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.