Kars’ Secret


The ancient Silk Road bridge standing on either side of the Turkish Armenian border is the symbolic gateway to Ani and this region - aiding foreigners in their travel to and between Anatolia.

The ancient Silk Road bridge standing on either side of the Turkish Armenian border is the symbolic gateway to Ani and this region – aiding foreigners in their travel to and between Anatolia.

Kars has a secret. Walk to the Police Station near the west end of town, past the security, up the stairs, take a right, walk three offices down and through the entrance marked “Yabanci Subesi.”  The desks and file cabinets shift every few months, but once you sit down in the latest seating arrangements and chat for 20 minutes or so, the secret I am talking about will poke it’s head through the door and say, “salam.”

Kars is filled with foreigners. (more…)

Just Sit Down And Suit Up


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Some of the women’s English class notes from the program.

This is a story I understand both completely and… not really at all.  It goes against my principles to tell it…but also to keep it quiet. It was just too weird but also just another chapter in the hundreds of stories of the complex intersecting worlds of villages and local bully politics. And funnily enough, my team and I keep driving right into that intersection, stopping our car, and bracing ourselves at the sounds of a thousand passive aggressive honks.

Where to begin? (more…)

Why I Don’t Want To Give My TEDx Talk


Phosphate loaded energy efficient manure cakes stacked on top of each other in Kars.

Phosphate loaded energy efficient manure cakes stacked on top of each other in a village in Kars. Photo by Cat.

There are the classic reasons why I don’t want to give my TEDx talk: public speaking is terrifying, traveling to the venue and preparing takes a lot of time away from my work, and the whole process is stressful. These are not exactly reasons actually, more likee surmountable excuses. But I have other reasons that have taken me months of introspecting and writing drafts and quizzing my friends and watching hundreds of TED talks and even working with a speaking coach to truly understand.

These reasons are complicated, and I still haven’t sorted them out into a neat list. But this is how I feel. (more…)

God Pities the Foreigner


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I am a foreigner.

I was born and raised in the US, I immigrated to Turkey when I was 21 and I have since fallen in love with the country and stayed. I worked hard to learn the language. When I arrived, though I couldn’t count to 10, I was placed in a classroom of people who had been studying for 3 years, because beginner Turkish was cancelled. There was not enough interest. Classes were from 9-1, I had private tutoring from 2-4, and I watched Turkish movies and rehearsed Turkish songs from 6-9 pm. It was nearly 12 hours of Turkish for over 6 months. I went through three schools, and on the weekends I sat and did homework with my boyfriend’s family, who kept a cautious eye and a bottomless bowl of fruit next to me at all times. Read the rest of this entry

My National Geographic Adventure Blog Post – Skiing Turkey: Backcountry Gear for Breaking the Snow Ceiling


Photography by Cat Jaffee

Photography by Cat Jaffee

I live in Kars, a snowy, cold eastern Turkey town that author Orhan Pamuk describes as  “the edge of the world.” Sometimes when I am staring off the dramatic dropping cliffs of the Anatolian plateaus, I couldn’t imagine a place that would better fit the description. Everywhere I look, it is white rolling mountains uninterrupted by trees or roads or houses—a wide-open backcountry heaven. Going on my third year of living here (one of two permanent, registered native English speakers for more than 200 kilometers) and the only resident backcountry skier in the region—I recently came to a realization that if I am going to live out here, I better go big or go home. I should take advantage of this amazing terrain or go live in a place with a few more daily comforts. (more…)

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