A look back at 2021: Updates and Expat Life

**Well as usual, this is LONG overdue. I found this sitting ‘saved’ in my drafts and felt I should publish it although it’s currently March. Since this article was written I had an amazing and unforgettable two weeks wandering through France in February. I returned to Istanbul and almost immediately finally caught Covid. I have to say it hit me much harder than I anticipated and I even lost my taste and smell for a few days. I’m all recovered now and back to work . Things are easier than at the time of writing this and Istanbul has even lifted its mask mandates as well as transportation restrictions. It’s even SNOWING here today and we’ve had days off from school… as per the usual paradox that is Istanbul itself, even the weather is of two minds. Wishing everyone a very happy and very belated NEW YEAR. Many more posts to come and adventures to be had… looking forward to it!

January 1st, 2022:
I am currently sitting on the deserted terrace of a 5 star resort in Bodrum, Turkey’s Aegean summer playground. It’s the first day of the new year, sunny but chilly, and I am so content with life right now.

Looking back at 2021…where do I even begin? My last post was in May of 2021 and the stress was admittedly very high. At that time I was waiting to find out if I could travel home state-side… but also trying to time my vaccinations. The Turkish government had the vaccine roll-out stated that I, as a teacher, was due to be vaccinated in the early stages… but at that time it still hadn’t opened up yet. In the end, after many phone calls between two different countries’ governments (THANKS MOM) I made an appointment to be vaccinated in the USA … but that also meant taking a very long international plane journey unvaccinated.

Long story short, everything was fine.  I was able to be reunited with my family in Virginia, get vaccinated, spend lots of quality time together, return to Istanbul and have all my vaccines registered with the government in Turkey so that no issues would occur with boosters etc. 

I even managed to take a final summer road trip with my good friend before heading back to work. We (well really, he… nobody trusts me to drive in Turkey) drove from Istanbul over to Çanakkale and wandered the ancient ruins of what was once Troy. Yes. That Troy…the one with the horse and where Brad Pitt dressed as Achilles for the movie. Then we continued on to the sleepy fishing town of Ayvalık and Cunda Island. It was a beautiful end to summer.

School started up in September. We went back to school full time, with ‘face to face’ education. The students wear masks and sit behind tall plexiglass boxes which have been attached to every desk for extra shielding from the virus. Students here under 14 years of age are still not eligible for the vaccine. When students feel sick/ test positive for covid/ have been in close contact with someone who has the virus, they stay home but connect to the lesson online via Zoom. This means that I can have kids at school physically in the classroom and simultaneously have kids connecting from online. I speak to both sets of students at once and usually don’t know which way to look. Thank God my ‘kids’ are more technologically savvy than me and help me every step of the way. The class environment changes weekly, sometimes even daily, with the school learning the news and updating sometimes during the lesson itself.

I will say this: as an educator, I do believe that online education isn’t good for the kids. I noticed such a huge loss in terms of writing and motor skills and socialization. However, I also still don’t feel totally safe being in a crowded classroom. Teaching through masks is hard. Trying to plan activities that are socially distanced is nearly impossible. I have never been so tired on a daily basis in my entire life. Seriously.

Sunset in Mardin, Turkey, where we started our road trip.

In the fall, schools here had a week off in November and one of my best friends from America (the very friend who used to live in Istanbul and with whom I have shared many adventures) came to visit. She now has her own gelato business getting off the ground in Richmond. She was in town for spices and ingredients and we took a trip to Southeastern Turkey … for shopping and eating.

It was a beautiful week full of laughs, wrong turns, food, and archeological wonders. I talked her into renting a car, feeling bold after the few Aegean road trips I had taken prior. However, the part of Turkey that we drove through wasn’t at all like what I was expecting. There were unfinished roads, police checkpoints, many chickens actually crossing the road, and lots of donkeys pulling carts. I also have a serious problem with directions. I am notorious for having Google Maps in ‘walking’ directions instead of driving. Even though this was double checked many times, it still happened. But what’s a road trip without a little adventure? The best way to find your journey is to get lost… or that’s my story that I’m sticking to anyways.

We ate so much that by the end of the trip I actually uttered the statement ‘I want vegetables, I can’t eat another kebab for a while.’ That speaks volumes. We also were so fortunate to have been the benefactors of the famed Turkish hospitality at nearly every turn along the way.

The most memorable of such moments was when we drove all the way out to an archeological site that Google told us was open. It was not. However the archeologist on site took pity on us and gave us a private tour. It was magical. We walked all along the excavation site of Karahan Tepe, which is thought to be the actual site of the world’s oldest civilization. It is found very close to Göbeklitepe, a prehistoric site that predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years and has recently gained recognition. However, Karahan Tepe is thought to be even older. It won’t be opened for tourists until some time in 2022. That was one of the best days of my life… a truly magical experience.

Archeological Site of Karahan Tepe

After that trip I went back to work and we learned the news of the Omicron outbreak. More and more students and teachers were getting sick… lots of stress. My usual Christmas trip abroad to Athens had to be canceled due to the state of things with the virus and I just felt a bit ‘off’ during the holiday times. Although I am always and forever so GRATEFUL for my amazing adopted family here abroad as an expat. When friends learned that I wouldn’t be traveling they opened their doors and homes to me, welcoming me to Christmas dinner with their own family. It was bittersweet yet beautiful and memorable.

…Which is why I took myself to the beach for a few days. I wanted some rest and quiet in a place that I knew wouldn’t be crowded (a beach resort in the winter = nearly no people) and to treat myself to poolside cocktails and room service. I feel rested. I feel peaceful. I am ready to handle whatever comes in 2022. It may be amazing. It may be difficult. Whatever it will be, I can handle it and come out on the other side. This year taught me that.

Happy New Year all, wishing everyone joy and health.
xo
Ash


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