When does the assignment end, and what will you do afterwards?
We're under a yearlong contract that ends in September (covering two months paid vacation, woo!). After that, we're not sure what's next. I don't think we'll stay in Istanbul another year, but we haven't ruled out the rest of the country. We haven't seen any more of Turkey, and we're looking forward to exploring other cities during our upcoming winter holiday. For the last few years, my dream has been to live in Spain, and we weren't able to do that this past year. However, we just completed our applications for Spain's Cultural Ambassadors program, so perhaps that will be right for us next year. We're prepared, but not focusing on it too much. After all, we haven't even hit the halfway point here yet. It's fun to imagine all the places I could be in the next six months or year, but I'd end up (and have been guilty of) neglecting my current situation. I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself.
How's the weather?
It's cold! At this present moment, it's 48 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the warmest it's been in over a week. This week it's mostly hovered around the 20s and 30s. I'm sure my Yankee friends are "pffting" at me right now, but for this Louisiana girl, it's nearly too cold to will myself outside. I'm being dramatic, maybe, but I'm just not good with cold weather.
However, the cold does have its perks. This past week, schools were closed Tuesday through Thursday due to snow. I've had a couple "snow days" back home, but really it's just sleet, and everything shuts down because no one knows how to handle it. This was different.
On Wednesday, we had the snow day I'd always imagined. The snow was light and fluffy, falling in perfect, fat flakes. Clay and I piled on as many layers as we could possibly fit and headed out to meet some friends. As we stepped out of our building, we couldn't resist snapping some photos of the white — normally gray, dingy and a little bit rough — landscape around us. I reluctantly took off my glove (because I don't have those cool smartphone fingertip gloves and I couldn't NOT take a photo of this), lifted my iPhone to capture our frosted outdoor stairs, when I was struck in the leg. I turned to see a laughing Turkish grandmother picking up more snowballs as ammo. The fight was on, and it continued throughout our walk to Taksim Square, with new opponents becoming whoever passed by. Everyone around us was outside with big, silly grins playing in the snow. It was refreshing to see we weren't the only ones who couldn't contain our glee. Turks tend to take themselves rather seriously, so seeing an old man dodge between buildings to get a good shot at Clay with was something I won't forget.
All in all, it's really cold. That said, it can be a pure joy, or it can make you want to hibernate until spring. Depends on the day.
How did you celebrate Christmas?
Before the weather got cold, and even before I ever packed my bags, I was warned about Christmas. This is supposed to be the time when culture shock sets in, you get homesick, your expectations may outweigh reality, etc., etc. Oh, and it's dark and cold all the time, so don't forget about seasonal affective disorder. That'll definitely happen, too. And you're living in a country that's 98 percent Muslim, so you probably won't even notice it's Christmas. That's so sad, why don't you just come home?
That sounds super depressing, doesn't it? Maybe I let it get to me, so as you can imagine, my expectations for Christmas were not high. We only had Christmas Day — Thursday — off of work, the boxes of presents our families sent two months prior were stuck somewhere in France, and we didn't even have any plans.
As oftentimes it is, the worrying was all for naught. Though Turkey is a Muslim country that doesn't celebrate Christmas, the Christmas spirit was everywhere. There were lights, trees, decorations, presents, elves and Santa figures everywhere. I remember one day, months ago, my Turkish co-teacher showed me a photo of some gorgeous Christmas cookies she baked, and another of her standing next to beautifully decorated and lit-up Christmas tree. Confused and scratching my head, I asked her, "Oh... you celebrate Christmas...?" She gave me a look that immediately made me feel like an idiot and responded with, "No, New Year." That's right. All of our typical American-Christmas traditions and regalia have been repurposed to celebrate the incoming year. At work, we participated in a Secret Santa gift swap for New Year's, and the kids believe Santa Claus is visiting them at midnight on December 31. Certainly different, but it was nice to feel the holiday spirit around.
Next thing on the list: company for Christmas. After a couple months of Facebook messaging, it was finally arranged that our good friend and former Reveille coworker Mike Gegenheimer would arrive Christmas Eve, stay with us two nights to celebrate Christmas, then continue on his seven-countries-in-14-days winter break trip. I met Gegs at the airport, and we journeyed home to find Clay, a friend, and two giant boxes sitting in our living room. As you can imagine, this was all absolutely overwhelming in the best way possible. Our friend from Louisiana is sitting here, on our couch, catching us up on all the LSU and Reveille goings-on while drinking Millers. Where are we? This certainly can't be Istanbul. Next to the couch are nearly 40 pounds of presents that we'd been hunting since October. They didn't arrive on Christmas Eve. Impossible.
Everything felt surreal and unbelievable. It was so normal, so nice. The three of us kept reminding ourselves where we were and that this was happening. I know I had a dopey grin I couldn't force away.
Christmas Day we slept in and had tea and borek before digging into our homemade stockings (fashioned from a cheap blanket) and unexpected heap of presents. We got socks, pajamas, garlic powder and cilantro leaves, my favorite Bath & Body Works hand sanitizers, nice wine and rum, Louisiana goodies, and everything in between. It was fantastic.
After we ripped through every box and bag we could find, we ventured off to Sultanahmet, where we visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. I should also mention that Christmas Day brought the most beautiful weather we'd seen in months. It was warm and sunny, and I left my peacoat hanging on the coat rack for the first time since fall.
We finished Christmas Day with family Skype sessions, wine, beer and Domino's Pizza at our friends' apartment. Everything had fallen into place beautifully, and we had a truly wonderful Christmas. The next day, we awoke early for work, we saw Gegs off, and everything was back to normal. The skies returned to their typical gray, cold and wet temperament. Throughout the day, I had to continuously remind myself that yesterday had been real. If such a thing exists, we had a perfect Turkish Christmas.
Below are some photos from Christmas and our snow days.