Sunday, November 11, 2007

Crisis: Averted!!

It's been a couple of weeks since my post about the events on Turkey-Iraq border, and I have to say, things seem to have calmed down here. What at first appeared in the media to be a vengeful all-out Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq looks like it's been downgraded to a secret, Special Forces-type war. Bombs were lobbed over the border, to be sure, but now the Americans appear to be collaborating with the Turks by providing them with intelligence information and maybe some soldiers. Not that this has stopped many people from hating the Americans, who are viewed as being the cause of all of this, and people resent that the attack on Northern Iraq is being carried out on American terms with America's patriarchal assistance.

The Turkish news is talking about something else and I quit paying attention. The English-language news is silent on any Turkey issues. Flags are still waving from most apartment windows, but it takes awhile for them all to come down after a national holiday, and yesterday (November 10) was a type of holiday too. November 10 is the day Atatürk died. In remembrance of the moment of his death, all of Turkey has a minute of silence at 9:05am on November 10. I've never actually been in a crowded area of the city at this time of the morning, but I'm told it's astounding. An air-raid siren sounds, and for one minute, everything stops. Pedestrians stop walking, cars stop driving, people stop talking, vendors stop hawking, and music stops playing. Many people, like my husband, get tears in their eyes.

Having gotten caught up in the last crisis and having had the feeling that I needed to cover LE with my body to protect him from the world coming to an end, I started thinking about some other crises in Turkey since I've been here. Some of them, like this recent one, I've gotten caught up in the hullabaloo, but for others, I'm able to keep my snooty aloofness.

One crisis we all got through okay I mentioned in a previous post, in which former Prime Minister Ecevit's ministers resigned on him. They decided Ecevit was too old, that his reign had gone on long enough, and that he just wasn't doing a very good job anymore. The Lira tanked for that political crisis, and though we spent a sorrowful day at work watching our salary dwindle away against the dollar, things were back to normal in a few weeks, for me and those other teachers, anyway. The greater Turkish economy took a pretty big hit, and that time is still referred to as a mini-crisis. It's nothing like the recent major economic crisis here in 2000, when several banks crashed and several bank owners absconded with all the money and the (old) Turkish Lira went from 600,000 to 1.5 million to the dollar almost overnight.

The year before last, the pet crisis was bird flu. A few contaminated birds were found in Turkey and the crisis exploded. Fear of bird flu was suddenly rampant, and it filled the airwaves. Every evening we were treated to footage of mounds of dead chickens and geese being carted out of the villages. The guys doing the carting were always clad from head to toe in spaceman-like biohazard gear, though invariably the carts were surrounded by gawking villagers and several children dancing around and mugging for the cameras, none of whom had any protection whatsoever from the supposedly contaminated birds. Most smaller chicken and egg producing companies were put out of business, and even now all that remain are a few large corporations that irradiate the products to EU standards and proudly stamp this on the packaging. Fish sales skyrocketed, as did the price of fish while the savvy fishermen cashed in on the birds' misfortune. While I'm sure most of my neighbors stopped buying chicken and were living in fear of bird flu, they continued throwing their uneaten bread out onto the second-floor landings, thus attracting flocks of wild birds to our kitchen windows. I seemed to be the only one bothered by this, not so much because of bird flu, but because the occasional pigeon would get in and poop all over.

As a side note, I find pigeons and their poo particularly disgusting. I'd rather have a rat in my house than a pigeon. In fact, once I did have a rat in my house here (though surely I'm kidding myself by calling it 'a rat' in the singular when logically there's no such thing). At night, he would steal my dirty underwear from the laundry pile and drag it under the bed to nibble, or he would rifle through the trash in the kitchen and knock over the empty wine bottles in there. Once I went on vacation to the States for a couple of weeks, and when I returned, the rat had made himself at home. He'd grown downright cheeky in my absence, and would saunter audaciously down the middle of the hallway while the lights were on, pause in doorways to look at me and sniff contemptuously before continuing about his business. I got used to the rat, but pigeons I can't abide.

As another side note, during the bird flu crisis, BE and I mentioned to his mother that we were thinking of getting a cat. His mother can't abide any animal, particularly one in the house, so she went nuts at this development. She told us we couldn't get a cat because they were so dangerous. She'd seen on the news a story about a village cat that had eaten a bird infected with bird flu, and the cat died. Then a village boy had come along and played with the dead cat, from which he contracted bird flu and also died. To me, the real problem with this story was the boy who played with the dead cat, but not to my mother-in-law. When we told her that news story was untrue and probably biologically impossible, she suddenly remembered my husband is deathly allergic to cats, an ailment that even my husband was unaware of until that moment. In the end, we didn't get the cat, but that's because we live in an apartment and don't want a cat box or a cat who can't go outside, not because of bird flu.

This summer's crisis was the water crisis. Suddenly, according the government, Turkey's reservoirs were down to 30% capacity. It was as though it happened overnight, even though it must take a few years of drought to get water supplies that low. Since I've been in Turkey, I've not heard a peep about water conservation or water shortage. Turkey's always proud to be one of the only countries in this region with ample water. Every morning and several times throughout the day, millions of shopkeepers and housewives pour water on the pavement in front of their doors to keep the dust down. People wash their cars with high-pressure hoses which they leave running into the gutters while they soap the cars. When someone leaves, you're supposed to throw water behind their departing vehicle (it's a superstition and I have no idea of the reasoning behind it). These are just a few examples of water usage here. Most of this behavior continued even after the warnings about a water shortage started to surface. And then it became a crisis. Experts estimated that Istanbul would be completely out of water by September. We were looking at weeks-long water cuts in the dead of summer. BE insisted we store a bunch of water on the balcony in bottles where it still sits, turning greening or reddish, depending on what was in the water to start with. TV commercials about water conservation started to appear. One of them showed a teacup being stirred with sugar cubes and dry tea leaves in the bottom, and warned us that if there is no water, there is no tea. A terrifying prospect indeed, though I'm sure most people, like me, use bottled water for tea because the tap water is very hard and not really drinkable, sometimes with a funny color or smell. On highway overpasses, government-sponsored banners appeared telling us that dishwashers use less water than washing by hand, as though most people here would suddenly be able to afford dishwashers in order to save water.

And now it's November, and the taps are still running. There's been a 30% price increase with more to come, and there's been a baffling increase in the amount of red stuff in the water. Maybe that's what the price increase is for. To be fair, Ankara was without water for several weeks, and the guys that sell plastic storage containers there quadrupled the price of their wares. But here, nothing. No crisis. Not that I'm complaining. Water cuts are a pain. In the center of Istanbul some people's water is cut off weekly, and I'm just glad it's not me. I can't imagine dealing with all the things that regularly come out of a baby without having water readily accessible.

My final crisis for this post is one that happens almost every year, which is the Snow Crisis. At the first hint of anything like snow, the news is suddenly filled with the Snow Crisis, complete with footage of previous years' snowy messes and heart-pounding music. I've spent five winters in Istanbul, and it has snowed pretty heavily four of those years. Nonetheless, no one seems to understand what's happening when it snows. Perhaps because it's supposed to be a hot Mediterranean country, no one can accept the snow. Much like when it rains, everyone promptly forgets how to drive. Panic abounds. Old people hear about the impending Snow Crisis and line up to buy bread. In fact, whenever the news starts shouting about any kind of crisis, old people line up to buy bread. These bread lines get really long, with all these poor old people standing outside shivering. I guess they didn't get the news that lots of bread is readily available from lots of places besides the roadside Halk Ekmek ('public bread') stands where everyone lines up. Snow brings everything to a standstill.

The first year I was here, it dumped a few feet of snow but the government opted to keep schools and everything open. Then a few little kids died trying to get home from school in the snow. So the following two years, as soon as the first flake hit the ground, the government quickly closed all the schools and public offices for several days, but the snow didn't really come, not the kind that sticks anyway. Then the snow came for real, and there was another week of everything closed. For teachers and students (and people who work in public offices, I suppose), this is great. Free days on end with nothing to do but laze around the house and watch home improvement on BBC, occasionally flipping to the news to see if your school is closed the next day. Two years ago, the snow came right after Kurban Bayram, which followed the semester break, and I ended up with a month off work. Admittedly, I got a bit stir crazy because I couldn't really go anywhere, and for a few days, there was no water or electricity during the day, so I was forced to devise low-tech entertainment.

Despite, all these crises, we somehow carry on. The upshot of the bird flu crisis is that chicken and eggs are more expensive and less tasty. The upshot of the water crisis is pinkish baths for LE that smell faintly of blood, and a higher water bill. The upshot of all the snow crises is that this past winter, when I spent most days on the sofa nursing LE, I'd already seen every BBC home improvement and antiques show at least once, and knew how they ended.

I think the important thing is to remember not to get sucked into all these crises.


melissa said...

Hmm, sitting around nursing was how I spent my winter too, and that was without a snow crisis.
And I really hope that the boy was NOT playing with the dead cat. What exactly would one do with a dead cat anyway? Dress it up? Make youtube videos like the one Bri recently posted?

Stranger said...

I'm pretty sure the story about the boy and the dead cat was made up, either by the media or by MIL. Either that, or a village boy died, and the villagers were unclear as to why, but were caught up in the bird flu panic, which made them forget that the boy probably died from going outside with wet hair or from not wearing his undershirt. I think, in fact, no one in Turkey actually died, or even got sick form bird flu.

The only thing I can think of to do with a dead cat is poke it with a stick. Or maybe have a Tom Sawyer-esque moment of waving it over your head to cure warts?