The dice are rolled. The random numbers are counted. And the black and white pieces are moved in haste. I am sitting in a tea garden in Nilufer, Bursa, watching my host father play tavli (backgammon) against his Turkish counterpart. Again and again the dice are rolled, the random numbers are counted, pieces are moved, and it feels like a repetitive cycle that is only broken for a sip of tea or simultaneous snickering. This repetition makes me think of my daily routine in Turkey, although my days are hardly monotonous and sometime have the randomness of the dice.
My morning normally begins in one of two ways. Either I wake up at 6:45 a.m. to go for a run in my neighborhood, or I repeatedly hit snooze enough times to make me rush out of bed at the last minute to prepare for school. School begins promptly at 9 a.m., but since it is Ramadan, my family is barely ever awake to see me leave for school in the morning. My breakfast normally consists of a glass of water and some bread smeared with Nutella. I rarely have time to enjoy my breakfast. Instead I sprint out the front door of the apartment with bread in hand, scarfing down the food in the elevator to avoid offending anyone holding the Ramadan fast.
I take the very modern Metro to school every morning. The station is about a 10 minute walk (4 minute run) from my house. After a 10 minute metro ride, I arrive at my stop and walk another 10 minutes to my school. The school is located in the center of Bursa, and is surrounded by commercial businesses, and retail stores selling everything from Baklava to construction supplies to famous Bursa fruit.
Our building is exclusively a language school which is owned and operated by Ankara University. The school not only specializes in teaching foreigners Turkish, but also teaching Turks many languages including English, Spanish, and French.
I could not picture a more typical uninviting, uncomfortable classroom to learn a language in a foreign country. The classroom is about 15 by 10 feet, a tiny space that crams 8 students and a teacher. Each day consists of 4 hours of instruction: 50 minute classes with 10 minute breaks. Even though they are long, the classes are interesting and exciting, and I can truly say that our teacher is one of the best teachers I've ever had. She only speaks in Turkish, and barrages us with questions and worksheets. Although this seems boring, she is constantly cracking jokes and even puts up with us when we begin to laugh uncontrollably at Turkish words that seem funny to us. (This only happens because most of us are sleep deprived as a result of late night excursions with our host families.) She isn't even hard on us if any of us fall asleep in class (thankfully!).
After class is dismissed for the day, we head over to the restaurant across the street where we are served a free meal, courtesy of the US Department of State. Once lunch is over, we are obligated to participate in some sort of organized activity. On Mondays it's a cultural discussion with our Resident Director, an American who has a lot of experience in Turkey and was assigned to accompany us on this trip. Tuesdays and Thursdays we meet at a local park and have discussions with other Turkish students, our fellow Americans' host siblings, as a way to practice our Turkish. On Wednesdays we go on cultural excursions with our classmates and host siblings or do community service. For example, we visited museums for our cultural activity the first week and volunteered with Turkish children for community service. One of our visits was a trip to the Holy City of Nicea, famous for holding the First and Seventh Ecumenical councils, if you are a church history buff. I was astounded as we entered into a church with thousands of years of history, still preserved. Frescoes were displayed on the side walls, evidence of a vibrant Christian community. This cultural excursion was not only a short history lesson, but also a portal which connected past and future.
Once we return from our required activity, we are finally free to go exploring. Often, we end up in large groups having tea at a local hot spot, but the best days are when I travel with a few other reliable friends to quieter and more cultural parts of Bursa; areas where tourists are rarely spotted and shopkeepers offer you free food if you speak in Turkish with them.
The nights are quiet around 8:30, as everyone prepares for the Iftar celebration. We scurry home from our destination of the day just before the call to prayer sounds, signaling the daily fast is over.
What happens after dinner often is as random as the tavli dice hitting the board. Often I am expecting to stay in and just watch TV with the family, and all of the sudden I am whisked out of the house by my host family to go visit relatives at around 10 p.m. I've gotten used to this randomness - it is almost routine now - but it makes it difficult to find time to write in my journal, blog, or do homework.
When I return home at around 12 or 1, I am exhausted; physically and mentally. As I close my eyes, the image of the tavli dice rolls through my mind. My schedule is consistent - just as the dice is rolled consistently to keep the game going. But even as my days resemble each other, the experiences I have each day are unpredictable. What makes the tavli game interesting, just like my days in Bursa, is the element of randomness that leads to interesting outcomes and situations. And just as with tavli, I look at the opportunities, count my moves, and move forward.