Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Third time's the charm

When a baby is born in Turkey, friends and neighbors bring gold. At least that's what I was told and what I read in books about Turkish culture.

When Elise was born 4 months after we arrived in Turkey, I sat at home and waited for the gold to roll in. Well, not really. I sat at home and watched her breathe, sure that she was so fragile and tiny that she would die at any moment. But somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered the gold. Instead of gold...

I got a little vest someone knitted, kind of like this:

Those were nice and all, I mean I was really impressed with a neighbor taking the time and effort to knit Elise a little vest, but inwardly I was a little disappointed that no one brought gold. I decided I didn't get any gold because we didn't know anyone very well. We didn't even speak Turkish yet. I mean if someone had brought us gold, I wouldn't even have been able say, "Thanks for the gold."

Two years and five months later we spoke Turkish, we had friends, knew lots of our neighbors, and had another baby, Marie. This time I was fairly confident that at least a little gold would come our way. So again, in between nursing, watching the baby breathe, and wishing my belly fat would disappear, I wondered when we'd get our first piece of gold.

But this time, we were given about 5 little vests, several boxes of milk, a few baby outfits, and a pair of underwear for Elise.

I thought through the possible reasons why we weren't given any gold. Here's what I came up with:
1. Nobody really liked us very much. Hmmmm, I hope not...
2. All of our good friends were too poor to give us gold. No... we had some pretty wealthy neighbors.
3. Gold is only given to relatives. Maybe
4. This whole gold thing was just made up by somebody. It's a myth. But I've seen the little baby charms in the stores...
5. Giving and getting gold is more of a community savings thing than a no-strings-attached gift. Ah ha! I think I've got it!

I think there's a more official name for it, but it basically community savings has a goes around/comes around type of meaning. Like, we all live together... for the long haul. So, when my baby is born you give me gold, knowing that when your little squealer comes along I'll give you gold. Then, when my daughter says "I do" you give her gold, and when your daughter walks down the aisle I give gold to her. So, we all help each other out, but come out even in the end.

James and I are foreigners so even though we live next door, we're not really a part of the community. We are outsiders. If you give us gold, unless you're on the verge of giving birth yourself, you can't count on getting it back.

This theory made perfect sense to me and made me feel a little better about being shut out of the gold circle. Oh good, I thought when I came up with the theory. People do like me. It's just my foreignness that keeps them from giving me gold.

Two years and three months later, when Clara was about to come along, we had only lived in our neighborhood for about a month and didn't know any neighbors well. We were definitely NOT an established part of the community, so for once I laid my gold wanting greediness aside and had absolutely no thoughts about it. I was sure that as foreigners we were just shut out of that part of the culture. But then this happened:

And this:

Shiny little gold charms. One for me and one for Clara.

Mine says Allah in Arabic. At least that's what I think it says... I don't know arabic, but think "Allah" is more likely than "Congratulations on your new born baby girl!"

Clara's is a little blue eye bead... to protect her from the evil eye.

The other English teachers at James' school chipped in to get them for us. There goes my theories about community savings... guess I'm not as smart as I thought I was.

Unless I give into the whole "people don't like us" idea, the best I reason behind who gets gold and why that can come up with now is third time's the charm. Do you get it? Third time... charm....

Oh, we also got a box of milk and a little vest a neighbor knitted. I think the books on Turkish culture shouldn't go on and on about gold when babies are born. Instead they should emphasize the obviously fashionable and wildly popular baby attire - hand knitted vests. And boxes of milk.


Ethnoquest said...

I think it's meant to look like Arabic without being Arabic. :)

Your assessment of being "outsiders" sounds spot on to me.

Among your neighbors, you may be more of a curiosity, while among James' coworkers, he is part of the community.

That's often how we feel here when we compare our relationships with people in the neighborhood to our relationships with people from Toastmasters.

In Lebanon, everyone is supposed to visit you during the first 40 days and bring a gift. You provide them with some fancy chocolate.

We are trying to decide just how fancy, as well as how much (it can get really crazy). We honestly have no idea how many people will come. It will provide a good measure of which people view themselves as our friends though!

Jamie and James said...

Thanks! I was hoping you'd come through on the arabic charm... so it doesn't say allah? Or does it, but in a stylized kind of way?

How much longer is it till your little one comes along? We have the 40 days and chocolates thing here too... some of the chocolates are pretty amazingly fancy.

Ethnoquest said...


(That's the word verification)

It's possible that Allah is hidden in the swirls somewhere at the top center,but it's not clear me. It's definitely stylized. In Arabic Allah looks like: الله Does that show up on your screen? You might need to increase the type size in order to see it clearly. :)

The Coombe in the Womb is due in 6.5 weeks. I'm preparing for total Armageddon, as I have my thesis to complete before we leave the country in Feb/Mar. Ahhhh!!!!

Ethnoquest said...

This note is juggable...

After 37/40 visiting days, here's the count from Lebanese friends:

1 gold pendant
1 gold necklace
1 gold bracelet
2 sets of gold earrings
2 formal outfits from Zara (way too cute!)
2 blankets
1 knock-off "Hello Kitty" lamp
Multiple floral bouquets
1 photo album
1 balloon arrangement
1 rattle
2 parenting books (in English)
1 scary looking "barbie"
1 sleep sac & baby doll
3 pans of Moghlie (rice pudding that we should serve guests)

All of them were thoughtful gifts. My personal favorites were the Zara outfits and the gold bracelet. Can't wait until Lina's big enough to be dressed up in them!

Jamie and James said...

on the 26th day of visiting my neighbor gave to me, one scary barbie doll (hopefully you are humming the 12 days of christmas as you read that :).

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