After about 18 hours of travel, we arrived in Ankara yesterday at 3:30 pm (Turkey time). The three flights went very well; there were no long delays and all of our luggage made it to our destination. It was quite the experience for me as I had never before flown overseas. I think Leah got a kick out of me looking at our GPS location and how excited I was about flying over various places. This trip was our first time riding in a plane together!
Upon arrival, our director picked us up from the airport to take us to our new home. Immediately we noticed how the people of Ankara are packed in tight. The city is filled with high-rise buildings, and most people live in apartments. The “packed-in” feeling is also evident in their driving. There were several times when drivers filled the road five cars wide in a three lane area. Our director said the philosophy of driving in Turkey is “find a place that’s empty and fill it.” The Turks have a much smaller driving “bubble” than Americans, and it is not uncommon to be within centimeters of the car beside you.
Our apartment is much bigger than we expected — even larger than the house we rented in Virginia. We have two balconies, a full kitchen, and were provided with plenty of modern furniture. Last night we sat out on the balcony and took in the noise of the city and the cool breeze. Some new sounds are the Islamic call to prayer and the packs of wild dogs that roam the forest next to our building.
Last night, I thought I’d give Turkish grocery shopping a whirl. It turned out to be a bigger whirl than I had predicted. Leah stayed in the apartment because we were having issues with our keys and lock (which is now fixed). My first challenge was trying to order baklava; I realized I didn’t know how to say the quantity or number of pieces I wanted. I had two teenagers behind the counter laughing as we tried to overcome the language barrier. After getting about five times the baklava I wanted, I decided to try something where I could choose my own quantities. As I was selecting produce, I noticed a gentleman trying to tell me something. After many hand motions, I found that unlike Walmart or Meijer, this guy had to weigh the produce before I checked out. My last communication challenge came at the register. I didn’t realize it was bag your own food until my stuff started piling together with someone else’s. This bagging strategy makes sense — it’s my food, so if I want it in bags, why should someone else put it there? Eventually, I made it home and made our first meal in Turkey.
Today, we went on a tour of our school and neighborhood and did some small scale shopping. On the tour, we ate at our first Turkish restaurant. Each meal comes with complimentary salad, a salsa type dip, pita bread, fried vegetables, and hot tea. For my entree, I chose Döner Kebap. This delicious dish consisted of fried strips of beef served over a pita with a spiced grain (similar to couscous).
We are enjoying our new home Ankara. The people are friendly, the food is good, and jet lag has not hit us much yet. We have a lot of language yet to learn in order to function well on our own. Until then, the few phrases we know in Turkish will be most important: “My Turkish is not very good” and “I don’t understand.”