The Karagöz puppets return…with a kabak and some çapak for my Turkish lesson

Kabakler - a number of squash (Image by Liz Cameron)

Kabakler – a number of squash (Image by Liz Cameron)

Early yesterday morning as I lay sprawled out in bed, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the learned Hacivad Bey Puppet who for once, oddly enough, was standing right next to the Karagöz puppet himself. These two usually do not get along – so their presence together made me sit up and take notice.

“Bey efendiler, what are you up to so early in the morning,” I managed, my voice horse with sleep.

“Well, M’lady,” Hacivad Bey began, “we have come to determine two things, that you need to lighten up a bit and move away from this fear-related writing for now and also that you need to kick it up a few notches on your Turkish learning – your friend over at Turklish has some great ideas about infusing Turkish into your everyday life. This, of course, will help you feel less afraid to walk around the city – and probably will help M. as well.”

“Hell,” Karagöz inserted, pushing Hacivad Bey out of the way rather rudely, “and you just need to have some more fun! Enough with the deep conversations on gender, class, culture and violence against women – get up, go out with your husband and have fun with him – and work on your Turkish!!!”

“Fun,” I thought, rubbing the çapak out of my eyes, “how am I going to be FUN when I’m not feeling very FUN these days? And FUN in TURKISH? Sigh” And as I took the tissue from my bedside to remove the çapak from my eyes – or what my Mother referred to as “the sleep” and yet others referred to as “eye boogers,” it hit me. My relationship with speaking Turkish began with this very word – çapak. If I am to re-invigorate my attention to learning more Turkish, let’s start there.

This was the first word I learned in Turkish, oddly enough. Way back in 2004, M. met me for coffee early in our courtship and said “Oh, you have some çapak in your eye,” and gently brushed the crusty nugget of sand-sized material out of my left eye socket.

Here is a çapak - or a common bream fish

Here is a çapak – or a common bream fish

Hmmm,” I reflected, “çapak. That’s an interesting sounding word.” After reciting the Turkish alphabet to me, began to rhyme in Turkish – you know – çapak, tabak, kabak…in other words, eye booger, table and squash. At this moment, Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet called out from somewhere, likely the kitchen, as he is re-arranging our spice shelf these days. “don’t forget that çapak also refers to sea bream – a fish!”

Later that night, I sat on the couch with M. to watch our secret, guilty pleasure – “The Bachelor.” This is a television show in which one man or one woman takes his/her time in assessing 25 marriage candidates only to eventually choose one with whom to tie the not. Aside from the obvious gender commentary that runs rampant on our couch as we scream at the television, we are obsessed with what this television puts people through from a group psychology perspective – forget even getting as far as problematic gender imagery. And as we sat there, along with the Karagoz puppet troupe lined up on the couch behind us, M. cracked and munched, cracked and munched his favorite roasted pumpkin seeds – aka the ones from the kabak mentioned above.

As I had been working on my Turkish the whole day, I turned to him, jubilant, and exclaimed “Kabak!” I, of course, thought I was showing my ever-increasing knowledge of Turkish. M., on the other hand, nearly spit his kabak seeds in my face as he laughed out loud. After a kiss on the cheek, he explained his intense mirth – “Canım (dear),” he explained, “to say KABAK to someone means – well – they are a simple minded, not-too-rich-in-the-brains-department kind of person, um, in other words, an idiot!”

And so goes another day in the life of a Turkish American couple where the vernacular is usually the devil in the details.



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

7 Responses to The Karagöz puppets return…with a kabak and some çapak for my Turkish lesson

  1. Sandra Y. Espinoza says:

    I think that Karagoz has it right…FUN…and you kind of got there…to wit, M’s reaction to “Kabak.”

  2. lizcameron says:

    Hi Sandra,

    Yes, he does have it right, 99% of the time! We totally got there in a fit of giggles after he explained to me the meaning of the word. It is just this kind of simple interaction that our days are filled with on the language front.

    All my best, Liz

  3. Turklish says:

    What a great post Liz! The way you integrated your personal story related to the word, çapak, and kabak, and all the various meanings of both words, was well-written and funny. You also illustrated an important point – how DIFFICULT it is to learn another language. I know I go through fits and starts, and plenty of confusion.

    I’m glad my earlier post gave you some encouragement to have fun with your Turkish. Now you have re-motivated me as well. 🙂 I hope one day we can speak our Turklish together.

  4. lizcameron says:

    Thank you so much for these very kind comments! They raise my spirits too. I really hope we can speak our Turklish together one day too! Come to Bozcaada!!! We can wander the hills and speak our Turklish until we get it right and no one will make fun of us but the goats. 🙂

  5. Alan says:

    . . then there is ‘dope’ and ‘dope’ and ‘dope’! My limited Turkish/English dictionary settles on vernik/varnish and ignores the weeds – stupid is what I call it (the dictionary)!
    Good to have you posta-ing 😀

  6. lizcameron says:

    Oh yes! I think I remember that difficult communication in the hardware store about varnish! Glad you enjoyed the post. Good to be back hope I’ll stay back!

  7. Lovely post! @Turklish is right, you are such a good weaver of stories. Solidarity with that learning-Turkish pain, though…

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