Istanbul, AGAIN

It was almost exactly two years ago that I left Turkey for the United States, never to move back again. Friends would ask me when I was planning to return to Turkey. “Next year, inshallah,” I’d say each time. “But not to live—only to visit.” 

A few colleagues had asked me this question, too—an event organizer here, an artists’ manager there—to them, I’d say I had no intention of returning to Turkey for work, unless it was for a really good job. 

But there were no really good dance jobs in Turkey. Business at the venue in Alanya where I’d loved performing had dwindled, and the second summer after I’d worked there, it closed permanently. I’d outgrown working the summer hotel circuit in the coastal areas. While it was fun for a few months, it became intolerable as the season wore on. Besides, with the current exchange rate being so unfavorable for the Turkish lira against the US dollar, I couldn’t see any job being worth the move to Turkey, and the stress and frustration that would indubitably accompany it. 

Then, I got a call from an old Istanbul coworker. He was working as a manager at a new venue, and he asked if I’d be interested in joining him there. My first answer was no, for all the reasons mentioned above. However when he mentioned the salary, the conditions, the fact that the airline ticket would be provided by the employer, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. Because I’ve been down this road before, I made sure to get a round-trip flight. If things weren’t as delightful as I’d been told, I’d be back in the States on the first thing smoking. 

When I got to my new place of employment, I learned that my former coworker, the manager, had exaggerated my salary, so on my second night, I got a 25% pay decrease. He’d also retracted what he’d said about housing being provided by the employer. The manager, who’d brought me into the place, was soon fired for lying. Not to me, just in general. 

The stretching of the truth didn’t matter much, though. The boss is fair and generous, my coworkers and work environment are pleasant, and the money is rather enough. I perform every evening in a Turkish-owned Arabic restaurant/nightclub. The customers are mostly Iraqi, but also Syrian, Saudi, Moroccan, and Egyptian, and my tips often exceed my nightly pay. 

I’ve been performing at Şehzade for 17 consecutive days, and as with any job, it comes with its highs and lows, but for the most part, I’m quite pleased with the job.  

Backstage at Şehzade

Interpreter Problems

I work in several different medical settings, including mental health units. I’ve seen a range of mental illness cases, ranging from mild depression and cloudiness to much more severe–violent, belligerent, incoherent, and abusive. One thing I have noticed is that over several days on the psych ward, patients almost always get better. And while I’ve seen several psych wards that function smoothly, with a capable, compassionate staff, this was not the case at one of my assignments last week. 

When I walked in, I felt the despair of the patients and the employees. An apathetic counselor half-heartedly told a patient that she shouldn’t go through the trash for the coffee cup that had been discarded by cleaning crew. She ignored his suggestion, cursing, and continued to dig through the bin until she found her filthy styrofoam cup. 

Equally disturbing was that the patient was dressed (I use this term loosely) in an open hospital gown with nothing underneath it.  She was basically sitting naked in a room full of people, and the staff members in the room pretended not to notice. I’m no prude, but I think if the woman had been lucid, she would have preferred to have been covered. No one helped her. 

Same patient, final complaint: She had a deathly cough. Is this not a medical facility? Could this not be addressed? I rarely get sick, but this morning I woke up with a sore throat. I thought back to my assignment from two days ago. . . seethed, then wrote this blog. 

My issue is not with the severely mentally ill woman, but with the people who were entrusted to care for her. 


Met up with my bosom buddy Şebnem in Chicago. She was visiting from Turkey. This is how I feel when I’m with Şebnem: 

Jumpin’ [at the] Bean

We visited a few charming restaurants–Chicago is more of a meat loving foodie town than a veg-friendly one, but the vegan carrot coconut pecan pancakes and freshly pressed juice at Meli Cafe were delicious enough to have two mornings in a row. 

Pancakes, round two

Adventures in the city included strolling  along the water at Navy Pier, a bit of shopping, taking selfies on the Sky Deck (103rd floor of the former Sear Tower—the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere 😱), the giant Bean (Cloud Gate sculpture), Thai food at Silom 12 (I highly recommend!), and meeting up with friends. 

Between walking and discovering and laughing our way through the city with Şebnem, I was also able to catch up with my favorite Cooks County police investigator, a former classmate of mine. (Who would have thought that my partner in crime while studying abroad in Spain would turn out to be a law enforcer?). Only she could make a bullet proof vest look chic. 

Another highlight of my trip was a yoga class with Cassandra. Our paths had crossed once through a mutual acquaintance, but we’d never met. It was a happy coincidence that none of the regulars showed up to the lunch time class right before Thanksgiving, so I got a private session! Cassandra is bubbly and lovely and an amazing and encouraging yoga teacher.   

3 Legged downdogs with Cass

I spent the last bit of my time in Chicago on the south side. I was mostly catching up, cooking, and practicing yoga with Dominique, an artsy, creative type I met at a dance team audition at Howard University. (Her leaps and turns were on point.) I also met my friend DC and his twin sister, and friends for a session of hippy meditation. 😉 

Yoga with Dominique

All in all, a perfect trip, and I’m headed back to DC to my family and my puppy for Thanksgiving dinner. Well, I hope there’s some dinner, anyway.

Quick trip to LA

A friend invited me to go with her to Los Angeles for a wedding. I was happy to go, because who wouldn’t be happy to visit Southern California, especially when your sister and her family live there?

I flew to LA a day earlier than my friend, on the cheapest airline possible, Spirit Air. Talk about your bare and basic flight! Not only is there a charge for checking a bag, there are also fees for checking into the flight at the desk instead of online, choosing your seat, and even bringing a carry-on bag! The flight to LA was great. I lay back, adjusted my neck pillow, and five hours later, I awoke to find myself hovering over Los Angeles. 

I was not so lucky on the return flight. It was a slightly different style plane than the one that took me to California. On the red eye flight back to Baltimore, we were on a plane with seats that didn’t recline. Safe to say, everyone was miserably uncomfortable. Would I ride Spirit again? Yes, but with reluctance. 

My time in California was delightful. My sister and her kids met me at the airport. The kids wanted N and Out Burger and a vanilla shake, so I had my own version of that–a raw fiesta burger on gluten free brioche and coffee smoothie–from an organic vegan restaurant in Studio City called SunCafe. A bit pricey, but every sip and morsel was delectable. 

My sister’s house is darling–light, bright, and well-laid out, with a beach house feel and a backyard reminiscent of the tropics. I stayed there for the first night. She’s a realtor, and I’m pretty sure she used her insider status to find that charming little cottage in LA’s frighteningly expensive and competitive housing market. 

In the morning, we went to Pop Physique, a boutique fitness studio providing barre/floor combo classes to lively music. It’s fun, in a torturous sort of way. 

Post-Pop Posing

My friend arrived later that day, and we headed to Hotel Figueroa which is richly decorated to feel as though you’ve stepped into Morocco, but also quite hip. 

The wedding was on Friday. I’m embarrassed to say we nearly missed it! Assuming it was an evening event, as weddings tend to be, my friend was in bed and I was out buying juices from Pressed Juicery, my new obsession. (I recommend the Greens 5 and the vanilla coffee.) I had nearly reached the hotel with our juices when my friend called me. “So, the wedding is at 10 am,” she said.  It was 9:18. A brunch reception! Who’d ever heard of such a thing? We managed to get brunch-glam and arrived to the wedding on time, in record time.  

Ashlea ‘n me

 The bride was beautiful, the setting was swanky, and the speech by the bride’s father was at once touching, hilarious, and embarrassing. As an outsider looking in, a mere stranger filling in for my friend’s husband, who couldn’t make it, I was still moved by the love between the couple and their families. It was a teetotal event, but every hotel has a bar, and every bar has mimosas. 

A bit of shopping, (I love Crossroads Trading Company, a California-based second hand clothing store, and I also got some great finds in the LA fashion district), a bit of bikini lounging at the hotel whirlpool, delicious food (Cafe Gratitude, for one), great company, a custom paper crown made for me by my four going-on-on-five year old nephew, and midsummer weather in early autumn made this trip the perfect weekend getaway.  Can’t wait to go back next month!

Obligatory “driving down a palm-lined street” photo


A festive Saturday

Lots of fun things happening this Saturday, September 19th, on this very last weekend of summer.

I will be attending the first annual Yoga Reggae Fest, which takes place from noon to nine at Gateway DC East 2700 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE DC. It’s a day of yoga sessions, live reggae music, health and wellness workshops, and what I expect will be some delicious food and fresh squeezed juices.  I’ve been wanting to go to a yoga festival all summer, and I’ve missed a few, so I’m particularly excited about this one. Plus, the owner of Get Hemp Butter, my friend Kyla, will be vending her 420 friendly, all purpose, ultra-moisturizing hemp balms, so I will be popping by her booth, of course. 

I’ll have to leave the Yoga Reggae Festival early to head to belly dance at an engagement party in Maryland, and as soon as it’s finished, I’m heading to meet a friend at the Lebanese Festival at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church at 7164 Alaska Ave NW DC. It’s an all-day event, but I’ll just catch the last part of it–the band and the dancing.  

Also this Saturday is the 2nd annual Vegan SoulFest in Baltimore. So sorry to miss this one for the second year in a row! If you are in Baltimore, please check out this free event in my place. 

Yoga, Drinks, and Bellydance

Saturday, I had a bellydance gig in a beautiful home in Manassas. It was a huge, multigenerational, perfectly decorated, around-the-world-themed bridal shower for a cute lesbian couple. I performed downstairs, in Morocco, but I also enjoyed a cheeky taste  of the sangria just outside of Paris, where I waited in hiding for my cue to enter.  

Performing at the party was a joy. Perfect audience and environment and the client left me a juicy tip in the envelope with the balance. So classy!  

Following that, I met a friend at an anniversary party at Malmaison in Georgetown by the water for Grip the Mat. I’d never heard of the organization, but I figured I’d enjoy a party with a supposedly good DJ (he was good) and complimentary Sweet Green. Coming from my gig, I beat my friend there by about 1/2 an hour, so while I waited, I ate my tiny cup of free Spicy Sabzi salad looked up Grip the Mat online. 

Apparently, it’s a company in NY, DC, and Orlando that hosts yoga + social events. They combine yoga class with music, with brunch, with a yacht ride, with an open bar! While I love yoga, and appreciate an open bar, I’m not sure the two go together. I would have to try it to find out. 

Detox with yoga and “re-tox” with a few cocktails? Share a toast with new friends in celebration of having completed the day’s yoga practice? What do you think? Is Grip the Mat on to something here? Would you pay $50 to experience one of their events and decide for yourself? How about $250? Have you ever attended a GTM event?

The Grip the Mat anniversary party was cute. There wasn’t any yoga, just a laid back, happy hour-like vibe, with people dancing, drinking, chatting. I personally lost count of how many of those little Spicy Sabzi salad cups (kale, quinoa, carrots, roasted tofu…) I ate. After the first three, I had to start sending people up to the sample table because I was ashamed to have eaten so many. 

 My friend Crystal is in the black dress with the lace detail. The other two girls are her stylish friends: Amie, in the floral brocade, and Dominique, in the gold sequins. And me? I just have on the knit romper that I threw into my gig bag before my show. I may have been underdressed, but my shoes were to die for. 

Philadelphia, how I love thee!

I’ve been to Philly three or four times, and until recently, I’d always kept it in the “friend zone.” Now, it’s official: I am in LOVE with that city. The way to my heart is mostly through my stomach.  

Clean, green, and bustling, but not crowded, Philadelphia is a finicky citygirl’s dream. Mostly, though, I loved the food–so many all-vegan places to explore! From fancy fare and and chic cocktails (Charlie Was a Sinner) to divey and delicious (Blackbird Pizzeria), this city is something of a vegan foodie destination. 

HipCityVegan was a bit pricey for a small takeout joint with no public toilet (?!), but I enjoyed my sandwich despite having to pee at the nail salon next door. Fries were so-so.  

Grindcore Coffee is full of vegan treats and rather dangerous for a dieter. They get extra points for being doggie friendly, and for their blueberry coffee cake. And their horchata. And their oatmeal cookie sandwich.  

Another cafe and juice bar on the healthier, more expensive side is PS and Co. Organic and gluten free everything. My pad Thai dish was scrumptious, but could’ve been twice as big. I had an avocado key lime macadamia custard cup (YUM) to cap my hunger. 

Capogiro, a gelato joint with a few locations in the city, while not vegan, has a whole row of sorbet, which is vegan. A scoop of it fortified my under-the-weather boyfriend, who was exhausted by my enthusiastic city crawling. Sadly, I was too full of other food to buy any–I could only sample a couple of varieties, and I’m still dreaming about that teaspoon of mojito flavored sorbet. 

Long distance relationships are challenging. Luckily, the drive from DC to Philadelphia is a short one. Philly, I love you. 

Forever yours,


   Rittenhouse Square

 Cool looking building
 Buskers putting their hearts into it  

This photo is awkward, but I liked my outfit     Complimentary champagne at the Nail Bar

Secret garden-esque restaurant (no vegan options here.)

 Gloriously gay neighborhood

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