Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Excuse me ma'am, your american is showing

Excuse me ma'am, your american is showing...and failing epically. Showing in the form of a pumpkin pie from scratch and failing in that it was awful. Stupid pies, I hate baking you. Never again. If anyone reading this, sometime in the future, hears me talk about baking a pie please, kindly remind me of the time I tried to bake a pie in Turkey and remind me that I hate baking pies. Luckily enough no one here had ever tried a pumpkin pie before and thus didn't know what it was suppose to taste like. They thought it was fine. I tried to inform them that it was a sheer abomination.
picture of the stupid pie

Other than the stupid pie thing, I finally got about to romping on the hill behind the garden, ya, it took me a month to get around to it. It was magnificent. The arid conditions, steep accent, and oaks (not sure what genus) reminded me very much of california. The hill was also covered in life. Lots of lizards ranging from lime and emerald green to a deep brown and small rodents scurried everywhere. As I was merrily hiking I heard loud rustling coming from behind a slope to my right. The creature made so much noise it was evidently an animal of substantial size, deer, wild pig maybe? I didn't make a move, hoping that it hadn't heard me earlier, and would make its way into my view of sight. A minute passed and the noise got louder and louder and finally, at the edge of the slope, a little tortoise head popped up and he slowly drug his hefty shell onto the flatter ground. "What immense luck!" I thought, and then proceeded to examine the little guy. Don't worry, I didn't touch him, animals deserve as much respect as humans. I wouldn't go running up to a german tourist, start petting him, and loudly declaring how cute he was in a baby voice. 

I was so happy to have been able to see a tortoise, and after I took a bajillion photos of him I continued down the trail. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds before I ran into another tortoise using the trail to expedite his travels. So of course, I followed him. For about 10 minutes, and about 50 feet, I watched him trudge along, occasionally stopping to chomp down on a leaf he thought looked delectable. His shell also showed signs that a larger creature had unsuccessfully tried to gnaw on him. After another bajillion photos and mental observations on his mannerisms, my patience finally wore out and I passed up the little dullard....and then 10 minutes later I ran into another. The hill was apparently crawling with tortoises and by the end of my hike it was, "oh, another tortoise." I even got to see a territorial dispute!
 Tosbağa (Testudo graeca) The spur-thighed tortoise or Greek tortoise 
(he's a little bit bigger than an American football)

Other than that the week went on like normal. The workers came, we worked, we ate, and we were merry. During the potato harvesting though, I kept running into these disgusting, bulbous larvae in the soil. They are about as long as your finger and apparently metamorphose into a beetle. 

They are apparently ravenous eaters,  and horrible for a crop. So, they had to go. Where did I take my prisoners? you might ask. There is only one place to take prisoners, and that is to 

The Colosseum!!!!!!!

I've come to the conclusion that it is a very good thing I was never a Roman empress...

Anyhoo, another interesting tidbit, I apparently have rather generic european features, because people seem to mistake me for being from whichever country I find myself. In France, everyone thought I was french, and in Turkey everyone thinks I'm turkish. This is, of course, before I speak. Yes, I know, your first reaction was,"...but you look nothing like the turkish." and that is when your pre-created image of the turkish comes into play (if you had one). While I was in Istanbul I was astounded by how diverse the features (facial, skin color, body shape, etc.) were among the inhabitants. Turkey is where the East meets the West, and this is very evident with the people. When they first see me everyone mistakes me as someone from Karadeniz (meaning Black Sea) characterized primarily by blue eyes, lighter skin, and slender figures. Hell, I can't wait until I go to the UK/Ireland, with my last name, features, and skill with an irish accent I can go completely incognito!!! MUAHAHAHA feeeel the power.

Oh, I've also started to use a miswak along with my normal toothbrush/toothpaste, it's a natural toothbrush made from the root of the Salvadora persica or toothbrush tree
"[They] have been used for over 1000 years, especially by Islamic populations in India, Arabia and Africa. Several agents occurring in the bark and wood have been suggested as aids in prevention of dental caries, such as antimicrobial agents that suppress bacterial growth and the formation of plaque. The tooth stick is also said to relieve toothache and gum disease." World Agroforestry Center <== this site is amazing, check it out

"A 2003 scientific study comparing the use of miswak with ordinary toothbrushes concluded that the results clearly were in favor of the users who had been using the miswak, provided they had been given proper instruction in how to brush using it." Wikipedia

Ever wonder how africans get their pearly whites so pearly white? They use the toothbrush tree!
Nature FTW ^_^

Berin and I are off to the city, Adapazari, today to go shopping for necessary supplies so I should get dressed and eat. I guess I should also inform you all that I have decided to extend my stay at Jade Farm another half a month. I'm quite happy here, and though my vagabond feet are twitching, I think it will be good for me to stay a while longer. 

I hope you all are doing well
Much love ^_^ 

Oh, I've also opened up the comments thing so anyone can post without creating an account. I didn't realize it was blocked. 

Friday, September 21, 2012


Sitting in the cool night air with a mug of çay (turkish tea), reading Rousseau's Les Confessions, and the sound of bamya (okra) frying in the could be a lot worse :)
The hardships of the farm life continued the next day as I gleefully jarred pekmez (pronounced peck-mass), a delicious sugar cane molasses, as Pavarotti filled the house. I could really get use to this torture.

Most days aren't as relaxing though, this past week we took on the process of making pekmez which is extremely time consuming and laborious. It consists of cutting sugar cane, removing all the leaves, passing it through a machine which squeezes out the sugary liquid, then boiling that liquid for hours watching it turn from a light lime green to a beautiful golden and then finally to the dark brown of molasses. So, all the workers were there in force, including three daughters (one too young to work) and one son. They started working at 8am and went on until 6 or later. Three fires were continuously burning to keep the liquid boiling in the cauldrons, the machine loudly screeching, voices yelling directions over the noise, and people busily tending everything to keep the operation going.
It was exciting to see and participate in  the process and be involved with everyone, but I've never been particularly good with crowds...too much noise, too many people, too much going on. So, when the lull in work permitted, I did what I normal do when I'm in a noisy, crowded situation, I hid. Thankfully though, the pekmez is all done and all we need to do is finish the jarring.
Cutting and removing the leaves of the sugar cane
Extracting the sugary liquid
Taste test to see if it was close to being done

Before I continue though, I would like to acknowledge the women of whom I work with. They are the epitomes of tough, strong pillars. They work twenty times harder than I do but then turn around and tell Berin that it's wonderful working with me because I work so hard. What I do in comparison to them is pathetic. They have callouses an inch thick (2.54cm for my foreign friends) and their strength is astounding.  I have so much respect for them and I'm truly honored that they enjoy working with me as much as I enjoy working with them.

Time for some stories:
As I mentioned before there were two daughters brought along to work. I would guess they were 15 and 13 ish. The younger one, Ishay (once again no clue how to spell anyone's names), was wonderfully eager to learn english/practice the words she did know. Cadash, the elder sister, was a little more shy about it. Yet Ishay and I would, throughout the day, point at objects, I would say the name in english and she would say the name in turkish and we would quiz each other. I learned so many words in the few days we worked together.

So, when we were cutting and preparing the sugar cane the two girls often sang turkish songs. One day, they asked me to sing a song in english. First, I would like to state that my mind does not do very well on the all. So, what was the first song that popped into my head? Alouette a french childrens' song about plucking the feathers of a bird...did I mention my mind doesn't do well on the spot? The only other song that came to me was Stop in the Name of Love...but I couldn't remember enough lyrics so I just went with Aloutte.
Both girls made serious effort to learn the song but they oddly chewed on the french words which their mouths had difficulty mimicking. 
I did better the next day and started teaching them Walking in the Air (The Snowman is an amazing movie, watch it).

The pekmez process also brought out another particularity about me that the other women find oddly amusing. Shoes and I have never been very close, my feet and shoes just don't get along, and don't even get me started on socks. My feet wear shoes begrudgingly and complain the entire time they're on. To avoid conflict I leave my feet in complete liberation during almost all hours of the day here on the farm. By the end of the day they are so dirty they resemble hobbit feet (excluding the hair). My lack of shoes included when we were doing the cooking process for the pekmez, and this brought out the mothers in all the women.They were horrified as I bounced around the fires barefoot and lectured me on how I was going to burn my feet. Each one of them took me aside and tried to explain to me, in turkish, that I should be wearing shoes. They fussed the entire day about I how I was going to get burnt and guess what? I did get burnt. where? my hand. I found that to be quite amusing aside from the pain.

My turkish is coming along, slowly, but I learn a few words every day. Yet, any amount of happiness that I gain from my increased level in turkish is quickly dampened by the sad deterioration of my french. I left France 14 months and 2 days ago and my level has dropped rapidly ever since. Every time I write a message to someone I look back at it and realize that I conjugated something incorrectly or forgot to conjugate it at all. I leave out articles, the structure of the sentence is wrong, errors riddle the message and my discouragement deepens. Everything I built and worked on is slipping away from me with lack of practice.
Stupid Schengen Zone, because of you I only have 90 days to reconstruct, refurbish, and expand my grasp on french. I think France should make me an honorary citizen just for being so goddamn awesome...I should shoot Hollande an email on this matter. I'll keep you guys updated on that status.
This is also a sad foreshadowing of what will happen to my turkish the moment I leave these borders. But, I shall not let this slow my fervor for learning languages. Turkish is now my third, and I'm determined to take it on as challenging as it may be...and it, with its completely different structure, is definitely a challenge.

Oh! We have a new addition to our family, Mr. Mallow. His name is short for marshmallow because he is the color of a perfectly roasted marshamallow. He's a cat, and from his coloring it's obvious he's either a brother or a close cousin of Mr. Cheese. We also had a dog for a day, but it never came back :/
Anyways, Mr. Mallow is a spastic cat who is always wanting petses, and his tongue is too long for his mouth so it is continuously sticking out, which creates an amusing sight.

 Mr. Cheese and Mr. Mallow

Mr. Cheese is still my favorite though. He has a wonderfully gentle disposition, unlike Mallow who has both bit and scratched me but, don't feel bad for Mallow, he's Berin's favorite.

Also, a week or two ago Berin and I went to a meeting of five of the neighboring villages to discuss the proposed construction of a thermal plant on a hill overlooking the villages. I wanted to go just to see what it would be like even though I knew I wouldn't understand a word of what was being said. I found myself in a large group, 30 or so, all in business suits or dress shirts. Town mayors and other officials were all there showing up, shaking hands. The female presence was sadly lacking in the group of 30 something people, it consisted of Berin and I. I, of course, didn't really count. Yet, even so, Berin seemed very respected within the group, and happily everyone was opposed to the idea of the thermal plant. Hopefully this unity will be enough to stop the company from building.

I really wish I could recount all the stories and be able to accurately depict all the details of this magnificent country; the old men sitting talking at the mosque late at night, the melodic prayers echoing over the countryside five times a day, the open friendly nature of the turkish people, but sadly the written language is far too limited to do so, and nothing compares to truly being there to experience it. If you have the opportunity, travel, you will never regret it.

I have more stories, but after a long day (and two bottles of wine between Berin and I), I'm a bit on the sleepy side. I'll try to recount them later.

Hugs to everyone ^_^

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jade Farm

Hi peoples,

So, I'm just going to skim the rest of Istanbul, not because it wasn't as exciting/delightful, but because it's been almost two weeks since I left and I find the farm far more fascinating and more revealing about the turkish culture. So, here we go:

Last days: Went to the Grand Bizarre (massive market selling everything from leather jackets to spices). I was interested in getting a pocket watch and wandered into an antique section. Yet, when i asked the lady the price of a quarter sized pocket watch instead of telling me the price she went into the depths of its history...which meant she was explaining its exorbitant price. A cheap 600Liras (~$340).

Of course, Lauren wouldn't truly be abroad if she didn't have some kind of problems with her bank, namely forgetting her pin. Yes, some of you shall recall that this occurred while I was in Paris as well...I think its becoming a tradition. Half-a-day's freak-out there and calling the parents at 1am, only to find out that I could easily use my other card which I had luckily activated abroad as well. Yay! I don't have to go back!

Ekin and I went to Otantik again for my last night: Nozik Kebabi (cubed meat with yogurt sauce), Melemen (tomato base, eggs, and herbs), and the authentic mixed specialty plate again (cause it was so epic the first time).

That was Istanbul, it was awesome, visit it.

Jade Farm!
I arrived here on the 30th of August, the bus driver (who got me a penini when we were waiting for the bus to leave, I guess he was friends with the penini guy...did I mention turkish hospitality?), he dropped me off right in front of the farm. As I circled the small house I came upon two women, one blond one redhead, sitting on a large, blue cloth removing beans from their pods and another tall, older woman with short died brown hair. Inya and Duneya (I have no idea how to correctly write their names) were on the blue blanket, two german woman 22 and 25 in turkey for their vacation, and Berin, the older woman, was the owner.

After greetings I tossed my backpack into my room and plopped down with the two germans to work with the beans...and sit in complete silence. They didn't take out their earbuds, they didn't speak to me, they didn't even look at me, but on occasion they did speak to each other in german. After the task was complete they got up and went to their room without a word to me. I sought out Berin to see if she needed help picking the okra (bamya in turkish), and her first words were "They don't speak much do they?" Apparently they had been there for a month and Berin barely knew them or talked with them.

My level of interaction with, and like for, "the germans", as we have started referring to them now that they're gone, did not increase. They are by no means bad people, they sorely lacked anything I would identify as manners. They ate gluttonously, grumbled at the work they had to do, and never interacted with any of us. They were there a month and didn't learn a word of turkish. By my third day I had a vocabulary of over 25 words. Thankfully they left on the 7th which every person on the farm was quite content about.

Oh! before I continue, I must mention the overall highlight of my stay here, there are hedgehogs, everywhere! My first night was my first sighting, and a few nights after that another, and last night there was one in the compost pile. Little waddling balls of prickly adorableness. 
this is the best shot i could get of the little guy stealing a tomato ^_^

There are also wild dogs and cats here. Sadly they're not as friendly as the Istanbul ones, but we've semi-adopted one of the cats. I named him Mr. Cheese because we feed him the cheese we don't like. His eye got infected when he was a kitten and is all funked out now, hence why it's blue. the normal one is golden.
Along with the wwoof volunteers there are also paid workers, a dynamic group of women from the village. I greatly enjoy working with them. They don't speak english and my turkish consists of only a handful of words so the overall conversation is limited between us, but somehow with gestures, nodding, and anything else that would get the meaning across we are able to work together quite happily. Berin translating is also a great help. They are a primary reason why I want to learn turkish. The more I learn the easier our relationship gets and the more I can be a part of their group.
 Top left to right: Berin, Asseai, Zubeta
 Bottom left to right: Sevinch and Zekeai (I'm not sure how to correctly spell anyone's name)
There is also Caramille, Berin's right hand man. He's extremely jovial, always smiling and joking around. He is also very fond of calling me Obama and loudly proclaiming "Very Good!" which is the very little english he knows. 
I baked zucchinni bread for them, no one here has ever heard of it, and I'm quite happy to say that they all greatly enjoyed it. Berin has also asked me to make pumpkin pie. She had some american workers last year and they made it while she was away for a few days in Istanbul and when she got back they were all talking about how delicious it had been. So she really wants to partake in the american tradition.
Oh, and I have a new addiction: çay (aka tea, but turkish tea). They prepare it in a samovar (our's isn't that fancy) and let the tea steep for at least 20 minutes. Then the small turkish tea glass is poured half full of the tea and the rest with water and then add sugar if desired. We drink this after we eat lunch and I usually have three or four of them.
Helva, is another addiction. It's a dessert thing that tastes like awesome in your mouth. I prefer the summer helva over the winter. The pictures online don't do it any justice.
OH! and if anyone looked at the pictures of the snake (Natrix natrix) and frog (Rana ridibunda) i had put up on fb, well a few days later the snake started eating the frog. Nature in action!!! Yes, the frog is missing an arm. The snake, in the end, was unable to swallow a prey so large, but the frog later died from, what I assume, his wounds.
I have more stories and what not but I'll recount them later. After a 9 hour day cutting sugar cane I'm a bit on the tired side and I'm in desperate need of a shower.
I might add pics to the previous posts if I feel up to it later, we'll see. 

Oh, I also didn't really proofread for errors very thoroughly and I'm too tired to do so. So, if you find an error just correct it in your head. and here's a picture of me...kind of

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey

Yes, yes I know I'm rather slow at getting these posts out but things have been busy on the farm...and I also procrastinate
 My entry for Istanbul is rather extensive so I'll probably have multiple posts about it, plus I'm too lazy to write everything right now...and I should be outside removing beans from their pods.

note: I was in Istanbul from the 26th to the 30th of August. It was a very short stay, but it was jam packed with awesomeness. If you are able to, I HIGHLY recommend visiting Turkey. I have met many truly nice people everywhere I go, but seriously, the Turkish people take it to a new level. Screw southern hospitality, its all about Turkish hospitality.

Getting to Istanbul
Soooo, after the week in Bulgaria was over I took a bus from Burgas to Istanbul. My mom and I arrived in Burgas at 7:40am because her bus was at 10:15, mine wasn't until 12:30...well, it was suppose to be at 12:30. Welcome to Bulgaria! the bus didn't arrive until almost 4:00pm which meant that we got into the bus station in Istanbul around 11:30pm.
  When the bus got into the city well past dark I was shocked to see that everyone was still up and active. We crossed one of the bridges and it was filled with fishermen, the fish apparently sleep as much as the inhabitants do. The streets were filled and everyone seemed completely unaware that it was almost midnight. The bus terminal was the greatest shock. It was packed, like imagine India crowed, at midnight and people were clustering in groups shouting and chanting, one guy was holding a torch. All of this activity happening while 50+ charter buses tried to maneuver in the tiny terminal and us tourists were thoroughly confused. Once we got our bags they packed us into a shuttle which whisked us to Teksin (one of the city districts) and after two failed taxi attempts, the third taxi finally got me to my destination.

Ekin was my couchsurfing host, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better for my first couchsurfing experience. She is truly a fantastic and lovely person. She is turkish (of romanina and bulgarian decent) in her late 20's working as an engineer in the city where she has lived for the past 11 years. Her apartment was also beautifully decorated and I got a room to myself.
Though of course to any good city apartment there are oddities. The first, though not particularly odd but still notable, was the fact that her water heating got turned off a couple months before and she never bothered turning it back on. You never take a quicker shower in your life than in ice cold water.
A second oddity was that an apartment across the courtyard housed four cats...and only the cats, no one else lived there. It had apparently been like this for two years. Someone came and took care of the cats but the fur balls had the pad to themselves.
Overall Ekin was amazing. She had to work during the week so she handed me a pair of keys to her place and a metro pass and said to come and go as I pleased.

Istanbul, besides being in competition with New York as the city that never sleeps, is also the city of animals (which, I, of course, was quite happy about). They have packs of dogs chilling on the streets and a literal hoard of cats everywhere. I, during my four days in the city, came under the belief that Istanbul enacted a law that at least one cat must occupy every street at all times, and this decree is strictly enforced. If at any moment a street is lacking a feline presence a white government van with tinted windows will screech around the corner, come to a sudden halt, and a man in a black suit with shades will step out of the side of the van. Within his hands he will be holding a regal looking cat of which he will place delicately upon a window ledge or apartment stoop. The cat in position, the man in the black suit will, with haste, rush back into the van where a sticky-roller thing to remove animal hair will be waiting for him, and the van will quickly vanish with a loud screech around the corner. The cat, once placed, will serenely start cleaning its front paw as if nothing ever happened. Petting is then expected to occur shortly after. 
I never got to witness this event but I'm convinced of its validity

Day 1 (Sunday the 26th)
I had inquired to Ekin on what was appropriate to wear in Turkey. Due to the fact that it was stupidly hot and humid I was quite keen on wearing my shorts. I had been anticipating a country where all women had to cover up and dress modestly, but Ekin corrected me that Turkey is a very modern country where anyone can wear anything they want, plus, me being an evident tourist I also had a little more leeway.
It still being the weekend, Ekin had the day off and took me on a tour of the city. Her place is in Şişli (pronounced Shishli) on the north side of the city and we walked down through the Taksim square, down Istiklal Cd (a road filled with shops, restaurants, and life), past a huge old watch tower made of stone, and into the old city, Fatih. We wandered around as she told me the history of the city. We finally succumbed to fatigue and sat in a park, where a little tabby kitten decided that my tot bad was a wonderful place for a nap as the parrots screeched in the trees above.  
Istanbul is on a hill, a rather large hill where Şişli and Taksim are the upper side. Because of this hill, ın 1875, they created the beyoğlu tünel. It's the second oldest 'metro' in the world behind London (1863). I put metro in quotation marks because the tunnel could also be one of the shortest metro lines in the world as well. It has two stations (one at the bottom of the hill and one at the top), and it takes approximately 1 minute and 40 seconds to get from one end to the other. I walked the hill in about 5 minutes...
Anyways, that night Ekin took me to a traditional Turkish restaurant called Otantik, and seriously the food was orgasmic and the prices extremely reasonable. We had a mixed place of turkish specialties, manti (a traditional turkish ravioli), and lahana sarma (chopped meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves). Keşkek was by far my favorite. I think it was rice with chicken broth and other heavenly spices, but whatever was in it tasted like pure bliss.
Once we got back to her place we crashed. The next day I would be exploring the city alone and with no turkish translator.

I'll write about the other three days later.

I was also wondering if I could get some feedback from people, what you like, what you don't like, how i could improve my posts (I would love to add pictures but that would take up considerable time and I don't want to upload pictures onto Berin (the owner of Jade Farm, where I currently find myself)'s computer.)  Just shoot me an emaıl or fb me.