It’s a windy, hot morning on the island again, and I am risking sitting on the patio in my demure cotton nightgown again, despite yesterday’s mishaps with Ahmet’s visit. It is only 7 a.m., I think, he can’t “just stop by” that early. My boyfriend is off on the beach early this morning to see what treasures the Aegean Sea churned up in the somewhat wavy and windy night. He woke me just at dawn to let me know he was heading down to the water to see what he can conjure out of the soft sands. “All the best specimens show up on days like these!” he tells me, with the glee that only an ocean-lover can muster without difficulty.
So, I am on my own with my laptop on the patio enjoying some once-brewed tea, yes, with milk. His face twists up into confused, disgusted horror that turns to laughter whenever he sees the milk in my tea. It has become a beloved ritual of ours, this joking about milky tea. I am giggling to myself about this – alone on the patio here in Turkey – typing away on my laptop about it all. It all seems so foreign and I am drinking up the experience of being different, trying on a different culture for a bit. I had brought my laptop to finish some consulting work I was doing, but my feverish fluster of data analysis and write-up of my evaluation report are done. Now, I’m just writing for my travel blog (the bulk of which became fodder for this slowly-by-slowly writing).
If Ahmet shows up, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but for now, I am not going to worry about it. This is sacred writing time. “Yes, mademoiselle,” Hacivad intones, his eyes peeking out over his very studious-looking glasses, ” focus on the life of the mind, always the best choice.” I am glad to have his approval – although I am sure he is just a figment of my imagination in perhaps a culture-shock-induced bit of cross-cultural temporary psychosis (sorry, the social worker in me must diagnose).
Hacivad settles in to read his morning selection of Rumi’s work. He is leaning against the hand-thrown pottery vase made by my boyfriend’s aunt, which is full of tiny star-shaped fuschia-purple wildflowers that are fooling the bees into thinking they are still attached to the ground. I busy myself writing a journal entry about whether I could see myself here for retirement or even if I could see myself with my boyfriend in the long term. I am liking the idea, I like what I see here, the way he interacts with people, the way he is open to talking about how our experiences differ, they way he is a partner even in the tough moments when we are learning. He has broached the topic of the future – but when I told him I would love to live in Turkey for a while, he made it clear that he prefers life in the States, but waxes romantic about retiring together on Bozcaada for part of the year. He seems so sure in our relationship, too sure, I think, after just a few months, is this really real? Was it a mistake to come here? But look at where I am, and look at how great he is, this cannot be a mistake, I assure myself.
Karagöz opens one eye from his early morning slumber after many jester-like antics all night long at the entrance to the gecko’s lair inside the bedroom ceiling. All night spinning, he was. “You are blithering-blathering in confusion in love, you are. Just go with the flow, lady, go with the oodles-woodles of love talk and thought and just ‘be here now’ like my ol’ buddy Ram Das. Flipping over from one side of the daybed to the other, the wrinkly hand-spun cotton sheets all askew, he continues “write about something interesting! Hee Hee!” As if narcoleptic, Karagöz is out again after delivering his dictate, like a light on a prison ward, boom, off.
“Good riddance in the most peaceful wishing of manners,” Hacivad remarks with a mid-morning yawn, “focus on what is important, just get to know each other.” I get back to typing away with a fury, and before long, my boyfriend is back, his hands full of tiny vials (they look like the crack vials I used to see in the Bronx outside of the criminal court) that contain microscopic specimens. Excitedly, he tells me all about the unexpected species of Indian Ocean sea life that have shown up here, at the Aegean’s bridge with the Dardanelles Strait. Plastering what I hope is an interested smile on my face, I nod and try to make out what he is talking about in between the scientific terminology, carefully turning important words over in my head to remember them.
The talk continues during our breakfast, where I switch to black, non-milky tea, with fresh whole wheat bread, what is left of the fragrant tomatoes from yesterday and fresh, feta-like cheese called beyaz peynir. This is my first indication, learning this word, that there is some connection between South Asian Indian languages and Turkish. I am reminded of my favorite spinach and cheese dish, saag peynir. There is so much more to know about this country, I think, I have only scratched the surface – and here I thought I was SO prepared, with all of my academic readings. Karagöz awakens with a start “I will always awaken to applaud you when you realize how ridiculous you are!” he proclaims just before dropping back to sleep like a rock through water to the bottom of a pond.
We head into town, with a somewhat relaxed driving effort – our hands trailing the breeze out the window as we wind up the hill past the shipwreck that has been at this corner of Ayazma Plaj for years. We sidle by the Greek Orthodox baptismal font, now almost bereft given that most of the Greek-descended Turks have left this cross-cultural island. Before heading to the farmer’s market just outside town, we make a pit stop in the one Internet cafe on the island. I email my folks, to let them know that I am alive and post on the previous day’s explorations through the flowering thyme fields of the island. Revisiting my questioning this morning, I google “Turkish-American marriage.” Within moments, I regret doing so. The first link results in my jaw dropping, I have found some of the most racist, nationalistic, threatening and just plain ignorant commentary from a group of women on inter-marriage between Christians and Muslims (see the dialogue here, if you can stand it).
Although I am so shocked that I can barely un-glue myself from this page, I recognize these folks as outliers and move to the next link, which is somewhat better, but includes questions posted by women engaged to or married to Turkish men.
The first one is not so bad, but not so good either:
“I am marring a Turkish man. He is from Adana and is a traditional Turkish man in a lot of ways. He follows the engagement and marriage traditions. But is not a demanding man. Meaning he is not controlling over me. I am an American woman. He is very westernized. And I am just wondering some of the differences there might be in our marriages compared to an American marriage? What is it like being married to a Turkish man? And if we moved to the US what are some of the difficulties he may have with jobs, friends, and just a difference in overall cultures and life in general?”
The second post includes this question:
“Will I have the freedom to “override” his viewpoint, if I find it completely unreasonable?” and this one “Are Turkish men typically dominant and controlling?”
The third advises these two based on her own experiences – expect lots of time with family, get clear on the whether to have children issue, be prepared for him not to use sunscreen and ends on a light note: ” Try to get him to get his mothers recipes – and have him cook for you. He’ll appreciate your efforts in trying to cook, but I swear he’ll still do it better. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Keying into this last bit with some hope for the human race and the Americans in particular, I tug my boyfriend’s shoulder, showing him the results. We laugh until we have tears in our eyes. How can people be so black and white, I think, surely if they are looking for answers on the Internet, this is not a good sign for the relationship?
After our laughing, we sit for tea in the Çinaraltı (“chih-nahr-ahl-tuh”) Café, under the Çinar, a.k.a. sycamore tree. “What you need to know about me,” my boyfriend says, “is that while I am loyal to my family and I love them, I want my own life. I grew up listening to the extended family argue during our weekly Sunday lunches…I am more of an independent type, and that, as you may guess, is a big part of why I landed in the States in the first place.”
While this conversation leads to a deep place that we needed to go, Karagöz is a constant presence for the rest of the day. He has taken up residence around the top of my ear, hanging by his feet so that he is yelling right into my ear in between sit-ups – like some sort of deranged, jester Marine soldier. Some of his chorus of sing-song-y questions includes “You’re not so sure – it’s a blur – are his intentions pure?” Hacivad, sitting in the lotus pose on my left shoulder does not deign to look at Karagöz, but responds with “you idiot, Karagöz, this guy is a U.S. citizen, he is head over heels in love, don’t stir the pot – we should block those insane web postings that are clouding her mind. We should get Khadijah to fix some black-arts potion to erase the memory of those from her confused head. Karagöz cackles and sings “he loves you for sure, will it last, is he stuck in the past, is he the last? Will he fast?” Hacivad finally succumbs to his frustration and stands up – drawing an impossibly large bullhorn from his shirt pocket akin to clowns spilling out of a tiny VW bug, he tells me in no uncertain terms “what you need is patience – for Karagöz, for yourself, for this relationship…just let it unfold. Remember the words of Rumi on patience: From cane reeds, sugar.
From a worm’s cocoon, silk. Be patient if you can, and from sour grapes will come something sweet.”
Taking his advice in hand, I pluck Karagöz from my right ear, and place him on a floating sycamore leaf – sending him off into the breeze as if on a magic carpet for the night. I am done thinking for today. Time to let everything settle in. This isn’t the last of this topic, I am sure. The Karagöz shadow puppet troupe howls with laughter from their collective spot on the window sill. “You’ve got that right,” they chorus with guffaws that will surely wake the neighbors.