Week 5: A Concert, an Eye Exam, and a Piece of Turkish History
Before I can get to telling you about Ephesus, I need to tell you a few things that happened in the days before the trip. I’ll get through them as quickly as possible so we can get to the main event! Just sit tight and read on!
If you read my last entry, you’ll recall me saying that it started raining on Saturday night, and it rained HARD. Well, it didn’t stop until Monday night. And most of the time, it wasn’t a light drizzle, it was full-on pouring. Actually, I took a short video of the rain while I was at school on Monday if you’d like to see it.
Anyways, apparently here, rain and cold means all the guys and girls break out their construction boots. You know, the tan Caterpillar brand kind of work boots? Yep, they’re all wearing them! Personally, I think it looks kind of ridiculous with the uniforms, but they follow the philosophy that they need heavy duty shoes when it gets colder and rainier. My host mom was quite concerned on Tuesday morning when I told her I didn’t really have “winter shoes” to wear to school. She said my Converses weren’t sufficient enough, and asked what I wear in Wisconsin with all the snow. I thought for a moment, then realized that we don’t really let the snow influence what shoes we wear, as long as their close-toed. Perhaps we should all start wearing construction boots too??
Also on Tuesday, I drew for the first time in class. I drew two things that day, one being a design from a ring I saw in the bazaar with an islamic symbol on it, the other being part of a portrait of my friend Lexi. I drew both from pictures on my camera, not from memory, so don’t be THAT impressed. My physics teacher saw the one of the ring and told me he liked it, so I guess that’s how I’ll get the teachers on my good side... by drawing pictures of things during their classes. Hmm.. not sure how much sense that makes actually... oh well! Moving on, another thing I did on Tuesday was read a letter I had written a few days before about teachers. Apparently, Teacher’s Day is at the end of November, so we were all supposed to write something about teachers. I obviously wrote mine in English, but the teacher encouraged me to read it to the class on Tuesday. I read it slowly so they might be able to understand me. My teacher told me she had translated the parts she didn’t understand in English and she thought it was very beautiful, so I thanked her for that.
Wednesday, I went downtown to Alsancak after school to find “rain-appropriate shoes” with my host mom. Well, I got a little lost on my way to her office and ended up taking a very long, indirect route, so by the time I got there, Demet had left already to meet the TV guys at home to fix our satellite. So, I went out by myself to look, which wasn’t all that scary, I just didn’t really kow where to go to look. I remember Demet saying the was shopping in Konak Pier, a pier that has a mini-shopping center inside it, so I figured that was as good a place to start as any to start. Most of the stores there were super classy and expensive, but I found a shoe store that had what I wanted. Afterwards, I walked to a Converse store to see if they had a pair that I’ve been obsessing over since I first saw them here, but the store was a bit of a walk from Konak Pier. They didn’t even end up having them, so I was pretty bummed. I had to walk back to my host mom’s office to drop off my shoes before I met some other exchange students for a concert in a park/fairground type place. That was a lot of walking, and apparently too much for my grey Converses (chucks) to take. When I got to my host mom’s office, my feet were killing me. I made probably one of the worst decisions of my exchange so far and decided to put on my new shoes instead before walking to meet my friends. Breaking in a new pair of shoes is never fun, but it was especially painful after my feet had already had it for the day, so needless to say, it only got worse as the night went on. I was late for meeting the other kids, but I forced myself to keep walking no matter how bad I wanted to give up. We went to a nearby restaurant before the concert started and ate dinner. Then we went to the concert, where there was a LOT of Turkish dancing and line-forming and confusion, but it was fun. The music was all pretty standard Turkish music, and it was fun dancing in the lines at first (like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” if you can recall) but when the pattern of steps didn’t change after 4 songs, a few of us gave up and just danced by ourselves. There were some guys from Montenegro (which is apparently a country, sorry I didn’t know about that one) and I quite enjoyed copying their random dance moves. For the next few days, though, I paid dearly for dancing in those shoes, and I’m still waiting for my wounds to heal!
In class on Thursday, we all had to have an eye exam. I’ve never actually done a test like that with the “E” turned different ways, but I realized pretty fast that I didn’t know how to say left, right, up, or down. I asked my friend, who is quite good with English, what exactly the words were that everyone was saying, and I wrote them on my palm. So when it was my turn, I said every direction in Turkish, which impressed the class as much as it impressed me. On Thursday night, I went to my first Rotary meeting (finally). There were only 10 people in my club and we met at the Hilton hotel (which is every bit as fancy as you’d expect it to be.) There is a woman in my club who spoke English and who has actually been to Wisconsin. She showed me her little cow keychain as proof. I’m not sure why, but that made me really happy. My meeting itself was very long and boring, but it’s an obligation to go at least once a month, so I’ll be there!
Skipping Friday because nothing great importance happened that day, here begins the part of the blog about my trip to Ephesus! For those of you who are unfamiliar with why Ephesus is so important, in the Roman period, it was for many years the second largest city of the Roman Empire; ranking behind Rome, the empire's capital. Ephesus had a population of more than 250,000 in the 1st century BC, which also made it the second largest city in the world. Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written there as well. (Thanks to Wikipedia for that info) So, needless to say, Ephesus is a pretty big deal historically, no matter if you look at it from a religious standpoint or not. That being said, here’s how my Saturday and Sunday went:
Everyone met at the bus on Saturday morning, put their stuff in the back of the bus (which was small), found a seat, and off we went. We picked up the newest member of our crew on the way out, Michelle, a Canadian who arrived the night before. You could see she was exhausted and overwhelmed with everything, but happy to be with us. Since she would be attending school with me, I was especially glad to finally have her here. People were trying to help her all weekend by telling her how things work here and what to expect, weird stuff to get used to, basically everything they’d learned in 3-4 weeks time they tried to pass on to her. Most of it ended up going way over her head, but I don’t blame her. She’ll learn eventually. She’s already doing much better. We stopped first at a little museum out in the middle of nowhere that was supposed to teach us about the culture of rural Turkey. They museum was full of plastic figures in small scenes of everyday life in a rural community, but personally, I was a bit freaked out by it. Some of them moved, and some only part of the time, so when you were calmly observing a man standing at a workbench, out of nowhere his hand starts moving a saw back and forth. Not the most comforting place I’ve ever been, but it was interesting.
After the creepy museum, we went to our hotel in the city of Kusadasi (koo-shah-das-eh). We spent the rest of the afternoon there for the second part of our orientation, where we talked again about rules, then about hygiene, followed by a session with an ex-exchange student/psychiatrist where we talked about any problems we’ve experienced and how we’ve dealt with them or how we can deal with them. We also had a quick geography/history lesson on Turkey, and a sufficiently awkward sex chat to top things off. Our Rotarians let us go out after dinner, but most of us had no idea where we were going, considering we didn’t have much of an idea where we were at all. But exchange students always seem to make their own fun, and we did just that. There was an outdoor concert going on down the street, so of course we decided to barge in, country flags waving, everyone dancing like crazy, and eventually I’m pretty sure we became as entertaining as the band itself, if not more so. People watched and cheered, and eventually the camera operator noticed and started filming us, which means we were on display for the entire audience on the giant TV screen. EPIC!
After the big show died down, a few of the exchange students showed interest in finding somewhere to shop. We continued down the main street (where we encountered a group of young boys holding live pigeons and freaking people out) and eventually found a small bazaar. Several shops were already closing, but there were a few good ones still open. I found some gorgeous opal rings in one of the shops and tried a few on. Hannah saw the white opal ones next to them and really liked them, too. We asked how much, and the guy started at 25 TL (Turkish Lira) each. One of the other students said “indirim,” which means “sale,” and he bumped it down to 20 TL each. But one of the Brazilians, who are used to bargaining with street vendors, slipped 10 lira in my pack pocket and urged me to go lower. I gave 5 back and told her to hold onto it in case he wouldn’t take the offer. I said Hannah had no money with her and that I only had 35 TL. He thought a second, hen said “money speaks” and accepted the offer. That was a pretty cool moment for me, considering I’m not too good with the whole bargaining thing. After our bazaar adventure (no pun intended), we decided to head back to the hotel where we all got into our PJs. The rest of the night was spent jumping from room to room filled with different groups of people talking about anything and everything. At one point, the Americans were all in one room and we got on the subject of how different some of our accents are. One girl in particular got a little upset when everyone told her how strong her accent was, but she shall go unnamed. I don’t deny I have a “Cheesehead accent,” which made it easier to laugh when one of the girls said the accent resembles a duck noise. If you think about it, it’s kind of true!! To sum up the rest of the night, a lot of us didn’t end up getting a lot of sleep.
We packed up our bags and boarded the bus after breakfast, where we headed to the Virgin Mother mary’s house. The place wasn’t much, but it wasn’t the appearance or the size that mattered. I don’t think it matters what religion you practice, because I think every person that walks through that place can admit that it’s special. When I walked into the house and looked at the tomb and altar, it was so beautiful I wanted to cry. A sense of deep serenity and peace came about me that I’ve never felt before. I didn’t want to leave before I had fully discovered the emotions I was feeling, but there were lots of other people waiting in line to come in, so I left. Outside the house, there were several waist-high boxes filled with sand where you could place the offering candles and pray/wish, whatever you felt. I lit my candle and stood silently and motionlessly watching it burn, trying to find a thought that was sufficient enough to think in that moment. I waited for a few of the other students, took some pictures, and then headed down to the wish wall. There must have been thousands of wishes on that thing, and supposedly whatever you wish is guaranteed to come true. All the exchange students wrote down wishes on small pieces of paper on the bus ride to the house. The wall was full of cloth-like material where you could tie in your paper, wrap it between the folds, whatever you felt you need to do.
We had a few minutes at the gift show, where I bought a few small things to remind me of the experience I had there. I bought something very special to put by my grandparent’s grave when I come back to Janesville... it came from such a beautiful place that I know they would have loved to have seen.
After Mother Mary’s house, we headed to the main ruin site of Ephesus. I ended up being the photographer more than the photographed, but I didn’t mind. I just couldn’t believe we were actually seeing, touching, and walking in places that existed more than 7,000 years ago. These are things that, for most people, exist only in history books and TTV Specials. But I saw the ancient library, I danced in the giant theater, I touched the pillars that are 15 times older than any historic building int he US. The exchange students started a new tradition in Ephesus in which we “shuffle” in various places at various events during our exchange. “Shuffling” is a dance that has recently become popular due to LMFAO’s music video for their song ‘Party Rock Anthem.” Someone films us every time we dance, and eventually I’m going to combine all the videos into one big video that we’ll be able to treasure forever. We were on the same ground in the theater that Elton John has sung in, but that doesn’t seem so significant when you think of all the ancient plays were performed there, all the kings and rulers that might have spoken there... it’s overwhelming to think about. There were a lot of other tourist groups there, so we had quite a few people ask us questions, take pictures with us, and one group even asked for the website for my blog and said they’d help spread the word about it. How cool is that!? By the way, if any of you fine people are reading this right now, thank you again SO very much for all your support!
Anyways, after a long afternoon (which wasn’t long enough in my opinion), we ate at a small restaurant before heading home. After lunch, THAT is when the exhaustion set in for the majority of the exchange students. I sat next to one of our chaperones/Rotary Exchange committee members on the way home, where I learned some very interesting things about traditional Muslim burial rituals. My host mom saw how tired I was when I got back to Izmir, and after dinner, she sent me to bed. She said I didn’t have to go to school Monday either, which I was thankful for.