The Karagöz puppets return…with a kabak and some çapak for my Turkish lesson

Kabakler - a number of squash (Image by Liz Cameron)

Kabakler – a number of squash (Image by Liz Cameron)

Early yesterday morning as I lay sprawled out in bed, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the learned Hacivad Bey Puppet who for once, oddly enough, was standing right next to the Karagöz puppet himself. These two usually do not get along – so their presence together made me sit up and take notice.

“Bey efendiler, what are you up to so early in the morning,” I managed, my voice horse with sleep.

“Well, M’lady,” Hacivad Bey began, “we have come to determine two things, that you need to lighten up a bit and move away from this fear-related writing for now and also that you need to kick it up a few notches on your Turkish learning – your friend over at Turklish has some great ideas about infusing Turkish into your everyday life. This, of course, will help you feel less afraid to walk around the city – and probably will help M. as well.”

“Hell,” Karagöz inserted, pushing Hacivad Bey out of the way rather rudely, “and you just need to have some more fun! Enough with the deep conversations on gender, class, culture and violence against women – get up, go out with your husband and have fun with him – and work on your Turkish!!!”

“Fun,” I thought, rubbing the çapak out of my eyes, “how am I going to be FUN when I’m not feeling very FUN these days? And FUN in TURKISH? Sigh” And as I took the tissue from my bedside to remove the çapak from my eyes – or what my Mother referred to as “the sleep” and yet others referred to as “eye boogers,” it hit me. My relationship with speaking Turkish began with this very word – çapak. If I am to re-invigorate my attention to learning more Turkish, let’s start there.

This was the first word I learned in Turkish, oddly enough. Way back in 2004, M. met me for coffee early in our courtship and said “Oh, you have some çapak in your eye,” and gently brushed the crusty nugget of sand-sized material out of my left eye socket.

Here is a çapak - or a common bream fish

Here is a çapak – or a common bream fish

Hmmm,” I reflected, “çapak. That’s an interesting sounding word.” After reciting the Turkish alphabet to me, began to rhyme in Turkish – you know – çapak, tabak, kabak…in other words, eye booger, table and squash. At this moment, Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet called out from somewhere, likely the kitchen, as he is re-arranging our spice shelf these days. “don’t forget that çapak also refers to sea bream – a fish!”

Later that night, I sat on the couch with M. to watch our secret, guilty pleasure – “The Bachelor.” This is a television show in which one man or one woman takes his/her time in assessing 25 marriage candidates only to eventually choose one with whom to tie the not. Aside from the obvious gender commentary that runs rampant on our couch as we scream at the television, we are obsessed with what this television puts people through from a group psychology perspective – forget even getting as far as problematic gender imagery. And as we sat there, along with the Karagoz puppet troupe lined up on the couch behind us, M. cracked and munched, cracked and munched his favorite roasted pumpkin seeds – aka the ones from the kabak mentioned above.

As I had been working on my Turkish the whole day, I turned to him, jubilant, and exclaimed “Kabak!” I, of course, thought I was showing my ever-increasing knowledge of Turkish. M., on the other hand, nearly spit his kabak seeds in my face as he laughed out loud. After a kiss on the cheek, he explained his intense mirth – “Canım (dear),” he explained, “to say KABAK to someone means – well – they are a simple minded, not-too-rich-in-the-brains-department kind of person, um, in other words, an idiot!”

And so goes another day in the life of a Turkish American couple where the vernacular is usually the devil in the details.



Migration as a cross-cultural marital metaphor? On structuring a Turkish-American memoir (Part 2)

Today, I am going to continue my musing about that elusive “red thread” I wrote about yesterday.  In case you missed it, this relates to the writing of my Turkish-American marital memoir.

And in case you don’t know what in the heck a red thread is, a dear friend of mine who is a great writer and editor refers to the “necessary red thread” in any writing one does.  As I said yesterday, and I quite like the metaphor, it is the theme that pulls it together, the point that acts like a magnet for all of the words included in any given bit of writing.  And it is this red thread that is elusive at the moment while revising of the first draft of my now 300 page work.

Yesterday, I explained that I had started writing this memoir by using the metaphor of driving – as I think of the marriage as a road trip.  However, now that I think about it, although I identified that as a red thread yesterday, it actually may be more of a structure, such as the one my friend Sinan spoke of. So, whether it is a red thread or a structure or whatever it may be – let tell you how I got to this place (“as if there were a choice!,” Karagöz, the sarcastic trickster puppet points out.)
So, a couple of years ago, I read Travelling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey and France, which is a double memoir written by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor.  Structured into three sections inspired by the Demeter/Persephone myth: LOSS, SEARCH and RETURN, the memoir’s red thread emanates vibrantly – it is about growing up and growing old – and the relationships between mothers and daughters.  Clear as a bell, it had structure, and a glowing red thread, it was glowing so much, it was really almost neon, if you ask me.
Upon reading the book for a second time this summer, I sat up in my chair and thought “I need a structure like that – forget the whole driving thing – that’s too confusing – and surely a simple structure will create an infrastructure for my red thread.”  And then my mind went blank, totally blank, for months that felt like sandpaper.  And then, this fall, while re-reading an academic paper I had written that related to immigration, it hit me – there it was – a conceptual model for migration often used in social work practice with immigrants in the United States – and in many ways – our marriage is in constant migration.
Reflecting further, I thought, we do travel between worlds both while in Turkey and while in the United States.  M. always says he feels more American in Turkey now.  I am often thinking about Turkey while engaging in normative American behaviors – or Turkish-American behaviors.  We often talk about Turkey.  We eat Turkish food every day.  We drink Turkish tea all the time – and on and on.  And given that idea, that we travel between worlds on a constant basis at both the micro and a macro levels, what does a conceptual framework for migration do for structuring this memoir – or for finding my red thread?
So the conceptual model of migration I found goes like this:  When working with immigrants to a new country, there are three phases they may be in.  And, as a social worker, one should assess for which phase that person is in so that you can put yourself in their shoes some.  Those three phases are: Pre-migration; Transition and Re-settlement.  Now, as a student of the impact of globalization and transnational migration patterns, I know full well that this conceptual model is flawed – as many people only migrate on a temporary basis, with the intention of returning “home” someday.  With globalization we are exposed to cultures and subcultures constantly, able to rotate between places and homes and cultures very easily, if the penny permits, we are not isolated – and we are dealing with it all, all at once. So, this started to make sense vis-a-vis how I experience my cross-cultural marriage.  There was something there I felt I could work with.
So, I began to think about migration. Now, I have not migrated anywhere permanently, except perhaps in my own mind.  And I am hardly an expatriate at this point, although that is the group of folks I feel most akin to.  And that is why the workshops conducted by those super-smart and interesting ladies over at Global Niche are calling me like a siren song – as they can relate to the confusion of place, culture and identity in the cross-hairs of in-between. M. is with me in those cross-hairs, and I think that somehow our time both in the United States and in our extended stays in Turkey has caused me to migrate my mind and perhaps my thinking and some day-to-day practices of life. As for M., he migrated from Turkey to the United States in part as a way out of tradition and customs that did not feel right to him, akin to rubbing a dog’s hair the wrong way, constantly.  And perhaps that is why life in another culture comes easily to him, I don’t know.
Migration is also a comfortable concept to me – my Grandmother and Grandfather emigrated to New York City from Spain and Scotland, respectively, and never quite found themselves here or there.  My other Grandmother emigrated from Quebec province as a baby, and the spectre of other-ness haunted her for a time.  My stepmother and stepsiblings grew up in Kenya and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and migrated an international fiber into the fabric of our blende family. My good friend Trisha Thomas is a cross-cultural mother – an American living in Italy for many years now – and she thinks on these issues all the time over at her blog, Mozzarella Mamma
So, yes, I grew up with a well-steeped and stewed sense of other-ness, and mixed-ness vis-a-vis my family’s cultural elements and the migration patterns that led to that.  And as a result of all that, here is the structure I have today – option #2 – and who knows where it will go from here… 
Section 1: Pre-migration: This section of the book will be a series of chapters about my early exposure to Islam, Muslims and countries in the Middle East.  It would also address my youthful obsession with being different – and exploring different cultures.  It will end with a chapter on meeting M. and the beginnings of my foray into a cross-cultural relationship.

Section II: Transition: This section of the book will address what started to happen as M. and I began to get serious and move towards marriage.  In these chapters, I will address the challenges we faced as families in both countries were met – and as cross-cultural booby traps began to explode.

Section III: Resettlement: This section of the book is where the true learning and comfort-creation began to emerge.  I began see beyond the mystery and glam of being married to a foreigner and we began to make our own way with which traditions we did and did not want to keep in our married life.

And now, as I come back to read this before posting it today, I remember my friend Deonna’s wise and thoughtful words to me in response to yesterday’s post.  Deonna is also writing a memoir – and she said “I will tell you something simple, but even I can’t follow it: don’t over think it.”  I’m in your club, Deonna, and now I am even more confused!  However, I am very certain that the way will become clear! 

Mozzarella Mamma Rolls into Istanbul

Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus, in Istanb...

Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus, in Istanbul, Turkey. Français : La Mosquée Ortaköy, sur le Bosphore, à Istanbul (Turquie). Türkçe: Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Ortaköy Camii). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As one half of a  Turkish-American marriage, I am always interested in other people’s experiences in the living of a cross-cultural life. And as you may have gathered,  I have a troupe of traditional yet modern Karagöz shadow puppets who have assigned themselves to me in order to help me navigate my Turkish-American life.  That is what this blog is all about – a little bit reality and a little bit fantasy.

While I take the sci-fi meets anthropologist approach to documenting my experiences in between cultures, another blogger takes a more straightforward approach.  One of my favorite blogs on cross-cultural married life is written by Trisha Thomas, the author of Mozzarella Mamma: Deadlines, Diapers and the Dolce Vita.  Trisha dishes on all things mamma, all things wife and all things journalist as she balances the care of her three kids – with panache and wit.  However, at the moment, she is enjoying Istanbul, which you can read about by clicking here. Looks like she has ascertained that female Istanbullus are giving Romans a run for their money on the wearing of high heels and that there are more than one pimples on the face of Turkey’s current strong economic and political reality…I’ll leave the rest to her.

Enjoy Istanbul, Trisha and Gustavo!