Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Day After Christmas


It's always been one of the saddest days of the year for me. Probably I just need to grow up, and learn how to enjoy a Christmas of my own making as much I used to enjoy it with my home-family. Turns out it takes quite a lot to make Christmas.



I did make a gingerbread house from scratch with the family gingerbread house cutting set my mom passed along to me. Pre-made gingerbread house parts are now available from Trader Joe's, and I totally get why mom now goes with those. I wish I'd taken a picture of my gingerbread house when I first built it, because it was like a Dr. Seuss gecekondu. Then I frosted it and LE decorated it and it looked okay. Then I today I realized it's a metaphorical gingerbread house, reminiscent of the building boom in Istanbul: build a crappy structure, slap a nice-looking veneer on it, and call it good. The gingerbread house is starting to sag as the walls soften in the damp sea air, and the metaphor continues.

I think LE had a good Christmas. The toys are still hurricaned around the house and if he didn't enjoy it, then bless the little fellow for trying so hard to make me happy. For all his almost-4 repetitiveness, I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing him strolling around the house belting out Christmas songs in almost-4 Turklish.

I sometimes have the feeling we're both doing our best to put on a brave face for each other.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Autumn

I'm totally loving autumn this year. It's my favorite season anyway, but this year it seems especially nice. Maybe that's just because of some shift that's happened in my frame of mind.

It smells really good, and the light is nostalgia orange for much of the day. People burn a lot of coal out here, and I guess I've been here long enough for the smell to evoke good memories, or any memories at all. I'll probably be less pleased when it gets colder and my nose is full of black shit. At least it smells good.

LE has discovered the goodness of crunching through leaves. I try not be worried that there might be dog poo or fish guts under them, since those things were often on the sidewalk before the leaves fell down. I just really don't want to be the kind of mom who would interfere with the pure bliss of crunching through leaves even though I know there's a good chance of dog poo or fish guts or goodness knows what else. I refrain from crunching through them myself.

And it's probably because I like it where we are now, that I like autumn so much this year. We have neighbors who pop out and talk to us and try to kiss LE or pinch his cheeks. There are people shouting all over, and street animals, and farm animals and rides on minibuses, all of which LE finds delightful except when the minibuses are crowded and he gets squished. The closest market to us is Şok, a kind of discount outlet for a bigger supermarket, where the overstock and close-dated items come. Şok sucks for vegetables most of the time, and I wouldn't eat the meat there, but they're fine for other stuff. The two employees there know us, since LE and I stop there on the way home from school several nights a week.

Of course, they love LE. Not just because he's extremely cute and bilingual, but also because he's three and little. Every time we go there, LE and I have several arguments about candy and toys that he's not going to have. For a month and a half, he's been fixated on these cheap Power Ranger knockoff toys. I don't even know how he knows what a Power Ranger is, but he can't get these toys out of his mind, even when I show him how they're crappy imitations with their heads coming apart. So every time we go to Şok, there's a noisy bilingual argument about the Power Rangers, where all the other shoppers stand around watching in amusement. It always ends with LE throwing himself on the floor.

And no matter what, a teyze always materializes to inform me that the floor is cold, or dirty, or both, or that LE will get cold, or sick, or both. Where these teyzes come from I'll never know, but there always seems to be an abundance of them just out of sight, especially when a child does one of the myriad things that can make him sick. Even if the kid just runs, someone always pops out of nowhere to say, "Don't sweat!" It's insane. Once, I told him in English, "You hear that? Teyze says your going to get sick and die," to which he stopped crying and replied, "Şaka yapıyorsun! (You're joking)" That's pretty much what he says to me anytime I try to repeat something Turkish people are always telling him.

So the other night, BE and LE were having a Man Night while I was at Turkish lessons. They went to Şok, where LE took BE by the hand and led him straight to the Power Rangers. "Mama said you can buy me these," he told BE, who feels guilty for never being around and pretty much buys LE whatever crap he wants, and then some. So BE bought him two Power Rangers and a huge bag of gummi bears. The cashier, witness to the Power Rangers issue several times a week, said to LE, "So you finally got them," and BE had no idea what she was talking about.

Naturally, the imitation Power Ranger broke shortly after LE got it home. Its leg fell off and wouldn't go back on. A few days later I had to take LE to Şok again. Outside, he stated telling me about the sorts of Power Rangers he hoped to purchase this time. When he included the red one in the list, I reminded him he already had a red one. His lip started to tremble, and he said the red one was broken. I tried a lame-ass mom response like, "So? Now that one's the coolest, because he's a one-legged Power Ranger." No dice. I started telling him about the drummer for Def Lepard, but he didn't give a shit about that, not that I blame him. The bouncing into jumping into full-fledged tears started, and because he was tired he let me cuddle him. For a few minutes, he just sobbed "Two legs! Two legs! Mama, I want two legs! Mama!" I reassured him by promising to make the Power Ranger some super special tape underpants.

Conversations with kids are really weird. I still didn't buy him more Power Rangers, though.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cem Bebek

This doll is hilarious. It probably came with a tank of gas from whatever company did the series of commercials starring Cem Yilmaz, a talented comedian who's funny for me even though I can only understand about half of what he says. The doll, which thankfully is not anatomically correct (given Cem Yilmaz's sense of humor, it wouldn't have surprised me), says things like, "Quit tugging on my arms and legs," and "Put on my jacket, I'm cold ya."

Though I often wonder what the hell LE is thinking about when he plays with his toys.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkish Man Walk


It's not just Turkish men who walk this way. I've seen men in lots of Mediterranean countries walking this way.

I love it that the guy way in the background is doing the Turkish Man Walk too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Refrigerator Magnet That Should Not Be

This refrigerator magnet, and ad for a local water company that was left on our door, is so very wrong in so many ways I don't even know where to start.

The least of this company's problems is its name. Aqua-Net was the brand of hairspray my grandmothers used for their immovable helmets of hairstyling. That shit was strong!

It reminded me of a brand of underarm deodorant spray my old office mates shared among themselves called Taft. WTF? Is there a reason it's named for America's fattest president? I thought onomatopoeia, but there could be something else there. There's probably something else going on with "Negro" cookies, the range of "Lezzi" products, and any number of things with "Titiz" in the name.

And yes, I looked up how to spell "onomatopoeia" on Google.

In any case, I saved the magnet for the creepy picture. I would never buy their water, mostly on principle. Somehow I fear there are a lot of truck drivers with this magnet on their dashboards. Ew, ew, and ew.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bayram

On the first morning of Bayram, LE was staying with the in-laws and my late morning dreams were infiltrated by a cow mooing. At first I didn't wake up all the way because I'm kind of getting used to the sound of cows outside. There are a few who live outside my office who tend to escape and run down the road, mooing loudly and looking for trash bins to dig in. I'm not sure what compels them to suddenly run, because I've never seen a cow do much of anything unless provoked.

Then I woke up all the way and was all, "WTF? Why is there a cow outside?" but then I remembered it was Bayram and just felt kind of pleased that we live in the sort of neighborhood where people can still cut their kurban in their gardens. Sometimes the lack of regulation is okay.

And after awhile the cow wasn't mooing anymore.

Later, BE called me over to the balcony railing to see what was going on down there, where a few men were joyfully butchering the cow on a plastic tarp. It was such a jolly time, with lots of happy shouting from what sounded like dozens of people in the house below. BE expected me to get all upset, but they were making a very neat job of it, and anything that might have upset me such as a head, fur, or rivers of blood, was nowhere to be seen.

Not that I'm the kind of hypocrite that eats meat and objects to violent animal death. It's just that it was a very small cow, and if I had seen its baby face I might have been kind of sad.

Later, we went to the in-laws', where LE was just on his way to the park with Dede, so when he saw us he thought that meant he didn't get to go to the park anymore. He started doing that really funny thing 3-year-olds do when they get mad or something appears to not be going their way. It starts with a fake-cry wail and bouncing up and down at the knees. As it progresses, the real tears come and the bouncing gets higher and higher until the child gets some air and is jumping up and down really fast, his wail going "uhh-uhh-uhh-uhh." We just kind of ignored him, since he wasn't listening to our assurances that he still got to go to the park. Once we were safely over the threshold of the flat, the wailing stopped and LE said something cheerful and completely unrelated to the tearful tantrum of only seconds before.

3-year-olds are very mercurial people.

Later in the afternoon, Uncle, Ukrainian Aunt, and their 5-year-old turned up. The boys went completely batshit with the obnoxious, noisy guns MIL keep buying for LE despite (or because of) our repeated requests to stop it. I went into the kitchen to smoke with Ukrainian Aunt. BE later joined us shamefully because Baba and Uncle were hogging the balcony, which meant BE was demoted to child status and forced to smoke in the kitchen with the womenfolk. Ha! Not that he gets why I resent it that women and children get lumped together in the first place, because he rarely seems to get why I might get upset with the same sorts of things he gets upset about. He seems totally immune to irony. Anyway.

With just a bit of underhanded pressure and avoidance of the underhanded resistance, I managed to get LE and I allowed to join the trip to the cemetery. Usually it's just the menfolk who go. This year, they tried to bring LE and 5-year-old cousin along, and still dump me in the house with the women. No way. Trapped in the house with MIL waiting for the men to return from some manly adventure is akin to an outer circle of Dante's hell. Not actually painful, but intensely annoying, and filled with a deep longing to get out of there yet no matter what time it is, the menfolk are always "on the way," and will always be back within a half an hour.

So we all got to go. LE was thrilled, as his obsession with death continues, intensified by waiting near a gorgeous old cemetery every day for our service bus to school. The cemetery where BE's paternal grandparents are buried is also old, and so very cool. The graves are so packed in there's nowhere to walk except to balance along the sometimes crumbling marble edging of family gravesites. LE kept asking where all the dead people were, and I kept telling him they were under the ground and to be careful not to step on them. For the boys, it was all a big fun obstacle course. It was for BE and I too, as we surreptitiously passed a cigarette back and forth and tried to avoid his mother, who insists on physically helping everyone along, which doesn't work because she's so short and she just ends up pulling everyone over.

At his grandparents' grave, BE pointed out some bones sitting on a nearby grave. People bones for sure-- part of a jaw, an ulna, and what may have been a broken scapula. The way BE pointed them out made me think those bones have been coming up from that grave as long as he can remember. I had to resist an urge to take one of them, because I really like creepy things like that. I told BE this, and he gave me an extremely dirty look. He's very superstitious about anything death-related, and I suppose the dead man's family would appreciate my swiping a bone even less than they do the dogs that probably got to the bones a long time ago.

The family got a guy to clear off the family grave while they said a quick prayer. As he took off the inch-thick pile of leaves and put them aside, I started worrying that BE's grandparents' bones might also come up someday if there's no mulch to sit there and make new soil. I hoped the guy would replace the leaves after we'd left. Or maybe they should put down new soil. I'd bring up the helpful suggestion with BE if I thought he'd even answer me, which he wouldn't because he's so averse to talking about anything death-related.

When the guy started turning up the soil on the cleared graves, a smell came up that must only exist in places where people are buried without embalming or coffins. It was a sweet organic rot smell that's just ever so slightly different from the sweet-rot smells of compost or worm-castings or manure. I started thinking some Victorian thoughts about grave dirt making death seem so close, and that was okay because the smell wasn't really bad, just noticeable and different and I like having creepy Victorian thoughts anyway. Then I wondered what it would be like to be the grave-clearing guy, and smell that soil every day.

On the way out, we passed a grave where three brothers were buried. The first grave said "Veteran of the Korean War" under the name, and gave the military information about him. The second grave said "Professor Expert of Anesthesiology." Under the name of the third one, it said "Best Husband and Father in the World."

Guess which one was my favorite?

After the cemetery, we went to a shopping mall to blow the kids' minds in a play place with video games and rides and flashing, moving lights in different colors all over. My kid held out as well as could be expected, but he totally crumbled a couple hours later at dinner. He needed lots of cuddling and then he fell asleep before the car had even left the parking space, thus bringing his busy day, and the first day of Bayram, to an end.

I really like Kurban Bayram, by the way. Everyone seems much merrier than they do at Şeker Bayram. Even though it's a religious holiday, it lacks the dreary pall of piousness that lingers into Şeker Bayram. This Kurban Bayram was one of the nicest yet, because we just had a good long family day the way normal people are supposed to do, and most of the day I felt like a normal person.

The next few days passed more or less uneventfully. We just enjoyed the long stretch of empty days before us.

Yesterday morning, on the last day of Bayram, I was dozing while LE was having his morning pee. I heard some thumping on the window and I popped awake immediately, already asking LE what the hell he was up to even before my eyes had opened all the way, because we are on the 5th floor so what else could it be but something horrible? But he had already thrown his (lucky for me) dry diaper on my face as his way of letting me know it was dry again, and was headed downstairs to get his dad to make him breakfast. I looked out the window and there was a huge seagull standing on the sill outside tapping on the window with its beak.

Or maybe it was an albatross, I wouldn't know.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Update On the Minutiae of Stranger's World

Everything is fine. Our new house is fine. I'm in love with it despite its obvious problems, like roof leaks and an there is an ongoing stinkiness under the kitchen cupboards (caused by BE improperly connecting the hose to the dishwasher, where it leaked and gathered there for days, undealt with because I thought the water was coming from the dishwasher and I wouldn't have been able to deal with it before the weekend, but fortunately I discovered the leaky connection and fixed it before it completely destroyed the cupboards. Goodness knows what's growing under there right now). Whereas most houses with these sorts of issues would make me want to move, this house just makes me want to love it and make it right.

The job is fine, too. The students aren't giving me much to poke fun about because they're clever and sweet, and the work is all right too. I'm wondering if being a mom has made me a slightly nicer teacher or if the kids really are extra nice. This is my first year of teaching where none of the students asked me how old I am on the first day of class, which means I've crossed an aging line of some sort. That's okay. It keeps them from expecting to be my friend. It also makes them seem childlike and cute, instead of like stunted adults. Then I realized most of them were born the same year I graduated from high school, and I was all "Yeah, I'm pretty fucking old," and then I was surprisingly okay with that. My friends are old too, so it's just normal. I'm sure I'll be less calm when the incontinence begins. I'm hoping by then I'll be too doddering to care.

I'm still on a little bit of Social Overload after those years of not getting out much. I've always considered myself a misanthrope and seemed to get along fine without much human contact, but now I'm all sort of stunned with the human contact, and I'm probably freaking people out by going around with this obvious Will You Be My Friend behavior.

LE and I adjusted to all the changes just fine. I'm a little tired all the time and LE gets a bit clingy, but that's all. BE is the one freaking out, steadfastly refusing to do much around the house and also refusing my dirty money. So I got a cleaner for once a week which solved much of the house problem, and I'm waiting for BE to come around on the money problem. Apparently my big fat salary is an assault on his manhood. At the same time, he is no longer asking for money from his dad (apparently getting parental handouts when you're in your 30s doesn't affect manhood at all). Which means when he manfully takes all the bills like he's going to pay them, he has no money so he lets the bills stew along with his ego. I only found out about this recently, when the second round of bills came and they were double because they were two months' worth.

I offered to pay them and got a classic BE reply, "I don't want your fucking money." Okay, then. It must be hard having your manhood rest on such tenuous scaffolding and tacit agreements about economic relationships. I, for one, have no patience for this shit, and I still haven't figured out how to get the bills paid. It'll probably require some sort of deft woman behavior that I also have no patience for.

Never mind. Soon enough BE will realize that he can go out and buy shoes whenever he wants. His soft spot for shoes is bigger than mine, though I've been being a clothes whore lately, and paying full price rather than waiting for the twice-yearly trips to US outlet malls and Nordstrom Rack. I lost loads of weight when I started working, plus some shops have added L and XL sizes that I can get into. Nice. I'm only slightly freakishly enormous now.

And I love love love our new neighborhood. It's so neighborhood-y, and such a welcome change from Beylikdüzü. Aside from the sea and small towniness, I adore the Atatürk statue in the square.


He's totally puttin' on the ritz.

Speaking of Atatürk, few weeks ago, during the tail end of the referendum campaign, there was an AKP rally in the square around the Atatürk statue. Sarıyer seems to be pretty firmly CHP (there's that special blend of religious/social conservatism and rabid nationalism here, which I expect is more common than we're led to believe in either the Turkish or foreign press). Erdoğan made an appearance and in the restaurant where we were eating, it was funny watching the waiters and BE tiptoe around feeling out each others' political and religious leanings before they happily (though quietly) launched into how much they despise our good leaders. Meanwhile, a few older guys scattered at the edges of the crowd made rude gestures to the speakers, or called out something critical, and they were quickly swarmed upon and disappeared by police, while clumps of scarved heads bobbed and politely shifted out of the way.

So actually that has nothing to do with Atatürk at all. I meant it as ironic, but then I got bored with hammering the point home. I was also going to say something about democracy, which would be both pointless and predictable, and anyway, I realized it would come out all wrong because people would assume I'm comparing Turkey to America in terms of democracy, which I'm not-- I'm just sick of AKP bandying the word around like they thought of it, or like they own it. Which at the moment, they kind of do.

So that's all I have to say about that, for the moment.

Speaking of democracy, I took a moment out of my busy day to learn the American election results, and it was kind of a relief. I mean yes, the bad guys won, but not many very of the worst of the bad guys. So that's fine. I'm so out of the American loop I didn't even know Jerry Brown was running for governor of California again, until after he'd won. Then for days I had "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys stuck in my head. After I finished wondering why Jello Biafra hated Jerry Brown so much (I decided it's probably because he pretty much hated everyone, especially anyone with power wearing a suit), I started thinking about how the Dead Kennedys are still really fucking good to listen to, and their punk-ass message still rings true.

Then it occurred to me that this is all because I'm getting old, and turning into a dinosaur of sorts. And that's okay too, because I get to listen to the Dead Kennedys, among other bands who were big before my students were born, and I'm not even talking about the Beatles this time. One of my students wrote a paragraph about how she loves Johnny Depp and I was all, "Oh, yeah! I've been in love with Johnny Depp since like 1984," and she was like, *blink blink*. So I didn't even get into "21 Jump Street," which I'm fairly sure TRT never aired anyway, no matter how long it was before the girl was born.

AKP and Jerry Brown aside, it's almost 5pm, which means it's time for a frosty glass of white wine, now 30% more expensive because AKP cares so deeply about our health. I'll have to remind them of that next time they want to raze a forest for another nepotistic project, or when all the corn and beets here become contaminated with Monsanto genes, not to mention the Round-Up itself getting everywhere else.

Sigh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Post That Needed a Title

I used to think there was never enough time for anything, but since starting work, there really is no time for anything, not even for all the stuff I have to do at work. I really do intend to keep up the dear blog, but I admit it falls pretty low on the list of things that need doing right away.

So today I have the first real day off in awhile. The boy is having a Man Day at the office with Baba, and there's really nothing that needs my attention. I even watched part of "Breakdance," a movie that is such crap I kind of liked it, though eventually the dialogue just hurt too much. Apparently it was Ice-T's film debut. He was little and skinny, and billed as "Rapper DJ." Indeed.

On the yellow sticky pad program on my computer, I have a long list of blog posts topics that I've been meaning to write. Some are so old I no longer remember what they're about, or I've already done the idea to death in my mind. At first I was planning to do one long post of little ideas, but then I decided to pack as many separate posts as I could into one day and schedule them to go up in the future. I thought that might make me look cooler somehow.

And I noticed a couple of weeks ago that dozens of comments appear to have disappeared from several old posts. I didn't do it, for what it's worth. They're just gone. I looked around on the Blogger forums, mostly for reassurance that this is just Something That Happens. Which it is. I never bothered finding out why, or how to fix it because eventually I just got into reading the forums (which are annoying and crap), then I realized I'd wasted several minutes of my life doing this, and decided to laundry or something.

In unrelated news, this was the first year I really missed Halloween, probably because LE would have liked it so much. He apparently is at the peak time of Cuteness in his life-- right before turning into a weird little 4 year old boy, but still kind of a baby. There's a trash bin near our house that attracts scavenging animals (and people) from far and wide. Sometimes the scavenging kids are cute in a sad and troubling way, but the families of kittens are way cute and much less troubling. The other day I rescued one from a tree (it didn't really need rescuing-- it was just nervous about getting down and its mom was curled up above having a nap, so I decided to give her a break), and its sibling appeared when I set it on the ground. They scampered after us for a little while, and seriously, the cuteness synergy created by LE and two kittens all hopping along was almost enough to make my head explode.

And he got a low-budget Halloween anyway.

Though he wanted to make most of his pumpkins sad.

Nevertheless, they suited his tendency towards the Picasso-esque in his artwork.

Plus he got to wear lipstick, which he's totally into, and because it was Halloween his father hardly grumbled at all about what lipstick on little boys leads to.

Another bit of unrelated news is that last weekend, I had a bacon cheeseburger. It was so freaking good and totally worth the 22 lira. Made my day. Apparently, there's pork scattered all over this town, but they're hiding it among the rich people. Or a certain type of rich people, I should say. I wonder if they actually eat it, or if it's for the foreigners who turn up. Whatever. I'm glad it was there, even if it was just on principle.

The post went long anyway. I'd better start on some others before the menfolk get home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Working Girl

This is me now:



That's right. A long-shot teaching job worked out and now I have a real job. This heralds the end of my fake job as an Internet content whore (I thought I'd go one level more disparaging than "content farmer," as we're usually referred to by legions of proper freelance writers who've been put out of work). For 15 to 25 bucks a pop, I was pumping out Pulitzer-worthy articles such as "How To Tell If Your Goat Is Pregnant" and "What Is Female Lubricant?" and "Methods Of Hair Removal." I'm a veritable font of random and useless knowledge (unless anyone has a goat you suspect might be pregnant, then maybe it's not so useless). I can also tell you how to help your Maltese through pregnancy and birth, how to get rid of mange naturally, and exactly why Monsanto is evil, how Roundup pesticide will kill you and how Roundup Ready seeds could very well be the death of us all (listen well, Turkey, since you all agreed to allow them in your country). I'm also an armchair organic lawn specialist.

However, if you ever read somewhere how to get rid of ants with essential oils and vinegar, it's complete rubbish and the Internet is a big fat liar. We had an ant invasion shortly before I went to the US, and the essential oils plus the vacuum did nothing. Granted, when I drew a circle around an ant with lemon oil and a Q-tip, the ant didn't go out of the circle for awhile. But eventually it did get out, and then apparently told all its friends that this house was armed only with essential oil and vinegar. I sent BE to the bakkal for the secret illegal poison after we went to Portland.

Okay, so it wasn't a fake job. It was a WAHM job which everyone thinks is fake but isn't really. It's like when your students tell you "My mother is a housewife," when in fact their mother is a tailor or copy editor or something. It was kind of fun, and very low on the human interaction scale. Stranger writes article and sends it in. Money appears in Stranger's Paypal account. Student loans for expensive MA continue to be paid. Stranger splurges on some sweet computer speakers and plane tickets home and weekly groceries. Etc.

Anyway, I'm wrapping my head around the new job, which all came up rather suddenly. Starts next week. We have to find a new flat and fast, since the job is on the other side of the world, in a gorgeous place where empty Soviet-style high-rises and slowly failing or never-opened malls don't dominate the landscape. I'm trying to focus on the moving part to avoid thinking about the working part.

I tried to explain it to LE. I told him I'm a teacher. He was all, "No you're not, Mama. Eda's a teacher. You Mama." and then he had a good laugh. Then I told him we were moving to a new house, and after establishing that Baba and I and the TV would also be in the new house, he got upset because he wants the new house NOW instead of going to bed. Before he fell asleep, he murmured that he would like the house to be big and blue. So maybe he'll be okay with all this and maybe he won't.

Maybe my new job will let me bring him for show and tell.

We'll see what we can do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Couldn't Think of a Title: The Post That Simply Happened

The mosquito spray truck is lingering in the parking lot below my balcony and I'm wondering if I should run around closing all the windows while at the same time watching the neighbors not closing theirs. It's almost 9pm and close to 80 degrees outside. I suddenly was taken with the urge to write something after all this time, but I don't really have a plan in mind, and at any moment BE might saunter through the door to glower at me for not giving him my undivided attention. It's always someone wanting my undivided attention, whether he glowers or uses a more direct approach of going, "Mama! Mama! Mama! Hey Mom! Hey Mom!" Both of them now go, "Oooof, Stranger" when I annoy them.

The mosquito spray is safe, we're assured.

A bunch of English-language channels have suddenly disappeared from our cable service: BBC (news and the crap BBC Prime has become, despite Eastenders, which I haven't watched in ages anyway though the buzz on the yabancı language teacher forum is that Phil is on crack. Hee!) and a few other news stations, including Al-Jazeera. CNN is still there, for what it's worth, which is not much because every time I turn it on, it's either sports or weather. Sometimes it's some boring crap about computers and how amazing they are. A few superficial whirls around the Internet throughout the day have given no explanation where these channels have gone.

But I'm sure there's a very good explanation.

LE was very upset this morning that he couldn't watch Tikabilla. So was I, since it meant I couldn't doze off on the sofa while he watched Tikabilla and ate his Cheerios because he was too busy going, "Mama! Mama! Hey Mom! Hey Mom! Oooof, Stranger yaaaa!

Anyway, I came across this article about Turkey which discusses something I've been saying all along (though not nearly as well as this author) about "truth" and "lying" in Turkish culture, only one of many aspects of this place I fear I will only ever have a superficial and academic grasp of, rather than the visceral understanding I need to ever muddle my way successfully through most negotiations, including my marriage. To be honest, language is really only about 2% of my problem with being able to act what is considered normal and reasonable here. This author then links the cultural quirk to Turkish foreign policy, and I''m all "Yeah, right on," because it's like 80 degrees outside and waxing eloquent is not my strong point at the moment, if it ever has been.

I was going to post the article on Facebook, but then I thought, "No, I've neglected the blog long enough. I'll share it with them." Then I realized this is hardly very meaningful because probably most people who read my blog are my Facebook friends anyway, and most of my Facebook friends are people I know in real life.

Thanks for your patience and understanding, if you're still there.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Poor Fellow


I know he's just a mannequin, but I can't help but feel sorry for this poor fellow in the window of the medical supplies shop.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Interesting Tidbit

When I went to Mexico with my family back in the 80s, we were on the beach and some Mexican children wanted to build sand castles with us. We started working away on ours while the Mexicans started working on theirs, and after awhile we looked at each others' work and were all, "What the hell are you doing?" We were building our walls and toothed ramparts and square buildings while the Mexican kids were building Mayan pyramids. Cool!

Fast forward to a few years ago when I started watching a lot of BBC Kids with LE (and by the way, WTF is up with BBC Kids, running the same three episodes of three shows for three hours-- when LE was born, there was like 5 hours of a variety of programs, and it's dwindled consistently ever since). I noticed that when little BBC kids build sand castles, they're much like the ones we built, but they're very insistent on having a flag. It's like you're not building sand castles unless there's a flag.

Fast forward to today. In one of our playgrounds, new sand has appeared. It's been dumped in a pile in one corner, ostensibly to be raked across the park later, though given the number of kids crawling all over it and throwing it and doing funny kid stuff, the sand will be moved naturally within the next few days. It's perfect, beautiful soft sand, with exactly enough moisture for sand castle building.



How great is that? They're all building little Cappadocia and Hittite structures. The whole sand hill looked really cool, like a Miniatürk Cappadocia postcard, but LE kept running away to the slide and I felt creepy taking pictures of everyone else's kids when mine wasn't there.

They're even making little caves!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ex-Pat Questions: Number 3

The thrilling continuation of anything remotely organized I've ever done on my blog. From Nomad's Seven Questions for Expats in Turkey.

3) What one event has most shaped your impression of Turkey?

Ah, an easy one!

When I first came here, I (like many teachers) was working illegally. It's still pretty standard practice, I think. You come in and buy your 3-month tourist visa at the airport, then go to work in some language school. Every 3 months you get a few days' vacation in a nearby country, like Greece or Bulgaria or Northern Cyprus, and when you come back in you get your passport stamped with a new tourist visa. A decent school in those days would even (at least partially) fund your visa run and arrange the bus or train. I'm not sure if they still do that. If you went to Alexandropolis, the nearest proper town in Greece to the Turkish border, there's a nice lady named Helena with a cheap and cheerful pension who will give a little discount to foreign teachers from Turkey. Her son is a big strapping stereotype of a Greek who says "Bravo" all the time.

I do get bogged down in details, don't I? The other cool thing about visa runs is the duty-free liquor at the border and the pork chops in Greece.

It's not like we're the kind of illegal immigrants anyone might be worried about. If the Ministry of Education were coming for an inspection, they'd let the school know ahead of time and all the illegal teachers would have a day off. My school even had some students who were officers for the Foreign Police (a branch of which acts as Immigration here). When I did eventually get a work permit from that school, it was through those guys
-- a bit of purchased torpil in exchange for free lessons, so everyone was happy. The downside of having a work visa was that when everyone got a day off for inspections, you had to stay and be the token legal foreigner on display.

Still, there were times when schools wanted to be careful. Shortly after I arrived here, a Nigerian co-worker was politely asked to leave. This was because another Nigerian (who had nothing to do with our Nigerian) in a very highly publicized case was caught smuggling heroin into Turkey. Sadly, he didn't know there was heroin in his bag but he's still in jail. Suddenly there was all this police attention on Nigerians, so they fired the co-worker rather than risk drawing attention to all their illegal workers. Or to the co-worker, for that matter. Nigeria and Turkey trying to untangle their various bureaucracies makes it next to impossible to get a work visa for a Nigerian, or so I'm told, and no one wanted to see this fellow get deported. I still run into him from time to time. He's one of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met. Plus, he was a hell of a teacher. None of his students ever bitched that they wanted a "real" native speaker.

Anyway. My first visa run to Greece, I went to Alexandropolis. One very interesting thing is the crossing from Turkey into Greece. Not the actual border control, which is a pain in the ass and another story entirely. The place where you actually cross is a rickety little bridge over a large stream or small river. One one side, there is a Turkish flag and on the other is a Greek flag. There are also two military bases. The Turkish one is (or was at that time) a weedy area with trash strewn all over the place. There are a few ramshackle buildings with peeling paint and a lot of forlorn guys squatting in the shade smoking cigarettes. You can almost feel them missing their mothers. The Greek side, on the other hand, is all shiny new buildings with a nice basketball court and some grass and nary a soldier to be seen except for the one or two on duty.

The actual trip to Greece was uneventful except for some really good pork chops.

I returned to Turkey on the train, with a backpack laden with several bottles of decent wine and duty-free Jack Daniels, as per my responsibility to my friends here, plus personal use. The train went about 5 miles an hour the whole way, which was fine. I just kicked back in an empty compartment and smoked and read and watched the scenery, which was cool-- Trakya is very beautiful and I love it that it's Thrace because that's where Spartacus was from. Or, at least in the movie, he was skilled with the Thracian dagger. It's the one time I saw a proper Sivas kangal, which is a type of working dog that is taller than the sheep he watches over.

By the time we arrived in Istanbul, it was dark. The train started to slow and I made to disembark in Halkalı, which is the place you can catch the Train of Misery, the old inner-city train that's smelly and rundown and you have to keep the windows closed in summer because of kids along the tracks throwing rocks and bottles. It goes from Halkalı to Sirkeci, which is near Sulanahmet, the main tourist center. Halkalı is a few stops on the Train of Misery from Bakırköy, where I was living at the time.

But when I tried to get off, the train guys stopped me and wouldn't let me out. I couldn't understand anything they were saying except "Sirkeci! Sultanahmet! Blue Mosque!" By the time I managed to say something brilliant like "Ev! Bakırköy!" and by the time they figured out what the hell I was talking about, the train had already left. I couldn't really get mad at those guys because they were just trying to be helpful, which was sweet. On the other hand, I couldn't really understand what they were on about either, except that they kept saying "Kumkapı." Eventually I worked it out that Kumkapı was the next stop, where I would be able to connect with the Train of Misery and get back to Bakırköy.

Although I didn't know it at the time, Kumkapı is less than savory. A foriegn woman alone at night wouldn't really have much reason to be there except to hang out with Gypsies or engage in prostitution. There are some good fish restaurants, I gather, and it's certainly a picturesque place-- exactly what you might want from Istanbul with crooked houses and crooked roads and clotheslines all over with people shouting, set neatly next to what's left of the old wall that used to ring the city.

As soon as I got off the train, I realized this was somewhere I didn't want to be. The station was crowded for that time of night, probably mostly people getting off work from blue collar jobs and pretty much all of them men. Of the staring variety. And by staring I mean the kind that lock onto you intently and don't look away no matter what. I saw a small clump of women to go stand near, but they turned out to be hookers so I moved away and just stood there gritting my teeth and trying to look cool and streetwise and stuff.

The Train of Misery was packed. I took a place near the door where there was a strap I could hang onto, and continued trying to look like I knew what I was doing. There were a few men around me who appeared to be enjoying getting pressed up against me a little too much. The difference in our heights made their faces uncomfortably close to tit level. Pretty soon I had the distinct impression that two of them were rubbing up and down against me, each apparently unaware of the other but I can't be sure.

Suddenly from behind me, another couple of guys started edging up next to me. I began to wonder if this all had some sort of comedic value, and exactly how many guys would be able to get a piece of me before we got to Bakırköy. I just focused on the sign above the door that listed the train stops, and tried to configure that with where we were. This was a pretty daunting task on the Train of Misery since the signs in the stations that said which station it was weren't visible from the train (they've since fixed this wee problem), which meant you had to keep count. I'd already lost count but was sort of confident I could recognize Bakırköy.

Then one of the new guys leaned his head next to me and asked in English, "Where are you from?" I figured answering him would be a mistake so I just shrugged and looked away.

"Are you okay?" he asked softly. By then he'd managed to work his way between me and one of the leg humpers. His friend was slowly doing the same on the other side. "Yes," I asnwered, still looking away.

Suddenly the two new guys started shouting in Turkish and everyone turned to look. I had no idea what they were saying, but there was a lot of clucking from the crowd and the leg humpers quietly slipped away while everyone gave them dirty looks. A space cleared around me.

"There are some bad men in Türkiye, very bad," the man said. "It isn't safe for you. Are you going to Bakırköy? Are you a teacher?" I nodded. The man informed everyone around us that I was foriegn and that I was going to Bakırköy and that I was a teacher. They were all ever so pleased. The silent train erupted into happy jabbering as they all discussed this and started asking him and me questions. The volume doubled when I said I was American. I wish I could have understood them, but mostly I only heard words like "futbol" and "Jennifer Lopez," which means, in retrospect, they were probably asking those somewhat endearing and naive questions Turkish people often ask about America, like do we have football there and have I met Jennifer Lopez and America is so nice, why did you come to Turkey? It was all very jolly, down to the guy who asked about football getting a playful smack on the head from his friend who sagely informed him we have American football in America, not regular football.

In Bakırköy, another man who was also getting off there had been appointed to look after me. He saw me off to where I was meeting my friends near the station and merrily went on his way.

The story was a long time in the telling, I know, but that time on the Train of Misery pretty much captures a lot of what needs to be captured about this country.

Thanks for reading to the end.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ex-Pat Questions: Number Two

From Nomad's post, Seven Questions For Expats in Turkey:

What are some things you found/find hardest to adapt to?

1) The noise. It's probably just the nature of Istanbul, but things are so freaking noisy here. Perhaps it's a combination of crowds, poorly insulated buildings, and too much concrete. Traffic. Other people's ideas of how loud it's appropriate to be and when. Even out in the 'burbs it's pretty freaking noisy, especially now that we're getting on summer so it seems like every other night there's some nearby event that involves fireworks or blasting obnoxious music. I, like most people, feel that any music I didn't choose is obnoxious so that's a purely subjective term. Now that we're leaving windows open, all the concrete makes people talking or laughing at even normal volume sound like they're right in the room with you.

And actually I'm exaggerating about the fireworks, for this year at least. Last year there were fireworks pretty much every other night. It turns out one of the reasons AKP wasn't re-elected for the district governorship or whatever you call it in English is because the guy spent something like a million dollars of public money on fireworks extravaganzas ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Apparently he wasn't notified how fireworks lose their appeal if they go off ALL THE FREAKING TIME. There must be some Disneyland employees who can attest to this. Oh, and also that AKP guy was unpopular for other acts of corruption he was busted for. One notable example is the public money he took to build a community center, but instead built a dershane with a grocery store and cafe (or Little Caesars or whatever it is this month) underneath. I went to the grocery store once and it sucked. I don't know why they're still in business. It had the narrowest, crookedest aisles ever, and the most nonsensical organization I've ever seen, plus all the vegetables were limp and warm.

Back to the noise. Another thing I can't adjust to is people's speaking volume, especially men. Mostly I don't think people are arguing anymore when they're just talking or even vehemently agreeing with each other, but sometimes I'm still not sure. It's not just me either. The other night in the taxi BE and the driver were vehemently agreeing about politics, and for the whole 15 minutes I was trying to convince LE they weren't mad at each other, with no success.


2) Education and medical care. My issues with doctors and education have been pretty well-covered on the blog. Well, education not so much but I have trouble thinking about it for long without getting extremely upset, especially now that I'm facing having to educate my son here. Or should I say "educate?"

Anyway, I have a theory that no matter where you're from, there are some things you will never find acceptable if they're even the slightest bit different from what you're used to. Medicine and education are some of those culturally ingrained things. It's not like I'm blind to the issues of American medical care or education, so I'm not necessarily endorsing them. It's just that the Turkish way sits so very, very wrong with me in a way the American way doesn't. There's no rational reason-- it just is.

Interestingly, I met several foreign women in the park in the US, and education and medicine were some of things they were having the hardest time dealing with, too. The German woman couldn't stand how doctors seemed so cold and single-minded and interventionist, while the Italian woman hated it that her son's preschool (actually pre-preschool) was spending a lot of time teaching the alphabet and numbers instead of letting the kids play. So there you go. Everyone is right in her way because there is no absolute right in these situations. There is and there isn't, I mean. Pragmatism doesn't matter much when I'm going to be pissed off about my son having to memorize and regurgitate a bunch of un-analysed crap while trying to be noticed and not noticed in his class of 60.

And I still don't get why Religion classes (Sunni religion in most state schools) are required or even allowed in a secular country. It never fails to interest me the different mad ways Americans and Turks contentiously define the separation of church and state. In America, they fight about prayer in schools while in Turkey they fight about religious dress. In America, a church group can meet in a school after hours and everyone is cool with that, but in Turkey I'm pretty sure that's frowned on. Stuff like that. I'm not saying one way is better than another. It's just interesting is all.

3) Being a woman here. I'll never take to that. I don't like what it means to be a woman, or a married woman and I don't like all the tacit limitations on behavior. A "girls' night out" for me will never involve tea and cakes, but the few times I've tried to have a proper one since getting married, there was such petulant resistance from my husband he managed to ruin the fun with his endless phone calls and bitching. It's not like all husbands are this way, but enough are that it's not outside of the norm. I don't like it that BE and his family frown on my having male friends, even gay ones. I don't like it that BE will probably never get his head around why I will never think it's my job to iron his shirts, especially when he's way better and faster at ironing than I am. I don't like it that LE already says to his grandmother, "Don't come to the park with Dede and I. Stay home and make food and tea." I don't like it that BE and the ILs found this delightful (granted, LE said it in a way cuter way than I wrote it, but still). I'll never get used to being the "weaker" sex, requiring men's guidance and protection from the world and from the silly whims of my own mind. Istanbul is way less shitty for women than a lot of other places, but some things are still so ingrained. When I watch "Mad Men," I'm like "I wonder if Turkish people get this?"

4) Living in an apartment building. Hate it. I think it must be the most unnatural human state with people all piled on top of each other like this. It's not a Turkey issue-- it's my issue. I've pretty much always lived in houses with yards. Once I lived in a flat that was one floor of a two-story building, but there was still a yard. And once I lived in an apartment in a converted two-story motel, but at least the insulation was good. I just can't get used to having to be quiet all the time (here after I complained about the noise), like stopping LE from playing loudly in the morning knowing the people downstairs can clearly hear a coin drop on the floor, not to mention a Hot Wheels or a plastic guitar thrown in anger, or a fit of echoing rage in the bathroom at not being allowed to remove the caulking from the shower.
I don't like the glowers I'm sure I'm getting from neighbors who don't approve of me disciplining my son, and I don't like that our neighbors know how often BE and I fight or how upset I get when we do. It bothers me to think about what sort of woman they must think I am in light of Number 3, above. And then I get mad that I even have to worry about this shit.

5) Class issues. I think I've covered this elsewhere, but I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of "servants," or that people inherently matter more or less than I do because of how much money they make. I don't like this idea of "the peasantry," which refers to that great mass of people who are considered too mentally feeble to decide even how to vote properly. I know I get really frustrated with the rural folk and how they contend with city stuff like elevators, and yes, I'm guilty of poking fun at them, but deep down I find the whole thing tragic because they had to leave their bucolic lives for this. Like the Oakies chasing the ephemeral California dream, they went from "regular poor" to "fucking poor" with just a geographical shift, and suddenly they were in a place where no one liked them and no one wanted them.

The government can't take care of them properly and nor does it seem to want to except for political lip service and the occasional crumb of charity. The lack of social services here astounds me, and I don't get how it can be lack of money. How much did they spend on flowers along the Sahil Yolu from the airport? How was there so much money to re-pave İstiklal Caddesi not once, but twice? Where do all these mosques keep coming from, especially when we consider the overcrowding of schools? How come the poor only need to get fed for Ramazan and Kurban Bayram? Where did all that earthquake aid money go?

One way that Turkey has it way over America is that the social safety net is much stronger, I think. Americans tend to rely on services while Turks tend to rely on each other. I don't know if Americans relied on each other before there were services, but that doesn't sound very American to me, Teabaggers be damned because I'm sure they'd be the first with their hands out bitching about the services if a tornado hit their town. When I worked in social services, we often talked about people who "fell through the cracks." These were people who couldn't access services for whatever reason, or people who the services couldn't find. That notion was always chilling to me. Here, it seems like it's all cracks. Like, how on earth do the working poor take care of their old and sick people? If I'm poor and you're poor and you come to "visit" me for a week, how should I feed you and your family? And what of the abused women and children?

It's not like I'm such a bleeding heart, but I do spend an awful lot of time wondering how the hell people get by. BE is forever getting mad at me because I keep giving the cleaner raises, plus I give her as much stuff as I can, like extra food and medicine and clothing and toys. It's just that I feel so deeply ashamed of all our stuff every time she comes here, when they're forever running out of bread and cooking fuel. BE doesn't share my shame (though he does feel sorry for them)-- to him it's just that way and there's nothing to be done. He's not particularly religious but I sense a bit of that Allah büyük so what are you gonna do? fatalism of religious countries It's not indolence or stupidity that makes people like my cleaner struggle-- it's a system that decided their fates at birth. Poverty is the same anywhere, of course, but here, the number of poor people and the depth of the poverty really get to me, plus the apparent callousness of the "haves" towards the "have nots." Also it seems to me that class lines are much more rigid than at home, both in terms of people moving up or down, and the extent to which people from different social classes mix with each other.

Anyway, that's probably enough for now. I'm looking forward to your comments, as I'm sure I've missed some stuff and there's probably some other stuff I've gotten completely wrong.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Candyman

I can't help it, and I'm sure they're harmless by and large, but the men who come to kids' playgrounds to sell candy and toys disturb me. They're like the guys my mom always told us to avoid when we were little, the much-feared Strangers With Candy. They can also be seen hanging around outside school playgrounds during recess.

There's just something lurky and creepy about them.

I admit I must have seemed creepy sneaking around this fellow to take a picture. That's LE far in the background, wearing the red, white and blue tie-dye.

It totally looks like the guy was scoping out my kid.

*shudder*

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Graffiti: An Improvement

I did a quickie post awhile back about some graffiti I found in my neighborhood, and I'm pleased to say there have been some improvements, sort of.

This was on the same piece of exercise equipment as the last one. It's pretty faded, but I believe it says, "Fuck that." Kudos!



This one is cute.



This last one is understandable, but baffling. Why did someone feel compelled to write this on the slide?

Friday, April 30, 2010

F*cked Up Movie

The filmstrip. Remember those? In school they'd wheel in the big projector and shut off the lights and you'd watch some sort of educational film about washing your hands or what to if there's a fire or why we shouldn't throw rocks at people's heads or whatever. Filmstrips were there to kill time when we couldn't go out for recess on a rainy day, or maybe because the teacher had grading to do, or whatever on earth grownups did in the old days. Who knows? It was all very mysterious.

For some reason last night, I suddenly remembered this filmstrip they showed us about this kid named Cliff who died because everyone was mean to him. We watched it several times in 6th grade, usually in reaction to someone being driven to tears by everyone else being mean to her. Fortunately for me, the Internet allows us to piece together entire chunks of information from shreds of things you aren't sure if you remember.

It's not the first time I've remembered this movie out of the blue-- I'm pretty sure I wrote a poem about it in college. The movie also contained some version of the rhesus monkey experiment, and showed baby monkeys dying from lack of love. Or lack of food after they played that dirty trick with the wire mother and the flannel mother.

So in this movie, everyone on the bus is being mean to Cliff. Then he steps off the bus and keels over dead for no apparent reason. Then it turns out the reason he died was from loneliness and because everyone is mean to him. There are flashbacks with the kids making fun of him, or teachers that don't pay attention, and his mean stepfather telling him he's an idiot all the time. And then he just dies.

I couldn't find the whole movie, but here's a trailer. As it turns out, it's a cautionary tale courtesy of the LDS.

video

I know I usually try to be more eloquent, but that's some fucked up shit.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Elevators, Escalators, Doorways, and An Incongruity

One thing I've always had a hard time with here is people's differing notions of how we occupy public spaces. For example, I don't think doorways and stairways are good places to sit and talk with my friends. That's because I have this crazy idea that those are places people need to use to get to other places, and if I stand in one of them looking around blankly, I'm very likely to be in someone's way and annoy them. I also think that if people keep trying to get by me and I find that annoying, I should just find somewhere else to go stand.

But that's just me.

I also was taught at a young age in places like elevators, trains, and buses that when the doors open, the people inside the thing should get out before the people outside the thing get in. It somehow makes the whole embarking/disembarking thing go so much more smoothly. But a lot of folks around Istanbul don't quite see eye to eye on with me on this one either.

Despite the obvious dicomforts, I get a kick out of riding the tram towards Sultanahmet, when it gets so breathlessly crowded you'd better start working your way towards the door two stops before yours if you're to have any chance of getting out. At each stop, there is invariably another horde of people waiting to get on and a few who want to get off. People start clucking that more people are actually going to try to occupy what little remaining air there is. But the people trying to get out have to fight this horde. And there's alwasy a self-appointed door monitor who starts shouting at the people trying to get in that they should wait for people to get off first, instead of bitching at them for being in their way. Many of them stand back respectfully while others plow on because they see no reason for simple courtesies like that when the door could close at any moment. Arguments ensue, die down, and begin again at the next stop.

It's the same on elevators.

On escalators, a surprising number of people don't know how to step on and off of them. They freak out at the worst possible moment and reel back in terror, either gumming up the works at the entrance, or causing everyone behind them to fall either up or down the stairway. I don't know how many times I've nearly been killed on an escalator by a squealing woman who got too scared to get off, or had to walk up backwards because a timid gentleman at the bottom caused the stroller behind him to tip over (oh yeah, some fools bring their strollers on escalators), and then the pandemonium... You can imagine. It's not just villagers either. I found out a couple of weekends ago my in-laws can't do escalators when both of them nearly killed LE and I in some momentary panic about the first step.

LE, by the way, is very good at escalators.

So the other day, BE and I decided we needed some technology. I wanted some cool speakers to attach to the iPhone and the laptop, and we decided it's time we got a printer, plus I needed a flash disk. So we went to Media Markt, a newish electronics superstore telling ourselves we were going to just get a flash disk.

Naturally, that didn't happen so I had to go downstairs to get a cart. Media Markt has three floors and two elevators. One goes to the main floor and the parking garage and the other goes to the main floor and the first floor where they have computer accessories and some games and a whole lot of other electronicky things that I don't know what they do. All the TVs and DVD players and stereos and stuff like that are on the main floor. Places like this are packed on the weekends with folks who've come from far and wide to take a look because they have nothing better to do and it's free to go to an electronics superstore. They're all standing in the middle of aisles getting mad at other people who might like to pass by.

Anyway, I got the cart and went to the elevator to go back up to where BE was carrying a sleeping LE, looking at games and standing near the super-cheap 3-in-1 printer/scanner/photocopier I'd found. In front of the elevator was a large family looking stumped. You see, this elevator only went up. There was one button to push. Finally, they figured it out and we got on. Inside the elevator there were two buttons: one for the floor we were on and one for the floor above. The cleverest guy of the bunch took control of the situation and started repeatedly pushing the button for the floor we were on. It wouldn't light and the doors wouldn't close and the family started getting upset, wondering out loud what on earth was wrong and was it broken? I reached around a few of them and pushed the button that made the elevator go.

The day was saved. But seriously, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell was a whole family of people who don't know how to work an elevator going to do in a warehouse-sized room of full of computer accessories and strange cords?

I got away from them before they completely blocked the area in front of the elevator so I never found out. It's probably better that way.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dictionaries

In case you're the sort of person who notices such things, I've added a couple of links to dictionaries into the sidebar. That's because I've decided I'm too lazy to translate every single Turkish word I use into English. This is perhaps a bit rude for my non-Turkish-speaking readers, but I've just gotten tired of all the parentheticals. Which probably isn't a word but I don't care. And I also recognize the complete pretentious dorkiness of throwing Turkish words into English sentences, but I've been here too long to care about that either. There just aren't any English words that exactly capture "bakkal." "Corner store" is close but not close enough. Or "soba" (I'm just thinking back to my last post here). "Small coal-burning stove" is just unwieldy, and "brazier" is confusingly out-dated and it sounds much finer than what a soba actually is, plus it sounds like "brassiere."

So. The first dictionary is just your basic Turkish English dictionary. It's a bit weird because a lot of it appears to be copy-pasted from a number of sources, and there isn't always have enough regard for the realities of English (that's the best way I can think of putting it), but it gets the job done and it's the best one online I know of. I even got the free Sesli Sözlük app for my iPhone.

Oh iPhone. How do I love thee?

The other dictionary is super-cool. For turning me on to it, a heartfelt thanks to Bülent, a faithful commenter who takes the time to give additional helpful info and insight and he's never once been rude when I've said things that are wrong or mean. Ekşi Sözlük is user-generated, where people write in their definitions for words and phrases. For Turkish, it's one of neatest things I've ever found, and it's very well-suited to the nature of Turkish and Turkish people.

Of course, every language has its cultural baggage and every word has its contextual issues. You can certainly debate the meanings of words and sayings in English, but one reason I think English is becoming so quickly global is that the language itself is so low-context. You don't have to live in America to get a pretty good idea of what most things mean.

But Turkish, I don't know how people learn it outside of Turkey. Since there are fewer lexical items than in English, each word does its job and then some, with many meanings and slippery nuances that can change completely just because you raise your eyebrow or change your voice a certain way. That's why Ekşi Sözlük works so well (when I can understand it). Instead of getting one person's opinion on what a word means, it's like asking at a party and having everyone tell you what it means, and then they tell you story of its life, and then they all get into a big argument about it. At the end of a long page, I may not know exactly what it means, but instead there is some sort of consensus (or not) about what everyone thinks it means.

Which is all language is anyway, right? Have fun!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ex-Pat Questions

Thanks to Nomad for saving me from having to think up a bunch of posts. This is from his post, "Seven Questions For Expats In Turkey."

Feel free to add your own answers in the comments.

What are a few things you like most about living in Turkey?

I've been mulling over this question for days now. Not counting the days since Nomad first posted-- just the days since I started this post. My problem is everything I think of that I like, there's some big fat downside that begs to be moaned about. For example, I thought of the food culture in Turkey. The food culture is nice, especially in the summer. Long, languid meals outdoors with 40 different dishes and drinks and conversation. Sunday and vacation breakfasts go on for hours-- well into lunch and partway into the afternoon snack and Turkish breakfast food is wonderful. The food alone keeps LE entertained for a long time. There's the people-watching that goes on in a crowded restaurant or the easy comraderie between tables at a picnic place. Sometimes there are passing musicians that you don't even want to pay to go away, and some restaurants round off the night with music and singing and dancing. So that's cool.

But one big fat downside is that for regular, non-celebratory meals in restaurants, there is nothing like dining going on, even in nice restaurants. It all seems very rushed to me, and you have to always keep an eye cocked on your food and glass to make sure they don't disappear before you're done. Few restaurant staff get it that you don't want your main dish when you're only halfway through the appetizers, and I've forgotten that you're supposed to put your napkin in your lap when you sit down-- waiters in restaurants with cloth napkins get all confused because they want to clear away the napkins when people sit.

The other big fat downside is the food culture in people's houses. While I appreciate the enthusiastic hospitality, and I'm amused and maybe slightly annoyed at the insistence to eat more than is humanly possible, I hate the gender division of it all, with the women jumping up and down to fetch things, never having a warm bite themselves while the men sit back and pick their teeth and belch under their breath and don't offer to help. And I don't like these kinds of events that immediately become gender-segregated, with the women in the kitchen sneaking cigarettes (because it's not respectful to smoke in front of the menfolk-- the grown kids have to smoke in the kitchen too) and having inane discussions about illness and miracle herbal cures and which vegetables have been reported in the newspaper to be good for you and why and ways to lose weight. Meanwhile the men get to sprawl in the salon and smoke as much as they want, having water and coffee and tea brought to them by attentive women, talking about cool stuff like things that happen in other countries and politics. Even though I get it that it's totally in the women's comfort level to serve men like that, and I get it that they become horribly upset when the men try to help, I still don't like it. Getting it doesn't mean I'm okay with it, but that's true for a lot of things. Plus, it also pisses me off that I can't drink anything more than a glass or two of white wine when BE's family are around. This includes at my own freaking wedding.

So. I've been rolling over in my mind some things that I like in Turkey that don't bring on something to bitch about. Here they are:

I love Turkish. I love the sound of it and the fluidity and elasticity of it. I love its creepy veneer of mathematically precise regularity that falls apart when it wants to. I love that it's not Turkish without the context and the gestures and the tone of voice. I love how my son speaks Turkish-- he's already doing that identity thing where he's a different person depending on what language he's speaking and in Turkish he's a ham. He's more of a professor in English, probably due to the fact that I'm the only native speaker he hears on a regular basis. I feel bad that I consistently butcher this wonderful language every day, but that's not exactly a downside, is it?

I love it that the newly-opened ekolojik pazar in my neighborhood sells wildcrafted weeds with their other produce. I mean, I'm guessing they don't deliberately cultivate stinging nettle, right? I haven't had the guts to bring nettle home (there are loads of recipes for it on the Internet, with food recipes mostly from Turks) since LE stung his hand on some, but I've brought home all this other stuff that I have no idea what it is. Or rather, I can say "this is a legume of some sort" but that's about it, then I experiment with it. They also sell green garlic. I know about green garlic from my days on the organic farm, when the owners insisted on eating seasonally which meant no garlic once the winter stores ran out. The other apprentices and I discovered garlic growing in the compost heap, or in the grass around the fields from dropped bulbs and seed, and we spent many hours after work hunting for green garlic which is almost as pungent as grown garlic but a little bit different. We carried on like this until one of the apprentices hooked up with a fellow from a nearby farm in a slightly different micro-climate that had garlic earlier than we did. So anyway, last night I mixed ground beef, green garlic and some parsley-like sort of weedy herb, and it tasted exactly like lahmacun topping. That was cool.

I like it that on TV, before commercial breaks they still have the equivalent of "Stay tuned! We'll be right back after these messages." I remember they had that when I was a kid but now they don't, and I don't even remember when they stopped. But I like it that TV is still thought of as some sort of theater here, and the intermissions should be announced. And speaking of TV, there are still lots of Looney Toons here, which have mostly disappeared in the US either due to lack of interest or PC issues. But I've recovered the rare pleasure of Saturday morning cartoons via LE, who's still very impressionable so he likes Looney Toons because I do.

Bakkal deliveries. How cool is that? The other night, LE wanted some milk and we were out and I needed some for dinner. I called the bakkal and the nice kid brought it up within five minutes. Since I couldn't find any small bills (I'd forgotten to warn them to bring change), I told him to put it on our tab. Now that's some old-fashioned goodness I'd only read about in books before coming to Turkey.

Bootleg DVDs. Right now, I'm watching "Sopranos," starting from the first episode. It was on TV here, but I missed a lot of them and they were heavily edited. I'm ever so pleased.

So that's probably enough, though I've surely forgotten some things.

I've just noticed I have all these followers (well, 14, but many of them are people I don't know). So in addition to thanking all of you for bothering to read me, I'll put the question out there: What do you like about the place where you now find yourself?

And I'll deal with Nomad's remaining questions in other posts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sucu, or the Water Guy

Turkish has some really cool noun endings. One I particularly like is the one you use to make cardinal numbers into ordinal numbers. "Bir" (one) becomes "birinci" (first), "üç" (three) becomes "üçüncü" (third), and so forth. The reason I like this one so much is that you can attach it to "kaç" (how many/how much) to ask someone which floor they live on. "Kaçıncı kat?" translates to something like "What-th floor?" Isn't that cool?

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise. Another great noun ending I like is "-cu," which you change to harmonize with the vowel and groove with the consonant, then use to make a noun into "person who does something related to the noun." It makes the words for lots of jobs, like spice-seller (baharatcı) and repairman (tamirci). It can also make a noun into "someone who really, really likes that noun," as in "şarapçi" (wino) or "tinerci" (glue-sniffer). There's room for some creativity too. For example, BE might call LE "turşucu," meaning that LE really likes pickles and hogs all of them whenever he has a chance (although as I write this I'm getting pre-emptively embarrassed that "turşucu" has a dirty meaning I'm not aware of). "Turşucu" can also mean pickle-seller.

I admit I'm not at all PC by saying things like "water guy" and "repairman," but realistically, I have never seen women in Turkey doing these jobs so I see no need to protect their feelings. I also just think repair-person sounds stupid and asshole-ish. LE is learning this way too, and whenever the doorbell rings he gets all excited and wonders aloud, "This water guy? This bakkal guy? This French fry guy?" (I'm sure I've mentioned before you can have fast food delivered to your house). And actually, he says "Fah-fwy guy," which I think is extraordinarily cute and I'm reminded that I don't gush about my gorgeous, perfect boy nearly enough on this blog. In LE's world, the doorbell usually brings some nice, harried guy delivering something wonderful and interesting to our house and LE gets to give him the money. Delivery guys always like LE, which makes them cool in my book.

So the word for water guy is "sucu." When I used to live in a more city-ish part of Istanbul, water guys walked up and down the streets with their carts calling out "suuuuuuuuucuuuuu," though to be honest I recognized water guys not by the words but the cadence, since it sounds more like, "seeeeeeeeeeeeeeyip." In fact, the only way to differentiate the water guy from the milk guy (sütçü) was the tune of the call. Not that it matters anymore-- I think selling milk on the street has been banned due to some dodgy sanitation issues. But I always thought it was funny they sold water just by going "Water guy! Water guy!" but that's because I would expect someone selling something to extol its virtues rather than simply announce his presence.

So. Our water guy. We've lived in this building for almost 6 years. We chose our water company not on the mere presence of a fellow with a water cart (sadly, our soulless neighborhood lacks cool noisemaking things like street sellers and Ramazan drummers), but based on who managed to get their fridge magnet advertisement and phone number stuck to the metal frame of our door the soonest. This whole time, we've had the same water guy.

Before my readers outside of Turkey start thinking I'm some kind of water snob that has watered delivered, I should mention that in Turkey, the tap water isn't fit to drink. It's not that it'll give you the shits (though that has been known to happen, allegedly), it's that the arsenic content is unsettling high, along with other scary chemicals and heavy metals that we frankly don't need in our lives in tap water form. Plus it tastes like crap and makes everything it touches taste like crap. The in-laws and the cleaner always go on about how great my tea is, like I'm some kind of tea-making wizard even though I rarely use Turkish loose tea in favor of good old Lipton bag-tea. People are faintly chagrined when they see the Lipton-- no wait, I just checked the cupboard and it's not Lipton in there this time but Doğan which is bag tea packaged in a Lipton-like yellow box but the real truth is I don't give a hang what tea it is. Bag tea is easier to deal with and I buy it like twice a year and then I only get whatever's on sale. Anyway, I think the secret to Stranger's Fabulous Comment-Drawing tea is the water, because a lot of people are used to tea made with tap water which tastes like crap and makes everything it touches take like crap.

So whether it's because of the taste (I've tasted yummier swimming pools than the tap water here) or the arsenic or the alleged stomach sickness, pretty much everyone only drinks bottled water. Once or twice a week we get a big bottle of water delivered to our house (they're like the big bottles on office coolers), and we put this pump thingy into it and that's where our drinking and cooking water comes from. And I admit our goldfish are spoiled because they live in bottled water. I read on the Internet that chlorine kills fish. Not that the bottled water keeps ours from dying, but at least I'm not actively killing them with fragrant chlorine and arsenic and god knows what else-- I shudder to think what the poor fish in the Bosporus are drinking, though the clouds of jellyfish seem pretty happy.

As another pointless aside, I never followed up my missing fish post with my discovery of what might have been the solution-- when I cleaned the tank a couple of months back I found a tiny, pinky-toenail sized bit of black speckled white cartilaginous material that could have been a piece of gill . So the mystery went from "Where is the fish?" to "Why on earth did Whitey Ford and Pencil suddenly decide out of the blue to completely cannibalize Fish Who Liked to Hide Under Stuff?" Fish are mysterious and troubling and they don't blink but at least they don't have creepy bird eyes. Except sharks and those scary black fish with lanterns on their heads and gaping mouths full of pointy teeth that live in deep sea chasms with aliens and the Lost City of Atlantis. Anyway.

After almost six years, it occurs to me what a strange tangential relationship I have have with the water guy. He's seen me hungover, or in my jammies, or holding back tears, or dressed to go out, or heavily pregnant, or bouncing a squalling infant, or preventing the grown infant from escaping, or tiptoeing around so as to not to wake said infant. Now LE gets really excited when the water guy comes because he gets to give the money and the empty bottle and take the change which he promptly loses somewhere in the house. The water guy manages to be delighted with LE every time he sees him. LE actually gets all excited when he sees any water guy. He goes, "Bak bak, mama, bak there water guy. That not our water guy." Except instead of water he says "wamu." Isn't that so cute?

Still, I don't know the water guy's name or how old he is or where he's from or his religious persuasion or his football team, yet he's had a weekly snapshot of my and my son's life every week for the last 6 years.

In one way I'm okay with this. Often marriage in Turkey is like a protective bubble that keeps cheeky men from asking a bunch of questions and trying to buddy up with the foreign chick. Not that the water guy is cheeky. He's never been anything but a model of earnestness and politeness. And I do enjoy being relieved of the obligation to find something to chit-chat about every time the water runs out.

Yet the relationship troubles me. I've never even discussed the weather with the water guy. The only deviation in our conversation is to wish one another happy Bayram when the occasions arise. Sometimes we share our ideas on how cute LE is, only because there's no way of avoiding that glaringly obvious topic. But there's a whole class system thing here that I've never really been down with. I, the respectable middle class matron, should never deign to talk weather with our water-delivering servant, and for him to try otherwise would be the height of rudeness. For me to attempt to engage him in conversation would embarrass a nice, earnest kid like our water guy, or be construed as an invitation by a less scrupulous fellow.

But for me to ignore the humanity of this person, I can't stand it.

On the other hand, if I had to talk to him for more than 30 seconds every week I'd probably start considering getting a new water guy. Sometimes an overly chatty service person can be a royal pain because there's no polite way to escape time-consuming conversations with them and you find yourself putting off doing things like getting water because there's too much else to do.

In one neighborhood where I used to live here, before my Turkish was up to the task of ordering water by phone, I would just walk around the block to the water shop with the empty bottle to get new water (not that they would let me carry the full bottle home). Getting water from those guys was like an hour-long affair minimum, with linden tea off their soba in the winter and regular tea (or water!) in the summer. Mostly they just wanted to inquire in a lot of different ways about what American girls were like and how could they go about marrying one of them and get a visa. Fatih with his green eyes and tight bottom might have had a snowball's chance in different circumstances, but Selcuk with the missing teeth not so much so. After a few months, their relatives from the nearby gecekondu started turning up to chat too. Those were the only middle-aged Turkish women I've ever met who swore and talked politics. Though I have to credit those guys with teaching me quite a lot of Turkish (my favorite word they taught me was "arızı" meaning "out of order, as in broken" to describe someone with mental problems-- I've gotten some good mileage from that word), there were a lot of times I'd buy a bottle of water from the bakkal and spirit it home rather than get into it with those two.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I'm just putting it out there. Right now I'm watching a movie that takes place in Vegas and it showed a guy walking out of casino into the bright morning sun. It reminded me of a time I was in Reno with my brothers (I grew up in Reno, by the way-- make what you will of that) and we used the $50 my grandmother had given each of us to drink for free all night in Harrah's club. I played nickel slots (they still had those at the time-- I don't know if they still do) while my brothers gambled successfully and yelled at me to get away because seriously, I'm like some kind of freak gambling jinx. I once saw a movie about people like me called "The Cooler," and I often wonder if there are real jobs like that because I'd be good at it. After drinking a skinful, we stumbled out into the dawn light, passing a few tired-looking kids like you always see at the entrance of casinos, having been dumped there by parents who aren't comfortable leaving their little ones in the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of the bigger kids casino arcades. Amid the flashing neon signs you could hear the early morning peeps of birds that nest in the nooks of the buildings. Really. You would think that a casino strip would mean the death of nature but however incongruously, nature manages to survive no matter where it lands.

Not that this last story has to do with anything whatsoever.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stranger Joins The 21st Century

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, BE splashed out and got me one of these:


How cool is that? I kind of started coveting iPhones when I found out about the baby apps, but I mostly got over it with time.

Let me give some context here. For one thing, I'm pretty much a technological idiot. Fortunately, a gorilla (or a 3-year-old, for that matter) can easily work an iPhone because all you have to do is poke the screen to make it go. For another thing, I've never felt any compulsion whatsoever to have the latest gadget. Prior to getting the iPhone, I'd never owned, or even touched an iPod or any other iProduct. I still buy CDs and I'm fine with that. I still have a big box of cassettes in my parents' basement that I've had neither the time nor inclination to convert to digital, and my parents are probably less fine with that than they let on.

Once I'd unlocked the mysteries of iPhone syncing and gotten over the annoying qualities of that word, and once I'd quit wondering why it has to be called "syncing" instead of "loading" or some other term I'm already familiar with, I downloaded the free lightsaber app. Then I managed to get some music into the iPod bit, and then I found some free apps for babies and grown-ups. After that I found a bunch of ridiculous ringtones that no one but people like me who are easily amazed would actually use in real life. My favorite is the Muzak Imperial March from Star Wars.

Stuck in another generation, anyone? Also my kid has a Beatles T-shirt and knows all the Beatles' first names as well as which Beatles are no longer with us. We're working on surnames. The sad part is that the Beatles aren't even my generation. Star Wars is a stretch because I was 4 when the first one came out, though I remember going to see it in the theater. I thought the movie was all about the droids.

So far, LE thinks the iPhone is his. BE is intensely jealous. Turkcell wouldn't give him one because he paid his bills late a few times. Punished! BE can use the iPhone whenever he wants but LE is allowed only closely supervised contact with no booger fingers. The iPhone actually causes more tantrums than providing distraction from tantrums and I don't want it to get punched or thrown like my old phone, which required some special treatment just to make it so you could hear the other person speaking.

So. After a couple of weeks of heavy topics around here, I'm appealing to my dear readers for lighter iPhone-related information because I'm definitely in the Dark Ages with this one, and whatever I read on the Internet about it just gives me a headache.

First, when I initially got the iPhone I was able to access YouTube through the app or whatever it is that came with the phone. Then suddenly I couldn't anymore. Why is that? How can I get it back?

Next, what cool apps can you recommend?

Thanking you in advance. I'm off to curl up in bed with the iPhone for a few rounds of free Mastermind.