Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Random Morning Musings

Some people would call me a grump in the morning. I do not consider myself a grump. I would just rather have some quietude without interruption in the morning. Also, I prefer to deal with very immediate and solvable tasks in the morning, rather than, say, tasks that involve brainstorming and negotiation. Those are better for the afternoon, in my opinion, when my own brain is a bit zapped and I could use the combined powers of others brains.

Right now I'm reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. So far it's quite a crafty book considering the level at which its written. I can see how it reached an audience beyond YA aficionados.

Today there's all this buzz about the high resolution images sent back from the probe near Pluto. I don't really give a rat's ass about it. As far as I know space programs often struggle for funding. I'd rather more funding go to SETI because I think it would be more productive for human kind.

I never followed up with my Ramazan Log. I did a day of fasting during which I only drank water. It was very manageable, and it felt healthy-ish. In the afternoon I even went for a run, and it wasn't a problem at all. I have found, however, that I have been unable to complete the Ramazan fasts for more than one day. The task of persevering for an entire month is wholly impressive.

I am so excited to leave Turkey. Last night I dreamt about going to Arby's. Unfortunately because of the faults of my dream I never actually got to eat an Arby's sandwich. I got caught up in a drive-through.

I have been reading lots of information about Thailand, and I have been studying basic language information including a few phrases. I hope it helps. It has been difficult to find much information about my particular city. It is small--200,000 people. It's not a hopping tourist destination, which is a major reason why we'd like to go there.

Ironically, Jena and I like Cappadocia because it is a tourist destination. We don't feel like complete outsiders when we visit. We can also have a beer in a cafe or restaurant. I hope we don't have the perpetual outsider feeling in Chiang Rai, the way we do in Kayseri. I think the natural surroundings in Chiang Rai will help with that. I don't feel like an outsider when I'm in nature in Turkey. I mainly feel like it when I'm in Kayseri's concrete jungle where the way of life is so drastically different from my own.

I had another thought, but I can't remember it now.

That's what it was.

I have done some bizarre dreaming in Turkey. I remember counting three incidences, but at the moment I can only remember the details of two. These are times when I have slept with one eye open. As far as I know, it only happens when there is plenty of daylight in the room. I briefly feel myself waking up, and I can see the wall, the ceiling, and the dresser in my room through my open eye. However, I am physically unable to open my eye that is still shut. I dream that I use my face muscles and even my hands to pry open my closed eye. Opening it is impossible; my face is paralyzed. During the most recent incident, over the weekend, I dreamt that Jena was having a conversation with a guest in the living room as well.

Both times that this phenomenon has occurred, I have eventually woken up to confirm that the view from my open eye was an accurate view of the room. Additionally, immediately upon waking, I have moved my face and touched my face with my hands.

It is difficult to find very much information about dreaming with one eye open on the internet. Mostly there are safety warnings against sleeping with your eyes open because your eyes need to rejuvenate during sleep. Some people call the dreaming with one eye open a form of lucid dreaming. For me, however, I have not had the distinct epiphany that I am dreaming.

I read that birds and dolphins are able to sleep with one eye open. For birds, this allows them to partially rest their brain and one eye during long migratory flights. Presumably dolphins are able to keep an eye out for predators while resting.

I'm not sure why I do it. It doesn't seem to help me at all and puts me into a bit of a panic both in the dream and when I awake from it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ramazan Log Moondate ... Well... Actually...

So I only lasted a day.

It was 11:00 PM when I was getting ready for bed after the first day of fasting, and I was filling up my water bottle. For those who don't know, Turkey is one of those places where it's probably best to purchase your water instead of drinking the tap water.

The tap water, technically, is okay to consume; I've had it on a few occasions. I don't know if I was being delusional, but it seemed to me that it gave me a floating feeling. It didn't taste strange, but the experience was enough to give me concern.

Most homes, stores, schools, etc. have water coolers. Similarly, Jena and I order those huge blue jugs of water, but we don't have a cooler. We have this hand-pump that you use to get the water out.

In our apartment we have a supply of three of blue water jugs at a time. When they run out we go down to the door man of our building and ask him, in Turkish, to order three more for us. The conversation is a little complicated, but by now we do alright with it. We have to say that we want three of the water bottles from a specific company. Then, if we're not going to be home for the delivery, we have to use some slightly difficult grammar involving Turkish postpositions (as opposed to prepositions) to explain that we have left the bottles outside our apartment door. Finally, we hand over the money. If there's change, which there usually is, sometimes the door man gives it to us when we come home, and sometimes it's left on the top of one of the bottles in front of our door.

Multi-step little process.

So I was pumping water into my water bottle, preparing to over-hydrate in preparation for the next day when the pump began making its sputtering noise, indicating that we were running out of water. We were on our third and final bottle.

At this point my options became limited. I could try to buy some water, but all the near by stores close around ten. I could drink the tap water, which I didn't want to do because I'd be drinking it in mass quantities. I could boil up some teapots full of tap water, but this seemed like a pain in the ass process. Or, I could go without water for twenty hours.

I didn't like any of these options.

In the morning, at 8:00 AM, three hours after the sunrise, I made tea with tap water, and I ate granola and yogurt.

In addition to the water barrier, I had realized on the previous day that it sort of miserable being a zombie in the afternoon. We got off work at 3:00 PM, and the best I could do was a minimal walk for my exercise, unless I wanted to exercise after 8:30 PM when I had hydrated and eaten. This seemed problematic. To some extent, it feels like a gift to be a non-fasting foreigner during Ramazan here in Turkey because you're one of the few people who isn't suffering through your afternoons. You have vivaciousness amid a cloudy-headed, slow moving populace.

Even my office, which the administration officially calls the "Leavers' Office," is full of life. There are six occupants, and they're all from the US except for one Brit. It's the only office having any fun during these days at work when there's nothing to do. I want to be able to play chess and have ridiculous conversations with my friends in the afternoon. I don't want to be lazing around, just for the sake of gratifying myself and my willpower.

Another way to look at it is this: it feels pretty empty to fast without a strong justification.

Aside from all this, as I've mentioned, I really hate the abstaining from water thing. Really hate it. It's so unhealthy. It makes me want to give fasting another shot, possibly tomorrow (which will be Monday) whereupon I only drink water. I'm not entirely sure what the point would be except to serve as a counter-experience to my experience last Thursday.

I've heard that one of the reasons that Muslims fast during Ramazan is to empathize with those who are less fortunate. Here, I can see how abstaining from water, in addition to food, is a critical point, especially in places where tap water is potentially unsafe and therefore commodified. Abstaining from water and food does give you a window into the psychological and physiological effects that could be occurring within someone without these resources.

What I don't really get, however, is the tradition of breaking your fast each night with a big celebration--a big meal, loads of cigarettes, etc. You can even go to downtown Kayseri where there are concerts and a road set up called Ramazan Sokağı (Ramazan Road). On the road are all these vendor booths where you can buy snacks, books, and arts and crafts.

It seems contrary to the purpose of empathizing with the poor when you end your difficult day with a night of varying degrees of excess.

On the other hand, I will say that there are many efforts within Muslim society to help those who are less fortunate. For example, it's not uncommon for one of our administrators to send out an email telling us about how one of the workers at Meliksah (usually one of the cleaning staff) can't afford a medical operation for his/her child. Therefore, if we could all donate a little money, maybe we could help the family out.

(As a side note, these emails are a bit hilarious because the administrators don't have a great command over diction-related register variation. For instance, the subject line of the emails usually read "Donations for a Sick Kid." This phrase "sick kid" is then used throughout the body of the email.)

In addition to these causes, our administration also takes Ramazan and the other bayramlar (holidays) as opportunities to fundraise for the poor. During Ramazan our administration has organized a donation fund to help poor families afford iftar (breaking of the fast) dinners. During Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Holiday) the administration organized a similar fundraiser as well.

I realize that efforts like these occur in the US as well, but from my personal view, I have seen more of these fundraisers aimed at helping the greater good here in Turkey's Muslim society.

As I've mentioned before Ramazan, like Christmas, is a bizarre mix of religion and concern for others in addition to indulgence. As someone who has no special feelings about the holiday, except for my difficult experiences teaching during Ramadan in the US where certain students used the holiday as an excuse for increased laziness and hostility (which as I understand goes against some of the main goals of the holiday) I think that my observation of Ramazan is almost over.

I may try to go a day with only water, just to see how it compares. It's also possible that Jena and I will travel to our friend Özge's hometown for the end of month feast. I'm curious to see how that plays out in a domestic setting. Last year during the final days of celebration Jena and I were only privy to the loads of teenagers in İzmir who spent their time at the amusement park where we exercised.

We'll see how it all plays out. For now, to all those who celebrate the holiday with sincerity and respect for the larger goals of the holiday, best of luck. İyi Ramazanlar (Good Ramazans).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ramazan Log Moondate June 18th, 2015 5:25 PM

I am damn thirsty.

I typically drink gallons of water during the day--at least one, probably around two or three. I can't tell you how many times today I've thought, "I'm thirsty. Where's my water bottle? Oh wait--"

So I'm almost there. Less than three hours to go. This afternoon Jena and I drove to the foothills to go for a walk. I just wanted to stay active because otherwise I'd sit around an moan about how empty and dried up I feel. Luckily for Jena, I have mostly done this complaining in my head throughout the day.

The good news is that the headaches weren't too bad today. I had one before lunch, but it faded. Can you imagine the pain of all those Turks who are addicted to black tea and cigarettes. Ugh. I have it easy compared to them.

I will say that the one thing that disturbs me about this fasting business is the lack of water. It's just not healthy. As someone who always wants to by optimally hydrated, I almost always monitor the color of my urine to ensure that it is somewhere between straw-colored and clear throughout the day. If it's not, then it's time to down some water. Today to my dismay, during my three visits to the restroom, it irks me to see my urine becoming yellower and yellower.

I've always thought that Gandhi's style of fasting seemed more appealing, the way he was allowed lemon water. (I think that was the case. I saw the Ben Kingsley Gandhi movie so long ago.)

While Jena and I were on our walk this afternoon, I found myself thinking about how fasting for the sake of exercising one's willpower is a particularly empty endeavor. From there, I began to wonder why people around me are actually doing it. I'll try to provide some information here.

Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish news company, states, "Fasting, held from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars (fundamental religious duties) of Islam. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion. Ramadan is also a time of increased religious observance and socializing, with families sharing rich meals after sunset, followed by gatherings with friends or neighbors" (

What I find interesting about Ramazan is the balance between reverence for one's religion and the sort of exploitation of the month that occurs during the night. I think it's fair to say that Christmas has been overwhelmed by the exploitation of the celebration, but Ramadan seems to be more of a balanced religious holiday. (If you're curious about the night time exploitation I'm referring to, check out the pictures in the news article.)

In a sense, the highly sacred time, the daytime, is downplayed to an extent. Sure you are expected to fast during the day, but at a workplace like ours, you don't need to get yourself there until 10:00 AM. At work, there's almost nothing to do, and based on our observations when driving through town today the people who are doing the most amount of work are the grocery store clerks as they sell groceries for those who are preparing for the iftar (the breaking of the fast meal) tonight.

We only have to work until 3:00 PM, and by piecing together some information from students and coworkers, often the evening hours are passed by sleeping. All things considered, the potential number of waking hours of fasting becomes rather short.

That said, I'm sure there are some people who have grueling experiences. Not everyone is so lucky to have a five hour workday. But things do seem to slow down in society--fewer people are out, fewer customers--so conceivably there's less work to be done.

But then the iftar occurs. If I remember correctly it's proceeded by a few long prayers blared out from the minarets. (One might take issue with my use of "blared," but damn, it really is blared. It's loud, of course, but beyond that they use these bullhorn speakers to amplify the calls to prayer. And the bullhorns destroy the sound quality. It's like hearing a song sung through a paper-towel tube. Possibly in the future when Turkey has emerged from its developing country stage, better sound systems will be installed.)

So the iftar itself is the big family and friend feast that occur every night for a month. I'm sure it's a blast, and from what I have seen, no expense is spared for the meals. Additionally, everyone's finally free to light up those cigarettes and down those cups of tea. Without any real knowledge of statistics, it seems like a fair amount of people party until 2:00 AM when it's time to say your last prayer, eat your last meal, and go to sleep. However, some people go to sleep at their usual times and simply get up in the middle of the night for the prayer and meal.

My point in describing all this is that I think it's important to equivocate the religious sanctity of a holiday when it seems to be evolving into another creature entirely. And that creature is not necessarily bad. Again, think of Christmas. Has it become a ridiculously materialistic holiday nearly devoid of any shred of religion? Yes. Yet, it is still a time to come together as a family and to act in a generous manner through the gesture of gifts.

So when I look at the article explaining the religious importance of Ramazan, I hear myself saying, "Give me a break. Look at what the month really is--a time to sleep in, build up an appetite, and party all night long." However, those thoughts need to be checked by the positive aspects that the religious-side of the month can offer people (spiritually and psychologically) and the positive aspects that the party-side of the month can offer (in terms of familial and relational bonding).

There are probably a number of good reasons to celebrate Ramazan, just as I believe that Christmas is still worth my time. And I don't know why I'm speaking of the religious side of Christmas as if it has significance to me. It doesn't really. But it does serve as the foundation of the holiday, and that foundation has slipped away. Holiday evolution, I suppose. I wonder if you can trace religious holidays over time and see them evolve through specific stages until they reach some sort of end to their existence. That would be an interesting article to read.

In any case, I've killed about an hour writing this. This fasting does take will power. If I were interested in connecting the fasting to spirituality, I can see how I might be more inclined to remember a deity throughout the day every time my stomach grumbles. But as it stands, I just think, "Alan, this is crazy and miserable, but you can do it." At 8:05 I'll see if the rewards justify the task. PARTY!!! No, really, I'm probably going to drink some water and have a beer on an empty stomach. Then I'll eat some dinner and go to bed at a reasonable time.

Ramazan Log Moondate June 18th, 2015 9:45-11 AM

The drums woke me up at 2:30 in the morning. I drank a lot of water. To be on the safe side I set an alarm for 5:00 AM, which is 12 minutes before the sunrise. I drank water then as well.

Although our working hours have changed to 10:00 to 3:00 during Ramazan, I still got up at seven. In the vacant lot eleven floors below my window I saw a pack of five dogs resting. Quickly I dressed and went down to see whether I could pet them.

When I approached, I avoided eye contact and crouched down so as to make myself less intimidating. Typically this body language works with dogs in the US. However, Turkish dogs seem to view these movements in a more negative light as if one is reaching for a stone to throw at them. Thus, the dog pack scattered. My bad. They galloped up the side walk, and looked both ways as they crossed a busy intersection. (It's true that the dogs here in Turkey actually have street smarts. And it's good that they do, I actually saw a vehicle swerve as if it were intending to hit them.)

I followed the pack for a while, reading my Kindle as I walked. One of the dogs lingered behind, but he didn't hold still long enough for me to pet him.

It is now 11:00, and Jena and I are at work. I'm definitely hungry, and seeing others (Jena included) drink coffee and water is making my stomach pangs more acute. This morning we had a quick meeting with our boss, and I asked him about the phrase to use during this time of year. He said either İyi Ramazanlar or Ramazanınız mübarek olsun. Since the latter means may your Ramazan be blessed, I'll sign off with the other one, İyi Ramazanlar--literally, Good Ramazans.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ramazan Log Moondate June 17th, 2015

It's been a long time since I've written anything here. I just looked through my posts and saw that I have at least two posts from the past six months that never made it to the publication stage.

To briefly explain my tacitness, I want to refer back to something I wrote in a blog post last fall or so: No news here is not necessarily good news. Over the past six months I have developed a dislike for certain aspects of life here in Turkey, and each time I've considered blogging I've realized that I don't want to publish my growing frustrations. Sometimes it's tough to cut through that layer of emotion.

This change of attitude of mine coincided with Jena and my decision to leave Turkey for the next academic year. In a sense, suspending my disbelief that we could make a pleasant life for ourselves professionally and personally here became too difficult.

In any case, at the moment, here on this summer night, things are looking a bit brighter for us. We're working on getting jobs lined up in Thailand next year. We think that the culture, geography, and attitudes toward education will be better suited to us.

As far as work is concerned, Jena and I basically have had nothing to do at work since the end of May; yet, we're still required to be there to earn our keep. It's really quite bizarre. In our time we have chatted a lot with our friends; we have volunteered to help a committee with one of its projects; we have taught a short summer school class for local high school students; and I, in particular, have done such notable things as fixing a dart board in the teachers' lounge and playing games of backgammon and chess with my friend Paul. It's a wild ride, I'll tell you what.

The good news is that this free time also gives me some spare energy which I'd like to use to get back into blogging. And I believe I have the inspiration as it happens to be the eve of Ramazan (yes, they spell it with a z here). Over the next thirty days, it is my intention to fast along with the Turks. Not because of any interest in the religious aspects of Islam, but simply to see whether my will-power can get me through it.

For those who don't know, the general gist of Ramazan is that it's a month during which Muslims are not supposed to consume anything while the sun is up each day. During the night, however, water, food, smoking, and sex (I think) are all fair game. There are a handful of reasons for this practice, but I have very little technical knowledge of them; besides, these reasons are not my focus. I just want to know whether I can do it. C'mon, no water during the summer for 14 hours and 53 minutes each day. That's crazy, right?

I did fast for one day in Ramazan-style in Flagstaff a little over a year ago. I thought the experience would be interesting, and it was. The thirst didn't get to me--it was the hunger. So, while my aspirations this year are a bit more grandiose, if I make through two days, I'll be on to a personal record.

To contextualize Ramazan a bit here, we've already heard the call to prayer at some irregular times this evening, and the calls have been longer and have been sung on a lower musical scale than usual. (To me this scale variation is a welcome surprise since many of the calls to prayer sound very strained when sung.) Additionally, Jena and I took a walk tonight around the local neighborhood. Maybe it was just us, but we sensed a collective feeling of anticipation. People were out, walking places with a sense of purpose. I saw at least one guy hurrying home with a large bag of Ramazan bread, which I think holds some significance during the month.

This coming morning at some hour Jena and I will probably wake to the banging of pots and pans-- and drums if they have them--which will wake everyone for the call to prayer and one last meal (usually soup) before sunrise. I vaguely remember reading that this takes place at around two or three AM. If I happen to wake up, I'll probably pound some water and get back into bed.

I guess you could interpret my actions as sacrilege (which is why I haven't told any Muslims that I'm doing this), but I'm curious to see how it goes. At the least I hope to develop some compassion for my Muslim coworkers during this time of abstinence. My hope is that I'll update this blog throughout the experience. Hopefully it won't degrade into sentences saying only "I'm hungry. I'm really damn hungry."

Let this experience be known as Alan's Ramazan 2015. More entries to come.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


We’re learning first gear today. A little gas and less clutch. We’re driving from the apartment building where we’ve been boxed in for six months. Fourteen floors, not counting the first one. No balconies. Just a creamy red monolith where there’s a living room-kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom that we call home.

First gear is a gear we’ll come back to, to contend with its complexities.

In second we watch the traffic rules we knew well back home get thrown out the window like a beer can from a “sad” man. Muslims only drink when they’re sad, a coworker told us. In the hills, on the dirt roads outside the city, there’s evidence of a lot of sadness. The hills are alive with the sound of cars parked, Turkish music pumping, cigarettes being drawn from, and older gentlemen resting their bottles on the trunk of the car having a gran— sad ol’ time.

Our progress with third gear is halted by, for lack of a better term, a Turkish round-about. It’s the type you’d see in Britain, but with a traffic light at each of the roads coming into the round-about and at each of the quarter turns around the thing. While it’s easy to criticize these things of being symptomatic of the lack of logic applied to civil engineering, doing so feels hypocritical. Who am I to say anything? Doesn’t my life have about as many traffic lights that flicker on and off at inopportune times at each indecisive juncture?

Are we staying another year here? Maybe. No. Probably not. Yes, but only in the eyes of those who are pumping us for an answer so that they can make a prediction about next year’s numbers and so that we can have a safety net.

Before our drive yesterday, I blamed my wife for our indecision. Graceful as she is, when my tantrum was over, she said that she thinks that I see elements of myself in her and that she’s a scapegoat for my own frustrations.

We’re both tall. We both have blue eyes. Sort of. We both take about a thousand invisible trips around the block when we’re deciding whether or not we should even take one.

In fourth gear we’ve made some progress. Our speed is up. On the highway it’s easier to live in a foreign country. You can pretend you have a place to go. You get just as many stares as you would on any highway anywhere in the world during that moment of passing. It’s relaxing. Containing.

In fifth gear, there is an illusion of flying. Transcendence. The moments in the day when you could make this life work for as long as you want. This feeling comes on the walk back to the office after a good class. It comes on Saturday when you’re returning home from a day trip with friends. It comes when the sun’s red light rests on the edge of the horizon, and you’re not worried about what’s to come.

You’re never in fifth for long. Realities disguised as those well-lit round-abouts are bound to appear. The man carrying sticks on his back steps into the highway. The dog trotting in the shoulder gets something thrown at it by a car going eighty.

Reverse is the same as first gear but backwards. Just like they told you in your driver’s ed., put your right hand on the back of the passenger seat, look over your shoulder, and then give it a little gas as you let off the clutch. Stall. Don’t worry. There’s only about fifty cars headed for you, waiting, expecting, glaring. They want you to get your shit together and get out of the way.

I wonder about my sense of objectivity. As a traveler, do I ever see the world for what it is? Or, is it the local people who see my wife and me wander around like lost chickens; is it them who get the most candid glimpse into our beings? And is that why the stares are uncomfortable and why we are embarrassed to accept the help that is sometimes offered us? We by nature of our language, our skin tones, our hair colors, our values, our way of reasoning are inadaptable. Especially during this first year. Especially at first.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Aynı Tas Aynı Hamam

"Aynı tas, aynı hamam" is a Turkish idiom that means "same bucket, same bath." Its English counter-parts are "Same old, same old" and "Same shit, different day. This idiom was taught to me by my officemate Salim.

Salim has also told me stories about visiting hamams on special occasions, like for bachelor's parties and coworker parties. He told me two particularly strange and funny stories--one that involved him scrubbing our former director's back while the director scrubbed a new hire's back. Apparently, the former director made a joke, saying he was "investing in the future of the program."

Another story involved the delivery of çig köfte into the hamam. Çig Köfte is a Turkish food that is made from bulgur, tomato paste, and spices. The köfteci (köfte-person) squeezes the tomato-y bulgur into ergonomic nuggets that are complete with ridges from where the bulgur began to come out between köfteci's fingers. He then drops it on your plate. You eat this stuff raw by wrapping it in iceberg lettuce leafs or a lavaş (tortilla). If you want, you can squeeze some lemon on it and put some pomegranate sauce on it as well. I thought it was disgusting at first because I couldn't stop thinking about how the bulgur had tried to worm its way out between some dude's fingers before it got to my plate. But once I got over that, I realized that it's actually pretty tasty.

However, it gets disgusting once again when you imagine this stuff being consumed at temperatures above ninety degrees by a group of really sweaty, nearly-naked men, sitting on a hot marble slab while people are getting lathered and scrubbed nearby. You can just imagine how the çig köfte got warm, how it's shape didn't hold up, and how it began to crumble and drop onto the marble floor, hopefully to be carried off by the open Roman-esque channel drainage system. Ew.

Needless to say, when I was invited on a Friday afternoon, to join some coworkers for a trip to the Hamam after work, I said I wanted to go if for nothing else than to see where this boss-scrubbing and çig köfte eating had taken place.

Because I had just bought a car that was slightly bigger than everyone else's, one of the four other guys volunteered me to drive. In a normal situation, say on my home turf, this wouldn't be a problem. But everything's different here in Turkey, of course.

The five of us packed into the car, three of whom are good friends who act like a never-ending comedy show. One Turk, one American, and one Brit. Then there was me, and there was Paul, two of the newest coworkers.

So imagine driving stick-shift when you haven't done so for ten years, except for a week-long trip in Germany. And of course you're doing this in your new car that is less than five-hours old. Used, but new to you. And imagine you're driving during rush-hour in the waning dusk in downtown Kayseri with, like I said, a car-full of jokesters. Finally, imagine that no one in the car knows exactly where to go.

Jena looked at me before we left and told me to be careful with her car. I said "Of course." I violated that promise big-time.

In Turkey, there aren't really any rules to driving, except that you generally stop at red traffic lights. Getting to the hamam meant swirling through Turkish round-abouts (a topic that warrants its own blog post entirely), cutting between giant city busses (despite the fact that another coworker had told me to stay away from them at all costs), and shooting down streets that are just barely the width of your car while pedestrians and bikers and trying their best to psyche you out so that they can share some of the road as well. (In Turkey people on foot or on bike have no right of way, so it's actually dangerous when you try to give it to them because everyone gets confused.)

Somehow we found the damn hamam. While we were driving in circles searching for it, the Americans suggested that we just park and find it by walking. This idea was vetoed by Savaş, the Turk, because Turks have this intense belief that the cold will make you sick if you even think about going out in it, especially after you've been in a warm place like a bathhouse. They're also deathly afraid of drafts from things like slightly opened windows. This causes many conflicts in an office environment where some of the Americans prefer to let some fresh air into the office once in a while.

With remarkable luck, we found a parking spot that was about fifty feet from the hamam, and this distance was good enough to please Savaş.

From the sidewalk, we went down a narrow staircase and into a large domed room. There was the faint smell of cigarettes held by the humidity, and chairs with a seventies-color scheme lined the square shape of the room. Three guys were sitting there, wearing only towels, watching a soccer match. Two were eating çig köfte. While Savaş made arrangements for our bath, I inquired about whether this was the place where the çig köfte from Salim's story had been consumed. "No," Gareth, the Brit, told me. "It was in a hotter room."

When Savaş had finished, he led us up to a balcony. Along the wall were tiny changing chambers with ceilings that were about six-feet high. We put on these pieces of canvas-like fabric (similar to a sari), and headed down a marble tunnel to a room with slabs for scrubbing. From here we wove into another room with a huge heated marble slab. And from here we went into a sauna.

Once there we sat and sweated for a while, and then we went back into the hot marble slab room. Hot and cold water splashed into little basins. Perched on the faucets were metal bowls that you used for pouring the water over yourself.

We hung out there for a while, talking about things like shaving and how to get yourself clean when using a Turkish toilet (without toilet paper). Eventually, a fully clothed guy came in and asked whether or not we wanted anything. He offered water. We said yes. He offered other beverages. We said no. He offered çig köfte, and finally I understood that this was the place at last. Although it wasn't as hot as the sauna, I was still sweating like crazy. On the opposite edge of the hot marble slab two guys in their forties or fifties were scrubbing dead skin off one another with a glove-shaped wash cloth. Adding çig köfte to this situation would have been disgusting.

To make things just a bit stranger, when the server guy came back with our water, he also brought a plate of lemon slices and insisted on feeding them to us with his fingertips. "He's hoping for a big tip," Savaş said.

Since we had arranged professional scrubs, we each got scrubbed by workers, one after another. Paul went first, and someone in our group had the ingenious idea for us all to sit in the room, about three feet from him, to watch the scrubbing take place. I appreciated getting an idea of what would be done to me. I did not, however, appreciate seeing these bluish rolls of dead skin coming off his arms.

When it was my turn, I laid on the flat marble slab, with my head on a hot water bottle. The professional scrubber scrubbed me down. He would sort of slap me on the back when it was time to turn over. In order to scrub me nearly everywhere, he had taken off my sari and turned it into a roll. This covered my butt when needed and my front side.

We each opted for massage that followed the initial scrub, and it was more like a full-body shampooing at first. The soapy cloth he used felt like a jellyfish with steel-wool tentacles that swam across my back. Following this, he gave me a massage, and somehow knew to focus on my crazy tight quads and the golf course-like mounds of knots in my back. I groaned with pain when he jabbed his elbows into these spots. Some stupid bit of macho-ness had kicked in, and I didn't want to tell him to ease off.

Following our scrubs, it was time to wind down. We wandered back into the first room that we had seen, the one with the seventies chairs. There, we leaned forward while different worker guys rubbed cologne on our backs and our chests. I opted out of having them rub cologne all over my arms and face because eczema is my arch-nemesis. Then they used towels to wrap up our shoulders and heads in such a way that we all looked like kids in a nativity play. It was time for some pictures, which I have yet to receive.

Following the hamam, we went out for dinner where we ordered Adana kebabs and iskender, followed by künefe for dessert. The latter is deep fried hot cheese covered in pastry crumbs with cream and a sprinkle of pistachio-nut-dust on top. Delicious.

As we walked back to the car, Paul and I were a little ahead of the others. By then the haze and the magic was wearing off. We were full of food, and the heat of the hamam, that which we still held in our bodies, was dissipating into the night. I was thinking about the order in which I'd drop everyone off. Shops were closing down and everything was getting darker except for the bridal boutique that shown brightly at the corner where my car was parked. Paul looked at me then and said exactly what I wanted to hear: "I could really go for a beer."

We dropped the other three guys off, and when we got back to my place, we coincidently found Jena hanging out with Paul's girlfriend Cece. We cracked open a couple beers, and the girls forced us to tell them everything. "Details," they said, "more details. What the hell were you guys doing. You were gone for such a long time."