Thursday, March 22, 2012

What 5th Graders Wonder

Yesterday I was asked by one of the MUN coordinators to visit his fifth grade class.  I was happy to oblige. The kids weren't afraid to ask me a lot of questions. I thought some of them were pretty funny, others suprised me by showing how SMART these kids are. They seemed to know a thing or two about Alaska before I even got there - maybe more than some Americans! I mostly just put the funny ones here, though.

Q: Is it cold in Alaska?
A: Yes but only in the Winter. In the summer all the snow melts and we can wear t-shirts.

Q: Have you ever seen a killer whale?
A: yes (This made everyone very excited)

Q: Are there a lot of beautiful girls in Alaska?
A: I think so

Q: Have you ever felt an earthquake?
A: yes

Q: How big was it?
A: I honestly don't know

Q: Do you have a boyfriend?
A: No

Q: Did you ever eat an octopus?
A: Yes (kalamari anyone?)

Q: Did you ever eat a blue whale (someone knows their whale species)
A: No

Q: Did you ever eat any whale?
A: No (They found this very disappointing)

Q: Where else have you traveled?
A:  Mexico, China, France, Scotland, Canada, Switzerland

Q: Are there a lot of beautiful girls in Switzerland?
A: I think so

Q: Do you drink a lot?
A: Of course not
Commentary from the boy who asked: I think she does

Q: Have you ever been attacked by a bear?
A: Nope

Q: What's the difference between Turkish and American education systems? (okay, the teacher asked that one)
A: In America we get to choose all of our classes, unlike the Turkish system where the whole class goes from class to class together. Also, American students aren't focused on preparing for one big test like in Turkey and we get individual grades in each class which consider factors such as behavior, tests, and homework

Q: Is your hair natural? (asked by a very blonde little girl)
A: yes
Commentary: See guys? I told you! You can have naturally blonde hair! Her hair in natural like mine!

Q: Do you wear color contacts?
A: nope

Q: Do you like math?
A: no
Commentary: Good, me neither

My kind of girl.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I wrote this a few months ago. I just found it now while I was unpacking.

I'll admit, my inner raging feminist cries out when we are segregated by gender for gym class.

"Different not wrong, different not wrong," I chant to myself, but I still cringe as the girls are arranged in a circle to pass around the soccer ball.  In the next field, I can see the boys are actually playing soccer.

I understand why we're doing it this way.  The boys are always playing sports: before school, after school, at lunch, in art class. It is obvious they are, as a whole, much better than the girls. It's not the decision to segregate the class that bothers me as much as the necessity to do so.

"Different not wrong" I remind myself as a girl goes inside crying after being hit by the ball.  Her reaction speaks to a lifetime of being taught that hers is the weaker, more delicate sex.  However, there is at least one girl who is, clearly, very talented at maneuvering the ball. There are no girl's soccer leagues here, so she hasn't received any formal training; but she kicks the ball up on top of her foot and to her knee where she tries to bounce it a few times. I wonder if she wishes she could actually play soccer. I wonder, without any female role models playing sports, if the idea even occurred to her.

"Different, not wrong"

But some things are wrong, and sometimes the line between different and wrong becomes hard to discern.  I've been faced with countless situations where I've wondered whether or not this line has been crossed.

"I would like to date an American boy" a girl my age said toward the beginning of my exchange.
"But not a black boy, I don't like black people."

"Oh?" is all I can manage is response
"Do you like black people?" she asks

I want to reply that I would never judge anyone based on there skin color

"I don't know" I reply, instead, looking down at my feet. What I mean is that I don't understand. I don't understand where this idea comes from. Why wouldn't you like a whole group of people based solely on the amount of pigment in there skin?

It seems here everyone has an opinion on "black people". There are girls in my class who say they would like to come to America specifically to date black people, that they don't like white boys.

I've wondered if, maybe, the "I don't like black people" comment meant simply that she didn't personally prefer the way dark skin looks. Like how some people might say they prefer brunettes to blondes or visa versa.

It's when I see how dark-skinned people are treated that I doubt this theory.

And it's when I walk down the aisle at a toy store and see only blonde haired blue-eyed dolls that I wonder what effect this difference is having on the next generation.

I've tried to imagine what it would be like growing up as an average Turkish girl; being told, whether overtly or subliminally that your skin color is ugly, and that you are weaker than the boys around you.  It would be different, but would it be wrong?

Below are my latest thoughts on this subject, written today. 

Over time, I've begun to suspect that this prejudice against darker skin is more nationalistic than racist.   Darker skinned people are, more likely than not, coming from out side of Turkey originally; even if "originally" is countless generations back in history. "Gypsies" and "Kurds" are two groups of people that, for whatever reason, it seems to quite socially acceptable to make broad disparaging comments about, and they both, generally, have darker skin than your average ethnically Turkish person.  Usually, Turkish children won't have friends in either of these groups. "Gypsies" are seen solely as beggars, tissue paper sellers, and garbage sweepers. Kurds are seen as strict, violent Muslim fundamentalists.

Really, this xenophobia isn't so much different than what we have here in America. I think the biggest difference is a lack of "Politically Correct" culture.  In Turkey, Rotarians and friends at school aren't shy to tell me what they think about "those people". In America, these conversations would be limited to close, like minded friends or anonymous internet boards.  The "political correctness" of America seems to baffle other countries, as I learned while talking to other exchange students on the bus.

"Is Eskimo a bad word is America like nigger?" I was asked by a boy from Germany

The girl sitting with me was of the opinion Eskimo wasn't bad at all.  As the resident Alaskan, I said that it would more polite to say "Native Alaskan"

"But it's not bad like nigger," I tried to explain, fully aware of how ridiculous I sounded "You should never say nigger, people say Eskimo all the time"

"But doesn't Eskimo mean 'raw meat eater'?" the boy continued. It was clear that the nuances of American political correctness didn't make any more sense to him then it did to me.

"Well, some native Alaskans call themselves Eskimos" I said remembering something my mom had told me from her experience as a nurse in bush Alaska; but of course I knew that some African Americans called themselves niggers. Both groups had come under persecution because of their race and both "nigger" and "Eskimo" have been used as insults, and now carry significant negative historical connotations.

"Just don't ever say nigger in America." I said, hoping to keep my friend from insulting anyone should his wandering take him to America.

I guess that really is the point of political correctness, not insulting anyone. In America, not making people feel bad is a much bigger deal than in Turkey. Conversely, there are plenty of other cultures where not insulting people is an even bigger deal than in America, and causing people to "lose face" is one of the worst things you can do.

To summarize, I've come to the conclusion, that Turkey really isn't more racist than America on average. Turks are just more honest about there feelings than most Americans.  Is it different, but not necessarily wrong.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I have grand plans for a few better posts in the near future, but I thought I would do a quick update now.

I have moved into a new family, with a new record of one days notice before the move. I am very happy with them, however; and if my English gets worse, I now have the excuse of saying I am speaking almost all Turkish now. My new family doesn't speak English so now it's Turkish at home and school.

I had an exciting day today. I got to see Selimiye Mosque for the first time after almost six months of living here. I also got to see a very nice little park near my home I had no idea existed!  It has some beautiful fountains and a playground that kind of makes me wish my littlest sister was coming to visit me so she could use it.

And, finally. I leave you with this:

A week or so ago I made this to illustrate something I remember my first host mom doing when I first came here.  I'm wondering why I didn't caption it "How people drive down AN empty road", but perhaps my English was already leaving me.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Hey, Kyla. What are you doing?" Asli asked, peeking into my room this morning.
"I'm starting to pack" I answered
"Oh, are you leaving?"
I was a little surprised at this response, given I was pretty sure we had already discussed that I was moving out. "Sometime next week"
"You're packing a week early?" Asli asked disbelievingly

I just answered "yes"; but I wondered if she had ever tried packing up everything she owned and hopping off to an unknown place at an unknown date.

Actually, I'm begining to suspect needing loads of advanced notice before anything is a particularly American trait that I am having a hard time letting go of.

For example this morning, I called the president of my rotary club to see if he could tell me when or where I was going next week.  He didn't know.  "We are working on it" he said, in a voice that to me sounded rather mysterious and all powerful, a little like God would sound with a Turkish accent.

"Ok, no problem," I answered, overwhelmed by the power his voice exuded. It wasn't until after I hung up that I began to worry.  The American in me minutely examined details and possible things that could go wrong.

Then, I told the American in me to go back to where she came from, blew my nose (I have a cold), and started to pack

It's hard to believe I showed up here with one carry on, a personal item, and a piece of checked baggage smaller than my carry on.  Now I need one bag (safety pinned where the zipper broke) to hold all of my books; one bag to hold gifts, souvenirs, and out of season clothes; and I don't have anywhere to put all the stuff I am using on a day-to-day basis. Don't get me started on all of those fall/ spring jackets I have magically accumulated.

I've heard many times before that packing for switching families in harder than packing to leave for exchange. When I packed to come to Turkey, it was all about minimalization.  Will I really wear that? Will I really use that? No? Maybe? Not coming.

Now, it's either take it with me or throw it away. Do I plan on using blow up-squeaky-left-foot Santa anytime soon? No. Is he coming with me? No question about it. Same goes for giant-scarf-that-I-have-used-as-a-blanket and blue-tambourine-I-got-in-Istanbul.  (Hey! it was free!)

However there are a few things I'm leaving behind.

Among them is a bottle of Strawberry vinagrette, a small assortment of berry flavored tea bags, and some American coins.  These are gifts for an amazing host family I will miss very much.  I don't know what I will give to my next family, but I figured this family deserved all the gifts I have left (that, and I don't want to take them with me)

So, I'm not worrying. I'm packing and considering buying a new suitcase (really, this is inevitable) I can't wait for the next adventure!

This is just for fun. What happens when Asli and I make breakfast

Hmm.... maybe this is why no one wants me to start packing a week early.
Also good luck to my (real) sister Clare! she is competing in Canada at Arctic Winter Games. I'm betting she won't see this until after; but...... it's the thought that counts, right?