Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Evil! Evil!

Look, I'm not a big fan of religion. I'll just say it right out. I think it's daft to alter your behavior based on the fact that there might be a supernatural being watching your every move, who punishes and rewards you according to some secret plan which you can't find out about until after you're dead. BE is not comfortable with my atheism, though he's not big on religion either. He's kind of like an agnostic who's afraid of God. He figures it's a win-win situation. He doesn't have to do religious things like forgo alcohol and pray all the time, but he believes in God just in case there's a God. He doesn't want God booting him out of Heaven on a technicality.

"Right," I told him. "Like God isn't onto that trick."

Now, superstition I'm a little funnier about. I'm not comfortable with umbrellas being opened indoors. I trace this to the time I was like 6 and my mom told me it was bad luck to open an umbrella indoors, and I was all "We'll see about that," and opened an umbrella indoors and knocked something off the table and broke it an got into trouble. So it's true that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck, and I have some empirical truth to back it up. Turks, by the way, open umbrellas indoors like it's going out of style.

I also don't walk under ladders. Especially here, where guys on ladders are pretty slaphappy about letting things drop. I'm not scared of Friday the 13th but I do have some feelings about it. And I don't quite think karma is a crock of shit either. Today, though, I stepped in gum. I try to keep my Gum Karma good by never throwing gum on the ground, but sometimes I still step in gum anyway. I admit to altering my behavior because of karma by always throwing my gum somewhere that someone else won't step in it.

So for me, that's enough to worry about. But according to my MIL, I'm definitely irresponsible in the area of Evil Eye protection. The Evil Eye is Nazar in Turkish. I'm not 100% clear on what the evil eye is. It has to do with jealousy, I think, and bad things happening to you if someone is jealous of you or something you have. The Evil Eye is sometimes related to blue eyes, at least according to the occasional villager who snatches her child away if I'm looking at it. I've been told that my blue eyes are evil for some people, and will bring them bad luck. So I'm very sorry to all those people I've given bad luck to because of my eyes. I'm very powerful, apparently. If only I could wrinkle my nose like Samantha and have the house be clean and the laundry folded and put away.

But even if you're unclear on the Evil Eye and how it works, you can still prevent it. One way to prevent it is with a Nazar boncuk, which is a pretty blue bead that kind of looks like an eye. You can put a Nazar boncuk at your front door, or hang one from your rear-view mirror, or wear them as clothing and jewelry.

This, for example, is our nazar boncuk. I haven't hung it yet because I haven't worked out which walls are soft enough to pound a nail into in our new house.

Our Nazar boncuk has Ali because BE is Alevi. Those two things on either side of the boncuk are Ali's special swords. In movies, you're not allowed to show guys like Ali or Muhammed (I'm not clear why it's okay for Ali to be on our Nazar boncuk but it's not okay for him to be in a movie). I don't know how they do Muhammed, but when Ali is in a movie he's signified by the tip of his special sword wiggling at the side of the screen.

We also have this in our house:

From the left, it's Ali, Atatürk, and Haci Bektaş. I'm amazed that somebody invented something like this that pleased BE from every direction. And yes, that's my bible in the background. I have to look things up sometimes when I'm reading. The bible was found in a food donation bin at my old job. It clearly was previously owned by a crazy person who highlighted hundreds of pages line by line with red marker. He or she also seems to have used certain passages for rolling paper.

Anyway, you're also supposed to pin a Nazar boncuk on a baby when you take it out. That's because all the people coming up to tell you what a beautiful baby it is can bring Nazar. Again, I don't get this. Is it because every person who compliments a baby is jealous? Or is it just in case they're jealous? I don't know. But even I'm not so impolite as to compliment someone's baby without saying "Maşallah" (sort of like God bless or God protect), which is supposed to protect the baby from the Evil Eye. People get really uncomfortable if you don't say "Maşallah." The good thing about "Maşallah" is that if someone's baby is all mono-brow and pinched and ugly with a snotty upper lip, you can just say "Maşallah," which will be considered a compliment and you don't actually have to come up with anything nice to say about the baby. It means "I'm not even going to tempt the Evil Eye by saying all the nice things I had in mind about that baby, and I'm going to say "Maşallah" just in case my thoughts might have provoked the Evil Eye."

The Evil Eye, apparently, is a very serious concern.

Very serious indeed. My MIL has lately become weirdly fanatic about Nazar. She's always gone on about Nazar in a folksy way which never really bothered anyone, and I found it mildly interesting, like something you'd read about in National Geographic. But in the last few months, she's even started to piss off FIL and BE with her Nazar madness. I mentioned in a previous post how she muttered to everyone it was my fault LE fell and hit his mouth on the corner of a coffee table because I don't pin his Nazar boncuk on him when we go out. I'm so coldly logical in that I think the pin coming open and stabbing someone is a more pressing concern than Nazar. But I also have insane beliefs about germs according to her, because I don't believe that dangerous germs continue to live in your underpants if you don't iron them after washing. I'm just unpredictable and zany like that. All that education and book-learning and I don't know a damn thing about anything.

MIL has always taken care to call LE "ugly" as much as anything nice. There's always "Maşallah"-ing and other muttered "Allah"-ing that I can't understand, but it sounds ancient and serious. And if we talk about him for too long, she invariably cuts into the conversation with "Nazar demesin," which I think isn't spelled exactly right but I've always understood it as "Let Nazar not be said" which I think isn't exactly right either but you get the idea.

In the last few weeks, MIL has taken to calling BE 3-4 times a week to tell him something he should or shouldn't do to avoid nazar for LE. He gets mad and hangs up on her, which just causes her to press the issue more. MIL loves nothing more than to find something that pisses someone off, and keep doing it until they get mad for real so she can accuse them of being unreasonable. A lot of times she calls to tell us to do something with salt or whatever and to be extra careful because one of the neighbors had said that day that LE was cute. BE says she stops herself playing with LE all the time because she doesn't want to cause Nazar.

Last weekend, she didn't want BE to bring LE to a funeral dinner because everyone there would love LE and give him Nazar. It makes me think she may not care about that side of the family much, if she thinks their compliments are the Nazar-bringing type. When BE insisted that LE would be going despite any nazar-related peril, she called several times to tell him to make sure LE had some sort of Nazar boncuk on him no matter what I said, and also that I shouldn't dress him in shorts because he falls down and skins his knees. In addition to being crazy, I am also sadistic and apparently enjoy dressing my son so that he skins his knees when he falls down, so it's a good thing she reminded me about that. Since it's gotten hot, she's also gotten nuts about LE wearing an undershirt, so she reminded us several times about that too. Sweat, you see, is as dangerous as Nazar, and most kinds of air, and post-laundering underwear djinn oops I mean germs. Only she knows what a good idea it is to layer up a child when it's 30C outside.

What she and BE don't know and will never know is that I've been letting LE go wading at the seaside in Yeşilköy. It's nice when the jellyfish aren't there. And a couple of those times LE got totally wet and it was windy. So there. It's our dirty little secret. I'm not saying anything and LE doesn't do sentences yet. If he shouted "Deniz!" to BE, BE would just think he was talking about the nasty little boy who lives next door to MIL. "Deniz" means "sea" but is also, conveniently, a name.

Less of a secret is that I think it's better to adore my kid unreservedly without worrying about the Evil Eye, especially when I'm still unclear on what it is, and to think you have to do otherwise is, in my opinion, a shame.


ms.bri said...

I am pro-unreserved adoration, personally. That all sounds truly insane. Like, mental institution crazy. I know we aren't suppose to say that about people's cultural beliefs. But it sure seems like fair game when she is calling YOUR scientific/cultural beliefs Bad and Wrong.

the UNchecked other said...

Your MIL sends shivers down my spine. Bless her heart, she reminds me of my grandmother. I grew up adorned with "amulets" ranging from the Catholic scapular to AmerIndian fetishes, Chinese jades to diamonds. Apparently the clarity of diamonds traps the evil intentions of envious people, thus protecting the wearer. Methinks this belief was started by a bored DeBeers exec. Whenever somebody would comment on how cute I was as a baby, some well-intentioned family member would inevitably bite me. Why? To expel the evil intentions, of course. What's surprising is that my mom's side of the family is staunchly Catholic and are comprised of "modern" politicians, lawyers, doctors, professors...aka people who shun "primitive" ways. Ah...contradictions.

In any case, your son LE is lucky to have you. He'll grow up to have a balanced perspective.


Stranger said...

People's cultural beliefs are all well and good as long as they don't involve mutilating girls' genitals and shit like that. Cultural beliefs are nice and interesting as long as I don't have to significantly alter my behavior or go along with something I think is stupid for more than a few hours.

But dissing science in favor of utter nonsense, well, there's where I have to draw the line about cultural relativism. I would never make my MIL drink a cold beverage and I can't figure out why she thinks it's okay to come into my house and bitch at me for have two windows open, creating a deadly draft. So yeah, it's fair game, especially when she's the one acting like I'm an idiot. I don't even know how to say 'provincial' in Turkish, which probably goes a long way towards preserving peace around here.

UNchecked other, OMG! I'm wondering where your family is from. I've never heard that about diamonds (though I share your suspicions about DeBeers) or biting. If anyone tried to bite my kid I'd show them where they can stick their cultural beliefs.

the UNchecked other said...

Stranger, on my da's side I am Hawaiian, Pilipino, Maori, and Swiss. On my momma's I am Tsalagi (Cherokee), Spanish, and Chinese. In other words, I never ran out of topics to write about for anthro courses while at uni.

The whole diamond thing became popular with Imelda Marcos, the shoe fetishest/Evita wannabe/drag queen who taught Christina Aguilera and RuPaul to put make-up. When she and her husband were still the dictators of the Philippines, theyrightfully incurred the wrath of many people. Ole Meldy claimed that many people wanted to do "kulam" or "barang" (voodoo) to her, but the diamonds she wore protected her. I suppose you could say it worked; she's still lumbering around as a politician in the Philippines.

As for the biting thing, I'm not sure but I think in the AmerIndian traditions it is similar to sucking off the venom from a snake bite. Or something like that. But yes, when I become a mother and somebody tried to bit my kid, I'd def introduce them to the pointy end of my stiletto boots. Either that or start handing out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash to random people.

Stranger said...

Goodness, that's a lot of family superstition for one person to contend with!

I think you'll find Turkish superstitions are pretty mundane by comparison...

siobhan said...

I always wondered who that guy was, thought it might be Jesus but sort of dismissed it because he looks far too middle eastern to be Jesus. I love that Ali, Ataturk, Haci Bektas bust.

The boncuk on baby thing drives me crazy. I was finally able to put my foot down about it when a safety pin did come open when D was 2 months old. But, you'd be amazed (well, not YOU I know nothing would surprise you anymore re crazy customs and our dear hosts) how many people believe that stuff. Highly educated, well travelled people have chastised me for not protecting my child in this way.

BTW, have I got it wrong? I always thought it wasn't so much as being cursed by the evil eye rather than tempting fate by being admired

medea said...

No wonder I love you! Nice to find another atheist!

My husband's grandmother believes in a Buddhist sect which is also big on amulets and leader worship. She never allowed us to do Shinto rites which are more closely related to Japanese culture, so I never get to go to drum performances at shrines on New Year's Eve or take my kids for newborn pictures at the shrine. Also she sends people around to sell us things from her religion, which just cements my anger at these leader cults for making a profit off little old ladies.

Anyway, I just wish you luck. Smiling and nodding while thinking about how nuts someone is always gets me through door-knockers and religious grandmas.

Stranger said...

Siobhan, your version of Nazar sounds right too. I've asked lots of people and I'm not the only one who's unclear on exactly what it is...

I think it's interesting how many educated people believe in these kinds of things for real. It's not just a passing belief-- they really do get upset with you for not going along, and it comes from people you don't expect. It's like my pediatrician assuring BE it was good for LE's muscle development for him to go around barefoot, yet both of them being extremely uncomfortable with the possibility of his feet getting cold.

Medea you're right-- smiling and nodding go a long way. I find people's religious beliefs, and sometimes even their superstitions, easy enough to go along with as long as they keep most of it to themselves, but it's really hard to keep smiling when you're getting bawled out for some ridiculous thing.

Jesus Loves You said...

ehm, where was "Jesus" from if not the Middle East?

the UNchecked other said...

Jesus? Isn't he from Brazil? We're talking about Madonna's Jesus, right?

"Jesus" is also a very popular Spanish name...and most "Jesus" I know are nicknamed "Chewey." This is not meant as an offense; merely an observation.

In all seriousness, yes: historical Jesus was from the Middle East and Mary was most likely of African extraction. (The mitochondrial--or however it's spelled--Eve theory supports that.) The wavy brown-haired , rosy-skinned Jesus image is courtesy of Da Vinci's uncle, who served as a model.

Stranger said...

I had a pet finch named Jesus, but the Spanish Jesus. His friend was named Meep.

I suspect I have a close mitochondrial connection with Jesus Loves You.

siobhan said...

Sigh, that Jesus thing, it was a joke. You see, he never looks very middle eastern, does he? I'm just going to leave the comedy and stick to the mothering stuff from now on.

Anonymous said...

Your MIL needs to get a life... In fact she needs therapy. Sure, Turkish people can get quite serious about nazar, but it seems like it is an outlet for whatever underlying crazy issues she has currently. At least you seem to be handling them quite well. Popular view on foreign "gelins" is that they ignore what the IL's think and feel, and they are too obstinate about how they want things to be (why the hell not? it is your own marriage, child, life etc. after all!). A Turkish gelin can and should not put her foot down... I hope you actually fit the stereotype of the foreign gelin because MIL's can be so unbearable so they deserve to be vexed. ;)

-A curious reader who stumbled upon your blog- DvN

Stranger said...

I think I pretty much fit the stereotype, Anonymous. I try to get along as best as I can, but I definitely draw the line at anything I think is stupid.

And there's a whole lot of stuff I think is stupid, especially anything that requires me to do more work or that otherwise inconveniences me.

You're right about MIL needing therapy. To amuse myself, I sometimes imagine what her therapy sessions would be like. Since she started going crazy about Nazar, she's become slightly less crazy about germs, and I think she's hoarding slightly less. By hoarding I mean she buys LE TONS of clothes he doesn't need, all in the wrong sizes (and all fiercely unattractive or terribly uncool), which she either stashes around her house or gives them to us all at once. One time, she gave us 14 shirts and 7 pairs of pants. My cleaner's family enjoyed them greatly.