28 January, 2010

kar, ve hüsranı (snow, and frustration)

I awoke alone in the quad room and looked out the window. Last night's stray flakes had accumulated to three inches or so, and where yesterday there had been smog, the city lay invisible beyond a white curtain.

I was more prepared for cold and snow than for the academic frustration before me. Only the night before i had found out that, unsure which department to assign me to, the study abroad coordinator had chosen to place me in the chemistry department. I planned on taking a range of electives, and without consulting me, she had based her decision on the single chemistry class in the list. It wasn't even one of my first choices.

This might have been alright save that the chemistry department had not hosted an exchange student - ever, i gathered from the discussion - and thus they at once welcomed me with a combination of joy and dismay. "Our" exchange student, they called me happily, possessively. But at the same time my advisor, a wiry, intense woman named Gülay, seemed disappointed i was only qualified for two courses the department offered. "You don't have a chemistry background. How did you end up here?" Believe me, i wish i knew.

Snow continued to fall as we trudged across campus. Of the seventy international students, only Janki and i had ties to the life sciences, and Azer, one of the Erasmus Student Network volunteers in biochemistry, had been assigned our guide and aid in registering. Long story short, i hadn't quite figured out how to read the academic information system, and didn't realize how potential conflicts among the three courses i wanted most could be obviated. I wanted to go back to my room, investigate, and regroup - but we were there, the Chemistry department secretary could register me. Suddenly the schedule i had looked nothing like the one i hoped for. As my new advisor gave us a tour of the chemistry department, i struggled to smile through the frustration; Janki, on the other hand, knew her way around each spectroscope we saw - and ironically, a double major at her home institution, she had registered to biology here without much welcome from the department.

It might have been a lack of sleep, or an overwhelming sense of helplessness, but exhaustion overcame me. I'd agreed to go shopping with Torbjörn, and after a ten minute nap we left for the bus stop. I forgot the pocket dictionary. We wandered the downtown streets, frustrated because another two international students tagged along without asking. We drank çay to warm up and wandered some more. It seemed the day's only bright spot would be seeing Karanfıl Sokkak (Carnation street), its piknik booths and book market powdered with new snow. The Turks around us didn't seem bothered by the weather; like mischievous boys, middle-aged taxi drivers threw snowballs at each other across a crowded street.

Back at campus Torbjörn was shivering; i was still at a loss. Still without groceries or any of the items i'd hoped for. But there were my roommates. Can and Oğuz (pronounced Oh-uze) welcomed me to the room. Ayup, the outgoing roommate, arrived, and we kissed in greeting as if i was one of them all along. For the most part they spoke Turkish, but slipped back and forth into rough English when i seemed lost. "Do you want some food?" they asked at ten. Ayup hired a taxi, and next i knew i was sandwiched shoulder to shoulder with my new companions.

We stood in a snowy parking lot by the East Campus eating medye, mussels stuffed with rice and smothered in lemon. At first i refused the appetizer, but Can squeezed the lemon on one and held it to my mouth. It was amazing. Shoveling mussels from their shells, we waited beside a bus with a grill inside and a stovepipe out the roof. Inside, two men made music with knives and cutting boards, chopping sheep intestine to make the traditional kokoreç; kofte (beef) for doner sizzled on the grill as we talked and laughed in the snowy night. We ate standing there in the parking lot, chilled, but the döner was warm, spicy, laden with vegetables - delicious.