Turkey’s today, in a taxi


Yehuda Rebbe, the quiet observer, steps up to the first base of my mind and corrects me before I even tell the story. “She says Turkey, and indeed we found the update on Turkey there in the taxi – but mostly we found istanbul! the true goings-on that is, via our taxi man.” Happy that he has corrected my title, he bows towards me, indicating that I should proceed with the ring-like motion of his wrist.

“Thanks, Bey Efendi (honored sir),” I reply, “Ok, now let me set the stage.”

As we exited Istanbul’s Atatürk airport to the usual chaos, I saw M. visibly (Hacıvad Bey says “viscerally”) relax, take a deep breath and smile widely. “The recognition of a set of familiarities, a comfort,” I thought, “that’s what I’m seeing in him now.” Esma the hippie puppet agreed with me – she is sensitive to these things, an avid observer of body language and subtly expressed emotions.

She, unlike the rest of the Karagöz puppet troupe, was sitting front-and-center on my left shoulder in order to witness everything possible during the return to her homeland. Besides Yehuda Rebbe, who hovered on my right shoulder, the rest of the puppets were stowed away various places throughout our baggage, curled up in the exhausted sleep of jet lag obtained before a final destination. Yes, you can take that as an “our flight was delayed and trying.”It’s a good thing those figments of my imagination don’t weigh anything, those Karagöz puppets, as we humans didn’t have the luxury of jet lag hibernation while lugging our carry on-only baggage around. I’m getting better and better at packing lighter, but have a ways to go.

But back to the taxi. As the gaggle of taxi directing men garbled away in their guttural slang, diluted only by the neon yellow of their reflective garb in the dark blue of dusk on pavement, M. shepherded us through their calls of “evala” (“there it is”) and “buyrun canım, gel gel” (come here, dear, come come”) to the tiny canary yellow taxis darting here and there in an impossible jumble. “It’s a wonder more feet aren’t lost,” I hear Kenne, the Queen of Manners mumble as she emerges from exhaustion to find a way to orchestrate an etiquette-driven arrival. “She’s right,” I noted, as I observed the non-Turks standing wide-eyed and confused as the Turks bum-rushed the taxis in their own manner.

Turning my attention away from Kenne, who was becoming more and more shrill in her awakening-the-troupe activities, I focused on Esma. “Esma,” I queried, “what’s the most interesting thing you have seen so far?” Without missing a beat, she clapped her hands to her cheeks saying “well, M’lady, it’s all the yabancı – way are there so many of them in November? I thought the foreigners only showed up in the spring and summer.” Indeed, I had noticed this as well. The combination of Istanbul’s November humidity, mud and grey cloudiness are not the most appealing – what could be there purpose? The fares aren’t even that cheap…who knows. maybe they are all aching for some sahlep or boza as it is the season for those drinks…

Before we could comment further, we were sliding across the back seat of a battered old cab, with M. greeting the taxi man with the respectful “kolay gelsin” (“may your work go well”). It’s a way to be respectful when interrupting a working person, as near as this American can tell. It is clearly an offer of respect and kindness. I immediately saw the glint of glee in M.s eyes as he began a conversation. I see these taxi man conversations of his as a pulse-taking that M. enjoys tremendously whenever he returns. Now that my Turkish (or rather still “Turklish”) is a tiny bit better and I can catch more bits of the conversation. M.’s conversations with his taxi men always begin with mutual complaining about the insane traffic present in Istanbul pretty much most hours of the day – not surprising given the massive population growth over the 29 years or so that M. has lived away. The city that was home to 7 million people then is home to 17 million now, so the traffic problem is no surprise. M. speaks lovingly about the days of the dolmuş or shared minibus – that still exist, but not as much. Clearly, this driver shares M.s nostalgia. We learn that his twin sons have just returned from army duty (lucky family) and that he supported the Gezi parkı movement. He is no fan of the başbakan (prime minister). Soon we are hurtling down the hills of Şişli towards Fulya and the home of G., our abla (big sister, but it’s a bit old fashioned and maybe m. Is older than she – but she’s mine for sure.

Our stay is fleeting – less than 24 hours sees us back in a taxi on the way to Kibris for a long delayed and much needed vacation despite my swollen liver and pain from each bump in the road. Distraction being 9/10ths of survival for me these days, I begin my usual observation of M.’s latest taxi man téte-a-téte. The latest traffic-related innovation, we learned from this veteran driver, is a radio station just for taxi drivers. Traffic data is sourced by taxi drivers themselves, a brilliant use of crowdsourcing. Indeed, our driver called in a total of three times during the hour and a half it took us to get home through miserable gridlock – despite use of illegal back roads (constructions sites by newly built canals).

At one point, M. translated a particularly saddening call from a driver on one of the Bosphorus bridges that connect the Asian and European sides – “my God,” he said, “it’s unbelievable, there is a man who has stopped his car in the middle of the bridge who is walking around with a broken bottle, yelling and screaming as he begs The Lord to give him the strength to kill himself.” I wondered whether we would get an update on the man – but the announcer was on to traffic reporting at breakneck pace…”

My mind wandered off to an event years ago in a Bronx arraignments cell, where a new legal client was threatening to cut his carotid artery with a sliver of plexiglass. It was 2 am and I was the lucky social worker on duty sent in to handle it as best I could until the medics arrived with a Haldol injection. I’m well-trained doing suicide interventions with distraught prisoners, but I doubt I would have been any use with a translator on that bridge had I been there. “Life is difficult here,” I surmised, “the traffic is maddening – it might drive someone to that. Along with the blindingly obvious inequality and poor living conditions of many. But just as the radio announcer moved on to the latest traffic report, so too did the conversation turn to happy family matters, where to find good sahlep and so on.

And as we exited the taxi, we moved on towards our hopes for a happy vacation that will hopefully be as pain free as possible for me. And so the world turns, and there you have it,today’s Turkey in a taxi. Given this state of affairs, I pinned a nazar boncuğu (evil eye amulet) to my vest, and hopped on the plane…wondering what the Cypriot taxis will bring!

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Turkey for Thanksgiving – or – Dinner with Donkeys in Dipkarpaz


A few wild donkeys from Northern Cyprus. Perfect spot for two human donkeys (stubborn lot that we are) to vacation despite it all. (Click photo for attribution)

I had to make the joke. Karagöz the trickster puppet – and fan of bad jokes - has been bugging me for weeks to do so.  “If you are really going to make the trek to Cyprus for Thanksgiving, you’d better damned well make the joke!” The back story is this: After over a year of being various states of unwell (and thanks, by the way, for all of your continuing good wishes), with two trips planned and cancelled, we faced losing a chunk of airplane ticket change, and decided to fit this trip into my sabbatical year fellowship’s vacation period.  M. needs a vacation – and I know – though he will not admit – a hit of his original home country.

Kokoreç in the making. (Image thanks to the inimitable Carpetblog.typepad.com)

He’d be more likely to say that the U.S. is his home now – but I can see that there is an ache for “home stuff.”  This will include, he tells me with great relish, a culinary visit for some tripe soup and kokoreç in Istanbul as well as some sahlep (here’s an old post about that wintry drink) although it might be a little bit early.  It’s the season for those things.

English: Greek-orthodox Church in Rizokarpaso ...

English: Greek-orthodox Church in Rizokarpaso (Dipkarpaz) or Karpass, Northern Cyprus Photo taken 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t google kokoreç if you are faint of heart – but I will explain that the Turks I know say that eating charcoal-grilled colon in the winter is safer than eating it in the summer, for reasons you can surmise…Kenne, the Puppet known as the Queen of Manners and Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior, has, by the way, just fainted at the notion that I will even CONSIDER eating kokoreç.  She was heard to say “It is just not done by a lady – ah – all my efforts -” before she fainted.  Her handmaiden, Zenne, the puppet who is as nervous and shakey as a bowl of quince jelly, is fanning her and bringing out the smelling salts.

Map of Cyprus (click link for attribution)

And despite all the kafuffle (my Granny’s word for chaos) in the realm of the puppet ladies, it is true, we’re heading to Turkey for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, the TRNC actually, a.k.a. Northern Cyprus.  Specifically, we are headed as far off the beaten track as possible, which in this case is the Dipkarpaz peninsula – it points just towards Antakya/Northern Syria and lies close to Mersin on the Turkish mainland.  M. has never been – nor have I.

Golden beach at sunset, Karpass Peninsula

Golden beach at sunset, Karpaz Peninsula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why not,” I decided out of frustration at my health, “take a trip to a UN Peacekeeping Zone while dealing with ongoing illnesses? I don’t want to lose that money – and I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

So for now it’s back to the packing drawing board – only taking one carry-on and must reduce current load by half to be able to carry it comfortably. I am focused on a few days with loved ones in Istanbul before relaxing in the Cypriots’ sun while watching my husband’s happiness at a real vacation with the food (and Ak Deniz) that he misses so much. Please stay tuned for stories to come, I am sure. Hopefully, the stories will involve information about Cypriot politics (oy vey!), the ocean trash problem in this part of the Mediterranean Sea (a.k.a. Ak Deniz) and of course – wild donkeys – in a good way!

Kırmızı karanfil in Taksim Square: The Karagöz puppets, wordless yet again


This is a (Source unknown)

This is a Kırmızı karanfil (red carnation) – peaceful protesters gathered in Taksim Square this afternoon to commemorate those lost in recent protests – and brought these with them (Source unknown)

As is usual these days, I woke to the array of the puppets still standing, along with all the ‘standing men’ and ‘standing woman’ in Turkey and worldwide who are protesting the increasingly authoritarian practices and tactics of the AKP government. My puppets, they’ve been standing for five days now. But that’s nothing, compared to what people in Turkey are going through.

As the day went by, and I went about my business, I began to notice the puppets hovering around my Twitter feed (still the best source for news in Turkey, they wager).

Soon, I saw wonderful images of peaceful protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. My understanding is that a large group of peaceful protestors gathered to commemorate those lost during the police brutality witnessed during the #OccupyGezi protests.

Peaceful protest in Taksim Square (Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

Peaceful protest in Taksim Square (Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)

I watched live feed of the police asking the group to disperse for 30 minutes (although spoken as “friends, please leave”) before police began using the now-infamous TOMA water canons (with and without pepper spray) and tear gas to clear the square.

I watched as an old man stood with his arms up in a sign of submission begged the TOMA to have mercy on people who were literally running the other way and in no way a threat – the police asked him kindly to move, referring to him as “amca” (which means ‘uncle’ and is often used as a term of respect even when you do not know someone). I saw human chains with police shields chase chunks of people away from the square into the side streets. The people looked, literally, like sheep in a

(Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

(Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)

pen ready for slaughter. No, this is not hyperbole. Then I watched as police shot close-range tear gas canisters into that crowded street of peaceful people.

At one point, I saw video of two young men throwing things at the TOMA – and another ‘amca‘ begging the ‘cocuklar‘ (youth) to stop – and begging the police to stop – he turned back and forth saying the same thing before being lost in the fray.

(Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

(Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)

I then saw a small group of peaceful protesters stand in between the two rock-throwing youth and the TOMA begging them not to continue. I began to cry when I saw the police pepper spray a young woman caught on the sidewalk by what appeared to be her family’s shop – she fell, screaming at the pain of the pepper spray, her sister holding her in her arms. She had a light pink sweater on. Her screams were awful, and it appeared to me that her mother – or an aunt perhaps – behind her in the door of the store passed out.

(Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

(Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)

As the night goes on, we are hearing that this continues, that journalists are being attacked by police and/or refused entry to ‘hot spots’ for reporting.

This shows police gassing people in and near the Simit Sarayi (Simit Palace, a sort of bagel-like shop) where M. and I usually stop for a snack before walking Istiklal Caddesi. (Image is screen capture by Liz Cameron)

This shows police gassing people in and near the Simit Sarayi (Simit Palace, a sort of bagel-like shop) where M. and I usually stop for a snack before walking Istiklal Caddesi. (Image is screen capture by Liz Cameron)

We also hear firsthand reports from Ankara that police are randomly throwing tear gas into residential homes and buildings – as well as lokantas where one person reported that as people choked on the gas, they raised their glasses of raki (anise-flavored liquor, national drink of Turkey).

(Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

(Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)

When M. arrived home, I began to show him, but it was too painful to watch for him. He prefers to read the news – a gentler impact. He is learning how to take care of his secondary traumatic stress.

Remember, folks, it is still legal to congregate for peaceful protest on the books in Turkey…so I’ll let the pictures tell the story now. I wish I could make this post have some sort of like puppet-fueled touch, but they, as I, am once again speechless at the behavior of the police. And to put “the icing on the cake” – a friend in Istanbul just wrote that she had dinner with her son in Istanbul’s Bebek neighborhood – and coincidentally, the President himself was attending a wedding in the same locale. Business as usual in Turkey, under Tayyip the Terrible and Gül the relatively silent?

As one tweep put it, “Most seem to think Tayyyip has mental health issues, and this continues, what to do?” Indeed.

(Image from Occupy Gezi's FB page)

(Image from Occupy Gezi’s FB page)