Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Fidelity of Friends

Grades are done and now I can finally fill my head with more exciting visions, such as 1920s fashion and the budding plot of a suspense novel. I can’t really merge the two because the novel I’m envisioning is set in present day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look fabulous while writing it. I have often wished I could transport myself to Paris in the 20s, like in the movie Midnight in Paris. These days, I go for evening strolls around Istanbul and put my mind on a scavenger hunt for ideas, but I’ve never found a portal to a classier and more debonair time.

That’s okay, because although I can’t mingle with the Fitzgeralds or enjoy a private concert by Cole Porter, I have enough amazing people in my life to make me want to stay put.

Last week I found myself trying to dodge landmines of unbelievable stress. (One detonated on Wednesday, but everyone in the vicinity survived) My girlfriends were there for me and I realized how fortunate I am. One friend advised me to work out, and so I was able to channel my stress into something positive. I’m feeling so lucky right now.

A male colleague’s comment about women being catty seems completely ludicrous to me, especially after last week, when the support of great women friends kept my head above water. We’re strong, we cook for each other, we make each other drinks, we listen to each other. Catty? I believe he’s thinking too small. We’re more like lionesses . . . a pride of lionesses.  



Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Guest Appearance

I am a guest in this country, a long-term guest, but a guest all the same. I have a residency card and an apartment, but during orientation two years ago, one facilitator informed us that “We are guests in this country,” a message that I interpreted as we are welcome here but we are not welcome to complain or be obnoxious. This implication was lost on some. (Just imagine a loud American wandering the streets of Istanbul, calling out, “Where’s the Trader Joes?!”) But to be fair, I’m not always adept at reading between the lines. I’m still trying to understand the security advice: “Remain vigilant.” Does that mean stay home and eat popcorn and stream movies on my laptop? If that’s so, then the fort is secure. Roger that. Over and out.

Recently, I watched the first six episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, a terrifying cautionary tale which explores the depths of desperation for male supremacy and religious brainwashing. Women are used for breeding only and given patronymics, like “Offred,” which means property of Fred. This show has messed me up. When I talk with friends about the similarities between the show and Trump’s America, it feels like we’re Girl Scouts gathered around a campfire telling ghost stories. I’m the one trembling and jumping with fright at every sound coming from the woods: a crackling of dry leaves, a coyote howling in the distance. But The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t just women sharing scary stories. Everything in the show (women being forbidden to drive, be educated, express themselves freely, have money, own property, have ownership of their bodies and reproductive rights) has all happened or is currently happening to women in the world today.

In The Handmaid's Tale, foreign guests visit the land of Gilead, formerly the United States. The leaders and their wives instruct the handmaids to be on their best behavior. Offred, the handmaid at the center of the show, is asked by a guest if she is happy and Offred lies. How could she be happy? A handmaid is never at home. She’s not even a guest. She’s a slave and her own body is meant to be used as a guest rental for a baby that will be yanked away as soon as it’s born.

The word “guest” implies that you are not staying long enough to capture the essence of a place, that you’re not getting the full picture. Your hosts will tidy up the place, be on their best behavior, shield your eyes from any unsightliness (in the case of the show, scrub the blood off the execution wall). They will try to make your stay as pleasant as possible.

The American South, famous for Southern hospitality, is learning how to be a little bit more hospitable to people who may be offended by statues of Confederates who fought to uphold slavery. Those racist monuments are coming down, and perhaps they will be replaced with uplifting statues and monuments, depicting people who have done something honorable. I’m glad. Then maybe guests such as myself can visit the South and truly appreciate Southern hospitality, without feeling uncomfortable.

Turkey is another country famous for its hospitality. But judging by the recent violence in Washington DC, when Erdoğan’s bodyguards attacked peaceful protesters, some Turks need to work on what it means to be a guest.

I’m okay with someone telling me I’m a guest in this country. When I go to America this summer, I will be a guest too. I think I’m a considerate guest. I don’t kick my hosts in the face. I suppose we are all guests on this planet: here today, gone tomorrow. Let’s try to be polite guests, no matter what country we’re in, or however much at home we feel. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Happy Hıdırellez!

Happy Hıdırellez, everybody! I would tell you more about Hıdırellez, but Wikipedia has been banned in Turkey. That didn’t stop me from celebrating it, whatever it is. Tonight, I dined at a Syrian restaurant with a friend and her book club members. I drank potent mint lemonade and sampled several delicious dishes. I met people from America, Scotland, New Guinea, Syria, and Turkey.

When I asked a Syrian man if he liked living in Turkey, he answered, “You can’t drink the whole ocean in a cup.” If I were as dumb as our fake president, I would not have understood this metaphor, as with the metaphor, “The oval office has no corners you can hide in.” Luckily, I’m not so stupid and I understood what he meant.

After dinner, Maureen and I ignored the State Department’s security warnings to avoid crowds and went to a jam-packed party in celebration of Hıdırellez. These days, I don’t usually venture out to the neighborhood Sultan Ahmet, the home of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, but it felt comforting to be back in such a beautiful place on a beautiful night like tonight. The population of Istanbul must have been concentrated in that very densely populated party, because the streets of Sultan Ahmet were oddly vacant. Actually, I don’t know where everybody was. Maybe they were asleep already.

They certainly weren’t out lamp shopping. That job was left up to me. Maureen and I went into a lovely shop and I bought a white mosaic lamp that shines beautifully when lit up. That was my Hıdırellez present to myself. I wish everyone a spectacular Hıdırellez. Good night.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Holding on to Core Values

Years ago, my friend Muhammad told me that his life in America closely resembled his life in Saudi Arabia. He was a strict rule-follower, like someone who waits for the walk signal even when there are no cars for miles. I admired his discipline, but I didn’t know if his loyalty to his Saudi lifestyle came from a strong sense of self or from being so entrenched in traditions his whole life that he simply did not know how to deviate from his conservative status quo. 

He was only twenty when we used to meet at cafes to help each other with our native languages, and although it’s possible for young people to have a strong sense of self, I wondered if “a sense of self” was something to which he aspired. Maybe that was an American notion, as elusive as the book Of Mice and Men, which Muhammad was forced to read for his English class. (Note to EFL teachers: Just because a book is slim does not mean it’s an easy read.) 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was serving as human Cliffs Notes, historical context provider, and old-timey slang interpreter, I was receiving quite an education myself. That’s because no matter how overwhelming that little book seemed, Muhammad never grew frustrated. Years later, I keep his calm steady determination in mind. When I see Americans cutting corners and doing things they might not do in America, I think of Muhammad’s cookie-cutter core principles that would stay the same, no matter if he were in Vegas or Mecca. 

With all my travels and people I meet, I hope to pick up traits and knowledge I didn’t have before. In Turkey, I’m learning to be more generous. Every day, I’m learning to be more patient. However, patience for my fellow Americans needs replenishing somehow. When I see Americans using their privilege to mistreat people or do mediocre work, I feel more disillusioned with my country. My first thought is that this unethical behavior is un-American, but when you think about it, America is run by people who have used their privilege in unethical ways. In spite of some politicians tarnishing the image of what it means to be an American, I’ll try to hold fast to my ideals, no matter how easy it is to break the rules.

To go along with that theme, here's some classic Whitney Houston. Enjoy!