Sunday, June 29, 2008


One thing in Turkey that annoys me terribly is people's inability to queue. Sometimes the line is merely a crowded free-for-all with lots of pushing, while other times there is clearly a line and some woman just saunters to the front of it as though she's so much cleverer than everyone else. People always let this happen, which I find especially galling.

I like to think that I've not adopted these kinds of behaviors myself, but there was an incident this past Wednesday when I arrived in Portland airport after 16 hours of travelling alone with LE who was, in his defense, stunningly good for all but three hours of the flight.

We whipped through passport control, which meant, according to Murphy's Law or something, that our bags would lost or, at best, the last ones out. They were the last ones out and LE wasn't happy after the hour-long wait. Plus, another large flight landed shortly after ours, so it was very crowded. Plus, we had a lot of bags-- three large suitcases on a cart with a carseat teetering at the top.

By the time I'd hefted all our bags onto the cart, a long line had formed to get to the exit. As I was muscle-ing the cart along with one hand and the stroller with the other (pushing a stroller with one hand is unnecessarily challenging, as it tends to veer wildly from side to side for no reason), I looked at the line which snaked all the way back to passport control, surrounded on both sides with an obstacle course of suitcases, people, children, and carts that would have been challenging to navigate even without my own enormously laden and unwieldy cart and the veering stroller. It's not like I could have left one thing in order to get the other thing. Plus, at the front of the line was another line of Indians and Germans merging in because they were so much cleverer than everyone who'd joined the line at the back.

So I made a command decision. I used the Turkish principle of queuing up, pretended I was invisible and just started merging into middle of the line from where I stood. It was hardly as seamless as I might have liked, given all that I was pushing and the stroller taking off at whatever angles suited it.

And of course, because it's America, I got busted. A man asked me where I was going. "I'm going to the exit," I responded cheerfully, not looking at him as I patted LE's fussing head. "Are you going to customs?" he asked. "Yes," I replied. "There's a sign there that says 'Customs' on it." I was trying to pretend I was either very stupid or very clever. It just made him mad. "There is a line, you know. It starts back there." I then regretted that I hadn't just started yammering at him in Turkish, pretending I didn't speak English, though in retrospect, it probably would have just caused him to start saying everything louder-- he seemed like that sort of fellow. So I opted for snappishness. It was all I could do after not having slept for 24 hours. And I do expect people to at least have a modicum of sympathy for someone who's just done a trans-Atlantic flight alone with a 16-month old child. "I know. It's just that I have cart and a stroller and I really don't feel like trying to push them through all that stuff." "I have two bags too," he replied, motioning to the two small bags he was wheeling behind himself. I stared at him until he looked away. "It's hardly the same thing," I told him. He started to say something else, so I opted for sarcastic shaming. "Look, if it's so important for you to go first, please just go ahead. It'll save you lots of time." It worked. "Oh no," he said with false solicitousness,"You're already halfway in the line anyway." "Yes, I am." I said. And that was the end of it. "Some people," I said softly to LE as I patted his head, "Aren't very nice." Meaning I'd even managed to justify my own rudeness to myself as correct behavior.

So sometimes the modes of our adopted cultures come in handy. If he'd continued to make a problem, I suppose I would have had to go for the next line of Turkish defence, which is loudly declaring him to be impolite and what a shame it all is.

And I have to say, I was ever so pleased that he got pulled out for a customs search anyway. Even with that, and even though he must have been on the shuttle after mine, he was still out of the gate before I was, because that's how hard it was to push all that stuff. I noticed as he passed me that he was helping a very frail old man, which was probably why he had two bags to wheel, and I couldn't help but think what a jerk he was to make that poor old man go and stand from the back of the line.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Too girly?

This past week, I went to the Yeşilköy pazar, one of my favorites. Even using LE's stroller as a battering ram through crowds and up and down the gutters that run down the middle of the aisles didn't ruin the experience. One stall was selling onesies, three for 10YTL (about $8). I couldn't resist this polka-dot one:

I recognize this isn't a style that's usual for a boy, but I found it somehow on the cutting-edge of baby boy fashion. Very brave and metro. And LE seemed to think it was just the thing for a sweaty, humid afternoon.

BE, however (who is, by the way, convinced I'm trying to make LE gay) says it's too girly.

What do you think?

A Plug, and a Conundrum

First, the plug. For a fantastic description of what traffic is like in Istanbul, read Siobhan's post about driving here. I'm terribly impressed with her for getting a licence and braving the morons on the road. Hats off to her and my other foreign friends brave enough to drive in Istanbul.

Next, the conundrum. I've written in the past about my cleaner. A couple months ago, despite having been told by doctors she couldn't get pregnant, a wee surprise appeared. When she told me, it was one of those awful moments of hearing someone is pregnant and not being sure if it's good or bad news. Fortunately she took my hesitation as a linguistic misunderstanding.

But the poor woman wasn't in the best of health in any case, and this pregnancy is really giving her a beating. She's been hospitalized three times already, once for heavy bleeding and twice for intense morning sickness and fainting spells. I feel so sorry for her, I really do. Plus, I'm not sure the heavy work of cleaning along with the exposure to the huge amounts of bleach and detergents she uses are really the best thing for her. But she's an adult and it's not my decision. And of course she needs the work now more than ever.

The upshot of all of this is that she hasn't been able to come for the last couple of weeks. I'm a shoddy housekeeper in the best of cases, but during these two weeks LE came down with
sixth disease, during which time he was mostly fine except that he went off his food for several days resulting in a whole lot of thrown and spit out food. I cleaned the floor a few times, but decided it was a stupid waste of time because an hour later it was a sticky, chewed raisin-y mess again. That, plus the dust from the open windows plus the amount of hair I'm still losing post-partum and post-solid foods, it was getting pretty dodgy around here. A lot of 'What's this stuck to my foot?' LE has started picking up bits from the floor and, after determining they're not yummy, throwing them into the trash.

The cleaner was supposed to come yesterday, but she wound up in the hospital again from fainting. So we went for emergency back-up, and got the kapıcı's sister to come today. Right now she and another woman are whirlwinding around undoing the filth we have wrought over the last couple of weeks.

So here's my conundrum. Shall I fire my cleaner? I like her and she does a good job, and it's possible she will feel better after the first trimester. Plus I feel an obligation towards her as I know she needs the money. I was even planning on giving her an un-asked for raise, partly because I really appreciate her, and partly because everything has gotten so damned expensive over the last year but salaries have stayed the same. On the other hand, she could still end up having a hard pregnancy, and with the bleeding, probably shouldn't be doing hard work and I'd feel guilty contributing to any crisis with the baby whether it was my decision or not. Plus, hard work won't really be possible in the last trimester, and by the end of the year, she'll be busy with a new baby anyway.

There's a middle ground, of keeping her on but keeping this other woman as a backup. It doesn't quite solve the problem though.

So, keep the cleaner or fire her ass?

How very privileged and posh I feel to be having this particular problem! It would feel better if more martinis were involved.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I looked in my mailbox yesterday looking for my credit card bill, and instead, much to my surprise, there was a check for $600 from the US Government!

Holy shit!

I received a notice about this economic stimulus package a while back. I read it over and decided I wouldn't be getting any money. That's what government handouts are like. You read them and come to understand them as best as you can, then move on. I don't remember why I decided I wouldn't get money. Maybe because I don't live in the US? Or maybe because I don't actually pay any taxes? I haven't paid taxes in about 15 years. In America, it was because I was too poor for taxes, and they always gave me back everything my work had taken over the year. In Turkey, I take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which means as long as I don't earn over $80,000 a year, I don't owe them anything. At this rate, it looks like I will NEVER have to pay any taxes, which is fine with me. But I still dutifully file. Tax returns are the best way to reassure the American government of your continuing existence.

Aside from the miracle of Free Money, the other miracle is that the check was actually in my mailbox. Not disappeared forever. Not sitting in some office for eight weeks waiting for someone to figure out what to do with this foreign missive. In my mailbox, and not a single tea stain on it. Foreign mail is tricky here. Once my grandmother sent me a letter. I kept getting these notices on my door saying I had foreign mail, and they would attempt delivery again at such and such a time. Usually, you have to sign for foreign mail, and provide ID, and sometimes you have to go to some office and stand in line and fill out a few forms only to receive a bit of junk mail from Publishers' Clearinghouse or whatever. But for this letter from my grandmother, I was never home at the times they wanted to deliver it, and there was no phone number or office or anything for me to try to contact them and tell them this. Finally, I was out sick one day and a very harried delivery guy came with my letter. He was actually angry at me for not having been home all the other times he tried to deliver it. After telling me off, he really wanted to know what the letter was, because the address had been scrawled on the envelope by my uncle with Down's Syndrome and it looked interesting. I told him and he felt gratified and left.

The letter was about three months old. My grandmother had died the previous month.

Now that I'm home most of the time, I'm there to get my foreign mail. Usually it's absentee ballot stuff. Not that I got anything in time to vote in the primaries, but I've gotten every single local election and referendum that I neither know about nor care about. It's sweet of them to send them, and I try to vote sometimes as a way of saying 'thank you,' but I also think it's not right to vote on something you're uninformed about, even if it is just the fire chief or the superintendent of some school board. And it could be that I didn't get anything for the primaries because I'm still registered in the Greens party. I'm pretty sure, though, that I registered Republican to make sure I'd get my absentee stuff. I figured I'd be like a Republican mole. Infiltrate their ranks and mess with their statistics, make them think they've got me on their side and then bam!, vote something else and really mess with their heads.

Here's another thing: I pretty much got paid just for being an American. In a way I think I deserve this because of how often I have to make the snap decision about whether to tell the truth when asked where I'm from, and risk hearing about how evil we all are for supporting Israel and blowing up Iraqi children and trying to take everyone's stuff and putting AKP into power and making all these movies and music everyone has to go to the trouble of pirating and secretly making plans with Europe to sabotage Turkey so we can divide it up amongst ourselves and every one of us is responsible for George Bush and then there's Paris Hilton on top of it all, and by the way, can you help me/my son/my cousin get a green card? I'm tired of being told, as though it's comforting, that even though LE is half American, he can be all Turkish and we can just forget about that whole American thing. Sometimes it's just easier to pretend I'm from Canada. That way I might only get in trouble for clubbing baby seals.

But really, I don't deserve it. Aren't Americans privileged enough for doing nothing more than having the dumb luck of being born there?

Still, I'll be in America in a couple of weeks, with $600 of Free Money burning a hole in my pocket. What shall I buy? How shall I stimulate the economy? It's my duty as an American citizen to do so.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Stupidest Thing I've Ever Had To Do, Plus Some Other Stuff

First, the stupid thing...
Earlier this week, LE had some vaccinations. Despite the warnings from the doctors, he's never had any reactions to the vaccinations, except sometimes he's cranky a day or two after, and they make his poop extra stinky. But this time, he started running a fever the evening after his shots. He was up and down most of the night, and continued to have a fever the next day. Nonetheless, he remained in high spirits though perhaps a bit listless, like he'd climb up on the forbidden part of the sofa (forbidden because he can climb onto a high shelf from there) and screech and giggle and wait for me to tackle him as usual, but as soon as I'd get there he'd lay down and roll over for a cuddle. He became a nipple fiend. That night, his fever got worryingly high (103), so he got a warm sponging which he found intensely amusing. He also got to spend the night with Mommy and he enjoys that too. The next day and night he still had the fever, plus another sponging (he didn't care for this one as much), and it continued into the next day. LE went off his food, sort of, which just isn't like him at all. He got so he'd hold still and tip his head up so we could stick the ear thermometer in. BE became familiar with the Fahrenheit scale because the thermometer is American. We both told LE how lucky he was, because when we were babies all we had were anal thermometers. Yuck. Anyway.

Everything I've read about fevers, even the Tylenol bottle, says that if the fever lasts more than three days you should go to the doctor. So we decided to take LE to the doctor just to make sure he was all right, even though aside from the fever, nothing else was wrong with him. BE's parents had the car, so we packed LE into the stroller and walked to a fancy new hotel-like hospital that's just opened near our house. Somewhere between deciding to go the doctor and getting LE into the stroller, his fever dropped to almost normal. Kind of like when your car stops pinging as soon as you get it to the mechanic. We got to the hospital and were told that the pediatrician had gone home for the day. Wonderful. So we decided to go to another hospital with a pediatrician rather than risk the insane amount of tests an emergency room doctor might order for a baby. This involved taking LE in a five-minute taxi ride without his carseat. I found a lot of things to curse at this time.

At the other hospital, LE decided he was scared of doctors after all (he loves his usual doctor, and even doesn't mind the lady who gives him his shots). As soon as she pulled out the ear-light thingie, his face crumpled into a pout, then he did one of those sad howls that goes until his air runs out and continues silently until he takes a breath, then continues for several repeats. It would be funny if it weren't so heartbreaking. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with him either, but decided to do a pee test just to be sure. A pee test for a baby isn't what I feared, which was chasing him around with a cup. Instead it involved a little bag stuck onto his crotch and closed in his diaper. He was scared of the pee test lady too.

So baggied up and ready to go, we gave him some water and said, 'Okay, pee!' It didn't work. Thus we embarked on the stupidest thing I've ever had to do, which was wait for a baby to pee. We kept giving him water and tickling him, but after 20 minutes, the water was all down his front and he was sick of being tickled. In fact, he was sick of the hospital in general, and he was sick of having his diaper opened and closed. BE then had to go across town to his parents' to fetch the car, leaving me alone with LE for what we thought would be a relatively short wait. Hah. An hour later, he still hadn't peed. By then, all the hospital staff-- security guards, receptionists, cleaners, nurses-- all knew what we were doing there, with LE getting increasingly angrier and me trying to amuse him by giving him peanut halves to eat, and as they passed by to pinch his cheeks, they were saying, 'Come on, LE-- pee already!' LE started doing the thing where he wants to see how loud and piercingly he can scream, so I took him outside for a walk. We passed a market and I figured he must be hungry by then so I got him some fruit and raisins. We went back to the hospital and he still hadn't peed. By this time, BE was on his way back from his parents', had stopped to get me some coffee, I'd had some coffee from a vending machine which, typical of hospital vending machines around the world, was very particular about which of my coins it wanted, and LE still hadn't peed.

He finally peed after two hours, some thrown apricots, some serious displeasure with his stuffed horse that jiggles when you pull the string, and half a sippy cup of water spit out down his shirt. The whole second hour I was explaining to him that this was the stupidest thing I'd ever had to do. He was seriously saving up his pee. He not only filled the bag, but almost soaked through his diaper in the ten-minute trip home. By the time he peed, the nurses' shift had changed so I had to struggle through trying to explain to the new nurse that I wanted her to do whatever had to be done with the pee-filled bag attached to this angry boy with a soaked, peanut- and apricot-stained shirt. Somehow we managed, though LE was very afraid of this nurse as well, and began The Howling as soon as she looked at him.

In Other Completely Unrelated News...
In today's Hürriyet, there's a column about a sick baby seal everyone's turned out to save. The writer couldn't help pointing out how, in Canada, all they do is club their baby seals while here in Turkey, Home Of Very Humane Treatment For All Animals, they go all-out to save this poor, sick seal. Trouble is, the little fellow isn't interested in going back out to sea. He knows which side his bread is buttered on. Local residents bring him trays of börek and fish they've cooked for him. Aww.

And Some Sad News...
BE's father's cousin just died a couple of hours ago. He was in a coma after being beaten by some guys. What happened was, the cousin and his friend were on their way to a türkü evi (a bar that features live folk music), and a woman almost crashed into their car or somehow nearly caused an accident. So they got mad and cursed at her. So she followed them to see where they went and called her husband who turned up with a bunch of his buddies to beat these two guys up. Beat them they did. Even if he hadn't died, he would have been severely brain damaged.

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid stupid.

Monday, June 2, 2008


This is a meme I found via yaramaz, a fellow Istanbul blogger. I found it interesting because of that quirk of growing up as a middle-class American which makes it uncomfortable for me to admit exactly how privileged we were, my brothers and I. But clearly we were. I still maintain, however, that we weren't spoiled, at least not in the sense of being taught to be bratty or undisciplined, and I don't think we have a sense of entitlement or of being better than others.

It's just that because of this meme I came out clearly privileged, so I feel I have to qualify or justify myself somehow. Sad.

Here it is:

The list is based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. The exercise developers ask that if you participate in this blog game, you acknowledge their copyright. Highlight in bold the sentences that are true for you:

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children’s books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18

Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

So that's me. Then I got to thinking about privilege and what it means here in Turkey, since social class is much more rigid here, development has been rapid since 1973 (when I was born), and having access to a lot of things that are considered by Americans to be 'normal' (for example, having a computer/Internet in your home or having more than one car per family) is, even now, available to relatively few people, either because of geography or economic status.

So, finding myself with a bit of spare time, I whipped up this little list of questions about privilege in Turkey as I've come to understand it. I'm probably looking at privilege in two ways: one, from my perspective as an American and what we have there now, or had there 20 years ago compared to what there is and was here; and two, from what I've seen living here in terms of increasing development, the huge rift between the upper and lower class, and the differences in how people live depending on where they live. I'm also imagining the questions directed at someone more or less from my generation, anywhere from ten years older to ten years younger than I am. I don't intend this as a meme-- it's just something I'm putting out there because I was thinking about it:

Does your house have electricity and indoor plumbing?
If so, do you also have access to a backup source for when these utilities fail?
Did you have these utilities when you were growing up?
Does your house have telephone and/or Internet service?
Are you literate and numerate?
Are both of your parents literate and numerate?
Did you finish elementary school/high school?
Did your father finish elementary school/high school?
Did your mother finish elementary school/high school?
Were you allowed/encouraged to to finish high school?
Were your parents allowed/encouraged to finish high school?
Did you go to university?
Did your parents go to university?
Can you type well?
Does your family own a computer? If so, is it used by everyone in the home?
Did/does your mother work outside the home?
If your mother works outside the home, would there be enough money for the family to get by if she couldn't or didn't want to work?
Do you have private medical insurance?
Do you have a choice of which doctors or hospitals you can/are financially able to use?
Do the males in your family have life-or-death power over the females?
Do you have access to birth control?
If you have access to birth control, are you allowed to use it?
Do you have regular access to meat and milk?
Did you have regular access to meat and milk when you were growing up?
Did your family migrate to a big city for work?
Did your grandparents migrate to a big city for work?
Does your family own more a car? More than one car?
If so, is your family's car less than ten years old?
Are you in the same social class as your parents? As your grandparents?
Do you think your children will be in the same social class as you?
Do you have a passport?
Have you ever travelled abroad?

So that's it. I'm sure this list in is no way comprehensive, and there are probably things here that are inaccurate or of debatable importance in relation to privilege. But it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.