New Family; New kind of Turkey

So last week I officially moved from one host family to another here in Kayseri. After having to choose between several beautiful and wondering families who had offered to host me, I decided to take my çini teacher up on her offer. I definitely felt the most comfortable going to someone whom I’ve known for 4 going on 5 months. And immediately I felt the difference the first night I stepped into her sister in law’s doorstep, the one who I would be actually living with. Whereas my first family was shocking similar to my family in the US in terms of attitude, casualness, family dynamics, and general Westernized features within their apartment, my family now kind of bounced me back into a more traditional Turkish environment that I’d only felt a couple other times while visiting older relatives. Now I have a host grandmother who feeds me to the point of bursting, a host “older sister” who is more like an aunt who has promised to force me to not only speak Turkish but not to speak English, a host brother and older sister who lives below us but come upstairs to hang out and eat dinner all the time, and a gigantic network of extended host family all in Kayseri. 

Walking around my new neighborhood, which is directly behind the city center of Kayseri, with my host aunt provided me a more intimate portrait of this city. Whereas my old host family were from Istanbul and were relative outsiders to Kayseri, my current aunt was able to point out in every shop an uncle that they know, a family who knew her father, the history of all three of the surrounding mosques, the family of the corner dukkan, and the downstairs pastry shop whose owner’s 3 sons are all surrogate children of my family and who all insist on giving me all of the free baked goods I can handle. 

I’ve also experienced what it’s like to be a little sister in a Turkish family being that my new older sister/cousin has decided to take m under her wing. Being that she works as a radio broadcaster and has her own channel/talk show at a local Kayseri radio station, I’ve already been featured during a segment about life in Kayseri. 
After sitting for about an hour in her studio drinking coke and doing Turkish homework she finally wrangled me into a smaller sound room, shoved a pair of headphones on my head, put a mic in front of me, and suddenly I was on air. Albeit painful being that my poorly given Turkish answers were slightly unintelligible and unprepared, I still introduced a lot of people secondhand to what it was like to hear someone who came here to learn about their personal culture put themselves out there and show a little bit of what they’ve learned. I got a lot of proud and excited exclamations as well as sweet but kind of exaggerated compliments on my Turkish. 

After a tumultuous week of meeting with the Kayseri group’s new liaison, being whisked away to stay for an extended weekend in the heart of Kapadokya, getting ready for our trip to the American Embassy in Ankara, and trying our hardest to pound out as many new çini tiles as possible before next week; I am now with a new family. 
While problems did arise and I was left with no choice but to leave the place I’ve called home and thought would be my second home for the rest of my life, it has also taught me more than I thought was possible. Because on exchange being hosted is not just room and board. It is learning, living, sharing, and experiencing a whole new culture with radically different people than you may be used to. My first family is miles apart from my current family — that I can experience two different worlds within the same country is mindblowing. The support I received while going through the transition process is astounding as well. Instead of just packing my bags and being dropped off at someone’s doorstep the Kayseri group’s liasion hosted us in her home in Avanos, a town literally 5 minutes away from Kapadokya, for 5 days while she tried to find me a family. Which turned out to not be a problem because as is the Turkish way I received six offers from families opening their proverbial arms to me.

During the day we were toured around Kapadokya’s breathtaking landscape personally by her husband, taken out for delicious, local food, and met with the behind the curtain people who run the tourist side of the area. That gave us an interesting take on our short-lived Kapadokya exchange, something that I realize is only possible being in our position. Now in our 6th month our Turkish has improved to the point that when someone hesitantly looks at the Turk who brought us to wherever we were and asks if we know Turkish, they would get a confident reply, “Yes, they know Turkish.” 
While being toured around Kapadokya we also met a friend of our liasion’s husband who runs a hotel literally underneath one of the most famous cave castles in Urgup. After sitting down at her kitchen table and being served nescafe with German chocolate brought with her from her most recent trip to a cycling event there and eating from-the-tree apples she had picked, she came back to Avanos with us. While leaving she came up to me, cupped my cheeks in her warm, pleasantly rough hands and said: 
"Güzel kızım, bana gel. Olur mu? Güzel olur mu demi?" 
= “My beautiful girl, come stay with me. Alright? It would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
She’d learned of my situation and immediately wanted me to come stay with her at her hotel. Which was not a bad idea at all, staying in one of the most beautiful places in the whole world? I’d be down.

Saz Course Adventures: Day One

So a few weeks ago Tommy and I started a saz course at our local Gençlik Markezi. Our first real day of class began as anything usually starts for us: horribly and painfully awkwardly. We enter the classroom, almost tripping on the haphazardly placed music stands, and beeline to the back where there were less students. The teacher hadn’t arrived yet, and I began to notice that everyone who was there waiting was sitting with a saz next to them. Even Tommy had borrowed one from a friend here, but I was unfortunately sazless. Sitting there in crippling anxiety and doubt as to whether I should even stay, I waited for our teacher to arrive. Upon seeing my empty lap once everyone started taking their instruments out, a fellow classmate leaned over to me and asked, in Turkish, if I had a saz. 
"Hayir; henüz kendi sazimi almadim." No, I haven’t bought my own saz yet. 
"Dur. Senin için yan odasindan götürecegim.” Wait a second, I’ll get one from the other room for you.
He then left and came back with a saz for me. I thanked him profusely, to which he just replied, No problem. 
However, I had another problem on my hands. Unlike every other saz in that room mine had no notes marked along the frets. I was noteless and knowledgeless and kind of hopeless. Noticing my distress, another classmate promptly took my saz and gave me hers, which had the entire Do Mi Re Fa Sol La Ti Do scale written on pieces of tape along the neck. 
Throughout the class while our teacher worked with other, more advanced students, at least two of our classmates were constantly turned around towards Tommy and I. And, instead of following the class, in order to show us they carefully taught us, note by note and fingering by fingering, how to play even the most basic exercises. 
After a tiring two hours that left my head spinning and my fingers aching, I tried to hand my borrowed saz back to my classmate who had given it to me. She shook her head profusely and pushed it back into my arms, saying firmly: "Senin olsun. Seninle kalsin, ve evde pratik yap." You can have it. It can stay with you, so practice at home. 
I left with a feeling of welcomeness and satisfaction. Not only had I braved the terror of ignorance at having never even touched a string instrument, but I had also managed through an entire class in technical, fast-spoken Turkish in a subject I was totally unfamiliar with. And it made me that much more appreciative of the help that had made that possible; all of which I hadn’t even asked for but was simply given.
As is the Turkish way.  

Learning the Arts of Turkey:

Since our mid-stay orientation camp in Antalya I’ve really been trying to throw myself into experiencing the more nuanced parts of Turkish culture. For me that has been the arts. Turkey is a fantastic place in that it is still very much in touch with it’s ancient culture. Earlier last year us in Kayseri began a çini class, or tile ornamenting. Since then I have slipped into the ritual of getting up to the call to prayer, going to school, then going straight to the local art center that just happens to be situated in a several-thousand-year-old castle in the city center. There I work on the projects that I bring from home. 

A little bit about the çini process. First, you are given a white tile of plaster that will be heated into porcelain later on. After sanding it off slightly to obtain a smooth, even surface, using the tip of a mechanical pencil you scratch patterns previously traced onto tracing paper (similar to wax paper) directly onto the tile. Once there is a guideline from which to follow using a paintbrush held perpendicularly, straight up you paint along the lines with black paint. To make this position easier to maintain you also can use slightly raised wooden slates to rest your wrist on. Once you have tirelessly and precariously traced along your pencil lines with paint, using a scalpel or other small blade you scratch any mistakes made with the black paint off. Once your tile is completely clean as are your lines, you then use water based paints to color in your designs. This is probably the hardest part because the plaster is incredibly absorbent and once you touch the tip of the brush to the surface there’s no going back. Furthermore if you drag your brush rather than use built up water drops from the end of the brush to dot around the lines your black guidelines will smudge and irreparable damage will be done. Once you finish this process a gloss/finish is applied and your tile is put in an industrial oven to be cooked. After cooking the colors are vibrant, your tile is glossy and the paint can be felt as raised lines. 

Other than çini I have also begun a saz course at the local youth community center here in Kayseri. A great part of the community here in Kayseri, and all over Turkey, is the involvement in local government around the city. For example at this youth center there are all kinds of classes from saz, guitar, paper marbling (ebru), photography, traditional Turkish dancing, drawing, etc., all for free. So for the past month another YES’er in Kayseri and I have been attending of their saz courses. 
More pictures of the finished product to come!

Fireworks right outside your window? I think yes. And they looked much, much better than this since they started to go off at about 3 in the morning and only at the end of it did I think to grab my cam and snap a pic.

Fireworks right outside your window? I think yes. And they looked much, much better than this since they started to go off at about 3 in the morning and only at the end of it did I think to grab my cam and snap a pic.