Meet Mark and Esma: The Karagöz puppets howl with glee

Turkish accents, Arabic words and weird Gaelic names gang up on a customer service representative (Image from

We are standing in line waiting for a table at our favorite Mexican restaurant. We’ve been here many many times. M. Walks up to the hostess and asks for a table for two using his Turkish name.

“Can you tell me your name, sir?” she says with a big customer service smile on her face. He says his name, again. And then again once more when it is clear she does not understand him.

I understand his name. I look at the Karagöz puppets. They understand his name, tabi canım. I think of my family, they understand his name and can get past his accent as well. I go through this litany in my mind every time.

I know what’s coming. M.’s face begins to get a bit red with frustration, he’s all-too used to this. I look at the hostess,
who has that customer service smile really plastered on her face now.

Stepping towards him just slightly, she places her hand on his arm in what must be an attempt to mollify any potential future ill-humor. I am sure the touch of a young, gorgeous woman’s hand to a middle aged man’s arm usually results in 100% mollification. She has no idea who she is dealing with.

She says “Sir, what is your name, I said? I need your name.” Her tone is forceful through her plasticated demeanor. Taking my brain far away from the interaction for just a second, I reflect that it is likely only my own mother who uses terms like “plasticated” instead of plasticized. “Is it a Britishism?” I wonder, silently, before returning to the matter at hand.

“Just call me Mark,” M. says cuttingly. We are seated, immediately feted with homemade corn tortilla chips and freshly smashed guacamole.


Delicious, organic frozen yogurt from Bliss, a store in Provincetown, MA (Image from Bliss’ FB page)

Later that night, I am at the front of the line, ready to place our order for soft, local and organic frozen yogurt. Tonight’s flavor is wild strawberry – all I can think of are the two times I have had the good fortune to harvest those tiny berries, densely packed with fruity sweet – in the Austrian Alps.

M. is outside sitting with our panting dog – I am taking care of the transaction in blue twilight. Our skin glowing blue green in that light, the gregarious woman behind the counter recognizes our faces.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” She says heartily, “I think it’s time we were on a first name basis.”

And now it’s my turn to be surprised.

I repeat my odd old-fashioned English name several times. She tries each time and I feel compelled to try again to help her get it right. After all, I want to be on a first name basis with this nice lady. I live in this town, now, and I don’t want it to be awkward in the future if she is not saying my name correctly. I even spell out my name, to no avail.

She is getting flustered – and without thinking I engage in the art of the white lie. Shifting all of my weight onto my right foot, I muster “hey, my friends call me Esma, why don’t you call me that?”

“Oh!” She utters with great relief, “Esma! What a lovely name!” I can feel the Karagöz puppet troupe rolling around my shoulders and laughing with unfettered glee. In fact, there is so much glee going on that some of my hair is getting pulled out of place and into my face.

Popping down off of my shoulder and onto the bleached wooden counter, Esma the hippie puppet questions me on my choice of names, after all, I have chosen a Turkish name.”M’Lady, isn’t this the name you gave to Turks in Turkey when they cannot say your name? Why not just tell them Liz, or Elizabeth, like you normally do?” I can see, however, that she is not at all lacking pride in the fact that I have chosen her name to represent myself.

Shrugging my shoulders as I leave the establishment one friend richer, I lick the wild strawberry droplets starting down the code. “Whatever works,” I whispered to her impishly, “who would think a Turkish name would trump an English one?”


Saf and Dobra rejoice at Recep Güven’s stunningly human commentary on the PKK in Diyarbakır

Photographs from Diyarbakir, Turkey

A door of opportunity and hope opens in Diyarbakir, Turkey in the form of the new police chief, Recep Güven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the Saf and Dobra puppets were really feeling the weight of their love-hate relationship with Turkey – and the U.S. to boot. In fact, they were quite twisted up about it, mirroring, of course, my own beloved M.’s feelings.

Today, however, hope springs eternal in the form of an unexpectedly humane and thoughtful new police chief in Diyarbakır, Recep Güven.  In short, Mr. Güven has spoken out about the need to consider what are often referred to as “Kurdish guerillas” as human beings first – and has explained that he is in the process of learning to speak Kurdish to boot.

Mr. Recep Güven, the new police chief in Diyarbakir- a very brave and humanist person, it seems from his words. (Image from

To contextualize this, understand that the Kurdish minority in Turkey is considered by many to be oppressed (an understatement if you look at living conditions, work un-opportunity, cultural and language oppression, and on and on – the trusty Archers of Okçular will likely correct/add to me here).  The conflict between Turkish nationalists and Kurdish separatists is fierce in good times.  I would argue that M. and I are of a school of people in Turkey who support the cause of Kurdish human rights – and while we don’t condone violence – we can certainly understand why it comes to this.  It is a desperate situation, and has been for decades, and that is why Mr. Güven’s comments are so meaningful to us.

So, for those who read Turkish – you can check out an absolutely incredible interview here.  It almost had M. in tears it was such a shock.  Of course, we wonder to what extent this is a) a flash in the pan that will result in an “accident” (a.k.a. execution under a different name or b) propaganda – but it is pretty brave and pretty different from the normal super-incremental comments in support of small issues such as the right to learn the Kurdish language in school for children, etc…. If his comments are real and true, it seems to me a really different direction for the “moderate Islamist” ruling AK Partisi to take – and a brave one that we honor deeply.

In any case, M. has graciously translated a few key phrases from Mr. Güven’s press conference – they may not be perfect translations – but they get the point across.  Apologies to Mr. Güven if we in any way mis-interpreted his words, our effort was out of an interest to make sure this got into the English-language blogosphere.

On speaking about deaths that occur during Turkish-Kurdish conflicts: “If you are not crying for the person that you call the terrorist that has died in the mountains, you are not a human being.”

A patriotic phrase and image that is rather scary – but to me gets across the feeling I hear in many people’s voices when they utter this phrase. It is an ultra-nationalist phrase in my view. (Image from

On the Turkish saying “Önce Vatan,” or “country first:”  “In Turkey, the first priority is Turkey, not the human being.  As it should be, the first thing should not be the country, the first priority is a human being’s life.  If you want to keep your country continuing, make sure your people live like human beings.”  (Note: M. adds that Mr. Güven is not the first to challenge the Önce Vatan Turkish worldview – rather – it was a mother who lost her son during his military duty.  The phrase “Önce Vatan” can be seen and heard all over Turkey – and I have seen the words carved into the greenery of ornamental hillsides in Southern Turkey, in honor of soldiers who have died.)

On a human relationship-building campaign:  “I want to make a five person team who will go to the mountains (Note: where rural Kurds live, presumably) and knock on people’s doors and communicate with them.  When I said this, people’s response was, ‘they are going to kill you,’ and I said ‘we are breaking the people’s door and getting their house, they don’t kill us.  Now we are going to knock their door, do you think they are going to kill us?’”

On taking a different approach to Turkish-Kurdish relations after decades of violence: “I wish we couldn’t be too late like this.  I wish we could have reached the people before giving this pain to them.  I wish we could share their problems and try to help them.  Because we didn’t do this, now we are in this situation.”

On the roots of the Kurdish independence movement – and his approach: “In the past when I was in the police intelligence service, I read a bunch of reports, and for example, I read one in which a Kurdish kid who was twelve said ‘I want to contribute to our independence war.  My father doesn’t have work, he is beating my mother, the social environment is horrible and I can’t go to school and so I have to join this war.’  What we can understand from this report is, this kid is running away from difficult situation to try to find a way to make his life better.  That means there is a problem in the society if we can’t put this on the table, if we can’t acknowledge what it is, if we cannot talk, how we can solve the problem?”

Old city walls - Diyarbakir

Old city walls – Diyarbakir (Photo credit: deemikay)

For those of you who are not aware, this press conference took place in Diyarbakır, which is a city in South Eastern Turkey, in which many Kurdish people live – and in which the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) is very strong and active.  It is also the area of Turkey in which there are often violent conflicts between the Turkish military and the PKK “guerrillas” – a term I reject but use here as you will recognize.  Some might say they are “freedom fighters,” so I am giving equal access quotation marks to both.  I have really wanted to visit Diyarbakır for all of its ancient, walled-city beauty, but what I think is a nod to my protective Father, M. refuses to plan for a trip there for fear of my safety.  Maybe once we are true grey-haired trekkers, it would be easier? I don’t know.

For now, Saf, Dobra and the other puppets are happy to feel the sunshine on their faces in the form of this surprisingly refreshing commentary.  We will watch Mr. Güven with great interest and hope.  And perhaps a prayer or two.

Esma intones Özdemir Asaf’s “Moment”

Esma has a moment…

Lately, the puppets have been on a poetry kick.  Esma has not shied away from this effort, but has instead surrounded herself with poems.  I can usually find her swaying in the late summer breeze atop an echinacea flower, with a stack of books at her flower height, pouring over the pages in order to wash herself in words.  Ever the hippie, this puppet woman has decided on her favorite for the week…as usual, it rings of the theme of building bridges of understanding and connection.  See what you think of Özdemir Asaf’s moment…



Laughing is approaching someone else;
All of a sudden it turns two people into one..
Even if you build a castle from your memories and take shelter,
One life won’t be enough for one person alone.


English: An overview photo of the canal separa...

English: An overview photo of the canal separating East-West Istanbul, taken from the Galata Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gülüş bir yanaşımdır bir öbür kişiye;
Birden iki kişiyi döndürür bir kişiye..
Anılarından kale yapıp sığınsa bile,
Yetmez yalnız başına bir ömür bir kişiye.