Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012 - No comments

Pick me up a few friends at the store.

I plunked my snack-sized container of caramel yogurt down on the conveyor belt at Migros and had just started trying to make sense of the Swiss Francs in my hand when I heard it.
“Bir şey unuttuk mu?”  Did we forget anything?  
Turkish!  The little old lady in front of me was speaking Turkish!  I’d only been out of the country for four hours but already the sound of the language of my second-home did something to my soon-to-be-homesick heart.  
I eyed the woman in the beige headscarf and her husband in his khaki cap, going back and forth in my head about whether or not to talk to them as the cashier rang up their groceries.  Will they think it’s great that I’m from Turkey, too, or will they just think I’m crazy for Turk-stalking in the Zurich airport?  Should I just let them shop in peace?
My “I’m one of you and I want you to know it” instinct won out.  It always does.
I touched the woman’s arm and asked her in Turkish, “Teyze, are you Turkish?”
She turned to me with wide eyes, clearly baffled as to how this much-more-Swiss-than-Turkish-looking girl knew her mother tongue.  
“Yes, canım, I am.  Are you?”
I smiled.  “No, but I’ve lived there for six years, so it’s practically home.”
She patted my arm, her eyes twinkling now, and told me how they were from Konya but had lived in Switzerland for years.  After the standard, “What are you doing in Turkey?” conversation came the almost standard question of “Which is more beautiful - Canada or Turkey?” to which I always reply, “They both are beautiful in different ways, but if I didn’t love your country so much, I would’ve gone home a long time ago!”  (This always satisfies them because I neither insult their homeland nor betray my own.  Canadians are nothing if not diplomatic.)
The cashier had moved on to my purchase by now, and as the slow-moving old amca (uncle) finished bagging their groceries, he shuffled closer to see what had gotten his wife so excited.   I paid my 89 cents and as we walked out into the concourse together, the woman filled her husband in on our conversation.
“We’re here to pick up our grandkids.  They’re coming from Turkey to stay for the summer,” he explained proudly.
Gözünüz aydın,” I replied.  (“May your eyes be bright” is the phrase said to someone being reunited with a loved one.)
“Ah!  You even know that!  You are just like a Turk!” he laughed.  “Canım, what is your name?”
I gave him my Turkish one.  
A smile lit up his wrinkled features.  “So you have become a Muslim, then!”
I laughed.  “No, it’s just easier for Turks to say than my real one.”
Taking my hand and patting it in a grandfatherly way, he launched into the pleasantries one must recite upon parting - “So nice to meet you, Go with God, Say hello to your family.”  
But his wife was clearly not through with this “kind-faced foreigner who knows our language” and kept peppering me with questions even after I’d kissed both her cheeks in farewell.    
“Where are you headed?  Do you have someone meeting you at the train station?  Are you sure your mother or father aren’t Turkish?”  
I happily answered all her questions.  As a Canadian who’s worked so hard at “becoming a Turk” and often feels like a foreigner when I return to my homeland, I was thoroughly relishing this “you’re one of us” moment.  And as a minority living in a land not their own, I have a feeling these two were enjoying the connection just as much.  
When her true Turkish teyze curiosity had been satisfied and more kisses dispensed, they headed for the arrivals deck while I headed for the escalator to the train station, all the while more “selams” to each other’s families being called out in both directions. 
I used to roll my eyes when my mom would talk to anyone and everyone in the checkout line.  Now I’m convinced she’s onto something.  And I know a couple of Turkish immigrants who I think would agree.