Saturday, May 31, 2008

Culture of Time

Your Author and His Tools

A month or so ago we were interviewed by Lonely Planet on our nomadic adventures (LP Interview), one of the interviewer’s questions asked what was the single most valuable piece of travel advice that I had received? Remembering my role model, a nomadic adventurer (CPO now long dead) who had stirred our passions to wander Asia…I quoted his favorite phrase—The Flexible shall not break.
This month I have been stretched to live that out. While we have never experienced culture shock as some do, we have occasionally been put to the test to adapt to local culture, or break paths and be the “foreigner” living among the locals-- something that is not an option for our crew. We've been able to meld into Central Asian ways without too much discomfort and have embraced the confusion of being a third culture family.
Learning the language is key to understanding culture, but often just making time for people can speak more clearly than linguistic fluency.
With many of the locals taking advantage of the weather and making for the islands or coastal resorts this month I had looked forward to a few weeks of uninterrupted work, language study, and a list of projects, planning and research that I needed to finish.
As most adventurers can attest to, if you are going to wander the backwoods of the planet you have to have some ingenuity to fall back on in order to survive. I remember the blistering hot asphalt of Missouri’s back roads as I replaced the worn out springs on an old trailer we were towing as we roamed the states, and sucking mouthfuls of gasoline out of our tank after a station attendant had accidentally filled our diesel vehicle with the wrong fuel in a border town near Iran.
I have changed out flat tires by the score; lain under 50 year old houses cutting through cast iron pipes with a hacksaw, and (being the cheapskate that I am) have now learned how to survive while tampering with the 220V electric system in Asia.

You’re right; it takes no great intellect to accomplish these chores, just a stubbornness to forge ahead without having to rely on anyone else and the willingness to make mistakes or burn the tip of your finger off by touching the wrong wire.
Those meager skills haven’t gone unnoticed to our neighbors, and while I usually enjoy spending a day or two a month doing some odd handyman jobs as a gift for the locals, this week the orders came in fast and hard. I have spent every day this week dealing with one small crisis or another. Bad electrical switches, installing new outlets, tidying up electrical lines, re-caulking kitchen counter tops and trying to find “where that bad odor is coming from”...etc..
All that to say that today I finally made it over the hump and past my frustrations. One of my elderly neighbors has wanted me to go with them to a new produce store they wanted me to see. For weeks I had heard about the quality and convenience of this new shop, and for weeks I have had to decline due to the lack of time. Finally today, after repairing an outlet and a broken light fixture, he looked at me and said “S-tan, when will you go with me to see the new market?” Realizing I was beat I gave in and agreed to go at once.
With the promise that it would take only a “few minutes” we took off walking south towards the Sea of Marmara and then west towards Kadikoy. As we walked along our friend continued to stress how close and easy it was to shop at this market, “the produce is so fresh and it is so easy to get to.” After 20 minutes or so we veered off the street and took a flight of stairs down and underneath the railroad tracks, traversed another block via the underground walkway and then two flights of stairs to come back up to street level.
We dodged thru gridlocked traffic and around a corner, down two more flights of stairs to find a delightful little market, full of the same produce we purchase each week at the Pazar just outside our front door.
After politely browsing and commenting on how fresh and bright all the goods were, we purchased a few things for the sake of our friend and left. Our guide, now content that we had finally seen his gem of a find was happily leading us back home. His eyes sparkling with satisfaction he continued to praise the convenience and quality of the little market.
As we approached the apartment block we both live in I asked him how often he visited the little market that he was so taken with…his reply stressed the flexibility needed to live in another culture. “Oh no, we never shop there…it is simply too long a journey to make when we can shop at the weekly Pazar just outside our door.”
I waited for the “snap”…but felt the gentle stretch of a flexibility learned through years of living abroad. Anxious to get back to the books his next words hit home and caused me to laugh, “now S-tan, can you come in and see what is wrong with my bathroom light, it will only take a minute.”

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ticks and Tricks

Tick season is in full swing here in Turkey. A week or so ago the local Istanbul hospitals were overrun with people who had picnicked in some of our parks and open spaces over the weekend. Finding ticks latched onto their bodies later that night and Monday morning they fled in mass to the doctors and hospitals. Read this article.
With a strain of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever associated with tick bites in recent year there was some genuine panic, 10 people have died of the disease this year alone.
However, there are some schemers out there. If someone knocks on your door and identifies themselves as City Tick Health Care workers and ask you to remove your clothes, place your arms over your head and twirl slowly. Don't do it, They are scamming you and just want to see you naked.

I wish I had known this yesterday. I feel stupid now.

My thanks to John W in Winesburg for providing the humor to this posting. I can still see you dancing around your front porch!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Scents of Asia

Any doubts that summer is here to stay have faded in the heat of the Aegean sun this last week. Meetings in Smyrna (Izmir) and the few days of travel between here and there gave us the chance to see the western coast of Turkey at its finest.
Fields of wild poppies and artichokes, blue skies and breezes that can only be described as "delicious" with the scent of jasmine and cherry saturated our senses with the enchantment of the orient.
We are back to work now and waiting, still, to see if our Visas have been approved.
A Village Home Near Smyrna

Turkey's Famous Poppies

Friday, May 23, 2008

Working Hard Laying Down

You know you are in the right corner of the world when you can appreciate a culture that loves something as unique as ceiling-art. Think about it...what do you have to do in order to study and absorb the beauty in a work of art on a ceiling? Repose. A Safronbolu Ceiling

Ottomanesque architecture features elaborate ceiling art and design. The longer we live in Turkey, the more I wonder if there isn't a rouge Turk in my ancestry because I have learned to enjoy the process of pondering...Turk style.
You see, I have to think about things for a long time before putting pen to paper. Here in our corner of Asia I seem to fit right in because I choose to make like an Ottoman and ponder my perceptions laying flat on my back. An ideal location to enjoy the art of Turkey.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Road Trip with the Steward Crew

Responding to slew of wanna-be-wanderers we have decided to open up this fall's Silk Road Expedition to a few adventure-driven readers. If you wanna hang with the Steward Crew for a week or two in the outback and borders of Asia Minor this will be your last chance before we head back to the states for a gear-up in early 09.
Not a trip for whiners or the finical we will be sleeping in some rustic climes and our days will be long, dusty and full of adventure. But if a working-vacation floats your boat then this trip could be the trick to turn your armchair adventures into reality.
If you join us you could find yourself sleeping under the stars near Haran, pitching rocks into the muck to give us traction or lugging your backpack to the 5th floor of an elevator-less hotel.
While we don't promise this will be the trip of a lifetime and we are sure to be a bad influence on your 9-5 mindset we know this will be one experience you won't soon forget (the bruises alone last for months).
If bedraggled, bitten and bruised sounds cool...follow the link to the right and drop us a line.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Summer of Rubble

We are still on tenterhooks waiting to see if our Visas will be approved...but in the meantime we are trying to work thru the financial rubble of the last few weeks and get back to normal with work and study. If our situation was a construction project, we would be in the demolition stage.
Summer in Kapadokia

Summer has blown right past spring and this week the projected highs will be near 100 degrees. The last few days have been balcony-weather, the locals are out late, eating, smoking and chatting over glasses of tea, all of which has prompted me to move my office back out to the balcony for the season. The shoes and winter wear have been packed away and we are back in the routine of taking our late night strolls.
When we first hit town two years ago Stanley and Elle loved sitting on the terrace of the little cafe down the street. As the weather changed the last few weeks they have been anxious to spend some evenings on the cafe's terrace playing games with the owner, Fikret. We will keep you up to date as the Visa news trickles in...
Stanley, Elle and Fikret

Monday, May 12, 2008

Treading Water and Grinding Grist

We've been a bit scarce around these parts the last week or so. I have been busy with trying to swing a way to get our Resident Visas to stay in country. Once we come up for air we will get back in the groove of grinding grist for your updates. For now we are treading water in the pool of politics, payola and persuasion.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Kidneys and Rice

The Machinations of Wandering

Some changes have come down the political pipeline the last few months that are forcing us to apply for long term Resident Visas in order for us to keep doing what we do. We probably should have jumped this fence a few years ago, but the expense and process has always kept us at bay.
When it is all said and done we are looking at 6k to 7k in cash that we will have to pony up in the next few weeks...all of it unexpected. In the long run it will be the best and least expensive route and allow us greater freedom to travel along the Silk Road, but today it is a bit of a bummer. What's a kidney worth nowadays? (Our kids each have two of 'em, and we'll make you a sweet deal).
How will this affect you? Our SRE's for this season will need to be curtailed some and you will (hopefully) see a more fit looking guide on your armchair adventures. I have suddenly decided that I like rice.
No worries...we will find ways to bring some adventure and exploration into the mix.

Wrapping Up and Winding Down

Mom & Dad in Kapadokia

We are wrapping up the final few days with my folks. We have been together for almost 5 still seems far too short. Dad has settled into a routine of getting out and about, and as always, no matter where he goes he ends up knowing most of the comings and goings of those around. Even though he can't speak a lick of Turkish he has some amazingly animated conversations with the locals. One of our neighbors just stopped by to take him for a walk and spend an afternoon with him.
With just a few days left we are looking back over this year's first foray to the east. In spite of the downside of traveling with an expert on driving habits, it was a blast and I am not looking forward to the wrap up of this trip.
Antakya Mosaic Museum

Near Samandag with their Tour Guide

In the Underground City of Derinkuyu

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World

Living, Traveling, and Wandering on the Far Side of the World