Thursday, January 27, 2011

My first futbol maçı

So this past weekend my friends Sasha and Dane (both Fulbrighters) came to Istanbul before jetting off on their winter holidays. Sasha had a college friend also in town--Austin--who came via Israel with his cousin Phoebe. 

Sunday night we all went to the Galatasaray game. Now, in Istanbul there are three big teams: Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Galatasaray. There are a handful of other regional sports teams that factor in as well, Trabzonspor and Bursaspor are definitely up there in popularity, but typically most Turks (at least the ones I've encountered) have some allegiance to one of the big three teams. I have found that choosing one of these teams will likely alienate the majority of my students so I have yet to commit myself to any one team. 

In any case, we went to Galatasaray because they were the ones playing at the most convenient time. It was decided that we should get the cheapest tickets possible (about $17) and the way to do this was to get a seat in the away section of the stadium. Additionally the stadium only opened on January 15th so things are still not totally finished. For example the exits are woefully under-completed. But we'll get to that. 

So, on the way there, we discussed recent happenings with the team: at the stadium's opening President Erdoğan was to give an address (since it was TOKI, the government's housing and development branch, who fronted the $600 million needed to build the structure), but he was booed. Instead of addressing the crowd, he simply left. This is a kind recounting of what happened. Rumors abound that he is seeking to find out who booed him and to revoke their season passes, but again, Turks and their silly conspiracy theories.

We arrived and were prompted through two different security sections. Sasha and I were separated from Austin and Phoebe and had quite the time trying to find our section. Now, I don't know if this is a prank that the stadium ownership is trying to play on the visiting team's fans, but the section we were looking for is not actually marked and doesn't make any logical, chronological sense when looking at the map of the stadium's sections. We walked the entire way around the giant 52,000 person structure only to find ourselves up against a police barricade barring people from passing. 

I didn't take any pictures of them, I was too busy shitting my pants.
Just picture this at night, at a rowdy football match, and some with machine guns. 
We showed them our tickets and, surprisingly, we were admitted. Turns out that was the section we were looking for. The section with riot police. Yes.

We made our way up, we had missed kick-off unfortunately. All four of us reunited, we took our seats and enjoyed both the match and the general hostility of football hooligans going on around us. I learned a whole hoard of new gestures that I am quite sure don't mean, "Well played, sir." 
"Ah, yes, bravo sir, well played sir."

Here are my favorite clips from the night:

  1. When a Galatasaray fan somehow gained access to our double-barricaded, police surrounded section and was promptly taken down by the police who were in turn, taken down by the Sivaspor fans who just wanted to get their hands on the Galatasaray fan. All in good fun I'm sure. 
  2. When the gigantic Sivaspor banner was dropped over the balcony of our section by a bunch of idiots. 
  3. When, after being returned their banner by stadium staff, they promptly re-dropped the banner.
  4. When, on the way in, security made me "donate" all of my coin money (amounting to over 7TL or ~ $5) so that it couldn't be thrown or used as a weapon(??)
  5. When even though I couldn't have coins, some young men lit a flare in our section. With 3 dozen police around, you would have thought someone would be on that, but nope. No worries, its just an incendiary divice. No big deal.
We made some friends with quiet and calm, undercover Galatasaray fans who had had the same money-saving idea as we. The treated us to tea at half time. And then it struck me: I'm having tea at a football game. 

Sasha with our delicious çay
I doubt many of you follow the World Cup closely, but for those real fans, you will have seen that Qatar was chosen for the 2022 World Cup. And, since I watch Al-Jazeera, everyone seemed quite thrilled (since Al-Jazeera is based in Doha... Qatar's capital), only when I switched to the BBC did I realize something that had been played down on Al-Jazeera: Qatar is an Islamic Republic. 

Okay? What does that mean. Well, that means that alcohol is effectively banned. There are only a handful of places in the entire country where one can legally purchase and consume alcohol and, if I am correct, they are all major tourist hubs. This is a major problem for nearly all European football fans. I imagine South American and African fans as well, I don't know where East Asian fans stand on alcohol consumption, but still, imagine a British football hooligan shotgunning a cup of hot black tea. Ha. Yes. Problem.

I knew therefore, that there would not be alcohol for sale at concessions at the match, but it was actually quite refreshing to drink a tea after sitting on a cold concrete structure for an hour. It was funny though, that all the fabled Turkish hooligan hostility happens with minimal alcohol. Don't get me wrong, there were beer bottles scattered every which way on the way there, but what I'm saying is really, on average most of the men were completely sober. And they still stab each other. 

When leaving, we decided to make moves about three minutes before the end of the regulation time only to find that we were locked into our section. Like, literally, locked in. Turns out that all Galatasaray fans must all leave before security will let any of the visiting fans out of their section. Good idea in concept, given that Turkish football hooligans have quite possibly the most violent reputation on the planet, but quite horrible in execution. 

You see this is a new stadium and like I said before, the exits aren't fully worked out. Bad idea for a stadium that holds upwards of 50,000 people. Remember the Hillsborough Disaster where almost 100 people were crushed to death? Yeah, its because of idiotic contraptions like the locked barricade doors and an insufficient subway system that will cause the next one. I'm predicting it'll happen in Turkey, probably at this stadium. Well we stood there, crammed like sardines, against old men, in a stairwell, for about a half hour before they decided it would be prudent to let us out into the open rather than keep us corralled like animals. So, we went out into the parking lot, only to be greeted by riot police barricades working to keep Galatasaray fans from attacking those around us. Now, don't misunderstand me, they weren't actively trying to attack us, that would be far more intense than it really was. It was more that the police remained to deter those lingering from making their way over and making trouble. 

This is when being a yabanci comes in handy. The four of us stayed together and I badgered a police officer, bitching in fast, slang English, a language he clearly didn't understand. Eventually, it worked, he gave in to my incessant complaining and let the four of us pass since clearly we didn't care either way who won and, as three women and one man, we were not prime targets for lunatic fans. 

We got outside only to find that there was about half the stadium waiting in the big open area between the subway stop and the stadium gates. As far as I could tell, unless you wanted to climb the muddy wall up to the highway and thumb your way back to town, the subway was the only way in or out of this place. We went back inside (the Galatasaray section) since it began raining and was absolutely freezing. About a half hour later we went back out to find the line significantly diminished, though the rain had really picked up. We squeezed our way through throngs of people and pushed our way onto the subway.

About 3 hours after the game ended I got home.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Istanbul eats... in Tekirdağ

Here is Sherri and my article (emphasis on Sherri) about köfte.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I am not a spy.

Every time I travel to a new place, I am always interested to see what people think about Americans. I am comfortable enough in my own identity to rarely be roused by the beliefs about my country from others. I think the US is a complex and diverse place and because of this, I can only expect that opinions will be equally diverse.

I lived in France the year after we re-elected Bush. I lived in the Netherlands during the last Presidential election. I was once asked by a particularly rude Aussie, ”Aren’t you ashamed to say you’re from the US?” I think I’m a pretty good person with a pretty understanding outlook, but there are times where I have to take a step back and judge the opinions of others. After all, I’m not freaking Mother Theresa.

A few weeks ago a lunatic reporter thought she had found an interesting story—two Americans had been dropped in sleepy Karabuk, Americans in Karabuk. Why? They must be spies.

The journalist dug a little deeper and discovered that there were not only 2 Americans, but also that they were part of a larger group, a group known as Fulbright. These 54 (!!) Americans had been brought here to masquerade as spies; to gather intel and well, to hmm, plot an American overthrow? Why not, right?

“54 American intelligence officers were brought to Turkey. They were put into posing as English teachers in various universities”—Banu Avar 

This was originally reported to the rest of us when the two women began being told by their students that they had been in the news. They sent out a message containing a link to the article with the heading, “If you want to be amused”, but things quickly spiraled out of control. Only a few days later, students began not attending classes. The governments got involved. The story was then picked up by a national newspaper, Milliet.

The Milliet story ran with a bit more of a positive tilt, with the university president defending the women and the rest of the program. He stated that the suggestion that they are spies is absurd. But this goes to the heart of a pretty interesting situation here.

Turks love conspiracy theories.

Back in the wake of the Mavi Marmara fiasco, an AKP official, Israel constructed the WikiLeaks to embarrass… wait for it… the Turkish government. The director of YÖK or the Turkish Ministry of Higher Education (essentially my boss) offered up his own alarming thoughts on genetic engineering and its potential for the future, "Professor Özcan said in one of his speeches that some are able to play with the genes of tomatoes they export to other countries thus spreading deadly diseases in any country they like. Without mentioning names he pointed to the United States and Israel." This is something that is, without any question, entirely false.

One thing I am always fascinated with is the Turkish fear that the US (or really most countries) want to take over their country. Now, I can’t speak for Iraq, Armenia, Iran, or Syria. Or Greece. Or Cyprus. But, I am pretty damn confident that Americans would highly object to the invasion and subsequent occupation of Turkey. Now, they wouldn’t necessarily object to war, or to the absorption of natural resources, let’s be honest about that. I think the general American opinion is one of, Why?

This is typically more upsetting to the average Turk than if I went around stating that I was a CIA agent who was sent here to plot our overthrow of the government. They are baffled when I offer up the true reason that this is complete hilarity: The average American doesn’t give a hoot about Turkey.

Joe Plumber (yes, a Sarah Palin reference) doesn’t know where Turkey is. All he knows is that it is a delicious meal that he likes to share with his family in late November. He would perhaps remember discussions of Constantinople but never Istanbul. Perhaps when told that the capital is Istanbul not Constantinople, he’d start humming the song. But, really, beyond that, nothing.

This is equally upsetting to me. Not so much because Americans don’t care about Turkish politics but because most have no idea where Turkey is, what language they speak or that some extremely important Christian history is contained in Turkey (yes, the Evangelicals would be surprised to hear that Nicaea—the birthplace of Christian doctrine—is in Turkey, St. Nicholas too did his work here, the Virgin died in Turkey), and on a more cultural level that the beloved Dr. Oz's family is from the conservative stronghold city of Konya.

Americans need to get their heads out of their asses. That’s what I think about Americans. But Turks, well, Turks need to get their heads out of their asses too, they need to push aside their bizarre obsession with conspiracy theories and to wisen up, to think critically, and to realize that no, I’m not an American spy and neither are my friends.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I hate the cold

My heat is broken. Or maybe its not. I don't know. Same with the hot water. And the washing machine. Normally I would run over and grab the super and (pardon my French) bitch at him until everything got fixed. The problem with my apartment is that there is no super. All we have is a 40-something year old man named Ilker who really couldn't care less about my Soviet-Russia/Bauhaus love-child gem of a building. You see, Ilker is in charge of all the university's facilities and while I guess going rent-free for a year should probably bar me from any complaining, complain I shall.

When the weather first took a turn towards winter, we had a bit of an issue with our heating. We couldn't get it going properly in all the rooms. We have radiators you see and who under the age of 65 has any idea how to work a metal radiator? As far as I can tell you have to completely open the one in the kitchen to get the heat flowing to each of the subsequent radiators. Well, some men came by, opened them up, laughed at us for our incompetence and we had heat, for about a month until three days ago when I noticed a draft in the living room. I opened them all up, my right-y tight-y, left-y loose-y system was confirmed by the soğuk/sicak markings on the knobs, but work they did not.

It got colder and colder until I was forced to wear a hat and winter jacket in the living room, not noticing a difference from the temperature outside when I entered my flat. Then I noticed, when doing a pile of dishes, that there wasn't any hot water. This happens occasionally, I think we have building-wide hot water, a rarity here, and it is often depleted at high-shower times (7-8am) but I noticed throughout the day that the water wasn't just lukewarm but unbearably freezing. And, since I hadn't showered in two days, this was going to be a problem.

A cold shower when you're in a warm apartment isn't fun, but its not threatening to your health either. A hot shower in a cold apartment can be equally shocking to the system but, ultimately its pretty benign. An ice cold shower in a 50 degree (9C) apartment is both not fun and not healthy. So, I got creative.

Or rather, I thought back to our forefathers, what would, nay, what did they do when faced with such a situation. They boiled water over a fire and then washed themselves with that warm water. And, while I didn't have a fireplace, I did have my trusty electric kettle. So, after boiling some tap water, I grabbed my pasta pot--the largest pot I own--and got into the bath tub. I carefully mixed the boiling water with the ice water from the tap. I did my best to wash my hair and while there is still a bit of shampoo residue, I  deem the adventure a success.

Shower down. Next thing to tackle was the laundry. See, we have a washing machine but I have a feeling it was some factory reject the university acquired at a severely discounted price. The thing hops and dances all over the bathroom and, if you're not careful to put away the TP and anything else on top to the machine before starting a cycle, you can be sure it will end up in the toilet. This was always annoying but recently things have taken a turn for the worse. The damn thing will hop its way around, spinning 180 degrees to face the wall it came from, it makes such a racket and bangs so violently that I am beginning to worry it will dislodge the toilet at some point. It made such a hullabaloo when I used it on Saturday, I cancelled the cycle and rung out the clothes myself.

Delightful right? Well, back to the heating situation. Living in an ancient building in Turkey rarely has the charm of some reclaimed Brooklyn loft with exposed brick and wood beams. These buildings are scary and typically malfunction so often that any charm you could possibly squeeze out of anything built in the 1960s is immediately rendered worthless. The electricity just shuts off when it wants. Lightbulbs blow weekly. The circuits are tripped daily. There is some honking noise coming from the basement that Sherri and I initially and incorrectly attributed to a fog horn from the shipyard behind our building.

I wish I could say, however, that the terrible heating found in our apartment could be credited to any of the following:

1. a warm climate that so rarely requires good heating that in the occasional cold-snap, people freeze (unequivocally false)
2. its a damn old building made of uninsulated concrete with drafty, mis-shaped windows (this definitely doesn't help but it's not the whole problem)
3. a lazy foreman with only a menial knowledge of building (again, perhaps true, but then, every building nation-wide would also fall into this category)

Our university opened in 2006 and, while it was originally part of Trakya Universitesi, an enormous school, many of our buildings are brand new, like really, brand new. They are still being built around us. One thing you will see throughout these buildings, however, is the space heater. Yes, the space heater. And, I'm not talking little black box of warm-ish air, I'm talking gigantic fire-breathing fire-hazard.

I find it hilarious, after being fined for having a coffeepot in my school dorm because it was deemed a fire hazard, that this would be allowed anywhere near a university facility. Well, I kid you not when I say, there is at least one in every single administrative office. No word yet on how many people have been maimed by the heat these things throw, or how much property damage or many people have been killed by fires started by them, but hey the radiators certainly aren't doing it. 

I'll get back to you when I track down the architect and ask why central heating was not included and also, while we're at it, why on earth the building is heated by coal. Coal that belches black, filthy, choking smog into the air and into my lungs and eyes. Coal that will be outlawed in 2 years time.