Archive | June 2012

Playing Dull

Here I am living in a beautiful country, surrounded by mountains, turquoise seas, lush wildlife and after 3 years I am still struggling with the language.

I started lessons before I left the UK – we did lots of vocabulary and a heap of grammar.  But not much talking.  I honestly thought that when I got here it would all fall into place.  Friends have told me it takes 4 years to get fluent and I keep hoping I’ll wake up one morning and feel more confident about speaking.

It doesn’t help that in this area the Turkish is very slangy so I find it hard to follow.  I have had about 20 lessons since I moved here but I just reach saturation point after about 10 weeks when I can’t remember anything.

My husband speaks English at home because he is still learning and needs to practice and when his family are here they all speak Kurdish.  My husband complains that my Turkish isn’t getting any better but I know that it is.  I can now visit non English speaking family and have a cay (turkish tea) and a chat without getting into a complete panic.  Sometimes I need to look something up in my dictionary but mostly I manage with the vocabulary I have.  it may come out in the wrong order but people understand.

But it also suits me to play the dull girl sometimes.  People quite happily chat in Turkish in front of me assuming I don’t understand anything when in fact if I haven’t got to think about coming up with a response I can follow quite alot.

I gave myself away last week though…….. my husband and I were chatting to one of his friends when the friends ex wife appeared.  Not a nice lady…very big, Turkish and demanding.  She doesn’t speak English….so this is the translation:

Her – who’s that woman?

Him – she’s his wife

Where’s she from?  – England

Her – oh a foreigner!  Can she cook?

Him – I don’t know

My Husband – Yes – she’s a good cook

Her – Does she understand Turkish?

Me – yes, I undeerstand Turkish

Her….flounced off in a huff

My husband nudged me and said “your Turkish is getting better then”

Me – not really just understood about me understanding Turkish

Would hate him and his friends thinking that I can understand them – they’d stop letting me sit there quietly with my tea.   It really does suit me to play dull in lots of social situations.   Not sure how much longer I will get away with it. Especially if I start answering people when they ask questions!

I’m still not anywhere near as good as I would like to be but I am getting better.

Yaprak Sarma (stuffed vine leaves)

One  of my most favourite Turkish dishes.

You will need vine leaves – either fresh, packed or tinned.  The tinned and packed ones are usually stored in brine so will need a bit of a wash before you use them.

For the filling you will need:

1 medium onion

100g minced beef or lamb

a cup of rice

a handful of pine nuts or some of the pasta we use to cheat in Turkey  (Optional)

black pepper (to taste)

mint (to taste)

fresh parsley (to taste)

sage (to taste)

salt (to taste)

lemon juice

3 cloves of garlic

a teaspoon of tomato puree

some people like to add sultanas but I don’t really like them.

olive oil and a knob of butter

Melt the knob of butter in a deep frying pan.   Add the onions and garlic and fry until slightly transparent.  Add the pine nuts or the pasta and fry until brown.  Add a 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the minced meat and your seasonings.  When the meat looks cooked stir through a teaspoon of tomato puree. Add the rice and enough water to just cover the mix.  Cook on a low heat with a lid on until the water has been absorbed.

Wash  your vine leaves and de-stalk them.  A small v shaped cut wither side of the stalk should do it – be careful not to tear them.  The veined paler green side is the inside and where you will be placing the filling.

Once your stuffing is cooked – lay a leaf matte side up on a clean chopping board (I use a big board and lay out 6 at a time) with the missing stalk piece at the bottom place a thin strip of filling cross ways onto the leaf.  Roll the bottom over one, fold both the sides in and over the roll and then continue rolling.  Place the completed leaf in the bottom of a large pan.  Continue until you have used all your leaves or stuffing.  You should keep placing additional layers of completed leaves in the pan.

Once you have finished put something heavy on top of the leaves.  I use a steel saucepan lid that is slightly smaller than the pan I am cooking them in.  This will stop them floating.  Pour boiling water into the pan until it just covers the leaves – add a lid to the pan and cook on a medium heat for 20 – 30 minutes – you can top up the water if you need to.

Leave to cool for about 10 minutes and then gently lift them out with a slotted spoon,, drain and place on a serving dish.  Everyone says best served at room temperature but I love mine from the fridge.

Is my home safe?

Is my home safe?

Well this weeks events have caused me to give this topic a lot of thought.  For those of you just joining me who haven’t read the previous posts………..we had an earthquake!  Little ones are an everyday small we don’t notice them..this one was 6.1 of enormous shake…followed by some pretty meaty aftershocks.

The press coverage totally sensationalised events.  Reading what the papers say happened is making wonder if they are writing about the same place….they even have pictures of traffic jams as people flee in fear of a Tsunami…..must have missed that bit – obviously too busy worrying about the likelihood of another big shake.

Understandably talk on the street is mostly about the quake and what we should do in the event of another one. In the UK they told us we should always have a planned escape route out of our homes in case of fire they also urged us all to have smoke alarms and check them regularly.  I don’t know anyone who did either….smoke alarms were checked once a week for about 3 weeks then not at all until the beeping of the dying battery started…then we try to work out how to stop the beeping and then we take the battery out.

I don’t think it’s because we don’t care I just think we genuinally believe that terrible things happen to other people.  People I know who have working smoke alarm batteries get used to the alarm going off if they burn toast or use the grill and start ignoring the noise or take the batteries out.

It’s much the same with earthquakes.  The local council has  a booklet thoughtfully translated into English – with useful topics such as how to prepare,what at to do before,during and after a quake.  Up until 24 hours after the quake I had never read it.  I kind of knew it existed and there’s a useful on line guide in our local paper – I just never thought I’d need to know that stuff or thought it would be common sense.

I’ve read it now..  I know every word.  I could deliver training on it and have bored scores of people with my advice on what they should be doing.  Most people think I’m panicking and keep reminding me that we probably won’t have another one.  But I slept semi easily in my bed last night….knowing that both my husband and I are going to react in the same way if it happens during the night and that we have a small emergency bag each which sit beside the bed.  They will stay there until the aftershocks have subsided and then I’m going to organise a proper one with copies of our passports etc…..and keep it near the front door forever.

We live on a fault line. The chances of us having another quake are likely. Maybe not be this month or year but we will get one at some point.  My husbands home town was destroyed by a 7.1 last October and no one was prepared for it. The temperatures  were below freezing and they were camping out in tents in the snow.    Thousands of buildings were destroyed.  Luckily where we are is mostly low rise buildings and since 2000 buildings have to have been constructed in such a way to be  earthquake resistant…but I for one am taking the time and effort to put a few essentials together to ensure in the absolute worst case scenario we will have access to medication, basic first aid supplies, and drinking water.

The world is a strange place.  This last 18 months have seen earthquakes, civil wars and economic problems that no one thought would ever happen. I remember watching a programme about the Middle East and they were interviewing expats who had been evacuated – they had left everything behind ….that could be me one day. If the political situation changed suddenly and the UK government  advised all British people to leave the country –  I wouldn’t want to be searching for my passport and birth certificate.  From now on the Boy Scouts  won’t be a match for me…….my new motto is be prepared.

Seriously…..bad things happen to anyone not just those mythical other people. Check those  smoke alarms, make sure that everyone in the family knows what to do if there is a fire, flood, earthquake or other act of God especially at night.  Pack an emergency bag so that if you have to leave your home suddenly you have things that are going to be essential.  I stood outside on the street on Sunday after the second quake had hit and thought what if the house falls down?  All I had was my phone with no credit on it, my IPad, and  no money.  We had no electricity, no network coverage on the phone and no Internet for about 40 minutes…….a very long time when your family are watching news reports elsewhere and can’t contact you.

If you are British take a few minutes to register on the Foreign Office  website.  They have a locate facility and you can let them know where you are living or travelling if outside the UK.

Now that I have everything covered I can semi relax and get on with enjoying my life the the sun.


I live in Turkey and yes I know it’s on a fault line!  We get lots of little tremors mostly they go unnoticed unless you happen to be sitting very quietly or sometimes lying awake in bed.

In 2008 before I moved here I spent 6 weeks of the summer less than 1km from where I live now.  After a very wild night when I consumed a rather large quantity of the local brew…raki – I staggered home to my bed around 5.30am.  Not able to sleep I got up for a shower at 6am and then tried again.  I woke up with what I thought were the shakes.  I remember sitting on the bed looking at my shaking hands and at my sleeping room mate and wondering whether I should wake her up to take me to hospital by now convinced I had one hell of a case of alcohol poisoning.  It was almost a relief when the light fittings started to swing and things fell off the dressing table.  It lasted for about 60 seconds and was about 5.7 on the Richter scale centred out at sea between us and Rhodes.   It was a bit of a shock…..not really scary and not something that I gave a lot of thought to afterwards.

So I’ve lived here 3 years – we’ve had loads of small ones.  My sofa moves occasionally – nothing to get over excited about – I used to look to look at the Earthquake stats daily but really don’t give them much thought.   Yesterday was one hell of a shock!   At 11am yesterday morning the temperatures reached 36 degrees – exceptionally hot for this time of year.  I’d commented to my husband on Saturday night that with the heat and high humidity it felt like we might have an earthquake.   At 3.44pm yesterday afternoon I dragged my comfy chair out onto the balcony and went back indoors to add some sun cream to my very fair skin…….i heard a strange noise – didn’t really register what it was and then the whole building moved….and I mean literally shook – the bed moved 4 inches, things flew off shelves and the dressing table and I was terrified – I threw myself down on the bed and waited for it to stop.

Definitely the biggest I’ve ever felt.  I tried to call my husband and the phone network was busy,  Then I thought I had better post on Facebook to let people know I was ok.  I looked up the size of the quake 6.1, the location and posted that I was ok.  Then the aftershock hit – a meaty 4.9 – at that point I grabbed my handbag, my iPad and phone and fled into the street.   It was quite sociable – all the neighbours were out – internet off, electric off and phone network down.

My biggest worry was my husbands family – they are in Ercis, Van where they had the massive quake last October – luckily they were unhurt – some of the properties were damaged and they lost a lot of life long friends.  I was worried that they would see it on the news, and not been able to contact us fear the worst.   My brother in law was the first contact I had with the outside world…he must have been worried he speaks no english and my Turkish is a bit limited.   I managed to tell him we were ok, had to admit I couldn’t contact my husband but tried to reassure him.  Meanwhile my hands were still shaking.

About an hour later we decided it was probably safe to go back indoors.  We all went to my neighbours for tea, cake and to discuss the afternoons happenings.   My brother in law called again – worried about his Aunt – she lives close by but no one had been able to contact her.  I rushed my tea and dashed off to check on Aunty – she was on her own and very scared.  I tried to call my husband again…….and finally got a reply – the area where he was working had hardly felt it and he couldn’t understand why he had 50 missed calls and why we were all in such a state.

Anyway the aftershocks continue – a big one at 9.30 last night 4.5 that was a furniture mover – quite a few smaller ones during the night.  Some small ones this morning and a 3.9 that shook the furniture again at 5pm this afternoon.   I can’t really describe how it feels – in some ways you know there is not much you can do and you need to get on with life and  on the other hand you don’t want to die under a collapsed building anytime soon.

Many of my friends live a few km closer to the epicentre – they have lost far more than I have – including televisions and other electrical items.  I have a few wonky pictures some broken ornaments and some smashed make up – not exactly the end of the world.  There was all sorts of talk of a big one coming in the early hours of this morning and lots of people opted to sleep outside.   I think the local booklet called What to Do in an Earthquake is probably heading up the bestseller list – people are downloading it and begging copies to make sure they are prepared.

Friends who have lived here 20 years says it’s the biggest they have ever experienced and common sense says you should be prepared.  But it’s like smoke alarms or fire escapes in the UK – one of those things you keep meaning to get around to.  Yesterday we were lucky – the epicentre was out at sea and quite deep if it had been shallower or more inland we would not have been so lucky.  There are reports of dozens of people in hospital – they are all Turkish – mostly suffering from shock, a couple of heart attacks and a couple with injuries sustained when they jumped off their balconies.

In reality all new houses here are earthquake proof – whilst an old house may look quaint and be a tempting to buy –  I’m much happier in my post 2000 apartment that has nice bendy steel bits so that it moves with the ground and doesn’t fall down.  My darling husband is convinced that we should be more worried about a Tsunami – we are 1km from the sea and it’s totally flat.

Last night I slept fully clothed (not comfortable when it’s this hot)  with my emergency bag very close by – I am equipped with some basic first aid supplies.a torch,  my regular medication, a change of underwear, some wet wipes, a blanket, some bottled water, my passport, phones, chargers and Ipad and charger some sun cream and insect repellent and my mascara.  Don’t want to look too rough if I need to appear on an international news program.  Someone suggested today that I should also pack sturdy shoes as there could be broken glass and other sharp objects under foot and there have been numerous other suggestions.   I have to draw the line somewhere though……I need to be packed for an emergency but able to get out quickly – if I have to drag 20 kilos of emergency equipment behind me I’m not going to be very mobile.

I am trying to be sensible but actually I’m really scared and not afraid to admit to that.  I hardly slept at all last night and did use it as a really good excuse to let the cat sleep on the bed.  At some point I am going to have to get back to normal and stop worrying about taking a shower or doing other every day things – the thought of another earthquake is worrying.

A friend admitted this morning she had finally showered wearing a tshirt just in case but was then stumped when she needed to dry herself.  Friends with small children are all sleeping in one room or a tent and some in their car just in case.  I feel sorry for the tourists who have never experienced even a slight tremor before they must be totally terrified.

Here’s hoping the worst is over and we will have a quiet night.   My emergency bag will stay packed but probably end up in the back of a cupboard somewhere and be totally inaccessible this time next year but for the moment it’s by the bed at night and by the front door during the day.   If the worst happens I’m as prepared as I am ever going to be.

Do I need a cleaner?

Some of you will be thinking everyone needs a cleaner whilst others will be thinking…why can’t she clean up herself?

My family were always comfortably off.  Both my Grandmother and Mother have lived overseas in the past and had staff to deal with the chores.  My Mother worked full time and we had a lady who came once a week and cleaned and ironed.  She was a lovely old lady very sprightly and did a good job.  Consequently no one ever really expected me to do much more than keep my bedroom tidy and put the odd load of washing in.

It was a tremendous shock when I left home and discovered that a) I couldn’t afford a cleaner and b) my then boyfriend  expected me to do it.  I’ve probably  spent the last 30 years trying to find reasons not to clean things.  I have tried all sorts including employing cleaning ladies and gardeners when I can afford it and even convincing an ex boyfriend that I was too small to clean……I claimed the Hoover was too heavy for me and despite his debilitating allergies he would put a face mask on a couple of times a week and Hoover the whole flat.

So here I am living in a country where women think they were put on this earth to clean.  The first few months I was here I showed willing…..a new life and all that.  But I soon realised that I would never be able to get up early enough to get my washing out first of my rugs freshly beaten and hanging over the balcony……hell my rug is so big I’m nearly unconscious by the time I have dragged it outside never mind beating the thing.

I’ve now sussed the washing…….I stay up really late and hang it out at 2am before I go to bed……I’d love to see the neighbours faces when they see mine out first but that would involve setting my alarm for the middle of the night.  My husband…….yes there is one…….is very traditional and believes that housework is woman’s work………he expects a certain level of cleanliness and to be honest I don’t have the skills or the inclination to try and live up to those standards.  Yes I mop and bleach and do the washing……but I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to sweep and wash my floors every day.

My lack of desire to clean is sometimes mentioned at family gatherings.  Usually followed by a lot of tutting from the headscarves……. I was asked a few weeks ago why I don’t wash his pants and socks by hand……um…..we have a washing machine……….buzzzzzzzz fail……not the right answer….more tuts. Apparently in some cultures hand washing your husband smalls is  considered a sign of your love……what’ll wrong with flowers? Or a massage?  Even if we didn’t have a machine there is a laundrette a kilometre away……if the machine broke, the laundrette was closed and there really was no other option……I’d still be tempted to buy him some new ones before I washed anything by hand!

Anyway this week I have picked up some freelance work……quite a bit of it as it happens which is going to keep me at my computer for several hours each day for the foreseeable future. I initially turned it down as it was such a big commitment but have since realised that I haven’t earned much this year and this is probably too good an opportunity to miss.  My husband was surprisingly all for it.   Great……but now he has started checking that I will still be cooking his dinner and asking me whether I will be able to fit in all the cleaning etc.

The alarm bells are ringing.  I love my work life balance……working several hours a day and still doing all the cooking and cleaning wasn’t quite what I had in mind……. So I have decided to use some of my hard earned to pay for a cleaner…..a nice little Turkish lady complete with scarf who will love cleaning because that’s how she has been programmed and who will also no doubt enjoy regaling her friends with tales from the foreign woman’s house.   She can tell them what she likes as long as I don’t have to do it myself.