I’m so happy I have cool friends!…

Well, I just want to share the amazing blog my best friend Jen is writing about her experiences in Kenya! She’s just starting a four-month long (at least!) trip there doing some really inspiring work. I asked her to explain exactly what she’s doing, so I’m just going to post her own description of the work because who better to explain it all than the woman herself! Here’s what she has to say about the projects:

What I’m doing here is working for two non-profits in the US: Creative Women of the World, and St Joseph United Methodist Church. Creative Women of the World is trying to establish a business relationship with some women here in Kenya. The goal is to buy/sell/market their products to a greater market, so they can eventually sustain themselves with the business they’ve created for themselves… so we’re not giving them charity, we’re teaching them how to empower themselves.

St Joseph UMC has a scholarship program called Kenya Simba Scholars, which is a program dedicated to gathering scholarships for needy children here in Kenya who can’t afford to go to school. We’re meeting with all the kids who are currently a part of the program, getting their stories, taking photos/videos… and taking those back to the US in hopes of using that testimony to grow the program from 100 students to 1000 students over the next 10 years.

Jen is one of those people who has inspired me to do amazing things and go on great adventures ever since our first conversation many years ago before we became college roommates! I’m so excited about what she’s doing now and so happy for her to have this opportunity! If you’re interested in following along as she shares her journey, as I will be, here’s the link:

Adventures of an International Advocate

Exploring Çanakkale…

The next stop on our expedition was Çanakkale, a seaport town just a short ferry ride across the Dardanelles from where we had spent our first night near Eceabat. The population of the town is a bit over 100,000 and it was a nice place to spend a couple of days.

Çanakkale is an important tourist destination for Australians and New Zealanders coming to commemorate their countrymen who fought and died in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. In 1915 the British and French were trying to take over Constantinople/Istanbul and secure passage to the Black Sea. Turkish forces defeated the invaders, and many on both sides died during the fighting. Apparently this campaign is especially important in both Australia and New Zealand, as it is considered to be the beginning of both countries’ sense of national distinctiveness and identity. Anzac Day, which commemorates the soldiers who died at Gallipoli, is one of the most important holidays in both countries. The Gallipoli campaign was also extremely important for Turkey, and sort of defines the time when the old Ottoman Empire was coming to an end and set the stage for the Turkish War of Independence a few years later.

However, we mainly stopped in Çanakkale to break up all of our travels, and because it would be a handy place from which to take a day trip to Troy, one of the main objects of our wanderings. We were pleasantly surprised by the town and enjoyed our stay there. There were a number of nice pedestrian streets to stroll along, some tasty and cheap food to enjoy, and the place had a generally good vibe. The highlights were a lovely little café where we stopped every day for Turkish coffee and a new Turkish food experience- peynir helva.

The café was run by a friendly German woman who we chatted with a bit. We learned that she’s married to a Turkish man (there are quite a few Turks living in Germany), and a couple of years ago the two of them along with their two children moved to her husband’s home town, Çanakkale. So, she’d been completely immersed in Turkish, which meant that she was having trouble recalling the English she knew (she still did better than I could do in either Turkish or German, so I’m certainly not criticising!). Anyway, her café was gorgeous, on a lovely pedestrian street with flowering trees growing nearby, just across from a mosque. We enjoyed the cosy inside a couple times, and others we sat out at tables on the street enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful surroundings. And the coffee was delicious!

In terms of food, we’d read that peynir helva was a speciality in the region, so we ate it every chance we got! We’d had ordinary helva before, which is a sweet thing made from seasame paste. It’s kind of hard to describe, but maybe it’s like a dry, slightly crumbly nougat. Whatever it’s like, it’s good, particularly with some strong coffee! Yum. Anyway, this Çanakkale variation seems like something else altogether and involves cheese, which sounds rather strange, but it is now definitely one of my favourite desserts here (especially when served with a dollop of ice cream on top), and that’s saying something!

Our first evening in the town, we went into this dull and rather bare looking helva shop, with a sort of nerdy looking man in glasses being basically the only person working there. The place had the look of the 1970s; the colours, old tables and chairs, minimal decoration. On the walls there were a few black-and-white photos, one of a man with a very strong family resemblance to the chap currently working there, probably his father or grandfather. Apparently the shop was founded in the 1920s, and the only thing on the menu is peynir helva. That’s it. No fancy décor,  no gimmicks, no witty chitchat with the proprietor to bring folks into the shop. Just a really freakin’ amazing recipe for peynir helva perfected over the last 90 years. And the place certainly seemed to have a reputation; one of the evenings we were there, there was a queue of people ordering boxes and boxes of the stuff! Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about it!

Well, there’s more to tell, but it’s late and my pillow is beckoning….

Göbekli Tepe and the beginnings of human civilisation as we know it…

So, the link for a BBC documentary ‘How Art Made the World’ was sent to me by a reader of my previous post about Göbekli TepeIt’s so cool, exciting and interesting, so I thought I’d post the video here! It’s so worth watching!
This is a short version just focusing on Göbekli Tepe, if you’re in a hurry:

And here’s the long version, the whole programme, which I definitely recommend watching because it’s absolutely fascinating and it puts Göbekli Tepe in much better context!:

Çatalhöyük: yet another reason why I think Turkey is the centre of the world!…

Well, as a lover of history since just about forever, I can remember learning about some place called Catalhoyuk in middle and high school. I remember it was supposed to be the first human city and it was somewhere around the Fertile Crescent, which was somewhere in the ‘east’ near some rivers called the Tigris and Euphrates. And that was about as extensive as the information in our textbooks was, if I remember right. The name of this first city has been lodged in my brain since I was about 12 (I’m guessing?) so at least in that respect, that lesson in human history was a success.

Çatalhöyük excavations

However, I am continually surprised and delighted as time goes on to learn more about these seemingly random places and things I got a little hint of in childhood but remained in my mind as bits of trivia more than anything else. Well, Çatalhöyük was fetched from the corners of my memory since we’ve lived in Turkey, because – you guessed it!- it’s in Turkey that this first ever human city was built!


Çatalhöyük is located in central Turkey, southeast of the modern city of Konya (ancient Iconium, for you history lovers). The ancient settlement is over 9,000 years old and may have been home to as many as 8,000 people, which might not sound like much by modern standards, but would have been huge compared to a hunter-gatherer group. This interesting article explores some of the questions archaeologists have been asking about what led people to live in permanent urban settlements and eventually invent farming.

Female goddess figurine, a common find around Çatalhöyük

I find it absolutely fascinating trying to imagine what these cultural ancestors of ours thought about the world they lived in, how they would have managed their society, how they would have survived and apparently thrived in the environment they lived in. Obviously, we can never know what they would have thought or what their worldview would have been, but I always find it so humbling to consider humans at once the same as us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and yet so different from us, divided as we are by such a huge gap in time, culture and technology. The awe and wonder of it all just go humming through me, right into my skin and my bones! I guess it gives me a healthy dose of being put-in-my-place, when I think my thoughts and views, my political, religious, cultural, etc. opinions and beliefs, my very existence in this world are so all-important, it reminds me that I’m just one small player in a great huge human drama that has been unfolding for hundreds of thousands of years and I’m just fortunate to be a part of it. Basically, I just shouldn’t take myself so seriously and should just celebrate the fact that I’m here at all and be thankful for all the thousands upon thousands of generations of human ancestors that made my current life possible!

So, again, Turkey seems to be right-smack-dab in the middle of culture, history, religion, EVERYTHING, certainly from a western perspective. What an amazing place to be! And definitely read the article; it’s incredibly fascinating.

Sometimes I really think that Turkey is the centre of the world: Göbekli Tepe …

So, over the last few years, reading various books, articles, etc., written by different people, during different centuries (or millenia), about all kinds of different topics- mythology, history, religion, archaeology, etc.- I have come to believe that area that makes up modern Turkey is basically the centre of the world, in that it has been a place where all kinds of important milestones in western civilization (and beyond?) have happened. Maybe I came across this stuff before living in Turkey, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. Now that we live here, it seems like the Turkey-as-the-centre-of-EVERYTHING theme keeps popping up all around me!

Anyway, I stumbled upon this latest example in an article from Smithsonian.com about an 11,000 year old temple, quite possibly the world’s oldest, found at Göbekli Tepe: , near the city of Urfa in south-west Turkey. It’s been under excavation for about a decade and it’s believed that only a tiny fraction of the site has actually been uncovered, so there’s still a ton left for archaeologists to discover!

The article mentions that, in contrast to what the landscape around this hilltop temple looks like today after hundreds of years of intensive agriculture in the area, at the time it was build it would have been surrounded by a virtual paradise; lush fields of wild wheat and barley, herds of gazelle, fruit and nut trees, life-giving rivers and streams. It would have been a beautiful and epic surrounding for this holy site.

The article describes some of the archaeologists theories about the site and a bit about the hunter-gatherer people who would have constructed it, as well as mentioning some interesting features of the monuments, such as the carvings of creatures like scorpions, vultures, and other dangerous predators and scavengers. Fascinating stuff. It would be an amazing place to visit before we someday leave Turkey.

It’s in travelling around Turkey and reading articles like this that I feel renewed enthusiasm for living here and having the great opportunity to experience bits of this rich culture, both past and present. It’s certainly great fortune to get to live at the centre of the world, even if only for a few years!

Gobekli Tepe

Tip-toeing through the tulips…

We’ve finally witnessed some of the tulip extravaganza in Istanbul! The last two years we didn’t manage to get to a park too see them all in full bloom, so this year I was determined to get to see the tulips in all their glory. It was really lovely and we had such a nice walk through the park.

So, as my little bit of fact sharing for the day, even though most people associate tulips with the Netherlands, the flowers were first commercially cultivated in the Ottoman Empire. The tulip motif is pretty common around here, on pottery, scarves, embroidery, decorative tiles, etc. Quite beautiful. Anyway, here are some photos of the genuine articles!

Tiny houses…

I just watched this short bit of a documentary on ‘tiny houses‘. I’ve read about a few different people and their tiny homes through some blogs I frequently enjoy, and I’m totally taken by the idea. I don’t necessarily think that everyone can or should live out in the wilderness in a 100 square foot house living off the grid, but the concept definitely makes me think about sustainable living, what’s really necessary in life to be comfortable and happy, and even just living choices!

As an urban dweller for many years now, I actually find it hard to fathom owning a real house with a garden and all the usual trappings, as well as needing a car, having to drive everywhere, etc. I suppose our current apartment is a rather small home, when compared to a normal house, or at least the type of house I’m used to. However, I absolutely love this apartment (except in the winter when it’s cold and I do want to build a fire-pit in the middle of the sitting room-but that’s a separate issue), and it’s convenient location within walking distance of work and all the shops we need on a daily/weekly basis . I know it’s all about what you’re used to, but this place feels quite spacious to me, although I can’t tell you how many square feet it actually is.

Thinking about the prospect of owning a house at some point in the future, one thing that I do want is the choice to buy something small, or at least smallish. It seems that houses just keep getting bigger and bigger, and of course, more expensive, but this really isn’t cool especially if you want to live in something a bit more snug. Maybe I won’t cram a family into 100 or 200 square feet, but still, just a few cosy rooms would really do the trick. Having less space also makes it easier to have less stuff, which is also a good thing in my opinion. Another thing I like about living in smaller spaces is that it means everyone in the house is ‘forced’ to spend more time together! There just aren’t as many places to hide! Or, on the other hand, as I even find in this apartment, being in a small space means you get out and about in the world more. When I find the apartment too small or too boring, it means I go out to a cafe or the park or wander around the neighbourhood a bit, people watching, enjoying the fresh air and the liveliness of everything happening all around. It’s an entertaining world out there and it feels good to get out and be a part of it, even if I’m mostly just a spectator.

Anyway, seeing examples of people building their own tiny houses is a great reminder that it’s possible to go against the trend of bigger=better. I read about one tiny house that a couple were building in the US and I think the estimated cost was around $35,000 for their own custom-built home! That tiny house also gets a pretty tiny mortgage, which is another huge perk! Fewer years of life working to pay off your house sounds good to me.

Well, here’s to tiny houses!

Tiny House Tour: Daniel Aragon’s “Ico” from TINY on Vimeo.