Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wandering in Limbo

Closets...Steward Crew Style

A few years ago I made a comment about living out of my backpack, and while that is not the case in toto, everyday there seems to be something that I need to get out, or put back into it. The rational for that was evident again yesterday when we realized we had no choice but to leave Turkey...again.
There is still no word on our Resident Permits, so we are forced to leave the country for most of a week and will (hopefully) be returning to Istanbul next weekend...If we are granted new tourist visas.
With just a few hours to go until our current visas expire we are ready to bolt and have spent the last few days scrambling with trying to find a place to go to while waiting for the "5 day clock" to run out. Right now it looks like we will bus into Greece and stay just 20 kilometers from Turkey in Alexandroupolis. However, since our plans are last-minute, we aren't quite sure if we are going to end up when or where we intended.
Wandering Again

We had really hoped that our Residence Permits would have been approved this week and that we could could have avoided the expense and hassle of a Visa Exit, however, this type of travel seems to be the norm for our crew...we will be doing what we do best, flying by the seat of our pants.
We will do our darnedest to keep you in the loop once we find a place to sit for a few days.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Turkey Goes Wild

Despair Before The Tide Turns

Euro 2008 has been a fabulous fillip for rousing the Turks and sending them to the streets full of national pride. With Turkey's National Futbol team in the semi-finals the streets of Istanbul are in full party mode.
The recent match against Croatia on Friday night was looking pretty bad for Turkey until the last 5 minutes of the game when they made an amazing comeback. We have watched the last few matches with our Istanbul-family and had as much fun watching them as watching the game.
Stanley & Elle React with Their Friends

Ercan and Crew

Turks Celebrate on the Streets

Our Friends out at 3am

We are still in limbo with our Resident Visas...but the good news is that we were able to get the Police to return our passports to us today. Our current Visas expire in 4 days so we will be on the road to Greece until next Friday.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

San Diego's UPI Office at Jack Murphy Stadium 1980-ish

I realize that some people thrive on Melodramatics but I don't have the knack for it, and yet, in looking back at my postings over the past year I was amazed to see emotive tinges woven through my words. Maybe its age? Anyhow, for that I must apologize, I will try to keep the carbonated dross of our lives from overflowing onto this blog.
We will give you something sweeter to eat today and step back a few decades to give some space to friends that have put up with my rough edges.
This past year some crazy pictures have been sent to me from a friend of almost 30 years...they are not flattering, but given the grief I have put you through this last month...I deserve the humiliation.
Over the years we all go through phases of friends and relationships, some friendships feel like they have some depth but are really just based on the commonalities of the season. At the surface it may even appear to be a best-type-of-friendship until one day you look back and realize that you have simply drifted apart and all parties are now relegated to the "Christmas Card List".
Working Mid-Town Division 1990-ish

Other friends don't have quite the depth of those above but the friendship is long term, maybe even lifelong. You aren't connected in the day to day, or maybe even week to week events...but you are friends nonetheless. Those are the friends you see at the mall or annual events and enjoy catching up with--but still you keep the relationship compartmentalized and maybe for no real reason, you don't grow too close.
Then there are a few, a very few, who last for the ages. I can think of several at the moment who we find, due to distance, schedules or other factors impossible to be involved with in the day to day shards of each others lives...but when we hook up, its like the distance and season between us had never existed. We simply fall into step as if we had been inseparable our whole lives. Those are the friendships that are melted into the place where the rubber meets the road.
This last week I have heard voices...from my past. Some from Ohio, some from SoCal and Oregon and another from Kyrgyzstan that have reminded me that I have friends, kindred spirits, who have my back covered. Who can whine about the small stuff when you have friends like these? Sorry for bringing you down this week. After stepping back to see the forest I have to say that in spite of the little things this week life is pretty sweet when you look at it from our corner of Asia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Points of Light in Dark Days

The Planning Session
This was one of those days where you didn't know whether to laugh or cry...on one hand we had an entire community turn out to help us navigate our way through this increasingly messy Visa and Registration snafu, and on the other hand the fees and penalties rose higher and higher.
Once the news of our predicament worked its way through the neighborbood we were overwhelmed by offers of help and advice from neighbors, shop keepers, friends and even strangers. Our phones and doorbell rang well into the midnight hours last night.
The key players in all of this were, once again, Kemal, Levent and the Colonel-Murat Bay. Throughout last night and this morning they had been meeting and had finally reached a decision--it was worth the effort to try and get the government to see their way to reducing these amazingly high fees.
Kemal, My Go to Guy

Today, once I hit the street I found out that my day had already been planned for me. My retired Turkish Colonel was waiting to go with me to the "Tax Office" to wage war on my behalf. Without a chance to hesitate we were off and into the central office for the processing of taxes and motor vehicle fees.
Murat Bay didn't mince words as he explained our problem to the clerks behind the desk, in fact his diplomacy and reputation quickly won them over to our side. We were ushered into see the "Cheef" who also agreed that we were not at fault for an error in the computer system. Calls were made, documents stamped and signed and within 3 or 4 hours we were told that there was just one signature left that was needed to wipe out the extra fees and lower our debt to just a few hundred dollars.
The Cheef called Ankara and after a lengthy and heated discussion (of which I only understood the epithets) he hung up with bad news. The Ankara office refused to lower the penalties and fees and had, in fact, increased them. They attributed it all to a "suit" sitting in a windowless office.
Murat Bay's Game Face

So, we leave you today spinning around the news that we are about $5000 in the hole on just the vehicle registration, and another 3k-4k deeper on the Resident Visas. All in all it has been a cheap lesson.
Are you still with me? Wake up and listen to at least this we are foreigners living in a country on the far side of the world whose religion, customs and culture are not our own. In fact, I come from a country today that is not as well thought of as it used to be. But in the face of it all these amazing Turks have stepped into the gap for us and have done all that was possible to rectify a problem that was ours--not theirs.
Yep, we are broke and the next few months look pretty dark and uncertain. But today we saw some light poking through the darkness from the hearts of a people who have accepted and loved our family as if we were one of their own.
I may be newly "poor and needy", but I feel as if I am king of the hill with the wealth of friends Turkey has given us. All in all...not a bad lesson for a few thousand bucks, when it all goes to hell its amazing to see who steps in to throw you a rope. From our perspective, all is well when you live with a few million Turks who have your back covered.


I just didn't have the uummph to come up with a picture that describes today's work with me, Ok?
We are still waiting on the Visas with news that they will eventually arrive, we hope it is before our current Visas expire in 9 days...that would put us in a bad place if they were later than they are now.
Just in case we didn't have enough to occupy our thoughts, today we were renewing our vehicle registration when the clerk discovered an error in the "Code" used to calculate our particular make and model. It seems that the Department of Motor Vehicles have undercharged us almost $3500 in vehicle taxes the last few years. Even though we have been on time with all the billings, the formula used to figure our taxes was out-O-whack. Being a foreigner owning a 4x4 seems to be a contributing factor.
Although it really wasn't any one's fault other than a clerical-programming mistake we now have to figure out where we are going to find an additional 3500 USD on top of the nearly 7k the Visas are costing us.
Morton's Salt comes to mind, "When it Rains, it Pours". More from the edge after the lights come back on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lingering in Limbo

We are still loitering in limbo looking for news regarding our Visas. To date, nada. We have begged, borrowed and have finally stolen away to linger on our balcony until we hear. Even bureaucratic besetments have an upside in Istanbul...its hard to be glum when balcony weather comes calling in Kadikoy.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Cyber Love

You hear about bad computers happening to good people, but until you have been there it’s hard to sympathize. We have been through a few computer crashes in our day, but none more catastrophic than the one that came a knocking this week.
We had ordered a new laptop to replace my road-weary Dell. After years of being on the road, the sand, dust, heat, cold and some amazing flirtations with bashing and banging have taken its toll and I have been holding my breath that it would last until we could afford a new one. Once we knew my parents were heading this way we scrambled and saving our pennies ordered a brand new shiny Dell XPS.
I can't praise my old Dell enough though, it has traveled in my backpack through 37 of our United States and on to Lebanon, Germany, Spain, France, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Greece, Turkey, Iran Iraq and through some of the roughest terrain in Asia Minor. It has served me well, but its inability to handle my growing files and its slow and aging processor had me looking to upgrade and holding my breath that it would keep processing until I could replace it.
My parents hand delivered a shiny new one in April. While all the new features were cool and its 320GB of space gave me a new found freedom, I missed my old computer's small shape, the solid feel of its heft, and the tiny keyboard with the cracked frame where I have tapped out hundreds of thousands of words.
The familiar crack, the result of being not too well balanced on a rock while trying to upload a column from the Iranian border via sat-phone, was a way-point that kept my palms in the perfect orientation to expound ...a little Norah Jones, a scalding glass of çay, our balcony, a pile of books and maps along with my old Moleskine diary open to our latest adventures and life was good.
I had just completed the transfer of thousands of pictures, hundreds of musings and all the stuff that I need to bring our wanderings to you in print when I finally put away the old, and embraced the new. My shiny new XPS now sat on the shelf next to my bed, but I kept my old Dell just below it, unplugged and for all intents just sitting there waiting to be passed down through the crew.
I waited a few months to see if the new XPS was working as it should before I wiped my old Dell clean and passed it off to the kids. Last week I felt that I had finally made the transition and the swap was complete.
Tuesday morning when I started work and turned on my shiny new XPS-- I got nothing. Zip, zilch, nada. Just an error code that Dell said was a complete HD failure. There was nothing they could do...the HD in the new shiny XPS was “irretrievable” and a total loss. In fact, once I passed the error code on to the Dell tech, he said it was the worst possible scenario. They quickly dispatched a new HD to some friends who are heading our way and were confident that they could restore the shiny new XPS to top notch condition, but all my files were lost.
Feeling a little guilty, I picked up my old Dell a few days ago and turned it on, it took its usual 8 minutes to fully boot up, I reactivated my E-mail settings and had to enter all my passwords by key instead of the cool fingerprint reader on the shiny new XPS, but it came back to life and we picked up where we left off.
Once the new HD arrives I will swap it out and get it all working, but it won't be used by me. I will pass the shiny new XPS off to Ann, whose old laptop only has half a screen and I will stay in the Stone Age with an old friend. Mercy is a big deal in life, I am glad my flirtations with something faster, cleaner and newer have been forgiven. The crack under my palms is reassuring and it is good to be back to work with my little laptop and its quirky ways.

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

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