Cultivating Community for Homeschooling and Life

OmanA constant theme in our life abroad is the search for community. We were very blessed to experience true bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood once upon a time, but eventually those ties frayed as individuals followed their hearts and purposes elsewhere. Before coming to Muscat, the question crept up again and I’m pleased to report that the pursuit has been promising.

Oman

Sunday night, the eve before a national holiday commemorating the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), three families gathered to remember his life and legacy. We had a vegan-friendly and mostly gluten-free spread while we shared stories, poems, and crafts. Children played, parents chatted and reflected, and it feels like we have a community again—a space where we can share a common aim and respect and be respected for who we are.

Oman

Ultimately, we’re more driven to build a community for our children than our own selves. Urbndervish and I have found contentment in each other’s company, but for Lil’ Z and Moulay, we are intentional about seeking out friendships and connections that are enriching, affirming, and nurturing for them. When living abroad, some communities are formed around nationality or faith. For us as a Muslim, Black, Jamaican/American, and homeschooling/unschooling family we intersect a number of expat communities. Most American expatriate families are connected to diplomatic relations, military work, or church. Even within the homeschooling communities, it’s not unusual to find groups exclusively representing one faith, nationality, or language.

Oman

Here in Muscat, the gateway to meeting our new friends has been the modest but diverse homeschooling community. Some say we’re only a dozen actively homeschooling families, but regardless of the numbers on Whatsapp groups and Facebook pages, I’m discovering that statistics mean little in this regard. At the end of the day, this elusive concept of community comes down to the people: individuals who participate, connect, and commit to one another again and again. Sometimes I’m nervous. I worry if our children see each other too often, but then again I consider that most children go to school with more or less the same cohort day after day and sometimes year after year.

Oman

Right now, the chemistry is good and I’m praying this honeymoon stage won’t end. I’m excited about the friendships we all are developing. We plan gatherings, field trips, classes, co-ops and camping excursions together. I’m filled with so much hope but, also fear that it may fall apart with only the slightest friction. However, like any community, we can only exist by putting one foot before the other by forgiving when we falter, stretching when we grow, and committing to what we’ve created. While few of us are historically rooted in Oman, I believe there are enough of us who want to build a future here and hold space for more families to join our unorthodox path of home education and life abroad.

Oman

A Long Way Home

Black Traveling Family

It has been a long hiatus. I have written little for the past three months for three reasons: we were in the US visiting our families, Urbndervish left to start a new job and he had to take our laptop with him. Even if I had the laptop, it’s not likely much writing would’ve gotten done without my partner. I’ve been pouring all of my energy into the children- keeping them calm, engaged, and nourished since exiting Turkey, hopping between homes, and adjusting to life without Baba. However, much has changed in the last three weeks. The said Baba has returned and flew us to our new home—a home we never really wanted to leave in the first place and that took two years to return to–Oman. However, instead of returning to the traditional, provincial Nizwa, we disembarked in Muscat, al hamdu lillah (thanks be to God!).

We slipped out of the Sultanate’s embrace two years ago. Knowing that we had to leave Nizwa to expand Lil’ Z’s homeschooling experience, we tried moving to Muscat. Our top choice employer promised an offer that we didn’t receive until days before our scheduled departure. And with no room for negotiation, we turned down the paltry offer on principle and pushed on. While visiting our family that summer, we received word about a position in Morocco and spent the next eight months there awaiting the arrival of our son. We returned to the US for a pre- and post-birth stay of almost six months until taking up the next job offer in Ankara. Ankara was having a particularly rough year which we decided to wrap up on the night of the coup attempt. The very next morning we started the job search once again, and Urbndervish was offered an interview for the very same job he turned down two years prior. However, the offer was much more reasonable, so he accepted it.

Hanging in Brooklyn

In those two years away, it became clear to us that Muscat is the best destination for us. The safety of the country, the character of the people, and the emerging homeschooling community gave us confidence that we could make a home here for a while. Even though we were disappointed about our temporary separation, we knew it was worth it and made the most of it. I lingered behind with the kids in New York until our family visas were ready nearly two months later. It was a challenge being apart so long, but the children and I had a lot of fun ending the summer and entering fall in New York. We hung out with family, had play dates in Brooklyn, took trips to DC and New Jersey, attended my best friend’s wedding and watched the fall foliage change around us. Thankfully, we snuck out before Election Day and the pending winter.

Fresh Flowers

Urbndervish made a crazy overnight trip just to pick us up and fly us over to Oman on the same night of his arrival. We were finally together again and ready to settle into the nest he had been preparing for us. As we traveled, I felt a stir of emotions–sad to leave family, happy to be reunited, and anxious to see if Oman had changed or wasn’t as great as I remembered. Were my rosy memories omitting the challenges, difficulties, and frustrations we faced? Was I forgetting just how odd we were (and are) as an unschooling, vegan, American Muslim family with “crunchy” tendencies? Did Oman still have the charm that won us over years prior? In only a few days, the anxieties evaporated. Finding peace in the shopping mall’s prayer room, hearing Maher Zain belt “Yaa Nabi, salaam alayka” in the supermarket, and sitting on the beach for our first homeschooling meetup with beautiful moms and children from France, America, Kenya, South Africa, and Sri Lanka have all affirmed for me that we are where we’re supposed to be. Additionally, old friends have extended themselves by helping us find our apartment, selling and giving us great furniture and houseware, lending us our old car “Suzi”, and generally being helpful for our inquiries.

Some of the not-so-rosy moments have also surfaced. Plumbing problems, internet issues, and perpetual dust arose, but they are all manageable. Our children still go to bed with full tummies in one of the safest countries in the world and for this, we are abundantly grateful. There are bumps to be smoothed out and some that may never go away, but in the wise words of Mr. Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright” and I believe so. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said it more eloquently in the following translated statement:

Amazing is the affair of the believer; verily his entire affair is good and this is not for one except the believer. When something of good befalls him, he is grateful and that is good for him. When something of harm befalls him, he is patient and that is good for him.

So, it’s really all good, al hamdu lillah.

What We Will and Won’t Miss About Ankara

In the city

I’m not the type to look for signs, but I don’t ignore them either. The recent coup attempt in Turkey may or may not have been a sign, but it certainly caught our attention. As a lone incident, it was an unfortunate shock, but as a climax following series of attacks and incidents in Istanbul and Ankara, it was our cue to exit stage right. Coming here was written for us without a doubt, but staying here doesn’t seem to be. In spite of the hiccups and challenges, our year in Turkey has been an enriching experience. We’ve befriended wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and experienced a refined culture of genuine hospitality. We are a bit disappointed about our early departure but definitely not sad. We’ve been traveling long enough to know that some souls never really part and reunions happen in the most unforeseen ways. As nomads, you never know where we’ll turn up or return to, so this is definitely not a goodbye but moreso a “see you later”. While prepping to depart, we’ve been reflecting on the sum total of our stay and came up with the following.

Coast

WHAT WE WILL MISS:

The people: Generally speaking, Turkish people have been refreshingly hospitable to us. Their interest and curiosity about us has always seemed sincere and polite. They are endearing to children, respectful to elders, and welcoming to strangers. Other than being incredible hosts, our Turkish friends have taken cleanliness to a whole other level. At times we felt like they caught crumbs and dust before they even touched the floor and maintained impeccable homes in spite of having young children. This standard might be unattainable for us but it was pretty impressive to witness.

The country: Turkey is a really beautiful country with a variety of landscapes and geographic features. Endless mountain ranges, dense green forests, and the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea are all etched in our minds vividly. Sights of interest are abundant and have been well-maintained and accessible to us. Our only regret is that we didn’t have a chance to see more and that some very religiously significant regions are challenged by instability.

The food: Oh, the food. The simplicity of fresh herbs, cold-pressed olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt have forever changed our approach to salads. Though we generally don’t love cold foods, we’ve become smitten with a genre of dishes that are slow cooked in olive oil and served cold. Eating seasonally has introduced us to new foods like fresh figs, quinces, celery root, and a variety of vegetables grown locally. Some of our favorite food finds here were black rice, pomegranate syrup, fresh dill, dried organic apricots, and leblebi (dry roasted chickpeas).

Aegean Food

The mosques: I’ve yet to see an unkempt mosque or a substandard women’s prayer hall in Ankara. From large congregational mosques to the tiny prayer rooms in shopping centers, I’ve consistently seen efforts to maintain the beauty, cleanliness, and awe that a place of worship merits.

The fashion: While I can’t describe a traditional, Turkish style of dress, the sisters here definitely have their own flavor and unique expression of modesty. A few years ago, I made a decision to no longer buy clothes that were not designed with my customer profile in mind. So, online shopping in Turkey has been a wonderland for me. I can easily find a wide variety of suitable clothing articles that are fashionable, modest, and affordable.

Domestic production: When shopping, I prefer to buy items from as close to my locality as possible. From toothpaste to clothing to sugar-free jams, I love the plentiful opportunities to support the local economy and region.

Village Pride: Almost everyone I’ve met in Ankara mentions a “back home” where grandparents live, where parents grew up, and where they visit elders for Eid holidays. Even in the supermarkets, there’s an emphasis on foods sourced from a köy, or village, and I’ve grown to equate them with traditional, homemade goodness.

Fethiye

WHAT WE WON’T MISS:

The politics: We’re totally over the politics, the tension, and the drama. It was frustrating at times to be misunderstood when our everyday choices about diet, faith practice, and dress were seen as political statements or stances. We are on the side of piety, integrity, and humanity, wherever it is represented.

Learning Turkish: Learning the language hasn’t been easy but was essential for our day-to-day survival in Ankara. Yes, there are many words from Arabic, even French and English, but Turkish grammar was burying us alive. We absolutely loved our Turkish teacher, but we’re glad to not go any deeper down that rabbit hole for now.

The social culture: Being a fairly liberal capital, smoking and drinking are quite common in Ankara. We especially hated seeing people smoke so liberally around children or drunk in public. Similarly, the very secularized expression of Islam that we regularly encountered here lacked the soul of the faith that captured our hearts over a decade ago. The religious community here seemingly functions here as a minority, though being in a Muslim-majority country. Again, Twilight Zone experiences were common for us.

Time to go

Reflecting on Our First Ramadan in Ankara

Made at our pre-Ramadan party with friends.

This Ramadan has been challenging and it has nothing to do with hunger, thirst, or heat. There is something intangible missing—namely that collective common spirit that I’m accustomed to feeling in either the wider consciousness of a Muslim country or the intentional consciousness of a dedicated minority. Still trying to figure out how to comprehend life in secular Muslim Turkey, being here feels like its own dimension. I see signs of Ramadan—donation requests, iftar buffets, Ramazan pide breads for sale—but I can’t feel it. Seemingly more the exception than the default, fasting feels like a secret only shared with an unknown few. Obviously, fasting is a very personal act of devotion that need not be publicized, but when you’re invited for lunch or offered food and drink in the middle of the day, it starts to feel a bit like the Twilight Zone.

A first attempt and a new addition to our Ramadan home decorations.

Lil’ Z is taking gymnastics lessons at a great academy that happens to be housed in a large shopping mall. If she wasn’t enjoying and progressing well in the class, I would find a way out of frequenting my least favorite destination four times a week. I thought the usual shopping mall annoyances might be turned down a notch for Ramadan, but it was business as usual. Diners, coffee drinkers, and smokers were doing what they always do, but one particular young lady really made me pause. While waiting at a bus stop, she came supported by two young women at her side. Because she put no weight on her bent legs, I immediately thought she sprained her ankle or was injured. But when her friends attempted to sit her up, I realized that she was passing in and out of consciousness. Her head dropped and eyes rolled back. Drool ran from her lips quicker than her friends could open their moist towelette packets to clean it. Though her entourage seemed calm and collected, I had to intervene, fearful that her condition was worse than they perceived. I thought that perhaps her blood sugar was low from fasting or she was severely dehydrated but, to my shock, one of the young men told me in unmistakable English, “She is drunk.” Having lived in a college town for eight years, I’ve seen drunk before—loud drunk, belligerent drunk, staggering drunk. But on the verge of black out drunk in daylight–I’ve never seen. Again my mind goes back to Ramadan.

Ramadan Calendar 2016

Many of the irreligious Turkish friends I’ve met here have made reference to a grandparent who prays. I can understand that a person may consciously reject a choice for themselves, but there seems to be this total unawareness and disconnect from the lives their forefathers lived only two generations prior. Yes, there are many religious Turks as well, but I’m disappointed by how seemingly clueless young people are about Islam. Almost as if a cloud of amnesia descended a few decades ago that reduced Islam to not eating pork and calling God “Allah”, which I hear often. “Ma sha’ Allah” when seeing a cute child, “in sha’ Allah” when speaking of future happenings, or, my favorite, “Allah Allah” for any reason ranging from a spill to a near car accident. I see beautiful mosques all over the city, amazing modest clothing lines, prayer beads for sale in the streets, but I can’t seem to access what Islam means here in Turkey, or at least in Ankara. It’s a discussion I’d like to have, but being religious seems to be tied with supporting a particular political party, so those conversations are muted for fear that an innocent inquiry will turn into a partisan debate.

Mama makes a Ramadan sign too!

As with any reality in the outer world, I’m forced to look inward. Whether fasting as one in a small crowd or one in a million, I need to peer through the fog of my confusion to see the lesson awaiting me, the Teacher beckoning me, and the service demanding me. Ramadan is not something happening to me but rather within me. For more than a decade, even with its challenges, Ramadan is the internal housecleaning that I look forward to every year. Both in and outside of Ramadan, fasting heightens my awareness of God, refines my inner vision, and tempers my connection to the temporal world. As with Islam in general, it’s such a treasure that I hate to see people forfeit or belittle. Our little family is doing what we can to keep our own Ramadan fire aflame because I can’t rely on others here to fan it. With about half of the month left, I have to seek out some virtual love to pull through this month of mercy, so I can end with the cleansing and spiritual recommitment that I always find awaiting me in its last days.

Adjusting to Ankara: Myths and Realities

Ankara

Turkey is our fifth country of residence since living abroad.  As with our past moves, there’s something fascinating to me about that very first ride from the airport to the place you will call home. From the time those sliding doors open from the safety of the airport lobby to the mystery of the world beyond it, there’s an initial impression, energy, and vibe. I watch it all—the landscapes, the people, the signs—as closely as my jetlagged eyes will allow, seeking something familiar or a point of reference to orient myself around. With time, all of those initial mental snapshots start to become landmarks in a maze and then later an organized grid. The streets I walk and places I know so well now were once disorienting, but now they are my home.

It’s hard to say if our adjustment went quickly or slowly, but all I know is that right now the weeks seem to be flying. We are settled in our apartment and neighborhood, we’ve picked up some Turkish along the way, and we have a good sense about what the city has to offer. By no means are we expert expats but we know where we are, what we’ve experienced, and what we expect for the duration of our stay. We’ve had some interesting surprises since coming—some based on our own expectations and others based on the experiences of others or what we’ve read online. However, there are a few things we’ve learned for ourselves and we hope it will help the next family in transit.

Prayer Space

Myth: Turkey is similar to other parts of the Middle East. 

Reality: Not all of Turkey. Yes, the mosques are present and the call to prayer is heard, but none of that means you won’t see what would be considered very taboo in other parts of the Muslim world. For example, open homosexuality, public displays of affection, tattoos, drinking, smoking, etc.

Myth: Finding vegan food will be easy.

Reality: We were heartbroken when we discovered that a common vegetarian dish, lentil soup, may be prepared with animal stock. Hummus and baba ghanoush are not as common as Turkish restaurants abroad led us to believe. So, we have to be a bit more focused in our pursuit by seeking out Ege (Aegean), ev yemekleri (homecooked foods), vegan 0r veg-friendly eateries.

Aegean Food

Myth: If you have a residency permit, you can leave your passport at home.

Reality: Some transactions at the bank, post office, or a notary will still require your passport or a copy. Getting an ikamet residency can be arduous but it is necessary and will make sure you’re lawfully abiding in the land.

Myth: It will be great to receive care packages from abroad.

Reality: Receiving packages has been mostly a nightmare for us because of customs rules, fees, etc. We recently had to opt for a package to be destroyed because the paperwork to retrieve it from customs was worth more than the package itself. We’ve learned the hard way and now know not to request any cosmetics or food products. Books from Amazon UK, on the other hand, arrive easily as long as they’re not worth more than 75 – 100 Euros.

Myth: Mail order makes life convenient.

Reality: Not always. In the winter, mail order produce was a dream come true. I sat home, cozy and warm with the kids, while farm fresh produce came to my front door. It’s hard to predict when deliveries will come and you don’t always receive a SMS message in advance, so you can be left waiting all day long. If for whatever reason you miss a delivery, retrieving it can be a pain without a car.

Myth: Turkish people love children.

Reality: Turkish people really, really love children. Almost like good luck charms, it’s hard for most of them to pass a child without a smile, rub on the face, or kiss on the cheek. And, if your children look anything like our chocolate bunnies, beware! They may well want to eat your kids or at least take their picture.

Myth: In Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, English should be easy to come by.

Reality: Oh no! Even in official offices, you may not find a single English speaker, so get started on your Turkish as soon as possible or make friends who can help by translating.

Myth: You can receive money transfers easily.

Reality: Make sure the sender uses Western Union and uses your complete name (inclusive of your middle name), so it perfectly matches your passport ID.

Myth: All you need is a SIM card to use your phone from abroad.

Reality: You must register your phone by paying a fee at the bank, receiving an e-password from the post office, and then completing your registration on a Turkish website within a couple of months. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, so we have to start the process all over again or buy a Turkish phone.

Myth: You can buy train tickets at the post office or a travel agent, according to the internet.

Reality: Nope. The website says you can but…nope. If you don’t succeed in buying tickets online, go to the train station.  My friend teased me saying that Turks never trust what the internet says.  Lesson learned.

Why We Live Abroad

Landscaping

It’s a sunny day in Ankara. After a week of peering through a cold cloud of fog from our apartment window, the frosted trees now glisten in the sunshine. Our home is abundantly warm and the neighborhood serene. With the exception of weekends and holidays, both national and Islamic, Urbndervish walks ten minutes to his office and prepares for class. His students, mostly Turkish, respect him and render him the regard due of an educator. His employer compensates him well based on his merit and experience, not race or gender. One income alone suffices our family here, so I’m available to stay home with Lil’ Z and Moulay.

Puzzled

When we do venture out to the store or around town, we usually see only a handful of other people of color, but it isn’t a big deal. We are not negatively harassed or profiled because of race or ethnicity. It is correctly assumed, however, that we are not Turkish, but we are still embraced warmly and helped hospitably. Our children are kissed, hugged, stroked, and given candies like all other children here. Younger children call my daughter abla, which means “big sister”, as they would call any other older girl. People find Moulay’s curly locks and Lil’ Z’s kinky hair curious, but the curiosity is sincere, not fetishism or disgust.

At the mall

I’m not an expert at cultural analysis or the politics of migration, but what I do know very well is the feeling of being welcomed and I experience it regularly outside of the borders of my homeland. Some people find this assertion absurd and implicitly or explicitly ask us the recurring question “Why?!?” We field those questions as they arise in personal conversations, but after reading this article about the higher quality of life that people of color experience in Norway, we thought it time to share our reasons for migrating too.

Mosque atop supermarket

Practice of Faith

So, if it’s not obvious by now, we’re a Muslim family—a brown one, at that. We’re not ethnically Muslim (well, if we knew our pre-slavery history, we very well could be) but rather people of African descent who embraced Islam as our way of life as adults. Our respective decisions were very personal and significant in our lives, hence practicing our faith—not just believing in it—is important to us. Having mosques and prayer spaces abundantly accessible, as well as restrictions on alcohol, drug consumption, and other social ills that we disapprove of makes our lives easier. We are not criminalized or victimized because of our faith, nor do we have to trip over ourselves to disarm the prejudice of others or absolve ourselves from atrocities that we neither committed nor condoned.

City Logo

Safety

In all of the countries we’ve lived in, the incidence of gun violence, mass shootings, and violent crimes in general is negligible. Similarly, crimes that target children, Muslims, or people of color are uncommon in these places too. Going out at night is not a cause of fear or anxiety.  However, during our last extended stay in the United States, the very real possibility of being harassed or harmed because of race and religion became a more vivid reality. If Urbndervish was late returning home from the mosque or the supermarket, the fear that he might have been stopped or harassed unjustly be a police officer was a legitimate possibility. Also, the incidence of hate crimes against Muslim women has become more prevalent as well. Wanton racial and religious profiling without abandon persists and keeps hitting uncomfortably closer to home.

Che

Higher Quality of Life

As an English instructor, Urbndervish has been able to provide a better life for us overseas than he would have in the United States. Most of his positions in the last five years have provided our housing, airfare, and health insurance. Additionally, his single income suffices to not only make ends meet but provide us with an enjoyable quality of life where we actually have time to spend together, a budget to travel together, and savings instead of debts to put aside for the future. Saving more than we spend on a monthly basis was impossible for us even when we were both working professionals in the United States. The documentary Professors in Poverty  addresses how American educators struggle to make fair wages in greater detail.

Juice Bars

Global citizenship

The added benefit to our life abroad is the enrichment that comes from seeing just how vast the world is and feeling empowered to know that we have a rightful place in it. Granted, we are very, very blessed and privileged to have degrees, diplomas, and passports that are respected in most parts of the world. We have an opportunity to leave a land that seems to have left us a long ago. Yes, there is work to do be done as agents of change and cultural transformers, but this is true anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. Where one finds their purpose and peace is a very personal matter. We know and have read of other families of color who found home in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ghana or the Netherlands. Whether permanently or temporarily, travel and migration teaches us and our children about other cultures, countries and ways of life firsthand. Similarly, it communicates that the planet is our home and we need not be held hostage to any one corner of it.

Park

More Quality Time with Family

A very lucrative trade-off for us is that even though we live further away from our extended family, we actually have more uninterrupted time to spend with them during our summer holidays. While living in the United States, we juggled two weeks of vacation and a handful of national and religious holidays to split between our scattered families. Since living abroad, we’ve had five to eight weeks of annual leave every summer, so we can enjoy uninterrupted days and weeks with our family. Yes, we miss some of the large family gatherings, but we do our best to compensate by making our time together rich in substance and not just cultural symbolism. We also have weekly video chats and phone calls with our folks.

Robot Girl

Conclusion

For the last seven years, our choice to live abroad has not been about fleeing or running based on fear, but rather doing what the human race has done for millennia—migrate. Whether it’s across town or across a continent, every individual has the God-given right to move freely to where they feel best supported in the pursuit of their ambitions and quality of life. Of course, there are legitimate financial and political challenges that hinder migration, so we don’t take this opportunity lightly. Nor are we so committed to any nation that we would stay in spite of it no longer serving our interests. We are global citizens, living our lives, seeing the world and exploring to find a place where our souls fit best.

Kocatepe Mosque

…they will be asked by the angels: “What (state) were you in?” They will answer: “We were oppressed in the land.” And the angels will say: “Was not God’s earth large enough for you to migrate?”  -Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 97

Tips for Your Family Residency Permit (Aile Ikamet)

Kocatepe Mosque

After three months in Ankara, we are officially residents. Urbndervish entered the country on a work visa which had to be converted to a work permit/residency permit by his employer upon arrival. The children and I entered on 90-day tourist visas which expired at the beginning of this month. In the past, employers would also process family residency permits but not anymore. New government regulations require individuals to apply on their own through their e-ikamet website. It was a bit daunting but here are a few points of advice if you need to do the same.

Make your appointment

To make an appointment, you have to start your application online. You will be asked for the following:

-passport information

-the passport information of your sponsor (the working family member)

-your blood type

-a photo to be uploaded

-your complete mailing address (including the city, region, municipality, district, etc.)

-your permanent address

-your parents’ names

-your sponsor’s parents’ names

-your health insurance type (private, government-required, etc.)

-sponsor’s income

-your income and how it is obtained

I had difficulty finding our mailing address on the website, but the goal is to complete the online application to the best of your ability. You must have a confirmed appointment AND a printed (or saved), completed application. At this time, there is no way to save and resume working on your application.

Note:  The permit processing cost indicated at the end of your application might be waived depending on your sponsor’s career or employer.

Gather your documents

More than likely, you have a few weeks until your nearest appointment date, so you have time to gather the necessary paperwork to take with you. You’ll likely need the following for each applicant:

-for the spouse’s application: marriage certificate translated to Turkish by a certified translator

-for a child’s application: birth certificate translated to Turkish by a certified translator

-four photographs

-health insurance policy information for each applicant which MUST include this specific line of text: İşbu Poliçe 06.06.2014 Tarih ve 9 Sayılı ikamet İzni Taleplerinde Yaptırılacak Özel Sağlık sigortalarına İlişkin Genelge’de Belirlenen Asgari Teminat Yapısını kapsamaktadır

-original passport with a copy (front page and entry stamp)

-copy of your sponsor’s passport (front page and entry stamp)

-copy of your sponsor’s work permit/residency permit (both sides)

-housing document showing proof of residency

-sponsor’s payroll or bank account information

-a pink file folder (pembe dosya) which can be bought at a stationary shop

Pay the 55 TL permit document fee and submit the receipt with your application

For Ankara residents:  If you have a foreign ID number, you can pay this fee (ikamet tezkeresi defter bedeli) at İş Bankası. If you don’t have a foreign ID number, you can go here. We had to show our passports to pay this fee.

Show up for your appointment with all of your documents

In spite of your scheduled appointment, you’ll still be given a number and will have to wait until your number is called.  Because I had to show up with the children, I picked an afternoon appointment and waited one hour for my first appointment and two hours to re-submit my health insurance policy.

Just wait

Once everything is submitted and accepted, you’ll be given a printed document as a record of your application and the residency documents will be mailed to your address. If your address is wrong, like mine was, then expect a call from the post office asking you to pick up your residency document from your local post office.  Moulay’s was the first to arrive, just one week after turning the applications.  Lil’ Z and I are patiently waiting for ours.

Note:  This information is from my recollection of our application process.  For more thorough information about obtaining a family residency permit, visit this official site.

First Snow

Türkiye’ye hoş geldiniz!

Welcome to Turkey!

Fall Reflection + Quince Recipe

Fall Foliage

If one were to casually peek into our window, either literally or virtually, it would appear as if we are oblivious to the pain and suffering happening around the world. We consume the news in small doses and discuss some of it in code or late night conversations, consciously careful to protect this nest and the pure hearts of the littlest birds in it.

Smile

Like a diet, we restrict our intake of the harsh ugliness in the world and binge on the joyful beauty; not to delude ourselves but to avoid being subsumed by the weight of sorrow and despair which would rob our hearts of hope and our nights of sleep. We have never used this tiny bit of bandwidth and memory for political commentary or news reporting. Instead our commitment is to share and document beauty, light, and love and be healed by it, as we pray that it offers healing to others.

For you

Even in Ankara, we saw a major tragedy last month. We digested it, reflected on it, and prayed for the whole world of “us” afflicted by various crimes, tragedies, and injustices. But, for the sake of our souls and children, we move on. We continue to savor peace where we find it and express gratitude for what is. As unfair as our world may seem, we believe in an Ultimate Judge and an Eternal Justice, without neglecting our responsibility to affect change on a spiritual, communal, and social level where we are. As it has been said, “the two wings of the believer are hope and fear”. We are trying to chart our path through this temporal world with balance and would like to share some of our joy as of late with no disrespect or disregard to those who are still mourning.

Wild Apples

It has been years since we’ve experienced the fall. I almost forgot how much I enjoy this season. The earthy, warm colors; the cool, crisp weather; the feel of fuzzy textures and layers are all very comforting. Most days here have been sunny, so I can take Lil’ Z and Moulay out for walks or to the park in our quiet suburb. Some days, we pick wild apples behind our apartment building or buy seasonal delights like figs, mandarins, walnuts, pomegranates, and quinces from a local produce seller. Because of our limited Turkish, I actually bought quinces by error but tasting the pear lookalikes foreshadowed the pounds of them we would soon receive from a friend’s yard.

Quinces

The coarse, gritty texture of a quince is not as smooth as a pear and the taste not as sweet. I tolerated the first few but found them difficult to eat because of their starchy density. To consume the pounds in our fridge, I searched for recipes but most of them were for super-sweet jam or jellies. Eventually, I found this recipe and tweaked it be a lot simpler and with a lot less sugar. If you find yourself in a Mediterranean fall, give quinces a chance. Enjoy!

 

Stewed Quince with Dried Cranberries

Ingredients

8-10 quinces

1 tbsp. coconut oil

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

3 tsp. of vanilla powder

A pinch of salt

1 handful of dried cranberries

Cut Quinces

Directions

  1. Wash, peel, seed, and chop the quinces into small pieces
  2. Add quinces to a pot with enough water to cover half the depth of quinces
  3. Cook the quinces covered on a high flame
  4. Add all ingredients except for the dried cranberries to the pot and simmer once the water starts to boil
  5. When the quinces are soft and easy to mash, stir in cranberries, and turn off the flame.

Stewed Quinces over Muesli

Turkey Adventures: Weekend in Kastamonu

Kastamonu

One of the advantages of living in a country versus visiting it for a holiday is that you can slowly explore and absorb the land that you’re in. You don’t have to plan to see everything all at once and can gradually discover the culture, language, and sights without haste. As visitors, we would’ve overlooked a long bus ride trip to see not-as-popular parts of Turkey, but as residents, we took advantage of a group tour organized by Urbndervish’s employer and discovered a pleasant province in the Black Sea region.

Kastamonu

Day 1

Slipping into the rear of the charter bus just a minute before departure time, we readied ourselves for the journey ahead. What was advertised as a three-hour trip was actually a five-hour trek. Thankfully, the bus was not packed, so we spread ourselves out and took comfort in knowing that we had enough snacks, activities, books, and diapers to reach our destination.

Soup

Venturing north of Ankara, we watched urban landscapes disappear and reappear and saw brown plains turn into densely green forests and mountains. Our first stop was the Münire Sultan Sofrası, a classy restaurant serving local dishes. Instead of the typical lentil soup easily found elsewhere, we ordered their tomato-based, brown lentil soup with vermicelli. Complimented by spinach- and potato-stuffed breads, we left satisfied and hopeful about our food prospects for the weekend.

Rug Weaving

In the streets surrounding the restaurant, we saw historical mosques, traditional guesthouses, and artisans of various handcrafts. Walking through town, we passed through a drumming procession to invite guests to an upcoming wedding, beautiful tree-lined streets, and a rug weaver’s workshop.

View from Clock Tower

We stopped at the Liva Paşa Konağı Etnografya Müzesi, where photographs, artifacts, and mannequins transported us to the region’s past. Thereafter, made our way up two sets of tall staircases to reach Kastamonu’s iconic clock tower.

Mahmut Bey Camii

Our last stop for the day was the Mahmut Bey Camii, a simple mosque made using an overlapping construction technique that requires no nails. Built more than 600 years ago, it was humbling to pray in a space that has witnessed centuries of worship in the humble village of Kasaba.

Iskir Resort Town

By sunset, we arrived at Iskir Resort Town in Daday and checked into our rooms. In spite of a cot for Lil’ Z and a playpen provided for Moulay, the room still felt comfortably spacious and peacefully serene. We swiftly slipped into the dining room for an amazing dinner spread that included an appetizing array of desserts, veggies, homemade bread, and fresh fruit, and then returned quickly to our room to settle the little ones down to rest.

Day 2

Parting Gift

With an unfortunately early departure, we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the resort grounds. We had to quickly grab a breakfast of freshly baked breads, fruit-based marmalades and molasses, sesame seed paste, and a small bowl of cereal paired with the non-dairy milk I carried along. As soon as Lil’ Z and I finished our last bite, we dashed to the bathroom and were the last to board the bus again. One of the resort managers came aboard to distribute complimentary bottles of red wine to all of the passengers. We politely declined, so the manager rushed off and returned with homemade rosehip marmalade and local garlic for our parting gift instead.

Farm

We appreciated their kind gesture, especially since Kastamonu is known for its garlic. Regretfully, we didn’t have more time to enjoy more of the resort’s kind yet professional hospitality, their varied and enticing meal spreads and some of the recreational offerings like horseback riding and mountain biking.

Horma Canyon

We were warned that the day’s itinerary would be intense, so we strapped on our sneakers and braced ourselves for a strenuous day. In the Pınarbaşı municipality, there are three main attractions and they were all on our agenda for the day. We met our local guide at a mosque in town and headed to the Horma Kanyonu where we walked over suspension bridges and anchored paths to penetrate the beautiful canyon.

Simple meal

We stopped for lunch at a small family run restaurant where they generally serve a fixed meal of fruit, salad, meat and rice. For us, they ordered a potato-stuffed bread instead.

Ilica Waterfall

For our last stop, we walked through another forest to reach Ilıca Şelalesi. After sleeping through the last two hikes, Moulay decided to sit this one out with Urbndervish. So, Lil’ Z and I had a lovely long walk and talk through the woods. When we finally reached the waterfall, Lil’ Z wasn’t content to view it from a distance. She saw the rest of our “team” climbing down over rocks to sit by the pond, and I didn’t want to dim her bravery. We persisted over the slippery rocks and leaves to sit on a large boulder and savor the beauty around us.

Moulay's Ride

Our weekend adventure was an opportunity to step beyond our usual urban boundaries. While we want nature appreciation to be a part of our family culture, actually immersing ourselves in the natural world is not always easy. We need a bit of hand-holding and guidance and this trip did both without totally sanitizing the experience for us. Even though our last nature walk resulted in checking for ticks and Lil’ Z bawling “I don’t like nature!”, this time around she had to admit, “Nature is kinda cool sometimes”.

My bravebird

Our First Eid in Turkey

Ali Pasha CamiiAfter a few weeks of settling into our new home, our first Eid holiday weekend was upon us. We weren’t sure what to do or where to go but we wanted to take advantage of the four-day weekend, and that we did.

Empty Prayer Hall

The first day of Eid started quietly until Lil’ Z started writhing in her sleep. She woke enough to tell us she felt sick, and I knew that she needed to vomit. Her dad got her to the commode in time, and afterwards she felt much better. By the time we all got dressed and left the house it was about 6:50am. A taxi up the road saw us and swiftly transported us to the nearest mosque just in time for the 7:00am prayer. Everyone filed in casually without special attire or fanfare. The men’s prayer hall was full but not packed tightly and the women’s prayer hall was wide and spacious. From what I’m told, many Turkish women don’t attend the Eid prayers, so our children had plenty of room to stretch and wiggle without encroaching on anyone else’s space. After a lesson delivered in Turkish, followed by a reminder of how the bi-annual Eid prayer is performed and a sermon delivered in Arabic, we commenced the congregational prayer. We concluded with a collective supplication in Turkish and dispersed as peacefully as we entered.

Brunch

Returning home by bus, we were eager to prepare our special Eid brunch. We went on a special expedition to scout out tofu and thoroughly enjoyed it as a veggie scramble paired with chocolate pancakes. With only an hour to spare, we cleaned up the kitchen and packed our bags for Konya. Lil’ Z didn’t eat much before leaving, but I gave her a homeopathic remedy to calm her tummy. She slept on the bus ride and gave one healthy hurl on the subway floor before she was totally better and ready for the adventure ahead.

High-Speed Train

Traveling by high-speed train, the usually three-hour journey by road was shaved down to an hour and forty minutes. The check-in process was much like boarding a plane, complete with train stewardesses, in-train magazines, and on-screen entertainment. Upon disembarking, we took a taxi to our hotel and began exploring.

Sulemiye Camii

Being the day of Eid, most restaurants in Konya were closed and the few that were open didn’t have more than salad to offer vegetarians.  Near one restaurant, we saw a group of folks wearing thread-worn genie pants, gypsy skirts, and open sandals.  Some were speaking English, so we approached them about finding vegetarian food.  The prognosis looked dim, but they took us to a place around the corner where we could find other vegetarians and inquire.  Stepping into the dimly lit basement hall, we removed our shoes, passed a room full of backpacks, and found ourselves in the middle of a group dance lesson.  Giddy and noticeably hairy, the men and women whirled and spun ecstatically.  Fuzzy beards and matted locs swirled around us while we figured out that these young people were in town for a Mystic Music Festival taking place that week.  They offered to share some of their communal meal with us but it was not yet ready and we felt sorely out of place.  The loud sounds stirred Moulay from his sleep, so we took our cue to leave and try our chances elsewhere.

Roasted Vegetables and Rice, Salad, and Freshly Baked Bread

Our best attempt at a vegan meal was found at Mevlana Sofrasi.  The family-owned establishment welcomed our family, especially our children, with open arms and free treats and desserts. The meal itself was a modified traditional meal and was scarce in protein, though tasty. Overlooking the Mevlana Museum and surrounding garden, we had a spectacular view of the heart of the city.  We returned to our hotel to catch up on some rest before unfolding into the next day.Mevlana Museum

On our second day, we had breakfast at our hotel and headed straight for the Mevlana Museum where we saw artifacts from the early Ottoman period and relics from the famed mystic poet, Jalal ad-din Rumi, and the community that surrounded him. Making our way through the crowds we found ourselves with nothing left to do but drink fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden

The Konya Science Center was closed for the holiday, so we took a chance and headed to the Konya Tropical Butterfly Garden at the outskirts of the city. Totally deficient in any real amount of Turkish language skills, we braved two dolmuş minibus rides and a taxi to find Konya’s newest attraction similarly closed. Thankfully, the well-designed play areas were open, so the trip was still worthwhile. Thereafter, we made our way to a shopping plaza for dinner and took a bus and tram back to our hotel.

Play Area

For our third day of Eid, we took an early morning train back to Ankara. We wanted to stay in Konya longer, but the returning trains were scarce due to the holiday weekend. Instead of returning on Sunday, we returned on Saturday to meet with new friends of old friends. We were kindly invited to Gölbaşı where our new acquaintances have a lovely summer home nestled amongst a variety of resident fruit trees. With the perfect appetizer of freshly-picked, tree-ripened fruits, we had a lovely meal of bulgur pilau, roasted eggplant, and salad, alongside an assortment of baked goods and freshly brewed Turkish tea. We picked apples and grapes until the sun set, prayed our evening prayers, and returned home wholly satisfied by our first Eid in Turkey.

Welcome