Of cigars, ironing and my very own “Sicilian message”

Image from La Casa del Hubano in Hamburg (click image for link)

We are driving back from the Migros supermarket I have my stash of rosehip juice, for better or for worse.  M. has his leblebi and sunflower seeds, for better or for worse.  We are ready to roll in the morning, and X., M’s brother-in-law plans to take us to get the rental car in Bodrum first thing.  I realize that nothing can be done without the OK of the big brother.  It is endearing, I think, this bond of love, this sense of responsibility.  I think that for a few minutes and decide it is not all that – it is also some sort of brotherly sparring, some sort of exertion of control by one who remains in Turkey and one who chooses a different life elsewhere.  I decide that no amount of brotherhood analysis is really going to make any difference, and I let the topic float out of my mind before I think about what life would be like with a heavy-handed but well-intentioned brother-in-law if M. and I chose to live permanently in this country…but this is 2004, and I was hesitant to think about life plans at that point.  M. was just my boyfriend and I was just meeting his family.

As we exit the fortress that is the massive BMW of X., I can smell the starch in the steam from an iron coming from the steps down below.  Kalinka, the Moldovan maid extraordinaire who has been my #2 (after M.) ally in at-times difficult moments here in the gated compound near Bodrum, has washed and ironed all of our clothes to perfection – without us asking. I note that the otherwise super modern house is home to a very old fashioned looking iron.

Feeling a bit unsure about how to address this situation – much less how to don what are now heavily starched underpants in lock-step folded formation – I ask M. if we should pay Kalinka.  After all, I think, she works for X. not for us, this is extra work.  M. agrees and secrets some funds into her hand with a heartfelt thank you and a hug.  She has been a lightness in the sometimes unbearable atmosphere of being on or near cement beach and the swim parade.  I give her a hug and offer up one of my now-few Russian words – friend.  She squeezes me back and slaps my butt before kissing me on both cheeks.  She is a vibrant soul.  What I do not realize at the time is that this payment will cause havoc in the years to come.  But I will get to that.  For now, let’s see what happens.

M. heads to the room to take a nap, and X. calls me into the outdoor terrace – remember the one with the massive futbol flag flapping down two stories in the Aegean breeze?  ensconced in the corner seat on the white canvas couch, M has both arms stretched out, the end of one arm includes a hand with the usual Cohiba cigar.  I note that X. is dressed in the colors of his futbol team.  “Come and sit, let’s talk,” X. says, “you are leaving tomorrow, we should talk.”  I feel grateful for this, for this welcoming, and I don’t notice that both Hacivad and Karagoz are receding down my back as if repelling down a cliff.  They secret themselves away into my purse with all of the ladies, and I know it isn’t any monkey business that they are after, they are clearly escaping.  While I do notice that my most trusted counsel of shadow puppets is for some reasons receding like a quick tide during an earthquake in the ocean, I don’t, for some inexplicable reason, choose to fully notice this.

Plopping myself down onto the couch with a happy smile, happy to share some time alone with M.’s brother who has indeed been very kind to me on this trip and made every effort to assure my comfort as well as my family’s concerns back home through, for example, polite introductory telephone calls filled with assurances I have not asked for, I breathe in the lovely clean air – until the cigar smoke catches me like a fish in a net. “So,” X. says, taking on a most officious tone, “so I am glad that you spend time here with our family.” He shifts himself forward, both hands on his knees now, leaning towards me a bit.  “I am glad to see that my brother is happy with you and you with him.”  Of course, I agree with him, but now I am feeling something brewing.  I hear Karagoz yell out from the depths of my purse across the patio “something wicked this way comes!” before he is pulled under and the button of the purse is summarily snapped shut.  It is the battening of the hatches before a storm going on over there, and I am wondering if I am too exposed to the elements.

“You need to know,” X. says with certainty and a direct look in the eye, “you need to know that M. is a good man and he will never cheat you.  He will take good care of you and he will be stable.  Not the wealthiest, but stable and loving.  And I hope you will never cheat him.”  I sit in silence, not sure what to say as he adds in this hum-dinger.  “You know, he had someone before many years ago, and she cheated him.  Do you know anything about this?”  I can see this is going perilously close to a firestorm and I am tongue-tied.  There is some movement over in my purse, the puppets are moving together, jumping in unison, trying to move the purse out of the room.  I am frozen in my white cushion couch perch. I think I know what he is referring to from M.’s stories, but I decide to play dumb. “No,” I said, hoping I would not blush, “I do not.”

“I don’t know you, I don’t know your family, but you seem like a good person.  I wish only the best for my brother, but you must know, this person that cheated my brother, she makes me very angry.  Very. Angry.”  X. is pointing now, upwards.  He is getting red in the face and his upset is written all over that red face.  “You need to know that if what I hear is true, about this person who has CHEATED my brother and therefore me and my family, you have to know that if it were up to me, (and dear readers, this is a direct quote emblazoned in my memory)  I wish she could be taken to the top of the mountain and raped a thousand times!  She cheated this family!”  Hearing the commotion as she is entering with a tea tray, Kalinka looks in – and quickly turns around and high-tails it out of there.

Time stops.  As the wind, trees and people around me are frozen, I think to myself, “um, did he really just say that, about raping a thousand times? What the heck? What kind of gendered freaky bullshit is this anyway?  This is hyperbole, right? Is this why M. left the country?”  As I watch the cigar smoke frozen in mid-air, the tendrils of gauzy grey winding around a frozen in mid-wag finger of X., I wonder what I have gotten myself into.

I lose myself a bit in the frozen world, having never seen a frozen world before and am therefore surprised when the little ladies come marching out of the purse, now halfway into the kitchen from the porch.  “M’lady,” the leader of the shadow dancing chorus says ignoring my shock at her movement, “you need to understand that tempers flair high, but the words are not serious, and he has not done this thing.  You must soothe the tempers of men, and ignore their foolish words”  I turn my head at an angle as if to take in what she has said.  “Oh, and yes, we puppets move even in frozen time.”

Karagoz jumps out of the purse behind her like some cartoon character prince around to save the day.  “That’s some womanly talk – look at this buffoon – you must protest!  Agent provocateur – I wish that I were!  You need to speak!  Feminist principles do indeed reek!  But you must not be afraid to step on the peak – of this mountain he mentions!”  Although Karagoz is speaking in his usual bizarre poetry-like jumble, I hear the call to protest, to speak truth, to make some gentle feminist observation and bring this guy around to realize that he is making a TOTALLY SCARY AND INAPPROPRIATE comment.  Hacivad, of course,  is the next to appear.  All he says is “take the middle path.”

Time suddenly unfreezes mid-spittle, and I get a bit of the cigar-laced saliva on me.  I take pains to ignore it.  X. speaks for me as he stands up to walk out of the room.  “You, I know you are different, you would never cheat my brother and therefore me.  For this, I am glad.”  Whomever the woman is, I think, I feel badly for her, given the wrath that she has induced.  I can’t conceptualize what has led to this level of wrath.  Something tells me not to tell M. about this conversation.  And I don’t, for about 6 months.  X. turns on his way out and delivers this line: “I know I can count on you.”

I sit, forlorn, here on the white canvas couch that smells like clean sunshine, the potential cheater, feeling unclean from cigar smoke and the awful images ginned up so quickly from the imagination of this fiery potential brother-in-law.  He seems to epitomize every one of the worst stereotypes I have about men in Muslim countries even though I don’t want to admit I have them.  This is the first I have seen of this side of him.  Kalinka brings me a glass of tea and kisses me on the cheek as if she has understood the whole conversation in English.  I stare out at the sky and listen to the flapping of the flag.  The message has been received.

A Sicilian Message

All I can think of is Luca Brasi and the “Sicilian message” in The Godfather, involving the delivery of a dead fish which means something like “you will sleep with the fishes” (once we whack you).

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

10 Responses to Of cigars, ironing and my very own “Sicilian message”

  1. Alan says:

    utterly despicable; there are no other words – I don’t care what cultural excuses some may make, such behaviour is beyond forgiveness.

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    I agree completely. It was an awful, truly awful, moment that I will never forget. Even if he wasn’t serious – even if it was some sort of taking-it-to-the extremes way of Turkish expressing dislike, this was terrible. Obviously, it gave me a lot of pause. When I did bring myself to tell M. about it, he was so troubled by it…it is still painful. I guess this is part of the cathartic process – and trying to understand from the outside and after a space of time.

  3. Oh my God!!! What a story. That is truly frightening. I remember being quite shocked in Italy when –after OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife — I heard several older Italians say, “Ah, but that was just a crime of passion.” I think there is a deep-seated Mediterranean attitude that it is understandable, even if illegal, for a husband to murder a cheating wife. Scary.

  4. jolly joker says:

    this is M. a.k.a husband of women writing this blog, jolly joker, if you took X’s logic to the extreme, given that most men cheat their wives in turkey, shouldn’t all men be taken to mountains and raped a 1000 times?
    i realize this is as ridiculous as his comment, but hey i am jolly joker…

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  6. Liz Cameron says:

    Dear beloved Jolly Joker,

    I suppose sometimes jolly joking is all one can do in the face of this difficult stuff.

    Love you!


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