Cue the dancing girls: They finally emerge from my purse for a moon dance


There is a rustling and a jingling somewhere on the floor.  Sleep holds in gravity against my eyelids, which are leaden and deeply in stasis.  I think “scorpion on the floor.”

Karagöz giggles mercilessly in my ear, causing my adrenalin to rush, “think again, missy!” he hoots as I jump to attention.  Irreversibly annoyed, as I am a heavy sleeper and grumpy awakener, I was less than amused to see my jestery friend, miss him though I had. He seemed to be permanently stuck under his aluminum foil-constructed self-tanning mechanism, working hard on tanning his bald head for the last week or so.  Paying no mind to my mood, Karagöz engaged in his usual rhyming madness at the top of his lungs “Scorpion, my ass, what to think of the ring around the glass?  Be a smart lass, there moving out, en masse!”

Realizing that this was not just the rumblings of my personal puppet madman, I rubbed my eyes a bit more.  Sneezing from intense air conditioner exposure, my eyes inch towards adjusting to the blue light of the room.  The strong-willed crescent moon was peeking in the side of the window with a vengeance.  “No scorpions here,” I realize, “it’s a visitation.”  I begin to see the little ladies – my personal troupe of Karagöz puppet dancing girls who have assigned themselves to be my traveling Turkish girlfriends.  The ladies are dancing out of my purse in a slow motion infinity twirl -as if they can’t quite stomach leaving the purse for good.  Hands and arms akimbo with a collective grace that matches the swirling of their opaque but shimmery fabric pantaloons, veils and tops, they swirl and gesticulate with the most graceful gestures, clearly hearing their own music, from an oud, perhaps, something like this quiet and contemplative music from an Iraqi oud player with a Turkish name, perhaps…

I wake with more intention now, trying not to disturb M., who is snoring away, oblivious to it all.  I am surprised that the cacophony of snores do not unsettle the little ladies.  While they have ventured onto my shoulder or earrings in an emergency, they usually hustle for the purse as soon as I am back within range.  This is quite a treat.  So far, I have mostly heard their views on my need to dye my hair, be a good wife, not help with the dishes – that’s for the maid, be sure to think of England” for the waxing torture and generally not be so academic and more ladylike.  They were happy to hear that my Granny taught me that “a lady is not a lady without her lipstick.”  Hands waving up and down in their slow-motion circular moon dance, I become transfixed by their collective grace, light steps, and translucent beauty.

As my transfixed-ness ensues, I reflect on how uncomfortable I have felt.  Trying to fit in, to meet the expectations of some impossible-to-attain Turkish femaleness, much of this is some crazy expectation I have for myself, not M.’s  expectation, certainly.  He has been rolling his eyes and sighing at me for buying in to his sister-in-law’s views and for feeling so insecure about my looks.  No matter how many times he has reassured me that he likes me as I am, I am constantly not feeling good enough, thin enough, pretty enough.  I start to realize that these are my own internal negative messages that are triggered by being exposed to what I can glean of the expectations for a Turkish woman.  While the dancing girls play into it some, they are stuck in Ottoman times, circa 1350, so they won’t be too much good on the empowerment front.  What of this moon dance, then?  Why now?

As if divining the meaning of my furrowed brow, the closest dancing girl to me comments mid-twist, mid-turn, saying softly “we re-connect with the moon several times in a month, to remember who we are – as individuals and as a group.  You must do the same, we think, so we decided to come out of the purse for the first time tonight.  You don’t have to join us, you would probably crush us, but consider us here as your reminder to check in with yourself – and to be that sort of girlfriend or sister cohort for you, while you are so far from home.”

Before I can answer, I see that they are waning, the dance is slower, the infinity ring of dancing progression is slowly making it’s way into the purse again.  “So,” I think, “the task is to check in.  Maybe I need to cut myself a break, maybe I need to set my own limits.  Maybe I don’t need to spend the day at the beach with the ladies, talking about cellulite creams, microdermabrasion, the latest in bikini styles and diets – and the like.” Without further ado, I make plans for a pre-breakfast conversation with M. and craft the right words “I know you are so enjoying your brother – can we ask him to take a day trip tomorrow or the next day, to his business down in Dalyan? Do you mind?”

The next day as the brothers are planning a day trip over breakfast,  I will learn from a google search that the dancing girls have an important role in Karagöz shadow puppetry traditions – they always finish the show with a grounding dance – but not much more.  I also learn that karagoz.net that their garments are referred to as a ferace made of “two pieces of fine muslin or tarlatan called yasmak, folded and pinned in such a way that one edge covers the mouth and lower part of nose and the other passes across the brow above the eyes, while the rest hangs behind. As the veil is very thin, the features can be quite-clearly seen. They wear a blue bonnet called hotoz, patent leather or velvet slippers on their feet and each carries an umbrella.”  I saw no umbrellas last night, though, they must have left them behind in the small nooks and crannies of my purse – no need for protection in the moonlight, I suppose?

Looking up from my laptop, I wonder when the dancing ladies will emerge again, and whether this is more of a function of the moon or a function of their hard-wiring to my confused self bereft of close girlfriends and/or sisters on this trip.

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This entry was posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cue the dancing girls: They finally emerge from my purse for a moon dance

  1. Alan says:

    Delightful! – may I suggest a CD? ‘le Trio Joubran’, three oud playing Palestinian brothers (and their percussionist). Of particular note is their ‘Majaz’ album. Should be available on Amazon.

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Thanks so much for the recommendation, Alan. Much appreciated!

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