Electric Avenue

I’ve been inspired to make an art project to fill up the empty time and one of the 2 broken TV’s at Kenan’s place. I first thought something of a shrine/alter that could sit in the living room where the TV was to reorient the mindless entertainment energy to meaningful reflection time. But that idea was struck down.

Charging ahead regardless, a breakthrough came last night during coffee with some of Kenan’s recently graduated English students. One of them, Can, works at the Electric Utility in town. When I visited this class the other day (“Ankara”), I thought he was a typical representative of the many government workers that come through that school. We all know my opinions of the effects of government on the soul and the report from teachers sounded bleak. Not so with Can. In the short time we talked over coffee I learned he also loves the lake and frequently volunteers his time to pick up trash there (+10), is an artist who paints and makes mosaics (+20) and, most importantly, has electricity in his soul. (I proposed, he’s already married with children.)

It was Can who gave me the hot tip on Electric Avenue in Ulus. So today we took ourselves down to the neighborhood a friend referred to as “hardcore Turkish Ankara” on a mission. Ulus is the old part of the city, where one can find pretty much every manufactured object hanging from a hook, as well as mannequins with headscarves within spitting distance of a giant statue of Ataturk. Hardcore Turkish. The obligatory period of hapless wandering didn’t bother me as we passed flag stores, commemorative crystal widget stores and weed-whacker distributers. Everything was out on the street or meticulously lined up in windows by the upteenth thousand.dscn1175

“Light emitting diodes anyone?”

“Oh yes, go up that street till you get to where the minibuses come from” dscn11731

Electric Avenue is where the minibuses are born. It’s right around the corner from were the man yells over the chainsaw in his hand. Just up from the “Leather Belts, Porn and Meat on Hooks” alley (no snickering allowed)

When I finally found a little “electric hobby shop” cowering amongst a row of subwoofer stores, I knew the Ave was magic. The shop was perfect: full of LEDs, mini-switchs, lengths of wire and, best of all, electronic hobby kits. Don’t worry, I bought some and they’re in Turkish. Nothing cultivates comprehension like small packages of parts labeled in another language just waiting to be soldiered together. Just ask Can and the friendly folks at the Electric Utility.

You can see Ankara peek over the hill

dscn1162So Kenan tells me as time goes on I will stop caring whether this writing makes sense or has any point to it. I’ve struggled to prove him wrong lately, feeling fairly untethered in my thoughts. With the hum of city life all around here, it does become difficult to sift through what is meaningful and what isn’t. I’d say my last posts are a fairly weak effort to squeeze something soulful out of myself.

But no squeezing is necessary today. Today Naciye indulged me with a trip to the local lake. I was shocked to discover such a beautiful place so close to the city, especially since I never even heard it mentioned before last week. Most baffling was my friends attitude to such a simple treasure so near by. When Naciye got her foot stuck in the mud she reluctantly admitted she was more comfortable in the city. Kenan begged off coming along with us with the disappointing excuse of “having to work,” but the other day he even mentioned not missing the sight of trees that much anyway.

How could this be? What does this or any city really have to offer that swaying reeds and fresh chilly breezes, even shoreline muck, can’t deliver? I guess city folk justify the relevance of urban life with its culture, art and activity, but what about the simple culture of geese honking at the setting sun? What about the art and technique of skipping stones? What about the hustle and bustle of a herd of rabbits grazing under strings of lights? (I can even forgive the cigarette butts)

My mantra these days is balance; I’ve certainly not perfected it. But as sure as my footing on a floating dock, my love of simple beauty buoys my soul.

Weddings are a big deal

Congratulations us! Reports from friends and family of election celebrations sound positively epic. I think the appropriate word for the giddiness and elation I’m hearing is civil civil in Turkish. It’s certainly interesting to be viewing it from afar.

On election day I went to a biopic on the life of Ataturk at the theater. Its created some controversy because it depicts him in what Turks see as a very “human” light. The cult of personality around Turkey’s revolutionary founder makes even the most nuanced depictions of his alcoholism or scorn of religion something of a scandal. That evening, I sat in a cafe with Kenan and his friends as they discussed the movie and the US election. It was wild to hear them talk about how “dangerous” they see certain information to be to Ataturk’s image. If this election cycle has shown anything, it’s that we are certainly not above micromanaging and obsessing over every minute detail of our political leaders lives.

And now it’s over. Aside from a massive symbolic victory, I’m going to very curious to see what happens next.

In the mean time, the strangely normal yet bizzare life I lead here continues. Today I went wedding dress shopping with my friend Nur, her mother and Kenan. I had never been in a bridal boutique before. (weddings are where it’s at these days I guess.) We all dutiflly donned plastic booties over our shoes to shuffle around and ooh and ahh over immensely poofy, rhinestone encrusted dresses. She looked great in all of them but after two boutiques they still hadn’t made a decision and so Kenan and I begged off. After a full day of looking, they returned empty handed and despondent.

Minutes ago they just got a phone call that “the ideal dress” they couldn’t find the right size for before has been found. Another symbolic victory in this little corner of everything.


I’ve reached Ankara now and am staying with my friend Kenan. Ankara is the site of my “almost move” a year and a half ago. It’s the dusty, dry Turkish capitol with a characteristically Turkish politic. Few tourists come here much. There’s not a whole lot to see past embassy row and a historically marginal castle and I feel lucky to have Kenan and his friends to make it an unskippable destination.

Shortly after finishing college I came here to stay with Kenan and figure out whether I could live here. I knew it wasn’t for the scenery, but part of me enjoyed the genuine commitment one must have to live in a place as unromantic as this. I sought out English teaching jobs, the most obvious possible work opportunities for foreigners here, and struggled with the reality of what living here might be like. The smarmy director I spoke with at one school offering me a teaching position, a New Zealander who had left home to backpack and never came back, painted a surprisingly romantic picture of cheap living and endless freedom as an expat. Somehow it was as if the world he described, living as a foreigner in a different culture, meant less accountability and commitment to the people around you.

Coming back, I am so glad I left that English school and never went back. Kenan is an English teacher himself and I visited his class the other day. As I spoke with his class and glimpsed the life I could have lead, I know I am freer now that I have committed to myself to a different world. I am freer now that I have worked some things out with my family. Freer now that I have sought God’s direction in my life. I am free to appreciate my friend here as a more balanced visitor than a rudderless vagabond.

Now I just have to be patient for what unfolds next.