It is four in the morning. Hacivad jumped on my shoulder as I snuck out of the bedroom in my now-famous demure, white cotton nightgown to take a breather on the patio. I can’t stop thinking about the postings from American ladies who were engaged or married to Turkish men (see yesterday’s post, here).
Speaking to nobody in particular, I mutter “I don’t see any of these negative traits in my boyfriend – maybe they will emerge? Our conflicts seem to be more about communication styles and etiquette differences, certainly not about religion or family. Should I worry about whether he will become domineering? Whether his family will suddenly step in with expectations I cannot imagine now? Will things change if we have children?” I stare at the moon, a détente of sorts sets in. Me, the moon. Time ticks. The moon, me. Time ticks.
There is a tapping at my left ear – and I remember that Hacivad has taken up residency there. With mysticism swirling about his tiny voice in this early morning hour, he proclaims with a serene-ness only reserved for people who meditate “The great Mevlana Rumi says ‘The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don’t go back to sleep.’ and I think you should listen to him…but not the way you think. Take this rumination along its full course. By the way, that was clever wasn’t it – Rumi – rumination, get it?”
Karagöz plunges down into the night from the rafters over the patio – startling me, but not Hacivad, who is well acquainted with his antics. Wiggle-waggling his pointer finger in my face as he hangs off of my hair, his feet dangerously close to my nostrils, Karagöz takes a know-it-all stance, saying: “YOU, my friend, don’t need Rumi-rumination- you need to know ALL ABOUT Turkish love rats, you must stir this pot, and learn! Remember the link you saw yesterday on the computer, just before you shut it off and went to get your groceries?” I remember wondering about that term, “Turkish love rat,” dismissing it as a porn site, perhaps.
There is a rustling on the windowsill where the rest of the Karagöz shadow puppet troupe reside, snoring, mumbling, grumbling and waxy movements lead to the dim view of two puppets rising up to speak. In the pre-dawn blueness, I cannot see, but hear Kenne and Khadijah in the background, they sigh, but agree “she should know about them, those love rats, yes she should.” I realize that I am seriously not in the know about something. What was it that I saw on this website? I need to go to the Internet cafe, first thing in the morning, I think, this is killing me, all of this ruminating.
Hacivad strokes my left ear and calls me close, saying “you do not need to stop ruminating, this is the way you process things, you should reframe it as Rumi-rumination. As the Mevlana himself said, ‘do not believe in an absurdity no matter who says it.’ Let this guide you.” With these words, I let myself spin into sleepiness, and waited for morning.
Sitting with my milky tea the next morning on the patio, I asked my boyfriend about the term “Turkish love rat.” “I have no idea – where did you hear this thing?” he said, looking at me quizzically, distracted as he watered the pomegranate tree. “I saw it on the Internet…” I said, with eyebrows raised, a wan, apologetic smile on my somewhat embarrassed face. “All you need to know about Turkey that is important, you can find out from me. And we can learn the rest together. Show me, later today, in the cafe.” I settled the unsettling term back into its spot on the back burner that is the hotel stove of my many melting pots mind on any given day.
“Speaking of fire,” Hacivad piped up, “the Mevlana Rumi always said ‘most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it.’ You should be careful about going here, to this fire of Turkish love rats. Trust what you see, trust what you feel – listen not to fools, like Karagöz, or those Internet idiots.” I cannot twist myself away from Hacivad’s wise words. As soon as I hit the Internet cafe bench, “Turkish love rats” is halfway typed into Google. Once again, as with yesterday, I am horrified and saddened at what I see.
A “Turkish love rat,” I learn from just the search results – and there are many – is a local guy who takes advantage of women from other countries taking a vacation – basically a bait and switch situation that involves the provision of flattering flirtations, sex and marriage promises in exchange for cell phones, sneakers and just plain old money. These men, I learn if my sources are to be trusted, are all over the place in resort areas. I reassure myself that THIS is NOT the man sitting next to me, the man I traveled thousands of miles with to see his country of birth – not, as he tells me, his “home” country, as he now feels that is the U.S.
“OK, I know about this,” I think, reassuring myself with a deep breath, “this is like the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back, where she meets the handsome guy on vacation in Jamaica and they get into a relationship.” I read sad stories about even sadder women and their laments of losing money and loved ones over Turkish love rats – see, for example this woman’s story. I also learn that there are entire websites devoted to “outing” love rats, such as this one, where all manner of foul language, ill-intentions and horrible stories are abundant.
Many years later, I can laugh at other, related terms collected by the hysterically funny and on-point writer Jack Scott in his “Perking the Pansies” blog where he has an Expat Glossary – including “VOMITs (Victims of Men in Turkey): vintage desperate ex-housewives with a few lira to spare who shamelessly chase younger Turkish men. Predictably, such relationships rarely last once the money runs out.” and his friend Carole’s precious “‘MADs’ (My Ahmet’s Different) for those delusional VOMITs who think that their Turkish man is somehow different from the rest because “he really loves me”.” I will also read with great delight, the commentary over at Turkish Travel Blog on Turkish men – why your holiday romance is doomed, but will take heed of her note on needing to compromise – neither party can keep 100% of their own culture. Although clear in wording and in an academic sense, this is harder to do than one might think. Take, for example, my challenge with the tea-making.
Pulled back from my contemplative love rat reverie from hell, my boyfriend exclaims “WHAT are you reading about?” craning his neck around the overheating desktop computer over into my space within the Internet cafe. “Are you really, truly looking up that rat thing? Why are you doing this?” Stammering and confused, all I can get out is “well, I really don’t know, I mean, yes, it is the love rat thing, I guess, um, I was curious?” His tone less hushed now, my boyfriend is getting serious. “Do you think this about me? Really, is that it? Look, I may not have a doctoral degree as you do, and your family may not like that, and I know they are over the whole is-he-a-citizen-thing, because I am, but do you think SOMETHING LIKE THIS about me?”
I am taken aback at the hurt in his eyes. Hacivad just turns to me from his spot on top of the computer screen, and with a tsk-tsk sound, repeats his latest Rumi quote to me “most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it. Looks like you are in it now” I hear the soft, pingy-plonky sound of hands, then feet on plastic. It is, needless to say, Karagöz, who is once again flinging himself across the top of the computer screen onto my head, doing multiple somersaults. He is quite talented, I realize, as he whoops out “Ah-ha, hah! All-allah! You’ve hit the jackpot, it’s fireworks time! You know just how to press his button, don’t you, an you didn’t even know it.” “Can we get out of here,” I say, blushing, “can we just talk about this?”
My boyfriend walks ahead of me, more rainstorm upset than thundering mad. I have hurt his feelings. “My mother taught me to respect women,” he says, hand high in the air, voice louder than I would like, “she taught me to get away from ‘macho’ at all costs. I honor her, I honor you. If you don’t know this about me, then what can I do?” With what can only be described as a pleading tone, I say “I know this, don’t you know that?” Brow furrowed, my boyfriend says, “if you did, why are you looking at these things on the Internet?” What can I say, I am curious? I don’t really think this about him, or do I? I am so confused. Hacivad just says, with true inner peace oozing out of his ears “just wait, just be calm, just think, apologize even if you do not think you are wrong, tell him you love him.”
We drive home in silence, avoiding our usual ride through the piney forest to hear the chorus of crickets therein. Karagöz lets the silence sit until it is deathly uncomfortable, but I know he is there. Suddenly, he pipes up with unfettered glee, saying “well, good for you, you have not only stirred the pot, you have boiled it over too. You are learning well from this jester-me! Wreak havoc, and you will see! Get it done, do like me, get the fight done, soon – you’ll see, better that way, no need to plea.”
Hacivad rolls his eyes and pushes his nemesis-friend out of the window onto the side of the road along with a porcupine. All of Karagöz’ waxy-paper self plants itself squarely into the prickles of the porcupine and he curses us with a shaken fist as we drive away. As usual, I know he’ll be back in no time – this is the way with my backseat driving shadow puppets, they are prone to instant reincarnation on a constant basis. It feels good to see him trashed in the meantime, though.
Taking my pinky finger in his hands, as that is all he can hold, Hacivad delivers his last words of the night “take heed, young lady, wait for the morn. All will be well with perspective, and remember what Rumi said on conflict and war: ‘Move beyond any attachment to names. Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened because of some disagreement about names. It’s such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing there’s a long table of companionship, set and waiting for us to sit down.’ So, my student, sit down in the morning, you are waiting for that. Get rid of this unnecessary foolishness of yours, and follow what is important, time together.”
This time, I stick close to the words Hacivad has offered, and in an uncharacteristic move for a courtroom-trained social work debater all-too-prone to interrupting, I offer my apology. “My love, I am SO sorry to upset you,” I say quietly, “It was not my intention, I think I am just wrestling to understand everything here – here in Turkey that is.” Met with stony silence, my words fall like pebbles going too fast into a brick wall. It will take me a couple of years to learn to let hurt or anger alone, and wait until morning. It will take me more than that to learn to admit when I have really crossed a line, albeit a stupid one. Eight years later, I’m still not batting a thousand, but we’re getting closer every day.
The moon trails us as we pull into the driveway and there is no breeze. It will be a long night. The shadow puppets sleep with one eye open, waiting for the morning discussion. I don’t sleep, with two eyes open.