Don’t ask soldiers for directions: Getting scammed, getting lost, getting giggly


What couple doesn’t know that you can learn much about your relationship through travel “experiences.” We learned early on that we did well together on this front, with M. managing the driving aspect of things and me taking on the navigatrix role. We have navigated many a back road sans GPS, but Cyprus has presented us with an, ahem, wonderful challenge.

Karagöz howls with glee at my admission to this truth. “I begged the Gods for some good old-fashioned chaos on this trip!” He cackles as he rubs his hands together briskly before Hacivad Bey yanks him off of the table and kicks him down the beach a ways. I watched him fly about like the calfskin tumbleweed he is until he faded into the sunset of the Altin Plajı (Golden beach) way far East on the Karpaz penninsula which points like a finger to the chaos on the Turkish-Syrian border across the Ak Deniz (Mediterranean Sea). It is as hard to imagine what is going on there tonight as it is easy to imagine Aphrodite’s birth right here in this bay.

“Now, M’lady,” Hacivad says rather haughtily, “now you can get on with your diatribe on the highs and lows of marriageI mean story about your first night on the island!” Sighing, I responded with “While I’m not writing a non-diatribe on the highs and lows of marriage,” I said with a wink, “why don’t you write a dissertation about the centuries of battle between you, Hacivad bey, and Karagöz!”

And with that statement, there was silence, so I turn back to you, reader.

After the short flight from Istanbul to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), we exited the plane despite the insane bum-rush-crush of folks piling to the front of the plane as soon as it touched down and hadn’t even stopped rolling along. Although many were in winter coats, it was a balmy 75F at 9 pm. Remember, folks, it’s November!

Throwing our rucksacks over our shoulders, we headed out to locate our rental car. Searching high and low, there was no “North Cyprus Car Hire” to be found. We asked police, airport people and finally the only car hire agency in the airport – Sun Car Rentals. My ears began to tingle at the possibility of a scam when the gentleman behind the desk didn’t seem phased by this happenstance one bit. “Oh,” he said flatly, not looking at M. directly after trying the telephone number on our reservation sheet, “this is a scam. Did you check outside to see if they are waiting for you with a sign.”

We had & now knew that we were renting a car from this place – they had us. And tabi canım, (of course dear), they couldn’t meet the price of our reservation and we paid more. Taking the whole thing in stride, we thanked the lucky stars that at least we hadn’t given our credit card to the scammers – and giggled gleefully about what a well executed scam this was on the part of Sun Car Rentals. It had to be Sun Car Rentals that came up with the scam – who else is to benefit if no credit card is involved? In the absence of North Cyprus Car Hire, all of the business gets funneled to the reigning monopoly. We cut another notch in our collective belt of travel experiences and drove out of the lot – Brit style, on the left side of the road – and by “we” I mean M., who took to it like a fish to water.

Now I was on deck, charged with getting us to a gas station as the car was empty (hah!) and then on to the mountain village of Bellpais (Greek name) or Beylerbeyi (Turkish name) in the Girne (Turkish name) or Kyrenia (Greek name) province. Immediately, I noticed that despite a decent level of detail, our map had no highway numbers. Lighting on the highway itself was spotty and it was a moonless, pitch-black night – and we seemed to be driving through the buffer area around the famous “green line” that separates Northern Cyprus from southern Cyprus, where Greek is spoken. Add to this that the directions we had from the hotel might as well have been written in Old Church Slavonic give where they were taking us, I began to realize it could very well be a night of dead reckoning at best.

Crumbling the old Church Slavonic directions with fervor, I accidentally knocked a few of the Karagöz puppet troupe off of the back window ledge as I tossed them out of sight. Mumbling my apologies to my dear puppets, I began to study the map and piece things together. Being the navigatrix, I quickly re-routed us towards Bellpais.

As we drove on through the dark, we began to realize the nature of Cyprus – a struggling country, we surmised. M. told me about the stories he has heard about how the South side of the island controls the electricity for all of the north (ah – thus the driving in the dark here and there). Apparently, this goes on mostly in summer, to harm the TRNC’s tourist economy. But more on geopolitics another day.
We were too busy being happy and in love at the prospect of solving our travel conundrum together sans cep telefonu (mobile phone).

After driving too far, engaging in harrowing turns and spluttering with both giggles and a bit of anxiety at one another over the next two hours, we finally found what on the map clearly had to be the road for Bellpais – which soon led past a large Turkish military camp to a dead end. Not seeing any place to ask directions, I suggested that I go up to the military gate and ask the solider on duty – the only human around.

Well, you know how it is about the stereotype about some people asking directions and some people not liking to ask, but M. surprised me, saying “Are you crazy, I won’t let my wife do that – talking to them is dangerous – and for a woman that is dangerous, I will do it. Don’t call me sexist in your blog because I said that.” Giggling, I demurred whilst also remembering M.’s great fear of going near any Turkish military compound – something I have always thought paranoid or post-military-PTSD related in his case. But I soon learned to respect his fear on this matter.

As M. pulled the car up to the gate – not too close – we saw the soldier at the front cocked his automatic machine gun. I gulped, and I could feel M.’s anxiety well up. It was past 11 at night and it was just plain spooky. Clearly, M was desperate enough to get us to the hotel safely to be willing to ask for directions. Opening the car door slightly, he called out “Kolay gelsin, abi!” (May your work be well, big brother – a common greeting that shows respect. He then went on to ask permission to exit the car in order to come up and ask for directions, which surprised me, and was told to stay where he was and not get out of the car. I saw two other soldiers rush to the front gate. It felt surreal. I heard the puppets engaging in the duck and cover position, and I realized that my “always ask the policeman/soldier for help American naïveté” was blindingly stupid.

“You need to get away from here,” the soldier, gun very much at the ready, said, “this is a sensitive area.” Although I couldn’t understand much of the Turkish wording, the tone was abundantly clear. “Go back on the highway and approach Bellpais from the other side of the mountain.” Needless to say, we got out of there as fast as we could, M. mumbling along about never, ever, ever stopping at a military base again. “You don’t realize sweetheart, you don’t understand, I left Turkey because you could full well die over something as dumb as asking directions – I shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have done it!” M. went on to explain that still, after 40 years, the Turkish military in the TRNC is still on high alert for incursions from the south – or suicide bombers from Kurdish political groups…so it was no wonder this happened.

I hit an emotional pothole when trying to make him feel better by pointing out that one silver linings of the loss of my Dad 1.5 years ago is that M. Didn’t need to live in fear of explaining what had happened to me if something went wrong like he used to. This was met with an eye roll and a reminder that it wouldn’t be easy to tell my Mom either, assuming he survived the soldiers bullets. Further, Kenne, the Queen of Etiquette puppet began poking me in the ribs at the senseless stupidity of this comment. I quickly steered the conversation out of that bad direction by regaling M. with details about the famous writer from Bellpais, Lawrence Durrell, as we continued on single lane, dark, windy roads. Kenne still muttered in a disapproving tone in the backseat of the car as her maidservant, Zenne, fanned her furiously.

Still lost as all get out, we eventually found help from a family whose lights were on…they could not have been more gracious about our late night visit. One of their sons had studied in Richmond, Virginina. As they only spoke Turkish, M.took in the long explanation about how to get to Bellpais – which as navigatrix I knew he would never remember, but it at least got us started in the right direction.

In the end, we found the Bellpais Monastery Village Hotel with only two more directions-referral stops, and sunk into our couch to watch the news on Al Jazeera with a shared can of well-earned Efes beer and a fit of the giggles that saved the day. So remember, soldiers may not be the best choice to seek help from when lost in Turkey or the TRNC. Allah, hallah (said when highlighting a big sad, bad, surprising or funny point) it’s a sad world sometimes, thank goodness for having a partner to giggle out the anxiety with at the end of the day!

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Searching for the red thread: On structuring a Turkish-American marital memoir (Part 1)


In search of my elusive red thread – the thing that will pull my memoir together…note that as in this photo, in which the spool is somewhat blurry, so too is my own conceptualization of the red thread that pulls this body of writing all together…

Today, I am going to talk about my elusive “red thread” as it relates to the writing of my Turkish-American marital memoir. My dear friend and soul sister K., also a professor type who edits students’ papers a lot, refers to the “necessary red thread” in any writing one does.  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 to me as I try to consider the revising of the first draft of my now 300 page memoir on my own Turkish-American marriage “road trip” as I like to call it.  Having completed the manuscript over a year ago, I can now see how crappy it really is – as it has a faulty red thread.  Now my M. read it and loved it, but, of course, he is a biased audience. I cringe when I look at it.  I especially cringe when I look at my first draft as I am so good at finding and elucidating red threads in my academic writing, but I really suck at it here.

I am sure my wonderful brother, would make some very fine bits of advice after a day full of cringeworthy reading.  I am too embarrassed to show it to him as he is an MFA who writes masterpieces full of thick red threads.  The thought of showing this work to him makes me even more stressed out and inspired to keep going, possibly with the help of the #38write movement developed by Kristin Bair O’Keefe over at Writerhead.  Sometimes, you just have to take the “butt in seat” approach, and write – and maybe that red thread will find you there.

Now, red threads also seem to have to do with what my friend, the Turkish-American playwrightSInan Ünel, has to say about the importance structure in writing (as well as in writing practice), and although he doesn’t know it, he has impacted me as I have listened to the few words he has said to me on the topic.  And that reminds me of what my e-friend Jack Scott once said about how he got his first book done (Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey), namely by remembering as a novice writer that “every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.” Well, when it comes to marital road trips, I suppose learning to drive and driving – that could fit with either red threads - and beginnings, middles and ends, – but I am not so sure…

But I digress, because it is easier to talk about others than to talk about my own struggles.  Let me get back to my faulty red thread.  So, in the first draft of the memoir, I center my writing around the idea of our marriage as a“road trip” with “backseat-driving Karagöz puppets.” When I started this project, three years ago, I thought about relationships and marriages as being akin the process of learning to drive- and driving.  There are all sorts of parts of this process:
  • Taking a driver’s education course,
  • Getting a learner’s permit
  • Practicing driving with an overly-anxious parent
  • Finally obtaining the damned driver’s license
  • Getting into an accident
  • Experiencing road rage
  • Missing an exit on the highway
  • Switching lanes
  • Cars breaking down
  • Buying new cars
  • Trading in cars
  • Bargaining for cars
  • Perfecting the art of paralell parking
  • Learning new traffic rules in other countries (such as Turkey, where there are no rules)
  • Getting a traffic ticket…and the like

…And on the face of it, it seems to me, marriage (however you define marriage, legal or not, partnership or otherwise), is really quite akin to learning how to drive a two-handled moving machine of some sort, is it not?  But I was not convinced….here is the current chapter structure

Chapter 1: Being driven: Navigating cultures (This chapter talks about how I came to accept the idea of dating non-American guys, and the various things I encountered along the way – including the beginnings of maneuvering a Turkish-American relationship)

Chapter 2:  Driver’s education:  Serving tea, Episode I (This short chapter addresses the cross-cultural aspects of tea drinking in my British-influenced American household, and M.’s Turkish-American household)

Chapter 3:  Choosing an insurance policy: On veiling and the perfect nightgown (This chapter addresses my preparation for my first trip to Turkey, in which all of my personal stereotypes about what I would find there, along with my families, are laid out in the open)

Chapter 4: Stuck in traffic:  Hair color, wine tastings in a mosque and the call to prayer. (This chapter highlights the utter confusion I often felt in the first few years of my relationship with M. when faced with Turkish realities that did and did not fit the stereotypes I didn’t know I had about Turkey, men and Islam in general)

Chapter 5: Defensive driving:  Turkish love rats, wind farms and environmentalism, Turk-style. (This chapter documents my easing into the realities of what Turkey is and is not as our relationship progressed)

Chapter 6: Three point turn:  Serving Tea, Episode 2 (This short chapter addresses my first botched attempt to acculturate in the form of serving M. tea when his friend visited, and my husband’s dual comfot and discomfort with this action)

Chapter 7: Managing road rage:  On Turkish bureaucracy and the demise of beyaz peynir  (This chapter addresses our families’ views on our elopement, our attempts to be recognized as married in Turkey -and how we drove closer to defining our own Turkish-American cultural space within our relationship) 

Chapter 8: Learning to use the GPS:  Co-navigating the road to Canakkale with Melia (This chapter documents our continued path to understanding how we are percieved as a married couple in the U.S. and in Turkey – and the joys and challenges therein)

Chapter 9: Parallel parking:  Serving Tea, Episode 3 (This short chapter describes a perfect tea service, alla Turca, performed in my United States’ living room – and everything that it meant to me)

So, this is contender #1 for my memoir’s red thread – and although I am not sure it works, it might work. However, tomorrow, I will tell you about my other potential red thread, using a theory of migration often used in social work practice with immigrants in the United States. TO BE CONTINUED

Papers to grade, tea to drink…life in a Turkish-American household revolves around the consumption of these tiny glasses of tea although we have shifted from the traditional sugar lumps to Agave nectar…(Image by Liz Cameron, it has been used before, as the papers I am grading today are electronic, and not those shown here – but the stack is equally large). The tea glass, however, remains the same!

Note: Hello dear readers, this is the first post that comes to you directly from my mouth to the computer screen, no hands involved.  Here’s to Dragon Naturally Speaking Software – it has its bugs, but it works pretty darn well! You can learn more about Dragon Naturally Speaking by clicking on this link.  This is a software program that you train to your voice, and use to speak into the computer’s microphone in order to have your words made into text on the computer screen.  They key, I find, is to speak slowly and pause after each word.  You have to add paragraph breaks on your own – and often it mis-hears names, so you may need to do a bit of editing, but I would say it is 90-95% accurate.  When M. tried it, however, the computer did not recognize many of his words due to his Turkish accent.  So far, we can’t figure out how to train it in Turkish, but luckily, he’s not the one with the shoulder injury! Unfortunately, Dragon doesn’t provide any red thread guidance, either, thank god that artificial intelligence has not yet gone too far.

Today’s post comes as I am failing trying to finish up my grading work before my medical leave begins in earnest.  So, I hope that my momentary procrastination has been interesting to you -perhaps if you too are struggling with your red thread, or how to structure some of your writing.

Çay emergency: The puppets riot, the car dies


çay yok

When I realized we were out of tea (çay), I should have known it was a harbinger of things to come that day...

When I last left you, I was musing on the White Ribbon Campaign which addresses violence against women – and was quite happy to see the dialogue that ensued (thank you, my e-friends).  Our campaign was a success and the puppets’ artfully-crafted ribbons were a big hit with my students.

After a long, 12-hour teaching day last Thursday, full of White Ribbon Campaign events, I wearily made myself a cup of çay in my office with my new hot pot to perk myself up for the long commute home.  After slumping into the seat of my car, puppets splayed everywhere around me with a lot of snoring, I heard it,  the unmistakeable sounds of a car problem.

After calling M., I decided to try to get home, and made it.  We resolved to check it out that weekend unless something more emergent happened.  I got home with a funny engine sound, but no incident. On Friday, we consulted with the resident parental car expert, and decided something or other was loose…and kept on driving the great green lady who has served me so well for the past 12 years.

Saturday morning I awoke early to a great cacophony emanating from the kitchen.  I should have known it was the harbinger of challenges to come that day, but at that moment, I had forgotten all about the green car and all of her odd sounds.  Instead, I was focused on great squeals of horror and cabinet doors slamming and drawers bashing in and out of their spaces, and it left me confused. What in the heck are those puppets up to now?

Still asleep, as of course he can’t hear the puppets and their goings on, M. was sleeping heavily, his face mashed into the pillow in a manner sure to leave creases that might rectify themselves in a hot shower followed by a brisk frigid walk to work.  Sneaking out of bed so as not to disturb M., I tip-toed into the kitchen to see what was what. My dog’s radar ears followed me before he deigned to leave the warmth of his spot at the foot of the bed in favor of loyalty.

I walked in to shattered glass glitter all over the floor – and a çay tabağı (tea saucer) cracked in half. It was then that I noticed that the Write-a-matrix was back (you can read about her here, but to make a long story short, she is the academic writing whip-cracker in my mind). And there she was, in my kitchen, cracking the whip.  “I thought you would never get up, you slovenly, slothful professor wannabee!” she said in the deepest, most disappointed tone ever.  “Liz, you really are a loser.  You have at least 3 manuscripts you are totally ignoring – and 2 “revise and re-submits” that are languishing, untouched, get your sh@@ together!”  She was on one side of the room and Haciyatmaz was on the other side of the room, rocking on as he always does.  As you may recall, he is the guardian of my work-life balance efforts on the writing front, a big fan of me keeping this blog.  Clearly, their battle was being played out in the early morning kitchen (it was only 4:45 a.m.) and the çay tabağı were the casualties thus far…

After cleaning up the mess, I set to brewing tea for the morning – hoping to achieve the just-right “rabbit’s blood” consistency that M. likes so.  You may recall the post on moving from vegetarianism to rabbit’s blood tea, if not, click here.  Of course, as soon as I opened the tea tin, all I was met with were a few strands of forlorn Assam and a few tiny nuggets of Rize çayi.  No dice, no other loose tea in the house.  I settled for a peppermint teabag instead.  While we made it through the morning without caffeine, it wasn’t until mid-morning, when M. took the car to go to his art studio, that I realized we had a much bigger problem on our hands.

As I picked up the phone to speak with M., all I heard was “it’s going to be $923.00.”  To make a long story short, it’s time for a new car.  Hanging up the phone, I decided I needed caffeine desperately, and walked down to the local, expensive market to get my fix – much to the chagrin of BOTH the Write-a-matrix and Haciyatmaz, who have been YELLING IN MY EAR for days now to get writing on something or the other.  Many glasses of çay and car discussions later, we’ve settled on a plan to purchase a new car. We have done the preliminary negotiation – with M. breaking out the major Turkish hard-as-nails negotiation and intimidation tactics, much to the chagrin of a salesperson who finally yelled “uncle,” saying “I’d never play poker with you!” and “my boss will call me a yellow-bellied flatfish and a 220 pound weakling” (whatever that means).

Now that we are back in business on the transportation front, it’s time to brew some çay and get back to writing.