Esma and Safiye Rakkase brawl over a pistachio nut-fueled metropolis

Pistachio nuts!

I’m sitting here crunching on tiny green nuggets of joy – a.k.a. pistachios. And this is thanks to my puppets, who recently stumbled upon some fantastic (in all senses) news from Gaziantep province. And Gaziantep province, tabi canim*, is the heart of pistachio production as many of you know.

My puppets discovered this news online. You see, my puppets have discovered Facebook. I mean, they knew it existed, but they didn’t really “get” it until recently. You see, my puppets have been on sabbatical. They went back to Turkey on sabbatical, and left me here in the United States. I only communicate with them via letter, and often their letters full of cross-cultural advice get here after the fact. They still have a window into my mind from thousands of miles away. As my puppets – the Karagöz Oyunlari – are from Ottoman times, they have really had quite a series of shocks on their Turkish sabbatical. For one thing, there is Facebook, but then there are other things like Glutensiz ekmek (gluten free bread), smart phones – heck – cars! It’s been a roller coaster ride across the millennia for those little critters.

Glutensiz ekmek (gluten-free bread)

But back to the point, it was about pistachios. Karagöz, that devilish trickster, began scrolling through his Facebook feed, and all of a sudden, as I heard it, screeched with glee. “Time to invest in pistachio nut shells!” Hacivad, ever the erudite counterpoint to Karagöz, had to run over just then, to see how he could correct for his compatriot’s latest bout of uncouth behavior.

“What is it this time, Karagöz?” Hacivad hissed through clenched teeth. “Why are you sending the masses on a likely wild goose chase?”

Before Karagöz could answer, two other puppets stepped up before Hacivad and began to explain, in a crescendo of intertwined voices. The voices belonged to none other than Esma, the hippie puppet, and her nemesis, Safiye Rakkase, the vainglorious dancing girl puppet.

Safiye Rakkase’s voice was louder:

“…and so if I sew them together with a silver chain, they make the perfect soft clacking sound when I belly dance! I can’t be without them!”

As Safiye Rakkase paused for a breath, Esma’s voice patched in:

“…and that is why we must begin to save all of our pistachio nut shells – to save the southern Anatolian environment!”

Esma cupped her hand over Safiye Rakkase’s mouth before she could begin speaking again, and the two began a very unladylike tussle. This behavior was especially uncharacteristic of Esma, the hippie Sufi. I was quite gobsmacked to hear of it, actually.  It’s been a long time since we had any puppet battles here at Slowly-By-Slowly.

Karagöz stepped forward at this point – waving his iPhone 6S in my face and rambling on at breakneck speed about how there is a new scheme afoot to develop a Turkish “eco city” for 200,000 people – that is – get this – to be heated by the power emitted from burning pistachio shells. This is real – and you can read about it here.  (Or scroll to the bottom of this post, for the text of the article).

So of course, Safiye Rakkase, the fashionista who dances on stage each night in a Josephine Baker-like outfit, wanted the extra nut shells for her costumes while Esma the environmentalist wanted to save the planet.  But in any case…call me jaded, or just call me partnered with a Turkish man for almost 10 years, but I actually wasn’t that surprised. It seems to me that every few months, some sort of grand scheme, or grand plan, is presented in the Turkish news. It always has the same sort of bones – you know – Turkey is so ahead of the game that it is going to X, Y or Z. It’s just that this time, Turkey is going to find a use for the shells of 6,800 tons worth of pistachio nuts themselves.  At least it isn’t as bad as the recent news that a major political player in Turkey has claimed that Muslims discovered America first…

So back to Gaziantep, which is the source of much more palatable news than that.  Thanks to pistachio nuts, we are going to have, as the article says, a “nut-fueled metropolis.”

Perhaps it is time for me, M. and the Karagöz puppets to move to Gaziantep – we’d be in nutty company for sure!

* this phrase means “of course, dear”

How Pistachios Could Potentially Power the Planet

What would you do with thousands of tons of leftover nutshells? A weird question, to be sure, but one that Turkey — one of the world’s largest producers of pistachios — has been asking itself for years.

Usually the discarded pistachio shells end up in landfills, but nut-loving Turks think they’ve found a far better solution by turning it into biogas, an alternative fuel produced by the breakdown of organic matter.

Now Turkey wants to use pistachio shells to power its first eco-city, which will require fermenting tons of the green waste in so-called digesters and using the resulting gases — mostly methane — to generate heat.

When you plan such environment-friendly systems, you take a look at natural resources you have.

The idea is not as crazy as it sounds. For starters, the green city will be built in what’s arguably the best possible location: Gaziantep Province. This southern region near the Syrian border is the heart of Turkey’s pistachio production, yielding more than 50 percent of the country’s nuts.

“When you plan such environment-friendly systems, you take a look at the natural resources you have. So we thought the ecological city could be heated by burning pistachio shells,” explains Seda Muftuoglu Gulec, the municipality’s expert on green architecture. “If the region was abundant in wind power, we would use wind energy.”

This peculiar source of energy is renewable and cheap because Turkey has plenty of shells to go around, so much so that it exported 6,800 tons — 500 tons shy of the weight of the Eiffel Tower — of pistachios last year, according to the Southeast Anatolia Exporters Union.

Posted in A Karagöz puppet battle, Turkish Food!, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mercan Bey sets the record straight on Zeytinyağlı Kereviz (Ottoman-style Celeriac)

Behold the humble celeriac/kereviz

Behold the humble celeriac/kereviz

Mercan Bey, the Arabian spice trader puppet, woke me up today with a simple request.

“M’lady,” he said earnestly but softly, “you have not let us out to play in the world in a few months, but I really need to cook.  I can’t go this long without cooking.  I would like to make you and M. some proper Zeytinyağlı Kereviz today.”

“Well,” I said sleepily, “no problem, Mercan Bey, we can hop on over to Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods Supermarket) and find you some kereviz (celeriac) before you can say…”

And he was gone, out the door, to market.  I guess these Karagöz shadow puppets are getting a little stir crazy cooped up in the backyard of my brain.

Since I stored the puppets away in mothballs, so much has gone on – from Turkish women publicly decrying the amount of leg room men take up on the subway (bravo) and the resulting argument we had in our Turkish-American household on that topic – to the what feels like the inevitable deployment of Turkish troops to Kobane or elsewhere given the horrific actions of the so-called Islamic State.

And here is a closeup of the face of the kereviz - only a mother could love it...

And here is a closeup of the face of the kereviz – only a mother could love it…

But it is the simple, not even plain, just plain ugly kereviz that has gotten me to blog again.

I think it all started last week as M. and I began our “shared cooking duty” plan – now that I am well enough to go back to work some 2 years later…always the gourmand but rarely the cook, M. has taken up the task of cooking his mother and grandmother’s dishes for me as of late.  Last week, he made his own version of Zeytinyağlı Kereviz – which Karagöz the imp  reminds me was made “with GARLIC instead of ONIONS!”  I did see Mercan Bey shaking his head sadly at this break with tradition.  Of course, would we expect anything less from M., the man who is known to feast on bulbs of raw garlic as if they were apples – when living as far away from people as possible on Bozcaada in the summertime?

While the use of garlic in this classic Ottoman-style dish was a break from tradition, it still tasted good.  But Mercan Bey is here to set the record straight vis-a-vis how to cook Zeytinyağlı Kereviz the PROPER way.

And the final result...Ottoman-style celeriac or "kereviz" for your viewing pleasure - and our eating pleasure!

And the final result…Ottoman-style celeriac or “kereviz” for your viewing pleasure – and our eating pleasure!

And here is what he bought to do what he had to do (amounts vary:

Bunch of dill weed

Bunch of parsley

A few – maybe three – organic carrots

One head of celeriac/kereviz/celery root

A few lemons

Some high-quality olive oil

Some sea salt

A small bag of frozen peas

Half of a mesh bag of small red potatoes

3 sugar cubes

And here is what he dragged out of the bottom drawer of the kitchen cabinet:

The biggest Le Creuset enamelled steel pan

And here is what he did with these items:

1. Thought hard about what it was that his mother and grandmother (Babane not Anane) had done in the kitchen when they were making this dish.

2. Cruised around the Internet for a few instructional videos – nixing about five of them before there was one that helped to refresh his memory.

3.  Washed and carved out the good parts of the kereviz/celeriac.

4. Cut up the kereviz/celeriac into 1.5 inch or so chunks, immediately placing them in lemon water so that they would not discolor.

5. Peeled and chopped carrots into 1 inch or so chunks.

6. Peeled and chopped potatoes into 1 inch or so chunks.

7. Cut the onions into a small chop and lightly brown them in olive oil with salt.

8. Place potato, carrots and peas into the pan, mixed up and cook for 5 minutes.

9.  Drain the kereviz/celeriac, put in the pot along with the juice of one lemon and three sugar cubes and another pinch of salt.

10.  Add one drinking glass of water to the pot – and add enough olive oil (this is subjective).

11.  Cook it low and slow until the knife goes in the kereviz/celeriac.

12.  Let it all cook down – must be eaten cold, not hot – with parsley and dill as garnish.

And it was indeed delicious (although I would put the peas in at the end so that they don’t get mushy and lose their color so fast, but I am an American after all, what do I know?)

Perhaps you will enjoy kereviz as well – and if you do, we wish you “Afiyet Olsun!”

Posted in Gendered moments, Turkish Food!, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Karagöz Puppet-Refereed Debate about Islam as a Religion of Peace

I question what I know about Islam – and what I, and my family, experience about Islam. And this will be a long-haul question, I’m quite sure…

What I have come to realize about myself in the context of my cross-cultural relationship, is that there are things about Islam and Muslim culture in Turkey that are difficult for me to accept. They are difficult to accept as they do not conform to the beliefs (fantasies?) and experiences I have in my marriage and in my extended Turkish family. Once such thing is the relationship between Islam, passages in the Qu’ran and violence, specifically the way the latter two are used by, for example, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Iraq.

After years of cultural sensitivity training based on, for example, abstract Islamic concepts versus lived realities, I was conditioned to expect that my Turkish boyfriend – now husband – would have good things to say about Islam and that I would accept that. Now it appears that I am a hopelessly idealistic and naïve person. In fact, I think if the shoe were on the other foot, I would call myself out as a maker of limited and simplistic assumptions. It’s never that simple. Truth be told, I don’t want it to be true that Islam is not a religion of peace – because *in part* I feel protective of what others might think about my husband and extended family. So, the Karagöz puppets have been stirring my mental pot over the last few days, and the puppets have stepped in to help me think through it all, to make sense of it a bit.

Last night, M. and I read the paper in the breezeway at sunset. Usually, the breezeway on this hot, sun-baked island is a place of respite. And perhaps we need to keep it as such, and not read the newspaper over there, just leave it as a place of peace. However, as I was reading the Hurriyet Daily News, Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet, pointed me to an article about how the AK Partisi (AKP or Justice and Development Party) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to take control of tenure, research priorities and governance of all private, yes that’s right, private, universities in Turkey. As an academic, this is an atrocious recommendation that I find shocking and horrific. Nothing like ISIL, but horrific nonetheless. Such is the slippery slope of reading and discussing the newspaper.

As M. listened to my description of the central points in the article, he snorted “it is shocking – he has moved from being de-centralist, to a dictator. Really, he wants to control everything! I think he has gone over the edge. Sometimes it feels like we are heading to the worst of Soviet-style rule….” And then, after a pregnant pause, he softly asked me, “L., do you think Turkey could ever be an Iran or Afghanistan?” On the suggestion of Perihan Hanım, my fairy godmother puppet, I let the question hang in the air a bit. Touching his hand, I said, “I don’t think an Afghanistan, canım (dear), but maybe something more like Iran.” We sat quietly, noticing the breeze.

M. sighed as he rested the paper on his lap, ready now for another round of discussion. His tone tense, even anguished, he began to remark on the horrific violence being carried out in the name of Islam worldwide. From his perch on my left shoulder, Karagöz, ever the trickster of a marital moment ruiner, began to rub his hands together with glee. “This, he said, “well, THIS could lead to a good and SPARKY argument! Just what I like the BEST!” M. recounted the newspapers’ stories about bodies being chopped up and hearts being cut out in Central Africa, ISIL’s dictates about the role of women in their regime – and even Islamic extremist activists trying to discourage women from bathing in lakes or sea in the religiously conservative Sakarya district near Istanbul. “Sometimes,” M. said wistfully, “it seems that Muslims are making the most trouble in the world.” Shaking Perihan Hanım’s calming influence loose, I countered with “Well, geez, what about Mexico and all the drug-related deaths and kidnappings? Columbia? Central America and the gangs imported from the United States?”

Seeing pain and even fear in M.’s eyes now, I stayed quiet as he waived his hand as if to brush my suggestion away, “but that is economic, class-based, this is about religion at the core.” Although I was not sure I agreed with him, and despite the fact that I believe religion and socioeconomic status class matters can and do intersect, I stayed silent. I have begun to learn, after 10 years in this relationship, that there are times to listen and ponder what one’s spouse says, as conversations can go on for years (if not decades (Inşallah!), so why rush into it now when the topic is sensitive!). Perihan Hanım made a notation in the form of a check mark in her notebook (she keeps score of when I can temper my stubborn need to argue every single point, no matter the topic, in favor of maintaining some level of peace).

Things settled down a bit as we went into the village for our nightly Internet dosage, not to mention our addiction to ada cayı (an herbal, citrusy tea). We even splurged on a dessert of sakızlı muhallebi (mastic pudding with pistachio dust) *and* sakızlı kurabiye (mastic cookies) for dessert. But then Karagöz seemed to take the proverbial wheel once more as we were driving home from the village later that night. Karagöz began to giggle – with a distinctly evil undertone – as once again, M. recounted some of what he had read in the evening news. He highlighted the response of one commentator to an article in which the notion of Islam as a religion of peace was questioned rather heartily. Celebi, the modern maven puppet pointed out “such is the wonderful capacity of this Internet thingy for spurring debate, in written form, underneath newspaper e-articles.”

My ears perked up – as did my marital sense that trouble might as well. But for once, the ever-increasing influence of Perihan Hanim (perhaps manifested in the form of our couples therapist’s teachings), I began to make the argument I usually make with American Christians or Jewish people who counter the claim that Islam is a religion of peace. “Well, canım, everything exists on a spectrum, that’s what I feel. ISIL is just one side of the spectrum. I believe most people are weighted on the other side in the everyday practice of Islam.”

Yehuda Rebbe, ever the wise one, pulled me aside just then, suggesting that I take a moment to consider where my strong feelings on this matter emanated from. “You, M’lady, were raised in a Christian family, albeit a Unitarian Universalist one. And you should tell your readers, those unfamiliar with that section of Protestantism, that “UUs” are very left-leaning and draw on *all* religious text in seeking truths about the world.” And it is true, raised as a politically-aware UU, Sunday mornings at church often included sermons inclusive of both the bible and the Qu’ran…not to mention Hindu and Buddhist texts as well as thoughts from a range of ancient and modern philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche.

Although exposed to some Islamic thinking as a youth, I didn’t think about it very deeply. I was given ample enough opportunity to explore the Qu’ranic passages in sermons and in Sunday school, when we compared aspects of the Bible and the Qu’ran and the conclusion of peace as the “red thread” in that religion made sense to me. But this was all “book learnin’” and devoid of the lived reality of Islam in different cultural contexts.

Not able to stay out of a potential sparking spot, Karagöz burst in. “What?” Karagöz said haughtily, “Well! You *were* a young and impressionable schoolgirl – and those were decontextualized discussions. Have you forgotten that you were not taught about how Mohamed took on a 15 year old wife- something your husband always refers to as child sexual abuse? You didn’t learn about THAT in Sunday school, did you! And don’t even start to make an argument about historical relativism, which is sacrilege as a feminist!”

So, let’s think about what was going on while I was a schoolgirl of the 1970s and 1980s. As the oil crisis unfolded in the 1970s, as American hostages were taken by Islamic militants in Iran in the 1980s and as Iranian refugees in my own school talked about many things – including having to start wearing the veil – I held on to my convictions about Islam as an essentially peaceful religion. I was also heavily influenced by Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi’s writings on the empowering aspects of Islam for women – and on Islamic feminism. “How,” I remember wondering, “Could Islam be all bad?” So, I held on to the idea that Islam was a religion of peace.

But here I was in 2014, in the car with my husband, a man whose identity card reads “Muslim” because placing “atheist” on the card would “give him trouble,” as he puts it. And I felt unsettled. Maybe I need to yank the wool off from over my eyes – well wait – my husband is about to do that for me: “Well what about the point that if Islam is a religion of peace, how is it that Mohamed’s sword, one of which sits in Topkapı Palace, was used to kill infidels in the many wars he fought in.   How can a prophet have a sword, how can a prophet kill people? How can anyone, but anyone, say this is a religion of peace?” And I was stumped, I have read the passages about killing infidels, but have somehow explained this away as a product of history – much as we don’t take all of the Bible’s teachings literally anymore. Without my English language Qu’ran on hand, I don’t have the capacity to turn to scholarship to resolve this debate for myself- and I think I have become smart enough to realize that even that would not suffice.

Perihan Hanim stepped in to my view again at this point, reminding me to calm any upsurge of ire, and remember the context in which my husband understands Islam. M., who recounts that he wished to see and feel God as a child, was let down then, when he could not feel what others purported to feel. While his paternal Grandmother said her prayers at most every namaz (call-to-prayer by the muezzin), she was the only one in the family to do so. Nobody in the family visited a mosque unless someone died. And, when they did, M. reports, they felt distinctly like fish out of water. And with the horrors of Iran in the 1970s one country away from him, M. decided then and there that Islam was not a good thing – especially when mixed with nationalism. This notion is one of his most firmly held beliefs (and, I would argue, fears). However, unlike others I have met in his family and circle of friends, he has retained the ability to hold respect for others’ religious beliefs in Islam or any religion – regardless. Clearly, M. is the product of a wholly secular upbringing during the 1950s and 1960s during which Social Democrats were in power, and religion was truly separated from the state. Of course he sees Islam in a darker light.

Yehuda Rebbe, no stranger to arguments about whether Islam is a religion of peace or not, joins Perihan Hanım now, to soothe my ruffled feathers for the night. “M’lady, as the ISIL points its efforts north towards our part of the Levant, I suspect this is a discussion that will intensify, and hopefully deepen. As your university’s Indian Philosophies professor taught you, living with duality is one of the most central essences of life’s challenges. Remember that, and keep thinking, and listening, and learning. For what else is there to do?”

“Well, fooey!” Karagöz snorted, “that’s not nearly as much fun as the arguments we normally make these two have!”



Posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Early exposure to Islam, On Islam and Muslims, Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments