On December 25, teacher Paul Monheimer, his 8th grade daughter, Noa, and his wife, Pam, flew to Tel Aviv on a Fulbright research grant. Among many cross-cultural pursuits, Paul is researching the use of technology to connect students internationally. Also, he is looking at how teachers are introduced and trained in the use of technology to aid learning.
Well, my experience has had its ups and downs. There are so many differences. Learning the language has, and continues to be, a challenge, but I am definitely improving. Also, its hard being so far away from all my friends and my family. My host family is really good. I have my parents, and three sisters, Elisa is 21, Leti is 19, and Maria is 12. We live in this tiny apartment, I have my own room, but it is quite small. We live in the north of Madrid, and really close to a Metro stop. The Metro in Madrid is AMAZING! I love it, the locals don't like it as much as I do, but even they say that it is better than most citys. My school is very different from Catlin. I am taking 9 classes (7 meet each day), I have no free periods, my teachers all love me because I am the sweet American exchange student, we have three major testing weeks in the year and in most classes 60% of your grade depends on how you perform on those tests, there are no extracurriculars or clubs or sports teams, my school building isn't really a building, its like rooms connected and then the hallways have a roof but no walls, so it is cold, but it never really rains, so its not a big deal, my teachers come to my class instead of me going to their room, my class has about 65 people in it. The people are different, but very nice. Spanish don't really do exercise (especially the girls, the guys do, but none of the girls in my class ever exercise), and I am used to always doing a sport during the year, so that has been a complete change. On the weekends though the kids my age do basically the same things that americans do: see a movie, eat dinner together, etc. The only difference is that sometimes they go to discos, but that is not too common, only like once every other month or so. The food in Spain is very strong, especially the winter food. They like their meat. I am more of a fish person so getting used to the strong food has been somewhat of a challenge for me. My family especially loves meat, ham or bacon is put on EVERYTHING, but it does depend on the family because some of my classmates don't like meat too much either so their family usually eats fish. Another cultural difference is never really having any personal space, like even if I am in my room alone, I can hear my mom talking on her telephone, my sister memorizing her homework (when Maria does her homework, she always talks aloud), and someone watching tv. The thing I think I miss most about my life in Portland was the freedom that I was given. Like, when I felt like it I could just go to a coffee place alone and do homework, here no one does that, or I could walk my dog in the neighborhood, here my family doesn't really let me do that. So it has been difficult transitioning into this new style of life, but little by little I am getting settled in and understanding the normal things to do and not to do.
I thought that everyone in Spain would be very fashion forward and dress in all the latest styles, wear bright colors, and always look put together. So I packed to be fashionable: my more fashionable jeans, sweaters instead of sweatshirts, flats and boots instead of converse, and blouses instead of tshirts. However, I wish I had packed differently. At school most people wear jeans, a t-shirt, converse and a sweatshirt (normally a zip-up). The sweatshirts are pretty much exactly like the ones that I didn't pack, same with the tshirts and the converse (I didn't bring converse so the second week I begged my mom to send over a pair). People are really relaxed at school and don't really care what they wear or look like. The only major difference is that girls wear their jeans the same way boys do - loose and sagging low so you can see their underwear. The first time I saw this I was kind of in awe, I had to keep reminding myself not to stare at peoples' crotches. Now I am gettting used to the trend, and might consider buying a pair of boy-jeans.
On November 3 Catlin Gabel welcomed a group of about 45 Japanese and American K-12 teachers, university professors, and dignitaries to our campus. They were interested in learning about our efforts toward becoming more sustainable. They had been meeting in Portland for several days and were interested in curriculum in various schools that focuses on sustainability. The tour began with a delicious, organic, locally grown lunch created by our own Hen Truong. At the stop at the Beginning School, Sue Henry described the thinking, learning, planning, and model-building that went into designing Little Eagle Creek, which harvests rain water from our roof. Kindergartners sang our guests a welcome song and another about the water cycle. Jordan Heintz, 5th grade teacher, presented a video about the class’s sustainability curriculum, and the Upper school environmental class did an impressive job of talking about what they are learning. Last, our guests visited the Middle School garden project, which grows food for our kitchen. Eric Shawn, our facilities director, who has been instrumental in the school’s progress toward a greener future, organized the successful half-day tour for our guests. Congratulations, Eric!
A note to let you know that we returned safe and sound from Chajul, Guatemala. This will give you a taste of the purposes of our research trip.
Our arrival was a bit late, and through a miscommunication, Nicolás had waited for us at the Catholic church in the plaza of Chajul until 9:30pm. Thinking we weren't arriving, he saddled his burro and began his decent to “Tierra Caliente” at 4:30am, walking the 4 hours over the 6,000ft. pass, back to his humble home in Pal. Nicolás just lost his third son after being kicked in the head by a horse. They live far from definitive medical care so he didn't survive the 20 hour journey on a makeshift stretcher. We felt awful arriving just 3 days after his death and for the miscommunication that lead to the purposeless 8 hour round trip for Nicolás. Despite it all, he and his family received us with open arms and welcomed us to sleep around Miguelitos' shrine. We brought a framed picture to add.
Translating from Ixil to Spanish to English, Dr. Andrew Zechnich and I saw around 14 patients in the tiny clinic in Pal alongside the very capable Pedro Alberto, community health facilitator, and saw much of what we expected; pulmonary issues, infections, stomach and head aches. One 9-year old boy showed all the telltale signs of an appendicitis and was urged to make the 10-hour trip to the hospital in Nebaj. We left all the medical supplies that we could carry down and were deeply impressed with how effective they are with such little resources.
We returned to Chajul on Sunday evening, waking early Monday to begin investigating the stove projects that reduce the wood needed and the smoke produced in the one-room homes of Chajul.
Christina Meyerhoff on behalf of OES and a collaboration that we are exploring, in hopes of bringing students from both schools here in the future, organized a friendship bracelet project between CG and CEMIK students. Not surprisingly, the students here have a knack for weaving and were ecstatic about sending their creations to our kids.
Generous medical supply companies donated as many sutures, gowns and lidocaine as we could stuff in our bags, and we presented these to the medical team at the Centro de Salud in Chajul. They especially appreciated the donated, non-invasive Pulse Oximeter worth $2000.
This experience has been profoundly transformative. Notions of wealth and connections to place are completely transformed while walking with contemporary decedents of Mayan Ixiles, visiting ceremonial sites and sharing meals.
Spencer, Andy, Christina and Joan
By Carter Latendresse
The Catlin Gabel middle school is fortunate this fall to welcome Nagme Karamustafaoglu, a Fulbright exchange teacher from Turkey, who will be teaching 6th grade math. In part because I was a Fulbright exchange teacher in Turkey and in part because I teach 6th grade language arts, I have been asked to act as Nagme’s mentor teacher this year, a job I readily embrace.
In the 2004-05 academic year, I participated in a Fulbright Teacher Exchange, just as Nagme is participating this year. Five years ago, Mr. Volkan Oguz, also from Istanbul, came to the school in Hawaii where I worked, and he taught my 7th and 8th grade English classes while I went to Istanbul, Turkey, and taught in his school. This exchange was the fulfillment of a dream my wife and I had shared for some time: to live and work overseas.
Naturally, people want to know what Turkey is like; it after all abuts Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and six other nations that are in our nightly news but about which most of us know so little. The rumors of Turkish hospitality are true: you are unlikely to meet a more gracious, humble, and hardworking people.
My family and I felt safer in Istanbul than we have in other huge cities such as Los Angeles, Athens, or London. How to describe Turkey?
Turkey is unique among nations in the Middle East. It is not an Arab nation, but it is a Muslim one. It is both part of the Middle East and part of Europe, though it is not yet a member of the EU. It has upheld the separation of mosque and state since the founding of the modern republic in 1923, but it teaches religion in its public schools. It is a nation that resists simplification and dualistic either/or thinking. The country is at a geographic crossroads where West and East meet, and within the country itself the traditional relaxes, casually enjoying a glass of tea with the modern.
Turkey’s jewel is Istanbul, not its capital, but certainly its greatest city. Istanbul is an impossible city to describe adequately in an article, but a hypothetical tour of some of its historic places may head us in the right direction.
You wake in Kadikoy, Nagme’s district on the Anatolian or eastern side of the Bosphorus, at sunrise to the day’s first call to prayer. God the just, the merciful is being addressed in song in Arabic, one of the languages with which the Divine addressed humanity when the Divine spoke to Muhammad. Kadikoy, you remind yourself, was once called Chalcedon, and was the place where, in 451, the 4th ecumenical council of the Christian church proclaimed that Jesus was one person with two natures: fully divine and fully human. You amble out onto the cobblestone street to see the simit dealer who sells you two sesame bread rings for one lira, about 80 cents. Then you head to the café for your morning coffee, knowing it will be either Nescafe or Turkish. No drip coffee in this old borough.
After taking care of your week’s shopping in the labyrinth of ivy-covered alleys around Moda and Kadikoy, you walk your five bags of produce, costing 20 dollars, back to the shelves in your place. You make your way down to the iskele on the water to watch the European side of the city awake over the Bosphorus.
Fenerbache soccer fans are in their team colors—blue and yellow—already beginning to congregate around the statue of Ataturk in the meydane along the water. It’s also the end of the month, a day to pay the phone and electric bills, so you watch the early go-getters with fists full of cash beginning to line up at the post office to pay their bills. At quarter to 8 your ferry arrives, and you hop aboard over the rubber tire bumpers. The ride of the Bosphorus is always enchanting: you see Galata Tower on the hill in Tunel built by the Genoese in 1348, and to the north you see the two modern suspension bridges spanning the length of the waterway.
You dock at Besiktas, Fenerbache’s rival tonight, and their fans are also in their team colors—theirs black and while stripes. They are milling about the square there, with the skate punks, taxi drivers, and knick-knack cart salesmen hawking evil-eye key chains and faux-silk scarves. They are not yet ready to head over the water to the stadium in Kadikoy—that exodus of fans won’t take place until noon, until seven hours before the game.
You hop on the 40 or the 25 bus, anything heading north toward Sariyer, where the US has recently relocated its embassy in order to be more defensible against terrorist attack. You pass through hip young Bebek and the old fishing village of Arnavutkoy. At noon you know you’ll see handsome young Turks enjoying cold beers in terraced cafes overlooking the water. The windows are all shut on the bus even though the morning sun is beaming in and the bus is packed. No one will open a window because folk belief says a draft brings sickness. You get off just past Rumeli Hisari, the impressive siege fortress assembled in four months by Sultan Ahmet and his men just before they took Istanbul for the Ottoman Empire—thereby converting the region to Islam—in 1453.
You pay your four lira and spend the morning clambering up and down the narrow stone staircases of the castle, where you gain the same vantage points that Ahmet’s men had 600 years ago as they prepared to take the greatest city of the known—and, at that time, flat—world. Vertigo threatens at some spots high on the parapets, and you note that there are neither handrails nor signs advising caution. The Turks are not a litigious bunch.
After your climb in the castle, you catch the 40 heading the opposite way, south along the Bosphorus to Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul. Walking down a street in Taksim today—a trendy neighborhood packed with throngs of young people on their ways to bookstores and restaurants—you can see women in head scarves and long, modest skirts walking, arms locked, with other women wearing tight Gap t-shirts hiked up to reveal their navels. They are perhaps heading toward a French matinee with subtitles in Turkish at one of the six movie theaters in Taksim that host the annual Istanbul International Film Festival.
Head a bit further south and cross a short bridge over the Golden Horn and you come to Haghia Sofia, the largest and most grand church in Christendom for 1,000 years, built in 536 by Emperor Justinian I. A millennium’s worth of important political and religious decisions that impacted the empire stretching from Turkey through Bulgaria and Greece to Italy were announced in this church.
In this church the findings of four of the first eight ecumenical councils were first enacted, from 381 to 870. The misnamed, finalized Nicene Creed was intoned in a mass in this church for the first time, making this building the founding edifice of Christian orthodoxy. Head toward the hill just northwest of the now-historic neighborhood Sultanahmet, in which Haghia Sofia sits, and there is the awesome sight of Suleymaniye Mosque. Here the enlightened ruler, Suleyman the Magnificent (wouldn’t it be great to have the moniker “The Magnificent”?) erected a free hospital for the poor and a vast complex of soup kitchens that fed one thousand people a day for more than 300 years.
This is the same Suleyman that took Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the old city there from 1536 to 1541—the same walls one can view stretching west from King David’s Tower and the Jaffa Gate. Suleyman, in a truly magnanimous gesture, approved the freedom of religious practice to Jews and Christians in Jerusalem at a time when popes were burning fellow Christians at the stake for differences of doctrinal opinion.
Back in Istanbul: Continue northwest and you pass Fatih Mosque, where Sultan Ahmet is buried—his tomb deliberately placed, in symbolic superiority, over another great conqueror, his predecessor—on the same site where the tomb of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, once sat. You realize that Constantine was the man who in 330 moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople. Visiting Fatih Mosque you are therefore aware that two of the world’s most important leaders are buried here. The first man turned the known world Christian; the second turned it Muslim.
Continuing a bit further west you pass the Kariye Museum, which houses some of the world’s greatest Byzantine mosaics and frescos.
Finally you arrive at the awesome walls that Theodosius II had built in 413, the walls enclosing the city of Constantinople, 1,500 years before the city would be known by its current name, Istanbul. These walls are crumbling in many spots, but they remain intact in others, 1624 years after Theodosius I released his imperial edict making Christianity the official religion of the empire. One was forced to attend a Christian church on Sunday or face excommunication or death. You note it was Theodosius I who therefore imposed the world’s first state religion and quasi-theocracy.
Noting this is rather like discovering one’s grandparents were leaders of the Taliban. It’s difficult to claim cultural superiority when one acknowledges that the origins of one’s beliefs are morally suspect. The pendulum swings across borders and time. The great cultural and political achievements of our own American culture are made possible, Emerson said, because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes these giants were tyrannical, sometimes benevolent, sometimes both. In Istanbul you are aware that you are meeting these giants of human civilization at every turn.
In your long day’s travels through Istanbul’s streets you can thus follow the threads of history and religion—together weaving the marvelous Turkish kilim that is Istanbul. You also become enlivened with the appreciation that so much of our own western cultural inheritance—even here in Portland—was forged there, half a world away, under the crescent and star of Turkey.
This month we have the great good fortune to embrace a native daughter of that astounding heritage. Your children will be awakened to the bridges that connect us all over centuries and continents. We will learn more together with readings and discussions about Turkey. We will also be exchanging letters and participating in a special event videoconference with some students at Nagme’s school in Turkey. These experiences will help us to interlock our arms with greater knowledge of our shared pasts as our two countries journey together through this new century.
By Carter Latendresse, 6th grade language arts teacher
I began thinking about the phrase “defining moments” in high school. It was probably in Mr. Boarda’s senior English class, where we middle class suburban teenagers read utopian and dystopian novels, then often found ourselves discussing powerlessness, power structures, and the inchoate future. My friends and I did not feel in control of our lives, so the notion that fate or, more alluringly, our own life choices would land us one day in urgent situations of our own design was quite seductive. We, at any rate, were anxiously sailing toward colleges, some of us sprinting excitedly from our childhood homes, yearning for circumstances that felt like destiny: inevitable, emboldening, unforgettable—circumstances that might usher in the callings we had heard we might soon feel.
A short time later, I, like many others, spent some not very memorable but fairly impassioned moments in college seeking these defining moments. Mostly I was forcing the issue with a lot of heat but not much light, and when periodic lulls arrived when I might reflect, I found myself dizzy with sensation and experiences but without real take-away conclusions that lent more clarity to my future. I was having fun in many new experiences, to be sure, but I wasn’t learning enough about myself to satisfy that gnawing feeling of anxiety within. What I most fervently wanted was to get in step with the great dance of life and to know my place in that dance; but the music was too fast or my steps just behind where they needed to be. I couldn’t really make out the whole melody either; it was only isolated, periodic notes that occasionally became audible. My life’s soundtrack at twenty sounded like Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye, Porkpie Hat”—disarming squawks and sudden wails over exhilarating, pulsing syncopation.
After graduate school, I knew that I loved travel, reading, teaching, and learning, so I applied for the Peace Corps in 1992. I was accepted and was months from departure to teach university English in a Bulgarian university when I met my future wife, who, unfortunately, was not slated to go to Bulgaria. Alas, how many really are? I altered my plan and stayed in San Francisco with her, and we promised each other that we’d live and work together overseas one day. Although I didn’t realize it then, these heady, romantic months were definitely defining in the sense that my future was falling into lines like dominos.
Fast-forward twelve years to Istanbul, Turkey, where my wife, two children, and I were with the Fulbright teacher exchange program. From its website, one can read that the Fulbright program was “established in 1946… [with the aim] to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.” The program is “sponsored by the United States Department of State, [and] provides funding for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary, and secondary schools.” Citizens of the USA go abroad for this experience while citizens of other countries live in the USA for one year. The program is akin to the Peace Corps, although that program is for two years and includes other professionals who are not teachers. The Fulbright program is for a single year and for teachers only.
I was overjoyed to finally be overseas, particularly because I had been lucky enough to land in both the country I had most wanted, Turkey, and in its greatest city, Istanbul. Looking back from today, an immediate and overwhelming feeling of gratitude floods my memory. I have elsewhere described the amazement that an American living in Istanbul might feel (see my article “Talking Turkey,” also on this website). The vast majority of our time in Turkey was enlightening, comfortable, and intellectually rewarding. There were also, of course, days more mundane and frustrating. Chores, after all, need doing, even during a year abroad—the children need bathing, the floor needs sweeping, and the paperwork to two governments needs to be turned in punctually and correctly.
Cutting to the chase: I’m thinking of a chilly February 2005 night in Istanbul that was anything but typical. My wife’s brother was visiting us at our flat in Ortaköy, and after dinner he and she decided to go for a walk. My son, Henry, who was six at the time, and my daughter, Emma, who was three, were going to remain home with me as I did the dishes and cleaned up. Henry was saying he really wanted to go on the walk, but it was a school night, and we had the bath, the homework, and the reading to do, so we redirected him toward his cursive worksheet. I went into the kitchen to clean up, while Emma stayed to draw with Henry at the table in the other room.
Five minutes later, I dried my hands, clicked off my iPod, and went to join the kids. Emma was there, but Henry wasn’t. He had gotten through not even two of his five lines on the paper. The upper case “I” line was done, but the lower case “i" line was abandoned midway. I checked his bedroom, then the bathroom. Empty. My pulse beginning to race, I went back to the table and asked Emma where Henry was.“He left,” was her reply.This was the first and only time he’d left our flat without an adult chaperone. Parents know that most kids fall somewhere between rule-follower and boundary-pusher. Henry was definitely rooted in the first camp, so this was an unexpected development. I dashed into the fluorescent-lit hallway, scanning the first-floor apartment building left and right. No sign of him. Quickly, I descended the nearby stairs into the basement rec-room where we often played pool or ping pong. Not there either. I ran back upstairs, grabbed my cell phone and called Kate, an English woman who lived upstairs on the fifth floor with her Turkish husband, Egemen, and their son, Oliver. Our families had become fast friends that year, and we had shared many meals and play dates together. I hurriedly asked Kate if Henry had taken the elevator up to their place, as we had done many times together. Sensing the panic in my voice, I could hear her gasp and then the quickening sounds of jostling as she made her way to her door to check the fifth floor landing. He wasn’t there either, she reported.I grabbed Emma and left the door open, on the off chance that Henry was somewhere else in the building and would return soon.
Parents who have lost their children in public places—supermarkets, fairs, ball games—know that terrifying thump that begins in the belly, rises quickly up the throat, and engulfs the head. A Blazer game would be bad enough, but here was my boy scampering loose in a foreign city of fifteen million where he didn’t speak the language. I felt myself carried by adrenaline, a sickening heart thud without a body, as though I were floating above and watching myself. I found myself jogging down the hallway with my young daughter bobbing in the crook of my right forearm, locked above my hip.
I was out the heavy iron-wrought building door, past the pool—which my rising paranoia insisted I check—and then out to the guard box by the entrance to the building. There, the apartment complex guard, Uğur, greeted me with his customary nod. He must have seen the urgency smeared across my face, for he abruptly stood up from his stool in his 5’ x 5’ roofed shed, holding his walkie-talkie.
“Merhaba. Nerede oğlum? [Hello, where’s my son?]” I blurted in broken Turkish, imploring him for directions to my son. I was almost sorry for Uğur, because he threw himself quickly from his shed and stumbled before Emma and me, clearly alarmed. “Yellow baby up hill,” he said, pointing up our street, Dereboyu Caddesi. We knew what the other meant: I had lost my blond haired boy, who let himself out of the apartment complex gate alone and walked up the hill. Uğur had let Henry walk on by without question. Language barriers kept us both from seeking understanding, and we both felt at fault here.
I knew that Uğur probably felt this moment as not only a professional lapse, but a personal one also, as Turks are very family-based. Many adult children still live with parents, and, at times, even with grandparents. Young children are cherished there. We often had cooing grandmothers who spoke no English take my daughter from my arms on public buses and pass her down the aisle. “Oy, oy, oy,” I could hear the women dote as they pinched her cheeks or kissed her forehead somewhere at the back of the bus where I couldn’t see. My son, being taller and heavier, was not often hoisted up, but he also received many pinches, pieces of candy, and requests for photos from strangers like the ones below.
I could hear Uğur on his walkie-talkie as I began tearing up the pothole-lined sidewalk. He was calling his colleagues, the other guard men who worked in the apartment complexes lining our street. It did not even occur to me that I wasn’t wearing shoes until I was half-up the half-mile long street and stubbed my toe badly on some stone. Not wearing shoes on city streets is unwise in Istanbul, as the rubble, rebar, and broken glass are in constant competition with the daily labors of men and women who hose and sweep those streets twice daily. Bending down suddenly to look at the blood dripping down my big toe, I also first noticed the 45-degree temperature and the fact that I had forgotten a jacket.
Lifting Emma again, I squinted frantically into the falling twilight, bellowing for my boy, “Henry! Henry!” I continued my run up the hill, my daughter oddly silent, bouncing wildly in my right arm. A half-mile away, at the top of the hill by Ulus Park we breathlessly came upon the familiar face of the roasted chestnut vendor, Hakan. He stood to greet me as he always did. He loved my children, ever since they had presented him with hand-drawn pictures of Santa Claus standing next to the Ortaköy mosque at Christmas time. We often would visit Hakan on winter nights, especially after dinner, so our arrival was not uncommon. Normally, he and I would given each other the traditional Turkish double cheek kiss, and he would raise each of my children up to pinch their cheeks and give them free freshly roasted chestnuts. Despite the fact that my Turkish was nearly as limited as his English, he knew by my body language and facial expression that something was wrong.
“Problem, arkadaş [friends]?” he asked. As soon as I began explaining in English, I could not hold my tears back. “Henry! Have you seen Henry?” I blubbered. His eyes went wide in terror as he recognized my son’s name, and he began berating himself in Turkish as he quickly scurried around the corner behind him to the right down Ahmet Adnan Saygun Street that led down to the bridge and freeway. He returned after a minute, striking his own forehead with two balled up fists. His eyes were misty with tears, his face screwed up, the picture of anguish.
It is an uncommon event in the USA to have men show public displays of affection, dismay, or joy. Not so in many other countries—one of the things that I love about Turkey. Still, this was different. This was the fear I was feeling made manifest, as though I were looking in a mirror. I managed to make out over the next few minutes that Henry had indeed passed by Hakan ten or so minutes before, but Hakan had not stopped him, as he thought he was with my wife and brother-in-law, who has apparently passed just that way the minute before that. Hakan held up two fingers, motioning me to sit on his stool and wait. He again tore off down the road.
I couldn’t look at my daughter’s face. I hugged her too tightly, probably, and kissed her over and over on top of her head.
Then it occurred to me to call my Fulbright mentor, Selim Tokul, the teacher at my Turkish home school, MEF Okullari, who had volunteered to help my family and me with whatever we needed during our year in Turkey. He had already taken us shopping, on the ferry, to the movies, to the befuddling downtown post office. He had helped me set up internet service in our apartment and had arranged a cheap stay for us in Cappadocia. Emma adored Selim and he, her. A photo of them plus two other Turkish friends follows:
Allah smiled on me that night, as Selim was working late just down the road at school. He got my phone call just as he was pulling off campus. Emma and I saw his white Volkswagen roar up to us two minutes later.
Emma leapt out of my arms and ran to him, hugging him tightly as he stepped out of his car, expecting him to make everything all right. From that moment on, the events of the evening seemed to be in hyper drive, bearing down on me too quickly to process. We were terrified and the future was stampeding us.
Hakan huffed up to us just then from down the street and explained rapidly in Turkish to Selim the situation. Selim took out his phone and called the Turkish police station in that area. Once off the phone, he advised me to call the American Consulate in Istanbul for help, which I did. They in turn alerted the Ortaköy police for a second time of the missing boy. Hakan asked to use Selim’s phone, and he called a cousin of his who drove a cab down the street at one of the stands.
Then another guard from a nearby apartment complex arrived running, explaining that Uğur from down the hill had radioed him (were they all on the same frequency? I wondered) to report Henry missing. I remember noting how all the Turks were running—not walking—and how a vast network of manpower seemed to be expanding with each passing moment. Each man jolted upright when spoken to; they quickly went to their walkie-talkies; they were not afraid to ask for help, and they seemed to know immediately whom to call. I felt rather like a lost child myself, watching this team of firmly gesticulating Turks in action. I was struck with how urgent the manner of all these people were—as though it were truly their own sons in jeopardy. I was reminded again that this country really does love its kids, that family is at the heart of who they are, and that the Golden Rule was first articulated on the planet very near there.
The new guard pointed down the hill, telling Selim that he had just spoken to Uğur, and that he had learned something about a man, a dog, and a blond haired boy just down around the corner. We all thrilled with this new discovery.
Hakan abandoned his modest livelihood—his stool, his sterno burner, and his tin of nuts—and he jumped into Selim’s passenger’s side front seat as Emma and I fell into the back. We sped past Ulus Park and down Ahmet Adnan Saygun Street, heading toward one of the modern suspension bridges spanning the Bosphorus, a dark no man’s land down there.
Selim gunned his motor over the crest, accelerating as he rolled up on each pedestrian out for a nightly walk. Night was now falling around our headlights, and I wished there were more than just a few street lamps to illuminate the sidewalks. Despite the relief I felt to be armed with new reconnaissance and to be moving now with a direction, I also remember feeling this was now at least a mile from our apartment, that my six-year-old couldn’t have come this far in so short a time.
Just then a taxi veered into our lane, threatening a head-on collision with Selim, its lights flashing high-beam to low-beam. Selim cursed loudly in Turkish and braked quickly to the right curbside. Then Hakan shouted and Selim shouted and the taxi driver over to us as Hakan recognized his cousin, who was pointing down the hill. Then all ten eyes flew downhill where we saw fifty yards ahead by a glass bus stop our young boy ahead, holding the hand of a middle-aged Turk walking slowly down the sidewalk.
Emma squealed excitedly, and when we screeched to a stop, my daughter and I both exploded in a teary relief, bolting from the car to kneel at Henry, to examine him for signs of trauma. After our hour of horror, Henry had happily greeted me with “Hi, Daddy!” He was the picture of health and happiness, unphased by the emergency that had swallowed several others in our community.
The man with Henry, Mustafa by name (Ataturk’s first name, appropriately enough), explained in Turkish to Selim and Hakan that Henry had walked into his yard up by the park and that his dog had made toward Henry. Selim translated all this quickly as Emma and I held Henry. At the last moment, Mustafa had grabbed the protecting hound, and then began trying to walk my son home. Henry was turned around and lost and was directing Mustafa the wrong way, down the wrong street.
Then Hakan did something I will never forget: he let me stand from my son, then quickly approached me, grabbed me gruffly by the head near the ears, drew me to him, and kissed me roughly on the left cheek. Tears were in his eyes as he looked deeply into mine. I left my hands on his shoulders as acceptance of the apology he felt he needed to make, even though the fault was all mine.
“Thank you,” I told him, then Mustafa, then Selim. I shook all their hands, not knowing how to thank them, knowing that no words—whether in English or Turkish—were enough, only that I wanted the simple touch of my hand in theirs to show them that sometimes what we cherish most in life is that touch of hands, no matter the color of the skin or homeland that shapes them. My hands were shaking, I remember, and each steadied me.
Those men became my Turkish brothers, the countrymen of my heart, that night. Here I was, half a world away from the U.S., feeling more at home and more nurtured than I ever felt out in public while back in San Francisco. I remember thinking later that night how lucky we were that Henry got lost in Istanbul, not in Los Angeles or New York. I was surprised by this feeling that the citizens of the great cities in my home country truly seemed foreign to me.
My memory of that night ends there, but that moment when Hakan kissed me—my relief and my joy being his own—has returned to me now that I have the opportunity to act as mentor to Nagme Karamustafaoglu, a Fulbright Turkish mathematics teacher here for one year. Since she arrived in Portland two weeks ago, not a day has gone by when I don’t note that the Turks gave me back the son I had thought I’d lost, and for that my debt to them cannot be completely repaid.
That night in February four years ago also did something else for me, I realized only months later. That horrifying hour in Istanbul was, in fact, a defining moment in my life in that it helped to redefine me as a father, an American, a man, and as a human being. Because of that night, I am now more eager to pitch in and give back than I was before I went to Turkey. The Turks changed me, made me a better person, clearer in my priorities, less selfish, less cynical and less shy, and, ironically, less fearful. I now also often note that the people passing me on Northwest sidewalks may have just lost their most cherished someone or something. Today I assume that someone near me might need my help as I needed the help of those five men years ago.
Time and habit had convinced me, erroneously, in the nineteen intervening years between high school and the Fulbright year abroad that I was more in control of my life than I was when I first heard the term “defining moment.” I had fallen into predictable patterns and known rituals. That night I saw that if I could lose my son to a nightmare in five minutes, that the illusion of control is just that: a false buttress against the worst fear that we all faced that night.
Hakan, Selim, Uğur, Mustafa, and Hakan’s cousin the taxi driver taught me that control is not what matters—even if it were truly possible—but those magic moments when one’s heart is enlarged enough to feel the pleasures and pains of one’s countrymen and women. I learned that horrible, lovely night that the world is our country; and that it is our relationships that define us, not our lonely pursuits after trophies or memories. Fame and fortune don’t stack up to the clasp of loved ones. Fear, I also saw, can be banished when we truly give ourselves to those who need our help.
I now embrace this wonderful opportunity to be Nagme’s Fulbright mentor—in part to say thank you for my son and in part to keep allowing myself to grow in the ways that began in Turkey. It occurs to me occasionally these days that I was reborn, fittingly, in what some call the cradle of civilization. I also see that global education and international service are invaluable means to reexamine oneself and to realign oneself to one’s ethical compass. Fundamental questions arise when joining hands with foreigners: who am I and whom am I for? what am I and what am I for? We find that most of us love our children and that we all need help at times. It’s really not that complicated; politics and fear obfuscate the fact that our hearts are all usually attuned to the same nearly inaudible song that fills our hearts and spins the planets. I finally heard the song when Turkey gave me what I most value, what I most love. Giving back as a Fulbright mentor will be all my pleasure, the dance for which I’ve been waiting decades.
Here is a photograph of Henry on the lap of a woman I did not know at Topkapi Palace. I can’t use the word “stranger,” as our roots are common now, and it does not apply.
Victoria will be in Peru for three months, living with a host family and working with an organization called ProPeru. ProPeru helps to connect volunteers to NGOs throughout Peru doing a variety of different community development projects: mobile health clinics, environmental restoration work, teaching English in village schools, helping communities develop agrotourism plans. While I am there, I will be helping to build cleaner burning stoves and water filters in small villages throughout the Sacred Valley.
Summer trips to India and China widened horizons
Summer international transition day bonds students from around the world
Introducing the Viewfinder Global Film Series
The inaugural film night is Thursday, October 8, at 6:30 p.m. Films shown will focus on India and China, connecting to the Upper School students and teachers who traveled to those countries this summer.
The United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced recently that Paul Monheimer, 7th grade history teacher at Catlin Gabel, has been awarded a Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching to conduct research in Israel.
Monheimer will spend the spring semester researching how to create meaningful virtual exchanges that use graphic software to overcome language barriers. He will work with Israeli teachers, teacher colleges, and students.
Monheimer is currently attending orientation for the program in Washington, DC. "In the past 24 hours, I have spent time with some amazing teachers from Singapore, South Africa, Israel, and Argentina," he reports. "How can we enable teachers and students to communicate regularly with one another across the globe? There is no substitute for actually travelling in a country, but today's technology ought to allow folks to come pretty close."
The new Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching will send 13 U.S. teachers abroad and bring 13 international teachers to the U.S. for a semester to pursue capstone projects, conduct research, take courses for professional development, and lead master classes or seminars for teachers and students. The program is open to teachers from Argentina, India, Israel, Finland, Singapore, South Africa, and the United States.
The Fulbright Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange program, is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has provided approximately 294,000 people – 111,000 Americans who have studied, taught or researched abroad and 183,000 students, scholars and teachers from other countries who have engaged in similar activities in the United States – with the opportunity to observe each others' political, economic, educational, and cultural institutions, to exchange ideas and to embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world's inhabitants. The program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.
Two Catlin Gabel high school teachers have been selected to participate in prestigious international programs. Cynthia Beals was awarded a Fulbright Teacher Exchange grant to teach in Turkey by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and Nichole Tassoni was chosen to attend a seminar on Dante in Italy sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Cynthia Beals will teach mathematics at Eyuboglu High School in Istanbul during the 2009-10 academic year. In return, Turkish teacher Nagme Karamustafaoglu will teach middle school mathematics at Catlin Gabel. Both were selected to take part in the prestigious and competitive Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange program, which is open to classroom teachers of any grade. Beals is one of approximately 60 U.S. teachers who will participate, one of only five teachers from the Pacific Northwest, and the only teacher going to Turkey.
After a three-day orientation in Washington, DC, Beals will travel to Istanbul to begin teaching on August 10. “I’ve always been interested in other cultures, and teaching abroad has always been a dream for me,” she says. “Head of school Lark Palma and Upper School head Michael Heath have been very supportive and positive. This is a great opportunity for my professional development, and for Catlin Gabel to broaden its community and learn from a teacher from another country. We will all benefit from a new perspective on a fascinating culture.”
You can read about Beals’s Fulbright Exchange and residence in Istanbul on her blog .
Catlin Gabel high school English teacher Nichole Tassoni is taking part in a six-week summer study of Dante’s Commedia in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar based in Siena, Italy. The high school teachers in the seminar have been exploring Dante’s world by visiting cultural and artistic sites important to Dante and his poem in cities that include Florence, Rome, Orvieto, San Gimignano, Ravenna, and Assisi. “The visits have really enriched the poem and its sense of history and culture,” says Tassoni. Discussion, collaborative learning, and writing are key components of the seminar experience, which ends August 6.
“I chose to apply to this seminar because I had never read Dante’s masterpiece before, and wanted to do so with a group of scholars,” says Tassoni. “The experience has been all that I hoped for. Our two instructors—Ronald Herzman from SUNY-Geneseo and William Stephany from the University of Vermont—are passionate, life-long experts on Dante, and the 14 other teachers in the seminar are amazing to work with. Of course, being in Siena has been wonderful!"
Monkgogi (right) will study at Catlin Gabel during the 2009-10 school year. She is the fourth student from Maru-a-Pula School to come to Catlin Gabel.
Her responses to the first set of questions on the Cultural Transitions Interview Project.
Hey Mr. Spencer White:
Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me BEFORE I even arrive, it is much appreciated. I have attached a picture of me and my best friend (I am the one in the black jacket) and I'm absolutely willing to answer your questions, actually it would be a delight.
Can't wait to get there,
Mk (that is what everybody calls me!)
I was given a scholarship to your school by my school (Maru-a-Pula) and I had been working at either going to Japan for a year or starting university in South Africa. I decided that this was a great opportunity for me to better myself in terms of education and culture so I went for it.
I do believe that travelling out of your community is important as to appreciate what you have in your own community you have to experience another culture. Also I think that learning about another community can help you enrich yourself as a person and in turn this can enrich the people around you and the community at large.
I have recently been allocated a host family and I'm afraid that we wont get along, unlike my real family they are not forced to put up with me and I'm afraid that they wont be as forgiving. I'm also afraid of travelling alone, I have never done that before but I'm also at the same time looking forward to that experience. I'm also afraid that because most of the students have been at CGS for a long time and they will already have 'set' friends and I will not be able to infiltrate these bonds and make friends of my own. I'm also afraid of the notorious workload that apparently is given at American schools.
I'm excited about being in a totally different environment with the possibilities of so many things now accessible to me. I can make new friends, enjoy a new community, culture and way of life, I can make a relationship with my host family that can be as close as my real family, I can have 30000 times more educational opportunities and most importantly I can finally see the beauty of Oregon that I hear so much about.
My goals are to excel at my studies, to make new friends and to have an experience that I will never forget. I also intend to look for a good American university that can take me on full scholarship, I'm very hopeful on that point.
The hardest thing is going to be being away for my family (we are REALLY close) and my friends especially the one in the picture. And two of my other best friends. I'm also going to find it difficult to be away from away from my grandma who is 88 and the funniest person I have ever meet.
I have always been heavily involved with drama and have worked on 2 major productions (Sarafina and Circus Of Dreams) as a stage manager. I have also been involved a community service called Gabane Teaching which is an outreach programme that goes out of our capital city, Gaborone, to a little village called Gabane where we teach less fortunate primary school children basic English skills. I have been doing this for over five years and think it is one of those things that everybody should have the chance to do.
I am a Motswana from a land locked African country called Botswana. To be a Motswan is the greatest gift that my parents ever gave to me. I come from a country that has used its gems to better the country and not for civil wars or imperialistic ambitions. I have a strong culture that has been embedded in me through my name and by grandmother who refuses to see what her mother taught her to go to waste on me. To be a Motswana is an identity that is more than just being the citizen of Botswana but we are are part of a community that the norm of Africa of poverty, civil wars... does not apply to and believe that we can do all that we want to if only we have the ambition.
I would describe myself as someone who likes to have a good laugh but acknowledges the importance of hard work. I am goal-orientated and believe in doing whatever it takes (as long as it does not compromise my principles) to get to where i want to be. I also believe in questioning everything as it is the only way that you can truly understand anything..
My friends, Valentina and Tebo, describe me: "Mk is responsible, caring, smart and very fashion-forward! There is always much to say about someone whom you have known for a very long time. But, in short, she has an amazing personality; full of life and laughter and fun."
I speak Setswana (the national language of Botswana).
I have lived in Botswana almost all of my life but I have made trips to England, Nambia and South Africa.
I hope to be seen as an educated African rather than an ignorant, illiterate person as many tend to see Africans.
I am definitely going to bring some recipes from Botswana, our traditional clothing and maybe some traditional paraphernalia (such as bracelets, farming tools....) And of course I'm bringing my experiences as a PROUD Motswana.
I intend to have an open mind about the entire experience so I would not like to make an assumptions quite yet.
FINALLY, I would like to apologise for the late reply and the length of it all but I felt I needed to let it be known.
Thanks for taking the time to read this,
This trip was different then any trip I have ever taken. It was not like a vacation but not like a field trip either. It was a lifestyle for two weeks. It was an experience where I leaned to live an independent life style. I am very thankful for many aspects of this trip, just like I am very thankful for many aspects of life.
I learned on this trip to support myself emotionally. I became a more independent traveler and learned how to keep track of my things. I got the opportunity to take care of myself and grow within myself.
A had many favorite moments of the trip. Like life, these moments were not always planned out, sometimes the more spontaneous things stick with you. For example, the morning in Beppu we had breakfast on the beach. It was warm and all those birds kept flying up to us trying to take our food. Feeling the water on the other side of the Pacific Ocean was a breath taking experience for me. This experience was one that a person only experiences so many times in their life. It was a time I stopped and thought how amazing it was being half way across the world.
Another moment was an afternoon when we arrived in Takeo. Many kids were sick and stayed at the hotel. A fraction of us went with Ann to explore the town. It was beautiful. We went on a hike we thought would be short but was long. It was to the top of a series of hills surrounding Takeo there were small memorials and Buddha statues through out the woods. It was the most beautiful thing I believe I saw in Japan. That moment being on top of that mountain felling the warn air, surrounded by cherry blossoms was truly untouchable.
I regret a few things on this trip, however. I wish we had traveled less because for me the moments I learned and grew most were the more relaxed times, random outings or something unplanned. Those were the moments I learned most about the culture.
While I was their it was very surreal. I don’t think I paid attention to every opportunity there. I don’t mean I took it for granted but now that I am back I wish I could throw myself back into some of those moments. Walking down a small street in Beppu trying to find an Indian restaurant, being in the space museum with Jenny and Peter, crawling through those small baby tubes, enjoying that cup of ramen at that amazing restaurant after the cup of noodle museum, or shopping in Osaka. These are all moments I wish to experience again. Even the time in Osaka trying to find the hotel, hungry, tired, and wanting to shop. This was a terrible moment I wish I could experience again because I was still in Japan.
What scares me most is when I think of the future when I won’t be able to remember how it felt to be in Japan. Right now I can imagine being there as if it was real but in 5 years I don’t know what I will remember. I am thankful for this trip because it has inspired me to travel and think more broadly about life.
David Ellenberg, history teacher in the 8th grade, is traveling with family to Nepal, via Cambodia, to further research his trip with Upper School students in March of 2010.
David's musings from Bangkok: June 19,
Lots of hours in the air later, we're waking up in Bangkok on a gray, muggy morning. Ash from a volcano in eastern Russia pushed our flight south, making the
Seattle to Tokyo leg over 11 hours long. Still made our connection in Tokyo and came into Thailand about midnight. We're off to Cambodia later today.
What’s five hours if you’re already crossing the Pacific Ocean? That question was just one of a myriad that gibbered around in my head these past weeks as the family readied itself for a month of adventure travel in Asia. Five hours was the layover in Seattle before getting on United 5758 to Narita, a flight where the great size of the earth really sinks in. Folks back east call the Atlantic ‘the pond’; no such moniker would ever be applied to the planet’s largest body of water.
So after all the wonderful endings of a school year, the disappointment of the flu-truncated 5th grade ceremony for Iris, and 8th grade graduation’s delay for me, before dawn on June 17th, we headed out to PDX for the quick hop to Seattle. And we waited.
The 5 hours wasn’t really much in the end. We had snacks and warm drinks in an airy lounge. We paid the Wifi fee and caught up on email. We heard from a friend leaving JFK that his Tokyo bound flight would be even longer due to ash from a volcanic eruption in far eastern Russia. What was our status, he wondered? We quickly checked Internet sites and saw the massive plumes of eerie cloud that were disrupting air travel across the northern Pacific. This from Suite101.com: “Sarychev Peak is located on Matua Island and is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain in Russia. This island is called Matsuwa Island by the Japanese.” An island with a disputed name, huh? Politics pushing into natural world events; nonetheless, would this spewing ash affect us?
I checked with the United gate agent; he assured me that the Tokyo flight was on time and all was well. We kept waiting. Lisa deleted more email; the girls and I went cruising around Sea-Tac aboard their very cool subways, looking at art in the terminals and shopping for a paperback version of New Moon, one of the books in the Twilight series, a favorite of Iris. Borders had the book ($2 off today only) and Lily ordered the halibut fish and chips at the Ivar’s next door. We went back to the United terminal and waited some more.
Soon they were calling our flight. We settled into the economy seats and readied ourselves for the 9-hour crossing. When we gained altitude, we learned that the long haul would be extended. The volcano, it turned out, was affecting our route too. More from the Suite101 website: “The Alaska Volcano Observatory mentions that one of the world’s most heavily traveled air corridors is located a few hundred miles from the Kuril Islands. With hundreds of flights crossing the North Pacific daily, the ash cloud is high enough to pose a safety threat to air travel. A volcanic ash cloud contains glass shards, tiny rock particles and acid droplets. If an airplane flies through an ash cloud, the following events can happen:
* Ash particles are ingested into the engine and can lead to loss of power or complete engine failure.
* The particles can cause abrasion on the windshield, thus hindering the view from the cockpit.
* Essential external sensors on the aircraft can get clogged.
* The air ventilation within the aircraft can get contaminated.
* Within the ash cloud, there is electrostatic activity and this can interfere with radio communication.”
The pilot was wise enough to spare the scary details, but informed us that the flight would be over 11 hours in length. So it goes. We knew we had a long layover in Tokyo and hoped it was lenghthy enough to make the connection to Bangkok. Thailand’s capital would be our airline hub for a month. Friday’s flight into Phnom Penh would kick off two weeks of Asian meanderings. A return to Bangkok for a few days would follow, and then we’d jet off to Kathmandu Valley for another two weeks. A final pass through Thailand on the way home will round out the journey.
It’s now late morning in Bangkok on Friday, June 19th. We’ve had our first walk in tropical climes, a short meander from the Thongta Resort and Spa. The outdoor night market of small stalls was mostly empty save for a single skew-eyed taxi driver eating a bowl of noodles. The construction site next door is draped with bamboo scaffolding. The ever-present Family Mart reminiscent of our summer in Japan. Back in air-conditioned comfort, Iris and I eat wasabi-coated peas and seaweed-flavored Lay’s potato chips. Our dear friends who started their yesterday on the delayed JFK flight are sleeping in 312; we surf cyberworld in 506. Lisa and Lily off for massages. This afternoon, it’s back to Suvarnabhumi Airport for the 50-minute flight to Cambodia.
All are well.
Costa Rican exchange student Miguel will attend Catlin Gabel as a sophmore for the 2009-2010 school year. Miguel is our 3rd exchange student from the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Catlin Gabel boasts a 7-year relationship with the CFS. The Middle School sends 8th grade Spanish students every spring to study language and ecology, live with home stay families and do service projects on campus.
I asked Miguel to respond to these questions before departing Costa Rica for the United States. The questions come from the Cultural Transitions Interview Project.
Why did you decide to go for this experience?
*My whole life I wanted to represent my family, not even one pased the colegio or they just dicided to live it because of economic problems or just wanted to explore the world. Well, the thing is that going to the states and study was one of my goals since I entered high school and I knew that my english was really going to develop much better.
Do you think traveling outside your community is an important thing to do? Why?
*Yes, because you can learn from different people, cultures and communities and maybe teach what you have learned in your community in order to have a better place.
What part(s) of this experience are you most nervous about?
*I really am not nervous...but I can say that living a long time without your family is hard.
What part(s) are you most excited about?
*Im excited about everything:
-Being in an awesome school
-Learning many new things
-Participating and doing new things I havent experience
-Having activities and using things my school or community cant provide
-To know that for first time im going to the states and at the same time in an airplane
-To visit the awesome Oregon and even more Portland
-That my english is going to develop to higher level
-That im going to be a speeking english a whole year
-To go study to another country
What goals do you have for your time away?
*Develop my speaking in ENGLISH
*To come prepare as a new person/proffesionally
*Work hard to receive good grades in a high level
What do you think will be the hardest parts of this experience?
*Maybe living far from my family and working the doubble of hard now that I know is a hard school.
What might be your greatest contribution to the community in which you will live?
*Teach them of my community and help those communitys with problems.
What does it mean to you to be a citizen from Costa Rica?
*A person with different ideas, from a different culture, someone that loves nature and those who surroud them.
How do you describe yourself as a person? How would others describe you?
*Someone that is humble, friendly, likes helping others, loves sports, doesnt thinks about him but for others.
*Others describe me as a nice guy, crazy, good artist, happy, good student, inteligent.
How do you expect to be viewed in your host culture?
*As a normal person, no reason just because im from Costa Rica, they speak me in spanish. Im no different. Also respect and friendship. That they see me as a person that comes to learn and have fun.
What tangible items from your home culture might you bring along with you to share with your host culture?
* My little "virgencita". Costa Rica´s soccer team T-SHIRT. The "PURA VIDA" frase writen in
t-shirts and in other items. The national orchid( made from plastic material). The "carreta". The national bird-"yiguirro". Natonal flag, dance, song,...
What would these items tell someone about the contrasts and/or similarities between your culture and your host culture?
*That our religion is "catolicos". That we have many tipical things that represents our culture.
By Allea Martin '05
|Allea Martin ’05 looking down from the top of Macerata’s bell tower|
In my 21 years, I have rarely found myself at a complete loss for words. However, in the last six weeks since I returned from studying abroad, I’ve found myself frequently and completely paralyzed by the question, “How was Italy?”
It seemed like answers should flow from me like a river of marinara. I spent months learning about the Italian language and lifestyle. I nestled myself deep into the culture of Macerata, the small hill town in the Marche region where I lived with three young Italian women. I loved, in an intoxicated, head-over-heels kind of way, Macerata’s people, food, buildings, art, churches, and—most of all—language. And yes, Italian is the most beautiful and romantic language in the world, if there was ever any doubt.
Yet despite my fervent, three-month affair with Italy, I could not seem to articulate any of these feelings upon my return to the United States. How could I, in one sentence or less, capture the depth and the beauty of Italy? My first impulse was to respond in Italian. I believed that the meravigliosos and bellissimos could convey meaning better than any English word I knew. Since I didn’t want to be annoying and rude, I found myself instead responding with one-word descriptors like “wonderful,” “incredible,” or “fabulous.” Still, these words seemed lacking, as though I was somehow giving an incorrect answer.
|View from a castle of the Marche region|
I knew, for example, that one single word could not begin to capture the way I felt about Italian people. Words like “wonderful” didn’t illustrate the love and respect that I felt for Filiberto, the program director and stand-in father for Macerata students. Filiberto is easily the most intelligent and cultured person I’ve ever encountered, not to mention he presides over the largest stockpile of jokes in the world. Could anyone else understand how amusing it was hear him replace phrases like “at a later time” with the more comical “in a second moment?” I felt even more daunted in attempting to describe my roommates’ generosity and kindness. Could another person really comprehend the bond that had formed between my roommate Chiara and me as we sipped espresso and discussed our favorite books?
When I failed to reply to broad questions about my trip, friends and family members began to ask about more specific aspects, usually food or architecture. This was no easier. While “incredible” certainly could describe the food, it could not convey the extent to which Italian life centers around and gathers life from food, cooking, and eating. When asked, on a few occasions, to name my favorite meal, I became a mumbling idiot, changing my answer at least 10 times over. Similarly, “fabulous” might shed a tiny, keyhole-sized spotlight on the intense beauty of Italian art and architecture, but it could not encapsulate the emotions contained in church frescoes. Nor could it adequately explain the way I lost my breath when looking out across the countryside from the top of Macerata’s bell tower.
|Allea’s favorite street in Macerata, where she walked every day to get to class|
I felt trapped by my own intellect. I grieved my inability to express the fascination invoked by my cinema teacher’s flowing lectures, or the different but equally mouthwatering smells coming from each floor of my apartment building on Sundays. I longed to tell of the giggling, confetti-throwing children who had run through the streets during Carnevale, and of the beautiful, designer-clad parents and grandparents who scurried after them.
If I couldn’t describe how much I loved Italy, how could I explain how much Italy had changed me? Had anyone else ever experienced the freedom and happiness of traveling alone on a train, watching the sun set over picturesque farmland? Could anyone relate to the feeling of triumph that I experienced after I began to not only participate in, but to actually understand conversations in a second language? I felt as though Italy had picked me up, pointed at all my best qualities and said, “You can keep these. But the rest of them have to go someplace else.” Thus I found myself as I’d never been before, exploring things I never could have imagined, and feeling fulfilled beyond my greatest imagination. The possibilities seemed truly endless.
The truth is that no one can ever understand Italy’s magnificence without spending time there, and even then, each of us sees through different eyes. I have come to accept this, and be grateful for the experience I had. Now when people present me with those dreaded three words, I have a new response. Rather than fumble around for an answer, I simply smile and say, “I loved it.”
|A child in costume during Carnevale|