Escaping the death star by dolmuş: Bodrum bound, Islam not found


White walls of Bodrum, with red floral accents

After all of the obesity battles, I throw in the towel, so to speak, and we decide to spend the next two days exploring Bodrum town and environs. When M. and I decide this in the quiet of our room in the early morning, the dancing chorus of ladies in my purse are ecstatic “a day trip,” they cry with excitement, moving about my purse in a way that takes me ever-so-slightly off balance, “can we go to the hamam?”  One elderly voice, the leader of the chorus who explained the moon dance the other night is discernible amidst the din,  “Oh, too bad, it will be Wednesday and Thursday, and that is not the women’s day there, I fear.”  Suddenly, I see Celebi, who hasn’t been about in a few weeks, sitting on the ledge of the window, next to our water carafe.  Resplendent in his vibrant green finery, “a fine plan, for two in love.  I’ll come along to scope the scene, cruise the muses before my nuptials.”  Hacivad appears next to him, glasses down to his nose in a holier-than-thou stance, “cruise the muses you shall not – our task here is to guide m’lady in her meanderings in these parts, not to corrupt your marital union with Khadijah before it even starts!”  We leave the arguing puppets to take an early-morning walk along the parameter of the compound, counting the machine gun guards at the posts along with the bird sounds in the breeze.

Celebi - the Karagoz shadow puppet known for his love of the ladies...

Later that morning, M.’s brother hauls out the massive BMW that I swear, feels steel-encrusted.  It is so lock-down strong, he tells me one night, that all of his valuables are stored in it, as opposed to the house. The BMW seems to have a life of its own – humming-hurtling down the highway to town, in between jalopies and donkey carts and other cars of its own ilk.  The feeling of exclusivity, of floating on air above all other folks, these feelings are things I have never felt, and I don’t know what to make of it.  I am having some sort of in-body/out-of-body class-based experience, I think.  Back in my neck of the woods in New England, one does not show one’s wealth, it is hidden away, in favor of communing with the larger community.  So, this feels a bit alien, and I don’t really see the need.  M. does not look the part of a BMW passenger, his worn and comfortable coral-colored t-shirt khaki shorts and dark blue flip flops from the Gap set him aside.  As the great hulking steel thing called the BMW cavorts down the highway in tire-to-pavement obscenity, I am reminded of Luke Skywalker, escaping from the death star in just the nick of time.  Karagöz lets out a Chewbacca-like howl from the dashboard – as if calling the dogs out to hunt, but is soon narcoleptically sleeping once more in the folds of my dress.  Hacivad rolls his eyes.  Celebi is plastered to the window, looking at the pretty ladies. The chorus of dancing girls are just biding their time, waiting to alight in the city centre.

Dropping us at the marina – M.’s brother bids us a good day – and heads down to Marmaris for business his prayer beads rotating in one hand as his suave-move driving takes over the navigation of the steel machine as it glides out of town with grace and ease.  Karagöz bids him farewell with a “bye bye, suckaaaaaaaaaaaaah,” and I wonder if he is watching just a bit too much vintage MTV for his own good.

The click-click sound of the prayer beads sticks in my head as the driver’s side blackened window of the BMW closes.  “At least he is a praying man,” I hear one of the dancing chorus of ladies say, “he keeps his prayers close to him.”  I am struck by this observation, as I find this latter accoutrement of M.’s brother interesting, as M. has told me he was raised in a very secular family.  His brother identifies as Muslim, part of the Sun’ni majority.  I see no evidence of worship or culturally Muslim traditions here in this summer house – nor did I see them back in the city when I met the family for the first time. Although bacon and pork products are nowhere to be found so far in Turkey,  whisky, rum, beer and wine abound in the house.  Nobody is covered.

Hacivad tries to explain “you see, m’lady, our expectations of Islam from the media in the west from whence you hail, they belie the true nature of Islam in Turkey.  This is Turkey – none and all make sense.”  I am curious about all of this, not really clear on what a secular state with a majority of culturally Muslim people truly looks like.  I find myself hesitant to ask anything about religion, as it is a sensitive topic for M., but I have gleaned one thing from watching and listening carefully when the brothers and the sister-in-law are speaking in English.  The mosque, I have learned, is a good place to make business contacts, perhaps this explains the prayer beads.  I am reminded of some Hollywood B movie, when an agent adopts an alcoholic personality, as the contacts in AA are so amazing.  Anywhere I look in the house, the people, the newspapers, the surroundings, I do not find Islam, if anything, in fact, I find a reaction against it.  Still transfixed in the newbie way when the call-to-prayer sounds, I look around a bit frantically, wondering if I should cover my head in the street, pull my dress a little lower, or generally do something respectful.  None of the people around me in the Bodrum castle seem to even notice the call.  I think part of me expected folks to just drop everything, and run to the mosque, as crazy as that now sounds.

A magical entry to Bodrum castle…perfect for a newly-in-love date…bereft of praying during the call-to-prayer one hot morning in July 2004

Focusing back in on being with M. as opposed to getting lost in my overly-analytical mind, I slip my hand into his, and ask about the tiles before me.  He proceeds to narrate with the great detail that only an art historian can draw upon, the nature of the ceramic glaze I am looking at.  It is a giddy time in our new relationship, full of hand-holding, street wandering, endless talking and marathon explaining.  At lunch by the harbor,  M. tells me about Bodrum back in the day, about his shell collecting exploits before too many tourists were about, and how clear the water was. His eyes mist when he tells of his last dive, when a friend went too deep, too fast, and despite many efforts, was lost to the sea.  The group of friends tried to save him without descending to the depths at a safe rate, and M. has never been able to dive again.  “Did it make you think about God?” I ask, out of the blue.  “No, why do you say that?”  “Nothing, nevermind…”  I feel as though any chance I have to get at the riddle of Islam with this man and this family and this country, I have to take, and it takes some time before I realize that it just is what it is.

Moving from religion to lemonade, we resume our street-wandering.  We peek over fences and through iron gates at the oasis heavens within.  We sip impossible amounts of ayran wherever we go, to beat the heat.  We run for cover from the sun to the canvas-covered part of the bazaar.  Ambling through the back streets, we are generally blinded by the white in the whitewash-swathed town.  In addition to falling more in love with M., I also fall in love with the tiny corner jeweler by the marina, an artisan’s booty spot, to use the pirate term.  My feet in sandals grow used to the curve of cobblestones, aching slightly in their unfamiliarity with the required curves of the foot.

As the sun gets higher and hotter, and the body gets tireder and tireder to the extent that no amount of air conditioning or ayran can address, we head back to the house.  On the way home, we opt out of the taxi M.’s brother suggested.  I have never been much of a fancy travel gal, preferring to go local inasmuch as possible.  My college application essay talked about the time I bagged an Intourist guide in Russia (when it was Russia) to ride the subways all over town, for an entire day.  It was an education all its own – not only on geography and an ethnography of the Russian population in Moskva, but also in art history, as the stations were filled with amazing works of art.   This is one of the reasons M. is psyched about the me part of our relationship.  A hardened rough traveler himself, prone to ignore buggy rice in Kashmir, bombs in Sri Lanka or rotting-offal-smelling squat toilets in Madagascar, nothing can shake this guy.  If nothing else, I have to keep up.  A dolmuş (pronounced “dolmush”) is the least I can do, in this regard.   In a fit of paranoid please-the-fatherness that does not fit with his generally-devil-may-care attitude, M. makes me promise not to tell my father that we travel by dolmuş back home to the gated community nearby.  This, of course, makes me even more interested in travel by dolmuş.  Travel of this nature involves a lot of people crammed into a minibus – but way fewer than in a Kenyan matatu (same general idea as a dolmuş) I traveled in some years ago.  I observe the passage of coins up to the driver, the implicit trust of money changing hands surprising me some – a far cry, I think, from the individualism I am used to.  I note the chickens on the bus in the basket, the workers done with an early shift on the way home, giggling Turkish schoolgirls on holiday, a young mother who is perhaps taking her baby home from the doctor’s office and a swarm of British tourists sunburned and burdened with the bags of magic, sun-filled trinkets to bring back home.  My mind whirls with them all, with my confusion about religion, about the class differences I am experiencing – sort of a cross-class whiplash today, I think.

Hacivad nods approvingly, and quotes from Rumi as we walk from the gate of the guarded compound on up the hill, and it is these words from Rumi that ring in my ears for the rest of the evening:

“This Being human is a guesthouse,
Every morning a new arrival,
A joy,
A depression,
A meanness,
Some momentary awareness becomes,
And comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all,
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still,
Teach each guest honourably,
He maybe clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought,
The shame,
The malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
Invite them in,
Be grateful,
For whoever comes,
Because each has been sent,
As a guide from beyond.”

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9 Responses to Escaping the death star by dolmuş: Bodrum bound, Islam not found

  1. Alan says:

    delightful writing – your head is an interesting place 🙂

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Isn’t it an interesting place? It was a lot more confusing in there before I conceptualized my dealings with cross-culturalism as the Karagoz puppets…it’s been much more fun since then! Really appreciate the support!

  3. Jack Scott says:

    Ah, blissful Bodrum where the unconventional escape to be, well, unconventional. However, if you scratch the surface and move just a few hundred metres in from the swanky marina and madding crowd, you will see people praying at the mosques as they have always done. Bodrum is a place where modern and traditional rub along together rather well. Long may it be so. By the way, you can get bacon in the supermarkets but it’s poor quality and expensive. Best pop across to Kos on the ferry for a pork fix. Lovely post.

  4. Liz Cameron says:

    Indeed on scratching the surface – I am writing back about 2004 – when I thought I had scratched the surface, but had not! I did not, however, know about bacon. I have been to the big Migros in Bodrum looking for bacon – but couldn’t find it. Perhaps things have changed since that time! Thanks for the kind words of support for the post!

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