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My Father’s Turkey

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My father always used to tell me how Turkey and Istanbul once was. His Turkey, his Istanbul. I loved to listen to his memories as if they were tales. My father used to tell me Istanbul was a place full of public beaches. Families and singles would hop on a tram, go to the next public beach and spend a nice summer day there. He used to tell me people would always dress nicely when they went out to the streets, out of respect to the others. They would greet strangers on the streets if their ways crossed. He used to tell people would discuss poetry, politics and arts at long dinners while drinking raki to the fish they ate.

My father used to tell they were proud of their young democracy, they respected those who went to mosques to pray, just as well as those who didn’t go nor prayed. Women with head covers were respected as so were those without. Nobody questioned, nobody judged. Nobody asked why their hair were so apparently visible, or why not…Things were just the way they were

My father was a kind gentleman, who never said a bad word to anyone, even if the price he paid for it was to be looked down upon or be considered a weak person. He increasingly grew sad to see his Turkey and his Istanbul descent…

He saw Istanbul’s streets getting more crowded, and then more crowded and even more crowded, so that it became impossible to greet neither the strangers nor the acquainted faces. He saw people becoming more and more disrespectful to each other because the life got more stressful as the competition for resources got higher and tougher.

My father’s Turkey was a place, where everyone were sisters and brothers,no matter what religion, what ethnicity. Everyone was proud to have had established an enlightened republic after the Ottoman Empire and the yearsof war. Everyone was hungry for knowledge and the word ‘human’ was written in capital letters.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

A week ago I saw the Taksim Square turning upside down…I saw the demolished cars and busses, I saw the young people running away from the police as these were chasing them with pepper gas sprays.

I used to go to operas and to the concerts of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field… I used to get on the bus that crosses the bridge to go to ‘our side’ with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…I used to go the the Borsa Et Lokantasi to eat the famous ‘doner’ and the baked milk rice pudding with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…

Then again, I saw the hopeful, determined, proud, open minded young Turks, who sat in front of the beautiful green trees of the Taksim Square to protect them from being torn down…I saw them uniting their hands, minds, dances, songs and hearts to protect the democracy in Turkey. I saw the ray of light at Taksim Square.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

Buenos Aires Querida

I am on my way back from Buenos Aires to Barcelona. It is the third time that I am on this route and it is the first time that I am not heartbroken to say goodbye. Still, secretly in me I am wishing if only I had one more week… Each time I leave Buenos Aires, I leave a part of myself there and I bring a part of her with me. Each time I am in Buenos Aires it is a process of self exploration and healing for me. Not a light one.

When I had to leave Buenos Aires last year, I decided to move there so that I don’t have to say goodbye again. Then my life has changed and Barcelona became my new home, which is a good compromise.

What is it with this city that I am so fascinated by and driven to? Tango is one reason and then there are many others: the warmth of her people, her imperfection, her big heart, her soul that shows that she suffered, her deep thoughts. Buenos Aires is not a city for everyone. You need to be able to be patient with her and forgive her often times. In return she will give you some most blissful memories and moments of your life.

Each time I am in Buenos Aires I discover myself again. I see my fears, insecurities and helplessness. Tango throws it at my face and I have to deal with them, yet Buenos Aires never lets me down. Her people hold me when I fall and I stand up stronger.

One month ago when I arrived, I couldn’t dance. I was blocked. This is already the second time that it happens to me. Last year was the same. It is painful. It feels like you have so much to tell but you lost your language. You cannot speak. You stutter. Sometimes some sounds come out and you get hopes. They vanish as fast as they come and what is left behind is sadness. You have so much to tell.

This is happening to me because I want to speak the language perfectly. I know how it feels when it is perfect for me. I have been there. In search of that perfection I lose myself, I get disconnected from my body. My mind takes over. I start to look for it more desperately, I punish myself for not being able to find it, then I get tense and blocked. It is a vicious circle. I get blocked and I cannot dance, I get even more blocked because I don’t dance. All these thoughts going on in my head that I cannot stop.

Buenos Aires knows me. Much better then myself. And she gently helps me out of it. She did last year and she did it again this year. When I arrived, I could hardly make a step. My body was full of tension and I had so much pain because of it. I didn’t want to go out to the milongas because I didn’t want to blame myself and I didn’t want to transmit my tension to anybody. Yet I wanted to dance. I cannot not dance, it makes me so happy…

I started seeing my teachers, two dear persons to me, who know me so well. Who know how I torture myself and who can help me out of it and they did it. Again. I started going out to the milongas. I forced myself out. I went to those that no one goes except for the very old milongueros. I found warmth and joy and sunshine in their embraces. They made me feel like a princess, which gave me self confidence again. Their clear and simple dancing put structure into my body. As I became more free day by day, my body started to remember. Day by day I started to dance better.

One day into my third week I found the perfection I was looking for. It was both a blessing and a curse as I would find out later. I found it one night at Maipu and Canning. I was connected with myself and with everyone, from my center. Young old, tall short, slim, robust…With everyone I had the connection. I felt I could dance forever. No matter with whom I danced, we spoke the same language. I was in heaven.

I woke up happy next day, expecting the same, as I had now found my long lost tango. That night I didn’t find it again. I got scared and intimidated. I stared searching for it desperately. In every partner, in every step, in every embrace I looked for it. My mind was so busy with trying to find it that I didn’t listen to the music, I didn’t live the moment. I grew sad and desperate and tense. That night was sadness as much as the previous night was pure joy. I came home devastated, only to find a FB message from a dear friend of mine who had seen everything while I was at the milonga. His message woke me up to myself. It read,

it is not a dance
it is tango

it is not about how I move my feet
it is not about how I hold my arms
it is about how I share my soul

tango is about feeling. If it feels right, It looks right. The difficult thing for the followers is trusting and letting go, much more to people that is used to be in control. …..relax, and let us take care of you…in the meantime, close your eyes and enjoy….remember the connection is on the chest and the seduction is on the feet…

I fell asleep. I woke up and decided to try to let go. Went to the next milonga. I will always be grateful to my dear friend for teaching me to gain my freedom…. For once, I was able to be free of my thoughts. I decided not to punish myself and I could. I decided to listen to the music and give up all the responsibility and I could. That night I had my connection back again. Magic.

There is much that I learned again in Buenos Aires. I will share more because I believe in each one of us there is an insecure and burdened child. Maybe Buenos Aires helps. She helped me. It is not about tango. It is about life. That night I learned, again, what it means to have self-compassion, to accept oneself, to like oneself no matter what and to let go.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be – Voltaire

The Beautiful Truth

…is the name of a movie I haven’t yet seen. I read that it is a documentary movie about a doctor’s quest for curing cancer through alternative methods. Dr. Max Gerson is his name.

The quotation you will now read in the next lines is from this movie that I haven’t yet seen. It stumbled upon it by chance when looking for something else. Best things always happen when you least expect.

Reading it made me breath and smile big because I found myself in it. It is a beautiful piece of text which I want to return to whenever I am searching for meaning in my life. If you are also in search of it, don’t search it too far. It is in the lines written below, and in the moments of the days of your life.

Live A Life That Matters

What will matter ready or not, someday it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured? 

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. 

What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.

What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.

Choose to live a life that matters.

– Michael Josephson

User Story Mapping

I read a wonderful book, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. If you are a Product Manager in an Agile environment and are to read only one book, then make it this one. It is not only eye-opening, insightful and full of content, it is also funny. I laughed and learned a lot.

What is User Story Mapping? It is a technique he developed over time and with experience, which helps writing effective user stories for a product backlog. In fact, the crucial point here is not writing them but living them and making them happen together with your team. The stories have value as long as there is a shared understanding for them among the team and the stakeholders, i.e. that they make sense and the same sense to everybody on the team. So much so that they want to to deliver it.

User Stories are typically little stories composed of a sequence of tasks that a user of a (software) product would do to accomplish something. For example, a user story can be “Reserve a Thai Restaurant online for tonight” and it would consist of the following following tasks: Open your favorite search engine — Search for a Thai Restaurant — Select your favorite — Visit the restaurant website — Click on online reservation — Enter reservation date and time — Confirm and send. Now this is a very basic illustration of a story, but it can give you the idea. The tasks in the story are to be read from left to right, in the so called narrative order, so that with the last task you read you know the whole story.

Why is User Story Mapping good a thing? Because it gives structure and a backbone to the your product development process. It helps you to frame the who, the what and the why for your product. In other words, it lets you define your users, your product, and the benefit your users will get out of your product. All makes sense, no? Otherwise why would you bother producing your product?

User Story Mapping’s structure is like this:  On the way to developing your product you have several Goals to achieve. Each one of these Goals are composed of Activities, and those are broken into Stories. A sequence of Tasks in a given order (left-to-right) make a Story. Tasks may have Subtasks (e.g. putting on my shoes is a subtask of getting dressed). In this way, a Story can but doesn’t have to yield  a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but a few of them together should yield at least a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS).

If there are too many Stories, then there are potentially multiple MVPs (or MVS for that matter). So those Stories should wait the next iteration(s) to be included.

A User Story typically has the following format: As a <Role> I want to <Functionality> so that I can <Value>. For example, as a <jazz music fan> I would like to <know the weekly concerts in my town>, so that I can <buy tickets online automatically>. This format conveys the necessary information in a clear and concise way. It gives a first overview of what the system has to offer for that type of user (also called Persona) i.e. the jazz music fan.

For the fun of it, I did a User Story Map for myself, while hoping it can show you its power. It shows the structure that I have been describing. My product is: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona. This product offers me a new life at a new city, therefore I think it will add a lot of value to my life in general. I expect it to be a wonderful product and this is the User Story Map towards the first MVP.

Product: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona
Goal: Release new life in Barcelona
Activities:
Activity 1: Set up social life
Story 1.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Rent a Flat> so that I can <Live>
Task 1.1.1: Search for flats to rent
Task 1.1.2: Make appointments for visits
Task 1.2.3: Sign contract
Story 1.2: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find Friends> so that I can <Socialize>
Task 1.2.1: Find relevant social events
Task 1.2.2: Visit social events
Task 1.2.3: Join hobby clubs
Task 1.2.4: Exchange contacts with participants/members at the events
Story 1.3: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Learn Spanish> so that I can <Communicate>
Task 1.3.1: Find a language school
Task 1.3.2: Register to the language school
Task 1.3.3: Follow classes
Task 1.3.4: Do homework
Activity 2: Set up professional life
Story 2.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find a Job> so that I can <Get an Income>
Task 1.3.1: Prepare CV
Task 1.3.2:Search for relevant vacancies
1.3.2.1: Subtask: Search on the Web
1.3.2.2: Subtask: Search among the personal network
Task 1.3.3:  Apply for the vacancy
Task 1.3.4: Go to interview
Task 1.3.5: Sign contract

User Story Mapping is a fun and powerful tool to create and structure your stories towards your first MVP. The book itself, besides being fun, brings you closer to the principles of Lean.  Hope you discover it for yourself as well and drop me line if you do so 🙂

 If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

Self Compassion

If you are like me, you also lack self compassion. It means you do not love yourself enough and accept yourself the way you are. Probably you are also a perfectionist which goes hand in hand. Ironically, you can be a very compassionate person to the others. You can feel their pain as well as pleasure, have lots of empathy, you may want help others and easily forgive their severest mistakes. Yet, when it comes to you it is a different story.

How does lack of self compassion manifest itself? In sum, you predominantly have negative thoughts about yourself. You are not smart enough, slim enough, successful enough, not a good enough dancer, not a good enough mother…You see the connection with perfectionism? You create a totally unrealistic figure of the perfect you and you constantly judge yourself and punish yourself for not being that. You do not realize that no human being can be that perfect figure simply because we are humans and we cannot be flawless. Instead of saying “well, I am the way I am and I am enough”, you nonstop worry about not having performed good enough. Performing is the keyword here.

People without self compassion define their worth according to how well they perform anything. It goes like: I have succeeded in managing these 5 projects, so I am a good project manager, so I am worth existing. It follows that if I did not succeed I do not deserve to exist. Similarly: I have danced the whole night with the best dancers, so I am a good dancer, so people love me because I dance well, so I deserve to exist.  Which also means if I do not dance well, people do not love me and I should not exist. Welcome existential fear. To avoid that fear we madly try to become perfect and enter a vicious cycle.

The reasons for lack of self compassion come from our childhood. No surprise. We might have been raised up in a family that values perfection, performance and achievement. For example, you may have been rewarded if your room was always clean and tidy, if you did not cry, if you did not ask for things. You may have been punished otherwise. As a result, you learned that to be loved and appreciated by your parents, whom you depend on to exist, you have to perform well. Your being loved depends on a condition, which propagates to the later stages of your life. In the end, you do not know what is unconditional love, so that you cannot love yourself unconditionally either.

Once I understood the concept, I started to work on it. I have to say it is very hard work, at least for me. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. Everyday I practice to embrace myself the way I am. If I put on 2 kilos I try to tell myself it does not change the fact that I have friends who like me with or without my 2 kilos, that I am still healthy and free. If I fail in a job interview, I try to analyze what happened and if there is anything I can improve on my side for the next one. Yet, I do not go around saying to myself I am not good enough, smart enough etc. Instead, I try to think of all my accomplishments until now. I may reread my CV to remind me of those. If I have a quarrel or conflict with someone, I try to understand the situation and put myself in her shoes before I jump start blaming myself for the things I did or said wrong. She may also be on her bad day and not being fair to me. And most importantly I breathe a lot. We forget to breathe so easily because we are so carried away by our thoughts, beliefs and fears. Breathing calls me back to here and now and releases a lot of tension from my body.

Finally, there is a researcher I discovered, Dr. Kristin Neff, who works on self compassion and whose findings helped me quite much. Here are the daily short exercises she recommends. Here is her website, Self Compassion.org, which has lots of resources and a TED talk. I read her book as well, which I recommend if you have time or want to take the time for it.

When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. For why should I fear any consequence from my mistakes, when I’m able to say, “See that you don’t do it again, but now I forgive you.”

Seneca

My/Your Next Job

I now have been in an intensive process of looking for a job, applying, interviewing etc. Much reflection and experience have accumulated, which I want to share. I hope it helps you if you are going through the same process.

Here is what I learned for myself:

Knowing who you are: It is as simple and as difficult as it sounds. When we go to an interview we bring ourselves. We are expected to talk about us. So, we really need to know who we are, otherwise we are wasting our host’s time and ours as well. For me who I am, for the purposes of an interview, has two main pillars. One is what I can do for the company/organization professionally. What skills and experience do I bring to the company that it needs? How can I help the company make a difference with my experience and expertise? For example, “I am an IT Program/Product Manager with more than 10 years of experience in delivering products and running and evaluating projects. I have done this at global enterprises and organizations in the software and life sciences industries.” So I can help them run IT projects and develop IT products, and I can do it fluently also in the pharma industry, which is always a bit different. It would be best if I can additionally help the company explore new horizons  with what I bring in. New opportunities, new markets, new customers.

The other, and equally important pillar, is what are our values? What is important for us as a person, not as workforce.  We spend the bigger portion of our daily lives in our work environment. Whether we like to think of it that way or not, it is our family. Can you think of being a part of a family, whose values you do not share? I don’t. That’s why it is important to express our personal values, understand the company’s values and see if they are aligned. For example, for me respect, transparency, trust, open communication, humbleness, integrity and good will are extremely important. To me having a good social cause, helping the ones who are underprivileged are very important. As result I have preferred to work in the life sciences and healthcare sector over working at the finance sector. In the same way I will always linger longer in the teams where both negative and positive experiences are discussed openly and with good will. I will run away from the ones where shaming, blaming, fingerpointing and intrigues are common practices, even if the pay is very well. These are my values, these are what I bring in and look for.  It requires time and reflection to understand who we really are, but once we know the answer, I believe finding what we look for is so much easier.

Knowing what you want: Of course we all want a steady income, stability, routine and being able to say “Yes, I have a job”. It is only human. Still it is important to know exactly what we want and go only for that. If it is something temporary just to get an income we should be aware of it. If we want a career and have aspirations we should acknowledge it. If we value money over convenience it is good to keep it in mind. If we prefer a friendly working atmosphere to everything else we should prioritize it. It is very helpful to reflect on what we actually want and what fulfills us, so that we can be selective about the positions we apply. In this way we don’t randomly apply for just about anything which will show during the interview if we get selected at all. Instead we know how to position ourselves and speak confidently about why we are there.

A short CV: Definitely not more than 2 pages. I know this is very hard if you are an experienced professional. It feels like everything is important, which it is.  It is about you and your life and accomplishments. My earlier CV was a 6 page monster. Yet, realistically we are only one in the bucket of a million applicants. The recruiter is also only a human with limited time and resources. So we have to help him/her, otherwise s/he has no other choice to move on to the next shorter CV on his/her monster deck of applications. It is good to only mention the positions relevant  to what we are applying for. Surely this is much more work for us, but it pays off.

Customizing: Have you heard about Applicant Tracking Systems? This is an HR software that handles CVs before it gets to a human. It parses the CVs to extract keywords to compare them with those from the job description. Only when your CV passes a certain overlap threshold a human eye gets to see it. This means that we have to customize our CVs for each and every position we apply for to convince the software in the first place. Ideally, we reuse the keywords from the job description in the CV to  reach the optimal overlap. It goes without saying that I would put only those things that I am skilled at otherwise it would be asserting untruth. In other words, I write down things which I can defend and exemplify during the interview.

Being authentic: What really pays off, I think, is being authentic. I have heard this so many times from senior managers during my career. I admired it. Yet, I can say it is only now that I also truly understand and value it. Being authentic at work is not easy, because  after all we need money, stability and recognition. It seems an easy way to get there is to blend in. Going with the crowds, doing what the others do, not falling off. In the long term though this is not good. As human beings we are all unique and have our individual characters and values. This is what makes us us. If we compromise on it, we compromise on ourselves as humans, and no job is worth it. I learned for myself, given that I can afford it i.e. no children nor sick people depend on my salary to survive, I will not work for a company that does not share my values. I prefer to work for a company/institution that has a social cause than one that does not. I will not take a job, in which I do not find meaning, only for the sake of money. I will not compromise on my values and integrity. I learned that if I stay loyal to myself and to that what makes me me, I have the chance to contribute my best to the company I work for and that shines genuinely.

Embracing rejection: Not getting a position, being turn down after an interview is not a personal failure. There are so many factors that contribute to the decision of a company whether to hire or not. The budget may be cut, the managers might be leaving, the position might have been promised to someone internally long ago. Or we just don’t fit with the company culture, which is totally fine. It means the company culture doesn’t fit with us either. Would you want to spend your everyday with someone, who you do not understand and appreciate? Would you choose to marry someone who you do not love? It is the same thing. So rejection is not rejection as such, but it is an opportunity for us to understand ourselves better so that we will still have the chance to find the right match. It is an opportunity to grow personally.

Not overselling and underselling oneself: We all put ourselves out there. We want to look good, smart, we want to be accepted, we want to convince. It is so easy to overdo this during the interview within the intensity of the moment. One more skill to add up, one more little success story to share…However, recruiters and hiring managers are also humans, and they have been there where we are now. All day They keep seeing many other candidates, who tell that they are “oh so great”. I think, also here being authentic, being modest but self-confident is the best approach. Just to tell what is relevant to the question, and to undermine it with credible facts and numbers. A small anecdote may help, but not to each and every question. Having said this, overdone modesty is not good either. We all have lived, worked and accomplished things in our lives, that we consider as success and we are proud of them. Why hold back on those? Isn’t it wonderful to share those experience with others? Maybe our experiences can help them in their current situation, or at least make them smile. Isn’t a smile worth a try?

These have been the major topics that I had to reflect on for myself. I will share others as I accumulate them.

Would You Do a PhD?

It has been 5 years since I completed my PhD. After a very long time, this morning I returned to my thesis to read the Acknowledgements section I wrote back then to feel and understand why I chose to do a PhD. At this very moment, I can only say I am a happy and a lucky person that I could do exactly what I wanted to do. I feel the same passion and emotions that I felt before I got on that journey. I am sharing what I wrote back then hoping that it could help maybe you to decide if that could also be your journey.

15. April.2011

My limitless curiosity and hunger to know more has led me to do a PhD. The reason why I decided for a PhD in computational linguistics is that I find peace in the calmness of rational thought and excitement in the surprises of natural language.

After three years of research, I realized that this has been one of the most challenging journeys that I have ever taken. I have taken many journeys to many different places and cultures but this has been an essentially different one. It has been a journey to myself, during which I discovered new horizons and my own limits.

In the first place I would like to thank my supervisors Klaus Schulz and Paul Buitelaar, who invested a wealth of time and thoughts to make this research happen. Without their expertise, insights, patience and without our valuable discussions that inspired me, I would have been lost during this journey. Whenever I was on my way getting lost, they showed me the directions that put me back on track. Thank you.

I want to thank my parents for encouraging me, supporting me and cherishing in every little success I had, be it a paper accepted or a presentation that went well. Thank you that you stood by me whenever I felt insecure along the way.

My Dr. Göran Wennerberg thank you for the unconditional support you gave me, when I most needed it. Having traveled the same journey, you knew how I felt at every single step I took. Without your support, this book would not have been here now.

Thank you my friends that you have been very supportive and understanding for all my unavailabilities and my moods that ranged between joy and agony.

Finally, I want to thank Siemens Research for funding the research presented in this thesis, and supporting me to make it happen. It has been a valuable experience for me to conduct this research within the Siemens Corporation as it showed me real life research problems. It has been a very satisfying experience to and solutions to actual problems and to eventually make the owners of the problems happy.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett

The New Life – Sun and Clouds over Barcelona

It was a lovely Friday. All sunny and happy as everyday has been in Barcelona. The day before the Sitges Tango Festival had started. It is an old famous festival known for its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, utmost mediterranean. I had wanted to go there for many years but there had always been something that hindered. Mostly work. Now it was happening just around the corner as if it was saying “this time no excuses”.

I went there together with a friend taking the train to the south riding along the Costa Dorada. Beautiful views passed through my eyes. Sitges is a lovely village with an architecture that captures you. There is an old church a little bit uphill situated in a plaza that gives you a wonderful view of Sitges. Soon the dancing started down at the beach. Feeling the sea water under my feet, the sunshine on my skin and the tango music in my ear, I felt this is life as beautiful as it gets. I saw old friends, we went for a glass of cava together, happily chatting, catching up, laughing. Just passing time together until the evening milonga starts. We were first going to dance at a nice open air location in a garden with palm trees, then we were going to continue at the church plaza overlooking Sitges. Creating happy memories for the rest of my life.

It was already late night. On my way to the milonga my cell phone started ringing. I was too late to catch. I saw that it was my good old friend from Germany who called. But he doesn’t really call unexpectedly like this and he knows that I’m here now. So why ? The phone rang again while I was staring at it all confused. Pinar I am really sorry to disturb you like this and I mean it well with you, but I thought you may want to know. There is a coup happening in your country right now. It started just 10-15 minutes ago.

There is a what happening in my country? It was like a slap on my face. An ice cold shower. A knife cut. It was so surreal. I was in this beautiful paradise and my family and everyone I loved and valued in the middle of chaos.

I know what coups mean in Turkey. I have bare memories of the last one. I was still a little child. We were not allowed to go out at nights, there were electricity cuts all the time and soldiers everywhere. My parents would sit in front of the TV every night and watch the news hoping for a reconciliation and a return to normal life. My mom would wait for my father to return home after work, as one was never sure what was happening out on the streets. I know there was much more going on than this, which my child mind could not grasp back then. Fears of childhood remain.

I stopped struck. A coup happening again, while I am here and I cannot do anything about it. It is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and guilt. I am here and my loved ones suffer. Are they safe? Are they secure? Can I reach them? Will I be able to reach them tomorrow too, and the other day? Thankfully I could. Thankfully they were alright. As struck as I am in the middle of the night.

My mom tried to comfort me as sweet as she always is. Pinar, don’t worry about us. We are used to this. This is not the first time it happens. You know that. Everything will be alright. Tomorrow it will pass. Don’t you worry. When you have no options, when there is absolutely nothing in your power to change anything you have to accept what is happening around you. Otherwise you cannot cope. This is what my friends and family doing. Cope to survive.

I am sitting here and watching my country falling apart in bombs, my people killing each other, children dying, moms crying…for what? They wrap it nicely calling it democracy. Killing innocent people to maintain power is NOT democracy. That is hypocracy. My two good friends have babies newborn. One is not even a month old. I don’t know what to think. Will they have a place to call home? Will they be able to write down happy childhood memories like I do?  Stealing those babies’ future is NOT democracy. I find no words to express…

Sun is shining on me in Barcelona. I wish I could give it away to my people’s hearts to tear their clouds away. I wish the same sun would be so strong to awaken my sleeping people, those in the dark. So strong to burn the unsatisfiable egos of madmen, who have forgotton the meaning of human. My heart hurts. Hurts that I am here, hurts that they are there. Hurts for my home, for my people, for the past that made us who we are and for the future that carries more worries than hopes.

A man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able—always remembering the results will be infinitesimal—and to attend to his own soul.

Leroy Percy

The New Life – Days in Barcelona II

This is now my third week in Barcelona. Time is going with the wind. Everything still feels right and in place. I am getting up in the morning without worrying about the weather. Without the feeling of missing out on something by staying at home. It is a relief. I am taking each day as it comes and I am just being. Nice things are happening.

Since I announced that I moved here, I have received many messages from my friends across the globe. Many cheered up for me who knew how much I have been longing for the south. Some were surprised and some opened their heart to me. They said I have done what they have been dreaming of doing but not daring. They wanted to know how I did it. How did you do? How is it possible?

Why not? We have only one life, which we don’t know if we have it tomorrow. We spend it either by missing our ‘happy’ past or making plans for our ‘happy’ future often in an environment that we force ourselves to fit in. How about being happy now? That we postpone because we are too busy with worrying or planning. How did I do? I stopped doing that. Instead, I bought a flight ticket.

Yesterday I met a friend. I had not seen him for fourteen years. We had studied together back in the USA. We were both exchange students. He just happened to be around here with his family and we met. What a magic moment. As if no fourteen years had passed. As if we had seen each other only yesterday. His beautiful kids showed me their souvenir toys shyly. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

In the evening I went out for dinner with another friend. A touristy place but we didn’t mind. In a little while a street musician walked in and he went directly towards a big a table to entertain them. I started listening to him as it was impossible not to. I thought I heard him singing in Turkish. But that must be an illusion. Did I miss home already? No. He was really singing in Turkish. He was singing the old tavern songs that I remember from my childhood. My family and their friends used to go out to those taverns to eat fish and drink raki, later the music would start and everyone would dance. He was singing those songs.  The big table was all Turkish. They started to dance and sing along loudly. I sang with them and clapped my hands. Just like back at home, back in my childhood. Then we all started to cheer up together. The musician was not Turkish. And he understood no single word. He just knew and sang the old Turkish tavern songs so perfectly. So perfectly that he filled us and himself all with joy.

I have been seeking these moments. I have been longing for them so strongly that nothing else mattered. That is how I did it. Happiness of being here and now and it is priceless.

If you want to be happy, be. Leo Tolstoy

The New Life – Before Barcelona

What happened that I came to Barcelona? As exciting as it sounds, I really didn’t decide it overnight. It has been a long process of thinking, checking with myself and calculating whether and what is doable.

My life in Munich was what many would consider perfect. I had a well-paid job, a nice apartment in a popular part of the city, a safe environment, friends, plenty of social activities to choose from plus the freedom and the health to be able to do everything. So why change?  This was the question that my rational mind was asking me all the time and convincing me that I should follow him. My emotional core however was a rebel and she was totally unhappy. In the end I could not ignore her any more. I gave in and listened  to what she had to tell me. Well, she was not an easy case.

So, she started telling me all the things she really needs but doesn’t find in Munich. Ok, well what are those things that you want I asked her. She counted one by one:

Warmth. Warmth in all senses. She wants more sunshine and the summer. She said you remember when you were a child, you never worried about the summer because it would arrive. You would have sunshine everyday. You didn’t have to wait for a few days of sun and plan way ahead what you would be doing then. You weren’t sad if the things didn’t go as planned, because next day was another sunny day. You didn’t worry about your clothes, you were just out enjoying the warmth on your skin, day and night. You were free. Then she continued she needs warm people.

Smiles. How do you mean warm people? She said when she goes out to the streets people are hardly recognizing each other. They are so worried to hurry somewhere, get things done, buy something, whatever. They don’t see each other. But you know, at some other places when people see you on the street they smile at you. Just so. Because you are at the same place at the same time. When you are waiting in the line, someone behind you or in front of you start chatting with you and smile. Just so. When someone hears your name he asks what it means and smiles when you tell. At other places people kiss you on the cheek to say hello and goodbye and they smile. She wants that.

Sea. She misses the sea. As simple as that. The sea would comfort her, would give her peace and happiness. She said, when you were a child, your grandma would take you everyday to the seafront, because you loved to throw stones in it. The bigger the stones, the more fun. The seafront was only a hop away from where you lived anyway. The smell and the sound of the sea would wrap you all around, and you would forget about everything else. Later everyday you took the boat in Istanbul from one side to the other. Everyday you smelled it, were out on it. I need that, it is a part of me now.

A cause bigger than herself. What do you mean with that I asked my core. You know, other people call it success and status. They define it through the high salary they earn, through the projects of millions of whatever currency they manage, through the houses and expensive cars they own, through the thousands of miles they fly, through the fancy diners and clubs they attend, the designer clothes they carry. Some even define it through the titles they have at work, the number of employees they are responsible for, the number of important meetings they have been invited to. The list is endless.

She said she cares for making an impact, big or small doesn’t matter. For example, helping an underprivileged person  to gain access to resources of health and education. Help the unhealthy, the elderly, the uneducated have a better life. And I can do this using information technology because this is what I am skilled at. So, I am not dreaming of going to Africa and feeding the children by hand (though it would be nice), but I  can manage or contribute to the projects that enable this.

If I knew even only one person sleeps better, breathes better, knows more because of me, I will feel grateful and happy.  This is a cause bigger than myself, this is my success. If the rest, that is, the title and the money come as a side effect that is fine. Then it is the way it is. But I will not seek them in the first place, that is not what drives me.  

I understood her so well. So well. Then I asked her to tell me what she doesn’t want.

Security. Many of us need security. We generally define it terms of a house, an apartment, a flat to rent or ideally to own, a job where chances of getting fired are low or none, many material possessions that gives us the feeling that they belong to us and that we can afford them (so we are good). We need people around us all the time so that we do not feel alone, that we do exist. My core is a rebel. She didn’t want these things. She said I want to be free. I want to be able to live with the people I do like to live with, to work with the people I do like to work with, to contribute to a cause that I feel meaningful and do my best for it. I want to be in a place, which I would love to call home. I do not want material possessions that bind me to place because I now have them. I do not want a work that I have to go, so that I can pay for my high rent in a city I do not want to live in and to buy the things I actually do not need. They burden me. 

Perfection. This one was her secret and the one that took me the longest to understand. She didn’t want all the perfection around her. The system is perfect; everything is on time and functioning. Everybody commits to the rules so things will never fail. Perfection is everywhere, perfection is expected. Not matching up to that perfection will be punished,  it will be criticized. It will make you feel bad, because also that it is expected that you feel bad. You should feel bad. You know what, I do not want to feel bad just because I have been five minutes too late, I that I have been walking on the biker’s lane, because I was waiting in the wrong line and now as I result I created a little chaos. You can also smile at these things instead. No? Besides, you know what I already expect from myself to be perfect, and I try to do my best. I feel bad if I don’t. So, I do not need other people on top to tell me that.   

It is about the little things. A little bit more tolerance, acceptance because we are humans. We are humans. We are not perfect. Perfection the way we define it is an image, it does not exist. With all our good and bad sides, we are humans and we fail. We will fail, and we will be reborn as better people. At the little failures of ours’ and of others’ we will smile. Out of the bigger failures we will learn and grow. This is how I see the life and I want to live in an environment that sees it this way too. I know it exists, I have seen it, I have been there, it is truth. Take me there.   

Take me there. So I took her there.

In Barcelona she has the sea that she has been longing for, she can be in it, hear it, smell it, watch it. She has the sunshine everyday. She doesn’t worry about missing a rare sunny day, because the sun shines on her everyday. She has the smiling people. Daytime, nighttime, in public offices, on the streets, she has people chatting with her while waiting in the chaotic lines.

I also released her from most of her material belongings, all she has now are the two luggages and a bag. She is now as free as a bird to move around as she likes. I am now trying to find her a cause bigger than herself and I know I will. I am not the only one in this place, who thinks and feels like this and the alikes find themselves. I will find her her cause. As for the imperfection, I think that one looks good too. Although that one will take a little more time to understand.

Now my rational mind is a bit upset, because he feels inferior. But he doesn’t need to. I listened to him, too. I did not come here without prior research, without checking the grounds, the jobs, the housing, my financial situation, my family and their needs, my healthcare and all what our safe and sound minds tell us. I listened to him very carefully. Just that, this time I followed my core and I smile.

The ultimate source of happiness is not money and power, but warmheartedness. Dalai Lama

The New Life – Days in Barcelona I

This is the name of a book by Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite authors. The New Life. I never thought one day I would refer to my own life as such. My new life is very new. It is only one week old and it was born in Barcelona. Like any other newborn it is calm and sweet. I have been wanting it and planning for it, nevertheless it was not an easy birth. Now that it is there, I am happy. There are two reasons, among others, why I wanted to move to Barcelona: it is at the sea and it is warm. Warm in all senses. I felt it several times already in my first week.

My new life doesn’t include a job. As yet. So last week I went to the unemployment agency to register. As  you would expect, there is so much paperwork to be done and dependencies, and deadlines and requirements. Bureaucracy at its best and I speak no word of Spanish. As yet. One could expect horror. I had one of the most heart warming experiences in my life.

I walked into the office and started to talk in English to the lady at the reception. She grabbed another young colleague of hers, who spoke perfect English. I told him what I needed and it turns out I missed a document, which there was no way for me to get as fast as I needed. He told me not to worry, that there is a solution for everything. He talked to his colleagues, made a few calls and found a way to do it without that document. He simply went out of his way to help me. He never put his nice smile aside, and told me how much he appreciates my move, that I came here with no Spanish, trying to do all these things. My heart warmed up.

I had to  go back to the office next day to complete the process. This time there was a lady to help me. She put every effort to speak her best English with me. She did everything to make me feel comfortable and at home, while she said I was a guest and it was her duty to make me feel welcome at my new home. That she knew new beginnings are always tough, but she appreciates so much that I came here and that I try. Whenever I need help and have questions I should come and find her. I almost hugged her.

These things happen in a country with a high rate of unemployment. This man and  woman could have easily seen me as an intruder, who is trying to grab the opportunities of  their people. Coming here claiming their jobs-rare-to-find, without even speaking their language. Everything is a matter of perspective. I can’t imagine that crossed their mind a millisecond. Instead they embraced me with their big hearts and smiles. My heart is warm.

Today is the first day of my second week. I am installed, all paper work done. I know where to shop, have a Spanish mobile phone number and I even started receiving mail. I found a language school. I am starting to learn Spanish, so that I can return the warmth I receive in their own language.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. William Shakespeare