Basketbol, Turkish Style

I’m still too angry to try to re-write my previous “daily prompt” post, but I also realize I will not be doing much as long as the winners of today’s secim (election) remain unknown. So, I will write about yesterday’s comedy. Canim’s friend invited us to watch a basketball game with him at the city’s new stadium. When I say new, I mean REALLY new. I’ve been functioning in Turkey longer than this stadium has been functioning. When I first arrived in Turkey, the stadium was just a skeleton of a building that I passed every day on my way to work. 

Now, it is up and running. We decided to go. I was very excited to see an Istanbul team play our local team. Expecting to pay what we would pay for a football game, I was very surprised to learn that the tickets would cost 1.5 TL (about 75 cents, depending on the day). That was my first clue that this would be a cultural learning experience, even when watching a game from my home country with several players from my home country. 

We arrived at the stadium to purchase our very pricey tickets. Canim promised me we could go to the kuafor after we bought the tickets because we’d have about three hours to kill. He hurried back to the car and told me we’d have to come back to the stadium early because the tickets were general admission, meaning we could choose our own seats. I imagined hundreds of people pushing their way through the doors, tripping over each other, scrambling to find the best seats. I’ve tried to stand in line at a cash register in this country. I know how things can get. 

So, we arrived almost an hour before the game started. Let’s just say we were able to sit in the second row without a problem. We could have sat in the first row, but there was a railing obstructing our view of the court, so we scrambled over no one to sit in the second row. 

When we were nice and settled, I realized I had to use the restroom. Of course! Gentleman that he is, Canim escorted me to the restroom. Now, I have to air a grievance here. I understand I am not in my home country, and even if I were, my home country leaves MUCH to be desired. However – the stadium is new. NEW NEW NEW. Guests from other countries visit the stadium. Millions of lira were put into the stadium. Why, oh WHY were there 4 squatty potties and only 1 western toilet in this brand new building??? And why were there absolutely NO paper products available for the female guests to use? I have some theories about the bathroom situation, but you’re here to read about basketball, so I’ll move on. 

On the way back to our seats, we decided to purchase refreshments. Beer? No. Super-sized fountain drinks? Nope! Bottled/canned soft drinks? Wrong again. Our options were bottled water, tea, and *maybe* Nescafe, but to me, Nescafe is never an option, so basically it was just water and tea. We bought a little bit of both, plus a bag of popcorn (prepackaged) and a Nesquik chocolate bar. I’ll tell you, the prices were super reasonable. We expected to pay upwards of 20 TL for what would normally cost about 10. Turns out we paid somewhere near 7 TL. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Madison Square Garden anymore. 

The game was cool. The Istanbul team had their little pep squad chanting and cheering, waving their flags and banners around. The rest of the crowd was pretty tame. How tame, do you ask? Well, the very endearing teyze next to me should give you a pretty good idea: 

ImageSo the stadium wasn’t full, even with tickets at 1.5 TL a pop. Still, the game was easy to follow and I found myself shouting things from time to time, like “yuuuhh” which is the Turkish version of “Booo!” when the refs made a bad call. I even shouted,”You know that was a foul!” because one of my fellow countrymen on the home team was arguing with the ref and I really believed him. Mind you, I have no idea what a foul is in basketball, but I know it cost the home team 6 points. 

At halftime, we watched the team practice free-throws. Canim insisted that he knew one of the players. I’ll just call him Player. Player lives near Canim’s office. Canim called out, “Player! Player!” a few times, but it was too noisy for him to hear. I suggested Canim call out his name and wave his arms. He didn’t seem crazy about that idea. Suddenly (because the balls were going everywhere but the hoop), Player walked near us to retrieve one of the balls. Canim called out,”PLAYER!” and I waved my arms in the air. Canim has no recollection of doing this, but he pushed my arms down and waved to Player himself. Player looked surprised to see Canim, definitely a look of recognition, smiled, and continued practicing. I was cracking up for a good ten minutes after that, because I couldn’t believe Canim pushed my hands down. It felt like a Friends moment, like something Ross would do to Rachel. 

As it turns out, the home team lost. They’re definitely the underdog. If this were March Madness in the States, we’d be hoping for a Cinderella story. Okay, I confess I’m not 100% sure if that sentence made sense, or if I just mixed sports metaphors. The point is: the team made me think, “Bendito,” in my head. If you don’t know what that means, google it. 

ImageMy next two updates will include my secim experience with Canim and I will finally share my response to that blasted daily prompt. 

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Stop and Smell the Flowers

“March Madness” takes on a different meaning for me this year. Few people I know actually like March. With the exception of my niece and a few friends celebrating their birthdays this month, March is the kind of month that wears out its welcome really quick. “In like a lion”? Rude. People have had enough of winter. “Out like a lamb”? That just leaves people saying, “Good riddance!” as they embrace April. To make it worse, it’s five weeks long. Five weeks wouldn’t be so bad if I were not working for three out of those five weekends. Now, I won’t gripe about that part too much because I am blessed to have a job in the first place, let alone one that allows me to live in the same precious country as my beloved Canim.

But that doesn’t make March suck any less — not even with St. Patrick’s Day, because a holiday that doesn’t give me the day off is of little use to me.

March Madness also has a new meaning because of the coming elections, the potential internet shutdown, the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan (a boy who died after being put in a coma during the Gezi Park protests), and various other scandals affecting the nation’s government. People have taken to the streets again. The police have met them there. It has gotten ugly, but I haven’t experienced it in person.

Last night, Canim and I decided to take a walk to surprise our friends at the local havas (airport shuttle) stop as they were on their way back home to Istanbul. The walk was about 1km away from my house. We could hear music playing and horns honking in the distance. As we approached the stop, we found ourselves walking alongside a parade of cars, motorcycles, and vans loudly playing music in favor of a local politician in an opposition party. It was loud, but I didn’t feel threatened. Holding my hand, Canim calmly asked, “Darling, what will we do if the police come?” I’m not sure what broke my heart more, the fact that we needed a plan in case violence broke out, or the fact that he was so calm about it, like this is the new normal. My plan was just to run like mad in the opposite direction.

My mind was racing thinking about how scary my new Turkish reality has become this year, but I stopped when the breeze wafted the strong scent of orange/turunc blossoms my way (we actually didn’t agree on the source of the blossoms, but I’m certain I am correct). I pointed out the tree. He didn’t notice it initially, but he smelled the flowers and we agreed that the smell was intoxicating. He picked a flower off of the tree for me. We stood on the sidewalk smelling the flowers, forgetting about the politicians, the police, and all of the problems that have been hanging in the air throughout the whole country. It was a sweet moment, and the only thing that topped it was when we were walking back home and we spotted another tree with (orange or citrus) blossoms. Rather than picking another flower for me, he grabbed a small branch, and now my kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom smell like (orange or citrus) blossoms. It was very funny to me, for some reason, and the look on his face as we walked back to my house was something I will remember for a long time. It was like a look of contentment (although he later told me I need to teach him a word that means “more than happy” because that’s what he is). It was as though for a few minutes, he wasn’t thinking that Monday was just a few hours away, or that the country seems to be spiraling out of control (or into far too much control, depending on your perspective). He was just savoring the moment with me, knowing that our time together is more important than anything else. I’m learning so much from him, and he doesn’t even know it.

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The Under-the-Knife Yabanci

They say there’s a first time for everything. Many people will have surgery of some kind during their lifetime. Until today, the closest I had ever been to surgery was getting a cavity filled, and that was only 2 years ago. 

Today I had my first kinda-real surgery. Does it still count as surgery if you are awake the whole time? I think it does. On Saturday, Canim (my fiance’s pseudonym for this blog. It’s a Turkish term of endearment, but we never use it with each other because I think it is too common) took me to the hospital to have a consultaiton with the doctor. In Turkey, it seems normal “well” visits and consultations occur within a hospital, so it just sounds more dramatic than it really is. I was all set to have my surgery that day, but the doctor couldn’t do it because he had a meeting. Uffff ya. That meant I had to wait two more days. That also meant I would not have Canim by my side to translate and to make me feel less nervous. 

Did you know it’s possible to be dizzy in your sleep? I was dizzy all night, even in my dreams. I woke up looking for relief, and found that my apartment was spinning and opening my eyes only made it worse. I swore I wasn’t nervous about the surgery, but I think my body was manifesting my anxiety in ways that beg to differ. I left work right before lunch and took a cab to the hospital. Grateful I had done a dry run before with Canim, I marched right up to where I needed to go, only to realize I had left my phone somewhere. Maybe in the taxi, maybe at work. So that led to me rummaging through my overstuffed (but not with money) wallet to find Canim’s business card because I am a dope who has not memorized a phone number since 2001. 

I tried to ask the receptionist for permission to use the phone, but at the first sign of my lack of Turkish, she called a translator, who emerged from the abyss only to announce that she had some sort of personal emergency and I had to wait. Thank God didn’t have an emergency! I tried to tell the receptionist that I could communicate exactly what I wanted, but she kept fluttering about, apologizing for not speaking English. Finally, and abruptly, I blurted,”TELEFON KULLANABILIR MIYIM?” That’s supposed to be Turkish for, “May I use your phone?” Surprised and amused, she let me use the phone and Canim once again swooped in to save the day and track down the taxi driver, who returned to the hospital 5 minutes before my appointment and gave me my phone while his new passengers looked at me with puzzled expressions on their faces. 

So the surgery. It was cosmetic in nature and my vanity definitely prompted me to get the consultation, but it was also necessary for health reasons. I’m trying not to think about how long I will have to wait for results and what those results will be. Instead, I will think about how creepy and surreal it was to actually hear someone putting stitches into my head (obviously close to my ear) while I felt absolutely nothing. It was also funny to learn that my doctor’s ringtone is Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how well he understood English slang, because the beginning of that song is a little bit awkward in a professional setting. You can go ahead and Google the lyrics. 

 

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He and his assistant talked QUITE a bit before thinking to ask me how much Turkish I understood. I heard him name the city where I am originally from and I made eye contact, which prompted them to ask how much I know, and they both looked a bit sheepish after that. Their conversation quickly turned to more mundane topics. The funny thing is I really didn’t understand THAT much of what they said, but cok ayip anyway for maybe saying something that they wouldn’t have wanted me to hear in my native language.  

I now have to spend the next four days going to the hospital for them to change my bandages. I have a Frankenstein-rag doll look going on. It is not cute. Hopefully (insallah) the stitches will come out on Thursday evening, in time for me to look somewhat normal when I fly across the country for a work-related conference this Friday. In the meantime, I will try to think of creative ways to style my hair (it can’t be washed for another two days…ugh) to hide the Frankenstein situation. This whole week will be a pain, but as I once heard a CEO-type mom telling her one-year-old son, “Sorry honey. You have to suffer to be beautiful.” Or in my case, beautiful and healthy. 

The Invisible Yabanci

This is only my third post and already I feel like I am noticing a theme. Just yesterday, I realized I have been in quite a funk for at least 2 weeks. I’m not exactly sure what brought it on, but it’s probably a combination of things. As a result, my last blog had a really negative tone, and this one probably will as well, at least a little bit. The good news is I can sense (not quite “see”) the light at the end of this little tunnel, and I know I will be emerging from this funk soon.

Any yabanci who has visited places in Turkey beyond Istanbul can testify that as a foreigner, it is not easy to be “under the radar” when doing even the most mundane things. No matter what, it seems there is always something that stands out. The way we dress, the way we style our hair, the way we gesture (or don’t gesture) with our hands, our facial expressions, etc. We can often be identified as foreigners without ever speaking. Fortunately (I think?), I have been able to blend quite easily as a foreigner. My family is of Latino heritage, and many people from our particular part of the world tend to be what I call “ethnic chameleons”, capable of blending into almost any other culture, at least physically. Even now that I am unintentionally blonde (I came to Turkey with black hair and now I’m about 90% blonde), people still think I am Turkish. I’m just “Turkish blonde” and it doesn’t turn many heads. Of course, when I speak, the jig is up. People figure me out and then try to guess where I’m from. Syria? Italy? Germany? England?

So how, with foreigners being such an oddity in many parts of Turkey, do I manage to feel invisible sometimes? Honestly, I think I am going through one of the stages of culture shock again. For the first year I was in Turkey, I definitely encountered many hiccups, but most of my problems were because of interactions with specific kinds of people, and not because of cultural differences. My initial adjustment to Turkish culture was remarkably smooth. I feel like I have regressed a bit, especially because my current job (which I love) is a more English-rich environment, and I am by no means the only yabanci. I am no longer emerged in Turkish culture, but I am floating around somewhere between Turkish and North American culture.

Now that I am marrying into a lovely Turkish family where only my fiance speaks English, I sometimes feel panicky about saying or doing the right things all the time. I feel embarrassed when I don’t take off my shoes gracefully enough (in my own mind) in the foyer of their home, or if I forget to make an offer three times when I want to help a family member complete some task. I don’t know if the three times thing is an actual rule but it seems to be the way things work. They politely refuse to let me help, but it causes me anxiety. Then if they do accept my help, I feel inadequate because I don’t chop tomatoes the same way, or I clear the table differently. I know for a fact that I do not make the bed “correctly” (I make it the way my mother taught me, which is the way I have always seen it done until about 2 months ago). His family is very loving and accepting and has never made me feel judged, but in my own mind, it’s like I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone is thinking my fiance is marrying a woman who does not know where to begin caring for a husband and children. Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it crosses my mind.

Rather than taking the risk of embarrassing myself, I feel myself trying to fade into the background. But then I am furious when conversations take off at a faster rate than I can understand and no one translates for me. I don’t care if they’re talking about football or politics or other things that I might not normally care about. I WANT TO KNOW. I want to be a part of it.

Yesterday, I went to the chicken store and asked for kusbasi chicken (the Turkish characters are missing in that word). That means I wanted chicken breasts cut into cubes. The man has done it for me before, and I see him almost every week, yet yesterday he just gave me two whole chicken breasts and sent me on my way. He didn’t know that I had just spent a week feeling like I suck at my job, and my weekend was a “working weekend” where I was totally out of my element and almost nothing was translated for me, so I felt useless, like my presence was more of a burden than anything else. Add that to a crappy Monday back at work and the feeling of not being understood by people who DO speak English, and I was really ready to burst (into many self-pitying tears). I sighed, took the chicken home, and chopped it up myself. It was at that moment that I realized I am going through a period of feeling invisible. Sometimes I say good morning or gunaydin to people (people who I know understand both terms) and hear nothing in return. I always hold the door open for people, but many times people know I am walking behind them and do not bother to hold the door. It makes me upset. I take it very personally. But should I? In North America, I would probably utter an audible, sarcastic, “THANK YOU!” when someone doesn’t care to hold the door open, or I would repeat myself until the person I greeted acknowledges that I’ve said something. Here, I don’t feel so bold. I feel like a shrinking violet, and that is NOT who I am. Not at all.

I think in an effort to please people in this second culture, I have let a lot of my “first culture” personality fade away. My feisty (alingan, he taught me yesterday) nature has morphed into a passive, pushover personality that I really can’t stand. I think for a year and a half I have been hearing less of “It’s not wrong; it’s different” and a LOT more “If it’s different, it’s wrong,” and I’ve let it get to me.

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I’m still working on trusting myself more and letting these kinds of things go.

–YB