Just another çay bahçesi (tea garden) in Anatolia – Or is it?


A group of Armenian elders hanging out in a tea garden (Image by Liz Cameron)

Anyone who has spent much time in Turkey – especially in the more rural parts of Anatolia – has very likely seen all of the çay bahçesi (tea gardens) with older men hanging out drinking endless glasses of tea. The symphony of glass clinking on china is not at all muffled by discussions of politics, what’s in the newspaper, community affairs or farming – and certainly gossip.

The tinkling clinks of spoon to glass weave in and out of the conversations – sometimes I try to measure the tenor of the argument of the moment by the speed of the spoons swirling sugar around – and the resultant metal-on-glass bell-like sounds.  While watching (or sitting in) these tea gardens, I have grown used to the fact that it is rare to see a woman, other than a server (or another expat) perhaps, at these tables.

In fact, when traveling Turkey with our 13-year-old niece, she picked up on this gender disparity immediately.  She was quick to point out that it was unfair that in the countryside, the older men sat in the tea gardens while the women old and young work in the fields in the hot sun.  We wondered where the young men were – working in the city? It was both an interesting and painful exercise to support our niece in discussing why this was so and how this does and does not play out in different countries and regions.

Dunkin Donuts logo

Dunkin Donuts logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now in the United States, it is NOT common in my experience to see groups of men sitting in a tea garden. First of all we don’t have tea gardens. We do have things like the Dunkin’ Donuts empire – with plastic pink and orange franchises on seemingly every corner.  Inside these stores, you will likely see hard plastic pink and orange laminated tables and seats ready to be hosed down from jelly stains and powdered sugar smears, not very comfortable.

In our individualistic culture, occasionally you may see two people sitting and talking over coffee and a doughnut – and probably they are in the older generation. I say that because our generation and the one after ours are likely gulping coffee and gobbling donuts in the car on the way to the next appointment or bit of work.  So, therefore, I would not expect to see a group of men sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts – or a group of women either. Maybe some of you have seen them, but I have not.

So, it was with great surprise that I saw this group of men sitting in a Starbucks coffee shop in the middle of a Target superstore. As I waited for my green tea latte, no sugar, all of a sudden I heard the familiar strains of Turkish – and what I have come to know to be Armenian. You see, although they were speaking Turkish to one another, they were also speaking Armenian – it was a half and half situation.  In a flash, I realized that the Armenian immigrants who live in the town near me have created a new tea garden. They have transported this Anatolian and perhaps European tradition right here into the Target superstore in my backyard.

Upon the realization that we had entered an ersatz çay bahçesi in Target, of all places, all of the Karagoz puppets living in my brain were aflutter.  To see such a familiar sight made some of them homesick. Even though this is not what those puppets were used to in the Ottoman court, since they are time traveling puppet troupe, they have seen many old men in wool sweaters and caps in the midst of summer sitting in çay bahçesiler all over Anatolia. M. insists that this manner of dress allows their body temperature to match that of the blazing heat – and thus create an equilibrium in which it is comfortable to exist.  I just don’t get it. And right here in New England, these men were dressed very similarly although it was the winter – but it was damn hot in that store.  The similarity parallel score was high (if there is such a score).

In any case, as I waited in line, I tried not to look at them directly, but I felt proud to understand a few of the Turkish words they spoke. My guess is that these were Armenian refugees who had emigrated to the US through Turkey and given their language skills, had lived in Turkey for sometime. We know some Armenian shopkeepers in this town for whom that is the reality.

As the puppets (and I) watched, one of the çay bahçesi gentleman shuffle up to pick up his second cup of coffee. “What an Americanization! No çay? Horrors” exclaimed Kenne, the puppet known as the Queen of Manners and the Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior, before stomping back to the car. As he took his coffee refill from the barista, I had a strong urge to greet him in Turkish. But I could not bring myself to do it. And as I blushed in my etiquette-driven inability to speak my Turkish, it occurred to me that it might be offensive to speak in Turkish to an Armenian given some of the politics in that community against Turks.

Turkish-Armenian relations are strained in many ways – and in this neck of the woods, one never knows what one may be walking into re: political landmines. For example, we often see the neighborhood billboard covered with Armenian genocide reminder posters as we go about shopping for our olives, white cheese, simit, sour cherry jam and the like.

So I did not speak with the man, I just let it go, and I just enjoyed watching the group. For me, observing this aspect of Anatolian Turkey has become familiar and even comforting in some odd way, despite the gendered-ness of what the çay bahçesi seem to represent. But, then the unexpected happened. As I turned to walk away with my green alien-colored tea drink, it was with great surprise that I noted the presence of a shorthaired Armenian-speaking woman at the table – I hadn’t noticed her before as she was tiny, hidden by a tall man seated to her left.  It looks as though not ALL of the traditions made it across the ocean after all.

Maybe next time, I’ll say hello.

Uç kadından biri: One billion Karagöz puppets rising!

One billion rising on V-day! (Image from UNLV.EDU)

One billion rising on V-day! (Image from UNLV.EDU)

One billion rising. I’ve seen a plethora of these three words over the past weeks, and so have the Karagöz puppets (when they sneak on my iPhone or iPad at night when I’m sleeping).

“What billion things, pray tell,” Hacivad Bey leaned in to ask me, “are rising?”

“Balloons?” Safiye Rakkase suggested, hopefully, “pink ones, for Valentine’s day?”

“Yeast bubbles for sourdough bread?” Mercan Bey questioned, his hands full as he was making his new favorite New World bread by hand for the afternoon meal.

“Colorful kites on a breezy day?” Esma, the hippie puppet added in, a glint in her eye at the prospect of it.

“Well no, puppet friends,” I said with concern in my voice, and a serious tone. “This ‘one billion rising’ is a movement that is centered around women on Valentine’s day, which of course, on the face of it, is a day about love –“

“AND COMMERCIALISM!” Karagöz screeched as he swang into the conversation on our chandelier. “DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE MARKET ECONOMY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THAT THIN OLD THING CALLED LOVE.”

“Well of course, yes, Karagöz,” I sighed, “I was getting to that. But actually, even WORSE than commercialism is the reality of violence against women. The number one billion was chosen, as I understand it, because one in three women will be beaten or raped in her life.”

A collective sigh and hush washed across the puppet troupe standing before me on the dining room table. All of the puppets started looking in different directions, becoming, for example, fascinated in the backs of their hands or their shoelaces.

In the silence of the puppets’ discomfort and consideration, I thought about how violence against women has touched my life. In addition to studying this matter as an academic, I have worked with men accused of committing acts of violence against women, have organized a “Rape Free Zone” to raise awareness of date rape on University campuses (re: both men and women) and have also been a survivor of violent acts committed by men on more than one occasion. The topic of violence against women is one that has, unfortunately, been a central theme in my life whether I like it or not, whether it has been for good or naught. It is also a topic that M. and I speak of openly – and one that he decries, educated by his own Anne (Mother, in Turkish) to “not be a macho, no matter what! And don’t hit women!” I won’t even get into the assumption that some of my well-meaning friends have intimated re: my Turkish husband’s predilection for “culturally normative”violence.

My thoughts were interrupted by Yedhuda Rebbe, who had stepped forth in the silence, head high as a stallion silent and strong in preparation for a race. “Yes,” he announced loudly, “violence against women.”

Silence abounded in the dining room. I waited to see where Yehuda Rebbe was going with this. His voice would hold sway over mine, to be sure, in teaching the puppets.

“I am a man, and over the many centuries I have lived as a member of this phantasmagorical, body-inhabiting Karagöz puppet troupe, I have seen a lot of it in the Sultan’s palaces – and beyond.” A shuffling and whispering commenced amongst the puppets. I tried to retreat into ‘fly on the wall’ status.

“Now, puppet friends, we have lived through much together as a group since our birth in the 1300s back in Bursa, Turkey. And none of you can deny that violence against women has been observed – but also that the tolerance for this is shifting. We see this when we sneak onto M’lady’s smartphone and iPad to learn about the modern world..this is wrong and this shall not be tolerated. We cannot ignore this anymore.”

Raising her fist in solidarity with Yehuda Rebbe, Esma the hippie puppet voiced her support for his sentiments as if her heart had melted into her voice like the snow coming down from the Uludaĝ mountains in the spring rivers.

Zenne, the puppet known as the ultimate nervous Nellie like a bowl of jelly made her way to the front of the crowd, sidling up to Esma – who placed a protective and supportive arm around her. “I may be silent much of the time, and nervous, but I have read of this matter, violence against human women. And I want to take this opportunity to share this information from what M’lady says is a well-done study from the United Nations with you.” (An article about which you can find here – with Turkey featured).

In the old world of the Sultan’s palace, we did not document such incidents, and indeed we likely accepted violence as between a man and a woman – or just a non issue. In today’s Turkey – the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in which we were born – this is as much of a problem as it is here in our new adopted country here with M’lady.” Shivering a bit, she drew strength as the puppets moved their camel-skin hands forward one by one, shoulder to shoulder until all of that puppet love and energy manifested on Zenne’s shoulder

“Here,” she said, her voice shaking, “is what we know about violence against women in Turkey…39% of women report suffering intentional physical violence by a man at some time in their lives. And that’s just physical violence – violence can take other forms.”

“And here,” she said a bit more strongly now, “is what we know about the United States…22% of women report suffering intentional physical violence by a man at some time in their lives”

There were some dejected looks, some crying and some weeping. But before I knew it, the entire Karagöz puppet troupe was rising, floating, gathering hands together and swirling messages of hope and reality to the other Karagoz puppets all around the world – and other tribes of puppets in the United States and beyond (such as, for example, the Sultan of Nutcrackers and his collection down in Provincetown) – and across all of the many the oceans and lands between our dining room and Türkiye. May some of that good energy infuse in all the right places.

Violence against women is a universal phenomenon…you can learn more by clicking this link.

And to learn more about what is happening re: One Billion Rising in Turkey – you can check out a recent article in Today’s Zaman, one of the English-language paper in Turkey.

But most of all, please focus on love today, in all of its shapes and forms.

Eggs and Ottoman music: On cultural responsivity gone wrong in one Turkish American marital moment

Syrian music band from Ottoman Aleppo, mid 18t...

Syrian music band from Ottoman Aleppo, mid 18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I really have to laugh at myself, along with Karagöz who is, of course, really howling at me (he tells me, “M’lady, I’m laughing WITH you, not at you.” Yeah right, Karagöz, I know you and your ways. Sigh. But in any case, maybe I am just too hyper-critical of myself this morning, but sometimes I think I may just try too hard in my work to be a culturally competent Turkish-American partner/wife.

I am reminded of when my sister and Italian brother-in-law, who were visiting Istanbul to see us, made fun of me for trying to get him to pronounce “Topkapı Palace” (pronounced “Top-kah-puh” forget even going to Sarayı (“sah-ray-yuh”), the Turkish word for it) vs. “Topkapeeeeee Palace.” I think language is important, and how you use it shows respect and allows for cross-cultural understanding even on minute levels. I also get riled up about tourists who don’t make an effort to pronounce things correctly, am I alone on that? Kenne, the Queen of Manners Puppet and Maven of the Maintenance of Etiquette and Ladylike Behavior, gives me a nod of approval at that.

Now, as you may recall, yesterday, I reflected on our annual Christmas tree argument, and how it was not, as a matter of fact, rooted in cultural and religious differences, but rather environmental and gendered ones. Karagöz in particular was the puppet yelling loudest about my need to “take it easy” on the cultural competence analytical thinking front. Well, never to be outdone (“or just DONE,” Karagöz snarks,) I did it again this morning. But this morning, the issue was not cultural competence – it was the effort towards the new hip phrase in my field – cultural responsivity. You can read more about this new term in my evolving page on the topic, but basically, I think this one is better than the latter.

Kenne, well known to be the self-imposed Queen of Manners, Etiquette and the Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior, and who re-arranges her title on at least a thrice-daily basis, sat atop a stove observation post this morning, making sure that I cooked the eggs properly.

So, as I cooked a special breakfast this morning, before M. headed off to his art studio, I overheard M. howling like a laughing lunatic over something on the Internet, I presumed. I figured it was just the latest Turkish futbol-related joke or scandal. Meanwhile, in order to honor something I know M. loves, I found the “Turkish classical music” station on Pandora. M. is often distraught that the Arabesque trend in Turkish music, and engages in a lot of recherché du temps perdu on this matter.

Thus the effort to feed him some classical Turkish favorites along with his egg whites. Of course, I have no idea if what Pandora considers classical Turkish music is indeed what it purports itself to be. Nonetheless, Kenne, the Queen of Manners Puppet and Maven of the Maintenance of Etiquette and Ladylike Behavior, gave me a nod of approval from her observation tower on top of the stove (I was not cooking eggs the Turkish way, she was telling me, and I was ignoring her with glee).

Staggering in the kitchen on the way to set the table, M. appeared before me in a teary fit of giggles. Pausing, M. pressed the giggle-pause button as he gave me a quizzical look. “What music this is? Why this, I don’t know, Arabic music maybe, canım? Sighing, as I nested my spatula before turning his way, I in a rather maudlin voice proclaimed “ I thought you loved Turkish classical music? I thought it would remind you of happy times at home?” “I am not sure this is Turkish classical music, canım,” he said gently, squinting into the iPhone to see the artist’s name. “Do you like it?” I questioned, with an overbright and hopeful look on my face. Ever blunt, M., the calls-it-as-he-sees-it type, just indicated “no, not really,” before quickly returning to the subject of his mirth.

SIlently, I remembered how my first attempt to bring Turkish music to our home included a CD of what I did not know he hated – Arabseque style. Zooks, thwarted again. I should know better, I thought, I see my students make dumb mistakes like this all the time. Not the end of the world, but…then tuned in to M.’s question to me “Now let me tell you – do you know of this, who’s on first, what’s on second thing, canım?” M.’s giggling and laughing continued, as the tinny sound of a ney slithered along in the background, replete with the little chorus of dancing lady puppets swooning on the chair below the phone – one of their rare appearances out of their self-built harem in my purse (other than the early morning çay delivery service they provide my slow-to-awaken mind).

“It is Abbott and this Costello who made this first time? Jerry Seinfeld re-does it – and I must watch it again.” After making a quick study at table setting – I heard the laughter continue with the recently remade version of the classic comic sketch including Martin Short, Jimmy Fallon and Jerry Seinfeld, among others. “Next time,” the academic over-thinker in me thought, “I’d better do more research on which aspect of Ottoman classical music M. likes. This was a cultural responsivity fail.”

I had to laugh at my attempt to be culturally responsive – to offer something of M.’s culture that I have learned that he loves – and M.’s absolute disinterest as he embraced an iconic American classic and its remake. The infamous Kenne, Queen of Manners, et alia, snapped me to attention so I would not burn the frittata – while simultaneously praising me for doing what a good American wife of a Turkish man should do, namely, in her words “make him feel at home!”

Zenne, the nervous nellie puppet, quivering with anxiety like a bowl of fresh quince jelly at her somewhat feminist assertion this morning…

And then something curious happened, Kenne’s handmaiden, Zenne, the nervous Nellie puppet who regularly jiggles with anxiety like a bowl of quince jelly, evidenced a new lead, saying “perhaps ‘home’ means many things in between and among Turkey and America? Maybe you don’t need to make such an effort to be culturally responsive – I mean – he isn’t asking for that at all!”

As she spoke, I saw that this little lady puppet was shaking, eyes down, afraid her mistress would overhear her blasphemy – it was the closest to a feminist statement that this traditionalist ruled by the ultimate traditionalist had ever uttered. I gave her a big hug (well as big a hug as you can give a tiny imaginary puppet) an changed Pandora over to the Flamenco station. That music reminds me of my Granny (Anane) and Mom (Anne) always listened to while ironing – go figure. And, true to form, Safiye Rakkase, the vainglorious dancing puppet is, after all, sashaying around the room with her castanuellas in hand!

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