Without getting into details, we are very concerned about an horrific incident observed in the care a younger family member with a disability is getting in her shared living setting nearby. On top of trying to address the situation, facing this challenge has meant some big conversations between the American (me) and the Turk (M.) in this marriage. What are the limits of family caregiving? How should one think about family responsibilities? How does one balance family needs with the needs of a marriage? What is selfishness and what is selflessness? What would happen in Turkey in this situation – and why this wouldn’t happen in Turkey….and on and on. The Turk, over the past week, has engaged in the gnashing of teeth, the raising of arms and the yelling at the world in response to the incident. And he felt alot better after letting it out, too. The American, over the past week, cried and cried and cried and felt powerless and upset except for writing long and overly-strategized letters of complaint and protest. All social work advocacy training and experience appeared to be straight out the window. The Turk became very worried, and consulted the American mother in law in a somewhat unusual show of unity to support the American and pull her resistant self into a better place bootstraps and all. It’s been, as the old time Yankees up in northern Maine say, “wearing.”
Despite these mini-clashes of culture and moments of figuring out shared together, I have felt totally depressed and powerless. I have also seen M. step up and do just about all of (vs. more than half) the dog walking, house cleaning, dish washing, food cooking, bill paying, house dealing possible. This week, the Karagöz puppets have been a bit bewildered by all of this, and have been pretty silent, not knowing what to make of challenges we face at the hands of the social welfare system designed to support our family member with a disability. M. has been equally confused. We have been muddling and muddling and occasionally puddling. The little chorus of dancing ladies has offered me numerous glasses of çayover the week, most of which remain untouched on my dresser and desk. They are trying to get me to take care of myself. Karagöz did a few flips and twists and tried out some new rhymes to get me to laugh, but I really was having none of it. So, little puppet people in my head, sorry about that, please come back and let’s re-engage?
As I woke up today in the sun, I realized just how much the Turkish side of this marriage has carried this week, especially in the area of lemonade-making.
There is an old cliché in American culture that seems to be getting a run for its money as of late – make lemonades out of lemons. I love the sentiment. We obviously hit a big lemon in the proverbial road trip of life this past weekend regarding our family member’s care, and have been frantically searching for lemonade recipes since then. Yesterday, we had a good dose of lemonade – the best possible kind of lemonade – with respect to the care of our family member, so I suppose lemons are on my mind. So, as I got up, I tried to do something nice. Our good friend, a Turkish woman who I respect deeply, taught me how to cleanse the air in the house after cooking a fish. She places a raw lemon half right on the gas burner flame – and the scent around the house – well – it’s just lovely.
Having only a lime in the house, and an old, crusty dry one at that, I figured citrus was citrus, and hacked away at halving it. As the lime oil began to swirl around the house, I felt a bit enlivened. I hauled out the slow cooker, made a “pantry sauce” from whatever was left in the pantry (canned tomato, pumpkin seed oil, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and half a bottle of syrah from last weekend) that is now home to four defrosted and seared chicken legs. I hope to surprise M. with a nice dinner. Of course, before the domestic bliss could blossom into its best self, I realized the lime was burning…and now our house was filled with the smell of burnt lime. As this is a cross-cultural home, I decided to clear the air with a fresh batch of chai – not çay but chai. Not the kind you buy at Starbucks, either.
Being part of a blended step family, I am lucky enough to have been exposed to the art and craft of making East African-style Chai. My step siblings spent some of their growing up years in Kenya, and my step brother has perfected the art of chai-making, learned during a camping trip with the Masai on the Masai Mara. It’s simple, you fill up your saucepan with about 1/2 water and a handful of Kenyan chai and an equal-sized handful of sugar. Once it is boiling, you add in milk so that the liquid is 1/2 milk and 1/2 water. Bring it just to the boiling point – but don’t let it boil. Boiled over chai makes your house smell like a pot-smoking party so beware. Of course, my stepbro tells me that the Masai often add a bit of fresh cow’s blood into the mix, which thickens it up some, but we don’t go that far. We love chai in our house – even though it is sometimes affectionately known as “colon blaster.”
However, the chai story does not end there. In graduate school, I had the great good fortune to make a wonderful set of friends, one Austrian and one Southeast Asian. When this couple had a baby, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the baby’s Southeast Asian grandmother – who always made the most wonderful spiced chai. So, the chai made today in my house, to ward off the burnt lime smell and week of challenge, involved 1/2 a saucepan of water, a handful of Assam tea leaves with rose petals, crushed bay leaves, a sliver of fresh ginger, ground cardamom, cloves and nutmeg and a shredded stick of soft cinnamon). So, the house smells fantastic, the sun is shining and the Karagöz puppets are starting to awaken again. I think I see Karagöz himself doing back flips over in the corner of the living room. As for me? I am taking a break as soon as I can, and plan to finish up the lemon-infused week with a good re-read of one of my favorite expat books – Driving over Lemons.
So, whether it is lemon or limon, çay or chai, be well, muddle through whatever you face, take care of eachother…and see you soon for more highlights on the road from Selcuk to Bozcaada coming soon.
- 2011 Interlude: Hurricane Irene, Chicken Little and the Tough Turk (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- 2011 Interlude: Driving me nuts – on the way to our date! (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Driving to Selcuk: On differences in roadtrip preferences in a couple… (slowly-by-slowly.com)