Friday, October 31, 2008

Interview Update

Hi! I haven't written anything in a long while because I have been very absorbed in preparing for and participating in medical school interviews.

I have had 4 of the 5 interviews. All four have actually gone quite well. I am grateful for the chance to interview because being on campus for a day really gives you a feeling for the place. I have some definite favorites emerging and some hilarious stories I'll post AFTER I've been accepted to a few places =). Probably the most exciting thing I am finding is that the more I learn about medical school in general the more sure and thrilled I am to go!

All the prescheduled East Coast interviews are complete. But, I still haven't heard yes or no from 11 of the 20 total schools so one more may pop up before we fly to the West Coast.

So, for now I have some carefree days to spend with my parents here in Boston and in DC!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


My German Relatives

My cousin Bejamin, also known as Benji or Benyamine is a wonderful little guy. We had the incredible privilege of spending nine days at my aunt and uncle’s home just outside of Ismaning, Germany, and Benj was a highlight.

A little background. Damian, my mom’s older brother, left the states in about 1985; he had some recording opportunities (he’s a very talented drummer) in West Germany at the time. Ultimately, that went the way of most recording opportunities, and so he ended up working for Voice of America before the wall fell. He met and eventually married Irmgard, a warm and sweet Bavarian woman, whose family owned (and owns) a beautiful farm outside Ismaning. It is technically a part of Ismaning, which is now a swanky bedroom community for Munich, but they actually live on farmland that is at least a twenty minute run (on foot) away from the neighborhoods.

Damian has worked for several companies, has done some day trading, and is presently doing translation work for Germany companies. Irmgard works in a local law office, and between that and parenting, they are both busy people. Fortunately, multi-generational families aren’t that unusual in the more rural areas of Germany (as much because of land prices as tradition) and so they actually share a farm with Irmgards parents (separate domiciles, though). The grandparents are also able to help keep an eye on my little cousin when necessary.

Damian and Irmgard were blessed with Benjamin, but this blessing came later than usual. Both were in their forties when he was born, and Irmgard’s pregnancy was somewhat high risk. He was supposed to be born in July but instead was born at the beginning of May. Things were very dicey. It just so happened that I arrived for my first trip to Europe right at that time. I was doing a month-long study abroad trip with my school, George Fox University, and I had worked it out to skip out on a day to see Damian.

I happened upon a tense time. Benjamin was in an incubator, and on a respirator, and there was a lot of question about what kinds of developmental challenges he might face. It was a hard and emotional time, scary really. It was also a very special time to be there. He was able to breathe on his own without the respirator for the first time when I was there.

That said, I went back two years later with my friends Jarett and Luke, which was five years ago. By then it was pretty apparent that Benj had overcome all his premie difficulties, and there weren’t too many worries about development. He was just a normal little two year old boy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flashback to Turkey: A Fight in the Cafe

Interesting story. We were sitting online, minding our own business in a nice little café on the end of town in Goreme. There was a soccer game playing rather loudly, which made what we were doing a little difficult, but we were no worse for the wear.

Suddenly, a late teens boy started pushing an earlier teenage boy outside. By pushing I mean forcibly dragging/pushing, and the younger boy was clearly terrified. I was a bit concerned for his safety, but about five other people jumped up to intervene shortly thereafter. They almost fell onto Trina, which got me a bit riled up as well.

The other guys there separated them, as they yelled back and forth. The younger boy was yelling in a manner that made me think he was fighting back tears.

More interestingly, the older boy came back to us and apologized. Apparently he worked in the coffee shop! He clearly felt pretty embarrassed. It was a little weird—I don’t mind being forgiving, but sometimes it feels more like people are asking you to make them feel good about their bad behavior, and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. Whatever the case, we were gracious. He also had tears in his eyes.

Then he told us—"that boy was saying many terrible things. He said he was going to (insert bad word here) my mother."

Honestly, at that point, I really had to work hard to suppress a giggle. Really? A fight over a your mom joke? I figured maybe the younger kid watched too much American 1990’s TV and didn’t realize what he was saying.

An interesting side note—I asked a tour guide who was about my age about this later. He said that in Turkey, it is well known that when you insult someone’s mother, the argument is about to come to blows. He said the younger boy absolutely would know that, that everyone knows that, and that he probably just crossed the line in taunting the older boy. Go figure.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political Blog

I'm so sorry. I posted a political blog on here on accident. Thank you Sarah Angell for gently pointing out my bufoonery (sp?).


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We're Back!

We arrived safely yesterday afternoon in Boston! We were met by Ron's parents (Rick & Ann) and plan to enjoy5 days relaxing in Boston before the first med school interview in New York on Monday.

It is good to be back.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trina's Travel Status

We are at 14 weeks. We fly back to the US on October 14th, which is tomorrow. I have five interviews and both sets of our parents have booked flights to come visit us on the East Coast.

I am ready to be back in the US for a bit. I have really enjoyed myself. Being sick for a few weeks sapped some of my energy. I’m guessing that knowing we are going “home” soon is part of why we are starting to feel ready for a travel break.

Turkey has been a fantastically different place. It is great to have a whole new category to explore. It feels like a different part of my brain that I still have space to fill, as opposed to the European history/culture/religion section of my brain which is overflowing.

I am surprised at the ways that all the places we have been share similarities with “home.” I find myself in a grocery store or airport or public festival stopping and listening to the PA system for instructions, at which point Ron usually reminds me that he too can’t understand it because it is in Turkish/Hungarian/German/Czech/Slovakian/Polish/Lithuanian. I go into the store and am always surprised that I can’t read the label to find out if I am buying yogurt or buttermilk (not a great thing to mix up by the way). There are billboards on the side of the road, gas stations with mini marts, buses that drive slower than cars, fast food joints manned by sullen teenagers, lovers being reunited at airports/train stations, people playing with their dog in a park.

I am curious/afraid/expecting to be surprised at how it will feel to be back in the US. I’m sure there are many small things about either Continental living or a traveling lifestyle or both that have become so “normal” to me that reentering old normal will feel strange. For instance, I imagine that it would be kind of weird to be in Boston and eat natural (plain) yogurt and muesli for at least one meal of every day. Probably rotating three pair of underwear (flipping it inside out when necessary) would be kind of strange. I really hope I’m not a snob, “In Europe the mass transit is so much more efficient; in Europe the people are less fat; in Europe I wouldn’t pay so much for this medicine.” I’m guessing that actually all those things will be true, but I hope I can spend my energy soaking up all that I have missed about the US while I’m there…rather than missing where I am not.

I think it is fun to realize how very little you really need on an ongoing basis. I could probably write you a list without looking of everything in my two bags. Sometimes it feels a little frustrating or stifling, but most of the time it feels kind of nice to be simple.

I’ve had way more headaches on this trip than I normally get. I think it is at least in part because of carrying around the heavy bags…that always makes my shoulders a little sore. Plus, we have spent a fair amount of time in the sun and heat, and that can give you a headache. Ron, aka Captain Hydration has been very vigilant about our water intake, so I’m pretty sure I haven’t had any dehydration headaches.

Turkey has been a bit of a gastronomical challenge for me. The vast majority of the foods are very tasty, but really really high in fat. Lots of oil, full fat dairy products and did I mention oil? We have definitely fallen for kebaps (called kebabs in the rest of Europe which are more like a pita with meat, vegetables and some sauce than what I always think of as a kebab – they call those shish kebabs). It’s the only place we’ve been so far where we can’t drink the water and have to be careful about un-peel-able fruits/vegetables. What I wouldn’t give for a big pile of vegetables and a fruit salad right now!

Overcoming Bad Advice: The Best Night Train Ever.

So, all the guide books, hoteliers, and people say that buses are the way to go in Turkey. Trains are disorganized, frequently late and slower. Take buses. Everyone says, oh, the buses are so nice. Just take an overnight bus and you can sleep on it. It will be great, if you can sleep on night buses (this last phrase is said like it is fine print).

I HATE night buses. My experience from Lithuania into Poland was among the nastiest times of travel that I can remember. Actually, it was probably the worst. I could sleep, off and on, miserably.

So I did some reading. There is one Turkey guru who says it is all poppycock. We should use that word more often (although he didn’t actually say it). He says that trains are indeed slower, and reminds us that they are far more comfortable, far cheaper, and that you can rent cabins too.

Fortunately, we weren’t on a tight schedule, so last night we took a night train from Izmir (Smyrna) to Ankara, the capital. It was sixteen hours, and was supposed to be 13.5. That may sound awful to you. To us, it was heaven.

For the same price as a bus, we rented a first class cabin for two. We basically had a concierge, showers available, and a beautiful room with a sink to boot. There was freebie food in our fridge, and the ride was comfortable, safe and quiet. We loved it. There are few security concerns (if you do ever plan to do this, please be sure to ask us about them), and we were able to relax and just enjoy ourselves. We were fully refreshed when we had to work on the next leg of our journey today. And, since we were late, we got to sleep in.

The next leg was a bus, which was indeed important because we ended up facing some time constraints. Fine. The bus was very comfortable, and it had a sort of “flight attendant” who served us coffee, water, snacks and the like constantly.

Despite that, the train was the way to go. The guidebooks don’t always hold the key!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

100 Days

We have been traveling for 100 days!

Islam: A Primer

I think my favorite part of being in Turkey is the interaction with the Islam faith. It shares a large part of its history with Judaism and Christianity. It is also very interesting to see the millions of small ways that the majority religion influences culture over time. They believe that God (Allah) created the world and that Adam (Adem), Noah (Nuh), Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa) were prophets, although they don’t believe that Jesus was divine. Interestingly they consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to be polytheism. They believe that they are the perfection of the two “earlier” religions. The two earlier ones became corrupted by bad interpretations of the Book and human systems. The last and greatest prophet (Mohammed) was from the 7th century and was trusted with Allah’s final revelation. The word Muslim means “one who has submitted to Allah’s will.” Muslims do not worship Mohammed, only Allah. The call from the minaret five times a day (called ezan) says “Allah is great! There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet.”

All the revelations of Mohammed are recorded in the Quran (Koran). Interestingly, since the record is in Arabic, any translation of the Quran into another language is not considered “the Quran” because of the follies they perceived among the Jewish and Christian communities related to various translations and interpretations of Scripture.

The five pillars of Islam are:

1. Say and believe, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet.”

2. Pray five times a day

3. Give alms to the poor

4. Keep the fast of Ramazan

5. Make a pilgrimage to Mecca

I have to say, when I look at all I’ve just written, there is not a lot that I think I argue with. I’m not really familiar with Mohammed’s teachings, so I may be demonstrating a lot of ignorance…but the idea of affirming belief in God, praying frequently, giving generously, practicing spiritual disciplines personally and communally and making a journey to focus your spiritual life…those seem like pretty good things.

I have enjoyed the communal aspect of Islam that I have witnessed. The combination of the ezan being called 5 times a day and watching people use it as a cue to find a moment to pray…and being here during Ramazan and the festival celebrating the end of Ramazan (Bayram) have given me a lot to watch.

It is especially strange to be visiting a country during the national holiday time. Imagine visiting New York City during Christmastime. The holiday, the dominant faith and the festive spirit are all evident in many small ways everywhere you look. The government gives everyone the entire week off (and of course the two weekends on either end), so it is a 9 day holiday with the vast majority of things closed (banks, post office, many shops, etc.). Transportation is jammed and workers are frazzled…but I think it has been really fun to be in the midst of it.

The devotion of the people has been impressive. The country is 98% Muslim or something close to that and I don’t know what percentage of people are culturally or ethnically Muslim as opposed to devoutly, religiously Muslim. But, it seems that even those that are just culturally Muslim have some participation in the faith. For instance, during the days of Ramazan, nothing is to touch your lips from sun-up to sun-down. (Including food, drinks and cigarettes). When we were walking one evening we were struck by the huge percentage of people in Istanbul (large, metropolitan city…I’m guessing less devout that the countryside) that were smoking. We realized it is because nobody smokes during the daytime when it is Ramazan. Granted, it may be for social pressure reasons rather than religious…but it was still very noticeable. I almost felt a little left out not fasting.


We went to Ephesus. WOW! What a colossal monument to the classical world. We saw the places where Heraclitus thought, St. Paul preached (and was imprisoned) and where much of Asia Minor was governed (Ionia, I believe) eventually by the Romans.

The outdoor theatre holds 25,000 and is spectacular by today’s standards. The various temples, marble roads, and tons of baths, gymnasiums, fountains and memorials were piled into a classical orgy of architectural wonder and cultural flowering. The temple of Artemis (Anatolian fertility goddess), a wonder of the world in its time (larger than the Parthenon in Athens), is pretty well completely destroyed, but massive swaths of the city are well preserved, and some pieces have undergone restoration.

It was truly awe-inspiring.

Afterward, in the town we were staying in, we ran up to see the Church of St John, built over the author of the fourth gospel’s grave (or so it is thought). Quite a humbling experience. There is something mystifying about the sense of awe one gets at standing where such men have stood, and praying over the place they lie.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

More Dreams

I have crazy dreams. Here are a few recent ones…

I am a light purple rose in a two-dimensional world. Like a world in Super Mario Brothers. My head is the flower, and I am not really open yet…more like the shape of the roses you’d buy at Costco (kind of bucket shaped). I have two leaves for arms that aren’t at the same level on my stem, and my legs are a network of roots. I can move around somewhat in the soil, but I have some limits…my legs will get tangles with my neighbor’s if I try to move too far or too quickly. I had a whole life going in my rose-life. I had a yellow neighbor and an orange neighbor. I always felt a little inferior because roses are supposed to be red and I was light purple. Also, when I would get really stressed about something I’d lose a petal. My orange neighbor told me I had to stop that or I would ruin my blossom.

I wake up in the morning and Ron is reading. I ask him a question and he is very perturbed that I am interrupting him. He is reading. He turns to me and says, “How can you interrupt me at a time like this? You know I am trying to read enough to get the Pewter Award from Reader’s Digest!”

I have urgent news to tell Ron and I can’t find him anywhere. I see him in the distance a few rooms away and I run to get him. He is singing and keeping his eyes on the camera at all times. He’s apparently making a music video of the song “Wake me up when September ends” with a camera crew. I try to get his attention, but he isn’t responding, he’s just doing these dramatic, corny, music-video poses. The song continues and the scene keeps changing and eventually I’m watching this music video of Ron and this song and Trina running back and forth in all the scenes trying to get his attention. At the end, Ron is walking into the ocean with his back to the camera for a dramatic ending and I am sputtering and splashing him and trying to swim with my water wings.

I can’t make this stuff up!

Two Poems on WWI.

This is my favorite WWI Poem.

Dulce et Decorum Est (Wilfred Owen)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

8 October 1917 - March, 1918

1 DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country

This one isn’t quite as good, but is vivid nonetheless

Break of Day in the Trenches, by Isaac Rosenberg (of Britain).

The darkness crumbles away—
It is the same old druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand—
A queer, sardonic rat—
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German—
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes
Less chance than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pergamum and a Soapbox

We went to Pergamum, the site of many things fascinating and classical. Lysimachus ‘inherited’ it from Alexander the Great after the civil wars following his death. He did much to enrich Ionia, and Pergamum was a prime example. We only had time to see two sights. We went to the Church of Pergamum (of Revelation (New Testament) fame), a basilica surrounded by a larger building, and to the medical complex of Galen. Trina will have more to tell you about Galen.

Finding sites not only mentioned in the bible, but having studied antiquity and being a Christian, this is especially meaningful. The early church underwent a great deal of persecution, and their sense of their own apocalyptic role was very different from the Church of today, in my opinion. Their mission and their context were at the same time at odds and mutually transformed by one another.

The Roman world, despite all its success, was in many ways a squalor compared to today. It is thought that many of the cities were more dense than Manhattan, with buildings usually no more than three stories high. You can imagine how much square footage that would leave a person (and the Romans had their communal areas, so subtract that from the areas for housing). Sewage systems, although they existed, were by no means ubiquitous, and so you can imagine the pestilential context. Christianity is thought by some sociological scholars to have thrived because it offered a mission of care, as opposed to the meaning making structures of paganism. The idea of helping the sick and the dying, the wounded and the lonely, actually greatly strengthened these communities physically as well as spiritually and psychologically. It transformed lives and communal life, and ultimately the Roman Empire (some have argued that it undermined the empire as well).

That said, it cut both ways. As Christianity transformed the empire, it was transformed into a bit of an empire today. Worldly “powers” are in many ways at odds with the fundamental loyalties and love of one who calls herself a Christian. Powers, politics, nations and ideologies all compete for our ultimate loyalty, and that is supposed to be reserved for One. That said, in many ways, Christianity has had a very hard time stripping itself of the “powers” inheritance. The Anabaptists do seem to be a more obvious exception.

But I digress. Being in Pergamum, seeing the early church, seeing as I mention in another place where Paul was jailed, lived, and preached, where John wrote and lived and possibly where Mary the mother of Jesus lived is awe-inspiring, thought provoking, and just plain fun.


Speaking of historical sites, we saw Troy, of Homeric fame. I’m not talking about the father of Bart. That’s right, Tory existed before Brad Pitt popularized it. In fact, Homer wrote a few thousand years ago. Most of you probably remember the story of the Trojan Horse, Helen of Troy, etc.

While I won’t recount that fully for you here (and much if it is considered mythical—the involvement of Aphrodite, for instance), there are a few things to say…

Troy had nine "stages". The city existed from about 3000BC onward (and we saw ruins from even that period—just imagine, leftovers of buildings from 5000 years ago!). In the US we get excited about a 200 year old spruce tree.

Situated just off the Dardanelles, it controlled the area around the first cove out of the wind. Before tacking was invented, ships had to stop here and wait for the winds to die down. They say Troy was highly enriched by these winds. The Dardanelles have also been strategic forever as well (see my Gallipoli post). This made Troy important from a military vantage point.

Consequently, there were a number of Trojan wars. And the Greeks were, in fact, often the competitors. The residents of Troy were very clever. Their walls arced around in such a way to make a battering ram impossible in a siege, and their general defenses were quite strong. You can see the varying layers of the city, including the Roman walls (oh, that’s so only 1800 years ago), and the like.

Unlike some of the other classical sites, it isn’t amazingly preserved (and it is only preserved as well as it was because it was buried in dirt). You see, the city burnt a number of times and the mud brick buildings were reduced to rubble and left for thirty or forty years at a time. This mud-brick couldn’t be recycled, so it just got built on top of. The city ended up rather tall.
It was quite amazing, nonetheless. The age itself, the mythic elements, the parts of the mythic elements that turned out to be true, the role of the Dardanelles (which were so important in WWI)—it was all fascinating and enjoyable.

Gallipoli II, Reflections

The Turkish embrace of the ANZAC visitors (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), et al. is quite fascinating. The General who fought the Allied Powers off, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, later the "father of Turkey" famously said:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore ret in peace. There is no difference between the Jonnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side. Here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bossom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

This country, with the help of the Commonwealth, has maintained many beautiful memorials and graveyards to those who fell, on both sides. They treat the issue with fairness, dignity, and respect. I find this rather amazing; can you imagine us feeling that way about an attack on our soil? Granted, the attack was on the Ottomans, rather than the Republic of Turkey, but the Empire was governed by the Turks and these are the ones who often suffered the most.

The battlefields were vivid—wall-like hills to climb, facing endless fire, little ground ever gained. At one point the trenches come together only 8 meters apart (to keep the back up artillery from firing from the Turk side, or the British navy from firing from the allied side).

It changed the outcome of the war (Churchill and Kitchener were greatly diminished), the investment of Britain in carving up the middle east, raised Attaturk to the level of legend, and broke the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men. It is said that this is when Australians and New Zealanders really started to have their own national identity.

Something that has always interested me on the western front happened here in Gallipoli as well. There was fraternization. They would have mutual cease-fires for collecting the dead. One ANZAC officer who was hurt and was in no-man’s land was crying out for help, but no one could come to him, for his rescuer would certainly be shot. So the Turks raised the white flag, and let the ANZACS out to save him. They would throw each other tobacco and paper, so they could each roll their cigarettes, and the ANZACS threw the Turks canned meat on their holidays, so that they could celebrate. There was even some serenading.

At one point, when the Allies were stupidly charging, one row after another, and being mowed down in seconds, the Turks started yelling for them to please stop, stop, stop!

But they also killed each other in epic proportion.

To me, this all makes me wonder about so many things. Human nature particularly. We can be so brutal, and we can be so kind. Even more amazing, is that the same people can embody both at almost the same time.

And there is the war thing. Most wars are the wars of our Grandfathers, played out by their grandsons. Most of the dead were in their late teens or early twenties. There is a reason we call them "our boys." They are just little boys, too often pawns in an extraordinarily selfish game that the often rarefied world of politicians doesn’t have to deal with, except for political repercussions if things don’t go well. Poor them.

Anyway, Gallipoli was touching and humbling. It was hard to see that so much suffering had occurred, but it was also wonderful to see the way that reconciliation has been offered and taken.

An Australian older gentleman asked if he could recite an excerpt from his army's ode:

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemnAt the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them."

It made me tear up. He also said something I think is quite profound. In war, there are not winners and losers. There are only those who lose some and lose more.


Gallipoli, Part I

Our first tour out of Istanbul was Gallipoli, of World War One fame. Now, most people don’t know much about World War I, although it was probably the greatest catastrophe since the Black Plague wiped out a third of the population from China to Iceland in the 14th Century. It just happens to have been eclipsed by WWII and the Holocaust.

That said, they should know more about this war which shattered the self-image of Europe, brought down empires and gave rise to peace agreements that have wrought endless problems (WWII, for instance, and the situation in the Middle East, and the Balkan Conflicts). World War I claimed six thousand people a day for 1500 days. 65 million soldiers were mobilized. Of the 42 million allied men, 22 million were casualties. Of the 23 million central power troops, 15 million casualties. There were approximately 8.5 million killed, 22 million wounded (7 million of who were permanently disabled). This doesn’t count the Turkish forced move of the Armenians (which resulted in over a million deaths) or the massive influenza epidemics that killed 27 million people. The families of Europe, the infrastructure and the demographics had been completely devastated.

Trench warfare was among the more horrific experiences imaginable, and eventually to that was added gases that blistered you inside and out, and killed you with unfathomable pain. I’ve long been amazed by the human capacity for pressing on in those trenches.
The Ottoman Empire was ruled by the Turks, who had undergone a coup in the early 20th century. The Young Turks were in power, and, facing a diminished empire (they had just lost a substantial amount of territory in the Balkan wars), were looking to shore themselves up. Considered the "weak man of Europe" and culturally, ethnically, militarily, religiously and technologically disdained by the westerners, the Turks faced a complex situation.
But I’m going to stop myself from explaining it! Suffice it to say, with some pushing from internal factions, and some help from some clever Germans (whose country had its own ambivalence about the Turks), Turkey ended up on the Central Powers Side. The Allies ultimately seized the opportunity to carve up the Middle East for its own purposes (particularly the British protection of the road to Afghanistan and India).

Churchill has been blamed for much of what took place, but there is some pretty significant evidence to absolve him. Whatever the case, he did order the attack on the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles are the straights that ultimately connect Russia and the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (with some smaller bays and seas in between). Constantinople sits on both Europe and Asia, controlled the silk road (the main connection to the east) and could (and did) cut off the flow of Russian goods to the Mediterranean (which significantly hampered the Russian War effort and probably helped bring down the Czarist government—which was replaced by the Communists).

When the English and somewhat French fleet attacked, it took on some heavy losses the first day. But, their minesweepers had been successful. They just didn’t know it. There were a couple random mines on one side of the strait. The next day there were a couple more ships sunk. The Turks were out of ammunition and were leaving their posts. Churchill even believed this to be true. But the commander in the field kind of freaked out, and wouldn’t commence further attacks. By leaving and waiting to pull together the army in Egypt, he paved the way for a half million casualties.

Ultimately, this campaign brought the English, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and French to the shores of Gallipoli. Much was bungled—the wrong landing place (that is disputed), ceding key high ground because of bad leadership, etc. Whatever the case, fighting wore on for 8.5 months and ended the lives of about a half million soldiers together on both sides.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My political blog

For those of you who are interested, I've so far addressed abortion and health care on my political blog.

I'm now foraying into the quagmire of economics. If you are not offended by political discussion, please feel free to watch me try to scratch out something coherent!


Turkish Bath Adventures, Episode I

Turkish baths, although sharing certain Roman historical connections with their Hungarian counterparts, are far different.

First, I entered, having left Trina at the women’s portion. I walked down into a smoky room, was given a key and with much charades was shown to my room and told to take off all my clothes and wrap myself in a sort of table-cloth like towel.

The bath was, well, old (over 500 years). And I’m into history, which is nice. It had some nice architectural elements, but it seemed a little grimy. Fortunately, I knew it was authentic. It was in a neighborhood away from tourists (no English menus) and the only other clients were Turks. Our hostel had recommended it.

Anyway, so I eventually come out in my sporty kilt. I ask where to go to the bathroom and get shown the squat toilet room. Fortunately, I’m a guy, and I didn’t need to do the squatting thing. Afterward, I wandered out into the room next to the bathroom, unsure of where to go. So I went back into the first room. No, no, no, I was told, this, room. It seemed they thought I was stupid. Anyway, so I’m shown to the central room, and told to cross it into the sauna.

First, let me describe the central room. It was very large, a steam bath of sorts, with a massive "table" in the middle. The table was marble (well, so was most of the room) and it didn’t have legs; it was solid. Like some sort of alter, only huge. There were a few guys laying on it, kilts on, thank goodness.

I went to the sauna and stayed as long as I could handle it. I’m pretty good with saunas, but I was starting to think I might die of heatstroke, so I left the room, worried that I’d get in trouble for being stupid again. I found one of the many sinks with washbasins on the side of the giant room (which also had other smaller similar rooms (minus the altar) for washing on its corners).
I stood there for a minute, and then went back into the sauna. An unfriendly looking guy came in, and I left again, too hot to handle it. Turns out that was my "bather". Granted, I knew this was going to happen (that I’d be bathed by another man), so I didn’t suspect foul play, but I had no idea what I was in for.

He yelled a t me. I don’t think of people as yelling unless they are yelling. Like a gruff old drill sergeant he just kept yelling at me, in Turkish, and pointing wildly (which made it very hard to understand what I was to do). I eventually sat down on a side bench. Another client leaned over to me and told me in very broken English that I was being teased. I had suspected as much, thinking I hadn’t probably offended anyone (although my kilt was a little short), but I was relieved to know this. The guy came back and yelled a bit more. Then he hit me on the back, like a pat on the back, but with a big, old man burly hand against my soaked back. The noise echoed through the room and was far less significant than the string.

And so began the fun. Woosh. He dumped like a gallon of water on me at a speed that was certainly greater than gravity afforded. What? Woosh again! Then he pulled out this glove and started scrubbing me. Hard. He did things hard. Yelled, washed, scrubbed. I figured it would be worth it when the massage came, since I like a firm rub.

After my washing, he took me over to the altar stone. Lay down (in Turkish)! Which way (in English?). This way! Not that way! This way. Another slap on the side. He got out this girly looking poof thing and started exfoliating me, I think. There was lots of soap. Lots of twisting my arm until it almost broke. This sudsy torture thing soon morphed into my massage. Some of it felt good. Most of it didn’t. He curled my biggest three toes under on each side until they pointed farther than I knew they could. He dug into my calves and quads in a manner that made my whole body jerk. He whapped me again. On the butt (in a sportsy way, nothing else).
After yelling some more, he started rubbing my spine. Not next to my spine. My spine. The whole lower half of my back I think he might have been knuckling directly on my spine. It hurt. Really hurt. If it hadn’t been so quick I would have turned around and yelled at him. But usually when I get a massage, I figure the pain is good. It took me a second to realize why I hated it. He was bruising the bones. They hurt for days.

But before I could realize that was what he had done, it was time to head back to the washbasin for more whooshing. And then he threw a bucket of water across the room at the altar and in one fell swoop washed all my suds off it. He managed one English word the whole time. Tip. Tip. Tip. Then he told me to go back into the sauna.

After nearly passing out in there again, I finally worked my way out to the front room, where they took my towel, re-covered me, and then toweled the rest of me off. This was done by the first gentleman who had shown me where the bathroom was, and it was done vigorously, although by no means as roughly as the old guy.

Anyway, I ended up in the front room, waiting for Trina, given some cold water, and it was time to pay. Suffice it to say, grumpy old man came out and acted all friendly like we were old war buddies or something, and hung over me while I paid (basically with his hand out). I did tip him, although I’m still not sure why. I kind of want to go back and beat him up.

Aya Sofya

You may have heard of the Hagia Sophia, but you might not know what it is. For those of you who don’t know much about history, the Roman Empire continued long after the city of Rome was sacked and the western half of the empire declined.

Before that, it had been split in half, originally by Diocletian, I believe. You may remember him as one of the nastier persecuters of Christians. This division did become permanent, and there were emperors for the eastern half and the western half (and they had sort of assistants, not unlike Dwight Shroot). Although the west declined into the manor style situation we know of feudalism today, the East managed to hold on a bit better. This eventually came to be known as the Byzantine Empire. The capital was Constantinople (present day Istanbul, built up by Constantine, the Roman emperor who made Christianity legal and ultimately was very important for Christianity’s acceptance in the empire).

Constantinople was to be a Christian city, and so Constantine did much constructing to this end. I believe this was in the fourth century (300’s), off the top of my head. The Hagia Sophia was built, burnt down a few times, and was finally rebuilt by Justinian in 537. It is still absolutely amazing. It was considered the greatest church in Christendom until 1453 (when Mehmet the conqueror took over Constantinople and made it a muslim city).

Staring up at the enormous dome in this place where Christians (and later muslims) have worshiped for centuries and even millennia is awe inspiring. The scope and beauty of the construction would be breathtaking by today’s standards. Imagining the wealth and capability to do so in the sixth century is even more so.

I highly recommend seeing it at least once in your lifetime.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Being female in Turkey

It’s weird. I read several things before I arrived about the women of Turkey. Most said that they are straddling two worlds. The women in large cities largely reflect the values and culture of the West – working outside the home, dressing in modern clothes, free to come and go as they please. The women in small cities and in the more eastern regions of the country are obliged to hold intense standards of modesty and have little freedom as to when they might leave the house. There have been several “headscarf controversies” about it being a symbol of supporting repression if a politician’s wife wears a headscarf. However, others say it infringes on freedom to practice a religion. Complicated.

In the years 2000 to 2006 approximately 2000 women were murdered for “honor” by a family member (officials believe this is a gross underestimation of the reality). Women who dishonor the family (usually by having a child outside of marriage) are killed by a selected male family member. As laws have come into place enforcing stricter punishment on the murderers, “suicide epidemics” have replaced the murders. Women are pressured or threatened into killing themselves for the dishonor they have brought on their families. A recent parliamentary commission found that 37% of respondents thought that women who commit adultery should be killed. 45% of men think they have a right to beat their wives. The government passed several laws in 2003 (presumably with the goal of wooing the EU) announcing women to be equal to men in terms of work, getting half a household upon divorce, rape in marriage is now recognized as a crime, etc. But, the culture of patriarchy in Turkey still views women as more or less property.

So, with all that as background, I have found being in Turkey to be very safe, but a little patronizing. Women aren’t supposed to sit in the front seat of a car, sit next to a man (except husband) on a bus or public transport, make and hold eye contact with a man or really do any serious transacting. The women I have observed are all treated quite well. I think at least 70% wear headscarves and clothing that completely covers their body (usually a long skirt and a full length coat over it). The men treat them very protectively and occasionally look at them adoringly. But, I don’t sense a lot of respect. Our taxi driver one night got a call from his wife or daughter on his cell phone and began yelling loudly and meanly in the phone. You felt like if this female was in the room they definitely would have a few bruises.

I find it awkward to try and remember to always bow my eyes so I don’t accidentally make and hold eye contact with some vendor who is giving us directions. Or, to always ask Ron to please ask the shopkeeper how much for the fruit Mentos. Or, to always ask Ron to ask the guy where the bathroom is. It feels handicapping and frustrating and I can’t imagine that being normal life. I’m certain that when that is the normal you don’t know as much to be frustrated…but I think I still might be.

I do enjoy watching little kids (especially girls) watch me. I have blond hair, I’m not wearing a head scarf, I’m usually wearing a pink shirt and I am about half the time forgetting I’m not supposed to initiate conversation with a man. The little girls will point and stare and giggle and I imagine their mothers tell them that I am a bad example of modesty and propriety. Maybe I am.

One interesting note – the advertisements (billboards, TV commercials and magazines) that we have seen almost exclusively show women without headscarves wearing fairly western clothing.

I find this particular cultural difference (view of women) very interesting to learn about and kind of difficult to live in.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is across a small park from the Aya Sofya and was built by Sultan Ahmet I with the intention of surpassing the beauty and grandeur of its neighbor. It is grand and incredibly beautiful.

We tried to enter several times before but didn’t have all the appropriate accessories (I needed a long skirt that covered my ankles and a headscarf, Ron needed long pants). When we entered the noontime prayer was just finishing. I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace when I entered the mosque. Everyone removed their shoes prior to entry, so it was quiet with people walking around. The room was spacious and beautifully adorned. The imam was chanting/praying and the worshippers were in all manner of position – standing, kneeling, prostrate on the ground. They always are in rows shoulder to shoulder to remind them of the equality of all people. (By people I mean men…the women are in an area in the back with a sort of grille that separates them from the bulk of the room). I enjoyed watching a man teaching his son the different responses to certain prayers.

All in all I found it to be a holy feeling place.

Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar

Do you remember the scene in Aladdin where Jasmine goes out into the marketplace and is overwhelmed? “Sugar dates, sugar dates and figs, sugar dates and pistachios!”?

Welcome to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar of Istanbul. Not only are there 4000 shops in just the grand bazaar alone, but there is an infinite variety among them. It’s quite overwhelming. Add to this the gastronomic offers, and their requisite smells, and you are bound to feel a bit bombarded.

We bought Turkish delight, of course, and some of this special goat cheese. It is stored by wrapping it in goat skin.

Do you know what it tasted like? Goat. Yep; exactly the petting zoo odor incarnate in a piece of cheese. I’ve never wondered what that smell would taste like, but now I know. I’d also never met a cheese I sincerely don’t like. That is no longer true.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hungarian Baths

The bath we visited in Budapest was like a huge complex of hot tubs that are heated by the geothermal activity underground. (Think geysers and hot springs). There were tubs inside and outside, all at different temperatures. The inside and out all looked kind of like the lobby of Caesar’s Palace (in Vegas). There were probably 40 different pools of varying sizes ranging from a good-sized resort pool to a backyard one. The best part is that this was the place to come and hang out after work, to relax, to play chess, to meet friends. I realized when I got to the dressing room that Ron had the backpack with my swimsuit in it. The culture of the place was such that I didn’t feel strange at all wearing the underwear and sports bra I was wearing that day. I loved that everyone was so comfortable with their bodies. The vast majority of Hungarians in general seem to be less obese than Americans, but there were definitely a sprinkling of large ladies and gentleman who seemed to pay no heed to their large belly overflowing the small, lime green Speedo.

While we were outside it started raining and that made it all the more fun. When I was a kid, my family was on a trip in New Mexico and I still remember swimming in a warm, outdoor pool while it was snowing in Taos. Jumping outside getting cold, jumping back in, loving the huge clouds of steam that produced. It was a lot like that only a much much bigger pool.

Trinidioms #10

In a dramatic turn of ego Trina proclaimed,

“I’m not disorganized, I’m perfect!”

Trinidioms #9

This isn’t a mixed metaphor, but it is worth mentioning.

“I don’t think I’m marginal. I just don’t think I’m exceptional.”

That’s about the most overconfident statement I’ve heard from her.