A Wonderful Start to the Week

Yesterday I did bake the chocolate crinkle cookies and much to my surprise they turned out well! Several new interns also moved into the guest house. Most of them are juniors in college studying agricultural engineering and we got to know one another over cookies and google translate.

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This week Gul Abla is taking a much needed vacation. Because she is gone, I am assisting Joe with his research for the week. Just about everything possible went wrong for Joe, from rain delaying his harvests to customs holding the reagents required for the DNA extraction. Being a few weeks behind schedule, having a helping hand is quite necessary. I spent the morning putting shotgun pellets into 2mL tubes with cut up wheat stems. The shot gun pellets help crush the samples into a fine powder in the grinding machine. For the afternoon, I went into my lab where I used a weighing scale to record the dry weight of the stems that haven’t been cut and ground yet.

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With Ramadan over, the entire mood at lab has changed. When I walked in this morning I was offered chocolate and everyone seemed even more exuberant than they usually are. They all loved the cookies; each person helped themselves to at least 3. Having the cafeteria open again was also wonderful. The food was amazing and I got to see members from other labs I haven’t got to interact with for a while.

There is a new intern, Velihan, in our lab who was quite entertaining. He started out our conversation discussing Bollywood films. Apparently everyone here knows the famous Indian actor Aamir Khan and have seen all of his films. He moved on to rap songs by Snoop Dogg and popular American TV shows like How I Met Your Mother. My taste in pop culture is a little different, so while I wasn’t able to relate to the specifics, I was fascinated by how much he knew.

Velihan proceeded to offer me a cigarette, at least the 5th time that has happened here. While I love Turkish people and pretty much everything else about Turkey, the one thing I can’t stand is all the smoking. In the past few weeks I have made progress on this issue; I made Ümit Bay promise that he would stop smoking once his new baby is born. In case it isn’t clear, I replied to Velihan with a firm no.

After many laughs and a productive day at work, I returned to the guest house and cooked a dinner I shared with Joe. Today was pretty great!

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Just after writing this post I heard about the bombing in southern Turkey today. For all wondering, I am fine, as are Ümit Bay’s family, Gul Abla and her husband, and Dr. Amer and his family (all of them are in southern Turkey right now but far away from the bombing). My thoughts are with all the families devastated by this.

Eid Mubarak

Friday July 17th,

Senior year is coming up much faster than I expected, forcing me to begin college applications. I spent some time on college essays this morning and researched the different options I have. It is honestly so overwhelming. Every time I get onto a college website to get one piece of information I end up spending at lease half-an-hour looking through all the options that I never knew existed.

I watched a movie in the middle of the day to get a break from all of it. Around 4, I decided I wanted a proper dinner. I have been expetionally lazy recently and have been eating random bits of food for meals. Looking at the ingredients I have, I decided to make egg biriyani (a type of Indian fried rice). I forgot how painful it is to cut onions until I found myself in tears just pealing the extra skin off of the first onion. A call from a friend during the cooking process made it a lot more fun.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think Joe and I are the only two at the guest house right now and Joe has been working long hours in the lab the past few days to get caught up with his work. Since I was the only one in the guest house while cooking, I blasted Pandora and sang my heart out. The cutting and cooking to far too long and I messed up in just about every possible way, but dinner was finally ready at 8.

The spices made it smell great, but I had no idea how it would taste.  I invited Joe for dinner, who was still working in the lab! Surprisingly the biriyani turned out very well and we both helped ourselves to multiple servings before finally calling it quits. I definitely have to thank my dad for being on the phone with me and guiding me through the cooking process! Though Joe and I weren’t able to celebrate Bayram with the locals, we are making the most of it in our own way.

(Sorry I didn’t get a good picture of the biriyani)

The Most Hospitable Human Beings Ever!

Thursday July 16th,

I woke up this morning determined to clean my room. My laziness this week got the best of me and both the rooms I now have are horribly messy. I methodically began cleaning and finished both rooms and my laundry within a few hours. I spent the afternoon talking to some friends and family. Some of my friends doing this internship are in India and it is really cool to be able to talk to them about cultural things and have them completely understand. It is also interesting to see what they find different. Over the years I have become so used to both Indian and American culture that I have forgotten what seems weird from an outside perspective.

At 5:30, Joe and I caught a minibus into town. Every time we go to town I am taken away by the beauty of Eskisehir. I could sit in that bus and stare out the window for hours. I made conversation with the bus driver and asked him about his plans for Bayram. It was great to see people in the city center. Almost everyone in the institute has left for the holiday weekend and it feels like a ghost town. The playground across from the guest house that is usually filled with screaming kids, is very quiet this weekend.

Joe and I wandered around for a while finding a currency exchange center and then walked along the beautiful river pathway. It was getting close to dinner time and Joe was feeling fast food, so we went to a burger joint. I told them I was vegetarian and they said they would make something for me. They came out with heart-attack on a plate. I had a sandwich with fries, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and a few more vegetables. It was drenched in ketchup and mayonnaise. It was delicious, but I should probably start eating a little healthier.

Since the fasting is ending, I am going to try to make chocolate crinkle cookies for my lab. We went to a Migros to get baking ingredients. Instead of a vanilla extract they had a vanilla powder and apparently they don’t use measuring cups here. I am a bit skeptical about how they will turn out but I plan to make them on Sunday so I will keep all of you updated.

We had to get a taxi to get back to the guest house since the last bus had left by the time we finished shopping and eating. Joe refused to let me carry all of my groceries. He really is becoming my protective older brother. When we got to the taxi, the driver seemed very excited that we spoke English. As soon as we got in, I greeted him in Turkish making the jolly man (Hussein) even happier. He made a call and handed the phone to Joe. Apparently his son-in-law lives in London and Hussein wanted us to be able to talk to someone in English. After the phone call, Hussein gave us his phone number and told us we could call him anytime we needed a ride. He proceeded to invite us to his house for the Bayram feast the next day. He said we could go for a nice picnic on the University campus! Hussein also said that we had become his family. All of this happened in the course of 10 minutes. It is amazing how friendly everyone here is. Knowing just a few words in Turkish gets you a long ways. When we got to the institute, we profusely thanked him.

I so badly want to take Hussein up on the offer of dinner, but I can’t. Recently I have been getting Facebook friend requests from Turkish guys I meet for less than an hour. I am sure their intentions are just to be friendly and welcoming, but it is always better safe than sorry.

Data Entry

Wednesday July 15th

Last week we collected a lot of data that was recorded in the field book. Before that data can be analyzed all the information needs to be entered into a huge excel sheet so that was my task for the day. I got into my zone alternating between listening to NPR and Pandora and by 4, I had finished entering all the data. Gul Abla rewarded me for getting the tedious task done by giving me three movies.

I watched the one English movie when I got back to my room. It was based on a true story about a high school cross country team. Needless to say, I found it inspirational and enjoyed it very much. It hasn’t even been 24 hours and the guest house already seems so quiet without the kids and their friends running around. I kept expecting to run into Cennet Abla or Ümit Bay in the kitchen but that obviously didn’t happen. Kubra also left the guest house today. She is going to Izmir to spend Bayram with her sister.

I don’t have work the next two days because of Bayram. I look forward to the four day holiday. Though I technically don’t have any work in the evenings or on the weekends, I have been keeping pretty busy. It feels like it has been so long since I have taken a complete break and been bored. I plan to enjoy every moment because we all know that once school starts, these moments will be rare.

Last Night With Fam

Tuesday July 14th

I worked with Ekrem Abhi and Sevil Hanim in lab, washing wheat plants and stripping the stems for crown rot quantification. We developed a chain system where Ekrem Abhir removed the plants from the tubes, Sevil Hanim washed the roots, and I stripped the stems and labeled the plants. As we worked Ekrem Abhi began saying random words he knew in English and we had a great time trying to translate back and forth.

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After work I went on a quick run and called into an NHS meeting. I think this year’s senior service project will be extremely fun and a great way to bond the Kennedy class of 2016! At dinner we were having a great meal when I found out the fam is leaving for Adana very early tomorrow morning. Ramadan is almost over so everyone is going to their home for Bayram (Eid) celebrations. The good news is that they did find a house in the city center. Ümit Bay will be returning on Monday for work and the rest of the family will return to Eskisehir on August 1st.

For the past few weeks Melih has been asking me to do a dance performance for all of them. The timing never worked out, but today I decided I had to because it could be a while before I see them again. By this point Joe had joined us to spend time with the fam on their last night. We all went down to the big room on the main floor. Joe did a bit of a jig and then I performed about 2 minutes of a classical dance. I think they enjoyed it but a few minutes later a man walked into the room and asked us to stop. I didn’t realize, but the room we were dancing in is right above the prayer room in the basement and my loud footwork for the dance was disrupting them. I felt so bad! My lack of interaction with anyone else at the guest house sometimes makes me forget there are other people there.

We quickly went back to the kitchen where we shared stories and laughs. At the end of the night Cennet Abla gave me a necklace they had bought in the city today. They insisted it was a gift for Bayram 🙂

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Back to Lab

Monday July 13th,

I caught up on sleep over weekend and made a full recovery. It was great to be back with the fam. They made a special vegetarian meal for me the day I got back! I also got some groceries so I can go back to my routine of cooking for myself.

In lab I assisted with RLN extraction again and stripped wheat stems in the green house for crown rot quantification.

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This is how the crown rot quantification is done

After work, I got a chance to take another run in the wheat fields. I explored the institute boundaries on one end, thought I got lost, and eventually got back to my room, so all in all it was an adventurous run.

There is a new intern who is staying at the guest house now, Kubra. She is from Adana like fam and in her 3rd year of college. She has been joining us for dinner and though we can’t talk well, I learned that she runs too. Kubra curiously watched as I made beans dish for dinner and we attempted to converse.

A Week in the Fields

The rest of the week continued with similar activities as the first day in Yozgat. I helped with the crown rot quantification, labeled envelopes, and weighed the seeds from each plot. After we finished our work in Yozgat we traveled to Konya, a more southern and conservative city in Turkey. There were multiple mosques located very near each other so the city would erupt with loud songs at every prayer time.

There were field workers at the sites who helped gather the wheat stems and strip them for crown rot quantification. They also helped me sort and organize the seed bags before weighing them. Most of the workers in Konya were not from Turkey. One man was originally a high school teacher in Syria but was forced to leave because of the ongoing war. It was horrible to see a man of such high qualifications working in the hot sun all day for a very low wage. At home in America it is very easy to forget about the realities of the Middle East but here I can see its impacts much more directly.

Dr. Amer shared many words of wisdom with me during the travel and helped me draw my conclusion on whether the egg or chicken came first. He jokingly asked me the question one morning, to wake me up I guess, and I realized my view is that the chicken came first because it evolved from a different animal over thousands of years. Then it became the chicken we know today and had the first egg. I probably should have reached this conclusion years ago, but it felt like a victory to me that morning.

As for food, I had my best meal in Turkey on Tuesday night with Nedim Bay, the director of the Yozgat institute. However, there were also several occasions where it was exceptionally difficult to find vegetarian options that were nutritious. Due the Ramadan season, we couldn’t find any open restaurants in Konya during the day that served vegetarian food. Typically at this time of year all restaurants have a fixed menu filled with five or six dishes, all containing meat. I did find out that cherries are all the rage in Turkey. They have different varieties of cherries at every fruit stand, there is cherry juice served at every restaurant, and the hotels we stayed at offered cherry jam with bread in the morning. It is a good thing I love cherries!

My headache and weakness from the first night went away the next morning but came back by the evening. This repeated until Thursday but now I am feeling a lot better. I think it was mainly caused from dehydration. I returned to Eskisehir last night so as soon as I can get groceries, I will do some cooking 🙂

Overall the field experience was very interesting. I was grateful for the opportunity to get a more complete view of what is done at CIMMYT Turkey and for the time to get to know my mentors better.

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p.s. I recently got a chance to upload an album on facebook so feel free to check it out for more pictures!