Saturday, May 28, 2011

Roll The Dice & Break It! - Tavla - Backgammon

You may find it nearly impossible to sit in a cafe drinking tea and playing a board game for 5 hours straight non-stop, while still enjoying every minute of it, but I am here to prove you wrong!

My friend and I decided to meet at a cafe before she left for Istanbul permanently. While talking and talking, she ended up saying, "Why are we not playing tavla?" I said "I have no clue, but I think we should start." So that was the start. Normally you play until one person wins five times, but we happened to never count, and we must have played over 20 games. After we realized how much time we had spent playing and talking about life, we decided to play until one person reached five.

Backgammon, or Tavla in Turkish is a game that is associated with the leaders and aristocracy of the ancient civilizations. Many variations being passed from Persia, Greece, and Rome, then moving over to the Asian areas, it made its move to the U.S. in about the 1930's where the rules were formalized and practiced today world-wide.

Backgammon is a widely played game by many Turkish people, older men in particular. In fact they have many cafes where only men are typically allowed in(socially, not legally), where they will sit there, hunched over, drinking tea and playing for hours. I always find it funny when walking pass these cafes, where its quiet and low mumblings and words about life and such.

Its not a game like checkers or chess. In those games you can ponder your opponents next move, however in tavla(Backgammon) your moves depend purely on the luck of your dice roll. This is makes it less stressing in the fact that you dont have to think about your opponents next move, but makes it stressful when deciding whether to leave your pieces open in fear of being broken.
I have been playing for quite some time now, and its a really fun game. Thinking fast and moving the checker pieces rapidly is what makes the game entertaining. The sound of the dice rolling and the sound when you slam a piece down and breaking someone like you had just won a football match. 

So go ahead, let the time pass, enjoy a few glasses of tea, strike up a conversation, all while playing a mad game of tavla.

How to play Backgammon (tavla):
Play Some Backgammon!

Note: I do not own the copyrights to the images on this post.

Belated Revamping - Poem

A poem I wrote awhile ago. I really like it. Everyone has their stages, but what is to be remembered is that everyone must be positive. There is always a flame burning inside of you. Dig deep within yourself, find it, and let it burn brighter! You can push through anything. I am proof. I find times can be hard, but if you point your face to the sky searching for the suns energy, you can find that inner strength to push on! So do it. Never settle for less and treat yourself to a full glass of happiness and positivity!

Belated Revamping
By: Dustin Sherman

What is it?
Locking me up,
Let go of me, I want release.

Strength is needed,
My soul corrupted and strained,
tugged at by starved minds.
Nagging, yelling, clenching, wrecking

Stop, this is me,
My flaws have no collision on you.
The crash will explode,
Cease, leave, break, sever

You are still here?!
A dedication to my decline.
Still lonely, torn, loved, and promised

Help me, Liberation
Fancies me.
Internal bombs,
with the pins pulled, ready for attack.

Once more,
a weakened soul, who would have thought?
My heart is a maturing diamond,
Mantled and empty of color.

Blue topaz, the stone that will bleed,
Adding shade to my dull color.
Here let me clean that up,
Let the monotonous life persevere.

Blemishes covered up,
Minds soaring to different channels.
Stitching up my wounds, to a
Healthy angel.

You will tear me down, where I will corrode,
You will strike me with the words and manners,
but most of all my ammunition will be removed,
but I shall become numb to this crashing, disheartening world.
Pushing onward, evermore!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yasar University Spring Fest

There is a great adventure and tradition that every university in Turkey, nationwide, partakes in, Spring Fest. Just as it sounds, a festival to celebrate the coming seasons and a few days break from the redundant classroom work. Typically the university will hire famous singers to perform for a night. MFO a rock band was chosen by Yasar University. Other campuses: Dokuz Eylul had Mirkelam; Istanbul Bilgi University held my favorites: Sertab Erener & Emre Aydin; Ege University had one of my favorite rock singers: Sebnem Ferah; Izmir University: Beduk.

I came to school with little sleep and helped the international office with some errands and was planning on going home to take a nap. However, things changed drastically when my friends called me and asked me to go to Bornova. Bornova is a 5 minute metro ride and hosts MANY little cafes and bars. So as a true fighter I chose to go partake in their activities and later attend the concert of MFO.

I soon had NO regret! My friends made me laugh hysterically. We stayed at a bar for a few hours telling stories, practicing Turkish and English respectively. ;) The fun thing about being in a foreign country is the language barrier. Words and phrases NEVER seem to mean the same in another's language, and one thing I have learned from the beginning is that American's have a very sarcastic way of talking, at least I do. So things that are meant to be comical or metaphorical seem to get a laugh or wide-eye expression. Having learned some Turkish I can now make my remarks that are funny and relieving in their cultural sense.

After the cafe, we chose to grab a couple drinks and drive to a nearby underpass and open the doors, blare music, and dance. Oh how much fun this was! Listening to the popular and not so popular songs, singing at the top of my lungs in another language, it was refreshing!

We made our way to campus, which was unbelievably packed with more people than it could handle. Honestly, I wondered where they all came from. To be honest the campus during school hours is hardly busy, only enough friends to make it pleasantly welcoming, and is quite peaceful. With the music, however, came the people. The band was good. I had never heard of them, but was a great new group to listen to. The crowd was of course swaying, raising hands and lighters in the air, and singing at the top of their lungs.

After the day/night had ended I was happy to find out there was a metro to go elsewhere. I met other friends in Alsancak, where I would then have a car ride home.

Overall things I have learned from Spring Fest in Turkey:

  • Never plan things, and when you do, dont stick to them, live at the moment.
  • Dance like no one is looking and have a blast doing it.
  • Never let tiredness get in the way of fun and opportunities.
  • Listen to new music groups; you never know who you may like. Always branch out and try new things.
  • There is a metro around Izmir until 12AM.
  • Always bridge the language barriers, and laugh when others make mistakes. Live once, learn always.
  • Spring is a time for refreshment and a new stage. Break out, the sun has come!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Turkey is Great!

While drinking my Turkish coffee, shuffling between music of Beyonce and Hadise I'm faced with predicaments. Looking over the bird paradise from the kitchen window with the sun gently going down, I keep wondering, how did I make it here. It was a pain to organize everything, paperwork, bank accounts, ID cards, plane tickets, housing arrangements; but I am here.

It has almost been 9 months here in Izmir, Turkey and I have completely fallen in love. The friends that I have met are awesome. They are open to breaking the language barrier, if there is any, and they are always welcoming. I should have expected that since that IS what the Turks are known for. The scenery does not consist of the Eiffel Tower or the Vatican, but Turkey offers more! It opens your eyes to the not so perfect lifestyle, that in my eyes, is exactly what perfection is! The food is amazing and always fresh, and with a Turkish mother around you will NEVER starve.

The sea and bayside in Izmir is soo peaceful and relaxing after a day at school or after a long conversation about stressful things. One of my favorite things is to go for a walk on the seaside at sunset. You can feel the breeze, listen to people talking in a foreign tongue, not worrying about if you are the one they are talking about. Off in the distance you can hear that little group of guys playing instruments and singing old Turkish songs about losing your love and finding happiness. You can almost taste the sea salt and the Turkish bread, simit, that is being baked for your liking at 25 cents a piece. You can hear under your feet the gravel crunching, surprised that it is even there, since many. many years ago it was the sea you would be standing in. Watching the sunset of Izmir. About the sunset, I must first say, it is indescribable! The mix between the sea and colors and the fishing boats and the birds. Amazement.

The cafe's are amazing social tools. Many time-constrained/conscience Americans could never imagine sitting in a cafe for 4-6 hours at a time. I mean, I didn't either to be honest. But this is the lifestyle that is relaxing, mind-provoking, and something to be cherished. Drinking teas and Turkish coffee, conversating, or playing a game or two of tavla (backgammon); THIS is pure simplicity that I could live with!

I'm not saying I don't love America for what it is. There are soo many positives about the freedoms and potentials in America. I just personally believe the Mediterranean lifestyle is something to partake in and really grasp in life. Being late for a meeting, spending more than the alotted amount of time with friends, taking a walk just because it is unplanned, going to the bazaar and spending less than 30$ on weekly groceries, conversations even when there are 50 things to do on your agenda. THIS is something to get used to.

I have gotten used to it! When reading this, you may think, oh. ok. So go to Turkey to become lazy. NO. That is not at all what Im saying. The Turks get things done, they stay healthy and fit. But what they dont tend to do is stress over the little things like time, agendas, and fast paced lives.

I am very tempted and have a strong urge to stay another semester. Again, I love America a lot, but in a way, there is a major weight or dread that is keeping me from going back. I have adapted to this lifestyle so deeply and cherish everything about Turkey, even its ignorant leaders. Again, this is growth and the growth that I am having is tremendous and wish everyone had the opportunity to do this same thing.

Now that my Turkish coffee is over, maybe I shall plan what to do this evening. Perhaps a cafe or maybe the Eurovision Song Contest. However with whatever I decide to do I know to be at the meeting place a half hour late, to still beat the Turks on being on time! Have a great weekend, and book your flights to Turkey!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sultan Tea and Mesir Macunu Paste - Manisa

Another attempt at random travelling was succeeded over the weekend. Upon waking on Sunday afternoon, I was directed by my host mom that we would be travelling for a cup of tea and relaxation, as the entire family needed it. Laying an hour drive from Izmir, Turkey is the ancient city, Manisa. We ate a light lunch of macaroni and kofte (meatballs) and prepared for the short drive.

The moment you arrive in Manisa you can feel the religious and mind-provoking atmosphere. The city itself is home to 5 of the past historical sultans of Ottoman Empire and was the training grounds for many upcoming princes. While the city is quite modern and hosts various options, one can still see or feel the history, Ottoman architecture, and spiritual aura. Manisa is home to many ancient thinkers and philosophers; that of religion, politics, family, and health.

Inside of Ayni Ali

Collection of Nargile/Waterpipes
There is a quaint and popular area, the Sultan Mosque, where there is a cafĂ© named Ayni Ali, where we went to enjoy Sultan Cayi (spiced tea), Nargile (Hookah), and Turkish coffee. Of course I had my fortune read, which seemed to be much more in depth than times before. The quaint, relaxed, peaceful, and spiritual aura seems to permeate one into thinking more profoundly. The other thing that Manisa is highly known for is Manisa Mesir Macunu, an herbal spice paste, which is delicious and very healthy for you.

Another style of preparing Turkish coffee over coals.

The story behind this paste is Ayse Hafsa Sultan, the Sultans wife, being very ill after her husband’s death with no cure found from doctors. After receiving word that the Sultans wife was ill, Merkez Muslihiddin Efendi he mixed 41 different types of plants and spices together to form a medicinal paste and sent it to the palace. When the Sultans wife ate this paste she regained health. After this finding, they decided that this paste should be available to everyone. So they chose March 21st, the start of spring, to make a festival distributing and "tossing" the paste to public.

Below is a list of spices and herbs used in making the Mesir Paste, along with their Turkish and Latin names:
  • Allspice (Yeni bahar)
  • Alpina officinarum root (Havlican koku)
  • Anise (Anason)
  • Black cumin (Corek otu)
  • Black myrobalan (Kara halile)
  • Black pepper (Karabiber)
  • Buckthorn (Topalak or Akdiken)
  • Cardamon (Kakule)
  • Cassia (Hiyarsenbe)
  • Chebulic myrobalan (Kara halile)
  • China root (Cop-i cini)
  • Cinnamon (Tarcin)
  • Cloves (Karanfil)
  • Coconut (Hindistan cevizi)
  • Coriander (Kisnis)
  • Cubeb (Kebabe)
  • Cumin (Kimyon)
  • Dried orange blossom (Portakal cicegi)
  • Fennel (Rezene)
  • Galingale (Havlican)
  • Ginger (Zencefil)
  • Iksir sugar (Iksir sekeri)
  • India blossom (Hindistan cicegi)
  • Java pepper (Kuyruklu biber)
  • Licorice extract (Meyan bali)
  • Licorice root (Meyan koku)
  • Mastic (Cam sakizi)
  • Millet (Hintdarisi)
  • Myrrh (Murrusafi)
  • Muskroot (Sumbul)
  • Mustard seed (Hardal tohumu)
  • Orange peel (Portakal kabugu)
  • Rhubarb (Ravend)
  • Saffron (Safran)
  • Citric acid (Limon tuzu)
  • Senna (Sinameki)
  • Turmeric (Zerdecal)
  • Udulkahr (Udulkahir)
  • Vanilla (Vanilya)
  • Woad (Civit)
  • Yellow myrobalan (Sari halile)
Easiest way for me to eat it: Bite off a small piece, and then suck on it. This will prevent it from being all stuck in your teeth, as it is a very sticky and tacky substance.

If you make a journey to Turkey and see the costumed individuals selling this paste on the street, take a leap and spend the 5TL. It is worth it and highly recommended.

Making the most of every day is what I try to do, and while staying in Turkey, I may not be doing anything extravagant; however, the simple thing, new opinions, and new knowledge are what make my day. When travelling, even your home town, open your eyes and smell your surroundings. It can be very amazing what you might realize and come to find even in your own back yard or a foreign country.