December 12, 2014

Wiki Friday: Akkadian sense of time

In 2008 I rode a train to eastern Turkey in a backward-facing seat.

I had read somewhere about a people in history thinking of time this way–that we go backward into the future. It makes sense: We can face the past. We can see all that has happened. The future is what we cannot see.

This moment on the train had a lot of juice. I was simultaneously traveling into my own unknown future and into known human past–the origin land of Mesopotamia–with my physical body in a position that encapsulated an ancient sense of time.

Anyway, I mentioned this event to Jordan in 2012. With her memory for all things poetic, she held onto it, and pulled it back out this week. She found this academic article that identifies the Akkadians as the backward-time-thinkers.

Basically, all their words for “earlier” and “past” are related to “front” or “face” (the words are pana, panu, pani, etc.), and all their words for “later” and “future” are related to “behind” (arka, arki, arku, etc.)

The Turkish word for “back” or “behind” is arka, which obviously thrills me.

My heard hurts when I verbally pair the ideas of “later” and “behind.”

As the article author writes, “the mental world of our own modern society” is exactly the opposite that of the Akkadians. “When we look ‘into the future,’ we firmly believe that our gaze is fixed straight ahead. Nothing can shake our conviction that the past is at our back, that it lies behind us.”

Look ahead
Look into the future
Look at the week ahead

Look back at the past
Return to a point in history

Fittingly, that train in 2008 was carrying me toward the land controlled by the Akkadians, in their height around 2200 BC, land which is now Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Thanks for the reminder, dear Jordan.

November 24, 2014

Photos from Burnaby Mountain

(The dog's owners had been arrested. I hung out until another friend arrived. I like how in solidarity the dog insisted on sitting across the police line.)

I didn't get a photo of the clown. Yes, there was a clown. Red nose and all. He taunted the police and almost lured them into a comic chase. As he was cuffed and put into the back of the police van, he shouted something like, "This is the most fun I've had in my whole life!"

November 3, 2014

Wiki "Friday": astrology / The Luminaries / neutron stars

Theme = stars


Wikipedia is a real downer sometimes:

Astrology has not demonstrated its effectiveness in controlled studies and has no scientific validity.

There are several hyperlinks to pseudoscience.

“Wikipedia!” I want to say, “I was just looking for cultural associations to better understand a novel that I’m reading. Chill out. For a forecast of the day or to better understand my romantic partner, I’m obviously already going to”

[That said, my allegience to this horoscope site took a blow this week.]

The Luminaries

Maybe you heard about this novel when it won the Man Booker Prize or when it won the Governor General’s Award.

Walter Moody in search of gold–the year is 1866–takes a ship to the South Island of New Zealand. Upon arrival he enters the smoking room of a hotel and discovers 12 men. The novel proceeds to chart the actions and observations of these 12 men as they investigate a series of mysterious events.

The novel is organized “according to astrological principles, so that characters are not only associated with signs of the zodiac, or the sun and moon (the "luminaries" of the title), but interact with each other according to the predetermined movement of the heavens” (Thank you Justine Jordan, writing for The Guardian).

Pretty sweet, right?

The characters are heavenly bodies moving in accordance with the actual star charts from 1866!

Eleanor Catton, the author, was born on September 24th, 1985, which makes her a Libra.

Catton currently lives in Auckland with her author and poet partner, and teaches creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology. That sounds like a nice life.

Neutron stars

This is for Liam, who says, “Mary, one day we are going to have a serious discussion about astrology… and it’s not going to go well (for you).”

A neutron star, explained Liam, is about the size of Richmond, with a nucleus the size of Stanley Park.

“Neutron stars are the densest and tiniest stars known to exist in the universe;” (That’s Wikipedia, not Liam) although having only the radius of about 10 km, they may have a mass of a few times that of the Sun.”

One final analogy:

“This density is approximately equivalent to the mass of a Boeing 747 compressed to the size of a small grain of sand.”

Also, they can spin up to 700 times a second, and can emit beams of electromagnetic energy called pulsars.

For Halloween next year, you can dress all in white. Apparently that is how neutron stars would appear to the naked eye. Just be sure to spin around really fast, refer to yourself as dense, and maybe carry an old degraded microwave (the kind that would emit dangerous radiation). Ta-da!

I wanted to talk about Stephen Hawking, but we can do that next week.

October 26, 2014

Wiki "Friday": "Desiderata"

Small note: I am starting a regular job in two weeks. I will have better awareness of what day it is and Wiki Fridays may well come on Fridays.

Today, Sunday, we discuss a particular set of aphorisms.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. 
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. 
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. 
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. 
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. 
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. 
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. 
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

This prose poem was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927.

I first saw it in New Zealand, on the wall of my cousin Blair's house. I assumed it was much older.

There has been widespread confusion about the origin date, actually, all because a reverend in Maryland included the poem in a package of devotional materials that mentioned the church's foundation date of 1692.

Wikipedia says that Pierre Trudeau, when the Liberal Party lost its majority in the 1972 federal election, quoted the poem by reassuring the nation that, "the universe is unfolding as it should."


What about Max Ehrmann, you ask. The internet proffers little on him. He was a lawyer and later worked in his family's meatpacking business and in the manufacture of overalls.

At 40 he devoted himself to writing, and apparently worked at that each day, which I like a lot.

Other poems can be found, mostly spiritual. I find some dense, but some delightful, like this one, about enduring rainy days, endeavouring to be gentle, and, bizarrely, shooting at the archery range.

"Desiderata" came back into my life via Hisao, a Japanese Canadian man who lives in my neighbourhood and grows his own strawberries, grapes, and daikon. He spends very little money. Until last week, he collected sweet chestnuts from the back lane and roasted them for breakfast. His kitchen wall is covered with aphorisms for inspiring kindness in himself and others, including the complete "Desiderata."

The title in Latin means desired things, a phrase that inevitably reminds me of Jordan Karnes, my friend who is a poet.

October 22, 2014

Wiki "Friday": wasp / chestnut / Skills for Jobs Blueprint

This week we are talking about trees. And sex and death and education.

Fig wasp

70-90 million years ago, fig trees and certain wasps started needing each other to reproduce.

Dinosaurs were alive at that time.

Most fig trees still rely on wasps for pollination.

Here is how it works for at least one kind of fig wasp:

The baby insects are born inside a fig. "The males' only tasks are to mate with the females while still within the fig syconium and to chew a hole for the females to escape."

Later, when the females are ready to deposit their own eggs, they wriggle into a new fig, incidentally pollinating it, and scraping off their wings and most of their antennae. They lay their eggs in the internal flowers of the fig and die.

"Female fig wasps can reach the ovaries of short female flowers with their ovipositors, but not long female flowers. Thus, the short flowers grow wasps, whereas the long flowers become seeds."

The short flowers grow wasps

(The poetry of Wikipedia)

Finally, "In figs of this sort, the crunchy bits in the fruit contain both seeds and wasps."

Yep. I'm still unclear about whether these wasps that we eat are dead adults or dead babies. Meh. I love figs regardless. Let's talk about another tree.

American chestnut

Maciej told me that American chestnut trees used to cover massive swathes of eastern North America and grew to be a hundred feet tall.

Wikipedia confirms this.

100 feet fall. 10 feet in diameter. From Ontario to Mississippi. From the Atlantic to the Ohio Valley. As Maciej said, "they rained chestnuts."

Around 1900, some Asian chestnut trees were imported, containing a bark fungus.

"The airborne bark fungus spread 50 mi (80 km) a year and in a few decades girdled and killed up to three billion American chestnut trees."

Now there are fewer than 100 large survivors in the original range.

The American chestnut, "may have ultimately become vulnerable to disease because of a near-monoculture in some locations."

Diversity. Diversity. Diversity. Or eventual death.

On that note, let's take a quick look at Christy Clark's new plan for post-secondary education in this province.

"B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint"

Released in April, this document explains how the provincial government will "re-engineer" B.C.'s colleges and universities to favour the LNG sector. Yes, seriously.

LNG is mentioned in 25 of the 40 pages.

LNG is actually the bright blue heading for pages 24-40.

Maybe you saw the news about VCC laying off 150 of its 190 ESL teachers. That's connected.

I can't stop thinking of the clichéd phrase, putting all your eggs in one basket.

Let's do a little math.


That's how many jobs might be created by the LNG sector, says the provincial government newsroom. ("58,700 direct and indirect construction jobs, 23,800 permanent direct and indirect jobs for operations, and thousands more of induced jobs as a result of households having more income." So that's a hopeful number.)


That's about how many people are in the labour market in B.C., according to Statistics Canada.

100,000 divided by 2,500,000 = .04


That seems like a small percentage of potential jobs.

The metaphor I am kind of going for with the trees: we need diversity in our education, so that we have different types of thinkers and skilled people, for adapting to different environments.

Over and out.

(image one source / image two source)

Correction 10/26/2014: I did some more reading this last week, and the layoffs at VCC are not directly related to "B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint." They are there result of a federal funding cut. Same zeitgeist, different levels of government.

October 11, 2014

Wiki Friday: Carmen / Apples / Synesthesia

Today’s themes are interconnectedness and the unimagined later lives of experiences and ideas.


I saw my first opera last Saturday. It was four acts and set in Seville around 1820. The French composer Bizet had never visited Spain.

The character Carmen, perhaps “a realization of the composer’s own unconscious longing for a freedom denied to him by his stifling marriage,” has reappeared in cultural productions ever since her birth on stage in 1875.

I suspect the reincarnation you will appreciate most is this one featuring Beyoncé–

I know.

Bizet never saw great success in his lifetime. I doubt he envisioned his work being brought to life in 2001 by Wyclef Jean. If you haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet, by the way, go do so now.


Sustain me with flagons, refresh me with apples: for I am sick with love.

“Feed me apples, for I am sick with love,” is what I thought the line was. I thought it had been written by Walt Whitman or Robert Frost. Swing and a miss.

The line is from the Song of Solomon. Who knows how I heard it first.

The Song of Solomon, also known as The Song of Songs (swoon), is a section of the Bible with no mention of law, covenant, Yahweh, or wisdom. Instead, “it celebrates sexual love.” 

Some translations of the Bible, including one for young adults, talk of raisins or raisin cakes, but I prefer “flagons.” Weak with love? Open the wine. Biblical translation is suddenly very engaging.

Anyway, there is a poem about apples by Robert Frost, specifically about picking them. It is a fitting poem for the season. My housemate Delayne collected the last of our apple’s trees this week.

I gave five to Leah yesterday, at the same meeting in which she told me about visiting a First Nations community in Nimmo Bay and hearing that a traditional way of understanding wealth is not to tabulate the amount amassed but rather the amount given away.

Oh, it’s good.


This is when one sensory experience cues a different sensory experience.

The condition is not in the DSM, be cause psychological conditions in the DSM have to interfere with life, and this is more like a bonus pleasure on top of life.

The most studied example seems to be people thinking of letters and numbers as associated with certain colours. As usual, academic researchers have found one minuscule thing to obsess about.

My own primary experience of synesthesia, in which touch cues visions, was not even mentioned. 

The coloured numbers and letters example may actually be understood better as ideasthesia–a cognitive input cueing a sensory experience. After all, letters and numbers are concepts more than experiences. Which leads us to something fun:

Researchers suggest that synesthesia/ideasthesia can be a cognitive tool or a coping mechanism for dealing with abstract concepts, including time. In Morocco, Alaina and I “mapped time” on hand-drawn calendars; certain weeks or months demanded to be yellow or green.

In the spring I lost my job, time was a white sheet gathered in folds to my chin, spread smooth toward the horizon.

That is from my friend Jordan’s newly published book, in an essay titled “The Ballad of John and Jon”. Later in the essay Jordan describes John Lennon’s “honeymoon Bed-Ins”,

when he and Yoko stayed in bed in various cities across Europe and even Canada. Sitting upright in long pyjamas, white sheets to their waists, they called press conferences and talked very calmly about their love and everything, eventually recording “Give Peace a Chance” on a four-track in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

It was the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver where I saw Carmen on Saturday. I wonder if Jordan’s idea of time as a white sheet came from seeing John and Yoko in bed years earlier.

September 27, 2014

Wiki Friday: Neruda / Rosh Hashanah / September

Four years have passed since I wrote a Wiki Friday post. Man, time. Anyway, this one is themed around connection and poetry.

Pablo Neruda

Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon

What adjective-noun combinations! They make you a little woozy, no?

I was at a dinner party with family friends on Wednesday and saw these words on the book shelf. They are the title of a collection of Neruda's poems–his mature work, apparently–and also the first words in a pretty sexy poem involving mud and honey. Naturally I came home and Wikipedia'd Neruda. So many nuggets of delight:

That he wrote his first poems when he was 10.

That he chose his pen name after a Czech poet. And later adopted it as his legal name.

That he wrote in green ink, his "personal symbol for desire and hope."

That he published erotic poetry at 18.

Rosh Hashanah

Next up on the Wikipedia search list was Jewish New Year, which started on Wednesday.

I learned that people often eat apples dipped in honey to evoke a "sweet new year." It was very fitting, then, that I ate three caramel apples at a wedding the weekend before.

The word Elul jumped out–the month in the Hebrew calendar leading up to Rosh Hashanah. In Turkish the word for September is eylül. And flash, I remembered a wonderful Turkish poem that I (poorly) translated in a creative writing class years ago. Here it is:


a poem by Hilmi Yavuz

september! even in childhood
I would watch you
how by the waning
words of summer
you were dismantled
      with the gardens and ashes
filled me… september!

september! the fragile season!
fall’s glass dagger
would splinter in my heart
while day and night
you were cloaked
      with loneliness and lace
filled me… september!

september! I forgot you
the mountain turned red, the path yellow
and I would glance back
your memory showed no mercy
your laughter shattered
      mirrors and roses
filled me… september!


Let us take another moment looking at Elul, the 12th month of the Jewish civil calendar.

The word comes from the Akkadian word for 'harvest'.

The word is similar to the Aramaic root for 'search'.

The Talmud says that Elul can work as an acronym for "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" - "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" 

"Many Jews also visit the graves of loved ones throughout the month in order to remember and honor those people in our past who inspire us to live more fully in the future."

The month is meant to be spent in preparation for important spiritual days, and for asking for and granting forgiveness. A time of focus and shift.

I have always felt that September is the true beginning of a new year. I am somewhat heartened to learn that an entire religious tradition feels the same way.

September 10, 2014

September art/craft: photography

So I'm doing this new thing. Every month I focus on an art or craft medium and do some small projects within that world. September was going to be acrylic paint month, if only to fill the blank walls of my room, but for reasons the medium is now photography.

Mini project 1: Photo walk in the neighbourhood.

Banana leaves next door

Oh I like it here
Reminds me of a hanging leaf project to re-do this fall
In an alley
New desktop image. Mmmm.
Take away: As I expected, the photo walk made me feel super relaxed, receptive, and gracious. The back alleys of this neighbourhood are not so rich in cultural and natural texture as others, but the diversity of plant life is still impressive. It was easy to find some nice shots, even at midday, far from those dawn and dusk ideal light times.

July 16, 2014

Sheltering Sky Take Two

When I read this book the first time, I was living in Morocco, the country where the author Paul Bowles spent most of his life. Centred around busy-minded, unsure, wandering expatriates, it was pretty easy for me to sink into. It was a pleasure to find the book again, here in Kabak, Turkey. Again I couldn't help but dog-ear pages to remind myself to copy out some passages.

Michael Hoffman’s introduction to the book:
what happens is not so much friction or collision as a reduced density, incomprehension, the impossibility of communication
Often this is how I experience life abroad, and it leaves me craving connection, meaning, understanding, conversation, expanded and built-up ideas.

On the bizarre characters, the Lyles:
The novelty of the caricature was wearing off. Port was beginning to feel smothered sitting there between them; their obsessions depressed him.
On why the character Port doesn’t write:
there had been nothing to write about – he could not establish a connexion in his mind between the absurd trivialities which filled the day and the serious business of putting words to paper.
I know this feeling. But then I look back and realize what an interesting and rich bounty of details was available to me during a period of time in a particular place, and I am sad to have already lost access to it.

Port on death and finiteness:
‘Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.’
Kit when she bathes in the oasis at night:
She felt a strange intensity being born within her. As she looked about the quiet garden she had the impression that for the first time since her childhood she was seeing objects clearly.
The next day, when she knows she will travel with the men of the caravan:
Even as she saw these two men she knew that she would accompany them, and the certainty gave her an unexpected sense of power: instead of feeling the omens, she would now make them, be them herself.
I love that: make the omens, be the omens.

June 27, 2014

Solo camping–what would Orwell say?

Scaring myself silly

On Sunday I camped on the side of a mountain during a lightning storm and spent most of the night chanting, “I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone.” Twice I flipped through my camera to stare at a photo of my mom.

Rain and hail drummed down and lightning lit up the orange tent material, but on top of this were the flashing lights and siren of the bear alarm. This was a homemade motion-activated system that a shepherd family had installed next to their wooden house, to deter bears from their bee boxes. It was the hail, surely, activating the system every few minutes, but every time I heard the siren, I imagined bears.

Imagination by far provided the scariest parts of this whole experience. I had heard there were wolves and bears, so I imagined them. I had read that it was possible to lose the path on the way to the alpine lake, so I imagined being lost. That night, thankfully, the gentle voice in my head whispered: “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to wake up tomorrow and finish a solo hike to the lake.”

Clear skies the next morning
But even though I had surrendered the plan, my mind and body remained on high alert. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I had anxious, confusing dreams. The next day, when I went on a short walk before breakfast, I was forever looking behind me. I ate quickly, packed my tent, and descended to the village to rest in the company of a little old lady who made us lunch.

What would Orwell say?

“The truth is that many of the qualities we admire in human beings can only function in opposition to some kind of disaster, pain or difficulty; but the tendency of mechanical progress is to eliminate disaster, pain and difficulty.”

Modern life rarely lets us hone or prove the attributes that we still like so much in ourselves and each other.

“In books like The Dream and Men Like Gods it is assumed that such qualities as strength, courage, generosity, etc., will be kept alive because they are comely qualities and necessary attributes of a full human being. Presumably, for instance, the inhabitants of Utopia would create artificial dangers in order to exercise their courage.

Tell me this doesn’t make you think of the kid in Into the Wild. There were so many safeguards that he did not take, precisely because in taking them, he would have taken away the danger and his ability to exercise courage.

All the other times

I thought of all the times I have half-consciously let outdoor activities become more dangerous than they needed to be. Running out of water on a kayaking trip. Exiting the forest with a cell phone for a flashlight. Walking a no-shoulder highway at night because we started hitchhiking late and I didn’t write the address or phone number of the destination farm.

These are all good stories now. We kayaked like champions and sang songs to keep up morale. We took care of each other in the woods so we wouldn’t be scared of shadows. We made it to the farm by bravely walking past barking dogs and kindly supporting each other when we tripped in the bushes in the ditch. Everything that Orwell imagines, basically.

What is interesting to me is that I usually create these situations without acknowledging, at least out loud to other people, that I am doing it. I quietly let things go wrong. Maybe it’s because you’re not supposed to be the author and the protagonist. The game-designer and the player.

This last experience was different. I didn’t make it to the lake, to come down flushed and excited about my bravery. I was more like, “Woah, so there’s a limit. And apparently I hate camping alone.”


I do want to be “a full human being”, strong and courageous and generous. But I think I will go about developing these qualities in a more direct way, instead of sneakily half-mindedly laying traps for myself and my companions (friends, I’m sorry–please keep doing things with me). And probably no more solo camping.

June 9, 2014


canım benim          my darling/ my dear/ my spirit

yavrum          my little baby animal

aslanım benim         my lion

hanım kızım          Miss my girl

Merve / Maryam

These are the names that my 75 year old Turkish granny/supervisor calls me while we are working in the mulberry orchard. It's kind of awesome.

May 29, 2014

Life here yani

Driver pulls over. Ben Suri. I'm Syrian.

Riding shotgun down the highway smoking a menthol cigarette.

Içmiyorum 'I don't smoke'. Ama 'but' nane 'mint'...nane... ok.

Kadir is belting Arabic ballads with the radio... kalbim 'my heart' why are you going?

I'm snapping my fingers high on nicotine.

Seat belts are fastened behind our backs so the car won't complain.

It's all Turkish mixed with Arabic.

Iki sene 'two years' in Turkey. Savaş 'war'.

He just dropped his brother at the airport. Sud Arabistan. Riyadh.

Hayat 'life'.

Hayat zeyn! Life is good!

I'm 28. I'm 23. So young! But you look like you are 20. I know I know. 

I'm on the phone with his sister now. Merhaba. Iyi misin? Maalesef arabi bilmiyorum. Mafi arabi. Zeyn. Zeyn. Inshalla görüşüruz.

He's on the phone now. Sadiqa arkadaş kız binit mn kanada kanada.

Is it the cigarette? I can understand everything.

Kadir takes off his sunglasses. Oh he is 23. Baby face. Those black lashes.

I point out my street. He drives past it. Kidnapped for tea. His mother insists. I insist more. My coolness ends here. 

Phone number written on paper. Turkish girls staring when I get out of the car, sunglasses and hiking poles, shouting goodbye at this car driver in skin-tight white and matching capris. 

What a life. This funny city near the border of chaos. These interactions.

May 26, 2014

Woman on a Bicycle

Last night in the park I saw a woman on a bicycle. She had a long blue skirt and a white headscarf that stood out in the darkness of the walking track.

Here in Urfa I have never seen such a thing. In six months in Turkey, actually, I haven't seen such a thing–a local woman on a bicycle.

This woman braked next to me as I was walking laps. I immediately told her how wonderful she was. Was it her bike? Yes. I said that I too had a bike, in Canada. Did she ride it often? Yes. Every Sunday night. She likes it and is losing weight. The woman said that riding a bike was more fun than walking, and did I want to take it for a lap? I said no (it looked small), but encouraged her to continue. We grinned at each other every time we passed.

In stopping to talk, she interrupted a chain of thoughts about what I did and didn't do in Urfa. There is no expatriate culture here, at least that I know of, and I felt an immediate keenness to fit in and have a low profile. I dyed my hair a darker colour and dressed more conservatively. I wore a flat expression and saved my smiles on the street for women. A friend mentioned I could buy a bike in Urfa, but I immediately dismissed the idea as not only physically dangerous (where would I ride it? there is no such thing as a bike lane here) but also socially unacceptable.

Socially unacceptable how, though? No one would stone me. No one would tell me to get off the bike. I didn't want to make a scene, is the real reason.

When I'm abroad, I like to blend in. It kills me when visitors speak loudly on the bus (don't they notice how reserved everyone else is?! don't they hear how much English stands out?!). Of course I will never blend in–at least not in this region, where I don't look like any of the ethnic groups–but I like to do what I can.

This may be a weakness. A savvy international type (I still don't know where he's from or what his first language is) once told me I was the worst kind of traveler. I adapt. I avoid causing friction or conflict. What a disservice I was doing, he said, to the people in the places I visited. They might never travel widely, physically or through books or movies or discussions, and my interaction was perhaps their best shot at being shocked into considering other ways of living.

One counter-argument is that there are subtler ways to broaden people's ideas than explicitly going against the grain. But let's save the counter-arguments.

I didn't get a bike here. I kind of wish that I had.

May 24, 2014

That awkward phase of vocabulary learning

in which you know 'bad' words, but can't rely on yourself not to mix them up with other words

boşaltmak (to empty) and boşanmak (to divorce)

These words I know and want to use, but they are momentarily far too risky to try, because I may well open my mouth and say

boşalmak (to ejaculate)

May 16, 2014

3 Things I Really Notice

...upon returning to Turkey, in particular the southeast, after five days in the Republic of Cyprus.

1. The heat

Before this jaunt to Cyprus, I had forgotten the finicky dampness of the mountains, and the temperature shift that other places experience when the sun goes down. Here the weather is reliably hot. Morning, noon, and night. When I walked down the steps from the airplane in Gaziantep, back into the encompassing heat, I remembered flying into Saudi.

2. The helpfulness

People here are truly helpful. Outside the airport I asked a man how to get to the otogar. He said that the transfer bus should go there, but to check with the şoför, whom he naturally called over. The şoför confirmed, took my bag, and invited me onto the bus. Several people on the bus made sure that I succeeded in getting off at the otogar.

I can't help but compare this to the events the same morning in Cyprus, in which I was stranded in a village because the bus driver opted to drive past me at the village centre bus stop. I was less annoyed with the driver (after all, I was on the wrong side of the street after forgetting about the British system) and more annoyed with the tables full of local men who had observed me sitting on the side of a road with a backpack for 10 minutes leading up to the bus and 10 minutes after it went by, without saying anything.

"Oh, the customer service in Turkey!" someone exclaimed recently. But that suggests that the excellent service is only for customers. It's not. Most of the help I receive is from random strangers who will never benefit in any material way from me. I need to keep reminding myself that the rest of the world is not like this (but probably should be).

3. The ease

Outside the otogar of Gaziantep–I don't even have to go in or ask–a man finds me a bus to Urfa and takes my 20 lira for the ticket price. When I board the bus, an attendant asks for my ticket. I don't have one, I say. I payed that guy outside. Oh, no problem. Such is the degree that you can trust people in Turkey (Note: Istanbul is another country). I am given as much free water as I like. The bus stops for us to rest and eat. The bathroom costs the usual 1 lira, but of course it is reliably clean. The self-service restaurant serves its reliably good stews. Even though I have paid and sat down, it is still not too late to ask for a fresh ayran for which the waiter takes a lira. Fellow passengers and bus attendants let me know when the bus is leaving. Back in Urfa, I walk through dark streets to my apartment without worrying for an instant about safety. I know much of this has to do with speaking some Turkish and having spent time here, but still, still, it's easy.

May 9, 2014


The other night someone called me out on my use of o zaman.

He was like, "What is it in English?" "What do you think you're translating?"

I have asked students and non-native speakers exactly the same questions, when they are using a word in a strange way or simply overusing it. 

In my head, o zaman is the perfect expression, and can be used in the following ways:

Tamam o zaman                        OK then
bla bla blah, o zaman....            bla bla bla, so / therefore / as a result / in that case...
O zaman, senin fikrin nedir?     So, what do you think?
O zaman, ne yapacaksın?          So, what are you going to do?

The first usage is probably ok. The second one could or should be replaced with o yüzden or böyle or a bunch of other options. The third and fourth are apparently just unnecessary. Drop the o zaman altogether.

But then we get into idiolect, the individual use of a language. In English, I say "so" a lot. More than most people. Especially when I am teaching. "Ok, so..." is an expression that students have actually made fun of me for. 

O zaman... at the end of the day, there will of course be some compromise. I will probably continue to use this expression more than most Turkish speakers, and in slightly inappropriate ways, but I'll use it less than I did last week.

May 7, 2014

'Singleness is sultanness'

Bekarlık sultanlık

This is an actual saying in Turkish. I think about it fairly frequently.

My new waxist, aged 18, asked me if I was married or single. Single, I said. Nice, she said. She doesn't like being married, not at all. Her parents both died, though, and all her older siblings are married, so perhaps she had no choice. She's working at the beauty salon to save money for a vacation in western Turkey. At this thought her face lit up.

Yesterday two women and I were walking in the fields outside of a village and we stopped to talk to an old man that was flooding a field for cotton planting. He wanted to know about me. Why don't you marry someone from this village? He asked. I'm not thinking about marriage, I said. Bekarlık sultanlık, he conceded.

April 14, 2014

My favourite text message

Güvercinler benimle istanbula gelecekler.

The pigeons will come with me to Istanbul.

April 8, 2014

Şalgam or ayran?

Basically the question out here.

Astringent juice made of Russian turnips, or frothy salty yogurt water.

I'm not joking when say it's hard because they're both so good.

March 28, 2014

Political Billboards of Urfa

Is it weird that I take photos of these?

In honour of the local elections on Sunday:

1. Think big

Back in February the AK Party messages were broad and vague. For a while I thought this said, "Big thought" which of course makes no sense. Prime Minister Erdoğan is on the right. On the left is the AK Party man running for Urfa mayor.

2. There's no stopping; keep going

Another AK Party man, this one for Karaköprü mayor. *There are 3 or 4 municipalities within greater Urfa. I am still not clear.

This candidate looks like a hopeful child. I love that his last name means "farmer."

3. While we're talking about awesome names...

Ibrahim "Black Cloud."

He's using the political buzzword of the season, hizmet (service). He's running for a neighbourhood muhtar position, which translates to "chief" or "headman".

4. Seriously?
This man's last name means "screaming". He's running against Black Cloud, and also talking about hizmet. "It's not for money. It's for service," he says.

5. Interrupting this billboard tour to announce that

"Obama is living a forbidden love with Beyonce?"

In case you wondered about Turkish news coverage of the Western world.

6. The BDP, i.e. the Kurdish party

They have so much going for them aesthetically.

A) Awesome colour scheme (which apparently used to be forbidden)
B) Tree
C) The name? "Peace and Democracy Party"

7. Women, smiles!

They also have women running for positions, and people who smile for photographs (this is not even the best example).

A friend tried to explain that in their political system requires a partnership between a man and a woman for every position. All I know is what I see: basically equal representation of male and female politicians.

8. vs... the man parade.


9. Osman Baydemir, the BDP's main man

I can't help but like this guy. He's short, kind of balding, and seems like a humble dude (he's the one on the left).

His Wikipedia page does not disappoint. He was a founding member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. He has received dozens of threats and hundreds of lawsuits, including one for writing a New Year's greeting using the letter "W" (forbidden until about a year ago, as it is used in the Kurdish alphabet, but not the Turkish).

10. Xenophobic much?

Here a guy points at Osman Baydemir's face and says something like "Guests are unwanted."

This is about the fact that Osman Baydemir is not from Urfa. He's from Diyarbakir. He's actually Diyarbakir's current mayor.

"The homeowner doesn't ask for anyone," is my rough translation of the second part in red.

Would we expect anything else from the Nationalist Movement Party?

11. This guy has never smiled

He's the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party. He gives me the creeps. I only include him because he's been on TV a lot recently. He has a lot of negativity toward Erdogan, which I find interesting, because it's not just the Left attacking the current administration. Pretty much everyone can and does take the moral high ground these days, after the AK Party's corruption scandals.

12. I trust you, Sanliurfa

In spite of the scandals and the recent craziness of shutting down Twitter and YouTube, the AK Party is apparently poised to win at least some of the main positions in the election on Sunday. We'll see...

March 26, 2014

Yeah, it is hard, actually

Qué clase de amigo?
What kind of friend?

Sí, es mi marido!
Yes, he's my husband!

Hijo de puta!
Son of a bitch!

I thought it would be hard to watch Head-On dubbed in Spanish. (I failed to find the second half with English subtitles, or even just in the original German and Turkish). Instead, to my dismay, watching the movie in Spanish was easy.

I haven't spoken Spanish in years, and I used it for less than a year in total, but I could follow the conversations just fine.

Wah. I've been living in Turkey for four months now, and basic phone conversations in Turkish still scare me. I can't follow native speakers when they talk together. I can't enjoy a local movie. I can barely read news headlines.

I generally espouse the beauty of Turkish grammar, the clean lines of its pronunciation, and the memorability of its words. When people say, "Oh, Turkish is so hard!" I quickly point out that it uses the same alphabet at English and that it lacks almost any exceptions (screw you, French). I don't like to succumb to the weary intonation: "Turkish is hard."

But, yeah, it is hard, actually.

March 25, 2014

Marriage Arrangements in the Hamam

Where are you from?

Erkek arkadaşın?

Evli misin?
Are you married?

Bekarım. Bakmıyorum.
I'm single. I'm not looking. 

(I don't know if bakmıyorum translates well. Maybe aramıyorum is better; 'I'm not searching')

Later I am sitting on a marble slab, waiting to be scrubbed and massaged. One woman insists on pursuing the conversation.

Isveçli something something.

No, I'm not Swedish. I'm Canadian.

O Isveçli something something.

He's Swedish? Then how did you meet?

Kocamın kardeş something something.

[I will skip past the part when I confuse koca (husband) and hoca (teacher).]

Wait. He's your husband's brother? Then how is he Swedish?

O Isveçli something something istiyor. Sarı saç, mavi gözlü...

[Internal speech:] Oh, now I understand. He wants to marry a Swedish girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Never mind that I'm not Swedish and I don't have blonde hair or blue eyes. Hey, we're all the same.

Kanada'ya döneyeceğim.
I'm going back to Canada.

O gelsin.
He can come.

Bakmıyorum, ama teşekkür ederim.
I'm not looking, but thank you (hand to heart, a gesture that has become a reflex).

Kaç yaşındasın?
How old are you?


He is 29.


Giyindikten sonra, biz fotoğraf çekebilir miyiz?
After we get dressed, can we take a picture?


I make a point of leaving quickly and escape without a photo. 

In guide books, I believe I have read about how back in the day women used hamams to seek out potential brides for their sons, or in theory older sisters for their younger brothers. Umm... it's still happening.

March 20, 2014

to sow / to sew

The first time I learned dikmek was on a farm, in reference to planting roses in the ground.

Later I popped my head into a shop that was obviously concerned with leather, to ask if they had wax for leather shoes. "No, sorry, here we're only dikiyoruz." Here we're only stitching leather.

So dikmek can mean to sow.

And dikmek can mean to sew.

Huh. I never thought about these English homonyms as possible brothers in meaning. To push something down into something else.

I just looked up the etymology of the two English words, though, and they are not as linked as I had hoped.

Ah well. Language learning is mostly a private pleasure anyway, so you can enjoy whatever you want, including moments of "Huh" when you reconsider things in your first language.

March 13, 2014

Protesters here, organizers there

Notes from a conversation last night

A 15 year old boy

If you have any Turkish friends on Facebook then you know that on Tuesday Berkin Elvan died in the hospital, prompting protests in cities and towns across Turkey. You know that the kid was struck by a tear gas canister launched by the Turkish police during the 2013 summer protests, and the kid spent the nine months between then and now in a coma.

Turkey and Canada

Sometimes when we talk about political leaders I can't help but compare Turkey and Canada. Two prime ministers from conservative parties, both in power for a long time (Harper 8 years, Erdoğan 11), both democratically elected three times (I hope I have this right), both engaged in suppressing journalistic freedom, both critiqued for increasingly authoritarian manoeuvres.

But sometimes the comparison only goes so far

Last night my friend described how he navigated his brother home in Istanbul, over the phone, using Twitter and Google Maps, to avoid attacks by the police. He also described his own experience being beaten under police supervision after a protest a few years ago, and how after, a state doctor wrote that he was one hundred percent healthy, despite being covered in black bruises.

The power of the state is still a very abstract thing for me. I haven't breathed tear gas. I've never been taken off a bus at a police checkpoint. I don't worry about people listening to my phone conversations.

When I came home last night, another friend, an American in Antalya, said that on the way home he was confronted by police for taking photos of the crowds. While one policeman demanded his papers, another grabbed him from behind and raised a stick. Only an American accent got the stick lowered.

Spot the tar sands!

Meanwhile, back in Canada

"I am so sick of the corruption"
"I can't watch the news because I get too angry"
"I can't accept what's happening, but I can't do anything about it"
"I was afraid of being attacked, so I had to leave"

These are the thoughts I hear from immigrants and refugees that I work with towards the states they abandoned.

Likewise, I know a lot of Turks who have given up on the possibility of positive change within their own political system. The options seem to be tuning out or immigrating.

We talk about privilege a lot, but I don't think I have ever been so aware of this crucial privilege–to be able to effect change in your own political system.

Back in British Columbia, I have friends who are taking on powerful new roles to change political decisions, and preparing a citizen's initiative to prevent a pipeline from being built across the province, in spite of federal support. It seems almost cruel to talk about such things in Turkey right now.