Thursday, December 17, 2009

Turkish Jingle Bells

Hmmm, I don't know what to say about this....

Let it snow

Well, I hope St. Anton starts getting some snow. We arrive on Christmas Eve, and I would hate to be in the Alps during a dry year. We'll see. The forecast and the webcams from today look promising! Either way, it's going to be better than the skiing we have been doing for the last few years in Ecuador!

I hope everyone is enjoying the live feeds off of Bambuser, what a cool app!


Let is snow

Let is snow

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Should Turkey be allowed to join the EU?

Inevitably, once in a new country, you start following their politics. It's a fascinating part of this world of overseas living. Turkey, who has been trying to gain membership in the EU for years, is getting increasingly frustrated. The Prime Minister is in the U.S. this week, and so, one of my favorite blogs, the Foreign Policy blog, had this interesting coverage on the latests on Turkey and the EU

The Turkish-European Rift Widens

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 6:48pm

While most of the media coverage regarding Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's trip to the United States has looked east, to Turkey's burgeoning relationship with Syria and Iran, the real breaking news may concern Turkey's faltering relationship with the European Union.

In a speech at SAIS on Monday, Erdogan argued that Turkey's accession is being followed closely by the Islamic world, as a sign of hope that old cultural divisions can finally be bridged. However, he attacked proposals to offer Turkey a "privileged position" with the EU instead of outright membership, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel had previously supported. Instead of making up new classifications of countries midway through the process, he said that those who did not support Turkey's accession to "just come out and say it."

In a meeting with Erdogan's senior foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin and Suat Kiniklioglu, the spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Parliament, it was clear that Turkish frustrations run even deeper than Erdogan had let on. Kiniklioglu let it be known that his patience with the Europeans had run out, and that he was "tired of being lectured by French senators." According to him, European foot-dragging on Turkey's accession had little to do with the lack of progress on the reforms called for in the accession process, but rather "the identity issue" - Europe is simply leery to let an overwhelmingly Muslim nation into its club.

While Erdogan and his advisors all maintained that Turkey's decision to push for EU accession is still a "major strategic choice" of the country, frustration is building - and Turkey is not keen to remain in limbo on this issue forever. The Turks are trying to sell their admission into the EU by emphasizing how their large population and steady economic growth, not to mention their strategic location, could revitalize Europe's role in international affairs. They are discouraged that this pitch seems to be greeted in Europe with a shrug. Kiniklioglu specifically pointed to the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council. "What does this tell you about the EU?" he asked rhetorically, that Europe would select a politician not well-known throughout Europe - "or even, from what I've heard, among Belgians?"

Woven into all of this Europe-bashing was praise for the Obama administration's ability to adapt quickly to the changing dynamics of Turkish politics. This could be explained as a simple courtesy visiting diplomats bestow on the host country, but there is good reason to believe it is sincere: Obama gave a gracious speech in the Turkish Parliament soon after his inauguration, which unambiguously declared Turkey a part of Europe, and his openness to negotiating with dirty regimes is in line with the Turkish outlook. The trip was certainly not all happy talks and hugs (to wit: the startling resignation of Turkey's ambassador), but Obama should look closely at leveraging his good reputation with the Turks, and with the Europeans, into patching up this failing relationship.

( filed under: )

Monday, November 23, 2009


There sure are a lot of "stans" in this country. No, not the South Park character (whose Christmas album I am currently listening to). I mean, stan, as in the Persian suffix for "Place of."

Everybody knows the place of Afghans, Afghanistan. The place of Uzbeks, Uzbekistan. And, the place of Absurdity, Absurdistan. But, did you know that (at least on Turkish maps) Turkey is surrounded by Bulgaristan, Yunanaistan, Gurcistan, and Ermenistan? (Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, and Armenia!?!) I had no idea they were stans!

And, of course, this blog is nargileistan...that is, the place of Turkish water pipes, called Nargile. (Nar-guh-le)

Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of the natural treasures of Turkey, Cappadocia (Capp-uh-dough-kia). It's a pretty, Christian name, but for me, the place immediately became Phallusstan.

We took our 7th grade students here for a three day field trip to the amazing land of giant penises. Awkward can't begin to describe it. That said, this region of Turkey is really a surreal volcanic landscape with an equally interesting history. Like any place here, Cappadocia had the usual rainbow of tenants: Persians, Hittites, Lydians, Christians, Greeks, and Romans. The Christians made their mark by carving out hiding places to protect themselves from invaders. When they had nice access to a penis, they went about chiseling a house out of it: (in this case, it looks like some lucky real estate mogul went to town on a multi family penis-house-development)

And, for those unlucky Christians who lived out in the plains, away from the eh-more prominent protrusions of Cappadocia...well, they just dug into the ground!

To say that these guys liked carving rock is to understate things just a bit. Some of these vast underground cities go as deep as 300 feet, and run for miles underground, accommodating estimates of 50,000 Christians and all the wine they would need to outlast the longest of Arab raids. (and still have some leftover for Communion, unless their last name was Kennedy)

And they didn't just make housing developments. These guys were addicts. They carved custom toilets, bar stools, churches decorated with frescos, and even linseed oil factories. I wonder if they lost many fingers doing all of this hammering and chiseling?

I know, Mesa Verde all of the sudden seems kind of lame.

But, it's not all penises, Christians, and frescoes in Cappadocia. There's also amazing mountain biking, great food, Greek villages, pottery workshops, deep river gorge nature hikes, and cave-hotels to stay in.

Phallustan! Fun for the whole family!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Measure of a Country

As I'm still getting lots of hits over at, I'm going to have a post that livens up that blog as well as this one. Additionally, when moving from one country to the other, it's inevitable that comparisons (justified, or not) will be made. Which brings me to this months dual post, and the conclusion, that, the measure of a country can really be found, in it's barbers.


It's something we all need. Whether it be a simple, try-to-make-it-look-like-I-have-hair cut like I get. Or, whether it's a full blown Paris Hilton coiffure; we all have to go in and get a trim every once in while, just to keep down the Chewbaca waiting to explode off the tops of our heads.

So, when you move to a foreign country, one thing you usually find yourself doing in the first month, is thinking, "Okay, self, that hair is looking a bit like the fur on that street dog outside. Now where can I go and get a decent cut, without it looking like the guy used a fucking chainsaw."

In Ecuador, the answer to that question, was Tijeras Locas, or Crazy Scissors. Great haircut, my friend, Brett, said. The only thing is, well, most of the stylists are, umm, Colombian transvestites. I was aghast when he told me that this was the place to go get a haircut. I thought, okay, this is some sort of weird teacher-hazing thing. He assured me it wasn't, and told me to go down and look how popular it was--with both sexes.

Indeed, I walked down to Amazonas Avenue and easily found the store, there are two within a block of each other they are so popular, and sure enough, it was full. I had to wait twenty minutes. Inside I went through the standard game of charades, showing how long I wanted my hair, and my stylist ran his/her hands through my hair nodding patiently. She/he seemed very concerned, and proceeded to carefully cut every single hair on my head. Now, I know I don't have much hair left, but because of the methodical nature of his/her style, I was at the barber for an hour! These girls new something about hair!

I subsequently returned to Tijeras Locas many times over my two years in Quito. Once I took the opportunity to get a shave, and not only did they shave my beard, but they trimmed my ear hair, nose hair, and eyebrows! The cost? Five dollars. I don't know anyone I can pay five dollars to, who will go anywhere near my nose. Now, I realize my introductory photo that I stole off the internet is pretty blatant, but I'm here to tell you, that there were times when both my wife and I had a hard time convincing ourselves that my barber was really a man from afar. But, the minute they throw that cape around you, and the scissors come within two inches of your nose, one look at the hands, and you realize--man hands, definitely, man hands.

Of course, the barbers here in Turkey also know their stuff (On the subject of stuff, in Turkey, you can also be fairly sure that, their stuff--is, well the type of stuff that you would assume it to be. That is to say, there are no Tijeras Locas here). But, that doesn't mean they don't do a bang-up job. Here in Turkey, the land of black mustaches and hair as thick as motor oil, hair management is a huge priority. According to, the job of hair-cutter is taken so seriously that foreigners are not allowed to do it, and men spend months apprenticing and training for the job.

First, you step in to the salon and drink some chai tea, waiting for a spot to become open. Once you are at the chair, the stylist spends 20 minutes or so shaping the edges of your hair with various combs and clippers. When it comes to the actual cut, you'll think Edward Scissorhands has sprung to life, as the man continuously moves his chopping scissors around your head with the flair of a crazed violinist. Next comes the shave, with plenty of hot shaving cream brushed on, and a straight razor perfect finish. After bending forwards to the sink, and getting a wash, the barber comes around for the final polish. Tweezing nose hairs and any other protruding strays, he slowly builds to the climax of the cut....the flaming cotton ball. Before you can say otherwise, the barber dips a cotton ball into denatured alcohol, lights it, and dabs it into your ears, singing the offending hairs from existence.

Cost? Ten dollars. Trip to the bathroom to clean your pants? Free.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Looking ahead

We just booked our tickets for Christmas in Austria. Erin and I haven't skied properly in two years, that was something we won't let happen again.

I think we'll be able to make up for some lost time here:

Remember, you can click on pictures in my blog to see them in full resolution. Yeah, this place will do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rock Climbing in Ankara

People have different requirements for the place where they choose to live. Some require a cosmopolitan city, others need a good school system. My friend Adam, recently chose his apartment on the basis of it's proximity to a liquor store (he took his laptop to it, with me video-chatting him, and we never dropped the wifi from his house). For me, it's the proximity of rock climbing....and the weather to allow me to do it most, if not all, of the year.

Most people don't think of Turkey as a climbing destination. And, to be fair, it isn't a destination for lovers of the sport....yet. Turkey is actually full of rocks waiting to be developed into climbing areas. One such area is about an hour and a half outside of Ankara.

Kara Kaya is the name of the town nestled at the base of the rocks. It's a one-mosque town, Turkey's equivalent to one-stoplight towns in North America. I'm sure the residents never thought the rocks would one day become a destination for recreation; they probably just saw them as a place to catch some shade in the otherwise barren landscape of the Anatolian Plateau. Hundreds of miles of wheat grass, reminiscent of central Wyoming, surround this jumble of rocks. The rocks are bullet-hard gneiss, and shoulder about 150 sport and trad routes. The downside is the length of the routes, probably averaging only 15 meters. But a nice grove of trees for camping, picnic table, freshwater spring, and bathrooms round out a perfectly acceptable weekend destination.

So far, this year, we've made three trips out to Kara Kaya. The sport routes are fun face climbs, mostly necessitating good balance and strong crimping skills. The crack routes are rarely done, and need a stiff wire brush. The climbing involves off-balance face moves, with the occasional intermittent crack. There are some unique features, like tombs of prehistoric peoples; and an obvious section I found that was perforated like the a sheet of stamps. The cleanly cleaved rock along the perforations told the story of someone in a toga who was once chipping away at the rock and using it as a quarry.

My one complaint (besides the length--which is hard to fix), is the anchor system. Can any climbers tell me why anyone would put in two beautiful solid-steel stainless anchors, and then connect them with a ratty sunbleached piece of old climbing rope and leave only one rapid-link on one of the bolts to lower off of? I suppose the theory is that the rope will back up the first anchor, if it fails, but the system leaves the anchor unequalized, trusting one single rapid link on one bolt, with it's only reduncancy in the form of a high factor load applied to an old piece of rope or webbing. I'm going to buy some chain. Enjoy the pictures.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Erin, the Turkey Trotter

Erin is up and blogging more this year than she did in Ecuador. She's got an update on the 15K we ran this weekend on her blog,

Like she says, the race was okay. I felt pretty bad, the rain was hard for me. The lack of bathrooms, kilometer markers, aid stations, etc. was hard for me. As Erin observes, it's pretty silly that a country like Ecuador has races 10 times better than a "developed" country like Turkey.

Honestly, this is one of my first disappointing moments in Turkey, everything else has been stellar.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Swine Flu

Today the ministry of health gave me a week off. Shit, I don't even feel bad. But, thanks!

This was the scene outside our school this morning: (Notice that the school is deserted, I have no idea what they are filming!)

Apparently we do have some children with confirmed cases of H1N1. They are also reportedly recovering, and we should be up and rolling again at school next Wednesday.

I did like this little dichotomy:

Here is what the CDC has to say about who should be vaccinated first against H1N1:

These target groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Here is what the Turkish Paper I read this morning said about the same topic:

The government will buy 40 million units of the vaccine. Pilgrims to Mecca and students are advised to take the vaccine first.

Get to the back of the line you silly pregnant women!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First Impressions

Turkey? Interesting choice, huh? When we moved to Ecuador, we knew what we were getting into, more or less. But Turkey? What did we know about Turkey?

Not much.

Probably the same as you. There's an annoying song about Istanbul not being Contantinople done by They Might Be Giants. It was the center of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The Ottomans and Byznatonians (?) went away at some point, but you're probably not quite sure what happened after that. The coast is a cheap vacation spot for Europeans. It's a desert, like Iraq, it's neighbor in the South East. They make flying carpets, genie lamps, and hookah pipes. For some reason, Turkish coffee is known the world over, but you probably have never had it, and can't really say why it's stuck in your head. The food involves plenty of lamb shaved off a rotating spit. You've seen Midnight Express, but are pretty sure, at least, you hope, that this movie was highly exaggerated. You probably know someone who has been to Istanbul, and they probably loved it, but you can't remember why. Oh, and it's in the Middle East and it's Islamic.

Did I nail it? Yeah, I thought so. These were my thoughts too.

So, what were my first impressions when we landed in the capital, Ankara? First, it IS very dry. We didn't have any rain for the first two weeks. But, there is an obvious movement to reforest open space, and all over you can see little groves of evergreens and aspens. Aspens? Yup, Ankara is at an altitude of 3,000 feet and is at exactly the same latitude as Denver, 33.5 degrees N! Just think of us as the far end of East Colfax Av. in Denver. In fact, with it's location in the middle of the continent, the weather is remarkably similar to Denver's. Check out the trees!

Another thing that strikes you right away is the Turks patriotism. The "George Washington" of Turkey is a man named Ataturk, father of the Turks. And he is revered on an iconic level. He fought against the Allies and the Ottoman Empire to form the Turkish Republic. He was a admirer of the Enlightenment and following the independence movement he sought to modernize Turkey. Because of Ataturk, Turkey is a secular republic. Though the majority of Turks are Muslim, freedom of religion is a golden tenet of modern Turkey. He also did away with the Arabic alphabet, and formed a new Turkish language that uses Western Script. Finally, he granted full political rights to women in 1934. Turkey's certainly not perfect, and like all of our countries, it has some blips on it's record; but it's much more "westward looking" than I expected.

Yes, people smoke hookah pipes. The Turkish word for them is Nargile (hence the name of this blog).

No, there are not any magic carpets.

Yes, there are oil lamps, but, as of yet--no genies. Erin brought me back an "Aladdin" style lamp from Dubai. I'm keeping my eye on it, I'll let you know if the genie shows his face.

No, Turkey is not Arabic. It's Turkish. More on this later, but it's halfway in Europe and halfway in Asia. The country is vying for membership in the European Union, and has an amazing history of balancing talks and perspectives. They are one of the few countries that has diplomatic relations with Iran and the U.S. With Israel and Syria. Obama's first visit to a Muslim country was to Turkey, precisely because of their political clout and savvy.

Finally, the food. Oh, the food. I didn't realize, but Turkey is known the world over for having one of the great cuisines. Chinese, French, Italian, and...Turkish. Really?!? I'm coming to believe it. Shish-kebaps, baklava, fresh breads, roasted vegetables, olives, figs, pomegranates, cherries, you name it, you can find it here. Hell, just the school lunch is a six or seven course (and free!) affair:

In town we have every kind of food we could want. International foods, take-out-Chinese, Pizza-Hut, Schlotzkys, Subway, and Starbucks. Though we definitely occasionally crave something from home, the real treat here is the grilled meats, stuffed vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables that come from the local restaurants.

On our first week here we were treated to a restaurant of traditional Turkish food and dancing by the school. Later that week we visited the old part of town and hiked up to the top of a castle, where a man dawned a Sultan's cape and sword and cut us up some slices of traditional Turkish Pizza...called Pide. The only disappointment is Turkish coffee. As far as I can tell, it's usually just strong, dark, instant coffee; though apparently you can read into your future by interpreting the sludge marks at the bottom of the cup when you are done. Most Turks prefer tea. I can see why. (Remember you can click on the photos for more detail)

Turkish Pizza, "Pide"

A Turkish Tea-or "Chai" shoes allowed!

Red Peppers at the farmer's market, that price is about $1.50 for a Kilogram!

The dried fruits and nut men. Figs, Hazlenuts, Cashews, Cranberries, Walnuts, Pistachios. I could go on and on...

Lettuce, nuff' said.

Dancing after a great meal and too much "Raki," turkish fire-water.

A Tower of Baklava and other honey-sweet pastries. See the spoon? That's used to drip more honey over the pastry-tower.

Roasted vegetables and meats are ready for the lunch-hour crowds in Istanbul...

Outdoor dining in a narrow street of Istanbul.

Of course, there is lots more to tell, but, we have a day off from school today, and we're going to go and check out some older parts of Ankara that we haven't seen yet. Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I live here now. Ankara, Turkey, the capital. I like it. Today, I as I was walking home from school, I noticed the trees were changing as fall announces its return. I forgot about fall. In Quito we had one season, eternal spring. It sounds nice, but Groundhog day gets old. You stop noticing time moving with the seasons, the rhythm is stalled.
I work here now. At Bilkent University International School. I like it. Today I was called a "silly colonist" by a new friend from the U.K. Last week I played Poker with two Pakistani card sharks (I lost). The students are mostly Turkish, but the staff hails from Nigeria, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, the U.S., the U.K., Austrailia, and another place that I can't rembmer the name of...somewhere north of the U.S. Eskimoanada?
I play here now. We brought 10 bags and one cat with us. Plenty of skis, ice climbing equipment, backpacking equipment, and climbing gear. Turkey is a frontier. The Swiss are here doing heli-skiing trips. The Itallians are here putting up 14 pitch run-out "sport" routes on the limestone mountains. The Americans are here drinking a shit load of beer, and doing their best to look like they might climb something hard in the future.
I'm happy here, now. Our apartment is nice, our cat is happy, the climbing potential is good, I can run on the hills over my left shoulder in the picture, and the beer is surprisingly tasty when I am done with those runs. Sure, bacon is 80 bucks a pound. And, yes, the Turks do drive crazy, smoke more cigarette's than the Marlboro Man, and it's impossible to expect any sort of efficiency in any transaction. The Ecuadorians say, "Manana," which means, "tomorrow." The Turks say, "En Shalla," which means "God Willing." Either way, they're just excuses to delay doing something or taking responsibility. But I'm happy. They can take their time. Tomorrow, god willing, I'll get up, walk to school, enjoy my work, come home to my beautiful wife, take a run, climb in the gym, have a beer, and relax in my Ikea-down comforter with a good book and a better whiskey.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Soon, I promise!

Hey Folks,
Welcome to Nargile-istan. Nargile is the Turkish word for the ever-present Hookah pipes that fill the air here with strawberry and cherry flavored tobacco smoke. But, Turkey is about much more than Nargile, flying carpets, and genie lamps. In this blog, I'll be posting my thoughts and experiences as we try to see through the smoke of stereotypes surrounding the middle east and Muslim culture.
Thanks for checking in, and as soon as my job settles down just a little bit, I'll post my first official smoke signal.

Tim Henkels
Formerly of

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