Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup


Mary and I went to the "Blue Nile" African restaurant to watch the USA vs Ghana World Cup soccer match. The Ghanaians kept their composure throughout the match, except when they scored the go ahead goal during extra time. They almost jumped out of their clothes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Minnesota: The Wedding

June 19, 2010

The Wedding Party

Nikki Hollerich, a former employee and daughter of parents from our couples book club, and her partner, Angie Sullivan, commit themselves to each each other at Treasure Island Resort and Casino. The "Wedding" has all the pomp, pageantry, and traditions of most weddings, with an exception. It isn't legally a wedding at all.

There is no question about couples attachment and love for each other. Yet, a certain apprehension hangs over the proceedings, a hesitancy in the speeches from the "Bride and Groom's" fathers, and a reluctance at my own table to articulate our own feelings about the "marriage". Something seems missing. Maybe it is the hope of progeny, something totally expected in Turkey.

Currently, there are a number of feature articles about why even be married, the latest in Newsweek entitled, "I Don't, The Case Against Marriage", or the July/August edition of The Atlantic, on "The End of Men" and "Are Fathers Necessary?". In the United States a recent survey shows 75 percent of 18-to-34 year old men believe that marriage is a necessary institution they'll engage in, verses 63 percent of women. Times they are a changing.
I am now in the process of trying to clarify my own feelings about marriage. One thing I do know is that getting into a marriage is a whole lot easier than getting out of it and I like being married.
I still have three, maybe four. more weddings to attend this summer. I should have a better understanding about what it's about by then.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Turkey: The Wedding

June 9-12, 2010

About the Preliminaries:
The following is my understanding of a traditional Turkish/Muslim wedding.
The engagement occurs at a meeting of both families when the prospective groom asks the prospective bride's father for permission to marry. The acceptance by the bride's father in essence seals the marriage. In Turkey, there is a civil marriage that legally binds the couple to a marriage contract. Muslim's do not get married in a mosque. A cleric is invited for prayers or to speak to the couple about their religious obligations.

Henna Night:
Two nights before the wedding the bride's female friends get together for a party/ceremony to apply the dye, henna, to the bride's hands. This is to signify good luck. In the case of Gulden, she was originally brought into the room by the groom who then left. A band played, the women danced. About two-thirds through the evening, the bride leaves and this time returns preceded by a procession of women carrying candles accompanied with the groom. They bought sit in satin covered chairs and a hood is placed over the bride's head. The processional encloses the couple. Henna is then placed into the palms of both bride and groom who grip it tightly as women ceremoniously try to pry it from her hand. Gloves are placed over the hands with henna of both bride and groom. The groom then leaves and the party resumes. The women live it up. Turkish henna is leaves a rust colored stain, while Indian is black and used to paint designs on the skin.
Meanwhile the men, me included, await the finish of the women's revelry at a nearby restaurant.

Gulden and Adriana returning from henna night.
The family: Onur (24), Neli, Gulden (29), Memet, and Guldeen (17)
Some of the girls at Gulden's parents apartment
Men awaiting their ladies and the end of henna night.

The Hamam (Turkish Bath)
The day before the wedding is for the bride and her close friends to have a Turkish Bath. Since Mary declined the invitation, modesty I suppose, I can only relay what Adriana said. I guess the girls with to a Five Star Spa for not only a Turkish Bath, but many other beauty treatment

The Wedding Day (Part 1)
In the morning the wedding party headed of to the bride's parents ancestral home town and the father's parliamentary district of Bucak about an hour north of Antalya. I was not feeling well and missed the event. I don't know how many guest were there, but Gulden's brother said he shook hands for about four hours.

The Wedding Day (Part 2)

Mary, Adriana, and I waiting in the Sera Hotel lobby, Antalya, for the wedding to begin

Adriana, ready to go
Reception tables for 1,300 guests.
Chairs are covered in white satin with gold bows. Floral arrangements ring the area
with names of donors inscribed on ribbons.

A sit down dinner.

Bride and groom's entry, complete with orchestral fanfare and fireworks.

A large screen TV made it easier for all to see.
Bride and groom sit on a raised platform for the official civil ceremony conducted by Antalya's mayor. This was followed by congratulatory speeches from various Turkish governmental ministers and officials. Upon signing of the marriage contract, more fireworks.

Then the couple dance, to even more fireworks.

The wedding cake then arrived (didn't get a good picture of the fireworks)
Gift Giving
We wanted to give a gift, but were unsure what gift the couple wanted or what would be appropriate. So from departure on Turkish Airlines in Chicago to the day before the wedding, we asked anyone who would talk to us about what to do. Everyone said GOLD. Indeed gold is the appropriate gift and stores have it in many coinages and jewelry. Credit cards not accepted, since many brides quickly sell the gold back for cash.
We wondered how to actually give the gift and found out that if you gave a gold bracelet, you put it on the bride's arm. If coins, you drop it into a bag held by an attendant. In this case, the groom's sister. But how does the bride know what you have given in this anonymous manner. Not to worry we were later told, the couple's mother remember who gave what. (In this case, there was a photographer).
Later we were told that the bigger the wedding the better. More guests, more gold. Just what is fancy and what is truth is hard to decipher. Mary and I thought there was a lot of merit to gift giving in Turkey.

Mary congratulating the bride.
Dropping our gift into the bag held by the groom's sisters.
Reception area as guests begin to leave after gift giving.
The party is almost over
The get-a-way car, almost.
Final Ceremony
At the end of evening, when most guests had departed, the bride's father tied a ribbon around her waist to signify her virginity. The couple then went to the house of the groom's parents for tea before ending the evening at their hotel.
Apres Wedding
However, their wedding obligations continue for the next several weeks as they are expected to visit their relatives, after which hey go on their honeymoon to New York and the wedding of Gulden's host sister.

Turkey: Istanbul

June 6-8, 2010

It's been nine years since Mary and I were last to Istanbul. In 2001, we stayed in the Eminonu district in the oldest part of Istanbul within easy walking distance of the most popular tourist sites. This time we stayed in the Taksim area across the bay, called the Golden Horn, from Eminonu. Taksim can best be described as the hot, never sleep, shopping, restaurant, nightclub area of Istanbul. A tram and funicular now enable one to travel easily between the two areas. Our Taksim hotel was picked by our traveling companion and 28 year old Venezuelan exchange student, Adriana. She also visited Turkey in 2007.

Istanbul is immense. It is the fourth largest city proper in the world, with a history and heritage too vast for me to describe or comprehend. It is a clean place and the people are friendly. The mix between the traditional Moslem world with a modern Europe is apparent everywhere. Overriding it all is a growing sense of nationalism and the self realization of Turkey's role in the world.

Of course all of this is important, but when traveling what impressions you walk away with aren't necessarily written in The Lonely Planet, but are the ones you remember.

Our first lesson, and first meal, was at a cute sidewalk restaurant not far from our Taksim hotel. What to order while hungry, avoiding getting when under the canopy, and suffering from the eight hour jet lag? How about a fish sampler the waiter suggests, showing us a huge platter of half the ocean's fish population? The price on the menu was blank. No problem for surely the price varies depending on the the type of fish available and the number of people served. What we got was the whole platter of fish cooked up, more than enough to feed 20 people and a trade imbalance between our two countries. My favorite food was the bread-like pretzels you bought from street vendors.

The weather? Rained all the time we were in Istanbul. Fortunately, the showers brought out the umbrella sales people who hawked their wares where ever you turned. They cost about $3.00 US made of clear plastic, really nice for avoiding the normal street bedlam.

Hotel rooms are important, especially when traveling with a Venezuelan lady. Room size matters almost as much as showers to me. She selected a hotel with a huge room and even more interesting shower.

The shower/Jacuzzi with its two snake-like shower heads, six high intensity jets, and Jacuzzi nozzles, required us to call the desk on getting operating instructions. It was like being in a car wash. Absolutely fantastic. Then I noticed what appeared to be a window at the end of the shower on the common wall between the shower and the sleeping area. It was when I opened the doors of what I thought to be a closet did I discover what appeared to be a large window, was indeed a large window. You could lay in bed, open the closet doors, and watch. When I mentioned this to the desk clerk, he remarked that our room was one of their most popular.

What I thought to be fascinating, my two female travel mates, thought to be rather gross. Even though there was only a slight crack between the two closet doors, their modesty required an elaborate towel barrier to prevent even the most remote chance of voyeurism, as if they thought I might be. So much for trust.

The other major issue was mass transit body odor. It seemed that when you pack a tram car with people, there is a possibility you may encounter a few riders who use water sparingly. I didn't notice any unusual odors. But one wonders what we may smell like with the overpowering scent of lavender when not in season?

Mary trying her best on a bad hair day.

Adriana at the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet.

Taksim Square. from an internet cafe. Our hotel across the way.

The Basilica Cisterns. The water storage area for old Istanbul/Constantinople.
We thought a rare tourist find.

Our Metropark Hotel shower.
Bedroom view of shower with closet doors closed.
With closet doors open.

Anti-voyeur protection. devised by the female room occupants.

Turkey: Antalya

June 9-12, 2010

Antalya is located on Turkey's Mediterranean south coast on the Bay of Antalya. There are mountains behind the city which has a coastline of both beaches and high cliffs. It is a ancient city dating back to 300 BC, but the Greeks and Romans of that era would could never have imagined the explosive growth the city has had to become a major international resort. Since 2000 the population has grown from 600,000 to 1,100,000 with no signs of a let up. The population grows to over 2,000,000 during the summer tourist season. This city which we visited in 2001 is almost unrecognisable to us today. This is the city of Gulden Alp, the exchange student we have come to see get married.

In many ways, Antalya reminds me of Cancun, Mexico, with hotels massed along the shoreline; instead of Americans inhabiting the resorts, it is Russians. They come by the thousands for all-inclusive vacations in the sun. The women are thin, almost anorexic, in their thong bathing suits. There is somewhat of a love-hate relationship, with the Turks taking their money and the Russian women wanting the Turkish men to marry, or so the Turkish single ladies think. It is a wonderful place to visit with historical sites everywhere, shops galore, McDonald's, Starbucks, expressway built through the center of town. What is missing is the Turkey we remembered during our last visit. We could find only one place that served home-made Turkish food.

Our hotel, the Adonis, was new, complete with Greek Gods and Goddesses. Built on the cliff's of Antalya, stairs/elevator took you down to the sea and into a different setting. The nice thing about a Muslim country is you don't have to contend with drunken vacationers. Certainly alcohol is available, but not emphasized. Mostly everyone was polite and well behaved, although you would have to get up very early to grab a deck chair.

View from our Adonis Hotel Balcony.

One of the many tour boats cruising the beautiful cliffs.
Russian ladies doing water aerobics.
Poolside lit at night.

Turkey: Cappadocia

June 13-15, 2010

Mary and Friends

About Cappadocia(Kapadokya)

No matter how you spell or say it, Cappadocia is a huge area of central Turkey. It reminds me of the Dakotas with its high, dry plains and badlands. Today Cappadocia refers more to the region around the city of Nevsehir. It is a popular tourist area, especially for those interested in early Christianity. Most of the tourists tend to be Germans, Spanish, English, and French.

Geologically this area was covered by deep layers of compressed volcanic ash. This ash can easily be dug out to form rooms, tunnels, and indeed entire underground cities. Early Christians sought refude here to avoid Roman persecution before the Byzantine Emperor, Constance, sanctioned Christianity in 313AD. The monastic movement and consolidation of Christian theology by St Basil, also took place in this area. Turks still live in these carved out rooms, despite the governmental efforts to remove them.

Getting there:

Our generous Antalya hosts provided us with a van and driver. This was a wonderful chance the interior of Turkey and to eat some great grilled food at a roadside stop. About halfway we passed through the city of Konya. All was fine except for what we thought was a four hour drive, turned into a nine hour drive, and a late night arrival into unknown territory. As Turkish hosptality would have it, some local residents drove ahead, leading to our hotel.

High mountains separate the coast from interior plainsView from our hotel in the Cappadocian town of Ergup.

Fairy Chimneys:

The area is marked by many geological oddities caused by the differential erosion of soft volcanic ash and harder rock. The most obvious are Fairy Chimneys where a harder stone on top remains perched as the underlying softer rock is eroded away. Of course over time, the erosion does cause the top rock to fall off leaving a cone shaped structure without its "cap".

Cappadocia today:
For protection, houses originally could not be seen. Erosion has worn away the walls of many to reveal the rooms inside. Modern houses and hotels are now carved into the rock where early Christians once lived.

Town of Uçhisar dominated by a high fortress rock with people living

in hillside hotels and rock homes in the foreground.View from top of Uçhisar fortressAnother view from Uçhisar fortress

Pigeon Valley, some homes have walls eroded, some not

Suburban Cappadocia

Adriana and Mary at site of old monastery with many walls eroded

Underground Cities:

Just how many underground cities existed is unknown. Many were thought to be interconnected by underground tunnels. The steps taken to insure residents from being undetected and surviving for long times without revealing themselves at the surface demonstrates their genius and ingenuity.

A living area
Tunnels, passages, labyrinths everywhere

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's in Your Luggage?


Goodbye old friend

Travel entails risks. We all are aware of that, but the risks we actually encounter may not be the ones we spend billions to reduce. The resources devoted to examining luggage is extraordinary. There are thousands of denials of any unknown persons touching our luggage, inspectors, stickers, waiting lines, x-ray and imagining machines, dogs, and who knows what else all designed to detect contraband. Yet we have little knowledge of what happens to our luggage once its disappears on that conveyor belt into the black hole of securityville. What is vomited up at your destination may not be what went in at your departure.

On a trip to Africa, Mary found a different pair of shoes in her luggage. She was very concerned about the woman who owned the shoes, until she realized her shoes were also missing. Wrong size of course, too small to be of any use. We laughed about the games being played behind the scenes by luggage inspectors with other people's clothes .

On this trip to Turkey, Mary opened her luggage to find a filthy woman's camisole and underpants, probably used to clean the floor or whatever. A couple of days later, she discovered her cell phone was missing.

We drew the only logical explaination to these international travel events. Mary's luggage was cursed. So we did what any other rational person would do, we threw it in the garbage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Samoan Update

Peace Corps, Jim Metz and Spencer Narron, organizing a village program

Simple tools, like a rare bathroom scale and weight chart,
make for an effective demonstration

The Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers who followed Mary and I and who are finishing their stay within the next few months have exceeded anything I could have ever hoped to achieve in attacking the severe problems of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. They have gotten funds and are currently putting on programs with the Department of Health in several villages on Savaii, complete with screening, and educational programs on reducing the incidence of these diseases. They even have a skit where Samoans are asked to put on a costume with 20 pounds of rice sewn it to demonstrate how being overweight taxes the body!

Since all new Peace Corps to Samoa are teachers, they too receive training in implementing health programs at the village level, outside of their normal teaching duties. This presents a new and very challenging opportunity for Peace Corps to expand it's reach to a wider population.

A blog has also been established to provide wider exposure to their efforts.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Off to a Turkish Wedding

6/5/10 Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Mary and I off to Istanbul, Turkey tonight to join up with our Venezuelan exchange student, Adriana Hernadez-Moron to move on to Antalya, Turkey and the wedding of Gulden Alp, our common exchange student friend.

Mary, Gulden, and I in Turkey (2001)Adriana and Gulden at our house in Edina (December 2006)

Samoa Wins World Series


There is the American World Series in which a game little known by the rest of world, but is a big deal here. Then there is a World Series for a game more commonly played played in other parts of the world, but hardly known here. It is called rugby and Samoa just won the Sevens World Series Championship in Scotland. For a country with about 170,000 people, it is as big deal.

My village of Iva's under 21 years of age Rugby Team

Almost every boy in Samoa dreams of making the national team. After school you see barefooted children playing rugby with and without an actual rugby ball. Rugby is a tough and serious sport. For those who have never seen a rugby match before, it is a Olympic sport for 2012. It may be a chance for Samoa's ;ight to shine even brighter.