Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rootlessness and Health Care, Part 1

I don't have health insurance.

  1. As a rule, health insurance in the U.S. stops at the border. So even if I have health insurance while I'm in the U.S., it does me no good the moment I set outside the U.S. (This is true for those who receive Medicare, also. I don't know about veterans' insurance.)
  2. As an individual in good health who doesn't need expensive prescriptions, I could pay up to, let's say, $4000 per year out-of-pocket and still do better than if I'd paid monthly insurance premiums.
  3. Health insurance is too expensive. I say that from three perspectives: a) my inability to afford  premiums, b) my refusal to become an economic and location prisoner of an employer-organization solely because it provides an offset to health insurance premiums, and c) my belief that health insurance premiums nationwide are artificially inflated by insurance carriers, healthcare providers and their ancillary service providers, and by a politicized healthcare ethos in America that invests too many finite healthcare resources on extraordinary care. 

Extraordinary care = Generally used to refer to medical treatments that, in the particular circumstances, impose undue physical or personal burdens on the patient [or family or community] or that are not likely to substantially improve the patient's condition but merely prolong his dying. (Definition adapted from Georgetown University and Webster's Dictionary.) In theory, the Catholic Church makes a distinction between 'ordinary' care and 'extraordinary' care to help guide bioethical decisions.  

Wow. I didn't intend to go into all that stuff in #3 when I began this post. But there it is.

Affordable health care in America

  1. Some providers, vendors, or organizations periodically offer free or reduced-cost health screenings throughout the year. Use your favorite search engine to find "health screenings" in your state.
  2. Some organizations (or government entities) offer free or reduced-price healthcare screenings on a sliding-fee scale based on your income. For example, the CDC administers a national screening program for breast and cervical cancer.
  3. Doc-in-the-boxes (including some Walgreens and CVS pharmacies) are less expensive than you might think for routine illnesses, check-ups, screenings, or vaccinations. Shop around. 
  4. Ask your preferred healthcare provider if s/he offers cash discounts. Healthcare providers can save money if you don't have insurance (which requires lots of paperwork such as proper coding for them to receive reimbursement) or avoid paying with a credit card, and some are willing to share that savings with you. 
  5. Planned Parenthood offers general health care, STD testing and treatment, women's health care, men's sexual health care, prenatal pregnancy care, birth control, and abortion services. In general, these services are provided on a sliding scale based on income. 
  6. Walmart (and I think other vendors) has a list of prescription and OTC meds that cost only $4 for a month's supply
  7. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance is a clearinghouse for info on how to get your expensive (to you) prescriptions free or at a reduced cost. The website also helps you find low-cost healthcare clinics near you. 

Not having health insurance in America is my current reality.

Will it change as healthcare legislation or other options evolve? Damned if I know, as neither the politicos nor the general media are interested in giving me useful information.

For health insurance while I'm outside the U.S., that's a different story

Monday, July 30, 2012

How Has My Portable Gear Stacked Up?

When I started my rootless life, a goal was to condense my material life into three pieces of luggage and some change. Toward that end, I bought various items to manage my portable environment.

How have those items stacked up in the past year or so?

Jewelry bag

My original post on this purchase here.

The bag does everything I need it to do. I like the two zippered pockets (one for necklaces and the other for earrings), the ring column, and the bracelet loops. Occasionally, earrings fall out of the holes in the fold-out earring band (see photo above), with the result that they sometimes lay loose in the fold-out area, but I haven't lost any earrings yet, athough the potential for such loss exists. I haven't noticed any signs of wear on the zipper, the fabric, or the vinyl. 

A good purchase and I still recommend it. Available here.

A good flashlight

There are a bajillion flashlights out there, and I did considerable research on which to get.

I also weighed the handheld v. headlamp question, decided on the handheld, thus didn't look at headlamps.

My original post on my flashlight is here.

I still love it. Here's why: 
  • It's very sturdy. I've dropped it several times without harming it.
  • It's small. 
  • Takes only one AA battery. In a pinch, it will also work with a AAA battery. 
  • Has multiple settings for different lighting needs. Where I tend to go, electric power gets lost at regular intervals. This flashlight illuminates an entire room. 

When I'm on the road, I have it with me always. Even when I think I'm only going to be away from my base for a couple of hours, back well before dark .... well, things happen and you often have a change in plans while out and about.

I'll say, though, that a mobile phone with a flashlight is a wondrous thing. The next time I buy a phone, it will have a built-in flashlight as a back-up. 


Everyone has a favorite model or brand, so I'm not going to waste anyone's time talking about my particular model.  (Though, for the record, it's an HP Pavilion dm4 1065dx, and I'm very pleased with it.)

For portability purposes, here are the things that were important to me: 
  • Case dimensions
  • Screen dimensions
  • Weight
  • Battery life
  • Quantity and diversity of ports
  • Optical drive (for CDs, DVDs)
  • Keyboard size/look/feel

The 14" screen dimension is just right for me, both for portability (as it affects case dimension) and for readability of content. I dislike having to use horizontal scroll bars, and with a 14" screen, I almost never have to do so. It's surprising the difference just one inch makes: I knew the 13" was too small for my needs and the 15" too bulky for my portability desires. 

Dimension and weight-wise, at about 5 pounds, it's easy to heft with one hand when I need to. It doesn't take up much room in my backpack or weigh it down. (On the other hand, the power cord does take up a fair amount of space because it's long - an excellent feature otherwise - and is rather awkward in it's tangle-prone sprawl inside my bag.)

Battery life. When I bought my laptop in late 2010, a four-hour battery was good. And until my battery began its sad decline awhile back, the four-hour charge was more than sufficient for my needs. 

Earlier this year, I helped my sister buy a new laptop, which has an eight-hour battery. I was really surprised how much weight that added to her laptop.

Quantity and diversity of ports. The things I connect to my laptop: Flash drives, internet cables, mp3 player, voice recorder, Kindle, printer cables, SD cards (and if that port goes kaput, a camera cable), mini-speaker, remote mouse thingie, and earbuds. Not to mention my AC plug. I'm also set up to attach a projector. 

Because my laptop is my virtual life, I need all these bells and whistles on my little rig. 

Optical drive. With the ubiquity of flash drives, an optical drive for CD/DVDs is no longer necessary in most cases for data transfer. But there are still occasions when an optical drive is either essential or more effective. For example, if I'm installing a new device (i.e. printer) to my laptop, then I think it's much faster to do so with the manufacturer's CD installer than downloading the installer from the manufacturer's website (assuming I even have access to the internet when/where I need it). As an ESL teacher in Georgia, I received CDs that accompanied textbooks. These included audio files and the teacher's manuals. This information was not available online for download.

Bottom line: The portability criteria I used to select my laptop were useful. 

And insofar as the decision-making goes in regard to laptop v. notebook v. tablet - it's still the best choice for my needs to stick with a laptop. Note: HP calls my laptop a notebook, but come on, really. No, it isn't. It's too big and too heavy to be a notebook.

Little electronics case

I'm still using this Ethiopian Airlines comfort case I received from generous Yoseph. It keeps my tiny electronics paraphernalia secure and well-organized. Not everyone lucks out with just the right bag like I did. So if you're looking to buy one, here are the qualities I most appreciate about my case:
  • Small size for maximum portability
  • Two zippered pockets within the zippered outer case
  • See-through pockets
  • Red color to find it quickly in a bag
  • Flexibility in expansion - I've since added spare AA and AAA batteries, a Kindle AC adapter, and a two-prong adapter for old-fashioned US outlets for my three-prong laptop cord

Rain poncho

I bought this when I returned to Georgia after my winter break in the U.S. I went with a poncho instead of an umbrella because I wanted:
  • Good cover for my backpack or bag, which I always had with me
  • More portability than an umbrella

Hmm. What I discovered is that unless it's a moderate-to-heavy rain or I'm out hiking somewhere, the poncho isn't as handy as an umbrella. 

It's a lot easier to manage a wet umbrella upon arrival at a destination than a wet poncho. An umbrella dries faster than a poncho, too, which means I can fold it up a lot sooner than a poncho. Because of these factors, I found myself reluctant to pull out my poncho from my bag during a light rain, whereas if I'd had an umbrella, I wouldn't have hesitated to pull it out and use it. 

So: I'm glad I have the poncho because it has its uses. But I'll be buying a compact umbrella. 


I just bought my Kindle, so I haven't road-tested it yet.

Trekking poles

It's too soon to tell for sure, but so far I believe I made a good investment in money and space to buy these walking poles.

There's no better way to screw up a good time than a stupid slip that wreaks havoc on a bone, muscle, tendon, or cartilage. 

In Georgia, there's no snow or ice removal on the pavements. In many parts of the world, the vertical distance between steps are irregular or are higher than is comfortable for shorties like me. And, frequently no side rails. Unmaintained trails that are slick or precipitous from overuse or erosion. 

So I've found it helpful to tuck my compact, collapsible trekking poles into my backpack for day trips or when I'm venturing onto slippery pavement conditions. 

But over the long haul, the jury's still out on the trekking poles' value when weighed against the space they consume (which is very little) in my bags.


If I were to summarize the universal variables for the best portable gear, they'd be: 
  1. Size
  2. Weight
  3. Visibility for efficient identification and retrieval
  4. Organization for efficient retrieval and security
  5. Utility for my unique needs based on how and where I travel or live (for example, another rootless soul might save considerable space and weight with a tablet or notebook if she doesn't have the same data interests I do)


Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Year Later: Back on the Beach

So last June, I was on the beach. Waiting to see what I caught in my nets.

And here I am again, preparing to throw out new nets. 

A year in Georgia is in the bag and in retrospect, the year zipped by.

In that 12 months, I did a lot of travel within Georgia. I was also lucky enough to go here:

As for the future, I'll borrow a  line from Temperance Brennan: "... I await my own surprise." 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Portable: I Am Kindled

An e-reader!

I had resisted getting an e-reader a year or so ago because I already felt tethered by too many electronic "toddlers" I needed to tend:
  • Laptop
  • Voice recorder
  • Mini speaker
  • Mp3 player
  • Camera(s)

But I was primed for a change when I realized how much mass paper books take up in luggage, in my borrowed room, and in my backpack. And how limited my portable library had to be with paper books.

When I saw TLG colleague, Sandy, pull out her kobo - that slim, featherweight nothing of an item that belied the library it held, I was dazzled by how little space it took up. 

But what nailed it for me was this post by another TLG colleague, Lauren: An Unlikely Companion.

(And then, of course, there's the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy factor involved in having an e-reader.)


Once decided, I did my due research on which e-reader I'd get and I decided on a kindle touchless wifi/3G for $139. Could not wait til I got back to Missouri to get it! But I did.

But when I went to order it from Amazon, I made an unanticipated last-minute swerve and bought the basic instead for $79. 

  • Turns out that the owners of new 3G kindles only have access to Amazon, wikipedia, and one other website. Really? If that's the case, then wifi is sufficient, so why pay more for 3G? 
  • I saw that the basic kindle was slightly smaller and weighed less than the newer, fancier kindles.
  • I didn't want to have an mp3 player, color, games, or a mini-tablet - I just wanted an e-reader
  • If my basic kindle got lost or stolen, it would be less of a financial loss. 
  • This review from a guy who had all the kindles helped me look at the basic kindle

So I'm happy with my kindle. Except. I'm a little wistful that maybe there aren't basic maps for my kindle that I can pull up as I sit across a table with some folks in future countries, but maybe I just haven't found them yet. (Update August 3: I bought and downloaded the 2012 World Atlas, which is an e-reader version of the CIA World Factbook. Includes its maps.
Also, I somehow had the idea that a lot more contemporary books would be available for e-readers via the library than there evidently are. Example: I want to read all of Daniel Woodrell's books, but it seems only Winter's Bone is accessible on kindle from my library.

What's in my portable library so far
  • Jack London (all or most of his books!)
  • Louisa May Alcott (ditto) (Little Women recommended by Celia)
  • Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavvi
  • Every blessed one of the colored Fairy Books (Red, Blue, Green, etc.) that I loved when I was a child
  • Grimm Fairy Tales
  • Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales
  • Bullfinch's Mythology
  • Seven of Jane Austen's books (recommended by Rosie)
  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Some works by Jules Verne
  • Some works by H.G. Wells
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (recommended by Rosie)
  • Of Human Bondage (recommended by Miles)
  • Crime and Punishment (recommended by Miles)
  • The Four Feathers by AEW Mason
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are
  • Two Dr. Doolittle books (recommended by Lindsay)
  • Siddhartha (recommended by Sandy)
  • ..and perhaps the original Shades of Gray - Fanny Hill, by John Cleland

All but one of the above were free.

Loving the concept of my portable library and the reality of reading books on my little kindle.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Istanbul: Cultural Exchanges, Part 2 or: Cultural Ignorance

Hanafi Islam

Hanafi Muslims? What the hell? Who are they? Why had I never heard of them? I only knew about two branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia.

Well, it turns out that Hanafi Islam is a stream within the Sunni branch (this link is probably the most interesting), is known to be more liberal in some matters than Americans generally see in our media. Also, most Muslims in the world are not only Sunni, but followers of the Hanafi "madhab." 

"Alican," "Bali," and Bali's cousins are all Hanafi. All are also Kurds.

Women with hijabs, smiling

Why did I feel surprised when I saw women wearing hijab smiling, embracing and being embraced by their men, kissing? Seeing a couple, the woman with her hijab, gazing into each others' eyes for long minutes on the tram?

Such universal ordinariness.

I can't speak for anyone else, so I'll just speak for me. Why is it that the visceral images I have about the wearing of hijabs are oppression and humorlessness? Kind of the same way I perceive Puritans to have been.

("Hijab" is a generic term that applies to any of the modesty covering of Muslim women, whether it's just the headscarf or full-out burqa. This link notes the four countries in the world that actually ban hijab in certain places - note: not just hijab, but all 'overt religious symbols.')

Indeed, the author of an ehow article on Puritans pretty much summed up my emotional (versus intellectual) response to the hijab:

The Puritans who settled in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries have been largely mythologized as a small group of people who lived a life devoid of pleasure, shunned alcohol and sex, and lacked humor or compassion for other people. In fact, despite living a hard frontier life in a foreign land, the Puritans did experience the same pleasures as others but in moderation. Their way of life called for discipline and a devotion to God.

Intellectually, I know that my emotive response does not comprise the full picture of the lives of women who wear hijab.

But on a gut level, that mental model of unrelenting grimness evidently lurked inside my head.

There's a lot more I'd like to say on the topic of hijab, but for today, it's just to recognize and own up to an inaccurate assumption I didn't know I had. 

Christians aren't Christians

To the Kurds, anyway, Christians are "muhSEE-ah."

I didn't get that at first. They mentioned muhSEEah. MuhSEEah?

Ohhhhh, got it ... "messiah" as in Jesus ... Christian.

(Again, the importance of emphasis and pronunciation for understanding. Reminds me of the McDonald's debacle.)

You either respect women or you don't

Based on my anecdotal evidence (personal observation, personal experience, and information from other visitors): The Turkish touts (and regular man on the street) make comments to and invade the personal space of women they identify as Other.

I don't want to waste brain power parsing what I mean by Other because I don't know how they define Other. All I know is I observed them "taking liberties" (a phrase that should be brought back into fashion perhaps) with some women and not others. The 'not others' tended to be women who wore outward symbols of conservatism, such as hijab.

Some examples:  
  • There was, of course, the day one of my colleagues had her ass groped quite thoroughly.
  • A fruitseller decided to handfeed me a portion of watermelon, pushing it into my mouth, startling the heck out of me and eliciting a noise of disapproval from his male partner because the fruitseller knew it was inappropriate
  • One man went from zero to "honey" and then to a presumption of something quite a bit more from me despite clear no-trespassing signals from me.

The evening that Bali and his family and I went out to the Bosphorus rocks, as we returned to our hotel, a tout thrust out his hand to me for a handshake (the prelude to getting me into his shop). My normal response in Istanbul was to ignore this behavior even though all of my American-politeness cells would scream at me to accept what Americans interpret as an act of friendliness. But I'd been chatting with Bali as we walked, and my polite reflex kicked in, so I returned the handshake.

Damn it, now the dance began immediately, "Can I ask you one ...." "No."  And I kept on going as I removed my hand from the tout's.

Bali was taken aback by the tout's behavior. I said, "They don't do this to your wife, do they"? [Bali and his family were tourists like me.]


And I told him about my colleague's experience (being groped) and added, "You know, people sometimes assume women are whores just because of where they're from and feel it's OK to do these things. It's not OK. We don't like it. And it's just as disrespectful to us as it would be to your wife."

When I talk about this stuff to Americans, generally women, a common response is, "what were you/they wearing"? As if that were relevant.

In my view, you either respect women or you don't. To see it otherwise is just another refrain of the "rape is the woman's fault" song. If you wouldn't say or do something of a personal nature to a countrywoman, then don't say or do it to a woman visiting your country. What the visitor is wearing does not dictate respect. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rootless Lit: Siddhartha

Credit: Shambala Classics
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse.

Sandy, a TLG colleague, read this book while we were in Georgia. Her description of the plot piqued my interest.

It's an easy read. Spare language. Straightforward in ideas.

The young man, Siddhartha, has a searching spirit, asking universal questions:

They knew everything, the Brahmans and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much - but was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing? 

... His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow  but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources ... why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day?

Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine source in own's own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost. 

Siddhartha left his comfortable circumstances at home to live the rootless life of an ascetic, met "the" Buddha (fka Siddhartha Gautama) along the way, slowly built a life rooted in attachments, discovered suffering, and .... [don't want to spoil the ending].

Mr. Hesse lets his Siddhartha express directly the ideas relating to how one's attachment to feelings, outcomes, and things do not bring peace and, indeed, can detract from it. His Siddhartha is also explicit about suffering and its relationship to understanding and compassion.

Mr. Hesse more indirectly reveals what Siddhartha doesn't see about himself - the arrogance and intolerance toward others that he possesses, a malady shared by many of us who are "enlightened" in some manner, whether it be by a certain theology, yoga, what to eat, how to travel, or otherwise live or think.

It's a good reminder that, as some say less elegantly than Mr. Hesse, "we're all bozos on the bus."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Istanbul: Cultural Exchanges, Part 1

Istanbul. Bosphorus.

For a few days, some Iraqi-Kurds and I enjoyed sporadic connections. "Bali" spoke excellent English and was very outgoing. With him were his wife of only six months, his brother, his cousin, and his cousin's wife of a few years. None of Bali's relatives spoke a lick of English and I, of course, spoke no Kurdish.

Some conversations:

Bali and his relatives had invited me to join them on a walk though Gulhane Park and then a sit by the Bosphorus on large, black boulders. They brought fruit, nuts, and candy with them.    
On virginity

Bali: "Are American women virgins when they get married?"

Mzuri: "No, most aren't. That doesn't mean American women are promiscuous."

Bali: "We believe it's important to be virgins before marriage."

Mzuri: "You mean just the women, right?

Bali: "No, the men, too."

[Embarrassing admission: I laughed out loud in disbelief.]

Bali: "No, really."

Bali: "I think that's the best system."

Mzuri, neutrally: "Well, if both parties are virgins, it removes concern about disease."

One evening, we sat at one of the tables with comfortable benches outside the hotel. We shared fruit.

On geography.

Somehow, the two wives and I lurched our way through an information swap - where each of us was from, how old they were (24 and 27), and how long they'd been married (six months and four years, respectively), and that they were sisters.

I felt embarrassed when we talked about where they lived, which is in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yes, I did know kinda about Iraqi Kurdistan and that its capital is Arbil. And it was relatively safe for visitors. But why didn't I know which countries bordered it? Eek.

The sisters and I drew horrible maps on napkins to show where they and I were from. 

Why don't I have a portable world map that I travel with for just such cultural exchanges? (It's not like most people in the world have heard of Missouri. It's all about New York and Los Angeles.)   

I also didn't know much about the distribution of Kurds in the world. There are many Kurds in Turkey, for example.

Credits: Juan Cole of Informed Comment, Rich Clabaugh and the CS Monitor

On consanguinity and marriage.

I've already explained that my Iraqi Kurd acquaintances were Bali, his wife, his cousin, and his cousin's wife. And that the two wives were sisters.

Bali: "My wife is my mother's sister's daughter."

Mzuri: [Cognitive wheels grind.] "Oh. Your first cousin. And so your cousin's wife is also your first cousin. And his first cousin? You're all first cousins"? 

Bali: "Yes. Do you marry first cousins in America"?

[My first knee-jerk thought, immediately squelched was: We have jokes about that for people from Arkansas.]

Mzuri: "No, not generally. Second cousins, yes, sometimes. But not first cousins. In some states it's illegal."

Writing this makes me wonder more about consanguinity rules in various cultures.

Here are the first-cousin laws in the U.S. Traditionally, Americans really don't like first-cousin marriages.

This bit about some Ethiopians from wikipediaAmong the Christian Habesha highlanders of Ethiopia and Eritrea (the predominantly orthodox Christian Amhara and Tigray-Tigrinya), it is a tradition to be able to recount one's paternal ancestors at least 7 generations away starting from early childhood, because "those with a common patrilineal ancestor less than seven generations away are considered 'brother and sister' and may not marry." The rule is less strict on the mother's side, where the limit is about four generations back, but still determined patrilinarly. This rule does not apply to Muslims or other ethnic groups.[4]

But among Kurdish culture, first-cousin marriages are not only common, they are traditionally desirable. They strengthen the power and security of the family. Here's a link to cousin marriages among Kurds specifically - unfortunately, the sources are from a generation ago, so it's tough to know how prevalent cousin marriage still is. 

On the other hand, some cultures carefully marry outside their clans to ensure not only genetic diversity, but to create strategic alliances between clans.

For the record, Arkansas law prohibits first-cousin marriage. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Istanbul: I Paid a Bribe or, The Girl From Milan

Well, no, I didn't.

But while in Istanbul, I ran into an Italian girl from Milan. Our conversation reminded me of this website, I Paid A Bribe, which I first read about in the New York Times some months back.

Which reminded me of the economic situation in Greece, not unconnected with corruption there, which there is no political will to rectify. And makes me think of Phil in the Blank's post here about Mali.

Which contrasts with the story of Georgia in 2003.

So according to the Milanese girl, average Italian wages per month are roughly 1580 euros (confirmed here), while the average monthly earnings of the Italian lawmakers are more than $20,000 USD. Yup, per month.

The girl from Milan also said there were 665 lawmakers (though this article reports about 1000). This is for a population of 60 million. In contrast, the U.S. has 535 legislators for its population of 310 million. 

On top of this, Italy still requires its citizens to go hither and thither - physically - to get this or that stamped or fee paid or otherwise handled by government employees to get the simplest tasks done, such as license renewals or tax paying. Compare this to Georgia's current online system for many functions, operating not only from the desire for efficiency but in the belief that the fewer humans who touch an item, the fewer chances there are for corruption.

The Milanese girl told me about her two trips to the U.S. - one to New York and one, some years ago, on a family RV trip to some of America's national parks in the west.

She was so surprised at the differences between New York City and Milan. The rush, rush, rush! Work, work, work! The rudeness! The abruptness! The difficulty in meeting people.

Yes, she said, Milan could learn many lessons from the New Yorkers who were so kind and helpful to her when she was a tourist there. She can't wait to go back some day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Istanbul: Around My Neighborhood

Istanbul. My neighborhood fruit market.

See those cantaloupes on the left? The flesh was green instead of orange, but tasted just like cantaloupe. A super fragrant, juicy, delicious cantaloupe.

Istanbul. My neighborhood convenience store.

Istanbul. My neighborhood fortune-telling man, rabbits, and rooster.

Istanbul. Remains of a tea party.

Istanbul train station.

Istanbul train station


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Istanbul: What It Cost

I was in Istanbul for 22 days/21 nights. 

Total spent, not including airfare: 1775 lira (~$976 USD)

Lodging for 21 nights: 800 lira (~ $440 USD --> $21 USD per night) here.

To/from airport:
  • 49 lira for taxi from airport to hotel (~ $27 USD)
  • 10 lira for shuttle from hotel to airport (~ $5.50 USD)

Alarm clock: I had to buy an alarm clock! 25 lira (~$14 USD)

Tram: 24 lira (~ $12 USD), which I used for transportation to Heybeliada Island and other places around the city. 

Bosphorus cruise: 10 lira (~ $6 USD)

Salon visit: 26 lira (~ $14 USD)

Basilica Cistern, Aya Sofya, Topkapi (including harem): 76 lira (~ $42 USD)

Horse carriage tour on Heybeliada Island: 50 lira (~ $28 USD) 

Food, water, and other miscellany: 705 lira (~ $388 USD or $17 USD per day)

I'm not much for drinking or shopping, so that saved me a lot of money. 

I didn't buy any souvenirs on this trip.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Istanbul: Another Georgian Goodbye

Istanbul: International dance competition. Georgians.

On my last night in Istanbul, I walked over to the park next to Sultanahmet Square for a last inhalation of culture. No, that's a lie. There's a McDonald's nearby and I knew I wouldn't be going to McD's when I returned to Missouri. So that was my final dinner in Istanbul. That sounds backwards, but it's the reality.

And you know what's interesting? McDonald's is one of the few restaurants in Istanbul that employs women to serve the public directly, alongside men. Kudos to McDonald's. Red River Restaurant was another one.

Istanbul: International dance competition. Turks.

But that's not what this post is about. It's about the serendipitous international dance competition that was about to start when I walked by the park stage. I found a seat on a rock next to the bleachers, and damned if I didn't see Georgian-garbed kids sitting in the stands. Two troupes, one from Batumi and one from Tbilisi, were to perform along with Turkish, Romanian, Ukrainian, and I forget what other representatives.

I saw some modern elements that I hadn't seen before in Georgia, in which the girls got to do some really cool stuff like the boys.

The Georgians blew the audience away, although the Ukrainian dancers were a heartbeat away in their gymnastic abilities.

Istanbul: International dance competition. Ukrainians.

A slide show:

It was fitting to end my time in Istanbul with a Georgian send-off. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Istanbul: Kind of Like Cincinnati

Photo credit: bophoto.com

Yes, the language is different. Many of the women wear different clothing. The places of worship look different. It's hard to find barbecued pork. Instanbul's got really cool street trams. There are about 12 million more people in residence. And its history is longer.

But other than those things, Istanbul's kind of like Cincinnati.
  • 70% of cars (other than taxis) have only the driver inside; 20% may have two people; 10% have more than two
  • Shopping malls
  • McDonald's, Burger King, Sbarro 
  • Families grilling and picnicking in the park
  • Children's playgrounds
  • Couples walking hand in hand
  • Kiddos having their hair mussed and faces kissed
  • Ice cream cones
  • Bridges and water
  • Suburbs

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Istanbul: The Waiters

Istanbul waiter

Back in the day, when I got a job as a waitress, my maternal grandfather was unhappy. He viewed waiting tables as the second-oldest profession in the world. Wait, that's prostitutes. No, prostitutes were first, then waitresses. I forget, but you get the idea. He held waitressing in very low regard.

As he would the waiters of Istanbul.

The Istanbul waiter in a high-tourist area prostitutes his dignity and honor to shill for mediocrity. With his white shirt and black trousers, often a cigarette in one hand, a menu in the other, he strives to hook the tourists swimming by. He relies on the politeness of the tourists, who don't want to appear rude by refusing to answer innocuous questions, "where are you from"? "how are you today"? "will you answer one question"?

If he can get a tourist to pause, he's got his hook in the mouth. If he can get the tourist to look at the menu, he can start to set the hook. If he can usher the tourist to a table, bingo! Fish landed!

In turns, I despise and empathize with the waiters' behavior. They probably undergo 10 rejections for every one acceptance. They work long hours, too, from restaurant opening til late at night.

I wouldn't dislike them so much if, once they landed their fish, they didn't metaphorically drop us into a bucket of murky water and leave us there to languish while they went after new fish.

I don't know how a waiter gets paid here. Wages plus tips? Tips only? Commission on customers brought in?  

But here's a story:  My Daughter Married Our Turkish Waiter

Note: For the record, I believe waiting tables is an honorable profession.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Istanbul: Gulhane Park - Cool and Green

Gulhane Park, outside the Topkapi Palace wall, and entered through a stone archway from the street, then through a wrought iron gate (with police manning same), is a green and cool escape from the crowded sidewalks, restaurant and shop touts, vehicle traffic, and the sun.

The plane trees, similar to sycamores, with a dull yellow skin underneath the loose bark, line the park's main pedestrian thoroughfare. You immediately feel good when you see these trees lining the paved path.

Occasionally, flaps of loose bark fall to the pavement. (Once, a tourist was killed by one of the trees when it fell.)

There are offshoots from the main walkway that get little traffic and are very quiet.

Except for the birds. If Gulhane were in a different country, I'd think there were monkeys up in the canopy. Beautiful sounds.

The other evening, when I sat on a bench next to the Topkapi wall, I looked up to see storks circling the treetops. The foliage was so thick, I couldn't see where they nested. Although not nearly as large, these storks reminded me of the storks in Awassa.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Istanbul: Heybeliada Island

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

Heybeliada Island: A highlight of my time in Istanbul.

The island is one of several in the group of islands called Princes' Islands. No cars on any of them. Transportation by foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn carriages. I did see a couple of motorized bikes which seemed to be powered by propane.

Incredibly, you can take the ferry to the islands for 2 lira or less (less if you've got the refillable metro card or button) each way. If you hop on-off the ferry at more than one island, then you'll pay for each leg. But still a fantastic bargain.

I selected Heybeliada Island for my journey because, based on my research, it seemed a little less crowded than the most popular (and largest) island of Büyükada.

Before getting on the ferry, I picked up a sandwich with boiled eggs, cucumber, tomato, and a little cheese. Got this from a vendor standing right in front of the ferry building entrance. Only 3 lira, another bargain. It was simple and good.

We made three stops before arriving at Heybeliada. The first was at a pick-up point on Istanbul's Asian side; the second and third were two of the Princes' Islands, which were packed with sunbathers and swimmers on the shores, as seen in the video below:

Got off at Heybeliada and immediately went to the strip of restaurants and stores behind the shore-front businesses. While I caught my bearings in the cool shade of a pocket park's trees, I consumed this:

Yes, it was the same delicious chocolate ice cream bar I'd enjoyed back here.

I checked out the horses in the carriage yard, thinking to take the grand tour for 50 lira.

Unlike the poor wretches in Nazret, the horses here looked reasonably healthy. In fact, Turks must love horses, given the number of kisses I saw bestowed on them by Turkish men and boys.

I took a look at a horse being re-shod. Later, I discovered that tire tread is attached to the traditional horseshoes. Good or bad? I don't know.

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

I signed on for the grand tour around the island at 50 lira, which was about $28. It was lovely, well worth the cost. Would be very romantic for a couple.

Two videos of my ride below. Understandably, they're a bit shaky. I like hearing the accompanying sounds.

During my ride, I saw: 
  • Shady pine woods that invite you to lay out a cloth, stretch out on the soft bed of pine needs, and have a picnic; 
  • Change-out of our horses at the top of the island;
  • Old-style houses that overlooked the sea, set within colorful courtyard gardens; and
  • Sea views of nearby islands  

If I were to ever come this way again, I'd spend two nights on this island. I'd walk up the hill through the pine forest and have that picnic. I'd get my provisions at one of the many fruit and vegetable shops in the town center. I'd rent a bike for a few hours and tool around. I'd sit on a hillside or a balcony and look out at the water. 

As it was, I went for lunch, choosing a plain cheese omelet that was a little heavy on the oil (a similar culinary malady suffered in Georgia), but with a good, pungent white cheese. And no harassing waiter. 

I looked into some shops and then moseyed my way to the ferry dock (after a side trip to a WC) where I discovered I'd arrived just in time to board. Sometimes life just works out that way. 

A slide show below:

On the ferry ride back to Istanbul proper, the ferry was packed. (I can only imagine what it must be like on a weekend.) No seat for me, the price one pays for choosing Heybeliada Island instead of Buyukada Island, which is at the beginning of the return route to Istanbul (and Heybeliada the 2nd). I was lucky to find a spot on the floor of the uppermost deck. I had a front row view of a dramatic row between some passengers and the ferry crew, about what I have no idea. It broke up an otherwise dull ride.

What would world travel be without inexplicable but riveting arguments on the street or in public transport? Especially when bystanders add their 2 lira, lari, or birr.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Istanbul: Psycho Tram

I took the tram out to the burbs the other day.

At one stop, the English-language robo-voice said something to the effect, "Dear passengers, please be careful when leaving the tram. There have been incidents of larcenies at the entrances. Please report any larcenies to the police."

But that's not the reason for this post.

This is:

Doesn't it sound like this?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Georgia: Dance Racha!

Jennifer, a TLG colleage, shared this video with me recently. It's brilliant.

Traditional Racha dance with a modern twist. Really is a happy piece; makes me very glad for my time in Georgia.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Istanbul: Larceny and Spice

Larceny, Count 1

My dinner bill: 10 lira for dish + 3 lira for drink = 13. Here's the larceny: there was an additional 2 lira on the bill.

Mzuri: "What is this," pointing to the 2 lira on the bill. 
Waiter: "Service charge."
Mzuri: "Service charge? Like a tip?"
Waiter: "Sort of." 
Mzuri: "May I see a menu?"

Because no one told me about any service charge when the waiter seduced me in, and this was the first time since I've been in Istanbul that I've seen such a thing.

I looked at the menu and there it was: "10% service charge." Not that I had seen a menu when I came in. 

I did math quickly in my head. OK, I did it slowly. Ten per cent of 13 is [gears grind] ... one lira and 30 kush. I shared as much with the waiter, who called in the head waiter.

Mzuri: "But 10% of 13 is one lira and 30 kush."
Head waiter: "But we ...added .. up .... mumble ... mumble ... mumble...."

Jesus. I find a place with a pretty good kebap and then this, a charge that's not only a surprise, it's an inflated surprise.

It's as if these restaurants in the touristic part of Istanbul have no desire for repeat business or word of mouth referrals. If it's not subpar-to-mediocre food at inflated prices, it's dismal customer service, or now the tacked-on gratuity.

Larceny, Count 2

I went to the Spice Market where, in addition to negotiating the people traffic, smelling the heady fumes of freshly-roasted coffee, and absorbing the colors and scents of many spices, I was an interested witness to a woman who bullied her way through the market, swiping food goods and shouldering customers aside who were in her path. Vendors, startled at the woman's behavior, just looked, agape, as she plucked and scooped items along her trail.

Thief in bandana

Unfortunately, I failed to click the record button properly on my camera, so I didn't get the full story on record. But I've got snippets.

In this video, she appears coincidentally at :17. Not doing anything that I could see, and she was just one among the many of us at the market.

Here she is again where you see her swipe some cherries. I noted her action at the time, but thought of it as a one-time, impulsive thing and otherwise didn't think much about it.

What drew my attention was when her companion (guy in cowboy hat) joined her and an exchange between them made me think he was going to do something mean to her. ... curious, I followed behind. And that's when I saw her really go to town with her thefts.

Slide show of spice market:


Truth be told, the highlights of my visit to Istanbul's spice market were the bandana'd bandit and the leeches.

Istanbul. Leeches.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Istanbul: Sunday Afternoon in the Park

Istanbul. That ship really was as gigantic as it looks.

There's a small park across the Bosphorus from the Sultanahmet and Sirkeci neighborhoods.

On a windy Sunday afternoon, I walked through. Sat for awhile on a chair overlooking the water.


Many families enjoying the day: Grilling, drinking tea, fishing, laying in a hammock.


I was grateful for the temperatures, in the low 80s, as in Missouri it's been over 100.


Here's a 360 video: 

... and a slide show:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Istanbul: The Scream

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

TLG colleague, Mariani, is in Istanbul for a month for a CELTA course. Another colleague, Hannah (from Missouri, by the way), stopped by to visit on her way back to the U.S.

Going up

We got together on a Saturday evening and made our sweaty way up to Pierre Loti Hill, the terminus of one of Istanbul's funiculars. Didn't get good instruction from the info office next to the Istanbul Gar, so instead of taking a ferry up the Golden Horn to the Eyup Mosque complex (because the ferry had finished for the day), we boarded a crowded bus, then walked around the Mosque area to stand in line for 45 minutes to take the cable car (funicular) up the hillside (all in the interest of the experience, yes?)

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

Note: If you're only going to be in Istanbul for a few days, try to avoid coming on Saturday and Sunday. The weekends are crowded with both domestic and international tourists. In a city of 13 million, that's a lotta domestic tourists.  

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

The view of Istanbul, laid out below the hill, is impressive. We had some drinks at the Pierre Loti cafe, then moved on up the winding cobblestone path around the cafe toward the summit. Lo, there are a number of cafes with beautiful views.

There is an old cemetery that hugs the hillside and it's pretty to look down at Istanbul and its curving waterway from the perspective of the white gravestones.

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

We stopped briefly at a neighborhood party featuring girls and women dancing. Several adolescent boys wore red, silk-like capes with white stars and crescents. Significance unknown. I asked Mustafa, my hotel host, if he knew. Nope. 

Going down

Time to make our way down the hill. We had several options and we chose a side street that seemed more or less headed in the right direction, i.e. down.

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

Because both Mariani and Hannah are from TLG's Group 22 (I'm from 21), and because this group enjoys some notoriety for its we'll-laugh-later misadventures, the odds were good this choice would result in some sort of adventure.

On the way down the hill, we made a couple of directional choices, each designed to carry us closer to the water below. In one very narrow lane on a steep incline, we saw an elderly woman looking out her window, a man coming up, a man going down. Hannah, I, and Mariana were strung out a bit in a line, in that order.

Istanbul: Pierre Loti Hill

We came upon a deep staircase, meaning it plunged down a long way, it was steep, and the steps were rather high. There was an iron-pipe banister on the right; a wall alongside the left. One of the men who'd passed us, with a purple shirt, was inexplicably stalled on one of the steps, looking meditatively out toward the picturesque vista, desultorily picking at his nose.

I wondered momentarily what he was doing there, but passed him by as I continued my way down the stairs. Hannah had preceded me.

The scream

All of a sudden - Mariana screamed! A healthy, high-pitched scream!

My first thought - she was falling down the steep staircase and I grabbed on to the banister firmly to break both our falls.

My second thought - that purple-shirted guy had stolen her bag! Because as I turned to face Mariani, I saw him running up the steps away from us!

It was neither of those things.

The purple-shirt guy had reached under Mariana's ass and given it a firm and thorough grope. And then ran like the wind.

Once the shock was over, we laughed. The jerk.

A good lesson

The thing is that all three of us noted the purple-shirt guy just standing there on the steps. All three of us thought it was a little odd. All three of us are smart women.

And all three of us failed to take any action based on that perception of oddness, such as calling out to the others to stay alert because of the guy, or to stop and wait for the guy to move down or upward, putting him on alert that he'd been caught out for something, giving him the eyeball all the while passing him to, again, let him know he'd been caught out. Or taking his photo before passing him. 

Maybe because there were three of us, we were lulled into a false sense of security.

... and then we missed the bus

As the sun completed its setting business, we walked along a waterside park. We sat for awhile on a bench. We wound our way back through the Eyup Mosque complex, passing by gravestones beautifully lit.  Had a relaxing dinner.

Istanbul: Eyup Mosque

Who knew the buses in the Eyup neighborhood stopped running by 11:30? We didn't, so after some confusing conversations with various people, we took a taxi to Emininou, where I could hop a tram back to my place and Mariani and Hannah could take one to their neighborhood near Taksim.

Istanbul: Eyup Mosque