January 19, 2009

Secondhand Smoke, Frozen Balls, and an Anonymous Couch
Balıkesir, Turkey

I left Osa's place at 9:00 this morning, and reached the Bursa bus terminal just before 10. I grabbed a bus that was leaving and hurriedly handed 15 lira over to a man that issued me no ticket, perhaps padding his and the drivers pockets a bit.

By 12:35 I'd arrived in Balıkesir's sleek, modern bus terminal. It was here that I idled until 1:15, when Yusuf, my new CouchSurfing host, came to retrieve me.

Yusuf is a tall, 35-year-old Turk, teaching English at a local high school.

I was taken by car to the school, where I hung out in a busy little shared faculty office, drinking tea and making nice with the staff and students who popped in. Exams were just wrapping up, or had already ended in some courses.

Yusuf (on the right)

It was idle time for students as teachers crammed grading into their schedules and painfully entered all their semester scores online. Everyone in the country is doing it simultaneously, and the government Web site can't come close to handling the traffic.

Left mostly unattended by Yusuf, I killed some time by writing on my laptop for a little less than an hour, and of course continued with some light conversation with the steady stream of people moving in and out of the broom-closet of an office.

At some point I was asked by Yusuf and his buddies how long I was thinking about staying. I said two or three nights if it was okay with them, but the look I read on their faces gave me the impression that they'd only expected me to stay a single night.

Yusuf made some remarks that sounded like he wanted me to go to back to the school with them in the morning—each and every morning—for the duration of the day. "But I don't know what you'd do," he continued.

…Ugh oh.

Personally, hosts that kick me out of the home for the day are automatically dumped from my itinerary. I didn't know this about Yusuf ahead of time, nor did anyone mention it in his references (something I made a mental note to remedy).

At Yusuf's invitation I spent a class period talking with a room of six English students (all girls, juniors).

In the ninth grade kids are given a choice of science, math, and language studies, and language is by far one of the least selected areas of focus. Sometimes no one selects it. Most of these girls wanted to be English teachers of some sort.

After classes had ended for the day I was driven up to a monument with a great view of the city (with Yusuf's friend, Taha, that I'd been chatting with in the office).

Shortly thereafter, the car was parked downtown and Yusuf and I broke from Taha. We chatted for about 10 minutes as we walked together (with him talking about the town) before we reconvened with Taha at a nearby photo lab at dusk.

After sitting for quick glass of tea Yusuf said that he'd meet up with us later, and bailed after a confusing explanation about what was going to happen with the rest of the evening and the next day. I was mildly annoyed that wasn't told ahead of time that we weren't going back to the car, as I didn't bring anything from my backpack (like my glasses and warmer clothing).

Roman columns inside a mosque

Taha took me on a walking tour of the old town—mosques, train station, and bought me dinner. This fellow teaches math or science and was pretty excited at his recent attainment of an invitation to visit CERN (with seven students allowed to tag along).

Still walking in the frigid evening air, we arrived at a soccer field by 7:15 (because it was apparently game night, where many faculty get together to play). It was here that I got to choose between shivering in a heavily smoke-filled room, and outside, where the temperature had rapidly plummeted to near zero.

It costs about US$50 to rent the field for an hour, and the slots are always filled until 1 a.m. (closing).

With my backpack still MIA, I'm bored to tears, with nothing much to talk about or anything to do.

I watched a team finish their game, then Yusuf's game starts, and finishes.

Everyone showers or whatever after, and I'm still waiting around.

Yusuf never really makes another appearance, and a third game is nearly done… By now I'm totally bored out of my mind and freezing my balls and toes off waiting for these guys.

By the time the Taha and his co-worker friend, Eyüp, are ready to go, it's closing in on 10:00. At this point I also discover my backpack has been placed in another car—Eyüp's vehicle.

The three of us plus Eyüp's cousin jump in the icy car and drop Taha off at his apartment. We then proceed to drive to Eyüp's flat, where all three of us get out.

Eyüp unfolds the couch and he and his cousin say goodnight.

WTF happened here?

Bailing on Balıkesir

I'm pretty much 100% ready to bail on this situation, but am unable contact with my next host (Onur) because there's no Internet here. I need to try and get a hold of him as soon as possible and get directions, assuming he'd accept me on short notice. I'd originally told him to expect me two nights from now, on the 22nd—certainly not tomorrow.

I don't like how I wasn't told what was going to be happening with me here. Apparently no one really 'surfs the town for more than a night, so they hadn't planned on putting me up for more than that. It bothers me that I'm not at Yusuf's place. Not so much that I'm not there, but that all my communication has been with him, but I was pawned off to both his buddy and then other co-worker (previously planned on their part) without any of that information being passed on to me before arrival.

Oh my god, and so much tea today too… always with the tea. I must've had like 20 cups.

Between the early morning, exhausting conversations, chain-smoking Turks in confined spaces, and full days and late nights, I feel totally depleted. I really need a break for a few days. I probably should've stayed at Osa's place, considering that she asked me to stay longer, and I was crazy comfortable there and days would've been my own while she works.

I really can't keep up this CouchSurfing pace any long. Since leaving Cihan's pad it's been 3 nights, 2 nights, 3 nights, 1 night tonight… I need a break.

But tomorrow it won't come. Yusuf is picking me up at 8:00 a.m. sharp to have breakfast and take me to the school. …At least there will be Internet access there (so that I can get Onur's phone number out of my inbox).

Miscellaneous Notes from Balıkesir

  • Russian coal is frequently used here in Turkey for heat instead of natural gas or wood (as it's often a limited resource in many parts of the country). This supposedly accounts for a large portion of the pollution that I'm seeing.
  • Some extreme Turks believe that American Indians are actually lost Turkish tribes, and have deep sympathy for them.
  • The large air force base in Balıkesir has been used by NATO-lead strikes involving U.S. planes.
  • There's a huge amount of olive oil production in the region, especially around the western coast.
  • 10,000 Lira (US$5,600) is pretty much enough to buy your way out of the mandatory military service—just one month at an easy camp.
  • Authentic Zippo lighters sell for around US$60.


The United States


March 9th, 2009

This brings to mind the old cliche: "You get what you pay for."

The United States


March 12th, 2009

You all right man? Its March 12th and this is the longest youve gone without posting ever. Just checking in.


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