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.

March 10, 2014

Life these days

practicing the local archeological tour / key words: "flint" "adobe" "Roman baths"


Basically, I'm teaching English to villagers who live along a ten day walking path in southeastern Turkey. The goal is that they can better communicate with tourists who come for the path, offering home stay experiences and walking tours.

Money going straight to villagers; the chance to promote other local projects like tree planting, dental health, and primary education; the possibility of real cultural exchange instead of just a tourism service–it's all pretty good.

Walking on the Plains

One nice thing about my work (ok, there are many) is that I can actually walk on the path.

17 km walk to work, from one village to another
a temple several thousand years old

Walking here is obviously very different from hiking in British Columbia. (Notice I can't even call it hiking). There are no mountains, you interact with farmers and shepherds along the way, and you are constantly reminded of past humans. It's just a different experience.

"Local, organic"

Everyone I work with has fields, gardens, orchards, and/or animals. Fresh eggs, homemade yogurt, home cured olives, local bulgur, dried eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers–all have been sent home with me. We roll rice in grape leaves picked in the summer, make salads with pomegranate syrup from the trees out back, and the bread is made from wheat grown in the fields and processed at the town mill.

Social life

In the end, though, I'm not a villager in southeastern Turkey. I don't have three kids already, for example. So I'm pretty stoked to have found in Urfa a small but groovy community of like-minded, equally childless people. And even a climbing gym.

Life is full these days, and time is flowing like water, as they say here. (su gibi geçer)

You can tell that there was a photo-savvy visitor in town. Thank you, Jakob.

March 6, 2014

btw, it's 'first blossom'

'Spring' in Turkish is ilk bahar.

Which translates to 'first blossom'. Yet another reason to love this language.

Winter is over. Happy ilk bahar!

(Thank you Jakob for the beautiful photo)

March 4, 2014

Whose job is harder?

The person trying to speak a new language, or the native speaker who has to adapt?

Last night I was hanging out in Turkish with someone who was skilled at slowing down, choosing words I would probably know, and repeating ideas in different ways. It was great. It was like being bathed in exactly the right temperature of water.

I think his job was harder than mine.

I thought back to times when I was the native speaker, as an English language teacher and as a friend and roommate to people from different languages. I remembered the strain of trying so hard to always phrase something in a way that would be understood.

But maybe it depends on how hard the person is willing to work. Some native speakers are useless, and make their jobs easy by essentially not doing them. That is, they don't adapt their language at all, and when the communication fails, they blame the learner.

I am grateful to have found people willing to make the effort.

March 1, 2014

Another language teacher?

Apparently there is a Koran teacher in one of the villages where I am working. She is teaching the women of the village Arabic so that they can learn to pray properly.

Is it weird that I feel competitive?

She is younger, apparently, and gives homework.