Ten Years, Ten Moments: Hacivad Bey Speaks

Our niece Melia, having a tactile experience outside of the Haghia Sofya...just one of Hacivad Bey's top ten moments from our ten years together

Our niece Melia, having a tactile experience outside of the Haghia Sofya…just one of Hacivad Bey’s top ten moments from our ten years together

Today, Hacivad Bey poked his head around the corner of my living room and inquired about my well-being.  “It’s been a long time, M’lady, since you’ve let us come out and play!”  Sighing, I responded, “Indeed, Hacivad Bey, it has. I’m just not in shape for blogging like I used to.”  So much has peaked the puppets’ interests in the last six months – by my fingers have been leaden to their whims.

What has, however, managed to sneak through, are the puppets’ thoughts on the Top Ten Moments of our Ten Year Cross-Cultural Roadtrip. We celebrated our ten-year-together anniversary this year (and 5 years with the legal papers)…and there is much to look back on.  So much, in fact, that Hacivad Bey has handed me a stack of notecards with careful calligraphic penmanship indicating which of those rise to the top, and here they are in no particular order (with my narration)….although not the best blog post, if nothing else, I have enjoyed recalling these special moments, and I am grateful to Hacivad Bey for appearing today and shaking me up a bit!

10. Eating Ayva Tatlisi (a.k.a. poached quince): Who knew a quince could bond two people together quite so deliciously.  For years, M. ranted and raved about his love of Ayva Tatlisi – but only made it last winter.  As soon as I tasted his carefully poached confection, I was taken back to my Spanish Granny’s kitchen – and a dessert I had almost forgotten.  We had two helpings each, as we recollected our childhood love of that dessert.  And then M. told me what Ayva is a slang word for in Turkçe. :)  And we had a good laugh. Click the hotlink that is the title of this item for the whole story. 

9. Bargaining for a Car in the ABD (USA):  Nobody ranks quite as low on the totem pole of scorn as car salesmen…and one of the worst set of offenders are located nary a few blocks from our house.  When we decided on the car we wanted, we headed down the block with our heads held high, an order for me to shut up, and a very secret weapon – namely M.’s Turkish negotiating tactics.  It was all I could do to keep a straight face – and M. scared the bejeezus out of the car salesman who dropped the price as soon as possible.  I loved every minute of it.

8. Freestyling in Turklish: Over these ten years, I have struggled to make time for learning Turkish.  Once successfully off the tenure track at my university, I had no more excuses.  While I amped up my efforts – my attempts to freestyle with my slowy-acquired skills have led to many corrections – and a few big mistakes.  None was funnier than the one I dropped on the 2nd bridge while stuck in gridlocked traffic with my Abla (Big Sister) and her kids, namely “Taş gibi.” Translated as “like a stone,” this phrase is also slang for a hot woman – a woman with some substance.   You’ll have to read the story at the hotlink above to get the picture – literally and figuratively. :)

7. Su Gibi Git Su Gibi Gel with Teyze:  After visiting M.’s Teyze (Aunt) for the first time, a trying visit to say the least, I was happy to be leaving.  I felt terrible about it.  I never imagined not being able to get along with someone – much less someone with whom I did not share a language (the only person in M.’s family for whom that is true).  I turned around to wave goodbye, still hoping I could make a good impression – and saw Teyze throwing water after us.  I burst into tears, presuming that this was her wish to get rid of us.  Pulling over the car to comfort me, M. tried to understand what was wrong – and when I explained through boogery sobs, he descended into laughter.  I had no idea that the tradition of throwing water behind those leaving on a trip was to wish that they would “go like water and come back like water.”  In other words, safely!

6. Seeing Turkey Anew with Our “Child:” One year, we decided to bring our niece, Melia, to Turkey with us.  Fascinated by world religions and travel at a young age, her parents decided to let us have her for three weeks.  And they were a grand three weeks indeed.  While we did all the standard stuff, the most wonderful thing that happened was the response that people had to us as a couple – with a child.  We were clearly “legitimate” as a couple and gained entry into elements of Anatolian society that we heretofore had not.  We were even told “not to come back without Melia next time!”  Over the course of the trip, this led to many rich conversations about our different cultures’ expectations of women, men, couples and families.

5.  When the Karagöz Puppets Met the Archers: Although I (still) have not blogged about it, one of the best moments (drawn out over a week) of our relationship was meeting the illustrious Archers of Okçular and bonding over scads of things – including the receipt of a GENUINE Karagöz set of puppets for me!  After starting this blog, Alan became a devoted supporter – for which I am so grateful!  We became e-friends and several years ago, made the jump from 0/1 bits to face-to-face contact near Dalyan. Our sharing conversations barely paused for a week – and spanned the gamut from hilarity to tears about all manner of things Turkish, political, botanical, familial and otherwise.  Can’t wait to see the Archers of O this summer on our hunt for the blue mollusk in the Black Sea region!

4. Shared History in Gelibolu’s Lone Pine Cemetery: On my first trip to Turkey with M., we drove from Istanbul to Bozcaada – stopping at Gelibolu (Gallipoli) on the way.  Many people have heard of the national friendship spawned by the terrible battles at this location between the ANZAC forces and the Turks.  Each year, on ANZAC Day, the displays of international friendship are extreme – and being known as the relative of an ANZAC soldier in Çanakkale, for example, is likely to get you a free meal, a story and a sympathetic hug.  While I’m not an Aussie – or a Kiwi – my great uncle ran away from Southern Spain, gained Aussie citizenship and was promptly drafted into WW1 – only to die on the second day of battle at Gelibolu.  My Granny’s favorite, her grief over his death never quite left.  By sheer luck, M. found my great uncle’s gravestone – bringing some level of karmic closure to a painful familial fissure on my mother’s side.  We both cried and hugged each other in the sun, the first of many cultural overlaps on our road trip.

3. Finding another Turkish-American Couple: We know plenty of Turkish-American couples – many of whom we adore and share interests with.  Many of whom we protested with during Gezi Park solidarity protests.  But it was one particular couple we met – and became fast friends with – that have brought an even deeper cross-cultural element of life examination into our lives.  Meeting J. (American) and S. (Turkish-American) has been life-changing.  Something about the constellations of our respective relationships allow us to delve deep into topics that are unique to our relationship combinations.  For example, J. and I have commiserated about our at-times “Turkish wife” status – or the unexamined expectations held by our Turkish partners.  Meanwhile, M. and S. have bonded into blood brothers based on their acculturation level to the U.S. – and more importantly their equal (in my eyes) identification as Turks and Americans.  This sets them apart from others who seem to be one or the other.  We have been welcomed into their extended family and cannot imagine life without them.  So here’s to the Internet for making that happy accident a wonderful reality that has led to so many ‘elevated’ conversations. :) That’s for you, S.

2. Gaining an Abla and Her Kids:  This one can’t be quantified as a moment – but rather a span of time during which one of M.’s best friends became one of my closest…and through that process I not only gained a wise Alba, but a close friend who can translate my unending cultural confusion into understanding and relief.  But she is much more than that to us – she has become our family member in heart. She once famously said to me of her child who stayed with us for a time “You take the meat, I’ll keep the bones” when referring to a short period of collective child-rearing we engaged in. While we have blood siblings – we often wonder – what would I (therefore “we”) do without her?  (We love you and your kids, G.)

1. Saying No Over Lamacuns in Kilis:  For years and years, there have been odd and somewhat unsettling moments in our marriage.  They have always involved me posing a question – and Murat looking at me, but not saying a word.  One of these moments came at a lamacun shop in Kilis, on the Syrian border. We love trying out lamacun wherever we go – as we both grew up with them – M. in Cihangir and me in Watertown, MA, where my Dad picked boxes of them up from the “Exotic” Armenian bakery on his way home from work.  But in any case, there we were in Kilis.  I posed a question to M.  He stared at me – his mouth full of the best lamacun either of us has ever eaten.  And just as I began to feel that familiar feeling of frustration at his odd lack of responsiveness, he lifted his eyebrows – and it hit me – he’s saying “NO!”  It took me 7 years to learn his Turkish body language for “No.” Oy vey, what a laugh we had. I wonder what else there is to learn!



Posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Family Challenges, On writing about my life with the Karagöz puppets, Turklish Moments, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Karagöz Puppets muse on Turkish (neo-colonialist?) influences in Kuzey Kibris

Flags from the Turkish Republic next to that of Northern Cyprus in Kyrenia's castle - two peas in a pod? (Image by Liz Cameron)

Flags from the Turkish Republic next to that of Northern Cyprus in Kyrenia’s castle – two peas in a pod? (Image by Liz Cameron)

Although it has been a few months since our exploration of Northern Cyprus, our consideration of what we saw there continues to be a daily source of discussion. The  Karagöz puppets who inhabit my head, in particular, have much to say, so let me let them speak to you today:

Celebi, the modernist puppet begins the discussion: “The woes of Cyprus. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. These days, people focus on the crisis in 1974 when Greek groups attempted to annex Cyprus to Greece and the Turkish military ostensibly came into protect the scads of ethnic Turkish Cypriots who had lived there for centuries side-by-side with Greek ethnic Cypriots.  So says one part of the story…”  Sighing, he rubbed his head for a while before continuing.

“Many we have met here say that the Greeks were just as bad as the Turks – killing and disappearing many Turks – but the Turks were also bad to the Greeks  – doing just the same. The incident in 1974 goes down in history with Turkey being the bad guy – that’s not a new role for us is it – but the fact is the Greeks were bad too – both were bad it was awful and it is still awful.”  In an unusual fit of frustration and hopelessness, Celebi pounds a glass of single malt and keels over, drunk as a skunk.

Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet steps in at this point (or rather over the drunken, passed-out body of his overwhelmed colleague). “But, my dear friend Celebi – oh – he can’t hear me – well – anyway – there is some sense of a way forward. Between United Nations efforts to reunify the island through a peace process, some small steps have been made. Of course, there was the most recent referendum on the merger of the northern and southern parts of Cyprus. A majority of people on the northern side of Cyprus favored reunification well the opposite was true on the Greek side. A sad situation indeed, despite nascent hope gleaming on the far horizon.” Sighing deeply, he stroked his beard and a tear dribbled down his cheek.

Yehuda Rebbe puts his arm around his teary comrade-in-arms, and takes his turn, saying “Hacivad Bey, let us focus on another aspect of this situation – what we saw on this trip. Overall, our sense of Northern Cyprus was that it was a relatively secular place without too much of the growing Islamist movement we have observed in Turkey over the past decade. That said, the shiny new mosques built in small towns in rural areas felt a lot like the projects we have seen in the more rural areas of Anatolia – perhaps an effort to distribute what some would refer to as “the opiate of the masses.” So what is Yehuda Rebbe getting at here? Well, as I see it, it relates to what M. and I have noted across Anatolia, funding for new mosques may-just-may correlate with voting patterns leaning towards the AKP government.  But who are we to say but mere human observers with no hard data to stand on?

Wishing to move the conversation out of Internet censorship-worthy territory, Safiye Rakkase steps in with her usual flourish.  As she is the expert fashionista amongst the members of the puppet troupe, Safiye Rakkase interjects her unique lens of opinion at this point: “Of the men and women in religious Islamic garb we came across (versus traditional Turkish dress often mistaken for religious Islamic dress), we felt that none had accents that were Cypriot – they were from Kars, Van, Antep and other cities across Anatolia.  That place was more Turkish than parts of the Western Aegean coast in high summer!” Wow, that’s just about as serious as we’ve ever heard from the vainglorious dancing girl puppet, the well-known stomper-of-flamenco-feet, Safiye Rakkase.

Esma, the hippy puppet who is ever interested in the underdog gracefully stepped in front of Safiye Rakkase at this moment – she hoped, you see, to steer the conversation away from potential commentary on fashion in Northern Cyprus.  Pressing her most earnest face towards the crowd, she, takes over the commentary from here: “and while we were happy to see that people from Anatolia had opportunity in Cyprus, albeit funded by Turkish government relocation programs, this effort has clearly and nearly wiped out the unique Turkish Cypriot culture – not to mention the remaining Greek Cypriot cultural enclaves on the northern side of the island for the most part. At times, I felt it might as well have been any province in Anatolia. All the children the human spoke to plan to attend university in Turkey, Turkey was the bright shining star of their future.”

At this point, all of the puppets began to speak (in a big hubbub as they are wont to do) of the almost ever-present Turkish flag seen across the island. As you will note in our header photograph for today, the Turkish Cypriot flag is to the right of the Turkish flag. According to Turkey, technically, Turkish Cyprus is it’s own country.  Of course, Turkey is the only nation that recognizes Northern Cyprus as such (maybe North Korea??). Therefore, what the rest of the world sees is that Northern Cyprus is indeed an add-on to the Turkish mainland (it is, after all, encompassed in the zip code for the southern coastal city of Mersin). Some might even say it is a neo-colonial entity.

A looming statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Dipkarpaz, Northern Cyprus, home to circa 500 Greek Cypriots who remained after 1974 (Image by Liz Cameron)

A looming statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Dipkarpaz, Northern Cyprus, home to circa 500 Greek Cypriots who remained after 1974 (Image by Liz Cameron)

And the neo-colonial feel in Northern Cyprus was egged on by the fact that there were numerous statues, plaques and billboards depicting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. While we “love us some Mustafa Kemal over here at Slowly By Slowly,” we feel it vital to note that he did not, by the way have anything to do with the founding of Northern Cyprus as all of that happened WAY after his death. Troubling. Very, very troubling.

Of course, Karagöz, the agent provocateur puppet, had something to say as well, so we might as well let him speak: “all I have to say,” he squeaks with glee, “is that clearly the Turkish government has f*d Northern Cyprus! What a beautiful country gone to rubbish, smog, poverty & controversy!” And while we do agree with this sprightly and oppositional puppet to some extent, we wouldn’t extend our views to the realm of cursing.

To leave you on a positive note, Mercan Bey steps in as Karagöz is pulled out of the way by his protectors (as in – “get off the stage immediately you oaf!”). As you know, this well-traveled puppet, originally from the Arabian Peninsula, trades spices all over the region. His interests normally fall in the realm of food – And in this case agriculture. Indeed, he has engaged in many conversations with various Cyprian puppets (as the Karagöz puppets do not converse with humans other then M’lady) during his visit, and would like to share the findings of his queries.

Holding his hand up to silence the rest of the puppets, he claims the last word, and it is a positive spin. Clearing his throat, he begins “as you know, recent developments in the ongoing saga of the accession of Türkiye by the European Union has required that trade relations see. Of course, there appears to be a significant and thriving black-market, however this has had a positive impact on the environment overall. As northern Cypriot agricultural products cannot be exported, the nascent nation has decided to only produce that which it needs. This has the odd effect of contributing to a country in which poverty is clearly present, but no one appears to be hungry. Additionally, this has meant that many of the chemicals used to foster agricultural development in other countries are not used here – thus the lovely organic fruits and vegetables – not to mention meet – that we have sampled here.”

So there you have it, the last word is a positive one. Overall, the puppets recommend visiting this interesting country/neo-colonial outback especially if you’re interested in observing a current manifestation of Turkish – informed controversy and sociopolitical intrigue. And of course, don’t forget the joy of delicious natural northern Cypriot cuisine and the quiet breezes on the Karpaz peninsula.

Posted in Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Westward Ho!: Of scorched earth and strawberries in Yeşilırmak

Strawberries galore in Yeşilirmak don't belie the scorched earth nearby…(Click here for link to image source)

Strawberries galore in Yesilirmak don’t bely the scorched earth nearby…(Click here for link to image source)

As you may have seen from our last post, we’ve been eating our way across Cyprus. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to find an amazing restaurant run by a Turkish Cypriot re-patriot named Mustafa. Çiftlik evi was phenomenal and both humans and puppets were thoroughly sated not to mention besotted. After a congenial chat with the proprietor, we explained our plan to head West. Thanks to Mustafa Bey, we stood up from our most excellent repast armed with the name of a tiny hotel in Yeşilırmak, the
westernmost town in Northern Cyprus.

After scooping up all my
bloated puppets and tossing them into my purse, we rolled out of
Çiftlik Evi (Farm House Restaurant) with heavy stomachs and heavier eyelids.

Forget hearing from the Karagöz puppets today – they are in a food coma in the backseat of the car.  You can read about our gorge-fest here.

Scorched earth in Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

Scorched, terraced earth in Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

The road from Gaziveren to Yeşilırmak is as twisty and windy as an ancient
olive tree and often goes by half-developed beach areas that feel a
bit sad and forlorn…but then again it is “winter” in Northern
Cyprus despite the 75 degrees F.  Given our food coma state,
we didn’t talk much over the din of food snoring from the backseat
where my puppets had crashed after a belabored crawling out of the
purse exodus.

An abandoned village near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

An abandoned village near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

“Aha!” M. cried out, “see that – it’s the Islamists
in disguise!”  Too full of food to make too many sounds, I
grunted some sort of “huh?” response. “ASPAVA!” M. exclaimed with
only the glee that an observant, anthropological atheist could.

“ASPAVA Resort and Beach – see it there?” he said, pointing
wildly to both sides of the road.

Yes, I did see the word through the haze of post-food endorphins coursing through my body.

“It is a creative application of Islamic praise and way of life, I suppose,” M.
explained with furvor, “ASPAVA stands for:

Allah (God)

Sıhat (health)

Para (money)

Aşk (love)

Versin (give)

Amin (amen)

“Clearly, the Turkish immigrants from the east are gaining footholds here.” Let me back up and explain a bit: When M. refers to “Turkish immigrants,” he is referring to people from (mostly) Anatolia (a.k.a. the Asian mainland of the Turkish Republic) who received financial incentives from the Turkish government to emigrate to Northern Cyprus after the Greek and Turkish atrocities of 1974. This program was created as a way to stimulate both the economy and population growth after the exodus of many ethnic Turkish Cypriots who had lived there for centuries before 1974. As a result of this program, we met many people – in fact the majority of the people that we met – who were Turkish but had no family history in Cyprus other then the most recent generation.  M. was guessing that the ASPAVA folks fit into this category – as nary a “true” Turkish Cypriot we met had anything religious about them (granted, a convenience sample, but anyway).

Military warning sign near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

Military warning sign near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

So, as we drove along discussing the lovely aspects of the ASPAVA philosophy we passed our turnoff for Yeşilırmak and headed into the area abutting the United Nation‘s buffer zone between Northern and Southern Cyprus.  It was a stark contrast to the lovely ASPAVA ideal, if you ask me.  With military compounds, barbed wire and menacing signs abounding, we began to consider turning around – we wouldn’t want a third run-in with Turkish military types after all!

And as we were looking for a place to pull off the narrow road to turn, we entered an area of scorched earth – presumed to be scorched so that people attempting to cross the border could be easily spotted.  Most sad were the remnants of a village caught in the crossfire as the famous “green line” was implemented to divide the nation.  It looked bombed out – but was likely just impacted by the windy sands of time…despite the Turkish sentries who had set up shop nearby.

Road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

Road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea near Yeşilırmak near the UN Buffer Zone in Northern Cyprus (Image by Liz Cameron)

We were quite saddened by the site of this village…and as we wound our way back to our bed for the night through fields and fields of budding strawberries (Yeşilırmak is famous for its strawberry festival), we reflected on all of the stories we had heard over the past week from Turkish Cypriots still living in the pain of what happened in 1974.  And as much as we hope that the new life (strawberries) can win out in a future for both Northern and Southern Cyprus, we fear that the old life (scorched earth) will continue for some time.

Wintry view of the Ak Deniz over the grape arbor - from our window in the rooms above the Dillarga Lokanta in Yesilmak, Northern Cyprus - the westernmost town! (Image by Liz Cameron)

Wintry view of the Ak Deniz over the grape arbor – from our window in the rooms above the Dillarga Lokanta in Yesilmak, Northern Cyprus – the westernmost town! (Image by Liz Cameron)

And that, my friends, will be what the Karagöz puppets tell me they will rap about in my next post, the events of 1974 in Cyprus and the fallout since…keep it locked for politics, puppet-style!



Posted in On Islam and Muslims, Puppets on the move around the world, Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments