Sunday, 22 November 2009

Mmmmm.... Ketchup.

Warning: The photos on this post are deeply disturbing... please do not proceed if you have a weak stomach...

Or if you are allergic to ketchup.

A few years back my friend Nimet her two teenage daughters and I were eating some leftover spaghetti at my house. I made it your typical American way... noodles with a tomato based sauce on top. Nimet's older daughter asked how I made the sauce (no jars of spaghetti sauce here... I have to do it from scratch).

I explained the whole process - browning some ground beef, chopping peppers, onions, tomatos, garlic... adding things to the pot, simmering, tasting, adding a little more of this or that.

Melike (Nimet's daughter, pronounced Mel-ee-kay) seemed surprised by all the work I'd done just for pasta. As far as I can figure, pasta is kind of a poor man's food here. Unless you can't afford more, you generally don't serve it to dinner guests. It's something you eat for a quick lunch, or when you're in a hurry, or because you can't afford something better. Maybe that's one reason why not much work is put into it.

Melike: Wow! This took you a long time to make (inferring, I think, that if something takes that long it should really taste much better)

Me: Yeah. In America I can just buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, but here I have to make my own.

Melike: A lot of times we just boil the noodles and then put some ketchup on top.

Me: Ketchup... really?

Melike: Nodding an affirmative. Mmmmm hmmm. It's delicious... sometimes we squirt ketchup and mayonaise on top together. You should try it, it tastes really good!

Me: Glancing at Nimet to see if I can catch a twinkle in her eye indicating that her daughter is pulling my leg. It wasn't there.

Nimet: I'm surprised you don't eat it that way! It's so much easier and really delicious!

Me: Realizing they're completely serious... Yeah, um, maybe I'll try that. . . and maybe pigs will fly over Turkey and you'll shoot them down and eat the bacon. Okay, obviously nothing about pigs came out of my mouth... and in case you didn't know it, Turkey is a Muslim country, so eating pork products is a big BIG no no. . . at some point James and I decided that pigs flying was not quite impossible enough so instead of just saying "when pigs fly," we added in the second part too. . . ya know, to make the unlikely even more unlikely. Plus it makes us laugh, but anyway . . .

I had forgotten all about this conversation until I looked at our ketchup bottle a couple of weeks ago and saw this:

Just the thought of covering my spaghetti noodles like this makes me cringe.
Euch... eeew... blech. I've got to look away.... and switch to a brand of ketchup that doesn't have indecent pictures.

The sad part for me is that apparently just the thought of choking down my homemade sauce makes Nimet and Melike cringe.... and they didn't have to just look at a photo of it... I actually served it to them for lunch, poor things. They'd much prefer the scene on the ketchup bottle... a forkful of noodles happily swimming in a sea of ketchup.

*note... if you happen to enjoy noodles with ketchup, please don't hate me because it makes me gag. I'm happy for you and for whoever cooks your food. It's really great that you can enjoy such an easy to make meal, just don't invite me for lunch, okay?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Adventures at the Health Clinic

The H1N1 shot has just been released here in Turkey for children age 6 mo. to 5 years. Previous to this week only health care professionals and Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca (the haj) had access to the shot.

I decided to take Elise and Marie down to the public health clinic to get the inoculation. Clara just turned two months old and was due for another round of shots, so it made sense (in my mind at least) to just get all the pain and agony out of the way in one fell swoop... kill two (or three?) birds with one stone...bite the bullet... go for the gold... you get the picture.

A couple of days ago while James was at work I dressed my children warmly, put Elise and Marie in a double stroller, strapped Clara onto my chest with a baby carrier and headed off to the health clinic.

I should re-state here that Turks in big cities do not normally have children as close together as Americans do. And for reasons that I can't fully grasp, whenever I am out with my three little ones (three is too many kids according to many of my friends) I am stared at as if I came from another planet or am a strange freak of nature. I am asked almost daily if Elise (almost 5) and Marie (2 1/2) are twins, even though Elise is head and shoulders taller than her sister. I think people just can't comprehend me having that many children that close together.

So my freaky brood of kids and I went down the street a few blocks for the dreaded shots. We were stopped 3 times in the 10 minute walk by people who wanted to ask me if I had twins or inform me that my kids weren't dressed warm enough. We arrived at the building to find it crowded with mothers and children waiting to get shots. A nurse noticed the baby hanging off of me and ushered me upstairs for baby shots since downstairs was dedicated to the swine flu vaccine.

Fertile Myrtle (me) and her three kids were put in a small room with two desks, a table for the patient to sit on, and one nurse who first asked if Elise and Marie were twins, then asked if I had all these children on purpose, and why they were so close in age, and then started taking down Clara's information. Another nurse soon joined us with the three shots for poor little Clara, and after getting all the important information (no... not about allergies, medical records, etc... but why I had so many children so close together) she had me get Clara ready for the shots and instructed me on how to hold her still while she administered the inoculations.

The nurse pulled the shiny little needle out and Marie's eyes grew big as saucers. Poor Marie's curiosity drew her closer and closer until she was watching the needles go into her baby sister's arm and legs, and listening to her sad little screams from about 6 inches away. If she wasn't already dreading her own shots, by this point she was pretty much scared out of her socks.

The two nurses decided that since the line downstairs was so long, they would just bring up two H1N1 vaccines for Elise and Marie. So they got on the phone, and soon two more shots and three more nurses were crowded into the small room. I think the new nurses assumed that I didn't know Turkish and so they proceeded to ask the first two all about me. A conversation ensued about how strange and hard it must be to not only be a foreigner, but also to have to look after three small kids. "Why would she do that?" "It had to be an accident!" "They are beautiful... but that's so hard!" "Look at the chart... they are all two years apart! At least she was orderly about it," were just a few of the comments they made to one another... right in front of me. They also laughed about the fact that five of them were upstairs with the yabancilar (foreigners) while only two were left to give vaccines to the masses below.

Marie was next to hop........ dragged... onto the table. By this point I had one nurse still taking down info, one holding Clara, one administering the shot, and two more, plus myself holding down poor kicking, screaming, and struggling little Marie. Screams rang down the hallways, snot and tears flew everywhere and then it was over... well, except the crying.

By this point, Elise had quietly retreated to underneath a desk and was hoping that her freakishly fertile mother and the chatty nurses would just forget about her existence and leave her alone. No such luck. I had to drag her clawing, scratching, and screaming from under the desk, all the while listening to Marie and Clara's cries and to the nurses rehash how close in age my children are. It then took me and two nurses to pry her little hands off her coat, her coat and sweater off of her shoulder, and hold her down so she could have her turn at the dreaded flu vaccine. More screaming, kicking, crying, and snot, and I breathed a big sigh of relief... it was over.

I tried to quiet the girls down with marshmallows and fruit roll ups from a care package from Nana (thanks Mom!), but it was a no go. In the end I had to walk out of the room, down the hallway, past scores of people waiting for shots, all the while holding a baby and dragging along two screaming and crying little girls. More than one person tried to pick up one of my two crying older girls to comfort them, which only made things worse... I mean, really, would you want a stranger grabbing you right after your mom betrayed you by holding you down to be jabbed by a sharp instrument of torture!? Me neither. A few curious people tried to stop me to ask if Elise and Marie were twins... and by this point I just wanted to yell, "Can't you people mind your own business?!! Yes I have three kids! No they're not twins! Yes, I wanted all three of my children, and NO, it's not hard to raise them, I'M HANDLING IT JUST FINE, OKAY!! NOW JUST LEAVE ME ALONE FOR PEET'S SAKE (While throwing chairs, and knocking over tables... yeah, things are fine... just fine. I totally have it all together)!"

It was probably only 30 to 40 minutes start to finish, but I felt like I had just endured hours of torture and was quite honestly just wanting to be left alone when a nurse chased me down, handed me a couple of cards with the girl's names on them, and told me that I needed to come back for round two of the flu shot in a month.

What? I thought this was a one time deal!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Pumpkin Fun!

In Turkey, it's tough to find orange pumpkins. We usually end up carving a big greyish green one instead. Let me tell you, those things are tough to carve! The rind is at least 3 inches thick, and hard as a bowling ball. Try carving through your kitchen table, and you'll get an idea of the pumpkin carving experience here in Turkey.

James took the pumpkin I carved for our girls to school to show his students and they were impressed and EXCITED. They'd only seen jack-o-lanterns on TV. His tenth graders immediately begged him to bring pumpkins in for them to carve. They all threw in a little cash and sent "Teacher" to hunt them down.

By the way, Turkish students call all their teachers "Ogretmenim (my teacher)," so when they have an english teacher, he automatically becomes "Teacher." In the US, you'd only hear that coming out of a kindergartener's mouth. So it sounded strange to James to be greeted that way by 16 year olds, but I guess he got used to it...

Anyhow, with 20 lira in his pocket, Teacher headed out to the pumpkin patch.... er .... roadside stand... and did his best to pick out a few nice round greyish-green pumpkins.

Kind of ugly, aren't they? And those orange things in the background... the ones that you probably think are pumpkins... I'm pretty sure those are overripe melons. They're supposed to be green, like the melons on the right.

After James chose a few, the melon/pumpkin guy weighed them with his yellow crate and pulley thingy. He threw in a few melons so that James could use up the entire 20 lira.

I'm pretty sure James tried to swipe an extra melon... check out that guilty look on his face.

A few days later the highly anticipated event finally came, and several excited 10th graders got to sink their butter knives into the pumpkins! The administration wouldn't let them use sharp knives, so James made the first cut then handed the hard and warty green pumpkins over for those poor kids to try to continue carving with butter knives. Good thing 16 year olds are strong.

Everybody took a turn digging out the guts...

This girl found a plastic glove to wear while digging out the pumpkin's innards. Smart! She must have a good teacher.

Mehmet and Ahmet. Good friends putting their heads together to design their very first jack-o-lantern.

Gotta love the uniforms. Makes me wish I had one in high school.

The finished product. Three beautiful pumpkins. Twelve happy students. One happy teacher (the guy in the back with the teeny head and a goatee). And the english practice?? They wrote all about it three times. In past, present, and future tense.

James is a great teacher!

Love and Marriage

Had an interesting conversation with a new aquaintance, Bahar. It gives a good picture of the marriage experience for many women her age, and what things are still like in some parts of Turkey.

Bahar: My granddaughter is 22, she's about to graduate from college with her Master's degree.

Me: Wow! You don't look old enough to have a granddaughter that age!

Bahar: Thank you! I'm 57. I got married young. My mother gave me away when I was 13.

Me: Weren't you scared? Had you met your husband before you married? How old was he?

Bahar: Yes, of course I was scared. I was very scared! We'd never met before. His mother saw me and asked my mother for me, and then we got married. He was 22.

Me: How old were you when you had your first baby?

Bahar: I was 14. I was still a child myself. I liked to play with my daughter's dolls! We grew up together.

When I am 35, I will have a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 3 year old. When Bahar was 35, she was a grandma!