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......