Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - No comments

Chickens and Change

The age-old riddle about why the chicken crossed the road used to puzzle me as a child.  What business did a chicken have near a busy road anyways?  To this city-kid, chickens belonged on my uncle’s farm, in a cage, or on the table surrounded by potatoes and carrots.  

When I moved to rural Turkey, however, my horizons were broadened.  With greenhouses and small farms making up the majority of the neighbourhood, chickens run freely around here.  Seeing a chicken cross the road is no longer a curiosity but a daily occurrence.  I share the street with them on my morning walk, and it’s not unusual to find them poking around the yard of our townhouse.

My nearly six years as a village girl have taught me a thing or two about chickens that I didn’t know before.  For one, they eat garbage.  When paying a visit to the dumpster across the street, I usually toss my trash bag from a few metres away so as to avoid being alarmed by whatever creature might be snacking inside, and it’s fun to guess if it will be a cat or a chicken.  Secondly, they aren’t fans of getting wet.  I learned this after getting a little playful with the garden hose while squeegeeing the balcony.  Thirdly, that whole thing about roosters crowing at dawn?  I think that’s just the time most people are aware of it, due to the lack of other sound at that time of morning.  The ones around here crow at all hours of the day and night with no regard for the position of the sun.  And finally, I’ve learned that if you throw a chicken out a third story window, it will flap its wings (I daresay it will fly) and land safely on its feet.  It’s best not to ask how I know this.  :)

Our road in its pre-paved state
During its eleven years in power, the ruling Justice and Development Party has certainly lived up to the second half of its name, and our neighbourhood’s face has definitely been enhanced as a result.  Recent years have seen improvements such as a sewage system, paved roads, some sit-down bus stops, and a new park on the corner with fancy one-size-fits-all exercise equipment.  And last month, another development:  we got a sidewalk. It’s not on our street, exactly - ours is still a mixture of gravel and asphalt that’s been flattened into something vaguely resembling pavement over the last few years - but on the bigger road that our street connects to.  When we moved here six years ago, that road was just a wide stretch of dirt that turned into one big mud puddle when it rained.  There was one squat apartment building with a bakkal (corner store) on the bottom floor, and another apartment complex down at the end, and in between that, a whole lot of rocks and nothingness.  

When they paved it several years ago, the kids were all thrilled.  Aside from the bus four times an hour, a few cars and the occasional horse-drawn gypsy “recycling carriage” there was hardly any traffic.   It was a perfectly flat open playground in which to play and ride bikes, and they were more likely to have to pause a football game (soccer, for you North Americans) for a passing herd of sheep than anything else.  

Apparently someone thought there weren't
enough seats at the bus stop!
The village is being dwarfed by the city

Ever year, though, the city has crept closer and closer to the village.  The urban planners must think the current population boom is going to continue, because the sound of construction is our daily background noise, with a new apartment building going up in our neighbourhood almost every month.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t change the law that permits buildings on our “block” to be no higher than four stories because it would be a shame to lose our view of the mountains.  

Every time I pass a new foundation being laid, I like to prophesy the arrival of Starbucks to our neck of the woods, but so far all we’ve ended up with are apartments, a curtain store, a cracker factory and a furniture store that I’m convinced is really front for some mafia operation, as I’ve only ever seen a total of maybe three customers ever walk through the front door. 

Our lives changed most radically when, after a few months of living here, they built a Gülgen - a big-ish grocery store (think halfway between a 7-11 and a Safeway) - about an eight minute walk down the road from us.  At that time, we didn’t have a car yet, so it meant the difference between having to do a big shop whenever we were in town with vehicle-endowed friends and being able to pop down the street to grab chicken for dinner.  There is a big sale on the sixth of every month, and our neighbours likely wonder if we are hiding ten extra people in the house for the amount of toilet paper and boxed milk that goes from the car into the house that day.  Even after a stock-up trip, we still seem to need to make a run there every couple of days, and as a result of us being such loyal (or is it forgetful?) customers, the cashiers know our names, and vice versa.  

For all the convenience of a big store with good prices, Gülgen’s arrival hasn’t been good for everyone in the neighbourhood.  Of the four bakkals (corner stores that sell essentials like flour, oil, Coke, bread and cigarettes) within walking distance of our house, two of them closed down due to lack of customers after Gülgen opened.  It feels a bit like those made for TV movies where a Wal-Mart arrives in town and the bakery and the Candy Shoppe with an ‘e’ are forced to close their doors because they can’t compete.

Looking ahead to the changes that are sure to come as the city arrives in our “village,” I have mixed emotions.  Sure, I like the fact that there is now an ATM a ten minute walk from my house.  And, yes, I’ll be happy when we get a cafe in which I can sit and sip coffee while I work.  But I also know that the advent of traffic lights and the inevitable McDonald’s will change life here for good.  And in the end, I’d rather keep my dirt road and take the bus into town for my coffee.  I like things the way they are.

What are the chances that I’ll still share the road with goats and sheep on my morning walk or be blessed with a bag of greens from my neighbour’s field as I pass her on my way home?  Will we be able to hear the voice of the eskici (collector of “old things”) and the watermelon seller and the carpet fixer guy above the din of car horns and storefront music?  Will there be room left in the olive grove for the ladies to make fires to bake their flatbread?  And will the chickens be able to learn to look both ways before crossing the road?

If the fact that I saw these chickens using the sidewalk the other day is any indication of their ability to adapt to city life, I’d say they’ll fare just fine.  I only hope I can make the transition as smoothly.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday, February 04, 2013 - 3 comments

Crafting a Writing Habit

One of my New Year's resolutions was to create myself an official writing space in my room.  A contest on in which writers described what was on their writing desks gave me incentive to pull mine together in time to submit an entry.  So, here’s what I came up with.

Until recently, I’ve done most of my writing on my bed, laptop on my lap. But I’ve decided I’ll do better at focusing during my designated writing time if I have an “office” to go to – even if it’s only two feet from said bed.  I’m trying to train my brain to know that when I sit down in my “office,” it’s time to churn out artfully arranged words.  I don’t use that desk for anything but creative writing, and I even went as far as buying a new coffee mug to be used solely during writing sessions.

My freshly transformed desk (which, up until last month, had been mostly one more surface on which to pile my piles) is a wooden desk with a bookshelf attached to the top. I’ve fashioned a dry-erase board out of a large glass picture frame and scrapbook paper underneath to separate it into sections for writing down the names of projects I’m working on and blog posts I want to write, as well as freelance pieces I plan to submit. I’ve also written there the quote by W. Somerset Maugham – “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” Beside that is a monthly calendar (clipped up with funky clips that I got on Granville Island this summer) on which to record my daily plan for which pieces I’ll work on and track my word count goals.
There are two little cork board squares stuck to the back wall of the bookshelf on which I’ve pinned pictures representing pieces I am working on – currently, a postcard from the eastern Turkish city of Mardin and a photo of a rainbow of French macarons. My pens (all Staedler fine point blue....that is, until I run out of my stash - my lifelong love of a pen has been discontinued!) and scissors sit in a chopped off Starbucks-Anniversary-Blend-bag-turned-pencil-holder. Beside that, I’ve got a colourful array of Sharpies and dry-erase markers in a mug bearing the signature of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, our national hero and founder of the Turkish republic. (Inspiration towards greatness, I suppose.) Next to that is a framed card from my dear friend Libby featuring a pair of legs in roller skates and striped knee-socks with the Oscar Wilde quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
I’ve got a stack of notebooks in the corner of my desk – my ideas notebook, the little one I take with me to jot down notes as I travel, and the larger journal in which most rough drafts are born. My laptop – when it’s not on my lap on my bed – also lives on this desk. (And when I’m actually writing, beside it sits some good coffee in my new mug.) The upper bookshelf portion of the desk is filled with writing and photography-related books, my notebooks and journals, past and present, as well as travel paraphernalia I’ve collected from around the globe – a little wooden Kyrgyz yurt, a porcelain soup spoon from China, a cezve (Turkish coffee pot), a tiny Albanian bunker, and various other knick knacks that inspire me as I endeavour to grow as a travel writer.

I am happy to report that, so far, my plan of “carving out time in a specific place” is working nicely.  I really do feel more focused and “in the zone” when I’m at my desk, and having a system for tracking goals and projects is very motivating.  I’d set myself a goal of writing every day, and producing at least 2000 words a week in notes and drafts.  While I didn’t quite hit the “every day” target, my word count goal for January was 9000 words, and I exceeded it by 2,396, which was definitely satisfying.
Here’s to a year of crafting a writing habit that will help me reach my goal of finishing my writing course and being published in a travel magazine in 2013!