March 8, 2010
Cool, rainy. High atmosphere dust storm.
Today is our second full day in Turkey, and I am exhausted. I feel like being in a westernized country where I am comfortable makes me even more tired than a place like Tanzania or India, because I am able to go out at night and wander around the cities. Instead of sitting in bed every night to type up a journal, I’ve been out and about, then wander back and pass out without even thinking about journaling. Subsequently, a lot of important information has not been recorded about our last three days.
We left Egypt in the afternoon on the 6th, and got into Turkey around 9 at night. The wonderful guide Aysen picked us up at the airport, tucked us into a bus, took us to a beautiful hotel on the Marmara Sea’s canal through Istanbul, and then brought us to the nicest restaurant on the trip for a very American meal of spaghetti and meatballs. I loved Turkey at that moment in a way completely different than I loved other countries that we’ve been to: I was fascinated on the variation on the theme of western culture. Everything is a different version of what we have in the United States, but the familiarity is still great enough to make an American feel comfortable.
Turkey is really defined by the geography of the country. The small land bridge that houses Istanbul is on the continent of Europe, the rest of the country is in Asia Minor. In Çanakkale, we stood on the Asian shore of one of the most-traveled straits in the world and looked out to Europe. This interface between “western” and “eastern” cultures is prevalent throughout the Turkish culture. It’s in some ways indescribable, but has many parallels with the biomes we’ve visited. As we moved through the equatorial zone into sub-tropical and now into a Mediterranean climate, each zone is not completely distinct; it is more like four-directional spectrum from hot to dry, warm to cold. The same is true with culture, through that multi-directional spectrum would be hard to label. Suffice it to say that to me, Turkey feels like a combination of India, Egypt, and France.
On our first night in Istanbul, I was so thrilled to be in Europe, in familiar settings, and to celebrate I drank some tap water straight. The next morning, I was told that the water was actually not safe to drink. I had gotten ahead of myself, but luckily I’ve created a GI tract of steel and have not experienced any ill-effects from my contaminated guzzling. We were in the bus very early and on our way to Çanakkale. Around 11 in the morning, a man selling beautiful Turkish We drove past fields that were thousands of years old, past villages and around the tip of the European continent, and directly onto a ferry boat, which took off as soon as we got the first two wheels of the bus onboard.
That fifteen-minute ferry ride took us to Asia, where we drove straight to the ancient ruins of Troy. I was giddy with excitement to see the site of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Helen of Troy, the Trojan War, and Trojan horse, and the namesake of my absolutely favorite mascot (fight on!). It was the most typical ruins you could imagine: old columns and walls sticking out of the ground, huge urns, and a replica of the Trojan Horse that I climbed up into. The wind was wicked as we stood on the very top of the hill listening to our guide learning about how thousands of years of human habitation had impacted the landscape; Troy used to be a harbor city but now is six kilometers from the ocean. Eventually, with the creation of all the swamp land, mosquitoes drove the inhabitants away.
After Troy, we went back to our guide’s shop and he served us apple tea. I went to the bathroom and my hat fell directly into the toilet. I held one of the only dry spots with the tips of two fingers all the way back to the hotel, where it went directly into unbearably hot and soapy water. Logically, I know it should be good to go, but I just can’t bring myself to put it on my head yet. Aysen gave us all small Turkish good luck charms to pin to ourselves, and I hoped that would prevent another disaster. But right before dinner this evening, as I was wearing my good luck charm, I hit the wrong button in the bathroom and water shot horizontally out of the toilet, soaking my pants and shoes. I’m just not quite used to these newfangled western toilets after using a squatter and a bucket of water for the last six weeks.
I know that I should be writing about more highfalutin things about culture and biology, especially because I recently gave the blog link to one of my professors who I like and respect very much, but the differences in the way cultures address basic everyday human needs fascinates me. Sometimes, the way I usually address these simple human needs seems so ingrained in me, and so right that I cannot believe that anyone could do it a different way and function. But they not only function, they prefer it! Women here line up to use the squatter instead of the seated toilets! This was most shocking in Thailand, when we were camping in the national park and I had to bathe by pouring water that had been standing in a tub in the bathroom all over myself using the same bucket as every other person who had passed through. I would have been repulsed even if there weren’t tadpoles and algae in the water, but as I poured the cold, slimy water on my head I thought that this really was a sign of an undeveloped country.
But for the last few days I’ve been choosing the squatter over the seated toilets. Partially for the novelty because I know I will soon be back in seater-only territory, but mostly because I’ve began to feel the guilt of the gallon(s) of water each flush when I compare it the half liter that a squatter uses. After my first blissfully hot and high-pressure shower in Istanbul, I felt the guilt of the energy and the water that most of the world cannot have. I don’t think this was the point of the program, but I’ve come out of Asia and Africa with a guilty conscience.
Anyways, we went to a hotel in Çanakkale, ate dinner, freshened up, and six of us decided to go out. We were pointed to a café and bar by a man working at the hotel, and we walked up a flight of stairs to a dark room with a bar and a lot of “reserved” tables. It was almost completely empty, and we sat down and ordered. Not five minutes later, the room started to fill up. When it was half full, a guitarist, clarinetist, and vocalist walked onstage and began playing. Soon, the place was packed and the clarinetist was going to town with virtuosic improvisation. We were the only foreigners in the crowd, but unlike in Egypt and India, nobody seemed to notice or care. There were no awkward stares. People just did their own thing.
We went back to the hotel and I jumped into bed and didn’t open my eyes until morning. This morning, we woke up and went to the 18 March University to visit the dean of their Oceanography Department. My guilty conscience got much worse as we were told about the massive destruction of the fish populations in the Marmara, Black, Aegean and Mediterranean seas, but not because Turkish people rely heavily on fish protein. Instead, the demand from other nations fuels the massive overfishing and has caused sea life to crash. We saw a slideshow of awesome underwater photography and walked through an aquaculture aquarium room, a phytoplankton lab, and several fisheries labs.
Afterwards, we ate lunch and got back on the bus to drive to the next location. The sky had turned a ghastly yellow color due to a high-atmospheric sand storm coming in from Africa. Subsequently, the rain that was falling was more like sandy mud, which would have been very inconvenient had we not spent most of the day inside. Our clothes and the windows of the bus became splotched with the sediment falling from the sky.
The hotel here is very adorable, kind of quaint. We had a delicious dinner, and Denny came around and told us to not leave when we were finished eating. Just as I was polishing off an almond pudding, Aysen came around with bags from the city’s chamber of commerce, where her husband works. Olive trees are a primary source of income here, and so there was a bottle of local olive oil, oil soap, and a plant guide in the bag! It was a wonderful gift, and she brought out two chocolate cakes in honor of International Day of the Woman. We had a candle for each woman in the group, sang a modified Happy Birthday, and blew out the candles. The guys were instructed to cut the cake and serve it to us. It was a really lovely moment, especially given the conversation that Nate, Tim, Matt and I had while we were eating dinner.
In the Maldives, as some of you avid blog readers will remember, there was an incident where some people in the group claimed that men are terribly oppressed in the United States, and I became extremely incensed. The four of us had a very good conversation about unrealistic gendered expectations and the challenges facing a society aiming for equality. This conversation actually began after we talked about “lewd” sites being blocked by the government in Turkey. A message appears when you try to navigate to sites deemed inappropriate (including youtube) that informs you that the website was deemed illegal: “After technical analysis and legal evaluation based on the catalog crimes of the Law no 5651, Administrative measure has been taken for this website according to decision no 410.01.02.2008-213737 dated 21.08.2008 of ‘Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı.’”
Dinner was very enjoyable and now I’m up in the room about to go to bed. I’m exhausted because I can’t stand to go to sleep when there are so many things to do.
One last thing: thanks for all the little messages I’ve received in the last few days. I really miss everyone back home and whenever I hear from you, it really makes me happy.