Before my arrival in Turkey, I made a list of goals I wanted to accomplish while living and working in Ankara. I thought I would have at least a year to work on these goals, but instead only had about 4 months, what with my impending move to Ecuador. Nevertheless, I think I made pretty good progress on my Turkish conquests:
Try lots of Turkish foods. Definitely, check. And yes, this included dollops of dondurma (Turkish ice cream), bits of baklava , plentiful peynirler (cheeses), meals of manti (Turkish ravioli), and countless kebabs (döner kebab, Urfa kebab, cağ kebab, and işkender kebab – by far my fave). One of the strangest things I ate? Kokoreç, a sandwich filled with grilled lamb intestines (I loved it!). One of the best things I ate? Stuffed mussels off the street in Istanbul.
Learn how to cook some Turkish dishes. I learned 5, plus some friends gave me a Turkish cookbook as a going away gift. I think this counts as a win.
See the Whirling Dervishes. Check.
Learn enough Turkish to converse/meet my daily needs. This was not as good as I had hoped. I mean, I was able to get around and eat and buy things, and I often used basic Turkish to do this. But I also relied heavily on body language, and the occasional passerby who helped to translate.
Take more people pictures. This remains an ongoing goal.
Drink Turkish coffee and get my fortune told. Check!
Go to a Turkish bath. Check.
Learn more about Turkish history. My knowledge of world history stinks (which I still largely blame on having Mr. Bagley for World Studies in high school). And while I’ve never been that crazy about history, I do find it more meaningful when I am actually visiting a place. Walking through ancient Roman ruins and Byzantine cave monasteries helped bring these ancient empires to life. And I learned about more recent history as well. Like when Mustafa Kemal became the first president of the new Turkish Republic in 1929 and made all sorts of progressive changes.
He basically said “Alright everyone, we’re gonna turn this country around. First, we’ve gotta be more careful about mixing religion and politics. And we’re going to stop using the Islamic Sunday-Thursday work week and switch to the Monday-Friday work week that the rest of the world uses. And this Arabic script really isn’t working so much for writing Turkish, so let’s start using the Latin alphabet. And while we’re at it, literacy in this country stinks so I’m going to open all sorts of adult ed schools to help you all learn to read and write Turkish. Also, we’re moving the capital to Ankara. And we’re gonna start using the metric system. And it would be nice if you all wear more western styles of dress. Oh, and women can now vote.” They call him Ataturk (father of Turks) for good reason. All in all, I’m no expert, but I do know more about Turkish history now than when I first arrived.
Go to an oil wrestling match. Fail, but not for lack of trying! I asked tons of Turks about this, and most of them thought I was crazy for wanting to go to such a low-brow event, or pooh-poohed it as something only found in rural areas. But it turns out this is a spring/summer sport, so it just wasn’t happening during my fall semester here. Rats.
See as much of the country as possible. I did not make it to Mt. Nemrut, Ephesus or Troy. But I did spend a long weekend in Pamukkale, including a day trip to Aphrodesius. I accompanied some friends on a day trip to Beypazari, visited the Lake Abant region for a lovely winter weekend getaway, and took an overnight trip to Safranbolu. And I spent 2 holidays touring 2 top spots on my list:
Visit Istanbul. Checkizzle.
Visit Cappadocia (and ride in a hot air balloon). Check and check.