Finally, a kindred spirit amidst the swim parade


Although the moon shone with sprightly sparkles on the sea, I did not wake up and worry about the next day. My invisible burqini was bringing me some well-needed peace. After throwing my burqini street theatre idea under the proverbial bad-yet-sexy-while-it-lasted-idea-take-the-high-road bus after receiving the magic, invisible burqini from Kenne, Khadijah and the little ladies, I descended to cement beach the next day with renewed resolve and a slightly improved body image self-rating. Kenne took the left shoulder, holding on to my ear as if she were the figurehead of a ship in the 1800s – with Khadijah her mirror image on my right shoulder. Karagöz and Hacivad were nowhere to be seen. Even the chorus of dancing ladies had taken it upon themselves to emerge from my purse for the occasion, draped on the straps of my purse like seagulls on the rope netting of a clipper ship. All the ladies stood proud, tall and lovely, with nary a word between them. They were just focused on drinking up the sun. It was, after all, our last day on cement beach.

M. and I planned to leave the next day in order to wend our way up the coast to Bozcaada, where we would visit M.’s aunt, the reigning matriarch of the family. We had already spent the majority of the morning finalizing our travel plans, with our next stops in Selcuk and Şirince, Ayvalık, and Assos/Behramkale along the way. We had discovered the first edition of what was then a new thing – the guide to small hotels in Turkey – the Kuçuk Oteler Kitabi. Happy with the idea of breaking free from the machine-gun-toting guards, Cuban cigar smoking generals, judges and businessmen and, of course, the ladies of the swim parade on cement beach, I plopped myself down on the usual tanning chair. As usual, I placed myself next to M.’s sister-in-law, and commenced polite chit-chat for as appropriately long as possible before moving to my textbook on Turkish politics. I was relishing the notion of my invisible burqini, of not caring about all the feminine gaze around me and most importantly about the idea of being able to act like myself again, not double-thinking everything, or worrying about how I looked. I wouldn’t miss M.’s sister in law’s checks of my labels (“Oh, not a designer, I see, and a size large?”). I also wouldn’t miss having a sore tummy from holding in my stomach muscles quite so constantly in the waking hours.

I had just tucked into a particularly good section of my book, when a lady plopped herself down on the tanning bed to my right. Greeting M.’s sister-in-law with respect and an open-hearted friendliness that did not seem at all akin to the gold-dripping wrists, honey-tanned bodies and perfectly coiffed hair of the skinny bitches around us, this lady stood apart. She was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. Petite, tan and raven-haired with red highlights, she exuded a natural beauty – but what was most noticeable about her was her slight plumpness – just like me. “Hello, nice to meet you, çok memnum oldum,” she said, extending her hand warmly, “I hear you are visiting from America? How do you like Türkiye? What intrigues you about our country?” Curious about this new person so different from the other non-interested lady friends of M.’s sister-in-law, I hesitantly responded with a range of rather banal observations, but soon felt myself drawn out in conversation with a potentially kindred spirit.

Knowing that it would be prudent to ask about her children, as I had picked up on this as the vital bit of information to discuss with all women I met in Turkey since they asked ME the question, I planted the question out in the ether between us. Immediately, I regretted this. As a trained therapist and childless person myself, I realized that the infinitesimally quick grey cloud that shadowed her eyes was a dead give-away. “Oh,” she said, quietly, “um, I am not able to have children, but we are talking about adopting a child – and I have so many nieces and nephews.” Realizing that we were in the same boat, so to speak, the women, no-children-first boat, that is, I had to let her know that she was in “safe” territory. “Oh,” I said, putting on my hopefully-kindest smile and reaching out a hand to hers, “me too. I can’t have kids either, I know how it is.” Her smile spread across her face like a giant, spherical golden-hued firework across the deep, dark night sky. “Really,” she said, “I have not met someone else like this. Why can’t you have kids?” Needless to say, we launched into a drawn-out discussion of endometriosis and infertility challenges, and I even broached the topic of M.’s zero population growth political stance that had led to a vasectomy. “Surely,” she said, “this does not rule out adoption, though?” “No, it doesn’t, but as older people, we may feel we are too old to consider adoption – he is 10 years older than and I am also going to have to take care of my younger sister, who has a major disability.”

We moved from our discussion about children to sharing our histories of treatment with the same hormones (her for infertility and endometriosis, me for the control of endometriosis), we decried our collective weight gain from those hormone treatments, the inability to “lose” the tummy fat and the horrible mood swings we had endured on those awful medicines. Laughing hysterically at a range of stories about the latter, including the time that normally police-shy me got in a massive fight with a ticketing policeman, M.’s sister-in-law tried to join in the fun at first, but soon lost interest. Later, my new friend and I walked the swim parade forgetting that it was the swim parade, locked deep in laughter and connection. In the water, we compared our keloid-rich belly scars from numerous surgeries. It felt a little bit like junior high school again, finding a friend you could “click” with like this. Meanwhile, her husband and my boyfriend sat in the cigar smoking section with M.’s brother, wrapped up in discussions of the politics and economics of the day. Yes, it did feel a bit gendered.

As my new friend finished packing her bag to leave cement beach for lunch and a flight back to Istanbul, she embraced me deeply. “I am so glad to meet you, I am so glad,” she said “to not be alone.” No sooner had she said this, than M.’s sister-in-law approached, threading her arm around my new friend’s back “it’s such a shame, you see,” she tried to join in, “that Z. has not been able to have children, it is indeed a woman’s right. As it is your right, and would that M. hadn’t had that vasectomy! It is so selfish.” The bubble was slightly burst, the reality of our environment was back, but it didn’t seem to matter quite as much, we had made a connection. I never saw her again, but she reminded me that the domination of the skinny bitch morphed with the child-bearing/rearing factory that is Turkish womanhood does not reign totally supreme.

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

3 Responses to Finally, a kindred spirit amidst the swim parade

  1. Alan says:

    As the great Astro-psychologist Albert Einstein said to me to me over a beer and a pork pie, ‘Your friends you can choose – your relativities you are lumbered with!’ Now for the Dowager Aunt – can’t wait!

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    You had us both laughing until tears streamed down our faces at “dowager!”

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

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