I’m at the end of my second day in Ankara, and the azan (call to prayer) drifts in from the window. One of these days I will record it and post it here, because it is truly a mesmerizing experience. Every azan sounds different from every mosque, its cadence tied to the unique voice of each muezzin (the one who recites the azan). Yet each azan also sounds very familiar, perhaps only because it is still such a novel thing for me to hear. For a Muslim, of course, it is a very special thing, but you don’t need to be Muslim to recognize its beauty.
I have finally traded one national capital (Washington, D.C.) for another (Ankara). I am very lucky to be staying with a fantastic host family for these first few days while I wait for my room in a shared apartment to come open. We speak almost exclusively Turkish at home, except for a few moments when the right word just won’t pop into my head. It continues to surprise me how quickly I switch into “Turkish mode” when I am in Turkey…to the point of sometimes starting a sentence in Turkish when I really mean to (and need to) speak in English!
I arrived on the 14th very late at night, and so I feel like my stay here didn’t really “start” until yesterday, the 15th. I spent most of the day indoors — a 27-hour travel itinerary will do that to you — but that evening my Turkish family (as I have come to think of them) took me to their friends’ for dinner. Good food — including my favorite, kuru fasulye — and good conversation are perhaps the best welcome anyone can have into a new home. I am very lucky indeed to already know so many wonderful people here!
After resting most of yesterday, I resolved that today I would get down to business. I had the chance to finally meet some of the great people at the Turkish Fulbright Commission (though a more thorough meeting will happen a week and a half from now at our orientation). I was given a ride to the Fulbright office (my Turkish family to the rescue once again!) but for my next appointment, it was time for me to test out Ankara’s public transport.
And it was surprisingly — to my relief — easy. Most of the places I need to go for my research — the Fulbright Commission, and Ankara University, my host institution — are easily accessible by metro. After my Fulbright meeting, I went to Ankara University, where I had the pleasure of meeting up again with my host advisor at the Center for African studies (AÇAUM), who I met in April 2014 during a business trip. There is much planning to be done between us, but the coming year looks to be a good one!
Getting from Ankara University back to my family’s apartment was the real challenge. It involved looking for the dreaded dolmuş – a kind of taxi minibus that has its own routes with both official and unofficial stops. You can get on and off anywhere along the dolmuş’s route — to get off, you need only say “inecek var” (“there is someone who needs to get out here”) and the driver will stop to let you out.
It’s an ingenious form of transportation, but one that is very Turkish…and thus, one that takes some time to master. I’ve only ridden a dolmuş by myself once — in Istanbul — and while everything worked out, it’s not my favorite form of public transportation. And to me, the hardest part is that dolmuş literally means “stuffed” – as in, as many people can get on as can be stuffed into the minivan. Though, now that I think about it, in all of the (very few) times that I have ridden one (alone and with others), the dolmuş has never been stuffed.
But I’m sure my time will come.
As for today, I had to go to Kızılay by metro in order to take the dolmuş…and as luck would have it, I couldn’t find the street where all the dolmuşlar stop. But I didn’t want to resign myself to a taxi. So after quite a bit of looking (and walking) I managed to find a bus that went directly to my family’s apartment. The only catch was that the driver and many male passengers spent half the ride screaming at each other about a disagreement I couldn’t catch.
I can understand most conversations in Turkish now. I cannot understand Turkish screaming.
I’ll give that some time. To be honest, I don’t know if I ever want to understand it.
If you’ve made it this far into the post, aferin! Bravo! Unfortunately, technology isn’t yet advanced enough to let me transfer some delicious Turkish sweets to you as a reward. But I can at least bring this soliloquy to a close and leave you with some pictures.
Until the next post, görüşürüz!