Tag Archives: Turkey

2012’s Top Photos

It was a beautiful year last year, and this is an attempt to capture in a short collection of pics, what has happened, what was most significant, what I loved about 2012.

It was difficult, but I combed through the hundreds of photos that we’ve accumulated since we’ve been here in Turkey, and “voille!”, I give you “2012’s Top Photos!!”  To be honest, I could have put up way way more photos of my son, but I restrained myself.

Showering With History; a brief look at Olive Oil Soap

Last year my wife and I visited one of the most charming cities in Turkey.  Antakya, or in ancient biblical times, Antioch.  It was on the streets of that city, which so beautifully has contained the history of the city in its culture and architecture, that we came across a shop.


  It was far away from the hustle bustle of the main streets, and away from the touristy sights.  It was the handmade shawls that first caught my wife’s eye.  Then as we entered, we were greeted by the shop-owner, “Hosh Geldiniz!” I remember also being greeted by the aroma of those earthy soaps with a delight that has yet to dissipate, to this day.  It was such an earthy, crisp and clean, and wholesome smell, that I began to ask what they were.  It was something traditional to Antakya he said.  They were olive oil soaps mixed with “defne” or laurel oil.  ImageThey were nothing fancy that hit those high notes of sweet, or sunk deep to satisfy the exotic.  It was simply something pure, traditional, and right.  He explained locals love them, because the defne helps with the summer heat and sweating.  So we bought some.

It proved to be much more than just helpful, as it truly brightened my showering experience.  I felt like I was partaking in tradition somehow, even though it was just a shower.  I never liked bar soaps mostly for how they left me feeling afterward.  Dry mostly.  This was different, and the aromas in the shower…again not anything surprising, but simply pleasing.  It’s those small things in life that sometimes brings that pip back, or puts that spring back into your step.

As we continued to peruse museums there, and other museums in later months, the theme of laurel surfaced again and again.

Laurel branches were important in Roman mythology.  Daphne caught the eye of Apollo when she was a water nymph, and loved to give him a good chase.  But when she almost got caught by Apollo, she cried out to Mother earth for her to cover her, and hide her, so she turned her into a Laurel tree.  Apollo can be seen in stone reliefs wearing a laurel wreath on his head.

The history of the actual soap being made from olive oil goes way back farther than the Romans, to the Babylonian empire in 2800 BC.  People have been scrubbing down with this stuff for a long time I guess.  As far as Antakya goes, it is very famous for its olive and laurel soap, as laurel trees grow around that area.  Antakya was a big city back in its hay day in the Roman Empire.  In fact, it was in the running to pass Rome in its importance and become the next Roman capital, when a tragic earthquake hit.  Whether the large Roman city was manufacturing this sort of soap in that day, I’m not sure.  A more historically traceable type of soap, perhaps almost identical to Antakyan soap, is Allepo Soap, made in the city or surrounding area of Allepo, Syria.  The traditional ingredients are the same as those in Antakya; olive oil, lye, and laurel berry oil.  We know that soap manufacturing can be traced westward from this city.  Stinky crusaders credited Allepo for giving them soap making know-how, and gradually along the Mediterranean, soap technologies spread. 

Nowadays, wherever you go, you may be able to find a wide variety of artisan soaps being sold in markets or fairs.  From cappuccino caramel scented soaps, to plain mint, one would think they are buying some sort of NASA food, made for astronauts.  As for me, I’m sticking with tried and true simplicity, with a dash of history.


In case your curious, here are some benefits to the soap;


  1. Broad effective uses for daily use, shampooing, face masks, baby-safe and shaving cream.  In my experience, it tends to be the soap of choice for public hamams (Turkish baths, styled after the idea of a Roman bath-house)
  2. Is effective for wound healing, and against bug bites.
  3. Helps relieve the symptoms of skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis and acne.
  4. Compounds in laurel oil have been found to be inhibitors of skin cancer and other tumor growths.
  5. And finally…it floats, unlike other soaps.  The scientific ramifications of this anomaly have yet to be researched though.

Our New Home; “Welcome to Adana. est. 6,000 BC”

Adana, Turkey. The city where I live. It’s bustling streets alive with commerce and the busyness of everyday life. In a lot of ways its a city just like any other city around here; people going here and there, earning bread for the table. Men coming and going from the local mosque. Shopowners sitting outside their shops enjoying cups of tea with their neighborhing shop-keepers until customers walk in.

In some ways though, my town is quite different. If it had a welcome sign on the freeway into Adana, and was accurate to history it would read, “Welcome to Adana; est. 6,000BC”. Many of the places around here in the Middle East obviously are places where the first people alive setup tent ages and ages ago. It’s just no surprise that this whole area is as old as…well dirt.  What makes Adana a bit different is it’s name; Adana. It is one of the worlds oldest city names; it has changed the least over time. The Hittites called it Adaniya.  Homer’s “The Illiad” calls it Adana, and later Armenians called it Atana.  One of the names comes from Adanos, the son of Uranus, one of the Greek gods. Since moving from an important port city in history, Mersin (or Pompeiopolis as it was known in the Roman times), to Adana, we have enjoyed getting to know our new 1.5 million peopled village.

If you were to take a stroll through the city center area, and go to a specific district called Tepebah, all you would realize to be different about it is that it is situated slightly on top of a small hill. Under that hill, under a good layer of earth, lies the city of the early Hittites, the people group that largely inhabited Turkey in Biblical times. The city center as a whole is honestly in need of a facelift. It’s quite dirty and drab. Dilapidated buildings suffering from not being kept up. After reading up on some history, I guess it used to be some of the most developed and nicest places in Adana.  I recently learned that the reason why it may be remaining so dirty and unkept, may have something to do with a massacre committed there, not too long ago. The year was 1909, and the nominally Christian Archbishop of the Armenian Church who was there under the Ottoman Empire, rallied up some Armenians and they attacked some Muslims. We aren’t sure exactly who threw the first stone, but it was the Muslims who finished it; 20,000 Armenians were killed there, and 2,000 Muslims.  The place was burned as well. From this occurence, and together with earthquakes throughout the years, the area has just not recovered, or been restored.

I would like to share some pictures of the area with you if you don’t mind.   You can click one of the pics to enter a slideshow if you want.

So much more could be said and shared.  That will have to wait for another time.

Christmas in Turkey; a story

The truth was I wanted to hug her for putting out the tree, but was scared.  You see, my directors assistant is an interesting woman.  She has been the subject of many conversations between my wife and me.  We just can’t seem to figure her out.  One morning she can seem warm and friendly, and that evening come across as, well, not precisely as cold as ice, but maybe melted ice.  She has a reputation among the student body.  If our students become unruly we send them to her for a verbal beating.  Her conversations are seldom adorned with niceties; she is straight-forward.  I have yet to see any color but black and white fashion her middle-aged short and skinny body.  She does her job well though; a well calculated administrator.

Rewind a month ago to a dinner Emily and I were having, over which we were discussing our plans for the holidays.  The general tone of the conversation was one of slight discouragement, because we learned that the extent of our Christmas break would simply be Saturday and Sunday, the days we usually get off for the weekend; so nothing celebratory, no time set aside to enjoy family, nothing….Christmasy!  We started to talk about how we remembered in the states how Christmas songs started playing the first clock tick into the day after Thanksgiving, and how people just began to talk and gossip about their holiday plans, favorite eggnog recipes, and what family they were going to see.  It amazes me now just how consumed with Christmas America becomes.  From the commercials, to church programs, to decorated city squares and streets greeting father Christmas on a sleigh in a parade.  It is only now, being extracted from the Yule craziness, that I realize that it’s mostly the stimulation from my environment that makes me realize its Christmas, rather than the answer to the question of why there is a holiday called Christmas.

Needless to say, we were missing Christmas.  Adjusting to Turkish culture had been quite an adjustment; tough, emotionally draining, but rewarding having finally been able to build cultural bridges to these wonderful people here.  Being our first Christmas away from a Christmas saturated culture, I was not prepared to feel so disappointed.  I can’t explain it exactly, but I just wanted everything to feel “Christmasy!”  Just throw some red and green on stuff, I don’t care what, just make it “feel” Christmasy!  We were aching to feel like we were in the spirit.

Anyways back to our lady!  Black and white!  Straight with corners!  I don’t want you to read a Scrooge character into her, but rather a Scrooge moment perhaps.  One morning, like usual, Emily and I got off the bus to school, and walked our usual route to our offices on campus.  It was a typical southern Turkey day in December; cool morning around 50 degrees, with wet pavement as it rains here and there.  Everything is still green.  Green grass, green palm trees, green foliage.  Simply by appearance you would say it looked rather like summer than winter, let alone like Christmas.

Emily and I rounded the corner towards our office and as we entered the main lobby my eyes were met with such a delightful sight!!  One that caused an unsuppressible feeling from inside me to erupt!  Flashing colors of red and green bouncing festively off shiny round objects caused a smile to bubble up that morning.  She had put up a Christmas tree!  For us!!  Well, for the foreigners I suppose, since Turkey is Muslim and don’t “officially” celebrate Christmas time.

In my joy and my surprise I walked up to the tree and its decorator, our Mrs. Administrator.  She was just finishing up her touches of tree decorations.  There was tinsel, gold and silver ornaments, and flashing lights wrapped around a 3 foot miniature pine tree, placed on a small table.  I said to her, “It’s beautiful!  You put up a Christmas tree!  It’s wonderful!”  Here was this calculated, black and white, administrator being all creative and pretty with a tree.  It first and foremost surprised me that it was her doing this.  When I complimented the tree, she looked at me with one of the biggest colorful smiles, and in the cutest Turkish accent she said, “Reeelly?  I’m glad you like it.”  That smile, that woman, that tree really put some spirit in my Christmas this year.

A Few of my Favorite Things

To celebrate my recently learning how to say “my favorite” in Turkish I’m writing a post on my favorite things in Turkey.

1. Turkish Idioms – This idiom actually was mentioned to me by an American who I know here, James Giles and I owe him a huge thanks you for making me aware of this delicious idiom.  The Turkish is “çaktım köfteyi” and the literal English translation is “I slapped the meatball”.  The English equivalent is “I got it!”  or “Ah, now I understand.”  Reciprocally you can ask “Have you slapped the meatball?”  meaning “Did you get it yet?”  I love it, and like I said a delicious idiom.

2. Dolmush – I know it sounds like a cross between a dollop and Goulash, at least that’s what comes to mind sometimes.  It is my favorite way of transportation here; its the name they give their van-like shared taxis.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s a large van, that can fit about 20 passengers on bus like seats, with a forward and rear door.  The best part, and why its one of my favorite things here, is how they operate.  Forget bus stops, these guys can pick you up anywhere, and all you have to say to get off is “There’s a stop here!” and he’ll stop.  Also it’s really cheap.  To get on and go anywhere along the predetermined route, just pay the driver one and a quarter lira, which comes to about 75 cents in America.

3. Turkish Tea – As to why its one of my favorite things here in Turkey, I can’t precisely say.  I attribute it mostly to it’s rich, but light taste.  If you had English black tea, lightened it a bit, perhaps a hint of rooibos tea, and a slight aftertaste of rose-water, but OH so slight, that would give you an idea of what I mean.  The ideal cup of Turkish tea is said to be “rabbits blood” referring to the perfect ratio of the black tea and water.  Another reason why it may be on my favorite list is the ritual of meals here; its absolutely shameful if you don’t drink tea after a meal.  I’ve had waiters simply stop, stare and ask “Why”, just flabbergasted as to why you wouldn’t drink tea after a meal.  I grew tired of the looks and decided to make it a rule to accept when offered, and is now a thing I simply can’t do without in Turkey.  I need my tea!

When I learn how to say “my most favorite things” I’ll write another post of even better things, though it’ll be tough to trump these.  Until then “güle güle” which literally translated means “go smiling” or simply “bye bye”.


Happiness among Adjustments

I never would have thought such effort would be necessary for home to feel like “home”. Our new home here in Turkey is slowly starting to feel more and more like home. Many tears of frustration have fallen here, and many arguments wrestled through from the lack of feeling “not at home” but strangers in a strange land. Considering my recent past before our arrival to Turkey, every time I’ve moved in the US to a new location, be it a city or simply a new flat, it wouldn’t take much time ‘til I felt “at home”.
Emily and I have thought long and hard about what exactly made us feel at home, when we did feel at home. Was it being in a neighborhood that we knew? Was it being able to speak with our neighborhoods and knowing the social mannerisms required to meeting them? Was it simply “knowing” our society, so that wherever we went we at least knew where to start our integration into a new city or neighborhood?
We haven’t arrived at a sufficient conclusion, though “familiarity” may remain as our top way for feeling at home. We are growing in our familiarity of our surroundings and I can say, we are beginning to feel at home here in Mersin, Turkey. So many things are different here; from the beautifully tiled flooring, to the way you defensively cross the savage neighborhood streets, to the way you change the way you think in terms of distance (miles to kilometres), weight (pounds to kilograms) and size (inches to metres).
The name of the game seems to be flexibility in the face of extreme adjustments. And the beautiful thing about adjustments are, you get used to them. Life is a complex series of adjustments. One day you got pimples and peer pressure, the next you have college finals, and then a woman ends up in your bed with a ring on her finger who happily says she got it from you. Life is all about adjustments, but for Emily and Inot only are we preparing to start a family, we are preparing to start a family while language learning and culture learning in a new country. A new child will be quite an adjustment, but I honestly can’t wait.
So here I am, feeling quite at home in a still a strange new land, typing away on a familiar keyboard with a very familiar special someone nearby keeping me company…and I can say I’m quite happy!