Friday, December 14, 2007


This is LE's first Christmas. He's exactly the same age I was at my first Christmas. I don't remember my first Christmas, but I have some implanted memories from the grainy Super-8 films my parents made. It makes me feel old that these 'memories' are black and white, with no sound. On my first Christmas, I found a shiny ball, red I suppose, hanging from the Christmas tree, and reached out to appropriate it for my own. The whole tree started to come down, and the ubiquitous grown-up legs appeared to save the day. Later, I was crawling around on the floor in the army-guy style that was considered 'wrong' in those days, which had my mother perpetually lifting my belly off the floor trying to teach me to crawl 'properly' in order to avoid further developmental delays. As I crawled, our schnauzer puppy Max came along and started trying to pull my sock off. Undaunted, I kept going, and a happy Christmas memory was made.

For LE's first Christmas, there will be some going overboard with gifts and toys, even though we all know that he doesn't care about this. What he'll care about is boxes and wrapping paper, and the even more appealing tissue paper inside the boxes. As his interest in some of his baby toys has waned, I've given him some shoe boxes with tissue inside, some water bottles with a bit of water inside, a plastic bag with a knot tied in the middle to prevent him from getting it over his head, and an empty shampoo bottle. He's pretty happy with this stuff, making me wonder whose benefit baby toys are for. I recently found an old tennis ball behind the credenza, and I've been his hero for days. Babies are easily amazed.

Next year, LE will be more sentient and responsive, and I'm locked in a debate with myself over whether to tell him about Santa or not. The idea of Santa is magical. He makes Christmas a tremendous event. He loves children and makes special gifts for them. He sneaks into your house on Christmas Eve and leaves wonderful things. He's also a good disciplinary tool throughout the year, because he's always watching you, deciding which of his lists you're on. If you're good, you're on the Nice List and Christmas will be wonderful, but if you're bad, watch out! You're on the Naughty List and you may expect coal in your stocking. Apparently one's name can change lists. We mostly were on the Nice List, even if we were bad sometimes. One year right before Christmas, my brothers got onto the Naughty List for lighting a fire in the wood stove and filling the house with smoke. They got coal in their stockings. I suspect if they had done this earlier in the year, they would have had a chance to make it back into Santa's good graces.

You want to know something really sad? I believed in Santa until I was ten. That's right, ten. To put this into perspective, I also started wearing a bra when I was 10. Granted my parents were a little more elaborate with the whole Santa hoax than most. One year my father got a Santa suit and snuck out the bathroom window onto the roof, then climbed down onto the balcony to tap on the window of the room where my brothers and I were bickering in front of The Muppet Show. We turned around, and there was Santa waving at us. Having actually seen the real Santa, it was pretty hard to give up on him long after I realized that Santa used the same wrapping paper as my mom and that he seemed to have her handwriting too. It seemed suspicious to me that Santa wanted us to leave him, instead of cookies and milk, two snifters of brandy, but no matter. By the time I was ten, I was reading books that regularly referred to the Santa myth, but I still believed in him. By the time I was ten, all of my classmates had gotten tired of the revelation that there was no Santa. I even joined in holiday schoolyard conversations about how uncool it was to believe in Santa, which was for babies, while silently apologising to Santa in my mind. At ten, I no longer believed in silliness like the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy and definitely not the Great Pumpkin, but I still believed in Santa.

I was pretty devastated when I learned for sure there was no Santa. I presented to my mother a long list of evidence that pointed to his non-existence, things that my mom couldn't explain away with logic or magic, like why doesn't Santa bring food to the starving kids in Ethiopia? Why doesn't Santa get the dogs from the pound and give them to kids who want dogs? Why doesn't he give houses to homeless kids, and why do poor kids get such crappy gifts? Even though she really wanted to keep the fantasy alive, my mom was unwilling to say the Ethiopians or the dogs or the homeless or the poor were somehow undeserving. It wasn't because the Ethiopian kids were bad, or didn't believe in Santa, or even because they didn't write him letters. It was because there was no Santa. She finally crumbled and said I was right but admonished me not to spoil it for my brothers. And I didn't. It was nice being in on the secret and keeping it alive. I still enjoy it with my uncle who has Down's and who still believes in Santa. I'd never spoil it for him because it's so sweet.

So why am I so torn up about keeping the Santa story alive for LE? It seems all good, right? A wonderful fantasy for kids, where something magical happens for you every year at Christmas. But this is also the problem. By the time I was 10, I had developed a fairly sophisticated world-view. More sophisticated than, say, Max the schnauzer. Santa had a place in this world-view. While I was generally pretty clear on reality and what was possible and impossible (that magicians used sleight of hand, that I would never turn into a boy no matter how hard I wished, that dead people don't come back to life, and that Peter Pan wasn't ever going to come for me-- man, I had a crush on that guy!), the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of magic, the unknown, and the impossible. Maybe I'd never witnessed the impossible, but I'd witnessed Santa, meaning maybe sometimes it was possible that something magic could happen. I'd never seen God either, but the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of the existence of God. And the parallels between Santa and God are undeniable. Both are watching you all the time, even when you're going to the bathroom, and they know when you're even thinking something bad. Both keep some kind of catalogue of your deeds, which will either be used for or against you at some point. Both give you things if you wish for them hard enough. Both mete out a sort of justice. I wasn't a very religious kid, but it was nice to know there was a Santa, just as it was nice to know there was a God. But without Santa to create the possibility of God, there was suddenly nothing. It's quite a spoonful of nihilism to eat when you're 10.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't harbor any resentment towards my parents for the trouble they went to in order to create a Santa. I think it's really sweet. Okay, it was a Big Elaborate Lie, but as far as lies go, it was the best one ever. I'm grateful for those years of real innocence and belief in the impossible. But it was still pretty heartbreaking, and it took me a good two years or so to get my head around this sudden change in everything I'd previously thought to be true, and all the ramifications thereof.

So what to do about LE? Give him this chance to believe that magic happens and that the impossible is real? Or settle him into reality early? If we stay in Turkey, I do like the idea of him being able to lord it over the other kids that Santa came to his house and brought him cool stuff. I expect he'll get a lot of crap for not being 'pure Turkish,' so the least I can do is give him something to make the other kids jealous. But at the same time, I don't like the idea of seeing the look on his little face when he realizes Santa isn't real and that I've created magic for him, then snatched it away.

It's quite a conundrum.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Siobhan's Interview

This isn't the meme interview. The questions are from Siobhan, a fellow Istanbul Mommy.

1) If you could go back to day 1 with LE what, if anything, would you do differently and why?
For this blog, I've vowed to myself not complain about my mother-in-law (I think I do enough of this on forums and in real life) except to mention funny things she does, because I never know who might be reading. My brother-in-law and cousins-in-law speak very good English, and I don't want to cause problems or hurt anyone's feelings. But I really could have done without her being being around within an hour after LE's birth creating stress and trying to make the whole thing about her. In fact, I really wish my husband and I could have spent the first night alone together with our amazing new son and held off the flood of in-laws until the next morning, but it was not to be. One reason MIL was put out was because we didn't have her come to be with me during labor. So in light of that, one hour after the birth was pretty good.

More importantly, I wish I'd been stronger standing up to the doctor about the induction (Warning! Detailed birth information to follow! I won't mention my vagina, but if you're squeamish you might want to skip the next few paragraphs!). LE was 12 days late, and she said the water was getting worryingly low, creating a danger of the cord getting compressed and LE going into fetal distress which would mean emergency Cesarean. Given Turkish doctors' love of cutting women open (the Cesarean rate is over 90% here, though that includes elective ones, as almost no one does natural births, and in fact, many OB/GYNs aren't confident doing natural deliveries), I was dead set against having a Cesarean. All the first babies on both sides of my family have been late, so for awhile, I tried not worry. I put her off about inducing as long as I could stand, but by 12 days, we were scared. I mean, she had scared us. In fact, I was having contractions by that time, but I didn't recognize them as such, and just thought it was LE pushing his bottom out and up against my ribs really hard. The night before the induction, I drank the midwife's magic recipe for causing contractions, and by morning, I still wasn't in hard labor, but I could feel things starting to happen. The doctor mislead me a little by telling me she'd give the oxytocin just enough to 'jump-start' the labor. I expected she'd examine me before putting me on the drip, and I'd hoped I'd started enough on my own for her to change her mind. But she wasn't even in the hospital yet when we arrived, and before I knew it, I was attached to the IV and crying because it wasn't how I wanted it to go. She did examine me an hour later, and I had indeed started dilating, but she kept me on the drip anyway.

This is where I wish I'd stood up to her, or had the sense to call the midwife (she and the midwife were friends and worked together often) to lean on her a little. There was no 'jump-starting' of labor. It was using chemicals to control the entire thing and to push it as fast as it could go. After the birth, I told the midwife the number on the drip machine (indicating cc's per minute or something), and she said it was three times the amount she had ever seen used. By noon, the non-stress test was showing LE's heartbeat to be not quite right, and I got whisked up to the ultrasound machine to have a look. All was well, but for that hour I was absolutely furious that this goddamned intervention was endangering my baby and making it possible they'd have to cut me open. An hour after lunch, I was feeling the contractions. Two hours later, I was hurting. Three hours later, I was screaming in pain, with hard contractions coming every minute or so, with no breaks in between. It was like one long contraction that ebbed and peaked. The midwife later told me they should have turned the drip off at this point, which I was repeatedly begging them to do. It turned out my cervix dilated 8 cm in less than an hour. Of course, birth and labor should be painful, but that was unnatural, suddenly laboring like that without a chance to breathe between contractions. They finally took me off the drip before taking me into the delivery room, and the contractions became more 'normal,' giving me a minute or two to rest in between. It was such a relief that I actually dozed off in those little breaks. The labor hurt so much that pushing the baby out was a breeze.

It's a long story, I know. But in retrospect, I wish I'd either waited another day or two for LE to come out on his own (I still believe he would have been born on my birthday if he hadn't been forced out two days earlier), or that I'd been stronger about controlling the induction and made it work more for me and not for the doctor.

2) You've lived in Istanbul for quite a few years now, what advice would you give to a newbie?

When I first came here, I had an attitude about things that I could probably do with a bit more of these days. Back then, I just went with the flow, didn't get surprised by much, was easily delighted, and never had a fixed plan. It was like a big adventure for three years straight, nothing was serious, and most things were fun. Fixed plans only result in stress. Better to just set things in motion and wait and see how it all turns out. So you woke up in Maltepe 2 hours before a lesson in Bakırköy? No problem. Even if you're unsure as to how you ended up in Maltepe, or where Maltepe even is? Whatever. Takes 8 hours to get a stamp in your residence permit? People-watch. Stuck with 7 days of split shifts a week? Tea garden. Cops at your door to bust up a party? Give them 20YTL, a sip of whiskey, and invite them in to look at the girls because that's the only reason they're there anyway. Since when does it take 17 cops to bust up a party?

It's not so easy to be this laid back with a baby. Babies are the most conservative people on earth, and it doesn't do to mess with their schedules. But one thing I still love about Turkey is how well everyone can do nothing. It's so nice to spend a few hours just sitting somewhere nice and chatting, and not having to worry about when you're going to do 'something,' or kicking back on someone's balcony in the summer not worrying that you're keeping them from doing 'something.' In America, we always had to get somewhere and do something. Here, doing nothing is doing something, and it's a good feeling.

3) We're both married to Turks, does the fact that you've entered into a 'mixed marriage' say anything about you or was it just down to fate?

I think I may have been fated to marry a foreigner, though I don't know why I think this, except that maybe I've always been fascinated with foreigners. There was also an element of fate in the time BE and I met, I think, in that I was starting to be ready to settle down. I'd been in love before, no illusions there about my innocence, but BE was the first person I fell in love with who seemed like someone I could make a home with, who I could keep loving even when everything sucked, and who would be a good, reliable husband and father.

I think that having a mixed marriage does say about me that I tend to do things the hard way, or that I'll always choose the more difficult path with the most unknowns. I don't know that I set out to do this on purpose, but it always ends up that way.

4)What is the one best and the one worst thing about bringing up a child in Turkey?

The worst thing about bringing a child up here is actually two related things-- doing a huge, scary thing in an unfamiliar setting without the kind of support I'm used to, and being away from my mother and family while I'm doing it.

By unfamiliar setting, I mean many things that seem 'normal' to me for what is needed to take care of a baby just aren't here, or if they're available, they're prohibitively expensive. Some of these, like things you buy for a baby (food, certain toys, baby equipment) can be improvised (like jamming the front seat of a taxi back against the carseat to hold it in place while crossing your fingers you don't actually get into an accident, because I've yet to get into a taxi with working seatbelts in the back), some can be splurged on (like a decent carseat), some can be gotten on trips home (like clothes that are actually made for babies and aren't just shrunken versions of kid clothes that don't have snaps int he crotch or don't fit over a diaper or a baby's big head), some can be shipped (like an ear thermometer), and some can be done without (like nice organic baby food in a jar so you don't have to make it all yourself, which I do but it's time-consuming). Other things, like parks you'd let your kid play in, are rare and overcrowded. Places like a Gymboree are like 40 bucks a pop to use, and are across town in the posh neighborhoods anyway. Changing tables are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, these things can be made up for. I have a nice playgroup that I go to every week so LE gets to hang out with other babies and play with someone besides me, plus I get to hang out with other foreign mommies. Where things are hard with babies, Turkish people can be really kind and accommodating, like they'll jump to help you get a stroller up and down the stairs which are suddenly everywhere (and now I wonder what on earth handicapped people do here!), and waiters are happy to let you change a baby on an unused table (though as a diner this troubles me to think about). As for the kind of support I'm used to, I just have to go home to America for that. My husband is great about backing me up on my crazy foreigner ideas, like that the baby doesn't need a snowsuit and 40 layers in 70 degree weather, and he's quick to shut up family members who think you should ride in the car with the baby in your lap because it's cold and someone doesn't want to wait for you to strap the seat in. But a lot of what some people here think of as 'support,' I think of as 'meddling' or 'not listening to me or respecting my ideas.' When I'm in the US, I can trust that I can leave LE alone with someone, and he won't be told 'Shame on you!' for crying or pooping, or fed lots of candy, or given pens and lighters to play with. But here, this child has been (literally!) attached to me from day one, because I don't know anyone who thinks my ideas for my child are worth respecting or who I trust that he'll be okay with. And again I'm seeing my lifelong trend of doing things the hard way, with the most obstacles and the most unknowns. I took LE home to the US this summer, and I couldn't believe how easy everything was.

Being away from my family for the pregnancy, birth, and these early baby months is really devastating and feels totally wrong to me. My father and I have always had an easy relationship with a lot to talk about, but pregnancy and birth and babies are something you need your mother for. I can't say my relationship with my mother changed when I got pregnant, because we've had a great relationship since I got over my lengthy pubescent and adolescent period of serious stroppiness. However, I can say our relationship deepened somewhat in that one never gets over needing one's mother, but it had been a long time since I felt so consciously how much I need her. I'm just loving it how thrilled my parents are with having a grandchild, and they're absolutely fascinated with every little thing he does, but at the same time, I feel so sad and guilty that they're not nearby to enjoy every minute of it.

The worst things are easy to go on about. The best thing about having a baby in Turkey, though, is by far the most important to me, which is here, I have this wonderful luxury of getting to stay home with him. I say 'luxury,' because economically, it's possible for us to get on nicely on one salary. I can't imagine having to leave him in day care so I could work, and what it would feel like to have to work. When he was 6 weeks old and my leave was over, it broke my heart imagining dumping him on strangers when he was so small, which I would have had to do if I had to work. Culturally, it's also a luxury in that no one really looks down on me for choosing to stay home with him. I think in the US, feminism has reached a point where women are expected to be mothers and have careers, and people maybe think women are giving up or selling themselves short if they choose to be 'only' mothers. But my mother stayed home with us, so to me, this is normal, it's the best thing for the kid, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, I don't believe staying at home is the best thing for every woman, and nor do I think anything negative of working mothers, but having a choice about it is so important, and I'm glad I made this choice. Despite the difficulties, every day I think about how lucky I am, and how lucky LE is for us to be doing it this way.

5)What 3 things would you grab (apart from LE) when running out of your house in an earthquake?

Hmm. It's not quite the same as the burning house question, unless we assume my house is about to be rubble. But the answer in any case is practical and boring. Passports, glasses, shoes. With a little more time, I'd make sure I had LE's birth certificate thingie from the consulate. With a little better planning, I'd have all this stuff ready in an earthquake kit, plus a working cell phone and some spare diapers and a blanket for LE. Then it would be earthquake kit, CDs, and my wedding rings.

So that's the interview. Thanks Siobhan! It was fun being so self-centered and writing only about myself there. I apologise if it was boring.

If you would like to be interviewed by me on your blog, drop me an email at I'll write 5 questions for you, and I promise not to ask anything I wouldn't want to answer myself.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fake Christmas

For the first time in three years, I'll be going home for Christmas. I can't tell you how great this feels. I've felt great about this since it first occurred to me when I was pregnant that not working meant I was free to go home for the holidays. And of course, there's nowhere else to spend LE's first Christmas than at home with my family. Try as I might, I just couldn't make a proper Christmas here.

My first Christmas in Turkey I got married. It was a really good, important, wonderful day, but not exactly Christmas-y. Of course my family was here, and we gave gifts and wished each other 'Merry Christmas,' but with the impending nuptials it was somewhat of an afterthought. For the next two Christmases, my folks sent gifts, and we had a little tree with lights and A Christmas Story on videotape, and the year I wasn't pregnant we drank mulled wine all day plus mimosas for our anniversary, but it still wasn't Christmas. Not really. A few times throughout the day I closed my eyes and tried really hard to make myself believe it, but it didn't quite work, not for more than a few seconds. BE humored me but he didn't get it, and A Christmas Story bored him so he went to the barbers' for tea.

So what is it that makes it Christmas? Every year in America, I read the same articles bemoaning the increasing consumerism of the holiday, and they always end with something pithy about how it's not about the gifts and the lights and the shiny things, and everybody goes, 'Yeah, yeah, it's so much more than that,' while thinking 'Hee hee, it is so the presents.' I pretty much thought it was the presents too (or at least, the anticipation of presents) until I came here, but it turns out, it's not. Don't get me wrong. The presents don't hurt. Nor do the wrapping paper or the boxes or shaking the presents or admiring the presents piled under the tree while inhaling that marvelous smell and enjoying the lights and the shiny things. But the presents don't quite do it.

Christmas, or something like it which they call Noel, is getting more popular in Turkey. This has nothing to do with Jesus, and a lot to do with the global market machine and the selling of credit. Someone once told me you can understand a lot about a country by its TV commercials. There's some truth to this. In America, most TV commercials are for cars and food. In Turkey, the majority of them are for banks, credit cards, and cell phones. Other commercials, like for cars and stores, are connected to credit cards, and their competition is over various types of 'points' that can be earned, or how many low monthly payments (called taksit) they allow. The idea of taksit is interesting. You buy a skirt or whatever for 50YTL, which will be broken up into 10 seemingly manageable taksit of 5YTL each, so only the 5YTL appears on your monthly bill for the next ten months. With people thinking they're only spending 5 YTL here and 10YTL there, they start running up huge credit card bills they can't pay, and suddenly Turks' personal debt is getting as big as Americans'. When I first came here 6 years ago, it wasn't always easy to use a credit card, but now you can use them everywhere, even at the smallest mom and pop businesses. People used to run up all their debt among family members. An uncle would borrow money and eventually pay it back, and later he might loan money to an in-law, which would eventually get paid back. Or not. There was a lot of squabbling, and I just giggled wondering why everyone didn't just hang onto their own money. But now everyone owes their money to the banks, which do more than bad mouth you and give dirty looks and serve the cheap tea if you don't pay. And, just as in America, there are a lot of people who don't quite get the idea of credit cards, that it's not free money and it has to be paid eventually, often at usurious interest rates that the less-educated consumer may not have understood about from the fine print. After all, there are so many wonderful things to buy these days!

So every year, it looks a little more Christmas-y in Istanbul. The malls (of which there are a few more each year) are dripping in lights and tinsel, and there are winter-themed decorations everywhere-- snowflakes, candy canes, stars, even a few rosy-cheeked Santas. I'm starting to hear English Christmas songs. Last year, Jingle Bells got pretty popular, and for several months after Christmas, I was still hearing it all over as background music for advertisements and as the ringtone on people's cell phones. TV commercials start gearing up the excitement about the gift-buying aspect, and there are suddenly a lot of ads for clothes, jewelry, and perfume. Families are shown in front of fires in the fireplace, with decorated trees twinkling in the background, lovingly giving one another the perfect gifts.

If Christmas ever felt empty in the US, if it ever felt like a flood of consumerism and fake family love and an excuse to throw money into the air, that empty feeling is nothing like Christmas in Turkey. For one thing, they've got it all wrong. Here, Noel is celebrated on December 31. They also call this yıl başı (New Year's), and since I've been here, New Year's has always been celebrated as usual, with big dinners, all-night drinking, and the expected midnight countdown (though I'm sure that type of celebration isn't traditionally 'Turkish' either). But Eastern Orthodox people celebrate Christmas starting on or around New Year's (I'm not exactly sure of the dates) so Turks now call it Noel, and they've added the gift-giving and all the other trappings of Christmas. So, okay, it's not 'wrong,' it just feels wrong to me when December 25 passes like any winter day without even time off work and everything is business as usual. Well-meaning people might wish me Merry Christmas with something like 'Hey, don't you have some foreign holiday today?' to which I sadly reply that it's passed but thanks, to which they may reply by insisting that Christmas isn't the 25th. And, of course, being here without my family on Christmas, without the perfect Christmas house my mother does every year, without our same decorations and ornaments that have been pulled out of storage and dusted off every year since I can remember, and maybe even just being without the other people in my life who are like me, the whole thing just becomes as empty and as sad as can be.

I don't know what it is that makes Christmas feel nice. My husband will be coming home with us this year for his first Stranger Family Christmas, and I'm at a loss to be able to make him understand what's so great about it, and why we're all so excited. And it's not just the day itself that's nice, but the whole time leading up to it, starting around Thanksgiving. Maybe it's because it's been pounded into me by the US media year after year that Christmas is a special, snowy, magical time where people are extra nice to each other and little kids with leukemia miraculously recover and if you wish for something hard enough at Christmas it'll come true. I wonder if this notion can be traced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the idea that Christmas brings out the best in us and that bad people can turn their lives around and become good. Too bad it isn't really true. As a religious holiday, it's meaningless to me because I'm not Christian, so it's not that. I used to think it was the gifts and the decorations and the songs, but it's not that either. It could be some other Christmas things they don't have in Turkey, like the Christmas specials on TV, and Christmas music on the radio including the dogs barking Jingle Bells, and the winter ales the microbreweries release, and those garish red Christmas sweaters some people insist on wearing, and the smell of pine everywhere, and the parties, and everyone wishing each other 'Merry Christmas' upon parting, but somehow I don't think it's any of these things either. I'm curious if my husband will 'get it' when he's home with me, but I won't be surprised if he doesn't. That's okay. There's still the presents and the special Christmas food and alcohol, so I think he'll be fine.

I think for me, it's as simple as this: for my whole life until I came here, Christmas has meant home, and for this time of year it feels like I'm as far away from home as I can possibly be. For now, of course, Istanbul is my home, and my husband and my baby are my family. Most the time I feel okay making my new little family in our little home. But around Christmas I feel especially alien, in that I don't share a language or a common cultural currency with the people around me. Throughout the year it doesn't bother me much that my husband doesn't know who Gilligan is, just as he's only upset about my lack of knowledge about and adoration for Atatürk on national holidays. But these days, I'm especially sensitive about the home and life I've left behind. I might be doing a pretty good job making a new family, but I don't think I'll ever be able to make a proper Christmas as good as Christmas at home.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


What is it about the word 'housewife' that I find so derogatory and insulting? There is, of course, the old joke that a woman isn't married to the house. But it's more than that. Since I stopped working (outside of the house, for money, because I should point out that I'm still working), there's nothing that gets my dander up faster than being called a housewife.

Even before becoming a stay-at-home-mom (you'll forgive the PC-like mouthful), I bristled about the idea of the housewife. In beginning English classes, I always found talking about jobs to be good way to teach possessives. Or maybe that's how the dreaded Headway series did it, and I just never found a better idea. Plus, I'd cut out a nice set of bits of paper with pictures of jobs on them. 'What is your job?' 'What is your father's job?' You have to ask the question in this unnatural way to practice the possessives, and also because using the more common 'What does your father do?' often proves to be too confusing even for more advanced students, partly because there's nothing about jobs in that question, and partly because the grammatical difference between 'What does your father do?' and 'What is your father doing?' is often lost on students. For years, and for hundreds of students, only their father's jobs varied. My father is a policeman. My father is a lawyer. My father is a businessman. My father is retired. For years, and for hundreds of students, their mother's jobs never changed. My mother is a housewife. In six years of teaching English in Turkey, I don't think I've had a single student whose mother worked outside the home.

In theory, I think there's something to be said for a culture that so strictly dictates its gender roles. Everybody knows what's expected of them as they negotiate the world. Perhaps there's comfort in this. I admit I've felt this comforting feeling when watching old movies from the fifties, when the man and woman fall in love and get married, and the man has a good job with health insurance and the woman has a pretty house with a garden, a baby on he way, and lots of things to starch. It feels safe. I can see why the media-watching public of the fifties enjoyed eating up this myth so much.

In practice, however, and as a foreigner who wasn't brought up to negotiate the world this way, pre-dictated gender roles suck. Men work. Men do things. Men go out and drink tea and watch football and discuss current events and insure the world's continued activity. Women don't work (of course, no one considers cooking and cleaning and looking after kids to be 'real' work anyway). Women stay home and drink tea and gossip with the neighbors. Women go shopping and to the hairdresser's and watch Brazilian soaps on TV and insure that men and children never have to lift a finger to do anything for themselves. A lot of women don't even seem to like leaving the house very much, and they really do seem to take some kind of satisfaction from clean children, polished moldings, and spotless windows. Most men seem to find any excuse they can to get out of the house, and I don't hear many women complaining about being stuck alone at home all day and half the night with a screaming baby and a pile of ironing. But that could be because I'm also home alone, and not gossiping over tea with my neighbors who I find I have very little in common with, even the ones my own age. Luckily my baby doesn't scream much and I leave the ironing to the cleaner.

Amazingly, most people seem happy with this arrangement. Or is it that the men are happy and the women aren't, but no one cares about them enough to ask? Or is it that they don't even dare ask themselves? BE's mother seems genuinely happy. Her mission in life, it seems to me, is to serve others. Literally. During meals, she may sit down and eat now and again, but she usually stands at the head of the table, ready to spoon more food onto people's plates, or to run off to the kitchen to fetch more. Whenever someone sits down, she appears out of nowhere to try to shove a pillow under them. She lays out on the bed the clothes her husband and sons will wear that day. She wakes up around 6am and you can hear her whirring the house into life by making tea, shaking out tablecloths and bed linens, and getting the washing started. She doesn't complain when her husband arrives home drunk at 2am wanting a cup of Turkish coffee, and she sits with him while he drinks it. She gets on my case because I don't iron underpants and baby clothes because it's 'un-hygienic' not to. When we visit her, she always talks to me at great length (but not in a complaining kind of way) about the housekeeping she did that day, and I suppose I'm expected to join in, though I have very little to contribute (I don't suppose telling her I ran the dishwasher that day is good enough). She has a chronic pain in her right shoulder that comes from, I think, a lifetime of the repetitive motion of wiping and ironing.

Shortly after we got married, BE's father took great delight in getting me to serve the food at their house, and always told me what a good job of it I did, as though it's some kind of rocket science. Once BE's brother greeted us at the door saying, 'I don't like this T-shirt I'm wearing,' and I said, sarcastically, 'What, did your mother choose your clothes this morning?' and he replied, nonplussed, 'Yes,' which is how I found out she puts their clothes out for them. BE, until a few years ago, didn't know how to pack his own suitcase. He seemed to think dirty socks pick themselves up off the floor. The origins of clean underwear were a mystery. For the first few months of our marriage, BE would get upset because I'd call him into the kitchen to get his dinner plate and expect him to spoon out his own food, as it was always done in my house. At first, I got mad at him for expecting me to be his servant, but then I realized his feelings were hurt because he thought I didn't love him very much-- the Magic Fairy service of the devoted housewife is, indeed, equated with showing love.

Look, having a baby is rewarding. I was ready for this. I had my first job when I was 17 and have been working ever since. I was tired of going out and getting drunk every weekend, really. I was ready to settle. I felt this reward yesterday, for example, when LE clapped his hands for the first time, because goodness knows I've been clapping my hands at him for a couple of months now. It seems like a small thing, hand clapping, but it was momentous. AT the same time, the work that's expected of me now is among the most tedious, repetitive, and mind-numbing work I've ever done, rivalling the temp job I had once of attaching the price tags onto clothing in an Emporium factory (I lasted two days at that one). No matter how much I do, or how much I finish, it's never quite done and all the same work awaits me again a few hours later. LE is cute and cuddly and smiley and he's happy to see me and he's learning how to give kisses (which are sometimes toothier than I'd like), but he's also an unending cycle of diapers, baths, feeding, wiping, and tidying up after. It's menial. It's mundane. It's rocking someone to sleep for 45 minutes only to have his eyes pop open as as soon as I put him into his bed. And, like scooping food onto plates, none of it is rocket science. I thought staying at home with a kid would give me some time to do other stuff, some kind of work, perhaps, like the kind of work that's considered 'real' because you get money for it. Maybe stuff I didn't have time to do when I had a job, like reading and writing and I even had plans to pick up my poor violin again, lying dormant in its case for so long it's getting stiff and tinny. I didn't expect loads of time, but I thought a couple hours a day wouldn't be unrealistic.

Hah. The only reason I'm writing this now is because it's Saturday and BE is home to watch the baby. Other times I post in spurts when LE's sleeping, or leave him to crawl around on the floor, blocking him with my foot from getting into the computer cords while he whimpers and shouts at me to pay more attention to him. Even with BE home, I can hear increasingly frequent screeches coming from the other room telling me LE is going to want to nurse soon. I've been planning to attach the childproofing thingies to the cupboards for over a month. It's a good thing the friend who loaned me the drill for this three weeks ago also has a baby, so she's understanding about not getting it back anytime soon. She probably doesn't have time to use it either.

The value of work, of course, comes down to money. While it's easy to see that raising a baby and making a house into a home are invaluable, apparently they're so invaluable that they're worthless. Priceless and worthless. I mean, I don't expect to be thanked all the time for this stuff, but I also don't like feeling denigrated for it, like I do when someone calls me a housewife. When I started my pregnancy leave from work, BE's mother said, with a glint in her eye I couldn't identify, 'You'll be a housewife now,' as though I were joining some great secret club, and my heart just sank. Would I be ironing underpants and shoving pillows under people too? Of course, not working means that BE supports me now. This is something I'm still getting used to. For months after I quit work I was draining my savings on things like groceries before it occurred to me that BE should be paying for this stuff, and that my savings should be going to things for the baby, or his schooling, or just be sitting there as my cushion-fund, money that's there so I don't have to worry about money or feel dependent. It took me several weeks before I could bring myself to ask BE to leave me money, because I haven't asked anybody for money for a long time. He felt weird about my asking too, because he knows how much I guard my independence. The money tacitly left on the table is just an embarrassing topic we avoid now.

BE is pretty good about helping out. That is, he's pretty good in comparison to most Turkish husbands about helping out with the house and baby. Like most Turkish men, though, he regards this kind of work as 'women's work,' work that is below him, and work that he's now absolved from doing because I'm not earning any money. He can spoon food into LE's mouth. He can change a diaper as long as it's not poopy, though I have to secretly go behind him and re-attach it because it's not on quite right. Occasionally, he'll take night duty, but he regards this as a favor to me and not something that's required of him. The fact that I've been getting four or five hours of very broken sleep a night (if I'm lucky) for the last four months doesn't make him feel any obligation, as in his mind, he's going out to 'work' the next day while I'll just be sitting at home, free to take naps whenever I want. Quite when I should take these naps, yet still get in an hour or so of doing something for myself that's not related to laundry or baby, is my problem and not his. The women in his world don't require time for themselves. They manage the house and baby and lack of sleep without complaint, so I should too. To these wonderful, magical models of perfect womanhood, I offer you a nice biscuit. You've won. I'm losing. And seriously, I'd like to know who you are. I'm somewhere between hating you and not believing in you.

I'm foreign here. I can't be expected to be like Turkish women because I wasn't raised that way. But I suppose even in America I'd feel a sense of not matching up to some model of the good wife and mother. Millions of women before me have felt like this. Sometimes when I complain (and I complain a lot, sometimes even just weeping weakly because I'm too tired to elaborate with actual, troublesome words), BE tells me 'You're a housewife now, get used to it.' It's that word, housewife. He's not trying to be mean, because even though he thinks of this work as below him, he doesn't think there's anything wrong with being a housewife. That, and Turkish doesn't use terms like 'stay-at-home-mom,' probably because they would seem redundant. But I seriously hate being called a housewife. It rankles. It hurts. And it makes me so mad. Because even though this is what I'm doing now, I also regard myself as above this kind of work. I have 25 years of education under my belt, with two BAs and an MA, and I chose to stay home with my kid because I wanted to, not because it was expected of me. In fact, it might be the opposite of what was expected of me. I have the luxury of staying home with him, and yes, I regard this as a luxury, because in the US this would probably be impossible. But I am not, nor will I ever be, a housewife.

I just have to find the time to do something more.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two Posts In One Day: Meme

Until very recently, I didn't even know what meme meant. I kept seeing it as the Turkish word meme, which means 'breast.' This could mean I've been in Turkey too long, in that I'm assuming Turkish and Turkish culture have infiltrated every corner of the Earth. Along with assuming the whole world hates them, I think a lot of Turks secretly believe everyone spends a lot of time admiring and emulating Turkey. I once spent half a lesson trying to convince a class that the Black Eyed Peas don't speak Turkish, and that they weren't singing 'şarap şarap' (şarap means 'wine'), but that they were actually singing 'shut up shut up.' By the time I gave up, most of the students still didn't believe me.

But in the interest of some shameless self-promotion, I'm being a joiner. Bri over at Unwellness has tagged me to try to impress this person, who's going to choose 100 mommy bloggers or family bloggers to interview and hopefully get them all kinds of attention. So this is like my big tryout, my moment that will make or break me. Is this a mainstream kind of movie where you know success and flowers and a fitting end for my enemies await you at the end? Or is it a more alternative flick where no one seems to get what they want but three days later you realize they actually did?

Drum roll for my big moment. I hope I don't make any spelling* mistakes:
Name of Blog: Istanbul's Stranger
My Name: Stranger (It's not my real name, by the way)
My About Page: I don't have one. There's a little blurb under 'About Me' in the top left corner, as well as a link to my complete profile. My complete profile is lame and incomplete because I couldn't be bothered to fill in the blanks.

I remember once reading a news item about a girl who killed herself after winning a radio contest. The prize was a pizza dinner for herself and ten of her friends. She killed herself because she didn't have ten friends. I'm supposed to tag three other people for this meme thingy, but I don't know three other mommy bloggers, so I'll give a tagback to Unwellness, I'll re-tag margaretjames, and I'll also tag Siobhan, another Istanbul mommy.

*I actually wrote 'speeling mistakes' there the first time around, but it seemed contrived so I fixed it.

Mandarin Oranges

One really great thing about Turkey is the availability of good, cheap mandarin oranges. To me, mandarin oranges smell like Christmas. Specifically, satsuma mandarins-- the kind with the loose, thick skin that are a bit pithy and really, really sweet.

When I was growing up, we never had satsuma mandarins in the market. They were a rare treat, given to us by the case as our yearly Christmas present from my father's aunt. She died this year, and no one remembered to tell me. I found out in passing this summer. That's one thing I hate about living so far away from home. I wasn't able to be there for either of my grandmothers' funerals, or even to say goodbye, and sometimes people forget to tell you about stuff like your great aunt dying.

Oranges are such a nice, old-fashioned Christmas gift. I remember reading old stories in which the children would wake up excitedly to find oranges and walnuts in their stockings. 'Lame,' I thought. 'What's the big deal about oranges?' But we would sure get excited when our box of mandarins showed up. They were like no oranges I had ever seen, so small and sweet and easy to peel. You could nibble them section by section and not get the juice all over your hands. My brothers and I would compete each year over who could find the smallest orange section. Fights broke out over this. It's amazing what siblings can find to argue about. We all believed that the smallest orange sections were not only the cutest, almost too adorable to eat, but the best tasting, and so we ate them with cannibalistic pleasure. One year, I found the smallest section ever. It wasn't much bigger than my pinkie fingernail. I ate it right away, forgetting to save it to show my brothers. Later, when they were claiming to have found the smallest sections, I kept telling them I had found it, but that I'd eaten it, and naturally they assumed I was lying, and my youngest brother found a section that was very small indeed, and I was forced to concede victory when my mom snapped at us that his was the smallest section ever, and to please shut up already or Santa wouldn't be coming that year.

Produce in Turkey is fresh and good. It's also seasonal, meaning in the winter, especially towards the end of winter, the choices get pretty bleak, and some things, like carrots and onions, look a little worse for wear. In theory, I believe in the goodness of the eating seasonally. In practice, though, carrots, celeriac, and potatoes get a bit old after eating them for weeks on end. Non-seasonal staples are available here, or what most people consider staples: tomatoes, green onions, and cucumbers, for example, but they are either imported or from greenhouses, and so are predictably tasteless.

I think I wouldn't find eating seasonally so objectionable if there were more variety here. I'm spoiled for varieties of produce, coming from Oregon where heirloom fruits and vegetables are all the rage. But, in Istanbul at least, the variety is depressing. One type of tomato that's red and perfectly round and travels well, and the occasional red or yellow cherry tomatoes in the summer. Two types of cucumber, one for pickling and one for salads, again quite uniform. Iceberg lettuce is everywhere, green leaf almost as much, with the occasional romaine. What galls me about the lack of variety is that Turkey has perfect growing climates for almost everything, from hot season crops like peppers and eggplants, to cool season ones like brassicas and salad greens. Citrus grows in the south just as well as apples and pears grow in the north. I often think it's the huge chain markets controlling the availability of things, as I've heard in villages there are really interesting varieties of fresh produce, and people love them. I'm sure Istanbullites would buy different things if they could, but they just aren't offered the choice from the mainstream markets, though there is a slightly wider variety of things at bazaars or from street sellers.

Occasionally, one of the big markets has something interesting. Ginger, for example. Whenever there's ginger, I buy a big load of it and freeze it. Limes are another oddity, which I always buy a few of and make some semblance of Mexican food. BE hates my taste for these occasional treats, as the cashiers never know what it is and won't enter its code without waiting ten minutes for some guy to run off and find it out while every one behind us in line oofs and shuffles and gives us dirty looks for buying weird vegetables and holding everything up. BE sometimes tries to placate them by shrugging with shame as if to say 'She's foreign, what can I do?' Sometimes the cashier does it for him, saying 'Foreigners buy these strange things. I never what to do.' Sometimes people ask how you cook with crazy things like ginger, and I'll try to explain something like gingersnaps or Chinese noodles, and they smile and say 'How very different!' which in Turkish is a polite way of saying, 'How disgusting that sounds!' Last week, Migros had celery (good celery, I was told, not the stringy, dark green kind they occasionally have which I've never bought because it's expensive and looks awful). A few of my friends preparing Thanksgiving dinners were thrilled to bits. They also had butternut squash. This caused a great buzz on both continents, as I heard about the butternut squash from several different people. Things like butternut squash and celery are so rare that word of their appearance hits the foreigner underground and spreads like wildfire.

In Turkey, mandarin oranges aren't precious or rare. You can have pounds and pounds of them pretty cheaply. But to me, they're still special. I can't stop myself from buying more and more, though I still tend to eat them slowly so as not to waste them. There are two big bags in my fridge right now, and when LE wakes up, I intend to buy another bag. I feel like I have to own as many as I can before the season is out. I might even do what my mom does to create instant Christmas house, which is to steep a sachet of mandarin orange peels, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon on the stove, filling the house with a delicious smell.

If I find a very small section in one of my oranges, you can be sure I'll photograph it with the digital camera to tease my brothers with. The youngest, I'm sure, still has a false sense of smugness about having found the smallest section ever.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Crunchy Mommy

Before I had a baby, I imagined I would be of the School Of Hard Knocks theory of parenting. None of this 'overindulgence.' No baby of mine would scream and bang spoons in a restaurant. No baby of mine would be allowed to cry when he wanted to come out of his carrier and sit on my lap. I would be the parent who would complete my sentences because no child of mine would ever be allowed to interrupt. No purse of mine would be filled with a million little things to be pulled out and handed to the baby every 30 seconds to suit whatever need he came up with at any given moment, meaning no pacifiers, no jingly frogs named cute things like Lahana (cabbage), no cloths to wipe spills and dribbles. If the baby cried at night, well, he could just cry and get over himself and learn to act like a normal person. There would be no special songs. No funny faces. No bland foods. None of this 'on-demand' nursing you hear about when an elderly Wal-Mart patron calls security on a woman who has the gall to feed her child in public. My child would learn early on that there are a lot of other people in the world besides him.

As you might imagine, that's all worked out very well for me, just as planned. Apparently, getting pregnant just causes your heart and brain to go squish, and the best-laid plans for a highly disciplined, well-trained little cadet just go out the window. LE is not an early candidate for West Point. A Doogie Houser educational plan is not in his near future. Miss Manners would not be impressed with him. I recognize the expressions on the faces of that childless couple at the next table because that used to be me, wondering why those people don't take better control of that child and stop him trying to fling the plates.

Much to the amazement of many who know me, I got pregnant on purpose. To say my experience with babies was limited would be a gross exaggeration. I pretty much feared them, with their milk and dribbles and bobbly heads and grabby, sticky little hands. Most babies I'd met had the wisdom to cry whenever I came near them. My one diaper changing experience happened when I was about 13, when my brothers and I were looking after some little kids while our parents were out for dinner. The toddler did a poo, and the 3 of us ended up sticking him in the bath rather than actually try to wipe the poo, but then we were afraid we were molesting him somehow and tried to wash him by splashing rather than touching him, and by the time we got him out of the bath and dried off and were fumbling with the diaper trying to work out which way it went, our parents came home and saved the day.

But, being the annoying over-achiever that I am, I approached pregnancy and childbirth and early parenting the way I did anything else, which was to read a lot. Then I discovered just how much there is to read on these topics, and how pretty much all of it is contradictory in some way or other. 'Do it this way!' says one book, 'And your child will have a lifetime of security and happiness to look forward to!' 'Never do it that way,' chides another website, 'Or your child will surely be torturing small animals by the time he's 10.' Do it 'right,' and your kid will be the one to cure cancer, bring about world peace, and inspire joy in the hearts of all who come near him. One false step will lower your kid's IQ, give him asthma, and send him straight behind the counter of a roadside White Castle.

So I decided to limit my reading to one book on pregnancy that wasn't bad, except for reminding me on every page not to smoke or drink, ever. That was an American book. The British websites said one or two drinks a week is okay. The Australians, as usual, were the friendliest and most easygoing by saying daily drinking is acceptable as long as you don't get tipsy. For baby care, I again got one book, something like a users' manual with lots of pictures of how to do things. I didn't want to get overloaded with often conflicting advice.

Like that's avoidable. The best I could do was find a general way of thinking about birth and babies, and try to stick to it in the face of what people around me were saying. Much to my surprise, I went the Crunchy Route. I went from wanting lots of drugs and an epidural to wanting a home birth. I went from wanting to create an intelligent and independent child by leaving him to his own devices as much as possible to wanting to create such a child by loving him to bits and giving him pretty much everything he wants until he's old enough to understand why he can't have it. This is surprisingly easy, as babies don't want much but a lot of time.

The home birth didn't happen because there was only one properly trained foreign midwife in all of Istanbul, perhaps all of Turkey, and she was working illegally and so not covered by my insurance (this was probably a blessing in disguise, as BE's father forbid a home birth, and BE was ready to obey him, and I was ready to consider that a deal-breaker, allowing his father to decide how I gave birth to my baby). But I went to birth preparation classes with the midwife, and she did some home visits after LE was born, and she was a wonderful and reassuring and invaluable person to have around at that time, because everyone else seemed to be wringing their hands and telling me I was doing everything 'wrong' and the baby would surely get very, very sick and die and it would be all my fault.

I did the on-demand breastfeeding. For about 5 months, I was an on-demand cow. I was a 24 hour open milk bar. I'm still an open milk bar all night, or a human pacifier; I'm usually too sleepy to tell what he's doing. For the first 3 months or so, I was sitting on the sofa surrounded by pillows, watching the same DIY programs on BBC that I'd watched two years before during the Snow Crisis. BE would come home to me looking (literally) drained, saying, 'He's been sucking for 4.straight.hours.' My book told me babies will demand the breast every two hours or so. That's really cute. LE at nine months is down to about every two hours or so. For the first three months, he was more of an every 40 minutes kind of guy. Meaning every 40 minutes, he'd want to nurse for an hour or three. As his mom, I'm not supposed to know about such things, but when he grows up, my money's on him being a Boobs Man.

But the World Of Crunch is a very competitive place. When you hang out with Crunchy folks, there's always someone who can out-crunch you. You're a vegetarian? Well, I'm a vegan, you animal-abusing monster. You bought your organic hand-sewn hemp shirt locally from Joe down at Saturday Market? Well, I bought mine from Juniper who works out of her house and only employs homeless women at living wages to do her sewing, and unlike that bastard Joe down at the market who uses factory thread, Juniper uses only thread made by her own free-range silkworms, you silkworm-exploiting bastard. It's the same for Crunchy Parenting. There are people who will tell you that if you don't on-demand breastfeed your little one until he's ready to wean himself around the time he goes to college like the native women in the jungles of Ecuador do it, he will grow up to be violent and selfish, with a deep-seeded sadness about him that comes from being ripped from the breast at an early age, and this sadness isn't the kind that will turn him into a poet. There are people who will tell you that if your baby is left to cry for any amount of time, even if it's just while you've nipped off for a pee, the neural pathways that will cause him to become Son of Sam are surely being burned as he's learning that his mother doesn't really love him and there's no one in the world that he can trust in his time of distress.

I will confess here, to the great shock of many who will tell me any great number of risks, that LE sleeps next to me in my bed every night. The Crunchies will applaud me for co-sleeping, as it's called, because this is 'natural.' Wolves don't put their babies in cribs in other caves to sleep, and nor do women in huts in Africa, and nor should we, in our modern, materialistic, selfish, silkworm-abusing world. To this, I say 'Bullshit.' LE doesn't sleep with me because it fulfills some philosophy of parenting. He sleeps with me because I'm lazy. I'm too lazy to wake up 5 times a night to nurse him and soothe him back to sleep. If he's next to me, all I have to do is fumble a nipple into his mouth at the first peep, and we happily go back to sleep. During the day, though, I'm thinking this co-sleeping business has to stop. LE was cute to sleep next to at first. He cuddled up and wiggled and did whatever he did while he was still inside me, except now it was on the outside, and I woke up in the morning to his little face looking up at me. He's still cute, and he still looks at me, but he also kicks and punches and reaches up to see if my lips and nose can twist off. Stopping is not as easy as it sounds, though. LE knows which side his bread is buttered on, and snuggling up to Mommy is the way to go, meaning he won't sleep in his crib anymore once he knows I'm in the room. No amount of nursing or soothing will convince him this is a good idea, and by 3am, after trying unsuccessfully for 4 hours to make him sleep in his own bed, I give up. Now our upstairs neighbor is helping LE's cause by complaining about the crying, and ringing our doorbell in the wee hours to tell us to make him stop, as though we aren't already trying and as though LE is the first baby in the world who cries at night. The neighbor's idea is that the baby should sleep in the living room, and that we should change all our furniture and evening habits to suit this. My idea is that the neighbor should buy some three dollar ear plugs and shut the fuck up, but BE pointed out that the neighbor is bigger than he is. BE's about six foot three, so the neighbor is pretty big. This didn't stop me from calling him a stupid son of bitch last time he stopped by, which means BE is pretty lucky the neighbor doesn't speak English.

Extensive breastfeeding is all the rage these days. The Crunchy Mommies tell us that a baby should be breastfed until he's ready to stop. This is called child-led weaning. If the child wants to nurse until he is four years old, then good mothers let him rather than disrupt his natural physical and psychological processes. Child-led weaning is nice, I suppose, and the only real argument against it is that it's not really socially acceptable to nurse a kid who's big enough to request the breast in clear language or get the breast out himself. I suppose to a Crunchy, social mores are the fabrication of plastic businessmen and the military-industrial complex, and so are best avoided (like soap). Even I have to admit I'm not so selfless as to continue with breastfeeding for several more years. I'd planned to nurse LE at least to 18 months then see how it went, though even that I'm reconsidering now. Why? LE bites. He bites a lot. He started biting before he had teeth, and the biting continues (more painfully) now that he has two bottom teeth, and I shudder to think what the biting will be like when he gets top teeth. My books didn't say anything about biting. Even Dr. Internet seems to think babies will bite once or twice, then stop it. LE hasn't consulted the Internet about this, and has started biting me every time he nurses, day and night, for the last couple of weeks. Nursing is getting loud and dramatic. The neighbor hasn't said anything, but I'm sure he also objects to 'Ow! God dammit!' at 4am. LE doesn't like it either, but it still doesn't discourage him from biting. Nor do pressing his nose into my breast as the crunchies recommend, or quietly unlatching him to return to nursing later, or calmly discussing with him why biting is not conducive to an effective breastfeeding relationship. I'm all torn up on this one, and I suppose I will have to find something between Crunchy and Not Getting Bitten On my Nipple. If a woman's body was made by Nature to nurture a child with teeth, why the hell are nipples so sensitive?

One very sensitive parenting issue is about making babies sleep. Despite my neighbor's belief that my baby should be sleeping quietly for 12 hours a night, the fact is, most babies don't sleep the way we want them to. We put up with it at first, telling ourselves it's a phase that will pass and that they'll sleep someday. After several months of sleeping 5 hours a night in 2 hour blocks, we stop feeling the love. There are so many books and methods and approaches about making babies sleep. Sleep is a Holy Grail of early parenthood, and even if we could remember exactly what sleep is, we still can't find a way to reach it. The villain of the sleep-training world is the Cry It Out approach, abbreviated as CIO in online parenting discussions. Some people swear by it. The Crunchies scream about it. Most people find a way in between. It's not crunchiness that prevents me from leaving LE to cry. It's that my squishy heart can't take it. There's a one-year- old baby downstairs who screams her little head off, and even though it's not very loud, it's brought tears to my eyes a few times feeling sorry for the little psychopath, not to mention her poor mother. LE may not be the best sleeper on earth, but he sure hasn't ever screamed himself hoarse. If picking him up doesn't immediately solve his problem, surely nursing him will. Turks tell me Downstairs Baby must have gas, because any baby unpleasantness here must be gas. Fear of gas was a new one for me. It's way worse than fear of cold or fear of dirt or fear of getting sick. Fear of giving the baby gas caused my mother-in-law to rip a bag of hazelnuts from my hand a few hours after LE was born, even though I hadn't eaten in over eight hours and, oh yeah, I had just pushed out a freaking baby. It ties in nicely with the Turkish foot obsession though, as a barefoot baby will surely get gas, and a barefoot mommy will also somehow pass gas to her baby through her milk. But if Downstairs Baby's problem is gas, the must be feeding her uncooked beans and lentils topped with cola and Pop Rocks, because that kid can scream like nothing I've ever heard before. Gas aside, if I ever try crying it out with LE, it will be last resort and it will only be if I'm fairly certain it will work. These days, I don't trust my 4am motivation for wanting to try it, because I think there's a vengeful streak behind it.

Another high Crunch Factor practice I engage in is cloth diapers. Much as I love LE and think everyone else should too, I just couldn't stand the idea of his poo sitting in landfills for the next 200 years. Plastic diapers are weird. There's an odd-smelling green gel in them which holds so much pee that the diapers stretch LE's clothes seams when they're full. The less crunchy reason for using cloth is that they're way cheaper. But, like co-sleeping, my love of nature and crunchiness and that good self-righteous feeling only goes so far, as LE still uses plastic diapers at night (I can't be bothered with cleaning up the leaks) and when we go out, because you will never catch me carrying around dirty cloth diapers.

I'm sure there are Crunchies out there who will condemn me for not wanting to carry poo, sleep in pee, and wash sheets every day. There must be baby lovers who will think me terribly selfish for being too sleep-deprived to properly balance my baby's biological need to snuggle up to me and punch my eyes every night with my biological need to sleep for more than two hours at a time. And I'm sure there are fierce breastfeeders out there who will screech 'Hang in there, sister!' at my Draconian thoughts of early weaning. To them, I say 'He's been immunized too!' because there are too many people in Turkey who haven't any vaccinations for me to feel I have the luxury to forgo dangerous, autism-causing shots. If it makes them feel any better, I'm not giving LE all those vitamin drops my doctor keeps getting mad at me for not using. I do believe vitamins are better gotten naturally from food, and anyway, those iron drops are supposed to be given two hours from any meal, and LE has yet to go two hours without eating something.

Crunchies, for all their peace and ecosystem loving, for all their tofu and soy milk and amaranth cereals, for all their 'Let Nature Take Her Course,' can be a downright judgmental bunch. No one can ever be crunchy enough. For my part, I don't think there are very many people out there purposely making bad decisions to hurt their babies. Most people want to do the best things for their babies, and whether it's from misinformation or just from trying to find a balance that works for both the mother and baby, their decisions are theirs and not mine to look down my nose on. Granted, I will never believe voluntary Cesareans are a good idea, or that formula is as good as breastmilk, or that babies should be left to cry, but to each his or her own. Be as crunchy or as un-crunchy as you like. I need a nap.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Street Dogs

One thing I always really used to love in Istanbul are the roving cats and dogs all over the city. I always had pets in the States, and I really missed animals when I came here. The street animals were a nice way to be able to pet and talk to and enjoy cats and dogs, without the bother of actually owning them. They're filthy, certainly, and have been rolling in god-knows-what, and my hands were usually black after a good pet, but I just carried a pile of moist towelette packets from restaurants in my purse, ready for when a friendly animal came by. Out where I live now, there are tons of dogs, but very few cats, and I've kind of quit petting them so much because there's always an old woman nearby to screech at me and I just got tired of it.

In the old days, there used to be packs of street dogs running around the city. This, apparently, was less pleasant, as dogs in packs are thinking in their pack mentality, and they can be more dangerous. My only experience with a pack of dogs was with a pack of overgrown puppies in Bakırköy. They were loping around and I just couldn't stop myself from squatting down in front of them and smiling, at which point the whole pack, eight or so of them, came bounding over to me, to jump all over me with licks and happy barks. For a few seconds I was inundated with giant puppies, then they just passed by and continued about their business.

Most Turks don't like animals very much. More specifically, they're put off by the manginess of some of the cats (and probably the thought of what they've been rolling in, given the number of open trash piles in the city), and a lot of people are absolutely terrified of dogs. I thought of writing this post looking out my window last night, when my neighbor was walking his little moppet of a white poodle, and a woman trying to enter her building screamed and backed away about twenty feet, refusing to go into the door until the neighbor took the poodle far, far away. To me this is hilarious, when people are scared of small, domestic dogs on leashes. I've seen grown men screech and run to the other side of the street at the sight of a dachshund. In their defense, it seems most Turks were bitten by stray dogs as children. A majority of my students had been. Plus, whenever a dog comes anywhere near a mother with her kids, the mother usually screams and pulls the kids away, thus passing on the fear. In the dogs' defense, people often run away from them, and, dogs being dogs, they think this is great fun and often chase them. To someone terrified of a dog, the difference between a bite and a playful nip isn't noticeable.

The dislike of dogs is also culturally embedded, as Islam considers dogs to be unclean animals. The Bakırköy dolmuş drivers have a special hatred of dogs, and many of them seem to keep bottles of water next to them just for throwing at dogs who come near. My husband says it's because they're Shafi (a sect of Islam), from Southeast Turkey along the Syrian border, and Shafis in particular loathe dogs. The drivers' Turkish is, to me, totally incomprehensible, mixed as it is with Kurdish and Arabic, so perhaps this is true. One thing I hate, though, is how some people treat the street animals. They kick them, throw rocks and water at them, hit them, and the meaner ones coax the animals to come to them before abusing them somehow. The security guards around my building seem to take care of the neighborhood strays, and many times I've seen them breaking up groups of teenage boys hurting one of the otherwise friendly dogs. There were groups of strays at my old school, dogs that lived on the farms surrounding the campus. One morning, we arrived at school to find one of them had gotten into the building somehow. Everyone was scared of him (again, an overgrown puppy), and no one knew what to do, so they were all wringing their hands waiting for security to show up. I went to the canteen and got a meat pastry, and used it to lure the dog outside. The only reason he couldn't get out himself is that he was kind of stupid and was scared of the stairs. All the while everyone was getting mad at me because I was pregnant, and they were sure I would catch some horrible disease. Just as I got the dog outside and fed him the pastry, a security guard showed up and kicked him in the face. The poor dog just yelped and cowered and rolled over on his back, trying to finish the pastry while the guard continued to kick at him. I tried to get him to stop it (couldn't he see the animal was clearly not a threat?) but he wouldn't listen. I felt kind of sick the rest of the day.

Many neighborhoods have their local stray, and there are people who feed it. In my neighborhood, many of the strays have ear tags (meaning they're fixed, I think), and are either friendly or just avoid people. Every year, they cull the strays because they do multiply. I'm guessing it's the security guards who choose which ones get tagged, based on whether they're nice, social dogs or not. People are told that the other dogs are taken out of the city to live on a farm, and surprisingly, people believe this. In one of my old neighborhoods, there was this huge black and white dog who was getting looked after. He was a dog with a job. Whenever some kids from another neighborhood came to bother the kids from ours, this dog would come and chase them off. He also chased off other dogs. Every night, as I was walking home late after dark, this dog would appear out of nowhere with a 'Wuff!,' and either take my hand in his mouth to walk me home, or trot along ahead of me to bark at anyone who came near me. I always gave him a good scratch when we arrived at my house. The first few times, I tried to give him some food, which he just turned his nose up at, looking at me like, 'I'm just doing my job, ma'am. I don't take tips, but that left haunch is a bit itchy...' Once this dog took a good beating in a fight, and I could see some neighbor had either taken him to a vet or patched him up himself. That winter the dog disappeared. I like to think someone took him off to a farm somewhere to retire.

I'll probably never have a furry pet here myself, not as long as I live in an apartment (I like small animals, like rats, but it would be a cold day in hell before my husband would allow one in the house-- my plan is to make LE want one so much his dad can't say no). I don't think it's fair to a cat to be trapped inside all the time (it makes them a bit psychotic and strange), and I can't stand litter boxes. A small dog would be possible, I suppose, but I don't like them much and I hate having to walk them and pick up after them. Sometimes on some of the expat forums I regularly read, there are impassioned pleas for money for some animal shelter or other, with discussions about how mean people are to the street animals, and how uncaring, and it's certainly true. At the same time, I can't see how the street animals are more important than, say, the street children, who also roam in packs selling Kleenex and begging for change, and people aren't much kinder to them. At the place where I used to catch my bus, there was a nice street dog with a tagged ear. She was one of those dogs who smiles, really smiles, and very morning we had a nice little chat and a scratch, with her curling her lips up to show me all her teeth. Natually, I named her 'Smiley.' My bus driver and the students on the bus were horrified, and none of them wanted to sit next to me, but I still see that dog going around sometimes, smiling at people and either coming up to them or shying away as she sees fit. She's clearly not a pet, but she will have to do.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Small Things

As a follow-up to yesterday's 11/17 post, here are some small things that happened yesterday:

1) We played the lottery with the numbers I mentioned. We're still waiting to hear if we will be rich beyond our wildest dreams.

2) We went to the tea garden yesterday. Working at the tea garden was formerly 'On Crank Migros Cheese-Counter Guy Who Wants To Practice English' (Migros is a foreign-chain supermarket here) cum 'On Crank Onur Market Dried Snacks-Counter Guy With Very Limited English' cum 'On Crank Revan Restaurant Busboy Who's Beginning To Realize English Is a Chore And So Is Happy With Hello Yenge How Are You' (yenge means 'female relative by marriage', but can be used to address anyone's wife). Now he's 'On Crank Tea Garden Super Waiter Who's Given Up On English By His Own Admission.' Maybe he's not really on crank. Maybe yesterday he'd just overdone the tea and coffee. He was very happy to see us. Very, very happy.

3) On The Weakest Link, they said the name of the younger son of the Dean at the posh boarding school. It's a very uncommon name. In fact, yesterday was the second time in my life I've heard that word as a name.

4) Last night, I popped online to peek at my blog and see if anyone cared about me. No one did. However, after opening my blog, I looked at the computer clock and it was 10:17. Then I checked my visitor counter at the bottom of the page and it was 1,117.

*cue Twilight Zone music*

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17 and Ruminations Thereof

Ever since I got kicked out of high school on November 17, 1989, I've always felt this to be an important day. Extreme luck, somehow, either very good or very bad.

Let me dispel of a few notions that first sentence might have evoked. First, getting kicked out of high school, which happened almost 20 years ago, was a major event at the time, but not one that I still dwell on particularly. I'm over it, really. Sometimes the injustice of it irks me a bit, and sometimes I think what a wonderful thing it was in my life's path, a good thing disguised as a bad thing, as good things often are. The only reason I remember the date at all is that it was exactly one month after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, where my parents and brother were living at the time. More on that later. Next, mentioning 'luck' in relation to a date might make me look superstitious, which I'm not. Not exactly. Or maybe I am, if I assign importance to the numbers 11 and 17.

The date 11/17 resonated with me at the time, not only because I got kicked out of high school exactly one month after the San Francisco earthquake, but because I already knew those numbers as the time Lunch started in middle school-- 11:17am. For two years, it was a seriously important time of day (the daily one hour of socializing in middle school was pretty much everything my adolescent mind was wrapped around at the time, the one hour of Real Life that happened each day), a completely random time because the school had three-minute passing periods, and the numbers stuck in my mind. For every year since 1989, I've woken up on November 17 with a feeling that something big was going to happen. In the context of my daily existence for each of those years, something big has indeed happened, but in fact I can't remember what any one of those things were, as they were so embedded in the life of my mind at those times that the significance and memories are lost now. The exception to this is November 17, 2001, my first 11/17 in Turkey. On that day, I awoke to discover a tiny new mole on the palm of my left hand, near my thumb. For a few hours I thought it was a speck of dirt, but by 10am, having had no success of washing it off, I established it was truly a mole. I was delighted. No one else cared. The mole seemed very portentous at the time, though of what, was and remains unclear.

The gamblers among you might suggest that I play 11 and 17 in the lottery. I have. Many times. Keno too. Nothing.

The school I got kicked out of was a posh boarding school in Southern California. To me now, it seems very incongruous that I would have gone to such a school, but I did, and they kicked me out, along with three of my friends. We wrote a little underground newspaper together ('underground' seems like an exaggeration now, but at the time it felt huge, what we were doing), and everyone on the closed campus got very upset on their own and each others' behalf, and because no one really had much else going on, people's emotions increased exponentially throughout the day so that by lunchtime (lunch again!), we felt we had to sneak a ride off-campus because we were pretty sure someone would kill us. We'd written the paper anonymously, though by the end of the day, after a tearful call with my father telling him I would probably be expelled and him assuring me I would not be, I went and turned myself in.

It turned out the Headmaster was already looking for me. Not because of the newspaper-- I blindsided him with that little confession-- but because some other students had turned me in for worshipping Satan. They thought this was so because I had been given a coveted big dorm room that lots of other girls wanted following the expulsion of another student for theft, and so they thought I must have used my powers from my covenant with Satan in order to get this room (in fact, the Dean had given me the room because I was the only person who hadn't asked him for it, and that pleased him). Besides getting the room, I had once made a joke about chicken sacrifices, and I had put a sign above my dorm room door saying 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here,' because my room was notorious for being rather a mess. Another teacher had told these impressionable young girls that I was probably worshipping Satan, and that if they'd ever used a Ouija board or dropped acid, their chakras were open to demonic possession and they were in grave danger from me. In terror, the girls had reported me to the Headmaster that very same day, November 17th. I feel I should point out that this wasn't a religious boarding school, but rather just a place that fomented madness in its own way, as happens in very closed communities.

So I was questioned about my alleged covenant with Satan, and my involvement in the earthquake a month before, as well as my involvement with the newspaper. While the expulsion itself doesn't weigh on me much and now seems very surreal, I admit the newspaper does weigh on me. Mostly it was a very sophomoric attempt at being clever and funny. While a lot of it was just teenage bitching about campus life and things that were unfair or unpleasant, we also made the mistake of putting into print the grist of the campus gossip and rumor mill, which naturally went down very badly. It was poorly written, this newspaper, because in our zeal with doing something so secret and forbidden and momentous, we didn't edit it very carefully. But the real reason it weighs on me is because we wrote some pretty mean things about some people who didn't deserve it. In fact, we were just repeating things everyone said anyway, but things like this become more cruel on paper. So both the bad writing and the cruelty to some really undeserving people still don't sit right with me, even now.

While I was being questioned about Satan and the newspaper by the Dean and the Headmaster (in the Dean's favor, he did try to get the Headmaster to shut up about the Satan thing and focus on the newspaper thing), the Dean lit a cigarette using my Zippo that he'd confiscated from me a few weeks earlier, without punishment but with an admonishment to be more careful about smoking and not to get caught again. Whether using my lighter at that particular time was intentional on his part is something I still wonder about. He wasn't a bad man, the Dean, though he was thought to be, because he was in charge of discipline. In fact, he was probably ill-suited for this job of campus cop. I think he was probably a very decent man with an odd sense of humor, someone who I'd like today. To his credit, when I returned to campus a few weeks later with my dad to pick up some of my stuff and also to get my brother, who was unable to suffer the teasing and threats anymore because of what I'd done, the Dean apologised to me and told me he thought they'd made a mistake, kicking me out. The other reason I secretly liked the Dean was because his two boys, for whom I babysat once, were such nice kids. Best babysitting job ever. We had dinner, we watched Raising Arizona, we had a little roughhouse, then the boys both stretched and said they were tired, and went off and brushed their teeth and went to bed. They weren't tricking me either-- they really went to bed all by themselves with no fighting or prodding by me.

I mentioned earlier the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco as being part of what makes November 17 so memorable. The earthquake happened on a weekend during a Giants game. Blissfully unaware, I was milling around campus that day when some other students who'd been watching the game came up to me and told me that San Francisco had fallen down, and what hadn't fallen down was in flames, and that my family was probably dead but no one could get through because the phone lines were full. This was typical behavior of students at this school, this kind of meanness. Other younger students from San Francisco were in tears, while students like the ones who'd reported the earthquake to me had a good laugh. One thing I learned at this boarding school was a certain rigorousness to learning, and how to participate in my own education. This was invaluable. Another thing I learned at this school was that the wealthy and privileged are, by and large, total assholes. Both of these lessons have served me time and time again.

In the end, my family was fine. My aunt phoned the school to tell me this, as she'd been watching the baseball game in Las Vegas, they'd seen the earthquake, and had phoned my parents right away, before the lines filled up.

Right now, it's almost noon on November 17. I've been awake since about 5am thanks to LE, and I've been up since 7, and so far nothing momentous has happened. I didn't even have any dreams worthy of note. Last night, our building was struck by lightening which scared me half to death and miraculously didn't wake the baby, but that doesn't count because it was November 16. So I'm waiting, fingers crossed that the luck goes a good way and not a bad way.

Not that I'm superstitious. But maybe we should play the lottery today. 11 17 19 89, plus LE's birthday. It can't hurt, right?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


There are some cities that really have lives of their own. They are an organic force that seems to exist outside the residents, or the buildings, or the nighttlife, or the businesses, or the things that happen behind closed doors that no one knows about, yet this force couldn't exist without all of these things. Some cities, when they appear in stories or films, are as much a character as the people.

San Francisco is one of these cities. Whenever a film takes place in San Francisco, the director can't help but be conscious of the city itself, and the architecture, and the unique character of the people and streets. When I lived in San Francisco, people always seemed to be aware of where we were and how San Francisco was a part of life. There are plenty of people who make a conscious effort to be wacky or urbane in a way that only a San Francisco denizen can be, yet there is still a San Francisco-ness that's there without even trying. New York is sometimes a city like this, and sometimes not, because it's capable of being both a unique place full of New Yorky people (as it was in Taxi Driver or Moonstruck or Ghostbusters) or a generic 'Metropolis' (as it was in the Superman films).

Istanbul is definitely its own character. Istanbul lives and breathes and can be felt to exist outside of time. To compare Istanbul to any American city falls flat, because our 200 years of history just don't hold up to Istanbul's thousands of years, or the way that people hold this history inside themselves and their actions as they go about their daily lives. In Istanbul, you can literally stumble over a piece of a 1,000 year old wall. People can steal stones from this wall to build their shanty houses with. You can walk on streets that have run with blood. You can hear music that probably hasn't changed much since music was invented. You can be sitting somewhere and without even trying, you can be transported to the same place doing the same thing 100 or 500 years ago. Sometimes it's just a matter of imagining different hats on passersby.

While at times I like the silence of the suburbs, there are other times I miss the noises. Inside the city, whenever anyone is backing up a car, day or night, there's always a guy who appears out of nowhere to shout, 'Gel gel gel gel gel gel dön dön dön sağ sağ sağ...' (come come come come turn turn turn turn right right right...) Out here in the suburbs, there aren't guys with carts walking up and down the streets calling out their wares. You can rarely understand exactly what these guys are saying, but you know what they're selling by the tune of what they're shouting. Okay, the boza guy (boza is a winter drink made from fermented wheat) is clearly shouting 'Boooooozzzzaaaa!,' but the water guys don't sound like they're saying sucu (water guy)-- they sound like they're saying 'deeeeeewwwwwip!' and the sütçü's (milkman's) word sounds a lot the same except the intonation is different. But there aren't many milkmen inside the city anymore. I guess they were banned, or buyers were discouraged enough from buying their milk that they went out of business. Apparently there was enough dodgy milk to make everyone nervous. There are still plenty of other guys with carts though. Some of them have mangy, sad-looking horses (or are they large ponies?), but most haul their carts themselves. They'll take away your old things for you-- some take metal things and others take broken things while still others take anything. When I lived inside the city I never had to make any effort to give away old stuff-- I'd just leave it out on the street and some gypsies would cart it off within hours.

Once my friend saw a dead horse floating in the Bosporus. A lot of gypsies live in the old wall along the water, and I suppose it was just the best they could do-- I'll bet it's pretty expensive to dispose of a dead horse properly. I've seen some dead dogs and cats in there, and there are always millions of little jellyfish feeding on the garbage. I know people who've seen dolphins in there too, jumping along the side of the seabus in the morning, but I haven't been so lucky. I've seen sunken (or maybe scuppered?) fishing boats, bits of houses, parts of cars... If I could scuba dive, the first place I'd go to check out is the bottom of the Bosporus, though I'll bet plenty of people have thought of that already and hauled off everything good.

I mention the dead horse because it's evocative. It seethes with mystery. The whole gypsy life along that wall does. So do a lot of other places here, and you don't have to be in the old part of town. Once you're out of the Istanbul's historical areas, it starts to look pretty drab and grim. The buildings are repetitive and uninspired 60s-style concrete blocks with fading paint. The streets are in disrepair and there's garbage everywhere. Woodsy the Owl apparently never set foot in Istanbul. But this is misleading. Life in Istanbul is on the inside. People are meticulous, even fussy about the decor in their homes, and housewives are fanatical about cleanliness. If you want to find a good place to eat or drink or buy stuff, it's best to go with someone who's been there before or who knows the area, because from the outside, most bars, shops, and restaurants look exactly the same, and there's no way of knowing which are good except by experience. In Takism, there are bars that aren't visible or even marked on the outside. Once my friend (the same one who saw the dead horse) tried to take us to this great afterhours bar he'd been to the night before that was on the 5th floor of some apartment building. He'd been pretty drunk, though, and he couldn't remember exactly which apartment building it was, so we just chose one and climbed to the top. Indeed there was a bar there, open after hours, with a bartender, a DJ, and their friend inside. As it turned out, it wasn't the same bar my friend had been to the night before, but no matter. We ordered our drinks and enjoyed ourselves as the bartender slowly downed a bottle of rakı and the DJ and his friend went home, after showing us how the system worked. The bartender passed out, and we had our run of the place-- we just fixed ourselves drinks, set up playlists on the computer, and danced until the sun came up. When we tried to wake up the bartender to pay him, he got mad, so we had to slip the keys from his pocket to let ourselves out. My friend went back later that day to pay the bartender, who was happy but apologetic, and begged him to bring us all back soon. Unfortunately, we were never able to find that place again. It was like a magical dream bar.

All cities have sidestreets. In an effort to sound romantic or hard, residents may refer to them as backstreets, but I'd never seen a proper backstreet until I came to Istanbul. It's so easy to get lost-- not just because the streets wind around and kill my already weak sense of direction, but because they all look the same and it's next to impossible to landmark things. In Kadıköy on the Asia side, there's a street where all the bars are. I don't know how many times I've been there, but I get lost every time on the way up from the seabus station. Getting back to the water is easy, even if you're tipsy. You just go downhill and eventually you're there. It's the same if you want to go from Galata Tower to Beyoğlu. I'm only at Galata Tower when tourist friends are visiting, so while they're going around and around the top of the tower snapping pictures, I look out to find a tall Beyoğlu landmark, and plan which street to take when we get back down. I like when friends come here as tourists because I get to go sightseeing to places I'd never go back to otherwise. The walk from Galata Tower to Beyoğlu is really nice. It's fun, and you get to take the tourists around some backstreets they may not have braved themselves. It's usually pretty easy because you just head downhill, so even if you're kind of lost, as long as you're going down, it usually ends up okay.

Once when my parents were visiting, they got lost making this walk. I was on my way to Taksim to meet them, and had jumped off the dolmuş well before the square so I could go up to a Tünel sidestreet where I knew there was a man with a cart who sold small stone animals, and I wanted to buy a little gift for BE, who was doing his military service at that time. It was kind of random where I jumped off. I mean, I knew were I wanted to go but not exactly. Luckily for my folks, I got off the dolmuş less than 100 feet from where they were standing and looking around nervously wondering what to do. I took them up to Tünel with me to find the man with the small stone animals, and when I found him, they were duly impressed. Another time, some friends of my father's cousin were here. They turned out to be great tourists, and really fun people to hang out with. Lucky for me, because as I was taking them on a backstreet adventure from Galata Tower, even with the downhill thing, I got us completely lost. They were still reeling from the views from the tower, where you can catch little glimpses of people's lives from the stuff on their roof terraces, and the woman was a photographer. They had a pretty good sense of humor when I told them I was lost and it was taking much longer to reach Beyoğlu than I thought it should, but I was maintaining my faith in going downhill. My tourist friends were still happily pointing out curiosities and snapping photographs. The streets started getting narrower and more shadowy, and the ubiquitous guys sitting on stools on the sidewalks started looking more suspicious than curious, then they just became disconcertingly expressionless. I had definitely led us to somewhere we weren't supposed to be. This was confirmed when a car passed in front of us and two young men ran by shooting at it with small pistols, then ran past us up the hill. The guys on stools hardly reacted at all (very odd for Istanbul, as you can draw a crowd just by looking up for a little while, and if you stay long enough, people on the fringes of the crowd are likely to get into an argument), while the man in the car just got out, inspected the damage, looked up the road where the gunmen had run off, blinked a couple of times, then drove away.

About ten minutes later, I found the street I wanted in Beyoğlu and we decided to stop for a cup of tea. We chatted about nothing for a few minutes, then started wondering if that shooting thing had really happened. I get that feeling a lot here, wondering if something actually just happened. Fortunately my tourists friends found it more exciting than scary, and they still trusted me to take them out for dinner. As parents, they recommended I not tell mine about the incident till I was safely at home in the US, but I think I did anyway just so it wouldn't reach my dad through the family grapevine.

Gunmen, tired-eyed whores for every taste peeking through lace curtains, small stone animal sellers... I've probably had the least adventurous times than most people on Istanbul backstreets. To be honest, I'm kind of a chicken. I know there's a whole life there, a whole world that doesn't even touch me, not something so mundane as a criminal element (though that's there too), but something else entirely that neither I nor the petty thieves, pimps, or foreign mafia can even scratch the surface of. Even if I went slumming it in some backstreet region, found a few friends and thought I was participating in that life, I'd be nothing more than someone hanging on the fringes. Below the surface of Istanbul, in the places where people like me don't really go, there's something so ancient, so alive, and so very very foreign.