Spring Has Sprung

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring in Istanbul was erratic, to say the least. Before heading off to Jordan, the weather had been quite up and down. For example, one gorgeous, hot, and sunny Sunday in March we went to the islands and were sweating profusely as we walked around in jeans and sandals. Later that week, it cooled down so much that there was talk of a possible sprinkling of snow. It was still a bit chilly for sandals upon our return, but not for too long. By the end of April we were back on Heybeliada sunbathing and sweaty (but sunbathing was as much as Konrad and I were willing to do -- the Marmara is still too cold for our used-to-the-tropics bodies). 
After returning from Jordan, we had nine weeks of school to yet get through. Fortunately, there were a number of holidays peppered throughout late April and May that would tide us over until the long summer break. Here's how we spent them:

Children's Day
April 23rd is Children's Day in Turkey, a holiday ostensibly created by Ataturk because he loved kids so much and wanted them to have a special day on which to play games. We had to go to a ceremony for the students, parents, and teachers at school that morning. As usual, there were more people than seats, so we couldn't watch the kids perform -- which provided me with some very needed quiet time to prepare for our upcoming kindergarten show (more on that later). Because the kids are at school on the holiday that was created in their honor, the government gives K-12 students (and teachers - hooray!) the following day off as well. 

Spring in Istanbul always means it's time for tulips. The city plants over three million bulbs that all spring up in late March and early April and set the city awash in shades of yellow, pink, red, and orange. For the past four Aprils, Konrad and I have worked our way to the northern part of Istanbul to check out the massive tulip festival in Emirgan Park. We were a bit late to the party this year, and didn't get there until our day off on April 24th, but there were still quite a few fresh-looking tulips, and even a handful of bulbs that had just sprung up.

May Day
As is the custom in many countries around the world, May 1st is an official holiday in honor of workers ("Labor and Solidarity Day). There is a history here (again, like other places around the world) of protests and clashes with the police. In fact, in 1977, what became known as the Taksim Square Massacre occurred as a result of such an event. 

From what I've gathered, there were hundreds of thousands of people (the Wikipedia article I read said 500,000) marching in a rally very close to our present-day house. Shots were heard, and in the chaos that followed, 35-45 people died (not sure how this figure is unclear) and hundreds more were injured. As one would imagine, this date now carries the weight of those deaths, and is less of a jubilant event than something like Labor Day in the States is. 

2013 was our fourth May in Turkey: we'd been in Istanbul for that first May Day (2010), but out of the city for in 2011 and 2012. In 2010, the city was very quiet, rather peaceful, and the only telltale evidence of any tension was the plethora of cops sitting around and the never-ending train of "safety" fences around our neighborhood. From what I understand, 2011 was much the same. However, last year, things heated up a bit: we turned on the news in our Tbilisi hotel to see that there had been conflict in Taksim Square involving tear gas and water cannons. That was merely a fraction of what was to come this year. 
We got a message from our school on April 30th saying that all public transportation would be shut down the following day: no ferries, no buses, no metro, and the bridges were all going to be closed. The intention was to close off Taksim Square from the demonstrators. In reality, all it did was encourage them to spread out, resulting in clashes all over the city between police and civilians. Tear gas and pepper spray were readily shot off and water cannons were employed. It all happened rather early in the day though (before we'd even woken up, in fact), so we didn't see any evidence of it. Our main May Day activity was a big picnic in the park near our house with friends. More here for those interested.

Sports and Youth Day:
May 19th is the last of the holidays squeezed into this less than month-long period of days off. It is called Sport and Youth Day, and is another Ataturk creation, intended to give teenagers and young adults a celebratory day as well. Because we're in the primary school, we don't have to attend a ceremony on the 19th, and we also get the following day off (similar to April 23rd and 24th), so we're headed to Venice for a three-day weekend. 

Apart from island-going and extra days off work, spring has been rather busy for us. We've been doing a little Cambridge examining here and there on our weekends, today we hit the first ever Istanbul International Food Festival (a bit lacking for the vegetarians, but fun, nonetheless) and I've been wholly focused on our kindergarten end-of-year show. 

The end-of-year show is not actually at the end of the year; it's always at the beginning of May, and we have another six weeks of school after it's over. However, it's meant to present the parents with the culmination of a year's worth of English education for their five-year olds. The poor kindergarteners actually put on two end-of-year shows: one for English (May 3rd) and one for Turkish (June 7th). There are big -- nay, massive -- expectations for these shows. Despite the fact that the children are a mere five and six years old by this point in the year, it is presumed that it will be of Broadway caliber. We spent weeks making professional-looking costumes for each individual kid, then had them help decorate them with glitter. We began rehearsing for the show in March, meaning that more or less half of our English lessons each week for two months were occupied with show rehearsals and preparations. All of this hard, non-stop work (you really wouldn't believe) culminates in approximately ten minutes on the stage.

I will admit that it looked lovely, the kids enjoyed it, the parents were ecstatic, and that it was (at times) fun. However, just think how much more the kids could have learned if we'd been able to focus on teaching new vocabulary and structures for the sixty-plus hours they instead devoted to this production. As Charlie Brown would say: good grief. And, the cherry on top was that we spent innumerable hours getting the costumes ready, stupidly (and under protest) sent them home with the kids, and then the parents started throwing them out immediately. Sigh. As one of the other teachers said, I guess when you pay as much as our parents do, you get to demand such a show from the school, so I am sure we will continue to do it next year and all those following. 

And with that, I'm signing off so I can start planning for Venice!
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