Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meeting Chuck Hunter, a visit to the home of the U.S. Consul General in Istanbul

Consul General
Charles (Chuck) F. Hunter and me.
Note the spectacular suzani
in the background.
This year, we have a new Consul General in Istanbul, as Consul General Scott Kilner has retired from the foreign service and his three-year mission to Istanbul was finished.

Our new Consul General is named Chuck Hunter. He was born in Wisconsin, and attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, like his father and grandfather. Raised in California, he attended Stanford University for his M.A. and PhD. He speaks French, Arabic, and Turkish in addition to English. 

Chuck is an openly gay foreign service officer. This *is* history. After all, it was just a few years ago, that the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was ended in the American military. That policy required gay people to be inauthentic if they wanted to serve their country. Those days are over.

My country is actively expanding the spectrum of Americans who represent it, and I find that to be fantastic. The American economic dream may be in trouble for the lower and middle classes, but gosh darn it, our democracy is becoming more diversified. Indeed, I read just the other day that a Native American woman, a member of the Hopi Tribe, was appointed to be a federal judge. If that isn't exciting, I don't know what is.
I love being represented
by a State Department diplomat
who is a young mother
of a 15-month-old child.
Go America Go!
Pictured above, me with
Deputy Principal Officer
Deborah R. Munnuti
Me and Zlatana Jovanovic-Dicker from Kosovo.
Zlatana is an architect and
married to American
Craig Dicker,
General Public Affairs Officer
of the American mission.
and me giggling at the fun
of being two Americans enjoying
exotic Turkish divans
and Middle Eastern tables
inlaid with mother-of-pearl
at the Consul General's home.
A pinch me, "We're living in Istanbul!" moment.
Celebrating a shared moment together
as Americans in Istanbul:
and our Consul General Chuck Hunter.
A wonderfully uplifting morning!

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Friday, May 23, 2014

A Fete for Fulbrights and Friends


 My Turkish Breakfast
If someone were to ask me what I did this last weekend, I could only reply "have breakfast." Besides the uplifting breakfast I had at Olga's on Sunday, I also held a small 'Fete for Fulbright Scholars and Friends' on Saturday.
Three incredibly dynamic young women
who inspire me:
Dr. Öykü Üluçay (she is Turkish),
Caitlin Nettleson, an American
about to finish her Fulbright year,
and Cassandra Puhls,
a Fulbrighter interested in
international education policy.
When I was young, it was always older people who inspired me. Lately, I've been finding it's the twenty-somethings (including my own children) who are touching my heart and filling me with hope for the future.

In Istanbul, I realized I knew several young Fulbright Scholars. I wanted to celebrate their excellence and give them an opportunity to meet or see those who are from a different year than theirs, plus introduce them to a few other dynamic young people who also inspire me. Not all of them could come. For example, one of them was getting married that day. 
"The Fulbright Program, including the Fulbright-Hays Program, is a program of highly competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists, founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. Under the Fulbright program, competitively selected U.S. citizens may become eligible for scholarships to study, conduct research, or exercise their talents abroad; and citizens of other countries may qualify to do the same in the United States. 
The Fulbright Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide, operating in over 155 countries. Fifty-three Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes; seventy-eight have won Pulitzer Prizes. More Nobel laureates are former Fulbright recipients than any other award program. 
The program was established to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills." ~ from Wikipedia, May 21, 2014 
I was grateful for a spectacular Spring Day
so we could enjoy the garden.
American Fulbrighter
Abigail Bowman,
and her Turkish friend
Mert Tuncer.
Fellow Iowan Abigail Bowman graduates this June with her M.A. in Ottoman History from Sabancı University here in Istanbul.

When Abby was in 7th grade, she had to write a paper on a revolutionary or a reformer. Her uncle suggested the founder of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk.

Abby's paper and presentation made it all the way to 8th place nationally in America's National History Day competition. The Atatürk Society of America was so thrilled that this young student honored their leader, they sent her to Turkey to experience the country when she was a 9th grader. A lifelong interest in Turkey began to grow.

Anybody who knows Turkey can imagine how Turkish people respond to Abby when she says she wrote a paper on Atatürk in 7th grade.
I was so happy Fulbrighter
Elizabeth Rocas could come.
She brought her visiting American
friend from the States, Jacqueline.
Fulbrighter Niko Dimitrioğlu
 and Elizabeth Rocas
discovering they both speak Greek.
What else does Niko speak?
English, French, Uyghur,
Afghan Persian (Dari),
and Manderin Chinese.
Visiting Texan Shane Largo
represented another
inspiring young American
living here in Istanbul
but unable to make it to breakfast:
her daughter
Katy Herrera.


These young Fulbrighters who are sent out into the world to contribute to, explore, research and develop expertise in different countries are such a wonderful investment in America's future. Frankly, it is such a strategic investment. What could save America more money on wrong moves internationally than subject experts who can advise policy makers on given countries and cultures?

You'd think that would be an easy sell in Washington D.C. You'd be wrong. America simply does not invest as much as other countries in its international experts, even much smaller countries like Russia! For example, the Russians have over 16 ambassadors with more than five years of experience, the Americans have none! (Political scientist Ian Bremmer, Twitter, May 2014).

Salon puts current funding for the Fulbright program at around $234.5 million a year. Next year, a $30 million cut is proposed.

There is no constituency to argue for increasing the funding, save the alumni. The Fulbright Program doesn't create any jobs at home. It doesn't result in hefty contracts for American corporations. 

So this blog post is a message in a bottle to my fellow Americans. When I read about how the Fulbright program funding is in trouble, and I know the quality of the people who go through the program, I want to share with my fellow Americans a wish to keep this program not just alive, but growing.

It seems like common sense to invest in folks who understand other countries and cultures deeply via a non-militarized way. Intercultural exchange is a way to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world. I ask Americans to support continued, and even increasing, funding of the Fulbright program from now until the future.


I invite you to follow the Empty Nest Expat blog on Facebook!

You might also be interested in reading:

Talking about "My People, Iowans," to the Travel Junkies

Why the Obama Presidential Library Should be Built in Springfield, Illinois

President Obama in Prague!

"We are here because enough people ignored the voices who told them the world could not change" 




Monday, May 19, 2014

Enjoying Olga's #Istanbulbreakfastclub


Watching the passing ships
in the magical morning light
I knew it was going to be a magical day just from the weather. The morning light was sublime. I missed the ferry just as it pulled away from the dock and didn't mind a bit. To sit down in this beautiful little ferry terminal, and watch the passing ships, was a moment of Zen stillness.
Passing by Maiden's Tower
and the Üsküdar Mosque
The half hour of still calm was broken only by my own laughter at myself when I looked down and realized my own silliness. I was carrying dress shoes across continents to wear to breakfast, forgetting that no one wears shoes in Turkish homes.
Enjoying the passing parade
of ferries on the Bosphorus
I was on my way to Olga Tikhanova Irez's home in Moda, a fashionable neighborhood on the Asian side of the straight. Olga is originally from Russia and is married to a Turk. She used to be a strategic management consultant and gave it all up when she realized what really made her happy was exquisite food: sourcing it, buying it, cooking it, and sharing it. She blogs at Delicious Istanbul and tweets at @Delish_Istanbul. 
Olga slicing the first of four
 fresh-from-the-oven
homemade loaves of bread
served that morning.
This was the third time I had been to Olga's breakfast. Once a month, she hosts a breakfast cafe in her home and 14 very lucky people get to come to breakfast. It always sells out. It is always hard to get a reservation and be one of the 14 (you have to fill out the form on her blog, and do so immediately when she posts her monthly invitation).

The first time I went I met all kinds of interesting locals, both Turks and expats, from all over the city. It's such a small intimate gathering that everyone had a chance to learn about everyone else there.

The second time I went she was just back from Morocco where she had gone to learn Moroccan cooking and she prepared a Moroccan breakfast for us. I pinched myself for being there!

One of the things that distinguishes Olga is her standards. I tease her that she could be the princess and the pea, so sensitive is she to any product that in less than top notch, and therefore unworthy of her table. If you sense a certain snobbiness...well, you are right.
Olga began to assemble her buffet.
Turkish breakfast is famous
for consisting
of real actual food.
Look at those fresh-baked savory pastries!
And that homemade hummus
made with lentils.
Oooh, and three different kinds of jams.
And not just any cheese,
but cheese sourced direct
from the farmers themselves.
The final magnificent spread.
Afiyet olsun!
Marc Gulliet, of @TurkeyReport
deserved a great breakfast.
 He and his wife had been reporting
from Soma, Turkey
all week
on the mining disaster.
Orhan Bozkurt,
near the Küçük Hagia Sophia
in the Sultanahmet area,
gave Olga's cooking the 'thumbs up.'
This month I co-hosted Olga's breakfast with her. She cooked breakfast and I shared with our guests how to use Twitter to update and globalize your personal learning network (PLN). It was great fun to compare experiences with people. Their energy completely uplifted me for the rest of the day - actually even now, as I write this.
At the end of the meal,
Olga hand-roasted and crushed
cumin, cardamon,
and other spices to make her
final batch of tea.
"It's a wonderful detox," she said.
I floated out of Olga's home, well fed, completely and spiritually uplifted; it just seemed to me that all of Istanbul was gloriously, gratefully 'alive.' 

After a week of horrible news from Soma, I felt a sense of gratitude for the sheer gift of life. It gave me a new energy to live to the fullest and take pleasure in small things.
I stopped on the way home to
'take tea' at the Moda Tea Garden
along the Bosphorus.
It's an Istanbul tradition to while
away hours here over a glass of Turkish tea.
I was too well-fed to join the long line
at Famous Ali's Ice Cream Shop,
another Moda neighborhood
beloved, weekend
tradition in Istanbul.
The trip home across the Bosphorus
was quiet, contemplative & joyful
thinking about the
amazing friends
and food
I had experienced that day.
I was and am grateful.



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Sunday, March 23, 2014

#TwitterbannedinTurkey creates an opportunity for Turks to create and broadcast more than a single story about their nation

The last time my free speech was censored in Turkey was right before a local election. The entire Google Blogspot domain was shut down. The reason cited for the shutdown of Google Blogspot was someone live-streaming football games over their blog. I was new to Turkey. The fact that this censorship of an entire domain (not just one person's site) happened right before a hotly-contested election struck me as interesting.

Freedom of tweet!
Last week, I was scheduled to give a workshop to Istanbul educators on how to use Twitter. As it happened, my workshop was scheduled for the heart of Taksim Square. That Twitter workshop had to be cancelled due to protests that were so huge they made the New York Times.

The protests were a reaction to the death of a young man named Berkan Elvan who had run to the store for bread in a neighborhood with ongoing protests. On his trip to the store, Berkan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Berkan had been 14 at the time he was shot, had lingered in a coma for 269 days, and finally passed away at the age of 15. His death has not been investigated, nor has anyone been held accountable.

Berkan is a member of a religious minority, the Alevis, as are many of the other victims of state violence this year.

How strongly did people in Turkey feel about his death? Take a look at his funeral.

No chirping allowed.
Amazingly, less than a week later, Berkan Elvan's death is no longer in the headlines. The conversation has been completely changed away from police brutality. This week's outrage is that Twitter has been censored. Why? So that stories that would be "insulting" to those in power can not be accessed. An election is less than one week away.



Excessive drama and outrageousness happens every week in Turkey. On the one hand, that's what makes it so fascinating to live here. Yet I don't want to be like one of those Jews in Nazi Germany who were in denial about how bad it could get. They didn't leave when all signs were screaming that they should.

Twitter had a bad night in Turkey!
Faster, little bird, faster!
Hoşgeldiniz! [Welcome]



I hope for his sake he doesn't miss!

The Sultan of Twitter

The Byrds! The Byrds!

The Twitter ban may not be as cinematic as it was in Nazi Germany, but there is no doubt about it, banning Twitter was the equivalent of a book burning. All of the tweets people send are just shorter books. Even the United States State Department agrees it was a book burning.

The first episode of Twitter censorship ended with Turkish citizens breaking all records of Twitter use. As you can see, the memes about it were delightfully creative. The second episode of Twitter was harder to surmount as the government had banned more spots.
The Turkish people were ready.
Power to the people!
The government of the
Turkish Nation
seemed to willingly
trash its "place brand"
as an up-and-coming
secular democracy.
It occurred to me watching Turkish creativity erupt due to Twitter being banned in Turkey, that it was the Turkish people's golden opportunity to create more than a single story about Turkey. "The Single Story" is an idea of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that we often get just one story in our heads about a place and it creates the entire identity of a people.
Oh, he won't fit!
Zipped shut!

Yes, the actions of  their government may have received all of the negative headlines, but the response has been fun [so far] and it continues to be beautiful. Why shouldn't the world hear and have many, many stories about Turkey!
 Sing, Turkish tweeters, sing!

You may be interested in these other posts about censorship in Turkey and elsewhere:






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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When the Olympics Come to Your Country, What Will the Athletes Wear?

The German Olympic Team exhibiting pride

The Olympics this year are in Russia, a country still trying to catch up from a disastrous century. Because of this legacy, Russia culture is not exactly leading the world in thought leadership. They are still catching up. For example, Russia is not so safe for a black or gay person to visit. Russians are famously bigoted.

The world wants to let Russia know they disapprove, and they have generally done so in a firm, obvious, yet loving way.

It made me wonder, what message will the world send to the next country that gets the Olympics? Is this the start of a new political tradition, where Olympic committees and corporate sponsors combine to poke fun at old ways of thinking? What will the athletes need to wear to send your people a message when they come to your country? What will Google and other corporations need to incorporate into their messaging? 

The Google Doodle exhibits Rainbow Pride

There are so many messages the world could send my country, America, they might have a hard time sticking to one! 

Would the athletes all dress up as dollar bills and ask America to stop endlessly adding to its debt since this is hurting emerging economies, not to mention, our own? 

Would the athletes all dress up like Lily Tomlin at the phone company to demand America stop spying on the world? After all, there's a STASI museum in Berlin decrying surveillance behaviors as evil. America once engaged in a Cold War against these behaviors; now the President of the United States defends them. Has America's NSA become just as ridiculous as Lily Tomlin's phone company operator? It kind of makes you wonder who actually *did* win the Cold War. Maybe the Russians are thought leaders, after all?

What if the world decided to poke fun at us for being so selfish that we as a nation are currently okay with 50 million people living without health insurance? That's the equivalent of five Czech Republics worth of people! Or ten Denmarks! Maybe it would take being teased by the world for America to finally step up and enact the public option so that all people have equal access to health care?

Or what if all the countries we keep invading organized the world into asking America to stop the imperialism? I don't know how that would translate into Olympic fashion. I'm sure some creative mind could make it happen. 

It seems to me, the list of what the world could 'poke fun' at America for is long. The question is, which issue would they pick?

The Olympics may turn into a tradition of sport supplemented with a world contest of public comedy on the side. It will be interesting to watch this develop. What would the athletes and corporations tease your country about? 

You may be interested in these other Olympic-related posts: 

Bravo David Černý! You Have Europe Giggling Again. This time with your Red London Double Decker Bus doing pushups!



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Thursday, December 5, 2013

#EnSonNeOkuyorsun What are you reading lately?

If one stays in a country long enough as an expat, it's easy to see places where one could contribute.

Turkey recently had its 90th anniversary and it got me to thinking about Turkish reading culture as Turkey approaches its centennial as a Republic. Reading culture here is still a flame in need of kindling, simply because of the incredibly interesting history of the Turkish language.

Turkey used to have an alphabet that looked like Arabic script. It was hard to read because it wasn't consistent, and it contained many loan words from Arabic, Persian, and French. Often court language and the language in the hinterlands wasn't the same.

Atatürk reformed the Turkish language by adopting the Latin alphabet. Think about what a gigantic change that was for Turkish people to absorb! And that was just one of the reforms he was undertaking at the time. When the Republic was formed, only 10% of the population was literate (it was an empire, after all).

I often tell my friends Atatürk and his generation changed the language so people could learn to read, the next generation did exactly that, and now the third generation's job is to learn to love to read.

I meet Turkish "reading role models" everywhere. As a librarian, I nurture, support, and help create reading communities. I thought that Turkey and the Turkish language needed a Twitter hash tag like the English-language one that celebrates reading culture called #Fridayreads. To use a Turkish hash tag that suggested #Fridayreads had religious connotations, so a Turkish librarian suggested #ensonneokuyorsun?

I know people will be enthusiastic about something they just read and share it with this hashtag 24/7. But, because Friday is one of the heaviest volume days on Twitter, our beginning community of readers will concentrate their reading celebration all on one day, Friday, every week. Someone looking for a good read for the weekend is sure to find one. Weekly rituals become just that, rituals!

I hope to create conversations about books, blogs, magazine and newspaper articles and help readers discover reading culture and just plain help people find great things to read. People tweeting using this hashtag won't be only using Turkish because there's a sizeable population of Turks reading in multiple languages. Plus, there's a whole expat community in Turkey who also wants to get in on the fun. They'll be tweeting in their native languages.

One of my very favorite things about the idea is that it brings people together, rather than polarizes them. Turkish folks could use some of that right now.

I have messaged friends and my tweeps I've never even met "Can you help me launch ? Let's celebrate Turkish reading culture - tweet your read each Friday in Turkish or English. Thank you."

The response has been so touching. People say things like, "What can I do to help? Thanks for asking me to participate. I will ask my friends to do it too." Truly, it makes me tear up. I think the phrase "what can I do to help?" maybe even more of a set of magic words than please and thank you.  It's fun to build something together with people.

So I ask you, Turks and the Turkophile community: #EnSonNeOkuyorsun? What are you reading lately?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain" by Peter Sis

Yesterday I read a children's picture book that took me right back to the nine months I spent in Prague, Czech Republic.

Peter Sis, a Czechoslovak immigrant to America in the 1980s, wrote about what it was like to be born at the start of the Communist regime and grow up in a totalitarian system.

When I lived in Prague, I had listened with extraordinary intent to Czech friends who had gone through this history. I loved hearing their experiences, their wisdom from what they had been through, and learning from them how people and families cope with a dystopian reality.

Peter Sis has compressed his own history and his nations' history into this graphical history that can be read in less than an hour. He bore witness! He warned! It's as if he is handing the reader at home the conversations we expats got to have in Prague with our Czech friends about what it was like.

I can't recommend the book enough. It would make a wonderful book to read together as a family for an intergenerational discussion about freedom.

This book has been widely acclaimed both as a Caldecott Honor book for distinguished illustration (the author's wonderful drawings help tell the story), and as the winner of the Siebert award for the most distinguished informational title in America, for children, in the year it was published.

Here is a short interview with the author.

From "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain"

“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”                 —Peter Sis

You may be interested in these other reads:

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka

How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic

In Prague, You Can Enjoy Reading "Café Europa" at the Café Europa

WWII was worse for Central Europe than even our histories and memories tell us

Heda Kovaly, Czech Who Wrote of Totalitarianism, Is Dead at 91  

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel named "Persepolis"


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