Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 3 comments

Eavesdropping on a Wedding

(image courtesy of undhimmi.com)

Accompanied by the tinkling of spoons in tea glasses on nearby balconies and the sound of airplanes transporting sunburned tourists home, I can hear a wedding in full swing. A lively melody fills the night air, punctuated by alternating bursts of fireworks and explosions of celebratory gunfire.

From my spot on the terrace, I can’t see the festivities, and I can only make out the glow from the fireworks as they flare and fizzle behind the house across the way, but still, in my mind, I can picture the scene. Fifty rented white plastic chairs arranged in a circle in a vacant lot, a string of white lights marking the perimeter. A car is backed up to the edge of the scene, trunk open to expose a set of powerful speakers blaring whatever music tickles the front-seat DJ’s fancy. A group of twenty-something guys sporting shirts as shiny as their slicked-back hair and a cluster of teenaged girls with that “fresh from the coiffeur” look pretend not to notice each other as they groove in their segregated huddles. Little girls wearing lipstick for the first time mimic the motions of their big sisters while little boys in clip-on bowties alternately play hide and seek among the long-legged crowd and try to sneak bites of cake from the plates of the old aunties who are too busy gossiping to notice.

The only detail uncertain in my mind is the bride herself. Is she dazzling in her beauty, her eyes reflecting the joy of marrying the neighbour boy who locked her in the cowshed when she was nine and snuck a kiss there when she was sixteen? Or is she trembling behind all that makeup as her parents marry her off to the ugly cousin with the promising job and the violent temper? Has she finished her education and decided it’s time to settle down, or is she a frightened teenager who has left her village in the east for the first time in order to become the second wife of a widower twice her age?

Perhaps she is the bride I saw on my walk this morning, all dolled up in lacy white, whizzing by in a pickup truck, likely on her way to the photographer. I only caught a glimpse of her face, but what I saw there was enough to make me wonder if she’d woken up to this first morning of the rest of her life with a heart full of exuberant anticipation or quiet, resigned terror.

I sit here alone, eavesdropping on her wedding and so wishing it were mine. I long to trade my independence and the solitude of my rooftop for a man to make dinner for and a mosquito net full of kids. But the truth is, in some backwards way, I chose this empty terrace. Unlike so many girls in this world, I’ve had the freedom to have standards and preferences, to be picky, to “hold out for the best.” I wait impatiently for the day I get to say, “Yes,” but I’m still here because I’ve been afforded the chance to say, “No.” But what about that white-frosted bride whose fireworks are my Saturday night entertainment as I sit here with my chai and my starry sky? Does the wedding music that fuels my girlish dreams also mean the death of hers?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010 - No comments

Sugar Festival Recovery

I realized today that it's been almost a week since I've visited any Turks or had any neighbours over. It's not for any lack of love - in fact, I miss them - it's more that I needed an "introvert vacation" after the holidays! Ramazan finished a week and a bit ago, moving us out of the month of fasting and into three days of feasting. Or, rather, sugar binging.

Normally on the first day of the holiday, everyone gets all dressed up and goes to visit their oldest relative, and then over the next two days they move on down the line through family, friends and neighbours. Since most of our neighbours are "foreigners" (meaning they are from other parts of Turkey, as opposed to being locals), no one really as any relatives nearby, so all the visiting happens within the neighbourhood. Everyone cleans their house from top to bottom, makes up a bunch of sweets (usually baklava) and then alternately goes visiting or welcomes guests into their home.

We live in a smallish complex - maybe 25 families - so the way the migration pattern goes, you may run into the same neighbours four or five times over the holiday by the time you've been to their house, had them at yours, and bumped into them at multiple other houses. Each visit might last an hour or less, which makes for a lot of repetitive small talk and rehashed neighbourhood gossip by the time you're done, but still, it's fun to make the rounds and see everyone.

Here's how a visit usually goes. Doorbell rings - in Turkey, this generally means a terrified chirping bird sort of a sound. Guests are welcomed in, and everyone greets everyone else. For me, this means shaking hands with the men, a kiss on each cheek for the women, and a kiss to the hand, followed by pressing it to my forehead, for anyone old enough to be my grandparent. Then the youngest girl of the house goes around the room and pours lemon cologne on everyone's hands and offers each person some candy. (I scored this year cuz we have a temporary roommate who is 3 years younger than me! Still, I had to do my share of work.) Then come the pleasantries, asking back and forth about each person and their relatives. (I found it amusing to hear the same people ask each other the same questions at multiple houses over the weekend.)

Next, either Turkish coffee or tea are offered, and plates are piled high with syrupy baklava or sweets. Zeynep Teyze in the house on the corner has a reputation for making amazing baklava, so many of our friends cheated this year and put in orders with her instead of making their own. I can't tell you how many times we were served Zeynep Teyze's baklava! :) I'm not usually a fan, but it's growing on me.

I have no hope of ever being able to make baklava like a Turk (it is a dang lot of work to roll out all those paper-thin layers of dough!) so I stuck with things like shortbread and brownies, and that seemed to go over well. We had storebought baklava on hand, too, to round out the sweets plate.

We were spared from making tea during the holiday, partly cuz it was hot and most visitors weren't staying long enough to brew a pot, but also cuz we had a gas leak in the back of our stove and had to shut it off. (Gee, I was really disappointed!) Serving fruit juice was a relief....for a few days, until a friend fixed the leak. (They were appalled that we had gone without tea for several days....little do they know that we pretty much only make it when they come over!) But the day after the holiday was over, we had "several" of our closest friends over for most of the day, with various combinations of kids coming and going, meaning that we had fifteen people in our house for like seven hours. That is a lot of tea, let me tell you! Turkish tea glasses are small, downed in a few gulps, and expected to stay topped up and piping hot....meaning the "younger roomie" and I were back and forth to the pot on the stove every ten seconds. And then when tea time rolled into dinner......let's just say at the end of the night, we were wiped. And wishing we had a dish washer!

The plan that night was to watch the World Basketball Championship Final (Turkey vs. USA) with one of the families that was over, but I informed them that if they wanted to watch it at our house, there would be no tea service, cuz I was gonna be glued to the game. Yeah. We watched it at theirs. :) (America beat us and got the gold, but we were still so proud of our boys for making it further than any other Turkish team ever has - way to go, 12 Giant Men!!!)

After four solid days of socializing and pouring tea and filling plates and smiling and chatting, I felt richer in my relationships, more in love with this culture.... and also completely spent and exhausted. Hence the hibernation in my house for the last 5 days. A few nights ago, I woke up from a nightmare where guests came knocking on the door at 3 AM demanding tea and sweets, and all of us were running around trying to serve them and not let ourselves fall asleep standing up.... After a week of productive photo-related work and then a nice day off today, I think I'll be ready to pour some tea and swap stories on the balcony tomorrow. They must all wonder where we've been hiding ourselves. Then again, they haven't come knocking either. Maybe we aren't the only ones who had a post-Sugar Festival crash.....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010 - No comments

A house divided cannot stand...but Sport is the great unifier.

It's a historic day in Turkey on multiple fronts. We've just come out of Seker Bayrami - the "Sugar Festival" that marks the end of Ramazan, and all weekend over baklava and tea, the conversation has centred around today's Referendum. Turkey is headed to the polls to decide whether or not to change the constitution that has stood since the coup of 1980, and the vote has, naturally, caused months of debate and controversy, and turned into something of a party war. Essentially, a "yes" would mean more democracy, which everyone would agree is a good thing, but the trouble is that there are dozens of items included in the package, and some would give the current Islamic-leaning ruling party new levels of power, which terrifies the nation's secularists and motivates many would-be "yes"es to vote "no." And round and round we go.

Ironically, though, on a day when the nation is split down the middle on matters of rights and politics, last night's glorious basket with a half second left gave our 12 Dev Adam (12 Giant Men - the national basketball team) a victory over Serbia, meaning tonight we face the great USA in the World Basketball Championship Final! In Istanbul, no less! And the "evet"s and the "hayir"s (the "yes"es and the "no"s) shall gather in living rooms and cafes and cheer with one voice, "Turkiye, Turkiye, Turkiye!"