Sunday, 23 November 2008

Just put me in a cage!

The other day I was telling a friend about how it feels to be a foreigner in Turkey. I think it can be pretty well summed up in this short story:

One day we went to a local park. The park has a small zoo and aside from two very active monkeys, it's mostly just farm animals and some strange looking birds. Nothing special, but still exciting for kids.

I walked around the cages with Elise, looked at the animals and listened to the people around us:

"Look mom!! It's a goat... and a baby goat!!!! Look at how cute it is!!!"
"I see that dear! What a sweet little goat!"

"Wow dad! There's a monkey! It's looking at me! I wonder where they got that monkey from!"

"Ooooh!! Listen to the noises those birds are making... that's so funny!!"

Elise and I stood in front of the monkey cage and watched while some boys fed them spicy doritos through the fence. She turned and said something to me in English. I answered back. In English. Suddenly all heads turned toward us.

"Look mom! Foreigners!!!"

"Daddy! Look! It's a cute little foreigner. She has blond hair!!"

"Ooooh! The little one has blue eyes!"
"You're right sweetie! I think they must be German!"

"Maybe there's more of them around here! Where did they come from? I wonder what they're saying to each other."

I turned and looked to see if there was an empty cage beside the monkeys. We're obviously far more exciting than they are. And if we lived at the zoo, maybe as an added bonus we'd get some free doritos!!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Candy for Babies... part 2

A conversation with my neighbor:

Neighbor: I heard that you feed your baby broccoli!
Me: Happily nodding my head in agreement. Yeah. She loves it!! It's one of her favorite foods!
Neighbor: Babies shouldn't eat broccoli. Don't feed it to her again.
Me: Confused. Why not? It's a healthy food, and she enjoys eating it.
Neighbor: It tastes disgusting. It stinks. And it will give her gas.
Me: But she likes it. I do too. It's not disgusting to her.
Neighbor: Babies need soft foods. Things that are easy on their stomachs. Babies need a lot of sugar. They need bread products made with white flour.
Me: Deciding that this is an argument I have no hope of winning... Oh. Well, you know best.

Two things I want to point out about this conversation:

1. One day a neighbor with a baby the same age as mine was complaining to me that she couldn't get her daughter to eat. She asked what I feed Elise (who was about a year old at the time). I told her a few things Elise liked. One of them was broccoli. Two days later the neighbor in the above conversation was over at my house. She had obviously heard the juicy gossip about my broccoli eating baby. We live in a 12 story building, with three flats on each floor. News about my family, like the fact that our baby eats broccoli, spreads like wild fire through all 36 homes in our building (and probably beyond that). I guess that since we're Americans almost everything we do becomes big news that is worthy of spreading.

2. "You know best." This is the polite way of saying, "I've heard what you have to say and although I probably don't agree, I'm not going to argue with you." Unfortunately, I learned this saying the hard way. Younger women like me should NOT verbally disagree with a woman their mother's age. Instead of showing us as capable intelligent people who can think for ourselves, it comes off as rude and disrespectful. Believe me, I've done it. Instead, I've learned to just nod my head, swallow my pride, and say, "You know best."

Friday, 3 October 2008

Candy for Babies

I'm pretty convinced that in Turkey there is a fifth food group, especially for children.

SUGAR... beautifully delicious white sugar.

I'm a big fan of sugar. In my mind I'd love to be one of those people who cook with alternative natural sweeteners, I'd love to rid my home of the toxic chemical (as my friend Deyna calls it), but in reality I just can't stop eating the stuff. I LOVE sugar. I love foods made with sugar. I can't imagine cakes and cookies and cobblers and freezer jam made of anything else and tasting nearly as good. I eat it and I feed it to my kids. I know that kids around the globe love sugar, but kids in Turkey (and the adults who give it to them) take sugar consumption to a whole new level.

There are some cookies we buy our kids from time to time. They're called Cici Bebek (translation: cutie-pie baby) cookies. They taste like nilla wafers and I think they're basically the same thing, except that the package advertises that these amazing cookies are packed full of vitamins and minerals. They're sooooo good for kids! Interesting, because they taste just like nilla wafers to me... sugar and white flour. But I guess if it says so on the package, then they must have a little bit of vitamins in there somewhere, right?

I don't know if it's because of the misleading advertising, or just because kids love them so much, but these cookies are bought year round by Turkish mothers by the truckload. Stores carry them in all different size containers, from the small bags James and I buy before a road trip to the giant aluminum tins I see in the corners of my Turkish friend's kitchens (to envision the size, think of those big flavored pop-corn tins that we start seeing in the stores around Christmas time). Kids eat the cutie-pie baby cookies as if they're addicted. Come to think of it, they probably are.

The cookies are just one example of sugar consumption. Kids (starting before they can even sit up) drink lots of tea. Turkish tea glasses are tiny. They hold probably 1/3 cup of tea, and yet kids can somehow mix 6-10 sugar cubes in before they drink it. Moms also mix sugar up in glasses of milk before they give it to their little ones.

I bring this up to say that like it our not, our kids end up getting a lot of sugar too. From the holiday visits where they are stuffed full of chocolate and sugary baklava to the random lady on the street who is passing out candy to all the kids that day in hopes that God will see her good works and grant her wish, our kids definitely enjoy sugar.

Honestly it usually doesn't bother me too much, but there have been a few times when the American mother in me just wanted to scream....

One day when Elise was only five or six months old, I went to a tea party with some neighbors. One of the other women offered to hold Elise while I ate the assorted sweet and savory treats on my plate. Elise was a bit fussy so the woman decided maybe she was thirsty. She stirred a bunch of sugar into her glass of tea, then poured it onto the saucer to let it cool. I was watching her, but had no idea what she was doing or that it had anything to do with my to this point only breastfed baby.

The next thing I knew, I had a sarma (stuffed grape leaf) hanging out of my mouth and out of the corner of my eye I spied the woman dribbling sugary caffeinated tea into my baby's mouth! My brain froze... what? why? huh? I really didn't know what to say. No one else in the room thought it was at all strange, and I didn't want to offend the woman by making a scene. I ended up swallowing my sarma, wolfing down the rest of my food, and taking my baby back before too many more spoonfuls of tea went into her little mouth.

Another day a neighbor couple dropped in to visit us. Elise was a little bigger by this point... probably 9 months old. She scooted around on the floor while we sat and chatted. At the end of the visit, the wife of the couple pulled an extra large sized chocolate bar out of her purse. She said it was a gift for Elise and began unwrapping it so she could feed it to her. Luckily this time my brain moved a bit faster and I said something like, "Thanks so much! It's late now and so I'd rather save that for another time." She handed it to me and I set it on the table so I could "give it to Elise later (yeah right!)." As I set it on the table I noticed that it was chocolate covered coffee beans!!! WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!?

Of course any kid who hears these stories is probably thinking about the sugar (and caffeine) consuming Turkish kids saying, "LUCKY!!"

Friday, 19 September 2008

Baklava Overdose

There's a holiday coming up. Kids will go door to door and get candy. People will eat sweets and drink cola until they've had enough to keep them on a sugar/caffeine buzz for days to come.

I'm not talking about Halloween.

It's Seker Bayrami... the Sugar Holiday!!

At the end of the month of Ramazan, people celebrate for three days straight by getting together and eating. Isn't that what you'd like to do after a month of fasting? I know I would. Kids get new clothes, sometimes ridiculously nice clothes, like pristine white suits for a 7 year old boys. Women spend the last week or so of the Ramazan cleaning their homes from top to bottom and cooking up all sorts of delicious treats, especially baklava. And then the day finally comes. No one goes to work. Kids get up early, wondering what time they can start knocking on all of the doors to collect candy. All the men go to the mosque for the early morning prayers, and a few hours later the fun begins.

Turks dress in nice new clothes and begin making visits by order of importance. They'll start with their oldest relatives then work their way down. By the second and third day they're visiting neighbors and friends.

The last few years we've taken part in the festivities by visiting scores of friends and neighbors. I always half dread /half look forward to it, and James always LOVES it. The Sugar Holiday is one of James' favorite times of year because: 1) He loves baklava. 2) He loves cola. 3) He loves baklava, and 4) He loves cola.

Here's a picture of what a typical day of making bayram (holiday) visits looks like:

6:30 am: wake up (not by our choice but because our kids absolutely can't sleep past 6:30)
7:00 am: breakfast of fresh bread (delivered to our door that morning by the building door man), tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives, and tea. This is the typical Turkish breakfast, eaten by all Turks every morning of every day. We don't eat it every day, but for some reason we always eat it on Turkish holidays.
8:00 am: We all start getting dressed up in nice clothes. James wears slacks, a nice shirt with a tie, and shiny shoes that he'll complain about the rest of the day. I wear a skirt, blouse, nylons, nice shoes that I'll complain about the rest of the day, and gold jewelry (gold is very very important to Turks, I talk a little about it here, and I'll put a whole post up about it in the future). The girls wear dresses and we tuck a change of clothes into a diaper bag for each of them because we know they'll soon be covered in chocolate.
8:30 am: The early bird building kids are up ringing doorbells and collecting candy. We open the door to be greeted by a bunch of nicely dressed smiling kids yelling "Iyi Bayramlar!" (translation: Happy Holidays!) and holding out their little sticky sugar covered fingers for some candy (or money... but we never give money).
9:00 am: We can hear neighbors stirring - going in and out of homes and up and down the elevator, so we venture out as a family for our first visit of the day. We always go to the old woman in the apartment below us first. I don't know her name. Everybody calls her Haci Anne. That means mother who has gone on the haj (the trip to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to take at some point in their life). It's not that she's actually gone on the haj. It's just that she's so old that she probably could have. Since she's the oldest, out of respect we visit her first. Here's how it goes: Haci Anne's granddaughter Tuna (yes, her name is Tuna. She's my age.) opens the door to let us in. I kiss her on each cheek and James shakes her hand. We're shown into the salon (the nicest and most richly decorated room in the house, saved just for when guests visit), where Haci Anne is waiting for us. We say "Iyi Bayramlar!" (Happy Holidays!) and kiss her on the back of her hand then touch it to our foreheads. She says "Hos geldiniz! Hos geldiniz yavrum!" (Welcome, welcome my little baby animals! - kind of like saying my dears) and then we all sit down. After a few rounds of how are you and how are all your relatives, her granddaughter brings a bottle of lemon cologne around and douses our hands with it. We rub them together and then they're all clean, disinfected, and lemony fresh! Then Tuna brings out the baklava and the cola. The baklava is homemade (made by Tuna supervised by Haci Anne) and the cola is served in a wine glass.
This time we're also really lucky because in addition to the baklava, there are also stuffed grape leaves (I'm salivating as I write this... my neighbor's stuffed grape leaves are absolutely sublime! I don't know what sublime means, but I can't think of any other word to describe the succulent deliciousness that these stuffed grape leaves embody.) There are also some hard cookies and some other sort of soft syrupy cookie with a hazelnut in the middle. Haci Anne goes all out for bayrams. We eat up all our food, say thank you, chat a little longer, then say, "With your permission we're going to get up now." She says, "But we were sitting so nicely!" (These are the set sayings that everyone says at the end of a visit.) And then she motions to Tuna who brings out some more baklava, and a beautifully wrapped chocolate for each member of our family. James eats his, I put mine in the diaper bag to save it for later. Elise is covered in olive oil from devouring stuffed grape leaves. Since she's grown up in Turkey, she senses good stuffed grape leaves when she gets them, and she goes into vacuum cleaner mode, eating as many as her little belly can hold, and only stopping when someone gives her a piece of chocolate. Elise unwraps the chocolate, and eats it up (all the while I'm cringing and wiping her as quickly as possible because she has olive oil and chocolate covered fingers and is sitting on a white sofa). I forgot to mention that Marie also gets handed a piece of chocolate. Never mind that she's only 3 months old. It's a holiday, so she's given a chocolate too. I generally say thank you and put it into the diaper bag, but sometimes if a neighbor or friend is holding her they actually unwrap it and try to feed it to her!
9:20 am (That's right! That whole sugar and stuffed grape leaf eating fest was only 20 minutes long!): We again ask permission to go, and this time we get it, although it's always given reluctantly. We make our way out into the hallway then up one flight of stairs to ring our next-door neighbor's doorbell. They open the door, we all yell "Iyi Bayramlar!" And the whole baklava-and-chocolate-eating-cola-drinking-frenzy starts all over again. We repeat this process over and over throughout the morning. The same greetings, the same questions, the same almost everything. Sometimes we're only offered baklava and cola. Sometimes we're offered an assortment of other Turkish goodies alongside the baklava, but the basic visit is always the same. Bayram visits are almost always just 15-25 minutes long. You pack them in. It's more of a courtesy than a time to really get to know somebody.

12:00 noon: We have completed 5 or 6 bayram visits, our teeth our covered with sugary sweaters. We decide to go home for a lunch break and to give the kids naps. The only problem is that we don't want lunch. We're stuffed. We try to feed Elise something somewhat nutritious to counter-balance the sugar she's consumed all morning (Haci Anne's stuffed grape leaves were the only non-sugary thing we've eaten all day). Elise is stuffed too. She doesn't want cheese or sandwich. She's exhausted, but high on sugar. We try our best to get her to take a nap anyway. Every time she's almost asleep our doorbell rings and we open it for kids yelling "Iyi bayramlar!" and holding our their hands for candy.
1:30 pm: James and I decide who else we'd like to visit. Some people we visit because they're our friends and some people we visit because they'd probably be offended if we didn't. We're about to leave the house and press on in the visits when Elise finally falls asleep. We tape a bunch of napkins over our door bell ringer so that the sound is muffled and pretending not to be home, we don't answer the door when kids or neighbors come knocking.
4:00 pm: We've taken naps too. Now we're ready to hit the streets again and make more visits. We change the kids clothes and head out.
10:30 pm: We get home from our final visit of the day and carry our sleeping kids to their beds. We brush our teeth, but it just doesn't seem to cut it. Everyone goes to sleep and has strange dreams about floating on pieces of baklava in a cola sea.

The next day looks very similar, and by the third day we're at home more. The third day of the holiday some friends and neighbors come to visit us. Since we're young, and we're not any body's relative, we're pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to visiting order. I serve store-bought baklava (I have no idea how to make the stuff), some homemade cookies, and cola to our guests. We douse their hands with lemon cologne and give them fancy chocolates.

By the end of the three day holiday, I don't want to see another piece of baklava for the rest of my life. When James and I first moved to Turkey we were in the habit of going to a shop and buying baklava for dessert every couple of weeks. After our first Seker Bayrami (our first experience overdosing on baklava), we didn't buy any for an entire year. Now we usually go a few months after Seker Bayrami trying our best to avoid the stuff and then we start buying it again when guests come over.

Since we're in America right now and far far away from the feeding frenzy that's going on in Turkey, James is dying for some baklava. Anybody know a good recipe?

Friday, 12 September 2008

More Ramazan Memories... The Drummer

Every year when Ramazan rolls in, the neighborhood drummer rolls on in along with it. He's up before the crack of dawn, before any rooster would dream of crowing, before the early bird is up to get its worm. He's punctual and he's LOUD.

Somehow the noise from the drum penetrates walls and spaces so that even though he is on the street below, and we are in our bedroom on the sixth floor, we can hear him as if he is in our living room. During the 30 days of Ramazan, every morning he jolts us awake with his sometimes almost beautiful, sometimes absolutely horrific, serenade.

The first few mornings of Ramazan, I think the drummer silently sneakes up to our building garden then starts in with a LOUD LOUD marching song, making everyone wake up and hop exuberantly out of bed. I suppose if I were Muslim, and if I were observing the fast, I would be happy for the peppy tune getting me up and moving:

Boom batt-a Boom batt-a BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!
Boom batt-a Boom batt-a BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!
Boom batt-a Boom batt-a BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!

But I'm not Muslim, and I don't observe the fast, so instead of hopping jubilantly out of bed, I'm jolted awake trying to figure out why there's a marching band in our home. Then once my brain has un-fuzzed enough for me to realize that it's the Ramazan drummer, and I'm not about to be trampled by the UC Davis Marching Band-uh, I have too much adrenaline in me to drift back off to sleep. On these mornings I generally end up lying in bed awake envisioning myself spilling a bucket of water from my balcony and onto the drummer's head.

Just kidding about the water... maybe.

A few days into the fast, the drummer has lost a little of his pep, and so rather than sneaking up on poor unsuspecting people dozing away in their warm beds, you can hear him slowly making his way toward you from way down the street. He's lost his zip. He's no longer a one man band. He's a tired half-alive man struggling just to lift his hands to his drum: Blech!

Poor guy. He's out there in the cold. He's tired, he's hungry, he's low on energy from being up so early and from fasting all day long. He sounds like an animal that needs to be put out of it's misery.

On these mornings I roll over and stuff a pillow over my head. I pray that the horrific drumming wont wake my kids up so that I can stay in bed. I try to go back to sleep, but then I start wondering just how many of my neighbors are in fact fasting. I can't help but get up and peek out the window to see how many homes have their lights on. If I spot a home where it seems everyone is still asleep, I pass the news on to James who rolls over, groans, and tells me to shut up. Then he puts a pillow over his head and envisions dumping water on me to get me back for keeping him awake longer than he has to be.

Just kidding about James telling me to shut up. He's more polite than that, even early in the morning. But I think he's thinking it.

Somewhere in the middle of the fast, the drummer seems to have adjusted to his new job, and he's back at jolting me out of bed with his peppy drumming:

Rat-a-tat-a BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!
Rat-a-tat-a BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!


BOOM-ba BOOM-ba rat-a-tat-a BOOM!!!
BOOM-ba BOOM-ba rat-a-tat-a BOOM!!!

and many many more variations along this theme.

After 30 days of waking up this way (did I mention this usually happens somewhere between 2:30 and 3:45 am?!), my nerves are frazzled, and the bags under my eyes extend all the way down to my jaw bones. And then to top it all off, one day he comes to the door asking for a tip. A TIP!!

Everyone in the neighborhood pitches in to thank him for helping them faithfully keep the fast. If you think I was kidding about wanting to dump water on his head in the early morning, then believe me when I say that when he asks me for money for his services, I really really do want to toss water, and the bucket, in his face. But instead, I politely tell him that I'm not Muslim.

He stares blankly back at me. This was not the response he was hoping for or expecting. Probably in his entire carreer as a drummer, he's never ever heard these words and he really doesn't know what to make of it (Turkey is a nearly 100% Muslim country). He generally stands there staring at me until I explain that I didn't observe Ramazan and therefore didn't need or want to wake up early, and for that reason I didn't need or want his services and I'm exempt from giving him a tip.

At this point the drummer either says OK, turns away and goes on to the next neighbor, or he sees it as his opportunity, no, his duty to try his best to convert me to Islam. Let me ask you, if you had suffered from sleep deprivation for 30 days, would you then want someone to try to convert you? Especially to the religion that caused your sleep deprivation, and by the person who woke you up so early every day???

Yeah, me neither.

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Ramazan Fast - Harder Than You Think

My husband James loves eating. It's one of his favorite pastimes. Aside from when he's asleep, he eats at least every two hours. From time to time James decides to fast. His idea of a fast is to abstain from all solids. Liquids such as water, milk, juice, fruit shakes, protein shakes, root beer floats, steak and potatoes blended to a fine puree, these are okay with him. He'll consume them at least once an hour, probably more. . . . Okay, so I'm embellishing a teensy bit, but the point is that James likes to eat and never completely abstains from it.

So, this past year when James decided he wanted to get to know, understand, and identify with our Turkish friends and neighbors a little more by fasting along with them during Ramazan, I was a little surprised. James wasn't doing the fast for religious reasons. He just wanted to try it out and see what our friends go through. He never had the goal of fasting for the whole 30 days, just a day or two in order to experience it. Here's how his day went:

4:00 am - The drummer comes by and wakes everyone up so that they can eat a morning meal before the sun rises. James stays in bed.
5:30 am - James wakes up and eats a light breakfast. This was already cheating a bit as our neighbors were up eating at least an hour earlier, but James figured it didn't matter that much since he was just trying to get the general experience. He was going to abstain from all food and drink for the rest of the day, until he broke the fast at sundown along with everyone else.
10:30 am - James, low on energy, has a hard time being civil toward a certain member of the family (me).
11:00 am - James says he has a headache and starts getting sniffy even toward the little members of the family.
12:00 - James goes to take a nap (which somehow got him started down a slippery slope).
1:30 pm- He wakes up.
2:00 pm- James decides he needs to break the fast just a little bit by having a glass of milk.
2:30 pm- James reasons that since he already broke the fast, he might as well snack on a few pieces of dried fruit.
3:00 pm- James fixes himself a sandwich.
3:15 pm- James is in the refrigerator eating leftovers from the night before.
3:30 pm- All food in the kitchen (with the exception of a few raw potatoes and the soy sauce) has been devoured by James.
3:45 pm- James takes another nap.
6:30 pm- Our family (including James) eats dinner.
6:40 pm- The cannon shoots off. We can hear our neighbors chairs scooting and creaking above our heads as they have their first bite of food and drink of water since dawn.
6:45 pm- James decides that one day of the Ramazan experience is enough for him. He doesn't want to try it again the next day.


A few things we learned:
1. We have a little more understanding and pity for the angry drivers who honk at everyone and are always shouting. Those guys aren't just tired, hungry, and thirsty. They're also having withdrawals from smoking.
2. The Ramazan fast is HARD. We've come to respect people who set out to do it and actually stick to it the entire 30 days.
3. We also have more understanding for why we can't find anyone who is actually getting anything done during Ramazan. It's hard to find a plumber, repairman, etc who will get a job done during this month. One year our toilet flusher broke about 3 days into Ramazan. No matter how many plumbers we called, we couldn't get anyone to come. We ended up flushing by pouring buckets of water down the toilet until well after the month of Ramazan ended. People are either sleeping or wishing they were sleeping during all daylight hours. Since they're not eating or drinking, everyone wants to expend as little energy as possible.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Since we're currently in the States, I'm pretty out of touch with life in Turkey. The other day a friend mentioned that Ramadan (Ramazan, in Turkey) started a few days ago. If I were in Turkey this wouldn't have come as a surprise to me. There would have been signs of it everywhere - from the posters at the grocery store to the man with a drum walking by to wake everyone up before dawn, to the cannon that blasts in the evening at sun down signifying that the fast is over for the day.

Ramazan is the yearly month of fasting in the Muslim world. All Muslims (with exception of the pregnant, the sick, children, and those who are traveling) are required to fast from all food and drink (and cigarettes too) from sun up to sun down for one month a year. Some people observe this rule more strictly than others. In the city where we were living, Ramazan was very strictly observed. We rarely saw people eating in daylight hours. We didn't want to offend anyone, so when we ate we always hid behind closed doors and curtains.

To be honest with you, I think it's pretty amazing that all these people can observe this tough religious duty. Do you know how much will power it takes to eat nothing all day long, and how much more it takes to keep yourself from drinking any water?! And I really like the community oriented "we're all in this together" mentality of it. But there are also things about it that I don't like. One is the fact that if I eat anything in public I get really really mean looks. If looks could kill then I would have been dead within the first few days of my first Ramazan experience.

James and I were living in Ankara, the capital. Ramazan had been going for a few days, which meant that we were extra tired due to a drummer coming around our neighborhood, banging on his drum around 3:30 am in order to wake everyone up. People get up well before dawn so that they can eat a big meal before the daily fast starts, then they drift back to sleep until they have to go to work. James and I would often be startled out of a deep sleep and then be unable to drift back off... and that's just not a fun way to start the morning, ya know?

James had an office downtown. He would go there to study Turkish and meet with a few college students he'd hired to give him language lessons. On this particular day, I came downtown to do a little shopping and then met up with him after his lessons were over. We were hungry and decided to find a restaurant and eat downtown rather than going home and preparing dinner.

I should insert here that going home and preparing dinner meant waiting up to half an hour for a bus, then getting on that crowded bus (often being forced into someone's armpit in the standing room that was left over), and riding 30-40 minutes home. Once home we would have to prepare dinner. Dinner in Turkey is no 20 minute deal. Forget about using a jar of prepared spaghetti sauce, or anything of the kind. Cooking in Turkey almost always means cooking from scratch. So you can see that if we had waited until we were home, dinner would have come at least an hour and a half later, but I digress.... back to the story.

We found a restaurant that looked good. Iskender (one of our favorite dishes which translated is "Alexander the Great") was advertised on a banner outside as the "Ramazan Special" for an amazing price. It was crowded inside which is always a good sign that the food is tasty. We walked in and immediately noted that no one was smoking. Since it seems almost everyone smokes in Turkey, and we weren't yet used to being in smoke filled rooms without feeling like we were about to choke, we were delighted to see that none of the people in the restaurant were smokers. What luck!

We walked up to the counter and said "Iki Iskender (translation: two iskender)" The man taking the money said a bunch of unintelligable words to us (remember, we hadn't been in Turkey long enough to understand much of anything). We gave him a blank look, held up two fingers, pointed to the picture of Iskender, and repeated, "Iki Iskender." He motioned around and said a bunch more stuff, then he asked us very slowly if we were from Germany (which is the first thing he said that we actually understood.) We said no, we were Americans. He said a bunch more that we didn't understand and then looked at us for a response. Again, we held up our fingers, pointed, and said, "Iki Iskender." Finally the man shook his head, picked up a couple of plates of Iskender, some lentil soup, and motioned for us to follow him.

We followed him down a staircase to a huge crowded dining room. He seated us at the one free table in the entire place (directly in the center of the room), set our plates in front of us, and left. I grabbed my spoon and started digging into the soup. All conversation from the room around us stopped, and I noticed icy cold stares from the rest of the room. James and I looked around and saw that no one else had any food in front of them. No one was drinking water. No one was smoking. The only table that even had a basket of bread was ours. Our eyes grew wide as we looked at each other. It finally dawned on us that everyone, EVERYONE in the crowded restaurant was waiting for the fast to break before they ate anything.

We wanted to crawl into a little hole. We wanted to get up and run screaming for home. We wished we could rewind time and start the day over (preferably with our brains turned on this time). We wished we were anywhere but in the middle of that dining room with everyone else staring at us as if we had a giant neon sign with the word "Infidels" flashing above our heads.

Instead of any of those options, we quickly discussed it and decided that the best thing to do was to eat our food as fast as possible and then get out of there. We thought about waiting for the fast to break, then finishing our food with everyone else, but we'd already started, everyone had already seen it. And, we reasoned, our food might be cold by the time the fast broke.

We tried to ignore the rest of the room as we shoveled the food into our mouths. Finally, just as we were taking our last bites, the call to prayer came over some speakers and baskets of bread started being passed around. Everyone took their eyes off us as they lit up their cigarettes, drank some cool refreshing water, and started their meals. And we got up and left. We walked out of the restaurant with our heads hung in shame, trying to avoid any eye contact.

Once we were on the almost empty bus home (empty because everyone else in the city was eating their evening meal), we laughed about how clueless we were. All the signs were there, including the literal sign advertising "The Ramazan Special." No one smoking. No one eating. The man behind the counter asking lots of questions. All of this pointed to the fact that, Hello! it's Ramazan! Everyone is fasting! But we were such unexperienced Americans that it all floated right above our heads until it was much too late.

After that experience we were much more careful about eating in public. After an experience like that, how can you not be??

Boy am I glad to be in America right now!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


While we were getting ready to move, James took down all our light fixtures and then headed down the elevator to get into the basement (which is used as a giant storage unit for all of the people living in the building). We had a few of our home owner's light fixtures stored in the basement and wanted to get them out so we could box our own up.

Our building is kind of run by this guy, the door man, named Mr. Friday. He cleans things up, keeps the garden looking nice, takes out trash, and is just kind of an all around helper. On this particular day, James went to see him because he has the keys to our building's basement.

James: Can you open up the basement for me? I have some stuff to get out of there.
Mr. Friday: You'll have to come back here later. I can't go down to the basement.
James: Why not?
Mr. Friday: There's a belly down there. It tried to bite me.
James: What??
Mr. Friday: There's a baby belly down there, and it's mom. They're dangerous.
James: Totally confused. Um... okay. When should I come back?
Mr. Friday: The owner will be back this evening. We'll go down there then.

James went back up to our apartment on the sixth floor and told me the situation. Together we figured out that there was a KOPEK (dog) in the basement. Not a GOBEK (belly). Sometimes people from our city have an accent where they pronounce K like a G. As if learning a foreign language isn't hard enough, I sometimes think that language-wise, we live in Turkey's version of the deep South.

A few hours later James returned downstairs in hopes of having better luck getting into the basement.

James: So, do you think we can go down there now and get those lights?
Mr. Friday: The owner isn't around yet, but if you really want to, then I'll open the door up for you and you can go down there yourself. Those bellies (translation: dogs) are dangerous. Did I tell you they tried to bite me?

James had been putting quite a bit on hold waiting on the stuff from the basement, so he decided to brave the dogs and go down to the basement.

James: Let's do it.
Mr. Friday: Unlocking the door with a look of complete and utter terror on his face, Okay, if you're sure. But be careful. . . I think they're wolves.

Since Mr. Friday was obviously scared out of his socks, James was a little scared too. Upon hearing that the dogs were actually wolves, James was quite a bit more nervous, but he started down the dimly lit staircase anyway. Mr. Friday armed James with a rake. He bravely followed down the staircase, still uttering warnings from a few steps behind. He was armed with a big push broom (hey, if the main parts of your job include sweeping and gardening, these are probably the best you can do in the way of weapons to fight off dangerous wolves). Pretty soon the wolves made some sort of quiet growling noises from a dark corner of the basement. Mr. Friday shrieked like a girl then ran back up the stairs, and James was right behind him, his heart pounding out of his chest. Mr. Friday re-locked the door with shaking hands, and James decided to put his work on hold until the owner of the wolves was around to help control them.

A few hours later Mr. Friday called up to our apartment to tell James that the owner was back and it was safe to go down to the basement. James went downstairs and looked at the front of our building. He found the owner sitting on the front steps with his "wolves" in front of him. His three year old son had his arms wrapped around the little "wolf's" neck in a big hug and the other building kids were petting it's mother. They seemed to be two of the tamest, friendliest dogs he'd ever seen. Mr. Friday was watching from about 20 feet away, still armed with his giant push broom, ready to take action just in case one of the dogs decided to go for his jugular.

A few things I'd like to point out about this story:
1. Turks are generally scared of dogs. They are usually not seen as pets, but as ferocious wild animals that terrorize the streets (probably because many of the dogs in Turkey really are ferocious wild animals that terrorize the streets).
2. More and more Turks are getting dogs (probably due to western influence), but I'd say that as a whole, unless proven otherwise dogs are seen as vicious and mean.
3. Even if a dog can prove its sweetness and worth to others, some Turks, like Mr. Friday, will never be convinced. They are sure that if a dog comes up to them it is always after raw human flesh, not a pat on the head. Period.
4 After a little thought, we realized that there were dogs, not bellies, in the basement. Imagine how many times people have had perfectly normal conversations with us and we've come away thinking totally strange things, all based around one misunderstood word. This is one instance where we figured it out. Think about all the times we didn't. Yikes!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Excellent Workmanship

We're living with my parents right now and loving it. We live in the country, in a forest. When I look out the window I see blue skies, mountains, pine trees, birds, a deer now and then.... It's a big difference from our city life, living on the 6th floor of a 12 story building, riding elevators up and down, looking out the window to see more big grey buildings, cars, people, and business.

When I was growing up here my dad always had a project going around the house. He built a deck out back as well as in front, he converted our garage into a family room, and built a bigger garage. He replaced things, painted things, and sanded things. And he always did excellent work. Right now he's putting a french door onto the side of the family room. I've been watching him use his balance to make sure things are exactly straight. He uses some other thing-a-ma-jig tool (I'm not fluent in the language of workshop-ese) to make sure the corners are exactly 90 degrees, and then he measures and re-measures. It brings back memories of watching some amazing craftsmanship in Turkey.

After we'd been living there a few months we decided it was time to buy a table and chairs. We went downtown, picked out what we wanted - a simple dark wood table with 8 chairs - and asked to have it delivered the following week. We didn't know much Turkish and so it was really quite the feat just getting that much communicated.

The next week came and our table arrived. A man carried everything in and set it all up. He then went around the table and one by one checked to see if the chairs wobbled. Apparently he hadn't measured to make sure the legs were all the same length ahead of time. Instead he brought a hand saw with him, and if a chair was a little wobbly, he turned it over and sawed off a bit of the longest leg then turned it upright again and gave it a little shake to see if the wobblieness was gone. He did this over and over with all the chairs until he was satisfied that they no longer wobbled and then he left.

James and I stood watching in confusion and disbelief as our chairs got shorter and shorter. We didn't know Turkish and couldn't really say much about it, so we just watched. After he left we swept up the sawdust, picked up the little squares that were once parts of our chair legs, and re-arranged the chairs around our table. Since the legs had all been cut, some chairs were taller and some were shorter... and they all wobbled. Our flooring wasn't exactly flat, so the only way to keep the chairs from wobbling was by leaving them in the exact places where the carpenter had tested their wobbliness.

Amazing workmanship. When I told my dad about it, he just shook his head.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Every city needs a James

I was chatting with my friend and former neighbor Cindy yesterday. She told me that a new restaurant has come into town. Cindy lives in the city in Turkey that we were living in up until May.

The restaurant looks like the latest and greatest - big bright and beautiful. And it's located just around the corner from our old house. And it's name...


What??? Why in the world would a Turk name a restaurant that?? James is a nonsense word in Turkish. So is "the" for that matter.

As far as I know James (my husband) was the only one by that name in that city - possibly ever. I guess they miss us.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Welcome to America!!!

The final of our four flights that took us from Turkey to my parent's home in California was from Las Vegas to Reno. We'd already travelled something like 27 hours and were exhausted and tired of airports by the time they announced over the intercom that our flight was cancelled. Somewhere around 1 am we arrived at our complimantary hotel where we fell into a heap and slept the rest of the night. The next morning I awoke, took Elise with me, and wandered out to the lobby where James and Marie were already digging into the hotel breakfast.

Me: Tired and squinting at the sun, "Good morning."

James: Devouring an English muffin like it was the best thing he'd ever tasted, "Check out this breakfast! They have English muffins!!"

At this point I'd like to stop and tell you that we haven't eaten English muffins in four years.

Me: running over to the counter where a few breakfast items are arranged, and calling to James from there, "Look! Bagels... AND CREAM CHEESE!!!!"

Note: Bagels and cream cheese can't be found in Turkey.

Me: Giddy with excitement, "Oh my goodness!! A blueberry muffin!!!! And Chocolate muffins too!!! No way..." checking out one of those styrofoam trays that cheap grocery store danishes are sold on "...this is one of those danishes with the cherry jelly in the middle! Wow! This breakfast is AMAZING!!"

Note: The above said items aren't available in Turkey.

James: talking to me loudly from his table, "Jamie, check out the cereals! They have those cool little boxes of fruit loops that you can open the side of and pour milk into! And it's not box milk!!"

Me: loading up my plate with one of everything, "Wow, just wow."

At this point I looked around and noticed that the four or five other hotel guests were staring at James and I like we were from another planet, which actually made us feel pretty at home. Turks are always gawking at us.


Friday, 11 April 2008

The Kuafor

The women in my building all get together for tea every couple of weeks.  The first time I went, a neighbor who lives on my left came to my door to let me know the tea was going on.  She told me that it was just going to be women so I shouldn't worry too much about it, "just be comfortable."  I guess I thought it would be something like if I went to hang out over coffee with some girlfriends in the States, so I went to the tea (at a 10th floor flat) wearing exactly what I had on in my house:  Jeans, a maroon colored t-shirt, and silly socks with hearts all over them.  I pulled my hair up into a pony tail, and didn't bother putting on any make up. 
When I walked in, I took my shoes off (you don't wear shoes inside houses here), exposing my silly socks.  I said hello to the hostess at the door, took a look around, and  immediately wished I could rewind time and take the entire morning getting ready.  The women all looked like they were attending a wedding.  A very very fancy wedding.  Everyone's hair was done (this was the first time I'd seen most of my neighbors without their head coverings on), they were wearing skirts or dresses, high heels, full make up, and gold.  Lots and lots of gold.  Everyone had necklaces, earrings, and especially lots of gold bracelets.  No one wore pants, let alone jeans.  No one had silly socks on. 

 Turning around and walking out wasn't an option, so I decided to find a little corner chair to sit in where no one would see me.  I entered the living room to see that my little corner was not there.  The room was arranged so that everyone could sit in a big circle and see everyone else.  By watching other women, I picked up on the fact that I was supposed to go around the room and one by one greet each neighbor.  If the neighbor was younger, I kissed her on each cheek then said "Hello, welcome."  She'd reply by saying "Welcome to you too."  If the woman was old, I was supposed to kiss her on the back of the hand then touch it to my forehead.  Of course I fumbled that whole ritual up.  In fact after a few years of this, I still don't know where the age cut off is for hand kissing vs. cheek kissing.  This whole greeting ritual is made even harder by the fact that it's really hard to tell age.  I think that life is often hard here and a hard life coupled with heavy smoking (which almost everyone does) makes for 37 year olds who look closer to 55.

I eventually took a seat.  Not too far from the door because that's the seat of honor.  Not too comfortable because that also should belong to someone who has a higher rank than me (rank mostly measured by age).  I looked around and it seemed that EVERYONE (30 or so ladies) was staring back at me.  And all at the same time.  The ladies looked at me then whispered to one another.  I felt about like I do in one of those crazy humiliating dreams where you go to the store then suddenly realize you forgot to wear pants but its too late and everyone has seen you in your undies.  Only this was no dream.  All the pantyhose and black pumps with spiked heels that people apparently save as indoor shoes for special occasions like this one seemed to mock me and made me feel even worse about my silly socks.  My feet were almost itching from the attention they were getting as the women looked me up and down.  I was thankful that I brought a black diaper bag which I promptly set in front of me and thus blocked the socks from view.  

My sock problem somewhat solved, my brain immediately started focusing on my hair problem.  A pony tail.  No one but little girls wear pony tails around here.  I felt like a big doofus.  Everyone else seemed to have perfect shiny hair - some in elegant up-dos, some down but perfectly curled.  How, I wondered, did they all get their hair to look so nice?  Why, I wondered, does my hair never ever ever look that nice.  And my most plaguing question: Why oh why on a day like today did I not even take the time to wash it???  

Since that horribly embarrassing day I've figured out where the nice hair comes from:  The kuafor.
There are five hair salons on my block.  One in my building, two in the building next door, and two in the one next to that.  Getting your hair cut or styled, having your make up done, getting your eyebrows plucked, or body hair removed at a hair salon (kuafor in Turkish) is something that seems to happen far more often here than it does in the States.   Part of it might be the fact that looking nice (wearing skirts and high heels, or for men, wearing suits) is far more important to people here.  I've even seen men in suits shoveling dirt!  Part of it might be that it's significantly cheaper (a hair cut at the salon in my building is only about $3.50, getting it styled is the same.)  Whatever the reason, the kuafor is a big part of Turkish culture.  Men frequently go in to get a shave, women frequently go in to get their hair done.

Usually hair salons have pictures like this on the outside of them, attracting people with the trendy styles.  

But sometimes they have pictures like this.

This one says it's a kuafor for girls with head coverings.  When I go for a walk in the mornings I pass this window and it almost always makes me wonder.  What do they do in there that's different from the others?  Do they pin on and arrange head coverings in a really stylish way?  Are they talented at doing hair then covering the head back up without messing the hair up?  Do they not do anything with hair, but just do make up instead?  Does it really take a different kind of specialized skill to work with covered women?  Someday I'll have to find the answers to these questions, but for now I guess they'll just remain a mystery.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Signs of Spring

It's here!  My favorite time of year!  It seems like just a couple of weeks ago we were snowed in and now the snow is gone and spring is creeping in!  I am just itching to get my hands dirty and plant some flowers.  The grocery store just got a bunch of pots and soil in and I told James that it took all my will power not to go buy some.  I think he was relieved that I held out because 1.  We already have about 500,000 pots for our 24 square foot balcony and any rational person would realize that we don't need any more, and 2. We're moving out of our house in only two and a half weeks so if I did plant flower seeds, we wouldn't even be here long enough to see them sprout!  

I took a little walk and snapped some shots of spring coming to our neighborhood.  

This is the mosque on the corner.  It has a beautiful garden around it.  Right now this tree is looking great and in a month or so the roses in the garden will start putting on a show that lasts all summer.  Actually, every building here has roses around it.  Miniature roses, giant roses, climbing roses.  Pink, red, yellow, orange, lavender, white, and peach roses.  You name it, and when it comes to roses I think you'll be able to find it in my neighborhood.  When they are all at their peak blooming time you can step outside and just smell roses in the air.  It's a BEAUTIFUL thing.  We'll be gone before the roses start blooming and that makes me sad.

But I can still enjoy these flowering trees.  I don't know what they are, but they sure are pretty.  
I don't know what it is about spring, but it just makes me really happy.  Maybe it's all the newness.  New leaves, new flowers, new... I don't know.... stuff.  everywhere.   Sheesh!  I wish I had some poetry skills at a time like this.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Everyday I Go For A Walk

Turkey is a great place in many many ways.  One thing I love about living here is the way our city actually encourages people to get out there and get in shape.  

Since I have such a wonderful and amazing husband who is willing to give me a chance to get out of the house while he watches the kids, every morning I go to the park for a walk.  Today I decided to take my camera.  Unfortunately, today it was raining so I can't show you all the people out there walking and exercising.  Apparently today I'm the only silly person who was willing to risk getting too cold.
The park is a couple of blocks away and it has a nice long walking track.  One lap is 3/4 mile.  On most mornings if you go out really early, like 7 am, this track is full of men walking and working out a little before heading off to work.  If you wait another hour you'll see more women out here.  I love that everyone gets out here and walks together.  Oh, and in case you can't tell by the picture, the track is made of that squishy rubbery stuff.  
Now here's the part I really really like.  Somewhere around two years ago our city started installing exercise equipment in the parks!  
There are stationary bikes and stair master type machines.  There are ski type machines and machines that you twist and pull and push.  I wish there had been people to photograph this morning, that would have made it much more interesting, but you get the idea.

Okay, so this next series of photos is obviously not from today.  But just to make this post a little more interesting I found these pictures from a couple weeks ago.  

This isn't the same park, its another one that's only about a block away.  This is the "I'm kind of trying to lose weight but I'm really out here to talk and gossip" exercise park.  I normally don't go to this one because everyone moves at such a slow pace and it's more about chatting it up than about getting some exercise, but on the day these pictures were taken, Elise and I were out "exercising" with some neighbors from our building. 

I love that I don't have to buy a gym membership to use these kinds of machines.  And I love being one of the many many people out here every morning walking.  It's fun.  I'm gonna miss this stuff while I'm gone.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

A Car Accident and the Breathalyzer Test

James was in a car accident two days ago.  He's fine and considering that it could have been much worse, we think everyone else is fine too.  One woman was sent to the hospital with a possible broken leg and if we can get her address from the police, we're hoping to go visit her tomorrow.  I really don't feel like writing all the details of the whole yucky business of dealing with hours and hours with the police, James getting fingerprinted and having mug shots taken, ending up on the local news, having to get $1500 worth of repairs on a truck we're trying to sell, etc.  So I won't.

In all of this, though, there is this one fun gem that I just have to share.  It just shouts "Turkey" to me and is a good picture of the sometimes incomprehensible way things work here.

James was taken by the police across town to a building where he was going to be tested to see if he had consumed alcohol before the accident.  He thought maybe they would do a breath-alizer or maybe they'd take his blood.  He pictured himself having to walk along a straight line or say the alphabet backwards or one of those other alcohol test types of things.

After arriving he waited and waited, which he was expecting.  Then his turn finally came.  He stepped up to the main fellow in the room and...

Official Alcohol Level Checker Guy:  Alcohol?
James: Uh-uh (raising his eyebrows and clicking his tongue - the Turkish style negative).
Official Alcohol Level Checker Guy: Alcohol?
James: No.
Official Alcohol Level Checker Guy: Alcohol? (Really really loudly.)
James: No! (Really loudly.)

The man then went on to file a report that James was not under the influence of alcohol. 

Does something about this official test seem to be missing to you too?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ugly Children Everywhere!

This being April fools day I thought it would be fitting to share a normal everyday part of Turkish life.  Let me tell you, those Turks, they're tricky.

After Elise was born Turks began coming up to me as I held her, smiling at her, and in a high pitched baby voice saying things like, "Oh!  You ugly ugly little baby!  Ugly!  Ugly!  I just want to eat you up!  You're such an ugly little thing.  Oh yes you are!"  Sometimes they'd even follow that by puckering their lips, sticking their tongue through and lightly spitting toward her.  And you know what?  My feelings were hurt.  I mean really, telling a new mom her baby is ugly?!  Those are fightin' words!

Elise would usually coo and smile right back at them, oblivious to the fact that they were insulting her.... Or were they??

Here in Turkey, there is this thing, this force, called the nazar.  I think in English it's called the evil eye.  After many many conversations about it, this is the best I can do at understanding it:  Everything has to be balanced.  So if there is too much good attention on something then a bad thing will happen to it in order to balance it out.  That force that balances things out by causing bad things to happen to them is the nazar.  

For example, my friend Nur lost some weight and started styling her hair differently.  She was looking really good and went out to visit her relatives in the village.  Lots of people commented on how good she looked, then when she was washing dishes a plate slipped out of her hand and broke on the floor.  According to Nur, that was the nazar.  And Nur was happy that the plate broke because if it hadn't something worse would probably have happened to her.  Sickness, an accident, death... who knows.  But the point is that a bad thing happened to her to balance the good attention.  

Here's another example:  My first language helper, Sumru, told me that when her baby was born some people came to visit.  They sat in her house, admired her beautiful baby, then they left.  When she closed the door behind them she heard a crash in the kitchen.  A bunch of glasses had fallen off the shelf and broken.  The nazar.

So when people come up to me and tell me what an ugly baby I have, it's really a trick.  They're trying to somehow trick this balancing force, the nazar, into thinking the baby is ugly, because if the baby gets too much good attention then something bad might happen to her. I think they even pretend to spit on her to protect her from the force of the nazar. 

 The thing is that they know, and I (now) know that they're really saying she's super cute.  They're really just doing everything in their power to protect the little peanut from that mean old ever-present nazar. 

There is WAY WAY more about this nazar business I'd love to share with you, and maybe one day I will, but for now this will have to do.  I've gotta keep it short because ...

I have only 24 days until I move out of my house and 29 days until I leave for America and I've gotta pack!!!

Oh.  Just one more thing... While Sumru (from my second example) told me about the Nazar, James was with Elise, who was a new baby, in another room.  A little later James brought Elise out and Sumru saw her for the first time.  Sumru ooohed and aawwed over Elise and DIDN'T say Elise was ugly because she knew I wouldn't understand that and she didn't want to offend me.  Instead she told me what a beautiful baby I had.  Later on Sumru left and I heard a crash in the kitchen.  I went in the room only to discover that a mug had by itself fallen off the counter and shattered all over the floor.  Hmmm......

Monday, 31 March 2008

I love this about Turkey... child friendly restaurants

A few weeks ago we went out to eat at one of the nicest restaurants in town. Elise didn't sit at the table with us. Most of the time she was running around between our table and the play area, singing at the top of her lungs. A lot of the time even Marie wasn't at our table. The owner of the restaurant picked her up and carried her around, showing her to kids, other customers, waiters, and cooks.

That experience is a perfect picture of one thing I love about life here. Kids can just be kids, even at restaurants. People just accept it. They smile at Elise and at us when she walks by their table singing. They think its cute. I really don't know what it's like to go out to eat with little kids in the US, but I have a feeling it's nothing like this. I can't imagine people being happy about my kids running between their tables. I really can't imagine the restaurant owner taking our baby so we can eat in peace, and I'm having a hard time picturing the other diners being happy about the restaurant owner bringing a baby over for them to see while they're eating.

That's really a bummer because I love food in America. When we are there (which is only one month away!) I want to eat out. I really really do. I want to have burritos and pizza and steak. I want to have hamburgers and Chinese and Italian food. Am I going to have to train my 3 year old to sit still and quiet while I eat my meal? Am I going to have to take care of my baby rather than pass her on to a waiter or manager? How am I going to eat in peace? Why oh why don't Americans just let kids be kids?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Our next baby will be a boy!

Do you see this little bluish spot on Marie's forehead?

I think it's some sort of birthmark... I've heard it will disappear by the time she's around one.  

My friends and neighbors tell me that when a girl is born with one of these spots between her eyes, it means the next child will be a boy.  Hmmmmm.... Maybe they're right about that.... at least 50% of the time.  

And in case the title made you wonder, no, I'm not pregnant.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Two Things You Can Find Almost Anywhere On the Planet...

Coca-Cola and french fries.

I can't think of anything really good for a person that's easy to come by at any restaurant in any country in the world.  Not carrot sticks.  Not rice cakes.  No little cans of slim fast shakes.  Not fruit smoothies or whole grain breads or vegetable juice.  But when it comes to fried starch and carbonated sugar, be assured of this... you can find it and you can eat it.  And we do.  The end.

*photos and title compliments of Gary.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

I keep my milk in the pantry.

This is milk.
My thoughts and observations in no particular order...
1.  This milk's expiration date is June 29, 2008!!  (Wow!  That's my 31st birthday... what a strange coincidence.)
2.  Until that time I can keep it anywhere - in the pantry, on a shelf, in the hot sun, in the bathroom... well, maybe not in the bathroom.
3. It tastes, um, not exactly like milk.
4.  It took some getting used to.
5.  James loves the stuff.
6.  This kind of milk is much easier to come by around here than the fresher variety we drank when we lived in California.
7.  Most Turkish mothers serve it to their children  at room temperature (bleck!)  With honey.
8.  Many Turkish kids' baby teeth rot out before they would naturally fall out.  Hmmmmm... too much honey milk??
9.  After I open it I have to keep it in the refrigerator.
10.  This kind of milk was the main ingredient in the chocolate milk shake we drank recently.
11.  Does milk that lasts for months and months with no refrigeration seem strange and wrong to anyone other than me?

A taste of home

A couple of weeks ago some friends from the US came to visit.  We had a wonderful time together and they left us with a delicious parting gift: Jelly Bellies!  A box of assorted flavors, including a few things we haven't tasted in a long long time.  Dr. Pepper, root beer, and black licorice.  Mmmmm!  We can't get any of those things around here, and the Jelly Belly factory does an AMAZING job of replicating their flavor.  Luckily Elise (who gets one Jelly Belly every time she successfully goes pee in the toilet) doesn't like the flavors I just listed.  She has never lived in America and developed a taste for them.  That means those ones are all James' and mine and we're loving every last little bean. You know, I didn't drink Dr. Pepper or root beer very often while we lived in America, but now that I can't have it I really crave it.  And now that I've had those delicious flavors in my mouth thanks to Jelly Bellies, I am feeling so so ready to step off an airplane onto US soil (or US asphalt) and drink some cold refreshing root beer (with crushed ice... I don't know why but that just makes it taste better).  

Today when I opened the box of Jelly Bellies to let Elise have her post-potty treat,  I decided to take one of the little treats for myself too (after all, I successfully use the toilet all the time!)  I grabbed the pure white coconut variety and as I chewed on it, a memory that I think I've repressed for the past nine years suddenly came rushing back to me.  Not just any little memory.  A horrible, embarrassing, and painful memory.   I could choose to keep it from you but I want to show you my life in a real and complete way... so here it goes.

When I was living in the college dorms, my RA would sometimes plan building activities.  I guess he wanted us to bond or something.  Most of the time I didn't take part.  I was a transfer student and everyone else was in their first year.  At 21 and with two years of college under my belt I felt oh so much more mature and cool than all those 18 year old kids who had just gotten out of high school (now that I'm 30 I roll my eyes at thinking 2-3 years is a big difference).  Plus I got tired of them asking me to buy them alcohol.  There was one particular trip though that I decided to take part in... the trip to the Jelly Belly Factory. 

We all loaded into a big bus type thing and set of on our 45 minute journey to Jelly Belly Lane in Fairfield, CA.  Once inside the factory we were greeted with the sights, sounds, colors, smells, and TASTES of those delicious little beans of flavor.  It was an interesting tour.  One thing that stands out in my memory were the amazing mosaics of presidents faces made strictly from Jelly Bellies!  Oh the creativity people possess!!  Anyway the tour ends up in the gift shop (of course) and as I browsed around, I just couldn't pass up the cheap bags of belly flops (mutilated Jelly Bellies), and the extra extra cheap bags of post holiday Jelly Bellies.  I bought the Hanukkah variety - all blue and white, perfect for your family's Hanukkah parties.  Oh.  Your family doesn't have Hanukkah parties?  Neither does mine.  I guess that's why this wasn't a big seller and there was so much left over.  I took home a good sized bag of blueberry and coconut mix, and another large bag of the belly flops.  I told myself I wouldn't eat it all.  I lived in a dorm after all!  And in the dorm you can just keep your door open and random people who are procrastinating from doing anything responsible stop by and chat.  And while they chat, I told myself, I'll have a nice little snack to offer them.  I'm so hospitable.  Plus, I reasoned, in a month or so I'd be going home for Christmas.  And my family would love some Jelly Bellies.  

The problem was that everyone else in my dorm bought Jelly Bellies too.  No one was very  interested in my bowl of post-Hanukkah  blueberry and coconut mix.  No one wanted the mutilated globs of buttery popcorn or lemon or cinnamon flavored beans.  So what did I do?  I ate them myself.  As I studied Organic Chemistry, I'd pop them in my mouth one by one in an effort to stay awake.  As I read my Linguistics book I ate them two or three (or maybe seven) at a time.  I guess my thumb and index finger were getting tired of picking them up and I decided it would be easier to scoop?  Mid terms came and I went into high gear eating those little suckers.  By the time I was through with my exams, I was sleep deprived, sick of studying, and I had blisters on my tongue and raw tender spots all over my mouth from eating indecent amounts of colorful little beans.  And my blood sugar levels?  Let's not even go there.  The bags of Jelly Bellies I had purchased - bags that were big enough to supply a family of 7 with Jelly Bellies for 6 or 8 months - were empty.  

I don't know how long I waited before eating them again.  Years probably.  And when our friend brought us this current box I was filled with excitement and joy at the prospect of tasting the flavors of America again.  If only I'd resisted popping that one memory inducing coconut flavored bean in my mouth.  Ick!  Bleck!  Now I don't know if I can eat another bean.  Well, maybe just one... or two... or three... or ... 469. 

Monday, 17 March 2008

I'm a horrible mother. Reason number 2- ice cream

Okay, so it's not really ice cream, it's a popsicle.  But the point is that it's cold.  And that makes me a horrible mother.  I don't know if it's worse than letting your child go sock-less, but I do know feeding your child ice cream when it's cold out is a very very bad thing.

Our first experience with the fear of eating cold stuff came even before Elise was born.  One night way back when we first came to Turkey we had James' language helper Ozgur over for dinner.  Ozgur was 19 years old and from a village in the north.  We were the first foreigners he'd ever met.  We didn't know Turkish and he didn't know English but with a lot of signing back and forth and dictionary usage we communicated okay.  We ate dinner, and I made cultural mistake number one: no bread.  We played Go Fish and translated the name of the game something more like a command toward a fish,"Go fish, go!" which makes no sense whatsoever.  And afterward we fed him ice cream.  

Ozgur looked a little worried when I handed him the big bowl of vanilla ice cream.  But after a little prodding he ate it anyway.  I went back to the kitchen to do some dishes and Ozgur chatted with James.  If we take out the hand signs back and forth and the frequent dictionary usage, the conversation went something like this:

Ozgur: You know, Turks don't eat ice cream in the winter.  Probably hinting that he didn't want to eat it which of course went right over poor James' culture shocked head.
James: Really?  Why not?
Ozgur:  We think it will make us sick.  Again politely letting James know that he didn't want to eat it without just coming out and saying it.
James: Oh, don't worry.  We eat it all the time.  It wont make you sick. 
Ozgur: Slowly finishing off his bowl with a sad and concerned look on his face.  Well everyone I know gets sick.  I usually stay away from this type of thing.
James:  Looks like you finished yours off.  Can I get you some more?
Ozgur:  No thanks.

Later James and I laughed about the fact that Turks think ice cream or other cold things will make them sick.  I mean we eat it all the time!  Winter or summer, we love milk shakes and popsicles and ice in our drinks.  Two days later James showed up for his language lesson with Ozgur, who had a horrible cold.  And we stopped laughing.

Since that time this recurring theme has come up: eating cold things, especially in the winter (but oftentimes even in the summer) will make you very sick.  Who knows the ills that will befall you but it's not good.  It's not good at all.

Our friend Murat had ice cream with our friend Henry.  Afterward Henry threw his back out.  According to Murat it was the ice cream that did it, and that wasn't even the winter! 

My friend Demet once came and had tea with me.  She brought her sister Esra and nephew Eren with her.  Before Eren went down for a nap Esra pulled a box of milk out of her bag to fill a bottle for him (yes, I said there was a box of milk in her bag... more about milk boxes later.)  I told her she didn't need to open that box because I already had some in the refrigerator.  Surprised and shocked, she said, "But I can't give my son your milk.  It's cold! He may get sick." 

I tell you these stories to illustrate my point.  I'm a bad mother.  A very very bad mother.  I let Elise eat cold things, even freezing cold things.  I let her eat them winter or summer, as well as spring and fall!  I put her her health and well being at risk on a daily basis. 

So, what could become of her?  Well, I can't get a really straight answer from anybody I've asked so far.  All I know is that her future looks very grim.  Here are some examples of what happens to people after they eat ice cream, especially if they eat it in winter.

1. Paralysis.
2. Heart attack
3. Colds, runny nose, soar throat
4. Throwing their back out (as we saw happen to Henry)
5.  And the most common thing is they just plain get sick.

Post Script:  Turks eat ice cream too!  Why?  Because ice cream tastes good that's why!  They just stay away from it in winter and would definitely not feed it to their kids when the weather is cold outside.  I guess they know there's a risk of sickness (in summer too) but are willing to take that risk from time to time.  

The travel bed and some nagging questions.

This baby travel bed was bought around 12 years ago here in Turkey.  It was handed down and handed down and handed down from family to family until it eventually ended up with us.  It's been great to have around.  We use it whenever we go out of town and currently have it set up in our house so that Marie (who is sick with a cold and waking up a lot) won't wake up her big sister during the night (they usually share the same room).  The problem is that whenever I look at it I get a bit uncomfortable.  I mean I'm grateful to have it and all, but there are a few questions that haunt me whenever we get it out.

1. What?
2.  If this is the picture of the "Sweet Kid," what does the mean and violent kid look like?
3.  What is that green x on the sweet kid's face?  A cross?  Bandages from his most recent knife fight?  A tattoo?
4.  READY... It's OK! Ready for what?  What's okay?  
5.  Did the creators of this pack and play actually know English when they wrote these phrases on the side of it?
6. Will my daughters have any long lasting negative effects from waking up in the morning and seeing a violent looking sweet kid standing by their heads?
7.  Does this seem strange to anyone but me?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Going for a drive

A few days ago James and I were on a long drive.  We stopped at a market to buy some snacks and when I walked back to the car James (who was in the drivers seat when I got out of the car) was sitting in the passenger seat, assuming  the I'm-all-ready-to-take-a-nap position.  Apparently that was my que to take over the driving.  I opened the door and climbed in then suddenly my body started filling with that hyper alert, adrenaline pumping "I'm scared" feeling as I realized that what used to come automatically with no thought involved seemed to have slipped away when I was busy doing other things (mainly changing diapers)... I couldn't remember how to drive!

Me: Ummm James, which one of these is the gas pedal? While staring at the three petals at the floor.
James: Jamie. . . come on!  Pausing while he slowly realizes I'm not joking.  It's the one on the right.  Sitting up straight and no longer looking so sleepy.
Me:  Okay.  Just checking... you have to get these things straight before you drive you know.  Trying to downplay the fact that I m pretty sure I'll wreck our beloved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang truck as Elise calls it.
James:  Why oh why did I ever marry you???  Okay, so he didn't say that and probably didn't even think it but he sure should have at this point!

To let you know how things ended up, aside from being really scared at first when I had to back out of the parking lot, I did just fine.  James didn't get his nap in but that was more due to kids crying in the back seat than to my driving (at least that's what I'm telling myself).  And in my defense, I haven't driven in months and months!  And on top of that I've probably driven only around six times in the past four years!  Plus driving in Turkey is different than driving in the States.  So if you think about it I was actually doing great by even remembering that those things on the floor of the truck were pedals and that I made the truck go by pushing one of them.