Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Soccer Culture

Soccer, I mean football, is the most popular sport in the world.  And there is no exception here in Adana.  Soccer has a huge following.  There are two Adana teams, and to say they are rivals would be an understatement.  The Yankees and Red Sox ain't got nothing on these guys. You can feel the excitement buzzing around the city on game days, and nearly everyone wears a jersey supporting his or her favorite team.  Everywhere you turn soccer is on the television or a group of kids is playing it in the park, the alley or elsewhere.
In my travel experiences, I've seen that the passion for soccer in other countries exists on a noticeably higher level than it does in the United States. Some kids eat, sleep and breathe the game of soccer.  Nothing will get in their way of playing it, including the lack of a proper ball; especially the lack of a proper ball.  I've seen kids all over the world find the most random and bizarre objects and turn them into something usable.  Because with a little ingenuity and a lot of passion, a “proper” ball is irrelevant.  A soccer game can still be played, you just have to get creative. 
For example, when I traveled with a group to Rwanda in 2006 to rebuild a school, we brought new balls to give to the students.  The kids were excited when they saw the balls and immediately demanded that we play with them.  The kids, ranging in ages 12-18, kicked our butts.  They were that good.  And to make it even more embarrassing for us, they were all playing either barefoot  or in thin leather sandals while we all wore sneakers.   After the match we congratulated the boys and told them we would keep the balls with us until the school was complete and there was secure storage.  They agreed and asked if we would bring the balls back in the morning.  We happily obliged and went home for the night.
The next morning we arrived at the school to find the kids already on the field playing soccer.  We thought they must be using one of their old balls, but upon closer inspection we realized their ball wasn’t a ball at all. It was a bunch of rubber tire scraps tied together with twine.  They were so eager to play that they made their own ball.  We were truly humbled. 
Likewise, a few years ago S and I came across a comparable scene in a small town in Costa Rica, only this time the ball in question consisted of scraps of fabric with rubber bands tied around it.  The group of young men happily played with their makeshift ball like it was state-of-the-art.
Which brings me back to Adana...
I was walking past a school yard yesterday when I looked over to see a group of young boys kicking something around. I couldn’t see what they were kicking at first, but as I got closer the object became clear.It was a large, crushed plastic soda bottle.And they were kicking it around like it was the best soccer ball in the world. A few days before that, I saw a group of kids playing soccer with an orange that had fallen from one of the Seville orange trees that grow along the perimeter of the park.I can only imagine that when that orange was finally destroyed they would shake the tree to bring another down. 
So you see, soccer is the premier sport.  It is played everywhere even without suitable equipment.  But who needs a ball, really?  With such a love and passion for the game, anything semi-round will do. I've seen that proven time and time again.
The energy and ardor for soccer is infectious here. And with a life overseas in our future, soccer is definitely at the top of the list of must-do sports once E gets older.  But  if he asks me for a ball, I might just send him outside and tell him to use his imagination. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Road Trip: Kozan Kalesi

We took our first road trip yesterday to see a castle (kalesi) in a town about an hour drive north of Adana called Kozan.  A few of S's colleagues and their families got together for the excursion, and we all caravaned up together. 
Kozan Kalesi was built by the Assyrians in the 7th century and later captured by the Abbasids in the 9th century, the Seljuks in the 11th century, and later by the Armenians circa 1137. Or, according to what historical reference you read, the Seljuks never controlled it at all, as the Armenians took direct control from the Abbasids.  Either way, the Armenians maintained control of the area and the castle (formerly called Sis) for hundreds of years.  The castle site and surrounding town also held religious significance for Christians because a celebration to produce baptism oil held every three years.
The drive up to Kozan was beautiful.  Rolling hills turned to mountains and cities turned to towns, then small villages, and eventually farms.  The differences in the people of Adana to their more rural counterparts were visible as we drove further from the city.  Women wore more conservative attire, covering their heads, while the men took on a more rural, agrarian look.  Goats were being herded down the road by men talking on cell phones (which I found quite amusing), and I think we may have passed more tractors than cars. 
By the time we got to Kozan, the landscape had changed back into a more urban one, and we made our way up the mountain to where the castle stood in the center of town.  The drive up nearly gave me a heart attack as S made one hairpin turn after another.  Because guardrails didn't exist (of course not) each turn had us looking down the side of the mountain at the 500 foot drop that only grew in distance the further we drove.  At one point I turned to look back at E and the view out the window behind him sent the hair on the back of my neck on edge.  I'm not afraid of heights, but something about being in a car, going up a mountain without anything between you and the edge of the mountain really had me stressed out.
Needless to say we made it safely and we all piled out of the caravan to trek to the top.  I  stupidly forgot to bring E's backpack carrier, so we were forced to carry him up the mountain in our arms, which was a bit inhibiting, but still fun.  And of course, when I say "we" I mean S.  I was carrying the camera and backpack because I didn't trust myself to carry our son up a ragged, uneven rocky surface.  I am the person who trips going up stairs and breaks her toe by walking into a wall.  So S was on E duty for the most part.
Once we made our way to the top, the views were spectacular.  Even E looked around and let out a awestruck, "wow." 
Looking down at the city of Kozan

Of course, being the klutz that I am, and being that S was carrying E in his arms, we weren't able to go all the way to the tippy-top like a few others did, but we did manage to get as high as we could. 

View of the ruins from below.

The view of Kozan Kalesi from my perch about 3/4 of the way up.

The brave souls in our group...all the way at the top

Photo borrowed from someone who went to the top.

Another brave soul.

Once the hike was complete, we made our way back to the bottom where we had all planned to meet up for tea.  On the way down I saw these two women coming toward me dressed in all black.  S was in the lead and I watched him step to the side of the path to let them come up.  As I moved to step aside as well, one of them pointed at my camera and motioned for me to take their picture. Well, they were also holding a small, disposable camera so I thought they wanted me to take a picture of them using their camera.  After a brief elementary Turkish exchange and a lot of hand motions later, I realized they wanted me to take a photo of them with my camera so they could see the results.  And I have to say, the photo I got was stunning.  These women were so kind and beautiful and I'm happy they let me take their photo.  I only wish I could have given it to them. 

You can see the smiles in their eyes.

Once tea was over we made our way home.  E promptly fell asleep in the car and S and I began searching the Turkey guidebook for our next trip.  I predict a lot of day trips like this one in our future. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Snapshot Tuesday: First Taste of Şalgam

Şalgam is made from the juice of red carrot pickles. 
It is quite salty and not like anything we've ever tasted.
 It is very popular here in Adana.