Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 1 comment

A Heroic Grief

I never used to understand why my mom would cry over something she saw on the news. I had an empathetic heart when it came to my friends, but I just didn’t connect to strangers’ tragedies in the same way she did - especially not when they flashed across the screen between budget cut stories and Jello commercials.

But apparently I’ve turned out just like her. (And I’m glad.)

Last night during the news, I couldn’t stop the sobs from coming as I watched a clip from the funeral of our police chief who was killed Wednesday while trying to wrestle a gun from a man who had held up a gas station. They played the moment of his shooting over and over, in true Turkish sensationalist fashion, and interspersed it with scenes of the family, his fellow policemen and government officials mourning at the ceremony.

What broke my heart was the image of the man’s eight-year-old son lifting his tear-streaked face from his mother’s shoulder and standing up straight to sing the national anthem. He started off strong and stoic, but a few lines in, he began to weep. Singing along with him, I dissolved into tears when he did and couldn’t carry on past the first verse. Still, he pushed on, through his “heroic race” and “the blood we shed for it”, bravely mouthing the words in between sobs as drops of grief coursed down his chubby little cheeks until, with the final proclamation of the “freedom of his God-worshiping nation” he crumpled into a puddle of fatherless sorrow.

(Click here to see the video.)

The scene reminded me of little girls who welcome their fathers home from Iraq and Afghanistan in caskets, standing courageously beside their mothers as they receive the star-spangled gift they never wanted, a three-volley salute echoing with cold finality in their hearts.

Whether a father is laid to rest under stars and stripes or crescent and star, grief looks the same on the face of any child.

A day later, I can’t get those tear-stained cheeks out of my mind. I think what affected me so deeply was the way he was unabashedly weeping for all the world to see. For a boy, I think that took more courage than it took to make it to the end of the song. If he can grow into a man without losing that mixture of tenderness and resolute strength, this country will know a hero of a different kind. And considering the life and death of his father, I’d say there’s a good chance it’s in his blood.

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 1 comment

(Trying Not to Look Like a) Tourist in My Own Town

It was the cobblestones that gave me away.

As I left the bustle of the main drag for the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarter where I'd be spending my writing retreat, the sound of my suitcase wheels clattering over the newly-restored-but-still-nostalgically-bumpy streets broadcast the announcement: "Make way! Incoming tourist!" Just the sort of attention I love to draw to myself.

What is it that makes me react so allergically to being mistaken for a tourist? I know, I know, it's pride, plain and simple. It's just that I've worked so hard at learning Turkish and blending into the culture, so when I leave my neighbourhood where I am "the girl who hangs her laundry wrong, pronounces her "ü"s a little funny and still sometimes forgets to give her guests slippers but is basically one of us" and head downtown to where my blue eyes and confident gait immediately label me as "Lady, lady, yes please, I have a cousin who lives in Canada," it can be more than a little annoying.

Tourism is good for the economy. Tourism provides many of my neighbours with jobs. Tourism lets the rest of the world get to know this fascinating country that I love so much. And, heck, when I'm anywhere else but here, I am "that tourist" with the Lonely Planet in her bag, the camera around her neck and the wanderlust in her eyes.

I seriously need to get over my snobby prejudice against tourists.

Maybe it's just that I don't want to be lumped into the same group as the family I saw today bartering for Atatürk cigarette lighters in tank tops and shorts. All the Turks passing by - dressed, as Turks do, according to the date on the calendar and not the temperature of the air - turned to stare at these “misfits.” And I, bundled up in my winter coat despite the warmth of the sunshine, stared right along with them. This may be the Mediterranean, but one simply does not wear flip-flops in February.

It's the same fear of my own prejudice that kept me from riding the camels at the park down the street from my house for four-and-a-half years. A couple of times a month, I'd head to the park for homework or solitude. And every time, I'd stand outside the gate, turn to watch a bunch of Germans wearing matching wristbands pile off a tour bus and climb onto the camels, shrieking as those knobby knees straightened and lifted them high into the air. Then I'd turn back to the ticket booth, pay my "special local price" (which often means "free," depending who's working) and head inside to do my thing, as far from the camcorder crowd as I could get.

It really is silly to live that close to camels for that long and never ride one for the sole purpose of "not looking like a tourist." One of them belongs to my language helper's landlord and he was always offering me a free ride. A more humble person would've taken him up on it years ago.

I am happy to report, though, that last weekend, accompanied by several friends who were delighted to share the experience with me (and who apparently don't suffer from the same "anti-tourist hang-ups" as I do) I finally gave in and rode my first camel. Now I know why the tourists pay to do it - it’s a lot of fun! (And now I know why they shriek, too. When my camel suddenly sat down, it really did feel like I was about to be catapulted off!)

May this be the first of many times when I let go of my silly pride, stop worrying about whether or not I blend in, and just enjoy this place that people pay thousands of dollars to visit and that I am fortunate enough to call "home."

Friday, February 24, 2012 - No comments

I am going on a trip, and in my suitcase I will take.....

Did you ever play that game as a kid? (Or a road-tripping big person?) It's the one where you start with the letter "A" and take turns saying, "I am going on a trip and in my suitcase I will take.....everything everyone has said before you, plus a new item that starts with the next letter of the alphabet.

Well, I am going on a trip (not far - just the forty minutes it takes to ride the bus downtown) and my suitcase is looking something like Apples (both the computer and the edible kind), Books, Chai, Dark chocolate....

I am going on a writing retreat! Not the kind where twenty people gather at a retreat centre for a weekend of yoga, inspirational speeches and alone time under a tree with a notebook. The kind where, thanks to the thoughtful generosity of a friend back home, I get two nights away at a guesthouse in the Old City, far from the distractions of laundry and menu planning and emails and neighbours to focus completely on writing and really let those creative juices flow. I've got a couple of half-baked stories that need tweaking and re-tweaking, and several ideas for articles I want to pitch to a local travel magazine, and I'm hoping that this time out of my everyday environment and "in the zone" will be just what I need to churn out some good writing.

So, you wanna know what else is in my suitcase?

A handful of Staedtlers - the only pen I'll ever love.

My other favourite writing utensil.

My passport - for calling to mind trips past and trips I'm still dreaming of....and because I need it to check into the hotel.

Snacks. For when I'm holed up in my room late at night and get the munchies.

The various writing notebooks I currently have on the go - you never know from which one inspiration will strike!

Oregon Chai. For whatever reason, coffee makes my heart happy, but chai makes me want to write.

My trusty travel mug. Starbucks should seriously pay me to do commercials for this thing - it's incredible! It's double-walled steel and keeps drinks warm for a good five or six hours! This way I can hunker down in my room and not have to worry about emerging for refills.

Reading material. One for fact-checking and memory-jogging as I write about my autumn trip to Mardin, and the other for when my hand hurts or my brain gets stuck and I just need to read what someone else wrote for awhile.

My wooly socks (in case the room is chilly) and my Vanilla Bean Noel Lotion (cuz we all know soft hands write better stories.)

Dark chocolate. I don't think I really need a reason.

My Starbucks card. Between freebies I have on here and the free drinks I'll get for the beans I'm going to buy to take home, all my caffeine needs for the entire weekend are taken care of. :)

Books by people who know much more about travel writing than I do. (I actually didn't pack these books, cuz they wouldn't fit in my already overfull little suitcase. I just mined them for writing prompts and ideas.)

There you have it - the ingredients for what I hope will be a prolifically productive weekend of pen to paper and fingers to keys. (And, yes, in case you were wondering, I did pack clothes and my toothbrush, too.) :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012 - No comments

"Fresh" is in the Air

"Don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?"

I'd have to agree with Kathleen Kelly (of You've Got Mail fame) on this one. There is just something about daisies that makes me smile. We've had an unusually cold winter for the Eastern Mediterranean - the kind that makes me work from under my covers with the heater on full blast even in the middle of the day. So when I was walking to the grocery store last week, mittens on my hands and a fuzzy scarf tied tightly under my chin, and I saw a patch of white daisies bobbing their heads in the biting wind, I had to laugh at them. "Who told you it was time to show your faces?" I asked them out loud. "Go back to sleep until spring."

But today those precocious daisies are the ones laughing at me - good-naturedly, of course. The weather has taken a sudden turn for the warmer, and it's practically spring-ish outside! The sun's shining brightly - not the "liar-sunshine" that tricks you into wearing your autumn coat and then mocks you as you freeze at the bus stop, but the kind that means hot water for dishes and clothes that dry in just a few hours and cheerfulness itself streaming through the windows. I daresay the snow on the mountains has even receded an inch or two.

Perhaps it wasn't quite warm enough to keep the windows open all day long, but oh, that fresh air did my heart good! Carried on it were the sounds of birds chirping and children playing and the scent of hope and anticipation and fresh life.

See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come...

- Song of Songs 2:11-12

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday, February 04, 2012 - No comments

Olfactory Observations

In the spirit of trying to be a more keen observer, to be more awake to the world around me and being able to write with more colourful details, I decided to keep track of all the smells I smelled today, from home to town and back.

- The rich aromas of my Turkish Mocha Body Scrub and Vanilla Bean Noel Shower Gel. (The bathroom smells like a coffee house when I get out of the shower!)
- The overpowering scent of our "new and improved fabric softener." (Mental note: never buy the "ultra" stuff again. The only thing that's concentrated is the smell!)
- Freshly baked bread as I waited for the bus outside our bakery.
- A whiff of floral perfume as the lady in front of me took her seat on the bus.
- Burning garbage as we passed by some kids who'd lit a fire on the side of the road.
- The tantalizing aroma of roast beef at Arby's (It tasted as good as it smelled!)
- The unmistakable smell of books as I leafed through several in the bookstore. (For someone who wanted to be a librarian as a kid, this smell is synonymous with happiness!)
- A sickeningly sweet orange smell from the sample of Vitamin C drink the lady at the vitamin store gave me.
- The homey smell of woodstoves in the Old City, mingled with the welcoming aroma of (filtered!) coffee wafting up from my cup as I paused for a break at a sidewalk cafe.
- Cigarette smoke in the air....pretty much everywhere.
- Exhaust fumes in the congested area where I waited for my bus home.
- The stench of body odour, bad breath, and stale cigarette smoke invading my nostrils as I fight to keep my footing amidst stinky men on the bus. Combined with this is the faint odour of mildew from clothes that never had a fair chance at drying in this wet winter weather.
- Someone else's yummy dinner cooking as I walked into the entrance of our complex.
- The visible smell of coal in the air as I went out onto my balcony and brought my laundry in. (Thankfully I rescued it in time before it began to smell like coal, too!)