Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Emergency room trippin' (or why Christmas sucked this year)

It all began on Christmas Eve. I called my brother to give my birthday wishes to his 1-year-old as well as holiday greetings. I could immediately tell from his voice that something was amiss. He has a morning radio show in the states and usually the high energy personality and voice befitting of one. But his voice this time sounded lower than usual and less self-assured. After I rattled off my holiday wishes, he asked a few questions about my life, then said, "I'm in the emergency room. I've been experiencing some heart pains." A long pause on both sides ensued, after which I battered him with questions and then he said he had to go.

Christmas day I was of course working at the paper. Since we were missing both our managing editor and one of our copy editors the work piled up quickly. My computer refused to let me log in to the editing program and IT spent around 2 hours trying to fix the probelem. Articles seemed more poorly written than usual. Everyone was getting fairly annoyed. We all ended up working later than usual. After work I raced down 2 hills to catch the 8:15 bus and just as I neared the bottom of the second I watched the bus pull away onto the highway, the driver not noticing my flailing arms and missing my telepathic message for him to stop. I decided to hop a bus going to the neighborhood next to mine which I had never taken before. I thought it would end up fairly close to my home near the end of the route, but it actually left me a couple miles away. Temperatures must have been hovering below freezing and I made my way home miserably in the dark, slowly losing feeling in my fingers.

I called Evren when I reached home around 10 but only got his message service. Eventually I fell soundly asleep. Early the next morning, Ev called, relating how he had slipped and fallen down the stairs at work and injured his back (which had seized up only days before). He had been taken to the emergency room in an ambulance, which was called by one of his workers since he couldn't move. Now he is drugged up on painkillers and facing some time in physical therapy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy birthday Adi, from your guilty auntie

Today is the 1st birthday of my one and only niece Adilynn, whom I have not yet had the privilege of meeting because I am a bad auntie. Adi had her first birthday bash a month earlier while my mom was visiting. She is already a bundle of activity and when I get to see her on video-conferencing visits over the computer, she is constantly waving her tiny fists and laughing at the funny images on the screen. I can't wait to meet her, and I've designated 2008 as the year of going to see Adi in the potato state no matter what.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rams, ritual sacrifice and the jolly imam

Today is the first day of the four-day Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, known as Kurban Bayramı in Turkish and Feast of the Sacrifice in English. Yesterday, Evren and I took off for Kaynarca, a village a couple hours from Istanbul on the way to Edirne. We normally spend our bayrams in this village at his grandmother's house with his mom and other family -- this year cousin Musa and Aunt Şukran. I was especially looking forward to this bayram because Ev was going to sacrifice his first ram, at least I thought he was. I had only witnessed a few other sacrifices before today, and those were in The Gambia with my Peace Corps host family a few years ago.

Kaynarca was soooo much colder than Istanbul. Yesterday, Istanbul was hovering around 1 degree Celsius while Kaynarca felt as if it were -10 C or less. When we got to the house we quickly gravitated toward the wood-burning stove in the center of the living room. I got so toasty the metal of my jeans button was burning my belly. That evening we sat around and chatted, ate yummy börek, garlic that Ev's mom had pickled and fresh bread she had made. I was in carbolicious heaven.

The village imam showed up at the house, a jolly little man with big glasses and rosy cheeks. I guess I've always viewed imams as solemn men who pray a lot and read the Quran. This one, however, was constantly cracking jokes and seemed to have the energy of a cheerleader. It turned out that his sacrificing schedule was pretty booked up for the morning. However, since he had known Ev's family for a long time and since Ev's mom is a highly persuasive person, we soon had him convinced to come sacrifice our ram right after performing 8:30 prayers at the mosque and to bail on some other unsuspecting family that lived outside the village (sorry guys!).

After a night of little sleep due to an over-firm mattress and cold because Ev had unknowingly knocked the thickest comforter to the floor at some point in the night, I woke in the darkness to several gun shots. My half conscious brain thought, "Could shooting actually be another approved form of sacrifice?" I dismissed the idea and tried to fall back asleep. (Later finding out that shooting guns in the air is just another Turkish bayram tradition) A little while later I woke to Ev's snoring and then his mom came in to tell him the imam would be by soon.

I had planned to photograph the whole event but then Ev forgot my camera at his office so I was left to a camera phone. The ram seemed to know his end was near when the Imam approached him and made a few leaps to the rear of the garden in a desperate move to escape. There he was cornered by the imam and Ev, and they led him on his final walk to a center slab in the garden. Ev held him down while the imam tied a blindfold over the animal's eyes. The imam said prayers over the animal, something to the effect of thanks and praise to the creator of all creatures. And then with a very swift motion he slid the knife across the animal's neck. Blood immediately spurted toward the wall in a high arc, the sheep kicked, the blood continued in a steady stream, and then after several moments the ram was still. Everything was still. I glanced at Şukran Teyze, who had been looking in the opposite direction the entire time. We said nothing.

Despite the reason or circumstances, when the life of any creature is taken or lost before my eyes several notions of mortality hit me, but this one looms largest of all -- a life can be snuffed out so easily and in the blink of an eye.

I wonder what the imam thinks about when he is killing these animals. We can be fairly certain it's not always something pious. Does having death so frequently before him numb him to the process? Does it strike him as strange that directly after offering up a prayer of thanks to the creator of all things, he immediately ends the life of one of these creations?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Things that go rustle, crackle, crunch in the night

I've been yawning since I got to work this morning and it's now closing in on 7 p.m. Are the articles I've been editing especially dull today, you might wonder. No, perhaps more tragic than usual (like the woman who died in her early 40s after receiving a blood transfusion several years ago that was tainted w/ HIV during birth, while her daughter also died of the virus a few years ago since she also received the blood in utero and her family's lawsuit faced rejection twice in Turkish courts over a 7-year period).

My sleepiness actually stems from being woken up multiple times over the last few nights due to Evren's sleep-eating disorder. This is an actual condition that he's had since childhood where he gets up and raids the kitchen at various times during the night, often with no memory of such activity in the morning. The condition gets worse (as in the frequency increases) during times of stress and Ev's been under a great deal of stress with his new company as of late.

Since I am a very light sleeper, I wake up practically every time he gets up, which last night was at least five times. When he was a child, his mother used to try locking the kitchen door, but he would still manage to break in somehow. Our kitchen doesn't have a lock on the door and even if it did I'm sure as a burly, over-6-foot male he would still get in. Our fridge isn't that stocked normally since we both usually eat at work or elsewhere, but he still manages to find things, even if they're strange combinations like chocolate spread and sucuk (Turkish sausage).

So until Ev's stress levels diminish, you'll just have to deal with droopy-eyed Devi.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Marathon Fridays (or the Energizer Bunny's batteries died 5 hours ago)

I've been at work now for over 12 hours. At this point another caffeine injection really wouldn't do anything for me. I'm just too far gone. But somehow still editing away. Yes, it is possible to edit something on cruise control, just don't hold me responsible for the results. Each Friday we manage to complete the editing of the two editions for the weekend. Sometimes that means slogging until 2 and 3 in the morning, hopefully not tonight.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Virtual tag and no turkeys in Turkey

It appears that I've been tagged by the Turkish Muse in a game of blog tag. So now I am supposed to reveal 7 silly things about myself that few people know.

Here are 7 dazzling Devi mysteries revealed:

1. I used to eat pomegranates morsel by morsel but since I moved to Turkey I devour entire sections of my favorite fruit.

2. I'm a Scrabble nerd.

3. I have difficulty rolling my "RRRR's" in Spanish.

4. I have never been able to snap with the fingers of my left hand.

5. "Fahrenheit 101" was one of my favorite books at age 7.

6. When I grow up, I want to be a star salsa dancer.

7. I love green chili and cheese tamales from LA (maybe from elsewhere, too, I just haven't tried those yet).

Now, I get to tag 5 more unsuspecting bloggers:

Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)


Confessions of an Expat's Wife: small talks on everyday life

mikey in istanbul


In belated news, we (some Californians, a Canadian and some Turks) had our late Thanksgiving celebration last week Thursday (we figured we would do it on Turkish time, a week late) at Ev's work villa. Unfortunately Fatoş was unable to acquire turkeys in time because of the big demand here for them before New Years so we had stuffed chickens instead (she was told turkeys have to be ordered 10 days ahead of time!) It was finally a chance for Evren to meet my friends from work after almost 3 months of not encountering each other. I ate plenty of sigara börek and dolma while Ev sliced up monstrous slices of the chickens for everyone. Afterward, we played scrabble on my newly acquired board, which cost a whopping YTL 75 here. Definitely should have had someone bring one over or even created my own, but I've just been missing my game too much to wait. Would post some pics, but unfortunately they might prove incriminating. . .

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The wheels on the bus come to a screeching halt

I slept late this morning, the down comforter and Ev's snuggle just too hard to break away from. I dressed quickly and ran out the door into the elevator, willing it to swish down the 9 floors just a little quicker than usual. I climbed the short hill to the frontage road, hoping to have just caught the bus. The woman waiting at the bus stop gave me a little more hope that I had made it in time. But as the minutes ticked by we both realized that we had missed it and would have to wait another half hour. The woman exclaimed in Turkish that it must have just come -- and gone. So we waited, both exasperated, with this less than encouraging start to our days. I considered hailing a taxi but then thought, why would I pay YTL 20 for a ride that costs less than YTL 2 on the bus? Finally the bus appeared and I felt like maybe my luck was changing as it was 10 minutes ahead of schedule (or should I say, this is Istanbul, what schedule?). Unfortunately it was one of the old rickety red buses instead of the nice modern green ones. This one was so noisy I could barely here the music from my headphones.

I sat in one of the backwards facing rows toward the rear of the bus. About 10 minutes later as we were entering the highway, one of the men sitting in the back row suddenly jumped from his seat. Then another followed suit. I noticed there was smoke rising from beneath their seats and also from the floor panels. The smoke was quickly filling the bus. Just as we were all looking at the driver, the bus came to a halt -- in the middle of the highway. We saw the bus driver hop off and head to the rear to check things out. When he walked up to the front and made a call we realized we wouldn't be going anywhere.
I sat watching the world pass by on the highway, listening to my music, which I could now hear clearly without the ratchety bus engine. I was kind of pleased because I now had an official excuse to be late for work. About 15 minutes into our stranding, two of the men who had been sitting in the back got out and went to speak to the driver. Their talk quickly turned into a shouting match which I couldn't hear through the glass but am sure had something to do with why no replacement bus had come yet. Forty minutes later the next bus on the route came by, already filled with passengers. It stopped behind us and we filed on, quickly realizing there was not one seat open. By this time I was thoroughly amused by the turns the day had taken so I continued listening to my music with a silly grin creeping up on face. Roll with it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Out of touch or avoiding turkey in Turkey

My co-workers and I were debating over whether Thanksgiving is next week or this week. Three of us were sure it was next week whereas one was sure it was this week. It went back and forth till J. finally googled it and found out he was right. Damn. Well, he's also the most recent addition to the editing group and has lived in the states a lot more recently than the rest of us.

I've never been a big fan of the holiday anyways. My family wasn't big on traditions. We would celebrate but never with the typical foods. For instance we might have sweet potatoes (yeah, kind of traditional) but then also have eggrolls, tamales, panset (a Filipino noodle dish) and a pineapple upside down cake for dessert. I used to hate pumpkin pie. I have a very vague memory of having thrown up after eating it when I was a kid, probably at someone else's house because I don't think it ever graced my family's Thanksgiving table.

In my freshmen year of college I wasn't able to head home for Thanksgiving. Luckily, my friend Jessica had decided to stay on campus too. We went to the store and bought a stack of pumpkin pies. Then we drove to the local penitentiary in Walla Walla and tried to give them away. The guards asked who we were there to visit and we told them we just wanted to give away some pies. They said the pies could be tainted or have weapons in them. We offered them to the guards and they of course turned them down. After that we decided to head to the mental institution and then farms with migrant workers to distribute the pies. Later we ended up going to a house where a woman we had never met showed us some belly dancing moves.

I don't know if we'll be celebrating this year. If we do, it will be sure to be another non-traditional event, complete with dolma biber (stuffed peppers), baklava and boza.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finding balance

Lately it seems the work scales have taken it, smacking the table with a resounding thuuump. Work has taken over both my and Evren's lives, and the pleasure/leisure side of the scale appears to be up in the air, completely empty. How do I find time to enjoy this city if I never really get to see it, outside of the two sides of the same old freeway every morning and night. I think I actually saw more of Istanbul while I was living in Bursa and would come over with Ev on the ferry periodically just to play. Maintaining our relationship has also taken a lot more effort with these schedules. The little stuff that keeps me connected to him, myself and friends becomes really important such as Ev going in search of the lone donut shop and bringing over a box for me and my co-workers as we slog through another Sunday at the paper; chatting with friends on msgr. during free moments; watching movies with Ev on late nights after work; even housework has become more enjoyable because it involves a change from work. I'm not sure what I can really change besides really maximizing fun on the one day I have off and just trying to keep my wits about me. Not having enough down time has really affected my moods. The normally even-keeled me has shifted into someone with rather extreme mood swings, with small things that wouldn't have bothered me before pushing me into anger. How do I find balance in this situation? How do I keep from falling over the cliffs of burnout?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gray skies and floss

I feel like I'm getting sick and have had a recurring headache for the past 3 days. We've had a series of rainy days here in Istanbul. I'm already tired of the gray skies and muddy streets. The weather really seems to affect my moods, even though I'm in an office all day and don't see much of it. I just wake up, peek through the blinds, see the dark cloudy skies and feel an internal sigh, as well as a general feeling of doom. Also, it seems that the minute I walk out the main doors to our building, the rain just happens to start pouring down. Mere coincidence?

Evren arrived back from his trip to Germany and the UK on Sunday night. It felt kind of like Christmas cause he brought a whole slew of new books for me along with chocolate, herbal tea and bulk quantities of some items that I requested because they're so expensive here in Turkey -- dental floss and tampons. Of course he did admit that he commissioned his friend Ali's wife to go buy the tampons since he was too embarrassed (though he has bought them in the past). Anyways, I am most excited about the new books as I was running low on reading material. Books are pretty expensive here so any chance to bring them in from elsewhere must be taken. I've been less than motivated to pick up a book in the evenings after editing material all day, so a bunch of new titles may be just the thing to get me going again -- well, after I kick this headache anyhow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dona Nobis Pacem

Today is the second annual BlogBlast for Peace, started by a blogger named Mimi Lenox. It is a simple effort to get bloggers from every region of the world to ponder and promote peace on this day. Though I am not a citizen of Turkey, it is my adopted country of residence and a place I feel more connected to than my country of citizenship, the US.

I'll start with the main issue that has Turkey's attention currently -- the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) and the violence inflicted by this organization on Turkish soldiers and civilians. This isn't a new situation by any means; the group started back in 1984. But in the last few months the PKK has stepped up its activities. In October, the organization was responsible for the deaths of 47 soldiers and civilians. Turkish Parliament recently passed a motion that would allow for a cross-border operation into northern Iraq, where the PKK has a safe haven, by the Turkish Armed Forces. However, the government hasn't yet decided whether it will send forces. The US and EU have urged the Turkish government not to take such an action. Yet there is much pressure on the government from the public, who are outraged at the killings.

Can a peaceful solution be found with a group that has chosen violence to get its point across?

A second issue is the closed border between Turkey and Armenia. The border was shut back in 1993 during the Azerbaijani-Armenia war in which many Azeris were forced from their homes. Turkey also has closed its airspace to Armenia and imposed an embargo on the country. The reasons that this situation has continued for so long are many. But currently, the insistence by Armenia on having the World War I era killings of Armenians labeled as "genocide" is a huge stumbling block to relations between the two countries. The recent passage of the Armenian genocide resolution in the US House Committe on Foreign Affairs only worsened matters as well as souring relations between Turkey and the US.

Can relations between Turkey and Armenia be improved?

The final issue I'd like to mention today is that of the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. I don't have time to go into the history of the split of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is recognized officially only by Turkey. In 2004, a majority of Turkish Cypriots voted for the reunification of Cyprus in an EU backed referundum; however, Greek Cypriots voted against it. There is an embargo on the ports of the KKTC, which has had a serious effect on their economy. Greek Cypriots were polled recently and are still largely against reunification. After all, they are members of the EU and have enjoyed all the benefits of a free economy and an officially recognized state.

Will the island of Cyprus ever be reunified and the Turkish Cypriots freed of the isolation imposed upon them?

I don't feign to know what will happen in all the aforementioned situations. I can only watch as history unfolds and discuss these issues within my own spheres. I am no Pollyanna, but I think hope is one of the few things we can cling too -- hope for peace, hope for dialogue, hope for resolution.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Are you a snow eater too?

Last winter on Mt. Uludağ, Bursa

The yellow leaves on the tree outside look as if they're shivering in the Istanbul breeze. It's pretty chilly out today and some are saying that we might receive our first snow this week. I hope so, because while I'm not the biggest fan of winter, I do like snow. It seems to renew everything; the whole city looks like a different place under a blanket of white -- a cleaner, fresher place.

I suppose my fascination with snow began as a child in Southern California. Because we had snow so rarely, it became a truly momentous event when it fell. We would be released from school even if we got just a few inches. Snowmen, snow forts, snow wars -- we couldn't get enough. If we were lucky my parents or a friend's would pack us all into the car and drive us up into the San Jacinto or San Bernardino mountains so we could go careening down the slopes on large plastic discs or any other object we could find that could send us hurtling down them.

I also have a rather bizarre affinity for eating snow, which also started in childhood. My parents would usually let me indulge myself back then, only warning me to look for the cleanest patches. They probably thought I would grow out of it, but no, still enjoy it till this day. Last time I was out hiking in the Sierra Nevada, I grabbed chunks of the fluffy whiteness and downed them with great glee (taking care to avoid the notorious brain freeze). You can be sure I'll be doing the same on the slopes of Uludağ this winter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where has Wonder Woman gone?

It's Halloween today in the states, but that means nothing here. I guess I'm kind of missing the holiday. I didn't get to celebrate it as a kid since it was deemed "the devil's day" by the church I was raised in. To appease us, the church would hold its own event, complete with apples and kosher games I'm sure, though I never attended because nothing would satisfy me but the real deal.

I didn't get to carve my first pumpkin until my early 20's and found I'd been missing out on the fun of this day. My final year in the states before moving to Turkey I dressed up as Wonder Woman, blue body glitter, red fishnets and all (OK, that wasn't part of her official outfit, but I felt the need to embellish it a bit) and partied with an evil nurse, satan, a Roman and a biker girl, among others. It's really the only day in the states that kids are sanctioned to consume as much candy as they'd like, and they as well as adults can run around in the costumes of their fantasies. I don't know about you, but I enjoy the concept of dressing up as someone other than myself. I think we need more holidays that allow us to just step out and enjoy the spirit of childhood once again.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Republic Day

Happy Republic Day to all those celebrating today in Turkey. Unfortunately, I cannot be out there with you as I am at work and in a less than celebratory mood; but I could hear the patriotic speeches of schoolchildren over loudspeakers on the way to work this morning, which sounded rather military-like in their articulated precision. I suppose this isn't a real holiday for them either since they all had to go to school in the morning for "official celebrations." Gigantic flags drape the frontages of every business and smaller ones fly from the balconies of apartments. There are also supersized images of Ataturk all around.

I'm sure there are also some protests against the PKK going on, as pretty much every event lately has had some element of such. And with good reason, as 47 civilians and soldiers have been killed by the organization just in the last month.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A trip back to my fair city

Foothills in front of Mt. Uludağ, Bursa

Yesterday, Evren and I headed to Bursa. It was the first time we had gone back since moving to Istanbul two months ago. We took the fast ferry that runs from Yenikapı to Guzelyalı, a district of Bursa on the the coast of the Sea of Marmara. We rode in business class because there were no more seats in regular class since we were getting there with only 10 minutes to spare. I had this idea that business class would be incredibly quiet and free of the chaos of screaming, running and flailing children that rule over the downstairs area; turned out I was so very wrong. If anything, it seemed the loudest and most annoying of children had made it into biz class. One was crying and yelling non-stop for maybe half an hour. Others were chasing each other in circles around the aisles. I, meanwhile, was just trying to sleep since I had only gotten about 4 hours that morning and had to throw myself out of bed at 6:30am, on a Saturday no less. So while Ev, the deep sleeper that he is, was passed out in the seat across from me, I was kept up by the insistent screaming, chanting, crying and other wonderful child noises.

However, when we finally reached the other side an hour and a half later, my spirits were buoyed just to see the rolling green hills of my lovely Bursa. I don't think I'll ever stop missing the place. On the way into the city center I just couldn't get enought of the green scenes outside my window. While Ev went to a morning meeting, I headed to the new shopping mega-complex called Koru Park. I wandered past the artsy windowfronts and marvelled at how few people were around, thinking again that I could never have such an experience in Istanbul. Also, when I would wander into a shop I had the rare experience of not being followed constantly and "over-helped" (as is the norm in many retail shops here, not because they think you'll be shoplifting like in the States but rather because their wages are based on sales commissions). While I'm not a big shopper in the first place, the many experiences of being over-helped have put me off even more toward shopping; I simply can't focus when someone is tailing a few feet behind me and asking me every five seconds what I'm looking for or if I'd like to try that on and often end up hightailing it out of the shop. So this change was very welcome and I reveled in it, taking my time to look over items that caught my eye and even trying things on (which I also have an aversion to). Later, Ev and I had some lunch at a cafe and I continued my shopping spree at one of my favorite old haunts, a place called Özdilek. I'd been waiting for just such an opportunity to come to Bursa because I knew that there I would be able to find everything I needed in just one or two spots; whereas in Istanbul I feel like I end up racing to all parts of the city only to end up finding nothing that I was looking for. I know it takes time to get to know a city, but it sometimes feels like Istanbul is so huge and sprawling that it is virtually unknowable.

On another note, I'm again writing from Ev's office because we STILL don't have internet at home. But this time we can do nought about it because the land line company monopoly (TürkTelekom) that would be setting up our ADSL line is currently on strike. A strike that has gone on for a few weeks now and who knows how much longer it will continue.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pomegranates and cutting back the pace

I'm now back in the city after a weekend in the village of Kaynarca. Not as many people showed up for Ramazan Bayramı as last year, but it was still a good time of feasting and family. Ev's mom and aunt as well as his teenage cousin Musa were at the family house when we got there. We first visited another aunt and uncle that live in the house next door. This village was founded by Ev's grandparents and thus the family owns the houses at the village center. Various family members then came by to visit throughout the day. For our afternoon feast we had pilaf and lamb, sarma (stuffed grape leaves), stuffed cabbage, grilled peppers and eggplant, freshly made yogurt and a couple other dishes. For dessert we had different types of baklava.
Later, Ev's Aunt Fatoş showed up (I always remember her as the mad-skills dancer of our wedding reception) and her first comment to me was how thin I looked. Ev started laughing and mentioned how one of my American friends here in Istanbul had noted that comments on people's weight seem to be the first thing out of people's mouths when they haven't seen you in awhile. Fatoş then went on to ask why I had lost weight. I laughed and said it was because of Ramadan (though many people are known to gain weight during this time because of the hearty iftar meals in the evenings). I guess I've grown used to such questions here and they no longer phase me, only amuse me.

Ev's mom and aunt had been out earlier picking vegetables out of other people's gardens -- they're known for such mischief. This time they got caught and jokingly reprimanded by the owners. In mid-afternoon Ev's mom gave me a pomegranate, remembering that they are one of my favorite fruits. As I lounged on the couch and picked away at it I was reminded of why I love this place so much -- the easy pace that just invites you to relax, slow down and pop those tangy morsels of fruit, one by one.

Before leaving we went up to the cemetary to pay respects to Ev's grandmother, who died about a year ago, and other relatives. Musa filled a jug with water to pour on the graves where trees and flowers have been planted. We stood silently at the family site caught up in our personal memories of grandma as the sun set over the village.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bayram in the village

Iyi bayramlar to all of you out there celebrating the end of Ramadan holiday (Eid al-Fitr, Ramazan Bayramı) in Turkey and elsewhere. Though I am not Muslim, I am definitely happy to have the day off. This holiday lasts for 3 days and this year 2 of those days land on the weekend. Though I work most Sundays, this will be my regular rotational Sun. off -- so I am feeling lucky to have a full 3 days off. Probably won't happen again for quite some time.

For kids here in Turkey, this is really the biggest holiday of the year. They go from door to door ringing bells and people give them money and/or candy. Everyone also gets new outfits for this holiday and most kids are running around in them today. However, I have also noticed a certain amount of costuming going on and I wonder if this could have been some kind of strange crossover influence of Halloween from the US (and other places that celebrate it). There was a young boy traipsing about in a spiderman costume. I did a double take when I saw him and had to remind myself that this was not October 31 and I was in Turkey, not the US.

Tomorrow, Evren and I are heading to Kaynarca, the village of his grandparents. It is traditional during this holiday to visit your family and especially pay respects to your elders. This is done by kissing the back of their hand and then touching it to your forehead. It will be kind of sad to go back this year because Ev's grandmother, who was one of my favorite people among his relatives, died last October. We will visit her grave at the family graveyard, on top of a hill overlooking the village. All of his aunts and his mom will be at the house that belonged to his grandma. We will go around and visit many of the older neighbors and friends that he knew as a child.

When I first visited Turkey back in 2005, I came during another bayram. Ev took me to the village so I could meet a lot of his extended family and old friends. His grandma, who was in her 90s (no one was sure of her exact age), was one of the first people I met there. She was tiny, hovering around 4 feet tall, but strong and full of life. She made me feel very welcome, though my Turkish was very limited at the time. Almost every other sentence from her was a joke or an engaging story from the past. One of my favorite stories was how Ev as a child used to go around the village and collect all the stray puppies. He would gather them into large sacks and tote them back to his grandma's yard. There he would free them, bring down a bunch of food and feed them all. Eventually his grandmother would make him release them all back into the village, but she was much more lenient with him and the puppies than his grandpa.

Though this is not "my" holiday per-say, I appreciate it for giving me a better glimpse into Ev's extended family and his childhood. And though Ev has lamented this year that the holiday isn't as special as it used to be because many of his cousins and friends no longer return to the village, it's still quite special to me as the first holiday I experienced in this country and because we have made it our own family tradition to go back every year.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Seeking hamster runs in megalopolis

I've never liked the idea of exercising indoors and especially not in a gym. I think of gyms as oversize hamster cages and tread mills as those little wheels that hamsters run themselves to death on. Just imagine if you could float above a commercial gym and look down on all those little beings spinning on stationary bikes, bouncing up and down on stair machines and yanking on circuit trainers that resemble medieval torture devices. Yet now I find myself looking for my own hamster wheel. Istanbul, like all megalopoli, has air quality problems and unfortunately my respiratory system is pretty sensitive to excessive particulate matter. The air should improve with winter and precipitation. However, the city has been experiencing a drought in the last few years, so who knows. Thus I am forced to take my activities indoors and since my schedule right now really doesn't allow for jaunts to the gym (plus, gyms here are extremely overpriced), I am shopping for a tread mill that will fit in our tiny green room (a multi-purpose room of our flat that now houses mostly entertainment items). When we lived in Bursa I used to see tread mills all the time for around YTL 300-400. So why in Istanbul are all the ones I've seen well over YTL 1,000? I am looking at postings of used ones also, however, they too seem overpriced. I'm beginning to feel like a hamster myself just skittering around the maze of the city on my search.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Midnight drilling and neighborly mobs

The other night soon after Ev and I had gone to bed, a high-decibel vrrrrrrrrrrroooooom vrrrreeeeeeeeeee jolted us upright. The noise paused and then abruptly continued several seconds later. This scenario repeated until Evren hopped out of bed, threw on some pants and headed out the door and up the stairs to find the culprit of the midnight drilling. The driller turned out to be a man who was working on the flat 2 floors above us. However, when Evren got to the door and knocked the man refused to answer. Ev then went downstairs where he found a group of neighbors who were similarly annoyed by the night noises. He found the night guard and then the whole neighborly mob headed back for the penthouse flat. When they reached the 11th floor, they found the man trying to hastily escape their wrath by running toward the stairwell. The guard caught up with him and lectured him on proper working hours. Everyone dispersed, thinking that this had solved the problem. But no -- the following night right around the same time -- vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooming and vreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeing noises resumed once again. This time, our next door neighbor came to our door because the sound was so loud she thought it was coming from us. We assured her that it was not and Ev ran up the stairs once again to confront the man. Other neighbors had already gathered this time. When the guilty driller finally answered the door, certain men lunged at him and had to be restrained. I suppose no one takes lightly to having their sleep so abruptly and rudely disturbed. We went for a few nights with wonderful quiet. But then, the sounds resumed. It turned out that this time, the sounds were coming from the opposite apartment and a different man. I'm hoping this is not a sign of things to come from our top floor neighbors. I don't enjoy noise wars, though I've had to engage in them in the past. . .

Reminders of the span of an ocean

My mom called me while I was at work last Wednesday to tell me that my cousin L. had died. I went through the rest of the day, saving the processing of this for later and the comfort of home. Cousin L. was on my dad's side of the family. I had not really known her since she lived on the east coast and I (formerly) on the west. However, my mom and brother had gotten to know her during the past two family reunions, both of which I have missed being out of the country. So my brother flew across the country to Ohio for the funeral.

That evening I grieved -- for the lost opportunity to know one of my kin (also one of the few people that had known my father, who died when I was young), for not being able to be there for my brother and for the simple fact of being so far away from my family during this event. There is perhaps no greater reminder of the great distance that separates me from the rest of my family than the death of one of our own -- and with that distance, a reminder to be more conscious of staying in regular contact with family and friends.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ramazan rollercoaster

I must admit that I have at least one reason to be happy it's Ramadan -- I get out of work earlier. It seems that everyone has pumped up their level of efficiency so that they can get home in time for iftar (the evening meal that breaks the fast). This means that I'm done an hour or even two hours earlier than normal. It's a beautiful thing to get home while there is still light outside. I am almost wishing that Ramadan (or Ramazan as they call it here in Turkiye) would last for two or even three months.

One of Evren's aunts and cousin are here in Istanbul just for the day. Nehir Teyze is in remission from cancer and is here for a checkup. She is always laughing and bubbly and one of my favorites among his relatives. She gives great hugs and can instantly make me feel welcome. She is one of the people I think of when I need an attitude adjustment. Everyone has things to bitch about in life, but really, why waste your time? Why not just laugh and be amused at the rollercoaster that is life.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fugitive fasting food deliveries

We're now a few days into Ramadan. I've found myself in primarily Islamic countries for several Ramadans in the past. I am not a member of any institutionalized religion, Islamic or otherwise. However, until this year, my experiences with Ramadan have mostly been positive. For instance, when I was living with my hosts the Bah family in The Gambia back in 2001, I fasted right along with them (except for some quick sneaks of water in my hut or out in the fields in the heat of the day). We broke fast with fresh loaves of bread slathered in butter (ok, it was just margarine, more like industrial strength margarine that could withstand days without refrigeration) and tea. The evening meal was always delicious. Actually, it was the best food we had all year long and about the only time that meat graced the communal food bowls. At the end of Ramadan I participated in their tradition of taking small plates of fresh meat to each of the neighboring village compounds, where at each of which I was invited to sit down and share some food with the family. It was a festive time, a time of communion and I felt very welcomed by everyone to participate in the whole ritual.

This year I decided not to fast. For one thing, I have not been healthy lately and am taking medication. Thus, it would not be a good idea and even within the rules of Islam I would be excused from fasting. For another, my job requires a certain level of alertness from me as I am reading, editing and rewriting text all day. Obviously, the brain does not function so well without nutrition. So, though I myself am not fasting, I still have respect for others beliefs and choices. The majority of my company is made up of conservative Muslims and I would be highly uncomfortable eating in front of them. I don't believe in torturing hungry people! So a few other non-Muslims at the company and I decided to order food over the internet to the front gate. We went outside to wait for the delivery man so even the guard wouldn't have to deal with seeing/handling food. We took our food and went to the park next door. I felt like a bit of a fugitive there eating my pide (Turkish pizza-like dish, see photo) on the park bench and downing some fruit juice. Later, back in the office, a select group of us received an e-mail about having greater sensitivity towards those who are fasting. It specifically cited someone who was seen traipsing through the hallways with a cigarette in one hand and a tea in the other. This was obviously a contrived example since no one smokes in the hallways even when it's not Ramadan. And even if there was someone just drinking tea in the halls, it could've well been a non-fasting or "cheating" Muslim. Later, as we all went down to the cafeteria for iftar (the evening meal ending the fast), I noticed how I and the few other non-Muslims waited with everyone else for the official time (which was determined by watching TV and the Imam at a major Istanbul mosque) before touching the food in front of us. I had to wonder at the e-mail we had received. We are a few among hundreds. We are respectful and sensitive to the differences among us. Perhaps, it's time to show us the same.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

6 Days a Week

We still haven't had time to get ADSL set up at home, so I haven't blogged in awhile (and internet is just so friggin slow at work that I really can't be bothered). Right now I'm using the connection at Ev's partners' firm. Last night there was a wild storm. It didn't last for long but it hit hard complete with lightning, gale force winds and pelting rain. I had forgotten that my mother-in-law had put our rolled up rugs and extra blinds out on the balcony. So they got pretty wet last night. They are now unrolled in our tiny living room trying to dry out.

This is my one day off from the newspaper so I feel almost obligated to enjoy it. The new schedule has taken/is still taking some time to get used to. By the time I get home it's usually already dark. So now I have to somehow turn into both a night and morning person when previously I was really more the morning type. By mid-week I find myself feeling pretty sleep-deprived, especially during this last week when all of our wardrobes and storage units arrived and I was trying to get everything put away in a semi-organized way. Now, thankfully, most things are out of sight. There is still one box in the kitchen--all of the alcohol--that really has no place to go. Perhaps, it's time to start giving it all away to our friends of jack-Muslim status. Either that or throwing an impromptu bash and inviting over every lush we know in Istanbul. Even then we might still have a few bottles left. I have no idea how we acquired so much. I might have to institute a daily nightcap tradition.

Anyways, I'm not even trying to be focused today. That's what the other 6 days of the week are for. Today I can space it or take a dive into the darkest depths of my cerebral caverns. No, I think some shopping sounds better.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Goodbye Fair City

It's early yet and everyone else is still sleeping. I got very little sleep with the ceiling fan dismantled and no breeze whatsoever. So before the chaos begins in a few hours, I have a little time to breathe and enjoy the quiet. Bursa, my fair city of the last year and half, thank you for the warm welcome. I have found my feet in this country while wandering down your shady green streets. How I enjoyed exploring your villages, especially Cumalikizik, and drinking your fresh mountain water. Of course, one of my lifetime memories occurred in your botanic park--my wedding day. And you were the first glimpse of Turkey for my family. I carved my first snowboarding tracks in your mountains and your snow cushioned my ass more times than I could count. Kervansaray hosted my first hamam (Turkish bath) experience, as well as my second and third and fourth. . . . Goodbye.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Towers of boxes and bubble-wrapped masses surround me. Finally, most things are in a box or bag or bucket or trash can or any other container that can be stuffed. I suppose the one positive aspect of moving is it makes you want to simplify--get rid of all the non-essentials that just build up in your life. I plan to cut my wardrobe by at least half as well as my shoe collection. I'm not a very big shopper but I've still managed to acquire way more than I need. Maybe it's the Taurus in me. But at least I can say that I have much less than I did when I moved from the states. At that point, a couple of my friends from Peace Corps came by to help and hang out. I was getting rid of 6 bags of clothing and tons of shoes as well as camping equipment (which was the hardest to part with). I came to Turkey with just 2 large suitcases and my laptop. (ok, I guess it's only fair to mention that I did get charged for having too much weight, but damn that's only because of the massive bottles of JD's).

My mother-in-law and her friend help pack in the kitchen

Now, outside of clothes, I think we have way too much kitchen equipment. In this flat we were spoiled with a full-surround of cabinets to put it all in. In fact, we still had empty space. But in our Istanbul flat the kitchen is much smaller and storage is severely lacking. I can't blame myself for all the kitchen stuff though. Most of it was given to us for our wedding especially by my mother-in-law. I'm not ungrateful. I just begin to question the point of it all after wrapping my 200th plate or trying to find space for the third Turkish teapot.

I'd really like to just get the truck today and be out of here. I hate the feeling of being in limbo. I guess it's a good thing I'm not Catholic because purgatory would be worse than hell for me. Alas, we must wait till morning. In a little bit Ev will show up. LUcky him! He got to skip this whole ordeal and be in Istanbul. Really, Damn him!

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Crisis of Boxy Proportions

Monkey on the Magic Shelf
Originally uploaded by bursajane
Oooef, Mr. Shelf Monkey! How am I supposed to pack things when I have no boxes?? Why is Cemalatin Bey not bringing them? We asked him weeks ago and have been reminding him ever since and then declaring that the matter was URGENT because the time was near. Now the time is this weekend. The moving truck will show up on Sunday morning. Is it any wonder that moving is on my top 10 list of Least Favorite Activities?

I returned from Istanbul yesterday evening. Yesterday was my interview at the newspaper. Things went well or I suppose they did since I got the job. The whole thing was very informal as all of my past interviews here in Turkey have been. We went and had tea down in the cafe. There was some small talk. I asked some questions. Emrah Bey glanced rather halfheartedly at the application form I had filled out and asked a few questions about my work history. Then we went back upstairs to the newsroom and I introduced myself to the other editors. I sat with them for awhile and bombarded them with questions which they were all very good about. Then they showed me the editing platform that I would be working with. After that I went to find Emrah B. and see if there was anything else that I needed to do. He walked me back down to the entrance and the driver brought me back to Ev's office building. Ev and I stopped briefly at a car dealership to shop for his work car. Then we raced off to the Yenikapi ferry terminal so I could catch the 2:30 back to Bursa.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Give Me a Swirl
Originally uploaded by bursajane
Today is our 1st anniversary. The wall art in this picture best describes my take on the last year--dizzyingly colorful, wild, swirly, and all somehow fitting together to make a cohesive whole.

Ev is my soul. I can't imagine walking this journey without him. I can live anywhere in this world, but Ev is my only home.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ahh Sweet Summer

Originally uploaded by bursajane
Today, I was reminded that though my current situation may not be ideal, I still have plenty to be thankful for. Beyond the last week I've actually had a really sweet summer. It started in May when I left for Crete to volunteer with Archelon--the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece. This organization takes volunteers from all over the world to help monitor, protect, and educate about the endangered loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). I spent a month camped only a few hundred feet off of Matala beach. Above this beach dotting the cliff sides are the famed "hippy caves." These caves not only housed free spirits from all over the globe in the 60's, they also hold Greek and Roman tombs from as early as the 1st century. My favorite part of the Archelon experience was the early morning beach walks to monitor for turtle activity. There's nothing like being the first one on the beach in the morning in that special quiet when the only sounds are the lapping of the waves on the shore.

Since I ferried from Turkey to Crete, I got to spend a few days on the island of Rhodes. I had a great time exploring the old city but will post about that at another time. From Rhodes, I ferried back to the Turkish city of Marmaris in mid-June. Here I took my first scuba diving lessons with the Deep Sea Diving Co. I'd been wanting to try diving for awhile and had been especially inspired by all the diving tales and photos of a friend of mine living on Saipan. While my first dives left me pretty lightheaded, I'm itching to go back for more. The underwater world is like a magical sphere for me. I understand how people can become addicted to diving. After my diving trips, Evren travelled down from Bursa and we spent the rest of the week in Marmaris swimming, eating calamari, and wandering on the shore.

In July, Ev and I decided to escape the heat and took off to Akcay. A small town on the shores of the Aegean. These were days of pure relaxation. I stayed in the sea as much as possible. And since most Turks seem to like to stay close to the shore, I had the rest of the open sea to myself. Sometimes I feel such a connection to the water that I wonder if I wasn't some sort of sea creature in my last life. During our time in Akcay, I also got to meet one of Ev's best friends from high school along with his family. They happened to be staying in the next little town and invited us over for Turkish barbecue (et mangal) at their summer house. Mmmm, good times.

4 a.m

Ode to insomnia. This is the third night that I haven't slept. I could no longer just lay there staring at the pattern of light coming through the bamboo blinds. Yet, I don't want to be at this over-bright screen either. I talked to Ev for a long time on the phone. He hasn't slept for 5 days. I wonder if we are somehow channeling each other's sleeplessness, invading one another's thoughts. Perhaps this is the edge of some psychotic breakdown. I have been sick for the last few days and completely devoid of energy. The days have turned into a mad little hamster run. I can't stop the wheel and am nauseated from trying.

Friday, August 17, 2007

but I'm too new to be censored!

This is the second time I've tried to start a blog today. The first began with Wordpress and things were going fine. Then, this afternoon when I tried to access my 2 entries I got a blocked message in Turkish and English. I couldn't think of anything in my entries that could possibly instigate censorship. Finally, I accessed my blog through a proxy and read through it carefully. The entries still sounded completely benign to me. After that I tried to access the main Wordpress page and then other Wordpress blogs and got the same block. I then realized it wasn't me. The censoring authorities had blocked all of Wordpress and who knows what they found offensive this time! Below is the message that pops up.

Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir.

T.C. Fatih 2.Asliye Hukuk Mahkemesi 2007/195 Nolu Kararı gereği bu siteye erişim engellenmiştir.

Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance.

So my fellow former wordpress users in Turkey, I hereby lodge my protest and disgust.

Extreme Mind Shifts: Portland to Istanbul

So now that we’re slightly past the shock and awe of rejection, we’ve made a new plan. And out of pure necessity we’ve made it fast–we have to be out of this flat by the end of the month. The vision is no longer a move to green Portland, OR, but one to hyper-metropolis Istanbul.

We have lived in the green city of Bursa at the foot of the Uludag mountains for the last year and a half. I like this city and not just for its well-known abundance of trees. Bursa has a feeling of peace and easy-going. I can drive the streets here without feeling as if every trip will be my last (as is true for me in Istanbul). This past winter I got my intro to snow(butt)boarding in the Uludag mountains. These mountains are not of the height of my Sierra or even San Bernardino peaks but they are still the tallest in Turkey and it has given me topographical comfort to have them towering above me.

The streets of my neighborhood have the steeply rolling effect of those in San Francisco. Everything I need is in short walking distance. I can buy fresh fat peaches, a slab of meat and hot bread right across the street! A bus stop lies about 30 feet from the front entrance. My favorite restaurants are a mere 2 blocks down the hill. From our penthouse flat, we have wonderful views of the city and the green zone (which is an area of trees and fallow fields in a non-development zone).

Yes, I will miss Bursa. It’s where I grew into Turkey. But I’m also ready for a change. Istanbul offers a wider array of career options as well as great Turkish language schools (which are unavailable in Bursa). I wish I could skip the whole moving process. It’s on my top 10 list of least favorite things. Ooef, need to find boxes.

Expat or Exile?

It was a regular Saturday afternoon. Evren and I had slept late. We were just stirring and deciding on what to do for brunch when the bell rang signaling someone was downstairs wanting to be buzzed in. Evren hurriedly threw on some clothes and ran to hit the unlock button. My brain emerged from the fog of sleep and I realized that this could only be one person. The person we’d been waiting for all week–the UPS man who would bring Ev’s passport with the anticipated U.S. residency visa. Evren opened the front door and yelled back to me, “This is it!” He came to the bedroom and tossed me the plastic envelope and then went back to the door to pay the delivery guy. I was in the process of ripping it open when Ev swooped back into the room, grabbed the envelope from my anxious hands and ran into the living room with it. “They denied it!” Ev shrieked. He’s joking with me, I thought. They told us everything was Ok at our interview.

When he appeared at our bedroom door with a crestfallen face, I knew it wasn’t a joke. He handed me the paper and his passport. It cited some minor convictions that Ev had from his college days in the states almost a decade ago. I was in utter disbelief and slowly leafed through the pages of his passport thinking that a mistake must have been made. The visa must be there.

The news hit me slowly like a backhoe burying me alive. I was suffocating. We’d sold the car, notified our landlord, and had jobs waiting for us on our arrival. My family was so excited. They hadn’t seen us since the wedding a year ago here in Turkey. My only brother’s first child had been born in my absence. A beautiful daughter that I had only met over a web cam. I was finally going to be able to show Ev my childhood haunts and have him meet the people that meant so much to me. I watched these hopes turn to smoke with a few phrases on a green sheet of paper.

We were in a daze in the days following that moment. However, we were able to consult lawyers who only confirmed that there was very little we could do and that we would also be refused from Canada and Australia.

It’s now been just a week since we got that news. The news that will take us on an entirely different path. This blog will follow that path.