A Şeker Bayramı moment in Provincetown

Constantinople settings and traits (1926)- sek...

Constantinople settings and traits (1926) Şeker Bayramı (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Even the moon and star in Provincetown have an Islamic look these days, ok, just kidding, it’s a Zemanta photo, but I am sure it is true some part of each month (Photo credit: romeroleo)

While walking the dog the other morning in Provincetown (sleepy puppets in tow on my mantle, tabi canım) I was studiously conducting my usual eavesdropping activity.

Now this activity could more *positively* be referred to, Celebi (the modernist puppet) tells me, as the collection (and curation) of my most favorite and surprising overheard snippets from fellow walkers, bikers, drivers and porch-sitters along Commercial Street.

At times, there can be some hum-dingers, but today I will focus on one of those, as it led to an interesting occurrence, let me tell you how this all unfolded.

Kenne unfurled her judgemental puppet-hanky at this point, while scolding, me “one should not listen to another’s conversation, you know, m’lady.”  I ignored the unfurling (brushing it off of my face) as well as the scolding.  “Kenne,” my retort began “I think it was the very basis of the Ottoman court, the listening in to others’ conversations, don’t you?”

As we traded snappy sentences that morning on the way to Wired Puppy for my daily cup of gourmet coffee, I slowly edged closer and closer to the rambler roses – letting her get caught up in them as her Isadora-Duncan-like trailing scarf became entwined in the thorns.

Feeling only a bit badly, as I knew she would, with her puppet magic, catch up to me, I resumed thinking on my “early exposure to Islam” series of blog posts – as these posts are the basis for the first part of the memoir I am writing about this cross-cultural road trip otherwise known as my marriage.

So there I was, at 6:30 a.m., being walked by walking my dog by the scads of hot pink rambler roses, trying to remember how the ways in which Islam and the Middle East in general first became known to me – years before meeting M.  – when I caught a fabulous snippet of conversation while dodging the early morning traffic.

Provincetown natives will recognize the challenge of navigating Commercial Street with a dog during high season when bikes abound. Tiryaki, my narcoleptic, opiate-addicted puppet often intones what sounds like a surfer prayer as I cross the street, saying “dude, may the wave of energy make way for us” before taking another toke on his long, intricate mother-of-pearl-inlaid pipe before slipping back into ignorant bliss.

True to form, the biking population of early morning Provincetown was burgeoning – and I heard two bikers carrying on a conversation that must have been about a recent trip to Egypt.  A dark-haired, bespectacled Izod-shirt wearer called out to his friend – a man in drag at this early hour – saying “Egypt is hot as hell in summer, but add Ramadan onto that and hell is not a strong enough word for that trip.”

“Woo-hoo,” Karagoz, the oppositional-defiant puppet cried out, “now THAT’S some controversial action there – and said on on Şeker Bayramı (Eid-al-Fitr) no less!”  Cartwheeling around with charisma, he screeched after the bicyclists “Atta boys, shake it up!:” Kenne held her head high, grimacing in silence at this behavior.  Although she is the Queen of Maintained Honor and Ladylike Behavior (amongst other titles), she doesn’t even bother with Karagoz most of the time.

The veiled ladies I saw that morning looked akin to this young lady (Photo thanks to Shutterstock footage, click photo for link)

In my haze of grief and disconnection from the Turkish press, I had forgotten it was Şeker Bayramı – marking the end of Ramadan.

Not that we celebrate that, particularly, although I get lots of people attempting to be “culturally competent” in asking me about it at work.  M. usually at least notes the presence of the day, if nothing else, and tells stories about the holiday in his youth when he would visit his elders and get a sweet treat.

Apparently, I have learned, even secular Turks who rarely (if ever) went to mosque celebrated this holiday.  I was not, however, thinking about Şeker Bayramı, I was thinking about what those men had said.  After all of my recent thinking on how the commons should be constructed in a globalized, multi-religious world, the tip of the yarn of that yelled out comment led somewhere that my brain wanted to follow.  Although I valiantly craned my neck forward to catch more of their quickly-whizzing-away conversation, I lost it – but what I didn’t lose actually really and truly surprised me.

As I turned my head back to our dog, crestfallen at missing a listening-in moment, what I saw on the sidewalk coming my way couldn’t have shocked me more.  It was TWO LADIES IN VEILS – they were swiveled back towards the apparently anti-Egyptian men now far down the street on their bikes – and boy were they hoppin’ mad. I can only assume that they had heard the comment and were upset.  The ladies were engaged in hot, impassioned conversation in what sounded to me like an Eastern European language – it wasn’t Turkish or Arabic.  Now,. these were not the chador-draped Saudi Arabian ladies of our stereotyped imagination, rather the kerchief-heads carved ladies so common in Turkey, but still, it was a first for me in Provincetown, of all places.

Kenne, the Queen of Manners, perked up at the prospect of my bad behavior, and proceeded, at that very moment, to give me a hard and fresh slap to bring me back to attention. “DON’T,” she snarled, “stare at these foreign ladies, m’lady, and I do apologize for slapping you, but you are really staring, and you don’t want them to feel out of place – although indeed – they are QUITE out of place even in this live-and-let-live town.”

Gathering myself together, I stooped down to pick up my dog’s poop before heading for my original coffee destination.  “Surely,” I said to the puppets around me (who were all perched like tall Mardi-Gras mask feathers on my back, staring at the veiled ladies going the other way) “I am seeing things.”

Later, as I walked back home on the beach with my extra-large cafe latte and my seagull-happy dog, lo and behold, there were those same ladies, dressed in modest Islamic gear, with greyish-white simple scarves covering their hair.  Clearly out for a morning walk just as I was. Were they tourists? Probably.

Why Muslims in Provincetown – a town often best known for what some might call alternative lifestyles and loose morals in some quarters.  Maybe that is my own stereotype about what Muslims may or may not want to see – I mean look at Postmodern Muslima who openly blogs about her relationship to sex as well as her Muslim faith.  Or, for that matter, check out Deonna Kelli Sayed, who writes about similar matters here.

Regardless, those headscarves that can be so controversial in Europe and parts of the Middle East, well, they have hit Provincetown as well…we are truly a globalized world even out here on the Cape Tip.  I wonder if they wear burquinis.  That thought even got me thinking back to my guerrilla theatre escapades in 2004-2006 on the beaches of Bodrum.  Perhaps not the MOST respectful writing on people who choose to wear the hijab, but if you read all of those posts, you may sympathize with me.

That morning left me (and the puppets) with a lot to think about.  What do we care if veiled ladies walk in Ptown? What does it mean? Do we have to analyze everything (yes)?  What does this latest drip of globalization mean for the whole melting candle?

Faced with these questions and more – not to mention some apparent homesickness for their beloved Ottoman court in Bursa, those puppets, well, they have retreated to their normal what-to-do-when-confused activity – spin Sufi-style, en masse, on the wooden lazy Susan on the center of the table.  It’s whirring away, so we are sure to have more posts on veiling soon enough.

Approaching death in a Turkish-American relationship: Is it time to stir the irmik helvası?

Χαλβάς Σιμιγδάλι

A bit of irmik helvası (Photo credit: sofiagk)

Surrounded by the puppets and M. on the crinkle-comfort white couch, I listened to the filtered  sound of traffic in the windy streets of Nişantaşı coming in through the slanted, modern windows that opened towards me, as opposed to just the usual up.  It was a new version of “crack open the window a bit” as far as this old-fashioned house design girl was concerned.

Having received the news that my father would be moved to hospice, and that I should consider coming home, the swirls of thoughts rendered my mind as unclear as a demagnetizezd radar instrument.  Part of my brain recognized G.’s slow motion voice about where to change the Turkish airlines ticket, but the cacophony of the puppets peppered questions got in the way.

Kenne, Queen of Manners and Ladylike Behavior took the lead, shepherdessing the cengi dancing ladies as well as a reluctant to leave her mirror Safiye Rakkase (the vainglorious dancing girl) and the like into a triangle behind her.  “M’lady,” she intoned with great seriousness and caring, but also a wee dram of pomposity, “is it time to begin stirring the irmik helvası? Or is there a different tradition you wish us to learn?” I should add here as a side note, that Irmik helvası is a rich semolina dessert that while readily available – is also traditionally served after a funeral, when the Imams pray at the home of the bereaved.

Before I could consider how to answer Kenne, Perihan Hanim, my fairy godmother puppet, swung down from on high to whisper in her ear that it was too early for irmik helvası - explaining that hospice is a place where people go at the end of life, to bring some dignity to the dying process and to bring supports for the family into place.  Red-faced and teary at the thought of suggesting irmik helvası before someone had passed away, Kenne slunk away in disgust with herself, having failed her role as a traditional lady in search of maintained honor.  I heard her in the bedroom, pulling down her puppet-sized laptop, as she commenced thrashing the keyboard to produce another new chapter on cross-cultural etiquette in non-Ottoman eras.  I am sure it will be a best-seller.

Karagöz snorted and rolled his eyes, but out of respect for me, I presume, did not jump, flip or twirl about the room, as that trickster normally does.  Nor did he engage in taunting epithets hurled this way and that.  I think he really did not know what to do with himself…as if channeling this aspect of Karagöz himself, M. turned his mouth to my ear and reminded me “you are going to have to tell me what to do and what to expect as I do not know how you deal with this end of life in your country.  I will support you however you need.”

Hacivad Bey (the learned sufi elder) and Yehuda Rebbe, (a Jewish wise man puppet) those senior statesman, nodded their approval at this utterance while Mercan Bey, the spice trader from the Arabian peninsula snuck out to the Mısır Çarşısı for a last load-up of pul biber and baharat before the long flight home to Boston.  Esma the hippie puppet just began to massage my always-aching feet with rose of Damascus oil as Tiryaki Bey, the opium addict, blew smoke in my face to hasten some sleep before the hard days to come.  It was the only way he knew how to help.

And as my mind pixellated  in grainy chunks like so many slow-Internet connection bits, I recognized the rose scent mixed with Tiryaki’s pipe smoke wafts, I let the reality sink in. This was “it,” my Dad was going to die soon. We were heading home to the United States to spend time with Dad in his last days.

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Getting kids to eat in Turkish and American households: Your food is crying behind you…and “the starving Armenians”

Lately, I have been writing a set of posts about my early exposure to Islam – or anything remotely related to it (click here for a link to all posts of mine on that topic).

I am trying to get back in touch with how I came to learn about Islam – even if it was biased learning.

This is part of my effort to examine the potentially deep-seated views I may hold about M., his family, or his nation of birth, in my sub-textual reality or as the hard-core Freudian psychoanalysts might perhaps say, my id.

And it was this dredging effort, this effort to remember, that led me to turn to M. one day and ask, “canım, what did your mother say to you to get you to eat all of your food as a child?”

Of course my M., who was apparently the perfect child (which he annoyingly points out when we see screaming children throwing a tantrum in public or being too loud), explains that he never ever had a problem with this other than the times that he had pneumonia (you can read more about his childhood illness and the oxygen cure here).

During those bleak days, he told me, his mother would encourage him by saying in the sweetest of maternal voices, “canım, eat your food please, or it will go crying behind you!”  Hmmm.  I thought, “crying behind you.”

A bit of further explanation left no etymological data for analysis, and neither did a Google search.  Was this rooted in some historic challenge to food availability?  Unclear.  Probably just the non-culture bound efforts of yet another mother attempting to get her kid to eat – one of millions around the world.

As I was engaged in my googling effort, M. turned to me and asked the obvious follow-up question to mine – “what about you, canım sweetheart, what did your mom say to you?”  I sighed, put my laptop aside, and said “she told me to eat my New England boiled dinner without complaint and to remember the starving Armenians.”  M. sat up, eyes wide – “no kidding!”

Nope, no kidding.

M continued, with a look of shock: “And what did  you think about that – I mean – did you understand this was about the Armenian genocide?”

Sighing as I squinched my brain into looking-back mode, I said “honestly, no, I just had the sense that people were hungry, that there was some kind of a tragic emergency – akin to what was happening with the droughts in East Africa at that time, I suppose.  I had no idea about the hotly-contested matter of whether or not there was genocide or not. It wasn’t until I met you and you explained the controversy when we saw that Armenian genocide poster in the Armenian district here that I put it all together.”

I was referring to the massive memorial billboard about the some-say alleged atrocities committed during the Ottoman empire that M. and I had seen in the Armenian neighborhood where we do our weekly shopping for Turkish staples for our home (e.g. white cheese, really good olives, Tamek sour cherry jam, etc.)  M. got out of the car, looked at it, and hoped that he would still be welcome in the neighborhood he has been visiting for years where he delights in shared Turkish language conversation with the Armenian owners of the shop we frequent.

"Buy Liberty Bonds. Give them 2 1-2 milli...

Image via Wikipedia

At the mention of this, the Armenian genocide,  Zenne, the nervous nellie puppet crawls into a teacup and plugs her ears, but not before saying, “I am very nervous, m’lady, about you even mentioning this g-word on a Turkish-American blog.”

So, in order to honor Zenne, and to stem the potential fallout from the Turkish blog censors, I’ll leave it at that, and just ask you – what did your parents say to get you to eat your food as a child? :)