Thursday, August 23, 2012

Call to Prayer

It is full dark outside, cooler now than during the daylight but still warm. A moment ago I stepped outside to get something from the car and heard the call to prayer from the local mosque in Incirlik. I hear this sound several times a day. Most of the time there are other competing noises and I catch only a few notes. The masculine, undulating melody is strange to my American ears and I have no way of separating the tones into meaningful words but I love it all the same.

Today I was very very brave and drove with the kids down to the mall in Adana. On our way we saw at least a half dozen sharply spired minarets. The mall stands opposite the large central mosque shown above. (In fact, I took that picture from a third story restaurant in the mall). As beautiful as the blue mosque is, I loved seeing the smaller minarets and imagining times past when someone would stand in the small, high opening and sing out the call to prayer without the modern day aids of loudspeaker systems.

Tonight's call to prayer comes through speakers that allow it to be heard all throughout the village and base. The reverberations create an delayed echo that makes the one male voice sound like two - a plaintive duet. I lean against the carport pillar and listen until the song fades away.  It is a surreal moment, a reminder that I am far away from the safe and comfortable, living in the strange and wonderful.

I love that there is a call to prayer five times everyday. If I remember to say a pray in the morning before my day takes off, bless the food before each meal and pray before I drop into bed at night, then my daily prayer total is roughly five per day. But its not the number of prayers that I love, its the call to pray itself. Its the moment when somebody intrudes into daily busy-ness and shouts, "Remember your faith. Remember God. Remember to talk to Him."

Now I don't claim to be well-versed in Islam and maybe I am grossly mis-representing or over-simplifying their prayer practices but that's what the call to prayer says to me. Its the same feeling I used to get driving down Evans Road at sunset, rounding the corner and seeing the stunning San Antonio temple, my temple, silhouetted against the sunset. "Remember God." 

We probably all hear calls to pray at times in our lives. Visual reminders of our beliefs or even challenging experiences can bring our minds and hearts back to our faith, back to the God we were raised on.  I have a framed pencil drawing done by an incredibly talented childhood friend of Geoffrey's, David Michael Grey (you can see his work at that link.) The drawing is of a woman. Behind her is visible a robed figure, shown from the shoulders down. The marks in his outstretched hands identify him as Jesus Christ, the Christian God. David drew the woman in the act of turning around -  turning toward him. I love the message of the piece - that we all have to turn back to God.

My next post probably won't be quite so deep, more of the adventures and misadventures of an American mom living in Turkey. I might even relate my harrowing drive home from the mall in rush hour traffic. But I hope you didn't mind my indulging myself in a few late evening reflections.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Delaney's Birthday

My sweet daughter is now 15!! How she has managed to grow up into such a beautiful, happy, confident young lady is a little beyond me but I'm so grateful that she has. She seems to have escaped much of the teenage angst that plagued me at that age. And true to form, she has adapted wonderfully well to the major upheaval of an overseas move. She has already made friends with great girls, planned a full and active schedule for the next school year, has babysitting clients and seen more of Turkey than I have! She is on track to achieve her goal of finishing high school in the next two years which means when we move again she will be off to college. I'm excited for her but sad for me.

But enough of that. On to her birthday celebrations. I had a little more advance notice for this one and was able to order a present online and do some shopping off base for a few more. We started her special day with breakfast in bed. She is the one who is usually doing this for other family members of their birthdays so I wanted to make sure she had some pampering on her birthday. She also had a card from her Grandpa Leo (thanks Dad) and her first present to open - a pair of earrings with evil eye stones that I bought out in the Alley.
Looks yummy, huh? Don't be too impressed though - those are Eggo's.
Her dad took her out for lunch at the mall off base. They had Pizza Hut (I have no idea why). She also got to watch Geoffrey get a hair cut experience at the Pretty Women Man Salon in the alley. He had gotten a really bad haircut at the club barbershop that morning so he went somewhere else to have it fixed. He walked out an hour later with his hair cut perfectly, his eyebrows trimmed and threaded, his nose hair trimmed and his ear hair singed off with some flaming candle thing. He said he had no say in the matter and that the eyebrow threading hurt like heck but they did follow it up with some soothing creme and a massage. All that set him back all of $13.

That evening we had a back to school party with the branch at the base pool, which they had rented out. Everyone sang happy birthday to Delaney at dinner. The party was great and even though Delaney, Carson, and Evan had been in their swimsuits every day that week at the Wet and Wild Week, they still had a good time. I even went off the diving board a few times and down the water slide, much to my children's delight.

Sunday afternoon we had one of her favorite dishes, Angel Chicken Pasta, for dinner and brookie sundaes for dessert. (Brookies are brownies baked with globs of chocolate chip cookie dough in them. Super yum! You should try them.) And she opened a few more presents. I had ordered her a Ipod docking station/CD player for her room. She had a small alarm clock docking station that recently died so it was a good choice. I also bought her a pretty lamp off base in one of the stores.
Apparently these lamps are kind of a touristy thing but they are very pretty. She was very happy with her gifts and with her birthday celebrations.

There she is - my only daughter. A refuge of femininity in this sea of testosterone that is our mostly male family. I would say she's growing up too fast but really she's just right on schedule. I enjoyed her when she was a darling toddler and a sassy kid holding her own against her brothers and I enjoy her now as a sparkling, vibrant young lady. And though I am glad that so far all her boyfriends are not real . . .
I know one day she will be the best thing that ever happened to some lucky young man who could never really deserve her.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Swimming in the Med

On Saturday we took our first family day trip. A family in our branch was going to their favorite beach and invited the branch and a few other families along. We drove for about an hour or so, passing the Snake Castle that the kids went earlier in the week. The beach tuned out to be quite private, no one else was near us at all.

The water was warm and the sand was smooth. Not as fine and lovely as Florida white sand but a nice beach all the same. The Bowens had a small propane grill and cooked hot dogs and brats and the rest of us had brought drinks and chips and such. I had made cookies to share - just the cheap Betty Crocker mixes that use an egg and a stick of butter. But because they were in a covered glass pan and it was so hot outside, by the time we ate them they were warm and gooey and tasted like they had just come out of the oven. Everyone loved them which I found funny. Wait until I get my KitchenAid - I'll show you what good cookies are!

We all swam and had a great time. Rory got in with Geoffrey for a while but he spent most of his time playing in the sand (yes, I know. That will remind my parents of me playing in the sand with my back turned to the Red Sea.) Geoffrey also spent a good part of his time resting on the sand. The rest of us spent nearly all our time in the water.

So here are the two moments I will remember most about this fun day.

1) At one point I was out in the water with my older three kids. Someone on the shore was flying a kite so Brannick started to sing "Let's go fly a kite" from Mary Poppins. (Who knew he knew the words to that?)  Pretty soon we were all belting out the song, followed by all the other Mary Poppins songs we could remember. Sometimes that Pratt blood just comes on out.

2) Out in the surf with Brannick and Delaney, a small flying fish landed on Delaney's shoulder. It was so small she thought it was a fly at first. Then she looked down and there it was flopping around on her shoulder.  She screamed and just about then it hopped back into the water and swam away.  Now we've both been attacked by flying fish.

Today we are all sunburned. No, I take that back. Yesterday we were all sunburned. Today, Carson, Brannick, Rory, and Geoffrey all have beautiful tans. Delaney and I look like lobsters and Evan has red ears and cheeks.

Next Sunday one of the families that was with us is going back to that same beach to baptize one of their kids. I think we will try to go along. Makes me wish we were going to be here when Rory turns 8!

Thursday Market

This past week I went to the Thursday Market in the village of Incirlik just outside of base. Just so you aren't confused - the Alley is the street facing the base. It has many shops and restaurants on it which cater to American and Turkish Service members. The village is behind the alley. It's a pretty small place but people live and work there just like any tiny village or hamlet.

The market is a temporary establishment. Tables and stands set up on a wide street. There were a few dry goods/clothing stalls and I even saw one with fabric bolts on it but the majority of merchants were selling fruits and vegetables.

I went with two ladies from our ward. Once there we ran into three other people from our neighborhood who live over in the Commanders circle.

Many of the stalls had shade tarps over them but it was still very very hot and sticky.  I was sweating buckets. The fruit merchants all want you to try their fruit to show you how sweet it is. We did try some really good grapes, a pear and melon. I had hoped to buy one of those collapsible wire carts there but the stall that sold them wasn't there. I had brought some re-usable grocery totes so I did okay. I ended up buying potatoes,  small pears, a weird looking melon and some huge peaches. Oh, I learned that you can't say 'peach' to a Turk. It means that particular swear word that calls the legitimacy of your parentage into question. So you call them seftali - the Turkish word. I also learned that "Thank you" is teşekürler. And yes, that is as hard to say as it looks.

We also visited the bakery, which was a small building with one room. The room had a counter and a very big oven built into the back wall. We watched them put the bread dough on a long paddle and put it into the oven. After a few minutes the paddle went back in and pulled out the hot bread. Someone would brush off the ashes with a small hand broom, wrap it in plain paper and sell two for one lira. It is soooo good!

We also got some small slushies which were cold if not good. I got the orange flavor which tasted exactly like frozen Tang. The lemon one was not any better as it was both overly sweet and bitter at the same time. But it was cold and that was what we were after!!

I was instructed to thoroughly wash all the produce when I got home, which I did. And so far it has all been wonderful! Geoffrey and I did go to a large grocery store in the mall on Friday night and purchase a few things. And tomorrow I'm going to go check out the Turkish commissary on base. Its open on Monday, ours is not. And for some reason we can go visit their commissary but they can not purchase anything from ours. In fact, if we even purchase for or gift something from our BX or commissary to a Turkish national it is considered black marketing. You can get in a lot of trouble for that.

Anyway, I'd like to learn how to shop better so I won't be restricted to the commissary. I need to learn my numbers and a few other phrases and then I think I will feel a little more confident. There is a Turkish language and culture class that meets on Tuesday nights but they are not meeting during the month of August so I will have to wait until September for that. In the meantime I am going to try to start leaning some things on my own and with the help of more experienced friends. Wish me luck!

Turkish Culture Camp

Snake Castle
In case you were wondering how Turkish Culture Camp went - here is an abbreviated report. One of their first outings was to Yilankale - or Castle of the Snakes. It was built in the 11th or 12th century, was used by the Crusaders and gets it name from a legend that says it belonged to the king of the snakes. No, my children did not come home spouting facts and historical background. I had to look it up. But they did have a good time climbing on and around the castle.

As is typical of historical sites here there are no guardrails, no paved paths, no facilities. The kids said there was a lot of sheer climbing up and down and some scary jumps. And it was very very hot.  Brannick got heat stroke/exhaustion and spent the ride back trying not to toss his cookies. But he did say that he'd like to go back with the family, once the cooler weather comes.

This is the mosque in Adana. (In case you forgot Adana is the city about 7 miles from the base and village of Incirlik.) It is the largest mosque in Turkey and it's beautiful. Its called Sabanci Merkez Camii - which means Sabanci Central Mosque. It was built in 1998 so it's relatively new. The kids got to tour this on their second day. They had to wear jeans and not shorts and Delaney had to cover her head with a scarf when they went in.

This is one picture of the interior. It is truly beautiful and I can't wait to go see it. The kids were very impressed but said it needs air conditioning.

This is the Tarsus Waterfall.  The kids saw this on the way to Kizkalesi. I wish they had been able to go see Paul's well and the church of St. Paul there but we will go again.

Here is a picture of the horse back riding day. The kids had been pretty excited about this day but came back saying it was totally lame. I think they were expected a trail ride through the Turkish countryside and what they got was a 5 minute turn to walk around in a circle on a pony. Oh well. You can't have everything.

All in all they had a great week. And I think getting up and having something to do all day helped them with their sleep schedules as well. Next week is Wet and Wild Camp. Delaney, Carson and Evan are going to that. Rory will be going to Vacation Bible School for 3 hours every morning and hopefully Brannick will start his job.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tender Mercies

So this is Brannick, my oldest. He's a pretty great kid. He will be 17 at the end of this month. (Most of you know all this, of course. ) One of the factors we considered when Geoffrey and I were pondering whether or not to try for an overseas assignment was how it would effect our kids. Specifically how it would affect the older ones' teen years. We knew it might be difficult for Brannick to get a job and have the opportunity to earn money for his mission.  We felt that work experience would be good for him and that it was important for him to earn a portion of his mission expenses.

Even before we got here to Incirlik we had heard that jobs for teens were very scarce. But as of today Brannick has a job! Its a great blessing and the result of multiple tender mercies. This is how it happened.

1) A few days after we arrived Geoffrey and I were grabbing some lunch at the BX food court. Geoffrey ordered his lunch at Taco Bell and was helped by an older American teen. That was unusual as all the other employees seemed to be Turkish as are most non-military employees on base. Geoffrey asked him how old he was and about getting a job there. He was told that Taco Bell was in need of another worker and that there was a table there in the BX with information on it.

2) While Geoffrey ate I walked over to look at the table. Within about 3 seconds there was a Turkish man standing at my side asking me about Brannick. He turned out to be the Food Court Manager.  We chatted briefly and I mentioned that Brannick did a home study program and would be available during school hours to work. He was very interested and asked me if Brannick could come the following day for an interview.

3) Brannick went the next day to the interview which was with both the Taco Bell Manager and the Food Court Manager.  Brannick has never had a formal regular job before but he told them about the temporary jobs he has had doing yard work, window washing and property maintenance. They were impressed and said he must know how to work hard and was a 'strong boy.'

4) After the interview he had to fill out an online application for AAFES and submit a resume. Geoffrey helped him with both. He expected to hear from the manager sometime this week.

5) Brannick has been gone everyday this week at the Culture Camp. I have been home most of the time but hadn't gotten any phone calls about it. Today Evan was getting a little stir crazy and asked if we could walk to the BX for lunch. While we were there I decided to ask the Taco Bell manager if Brannick's online application had been received. He directed me to the Human Resources office in the back of the BX. When I asked the HR manager he told me Brannick had been given the job but he had missed his in-processing appointment which was today at 12:15. He showed me the emails he had sent Brannick telling him about this. Brannick hadn't checked his email.

6) The HR guy said that if Brannick could fill out the processing paperwork online then he would just need to stop in and sign some papers and bring in his SS card, passport, ID, etc. I wasn't sure if Brannick would get home in time to do this as the Culture Camp isn't supposed to get home until 5pm each day. Monday they were early but yesterday it was 5 before they got home. So I prayed that they would get home early and called the Youth Center to tell them to pass a message to Brannick to come home as soon as they got off the bus. He was home by 3:30.

7) I had been able to get online and fill out the paperwork for him. And I was smart enough to hand carry on the plane all our birth certificates, both sets of passports and our SS cards. So I had all the documentation he needed.  Geoffrey came home with the copy of his orders that Brannick needed and took him over to HR where they got it all done! 

If I hadn't listened to the prompting to check up on his application I think they might have ended up giving the job to someone else soon.  The whole thing has been such a wonderful blessing. I am so grateful to have one more assurance that the Lord is mindful of my family and especially of my children and their needs.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

5 Great Things About Living in Turkey

1) The Yogurt. I think I will never be able to eat thin, chemically tasting Yoplait again. The yogurt here is amazing. So far we've tried Blackberry - with chunks of half berries in it, Apricot Fig - Geoffrey's fav, Pear Banana - sooooo good, and Cherry Vanilla - real cherry not flavoring. Fortunately the nutrition labels are in Turkish so I can't tell how many calories or fat grams I'm eating.
Sorry I don't know how to rotate that. Just lean your head to the right.
2) We walk everywhere! In San Antonio, nothing was close to our house. You had to get on a freeway to get anywhere. With all Geoffrey's traveling and my driving the kids to music lessons in Canyon Lake and Live Oak, our gas bill was somewhere between $700-$900 a month. Ouch!! And although gas is more expensive here we will be driving so much less. I will be so much happier putting that money towards our IRAs or even toward taking big trips. And I love it that we have more physical activity built into our day.

3) The Turkish people are very friendly and customer service oriented. I told you about the shopkeeper and the apple tea.  The man who is employed to mow our lawn for us until our mower comes also waters the grass, takes the garbages to and from the curb, trims the bushes, and washes the rental car. When we took the family out to the Alley for a meal on Friday night we were brought complimentary salad before our meal and complimentary fruit plates afterwards. The waiter tried very hard to bring us some of his special tea - actually we couldn't quite work out if he was saying special tea or specialty. But as we were unsure of the whole tea thing, we politely turned it down. (The food was amazing there. I'm so proud of my kids. They all tried very Turkish dishes and we had a tasting contest to see whose dish was the most delicious. I won. Apparently my bad restaurant karma was left behind in the States.)

You probably can't read any of those little labels but then again, I can't either!
4) I love the house!! This is the kitchen. Its gorgeous! Ignore the random stuff on those beautiful marble countertops. With the exception of being very loud (I promise to do my best to change that before you come to visit Dad.), the house is so nice. And for being small, it makes such great use of space. New appliances, a nice laundry room, lots of storage, a lovely tiled back porch, large bathrooms, custom closets with enough shelving that we won't need our dressers. Its great. The appliances are all American with the exception of my dishwasher, which is Turkish. It requires a special dishwasher salt in addition to dishwasher soap and I had to have the housing guy explain the controls to me.

5) Jet Noise. Yes, that sounds strange but one of the things I liked about living in the flight path of Hill AFB was hearing the F-16s. That distinctive roar overhead always made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than my own small family concerns and stresses. I've been told that fighter pilots are on the pointy end of the sword and at least for the 34th Rams, those pilots didn't fly well without good medical care from my husband. Here in Turkey the aircraft noise I hear ripping through the trees from the flight line isn't always our planes. This is a Turkish Air Base after all and we share the flight line.  But if you think about where this country is and who its bordering neighbors are,  we are really way out there on the end of the sword. Together with our Turkish allies we are defending that line in the sand. And my family is part of that. That's pretty cool.

Impromptu Birthday Celebration

Happy Birthday to Rory! He turned 6 on August 1st, way before I felt settled and organized enough to do much of anything about it. But we managed.

The night before, Geoffrey and Carson went to the BX with me to buy some presents. We wandered the 3 short aisles of toys, then turned around and wandered them again. We finally settled on a game, a large bouncy ball and a small soccer ball for the park, an Etch-A-Sketch for church, a book, and an ungraded Leapster (on sale for 50% off). I had picked up the birthday banner pictured above earlier in the week at the commissary. It clings to the wall without sticking on permanently and cost less than two bucks! It had lots more little confetti pieces which I placed on the wall leading down the stairs. The banner is on the wall facing the stairs.  I put up the banner after Rory went to sleep the night before and he was more than sufficiently thrilled upon coming down the stairs the next morning.

Carson had interviewed Rory as to his birthday wishes and presented me with a list. He wanted to have a picnic at the park with hot dogs and chips for his lunch. Then macaroni and cheese for dinner with carrot cake (really???) for dessert. When asked, he said he did want ice cream but I was not to buy chocolate ice cream, which according to him is all I buy. And he wanted to go swimming.

 So in the morning I biked to the Outdoor Rec to buy the pool passes then on to the commissary to get the lunch supplies. I couldn't manage to get both dinner and lunch as that would have maxed out my little basket and handle bar capacity. Then home again, dripping slightly. We prepared our picnic and walked to one of the nearby parks to eat it.

Then as soon as the plumber came to fix the kitchen sink (he didn't actually but that's another story. I'm getting a new garbage disposal tomorrow and hopefully have sopped up dirty water from under my sink for the last time.) we went to the pool. It has a water slide. And the little kids pool (Rory says its NOT a baby pool) is SUPER cold. Which is nice when you are hot and sweaty.  Sorry I didn't get a picture. I'm not good at remembering to grab my camera. And when I do remember, I can't find it.

We walked home again and since Geoffrey was home, I drove to the commissary and back. I had to make dinner quickly so Brannick and Carson could get to their first Scout meeting. Macaroni and Cheese with Steak Fingers and Frozen Peas. And Ketchup.  I am hanging my head in shame just thinking about it. But five six year olds aren't known for their sophisticated palettes. We waited the cake and ice cream until the boys got home again. Why not since we are all up until nearly midnight every night anyway?

Rory actually liked the carrot cake. And the presents were a hit. (Sigh of relief). As he went to bed that night he said, "I know I can't have a birthday every day but I just wish tomorrow could be my birthday too."  So I guess we did okay.

Most of my kids are beyond that age where you can totally fake it, throw it together at the last minute and get away with it. Its kind of nice to still have one young enough to impress.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tuesday July 31st - Base Walkabout

Tuesday, July 31st – Yesterday the kids and I ventured out around the base. Geoffrey began his in-processing so we were on our own. We checked out the library and got a card and some books. They have interlibrary loan with any base library in Europe. They also have an extensive collection of DVDs. They don't have enough audiobooks to satisfy Carson but they do have Overdrive so we will have to get him some through that.

Then we went to the bowling alley to check that out. It turned out to be closed for renovation for the next several months but the restaurant connected to it was open and we grabbed some lunch.

Next stop was the youth center. I signed up the four oldest for a membership at the whopping price of $12 a month for all four. For that price they can hang out at the youth center any time it is open, use the skate park, rent roller blades, play pool or ping pong and get the discounted price on youth center trips. Then I promptly signed them up for some upcoming trips. The oldest three will be going to Turkish Culture Camp everyday next week. And the week following the middle three will be going to a Wet and Wild Camp each day. Lastly I signed up Carson and Evan for the Pre-teen mall trip to downtown Adana and Delany and Brannick for the Teen Mall trip. Carson and Evan actually went today. They had a good time and got to see a bit of the city.

We tried to get a pool pass but Outdoor Rec was closed on Monday, along with the pool itself. So we got the combination for our post office box, which was still empty, hit the ATM to withdraw some Turkish Lira to send to the mall with the boys, and then headed home. And all that was done on foot! Its pretty great to have things so close.

Today I went to a Newcomer's Briefing with Geoffrey. Honestly, it was a little over-whelming. Of course they have to present all the worst case scenario stuff and prep you on emergency evac and off limits areas and such but it was the first time it really hit me how very far away from home I am. And the statistics on how small the population and land area of this base are really surprised me. Apparently they call this Mayberry. And I can see why. You are stuck with this small group of people on what amounts to about 3 square miles.

Anyway by the time I got done with that this afternoon I had temporarily lost my adventurous sunny attitude. But after dinner Geoffrey and I took the older two boys to the BX to get Rory's birthday presents and then parked near the gate and walked off base to the Alley. Our intention was to pay the car rental agent but his office was closed. So we wandered a bit and poked our heads into a tiny shop that advertised puzzle boxes. Geoffrey has a thing for puzzle boxes. As the boys were checking out the boxes I picked up a jar of apple tea. The shopkeeper immediately asked me if I would like to try some apple tea. We had been told that shopkeepers will often offer you tea or apple tea and that you are free to accept or decline with no expectation of buying something in return or no offense if you turn it down. But since I wanted to try the apple tea and knew it was not a real tea, I accepted. He brought the tea to me in a small glass shaped like a squat vase, with a tiny spoon and saucer. Geoffrey and the boys had a glass as well. The tea tasted similar to the spiced apple cider you get in the winter. We all agreed that it was delicious and I bought a jar. Carson was enthralled by some brass chess sets he had there. He is planning on saving his money to buy a set of Roman Centurion pieces. The shop owner spoke excellent English and was a handsome older man who looked much more European than Middle Eastern. I commented on his good looks once we got home and the kids laughed at me and said I had a grandpa-crush.

Since we didn't want to leave Delaney and the younger boys for too long we walked back through the gate and drove home. Brannick said he liked going off base and asked if we could do it more often. Again and again I have been amazed at the positive attitude he has had during this whole move. He hasn't complained and encourages the other kids when they get frustrated or disgruntled. He has been so positive and upbeat. It really helps so much. And after our enjoyable outing, I got my sense of adventure back.

Next week all the kids have something to do. Evan and Rory will be at Vacation Bible School every morning and Brannick, Delaney and Carson will be with the Youth Center Staff on the Turkish Culture Camp trips. So I will be by myself! I am thinking about asking some of the other ladies to take me off base to tour the city.