Enjoying a moment of freedom and hilarity with Kalinka and Karagöz


As we descend the hot stone steps for the white pillbox house overlooking the cement beach and swim parade, we smell good smells through the salty steam escaping the kitchen.  Upon entering the kitchen, we find Kalinka (the Moldovan maid who has won my heart and with whom I communicate in broken Russian) hard at work on this evening’s dinner.  She is singing at the top of her lungs.  Filled with sunshine, smiles and a wicked wit, this truly zany and unbroken Moldovan house worker raises my spirits just at the sight of her.  I have come to love the fleeting moments of hilarity when it’s “just us chickens, boss.”  M.  commences engaging Kalinka in a long and rousing story in Turkish, to which she is alternately hooting, hollering and howling about.  I catch snippets – I hear M.’s brother’s name, the words “baba” (father), “tuvalet” (toilet) and “belediye” (town hall/officials).  Even Karagöz is standing at attention – waiting for the next move, the next joke before he takes his cue to roll across the floor in thunder-headed glee.  Karagöz is too busy to explain the story to me – but I don’t care.  I feel as though I have returned to a girlfriend’s house where I can really let my hair down.  I feel relaxed and not tense about what I should and should not be doing.  Perhaps this is why I notice the lack of Hacivad, manners-man and general inciter of non-riot in the form of being respectful by any means necessary. Hacivad has retired to the library, to catch up on the latest interpretations of Rumi in the modern age.

Celebi is also nowhere to be found – I later learn that he wandered off while we were in Bodrum, but I can hear the ladies dragging him down the steps by his ears, and back to the kitchen of his fiancée, Khadija, a freed slave from the far reaches of the Ottoman empire in Egypt.  “The 20th century has nothing on globalization,” Karagöz cries, “look at this messa peeps up inna here, Egypt, Turkey, the New World, Moldova!”  I make a mental note to talk to him about the oddity of his MTV-infused lexicon the next time we have a quiet moment.

Collapsed on the white canvas-covered couch, I let the Turkish hilarity roll over me along with the breeze, I am exhausted and my feet hurt. There is an arbor over my head, covered with grape vines, and I can hear the massive, two-story-long futbol flag flapping in its bourgeois trappings for all to see.  I am glad to hear the fountain of Turkish from M.  I know that the constant translation from Turkish to English that M. has engaged in all day is wearing, to say the least – it is as if a torrent of need-to-express Turkish is rolling out of his mouth at breakneck speed.  Although he is fluent in English, translation is not his strongsuit, and he gets exhausted quite fast.  “There is a reason,” he points out on a regular basis, “that I trained as an artist, and not as a writer.”

For right now, he is clearly on a roll and the kitchen is alight with laughter.  I am happy even though I don’t understand the story, I am just happy to be there and be around lightness and silliness.  The space on the wall opposite me fills with shadows cast from his hands gesticulating wildly as he twirls about the room in storytelling mode.  Who knows what he is talking about, but they are having fun.  Soon, as the need-to-speak-Turkish-unobstructed fails, he calls me in, and gets some cool water from the fridge.  Kalinka lets him do this, she knows that we prefer this when nobody is around, taking care of ourselves, even if we are depriving her of a bit of her job’s work, she has more than enough to do.  I am revelling in this family-free moment, when the “just folks” trio of us can “hang” like normal people.

M. and Kalinka are speaking in Turkish, M. and I are speaking in English, and Kalinka and I are speaking in our broken Russian.  In addition to my collection of Russian cursewords, I remember idiotic bits and pieces, such as “cement mixer” (“betonomashalkah”) and “hydroelectric power plant” (“geedrohstanskee”).   Clearly, I think, I had no idea that my teacher was in fact a dyed-in-the wool communism fan.  How did I miss that? Kalinka begs me to say the words over and over again until she is crying from laughter.  We carry on like this for a good hour before we hear the spector of family on the way…an ephemeral moment, etched in time.  Kalinka soon moved on, farther south, to be nearer to her husband, a yachtsman near Kalkan, and we never saw her again, but she was an indellible help to me during that first visit.  Большое спасибо, Kalinka.

P.S. Kalinka is not the real name of the person in this true story!

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6 Responses to Enjoying a moment of freedom and hilarity with Kalinka and Karagöz

  1. Carol says:

    Sigh ! Enjoyable moments, very palpable. I could smell fabric while reading this segment. Not sure why, but comforting.

  2. Moldovan ladies are remarkable! A wealthy Turkish friend (estranged many years from his wife) has had a string of Moldovan cook/housekeepers (I think they can only come for 2 years to work) – they are linguists, blue ribbon chefs, immaculate housekeepers, poised, charming and every single one has been beautiful (the relationship is platonic; they are treated like a member of his family sharing table and room space). Why are we all not living in Moldova? 🙂

  3. Liz Cameron says:

    Indeed, why are we not all living in Moldova? I am sure “Kalinka” would have a lot to say about that too!

  4. Liz Cameron says:

    Fascinating, Carol, as I picture the scent of clean, sunny white canvas when I read this post (and when I wrote it). That’s a wild coincidence!

  5. Pingback: Of peştemal, patlican and the perfect Turkish junk food (with home-style recipe) | Slowly-by-Slowly

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