Thursday, February 28, 2008

Headscarf Part II

In my previous post, the very aptly named Headscarf Part I, I attempted to give a bit of background on the divisive headscarf issue in Turkey. In this post, I'll try to deal with some of the arguments surrounding the issue, as well as share with anyone who cares my own very divided feelings.

The headscarf issue is a very touchy subject. I've already received one ranting comment from a Turk about my first post. The comment is interesting because it is exactly the kind of thing nationalist-leaning folk start saying whenever anyone, particularly a foreigner and particularly an American, says something about headscarves. If BE's written English were as good as that commenter's, I would have thought it was him. So I won't go so far as promising not offend anyone's sensibilities, because I most certainly will offend. Some people are very easily offended (heh, to put it lightly). But I will try, at least, to not be deliberately inflammatory.

Here's one thing many Turks were very offended by, and I can't say that I blame them: When the Islamist AKP swept the 2002 elections (to the utter dismay of the nationalists), it was hailed throughout the Western world as a victory for democracy. Democracy, that beacon of all that is good and right, which is held up by the West as a holy grail for the world's less fortunate countries to aspire to and emulate. 'Be democratic,' says America, shaking it's mighty fist, 'or else...' When AKP first won, I thought to myself that it couldn't be all that bad. If Turkey wants to get that other foot out of the second world, allowing the will of the people to be followed is a positive step. Another military coup would just send it tumbling back to the dark ages when Dallas reruns were the best thing on TV. I never thought my American education had stuck until I found myself thinking this way.

When AKP came into power, there were indeed people hoping the military would invoke its right to take over when the will of the people proved wrong. This is something Atatürk included in the constitution-- that if the government starts doing anything that poses a threat to secularity, the military has the right to throw them out and take control. Sometimes this strikes me as thinking of the people as unruly teenagers. It implies that people are grown-up enough to have free and open elections, but perhaps not mature enough to always make the 'right' decisions. On the other hand, Atatürk was very forward-thinking in this, as though he knew the people, given the chance, might want to turn their country into another Islamic backwater. Turks may forget how to drive when it's raining, but their country is really something to be proud of. It's one of the only predominantly Muslim countries in the world that isn't an Islamic or Sharia state. People can be as Muslim or un-Muslim as they want to be, and no one's getting their hands cut off for stealing or getting arrested for a tendril of hair sticking out of a veil. One way that this is happening, however, is that secularism is enforced in ways that could seem, to the Western eye, like a curtailing of personal or religious liberty.

Where headscarves (particularly the türban) can and can't be worn, is one example of this regulation of religious freedom. In Turkey, the türban isn't simply a form of religious dress, it's a fraught political symbol. As soon as AKP came into power, it seemed like they started talking about lifting the headscarf ban. They were also trying to woo the EU for membership, and used the lifting of this ban as an example of how they were trying to improve the human rights situation here. The irony of this was not lost on me or the nationalists; the headscarf is usually seen by Westerners as a symbol of female oppression, but AKP was using it as a symbol of guaranteeing freedom of religion. EU leaders applauded them for this. Naturally the nationalists found it personally galling when France banned the headscarf in its own universities.

Is the headscarf a symbol of female oppression in Turkey? I have very mixed feelings about this, both as a Westerner and as a woman. On one hand, not all women who wear the headscarf are forced to do so by their families. Some do it because they want to, and I've even known families where the mother isn't covered, one daughter drinks and has boyfriends while another daughter wears a headscarf. Some women, obviously, are brought up to believe they should cover, while some are very strongly encouraged to do so, some much more strongly than others. And yes, there are girls and women who are coerced or forced. The Westerner in me says that no one should be forced, but neither should they be prevented if that's their choice. At the same time, the woman in me wonders why all this modesty is necessary. Is my body something to be ashamed of? Are my lumps and curves a source of disgust to these more 'modest' women? And I can't really subscribe to the view that men are such animals that they may become uncontrollably inflamed at the sight of my hair, or neck, or hips. Most men I know are better than that, and if they're thinking prurient thoughts about the women around them, they're thinking those thoughts whether the women are covered or not.

In any case, I suspect the gap of equality between men and women in Turkey would exist whether there were headscarves or not. I hardly think the headscarf itself causes or exacerbates the problem. Is it a symbol of it? Maybe.

Because I'm foreign, there are some aspects to the headscarf debate that I just don't understand, and I expect I never will. For example, I feel that the headscarf ban in universities unfairly targets women. There isn't an equivalent form of male Islamic dress that is banned, though I'm told woolly skullcaps are forbidden as well. But for a lot of women, the headscarf is as much about modesty as it is a political symbol or a badge of Islamic identification, whereas the skullcap isn't about modesty. I would imagine to some women, revealing their hair and necks, or even wearing those god-awful wigs, it would feel as bad as it would to me if I had to go to school without my shirt. There's that, plus there are indeed a lot of girls who are forced or pressured to wear headscarves, and so wouldn't be allowed to attend university if they had to take them off. So whether it's a matter of modesty or of not having a real choice in the matter, the headscarf ban in universities is keeping many young women out of higher education (or relegating them to second rate private 'universities,' where they pay a lot of money for degrees that aren't actually worth anything). Denying women educational opportunities because of their (or their families') religious beliefs surely isn't helping anything.

There is an expression in Turkish that goes something like 'Covered head, closed mind,' which sounds clever because kapalı in Turkish means both 'covered' and 'closed.' One argument about keeping these young women out of school says that they should be kept from certain jobs of power, like teaching or law, so that their backwards and religious notions don't unduly influence children or public policy. This is an issue that, as a foreigner, I absolutely don't get, and I've been told so many, many times. But it seems to me a person's thinking is the same whether they are covered or not. A woman may uncover to attend university or to teach or to be a judge, but her ideas are the same regardless of what's on her head.

But, they tell me, I'm wrong about this. Another thing I'm totally wrong about is that I don't totally subscribe to the 'slippery slope' argument. This argument (which has some tangential roots in ubiquitous conspiracy theories involving AKP, Fethullah Gülen*, the CIA, and as often as not, the Kurds for good measure) tells us that if certain types of religious freedoms are allowed, they will keep wanting more, and in no time Turkey will become like Iran. To this end, two weeks ago Vatan newspaper's Sunday insert contained an article called 'Will Turkey Be Iran In Two Years?,' with a chilling full-page photo, shown below (I could only find a very small one and it's hard to see, but it's a sea of burkhas with one floral-scarfed little girl in the middle):

Admittedly I couldn't be bothered to wade through the whole article, for me an hours' long task with a dictionary and LE demanding my attention by throwing his toys at me, but the blurbs on the front page contained some specious or coincidental similarities between Turkey now and the time leading up to the 1979 revolution in Iran. I've been hearing the Turkey-will-become-Iran argument ever since I came here, but I just can't get into it. There just aren't enough real parallels. Also (though it may be naive, incongruous, or decidedly foreign), I actually do have enough faith in the Turkish people, and perhaps even in the military if that's what it takes, that they won't let their country become an Islamic state.

Still, as a woman and as a Westerner who has to live here and perhaps raise my little boy here, the slippery slope argument is compelling in its way. Since AKP came into power, I too feel small changes around me, and I see things that may be construed as a gradual chipping away of certain social liberties. When I first came here 6 years ago, I often giggled at a Tofaş (a small, cheap Turkish-made car, all of which look about 20 years old and all of which are in various states of near-collapse) filled with families of 50, with a few men in the front, a pile of covered women in the back, and several children flying around the remaining empty space. Now, more and more often, I see these same families piled into Mercedes or BMW SUV's. The drivers are even more incapable of maneuvering the ridiculously oversized cars, and they hold even more people now, with their spacious trunks. It's a small thing, but it makes it makes me think that what used to be the largely disregarded rural religious poor could be becoming the not-quite-urban religious nouveau riche that aren't so easily disregarded. When we moved to our neighborhood in the suburbs four years ago, alcohol was happily available in most restaurants, all year around, just as it was in the rest of Istanbul. However, about 3 years ago, all the restaurants dried out for the month of Ramazan. The first year, you just couldn't drink during iftar (fast-breaking), which was okay since we never would have gone to a restaurant at iftar anyway because the prices triple, and we wouldn't have drunk as a matter of respect. But in subsequent years, there was no alcohol anywhere, and the waiters and managers who were once sadly apologetic to my husband (a regular customer at the few restaurants around us) became a little surly about it, barely hiding their righteous anger at being asked something so offensive. Starting about a month ago, the already over-loud mosque near my house started broadcasting the entire Friday prayer, about an hour long, over the loudspeaker. An imam near us was fired recently for broadcasting on a Friday that husbands shouldn't let their wives work because it makes it easier for their wives to commit adultery. At least he was fired, but is it possible that something in the social climate has changed enough to not only make that imam feel comfortable broadcasting his sermon, but to make him feel comfortable sharing that particular message?

So while I think Turkey becoming an actual Sharia state isn't likely, the possibility of it becoming a sort of de facto one worries me. Social pressure and social climates are not to be taken lightly, particularly in a group-oriented culture. A further argument against headscarves in universities is that girls who weren't covered to begin with will begin covering in order to fit in. This argument alone doesn't impress me. I dyed my hair purple and blue in university to no lasting ill effect; university is a time when young people experiment with their identities, and most of us move on. But what if something like this happens in the real world outside university? On one of the televised debates BE watched, the token covered woman, when they let her speak, argued that the headscarf means freedom for women. Why? Because if a woman is wearing a headscarf, she won't be mistaken for a whore and will be treated with respect on the street. This argument impressed me greatly, and not in a good way. If un-covered women are automatically considered immodest with relaxed sexual morals, it follows that men are given license to treat them as such. If that macho idiot factor suddenly becomes the norm, then wouldn't most women begin covering to avoid harassment or assault on the street? A woman harassed on the street now can usually expect some protection or intervention from bystanders, but what if it's suddenly her own fault for not wearing a headscarf?

So there you go. While I don't totally believe in the slippery slope, there are times I find the idea compelling. As a Westerner, I can stand on the edges of any Turkish political debate and say 'Let them have their democracy,' and 'What can headscarves hurt as long as I don't have to wear one?' As a woman, no matter how pragmatic or optimistic I might feel, I can't help but think about this:

And all that it implies for us.

*Here are are some links about Fethullah Gülen, one to the Wikipedia article, and one to his website. To put it lightly, this guy is scary, but he is an entirely different topic, and one I will probably never post about.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Headscarf Part I

It's time. I've been wanting to post my online treatise on this topic for ages, and the opportunity has just presented itself. LE's asleep, BE's off doing some business that couldn't possibly have been managed during the day or with a simple phone call, there was no need for me to cook a proper dinner, and I have a half-finished glass of Asma, a typically sub-standard brand of Turkish wine that's available by the liter and is often on sale. Screw top. Don't knock it.

Headscarves are the talk of the town these days, and have been for over a month, ever since our good leaders voted to change the constitution and allow girls to wear them in universities. The ban on headscarves in public buildings still remains, and at present, CHP (the nationalist party who was in power before the religiously conservative AKP won elections by a landslide) is bringing a challenge to this change to the constitutional court, where it seems likely the new amendment will be overturned.

That's the short version, and this explanation may be lacking due to its brevity. I have just quit paying attention altogether because I'm sick of hearing about it. Sick to death. BE has been an absolute fiend for any news or discussion on the topic. He scours the paper newspapers for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the goes online to read it all again, cursing colorfully or asking me if I'd like to go out and buy some headscarves now. Many dinners have been spoiled because of some televised discussion that absolutely MUST be watched, wherein some talking heads who have no actual say on the issue spout off their opinions, all at the same time and with increasing volume so even if I could understand the nuance of their Turkish, I still wouldn't be able to understand because no one gets to finish a sentence before everyone starts talking at the same time. It's like Jerry Springer meets Fox News, only without the hair pulling. Inevitably the panels contain one or two women, covered or not, who spend the entire show chirping 'Can I say something? Can I say something?' (this is a common conversational gambit in Turkish, by the way. Another one is 'I'm going to say something' before saying it, as though it's already built into the conversational structure that no one is listening unless you announce first that you're going to say something), and occasionally they are allowed to say something that amounts to an entire sentence or two but they're usually drowned out by three or four men who all start talking at the same time. And so it goes. The 'moderator' (usually a man) also spends the whole program asking if he can say something, but no one listens to him either, especially if his sentence starts with anything like, for example, 'Hacar Hanım (Mrs. Hacar) is going to say something.'

I digress. I do enjoy poking fun at the details. A quick background on this topic (and again, I apologize if I'm off on the specifics) is that when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, as one of several initiatives to make Turkey into a secular state Atatürk banned religious and traditional head coverings for men and women. For the men, no more fezzes (a shame, that. Fezzes are cool, and can be seen on ice cream sellers all over the city) or woolly skullcaps, and for women, no more headscarves. Men were encouraged to wear the more European and 'modern' bowler hat. Some biographers claim this ban stemmed in part from Atatürk's humiliation while attending a party in Europe, where people snickered at his outlandish hat. I guess fezzes weren't considered cool back then. In any case, the point of the ban was twofold-- to make the Turkish public (at least appear) secular, and to make Turkey more European. Over time, the fez ban took but the headscarf ban didn't.

Here's where I get a bit foggy on the history and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I gather Turks were getting a bit lax in their secularism as well as their headgear, and the ban was reinforced or perhaps made more specific again in the 1980s, when the military took over. It was at this time that women were forbidden to wear headscarves on university campuses and in public buildings. Specifically, they cannot be covered on campus when they're there as students or teachers, and civil servants cannot be covered on the job. I point this out because I found it interesting that at the university where I used to work (where 80% or 90% of the female students were covered), women visitors often wore headscarves or even full black chadors (noticeable because chadors aren't especially common here), and the students themselves were often covered in the orientation time before classes had officially begun. When students arrived at the threshold of the campus, the scarves came off and when they crossed it again to leave, the scarves went back on. There was even a special room next to security with blacked out windows to give the girls privacy to change.

The current dispute about lifting the headscarf ban is only about universities (I hear that there are a lot of covered women workers in some state-run companies, but no one seems to be doing anything about that. Conversely, the university I referred to was nearly shut down around 2000 because of people getting sloppy about obeying the law), and it is specifically only about what is called türban in Turkish. Women's headgear has its own language here. Many women, particularly older women and women outside of the cities wear a traditional başörtüsü, meaning 'headcovering.' It looks something like this (though it's not always tied around the neck and I've rarely seen them covering the face):
A lot of other (usually older) women wear scarves outside, though loosely and with hair showing, much like my grandmother did on windy days in San Francisco, to keep her hair neat. Many women in başörtüsü aren't especially fierce about keeping their heads covered outside, and will take them off on the bus or wherever to re-tie them or shake out their hair. The başörtüsü says things like 'I am from the village' or 'I work hard cooking and/or cleaning and I don't want my hair in the way getting dirty.' It can even say 'I belong to such-and-such ethnic group.'

The much-disputed türban looks like this:
or this:It is always worn over a cloth swim-cap-like thing that completely covers the hair and smashes is down. The scarf is pinned or tied under the chin and the neck is covered. It is also pinned to the swim-cap thingie to prevent the scarf coming off, and it's usually folded so that the edges come out beyond the edge of the face like horse blinders. I'm not sure whether this is to prevent the woman from giving askance come-hither glances, or to prevent men from from looking at her from the side, but it sure makes the wearers crappy drivers. The türban is usually worn with a raincoat-like garment (thin or thick according to the season) which hides any hint of (to borrow a phrase from the Black Eyed Peas that cracks me up) lovely lady bumps. Unlike the başörtüsü (and whether the wearer likes it or not), the türban is politically charged in Turkey. It says 'I am a devout Muslim and I'm proud of it.' To some people, it also says things like 'I am oppressed' and 'I am modest and you're not.'

So that's the background and some other information. Really, I have more to say on this whole thing than I have time for (it's getting on my bedtime and my thinking is getting thick), so I'll have to post Headscarf Part II another time, where I will attempt to pick apart my (and others') very mixed feelings on this issue.

May it be sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 18, 2008


On the topic of being a foreigner in Turkey, there is an interesting post and discussion in the comments shaping up over at realmotherhood, the blog of a fellow foreign mom in Istanbul. I often find our blogs complementary-- Siobhan has different perspectives on similar topics of expat-wife-and-mom life, and there are often things I think of but forget to write that turn up in her posts, making me think, duh! Why didn't I come up with that? If our blogs were people, they would be a crotchety old couple finishing each others' sentences. Plus, her son is darling.

On an unrelated topic, David Vincent at ELT World is preparing to release the third issue of his online journal, Horizons: The Journal of ELT World. He was kind enough to feature one of my posts in Issue 2, and has requested to use another post in the upcoming issue. I'm not just plugging him as a way of plugging myself. He's done a really nice job not only with the journal, but with his ELT blog and accompanying forums. All this, plus a job, a small child, and a baby. ELT World is one of my few remaining ties to the world of teaching and Istanbul EFL, though I admit it does remind me at times that being a dad must be very, very different from being a mom.

No offense to the dads out there. It's just that, at the moment, LE is watching the re-scheduled Galatasaray-Konyaspor match (the first was cancelled due to a lovely dump of snow) with his dad (one reason the snow is lovely is it's kept BE home from work). Only LE isn't really watching the game. The door to living room is closed to keep LE out of the kitchen with its enticing trash can, but there is a lower pane of glass missing on the door, so LE is sticking his head out looking at me here on the computer, alternating between throwing his toys out the hole and sobbing because he can see me and I'm not coming to him. I can see my hour and half of freedom dwindling to 40 minutes, since in a few minutes he will be so worked up with rage and confusion at my absence that only some nursing time will ease his pain.

Friday, February 15, 2008


In the header of this blog, I call myself an accidental expatriate. I wasn't trying to be poetic or make an oblique reference to The Accidental Tourist. The fact that I'm an expat is pretty much accidental. Okay, it wasn't by accident that I came here. That was on purpose. I also married a Turk on purpose. It was all planned, all the steps that led up to my being here. But the fact that I'm still here is kind of an accident. I never imagined I'd have a baby and furniture and a dishwasher and a real life in a foreign country. When I came here, somewhere in the back of my mind, I'd always planned to return home at some point. I didn't realize how hard the distance from my family would be, or how much harder that would become when I brought our sweet little boy into the world. They miss him, I miss them, and I hate taking him away from them. That part is even worse than leaving them after a visit.

But here I am, by accident, sort of. When it was just me, I was free to pick up and leave at any time. Then I managed to marry the only foreign man in the world who doesn't want to live in America and become an American citizen. Perhaps there are other men in the world like this, but not according to US Immigration, there aren't. So there's that, plus the problem of what on Earth would we do to make a living in the US? ESL teaching is an even less glorious profession over there, and certainly not overpaid like it is here. BE works for his family's business, in steel export, and I don't think there's a big demand for small business steel exporters in the US. Since he didn't go to college, there's not much of a demand for him at all, except perhaps in the competitive and exciting fields of busboy or gas pumper. Perhaps that's being overly pessimistic, but that's how it seems from over here. Anyway, as I've said before, I like staying home with LE. I'm happy to have this as my job. Turkey gives me the luxury of doing this. I feel like if we lived in the US, BE wouldn't be able to make enough to support us, so I'd have to go back to work as well, for the privilege of working full-time to pay for LE's child care and a few hundred bucks extra, not to mention the joy of seeing my son raised by strangers in an environment filled with other children that I imagine to be very lord of the flies.

In my darker moments, I think that I'm only here because of my husband. I generally refrain from reminding him of that. But then there are times he kind of asks for it, like when he complains that he doesn't want to live on the Asian side of Istanbul (where we're planning to move soon), and he's only doing it for me, thereby reserving him the right to blame it on me when he's miserable over there and doesn't like his new barber as much.

BE's best friend from childhood has a very cool mother, Aunt S. She's cool in any case, but as a Turkish mother, she utterly unique as far as I can tell. She won my heart when one of her sons was whining that he was hungry, and, rather than dutifully rush off to kitchen and prepare something for him, she listed the contents of the refrigerator and reminded him that he had feet. She's intelligent and intellectual, opinionated, worldly, and curious in the non-nosy sense. I can hang with her. I often find myself wishing she were my mother-in-law instead of the one I've got, who, though it's quite mean to say, has pretty much the polar opposite of each of those qualities (though for 'opinionated' you may simply substitute 'judgmental'). Once Aunt S. asked me what it was like being a foreigner. Because it was in Turkish, and because I didn't want to roundly belittle the entire Turkish race, I really had to struggle and think out my answer. After fumbling a bit, I arrived at this: that there are times, sometimes for weeks on end, that I just can't bring myself to go outside of the house. Perhaps I've inherited a touch of my grandmother's agoraphobia, but I don't think it's as strong as that. It's more that sometimes, I just don't feel like I have the energy to face the foreignness outside. I can't be bothered to speak Turkish and have people automatically not understand me because I'm foreign and their brains shut down (my Turkish isn't great, but it's not so bad or so heavily accented that I can't make it clear I want 200 grams of white cheese). I can't face people staring at me, or pointing, or even pointing me out to their kids going 'Look! There's a foreigner! What's she doing?' I can't face the drivers who won't give 2 seconds of their lives to slow down so they don't kill me, or the women who gather in doorways to gossip, then ignore my polite 'Pardon me,' several times no matter how loudly I say it, then mutter how rude foreigners are when I try to pass into the doorway. I can't always deal with the attention I get, even if it's positive, like when people think I'm cute or exotic or funny because I'm so obviously different.

The word in Turkish for foreigner is yabancı (it sounds like 'yah-bahn-jee'). You can be sure it's one of the Turkish first words any new foreigner here learns, because it murmurs in the air around us most of the time.

That, I told Aunt S., is what it's like being a foreigner. Of course, I pointed out, there are advantages. Big ones, like we get paid more for doing less work than locals (though unfortunately, in some schools I've worked at, the foreigners didn't know this and never could quite figure out the seething resentment of their Turkish counterparts). People go out of their way to help you, and fall all over themselves to make sure you have a good impression of their country. A lot of the time, business proprietors are utterly delighted to see you walk into their stores, and it's not just because they think you're rich-- it's also because they're flattered and thrilled you've chosen them, and they're just dying to know about your country and what you think of their country, and why the hell you came here when so many Turkish people are scrabbling to get out. Usually, I'm happy to oblige, and tell them how much I love Turkey and Turkish people and Turkish food. I'm usually even okay with letting them pinch LE's cheeks or pick him up and carry him away to show him off to other people because fair babies like him are apparently extra cute. Sometimes I actually don't have a desperate feeling of wanting to leave here and I try so hard to give back as much kindness as I get.

But sometimes, I just can't face it. I feel tired.

I'm starting to sound like I'm blaming this bad feeling on Turkey. I'm not. This is entirely down to me. It's my own feeling and how I perceive the world and my place in it. It's not an easy feeling to change. I can ignore it a lot of the time, but it's still there. I recently read An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, a story about chamber musicians in London. About halfway through the novel, it occurred to me that, although Vikram Seth is not a native Brit, he seamlessly and successfully wrote a lovely story, in the first person no less, about the internal and external lives and relationships of the people of his host country. 'How can he do that?' I wondered. How can he feel so confident and knowledgeable about Britain, where he wasn't brought up, to just write a novel like that? How can he get into the details of these people's lives without somehow poking fun at them for all the things that are different from his own culture? It's not just that Vikram Seth is a really wonderful writer with a knack for catching not only human foibles, but also the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the types of people in certain places, and portraying these in a way that might be funny but isn't cruel. There must also be something about Vikram Seth as a person, that his sensibilities allow him to parse out that which is human in all of us. I can't do this. I'm too Us or Them. Or Them and Me. I'd never be able to write a book from the point of view of Turkish people without feeling cynical about having them praise a plate of sucuk (a type of sausage) or kuru fasulye (overcooked navy beans in oily red water with bits of meat). In my story, someone's mother would always be going on about someone else's feet (while still others were thinking her right for doing so), characters would wake up ill from having sat in drafts, and people would be going on about Atatürk all the time. Even if I wasn't feeling mean-spirited, if I had a Turkish character do something perfectly mundane, like eat cheese for breakfast or haggle over the price of some clothes, I still would feel like I was somehow making fun, and I would be afraid of being perceived as making fun, even when I wasn't.

In Turkey, I will always be a foreigner. I could get citizenship and I'd still be one. I could be 50 years old, teaching English to schoolchildren, having been a Turkish citizen longer than any of them had been alive, and they'd still know they belonged here more than I do. My opinions, experience, and language will always have the taint of foreigner, and I'll always be (or feel) somehow less important as a result. At best, I could do everything possible to 'integrate' and change my behavior to be more 'Turkish,' study really hard to perfect my language, and maybe obtain a status like 'Foreign, but okay because she loves Turkey.' At worst, I'll just always be a bit of lighthearted comedy like that guy Balki in Perfect Strangers; human, yet an amusing antic waiting to happen. I don't think I'll ever quite understand what people say or what's going on around me and it's not just because of the spoken language. There is also the highly contextualized cultural language that decorates every interaction, and if I ever do understand it, it will still be as an outsider and my point of view will always have the cast of an anthropological observer.

So of course it's nothing wrong with Them. It's that I can't find a place here (outside of my foreign friends) where I'm comfortable as myself, and where I feel like people understand me as myself, as I want to be taken. I feel like a foreigner because I feel like everyone else is so foreign.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Funny/Not Funny

The Turkish Minister of Forestry and the Environment was quoted in yesterday's Vatan Gazette as saying that he trusts God to sort out the drought problem here, and that he's leaving it in God's hands (funny). I'm so glad Turkey's elected officials' strategy is to do nothing, and everyone is happy with that because they mentioned God (not funny). Istanbul's reservoirs are at about 20% capacity. All the government has done about this is raise the price of water by 130% and encourage the populace to buy dishwashers (funny/not funny). If the drought continues and water cuts increase over the coming summer, I'm curious if the ingenuous populace will think God doesn't favor AK Party, or if they'll think God is punishing us and we deserve it somehow. Only time will tell, and some AKP officials too, no doubt.

In other news, last week, a building exploded (not funny) in the part of Istanbul where BE works. This was because, in the same building, there was an illegal gin distillery and an illegal fireworks factory (funny). The tank of gin blew up first, which then ignited the illegal fireworks, blowing 3 floors off the building and killing 22 people (not funny). Among the 22 killed were eight passersby who stopped to gawp at the fire from the distillery, and who were then blown up by the fireworks explosion (a little bit funny?*). The owners of the two factories are nowhere to be found (totally predicatble).

*Maybe it's only funny if you live here and have seen how quickly gawpers appear out of nowhere to gather, stare, offer commentary, and as often as not, begin arguing or fighting. They gather for the smallest event, like someone standing on the street looking up. They gather for car accidents and further hold up traffic, even in areas where there are no houses or businesses or people or anything.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Bri's Meme

Again that word meme. Even though I know the pronunciation is different than the Turkish word, I still feel like I wrote Bri's Breast.

Speaking of meme, an aside. In Turkish, I know of two ways to say 'breastfeed.' One is the more widely used meme vermek (literally 'give the breast') and the other is emzirmek ('nurse'), which is the more formal word, used by doctors and medicine bottles. I've also heard "Emiyor mu? ('Is he sucking?)," asked when someone enters the room where I'm nursing, which I find to be a rather stupid question to ask of someone with her shirt pulled up and a baby's face in her breast. But I digress from my digression. When LE was first born, my mother-in-law always used 'meme vermek.' Whenever LE made a sound, no matter who all was in the room (and there often tended to be a slew of relatives around), she would start going "He's hungry! He's hungry! Give him the breast! Give him the breast!" My mother-in-law rarely says anything once. Perhaps she's used to everyone ignoring her. Or perhaps everyone ignores her because she witters on endlessly, repeating things all the time. Anyway, at some point she stopped shouting about my breast in mixed company. She started being wry. Or trying to, anyway. Now, whenever LE makes a sound (or does the much more subtle action of grabbing my breasts or shoving his face into them), someone invariably goes "What's wrong with him?" and someone else goes, "He's bored/hungry/tired/he wants me/whatever," and my mother-in-law goes, "Başka bir şey istiyor (he wants something else)," meaning LE wants my breast. Then she looks around the room wryly to make sure everyone got her clever reference. "Başka bir şey istiyor," she says several more times, looking wryly into each person's face to make sure no one missed her clever reference to what apparently has become a shameful habit of LE's.

For some reason I find this intensely annoying, though perhaps it's just because it's so predictable. But I can't help but wonder, why is it shameful to mention my breast in front of her own husband and son, or in front of other women, when the word 'breast' is clearly embedded in a phrase that refers to the fairly mundane act of my son getting some nourishment, and why was it not shameful in the first three months of LE's life, and if it's so awfully shameful to say meme, why not just say emzirmek? Unanswerable mysteries, I'm afraid. Perhaps it's just that she has so few opportunities to be wry. Again and again and again.

So here’s the meme (not breast) from Bri over at Unwellness.

The Rules
1. Link to the person that tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Share 6 non-important things/quirks about your kid
4. Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs
5. Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
6. Let the fun begin!

And here are LE's quirks, at least the six best ones I could think of. Either he's very quirky or I have nothing else to do during the day than notice and encourage his idiosyncrasies:

1) The boy is a dancing fool. Starting from about eight months, whenever he hears anything like music, he starts rocking out. At first it was so subtle that I wasn't even sure it was dancing, where he sort of hunched and un-hunched his back in a sitting position. So I tried turning the music off and on again, and sure enough, he was dancing. He gets a sort of glazed look in his eye, stops whatever he's doing, and gets his freak on. His repertoire of moves has expanded over the last three months to include head-bobbing and shaking, swaying, jumping, and bouncing up and down on his butt. Anything works, from proper music to advertisement jingles to rhythmic clapping or snapping. He even pretty much dances to the beat these days.

2) LE has inherited, to some extent, my grandmother's thumbs. This means that his thumbs easily and painlessly bend backwards to lie almost flat on his wrists. Many times I have gotten his wiggly little hands into a sleeve only to find that his thumbs bent back and didn't make it, giving me quite a start and thinking I had pulled his thumbs off. This bodes well for his future bar chats of showing off various gross body tricks.

3) LE has started begging for food like a dog, whether he's particularly hungry or not. If someone has food, he wants it. Perhaps I started this by feeding him bits from the table while he was crawling around on the floor because I thought it was funny when he ate like a dog. I should have known from my experience with dogs that this is a bad thing to teach. Now, if anyone's eating, he pulls himself up on their legs and jumps up and down giggling and shouting. Last week at our playgroup, the mothers were sitting on sofas balancing plates of snacks on our knees while we talked and watched the babies. LE didn't even limit himself to me for begging. He went to other mothers, tapping their legs, giggling, and trying to snatch things from their plates. Nothing to do but pop bits of food into his mouth.

4) A less cute habit is that as soon as his diaper comes off, LE grabs his bits. Rather violently. I first saw this when he was about three months old, and I was letting him kick around naked after a bath. I went off to fetch his clothes and when I came back, he was silent and looking shocked and disturbed because he'd gotten his bits caught in one of those early baby death grips, where they can grab but not necessarily let go. Now, he pulls and twists them. I would think it must hurt, but he doesn't seem to notice. He has drawn blood more than once. At first, I tried to stop him, but then I quit making a fuss thinking maybe it was my fuss that was encouraging him to do this. But he still does it, though less violently. Now I only stop him if he has poop on there. It makes him really mad when I stop him, often resulting in more poop-spreading that I care for. His foreskin, as it turns out, is very stretchy. Won't he just kill me if he reads this when he's older? Hehe.

5) Interestingly, LE has started yawning when someone else yawns. For some reason, I was really curious when he would start doing this, wondering if was an instinct or a social behavior. I guess it must be social. If he doesn't really have to yawn, he still makes the sound-- a big sigh with a 'Hummm' at the end.

6) And now, time to learn if I can attach pictures into here. LE makes this face on command:
It's called his Uggy Face. If you tell him to be uggy, this is what he does. Very uggy indeed.

So that's six. It was hard to limit myself to this. As per the rules, I'm going to tag someone else, Siobhan at realmotherhood. However, as usual I'll have to bend the 4th rule, because I only know one other blogger with a kid that Mrs. Bri hasn't tagged already.

My 90 minutes of Mommy Time, conveniently the length of a football match and broken up by two nursing sessions, has come to an end.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Baby Sleep and a Confession

So it's been nearly another month again since I last posted, and here I am feeling like I need to offer some sort of excuse. That's the problem of having a blog, I suppose-- sometimes it's just one more damn thing I need to do that I can't keep up with.

But really, I have a good excuse, which is that LE has stopped napping. Completely stopped. He kind of stopped in America, which I attributed to the 10-hour time difference plus all the interesting and wonderful things going on at all times, plus a good dose of separation anxiety. I hoped he'd return to his usual schedule upon coming back to Turkey, but no. No naps.

I'm a selfish, selfish Mommy. While I know the Nap is for the baby, to let him rest and recharge and grow and feel good, in reality the Nap is for me. Up to three hours of baby-free Mommy time is really freaking great, as it turns out. Instead, LE is attached to me all day. Though he's not walking yet, he gets around just fine, and gets into everything without a problem. As much as we've baby-proofed the house, there are still things I don't want him to have and places I don't want him to be. For example, I don't want him to have the toilet brush or the kitchen trash, and I don't want him to be under the desk in the jungle of computer cords. Naturally, these and other dangerous places and disgusting things are what he wants most of all, over and over again. Plus he doesn't like it if I'm not looking at him. Plus, he's tall enough to reach the keyboard and the mouse if I attempt to use the computer. So it's really just better to not bother. My days are now full of snatched moments on a crossword puzzle when LE isn't demanding that I look at him, and hours of Roll The Ball, Throw The Toy, Hide From The Baby, among other riveting sports (okay, I'm not so cynical as I'm coming off as because I do get a kick out of playing with the little fellow, however repetitive the games might be because I LOVE LOVE LOVE making him laugh), and more hours of listening to endless whimpering and whining because he's tired. Exhausted. Puffy, red-rimmed eyes. Sloppy, clumsy movements. Dozing off for a few seconds sitting up, then fighting with all his might to make it go away. But no matter how tired he is, or how completely asleep he is while nursing, as soon as I try to get him into his bed, BAM! Screaming, writhing, and no sleep.

I've tried everything, really. Staying by his bed for hours shushing and singing and patting and rubbing until he's asleep only to have him wake up five or ten minutes later. Rocking him in his carseat. Taking him out for walks (where he stays awake until we're five minutes from home and I get all optimistic but he usually wakes up again as soon as the key is in the door). Changing his nap times. Eliminating a nap. Feeding him more. Leaving him to cry for varying amounts of time. No dice. This past Monday, he woke up at 5am. I got him to nap for about fifteen minutes in the middle of the day, then he was up until 7pm. That's right, an 11-month-old baby awake for fourteen hours. Little maniac.

This was a guy who used to love his naps. About 2 hours after breakfast he'd go 'Mah!,' have a nurse, and fall asleep for two hours. Repeat after lunch, though perhaps it was a little harder going for the second one. Lately I've just resorted to letting him fall asleep on me while nursing and staying put with a book until he wakes up or I have to pee, whichever comes first. Good thing I bought a lot of books in the US.

But that's not really the confession I promised you in the title. The confession is this: I finally got fed up with LE not sleeping at night, and decided to try the Evil and Cruel and Much Warned Against Cry It Out.

(*Cue Crunchy gasps and moaning*)

My husband, for all that's good about him, is completely useless with helping out at night. For about six months, the most sleep I could hope for was about 3 hours a night, very broken. A couple nights I got two straight hours and absolutely felt like a million bucks the next day. LE got to be too active to have in bed with me, but he wouldn't stay in his own bed, and more often than not he just thought the middle of the night was time to play and abuse me in various ways. There were nights he'd be screaming in his crib right next to me and I wouldn't wake up, I was so tired. Even still, no help from my husband, who by then was sleeping in the guest bed with the door closed so as not to be disturbed. His excuse was that he had to go to work, because apparently I was just sitting on my bum eating bon bons all day. Even in America when we shared a bed, and LE was between us hitting my face and refusing to sleep, BE just ignored it and wouldn't help. His excuse then was that he was too tired. I begged, I screamed, I cried, I probably pissed off the neighbors at 3am, but no help. So in the end, I had a few goals: get some damn sleep, save the marriage, not be mad at my baby all night, and not murder BE for being, quite frankly, a complete asshole. A side goal was to not endanger LE, because I started getting pretty sloppy during the day and would forget to do things like strap him into his high chair or carseat, and I almost dropped him a few times, and I bumped his head and legs on the doorjamb more than a few times, and he got some pretty nasty rashes from me totally forgetting to change his diaper a few mornings, feeding him his breakfast and asking him, 'Why on earth do I keep smelling poo?'

And you know what? Crying it out worked. So there. It was awful the first couple of nights. Really, unbelievably awful. The first day I tried it for a nap, following Dr. Weissbluth's plan of leaving him for an hour then getting him up and trying it again later if it didn't work. It didn't work. Somewhere in that hour I thought to myself, 'What if he's hurt?' but I resisted. When I went to him, he didn't even hate me for leaving him. He was just really happy to see me and stopped crying immediately, but his little chin and hands had blood all over them where he'd apparently banged his mouth on the edge of the bed and cut the inside of his lip on his teeth. I would have preferred it if he hated me a little, I felt so guilty. The first night he stood in his bed and cried for two whole hours before finally settling down for the rest of the night. The next night it was an hour, then after that, zero to fifteen minutes. Now he sleeps all night. Really all night. Or, at least until 5am. It's a miracle.

The second day of leaving him for a nap, I was less strong, thinking of his poor lip and how happy he would be to see me. I went online to the Crunchiest Mommy place I know, the forums. My goal in doing this was to make myself feel really, really bad about leaving him to cry. Like I really needed to feel worse. And it worked, all those crunchies confessing that they were thinking about leaving their babies to cry, and all those other crunchies bustling in with a flurry of 'Don't do it, Sister!' and citing research about how leaving babies to cry makes them learning disabled or socially inept or evil or serial killers or obese. One mother cleverly pointed out that wolves don't leave their babies alone to whimper in other caves so nor should we. And even though I thought, 'Yeah, but wolves don't cook their meat either, and they smell each others' butts,' I still felt bad, specious reasoning aside. Damn hippies.

So there it is. I've confessed. I'd like to think the refusal to nap and the all-night sleep are related, but he quit napping well before I started leaving him to cry. Now at least he's getting 9 hours at night instead of 4 hours at night and not much in the day. We're sleeping at night, but there's no Mommy Time anymore. The Crunchies would probably say this is some sort of cosmic retribution, not having any free time. And perhaps it is. I've thought and thought about it, and finally arrived at the conclusion that it's better he sleeps at night. At least I don't hate my husband all the time, and I certainly feel better.

I know. It all sounds like desperate justification. It kind of is. But my menfolk are back from the market, meaning my 90 minutes of Mommy Time for this week are over, and part of that 90 minutes was spent on laundry. I have list of notes of things to blog about in the coming days, and I think I'll just have to learn some ways to do it, even with LE whacking the mouse.

Off for a rousing 'I'm Bringing Home A Baby Bumblebee.' LE can bring home the bumblebee and smash it up quite adeptly. After that he whacks himself in the face.