Saturday, June 6, 2015

Saturday, June 06, 2015 - No comments

The Flower Girls: Middle-Aged Meets the Digital Age

“Scoot your chair in, you’re getting wet there.” Reyhan Abla fussed.  I pulled my chair further under the awning.
“I’m from a rainy place,” I smiled.  I don’t mind.”.  

“You and the flowers,” she said, gesturing towards the rainbow of blooms surrounding the patio where we sat.  “They’ve been waiting for this.”  

“So, what do you think of our garden?” asked Nergiz Abla.

I glanced around at the hanging baskets, potted plants, and flower beds.  Red-painted tires and faded photos of Istanbul hung on the fence surrounding the small patch of soil.  “It’s beautiful.  You’ve made the perfect place for sitting.”

“Oh, it’s not mine.  It’s Perihan Abla’s.  She’s the one who lives in here.”  She motioned to the bottom floor apartment whose sliding glass door we were seated in front of.  “She’s the artist behind all this.  You’ll meet her another day, inşallah.”

İnşallah,” I agreed.

“Perihan Abla is the oldest among us,” Reyhan Abla explained, sweeping her hand towards the other three middle-aged women seated at the picnic table.  “You’ll like her.  She’s my word game buddy.”

“Crossword puzzles?” I asked.

“Nope.”  She wiggled her cell phone.  “Online.  These ladies, though,” she glanced around the circle at the three other women sitting with us, “they’re okey addicts.  Sit out here with their tiles and play it all day long.  I don’t have the patience for that.  I like to just find my word on my turn and then go about my day.  Then I check back later and that Perihan Abla, she’s always found a better one...”

Reyhan Abla filled a tulip-shaped glass with steaming tea and set it in front of me.  She pointed to the plate of fried gözleme in the middle of the table.  “That one’s cheese, and the ones underneath are poppyseed.  Afiyet olsun.”  

Elinize sağlık,” I replied.  “Health to your hands.  It looks delicious.”

“Are you sure this is poppyseed?” asked Nergiz Abla, peeling back the outer crispy layer of a piece of gözleme.  “I thought poppyseeds were dark.”

“This is the yellow kind - from the stuff Figen brought from Afyon.  Blue poppyseeds - I’ve bought those before.  From Ankara, if I’m not mistaken.  Those ones you use in cakes.  This kind makes a better paste.”

I took a bite and washed it down with a sip of tea.  “It’s good.”

“Do you like Turkish tea?” asked Nergiz Abla.  “Foreigners seem to mostly like coffee.” 

“I love it,” I replied. 

“Of course she does,” chimed in Reyhan Abla.  “She’s lived here for nine years.  She’s one of us.”  

I smiled at the compliment.

“So, how did you two meet again?” asked Filiz Abla.

We both laughed.  “In the Istanbul airport,” I replied.

“We were on the same flight.  It was delayed and we got to talking in the lineup.”  Reyhan Abla patted my hand.  “I liked her right away.  And you know I don’t warm up to just anyone.”  The other three women chuckled.

“She’s writing a book about Turks living far away from their hometowns and I said she should interview me.  We did that today, just now.  And then I told her she should come to one of our garden parties.  That you are all from somewhere else and could tell her some good stories for her book.  Especially you, Esra Hanım.”

Esra Abla dipped her head.  “I lived in Germany for twelve years.  My husband was a guest worker.  We’ll talk.”

“I’d like that.”

“Speaking of hometowns,” Nergiz Abla turned to Reyhan Abla, “You’re from Kayseri.  I’ve been meaning to ask you about my mantı.  I tried to make it from scratch the other day and the dough turned out all squishy....”

“How many people were you making it for?

“Four.  I did four balls of dough.”

“Four!  You made too much!  I do one ball for four people.  How many eggs did you use?”

“One for each ball.”

“Right.  You put handfuls of flour on the tray - one here, one here, with space in between.  Then you crack an egg on each one.”  She demonstrated this with her hands.  “Then you add water - let your eye decide how much.”

Esra Abla laughed.  “This is the problem - your eye is from Kayseri and mine is from Tokat.  It doesn’t know how to decide!”

“Well, I don’t measure it.  I just know.  It’s got to be a stiff dough.  You probably put too much water.  Stiff.  And you knead it and knead it - don’t be afraid of over-kneading it....”

“Maybe I’ll just call you over next time,” said Esra Abla.  “Anyway I just ended up frying the dough up in oil and giving it to the grandkids.  Made the mantı from a package instead!”

Offfff....” Reyhan Abla winced, her Kayserili sensibilities clearly offended.

Across the table, Filiz Abla, the quietest of the bunch, was swiping through pictures on her smartphone.  “How do you ladies like my newest rose?” she asked, turning the screen towards us.

“Ooh,” Reyhan Abla exclaimed, grabbing the phone from her for a closer look.  “Check out those layers - so full!”  She passed the phone to Nergiz Abla and then picked up her own.  “Filiz Hanım, your pictures are getting good.  I’ve inspired you, I see.”  She held up her phone and showed me a picture of a small cactus with a few smooth pebbles arranged around it and a pink bow tied on its pot.  “I put all my flowers up on Instagram.  Do you have Instagram?”

I shook my head.

“What?!” She looked shocked.  “A photographer like you?  You need to get on.  Then you can follow me and see my flowers.  Oh!  That reminds me....”  She reached back and grabbed a plastic bag from behind her.  “I brought each of you a cutting from my big cactus!”  She pulled out four miniature brown pots, each with a baby cactus inside, and they were met with much oohing and ahhing.  She turned to me.  “Sorry, I didn’t bring one for you...the ladies asked me for them the other day.  Do you want one?  I can give you Perihan Abla’s and give her another one later.”

“That’s sweet, thank you, but green things and I don’t get along very well.”  I shrugged apologetically.  “I tend to kill them.”

They all laughed.  

“Oh, my dear,” Reyhan Abla went on.  “You don’t really have to do anything to these - just spray them with a bit of mist....”

“Really, I’m good.  Thank you, though.”

The other three shuffled plates of cookies and gözleme around to accommodate their new cacti.

Reyhan Abla’s phone dinged and she picked it up to read the incoming message. “Ah-ahhhh....”  Her face fell.  “Perihan Abla is at the hospital.  Rahmi Bey’s blood pressure shot up again.”

“May God heal him quickly,” murmured Esra Abla. 

Reyhan Abla tapped out a message, and then her phone dinged again.  “She sends her selam.”

“Aleyküm selam,” replied the other three in unison.

“So, this is us,” Reyhan Abla leaned back on her stool.  “We come here at least once a week, maybe twice, and drink tea and talk about our flowers.  We made a group on WhatsApp called ‘Çiçekçi Kızlar’ - The Flower Girls - and we make our plans that way.”

“None of us really have any relatives here,” said Filiz Abla.  “So we formed our own little family.”  

“That’s so important when you’re far from home,” I agreed.  

 “Her Mom lives in Canada,” Reyhan Abla told the others.  “Just think.  And her only daughter is all the way over here....”

“Yeah.  At least we can email every day, though.  And I go home every summer to see her.”  I grinned.  “I get to go in three weeks!”  

“I guess really it’s the same if your family is in Canada or on the other side of Turkey,” Nergiz Abla said.  “My daughter is in Tokat and I only see her once a year during Ramadan.  Faraway is faraway.”  The others nodded.  “Though at least when my family is on the same piece of soil as me I feel like they’re closer.  But when we lived in Cyprus....ooooh, that felt far away.  There was a great big sea in between us!”

“Being in the same time zone helps for sure,” I said.  “When it’s daytime for me, it’s nighttime for my mom.  At least when you’re in the same country, it’s the same time.  You’re hearing the same news, watching the same commercials on TV.  Makes you feel closer, I imagine.  Esra Abla, did you have any Turkish channels in Germany?”

“No, we didn’t.  There was a Turkish news program on the radio.  Twenty minutes once a week, I think.”

“We got Turkish channels when I lived there,” piped up Reyhan Abla.  “Of course that was in the 80s...”

“At least now there’s the internet,” I said.  “It makes everything feel closer.”

“Thank God for the internet,” exclaimed Filiz Abla.  “I’m always texting my daughter.  Look, she just sent me this picture of the stuffed pepper dolma she made last night.”  She pulled up the photo and everyone made approving noises.

“Oh, and look what my son sent me a few days ago,” said Reyhan Abla, her swiping finger moving furiously across her screen.  “The youngest one.  He’s studying in Russia.”  She held up a picture of golden chicken pieces nestled in carrots and onions in a roasting pan.  “With loads of onion and garlic, just like I make.  He asks for the recipes, of course.  But just look at that!”  She flicked to the next photo - rice with currants in it.  “Look how he did it, telli telli - all the grains perfectly separated.  Many women can’t even do that!”

“You guys are quite the techno-savvy ladies!” I laughed.  

“That we are,” Reyhan Abla said proudly.  “Are you on WhatsApp?  I’ll add you.”

“I’m not,” I said.  Their shocked expressions made me laugh.

“What kind of a young person are you?” exclaimed Reyhan Abla.  

I laughed at her alarm.  “I’m just not a huge social media person.  I’m on Facebook but that’s it.  I just don’t want the internet to eat up all my time...”

“Oh, Facebook, I don’t bother with that,” said Reyhan Abla.  “Most of what people post is nonsense.  But WhatsApp - a person needs that!  And you’re not on Instagram, either....”  She shook her head.  I chuckled and shook mine back.

“Turks have always been interested in the latest technology,” said Esra Abla.  “We jump right on it.  When I moved to Germany in the 70s, no one there had a dish washer.  But everyone in Turkey did.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I still don’t!”

“And same with colour TV,” she went on.  “And house phones.  No one in Germany got them until later.”

“Oh, we weren’t so advanced where I came from,” said Nergiz Abla.  “We didn’t have a phone when I went as a bride from Tokat to Kars.  Someone from the post office would come to the door and tell us we had a call, and we’d quickly get dressed and run down there.”  She smiled at the recollection.  “I remember we only had TV two or three days a week.  An episode of a show would come on in Istanbul and Ankara one day, and then we would wait and get it the next.  TRT was the only channel for years...”

“Even when we got a phone in Germany, it was still such a big deal to get a call from Turkey,” said Esra Abla.  They’d send a telegraph from the PTT in Turkey telling you to be home the next day because a call was coming.  Then you’d stay home all day long waiting for the phone to ring....”

“We were so much better at waiting back then.”  Nergiz Abla laughed and shook her head.  “Now look at us.  We order something online and the delivery guy comes a day late and we get all mad about it!”

Several cups of çay later, I kissed each of my new friends on the cheek and thanked them for letting me join in on their little picnic.  

“Come back again before you go to Canada,” insisted Esra Abla.  “Before the 17th.  Everyone will get busy with Ramadan and we’ll disperse for the summer.”

“I will,” I promised.  “I want to hear a whole lot more about Germany.”

“I liked them,” I told Reyhan Abla as she saw me off at the gate.  “Thanks for inviting me.”

“You’re welcome any time,” she said.  “You know where the bus stop is, right?”

I nodded.  I gave her another kiss on each cheek and started up the street.

As I made my way down the sidewalk, she called after me, “Don’t forget to download WhatsApp when you get home!”