Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thinking About Headscarves.

This morning a friend posted this link to a blog post about living as a headscarf wearer in Izmit, Turkey. Basically she feels marginalised in Turkey because she is unable to go into some places while wearing a headscarf (some restaurants don't allow people wearing them to eat there, you can't enrol in university, work in parliament and other government organisations with one.) She has experienced people being deliberately rude to her - flicking her headscarf and asking if she would wear it in Britain (she is a UK national, Muslim convert.)

A fair few people commented on my friends link to this post - everyone hated the rudeness, but people also brought up legitimate concerns about security where burka wearers (the full shebang, with face covered too) are concerned. I don't mean 'they could have a bomb under there!' sure they could, but just as easily you could wear a bomb like a fake pregnancy. It's more stuff like schools being unable to identify exactly who is collecting a child from a school gate, or women using someone else's passport to go to another country and trusting in their anonymity not to be discovered.

Nobody commented on the headscarf ban in government buildings, other than to say - if you want a democratic country the religious need to be free to wear what they want. In theory I agree with this. I am very pro democracy, very pro human rights, but I am not sure lifting the headscarf ban would be pro human rights. In the West of Turkey, yes. Women are freer. They make real choices. The ones I have spoken to wear them because they believe it is part of their religion and it makes them feel closer to God to do so. It is their own free choice to do so. In the East of Turkey however, the government actively has to make parents send their daughters to school. There is a culture of thought that there is very little point in educating a girl. Some people even go so far as not to register their female children so they will never be in the system and not have to go to school. Would women like that really be free to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf? Having said that they are probably not really free to choose now - at least if you were allowed to wear a headscarf anywhere you wanted they would have a slightly higher chance of further education and better jobs.

I am not really sure what I think. I dislike seeing young girls (anyone under 15 or 16, but you see them as young as 9) wearing headscarves. [Brief pause while I digress] I don't think you are born as part of a religion (whether or not a particular religion claims you, as is the case with Judaism.) I think you are born a baby. Your parents may or may not have religious beliefs, that a child may or may not follow. My husband and I are different. We teach the boys about religion in the third person: Muslims believe this, Christians believe that, Jews believe, Buddhists believe, Sikhs believe etc. We do actually both have beliefs. When the kids are older we both hope they will decide to follow a religion, but that they will do it out of a sense of personal conviction. I in particular never want my children to have to wonder if they believe something because they have always been taught it, or if they believe something because it is true. I don't think science can conclusively prove or disprove the existence of God. I think you can only prove it to yourself as an individual though experience. You can not brainwash a person into faith and I don't want to try. Anyway, the point of this digression, I think children are too young to choose their religion, wearing a headscarf is most certainly a sign of religious affiliation. Not only that but it is a sign of womanhood. A nine year old is not a woman and should not be looked at as one, in any way ever.

The area we live in probably has a 50-50 split of women wearing (or not) a headscarf. You see groups of teens hanging out some with their heads covered some not. I have never felt discriminated against because of my lack of headscarf. I think all the locals, both expat and native share a common sense of shocked amusement at the tourists who wander around town either in bikinis or shirtless - as an aside I was more shocked by the shirted guy with just speedos underneath than the ones with shorts but no shirts, good to know! Yesterday I was in town and it was about 35 degrees (95f) - women wearing headscarves and full long sleeved coats kept walking past me. They were melting. Their husbands were standing next to them in shorts and t-shirts. And that irritated me. Why would a religion dictate you have to wear such weather inappropriate clothing? I find it equally dumb in the UK when you see women in mid-winter out for the night in strappy tops and mini-skirts. A choice dictated by peer-pressure and culture.

I guess in a way I am lucky, I experience very little peer, cultural, or religious pressure (although enough to occasionally tie me up in knots.) If you do live in a society with these thing present, is it possible to make choices without those pressures dictating your choices and still be accepted? I'm not sure, but that is the type of democracy and freedom I am in favour of.

Image credit to the cartoonist Malcom Evans via the society pages

Note. in my town plenty of people wear headscarves, they do not wear burkas (as pictured above,) the only people I have seen wearing a burka were tourists.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

You Know You've been in Turkey a Long Time When...

How to know when you have passed the point of no return and 'gone native.'

You actually feel more comfortable with slippers than without

You find 'animals in the home' a surprising concept

You get mad if people ask "are you from Russia?" rather than "where are you from?"

You keep un-opened milk in the cupboard not the refrigerator.

On holidays abroad, the colour and size of courgettes and cucumbers are so different from what you are used to you struggle to be sure if they are labelled correctly.

You still wear a sweater when it's 25 degrees celsius  (80f)

Chickens wandering around in urban areas no longer surprise you.

Just the word bacon is exciting, as are packet spice mixes, and cadbury chocolate.

You plan sentences in your head before you say them.

You think minced meat (ground beef) is "ready food."

You automatically remove your shoes when entering a home.

You start to view cars as a luxury item.

You notice people who do not have Mediterranean colouring.

You return to your country of origin and have to remind yourself to make eye contact with the opposite sex.

An unknown man saying good morning to you on the street is confusing, mildly threatening, something to think about.

You find "tourist clothes" both culturally and weather inappropriate.

The words "son fiyat" fill you with excitement.

You know what to do with pekmez.

You can find a passable substitute for just about any unobtainable ingredient in any Western recipe.

Squat toilets make you groan but not run.

When you visit family, you find the price of everything unbelievably expensive.

You stop buying chocolate in green wrappers and expecting it to be minty.

On trips abroad you are surprised how few people smoke.

If someone brings you a plate of food, you never return the plate empty.

As a parent, you are thrown into confusion on holidays because the kid shouting "Mummy!" is not yours.

You are surprised when people understand you on the first time of asking.

You cook 'Turklish' food.

When in a foreign supermarket you are weirded out a) because the fruit department has no smell, b) because none of the available fruit is in season, c) because pork is not in a special section labelled with giant warning signs / very very very expensive.

You stop thinking men holding hands is an indication of their sexuality.

You don't hear the mosque-man singing any more.

If you go to a restaurant and order fish, you are surprised if it turns up and doesn't actually look like a fish.

The people abroad you feel closest to are those who update their status on facebook most frequently.

You think the supplements in a Sunday newspaper are the best bit.

You stop being surprised when people consider yogurt a condiment.

Two men fighting in the middle of the main road? maneouver around them and keep on driving. Don't bother looking back.

If you live in the south - sunny weather and hot water become inextricably linked in your mind.

When new arrivals complain about Turkey you a) can give them a positive for each of their negatives, b) wish they would go back to where they came from.

When the adverts come on TV the remote is already in your hand to turn the volume down.

You have stopped wondering why people keep a small chair in their shower.

Pasta served with a basket of bread? why not!

You are unsurprised when it takes twenty forms and visits to five different government departments to do anything official. You have a stash of at least twenty passport photos.

Lawns are something remarkable.

Whether from a builder, a doctor, or a dentist you never trust the first diagnoses.

You accept dust balls appearing one day after vacuuming as a fact of life.

You are deeply shocked if you see underwear in full view on a washing line.

You realise that not being able to understand loud speaker announcements from the village intercom and from passing vans is in no way a reflection on your ability to speak Turkish. The locals can't understand them either.

You tell new Turkish friends you are "waiting for them" to come over. You know you will never see them again.

The idea of mixing water, salt, and yogurt to make a bubbly drink, no longer seems unfathomably weird.

You stop calling somewhere other than where you live 'home.'

If you really thought about it, you'd describe yourself as an immigrant not an expat.

Note: I wrote an article in a similar vein a few years back for the newspaper Today's Zaman. If you want to read it, click here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

An Unexpected Bonus of Having Children.

There are good and bad sides to having kids. It is deeply fulfilling to be a parent (though not in an all-encompassing way,) but it can also be almost equally frustrating. Nothing will test your patience like having to give the same instructions every day for months on end until it becomes habit. Teaching siblings how to communicate with each other rather than bicker is painfully slow. Teaching them to request not demand is exhausting. Teaching them to appreciate what they have already got rather than what they want is a trial. Keeping your eyes on the prize of creating adults-you'd-want-to-know can seem an almost unreachable goal.
That said, yesterday I realised one awesome aspect of having kids. My boys like to talk. I mean really like to. Mostly about the subjects that specifically interest them (Hero: empires and the Ottomans, Rafey: Mario, farting) but also about random crap. Yesterday I made myself some coffee and reached for the sugar to put in it. That was weird. It's been nearly a decade since I drank coffee with sugar, and even then it was just for a few months. I don't like sweet coffee. Even unasked for decorative syrup, drizzled on top of a coffee-shop latte can be too sweet for me (I have to spoon it off quickly and pretend it's a separate thing.) Obviously I needed to alert the rest of the family to this oddity. Here's how my husband reacted:


 When pushed to expand his thoughts a little he postulated that maybe I had been eating too much Haribo candy and my brain was now turning into a jelly baby. Or maybe I was turning into a jelly fish. It was enriching stuff.
Not so my children. They spent a good fifteen minutes pondering this strange dilemma. Questioning every aspect of it - when was the last time I had sugar in my coffee, why did I stop, which hand did I use to reach for the sugar. They were genuinely interested!   They didn't come up with any ideas as to the 'why' at all but man did they make this non-event in my life feel validated!

They may wake up way too early, and ask me to pass them things that are already in front of them, and never ever put their socks in the laundry basket without being reminded, but they are interested!

Note. I fully realise that 'interested' and 'interesting' are two entirely different things. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dear so and so...

I write letters like these in my head a lot...
The Lazy Girl's Guide to Life does some pretty funny ones too.

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have noticed recently that the majority of you no longer seem to be able to have a hobby (eg. running, reading, travelling) without getting sponsorship for it. Consequently I have decided to set up my own "just giving" page. Please sponsor me to sit around in my pyjamas eating cake and playing around on the internet. I plan to make this event last for my entire life. So you can see it is a really major and deserving commitment!

All proceeds from your sponsorship will be spent on butter.

Love your friend who is truly amazed how many good causes there are.

Dear Turkish "plumbers"

Knowing how to turn on a tap is not the same as knowing how to lay pipes and plumb in a toilet. Just so you know, even I a non-plumber, wouldn't think that attaching the washing machine and toilet for two different apartments to the same 5cm pipe a good idea. It wasn't. I'm going to start asking to see your certificates.

Your sincerely,

maecy ( aka Mrs. there-is-not-enough-bleach-in-the-world.)

Dear bigots who keep commenting on news stories about the Boston Marathon Bombing with the phrase "not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim."

I would like to draw your attention to this list. By and large and terrorists found in Ireland are not going to be Muslim. Nor are the ones in Spain. If they include the word "Sikh" in their name that should be a clue that they aren't Muslim either. I can also pretty much guarantee that the communist ones aren't Muslims.

There is no shame in taking a deep breath and fact checking inflammatory statements before you make them. You might even find that you learn something!


A person who knows how to use google.

Dear every blogger ever,

Please add a subscribe by email button to your blog. You have to be beyond exceptional for people to keep coming back and checking your page, and even then it's still hard to remember. Add one, give your readers a break


Dear USA,

I'll try not to assume you are all obese, undereducated, lazy, scarily right-wing Christians, and /or porn stars, if you don't assume everyone who lives in a Muslim country is an oppressed, brain-washed, terrorist in waiting.


Yours sincerely,

maecy (religion undisclosed)

Dear Rafey,

You can not be full just because your brother finished his food faster than you. Eating and giggling are not compatible.

xxx mum (don't-make-me-tell-you-to-finish-your-food-again.)

Dear Countries that Oppress Women,

Your economy will never be strong if half your population can't work. Please stop being wrong. If you let both men and women make real choices you'll be surprised how well things can work out!

Yours faithfully

A stay at home mother (by choice)

Dear Turkish Real Estate Agents,

A few tips:

1) Be aware of how many bedrooms a property has - don't put one number in the title and another in the description.

2) Learn how to use google maps - pinning an unspecified point in the sea does not back up your claim that the property is near the beach, it undermines it.

3) 'Lux' means 'luxury.' You need to go with a general standard of luxury here - i.e. better than normal. You need to assume that the people checking your properties don't live in a leaky tent, and are used to the concept of a building having both windows and walls - it needs to have more than just these things if you want to label it as luxury.

4) A man without a shirt sitting on the couch is not a selling point. Please ask him to move before taking any more photos.

5) If you claim there is a sea view you should take a picture of it.

6) When you take photos make sure they show the actual rooms - not just a corner of them / the ceiling, but the whole space. You may be excited about your staircase but no one else will be. Your photos should include both the inside and outside of the house - it's not an either/or thing. There should not be more photos of the surrounding area than of the actual house.

7) I know this seems daunting but you really should include some photos, especially if your asking price is 20 times the average annual wage.

8) When you give a contact number on a website, you need to ensure it is a) a valid number, b) your number c) that you won't then forget to pay your phone bill / switch your phone off for the next three months etc.

9) You work on commission, if someone calls about a property and you say you will call them back you should really do that.

10) Pounds and lira follow an exchange rate (multiply by 2.5 as a rough guide.) 90,000tl is not the same as £90,000.

11) Driving and walking are done at different speeds, try to specify which you mean rather than using the two interchangeably without any clarification.

12) If the property you are trying to sell is listed with more than one agent, check you are all selling it at the same price.

All the best with not going bankrupt,

maecy (in the end found a property without your "help")

Dear Hero,

If you tease your little brother for an hour without stopping, he's going to end up hitting you. I will not be sympathetic.

Just sayin'

Love mum

Dear Me,

Here's a tip - it takes two minutes to double check you turned off the iron. If you do this you will not: leave the house, go to town, get struck by paranoia, panic because there is no bus, waste an hour making an expensive and convoluted journey home despising yourself for all those desperate "emergency only" prayers, only to discover the iron was off all along.

Please be smarter,


Dear H,

If you ask me to look for something, go out, then find it in the car, call and tell me. The house will not be torn to shreds and I will not be frazzled and frustrated when you come home (maybe.)


Dear Disqus, Google +, and your friends,

I just want to be able to get a few thoughts down by writing a blog. I really like reading other peoples blogs and commenting on them. I want to comment as my blog. Why is that so hard? I don't want to have to be signed up to twenty different programmes just to say "hear ya!" to someone in blog land. I'm not thick, but I really really don't get the point of any of you! I want people to click on my name when I comment and get to my blog so they can get to know me, not click on my name and end up on some rubbish profile page which says nothing. I'm the type of person who buys a phone to make phone calls not throw birds as bombs / take low-grade photos / programme my oven. Can you please make it an option for people like me to use your websites?

Pretty please??

maecy / interesting ordinary

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Helping out friends.

This week seems to have been mostly taken up with a combination of toothache and helping out some friends. The helping was definitely more enjoyable than the toothache!

I am naturally a creative person - I can see who things fit together to make a whole picture, and how to change tiny details to make the whole more cohesive. It makes me a good editor. One of my main projects this week was typing up a load of notes I made on a book a friend wrote. I love doing this. Partly because I passionately hate paying to read bad writing and anything I can do to prevent that happening seems like a good use of my time. But also because I love to be able to ask "why?" to point out the inconsistencies and question the characters motivations and the actually get my questions answered!

I've done this type of editing a few times for friends, mostly of whole books, but once also of an extended short story that was going to be an examination essay - the friend needed it to get him on to a masters in creative writing. I don't think he would have made the cut with his first effort, but the re-write he did with my notes won him a place. It makes me feel extremely good inside to have really helped someone. An added bonus was sometime later when I was suffering with a troublesome word count he knocked 300 hundred off my count without damaging my story, and I passed my course too.

Now however is the uncomfortable time where I wait and see if the person I made notes for still likes me. A book you have written is a very personal thing - someone giving you a list of 160 odd things that are wrong with it can easily feel like a personal attack. If you have the right mind set it can be wonderfully helpful, if not it can make you feel utterly defeated. Especially if you thought you were near enough finished and ready to send it of to publishers.

At the end of the day the authors opinion is the one that really counts. Not only that but also their sense of perspective. When I wrote my book a few very honest friends gave me some excellent advise and some very mixed reviews. Some of it was demoralising. But I got to the point where I was happy. I read what I had written and I decided that it was a pretty good story, but it was not good enough for a mainstream publisher. It wasn't worth a £5 price tag. However I think it is easily worth the 77p it is on sale for on kindle. Apparently other people think so too, because every so often I sell a copy and that is a very nice feeling!

The second "helping out" was drawing a logo. An unbelievable inspirational friend is a missionary in Somalia. She does things like sending huge cargo ships with a million meals over there. She also brings bubbles with her. The kids don't know how to play and the parents don't know how to play with them - she wants to help them learn. She has just set up a charity called "Happy Hearts" this is what I came up with for her

I'm not sure it's going to work as a logo, but it is a good starting point.
Next on my list reading and making notes on, a patomime a friend has written. Then making profiteroles for our neighbour. He bought a profiterole paket mix, but doesn't actually own an oven, or a mixer. I think he knew I'd help him out! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

30 - the best decade yet.

Today is my birthday, and I am just unreasonably happy about it. Thirty! Yes! I made it! I am not sure why but I have a feeling that this coming decade is going to be the biggest and most exciting of my life. I think I am going to laugh a lot this decade, and feel happier and more free than ever before. I have a really good feeling about the coming years.

My twenties were good, but good in an enriching way, rather than a fizzy bubbly way. I got married had two kids, moved to Turkey, did a lot of grown-up stuff. Stuff I wouldn't want to change or be without, that gives me a solid foundation. I'd say those years have given me a feeling of security, but now I feel ready to fly a little.

In my twenties my goal was pretty much "keep the kids alive" - they are, and they are at school, and each day I can feel they need me a little less. I love seeing the people they are becoming, I love that it doesn't break my heart any more that they are leaving me behind, but just seems like an opportunity.

So for my thirties, my goal is to get some qualifications, and get a career. I have ten years in which to achieve this, and I've pretty much written my action plan. I can't wait to see who I become.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Knowing Grief.

There is a point, right at the beginning, when you find out someone you love has died, or is going to die where the grief is so raw and so deep that it is as if every piece of you has been stabbed with broken glass. That doesn't do it justice. It would be less painful to run through a sheet of glass than to experience that moment of knowing utter loss. I don't care if you are religious, if you have 'hope' that moment of knowing is a hurt beyond all things. You can't bear it - and yet you do. I don't know how. I do not know how I have borne it - three hideous times. It is incomparable, every part of you cries out - and yet it is senseless. There are no words for this level of distress. C. S Lewis comes close to giving it a voice in his book 'A Grief Observed' - but a hundred books, a million words couldn't capture the agony of those first few moments.

It doesn't last, perhaps it can't, perhaps your body simply can't endure that level of pain and shuts that part off. It comes back sometimes, but I don't think ever, quite, to the level of those first few moments of true abandonment. Sometimes I wonder if my emotions have been permenantly effected - the shock of losing my mother has left me with an extreme ability not to feel, to shut myself off from things. To walk away from compassion. It is a tendency I can recognise, that I have to monitor. I often allow myself to be walked over, to accept too much, to be too nice because if I am not I can speak without compassion and the regret of it later keeps me awake at night, long long after everyone else has moved on.

I have found that grief never leaves you. You can certainly be happy again, but there is never a point when you can truly say "I am over this." When I had my first child, I was shocked by how much it returned, not just for the empty place is the family photos, not just because my need for advise, for a bulwark was stronger than ever, but because I had a new understanding. I knew the utter terror of what it would feel like to leave my child. To abandon him to death. I knew exactly how she would have felt leaving me, helpless and choiceless and taken away. It was salt in a raw wound. The only possible thing that could have been worse is, if my son was taken from me. I know it, I have never experienced it and I thank God and touch every piece of wood available that I have not.

Do you think that people who have died watch over you? I don't know what I think. I have been luckier than I deserve on many occasions - as if I am being compensated for that early unnecessary loss. But feeling an actual presence... that is quite different. Recently though I had a moment when that first moment of grief took me, perhaps I cried out, I am not a loud person so it seems unlikely, but for a moment I didn't know who I was so it is possible. And I felt them, my mother, my recently lost grandparents, they were there. I knew that things would be okay, it didn't stop the pain, but it took the edge off. I haven't experienced that before or since. Very very occasionally, perhaps four or five times I have dreamed about my mother. Oh how I never want those dreams to end, oh how I long for them to come again - but they appear out of the blue and there is nothing I can do to hold onto them. I think I would live in my dreams if I could.

The other day I heard this interview with Maurice Sendak and I wept because I understood, and I knew every feeling when he said "and I miss you, and I will miss you, and I miss them." How I miss them!

Monday, April 1, 2013

The village school.

I love my children's school. It is a local, government (i.e. free,) village school. Last year there was a big upheaval in how the education system is structured in Turkey - there were a lot of pros and cons and a lot of debate (you can read about some of that here if you are interested,) but unsurprisingly enough (so far as I can see public opinion never does more than soften the blow of the inevitable here ) it happened and everyone is managing just fine. For us it meant that our current school changed from providing eight years of continuous education, to four. The middle school the boys would have then attended was one we would have liked to avoid. This certainly wasn't the end of the world but it gave us the push we needed to make the decision to change schools. Not only did we change schools, but we bought a house in the same area as the new school - when I look back at the decision making process it has all become a bit chicken-and-eggish in my mind, did we choose the house because of the school, or the school because of the house, I'm not sure but either way it has worked out very well.

When we lived in Ankara there was no way on earth my husband would have let the boys go to a government school. The class sizes were massive (up to sixty kids,) and the children who went were the ones who couldn't afford to go to private school. I have no problem with people being poor - but we found that the other children refused to accept my oldest, his foreignness was just wrong to them. Anyway, happily we moved to Fethiye. Our oldest was due to start school that September so we started looking. First stop was the local private school in Çaliş. I was unimpressed. Not that the school seemed bad, but the days were long 8.30 to 4.30 which seemed unreasonable like a full time job to me and not what I wanted my hen six year old to do. The class sizes were ok at a maximum of twenty two, but it just wasn't special enough for its very high price tag. I have always been opposed to paying for primary education - why should I pay for my kid to finger paint? I wanted to look at some government schools.

My husband hated the idea, but like me he is fairly thrifty and paying the equivalent of two houses over the next eight years appealed to him as little as it appealed to me. We asked around and were told again and again Yunus Nadi, Yunus Nadi, everyone wants to get there kid in there... So we went to see it and we loved it. It has the most beautiful location - the playground literally ends with the sea, the outside walls are covered in child drawn paintings, and child-made tiles. It ticked a lot of boxes. It was a little tricky to get in as we were not in the catchment zone, but my husband is very used to getting his own way and managed to circumvent things so our son could be enrolled (in fact a couple of months later we moved into the catchment zone so this was no longer an issue.)

It didn't quite live up to it's glowing reports. The teachers seemed to believe that the children needed three hours of homework every night. Three hours! That's a lot of homework. When there is that much work to do, quality goes out the window and it is just about finishing. I asked around, worried that it was just us struggling as my son was stronger in English than Turkish, but everyone was telling the same story. The other main disappointment was the lack of community. Almost every child at the school came from somewhere else and they all came on the bus. I'd hoped by moving close to the school that I'd get to know the other parents, but I didn't. Because they didn't come to the school. Ever. Unless the teacher had demanded a parent teacher conference they weren't there. The children who didn't come on the bus walked home alone - I was the crazy Brit walking my six year old home, because I didn't trust him to go alone.

We left on a good note, they put on a fabulous (though expensive) school show. The kind of thing that any non-family member would be bored by, but made me burst with pride at every turn. But ultimately there was nothing I would miss when we moved away.


It's funny how I can not realise how much I dislike a place until I have left it. We lived in Ankara for six years. Six year where I felt supremely indifferent about my life. I neither loved nor hated the place, it was simply somewhere to be to allow the children a chance to learn Turkish before we moved somewhere (anywhere) else. When we moved to Fethiye I fell in love - with the sea, with the vibrant community, with the relaxed and accepting way of life. It was months before I stopped having nightmares about going back to Ankara. When my oldest left his first school, I was again filled with indifference. I was proud of all that he had achieved - making friends, learning to write, learning to read in Turkish, but I was not sad to be leaving. In the end the misery of trying to coerce a six year old to sit still and do homework for three hours after a day at school, and the somewhat standoffish nature of the other parents had outweighed the schools other good points.


The new school is just lovely. It is very much a village school.  My youngest is in the anaokul (kindergarten) and in the six months he has been attending he hasn't once said he doesn't want to go - when he walks into the classroom he is swamped by other kids wanting his attention. It is a pleasure to me to see him in the playground hustling the other kids into playing different ball games with him - his speech development has been very slow and he still can't pronounce some letters yet somehow it doesn't matter. My oldest has a stream of kids knocking on our door to ask "can Hero come out and play...?" he has a vastly reduced amount of homework (only one hour if he sets his mind to it) - he has time to be a kid again.

The really draw to the school though is how unspoilt the people are. We are ever so slightly outside the tourist zone of the main town. The people here still farm their small holdings - and rely on their produce. I was waiting in the playground the other day when a kid turned up with five litres of milk in an old plastic water bottle, he delivered it to another mother - fresh from their cow that morning. In fact I think the village has a higher population of chickens than people. And yet almost all of them seem to have a family member or two married to someone foreign - they have welcomed me. I love walking through the village and having people smile and wave at me.

Note. On Friday my oldest came home and told me he'd been punched, he didn't seem in the least bothered by this, apparently he was protecting one of his friends. I don't really have anything to say about this, so far as I can say it was more just a case of kids fighting rather than bullying, but I thought I would mention it after my rave review of the school just to temper it a little. Nothing ever fits neatly in a box, however much I want it to!