Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A little note...

It's been a while since I've visited this space. You may have noticed that starting late last spring, my posts started to dwindle.  I realized that I could not longer try to be a super woman in all aspects of my life - something had to give.  So I gave up the blog for the time being.  I focused on getting married, transitioning to a new and healthier lifestyle, and just keeping up with my school work. 

I didn't forget the blog.  After our wedding and during our incredible honeymoon, I made mental notes of things I wanted to share.  Like the beautiful "secret" beaches we found when driving along the Mediterranean coast, or the joy we found in Fethiye, and the great times we had dancing to Turkish music at our henna night and Turkish wedding.  Yet, as soon as I returned back to the US - life took over.  I was consumed with moving house, enjoying life with my husband, and I faced the reality of the work I needed to put in to (one day) finish my PhD. 

The blog drifted further into the back of my mind and I decided to put it off…

I really hadn't given it much thought and I mostly took a full-reprieve from the blogosphere for several months.  Then, about a week ago, the forces that be seemed to draw me back in.  My husband made a batch of (gluten-free) aşure to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Muharrem.  I found myself browsing for Elif Shafak novels at the library and now I am fully immersed in the pages of "Honor"*.  Then to my surprise I found that three new comments had been left on my blog in the past week.  I realized that a blog cannot be put to sleep - we may abandon it, neglect it and refuse to feed it with our words, but it lives on (something that is both wonderful and scary at the same time). 

So, I pondered as I started making the daily pot of Turkish tea, should I revive my writing?  Should I let out all that creative energy that I had stuffed down inside? 

I worry that if I return my energy will not be enough to go around.  Perhaps the surge of productivity I have been experiencing in my work life will diminish when I try to spread the love back to my blog.  Maybe I worry too much…

For now I am going to honor the energy that encouraged me to write and I'm going to post this ramble, with a non-binding promise to return and write more often.    

A beautiful bowl of gluten-free aşure.

*I have since finished "Honor" by Elif Shafak - another great novel with an incredible story and message to share.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Camping as a Kiddo and Pitching a Tent in Turkey

This post is part of the BlogHer April NaBloPoMo - a month of blogging about topics related to spring and the idea of "Fresh".   I hope that you will follow along!

Yesterday's prompt was about camping and memorable trips.

Camping sends me back down memory lane to my days as a kiddo.  In fact, this past summer H. converted our old family videos to digital format and we enjoyed the summer evenings watching flash backs from my childhood.  The first video opens with me and my sister sitting around in lawn chairs being cheesy for the camera.  Then I'm playing with a paddle, my feet dangling off the edge of the chair, my hair in a white-blond curly mess, rambling about something or other that I can even barely understand with my squeaky 3-year old voice.  We had just arrived at our campsite after a long drive - you can see the length of the drive in my parents strained expressions, apparently I was grumpy during the ride.  My mom is about 6 months pregnant with my baby brother, and I can imagine that camping is not very comfortable for her at that moment, yet we are roughing it. 

A snapshot from those family videos - I was sent to wake my older sister sleeping in the tent.
By the way - look at that tent - it's an oldie but a goodie.

This was a pretty standard family vacation for us in those days - we went canoeing and camping somewhere in Missouri or Nebraska, or for a real treat, Colorado.  My most vivid memories of camping at that age involve the Colorado trip where I saw the Milky Way for the first time; it was so bright, that creamy splash of stars across the sky.  I remember enjoying the cozy feeling after the sun went down and the night air became chilly; we would put on our sweatshirts and sit around a fire roasting marshmallows and making smores. 

Other memories are harder to revive - I was so little.  However, circulating family stories and, or course, the videos bring back snippets of those fun, family trips.  For example, my mom loves telling everyone (including a committee member that we happened to meet at an art event) that I was potty-trained on a canoe/camping trip.  [See Mom - now I'm sharing with the whole world!  :-) ] I'm not sure what it was about the canoeing that helped me potty train, but I take it as a sure sign that I was born with a deep connection for the outdoors.

I feel most at peace and authentic when walking or just being outside.  These days it is hard to get outside of the city to an area where nature is more than a patch of mowed grass and a few planted trees.  So I enjoy the walks through campus and through our downtown neighborhood, where culture and nature seem to somewhat peacefully co-exist (on some level).  Yet, I yearn to really get outdoors and take a hike, pitch a tent.

This summer H. and I are planning to do just that.  A while back I mentioned that I was itching to explore the Maras mountains, yet the winter weather wasn't conducive for taking a hike.  This summer - after our Turkish wedding - we are going to try to enjoy the outdoors a bit more.  Take a small trip, hike in the mountains, pitch our tent and see how well it works against whatever weather may come our way.  It might be uncomfortable, it might be a sleepless night and then a day of sore hips and shoulders (sleeping on the ground is not for the weak!).  Yet it will be another memory, one we will share together. 

Hopefully one day when we have little kiddos of our own we'll pack up the car, or the backpacks, and head out of whatever city we are living in to savor a bit of nature.  To learn about quiet, and how to visit a place without leaving a trace - no human tracks of garbage to follow us back down the mountain.

Some may think that camping is for the privileged, and I would agree.  Camping gear is typically expensive and it's a vacation - not camping for survival.  Yet, I think it is important for the privileged to remit some of their privilege - even if just for the weekend.  It may not change the ways of some, but for others it may create a connection with the environment, with nature, with other humans, that may lead to lasting lifestyle change or just viewing the world in a new way.  Even if the only outcome from camping is stronger relationships and a bit of relaxation, then it has served to bring more joy in the world, and that is enough for me. 

I am curious, have others gone camping in Turkey?  Or in other countries?  What have been your experiences camping in a different culture? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Local vs. Global - Thinking about how environmentalism differs in the US and Turkey

This post is part of the BlogHer April NaBloPoMo - a month of blogging about topics related to spring and the idea of "Fresh".   I hope that you will follow along!

Which environmental cause is closest to your heart and why?

As an environmental scientist, this question should be easy to answer - I should have a favorite topic, right? 

Academically I study the effects of land-use change and climate change on nutrient-related water quality in reservoirs.  Not so alluring…(or maybe it is? )

Global climate change is a hot topic these days (pun intended) and scientists are falling over themselves to publish papers about the possible effects of climate change on crop yield, land cover, biodiversity, water resources, disease vectors and the list goes on - think of a possible topic and most likely it can be related to climate change.  That is mostly due to the fact that climate change will affect everything and everyone - no one can hide from an altered atmosphere.  While I find climate change fascinating from an academic perspective, I am not so impressed with the changes climate change research has made in the actual world.  For most the status quo has remained fossil-fuel burning, waste inducing, material gluttony.  I sadly think that the academic papers have failed to make much progress in the realm of policy and action.

Therefore, if I think about the issues that are truly aligned with my heart and my conscience, the issues are more local and action-based, such as: sustainable and local agriculture, reducing material consumption, and increasing resource efficiency.  These are issues that I can act on in my daily life.  I can buy my produce from local and organic sources, I can buy grass-fed beef and I can limit the amount of food I waste by planning meals and using food creatively.  I can find ways to buy less, or re-use something I already have. These issues are more aligned with small lifestyle changes that overall can add up to a big impact over time.

I am still in the early stages of learning about these issues in Turkey.  In relation to my academic interests - I have downloaded a few papers on water resources in Turkey, and projected impacts from climate change - but I have yet to read them.  Eventually, if I end up teaching in Turkey, I will need to become an expert in this area…but it seems like I have plenty of time for that.

Again, the more everyday issues are the topics I gravitate towards while in Turkey.  On my first trip I was fascinated to learn that every apartment building had rows of water canisters attached to solar panels.  The water was passively heated by running through the coils, the motion generated by gravity and physics.  

This is a basic example of how the water is heated - cold water sinks, is heated in the panel, and then hot water rises.

While this passive heating system means that you may not get a hot shower early in the morning, it does save a lot of energy throughout the day when heating water is not needed.  Amazing!  Why don't people use this technique in the States?  Perhaps because it is outrageously expensive to try to outfit your house with any of these passive heating technologies.  I wonder why it cheaper in Turkey than the States?  Couldn't have anything to do with politics. ;-)

Since every apartment has their own water heating system, this is what most Turkish rooftops look like.
I would imagine that the messy appearance has something to do with why these are not more utilized in the States, even though they would save a lot of money and resources in the long run.
Image from Leyla Arsan on Flickr
I was also delighted to learn that the local pazar (fruit and vegetable market) was not just a place where the local hippies and environmentalists bought their weekly produce, but that most everyone - young and old - stopped by the pazar in their local neighborhood or village. 

A young boy posing with his strawberries at the local pazar in Maras - which just happens to be on the street behind H.'s parents' apartment.  Wow those strawberries look so good right about now!
Another big difference - you will not easily find thrift stores and "garage" sales in Turkey.  Used goods are not common.  "Wait" - you might be thinking -" isn't it better for the environment to use used goods?"  In the US it sure is.  Used clothes and furniture and household goods are practically bursting from the doors of thrift stores, consignment boutiques and every garage in suburbia USA.  We are a nation fascinated with stuff.  We buy it, don't like it and then get rid of it.  This creates a lot of lightly used goods.  In the US I buy most of my furniture, clothes and kitchen appliances used.  In Turkey this would not be the case.  Instead, most buy the best quality they can afford and then use it until it doesn't work or wears out, if they need to get rid of something sooner it is typically donated directly to a person who needs the item. 

Another aspect is food waste - it just doesn't happen in Turkey.  A chicken for dinner becomes broth for soup and rice, meat for the meal and skin and bones for the street cats.  Produce is bought in season and frozen for use in later months, or pickles and jams are made to preserve.  Plates are cleaned at meals, and if you can't eat that other piece of baklava - it is saved for later.  Food is not thrown away; it is consumed by someone at some point. 

If you imagine a person buying most of their food from a local market, heating their water with a passive solar heating, keeping the AC off in the summer, using what they buy until it can't be used any longer, and not wasting a speck of food, in the US this person would be labeled as an environmentalist or a liberal - something along those lines.  Yet, in Turkey, this is common.  I imagine that most Turks would not consider themselves environmentally inclined.  This is how they were raised, how their children were raised, and hopefully this cycle will continue.

I still have a lot to learn about environmental issues and attitudes in Turkey.  Yet, from what I have learned so far, environmentalism is perhaps more alive in Turkey than it is here in the States (and they don't even know it!) 

Which environmental issues are you passionate about?  

Or let me know if I am missing something here... I realize that I don't know anything about environmental politics in Turkey - please share any resources that you may know of in the comments below.
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