Friday, November 28, 2008

Turning into my parents

Photo by Teresa Prendusi

This is part two of a blogger writing exercise. If you're interested in taking part, go here to get the down low.

My mom was cleaning out the drawers and closets of her bedroom when she found a small notebook that had belonged to my father. I was a junior in university at the time and had recently returned from summer break working in Kamas, Utah, for the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the USDA Forest Service. During that summer I had explored much of the wilderness area of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, sometimes going on backpacking trips with my fellow SCAers and other times going solo to listen to the whispering trees and wildlife.

I returned home from classes one day and my mom said she had something that would interest me, handing me the notebook. I went to my room and opened the worn green cover and there was my father’s familiar handwriting. After reading the first page I realized this was a travel journal from my dad’s cross-country trip to his ultimate destination of San Francisco, a trip he had taken long before he had met my mom.

My dad died when I was 11 and much of his earlier life was a mystery to me. He had never talked much about the years before my mom, though he had had another wife who had died young, which to me represented a whole other lifetime. So this notebook was a direct insight into the places he had traveled and what he had experienced at each of them.

As I read on I found a section about Utah, and then, a section on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, which is part of the ranger district where I had worked that past summer. He talked about feeling lightheaded in the high altitude and taking in the fresh air; he mentioned his time at Provo Falls, a spot I had frequented that summer, and the soaring peaks of the Wasatch-Cache range.

Reading further, I found myself wowed by the idea that we had driven the same roads and found beauty in the same spots, perhaps even sat on the same rock looking at the same waterfall. I felt a new connection to my dad, who by that time I had lived more years without than with.

Discovering that we shared this wanderlust, this joy in exploring new places opened up a sense of wonder and possibility in me. If we shared this, I thought, what other ways had I begun turning into my father, carrying on parts of his essence?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's call the whole thing off

This post is for a blogger writing exercise started by a friend of mine. All are welcome to join. Check out the rules here.

What happens when you ignore that little voice in your head that says "STOP, this is a bad idea, if you forge ahead with this, it will only end in disaster." The predicted disaster comes to pass, whether it be sooner or later, and you realize for the 22,001st time that the little voice is always right and that perhaps you should listen to it next time it tells you to call the whole thing off.

It was only a few months into my Peace Corps experience in The Gambia that I began to hear that little voice. I had been living in a family compound of 33 people, which included 5 brothers, their wives, children, and grandmother. Most of the family members were great and we got to know each other quickly. The exception was the oldest brother, Baccari Bah. As the oldest, he was considered the head of the family. I contributed some money each month toward food, and this money was given to him. However, a few months into my time with the Bahs, I started hearing rumors from both within and outside of the family that the money was not going to food at all, but that Baccari was using it for his own entertainment, part of which included gambling over the border in Senegal.

Our meals we're eaten in the traditional way -- large communal food bowls. Since the family I lived with was so large there were normally 2 bowls for the women and children and 1 for the men. As the months went by I noticed the portions of food becoming smaller and smaller. I finally went to some of the younger brothers and asked them straight out if the rumors about where the food money was going were true. They confirmed that they were and said that they were concerned about the food situation but were afraid to confront Baccari about it. After discussing it further they promised to talk to him about it. But after they did, the situation didn't change. Thus I decided to start buying food myself, though it was a pain to lug back every week, since the weekly market was held in another village.

This solved the food problem for awhile, but in the meantime several other problems arose. Perhaps I should have taken the green mamba that appeared on my bed one day as a sign to get out of that compound once and for all. But I continued to tell myself that things would get better, that I needed to give this family more of a chance. (Yeah, I'm pretty stubborn). My Peace Corps buds had long been telling me to get out of there and request a new family, but I would respond that I thought things could improve. Once after a trip to the city to pick up my stipend, I returned to find that a large chunk of the baobab tree in my backyard had broken off and destroyed my stick fence. The brothers said they would have it repaired soon. In the small space that made up my backyard was a concrete slab with a latrine dug under it and which also served as the place where I would take my bucket baths. For the time being I propped what was left of my fence up as best I could, but it was still leaning over so that I had to squat somewhat beneath it for my baths. And with the fence still deeply angled, little boys (and sometimes men, too) of the village would come by on donkeys almost every evening to catch glimpses of my bathing.

After close to a year with this family, the final straw came for me. Baccari had 2 wives and in the final months before my departure he had been treating his second wife, Fatma, worse and worse. One day I returned from working on my reforestation demonstration site to find him chasing her -- a woman of small build who stood over a foot shorter than him -- around the village with a whip that he had fashioned from a tree branch. Men from the village finally restrained him, but he had already hit her several times. His qualms with her were always petty things, such as not cooking the food the way he liked it. Though his brothers did talk to him about striking her, this scene was repeated. And then one night we were eating dinner and I noticed that Fatma and her 2 small children were absent. When I inquired from the other women as to her whereabouts, I found out that Baccari had told her that she and her children were banned from eating with the family and had to go beg for food from the other compounds. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, though by now I should've known that Baccari had no shame.

Following this, I wrote up a report on the situation in the compound, requesting a transfer to another family from my sector director. He agreed that the situation was intolerable and inquired as to why I hadn't requested a change earlier. During my second year I moved to another village and lived with a great family who was related to the first family. It was a wholly different experience and I was able to focus more on work without any of the crazy family drama.

I ignored the voice that first year. The situation wore on me, chipping away at my soul, tearing at my spirit -- and I allowed it. When the voice said, "Get out now," I thought, "I'm not a quitter. Things can improve. I want to give them a chance..." But deep down I knew the voice was right.

At the end

A sunny Sunday in Şile
This afternoon we took my mum to Atatürk Airport for her trip back to Cali. My Auntie Espie flew back to Vancouver on Wednesday. The flat seems strangely quiet without their chatter and laughter, yummy Filipino cooking, and all the gossip about Espie's German-Canuck boyfriend -- yes, you can find new love at 73! It was cute to see her talking about him and emailing him so much.

Tomorrow, it's back to work at the paper for me. I'm kicking myself for making my return a Sunday. What was I thinking? I've fallen so out of work/scheduled mode. Hopefully my brain will snap quickly back into shape and hasn't deleted all the stylebook info. But just in case, don't bother picking up the Monday edition of TZ.

OK, don't want to think about that anymore. Let's rewind to earlier this week when we took a trip up to Şile, a little town on the Black Sea about 100km from Istanbul. I have to disagree that Black Sea towns are only for the summer season. Though you may not want to take a dip in the frigid waters, unless you're a member of the Polar Bear Club, there are still the beautiful beaches to stroll along and the great fish restaurants by the water. The town itself is very chill and the cobbled main street has many boutique shops with handmade items. We stayed at the Dedemen Şile, where we still got in plenty of swimming in their indoor pool, also taking advantage of the hamam and sauna that are part of the hotel's lifestyle center. My mum and auntie also got massages.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Mum, Auntie Es and I arrived back in the Bul earlier this week after our two week trip southward, with the last stop being in Pamukkale. The travertines, which form from the calcium carbonate in the spring water at the site, provide a surreal view. On approach, it appears as a mountain covered in snow, but as you come nearer and then start the climb upwards you can see water cascading down and forming these pools of a pure aqua tone.

It's mandatory to do the walk in your bare feet. Those who refuse to comply are promptly whistled at by the guard below and then chased after if they continue in obstinance (as with one couple we observed on our way down).

Today, we made the one-hour trip to my mother-in-law's place in Cerkezkoy. I must admit that I showed up here with the thought that this wouldn't feel like part of my vacation at all, that I'd constantly be pressed to translate things (since Ev couldn't come due to work), which with my level of Turkish often feels like an unpleasant chore.

And there's also, well, I guess the closest I can come to describing it is a sort of power struggle between my MIL and I, though that doesn't fully capture it. For instance, while we were on the trip, my MIL visited our apartment and decided to do some ultra-cleaning, along with her friend. This cleaning included ripping down the screens that I had painstakingly put up at the beginning of the summer to keep out the mosquitoes. The screens were deemed too dirty and were tossed into the trash. I worked at not being infuriated when I learned about this. Decided this was not something I was willing to battle over and almost let it go.

But this time, things feel different. I've been able to relax, not over-analyze things. And mostly relations have just flowed. Perhaps it's because we're on her turf and she's more comfortable too. Who knows. I just wish that things could be like this between us all the time. Tranquility. This does feel like vacation -- good times with family, yummy food and relaxation.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Storming the castle

The weather since we arrived Sunday in Bodrum has been ideal, close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the sea water is now a bit cool, probably in the 60s, it's still comfortable for swimming. We've been staying in Turgutreis, where the beaches are better than in central Bodrum, but took a day trip to see the castle and wander the waterfront of the latter. Also booked a private boat trip for tomorrow from the marina in central Bodrum, since none of the boats in Turgutreis were offering trips during the off-season.

Flags of the Ottoman Empire (L) and Knights Hospitaller

Mom and Espie

Gothic chapel of Bodrum Castle

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Priene, Miletus and Didim

Today was by far my favorite of the trip thus far. We hired a car from our hotel to visit the sites of Priene, Miletus and Didyma. These sites are much less frequented by tourists as they are somewhat farther from the main attractions in this area. Thus we were left to explore the ruins at our leisure, running into only a few others, outside of a group of kids from an American school in Abu Dhabi who were visiting Priene as part of their history class.

Stage at ampitheater in Priene

Must give props to my Tita Espie (left in picture above), who at 73 was navigating the steep stone steps and making her way down the switchbacks in Priene like a pro, barely breaking a sweat.

Theater of Miletus, ca. 300 B.C.

Archways at the Great Hall of Miletus

Temple of Apollo in Didim (Didyma)

Stone-carved Medusa in Didim

Closeup of column carvings