Monday, August 8, 2016

Denmark, Socialism and Public Toilets

Dear Readers,

After a long break, I'm back!

Many bad things happened since my last post. We had a global monster called ISIS, for example. How I missed summers when I could write about figs and Ramadan celebrations... Now its suicide bombs, military coups, corruption scandals, and terrible, I mean, terrible air travel...

I believe scholars of International Relations need extra compensation these days. Perks such as spa packages, alcoholic drinks or mini retreats would really help.

Most of us are depressed and borderline suicidal... Just look at any news site or Twitter, and you'd get all your spirits sucked out of you, as if you've encountered a Death Eater from the Harry Potter books...

In case you were wondering, I'm about to get to the topic of my blog entry: public toilets in Denmark!

So your humble author took a short vacation in Europe this summer.

It all started with collecting mountains of paperwork and a personal visit to the German Consulate in Chicago in April, for a tourist visa. The lady at the consulate was not convinced that my tenure-track job & salary in the US were strong enough credentials to visit her beloved Germany. (Hope my bosses read this before our pay raises.) So I had to have other folks in the group to vouch for me:
1 American and 2 Norwegian citizens. Only after receiving copies of their passports and written testimonies that I am who I am, and really, can afford the trip, I got a precious 14 day Schengen visa.

Fast forward, after a visit to the house where Karl Marx was born (in Trier), we moved up to Denmark.

During the 2016 election cycle in the US, Mr. Bernie Sanders had created a real hype about  the place. The way Sander's had described, Denmark was the golden standard of social democracy, wherein all your social needs were met by a generous state, and everyone was enlightened, affluent and above average...

So we drove from Holland to Denmark. Unlike all the other European countries where you just keep driving on the same highway and voila, you're in Belgium, France, or the Netherlands, the road sign says; in Denmark there was police check point on the highway. They look at every car, and waive you in.

In Denmark, we stopped at the first gas station we saw. Danes stick with their Kroner so you better remember your multiplication table really quick. My son had a hamburger. This precious Danish burger at the gas station cost us about $15. And, they charge extra for catchup... about $1. Yes, we learned the hard way.

We moved on, trying to get to the little "summer town" to meet our friends. In this town, we visited two big grocery stores, and neither had a bathroom for customers. Then, we started driving around, thinking that the haven of Mr. Sanders would surely have public bathrooms scattered around this little tourist town.

After quite a bit of driving, we saw ONE sign. Following the sign carefully, we arrived at the site. I jumped out, hoping to find maybe a fancy Toto (some models as much as $10,000), since we're in one of the most affluent nations on earth..

Alas, the bathroom door wouldn't open. But there was a ton of cryptic writing on the door. I tried couple of times, no, the door wouldn't budge.

Finally, I looked at the writing again. Amongst all the Nordic languages, there was a tiny line in English: To use the toilet, send an SMS to xxx123.

You've got to be kidding!!!

So in the social democratic haven, you need to first have a cell phone, and secondly, a plan that works in Denmark, to have access to a public toilet!

What about old people? My mom cannot send SMS messages... What about young kids? Why would everyone has to have a cell phone? What about the mother who's juggling a toddler, a baby and a stroller?

Say anything about the vicious capitalism in America, but at least the public bathrooms are available and accessible to ALL public, regardless of your cell phone coverage!

Back to Denmark:
So I did not want this horrid toilet experience cloud my judgement. But after a week in this "summer town" in Denmark, and a day in Copenhagen, here is my bottom line:

- the whole country is like an empty Ikea store: good, clean design & furnishings, no soul.
- outside Copenhagen, hardly anyone is on the streets or in their yards
- bicycles rule the roads, they're even used as family vehicles
- even in July, it is impossible to swim! way too cold
- most signs are in Danish & other Scandinavian languages
- life is hard for just English speakers
- mobile coverage is needed to use public bathrooms

In short, before you wholeheartedly endorse an ideology, make sure to see one place it is practiced:
Free trade neo-liberals, check out London and it's exorbitant housing market.
Libertarians, see Idaho.
Feel-the-Bernistas, see Denmark :)

May your airport lines be short, and flights uneventful.

Academic Mommy

Friday, November 1, 2013

Live & Let Live: On lifting the Headscarf Ban at the Parliament

Author at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Summer 2013
Finally, Turkish legislature corrected a portion of its long overdue dress-code.  As of today (October 31, 2013) women parliamentarians who choose to wear a headscarf can sit on those fancy orange seats.

More than half the women cover their hair in Turkey (approx. 60-65%). Yet, the very institution that is supposedly  representing "the people", would not allow any of these women to hold a seat at the Parliament.

After their pilgrimage to Mecca this year, 4 women MPs decided that they would like to cover their hair from then on. Hence, they came to the Parliament with their new headgear today, and there was no sign of uncivilized protesting or bullying.

There's only a few months left until the elections. We don't know how much of this sudden surge in religiosity is genuine, and how much of it is political calculation. But we do not have a little gadget to measure people's sincerity. Nor should we try to do so. If anything, it might be wise to use this opportunity to lift other ridiculous bans at the Parliament floor, such as No Drinking Water and No Pants for Women (No, I'm not kidding. You cannot sip water even if you're diabetic. Nor can women wear pants and sit on those fancy orange seats. One MP with a prosthetic leg is compelled to wear a skirt, despite expressing her discomfort to display her artificial limb).

There is a great Turkish saying: "zarfa değil, mazrufa bak". It means: don't pay much attention to the envelope, look at the content. It is our way of saying, don't judge a book by its cover. I'm afraid lately all we look at is the envelope/cover....

As a society we need to :

 1) accept people as they are

 2) learn to NOT judge people by their proverbial cover

 3) appreciate each other's differences as legitimate

 4) NOT perceive all forms of difference as a THREAT

5) nor treat differences as frontiers to conquer, suppress and assimilate

6) respectadvocate for the rights of those who're different from us.

7) consider diversity as an asset, rather than liability

We all have to learn to live with each other. Kurds in Turkey have no other place to go. Neither do the religious folks, nor the uber-secularists. Even the non-Muslims, such as the native Armenian, Assyrian, Greek or Jewish communities don't want to leave Turkey, despite all the abuse they have gone through.

Anyone who knows people living in Turkey would know very well that we are one hard-headed people. Mom used to call me "inatçı keçi!"(stubborn goat), when I would resist her and give her the silent treatment.

We cannot bully each other into submission. Those who believe progress means secularism and modernization a la the West will remain that way. No amount of mosque building, media censuring, indoctrination at schools and alcohol ban would change their conviction.

Likewise, those who think salvation is in religion would not change their ways and endorse Westernization, even if the EU takes Turkey in as a member tomorrow.

Kurds and Alevis, on the other hand, have been mistreated so harshly for so long that there is not a single method of abuse or torture that they have not already been subject to. Yet, they're still here, still trying to be part of the game.

For the last decade or so, the Turkish economy remained in the same ranks (17th-18th largest in the world), while other emerging economies showed steady progress (Brazil moved from 11th to 6th). We have a major urban development problem. 2-3 cities in the country are growing into monstrous metropolises, at the expense of all the other cities and towns. They suck up all the resources and human capital, but their sheer size is making them unmanageable and unlivable. This is not a healthy, sustainable trend. People should be able to have the chance for a decent living (i.e. jobs, education, quality living conditions, etc), in the other 70-some cities in Turkey as well.

But we can't even get to talk about these crucial socio-economic problems. We cannot deliberate on practical, policy issues. Because we get bogged down by identity issues. Frankly, we seem to hate each other lately... A very superficial understanding of who you are (islamist if you cover your head, secularist if you drink!!) dominates the discussion. If you're in a different identity camp, we don't even listen to what have to you say.

Each side seems to be waiting for the weakest moment of its opponent to strike a final blow. The happiest moment seems to be when we become one homogenous entity, devoid of color and flavor... But let me reiterate: we're stubborn. No one will give up the essential components of their identity, no one will give in..

Besides, I don't know a single true democracy where citizens are judged and sorted out by their outfits! In fact, in established democracies, this very act would be 'profiling' and a crime, since it is blatant discrimination!

Let us please learn to appreciate each other as who we are.
Let us learn to live together as who we are.
Let us not look at headgear or mustache style, but look at what's inside that head. What kind of ideas and proposals are inside that brain?
Let us learn to argue over rational, measurable projects and proposals, instead of all this emotional, immature personality attacks.
Let's grow up to be rational, reasonable adults.

We cannot all love each other.
But we have to learn to respect each other as who we are.
Time is running out...
Soon, we'll degenerate into a poor, unhappy, dysfunctional society that is constantly at war with each other.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Fig Awareness & Summer Ramadans…

Dear Old Readers, Potential New Readers, & Occasional Passers By,

Welcome to a new blog post by Academic Mommy!

Apologies for the long pause….

Believe it or not, a single fig was my inspiration to write this entry, after a long period of silence. Here is how:

As some of you might know, Ramadan started on July 10th this year. For obvious reasons, July & August are the least convenient months for a person to starve oneself for one’s God. But your humble author is trying her best anyway…

I’m just hoping there is extra credit for fasting 17 hours a day in the summer, as opposed to the shorter and cooler days of the winter. But we’ll negotiate that bridge when we get there J

Even before Ramadan started, my body was at the brink of collapse. Nonstop teaching throughout the year was beginning to take its toll. More often than not, I was forgetting my keys, my cell phone, or was “misplacing” my glasses, purse or even my car!... Fasting only helped increase the frequency of such mishaps.

Ramadan added novel incidents to my usual list of lost/forgotten items. For instance one time, I went through most of the day as if it were Thursday. At 4:50 pm, my students popped into my office with puzzled faces, and told me that it was actually Wednesday. Turns out, I was 20 mins. late for my 4:30 pm class on Wednesday!!!

Of course the professor should never look like an idiot, so I snapped back at them, saying why did they not come & check up on me earlier... On the bright side, next day was really Thursday, and it felt like I lived Thursday twice!

Despite all these little troubles that are probably caused by low blood sugar, the purpose of this writing is not to portray a doom & gloom picture of Ramadan. In fact, it is very much the opposite.

Here is why I still enjoy fasting, even when it might be extra taxing on my body during the long summer days:

·      Ramadan is a break away from everyday routines: During this month, food and socialization around food are no longer ordinary things. You don’t eat during most of the day, and when you break your fast in the evening, it becomes a pleasurable moment to share with friends, relatives and such…
This year I enjoyed wonderful meals with old & new friends, as well as with relatives. Moreover, because you can only eat at night, Ramadan lends itself to wonderfully long discussions enjoyed with  delicious desserts, fruit, and in my case, lots of tea. No wonder why many people end up gaining weight during this month J

·      Ramadan makes you appreciate what you have: This is where the famous fig on the title comes in. Honestly, that juicy fig I had after long hours of fasting tasted like the most marvelous fruit I’ve ever had in my life. Depriving your senses for a while might have the effect of sharpening them. Please don’t have sinister smiles of your face right now… This may not be true for everything, but at least for food, I think there is definitely greater awareness of our taste buds, after fasting all day.

·      Ramadan is for empathy. At least this is what I learned from my family, and it is what I’d like to pass along to my little son. At the age of abundance and instant gratification, it is even harder to develop some sort of solidarity with the less fortunate. This is why the true meaning of Ramadan is not about withholding food from your mouth. More importantly, it is about empathy and charity.

·      Ramadan is to disciple your body & soul. There was a famous phrase in one of the Rocky movies: “mind over body!” I think we all aspire to do this, one way or another. Some people get up at 6 am and run for 10 miles!.. I admire them greatly, but am afraid this is not my cup of tea. I feel like my kidneys are about to fall off, when they bounce that hard. However, fasting is my way of exercising mental control over my body. I feel very much in charge and alive when fasting. Believe it or not, I even attended a couple of power lunches during Ramadan with people who didn’t fast, and was not one bit bothered!... They had their meals, and I did my networking. Everyone was content... After all, my freedom to religious exercise should not be such an inconvenience for others who don't observe. 

Please sit back and try to enjoy an ordinary moment in your life during these freakishly hot summer days. It could be a fruit, or an ice-cold lemonade, or beer. Whatever it is, I hope it’d bring you as much happiness as my little fig.

Wishing you a pleasant summer,

Academic Mommy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Taking the Joy out of Teaching

Without a doubt, most global Higher Education rankings are dominated by the US universities. This is largely because of the cutting edge research that takes place in these institutions. However, teaching is also an important component of this success. Comparatively speaking, universities in the US place much higher emphasis on teaching than other countries. Otherwise, why would thousands of international students flock into the US for undergraduate education?

My university is no exception. Even though we are told, time and again, that the university aspires to become a research institute, this semester we have only ONE workshop scheduled on research (grant writing). However, there has been orientations, workshops, training sessions, brown bag lunches, and you name it meetings on teaching every almost EVERY DAY!

I attended one last Friday, scheduled between ungodly hours of 4 pm & 6pm! But there was booze, which always helps..:)  
Here are some observations:

*Please tailor these workshops a bit!

-How you teach a massive Intro level course is vastly different from teaching an upper level, specialized course, or a colloquium. Yet, most of these workshops assume “teaching” is one big monolith! Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet teaching technique that would work in all circumstances.

-Please pay attention to the great variation across disciplines. When a presenter from critical pedagogy was preaching us on “reflecting subaltern perspectives in teaching” all of Pharmacy and Genetics faculty on my table kept rolling their eyes…. 

*Please stop pushing us towards adopting more technology!

            -We don’t know whether the latest expensive software or hi-tech gimmick is actually increasing student learning. There is no conclusive research??

            -If I LOVED technology so much, I would’ve studied computer sciences, not political science!

            -Stop alienating us even more, by adopting incentives that diminish face-to-face, human-to-human interaction. We stare at screens all day long! Let us look at fellow human beings for 50 minutes in a day for a change…

*On-line teaching is NOT a substitute for REAL university education!

            -Do you think someone who got an on-line degree from Harvard or Oxford would have the exact same experience as someone who actually studied in their campuses in Boston & Oxford?

            -University is not just about taking some exams and filling up credit requirements.

            -University is also about socialization: with your peers, with faculty, etc. You learn not only during class times, but also in the cafeterias, dorms & libraries as you watch your peers and negotiate your way. You get exposed to a million different campus activities. It’s a unique atmosphere, different from the “real world”. And that is a good thing!

            -You won’t have the same experience, if you’ve never been to a real campus, and just completed an on-line degree in your underwear from your bedroom.

            -I concede that under limited circumstances, on-line teaching is OK. (vocational/professional training, non-traditional/working students, etc) But a virtual degree is a significantly diluted version of higher education. Let’s not forget that.

*Finally, my favorite comment in that long and tiring meeting came from an anatomy professor. Here I quote:

            “All these powerpoints and hi-tech stuff, they are killing the spontaneity in classrooms! If you want to help me improve my teaching, offer some acting lessons. That would really help!”

Wishing you all REAL Universities with Fantastic Professors,

On-line weary Academic Mommy

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where Do the Bright Minds Go? An Epiphany…

This semester I am teaching a course for the Honors College. It is an introductory course on International Relations. For my non-American readers, Honors College is where they pool the bright students with high scores. In general, they have a separate dormitory, a lot of tailored support and a whole separate Dean to cater to the students’ needs.

My students mostly have pharmacy, biological & agricultural sciences, and engineering backgrounds. And did I mention, they are very bright.

In the last few years, I have been working at universities that had strong science and engineering departments. For the longest time, I thought this was a great thing!

The last university that I worked in Turkey was very strong in engineering, for which I was proud of. I still don’t know what exactly nano-technology means, but they were nice folks up there making cool graphics.

Here in the US, my university has strong pharmacy and Ag-Bio sciences programs. They go out of their way to attract students into STEM disciplines –basically, science and engineering programs. 

In the US, the economic recession is still hammering the job market. Therefore, there is a concerted effort to channel students into areas where they would have guaranteed employment. Nursing, engineering and other technical departments are having their heyday! Music and art history, not so much…

For the longest time, I though this would be a great thing: that we should encourage ‘good’ students to go into these ‘hard’ disciplines. That’s what the society needs, right?

However lately, I am beginning to question this approach.

So what are we doing at the moment? We are railroading all the bright minds into pre-med, biology, nursing and engineering. Essentially, we are skimming the top and placing these kids into technical fields. As overachievers, they take their responsibility very seriously and spend significant time and energy on math, biology, anatomy, chemistry and other such ‘hard’ courses.

I teach International Relations and Comparative Politics, which for these students mean ‘stuff that happens outside the US’. They are so solidly geared towards their professional careers that any such class in social sciences becomes a ‘distraction’ for them.

So what do we have in our equation: We have a pool of best and bright minds. We sort them into these technical, professional disciplines. We pump them up with the importance of STEM disciplines night and day, so they dedicate themselves and excel in their particular fields.

Yet, is this what higher education is all about? Is university just a bigger vocational school??

I think the academia and society in general are doing a huge disservice, by creating these seasonal fads in higher ed. For a while, it was finance. You had the best and brightest going into economics and business schools. Supposedly, they would graduate and instantly take up jobs with six figure salaries at Wall Street. Subprime crisis and the disgraceful collapse of the finance sector hopefully put the brakes on this a bit.

Similarly, there was the Law School fetishism. The best and the brightest would go to law school, pay an arm and a leg for tuition, and graduate with thousands of $s of student loans. But it was all worth it! Because they were going to land on six figure salaries in prestigious law firms.

Unfortunately, students soon realized that not all law graduates could become Ally McBeals. The job market for the law graduates saturated rather fast, and many students ended up saddled with huge student loans, doing clerical work for pitiful hourly wages.

Let me wrap up: I think the current hype about STEM areas will do us harm in the long run for at least three reasons:

1.     Eventually, we’ll have an over-supply problem in these technical areas. Hence, in the lung-run, this will be another self-defeating mission, much like the cases of finance and law.

2.     By treating the disciplines other than science and engineering as ‘second class’, we are undermining the principles of a liberal arts education. It was this liberal arts aspect of the US higher education that made it superior, compared to other countries, such as Germany, which is rather advanced in engineering and technical fields. We cannot have well-rounded, sharp and worldly citizens with critical thinking skills, by having them write lab reports only. A university degree should be much more than just a ticket to employment.

3.     Lastly, there might be significant opportunity costs for channeling all our best and the brightest into these technical areas. Speaking for my discipline, we still don’t have clear answers to some of the most critical questions in political science. What is the relationship between income distribution and democracy? How can political systems address the issues of justice, equity and efficiency simultaneously?  Is democracy exportable to the rest of the world? Maybe some of these students who are so eagerly channeled into STEM disciplines might have the answer, but we would never know…

I am not arguing that we should terminate the efforts to recruit more students into STEM disciplines. As long as the short fall in those areas continues, this is certainly a noble mission, especially when it encourages the recruitment of women and minority students.

But I think STEM support should not come at the expense of other areas, particularly the social sciences. We should not build structural barricades for good students that effectively steer them away from social sciences.

Skimming the top students and placing them into technical fields might give us top-notch nurses, doctors and civil engineers. But it would deprive us of top-notch writers, diplomats, and political leaders.

Given the way world affairs is unfolding lately (Syria about to explode, Iran brewing nukes, Arab Spring spinning out of control, Europeans agonizing over self-inflicted wounds, China being a Pandora’s box, etc, etc) we do need the best and the brightest as leaders and diplomats.

Wishing you all brilliant veterinarians and political leaders,

The STEM-wary Academic Mommy

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Can We Pray Anywhere We Want?

What prompted this blog?

It’s this column, that complains about the lack of prayer rooms (Mescid) at my Alma Mater, Bosphorus University.

The author is among the new cohort of pious, vocal and dare-I-say liberal women journalists, who came under the spotlight after the headscarf protests in Turkish universities in 2007-8.

Full disclosure: I supported her and the free headscarf movement wholeheartedly at the time. I believe women should not be made to choose between their education and their religious beliefs. It’s ludicrous for the state to micromanage people’s clothing, especially when they’re mature adults!

But this time, I beg to disagree…
South Campus, BU

What’s the issue?

Bosphorus University has multiple campuses: South, North, Hisar, Ucaksavar and Kilyos Campuses. South is the oldest campus, but most departments, classrooms, the library, dorms, university bookstore, etc are up on the North campus. There is a small mosque right at the entrance of the North campus.

Students who observe the 5-times per day prayer rule of Islam, want a designated space in the South campus for this purpose.

The columnist above, who is also an Alumnus of Bosphorus university (Sociology), claims that this is an “ontological right”. Furthermore, she says 10 minutes between classes is not enough time to go up to the mosque on North campus. Therefore, the University has to accommodate this demand, and provide a prayer room at the South Campus.

Now, lets be frank:

The only times the students would need a prayer room during class times would be the noon & afternoon prayers, and possibly the evening (in winter times).

Depending on the time of the year, there are 2 to 5 hour windows for Muslims to complete each of these prayer duties.

Noon & afternoon prayers are not short. They have 4 parts, as opposed to 2 parts in the morning & 3 parts in the evening.

Even if there were a dedicated prayer room in the South, 10 minutes between classes is NOT sufficient time. You’ll need to run over there, walk up or down stairs (always stairs, NO ELEVATORS in South!), wash your hands-face-feet, get yourself back in order, line up, concentrate on the prayer, rush all the verses, salute, dress up & pack, and run over to the next class. Again, numerous stairs obstructing your way… In short, prayer-in-10-mins argument does not pass the reality check.

Aside from the unrealistic nature of a 10-minute prayer break, there is the issue of “ontological” rights to prayer.

I support a wide range of rights and causes, all the way from rights to express your native identity & language, religious duties, to rights of workers to a decent wage and parental rights to provide for their new-born babies without the fear of losing their jobs, to free expression of ideas, students’ right to protest peacefully, sexual rights, handicapped people’s access to services, etc, etc…

However, I would never be able to line up these rights hierarchically and say: “Hey, you know, a mother’s right to paid leave for 12 months is an ‘ontological’ right! I just gave birth to a baby! I need to take care of him/her. It’s about life & death, no? Give me my high order right and back off, you foolish advocates of lower level rights!”

Tell that to the workers and union leaders in Argentina, who were dumped into the Atlantic by the military regime, for fighting for a decent pay and decent living.

Tell that to the activists in gay movements, who are still brutally beaten up by law enforcement and ostracized by their societies in many parts of the world, for trying to live a life that is true to their personality.

Tell that to all the indigenous and minority populations, who have been fighting for decades if not centuries, to be accepted as who they are, with equal rights and dignity.

I don’t understand why people can be so utterly self-righteous, when it comes to religious rights. Why should religion be an ontological right, triumphing over all else? Why should one’s self-identity, motherhood, or demands for a decent wage in exchange for their hard labor would count LESS THAN religious rights?

Lets leave ontology for a minute, and go back to basic empirical facts:

South campus is prime real estate no matter how you look at it. The historic heart of the campus is protected by numerous zoning laws, most famous of being the Law for the Protection of Bosphorus View. Practically, this means the university cannot develop the area it sits on.

Kilyos Campus, BU
There are innumerable competing interests and demands on campus. The English prep school (YADYOK) for instance –that every student has to attend unless s/he passes an extremely hard proficiency exam- has NO SPACE to put classrooms. So it ships all its students across the city to the Kilyos campus, which is essentially a beach town along the Black Sea! These poor kids cannot see the marvelous campus they’re entitled to study for a whole year! All they have in the name of Bosphorus University is a long beach and cold winds from the mad Black Sea beating up their walls. Oh, and lots of humidity and mold

Second, office space is scarce in South. Multiple faculty members with Ivy League degrees –literally- share tiny offices cramped under sloping roofs lines.

Third, regular capacity cannot meet the demand. Under pressure from Turkey’s Higher Ed. Council (YOK) to increase enrollment, BU is having a hard time to seat and accommodate its ever-growing number of students. Hence, every bit of space, including under the stairs & old closets, are used for something, at times very creatively: toilets under the stairs, copy rooms & coffee rooms inside closets, etc… A dorm room in South Campus is the most precious thing a student can get in his/her entire college life! I had one, shared with 11 (in writing: eleven!) roommates. It was totally worth it, despite the awful metal bunk-beds, non-stop cacophony and insurmountable mess.
1st Girls Dormitory, South Campus, BU
My point: please stop demanding special treatment, and pretending that this is the most compelling case for space on South campus.

BU is the most liberal university in Turkey that not only welcomes students from all walks of life, but also helps them flourish. It is a rare gem, given the suffocating atmosphere in other universities across the country. 

Let us all be reasonable, and NOT beat the tree that bears good fruit.

The freedom loving, controversy-weary Academic Mommy

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thanksgiving in Turkey!

   Friends & Comrades,

   Ironically, I spent the Thanksgiving break in Turkey this year!

   I was invited to a workshop on Latin America. It was hosted by Ankara University, and financed by TIKA. A tiring but certainly worthwhile trip. Below are the highlights:

Distance covered: approx. 6000 miles (~10,000kms), each way

Flight Connections: 3

Total number of poking and probing by the airport security: 6

      (yes, they touch you w/their left hands, despite having beeping detectors in their right hands)

Days spent in Ankara: 4

Total number of days spent while traveling to Ankara: 4

Number of Latin American Ambassadors met on this trip: 7

Number of diplomatic missions from Latin America in Ankara: 9

Hotel reservations: 1

Number of days spent at the hotel: 0

Number of nights spent at various friends’ homes: 4

Happy hours with friends: 4

Amount of stuffed mussels consumed on this trip: over 20

Turkish coffee: 2 cups

Fortune telling from coffee grains:  1