Voodoo or nazar boncuğu?


Karagöz is jumping up and down with his usual amount of vim and vigor, so much so that even the weight of his wax-papery self is getting to my shoulder. He’s all hot and bothered – which in his world means he’s psyched – because the gas station attendant here in rural upstate New York has just asked me if I practice voodoo.

Besides the fact that I have no idea where this is coming from, I am already reeling from my sad reaction to the garden of commemorative 9-11 flags in this area and confusion at the looping “Star-Spangled Banner” muzak emanating from above the cash register where I am getting a pack of gum.

“Listen to what that dummy asked you!” Karagöz churtles as Hacivad appears in meditation pose, motioning to me silently to ignore him and be peaceful. Hacivad, Kenne, Khadijah & the chorus of little dancing ladies have all taken a vow of silent Vipassana meditation today, 9-11-2011. So they are otherwise engaged…trying to encourage me to join them via their silence, since they know I have started to meditate recently. Karagöz taunts me mercilessly about the retreat I have signed up for.

But in this moment, here in this rural gas station, Karagöz and I are having none of the peace that Hacivad and company are offering. We are distinctly antsy. As I consider the gas station attendant’s question in the split second after he says it, this red-capped, pimply faced teenager, I feel how out of step M. and I must look somehow without our patriotic pins, clothes or bumper stickers. We are clearly “from away” as the down east Mainers would say. “Do I really look like a voodoo worshipper?” I wonder silently, “but why would he think so? and am I buying into some stereotype of voodoo worshippers by even going along with this thinking sort of?”

For a moment, I wonder whether this young man can read my mind about my 9-11 feelings. Today is the 10th year since 9-11 and we remember it with a deep sadness and even gloom. I worked across the street for a time, at the Legal Aid Society. I used to look out at the World Trade Center during trainings when my brain was full of the latest case law. Now I am haunted by dreams of seeing bodies falling from the buildings as I watched out the window – though I lived 200 miles away by then.

Today, although we are surrounded by somber commemoration that we can certainly relate to in our own sadness about the day, we both feel that many in the U.S. STILL have no sense of the true and complete “why” behind it all. More than Israel & Palestine, it is the legacy of interference we have spearheaded silently or not so silently all over the world – Chile, El Salvador, Granada, Iran and so many others. Although we do not speak of this here, we know better as this is a day to commemorate those lost, we might as well be voodoo worshippers, I think, creating stereotypes of my own about those around me, if these folks knew our view of 9-11 is along the lines of “although it was a despicable act like none other, what goes around comes around.”

And just as I am pulling myself back from this paranoid fantasy of mind-reading & links to stereotyped images of voodoo and my general overly analytical brain curse, I see the beads on our car’s window. It’s a string of nazar boncuğu or Turkish evil eyes – the good luck charm that my brother-in-law insisted we put in the car for protection – as so many Turks do. Greeks and Israelis too. They do look a bit creepy and voodoo-related if you don’t know what they are, I suppose. Ours are mixed with a strand of forlorn red Cuban fertility beads (didn’t work), Asian wooden medicinal beads (didn’t work) and a red poppy to commemorate veterans (worked). It’s a bit of a hippie mix, like we are.

I reign my brain back in to the present time and place and brush Karagöz into my purse for a bit. My attempt to provide a gentle & friendly explanation about the multicultural and cross-religion use of the nazar boncugu (our ghoulish-looking-to-the-outsider blue and white beads) falls pretty flat, and I consider dashing back to the gas pump & telling M. to high-tail it outta here…but instead I just smile, take my gum & wish him a good day. As I leave I wonder whether I should say something about 9-11, but I don’t know what or how…no amount of nazar boncuğu could have stopped what went on that day in 2001…but I do hope little actions like explaining nazar boncuğu to a young man far from the Middle East might create some incremental understanding of otherness that will flower in the future. I have to believe it will.

Just another small moment of navigation on our road trip through cross-cultural marriage.

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This entry was posted in America post 9-11, Cross-cultural learning moments, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Voodoo or nazar boncuğu?

  1. Alan says:

    without hope there is no future; without belief there is no future. I am an optimist – I truly believe that some day humankind will become self-aware (educated) enough to shed the chains of the system that breeds ALL of the ills of the world. Otherwise, what is the point? An ‘Impossibleist’? Absolutely!
    Thanks for this gentle, to the point posting.

  2. pisisultan says:

    Hello,before Islam when Turks were shamanist and in Central Asia,nazar boncuğu was symbolizing the eye of Gök Tanrı(Sky God,he is the good god) they believed it was protecting them from the evils of underground god

  3. pisisultan says:

    So for me a nazar boncuğu is a time machine:-)I love them

  4. Liz Cameron says:

    Thanks, A. I need to work to keep my inner “impossibleist” flame a bit more sparkly, you are inspiring me, as did this young man in the posting…

  5. Liz Cameron says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I should have written more about the origins of the nazar boncuğu and am grateful for this!

  6. Liz Cameron says:

    I really like your conceptualization about nazar boncuğu as time machine!

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