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  1. Nightmares, Angels and Demons

    When I was at boarding school, I achieved a certain notoriety for my spectacular nightmares. Apparently, as well as the classic yelling and writhing about tangled in sweaty sheets, I would sit up with my eyes open and hold complicated conversations with my dream antagonists as well as any of my dorm mates who cared to join in.

    My family joke now about my nocturnal activities--‘Do you remember any of them?’ they ask, laughing. ‘You really had us going sometimes.’ Well, I’ve never let on to them, but night visitations in some form or other have never stopped, although the sitting up and talking has mostly left me.

    It wasn’t until I came to Turkey that I hit a culture where my experiences were thought to be perfectly normal. There are Turkic folk stories about the ‘Night Messengers’, two riders mounted on horses called ‘Dalgin’ and ‘Kisrak’, who represent the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ dreams which we experience. The frightening thing is that when the dream starts, the sleeper never knows which horseman he or she is in pursuit of, until it gradually unfolds…

    There is also a more sinister type of nightmare known as the ‘Karabasan’, or ‘Dark Oppressor’. This was an olden days fable in England also, I believe--‘The night hag’ who came to sit on people. The Karabasan is a terrible evil force that holds sleepers in its power, so that even though it seems as though they are awake, they are completely unable to speak or move a muscle. They usually have a heavy weight pressing on their chest, so that they feel suffocated--or sometimes the weight is on their feet. Modern scientists have explained this phenomenon as Sleep Paralysis or a type of cataplexy.

    Fortunately, I don’t experience the Karabasan too frequently, but it happens about two or three times a year. When I started writing this blog entry, I was going to write down one of the visitations, but believe it or not, I can’t bring myself to describe everything fully. The hairs on my arms are starting to stand up when I think about it--and I am considered by most to be an extremely level-headed and dispassionate person!

    I can just say that, out of nowhere, I ‘wake’ to feel an evil force creeping around the room like dirty, brown-coloured fog. I cannot even move my head, in fact it is as if I have sunk into the mattress somehow. I try really hard to flex my muscles, but there is a ton weight all over my body. If things don’t get worse than this, it’s bearable, but on some occasions there is a huge, tall figure wearing a big hat standing in the doorway, sweeping nearer and nearer. The figure is incredibly dark, the blackest black you can imagine, like velvet. I sort of lose consciousness or even slip into normal sleep after that, but sometimes the whole thing starts up again. In the morning my arms and legs actually physically pain me, like I’ve been on a long run.

    A development in recent years, though, has been that I have a variation of the Karabasan when I still wake up unable to move, but it is more as though I am floating. When I feel like this, I know that I’m going to see the ‘good’ vision. The angel, or whatever it is, tells me things that have really helped me when I’m going through a rough time, but although I see the slightly glimmering blue-white shape, I’ve never been able to understand if it is a man or a woman, or been able to remember exactly what the voice is like, or indeed if they speak to me in English, French or Turkish.

    I’m sure you will all think now that I’m making this up or I’ve lost my marbles, but every word I’ve written is as true as I can explain it. My rational self tells me that I experience these things when I’m under particular stress. But I’ve never been able to work out where the ‘advice’ or the occasional very accurate predictions about the future come from…
  2. I’ve just had my hair cut. And I’m crying.

    You’ll think that I’ve had some radical sassy crop done, but no. My hair still brushes the top of my shoulders in a kind of graduated bob, a bit shorter at the back.

    People tell me it looks good. Yes, but it doesn’t look like me. Before, I could always feel my hair brushing against me, I had something to run my fingers through.

    My hair was waist-length until I had the kids, then it went up to mid-back length. It wasn’t ever a wild au naturele look, or comfortable Earth Mother. I often had highlights, or a few layers, you know the kind of thing. I don’t have any grey hairs yet—I must take after my mother, her hair didn’t change until she was in her mid-sixties.

    I thought, for some reason, that I was too old for long hair. I don’t know why, I look pretty young for my age, but I suppose I was worried it was a bit old-fashioned...I don’t know.

    I will never cut my hair again. Waaaah!
  3. We are under such heavy pressure at work these days that I just had to have a rant, which I’ve tried to prevent from being libelous. I’m really tired of us carrying the can for mistakes that have been made higher up. It’s not just me, we are all totally pissed off.

    There are lots of reasons why so many teachers working here are unhappy. Take the university’s dismal failure to communicate with teachers, in spite of its so-called ‘transparency’ and ‘open door’ policy. Or its weirdly one-size fits-all attitude. Most of all, the negativity of some of its decision-makers is a problem.

    This is ironic, in view of the fact that they love accusing teachers of having a negative attitude. The negativity manifests in a spirit-sucking, energy-sapping refusal to accommodate, and a mulish suspicion of foreigners—or rather, those of them who do not care to go through life as an amusing clown, or to ingratiate themselves by adopting a fake local persona.

    Contrary to what is claimed, new ideas are only welcomed if they run along the lines of current departmental thinking. Because a deep vein of insecurity runs through the place, anything other than praise and agreement is perceived as a threat. Despite their enthusiasm for re-inventing the wheel when it comes to minor details, there is an all-embracing acceptance that everything, i.e. the system, is the way it is and there’s nothing that can be done.

    This is particularly difficult for foreigners who have grown up in a democratic culture and are accustomed to plain speaking, lively debate and the value placed on different ideas. Native speakers also try not to be frustrated by the supercilious and patronising attitude of a few people who seem to think that because of qualifications they hold, they speak and use English better, or ‘more correctly’ than those who have English as their Mother Tongue.

    Being sick or taking time off for a serious personal matter is a nightmare. Teachers are guilted into coming in when they really should not. The threat of dismissal for somehow being weak or ‘uncommitted to the institution’ hangs over teacher’s heads, a constant Sword of Damocles. When the department is down in numbers because of a bout of ’flu going around, teachers are made to feel that if they can stand up they should be in. If teachers dare to phone in sick they are expected to pay back their lesson hours the minute they stagger back. Brilliant when they are having trouble seeing straight.

    In the end, many teachers become so beaten down by ‘the system’ that they develop bunker mentality and just try to get to the end of the day, every day, and go home, home, home...

    So why haven’t we all risen up in revolt long ago and demanded change? Isn’t it incredible that teachers still want to work here? Well, we all know about the economic crisis. Teachers aren’t concerned with a couple of hundred lira a month more or less in their salary, but they do have families to look after and rent to pay, and they worry that immediately finding another job will be difficult.

    Also, many teachers—or rather, those who are still at the coalface of classroom teaching and not tucked away in some quango in an upper echelon—are committed to their students. The students are in fact the main reason why the teachers still like the job they do.

    Most importantly, the university is a world unto itself. There are very few teachers who are prepared to be a voice crying out for change—because clearly they will find themselves crying out in the wilderness, after the doors have clanged shut firmly against them…
  4. My first diary was a tiny black book with gold edges, a bit like the sort of thing we used to carry around to note our friends' telephone numbers down in, before filofax and cellphones. I had to keep my writing microscopic. Whenever anything exciting was happening I never had time to write the diary, and so it was a very dull read: Had treacle tart for lunch today. Mummy washed my hair...You get the picture.

    The last time I kept a diary regularly was about nineteen years ago. I'd been married for three years or so, and I was living in a beautiful new apartment. I had a baby who rarely slept. My Turkish wasn't bad, but it wasn't up to girly chats with friends. So, I didn't have any.

    There was no cable TV, which meant there was nothing to watch in English, and the library at the Turkish American Institute had closed down. I had to get my mother to send me videos and books. I was dying, I was so lonely. Sometimes I'd go all day without talking. My 'mummy brain' wasn't up to taking up proper writing again. The diary was a sort of 'Dear Kitty' thing.

    I threw that diary away a while ago, but I still remember it. It was a transparently self-deceiving attempt to convince myself that I had a wonderfully busy and exciting life. Complete fantasy, rather like the fabricated japes I used to write home about when I was trying to survive my nightmarish boarding school.

    I'm wondering if a blog will be any more truthful now I'm older and wiser. I suspect not, since it's online for others to view. Well, anyway, even if I don't delve deep into myself, perhaps it'll spin off into another, more honest, private journal. Who knows? At the very least, the blog will be somewhere to jot down the random ideas I get sometimes!