Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reviving Provence

I've been on the Ankara - Çanakkale road multiple times always going just to one destination - Cazgirler, never stopping anywhere on the way for more than was required for a quick pass. When I thought about a destination for the last weekend's escape, I realized that the place I've been aiming to go to for a while - a little town İznik located at the eastern end of a lake bearing the same name - was just a little off-road. To my luck, the only CS host with an available couch quickly responded positively to my request and I here I was rolling again, first on well-known terrain, then passing new landscapes, towns and villages.

As soon as I got on the final 30 km stretch connecting İznik with the Bilecik-Sakarya highway, I felt as if I were wandering along the roads of Vaucluse once again. How many times while living there have I came home with tons of figs collected along the way when the ones growing in our garden were already gone? Picked some forlorn pumpkins and made pancakes with them? Rescued apples that have fallen from the trees from being thrown away? Scratched my knees trying to reach for kaki growing on trees hidden behind a tall brick gate? Grazed on grapes? That's how the surrounding of İznik looked like; the route was lined with orchards, gardens and vineyards full of fruits and vegetables ready for being collected. The comely town wasn't any different. While trying to reach the center, I passed a gorgeous olive grove and some ancient ruins - inseparable elements of the landscape I used to see every day for over six months.

On the way to İznik

My host, Ceren, took her friends from Kuzuncuk, İstanbul and me to her hill-perched olive garden six km outside İznik. Again, I fell in love with the scenery so much that I was ready to walk all the way to the town the following day. Lots of lush vegetation and green mountains dominating the landscape made me feel as if I were somewhere in the middle of Lubéron. To my dismay, we stayed in the garden just for a few hours and returned to Darka, a holiday complex away from the center where my host lives permanently, but lazying on the porch, binging on delicious food in the middle of Ramadan and watching the sun set over İznik Gölü were definitely worth the short trip.

Chickens in Ceren's olive garden

Stunning view from the balcony

In the morning we all woke up quite early since Ceren and her friends were going to Kalkan for holidays. However, it mattered little that I had to be up at 8, what did was that after four days of sleeping less than six hours I finally managed to get my eight hours of sleep. We left Darka at 9 - Ceren and her friend Meli drove off to the olive garden once more to leave some food for the animals and I walked along the beach to the center. From afar I spotted a tent and somebody walking next to it. When I got closer, the guy camping there said "merhaba" and, assuming he speaks Turkish, I responded "kalacak çok güzel bu yer." ("it's a nice place to stay.") The guy seemed confused and asked me if I spoke English. Roland - that was his name - turned out to come from Austria and be headed to India by motorcycle. Supposing he would for sure go to the South East I asked him about his route. Roland wanted to pass through Ankara, go to Kapadokya and from there take the direction to Trabzon to apply for his Iranian visa. Depending on whether he would be able to get it or not (and same applied to Pakistani visa, which is difficult to obtain outside your country of residence) he would either bike to India or change the plan and head south towards Egypt. When he asked me if I know anything about the East, I shared some must-see places in Turkey and also suggested going to Iraqi Kurdistan, where now it's possible to stay free of charge and with an on-arrival visa for 14 days (one year ago it was only 10). Roland was thankful for the overload of information, especially for recommending Iraq to him. I recalled him mentioning Ankara and thought out loud: "it's not a special place to visit and we theoretically can't host people at home but when you travel and camp, soft bed and a shower are always appreciated, so if you get there just in the evening, feel free to stay in our place."

We exchanged our food; I shared some cookies; he treated me to plums he got from a farmer on his way to İznik and we parted our way, hoping that we would see each other in the near future. On my way out of town I passed countless fig trees with fruits that unfortunately weren't mature yet but instead found something that made me exclaim a long "woooooow" in disbelief. These were plum trees, but not the ones with sour and tasteless fruits that to my wondrous surprise Turkish people are obsessed with but ones just like we used to have in our garden back in Poland - with giant, violet plums. I picked a few and continued my walk until a car stopped. It was an exciting trip back home this time; interesting enough that its main characters deserves a separate post...

İznik Lake

This charming boy stopped me on the street and talked and talked at no end. He played with his toys and I felt like taking a photo of him but was afraid  that he would get angry if I do so. He noticed my camera. When I told him I had to go, he took this pose and said "you didn't take a photo of me." Happy I could eventually get what I wanted, I turned back and took this photo.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Recently I shared the lights and shadows of an EVS volunteer life in a few blog posts (1 2 3). For time being, I held myself back from sharing them with wider public because of ongoing Gezi protests, when I thought nobody living in Turkey (saying this I mean mainly my other EVS friends from cities all around the country, who might find it interesting to compare how volunteering works like in different organizations) would pay attention to single statuses lost among countless updates about riots and clashes. However, latest revelations in my organization inclined me not to keep the story just to myself.

For more than one month we've been going to a summer camp with our kids - that's how long Murat has been promising us the outside-Ankara part of their holidays. The first proposed days were mid-June  but just a few days before the suggested departure our boss announced that he doesn't want to go to the usual campsite in İzmir, that it's overcrowded and dirty and he would look for another one. Surprisingly, a week before going to the camp was almost a certainty...

The latest idea of Murat was to go to the camp on 22.07 (tomorrow) for around 10 days, about which I got to know while staying in Cazgirler. We all had official holidays in the first half of July and when the time came to an end, I lingered there for two more days and hurried to Ankara as to avoid problems with Murat saying we only show up in the office when it's the salary day.

On Wednesday morning I was getting ready to leave home for Güçkobir when Elisa told me there was nobody in the office - the kids wouldn't be there until the end of the week and Murat was in İzmir checking another potential location for the summer camp and coming back to Ankara on Thursday night. I refrained myself from going to Güçkobir on that day and the following one. On Friday Monique, who has just returned from İstanbul, and I went to the office. The door was closed but we hoped that the Güçkobir Godot would arrive soon, as promised. We waited for around half an hour and, weary, asked the security guy is he knew anything about Murat. "Tatil," ("holidays") he answered. "Şaka yapıyor musun?" ("are you joking?") Monique asked. It looked like his search for a campsite had been protracted. We weren't surprised, we were just infuriated. Our holidays were over, we came to Ankara to work again (if this comedy could be called work at all) and our boss didn't even dare tell us about the sudden change of his plans.

We tried to contact Murat by phone and text messages but got no responses. I sent him a message on facebook, certain that also this effort would turn out futile. To the surprise of everyone, I got a response, where he explained that the place needs renovation and the camp has to be put off again.

On Friday Ágnes told Monique that Murat lets us travel as much as we want to and doesn't oblige us to show up at work all the time because he needs the volunteers just for money. These are his actual words! If he doesn't need us in Ankara, why the hell should he need us in İzmir? It even sounded as if he didn't give a shit about us as long as he has the EU grants.

It's sad that the opportunity of hosting EVS volunteers is so misused by some organizations. Recently I spoke on skype with Ewa, the person responsible for EVS in my sending organization. She mentioned that Turkish organizations are usually difficult to cooperate with and brought up a few cases where her volunteers had to make up their own activities in their hosting organizations, without any guidance. I've heard similar stories from some volunteers I met in Turkey as well. Their hosts just told them to find activities beyond the scope of the organization if they wanted to do anything.

How do I benefit from my stay in Turkey? I have kochanie here. I travel and escape from Ankara at least during the weekends. I'm learning Turkish and I enjoy practising it both in the classroom and with people I meet on the street or when I travel. But when it comes to EVS, there's nothing I could own my service exclusively. Staying here is a fucking waste of time...

In a few days I'm leaving for Cazgirler again and then - surprise - breaking my resolution of not going to Europe during the duration of my project. There's a Hitchgathering in Slovakia, which I started giving some thought to only last week. But I feel after eight months of hitchhiking mainly alone in a country where the concept of autostop is perceived dually, I need to breathe roads different than ones where hitchhiking girls are taken for women of easy virtue or where every other driver asks me if I have a boyfriend, why I don't want to have one, why I'm not thinking about marriage, when do people start their sexual lives in Poland or other really stupid questions. Who knows, maybe it's the beginning of a series of long-lasting escapes from Ankara, with occasional visits to Güçkobir to collect what Murat values the most about EVS - our precious $$$.

No doubts, this one won't be difficult to fill...