Little Aya Sofia

It’s a warm and sunny day and I decide to take advantage of some free time by heading down to Little Aya Sofia. I’d never heard of Little Aya Sofia until I moved into my apartment and checked my map, wondering what that building with the small pink curves I saw from my window was. Little Aya Sofia is architecturally very much like the famous and enormous Aya Sofia, which is also in my neighborhood. The “real” Aya Sofia is known as one of the most famous, beautiful, and architecturally important buildings in the world. Little Aya Sofia is supposed to be very much like it, just much, much smaller.

I set off down the steep hill, winding my way toward the pink curves. On the way I stop for lunch at the Cesme restaurant, a small and friendly neighborhood café built in, on, and around the remains of an ancient fountain. There is a good fruit and veggie stand right beside the restaurant and I decide I will stop on my way back to buy figs, peaches, and some of the beautiful dark plums.

The call to prayer sounds as I approach Little Aya Sofia and I see men heading inside so this is an active mosque—I will have to pull out my scarf and cover my head. I walk through the gate in the stone wall surrounding the mosque and sit on a bench to wait, not wanting to go in during prayers, but not knowing how long they last either. I sit where I have a good view of the minaret, wondering if I can get a glimpse of the muezzin. I am curious about the men who call. Are they imams? What else do they do with their days?

A latecomer hurries down the steps and inside. A little boy wanders by, goes inside, comes out again and sits.

It is a pretty and peaceful spot in a quiet neighborhood. Through the gate I see there are a few tourists walking in pairs through the empty streets, looking at the small shops and restaurants.

The latecomer is the first to leave, rushing quickly away, then the others straggle out. They weren’t in there long, maybe five or ten minutes.

I never did see the muezzin come down. I always wonder if there really is someone in the minaret or if they just play a recording. Or maybe he spends his entire day in the tall thin tower of the minaret? I wait a few more minutes and go toward the door, tucking my hair and arranging my scarf.

A fast party

I've been busy, busy, busy with the new job, and even when I have free time I'm not near a computer so my urges to write have been frustrated lately. Today I thought I'd have hours to work on my lessons plans and do some writing, but when I came downstairs and stopped in Musa's atelier to say hello one of the weavers handed me a note that today is his birthday so there is a suprise party at noon.

Since lately my social opportunities are few and far between and because Musa is such a good guy, I will cut my planning short to be back in time for the party. It should be interesting because he is one of the many people who are fasting for Ramazan. For 30 days those who are fasting can let nothing pass their lips from around 5:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night-- no food, nothing to drink, no smoking, not even gum. I'm surprised at the number of people who do fast here. Life goes on pretty much as normal except that at 7:30 at night anyone who is fasting drops everything for Iftar, the meal that breaks the fast. This means I head downstairs with my class of four and we sit in the canteen to continue our lesson because one of the students is fasting.

You see people gathered in shops and hotels and every business place eating their evening meal. It's nice because everyone is understanding and it's not really a big deal (except I guess for the people who haven't eaten for 14 hours!) No one complains about the break, and the fasters will jump up and down to do whatever needs to be done during their meal if necessary. For example last night I headed into the laundry during Iftar and the proprieter came running from across the alley, chatted with me, gave me some tea, and popped in and out between the laundry and his meal across the street.

I find it interesting because I think in the US something like this would cause an uproar. Those not fasting would be annoyed by the interruption, those who were fasting would be defensive, companies would make policies about who could go eat when and for how long... Even though the lack of rules here can be confusing at times it can also be liberating.

Starting work- Part One

I think moving myself halfway round the world has finally started to catch up with me. I’m so SLEEPY, all I want to do is climb into bed most of the time. Yesterday I took my first nap since I arrived a month ago. I usually try to avoid napping but I think I would have fallen asleep where I was standing if I hadn’t decided to give in and take a nap.

I’ve started working—twice. It’s a long story, and could be part of the reason for my exhaustion. I started working last Monday, but on my very first day not a single one of my students showed up. My school had placed me in the corporate headquarters of one of their clients so apparently it’s not unusual for students to cancel if they are busy at work. So at 10:30 in the morning a car came to pick me up. Apparently this is usual, they have shuttles or send cars for teachers who are working in locations that are not near public transportation. As soon as I walked in the door of the office the administrative assistant looked up and told the Director of Studies my students had just canceled. I was supposed to have two one-on-one students for 2 hours each, so that was four hours of work gone. Then I was supposed to have a two-hour break before my next class, a group of five. They didn’t want to pay someone to take me home and bring me back, and when I suggested I would pay for a cab (six hours of sitting in a room with no windows was unappealing) they said the cabdrivers probably wouldn’t know where to go so unless I could direct them back to the office, I should stay. Trying to be a good sport on my first day I said OK, and tried to keep myself busy familiarizing myself with the scant materials they had and playing with my laptop.

I went to the canteen for lunch (free for teachers and company employees, any five items you want), and then had coffee with a few people from the school. I’m really happy with the school because all the teachers seem smart and personable, several have been with the school for a few years, and all have nothing but good to say about how they’ve been treated.

After some more creative time-wasting it was finally time for my evening class so I went to the room, set it up, wrote notes on the board, and sat down and waited for my students. And waited. After 20 minutes I went to see the director, telling him no one was there. He said, “You’re kidding. That probably means they’re not coming.” I waited another ten minutes and gave up, told him I was ready to go home, and asked how I get a car. At first he told me I would probably have to wait an hour or two since all the cars were out taking everyone else home. I tried not to freak out, as I had been sitting in this building doing nothing for about seven hours at this point. But he did manage to find me a car, bringing my first day of “work” to an end.

Tuesday they didn’t have any classes for me yet, but Wednesday’s schedule was supposed to be the same as Monday’s so I went back, wondering what would happen. Happily, my two students appeared-- finally I can say I have teaching experience! I liked both students very much and thought the lessons went fine, although of course I hope to get better and be more comfortable as time goes on. Right now the most difficult thing for me is estimating how much time each activity will take, and also coming up with activities for only one student as most activities are geared toward pairs and groups.

After my classes I did some more prep work for the evening class and 15 minutes before class was to start the director asked me to join a meeting with all the other teachers. I looked at my watch but he said, “don’t worry, it will be quick” so I went and joined them. He announced that our contract with the company had been suspended for six weeks—not the contract with the school, we were assured we still had jobs with the school—for various reasons. We were told we would all be placed at other locations but they didn’t know where or what the schedules would be yet as this decision had just been made late last night. Thankfully this school pays a monthly salary, not by the hour as some of the others do, and I asked around and all the teachers told me that yes, they will pay us, they are dependable. I know not all the schools are, so I am grateful to find that these teachers are all very happy and secure here.

Needless to say, my evening class for that night was canceled and we all packed up our laptops and personal items, made our way to the shuttles and off we went. Thus ended my first week of teaching, as no one had classes Thursday since we all had to be in the main office for training and then a boat trip up the Bosphorous.


A few mornings ago I headed out with wet hair since I have yet to buy a hairdryer. Chloe looked at me so hopefully, I always give her treats when I leave so I feel terrible because I can’t find anything to feed her here that doesn’t look like plastic. I keep telling her she’s good, which makes her even more expectant. I think if I don’t find dog treats I will buy her lamb and cook it at this point, the poor little thing.

I carry a bag of laundry, also hopeful. I noticed a place near me recently added a sign in English saying they wash, dry, fold. I’m hoping they charge less than the place I went to earlier this week. That place did a good job and my laundry smelled incredible but they charged me four times what I paid in New York.

When I go into the new place the shopkeeper greets me in English and Turkish, which is a relief. His name is Bulent and he is very nice and friendly. He asks how I found him and when I tell him I saw the sign he is happy. It’s new, and he tells me proudly he just got it recently when they were added to “Lonely Planet”. I tell him it’s a great idea because I was unsure about coming in but the sign convinced me. We talk about the sign a bit longer, he's very proud of it and seems to be looking for assurance that it is effective. He is having tea with an American man, another New Yorker—Boerum Hill—, who tells me Bulent is reliable, he always uses him when he’s in town. It turns out he is an archeologist who is working at Troy, but when he is visiting Istanbul with his family they always use Bulent’s services. I wish I had more time to talk to the archeologist, his work must be fascinating, but maybe I will see him again.

Bulent and his wife do a good job so I will probably continue to use them, although they are still a bit pricey compared to New York. Maybe I’ll find a laundromat for heavy items. It wouldn’t be so bad to go once a week and I could do lesson planning. This being Turkey, I’m sure there would be a place for coffee and/or tea nearby. For now I’m glad to have found Bulent and Mrs. Bulent. It’s nice to know someone else in the neighborhood, one more person to greet on my walks to and from the hippodrome which is my gateway to the rest of Istanbul.