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.