Last night in Bodrum Part II: Dodging Breeze snakes and coffee bullets

A captivatingly thick and sweet bullet of Turkish coffee

Snakes of warm breeze slid around me, curiously disconnected from one another.  I felt them swoosh up and down my arms, my palms flat on the table in front of me as if about to play a child’s slapping hand game.  My demitasse coffee cup was upside-down on the saucer it belonged to.  A smudge of muddiness marred the perfect flip-over, but I ignored it.  My coffee bullet was wending its way through my bloodstream.  Mrs. X. spoke the same words again…“Now,” Mrs. X. said, “I’ll tell you what I know, you tell me what you know.” She was referring to my boyfriend, M., her husband’s brother.  We were to leave Bodrum tomorrow after a couple of weeks that ranged from relaxing and interesting to trying and confusing.

Khadijah shook her wax-papery head with all the grace that a Karagöz dancing puppet can, their loose limbs akimbo on a stick.  “Here we go, the old ‘we’re all women argument,” she sighed, “usually I would buy right into that, but now, I feel the breeze snakes. You’ve got to watch for the breeze snakes. What does she want to know – or is her world that small?”  The bullet of hot coffee had cleared my rakı fogginess – and I had to respond to Mrs. X., not to mention  Hacivad, Karagöz, and all the other puppets waiting for my response.

“Does it really have to be about secrets?” I coughed the words, and they stumbled out of my mouth in between the breeze snakes.  My mouth did not want to cooperate.  The puppets all put their chins in the palms of their hand, waiting for more.  “I mean,” I gulped, feeling the coffee grinds left in my teeth, “I mean why?”  Leaning in, the breeze snakes transported Mrs. X.’s Turkish coffee espresso breath towards me faster than the gleam of her chemically whitened teeth through the dark night.

“You know, don’t you,” she spooned the words towards me softly, “you know he doesn’t want to have children?”  Only Karagöz let out a little tiny whoop before covering his mouth again to see what would happen next.  Delivering what she thought was new information, she lurched back into her armchair quickly, and watched for my response along with the chorus of dancing ladies, hands covering mouths in shock.  I knew what they did not know, namely, we had already had the “what about children?” talk.  I knew that M. loved kids, but felt so strongly about zero population growth that he did not feel good about having his own biological children. I didn’t know how I felt about that yet and it would be a while before I did.  Did she want to hurt my feelings? Did she want to warn me?  Did she think I would not already know?  Would I ever understand her motivations?  Probably not.  I settled on her thoughts about wanting me to know.

I had grown up around my mother’s strong commitment to the zero population growth movement, thus the adoption of my sister, I suppose (or was it vice versa?).  I was mixed on the idea myself, and although it was way to early in the relationship to be deciding about whether to have children together or not, I could already tell that the notion of zero population growth was not going to go down well in this family in Turkey.  I felt the breeze snakes sliding back, as if in a tide, behind Mrs. X., as if ready to strike.

Taking the straightforward Yankee approach, I blurted out “Yes, I know about all of those views of his, we talk about it.” I didn’t know what else to do.  Before I could get the words out of my mouth in their entirety, I felt the hurtling swath of breeze snakes hit me full force – “but it is your right to have children! This is not fair to you!  I hate that he does this, it is wrong, what is wrong with him?” I could see that Mrs. X. and M. resided on different planets and that it would just always be that way.  One oppositional and non-traditional to the extreme (even without wanting to be, sometimes) and one caught in the gerbil wheel of a wealthy lady’s expected life (wanting to be and something told me also not wanting to be).

Hacivad stepped forward to jump up on my shoulder, a friend in the storm of breeze snake tides.  “M’lady, you just need to stay cool, calm and collected, you are facing a moment of cross-cultural conflict – your reality just cannot be computed in her reality.  Kids are wanted – expected – she will not understand.  Just let it be and focus on what is important.” Drawing on his zen-like calm, I channeled some inner wise woman with my final comment – some kind of wise woman that knows inside this woman in front of me, surrounded by breeze snakes, had her own crosses to bear.  “I suppose we all have strange or difficult things to deal with in the men we choose, don’t we, Mrs. X.?”

Before she could answer, I felt the warm bounce breeze that surrounds M. swagger over my way.  M.  had broken free from the clutch of middle-aged male observers looking over the balcony at their sons, dancing with arms akimbo in the air.  Swashbuckling up to me, M. galumphed into the seat next to me, throwing his arm around me.  Only I knew that he had promised to leave me alone with Mrs. X. as little as possible after the obesity comments at what I referred to as “cement beach.”  Watching the breeze snakes slither away, Mrs. X. touched the top of my coffee cup in defeat.  “It is ready to read,” she said with the empty, deflated voice of a tired middle ager at midnight.  I felt equally so.

Taking the cup into her right hand – the left one unduly occupied by a Marlboro cigarette covered in bright pink Chanel lipstick – she craned her neck to the side and peered into the bottom of the tiny cup.  “I see mountains and a goat,” she said with question marks abounding “you will have many difficult mountains to climb, but the goat climbs them easily.” Laughing – she stood and bent over to kiss me on the forehead before walking to join her husband in watching their son dancing below.

Hacivad turned to me at the same time as M. with dually quizzical airs.  “It sounds like the closest you will get to a blessing to me,” Hacivad whispered.  M. just kissed me on the cheek and said “it’ll be good to get back on the road together.”

After the breeze snakes retired for the night

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

17 Responses to Last night in Bodrum Part II: Dodging Breeze snakes and coffee bullets

  1. This is a beautifully written post. I love the “warm breeze snakes” and the “demi-tasse coffee cups”. The puppets listening in with their “chins in the palms of their hands” are lovely. The woman with the chanel lipstick, marlboro cigarette and chemically whitened teeth makes Cruella Deville seem like a sweetheart. But the best moment is when the hero comes in to save the day, M., with his “warm breeze bounce”, “swaggering and swashbuckling”, throws his arms around our heroine and prepares to sweep her off and get her “back on the road together.” I can just imagine it.

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Thanks, Trisha, very much! Since you know the leading man, I am sure you can just imagine it. These ladies in my experience are akin to your slim, tanned and perfectly pedicured mozarella mammas in front of the school…:)

  3. Alan says:

    . . wonderful! A small cultural and personal victory – you and your wagons breaking out of the circle and moving on. There is a wonderful saying I heard somewhere, sometime; ‘The dogs bark but the caravan moves on!’
    I’m enjoying this adventure so much.

  4. Pingback: Rumi’s guidance for road trips | Slowly-by-Slowly

  5. jolly joker says:

    you don’t know how you have to play the game.
    when she said “you know he doesn’t want to have children?”
    you should say “yes I know, he is impotent”

  6. Pingback: Grabbing the lion’s mane: Goodbye Bodrum, hello open road… | Slowly-by-Slowly

  7. intlxpatr says:

    Better than ‘like’

    I love this post

  8. Thank you so much for your feedback – I am glad you better-than-liked it! Does this resonate with your own experiences in the Middle East? Been dipping into your blog and hoping to find out!

  9. intlxpatr says:

    Very much so. I felt like I was there, sitting in the room with you as you dodged a bullet. 🙂 Isn’t it funny, different cultures express it differently, but the same characters show up and the little hairs on the back of your neck warn you 🙂

    You are off on a great adventure. (I am assuming you are married because of your heading.) My girlfriends who married young Kuwaitis, Qataris, Tunisians and Jordanians have now been married 30 – 40+ years. It isn’t easy, but oh, what a grand adventure. Do you follow Lynn Diligent, out of Morocco? You might like her blog, too.

  10. intlxpatr says:

    OOps, I forgot to ask, when you use slowly-slowly, is that like shwaya-shwaya? Do they use that expression or a Turkish equivalent? Have you discovered Barbara Nadel and her Inspector Cetin mysteries?

  11. Thank you so much for your comment! It is a great adventure – and while we are only 8 years in – adventure is a deserved moniker at this point! This post came out of me at breakneck pace – and whenever I recall that night on the terrace, those little back-of-the neck hairs get triggered indeed. The postings that come before that – probably at least the 4 before – detail what went on that led up to that moment.

    I do follow one of Lynne Dilligent’s blogs – just found the other – always good to stumble upon someone else interested in the vagaries, joys, challenges, etc. of cross-cultural existence.

    I look forward to a continued exchange!

  12. On shwaya-shwaya, I do think so, although neither M. nor I speak Arabic. My sense from just googling around on it is that it may be more focused on the “little by little” aspect of the phrase vs. the speed aspect of “slowly by slowly” – in Turkish we say “Yavas Yavas” (“yahvash”). The etymological roots are there, as far as I can hear! You can read more on the phrase here:

    As for the Inspector Cetin mysteries – I have a stack ready to read this summer when my professor life takes a hiatus! Can’t wait!

  13. intlxpatr says:

    You remind me of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, one of my great reads as I began my stays in the Middle East. Some of her books are really hard to find now, but I usually can find a copy or two of Guests of the Sheikh to buy – I pass them along – or now and then, rarely, the one in Marrakesh. Very rarely The View of the Nile. Grand old dame, now, sadly, departed. But you have her gift of observation and writing the details that bring your exotic journey to life. You have also mastered sharing the experience without too much violating your own privacy or your husband’s. And if anything I am saying is too personal, it won’t hurt my feelings if you edit or delete entirely. 🙂

    I miss my nomadic life . . .

  14. Thank you so much for this compliment – and I am off to ABE books to see if I can track them down. What a good tip! I do not think you are saying too much at all – it is a fine line on the balancing front, and we talk a lot about it – but the bottom line is, we both think it is important to do this – to really talk about the joys and challenges associated with cross-cultural relationships. As for missing your nomadic life – perhaps it is time to hit the road again? Fancy a visit to Bozcaada?

  15. intlxpatr says:

    Wow. Bozcaada, which I never knew existed, is right there in the middle of history, isn’t it? It looks like a place we would very much like to visit one day.

    We have visited Turkey several times. In fact, it was a visit to Turkey, in 1975, that got us focused on the Middle East. I wish I could tell you it had to do with some lofty motive, but bottom line was we loved Turkey, the bazaar, and the FOOD! We loved all the fresh fish and vegetables, and we loved the people and their generous spirits. When it came time to choose an area of specialization, hubby chose ‘Southwest Asia.” He has a sister and her husband and family living near Trebzon. And we travel this summer to Zambia, maybe next winter back to Doha for the formal establishment of the Anglican church we attended. 🙂

    Visiting just isn’t the same as living somewhere – is it?

  16. It is a wow place, Bozcaada is. Small, simple, but wow. Worth a visit. You might enjoy going during the 24-hour reading of The Ilyad conducted each year…

    I hope you will make the journey when you are next Trabzon way!

    Congratulations on the establishment of your church. I was baptized as an Episcopalian (Anglican in US parlance, right?) but grew up as a Unitarian…more posts on that soon.

  17. Pingback: The grassy keyboard and the glass shards remaining « Slowly-by-Slowly

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