end of the month of Ramadan with a holiday called Seker Bayram. I got a whole week off from work for the holiday and it translates into Sugar or Sweet Holiday and sweet it was!! I had already planned my week last spring and was ready to hop on the plane whe the time came. I flew from Istanbul to Vienna and overnight-ed there (I love Vienna). Then I hopped on another plane early in the morning, bound for Amsterdam where my lovely aunt and uncle picked me up and whisked me off to Rotterdam. We spent a couple of days together with them showing me great places like Delft, Den Haag and all around Rotterdam. It was their last weekend there as well, so it was a pleasure to spend it with them, even if the weather had no intentions of cooperating.

Me being cheesy in Delft. Everyone needs a shot in the big shoe when in Holland,

The beautiful streets and canals of Delft.

Deflt Blue Porcelain is what people think of when they think of Holland... well, that, the shoes and the tulips. In Delft, they even put it in the sidewalks and streets.

In Den Haag, we saw a procession of police waiting to escort a minister from Turkmenistan or one of the 'stans... it was pretty interesting... especially the cop on the end who was dancing...

The big cathedral in Den Haag. So beautiful.

My savoury Dutch Pancake... so yummy, washed down with a wheat beer... also yummy!

Every train station had a sign for the kiss and ride... so much nicer than the North American drop and ride or park and ride.

The boat we took for our tour around the harbour of Rotterdam. So nice!!

There they are... tulips! And these are wooden ones!

An old street car in Rotterdam.

A building in Den Haag.

After that I took a train to the most beautiful place I'd seen: Brugge, Belgium. It was the most beautiful little town with winding streets and canals everywhere. I really enjoyed wandering around trying to find my hotel on my own (not always that easy, since street signs are few and far between and the locals don't seem to know street names either - they mark a location by the church that is nearest). Once I found my hotel, I was thrilled to find out that I had the top floor where the roof was tilted and the view looked out over this fairytale city. It was simply gorgeous and the beer... well, it was DELICIOUS!! I even tried some of the local food (some of which was way out of my comfort zone: mussels au gratin, rabbit stew) and just loved it all. Not to mention the fantastic chocolate!

The view from my hotel in Brugge. It was beautiful!

The horse carriages were common and popular in Brugge. I didn't take one but I wanted to.

The peaceful cloisters in Brugge where women can live in peace and not be nuns. Very interesting and serene.

Mmmm... more Belgian beer! With over 1,000 varieties to try, I did my best but came no where close.

A Belgian waffle of course!! ;)

A very tasty brewery I found while wandering the streets in Brugge. I did a LOT of walking that day.
One of the first things I saw when entering the town. It was just so beautiful.

The next day, I hopped another train (the train system in Europe is fantastic and not that expensive really) bound for Brussels. I was fortunate enough to have a former colleague and friend who was letting me sleep on an air mattress at her place (and sleep great I did, by the way). She was also willing to be my guide that evening and to tell me the must see stuff in Brussels (she was the one who also suggested Brugge... by far my favourite place on the entire trip). I had some trouble finding her though as Brussels is much like Brugge in that no one knows the names of the streets and very few street signs or maps were around (unlike Paris from my previous spring break... where finding things was super easy). But find her I did and we went out for one of the best salads of my life in one of the prettiest restaurants I've ever seen. We also went to the local farmer's market that turns into a giant street bar! It was a blast and the beer... well, YUMMY!!This was my favourite beer: Raspberry beer!!!
The next day I hopped yet another train bound for Amsterdam and wandered around there for 3 days. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city. People were friendly and relaxed and it was incredibly easy to get around and see everything. They even have a hop on, hop off canal tour, which I took. The weather finally began to cooperate and it was lovely.

The famous I AMsterdam sign. This is when I wish I had a travel buddy to take a pic of me in front of it.

The bell tower of the church next to the Anne Frank Huis... an amazing experience to visit there.
The view from my hotel on Prinsengracht.
Bicycles everywhere!!
The old Heineken Brewery that is now a museum and Heineken Experience. Very cool!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just Call Me an International Runner

So back in the day I was dating a guy who was a runner and it got me into running (I was terrible at it back then and am only marginally better now). I ran my first 5K race in VA when I lived there and hated it, but I refused to give up (the next year I won for my age range in that same race... I may have been one of two people or even the ONLY one in my age range but so what?!?!?!) And I've never looked back. Last spring I did something silly, I got all excited about a race here in Turkey: the Istanbul Marathon 8K race. I decided I would run it and I made sure I would by telling all my friends and signing up as many as I could with me. Well, D-day was this past Sunday. And in the drizzling rain and cold winds, I stood with my super cool running shirt from the race (it's in the picture) on the Asian side of Istanbul and starting running at 9am. I ran over the bridge and into Europe and 8km later (1 hour, 10 minutes, and 32 seconds if you are as slow as me), I completed that race... soaked to the bone, but so happy. Running across that bridge that spans 2 continents was so cool, running past the 5km mark and still feeling like I had more to give was awesome, reaching the finish line in my normal training time and STILL feeling like a could have gone a little longer well... that was priceless for me!!! So, thanks KJ, for being a runner and influencing me to take up the sport... next stop? 10 KM at the Runtalya Race in Antalya, Turkey in March!! ;)

Dancing Fools!

Okay, they aren't fools, but they are dancers! Sometimes at my school teachers need to cover for one another so that people can go to meetings, professional development or so they can go home and rest from being ill. On a couple of occassions this year I've covered for our Drama/Dance teacher. I know, how cool that we have Drama and Dance at school!! Anyway, I digress. So last week our Drama/Dance teacher needed me to cover for about 15 or 20 minutes and it was the lesson with my students. It was a Salsa lesson. Uh.... WHAT?!?!?! I've done some ballroom before but not really any Salsa. But I said yes and decided to wing it. I started by asking the kids to show me what they knew already and they did great, counting out their steps and showing me the basic step in slow motion. So I thought I'd ask them to partner a little... and they were cool about dancing with partners, even partners of the opposite sex (go Grade One!!). So partner they did (I told them just to touch palms and perhaps this helped to avoid the icky boy/girl germ thing from happening) and then as we were counting steps I turned to see kids partnered like this:

WHAT?!?!?! Too cute!! I love these little dancing fools!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hardest Part...

The hardest part of being a teacher is when you become incredibly attached to your students and a tragedy befalls them. A couple of years back, that tragedy was the reason I met one of the students that I became incredibly attached to. He was a grade 5 student at the time and was suffering from cancer. I was enlisted to be his homebound teacher. So each week, it was my job to set time with him to teach him the material that his regular class learned during the week. We worked together for 5 hours a week for several weeks. I watched him go through the lows of his chemo treatments and ended up befriending his mom. I love that family with my whole heart and I feel so privileged to have become part of their inner circle. But as a cancer patient, the student had to continually go for check-ups. All of which have been routine and good until this week. This week, a mass was found in his stomach. More tests will tell if the cancer is back, but now I am very far away and cannot stand next to this family like I want to... so I am doing what I can, I am asking all of you to pray. Pray for this family and for those connected to them. Spread the word to all you know who would be willing to pray. The hardest part is this, there is little we can do but pray and people want to fix things and be active.
So thank you in advance for your prayers for this situation!