Thursday, April 26, 2012

Duzce, my home away from home

Throughout this year, we did a lot of traveling. Turkey is gigantic. The places to see are countless and the days are few. But in this beautiful season of spring, Duzce has re-captured my heart. I go for long bike rides out in the villages, inhaling the sweet perfumed air of lilac bushes. I watch children play and flowers bloom and animals romp. I watch women turn their crops in the fields and the bakers pull freshly fragrant loaves out of the oven. I watch the butterflies flutter from flower to flower. It as if the world has turned perfect, if only for a few weeks. The weather is 70 and sunny. The breeze is constant. The smiles continue and the days are long full of tea, games, and laughter of days passing. Sunsets glow a blazing red color, fading into pumpkin orange before disappearing over the mountain tops. The only sadness is that my time is coming to an end so quickly. Only two months until I am back in America. I am determined to cherish every moment that passes.

Our city center, abloom in tulips 

children in the market on Children's Day 

the villages on the outskirts, random garage

the tree fields on the outskirts of Duzce

my road.

the long and winding road...

the flowers that perfume that city of Duzce 

the front of our school 
where I eat my lunch- with the frogs 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Turkish Nationalism

America's perspective of nationalism is one of inclusivity, relatively speaking. We welcome new citizens with open arms, effectively extending all services and freedoms to these new comers. They are immediately "American." Though most strongly hold onto their roots as well, the idea of becoming an American citizen is like getting the golden ticket. Though in truth, this is far from reality. Perception and idealism propels dreams, not reality.

During a game of "OK"- a Turkish version of gin rummy, some friends and I discussed the differences in American and Turkish perceptions of nationalism. 

In Turkey, nationalism is approached quite differently. With the creation of modern day Turkey and the end of the Ottoman empire, the difficulty in creating a nation was evident. The Ottoman empire was vast and diverse. With nationalist movements cropping up all over the world, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk hopped on the bandwagon to create what we know as modern Turkey. This did not come without a price. The Turkish government and the Greek government exchanged populations- it was mandatory. This was a religious exchange, with all the Christians forced to move to Greece and the Muslim Greeks forced to move to Turkey. After the population exchange, the Turkish government, with its newly created borders basically encircled all within- declaring "you are Turkish." There is a famous quote from Ataturk, the nationalist leader which hangs in most schools and public buildings- "How happy is the one who says I am a Turk."  This poses a problem for the Kurdish population in Turkey. They were swept into the Turkish state, willingly or unwillingly- this is highly disputed. The issue of Kurdish rights and sovereignty stems from this issue of originally including them into the Turkish state. In the case of Turkey, nationalism was a thing you got- not something you can get, or choose for that matter. 

Our perceptions of nationalism are in fact, quite different. Or at least the roots of nationalism were planted and have produced different uses of that nationalism. Do you ever wonder how different our perceptions of things like nationalism, freedom, sovereignty and independence are? This is exactly the kind of thing that fascinates me- the reason why I want to speak other languages- to begin to truly understand the perceptions language and culture can engrain in a person. 

Ataturk, the national leader being celebrated at a ceremony

Monday, April 23, 2012

Turkish Independence Day

Today, Monday, April 23 commemorates both the Turkish independence day and also the day where Turkey's children are celebrated. It has provided us with not only a beautiful understanding of this holiday and its traditions but also an extra day off! No complains here!

It started this morning when I woke up to a very strange sound. I woke up feeling like one of the little pigs in that childhood story- where the wind was huffing and puffing and about to blow my little house down. Thankfully, it was not the wind- but I was baffled as to what this distant but consistent sound was and where it was coming from. I opened my window to greet the cloudless piercing blue sky and about fifty little children marching through the streets in little blue and white uniforms and banging on drums of various sizes. Funnily enough, cars don't stop for the little tykes but rather honk to celebrate and then maneuver around them! Driving here is a bit crazy. But regardless, there were parades of little kids all day, dressed in white, the traditional color for children to wear today. The weather was pristine, warm and full of sunshine. All of Duzce was outside enjoying it. It was one of the first times I felt like part of the community, strolling along the paths blooming with purple and white blossoms, kids eating ice cream cones and people laying under the trees on the perfect grass relishing the shade. I simply walked around today- and finally ate at Duzce's famous burger joint, Cihat Burger! While nothing spectacular happened, it was a day sending gentle reminders of gratitude and purpose. This year has been wonderful and Duzce, small though it may be, has been integral in my experience. - this beautiful tree is what is blooming all over Duzce now. Fountains and blossoms are springing up everywhere. Happy springtime!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Qur'an Lessons

As Ahmet led me from our meeting place in front of the mosque to a gun store across the street, I was both anxious and excited to begin my first lessons of learning Qur'anic recitation. Admittedly flustered when brought into a gun store to have my lessons, I remained calm (never having touched a gun in my life!) where I was led into the back office with yet, more rifles, on display. This cozy little room surrounded by guns mounted in glass cases and plush black leather couches is where I am delving deeper into both the meaning of the Qur'an and the stereotypes associated both perceptions of Islam by foreigners and perceptions of foreigners by Muslims.

I am fortunate to have an extremely intelligent, open-minded teacher. He is a very devout, respectful and intellectually curious man- and was kind enough to give me, his little blond foreign co-worker, a little more insight into the meanings of the religion that is so frequently splayed across our headlines. He even checked with the higher-ups (religiously speaking) to make sure it was alright to give a non-Muslim lessons in the Qur'an. There are certain rules we must follow, but all in all, they gave us the go ahead.

I have lived in Egypt, Israel and traveled in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. I speak Arabic. I have read the Qur'an- chunks at least in both English and Arabic, and yet, my knowledge is slim. I have always wanted to change this, as I feel that, like any other language, the religion is such an integral part of both the culture and the language. I've always had a passion for cultural understanding and religion is one of the biggest factors. Religion is one of the most powerful forces in the world, whether you actually believe in it or not. When I was living in Egypt, I learned the basics. I learned expectations, extreme and moderate view points, and the differences in how a Muslim society functions on a day to day basis. In Israel and Palestine I researched a lot on my own about religious issues. The thing is, Islam doesn't have a "lite" version. There is no orthodox, Protestant, conservative, differentiations. There is no "liberal" version for me to quietly attend services and pick up some information. There is no anonymity and I had to show that I was genuinely interested in order for people to take me seriously. Coming from America, I don't come with the best background to request knowledge and genuine understanding for a religion smattered by US papers and foreign policy. It took time to prove my dedication and seriousness to delve into deep meaning and discussion.

But back to today. Today, my first day of class, we started with the basics. Some letters/pronunciations differ slightly in Qur'anic Arabic as opposed to Modern Standard Arabic or colloquial dialects. We practiced inflections and reading for about an hour, and then sat and drank tea together, engaging in a stimulating conversation pertaining to religious and moral standards- the differences between our countries on these topics. Dating, sex before marriage, religious reasoning for the hijab, heaven and hell, and Islam's perspective of Christ were some of the issues we touched upon. Most interestingly to me, Muslim's believe (if I was told incorrectly someone out there correct me please!) that Jesus did not actually die on a cross, but rather God created a dopple-ganger of sorts to switch places. They tricked the Romans long enough for God to then call Jesus up in his own way, choosing not to subject God to such human practices. I find it highly interesting that such different perceptions of the Christian messiah are portrayed. Always, one of my biggest problems with the roots of Christianity has been its history. Its hidden secrets and power plays.People playing god never comes out quite right.  It is unfortunately true of all religions, of all people. Power never does any good, especially coming from those who want it. But back to the story, two hours and two cups of tea later, I concluded my first lesson, full of ideas and reflection. One of my favorite things in life is being proven wrong. I love a challenge- I love people who challenge me to analyze my own perceptions and provide a new lens from which I can look at life through, even if only to understand. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Global Consciousness

While musing over the latest effects of the Gulf oil spill, I began musing over this idea of global consciousness. This year alone we've gone through the Gulf oil spill, hurricanes, several earthquakes (here in Turkey!) and global food shortages. The media highlights these events to spread consciousness. But what happens to these communities when the media attention fizzles out? What happens to the communities affected by these disasters? How do we help? Should we help? Who am I to ignore their need?

In a world where cell phones, twitter and wifi have become expectations, we are truly globally connected now more than ever. I am indignent when there is no wifi and frustrated when I can't get a good signal. I didn't even get my first cell phone until the 10th grade of high school. I grew up in an era where we called each others phone homes and asked our friend's mom politely if we could please speak to Suzy. Now, I avoid hotels without wifi. It seems like the dark ages. With the rise of technologies, the rise of global consciousness of these issues has also substantially increased. Even fifteen years ago, the problems of poverty, disease and war were things we read in the daily newspaper, or in books. The rise of the internet changed everything. We receive live updates of event all around the world via Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and all forms of social media. Rockets blasting in Syria tweet faster than we can keep track. Pictures and videos of the uprisings throughout the Arab world were pouring onto the internet. The earthquakes in Turkey, the earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake in Japan- these events were headlines for weeks, and of course, rightfully so. How often do we hear of them now? What does the media do in order to maintain interest in a cause?

As citizens of the world, with a new understanding of the events happening in every corner, is it our place to stand to fight these inequities? Do we raise millions of dollars for a community half-way around the world? Would we even do it for our neighboring communities? Borders have become both fluid and stagnant. While seemingly opposing ideas, the borders set after World War II have changed far less than any time previous to it. On the same token, the internet is slashing downing the cultural and social borders imposed by authoritarian regimes of old. So what do borders have to do with recent global events and our place in them? Borders represent the divide. We are us and they are them. There is a clear delineation of territory and of nationalism associated with these boundaries. Yet, morally speaking, with the rise of technology and our knowledge of global plights, people reject the "us vs. them" mentality and embraced charitable giving. Unfortunately, this only lasts while the sensationalism does. There are the rare few who push for recognition and sympathy for their cause far after the news reporters have left.

I believe the internet is slowly morphing the social sphere, forcing people to take a look at communities outside themselves. There are causes encouraging empathy (and financial donations) for victims of disease, poverty and war. These foundations, NGO's and grassroots groups are the social glue that will hold this world together as it moves forward into the digital unknown. No matter how digitized the world may become, people are at its source. People, at the community level, must care. Without the sincere passion for justice, equality and love, the world appears bleak. It is the protestors, the college kids arguing in coffee shops, the grandparents demanding the newspaper has it all wrong, and the little kid who refuses to desist in his inquisitiveness- these are the people I admire. These are the people who will change our world one issue at a time. So find a cause you are passionate about and really try to make the world a little bit better for the others sharing it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rockets Over My Head

The official name is “Rouketopolemos” literally meaning rocket-war. The celebration dates back to Ottoman times, when the Turks ruled the Greek Island of Chios. The people of the island used to use cannons for their celebrations but the Ottoman rulers forbade them from doing so. The Greeks, to spite the Turks, decided to use hand made rockets, and delightfully began using them, much to the dismay of the Ottoman rulers. It has continued as a tradition ever since. We watched the rockets through the air from afar, but then.

we got brave. Yes, brave. During one of the ceasefires, we ran down the curvy Greek vine-filled streets of Chios into one of the churches that was being fired upon. It is tradition for the Greeks to hold a service at 11:15pm until much later in the early morning, to celebrate the coming of Easter. We sat in on the service, while rockets fired at the church. Constantly. A grandma we met who lived in Maryland turned to us and said before the service, "Windows break every year! Be careful where you sit!" Accordingly, we chose our seats with care, in the back, observing the beautiful traditions taking place.

Every time I would drift into a place of peaceful calm, another rocket would hit the mark. At one point, a rocket burst through the chicken wire and hit one of the stained-glass windows. Green glass rained down upon peoples heads, and luckily no one was hurt. Grandma was in the center of it all! At one point during the service, a bit before midnight, the whole church walked outside (meanwhile rockets are STILL being fired) and stood inside the chicken wire and held the service outside. The priest muttered prayers of blessings and conducting the service while the congregants raised their voices in song. When we re-entered the church, we thought rockets had literally burst through all the windows! The emanating sounds were booming. Turns out, it is tradition for the people to bang the seats of the wooden chairs up and down to celebrate Jesus rising out of Hades and ascending into heaven. (This was new information for me, even growing up as a pastor's kid,  I didn't know of the belief that between Jesus' death and resurrection it is believed he went down to Hades before rising to heaven.)

At around midnight, the fighting intensified. Thousands of rockets (between 70,000-80,000 annually) are lit and directed the opposite churches bell tower. Our church was by far the winner, striking the opposing church's bell tower twice! You could hear the gong from a mile away. Fighting erupted in droves, with one church launching until the rocket lighters could light no more. The other church would take aim and reign rockets down upon the other church. It was around 12:15 that we decided to make a mad dash out of the church before the next rocket fire descended. I don't think I've even ran that quickly or with that much fear. We hauled up the curvy streets back into the safe zones where we met Nick and watched the ending of the rocket display.

the inside of the church of Virgin Mary Erethianis

blessings on Easter 

the service about to begin 

the Catholic Church, always partially concealed

the cage surrounding us as we held service outside, rockets blaring over our heads

my lovely ladies who endured the terrifying experience together! 

the priest outside, rockets overhead.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chios Easter Rockets 2012

Our Greek Orthodox Easter celebration was one I will NEVER forget. The island of Chios, only a short ferry ride away from Cesme, Turkey is a Greek island of beauty and a bit of fame as well. Homer was born and lived here. But nowadays, the celebration of rockets on Easter has lured in random travelers from all over the world. Chios is famous for small town of Vrontados, which has two large churches in the center of the city. For five hours straight (with two 30-minute breaks) the opposing churches shoot rockets at each other consistently. Every year people die from misfiring rockets, misfortune or poor choices of where to stand.

We drove from our hotel to the seaside town of Vrontados, not knowing what to expect, but insanely excited to see these "famous rockets" we'd heard so much about. We arrived at 8pm and hitched a ride up to one of the viewing locations- where we sat and watched the rockets, completely mesmerized. Chios Rocket Fire (click on the link!) rained down upon us. Well not so much as upon us, as near us. We scurried about that hill as fast as we could to avoid both the fireworks aiming for the churches and the ridiculously irresponsible parents letting their children blast fireworks into the streets where people were congregating. Next to us, one kid hit a van with a Roman candle. We scattered quickly! Then, we hiked up the mountain to watch from a better vantage point. After continuing our move slowly upwards we made friends with a Greek family who had a stunning villa with a perfect panorama of both churches firing at each other! We walked onto their porch, smiled and they invited us to stay!

How can I describe this event? Words fail me. I was terrified. Mesmerized. Dazzled. Anxious. Fearful. Engrossed. The entire experience was completely unique and definitely kept us on our toes, seeing as at points, we were covering our heads and running. Minute after gripping minute, thousands of fireworks burst into the sky, some hitting trees, surrounding houses and cars! Most families had wrapped chicken wire around their homes to avoid serious damage. Since this tradition has been happening for years, the families and emergency teams know what to do and how to respond. Apparently, some residents are quite unhappy about the tradition, as their houses do at times set fire. We watched from the villa for the next two hours. And then....

(To be continued tomorrow...come back for the crazy end to this tale!!!)

The Duz'ers + Ashlyn (taking the photo!) 

and the rockets begin. Chios, 2012. Easter 

At this point, so many rockets are firing, we are in disbelief there aren't fires everywhere! 

the aim? Trying to hit the opposing churches bell tower! 

the fire storm continues 

Chios Easter rocket battle. It was epic. 

a shot from where our side (the winning church side) was launching rockets from the base of the hill 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Foodie's Paradise

Toulouse, France. 
After spending a weekend in the south of France with my better half, I was both full and satiated by the aromas, tastes and sights of Toulouse. I roamed around the streets of Toulouse, weaving my way in and out of the hidey-hole streets tucked away in dark, romantic corners, finding delightful pastries, bursting with croissants and espresso sipping Frenchies. I stumbled onto a great find, the Les Restaurants de Victor Hugo Market, which is  a food lover's paradise! The moment I stepped in, I thought, there needs to be a Top Chef food challenge here. Surrounded on its outsides by a rather unattractive parking lot but also by stands and rows and columns of fresh vegetable and fruit sellers. The fruit lured me in. Fresh strawberries and plumply green grapes called my name. How could I resist? The mere temptation of culinary delights was too much to handle, and I hadn't even stepped into the market yet. My heart soared a little as I walked through the doors of the market. To my right, piles of fresh fish with their little eyes glaring right back up at me. Yes, that fresh. Crayfish and crabs and lobsters wriggled in their crates and men stood behind the ice covered fish shouting prices and negotiating in luscious French tones. To my left, the meat men roared their prices out, dominating the softer fish sellers. Sausage, pork, beef, literally any kind of meat and any part of that kind of meat was available, fresh, red, and quite frankly, so culinarily appetizing I couldn't even be grossed out about the abundance of raw meat in front of me. I was so excited to see pork! (See there is no pork in Turkey. And no pork=no bacon!) Around the corner, I found the CHEESE. I now know what addiction is. French cheese is lush. It is smelly. And it is goooood. I wandered in and out of the cheese shops, tasting little bits, getting a whiff the famous stinkers of the French cheese. Drooling a little, I was so engrossed in the cheese, that I didn't notice the fresh bakery section that had appeared in front of me. Oh yes. Bring on the croissants. And pies. And tarts. Thank heaven I don't live in this country. I would be a giant food inhaler! The fresh smells of hot bread wafted through the air, luring in its unsuspecting patrons, necessitating its purchase. Like me. I think I bought something from every pastry shop. Except the fresh crepe makers. I was able to pass by without pulling out my wallet. And then the wine sellers appeared. At this point, I was so overwhelmed by the lush Frenchness of everything, I had to resist. I just couldn't. Financial sense took me over, and I left the market, a satisfied and intrigued woman, determined to discover the generational secrets of French cuisine. I think culinary school may be in my future. 

rows upon rows of French cheese 
the first pork I've seen in months 

Classic French breakfast: espresso & croissant 

outdoor market in Toulouse, France
the vegetable sellers displaying their goods proudly

the scariest looking crabs I've ever seen...check out the spikes! 

French seafood...the possibilities are endless 

cow tongue. (which is actually a favorite of mine)

the speciality cheese stores lured me in

picnicking on the river shores of Toulouse 

the arrival of spring and all things fresh 

Nadim and I in Toulouse, 2012

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