What now?!

I came to Istanbul in a desperate attempt to escape Prague, telling myself that even if I hated it, I had nothing to lose.

As it turned out, I didn’t hate it. I loved it! It’s probably one of the coolest, most interesting and beautiful cities I’ve ever been in.

However, to quote the cheerful straw-hatted dude from Taiwan who prevented me from committing murder at a police station this morning: Turkey is a fantastic country to travel to and be a tourist in. Not to live in.

I have never felt so consistently stressed and worried in my life. Every morning, I wake up with a sudden jump, a dozen worries flooding my mind all at once. It’s exhausting. I’ve had a headache for the past 5 days, which I’m fairly certain is caused by worry and is going to make my head explode before very much longer.

Everything is difficult here, as I mentioned before during the whole Impossible Phone Registration saga. Nothing is easy. Simple things like paying my electricity bill or my rent are huge, complicated procedures packed full of setbacks and frustrating bureaucratic hindrances.

I am tired. I don’t have the energy for this any more.

I want to go home.

However, even that is going to cost me money. My 90-day visa will expire soon, even though I have done everything required of me to get a residence permit. I made the appointment as soon as I got a job. I waited a month for the appointment date, and went along with all the necessary paperwork only to be told after several hours of faffing around that I would have to go to a different police station because of my address. That meant a new appointment, another month of waiting, and an even more weary me showing up this morning at a police station in the middle of nowhere.

My translator, a guy from the employment agency, failed to show up. Obviously I had no way of contacting him (since I never managed to register my phone in the end, and the one I ended up buying turned out to be a dud sold to the stupid foreigner.) I dithered for a while and then decided to brave it on my own, with my very limited Turkish and a heightened sense of I really don’t give a shit any more. After all, I had my completed form, my passport, my money, my photos, my documents, and my photocopies. Surely it would be enough just to give those all to the person at the counter, and say what I wanted?

You would think.

So anyway, as I was just about to punch a police officer in the face, a friendly Taiwanese guy stepped up from further back in the queue. I speak some Turkish, he said with a smile. Can I help you?

And help me he did, from translation to taking me out to a random little corner shop where a surly-looking fellow with a computer made an adjustment to my form and printed it out for 10 liras.

Of course, it was all in vain, which honestly didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I can extend your visa for three months, said the woman, but it will take three months. This made precisely zero sense to me at first, but I eventually understood that it would take three months to process the document I would need to present at the airport upon my departure. As I intend to leave as soon as my contract finishes at the end of June, however, this is completely useless. Can’t you give me a document to show them to prove I’ve paid to extend my visa? I asked, the vein in my forehead threatening to pop. No, she said flatly.

So my choices are (a) stay here until mid-summer, in a non-air-conditioned flat, with no job, waiting for the document that will let me leave the country, or (b) leave the country at the end of June as planned and pay an extortionate fine for over-staying my visa, despite the fact that I have done everything (and more than) they asked me to do and have done my best to purchase the required residency permit.

I give up. I’ll leave and pay the fine.

Leaving Korea was apparently a big mistake. I left with a decent amount of savings, and have lost nearly all of that as a result of ridiculously low wages in Prague, and bureaucracy/scam fees left, right and centre in Istanbul. I am homesick in equal measures for Korea and NI.

So, what next? I want to go home… I think. I may just be tired and frustrated and homesick, though. But I have no job options at home, and would be starting from scratch – no job, no prospects, no house, no car, no money.

Feeling understandably glum and worried about all this, I left the police station and hailed a taxi to go to work, as I had no idea where I was. My taxi driver was, in a word, insane – and, in another word, drunk. He veered around all over the road like a mental case, even stopping the car at one point to flag down a passing pedestrian and scrounge a cigarette off him. His attempts to engage me in conversation were funny at first, but took an unpleasant turn when I lost patience with him going on and on and on at me in slurred Turkish that I hadn’t a hope of understanding. I have no idea what you’re saying, I kept saying in English, exasperated and exhausted. Please. I just want to go to work. He was so determined to make me answer questions I didn’t understand that at one point he was literally twisted around in his seat, yelling into my face, with apparently no awareness of the fact that he was hurtling down a busy main road at the time.

Enough! Stop! STOP! I eventually yelled, losing my cool completely. I threw some money at him and leapt out, slamming the door and walking the rest of the way to work. It was awfully symbolic, in retrospect.

Yeah. I want to go home.

But what now?



I have never in my life encountered a group of fully-grown human beings as noisy as my current colleagues. Maybe a group of merry revellers being kicked out of the pub at closing time…. maybe.

These people are a mystery to me.

I can’t say it’s a cultural thing, because we’re a very international bunch. I’m in the foreign languages department at school, so our staff room has teachers of English, Spanish, and German. We consist of two Turks, one German, two Irish, one English, three Americans, two Spaniards, one South African, and one guy from somewhere on Earth (I assume, but cannot be certain).

Let’s start with him. I can’t be more specific about his nationality because I couldn’t understand what he was saying when he told me where he was from, and now it’s too late to ask anyone because it would look really bad if I didn’t know the nationality of my close colleague after nearly 2 months. He is an English teacher, and the general consensus seems to be that he must know someone who knows someone who wangled him the job, for the man really cannot speak English. I find myself getting inwardly frustrated when I’m trying to have a work-related discussion with him, because he doesn’t understand when I speak normally. I have to slow down to the speed I speak at when I teach, and simplify my language similarly.

This does not make him shy and retiring, though. Nooooo. He has the single most annoying voice I’ve ever heard. A nasal, deep, grating, whiny, harsh voice, with extended vowels and an irritating habit of ending every other sentence with “can you imagine?” for no logical reason.  It cuts through me and makes me visibly wince when he gives a sudden loud whoop or yell, as he’s inexplicably prone to doing, usually while in conversation with the South African, who is nice enough but for some reason feels the need to show huge reactions to anything being said. She does this by exclaiming “Are you SERIOUS?” (alllll day) and then jumping up and down, screaming (actually screaming) with laughter, snapping her fingers, and swaying back and forth as if she can’t contain her disbelief. At everything. Loudly.

Meanwhile, the Spanish gals are talking. Talking, talking, el talko mucho. I am not kidding, they have actually sat on either side of me and had a conversation through my head, apparently using my ears as walkie talkies. It hurts my brain. They talk so rapidly that it makes me feel stressed, even though I’ve no idea what they’re saying. I just want to put my arms around them and say “shhhhhh, deep breaths, calm down” like I do with the ADHD kids when they’re having a freak-out.

While this is going on, the Turks enter and begin yelling. Sometimes the yelling is just a normal conversation at an abnormal volume, and sometimes there’s an actual argument going on, but always, always with the yelling. About half of the foreigners also speak Turkish, so that conversation tends to become a shared roar throughout the room. Perhaps Turkish is a language which must be yelled. I really struggle to conceal my annoyance sometimes, especially if I’m trying to either work or have a conversation. The yelling just drowns everything out, including rational thought (and impulse control). I want to interrupt and ask “Why are you yelling? Why? How would it spoil the conversation if you spoke at a normal volume? Can’t you just take it down a couple of decibels?”. No wonder the children are screaming, shouting, out-of-control noise machines.

And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the clapping and laughing. The South African and the Unidentified Annoying Guy tend to clap their hands a lot for emphasis. I swear to you, it’s like if gunshots were going off inside your brain. I don’t know how they do it. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to raise the volume of clapping, but if anyone was going to manage it, it would be my colleagues. I’ve had to go to the school nurse twice for painkillers after developing an instant migraine from 10 minutes’ exposure to the clapping and the laughing. Oh, wait, I haven’t mentioned the laughing! The two Spaniards laugh like pneumatic drills, the two Turks laugh like shrieking hyenas, one of the American guys seems to find the most mundane things funny enough to giggle hysterically at for a solid ten minutes, and the South African simply continues to scream (as if she’s having a normal conversation).

And just to top it all off nicely, there will always, at some point during the day, be someone who feels the need to blast out a song at a volume I didn’t even know iPhones were capable of producing.

I am going insane.

When I speak, no one hears me. In all honestly, about 90% of the time it’s as if I don’t exist – I don’t think they’re ignoring me or being rude (most of them are nice enough people, and a couple of them are even friendly), I think they actually do not hear me. They genuinely don’t register that I’m speaking because I have a quiet voice. And by quiet, I mean not yelling. I see no need to shriek at someone who’s in the same small room as me, unless I am particularly angry.

Yesterday I hid in a toilet cubicle.

Honestly, it was either that or explode in a fit of tortured madness and start trying to murder people with the stapler (which I had had my crazed eye on for five full minutes of screaming/laughing/clapping/random howling). I calmly walked out as if nothing was wrong, locked myself into a cubicle, put down the toilet lid, and just sat there perched on the edge of the toilet, gazing fixedly at a spot on the door, my right eye twitching slightly now and again.

I have never understood loudness. Why is it necessary to live your life at that volume? As a quiet introvert, it doesn’t just irritate me – it actually makes me stressed and anxious, to the point where I’ll choose to sit in a toilet cubicle for 15 minutes rather than endure any more noise.

Also, I don’t think I ever realised what a privilege and joy it was to have my very own classroom…

Standing on ceremony

Every Monday morning before classes, and every Friday afternoon before we leave, the entire school assembles for The Ceremony. On my first day at the school, I thought it must be some kind of terribly significant and important occasion when I witnessed The Ceremony. Turned out it was just 4pm.

Usually, so far, I’ve seen The Ceremony taking place indoors – a couple of times lately, though, we’ve gathered outside in the playground, now that the weather’s getting warmer. Indoors, each class lines up in the corridor outside their own classroom at 9am/4pm – teachers stand with them to assist with the (very necessary) shushing. At the end of every corridor, a principal or head of department will stand with a microphone, next to the child who has been elected to hold the flag. I always feel slightly sorry for the smaller kids in this role, as you see the concentration and increasing struggle in their faces as they proudly but painfully hold the heavy flagpole that touches the ceiling even at a slant.

The person in charge (on my floor, the head of the first grade) calls for attention, and either greets everyone and wishes them a week of good lessons, or congratulates them on a hard week’s work and wishes them a good weekend. At least, I think that’s what’s going on. My listening skills are still weak, but improving! Then everyone stands to attention and sings along loudly as the national anthem blasts out over the tannoy system.

Outside, the procedure is similar except that the elected child has the less strenuous job of raising the outdoor flag as the anthem begins – and that it takes forever to organise everyone in their lines, get the entire school’s attention, and file out afterwards. It’s taken pretty seriously, with the exception of the occasional chatty child who is usually shushed or given a mild clout to remind them to take it seriously. Even the very youngest kids sing with great concentration and enthusiasm. Here’s one of our ceremonies from the other week:

Click here for video, as I have no YouTube access. (Wonder what Ataturk would make of the government censoring and restricting the people’s daily lives and freedoms, hmm, hmmm?!)

It’s nice, in a way. They’re patriotic people, as is evidenced not only by The Ceremony (which isn’t unique to my school), but also the abundance of national flags everywhere you look. Parks, streets, shops, schools… hanging out of random windows… honestly, if you look up at any apartment building, you will see at least two or three Turkish flags pasted in windows, or fluttering from them. It’s intense, but it’s nice that they love their country so much. What I find slightly unusual, however, is the almost worshipful reverence there is for Atatürk. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk His name (granted to him by the country, and forbidden by parliament to be taken by anyone else) means “Father of the Turks”, and as far as I can understand it, it’s against the law to insult his memory. That sets off a few Kim-Jongish alarm bells for me. To be fair, though, he did basically make Turkey what it is today. He was pretty much the founder of the Republic of Turkey, transforming it into a modern, secular, democratic (hmm) nation after the defeat of the Ottoman  Empire in WW1. He was a military leader who led the troops to victory in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922, and then went on to make some impressive reforms – particularly in terms of education and women’s rights.

And so the Turks love their Atatürk. 

Inside any school or public building (I forget where I took this, that's how common it is!)

Inside any school or public building (I forget where I took this, that’s how common it is!)

He is everywhere. Statues, pictures, plaques, and busts adorn every imaginable location throughout the country.

My school, which does things like this occasionally...

My school, which does things like this occasionally…

...what this does to the foreign languages department staff room reminds me of the episode of Frasier where his upstairs neighbour unfurls a giant flag that covers Frasier's window, and he can't complain because it's the Stars and Stripes!

…what this does to the foreign languages department staff room reminds me of the episode of Frasier where his upstairs neighbour unfurls a giant flag that covers Frasier’s window, and he can’t complain because it’s the Stars and Stripes!

His portrait can be found in every classroom, every school book, every home, and on every banknote.

And twice a week, in case all that’s not enough, they gather around a golden(ish) image of him, raise a flag, and sing…