Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Conversation

In front of the Portland Modern Art Museum, I'm clipping the lit tip off a half cigarette before going in (Yes, I smoke, okay? Just shut up) because I'm the sort of cheapskate who saves half cigarettes for later since I can rarely finish a whole one and the fuckers are like six bucks a pack. A guy walks up to me, rather clean-cut looking and not the usual smelly hippie type:

Guy: Can you spare an extra cigarrette?
Me: (holding up clipped half cigarrette) Nope, this is it. (I'm also the sort of asshole that doesn't give cigarrettes to people who ask on the street because one 20th of six bucks is too much to spare on losers)
Guy: (pointing to clipped half cigarette) Can I have that then?
Me: No.
Guy: I'll give you a hit of crack. (holds up crack pipe-- at least I'm pretty sure that's what it was because I've never seen one in real life)
Me: No, thanks.

The scary thing is that guy wanted a cigarette more than he wanted crack. Maybe I should have just given it to him.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Titter titter.
Yeah, that's right. We're real freaking grown up around here.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The Wiggles were becoming a very fraught issue around here. LE has four Wiggles DVDs, and choosing which one to watch has turned into a 20 minute argument. First he wants one called "Getting Strong," which he requests by sqinching up his arms in a sort of strongman pose and saying "Tong?" So I get out "Getting Strong" and the screeching and stomping begins because he really wanted to watch "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" (and yes, Leo Sayers makes a guest appearance in that one). "Dance! Dance!" So I get out "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" and LE realizes he didn't want that one after all because the case looks all crappy since he ripped up the cover and chewed on the plastic a little. "Pop! Pop!" he screams, because "Pop Go the Wiggles" was the only possible choice all along.

By now I'm starting to get a little frustrated because the only reason I started screwing around with these annoying DVDs in the first place was so I could go cook dinner or do something else without LE's input. I know for sure that he won't really want to watch "Pop Go the Wiggles" but I have to continue with the whole rigmarole before we return to "Getting Strong." He never wants to watch "Sing a Song of Wiggles" which I think shows a bit of good taste since that one pretty much just seems like the ones they rejected when they made "Pop Go the Wiggles." Anyway.

We finally manage to negotiate the opening of the DVD player and the gentle placing of the disc in the correct place and the closing of the DVD player and a few promises that he won't screw around with the machine anymore, which is mostly me promising and LE having totally other plans. I used to skip past the commercials but now he won't let me do that anymore. I used to start the DVD for him, but I can't do that anymore either because his favorite song is in the root menu. It plays a part of the song once or twice before starting on its own. So LE runs on the spot when they sing "running on the spot, run run run" and jumps up and down when they sing "jumping up and down, jump jump jump" and squinches up when they sing "getting strong getting strong getting strong" and then the movie starts by itself and so does the tantrum. Even if I'm in another room he'll run in and hit me because it's ALL MY FAULT that the movie started. And there's no fixing it except to leave him crying on the floor and to go about my business.

How people deal with more than one little kid I'll never know.

As an aside, the Wiggles are coming to Portland soon. We looked into getting tickets and the cheapest ones were, get this, $65! That's SIXTY-FIVE FREAKING DOLLARS. For seats that are off to the side and slightly behind the stage. In a freaking 20,000 capacity arena. Are they seriously going to fill that with 20,000 kids and their parents for two shows in one day? At a minimum of $65? Good seats were closer to $120. Do they hand out lighters for the kids to wave around for the Wiggles' hello and goodbye anthems? Can you imagine the mayhem in the women's toilets at such a show? For $120 fucking dollars I want the Wiggles in my goddamn living room. Hell, I'd even offer them a snack.

But the other day I went with my mom to Target to see if we could find "Old School Sesame Street Volume 1" (it's for LE and not me, okay? Even if I am the only one who watches "Old School Sesame Street Volume 2" and knows all the songs). Instead, LE's and my eyes caught another interesting-looking movie called "Yo Gabba Gabba." I don't know what appealed to him about it, but for me it was the apparent low-budget goodness of some foam characters and a guy dressed in an orange leotard with a fuzzy Jamiroquai disco hat. It felt like Pee-Wee's Playhouse meets the Electric Company. How could it possibly be bad?

It isn't. It totally lives up to its promise. It's weird and a little bit creepy and low-budget and hipper than a kids' show is supposed to be and also it has a song called "You Can't Always Get What You Want So It Doesn't Help to Keep Asking" or something to that effect, which I think is a valuable message for my son. It also has a song called "I Like Fish" which goes "I like fish I like fish I like fish (etc.)" and I can't say who's more enthralled with the whole thing, me or LE.

So it's officially my new babysitter, but it's one I don't mind listening to over and over and okay, yeah, I admit I spend more time than I ought to watching it with the boy.

But seriously, how many places in the world are there where you can watch Jack Black doing this*?

My cruel Mommy heart swells with pleasure to see LE working on that particular dance.

*That video is not You Tube, BTW, for my dear friends trapped behind the Turkish Firewall of Pure Stupidity. I don't know about you, but I've been having some trouble with Ktunnel lately and I don't know of any other proxy servers that are as easy to use.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Notes From the American Front and Reverse Culture Shock: A Backwards Account

It keeps happening that I stumble over what I'm going to say to people because I seize up for a moment thinking it has to be in Turkish. Then I remember it doesn't and become altogether too talkative with strangers because it's so easy.

And I was being terribly rude in the not-very-crowded crowded Saturday Market today because I keep forgetting you don't have to push or sidle to get where you want because most people are more than happy to make way, and also that there are lines that people wait in and they don't like it when someone misses the whole line thing. That's right. I no longer recognize certain types of lines. I also keep forgetting that people can understand me when I mutter rude things at passersby who are doing something stupid like standing in the middle of the aisle talking on their cell phones.

I am again un-used to the fatness of American fat people. Jesus Christ. I try not to stare but it's like trying not to stare at someone who's been horribly burned or who has a cleft lip or a palsy or something. It's even worse when there's a whole family of them eating stinky-assed bright orange Cheetos and I find myself wondering if they wouldn't just be better off giving those poor kids cigarettes-- at least the other kids at school might think they were cool or something. Or Kool.

I also find myself having curmudgeonly thoughts about beggars, especially the ones who act like they're entitled to your spare change because they asked you for it and more especially the ones who don't even bother to ask and just write a sign asking for money. Seriously, millions of years of evolution of the human intellect and creativity and that's the best you can up with? Get a fucking job. Curmudgeon is a great word and I love how it's spelled.

My folks had some workmen out this week. The workmen were all taller than me. They looked me directly in the eye and talked and joked with me and it goes without saying I could understand them even if their accents were different. The painters came equipped with drop cloths, and they didn't get any paint on the floor or leave paint rinsings in the bathtub and toilet for me to scrub out. The guys who sawed things swept up when they were done. They were all licensed and bonded and accountable to someone and had professional training. Take everything I've said in this paragraph and make it opposite to get what Turkish workmen are usually like. In America, they don't assume there is a woman who is happy to go along behind them and clean up their shitty little messes. Not one single workman wanted me to get on the phone and call abi to repeat everything I'd just told him because my crazy accent and blatant female-ness made it impossible for him to interpret my words. I even offered one workman to call my dad because he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with the fridge, but he just said "no thanks" and sorted it out all by himself.

I should say, though, that the guy BE had out to put in our lights in the new house was very clean. He had BE stand under him with the vacuum nozzle next to where he was drilling so shavings wouldn't go all over. It reminded me of what the hygienist does when you're getting a filling.

Contrary to what many Turks believe, most Americans don't think Turks are all terrorists or barbarians or religious fanatics. What most Americans want to know is to what extent and in what ways Turks treat their women like shit. It's not always easy to give a balanced answer to that question. I try to preface my answers with nice information, like that I don't have to wear a burkha or walk ten paces behind my husband, but after that it's not good. For Turkey, I mean.

When we landed, I was extremely grouchy. LE was so bad on the plane, whacking and kicking and head-butting me for a full 7 hours because I wouldn't let him bang the tray or slam the window open and closed or poke the guy in front of us, that I came the closest I ever have come to beating him. He split my lip and did I mention I was about 24 hours with no sleep? Then he suddenly became sweet and kissy and fell asleep shortly before the plane landed. Portland Airport conspired, as usual, to insure that I was the very last person to reach the arrivals hall. This time it was because they made all the parents with strollers wait until 20 or so old people had been loaded into wheelchairs before bringing out the strollers. Naturally our stroller was last. We were last in line in passport control after being one of the first off the plane. I was pissed off.

The powerdrunk border guard barked at me, "Why did you leave the United States of America?" in that faintly hick accent that border guards, soldiers, and pilots all seem to have. I'm pretty sure this was none of her damn business. Let's just say, for example, she did have a legitimate security reason for asking me this. Am I going to say "I left because I was about to be arrested for giving cocaine to children?" or "I left because the shoe bomb guy took my idea and I got fed up?" I came scarily close to telling her what I thought of her bullshit question and her "I live 3,000 miles from New York so I have a reason to be extra afraid of terrorists" post 9/11 "I look hot in my Immigrations and Border Control uniform" attitude, but fortunately I held my tongue and gave her the usual limp answer about why I live in Turkey. Maybe she really was just curious and tends to bark at people because that's her job and she does have the accent, after all. She asked the usual questions about agricultural products I was importing and she asked if I was bringing in more than $10,000 and I said "I wish" and she didn't get mad that I made a wee joke, so perhaps she was okay after all.

And she did look hot in the uniform.

These are some of my early impressions of this place I used to call home. Oh, and my jeans are woefully out of style and most people look a lot cooler than I do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nazar According to My Husband

So I questioned BE last night about what exactly Nazar is. He wasn't 100% sure, but he told me in all seriousness he believes in it. Not as much as his mom, he pointed out, but he definitely thinks it's a concern in life. When I questioned him about specific ways that he believes in it, he got mad. I asked, for example, if our house is protected at all times from Nazar because of the boncuk sticker the previous tenants left on the doorstep and he said "Yes." Then he said "No." Then he said "Mostly." I asked him what kinds of Nazar could get us even with the boncuk sticker and he got mad. A lot of our conversations go this way. I feel like Mr. Spock, all coolly logical but clearly missing the point.

Anyway, the salient points about Nazar according to BE are as follows:

1) Nazar gets you when someone talks a lot about how much they like something you have. Even if they're not jealous, it can get you. This is the kind of Nazar that's brought about unintentionally, because the person giving the compliment isn't harboring any bad feelings towards you. I asked if this means Nazar is always listening for someone complimenting things and BE got mad.

2) Nazar gets you when someone compliments something you have and they harbor bad feelings in their heart. They can be jealous of you for another reason, like your money, but give your baby Nazar from saying he's cute. Again, this Nazar is pretty much unintentional. I asked if someone can give it on purpose by giving lots of compliments knowing it could draw Nazar, and BE said yes, probably, though he'd never known anyone that did that. I asked if this was why MIL didn't want LE to go to the funeral dinner, because there would be people there who are jealous of BE's branch of the family because of money or their seemingly blissful existence, and he said, yes, that was definitely the reason. I think this says a lot more about MIL and certain of BE's family members than it does about Nazar.

3) Nazar can be given on purpose by people with magic powers who know how to give Nazar. These people are considered evil. I asked how they give it, and BE said they do it with their eye. "Like this?" I asked, closing one eye and opening the other really wide, trying to look evil. "Not like that," said BE, because my open eye was inadvertently fluttering. "More like this," he said, opening both eyes really wide and staring intently. If that's Nazar, I thought to myself, then Turkish men have been giving it to me on a daily basis every day since I moved here. I didn't tell BE that, however, because that gets him all riled up and there's no one specific for him to go manfully bump chests with and shout at.

And here's another thing. Since LE and I are going to the States tomorrow, we sent him to spend the night with MIL. The ILs are convinced that, besides my cavalier attitute towards Nazar, I also don't care if LE gets sick. I don't take enough pains to prevent illness, and I don't rush him to emergency room or fill him up with medicine for every sniffle. A couple of weeks ago, FIL started harranguing me that we have to change doctors because ours wasn't fixing LE's cough. "Have we taken him to the doctor for his cough?" I asked BE, because he doesn't always keep me adequately informed about the bullshit he tells his parents. "Three or four times," he said. News to me. Anyway, the ILs are certain that LE has had a serious lung infection for like 3 months, because every sniffle he gets at school dribbles into his throat from time to time and makes a noise when he breathes. It doesn't matter how many times we tell them it's not his lungs, or that he's clearly thriving and not in the least bit sick beyond the sniffle.

So LE was coughing again at the ILs this weekend. Without asking us, they took him to the doctor. This was not the kind of doctor to let two fretful grandparents go home with a simple "He has a wee sniffle" diagnosis. Oh my, no. We have pus in the throat and an ear infection and a near case of bronchitis. Wow! All without symptoms beyond the sniffle. Naturally he prescribed antibiotics, pediatric pseudoephedrine, and antibacterial throat spray. And here's me about to get on a long-haul flight thinking, "Is he sick for real? I don't know. I wasn't there. Is he going to get sick for real? Have I mentioned on my blog yet that I have some serious fucking issues with doctors in Turkey? Because I don't think I can stress that enough." So I'm giving him the goddamned antibiotics, all right? I don't want us to fail any swine flu screening.

But the way this all relates to Nazar is this: BE said his mom thinks, no, KNOWS that LE got sick because of Nazar. I asked him if she had a guess which Nazar it might have been-- the funeral dinner or the neighbor or what, and he didn't know. And then he got mad because he's the only one who's allowed to make fun of his mom's Nazar thing.

For my part, it reminds me of dogs marking territory. Whenever I send LE to MIL, he comes back in different clothes than the ones I sent. It's only because I don't like her that I read a shitty motive into this, like "He's my territory too, you ignorant yabancı." More often than not, he's wearing a sweater or sweatshirt tucked into his trousers (Ew. Does anyone actually think this looks good? Even on a baby?) and lately, a vest. So now it's like "You don't take care of our grandson, you ignorant yabancı, so we'll do it for you and take him to the doctor and get him all the medicine we think he should have." If MIL were nicer, I'd think they were trying to help and save us some money, but there you go. I'm trying but I can't.

It's always about trying to solve the bullshit behind the bullshit and never quite getting it right.

So when the ILs roll in about an hour from now, requiring me to stop packing our suitcases and not wear pajamas and also wear a bra and get bitched at for being barefoot with more than one window open in my own goddamned house, the person giving the Evil Eye will be me. So take that, Nazar.

It's probably a good time for me to go home for awhile.

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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sleeping Alone

We recently moved to a larger flat (three floors down from our old flat). One of the many advantages of this new house (an extra half bath, parquet floors instead of nasty white carpeting, a kitchen faucet that moves back and forth) is that LE gets his own room.

He's never had his own room. A few months before I got pregnant with LE, BE and I went to Cyprus and BE actually managed to win some money (after our first Cyprus visit, I learned to take all of BE's cash and credit cards and hide them except for an agreed upon amount to gamble away. BE can be a little...um, let's just say compulsive, all right?). We used his winnings (which I also hid) to furnish a room in our house as an office. Then LE arrived, but we liked the office too much to give it up, so LE has always been in our room. He got kicked out of our bed for good when he was about a year old because he's a lousy sleep buddy who thrashes and kicks and does things to your lips and eyes while you're asleep.

Here I thought he'd be all traumatized from having to spend the whole night all by himself in his own room with no one to awaken every 2 hours to tell him to go back to sleep. Selfishly, I dreaded the whole thing, figuring he'd just get up all the time and find me so I could tell him to go back to sleep which would be a pain in the ass in the middle of the night and eventually I'd be sleeping on his bedroom floor.

But, like weaning, he's just taken it into stride and worked out a way to deal with it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Plug: I Was In Turkey

Check out this new website about traveling and living in Turkey, featuring some of my posts and a lot of other really useful information for people thinking about traveling or living in Turkey, most of it first-hand experience from other travelers and expats.

And thanks to Onur for putting together this incredible resource.