A World of Refugees: Davut from Turkey

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Davut and I posed in an old-time photo in Turkey

I wrote about my dear Turkish friend Davut before.  I met him 8 years ago when I escaped from frozen Russia to spring-like Turkey.  He was a special Turkish Army Officer improving his English at my second language school.  I was fired from the first language school in the first week–for sharing about Russian Easter traditions.  Some Muslim students complained.  I protested being fired for being a Christian when Turkey’s Constitution grants freedom of religion, and I may have got my job back, but I walked around the corner of Izmit, Kocaeli (near Istanbul) and found a better language school that paid more and gave me more teaching hours.

I still did not have a good place to live.  Some female teachers from the first language school had offered me a bed, but I must have offended them, too, for I was told to leave.  I was sitting on the steps in front of their apartment building with my luggage stacked around me.  I looked and felt like a refugee.  Indeed, I did not have much to return to in America:  no home, no job, no husband.  My young adult children had their own lives, and I was not important in them.

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Davut (right) when I first met him 8 years ago in Turkey

Davut and his friends found me there, and he immediately offered me a place to stay in the spare room of his apartment.  I stayed there for months.  He did not even ask me to pay him, but I paid a little that I could afford.  He knew I was lonely, and he invited me to hang out with him and his friends.  We walked through the cobbled streets of old Izmit, stepped into ancient stone churches and tiled mosques hung with tiny lights, drank tea and played backgammon in cafes by the Marmara Sea, strolled through parks lined with multi-colored tulips (“lale” is the Turkish name of the tulip flower which the Dutch imported from Turkey).

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Free Davut

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My dear #friend Davut (David), a Turkish Army Officer, has been languishing in a Turkish #prison for many months, with 200,000 of his people arrested by their #dictator. His #sister asked for #prayer for him. #freedavut#davidvsgoliath. Remember #ataturk.

Read about the struggle for freedom in Turkey.

Jewish, Christian, and a little bit Turkish

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I am part Jewish.  I call myself a Messianic Jew AND a Christian.  The 2 seemingly contradictive terms CAN go together.  Jesus was Jewish.  The first Christians were Jewish, like Paul who traveled through Turkey to Rome and planted churches along the way.  John, who wrote the Apocalypse, penned letters to the 7 Churches–all found in Turkey. He was exiled on a Mediterranean island not far from Antalya.  My American life has joined with that Mediterranean country that connects the continents of Asia with Europe–at Istanbul.  Once called Constantinople, that city rises above 7 hills adorned with ancient castles, Christian cathedrals, and Muslim mosques.  Contradictions are part of daily life.  Viva la difference!

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The Liberal and the Immigrant

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It’s easy to say, “Let all immigrants come to America.”  It’s harder living with one.  I have been living with my Armenian/Turkish husband “Jack” for 5 years and 3 months.  We survived Turkey and then China and are now attempting America.  Because of language, cultural, and belief differences, our marriage has been difficult.  He can’t drive a car in the U.S., and a Green Card costs about $2000 plus proof of bank savings, home, job, etc.  We haven’t been able to afford one yet, especially since we used up all our savings when my Mazda 5 minivan was totaled in Houston, and I ended up in Texas Medical Center ICU with a subdural hematoma (bleeding in my brain from slamming into metal, no airbag deployed, seat belt bruising my ribs and pushing the air out of me).  Texas sheriffs blamed me for the accident, though I was the one hit by a speeding Houston driver.

We went back to California after that, in an American car with a high-interest loan, high payments, and increased driving insurance.  We slept in that car in the desert, then headed back toward the mountains where I lived before jumping overseas.  Jack got 3 manual labor jobs in a small town.  He quit one and was fired from the other 2, though his English now is pretty good.  After 5 years of teaching English and Journalism for universities, high schools, and private language schools in Russia, Turkey, and China, I have not been able to find a good job in America.  Nobody really needs an older, experienced English teacher in a country where the first language is English.

I found a job driving delivery for Uber Eats in Los Angeles, but with the one-hour commute from the truck stop where we live in the Inland Valley, I make no profits after gas and bill-paying (and my husband’s share, of course).  Uber pays drivers too little, though we wear out our cars, pay auto insurance, and risk our lives on steep, dark roads in the rain.

Turks love to talk, yell, fight.  Centuries of this aggression genetically infuse my husband.  My American friends don’t understand how much of a cultural difference this is and simply don’t like Jack for yelling too much.  Or maybe they question the high rate of abuse to women that Turkey records each year.

Then we lived with a Liberal couple in our small mountain town about 2.5 hours’ drive from Los Angeles. Continue reading

Homeless in America

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All of us face challenges.  In America, our challenges are usually not as difficult as people who face civil war in South Sudan, where children walk miles each day just to find a safe place to sleep.  Yet many people think life is easy for Americans. I say, not true. Which do you think was more difficult for this American (Lonna Lisa Williams) to do:

1. Leave my California home in October, 2010 for Russia to teach English because I could not find a job in my own country even though my grandfather graduated from Yale University, was a professor at UNC, and handed the torch of education to my teacher mother and to me. Endure a long winter where I wore chains on my boots to run across the ice that coated every surface.  Teach English to 13-year-olds only to end up speaking and reading in Russian because no one really wanted to speak English and hated America. Even though my grandmother was Russian, I learned their alphabet and simple words as a child, and I look Russia, most people avoided me because I was the “Amerikanka.” Discover that Vodka is easier to get than good tea, Russian food is bland and full of potatoes, and everyone shares alcohol and violence in the 3rd-class wagons of the Russian train from Samara to Moscow. Endure the 17-hour journey with 50 bunks to a wagon, accidentally stepping on a sleeping Russian woman who screamed when I descended from my top bunk. Cry on the trash bin in the back of the wagon. Kiss a Russian stranger between the wagons, in that blessed cold, dark connector, as snow fields slipped past and a full moon shone on frozen rivers. We, Russian and American, kissed without words, like lovers from a war movie who will never meet again, showing how tragedy is really, really Russian and American.

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Freedom Is Fleeting in Turkey

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I lived and taught English in Turkey for 2.5 years.  I fell in love with that beautiful country and even married a Turkish man.  When the Gezi Park freedom protests began a year ago today, I covered them first-hand, writing articles, taking photos, and uploading videos.  I even got attacked by the Turkish police, and my Turkish husband was tortured by them.  We left Turkey days before police showed up at our old apartment near Istanbul to arrest me for a photo I’d published.

Of all the photos I took in Turkey, this one defined a turning point.  I was in Antalya, watching some high school students march with the Turkish flag even though their Islamist Prime Minister had forbidden any parades.  I stopped being just an American English teacher and became part of the Turkish people when I witnessed how much they want freedom.

Read my tribute to the Gezi Park protest anniversary here:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/a-year-after-turkey-s-gezi-park-protests-freedom-elusive/article/385149

Walk with Me in Turkey

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My “Walk with Me in Turkey” eBook came out today after 1.5 years of working on it.  I started by doing photo essays for “Digital Journal” of places I visited and photographed in Turkey (thanks so much to Editor David Silverberg).  One of my photo essays, “Faces of Turkey” even won an award.  Thanks to my friend and editor Jeremy Gotwals of Holon Publishing, who helped design the eBook’s cover using one of my photos, my book is now available in Kindle format.  If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download a free one for your computer, smart phone, or tablet.  For only $2.99 you can see the beautiful, historic places of Turkey, read about their culture and food, and enjoy my adventure stories!  What a lot of work (sigh).  Hope I find some readers 🙂

Here’s the official book summary:

Walk with me through ancient temples, churches, castles, mosques, and palaces of Turkey where I spent 2.5 years teaching English and exploring that beautiful country.  I learned the language and culture and even married into a Turkish family.  Stand with me at the spot where key battles defended the land from invaders and where Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was buried.  See archeology opportunities with Greek and Roman columns and tunnels directly at your feet.  Tour Istanbul, a city built on 7 hills and divided by a waterway that separates Europe from Asia.  Get caught in the rain by the Black Sea, feast on shish kabob in Kocaeli, dance the horon at a Turkish wedding, explore Kar Tepe’s mountain forest, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  With my vivid photos and stories, you’ll feel as though you walked in Turkey with me.

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Since it costs so much to print so many color photos, my book will probably remain in electronic format (with links to other Internet sites for more information).  Let me know if you enjoy it!  Find it here.

My Christmas Adventures Overseas

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My first Christmas away from America was spent in snowy Russia, 2010

Some of you may have read about my tragic childhood experiences of Christmas.  On a lighter note, you may enjoy reading about my recent Christmas adventures in Russia, Turkey, and China.  See how my life has progressed!

Still, as I spend my 4th Christmas teaching English overseas, I miss my children in California and wish I could get back to them.  Let’s all hope for a Christmas miracle and reunion with our families!

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Saint Anthony’s cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey, 2012

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A mall in Beijing, China, 2013

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Istanbul Lamps Shining through Glass on a Rainy Day

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My Turkish husband and I were wandering through Istanbul, near Galata Tower, on a rainy spring day.  We saw this lamp shop, a bright spot against the gray.  Traditional Turkish lamps hung gracefully behind the shop’s window and spilled their rainbow lights onto the rainy sidewalk.  This is one of my favorite photos of the fairy-tale land of Turkey, and I invite you to walk with me there.

Sky above a Castle by the Sea

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In Alanya, Turkey, on the Mediterranean Sea, a castle rises atop cliffs as the sun shines through feathery clouds.  In the distance, the Turkish coastline curves westward toward Antalya, the ancient port where the Apostle Paul once journeyed with a message of Christ’s love.  Enjoy this Mediterranean moment with me, as a southern wind blows away your cares in the fairy-tale land of Turkey.