Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Things We Say

With a baby, things often come out of my mouth that I never thought I'd hear myself say. Yesterday LE made a new friend at the neighborhood park while I chatted with his friend's grandmother. Because I'd only planned to be out for a half hour or so, and it's easier to chase after the boy unencumbered by his bag of equipment (sippy cup, snacks, diapers, wipes, toys, a blanket, butt cream, etc. etc. ... my school backpack has been recruited to a new role that suits it well), all I'd brought with me was the boy and my house keys.

Then LE ate sand. First he was nicely sprinkling the sand into my hand. Then he ate a pebble which I took. Then he ate a tiny dessicated snail which I also took. So he ate another pebble and when I took it he was so mad at me he threw a handful of sand in his mouth to show me what's what. Then he realized sand isn't yummy, and that Mommy can't remove it with one finger, especially not without water from the sippy cup. He looked troubled by all this.

So I picked him up and said to his friend's grandma in what I believe to be perfect Turkish, "LE ate sand. We're going home."

Oddly enough, I have no idea when or where I learned to say 'sand' in Turkish.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pants On Fire

A few recent events in my barely bloggable life, plus a discussion on the ELT World Forum provided the inspiration for this post. It's about lying, and whether or not the notion of a lie can be culturally bound. In Turkey, foreigners often run into situations where they are lied to, and are left with the feeling that, as a whole, this is a culture that doesn't value honesty very much, and that people will happily hand you a load of bullshit to keep you from getting upset with them or to serve their own ends. In the schools where many of us work, we quickly learn that being honest gets you screwed and the teachers who are comfortable with dishonesty are rewarded.

But despite having been bullshitted or lied to repeatedly here by my husband, his family, public servants, and other workers at various establishments, I'm hesitant to indict the entire culture as liars. I'm less hesitant to question the character of the people who have lied to me, while at the same time I recognize that they themselves don't view what they're doing as lying per se, at least not the way that I think of as lying. I'm more inclined to think that, growing up in the US, the rules I have learned about what is lying and what is morally wrong apply very differently here.

Here's an example of a small lie anybody is likely to encounter here that perhaps demonstrates a bigger picture of one aspect of lying in Turkey. You are looking for a place and ask someone for directions. He doesn't have the faintest idea where the place is, yet enthusiastically gives you very detailed directions that send you well out of your way. To me, this is a lie. If the guy doesn't know, he should just say 'I don't know.' But in Turkish culture, people tend to want to avoid giving bad news. Not knowing where something is counts as bad news, so a lot of people will just pretend they know where it is. To me, I'd just rather be given the bad news and go ask someone else. Turkish people know about this bad news thing, and so will rarely ask just one person for directions. They'll stop, ask one person, go a few blocks and ask another, and go a few blocks more and confirm it with a third person. That American notion that it's shameful for a man to ask directions absolutely doesn't exist here, which, given the unreliable street signs and even more unreliable directions people give, is a very, very good thing.

Some of the lies I've come across recently show a person trying to avoid giving bad news. It's just that as a foreigner, I'm not always clear on what constitutes bad news, and, where a Turkish person can easily understand he's being lied to, I'm not very good at guessing when the person is lying. Also, unlike the Turkish person, I get really pissed off when I realize I've been lied to. But it's not just to avoid giving bad news that people lie, I find. Another big reason for lying is to keep someone from getting upset with you. This pisses me off too, when someone just looks me in the face and tells me something I know is absolutely untrue. It makes me feel like they think I'm stupid or that they have no respect for me at all. Turkish people are mixed in their reactions to these kinds of lies. Sometimes they get mad, while other times they appreciate the gesture of someone trying to avoid upsetting them (I should note that when I talk about lying to keep someone from getting upset with you, I'm not talking about the white lies that are acceptable in American culture, like the kind we tell to avoid hurting someone's feelings. I'm talking about lies people tell so you won't get angry with them, which to me is a big difference). The third kind of lie, the kind people tell in order to achieve some sort of personal gain, makes everyone angry. You can get these lies from complete strangers (like produce sellers who assure you something is organic), but more often they come from employers, friends, neighbors, and people you trusted and thought you knew relatively well. I find these kinds of lies are a lot more prevalent here than in my social circle at home.

Also more prevalent here is academic dishonesty and plagiarism. While most people seem to have the notion that it's 'bad,' no one really bats an eyelid about it. My students generally believed that the only people who didn't cheat were the ones who were so smart they didn't need to, and the ones who were too stupid to think of cheating. I was always pretty shocked by the amount of cheating that went on, and even more shocked by the administrations' total lack of response to cheating. Everyone cheating in school is another reason I prefer going to doctors who were educated outside of Turkey-- I'd rather not be operated on or diagnosed by someone who cheated on all of his exams and plagiarized his research. In Turkey, cheating is acceptable because no one gets punished for it, or at least the punishments aren't severe enough for anyone to care. But this also got me wondering, wouldn't more American students cheat if the consequences for it weren't so serious? And if that's true, wouldn't we also tell a lot more lies if we knew we'd get away with it without very much trouble?

I'm going to give some examples of situations I've come across recently, and I'll leave it to my dear readers in their various cultural contexts to decide whether or not it was lying, or if the lying was somehow justifiable.

1) One Saturday, your in-laws ask you to drive across town so they can look at your baby. After you've sat in traffic for an hour and a half to get there, they look at the baby for ten minutes then announce they're taking the car (which you share with them) to go to a wedding in another part of town that's a half hour away in no traffic, and as much as two hours in traffic. You are angry with them because you'd made plans with people, and you hadn't counted on spending a whole Saturday sitting at your in-laws watching TV. Your mother-in-law assures you they will only be gone an hour, which, unless they are planning to teleport to the wedding, is absolutely impossible.

2) Your husband phones to tell you he's going to his parents' for dinner. Knowing this usually includes meeting his old neighborhood friends for a late night out drinking, you ask him what time he's going to be home. Your husband has plans to meet some of these friends in a restaurant after dinner, but he doesn't mention this and tells you he'll be home at nine or ten. Around ten, you remember you need something from the market, so you call your husband to ask him to pick it up on his way home. He tells you he's at a restaurant and they're waiting on the check. At 11:45, you've gotten a little worried so you call again to make sure he's okay, and he tells you he's on his way home when you can hear that he's in fact sitting in his car with his friends drinking beer. When he arrives home drunk at 1:30 and you're ready kill him, he is very taken aback that you're accusing him of lying.

3) An old family friend proposes going into business together. The initial investment is pretty small-- a few thousand dollars-- and you assume he has this cash ready because he approached you with the proposal and because it's not a huge amount of money. The money is needed to buy materials, and this family friend knows you have good relationships and good credit with people who sell these materials. You order the materials and have them shipped, at which point the friend tells you he doesn't have enough money to pay for them. He expects that you will pay your part up front and he repeatedly promises to send a post-dated check (these are big here, checks post-dated for months in the future) which never materializes.

4) The ATM machine eats your card. You go into the bank and find out it was eaten because it was expired. You want to order a new ATM card. The teller knows he can't do this from his branch because it can only be done at the branch where you opened the account. Nonetheless, he takes down your address and assures you the new card will arrive in 7-10 business days.

5) You sign a one-year contract with a school. Shortly before you begin work, they find that not enough students have enrolled and they don't need you after all, not right away. Because you're on contract, they ask you to re-write their placement exams. The director explains their current exams are out of date and poorly done, so he wants the new ones to be completely different. You gather materials and show the director what you plan to do, and he tells you it's great and wonderful. A week later, you give him the finished work and he tells you it's not what he had in mind at all because it's nothing like the old exams. You do not get paid for the work.

Of course, every culture has its notions of morality and what is right and wrong. Some of these notions are the same the world over, while others have their various shades of acceptability. All of the lies I mentioned above would not be worth telling to any American I know because they'd get so angry and upset with you it could ruin the relationship and/or your reputation. To me, some of the above lies are merely annoying, while others are very insulting, and still others are downright unethical and might even be worth a little civil suit to recoup your losses. Americans, to be sure, are used to other kinds of lying, like insurance companies who promise to cover certain types of care or infomercials for products that promise to grow hair or make you thin. It's not that we think these things are right, but we accept their limited veracity and don't feel very surprised by them. We also accept that no one is going to punish the insurance company for not keeping a promise, and that anyone who believes a pill can make them lose 50 pounds in a week is probably too stupid to not get ripped off. And there are probably still other types of lies in everyday American culture that I'm not even aware of but that a foreigner in America would pick up on and be upset by.

It's funny to me, funny-strange I mean, how we tend to think of lies and truth as absolutes, when in fact even this isn't exactly true at all.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Oy, Baby Sleep

My baby is sleeping. He seems to have decided that the carseat is an okay place for a nap after all. Who knows why it didn't work the other 45 billion times I tried it over the last four napless months. I hope I'm not jinxing it by mentioning it here.

It's funny I mention the jinx. I'm finding there's a lot of superstition around getting the boy to sleep. This past Saturday night, we went out for a nice early, baby-friendly dinner with some friends, the parents of LE's friend who's 3 weeks older. LE ate and ate and ate. He had some of everything. Haydari, içli köfte, eggplant salad, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, cucumbers, cheese, pide, lahmacun, izgara köfte, çöp şiş, strawberries, kiwi, apples, raisins... Plus he got to run around with his dad and his little friend in the near-empty restaurant. That night, despite going to bed an hour late, and despite not having a bath or a story, he slept ALL NIGHT. 8.30 to 7. No wee-hours nursing. If this has happened before (since his sleep crumbled, I mean), I don't remember.

So naturally the following night, not without a big dose of superstition, we attempted to re-create the conditions of LE sleeping ALL NIGHT. We let him have his long nap at 4. We took him to a restaurant. We gave him everything off the table to eat. We let him run on the grass. 'Has it been 20 minutes?' asked BE from the grass, because it had been about 20 minutes of running the night before.

But last night it wasn't the same. LE wasn't as keen on all the food and a lot of it was thrown. The covered woman at the table next to us kept clucking and muttering 'Günah günah' because it's a sin to let bread go on the ground. Incidentally, I asked BE at what age a person is considered responsible for their behavior in Islam. He said it's eleven for boys and nine for girls. So I guess even Islam considers girls more mature. BE said it's because they think girls are sexually responsible for themselves at nine. I wondered if this was related to Muhammed consummating his marriage with Ayşe when she was nine. He didn't know. Back to LE, throwing food. He also threw carrots, tomatoes, cheese, izgara köfte, chicken, apples, and he whacked a spoonful of haydari out of my hand. He ate some food, but he also threw a lot. I like taking LE to restaurants because I don't have to clean up the food he throws.

The running was different too. LE wasn't as keen on that either. He fell down a lot and cried a lot because I wouldn't let him go into a hole that had been dug in the grass, or eat dirt, or pull on other diners' tablecloths. He had a better time with BE, who is less of a cruel disciplinary taskmaster than I am. When BE stopped him from doing anything untoward, LE happily ran off in another direction. So that's already starting, that Baba is the fun guy and Mommy is the hard-ass, except Mommy is the only one who can make crying stop or come to him at night.

LE made a new friend last night too, a little girl 3 days older who'd also just learned how to walk. The fathers giggled at the babies staggering around with their arms in the air, saying, 'Ah, yours is drunk too,' because that's what they looked like. Babies are so much the same. They kept trying to poke each other in the eye, or trying to kiss each other but just knocking each other down. The little girl looked cute as hell in denim shorts with red tights underneath. LE was immune to her charms, but he sure wanted that empty cigarette pack she had ahold of. When she had to go home, LE saw his chance to try to get into that hole, and we decided to go home too.

LE was in bed just before 9. Up at 3.30 for a fitful nurse during which I had a strange dream about these steampunk little people in our garden. We wanted to catch them but they were much too fast, and the only way to make them stop running was to ask music trivia questions, for which they were compelled to stop running and answer, much as vampires are compelled to count small things like ball-bearings thrown in their path. Then LE began punching me around 6, meaning our superstitious plan failed and there is no way to get him to sleep all night. It was just something that happened. Or maybe it was because the food was different. Or because his 4pm nap was 15 minutes too long. Or maybe because he made a new friend. It could have been that it was too cloudy.

The carseat nap is over. LE is on my lap and I'm typing one-handed. I should end this post before he starts trying to help me type. He's not very good at typing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The What and the Why

In the beginning, the baby cries. Whenever he wants to tell you something, crying is his way of doing it. It up to you to figure out what the hell he wants. Usually, it's fairly straightforward: I'm hungry, I have a bellyache, There's something cold and icky in my diaper, My big warm Mommy appendage has gone away again. I remember how thrilled I was the first time LE made a sound with his voice that wasn't crying.

About a month ago, he started pointing. Again, I was thrilled. Unlike crying, pointing is willful rather than instinctive, and it's LE's rudimentary little way of bringing his inside thoughts to the outside and sharing them with us. Usually, pointing means 'I want (to eat) that,' though when he points at his little friend, or at a cat, I think it means 'I like that' or 'I see that great thing and I want you to see it too.' It's fairly easy to figure out what he means. If I don't give him the thing he's pointing at and he cries, it meant 'I want that.' If I don't give him his friend or the cat, he seems okay about it.

Knowing what someone is saying is one thing, but knowing why they're saying it is altogether another. Even in our first language, knowing why someone is saying something relies on a host of outside knowledge, like our relationship to that person, the context, and our experience with language and communication. Here's one example: The doorbell rings and Jack shouts, 'There's someone at the door.' Mary answers, 'I'm in the shower.' At face value, it would appear Jack is unnecessarily relaying obvious information while Mary is making an irrelevant reply. But the context makes it obvious what's going on, which is that Jack can't be bothered to get up and is hoping Mary will deal with the caller. Mary knows she is being asked to answer the door but is letting Jack know she's way more indisposed, implying that he needs to get off his lazy butt and go to the door already. Another example is this: You've gotten all dressed up for dinner and you think you look pretty good. Then your mom says, 'Is that what you're wearing tonight?' and you get mad at your mom. You know this is not a simple information question. You know the real meaning is, 'Do you honestly think you're leaving the house like that? Go to your room right now and change.'

In the first example, even in a second language, Mary and Jack would probably both know what one was asking the other to do. In the second example, in either a first or second language, it's possible for misunderstandings to occur. It could be your mom really was just asking for a 'yes' or 'no'-- perhaps she just wanted to know if you were ready. Or perhaps in the next breath she was going to say, 'You look really nice,' but you were just being overly touchy and got mad at your mom for no reason.

I often think a lot of the misunderstandings that occur between me and the Turkish-speaking world are not so much because I didn't understand what was being said, but because I didn't understand why they said it. For example, the ubiquitous busybodies (see? I'm already casting it in a negative light). Whenever I take LE outside here, regardless of the weather, I always put something on his feet. This isn't because I'm concerned about his kidney health or because I think exposed feet are a sure-fire path to death. It's teyze-proofing. Teyze means 'aunt' in Turkish, but it's also a polite way to address or refer to any older woman. In my mind, a teyze I've never met is synonymous with busybody. And keeping LE's feet covered is one way of keeping the teyzes off of him, otherwise they'll be attacking us right and left, grasping his feet and going 'Ice cold! Ice cold!'

In America, there are indeed busybodies who tell mothers things they're doing wrong with their babies, but they're rare, and one is welcome to be rude to them because they started it by being rude first. While at home this past summer, we were out on a hot day. LE had bare feet, and a woman passing us in the parking lot said cheerfully, 'Doesn't he look comfy with his bare pigs out!' This would never happen in Turkey, or if it did, it would be a sarcastic comment implying that the baby was going to die soon from hypothermia of the feet. But in America, it meant something like 'Whew, it's hot! What cute baby toes!' A couple of weeks ago, it was in the 70s, and I didn't bother with LE's shoes when we went to the market. We bumped into a neighbor, and after the usual litany of 'Ay ay ay maşallah maşallah!' to LE, she asked me, 'Is he cold?' to which I replied, 'No.' She asked again if he was cold, and again I replied no. She asked a third time if he was cold, and a third time I replied that he wasn't. She gave me a strange look and was on her way.

So I expected poor BE to explain this to me. LE was in no obvious discomfort, and we were indoors on a warm day, so asking if he was cold was not a simple information question, nonetheless I could not understand her implication as easily and instantly as I did when the woman in America commented on his bare feet. I had my nose out of joint because when people ask me questions or make comments about the baby being cold, I use my American context and arrive at the conclusion that they're butting in and somehow implying that I'm a bad mother and that I don't care about the health and comfort of my son. On bad days, I include the further layer of implication that they think because I'm foreign, I'm a complete idiot, and they regard it as their personal mission in life to set me straight and I get mad and grumble to myself about why they hell my business is so freaking interesting to everyone else?

But this was a good day, and I tried hard to assume this woman wasn't indicting my mothering skills. Why then, did she ask me if LE was cold, and not once but three times? BE's answer was that it was because LE had bare feet. I wasn't satisfied, especially because of the strange look at the end. What, I wondered, was the correct answer to this question, because 'No' clearly wasn't it. BE said I should tell these people that LE took his socks off, or that he's used to having bare feet. No good, I answered. I've tried this before and ended up getting a lecture about how he'll get cold or sick. But if that woman wasn't telling me off for being a bad mother (and BE assured me she wasn't), then what? Was she just trying to make conversation? Did she take my thrice-repeated polite 'no' as a really rude way of putting her off and telling her I wasn't interested in talking to her? If that's the case, I feel kind of bad. I would have been more than happy to talk to her about anything under the sun other than the possible coldness of my son, and the dangers thereof.

BE didn't know, and just got mad at me for not having LE's shoes on and for overreacting about everyday events like teyzes getting into my business. So again there was some kind of communication breakdown that resulted in an argument that had nothing to do with any of the day's events. But that's more about being married than about linguistic issues.

Understanding the all the why's of everyday comments and questions in a foreign language and culture is probably something that will take me years to achieve, if not forever. It's so easy to get annoyed and I would probably do well to convince myself that the speaker's intention is nice. But I'm just too used to the world where I came from where people just don't do things like this, and the ones who do are nosy jerks. It took me years to learn all the cues and context and other unspoken aspects of communication in my native language, and now it's like I'm starting all over again, hardly better than LE with his pointing. I suppose a little patience with myself and others wouldn't hurt.

Easier said than done. I used to like the saying 'It takes a village to raise a child.' Now I just wish the village would go home and mind their own business.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I've always tried to avoid going to the doctor. In America, I stayed away as much as possible because I didn't have medical insurance once I got kicked off my mom's in my early 20s, and going to the doctor was too expensive. In Turkey, the cost is less prohibitive and I even have private insurance, but I still avoid going unless it's absolutely necessary. Like, threw my back out and can't walk necessary. Having a baby necessary. That kind of thing.

At first, I avoided the doctor out of habit, and also because of the nuisance of trying to describe a health problem in my broken Turkish, or worse, to the doctor who claims he speaks English but would be lucky to be placed in a Pre-Intermediate class by my reckoning. In my early months here, I picked up a nasty urinary tract infection that not only bled, but caused some serious cramps while I was teaching which caused me to get very pale, dizzy, and break out into a clammy sweat in front of my students. They were very alarmed and I was really embarrassed. Hülya, the student in the class closest to a doctor (she was a horse vet at the nearby racetracks) and coincidentally the worst student in the class (after eight months she still didn't know how to say 'dog' or 'house' in English) very sweetly offered to take me to the doctor.

When you go to a doctor here, you go to a hospital. Of course there are clinic doctors, and private ones, but usually it's a hospital. I didn't know this when I first came here. When students told me they had been ill and had gone to the hospital, I got very worried about them. After a few months, I just decided this was a race of panicky hypochondriacs. But when the urinary tract infection that got out of hand made itself known to me in front of fourteen Elementary students, I was taken to the Acıbadem Hospital across the street from my school by sweet, probably-still-hasn't-learned-a-word-of-English horse vet Hülya.

Acıbadem is like the Ritz-Carlton of hospitals. You won't find that hospital-y smell there. Everything is gleaming and new-looking, like a shopping mall or a business park. Unlike the state hospital where I went to get some forms stamped for my maternity leave, there are no rusting 50-year-old gurneys creaking out of Nightmare on Elm Street, or cats running in and out, or hordes of villagers pushing to get into a door where they heard there was a doctor but where there in fact is none because she's out at the bazaar. At Acıbadem, the person at the Information desk is bright and cheerful and often a keeper of useful information. She won't look at you in utter bewilderment like you're the first person to have entered the hospital seeking medical treatment, then disappear down the corridor for 20 minutes while she asks someone what she should do. And at Acıbadem, smoking is confined to the cafeteria and perhaps a few other designated places.

But the trade-off is this: If you go to a posh hospital, expect posh treatment. I don't mean the good kind, like down pillows and martinis and string quartets while you wait for the doctor. I mean the scary kind, like a full blood work-up, plus some other tests, plus some other tests. I guess they figure if you're paying a lot of money, you might as well have a lot of treatment, whether you need it or not. And whether or not there's anything actually wrong with you, you can expect to be given several prescriptions. A high-paying customer can hardly be asked to leave the doctor empty-handed, after all. In most cases, you will be prescribed either antibiotics or cream. Sometimes you get both. Sometimes you get an antibiotic cream. Antibiotics are doled out like aspirin here. Sore throat? Chills? Ague? A cough? A sniffle? Went outside with wet hair? Feet got cold? Antibiotics cure what ails you. If you don't want to go to the doctor, you can just report any of these symptoms to a pharmacist and you'll get the antibiotics. If the pharmacist is closed, just go to your mother-in-law, as she will most certainly have a drawer full of half-empty boxes of antibiotics left over from previous family ailments.

I'm sure my dear readers have noticed by now I often have a tendency to exaggerate. Well, I'm not joking or stretching the truth on this antibiotics thing. This past summer, I got a strep throat-type thing with a high fever that wouldn't go down and icky white crud on my throat. The doctor gave me a shot of penicillin right there in the hospital and to my amazement, I started to feel better in a few hours. It was gone the next day. Completely gone. The doctor had told me that I should come back the next day for another shot, and when BE called him to tell him I was all better, the doctor went, 'Ah, of course! She's American! They aren't immune to penicillin like we are!'

But there's a downside to all this treatment, which is this: Going to the doctor is scary even without the language barrier. Being told you need such-and-such a test, or such-and-such a treatment is also scary. We've all been taught to trust the doctor's superior knowledge and education. Just as most of us take take our cars to the mechanic because we don't know beans about the inner workings of cars, we take ourselves to the doctor because we haven't studied medicine for 15 years to know why our innards are making that pinging sound. The difference is, when a mechanic tells us the car needs $1,200 worth of repair, we might be suspicious and take it to another mechanic, or at least our brother's friend, before having the work done. But when a doctor tells you this, you kind of panic and get the work done post-haste because you're afraid if you don't, you'll die.

Unless you're in Turkey. I've learned to kind of take pause when a doctor tells me I need some expensive tests or treatment. I learned this the hard way at American Hospital, another posh medical joint. I wanted a good, English-speaking, foreign-trained doctor for a Pap smear and pelvic exam, as I just couldn't face doing one of these in Turkish, and it was when BE and I had decided we were into being fruitful and multiplying so I wanted to make sure everything was working okay. The doctor was perfectly nice, with excellent English. I was a bit confused by the pelvic exam because instead of doing it manually as they'd always done in the US, he used a vaginal ultrasound (or, to borrow a term from Bri, a dildo-cam), but because I was terribly amused when the doctor described my ovaries as 'fibrillating,' complete with a finger motion to demonstrate this fibrillation, I kind of forgave him.

A few days later, the doctor emailed me to tell me that the Pap had come back 'abnormal.' It was abnormal in what appeared to be a scary way, as showing pre-cancerous cells related to genital warts. A visit to Dr. Google only made it all more scary and aroused my suspicions that the Universe wasn't going to let me get away with all that promiscuity of my pre-married days. The American Hospital doctor recommended that I come back for a laser biopsy, just to be sure. A mere $800 of sureness, to be exact. Dr. Google had also mentioned that a yeast infection could skew the results of a Pap, so BE and I went to Kızılay hospital, a big step down from American Hospital in the Istanbul hospital food chain, but his parents' neighbor works there and she was able to get us into the gynecologist without waiting in line for four days. For 20YTL, the Kızılay doctor confirmed that I had a yeast infection (which by that time I could have told her as much myself without the Pap), prescribed some cream, and sent us on our way. So for 20YTL, I was able to learn not only that I had dodged the Universe's bullet, but that perhaps I have a little more American Puritanical guilt than I'm comfortable with.

So by the time I went to Medi-Life Hospital (a middle-of-the-road place, a few steps up from Kızılay and many steps down from American Hospital or Acıbadem) about the ache and clicking in my ears, I was an old hand. I'd long given up on the idea of ever seeing a GP again, as they don't seem to have them here. They only have specialists. When I got food poisoning, I went to an internist and when my back went out, I went to an orthopedic surgeon. So at Medi-Life they sent me to the ENT, a very jolly old guy with a very spiffy fiber-optic camera that allowed him to look into my ears, nose, and throat and which was attached to a monitor so I could also view the moist insides of the mucous membranes in my head. I thought the inside of my nose was the grossest, and will forever think of that gadget as the Booger Cam. After pulling some pea-sized balls of wax from my ears (did you know ear canals can stretch to accommodate pea-sized balls of wax? I didn't. It sucked.) and prescribing me some antibiotic ear drops, the doctor informed me that my nasal passages were malformed which may cause me to sleep with my mouth open and make my throat dry. 'Okay,' I said, more confident of my Turkish by that time, 'But how did those balls of wax get into my ears and how can I avoid ever having that again? I do clean them, after all.' 'Yes, yes,' said the doctor, taking out a pen and paper and drawing a picture of the malformation of my nasal passages, explaining how it was either congenital or that my nose had been smashed as a baby. I started to wonder why I should bother learning Turkish when some people seem to have their own conversations anyway. The doctor told me I should make an appointment for some radioscopic laser surgery to change the shape of the inside of my nose. When I asked how much it would cost, he said 'It depends.'

So I told him I'd discuss it with my husband and left. A couple of weeks later in the mail we received a glossy brochure from Medi-Life detailing all their new equipment and departments. Right there on page four was my jolly, rosy-cheeked ENT smiling next to none other than a shiny new radioscopic laser machine.

So what are you supposed to do when the doctor tries to upsell you on treatment? How do I know for sure it's not very dangerous for my throat to get dry at night? I suspect it's not all that important, but I'm not a doctor. How much and what kind of treatment you need seems to be entirely dependent on the hospital you go to and which expensive machinery they're still paying off. It also depends on how rich they think you are, and whether or not you've told them you have private insurance. So in the end, I usually decide that the recommended treatment and most of the prescriptions are a crock and don't take them. This is fine when it's just me.

But what about LE? It's all right for me to decide what's necessary and what's not for myself, but I'm way less willing to fool around with second-guessing the upselling medical professionals for him. For his pediatrician, we've stuck with International Hospital where he was born. This is also a posh place, though I think they've gone decidedly downhill since being bought recently by the Acıbadem Group. It looks nicer, to be sure, shinier with more glass and chrome, but suddenly the need for lots of expensive tests and interventions for patients has increased greatly. LE's doctor, certainly not one to send us off without reams of prescriptions, seems really obsessed with vitamins. First it was Vitamin D, which she was absolutely convinced couldn't be gotten in sufficient amounts from the 12-15 hours of daylight here. Now the bee in her bonnet is iron, and despite my telling her all the iron-rich foods LE eats every day, she thinks he's a little anemic because he's pale. Because he shows no other signs of anemia whatsoever, I'm pretty sure he looks pale to her because he's foreign. Still, she prescribed us some iron drops which I've never bothered buying. They need to be given no less than two hours from the time the kid had or will have milk or food, and they taste bad but can't be given with anything. When I asked her what I'm supposed to do, as the boy never goes 2 hours without food or milk, she just shrugged like it was my problem.

BE is mad at me about this. He wants me to bow to the doctor's superior knowledge. And granted there are times when I can't sleep that I convince myself I'm malnourishing the child and he'll get rickets and be a bit dim-witted as a result. The doctor is exasperated with me too. Every time she looks at LE's records and sees I've declined on all the vitamins, she gets a stern look and admonishes me a little. I just start wondering about who's paying who here? Are these recommendations or orders? Does anyone genuinely think I'm doing something on purpose to make LE unwell? In any case, for LE's next visit, she wants a full battery of blood tests and urinalysis for LE. How one gets a urine sample from a baby is something I'm curious about, as I have no intention of taking off his diaper and chasing him around with a little cup. I'm not particularly keen on the blood tests either, but if it will shut her up and make BE quit glowering at me every time we leave the doctor then so be it. I'll make sure BE knows it was for him and his peace of mind that we had to get the baby's feet repeatedly pricked like that. Of course if LE needs the iron I'll find a way to give it to him, but in the meantime I'm thinking we need another pediatrician.

Sometimes you can't avoid going to the doctor, and with a kid it's even harder. For me, choosing a doctor in Turkey is nearly impossible-- if I want a well-trained doctor (meaning foreign-trained, as I just can't convince myself Turkish medical training is up to snuff. Plus, if the doctor doesn't speak a foreign language, how do they read recent medical journals? Iffy translations that come out two years later?), I have to accept going to a hospital that's going to want to use every piece of amazing machinery under the sun. I have to be strong in making myself believe LE or I don't maybe have the deadly disease they've been newly equipped to test for. But if I go to a 'regular' doctor, I can expect to be given 'medical' advice that involves keeping my feet covered at all times. So it's quite the dilemma. Doctors aren't fun anywhere, but it's something in Turkey I find especially trying, and because I never went to medical school, it's not something I'm really equipped to decide about for myself.

Not fair, I say. Not fair.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Belated Plug

Better late than never though, right? David Vincent of David's English Teaching World fame has again been kind enough to include your humble blogger (that's me) in his online journal, which came out in the beginning of March. Download Issue 3 of Horizons for a really interesting read on ELT topics and issues.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Baby Proof

A few weeks ago, BE and I had our second Big Night Out since LE was born, which was a dear friend's 30th birthday party. Most of your non-baby friends fade away post-partum, but she and I keep in touch even though we don't hang out much anymore. As her boyfriend pointed out that night, most friendships are as much a matter of circumstance as anything else, and he's absolutely right. So I do appreciate those among my baby-less friends who are still around.

A guy at her party asked if stay-at-home motherhood was all that he'd dreamed of for stay-at-home fatherhood, which involved setting the kid down to play while he sat in front of Playstation all day. I said he could probably do this in the first few months since he wouldn't be breastfeeding and the baby doesn't go anywhere, though he would probably get good at one-handed Playstation just as I've gotten good at one-handed everything else. After that, I told him, if he valued his Playstation, he would have to find a way to play it with the console and controllers in a place where the baby couldn't reach them while somehow convincing the baby that he was paying attention to him or her. I think it spoiled the fantasy for him.

The fact is, there are two levels of baby-proofing. The first level is obvious-- the baby's safety. You put away in locked cupboards or in high places everything sharp or caustic or which can be choked on. I spent hours screwing those little baby-proof latches into our lower cupboards and drawers. A sub-level of safety is protecting the baby from eating or playing with things which are disgusting, so you start closing the toilet and keeping an eye on the baby when he's near the trash can. Naturally those are the only places the baby wants to explore. I'm proud to say the worst thing LE has tasted from the trash was a coffee grounds-covered apple core, and he did manage to score some pee tissue from the toilet but I caught him before he could do much with it. In both cases he was mad as hell when I took them away. Oh, and he eats dirt. It's really funny when he eats dirt because he immediately recognises it as un-yummy and comes to me with his mouth open and bits of dirt hanging off his lips, waiting for me to wipe it away.

The second level of baby-proofing is damage control, meaning you deal with it as it happens. The damage, I mean. Anything you like or that's valuable is what the baby wants. It's easy to keep things like remote controls and cell phones out of reach, but hard to remember to do so. You can be sure these are things the baby wants most, and will snag them the first chance he gets. And when a baby gets a hold of something, he will invariably, after tasting it, throw it or whack it or put it somewhere you may never find it again. On some of LE's toys, the package reminds me that babies don't know what can hurt them, and so they require constant supervision. But most packages fail to remind the consumer that the baby doesn't know how much the cell phone costs, or that getting the remote control repaired took about 4 months last time because the repairman, rather than telling us he didn't know how to fix it, kept telling us it worked.

LE, in his favor, has at least started pointing the remote control at the TV for awhile before bouncing it off the credenza so it falls behind it, meaning at least I have a chance to get to it first. After his morning diaper change he makes a beeline for the nightstand where my cell phone is (regular wee-hours power cuts make it advisable to use a cell phone as an alarm clock, or in my case, to see if LE has decided it's time to play at 5am or at 2am), but it's a lovable quality of his that he bounces it on the bed a few times than politely hands it to me without a big Mommy's-taking-something-great-from-me tantrum.

A sub-level of damage control is mess control. For example, there is nothing dangerous in our cupboard where the open bags of rice and beans and lentils are, but you can be sure that cupboard is locked because I don't want to always be cleaning up rice and beans and lentils (I guess they're a choking hazard as well, but the thought of the mess is what made me put the lock on). For awhile, I tried to keep LE away from the DVD shelf because I didn't want to put the DVDs away 10 times a day, but eventually I just moved the DVDs in cellophane cases to an out-of-reach place, let him bash the ones in plastic cases to his heart's delight, and just put them away in the evening after he was in bed. Naturally, he lost interest in he DVDs about two days later and decided coasters were the best thing in the world. Specifically, throwing the coasters onto the shelf again and again and again. The shelf is all dinged up, but I figure that over the next few years he's going to make short work of our furniture anyway, so why bother?

But that's another problem of damage control. Once you allow the kid to have something formerly forbidden, he's sure to lose interest. LE could care less about the dead cell phone a friend gave him. I gave him some empty CD cases to smash together, but eventually had to take them away because all they did was get cracked when LE crawled over them in his haste to get to, say, the toilet brush. When LE first crawled it was because he wanted a tub of lotion he'd knocked onto the floor. As a reward for learning how to crawl, I gave him the tub of lotion since it was nearly empty anyway, but now all he wants is the full tub of lotion.

Damage control is an evolving process, one that continues as the kid starts pulling up on things, and grows taller and more dexterous. I've always whined about how low our countertops are (presumably designed for the average five foot two Turkish woman) because they come to the tops of my legs and I get a backache from them. Now BE doesn't like them either because LE can reach stuff from them, so we're just now getting in the habit of pushing knives to the back. I still have to complain regularly about why anyone would design kitchen counters so that a one-year-old baby can reach them. He 's a taller than average one-year-old baby, but still. And it's always funny at our weekly playgroup to watch the moms, as if on autopilot, baby-proof the area according to their own kids. LE is tricky though. I swear the boy has a big boxing career ahead of him because he has an amazing reach. He's super fast, and somehow reaches places that are a few inches more than his arm length appears to be. His arms are like a chameleon's tongue snapping up flies. Last week at playgroup, LE came over to the table where we were having coffee. The trays of ceramic cups containing hot coffee were already pushed several inches away from the edge of the table and bam, he gets his fingers into a cup. He didn't pull the cup down, thank goodness, just got his fingers in there and was surprised. So we pushed all the trays and plates even more towards the center, and a few minutes later he came to me with his mouth open so I would remove some bits of apple core dangling from his lips. He'd managed not only to snake the apple core from a plate as far away from him as twice the length of his arm, but he'd done it with no one seeing him. And with 4 kids under the age of two in this group, plus two visiting grandparents, this is an attentive group of people. These are people who can say, "Elif, put the fork down and take LE's had out of the plant," without even turning their heads to see what the kids are up to.

The grandfather at this playgroup was watching me move cups and glasses and remote controls as LE was crawling down the hall towards the living room (his granddaughter, L, is 22 months, so her baby-proofing is less intense), and he said, "I used to watch L and think to myself what a destructive child she was, but after these get-togethers I see they're all like that." I pointed out that LE is in fact even more destructive than L ever was, as her mother has always kept books on the bottom shelves and the worst L has ever done is pull them all out. LE likes to destroy books. He holds them by the covers and shakes them, or just starts ripping out the pages one by one and eating small pieces. For awhile I shuddered to think that this boded a future disdain for literature coupled with pronounced athleticism. But he's getting better. In the last couple of months he's been more interested in looking at books and having them read to him (though he only gets to have his board books). After hearing Pat The Bunny only 3 times, he started patting the bunny, and being So Big, and playing peek-a-boo with Paul. I was very impressed and enjoy bragging about this. The best part is that now, when he wakes at some ungodly hour of the morning, I can give him his board books in his crib and a lot of the time, sneak in as much as a half hour of sleep while he sits and turns the pages quietly. He doesn't shake them by their covers anymore (though he's still intent on killing a copy of Crime And Punishment. In his defense I've started and put it down several times, once when I was halfway through. I'm lazy about Russian authors, and the book is appealingly brittle to LE). The worst thing that can happen is that a board book thrown from the crib will nail me in the head.

Pat the Bunny is made of cardboard, but it's not quite as hardy as a board book. This morning, LE was up before 6, and neither The Very Busy Spider nor The Very Hungry Caterpillar captured his interest for any longer than it took to chuck them out of the crib. So I gave him Pat the Bunny, hoped for the best, and dozed off. I woke up a little later to see him sitting nicely in his crib, playing peek-a-boo with Paul and waving bye-bye.

So maybe there's hope after all.