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.